Dark Crusade: Prologue Team 7
Welcome to the Dark Crusade Prologue. The following rules are in effect:
1. 250 word minimum per post.
2. 1 post per player, per phase (this will be a three phase run-on separated conducted in 7 day intervals). If a member fails to post during a phase, the team will lose points.
3. Edits may occur on a post until a follow on post has been made (follow on posts include "reserving" a space).
4. Members may reserve post, but no posts can occur until after the reserved post is written.
5. The event will be graded by Raken, Sarin, and Muz using a rubric that focuses on creativity, plot development, realism, and grammar.
1. 1-7 January - Signups, Set up starting posts on 7th
2. 8-14 January - Phase 1 posts, 15th = Sarin post, start new phase.
3. 16-22 January - Phase 2 posts, 23rd = Sarin post, start new phase.
4. 24-31 January - Phase 3 posts, and the joys of grading.
You will find the details for phase one here: http://wiki.darkjedibrotherhood.com/view/Dark_Crusade_-_Prologue
The shuttle’s engines surged with deft acceleration as the pilot’s fingers flew over the controls with graceful precision. Confident and precise his fingers moved as though he was born in the cockpit of a starship. Like everyone else aboard the shuttle, Rian braced himself for what was to come as the shuttle rocketed towards the gigantic Star Destroyer. The Avenger II was much larger than he had assumed it would be from their briefing. With its easily recognized, dagger-shaped design common to most Star Destroyer, the Avenger II's superstructure resembled an arrowhead from their point of view. A smooth grayish-hued hull surrounded the underside of the Capital Ship contained the engineering sections, the enormous primary hangar bay, and one of the countless auxiliary docking bays located near the bow of the ship.
“Coming into point-defense range in ninety seconds,” the pilot announced matter-of-factly. The huge Super-class Star Destroyer filled the canopy completely.
“Acknowledged.” The Karanan half-breed replied, peering at the immense ship. “Everyone, get ready!” He needed to admire the pilot’s deft skills at the controls.
“Sir, sensors picking up weapon signatures.”
Rian nodded. The briefing had already told them to be prepared to face resistance and even while most of the targeting systems of the Avenger II were hampered by the Shroud, the Point-Defense systems guarding the hangar bays weren’t automated. “Proceed like you were ordered. Shad we need to come in hot, can you handle the defenses?”
The brown-eyed Dark Jedi Master was already on the move, taking over the weapon controls. With well-practiced moves of his own, he activated the shuttle’s two twin-laser emplacements and took a bead on the first of the cannon-emplacements on either side of the hangar bay. As soon as they came in range, he destroyed the first emplacement before swiveling for the second. Another two, well-placed shots and he cleared a path for their landing.
The pilot didn’t waste any time. The shuttle streaked into the hangar and settled onto the polished floor near a couple of crates that would give the Dark Jedi team a temporary cover. As the thrusters brought them down to a halt, Rian and most of the team were already dashing out of the cockpit.
One by one, the four members of Taldryan took a running jump out of the shuttle, the various hues of their lightsabers already lighting up by the time they hit the deck. Behind the crates were at least four squads of soldiers in standard stormtrooper gear waiting in ambush.
Lieutenant Draxler brought up his E-11 blaster rifle while shifting his gaze to the left where the rest of his platoon was setting up. Alpha and Bravo squad were in position, stacked up against the crates and surveying the hangar bay. He took pride in the fact that Alpha had reached the crates first, finding the best positions to lay down a base of fire while still retaining optimal cover. He had been Alpha squad's executive officer for well over 5 years and with the recent retirement of their commanding officer the resulting promotion to Alpha Lead came expected. What came less expected was the accompanying instruction that he was to lead Diamond platoon, comprising of Alpha through Delta squads.
To Draxler's left his XO signaled they had eyes on the incoming enemy shuttle. Draxler instantly hailed Charlie and Delta squad, who were lagging behind in finding proper positions, to relocate to a set of crates that would set the platoon up in a half-circle ambush position towards the shielded entryway of the hangar. Risking a glance over his crate he spotted the shuttle on its landing trajectory. It didn't have a mark on it, indicating to him the craft had destroyed the outer turrets with a minimum of effort. He activated his comms.
"Charlie Lead, you're in the firing arc of the forward gun emplacements. Take up position further left and watch your cover."
As Charlie sounded its acknowledgement, Draxler saw the shuttle's ramp lowering in mid-flight.
Four figures darted out of the shuttle with a speed Draxler would have imagined to be impossible had he not just seen it. To him it seemed as if they hit the deck without a sound, and fear slammed into him as he saw the distinctive colored blur of lightsabers among them. Fighting alongside Master Zoraan's Dark Jedi had been uncomfortable, but confronting warriors of similar make chilled him to the bone.
"Diamonds, light 'em up!" He heard himself bellow while taking aim at the small group of intruders.
As if in response to his orders he saw one of the figures, a slender human sporting gray and black fatigues and carrying a lightsaber that emitted a deep green hue, lift up his free hand and turn the palm of it towards the platoon. An instant later Draxler was hit by a blinding light and his eardrums were filled with a deafening, high-pitched whine.
Aeson sprinted from the shuttle to a place where he was able to leap to the top of a stack of crates. He had to use his lightsaber several times to deflect blaster bolts from both the troopers and from the automated defenses. A couple of bolts he managed to redirect into hitting other enemy forces, but most hit either the walls or the crates that the defecting troops were using as barricades. Kneeling on top of the stack of crates about four meters high. The Zeltron could see that they were outnumbered by about twelve to one.
Rian and Talon were trying to hack their way through the enemy using their lightsabers, but were spending as much time deflecting incoming blaster fire as actually cutting into enemy troops. One of the two had managed to use some sort of force power; there was a straight path of broken crates and broken bodies about halfway down the hangar. Aeson did not see Shadow, but was sure that the Dark Jedi Master was wreaking havoc somewhere. The Krath spotted a sustained flickering of purple light and suddenly smelled the reek of ozone and burning flesh. Shadow was indeed enjoying himself somewhere on the other side of the transport on which they had arrived. Jac had yet to emerge from said shuttle; no doubt the former Grand Master was waiting for the plebs to finish taking out the trash before he made his grand entrance.
Well, he’s about to get his fireworks, Aeson thought to himself.
The Zeltron knew that he made a grand target, standing in plain sight and elevated from all the clutter on the deck. In fact more blaster bolts seemed to be flying his way and he was busier than ever deflecting those bolts. However he needed the height and line of sight to accomplish his plan.
Still deflecting the blaster fire with his lightsaber in his dominant hand, Aeson reached into the satchel hanging across his hips below his back. As he pulled out the metallic sphere, he slid the switch. The sphere had several small lights which suddenly lit up and the device started emitting a high pitch whine. Aeson held the thermal detonator for several moments until there was a lapse in the blaster fire and then he threw the device into the largest grouping of enemy troops he could see.
The detonator landed, bounced a couple of times and then rolled into a gap between some of the crates. It lay still for a moment and then disappeared in a flash of light. There was a loud thump and then a loud hiss. What had been a group of seven men clustered behind five crates was now a five meter hole in the deck floor with the level below now visible.
Aeson threw two more detonators in quick succession. The opposing troops were now scatting away from the stacks of crates as they realized that these piles appeared to be what Aeson was targeting with the detonators; they were right. Two more large holes appeared in the deck.
Aeson started to draw a fourth sphere when a sense of foreboding caused him to leap from his perch to the top of a nearby ship. Just as he leapt, Aeson saw the shimmering blade of a spinning lightsaber pass beneath his feet. He hit the ship’s hull and rolled,; always a tricky and risky maneuver with an extended lightsaber in hand. Aeson fished the roll coming into a defensive half kneeling stance.
There were now Dark Jedi among the enemy forces. The Krath spotted several set of dark robes moving toward him.
At the same time, Shadow’s voice came through Aeson’s earpiece.
“Aeson, Three phrases: structural integrity, hull breach and explosive decompression into vacuum. Think on them before using those detonators again.”
"Dammit," Shadow growled to himself as the deck of the hangar bay shook from the damage of Aeson's explosions. The fact that the magcon field hadn't been disabled was a stroke of pure luck, one that had probably saved all of their lives. It was hard to fault the tactic, though; there were just too many of the enemies for the Equites to handle solo.
Shadow's neck prickled with discomfort as he sensed the impending release of another wave of blaster fire. He quickly vaulted into the air, dodging the torrent of deadly red bolts and landed amidst the squad that had fired them. With sharp, violent thrusts of the blade in his right hand, the bodies around him sank to the floor as lifeless husks of meat and armor.
So far he had only encountered the petty annoyance of troopers with poor aim and weak wills. Their movements seemed slow and clumsy to him, but their numbers were disconcerting. With a ship the size of the Avenger II, reinforcements could be never-ending, and they continuously poured in from a large hallway North of the team's position. It was a leak that needed to be plugged.
Shadow felt the piercing cry in the Force before a howl of pain alerted him to the condition of his teammates. The soldiers still alive had turned their focus away from him, concentrating on the other three targets. The Taldryan Jedi were being overwhelmed by sheer numbers, frantically defending themselves and drawing tighter together for protection. They had gotten further away from the Elder then he had realized. Through the madness of smoke and debris he could see the tell-tale sign of enemy lightsabers, their crimson blades announcing their allegiance to the deceased Sith Lord.
The grating sound of metal under stress warned the Elder to a new threat. Before he could think, he was dashing forward at impossible speed. He ran frantically towards his comrades who had been pushed together by the opposing Jedi. Three of the enemy had raised their arms upwards, focusing their power into the hangar's ceiling. The structure was already weakened by the explosions, now the whole thing was liable to come down on both his team and the enemy soldiers. Zoraan had obviously passed on his unique mental failings and penchant for self-destruction to his followers.
When he was within a dozen yards of the trio, Shadow skidded to a stop and began focusing. Using his rage to sustain him, Shadow screamed over the din of battle and unleashed a powerful blast of telekinetic power. The hurtling wave of pure force was almost visible, distorting the air as it passed. The three Taldryan Jedi heard his cry and turned as one. They reacted instantly, drawing their bodies tight to absorb the impact of the wave. It crashed into them, and a dozen enemy soldiers and Jedi, sweeping them all across the room and out from under the enemy trap.
The ceiling cracked a moment later with a shriek of breaking metal as the deck above crashed upon them. Shadow dropped to a knee as exhaustion and relief flood through him. It had been close, but he had managed to move them out of harm's way… though they'd be a little the worse for wear.
"Rian," a commanding voice suddenly rang through the Elder's head. "Take your team and cut off the enemy reinforcements." Shadow saw the imperceptible nod from the Taldryan Quaestor and realized that the entire team was being communicated with.
"Shadow," the voice continued. "Get up."
So much for his orders. Shadow forced himself to his feet, tightened his grip on his lightsaber, and turned towards the remaining enemy. Some had managed to dive out of the way of the falling debris, but many had been wounded. His sharp eyes scanned the chaos, trying to pierce the smoke and dust that had settled over the battle field. There were a few red blades still shining with killing intent, but he wasn't overly concerned with them. Something else was coming. Close by. The presence was that of Dark Jedi, but it was perverted… difficult to define.
Bothered by this strange presence, Shadow began moving. "Cut off that entrance," he called out to the trio, a needless order as they were already moving together towards the objective. They cut a direct line through their disoriented opponents, with Talon Drear and Aeson Rhys flanking their Quaestor. Seeing that they weren't too badly hurt by his little shove, Shadow allowed himself to drop them from his mind as he concentrated on his own problems.
One of the enemy Jedi, a Knight it seemed, had managed to scramble over the debris and jumped to attack the Elder. Shadow reacted with minimal effort. His white blade slashed outwards, easily parrying the enemy's first two attacks. The little Knight circled around him, rage growing in his green eyes. Shadow almost smiled, but checked himself as the Sith feinted to his right then tried for a strong, overhand swing.
Shadow's white blade locked with the red and held it in place for a moment. A moment was all he needed. With a quick flick of his wrist, Shadow lashed out with his right hand. The snap-hiss surprised his opponent as the blade of his Assassin Saber flashed into existence, embedded in the Knight's throat. The blade receded as quickly as it had arrived and Shadow turned around.
Powerful, crushing Force slammed into him without warning. The blow sent him tumbling backwards across the deck until he was unceremoniously stopped by a fallen durasteel girder. Pain exploded outwards from his spine and his head rang violently. Shadow gently shook his head and turned towards the origin of the attack.
Standing side-by-side, hands clasped together, was a pair of humans with identical appearance. They both hard dark hair and pale, almost translucent skin, and their eyes shone with the demented fervor one typically finds in zealots and mad men. They were grinning at the fallen Elder, as if they had just heard the funniest joke in the world.
"Did you see that, Frost? Look at his face!"
"It's like he can't believe his eyes. Hysterical."
"You think he can still get up?"
"Oh Reaper, I sure hope he does."
The twins' voices were also identical, down to the high-pitched giggle they released in unison. They may have rung his clock pretty good, but it was that incessant giggling that made his brain feel like it had been stabbed. Shadow forced himself to his feet, slightly less steadily than he wished, but he managed to stand. That was something. He took a small step towards the twins, but their grins merely widened.
"One, two, three…" they sing-songed together. Still holding hands, they stretched their arms towards him and winked as one.
That thought overwhelmed his senses, but he couldn't force his body to react fast enough. Invisible bonds tugged at him, lifting him into the air. Shadow struggled, but was unable to pull free. He heard a distant shout from another member of the team, but it wasn't directed at him. They were obviously focused on their own task.
Gritting his teeth, Shadow glared at the twins as they lifted him higher… and higher. Only when he reached the point where he could touch the damaged ceiling deck above did he stop moving. For a brief second he hung there, completely weightless.
Then he started falling.
It was a bad choice, Shadow’s last act as he plummeted to the ground. Exhausted and in excruciating pain, the Dark Jedi Master had scant energy to commit in that few second drop. In the choice between trying to catch himself versus calling for help, Shadow had chosen the latter. It had seemed like a good choice, but in the split second he had to reflect, perhaps the rushing floor would have been a better target for concentration. He wasn’t even sure what the Grand Master would do. Jac hadn’t yet stepped foot onto the hangar deck. He was paying attention, sure, but that was little more than astute telepathy. Jac had his own agenda, and telepathic or not, even a Dark Lord of the Sith typically needs to see the object he seeks to tether with the force.
Shadow knew what had made him call out. It was hope; a characteristic that is felt even among the dark. To Taldryan, Jac’s recent return was a hopeful one, that the new normal was indeed being ended. Shadow hoped he would be caught by the invisible hand of the Emeritus. But, things weren’t the same as they had been in wars past, where Shadow and Cotelin fought back to back, their wits and guile keeping each other alive. That was then. Now, Jac was distracted, alone. And Shadow was alone at that moment as well, which fact he learned all too quickly.
Shadow’s head slammed first into the ground, the impact sending fire through the nerves of the Master before blackness overtook him. From a distance, the twins saw but a ragdoll hitting the ground. The body of their foe slapped the durasteel, the clapping sound drowned out by the battle around them.
“Did you see the way he fell?”
“Why, yes I did. I enjoyed that one immensely,” said Frost, his eyes gleaming with delight. “I do believe he’s injured.” It was true: Shadow’s body lay unconscious, darkness oozing from the skull of the Taldrya. The twins giggled.
Across the bay, the brethren knew and gave pause. “Talon, Aeson - ” Rian commanded in reaction, “to Shadow. I will clean this up.” Rian watched as Talon disengaged immediately and sprinted back to where Shadow fell. Aeson took a moment too long for Rian’s pleasure, kicking aside his’ foes defenses for one last disembowelment. “Go, Aeson!” The other clansman darted off, leaving his kill to the pile of corpses.
Rian turned back to his task at hand, knowing that he needed to control the situation and divert as much attention as possible. But with the other two Jedi retreating, the excess attention turned to be too much for open fighting. Rian jumped to his left, diving into a roll. Blaster blots darted past his body as he came back to his feet and into a full sprint. The saber in his right hand acted nearly independently, knocking to and fro any energy bolts that would come close to hitting mark. The Quaestor skid into cover behind a nearby supply crate. Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, the leader of Taldryan peaked around the corner of his crate. There were two sets of blast doors ahead of him, and every few seconds a fresh set of foes rushed forth, blasters blazing. Those doors needed to be shut.
As if it had been Rian’s command, the doors began to close. The Quaestor could hear screams, blaster fire, and commotion from the slowly shutting barricades. Before the blast doors closed completely, Rian looked again. He saw the flash of lightsabers beyond. Another team, he thought. Perhaps the Dark Council had its act together afterall. With the reinforcements cut off, Rian felt the confusion and panic of his opponents. He drew on that opportunity, darting forth to dwindle their numbers.
By that time, Aeson and Talon had met their enemies and engaged. The twins each took a Taldrya, toying with their prey before the meal. Talon and Aeson parried and backed off and parried again, each of them trying to circle towards their fallen elder. They hadn’t anticipated, though, that they were running toward such a skilled set of duelists.
Frost smiled at his brother, “Do you think there are more where this came from? I am becoming bored with these.”
“Of course there are more, don’t you feel it?” Reaper replied. “There are some that might even give us a challenge.” Reaper lunged forward, his duel sabers being knocked away at the last moment by his flailing opponent.
“Then let’s be done here,” Frost pleaded. As if they were one and the same, the twins disengaged, spinning toward each other. Talon and Aeson each took steps forward, only to be thrown backwards by an invisible force. The hands of the twins united, and they launched the Taldryan members back. Talon hit hard against a blaster-scored crate, sliding down the side in agony to crumple on the floor. Aeson slid forcefully into the ramp of the shuttle, his back pounding against the support brackets. There, at the bottom of the ramp, a gold-lined cloak brushed against the heavy metal, its owner surveying the scene.
A younger version of this man would have darted into action, taking on whatever challenges were thrown at him. But Jac Cotelin was not necessarily young anymore. At age 61, he had lost some of that edge he carried in years prior. He had seen too many battles and known the thrill of it all one too many times to seek just that anymore. And so at the bottom of the shuttle ramp he stood, taking it all in before the plunge.
It still surprised Jac to see with his eyes what he already knew with the Force. He had felt through the fiberless web the suffering that this hangar wrought, including that of his fellow Taldrya. But the sight of it was more impactful. Shadow Taldrya, a close confidant and friend was unconscious and bleeding, but alive. Two other members of his squad were severely hampered by pain, and the last was beyond reach, dealing mayhem among the masses. In the distance, Rian’s blade cut up, down and through, the screams of the victims keeping time with the slow beating of Jac’s heart. Jac had felt it all, but the sight was always more gruesome.
It was the smell that always got to the Grand Master, though. Every scent wrought from his mind memories of lost allies and hard times. The smoldering debris from the detonators brought flickering images of Eos during the Exodus, when Ronin had resorted to a fight of a different kind. The sizzling flesh smelled of the death Cotelin had brought to hundreds, their faces in his mind both as trophies and horrors. The battle was no place for Cotelin anymore. He had been too far gone; too long at ease. These sights were for the young and uncaring.
So he had come as a favor only, his past experience as Commodore of the original SSD Avenger being sought after by the Council. Moreover, they needed his help in coordinating the battles; a very impressive and ambitious plan of numerous attack teams needed serious gifted coordination. Jac was good at that. And despite the rust and the weariness, Jac was still good at killing. These foes would die by his making.
“Is this the new challenge you were talking about, Reaper?”
“No, this one’s too old. You remember, brother, ‘it’s no fair to fight gray hair’” The twins giggled, their insane overconfidence showing in their every ounce of being.
In unison, the twins grabbed hands between them and raised their others. Like Shadow before him, Cotelin lifted from the ground; unlike Shadow it was but for a moment. Slowly and gently, despite the fighting efforts of his opponents, Cotelin willed himself back to the floor. Then came the attempted throw, the force surging from the Dark Jedi in a fierce torrent. Debris, metal, bodies and all flew against the outer wall of the hangar, Aeson’s recovering hulk among it, but like a man walking in wind, Cotelin leaned into the barrage and stood his ground.
“My my, good friend, this one is ve--” Frost’s quip was cut short, his throat suddenly exploding in pain. The twin doubled over in agony as Cotelin ripped free his vocal cords with nothing but concentration. And then he was on them in the blink of an eye; Jac used the force to cross the distance and pull dual golden sabers from his belt. It was all Reaper and Frost could do to react. They let loose each other’s hands to avoid having them cut off, and each turned only just in time to catch a blade from going through their necks. For a moment, while Jac’s golden sabers were locked against theirs, the twins saw into the eyes of the Dark Lord. There they saw death.
Cotelin pushed forward, each arm attending to its intended target. Spinning to add momentum to his swing, Cotelin brought both sabers to bear upon Reaper. Frost’s right blade interrupted the swing in time, but saving his brother left Frost unbalanced. An invisible leg swept under him, and Frost crashed to the floor. There, he couldn’t move, being pinned down by an invisible hand. Jac smiled as he walked over Frost, his golden blade quickly flicking down across the throat and then across the chest of his victim. Cotelin glanced at Talon with approval, whose efforts had kept Frost from coming to. The death had been quick.
Reaper backpedaled, traumatized by the loss of his brother and without any power to match the Dark Lord. Slowly, Jac walked toward the Dark Jedi, Aeson and Talon joining at his flanks. Reaper dropped to his knees. “My lord, you are ever powerful. This I know, and I will follow you to my death. I pledge myself to you for mercy, Lord.” Those were the last words he spoke. Aeson drove his saber through Reaper’s chest, and the corpse of the man smacked loud against the floor. The smell invaded the thoughts of the Grand Master. He thought of the first time Zoraan had been a menace; how many more good soldiers were to die for this cause?
Rian joined them, his killings complete. “Lord Cotelin, thank you.”
“You are of Taldryan, Rian, my Quaestor. Call me Jac.” The old man seemed to shrivel as he said it, the imposing murderer of men again regressing inward. Cotelin walked toward the Master, knelt beside him and concentrated. Shadow jolted awake, sitting upright quickly and turning to his knees. “Easy, friend,” Jac said, “you’ve had a nasty fall.” Cotelin smiled, it was a grin that Shadow knew all to well. There was something more to Jac being along for the ride.
Shadow put his hand to his head. The cut was superficial, though he was sure to look like hell. The Master nodded at his comrades and activated his communicator.
“Lord Pravus: Team 7 is aboard. Hangar is secure. We await instructions.”
Rian and his team, their ears and eyes still overwhelmed by the sensation of the flash bang, stumbled into the corridor directly into a squad of warriors. They were unrecognizable, wearing red-hued armor with strange looking blades trained at them. Before the Taldryan team could even react the warriors burst forward and brought their gleaming blades down on them.
None of the team was unable to dodge the attack, the blades of their assailants lightly cutting into flesh. The wounds delivered by the alien warriors weren’t severe, but within seconds Rian felt himself getting numb. He realized in shock that the awkward blade must have been treated with some kind of poison or neural-blocker. Sensation deceased as Rian scooted away, only to see another person approaching them from the right side of the corridor, clad in the black robes of a Sith Warrior, with a lightsaber dangling at his side. Rian growled, his mind summoning on all reserves, got a hold of his footing and rose unsteadily, only to be knocked back to the ground by the Dark Jedi. Darkness oozed at Rian as he saw the warriors stand over him. "Take them to the Detention area. Master Novae wants to interrogate them personally."
The Taldryanites were each thrown into a separate cell.Using the force and through its natural course, the team recovered from the toxin. The Taldryan Quaestor stared at the Dark Side warrior outside his one and a half square meter large detention cell. The alien warriors were there too. Rian vaguely remembered who they were and what happened. He looks out to see that each of his team was imprisoned in a cell similar to his own, their gear collected on a near table. Each of them? Looking around there were only four cells and the Obelisk Dark Jedi Master wasn’t anywhere else to be seen.The Quaestor felt a sense of urgency: they needed to get out of here fast and continue on their mission.
Aeson? Jac? Talon? Can you hear me? The blue-skinned Obelisk expanded his thoughts, hoping his team would get it.
I’m here, responded Aeson, which was followed by Talon’s quick Me too.
I got a plan but I’ll need your help, wait for my signal, Rian commanded. Jac and Shadow remained silent, although the Half-breed was sure the Elders paid them attention.
Eventually Rian started his plan to get them out of there, preparing to plant a single thought into the mind of the one Sith Warrior. You want to fight me. You want to see my strength at first hand.
The one whose mind he had reached parted from the other guards and walked over to the Quaestor. “I still can’t figure out how a bunch of suckers like you managed to beat Frost and Reaper.”
Rian met his gaze with ice-cold eyes. “Let me out and I will show you.”
The warrior laughed out loud, although all Taldryanites could feel his thoughts somersaulting. He took a look at his partner.
Come on, you know you can best me don’t you?
The Sith warrior strode back to the table with the panel controlling the energy fields around them. His fingers rushed over the panel. And the orange barrier around Rian vanished. “What are you doing my Lord?” One of the alien soldiers rushed in, exchanging concerned looks with him.
“Stand back alien-scum,” he growled at the Ailon Nova Guard. “This is none of your matter.” The Sith grinned evilly at the Templar, his lightsaber already in his hand he activated its ruby blade without paying the soldier any further attention. Rian stepped out of the cell and strode slowly over to the table with the weapons and collected his, and only his, blade from the pile of them. Although the Ailon Guardsman concerns grew even stronger, they avoided contradicting the Sith but stayed alert.
Rian and the warrior started to circle each other, warring on the verge of acting. Then the Sith burst forward, his ruby blade thrusting forward. Red clashed against purple in a shower of sparks once, twice, three times before they both parted. Despite the missing accuracy and the lack at proper footwork the Sith was a skilled duelist, yet he couldn’t stand a chance against the Templar for long.
Seeing the chance to let his plan happen so quickly, Rian shifted the angle of his right foot ever so slightly. Angling his blade into a more defensive posture, he let the ruby fire of his opponent’s blade slide along his own until he drew his amethyst blade around him closely. The Templar’s technique formed a tight defensive circle that would leave him in an advantageous position behind the Sith. But instead of delivering the coûp dé grace into the unprotected back of the Sith, Rian seized the opportunity and pistoned his left hand out, toward the table. A single jolt of electricity burst from his hand and arced into the control panel's conductor, overloading the system. The fields flickered and then went out.
Talon burst out of his cell the moment he saw the shield fail, crashing headlong into a Nova Guard. Seizing his opponent's moment of imbalance he sought the poisoned blade and wrenched it clear of the guard's grip using the force. Ideally he would have pulled the weapon to himself for his own use, but his mastery of the force proved insufficient to achieve this during that split-second of chaos and stress. Nevertheless he was pleased to be facing the alien on equal footing now and did not hesitate to swiftly strike at its head. The guard blocked the attack as he fell back in a Teras Kasi defensive stance. Talon pulled clear the arm that had foiled his jab, forcing his opponent out of balance a second time. Simultaneously his free left arm flashed towards the Nova Guard's face and he heard a distinct crack as his fist connected right below his opponent's jaw.
The warrior stumbled back in a stunned manner and the Dark Jedi was about to follow up on his attack, eager to finish the job. A flicker in the corner of his eye made him rethink this as he turned to see a second guard coming straight for him, his eklot in hand and ready to lash out. The ceremonial but deadly shortsword stabbed forward and forced Talon into a sideways roll. Coming up into a combat stance he found himself in the corner of the small cell complex, where there was no more room for a second evasion. The guard that had lunged at him was making his way towards the Dark Jedi, a decisive look in its eye. That look turned into one of surprise and shock as Talon saw his ignited lightsaber cleave its way through the alien's shoulder, severing its arm in the process. The saber completed its flight and hovered serenely infront of the Dark Jedi. Talon shot Aeson a nod of appreciation as he plucked his saber from the air and finished off the guard with a diagonal swoop.
To his right he saw Jac calmly stepping out of his cell, paying no mind to the obvious carnage that had just befallen the room. With a flick of the Grand Master's finger his weaponry found its way back to him.
"Gentlemen," Jac said coolly, while fastening his sabers to the small belt around his waist. "there is no doubt the security systems have been placed on full alert by now. Our progress will be hampered as long as the security system in our sector remains active."
The veteran looked to be turning inward for a fraction of a second before continuing. "Our objectives lie in two opposing directions. Furthermore, Shadow is not responding to my communications."
Rian nodded. "I shall take Aeson and Talon to the northern security points to disable them." The Quaestor knelt beside the corpse of the Sith warrior he had slain and pulled out a security card. "This should speed up our task enough to accomplish that and make our way back to you while you take out the southern points."
The Grand Master allowed himself a grim smile. "Let us not dally then. Keep an eye out for Shadow on the way to your objectives and stay alert if you run into friendly teams." The smile faded. "Remember Ekeia's message. There are traitors amongst us."
*Posting on behalf of Aeson Rhys*
Traitors among us, Aeson snorted to himself. Of course there were traitors among us. You create the largest collective of Dark Jedi in the galaxy, and somebody is going to start stabbing backs. Or even more than one. Gobhainn had warned Aeson to not let even somebody from Taldryan see his exposed back for long and Taldryanites were the most loyal of the Brotherhood, both to the Brotherhood and to their own Housemates.
Work together, help and protect each other but always be ready for someone to try to tear you down on their rise to glory, Gobhainn had said. Plain and simple, treachery was the nature of the Dark Side of the Force and most of those who used it.
But all that was for another time, Right now they were up to their knees in pudu. So they would work together.
Rian was speaking again as he typed at a data console.
“Aeson, you and Talon will follow me. We will go single file through the next chamber on our right. Aeson, you will take the rear; I will take the lead with Talon in the middle. This will protect him from weapon discharge since he has not developed any skill in deflection. Once we reach the first corridor to the right exiting that chamber I want you, Aeson, to take up position to cover us as Talon and I progress to the Security Computer mainframe. You’re the strongest of the three of us in the force so you’ll sense trouble before we will. Talon and I will proceed up the corridor.
“The system chief’s office is just before the computer chamber, so we’ll check and see if he’s there. If he is we will seize him; he can access the Security comp’ s security and firewall without setting off any more alarms than we already have. If the chief is unobliging, Talon and I can slice our way in. No offense, Aeson, but your skills with machines is somewhat questionable. Stick to organics.”
“There will probably be more Dark Jedi and these Royal Guardsman wannabes, but there will also be a high chance security droids, probably of the G-2RD model. If even one of those detects us, the whole level is going to know where we are and since they can see in 360, the odds of one of them missing us are slim. So this means we have to be ready to fight for every step we take.” Talon insisted, pointing at the schematics on another screen.
Rian nodded. “That will leave the access panel in the Control room and the computer in the XO’s office. Grand M… I mean Jac, if you could start toward those locations, you’re probably the most suited to face the challenges there. We will join you as soon as possible.” He said.
“Needless to say let’s all keep an eye out for Shadow” the Templar finished turning from the panel toward the exit.
“Uhm, Rian…” Aeson queried. ”Who do you think you’re talking to?”
The Wroonian turned on the Zeltron ready to remand him on his position but realized that Jac already stepped in by putting a hand on Aeson’s shoulder. The former Consul knew all too well the burden of being a leader in Taldryan and that Shadow being missing was gnawing at the young Quaestor.
"Y'know," Shadow mumbled. "I usually… find the whole… badass alien thing sexy." His words failed for a moment as he spit out a globule of blood. "I hate to say it… but I think you're… a little too rough… for my tastes."
He couldn't remember everything that had happened. After being dropped on his head repeatedly, things had been hazy. Following that had been a grenade of some kind, which had figuratively felt like a shiv to the brain, and then he was blissfully unconscious. Waking up after that had been… unpleasant.
"This Force stuff… is so impersonal," the Elder gasped. "I think we should try the classics… whips… leather… maybe a candle or two-ahhhhhhh." The quip was interrupted by another vicious onslaught of telekinetic attacks. These were no ham-fisted, blunt trauma strikes either, but rather precise, surgical slashes of concentrated will that left Shadow's body covered in finger-deep cuts. Blood oozed down his bare chest and onto the floor panel beneath him, adding to the ever-growing pool of crimson.
The robed wench fairly purred at the sight, licking her pale lips in delight. It might have been erotic to the shackled Shadow, except too much of his blood was on the ground instead of where it should be. Dantella Novae, that was her name according to the intelligence briefings, walked slowly around him. Every so often she would coo at an especially gruesome wound she had inflected. In the corner of the room, which Shadow assumed was some form of torture/bondage chamber, stood a droid passively watching its master's amusements.
"Such a strong body," the silky voice suddenly whispered in his ear. Her hand came up to gently cup the left side of his face. "And the mind to match. No stranger to this situation, poppet?"
"Embrace… of pain," Shadow replied with a smirk. "The Vong got off on torture almost as much as you, lady." This earned him a sharp slap followed by another mirthless laugh.
"You will answer my questions." Her voice subtly changed, becoming an octave lower. Shadow rebelled against the mental attack, focusing on the pain to help strengthen the mental barriers he had erected.
"Mind tricks… won't work on me… only pussy," he mocked, a bloody grin splitting his face. It hurt, but it felt damn good.
Dantella's grey features twisted in rage. She let out a savage snarl and pulled a dagger from within her robes. The twisted blade was slightly discolored and Shadow could smell the poison on it. Fearing her loss of control, Shadow braced himself, the blade arcing swiftly towards his neck.
BOOM! The ground suddenly quaked beneath their feet. Dantella's attack stopped mid-swing as she looked around the room in confusion. Another painfully loud crash sounded followed by a series of tremors. Shadow tensed himself up and smiled inwards. He only had a few moments, but he needed to focus on siphoning off the pain if he was going to be of any use.
"Revlo!" Dantella shouted, whirling towards the droid. "What is this?"
"Apologies, mistress. It appears the bulkheads of this deck are being crushed inward by some unknown force." The droid replied in a casual monotone.
"What… How?" Dantella sputtered in shock. Shadow started laughing aloud, unable to contain himself any longer. "You… what is this?" She demanded.
"Traitors among us, right?" He mocked, vaguely recalling the useless info the team had received in the hangar. "See, lady… the problem with traitors is that they're traitors for a reason," he explained. "They only know what they're told and can't really predict how the people above them will act."
The room shuddered again. Louder this time. Closer.
"You see," Shadow continued, "you kind of pissed off the wrong guy. And he was a last-minute recruit for this mission…"
The wall nearest them suddenly folded itself inwards with a scream of durasteel being shredded. A brief moment of silence followed until the entire wall split into two great sections and was sucked away as if by a black hole. Standing alone amidst the smoke and debris was a lone man holding two golden-hued lightsabers at his side.
Rian pressed the access panel on the wall next to the door, his body instinctively coiling as he took on a fighting crouch. The door slid open to reveal the upper level of the hall. But relaxed the blink he realized there was neither a security droid nor one of the red-armored Soldiers awaiting them on the other side.
The hall wasn’t that much massive – approximately 30 meters wide and about twice that long with several doors and passages lining its borders. The passage they would need to walk along was at the opposite side of the room and about two meters below on their right. They’d have to cross nearly the entire length of the hall. Nodding at his team they slipped out the door one by one out of the cell complex and into the hall and over the railing to the bottom level of the floor. From there they split up, with Jac disappearing in a blur of motion to their right and the others heading straight for the passage in front of them.
Although there was no need for it they ran low crouched along the walls heading for the passage that Aslar has pointed at on the map. As they approached, a single droid came around the corner.
It was spherical in shape, not a full meter tall, and half the size wide at its equator. It hovered a good meter off the ground and sported three evenly long arms on its body. A ring of photoreceptors encircled the main body just below its greatest diameter. It was clearly a G-2RD Series Droid. Rian burst toward it, igniting his lightsaber as he did so. With a quick flick of his wrist the amethyst blade easily sliced through the unfortified plating of the droid’s hull and into its control circuits before it could ring an alarm. A shower of sparks and a charred and swelling hull was all that remained as Rian unignited his blade.
They found themselves standing in a narrow corridor. Assuming the blueprints fit the actual layout of the area, it would lead them directly to the system chief’s office and the computer chamber, where they would slice into the ship’s network and disable the areas security systems.
“Stay close,” Rian instructed them as he spied around the next corner. They set off around the corner and straightly for the chief’s office. They burst into it only to be welcomed by another G-2RD Guard Droid and the chief himself – and suddenly their eardrums were nearly shattered by a whooping siren. Rian’s blade flourished through the air once more cutting the droid down, silently cursing himself for making such a foolish mistake while Aeson lunged at the chief who desperately trained his single blaster at the Krath. “Talon, the chief must have an ID-card we can use, use it to slice into the network and get the alarm off. Aeson, we will hold off security.”
Unlike ordinary soldiers, who would have been chopped down before they could even bring their weapons to bear, the Ailon Nova Guard were not so easily felled, since the Dark Jedi needed to carefully avoid any contact with their Eklots. “Shut down that alert, Talon!” Rian barked back, ducking under a wild swing from the guard he currently battled.
Shut down that alert Talon! The hell do you think I’m doing here, Boss! Talon thought, his fingers flickering over the controls. He managed to quickly slice into the main security communications, bypassing one restriction and accessing one password after the other thanks to the ID-card. By now it would take him only seconds and…. Finally the alarm went silent. Puh, the Knight sighed, now he would have to focus on closing out any further reinforcements. Seconds seemingly turned into minutes as he placed multiple high classified security breaches in other sections while shutting down any access to this level at the same time. That should work. “Got it Boss.” He yelled back at the Quaestor, his emerald blade filling his grasp as he moved in to join the fray.
With reinforcements unavailable the remaining Nova Guards were quickly slain and the three turned for the security computers in the next room. Talon and Rian each turned their attention on different computer panels while Aeson stood guard, just in case.
“Boss, the code to shut these down is 'Guest.'”
“What kind of Idiot would take such a code for a Security code?”
“I don’t know, just type that into the computer, Boss.”
“Alright.” They typed in the code in unison and an audible hum indicated them to have succeeded on their part of the mission. Turning from the panels the three headed out of the computer chamber. “Now let’s get to Jac!”
“This way!” Rian commanded, the explosion in the distance giving him at once confidence in their direction and apprehension of what they would find. Having dispatched their objectives, Rian and his half of the team had set off to find both Shadow and the former Dark Lord. They backtracked to the turbolift first and proceeded in the direction they had last seen Cotelin move. That direction was the same as where they heard the blast now. Followed closely by his companions, the Taldryan Quaestor was ever hopeful that the other half of his team fared well.
“Where are the rest of the defenses?” Talon wondered aloud. “I would have thought--”
“I would guess that the guards are headed right to where we are,” cut in Aeson.
“Quiet!” Rian urged in a hushed command. “We have no idea what is up here. Remember: whatever it is was enough to subdue Shadow and, from the sounds of it, is giving trouble to the Grand Master.” The House leader moved slowly down the corridors, hugging the walls and checking each corner. The farther he went and the quieter it became, the more concerned the Quaestor grew. The truth was he didn’t know either of the Elders in his team well enough to trust that all was okay. Shadow had assured him that all would be well, but it still did not sit well with him, the last minute addition of Cotelin to his team. The Grand Master had been all but gone throughout the duration of Rian’s time as Quaestor. What was he doing back now?
The Quaestor dropped the thoughts of doubt from his head. Telling himself that the elders could control the situation, he pressed on toward the source of where they heard the explosion. After a few wrong turns into dead ends, they found what they were looking for.
A grand mixture of bodies, machines and rubble littered the end of the hall. From the looks of it, a giant hole had been ripped from the wall, the durasteel pieces that once made up the smooth surface tossed aside onto the ground. The surrounding walls were covered in blaster marks, scrapes and distinct saber scars. Below them, the husks of warriors that had long since been ripped from this world lay in unkempt piles. Strewn amongst the bodies of the dead were former machines, now far from functional. The smell was horrendous; a stench of sweat and blood, burnt metal and flesh.
And there, standing alone on top of the pile was one Shadow Taldrya. The Dark Jedi Master, his left foot on the hulk of a droid, his right lodged in the broken chest cavity of a Ailon Nova Guard, was gazing into the next chamber through the torn durasteel. The Taldrya elder looked ragged. His clothes were torn and dripping with blood. His jet black hair was dripping; whether it was sweat or more blood, Rian couldn’t tell. The breathing of the Master was heavy yet certain. In his hands were two golden sabers, ignited but at his side. It was only then that Rian realized: he has Shadow’s gear from the cell chamber; the sabers Shadow held were Cotelin’s.
Something kept Rian from calling out. He wasn’t sure what, but the sight of the Taldryan Master kept the Quaestor reserved. The silence behind him confirmed his feelings; Aeson and Talon did not say a word. Slowly, the commander beckoned his brethren forward; cautiously, they inched toward Shadow. And then from nowhere, and gone before it could truly register, Rian felt and heard a terrible surge in the force, a great tremor of urgency and pain.
The others felt it too. Aeson and Talon reeled back. Shadow, upon his mound of dead, stole a step backwards to keep his balance. As he did so, the Taldrya glanced over to his comrades, giving them but little attention other than to slightly pull his head to beckon them forward. The Master deactivated the sabers as Rian, Talon and Aeson approached. The Quaestor quickly bounded on top of the pile with Shadow and turned his attention to the chamber across the threshold.
There stood Jac Cotelin, his back to the fellow Taldryan members. The Dark Lord’s black and gold lined cape gently swept the ground at Jac’s feet. His arms were to his side, almost lifeless. At Cotelin’s feet was the husk of a defeated droid, two daggers sticking from its form and severed weapons adorning the ground beside. There beyond was an obvious room built for interrogation. And across from Cotelin was what was sure to be the main interrogator. Rian recognized Dantella Novae where she stood by the Shadowcloak she wore.
The Dark Jedi mistress was flirting between bouts of calm like the Grand Master before her and convulsions that rippled through her entire body. Rain watched her, mesmerized by the sight. Again the force raged, a scream splintering the Quaestor’s mind. The Taldryan leader doubled over, the pain splitting in his head. He knew the scream was from the mind of Novae and could not doubt the reasons. Regaining his composure, the Quaestor stood quietly by his brothers in arms for many minutes, watching as Dantella Novae struggled in an internal fight against a greater foe.
Those mere minutes felt like an eternity to Dantella and her aggressor, Jac Cotelin. Attacking the mind of the Grand Master had been a reckless mistake of the mistress; she had let him in.
The Dark Lord strode through the mental corridors of his victim, peering into her wit and soul. Like a conductor of a mighty orchestra, Jac Cotelin toyed with the thoughts and memories of Dantella. He pressed through the vast waste of the banal and the unimportant, searching for answers to vital questions. The answers were few and far between, for what he saw was familiar: a mental plague that had been at the forefront of many conflicts in the Brotherhood. Cotelin had encountered this before when Lord Zoraan was Grand Master.
The Elder knew that beneath the surface, this skilled mistress was more than a mere puppet of the slain former Grand Master. There had been a moment in time long ago when Jac had felt an opportunity to save Zoraan from the abyss of insanity. That opportunity was lost then. Here, another was found that, while it would not make up for all of the past, could provide the Brotherhood with an important asset. Kill or capture were the orders. Cotelin intended to move a step beyond: turn.
The never waning concentration of the Grand Master pressed into the mind of his prey. The fits of rage and pain that convulsed through her body were nothing more than defense mechanisms designed to ward off intruders. Cotelin heard the screams of Dantella echo in his own mind, as her only method of defense was to attack Jac himself. But years of training had allowed the Dark Lord to at once fend off mental intrusion and unleash mental power. And unleash it he did, sending pulsing waves of probing will into the waiting mind of Dantella Novae.
For an endless time, Cotelin probed until he found the source. Dantella Novae, Jac determined, was not truly insane. Nor was she lost to the Brotherhood like so many other foes they faced. Rather, Jac found deep within the recesses of this Dark Jedi’s mind, a single point that led her to Zoraan. She was infatuated with him; she loved him. The blind rage that she felt upon Zoraan’s death, and the loyalty she showed him in life was based on a simple concept.
With a determined thought and the inception of an idea in Dantella’s mind, Cotelin’s job was complete. The flick of a figurative switch turned love into hatred, and the reason for Dantella’s service into a reason for betrayal. She would be a valuable asset to the Brotherhood now, willingly serving the Dark Council. Perhaps, should Ashen be merciful, Novae would one day even join the ranks. Until then, she was a prisoner. Upon Cotelin’s will she stopped her convulsing and dropped to the floor unconscious. Cotelin dropped as well, crumpling to the ground, exhausted.
Talon broke rank first, running to the elder Taldrya. “Jac!” he called, not sure whether he would be received well at all. As he quickly approached, however, Talon could see that the Grand Master was fine. In fact, for the first time in a long time, the Grand Master was laughing.
“Something funny, Jac?” Shadow quipped while walking past the Grand Master to inspect the downed Dantella.
Through short breaths, Cotelin responded: “You certainly have a way with people, Shadow. She was enthralled by you.” The Grand Master rose to his feet and turned to inspect the rest of the room. “Well done, here, Taldrya.”
“Thanks for the sabers. No thanks for knocking her out. I prefer them in a conscious state.” Shadow tossed back the golden sabers to the former Dark Lord, Jac catching and stowing each in turn. As the sabers left his hands, Shadow felt weaker, as if the golden hilts were imbued with a power for the wielder. He would need to ask Cotelin about that later.
“How long will she be out?” asked Aeson, now standing over the downed mistress.
“Long enough,” remarked Cotelin. “Talon, send word to Lord Pravus that we have a prisoner. We are leaving her here.” Cotelin reached down and dislodged each of Dantella’s daggers from her droid companion’s husk, and grabbed the lightsaber off of her belt. He handed the weapons to Aeson, a souvenir of sorts. “Rian,” Cotelin called out, “now where to?”
“Follow me,” Rian commanded. The Taldryan members fell into line, carefully headed to their next objective.
On their way, Shadow queried his old friend. “How in the world would you let that flashbang take us down, Jac? That was just ridiculous. I wasn’t paying attention, but you would have never let that happen in years past.”
“Perhaps, my friend, the narrator of our story has a different plan for us than we intend. Or perhaps I knew the outcomes and chose the better route. You may never know.”
“Glad I asked,” Shadow quipped sarcastically. To the rest, Shadow knew that Jac’s answers were likely to be taken as serious. To Shadow, however, the obvious dry jest of the Dark Lord was comforting; like in old times and wars gone by, Jac was playing the game and screwing with everyone. As they walked deeper into the core of the ship and awaited further instruction Shadow was comforted to know that all was normal again.
Shadow rested with his eyes closed as the healing effects of the Grand Master's power flowed through him. His wounds, coupled with the ravaging effect wielding Cotelin's lightsabers had left him mentally and physically exhausted. But already he could feel his energy being restored, his mind becoming clearer as the Force accelerated his body's natural healing.
After the battle with the Inquisitor, Dantella Novae, Rian had led the team quickly through the battle-scarred deck towards the turbolifts that would take them to the directly to the bridge. While Shadow had been busy flirting with her, Rian, Aeson, and Talon had successfully disabled the security that had prevented the team from reaching their main objective. Now, the team was preparing for whatever awaited them above.
Jac was the first to react to the sudden change. The klaxons that had announced the presence of intruders was now blaring a different warning. The ship was in danger. A moment later, Shadow felt a tremor through the Force that he hadn't noticed before, a chilling touch of foreboding that forced him back to his feet. A quick glance told him Jac had felt the same thing, though likely with a lot more clarity.
"Trouble," Jac warned the others, who had picked up on the elders' silent communication. "Shad, you good?"
"Yeah, I'm good," Shadow nodded, pushing the last of his pain and weariness into the back of his mind. He could deal with it later.
"Then let's move."
The team hurried into the waiting turbolift and Rian accessed the control panel and activated it. Shadow braced himself slightly against the sudden thrust of gravity and fingered his lightsabers anxiously. Whatever he and Jac had felt was more than just dangerous. It was wrong. Sick. Whatever the situation on the bridge, Shadow already knew the mission had just become a lot more difficult.
As they reached bridge level, the doors opened with a swoosh. Jac immediately stepped in front of the others, holding an arm up to bar their way. Shadow caught a glimpse of the slaughter before his senses were assailed by an overpowering presence in the Force. He quickly followed behind Jac as the Grand Master stepped out of the lift and scanned the carnage. Bodies were strewn haphazardly all around the deck. Shadow saw evidence of wounds caused by lightning, telekinesis, lightsabers, and… claw marks.
Had another team arrived before they had? Why would they have cleared the area and left? Again, the rolling wave of pressure swept against his senses and forced him to turned left towards the bridge. Every single officer on the deck had been mercilessly torn apart and left to rot. A solitary robed figure stood over the slaughter. His hair was tied back in a high ponytail, pulled tightly away from his face the bottom half of which was replaced with cybernetics. He was powerfully built and wearing robes dyed crimson from the blood he had recently spilt.
The word sprang to Shadow's mind unbidden. He was acquainted with some of the most powerful men and women in the Dark Brotherhood. In fact, the strongest he had ever met stood only a couple of feet to his left, but this robed stranger exuded a Force presence that rivaled even Jac Cotelin's. The figure turned towards the team, but paid them no mind. It was if they weren't even there. For a split second, Shadow locked eyes with the figure.
That was all he could see in those eyes. There was no truce of lucid thought or reason left to the man, not even the wild instincts of an animal. Whatever power the man had, he was very obviously not seeing reality as it was. Perhaps the Force had overwhelmed him. A dangerous side effect certain Force users succumbed to, the man had lost himself to his own power.
"Necar," Jac whispered a solemn oath.
"Jac…?" Rian probed, eyes shifting from the robed man back to the Grand Master.
A moment seemed to pass before Jac answered in a subdued tone. "Necar… was once a member of the Brotherhood and a fanatic follower of Zoraan's. He disappeared shortly after his master was believed to have died on Eos years ago." When Zoraan had gone insane and destroyed the Dark Hall.
Jac paused to study the figure in the distance, eyes narrowing as he took in the man's current state. Necar still had yet to notice the team of Dark Jedi. He muttered quietly to himself, an imperceptible hum of unintelligible drivel.
"He was weak-minded and somewhat unbalanced," Jac continued, "but it seems he managed to find his old master. A pity. Zoraan's teachings would have already overwhelmed him, but with the Dark Lord's death, Necar has truly gone insane. We must be cautious."
Shadow edged himself closer to Jac and waited for the Grand Master to come up with some sort of plan. With Jac's words and the constant pressure he felt from their adversary, Shadow was well-aware that this Necar was a foe the others had no chance to take on. Even still, the three had their weapons at hand, prepared to fight despite the overwhelming odds. Shadow almost smiled… it was so very Taldryan of them.
The sudden shuddering of the Avenger II pulled his focus away from the immediate threat. Those warning sirens weren't about Necar, something else was happening. Something bad. Shadow turned to Jac to find he had his eyes closed in concentration.
"What now?" Shadow complained.
Jac turned towards the others and pointed down the opposite side of the deck from where Necar stood. A control panel was situated to the far West of the bridge with a bright red light flashing constantly. "Necar has set something in motion that will destroy this ship and everyone on it," Jac announced. "You three. You need to figure out what is happening and stop it."
"What will you two do?" Rian asked.
Shadow already knew the answer. He unsheathed his lightsaber and shoto and offered a grim smile. Jac saw that and nodded.
"We're going to go kill Zoraan's apprentice."
The blue-skinned, half-breed felt a strange feeling grow in his stomach. The image the insane apprentice had drawn on the bridge was disgusting, with blood and gore painting the walls, ground and terminals additionally to the twisted bodies scattered all over. Rian took one last glance over his shoulder at the elders. Together, they cautiously walked over to Necar, who stood there looking through the planet of Antei that slowly grew in the Avenger II’s viewport. Rian believed he should be at their side fighting and possibly sacrificing his own life for the lives of those he loved and cared about, but in truth he would do them more ill than good if he were to engage Zoraan’s apprentice. Instead he would go with Aeson and Talon to see what was wrong with the ship itself.
Aeson and Rian were first to reach the panel with Talon hot on their heels. “Talon, do you see what I see?” The Quaestor asked, after taking a moment to study the lights and screens on the panels.
“Damn, that idiot has disabled the safety protocols of the nav comp,” the Knight replied.
“It gets worse. Do you see that?”
“Yes. Looks like he’s programmed the comp to plot a course straight through the planet.”
Aeson looked from one to the other with a puzzled expression, like they were talking in an unknown language. “And the reason we’re still alive is because…”
“The reason we’re still alive is the same reason it was so easy to board the ship – the Shroud. Once the ship moved out of the Shroud it will take the nav comp only seconds to plot the course and engage the engines.” Talon answered as the mostly skilled pilot among them.
Aeson turned his head toward the viewport where he could see Antei clearly visible now, already filling half of the canopy. “And you two got a plan on how we can prevent this from happening?”
“Talon?” Rian asked.
The young Obelisk went silent for a moment, his mind rushing as he evaluated their possibilities. “I guess our best chance would be to override the hyper-drive protocols and force a restart with the back-up hyper-drive protocols. And that means we need to manipulate the nav comp directly.” Talon turned and pointed at the four-sided monster comp in the middle of the room between the operation central and the point they entered the bridge.
Aeson Rhys was not paying much attention to the Knight’s response. The viewport held much of his attention. He hated being in space almost as much as he hated being on open water. The vastness of it was just made him so inconsequential. The void could swallow him into oblivion and never realize that the Krath Priest had passed from existence. Although neither an egotist nor a megalomaniac, Aeson needed to feel that he had some control of his environment. The ocean and space were the two places that Aeson’s powers could not influence his surroundings and he hated that implacability.
However, as he stood staring at the view screen, Aeson felt something dark and bloodthirsty coming from behind him. It was not the sense of insanity that came from Zoraan’s apprentice from the other room. That was focused on Jac and Shadow; this was something more bestial and it was not angry but hungry.
The Zeltron spun.
Coming from the conference room on the far side of the room, two creatures were pushing against each other trying to force their way through the door at the same time. The creatures looked like miniature rancors, only covered with plates of armor and spines. They also had two tusks, one on each side of its mouth, curving inward like an insects mandibles, and long sharp claws which were covered with strips of cloth and bloody flesh. One of the creatures held what appeared a humanoid leg tight in one claw, the ankle obviously broken as the boot flopped limply sideways.
Talon and Rian were still bent focusing on the control panel of the hyperdrive mainframe and seemed unaware of dangerous creatures behind them. They were fully focused on the problem of reprogramming the hyperdrive before it threw them through Antei.
“Rian!” Aeson screamed.
The Taldryan Quaestor looked up in time to see Aeson come charging toward hims and Talon in an obviously Force enhanced sprint. At first the Templar thought that the Krath Priest was attacking him. The Zeltron had drawn one of his FWG-5 Flechette pistols in his off hand and igniting his sapphire bladed Krath Heresy lightsaber in his strong hand. Rian’s hand snapped to his own lightsaber to defend himself, however he knew by the emanations in the force that this attack was not directed at him but rather at something behind him. In fact, now that his focus was broken, Rian felt the presence of two hostile creatures behind him.
Aeson used his speed and the Force to jump first to the top of the mainframe and then high into the air speeding toward the creatures just as they manage to break free of jamming them selves in the door. One of the creatures appeared to be lowering its spiny head and arms in preparation for a devastating charge into Talon’s back. The other had thrown itself upright and raised its claws, tightly rolled into fists, above its head, roaring a primeval challenge.
Aeson chose to attack the one that was set to charge Talon. He had to protect both his housemate and the computer. If the mainframe was damaged they would all die. At the peak of his leap, Aeson squeezed off two pellets from the flechette pistol. He was about six meters from the beast and above it, just about the minimum range to use the flechettes. The pellets were pushed forward at supersonic speeds by the gun’s repulsor matrix. Three meters from the now charging animal, the capsules burst apart, each throwing twenty Osmiridium flechettes.
The darts slammed into the onrushing beast, bringing its charge to a sudden halt. Many of the darts had sliced open the animal’s face leaving it in a bloody ruin and obviously blind in one eye. However, the armor plating along the creature’s back and especially the bony crest that covered its brain pan and neck had absorbed most of the impact of the flechettes. Most were only half embedded in those plate, although a few had hit seams along the spine and penetrated fully. It now was bleeding from about eight holes in its back. Yet, other than stopping the charge, the beast seemed unphased.
Aeson was now dropping, less than a second from firing. He rolled his right arm and shoulder forward, extending his right arm with his lightsaber point first and throwing his left arm with its pistol behind him for balance. Using his forward momentum, the Zeltron turned his descent into a Makashi Flying Fleche. His lightsaber slammed into the creature’s crest just above and between its eyes. It should have been driven up to the hilt, penetrating the brainpan and splitting the cervical column, driven by Aeson’s body weight and momentum.
Yet, inexplicably, the saber turned, leaving a thin charred gouge along the crest, cutting two of the embedded flechettes in half. The deflection of the lightsaber threw Aeson off balance and he slammed his shoulder into the beast’s head, impaling it on a couple of the crest’s spines and slicing it on the two severed flechettes. He slid and then was thrown as the angry creature tossed its large head trying to disengage the weight that had so suddenly landed on it. Aeson landed on his back about two and a half meters from the animal and to the right, losing his grip on his pistol as he impacted the deck. He slid another three meters before slamming into the wall. He was confused and surprised more than seriously hurt.
The thing had just resisted being cut by a lightsaber. The only creature Aeson knew that could do that was a Vong Amphistaff.
Yet he knew what these things were. They were Exar Kun’s Jedi hunters. They were the guardians of Korriban’s tombs. They were Terentatek. They had a strong resistance to the Force being used against them directly and they were as poisonous as they were brutal, but the Krath had never heard of them being resistant to lightsabers. This mission was getting worse by the moment.
Aeson could see Rian squaring off with the other terentatek with his lightsaber. The orange haired half-breed had just deflected a swipe from the beast using a Soresu parry-riposte combination that should have removed the animal’s hand. Instead Rian’s lightsaber had bounced as though it had connected with another lightsaber.
Talon had turned and seen the monsters. He had just placed his hand on his saber when Rian yelled out.
“Talon, No!” the Quaestor commanded. “You stay on the computer. If we’re all fighting and this thing jumps, we’re all dead.”
The Dark Jedi Knight hesitated torn between aiding his companions, who could use his superhuman speed in the fight or working on the computer which he had only vague ideas what he was doing. Finally, he chose to obey Rian and show that he was able to do what they could not. His fingers flew across console and keyboard in a blur as data scrolled on the screen almost too fast to read. He had slowed the SSD’s travel by telling the navcomp that every single piece of rock nearby was a navigation hazard. None were actually large enough to penetrate the shields but now the comp thought that it was flying through a giant asteroid field rather than the edge of the Shroud. But this would only buy them some time... twenty minutes at most. He had to crack the engagement codes for the Hyperdrive before then. And he had to stay alive to do that. The knight realized the Elders had their fight, the Equites had theirs and he had his. If any of the battles were lost, then they were all going to die. Except for maybe Jac. Brotherhood lore said that Jac was as close to being immortal as anyone could be.
Aeson saw that the Terentatek that he had injured had turned on him. Its head was angled a little more to the right so it could see since Aeson had blinded its right eye. He knew that he had to get it away from Talon and the navcomp. Collateral damage was not an option here. Suddenly, he had an idea. There was a narrow hall to his right that led to a turbolift. If he could just get it to follow him into that hall, he might just be able to eliminate the creature without putting anyone else at risk. To do that though, he was going to have to get it into a blood rage, where it was just acting not reacting.
Aeson extinguished his lightsaber and returned it to his belt. He then drew his other FWG-5 and with the Force drew his original one back to his off hand. He switched them over from the flechettes to the laser beam. The beam would not damage these heavily armored creatures much but it would cause them pain.
The Zeltron fired four shots in rapid succession at the terentatek’s ravaged face; the lasers biting in to the exposed flesh from the earlier damage. Then as the beast roared and raised up, Aeson fired off two shots into its groin area, figuring that that had to be a pretty sensitive.
The Terentatek dropped and charged. Using its long front limbs as fulcrums, it levered its mass forward at high velocity.
Aeson dove for the corridor. Unfortunately this was where things were “do or die” and quite possibly “do and die”. He paused for just a moment in the entrance. Sure enough, in less than a second the Krath was thrown forward as great sharp claws raked across his back. Using the Force to ease the pain, Aeson scrambled to his feet and sprinted down the corridor. Dropping one of his pistols, he reached back and drew one of his three remaining thermal detonators.
The terentatek was following him, frenzied with the smell of Force rich blood and in fury from the earlier pain, however the narrow corridor hampered its movement; its bulk filling the space. This also meant that there was no way around the beast to escape.
About ten meters from the turbolift, Aeson activated the thermal detonator and dropped it to the deck. When he reached the turbolift, the priest used the Force to augment his strength and pried open the doors just enough to slip through. He jumped across the chute, grabbing the brake railing. A moment later he heard the terentatek slam into the doors, one arm stretching but not quite reaching Aeson. However the Krath Priest could not afford to hesitate. Using the Force he jumped upwards, once, twice, three times. As he was mid air on the third jump there was a flash of brilliant light followed by a great downward rush of air. He had just barely gotten outside the twenty meter radius of the disintegration field as the detonator had exploded.
The terentatek had been in the middle of that area and therefore was no more. So was one of Aeson’s pistols. Worse yet he had exhausted himself and was still bleeding profusely. He could feel the terentatek’s venom flowing through him, sapping what strength he had left. He did not have enough skill to counter the poison.
Aeson had just enough strength to get to the next set of turbolift doors and pry them open enough to slide through. There he sat down on the floor, with his lightsaber in one hand and his remaining pistol in the other. Soon he slipped into unconsciousness … four decks above the rest of the battle.
Rian had been fighting the terentatek for several exchanges. He was bloody and could feel the beast’s venom slowing him down. He had managed to get several solid blows on the animal but that barely seemed to phase it. It even seemed like some of its wounds were closing right before his eyes. Aeson had disappeared down the far corridor. It almost looked like he had panicked and ran, but Rian did not want to think the Zeltron craven.
Suddenly the far wall shimmered and then, with a thud, was gone. Left behind was a twenty meter spherical void. It went up two decks and down two decks.
Aeson's using those blasted detonators again the Obelisk swore to himself. I swear, that man is unwholesomely fond of explosives.
The terentatek which Rian had been fighting suddenly broke and ran to the void, It stood there for several moments, roaring and beating its claws on the deck.
They must have been a mated pair, and this one realizes that something has happened to its mate, Its going to be twice as dangerous when it turns around. the Templar thought.
Then it came to him, Aeson had had just created the ultimate pit-trap. Using all of his strength and strength enhancing force abilities, Rian charged and slammed into the terentatek’s back. it teetered for a moment and then fell forward, falling two decks, six meters below.
It stood up and looked at Rian, roared and tried unsuccessfully to climb back up. Finally it roared angrily then turn and ambled down the corridor it now occupied.
“Well, that thing is someone else’s problem now and they are welcome to it,” the Templar muttered.
Turning to the Jedi Knight still working at the console, Rian questioned, “how are you doing with those codes, Talon?”
Stealing a glance at his brethren was unwise, but Shadow took the chance. The force swirled with too much activity; sometimes other senses could tell you more. Ducking under the blood-stained sword of his foe, Shadow quickly turned to see. There, on the lower level of the bridge, Rian stood over Talon at the navicomputer. Aeson was nowhere near, though Shadow could sense he was alright, relatively speaking.
Muz isn’t going to be happy about that, thought Shadow as he quickly gazed at the demolition beyond. There was now an enormous pit that had been ripped through the outer walls of the command deck. They were lucky to be alive, yet again, as Aeson’s detonator fortunately did not harm the outer hull.
The Master left his gaze for too long, even the split second that it was, and turned back to find the sword bearing down on him. Panic struck momentarily as Shadow tried to bring his defenses to bare. But instead of losing a limb to his foe, a golden blade swept across the edge of the sword, deflecting it back.
Cotelin didn’t miss a beat, as if the defense of his ally was part of a practiced dance. He spun to the opposite shoulder of Necar, away from Shadow, and drew the attention of his enemy long enough for Shadow to re-engage. For minutes that seemed like an eternity, each took turns thrusting, parrying, extending and retreating, but there was no break in any defense, nor any sign of weariness. It seemed that Necar noticed the stalemate as well; the two on one match would not bring a quick resolution. As if the fight were nothing but a duel, Necar disengaged and stepped backwards quickly.
“Lord Cotelin, I presume,” crackled the voice of the insane Dark Jedi. “I apologize for not giving the proper introduction as my master, Lord Zoraan of Antei, would have directed.” The statement, though completely inappropriate for this point of the conflict, was true. Necar had engaged immediately, the blind rage of the Dark Side filling him and pouring out unto the Taldrya. The ferociousness of it all had taken both Jac and Shadow by surprise. They had known Necar was insane, but he violated a few rules of the typical Jedi engagement by jumping right in. As powerful as he was, he didn’t even try to use the Force to discard his opponents; rather, he batted away with his bloody sword. Had it not been two on one, Necar may have dispatched either of the elder Dark Jedi individually in his insane state.
Jac glanced to Shadow with a smirk. They had talked on the long flight over about the language of Zoraan and his kin. The pomp and circumstance of it all had always been a highlight of Zoraan’s reign. Jac was not surprised to hear Necar carry the tradition. “Your ‘Lord Zoraan of Antei’ was neither a lord nor of our world.” Jac said mockingly. “His reign was on Eos, was short-lived, and was inconsequential.”
Cotelin hit the right nerve, as intended; prim and proper Necar gave way again to snarling and shaking. The foe raised his left hand quickly, and with it rose two bloody corpses that laid at his feet. The dripping mounds of flesh darted through the air toward the Taldryan brothers, red stain splattering off every surface along the way. Both bodies were batted away with invisible hands, but they were followed by others, as Necar launched his former victims as missiles in a blind rage. Two, four, six rounds of a twisted game of catch occurred; the Taldrya men were soaked in the blood of others before Necar ran out of ammunition to fuel his tantrum.
His actions are strange, noted Jac telepathically to his ally. Follow my lead on this.
“Lord Necar, you are all powerful. We had not seen it before, but I am sure now that Lord Zoraan has trained you in the manners suitable to your class,” said the Grand Master, stepping forward slowly. “Perhaps, having known the late Lord Zoraan, I can attest to your ascension over his former throne, that you are the more powerful.”
“SILENCE!” screamed the crazed Jedi. “Lord Zoraan is not the ‘late’ Lord. He lives. His spirit is here. He lives! He will come to us again. He lives!” Cotelin again glanced at Shadow, but it wasn’t a reassuring glance. Jac had no idea what was about to happen.
Suddenly, Necar’s head flew backwards, his arms stretched out, and his feet raised off the floor. As if possessed by unknown demons, the Dark Jedi thrashed and turned in mid-air, all the while screaming and cackling. Bursts of Force energy lashed out in every direction; it was all the Taldrya could to but to maintain their defenses. And suddenly, as quickly as it began, Necar dropped back to the floor, landing on his hands and knees, his head to the floor. Necar didn’t rise. He held longer as Cotelin and Shadow observed, curiously.
And then a misty light formed at Necar’s back. Slowly, the light rose higher, forming into a mass before them. It took human shape, tall and slender. The light formed into the outline of a Jedi in formal robes.
Jac was the first to recognize the force ghost. “Zoraan,” Cotelin whispered.
Lord Zoraan, corporeal and standing over his apprentice, raised his icy gaze to that of Jac’s.
“Lord Cotelin,” the strong and wispy voice declared, “we have been too long departed.” Zoraan stepped away from the still-kneeling Necar and gazed around the command deck. “Many decades have passed since you enlightened me with your esteemed presence.”
Zorann continued: “I fear you have disappointed me, Lord Cotelin, as have you, Master Taldrya. You have betrayed the rites of ascension and betrayed the Brotherhood of Darkness. You deserve no mercy, Lords Cotelin and Taldrya. I am resolved as your true Lord and Master to dispense justice as the Brethren commands me.”
At that same moment, Necar charged and the living Terentatek leapt from its prison to bear down on Talon and Rian. “HE LIVES!”
Sweat trickled down Talon's forehead as he surveyed the navcomp code on the main terminal. He was extremely familiar with the systems on his TIE Defender and had plotted, adjusted and readjusted thousands of hyperspace jumps over the course of his years served in the TIE Corps.
The systems on board the Super Star Destroyer were another matter entirely, however. The basics were the same, but instead of 75 fail-safes there were thousands. Tens of thousands if you counted real-space navigation fail-safes.
Normally any vessel with a plotted hyperspace trajectory would be steered clear of mass shadows along the most straightforward path to the destination. With the fail-safes removed, planets, stars and anything else with a mass great enough to incur a collision, would be ignored. As Antei was right between them and the Shroud any jump out of the system would make for a really short trip.
Widening the margin that would count a space object as sufficiently hazardous to plot a new course to circumvent the danger had bought them a few precious minutes, but time was still a scarce commodity for the team. They had about twenty minutes before the SSD would be clear of the Shroud and would start plotting its trajectory through hyperspace. Seconds later the hyperdrive motivator would kick in and they would smash into the fourth planet of the Antei system not long after their jump.
Killing the engines outright would be ill-advised. The ever-volatile changes in pressures along the edge of the Shroud made for an area of high space debris activity. Something the size of a Super Star Destroyer would be hard pressed to to maneuver to avoid the more dangerously sized debris as inertia pulled it along in a straight path without any thrust to correct its course. Besides the engine control operations were beyond the capabilities of such a small team.
Triggering an early exit out of lightspeed was also not an option. At a regular exit-velocity something as small as a rogue asteroid would be enough to tear through the SSD as if it were tinfoil if the ship dropped out of lightspeed with one in its path.
The easiest course by far would be to abort the assigned task to calculate and make the jump to hyperspace that was stored in the navcomp system of the behemoth starship. This would give Talon enough time to plot a regular course with half-decent fail-safes, or at the very least try and park the ship somewhere relatively safe. Unfortunately the assigned tasks were tucked away securely behind a string of security checks, and bypassing even a single one of them would cost him all the available time they had. This ship was going to make a jump to lightspeed as soon as they cleared the Shroud and there was nothing he could do about that.
Pulling up another section of code he noticed only references to the failsafe’s protocol. Good, so there's a master file. Let's see if we can find a backup.
Alerted by Rian, the Dark Jedi Knight spun from his console in a startled fashion and instinctively grabbed his lightsaber.
His exclamation was cut short as the lumbering hulk of the Terentatek towered in front of him and swept one of its claws downwards to tear off his face. Dropping to his knees, Talon made a forward roll in between the legs of the beast, ignited his saber and vainly tried to penetrate its backside with an upward thrust. The saber glanced off the armored hide and Talon caught a retaliatory blow to the chest, knocking the wind out of him and flinging him back several meters.
As the knight opened his eyes and his vision cleared he saw the giant monstrosity looming over him and preparing for a finishing blow. Down for the count and with no way to block the strike Talon could do nothing but steel himself for the inevitable impact.
Suddenly the beast was thrown sideways as Talon spotted Rian’s blue frame crashing into it from the side. The Templar wasn’t small by Humanoid or Wroonian standards, but was still dwarfed by the enormous form of the Terentatek. The Dark Jedi Knight figured Rian must have poured everything he had into a burst of force Rage in order to knock it off its feet.
Making good use of the time and space given to him by his Quaestor, Talon flipped back up and jumped onto the creature's exposed back, his lightsaber still in hand. The Terentatek gave out a shriek of dissatisfaction as it felt the intruder climbing along its neck and up on its elongated, spiked head. The Obelisk warrior held onto one of the protruding spikes as the beast ferociously tried to shake him off.
Unable to shake the Knight, the enraged creature made a dash for the nearest bulkhead and crashed into it headfirst. The force of the impact was tremendous and Talon felt his grasp beginning to weaken. Can't hold on for much longer.
Utilizing the last of his strength, the warrior slid towards the front of the beast’s head as it reared up to regain its bearing. Talon located the unprotected eyes at the lower base of its huge head, ignited his emerald lightsaber, and stabbed it deep into one of the sockets. The Terentatek gave out a deafening bellow before crashing down onto the durasteel floor.
"You okay, Rian? You look about as bad as I'm feeling," Talon heard himself say as he slowly picked himself off the floor.
"All in a day's work, my friend," the blue halfbreed replied with a tired smile on his face.
Talon slid back in front of the navcomp console and let his fingers fly over the controls. Navigating through the directory structure he was quickly able to identify the storage space assigned to the system backups and started screening it for possible fail-safe protocol sublocations.
"We have just under six minutes on the clock, Talon. You think you could speed this up a bit?"
The Dark Jedi Knight risked a quick look back at his Quaestor. “Sure thing Rian, let must just wing looking for the right fail-safe protocol among the backups and pick a few at random to restore. You want to be the peanut butter or the jelly when we smack into Antei?”
“Actually,” the Wroonian-Karanan replied. “Why don’t you just restore all the fail-safe protocol files?”
Talon looked back at the console and sat in silence for about 5 seconds. “Good point.” He heard himself say as he set the restoration sequence in motion. “Four minutes on the clock, now we pray.”
The manifestation of Zoraan's spirit rose above them, watching the battle like a regal spectator over his prized gladiators. The two Taldryan Jedi, even his own apprentice, were mere chattel for his amusement. Gods did not lower themselves to deal with the ants they ruled.
Shadow's dual blades flashed back and forth, deflecting Necar's Sith Sword. Since the emergence of Zoraan's spirit, Necar's fragile mental state had continued to deteriorate. There was no longer any humanity in his eyes, only the ravaging hunger of his master to guide his actions. The Sith Lord was so far lost to the Force, he was in a constant state of feral rage.
Shadow parried another vicious slash. Necar reversed his swing and smashed the pommel into the the Obelisk's jaw, throwing him backwards. As Shadow growled with pain, the spirit of Zoraan let out a subdued chuckle.
"Good show, my dear Necar." Zoraan's voice was grating on the Taldrya's nerves. The spirit turned its gaze back to Shadow. "This petty resistance is an exercise in futility. No mere mortal can challenge me."
"Oh shut up already," Shadow barked.
In response, Necar charged again, his sword whistling through the air. Jac's gold blade intersected the black. The former Grand Master sneered in contempt. With a deft flick of his left hand, Jac unleashed a crushing telekinetic attack that threw Necar across the bridge. The Sith minion smashed against the transparisteel of the bridge's viewport with a sickening thud and dropped to the floor.
Together, Shadow and Jac charged forward with weapons poised. The soft sound of Zoraan's laughter was all the warning they had. From Necar's fallen form, arcing bolts of lightning flew outwards towards the Taldrya. Shadow dove to the left, rolling under the blast. Jac merely deflected the attack with crossed blades. When the attack dissipated, Necar was already on his feet and rushing at them.
The edge of the Shroud was viewable from where they worked, frantically slicing the Star Destoyer's navcomputer. The restoration of the fail-safe protocols was 97% complete, but the progress seemed to be dragging as the ship came closer and closer to hurtling itself through the heart of Antei. Sweat beaded down Talon's forehead as he watched the progress bar continue to fill.
Their fate would literally be decided within a couple of seconds and all they could do was sit and watch. Near them, at the heart of the bridge, they could hear the sounds of battle. Both had felt the emergence of the Force Ghost, but were unable to assist until their objective was completed. Talon and Rian were both just relieved they had yet to feel the death of one of their teammates in the Force.
The system made a sudden whining sound and Talon let out a string of curses.
"What is that?"
Talon swore again and pointed. "The effects of the Shroud are fading. The navcomputer is beginning to plot its course." The pair looked on in horror as the navcomputer started running its calculations. Already the hum of the sublight engines began to quiet as the ship prepared to enter hyperspace.
They were out of time.
Enraged over their failure, the Templar growled in frustration. With a shout of desperation, he smashed his blue fist into the console. A soft trilling sound exploded from the device, causing the two Jedi to jump back in surprise.
"It… It stopped," Talon declared in disbelief.
"We did it," Rian announced, his voice filled with relief and surprise.The progress bar for the reboot blinked 100% and the navcomputer was spinning itself down. The massive ship began to drift idly out of the Shroud, no longer set on its destructive course. The two jumped into the air with a cheer and slapped their hands together.
Their celebration ended a moment later. Only half the battle was won.
"Talon," Rian ordered. "Find Aeson, he'll need medical attention. Whatever you have to do, keep him alive."
"On it." Talon bolted after the Krath, following the obvious path of destruction he had left in his fight with the terantatek.
Rian quickly gathered himself and sprinted towards the battle between the Sith Lord, Jac, and Shadow. He could see the spectacle before his eyes, but he could scarcely believe it. The duel was almost beyond comprehension as the three battled in the close quarters of the bridge. Shadow and Jac were both bloodied, but not defeated. Force attacks flew randomly, filling the air with the harsh sense of the Dark Side. Lightsabers moved at speeds he could hardly follow, attacking and defending against the black Sith Sword wielded by Necar.
Above it all stood the apparition of Zoraan. A grim figure in formal robes looking on as if a king reigning over his subjects. The sight disgusted Rian. His violet blade snapped to life as he bolted forward. Sudden pressure stopped his rush. He could see into the bridge, but something was preventing him from crossing into it.
A nebulous force had separated the bridge from the rest of the deck. When he concentrated, Rian could sense something like a black and purple fog of malevolent energy. It wasn't so much a barrier as a powerful mental attack keeping him from moving forward. The same cloud could be seen surrounding the Force Ghost. Rian kicked at the invisible barrier in disgust. He watched, unable to help, as his friends and Necar crossed blades again and again.
A powerful blow broke through Shadow's defenses, knocking him off balance. Before he could react, Necar followed through with a swift attack. Shadow spun backwards, but felt the black blade bite into his left arm. The shock of the pain hit him immediately, but he suppressed it and kept moving. He raised his left arm to parry another blow. His body didn’t respond. In shock, he realized he could no longer feel his left arm, and his shoto had tumbled out of his limp fingers.
Necar howled as he attacked, his weapon set to cleave the Taldrya in two. A burst of lightning caught the apprentice's blade and threw the swing off course, embedding itself into the durasteel deck mere inches from its mark. In the corner of his eye, Shadow could see Jac's fingertips still flickering with power. He'd owe the Grand Master another one, but was far too exhausted to put voice to the quip.
Ignoring his useless left arm, Shadow pressed the attack instead of retreating. Jac stepped with him, the two moving in unison as their minds instinctively melded. Necar spun away from the duo and grasped the hilt of a lightsaber with his offhand. The red blade hissed to life and deflected Shadow's attack, while the Sith Sword parried Jac's. Their fight was no beautiful display of skill. Savage. Brutal. There was no elegance or grace in any of their movements, only the unbridled intent to kill.
The Force guided them.
Shadow and Jac pulled strength from one another, alternating who attacked and who defended. The two were completely in sync as their old bond grew stronger. It had been long since they had last fought as one but, when pressed, their connection proved as strong as ever. Perhaps even greater for having ventured into mortal peril together
Their opponent fed from his master's spirit. He no longer had any sense of self, just an objective to complete and power beyond his control. The connection between Necar and Zoraan became more and more visceral as the fight carried on. The flow of power between them was almost corporeal.
Jac retreated a few steps, while Shadow dove forward. The Obelisk slashed quickly with his remaining blade, engaging both of Necar's weapons with movements so swift they were almost untraceable. After a quick succession of attacks, Shadow crouched low. Jac released another telekinetic attack, but Necar fought it. The gail-like Force of Jac's power pushed against the deranged Sith Lord, but he stood rooted to his spot. Taking the opportunity, Shadow channeled the Force into himself and sprinted forward.
For a brief moment, the Taldrya was invisible, seemingly teleporting behind Necar as Jac's attack faded. The Sith Lord turned as Shadow attacked, barely deflecting the blade. Necar growled with an inhuman voice as Jac flashed forward from behind. The golden blades pierced through the Sith Lord's chest cleanly.
The two Taldrya backed off and watched to see their opponent fall… but it never happened. Necar's wound was fatal, but he remained standing as if the damage had not yet registered to him. Instead, he appeared to be simply catching is breath, as if being impaled had only barely taxed him. Necar tightened his grip on his weapons and turned his vacant eyes towards the two Taldrya.
"What the hell?" Shadow demanded breathlessly.
Shad. Jac's voice flowed into his consciousness. Necar is just the puppet. Zoraan is our real foe.
But Zoraan's just a spirit. If he could attack us he would have by now, Shadow pointed out.
That's what I mean. If Zoraan had the power to manifest and effect the physical world he wouldn't need Necar as a puppet. He's bound to his apprentice's body. They're keeping each other alive.
As Jac's thoughts flowed into him, Shadow understood the Grand Master's plan. It was a longshot, but it was their best chance of ending this. Plus, it would be very satisfying. The two squared off against Necar, their weapons held at the ready. Necar continued to stand still, drawing in the pulsing power of Zoraan's spirit to heal his wound.
"Now," Jac yelled.
Together, the two Jedi turned towards the apparition and unleashed their power. Twin bolts of lightning arced across the room and slammed into Zoraan's chest. The spirit let out a surprised howl of pain as the raw power of the Force surged through his manifested form.
Rian could see immediately the effect of the Elders’ attack; it distracted the wounded Necar and the pompous former Grand Master. The barrier that stood before Rian wavered, flourished, then melted away, leaving the Quaestor able to engage.
Drawing all of the energy in his reserves, the Taldryan leader sprinted forward and leapt in the air toward his mark, his lightsaber extended high over his head. The third foe was unexpected to Necar, and he barely had time to turn before the saber fell. Nor did the apprentice of Zoraan feel much as the blade swept downward through his body, cleaving the mad Jedi in two. It was a quick end to the life of a powerful man.
Rian’s leap and swing did not end gracefully; he landed more or less on top of his victim. As he tried to roll back to his feet, his efforts were halted by a blood curdling scream, so high pitched that it was all Rian could do but cover his ears. The source was the apparition; Zoraan wrenched and quaked at untold agony. The light of the being faded in and out, from bright white to a dark red. After a few moments, only the red remained, shrinking into itself, the form of Zoraan slowly melting away.
And then he was gone, and the Taldrya were alone on the bridge. Rian picked himself up, pushing off from a half husk of the man he had just killed. He looked over to see Shadow sitting on the ground, holding his arm. He then sensed for his companions, and was glad to see Aeson and Talon walk in around the crater, Talon propping up one side of his comrade. Rian scanned again, but Jac was nowhere to be found. By reaching out with his senses, the Quaestor found him, in an offshoot room beyond the bridge.
“You all stay here and rest up,” said Rian. “I am going to make sure Jac is well.”
Rian darted off in the direction his senses pointed, and entered a large open room off the bridge. He knew at once it was the chambers of a Commodore, the ship’s commander. Jac was standing in the middle of the room, looking around and admiring.
“It’s been nearly twenty years, Rian, since I stood on the bridge of the Avenger.” Jac turned to his counterpart, a glad look on his face. “The original Avenger, that is.” The Grand Master walked around the room inspecting and thinking. “Did you know that I was once the Commodore of that ship?”
“No, Jac. I suppose I never thought about your time before the Brotherhood.”
“Aye, most don’t,” Jac responded. “There was a time for me before my devotion to the Force, where the only force I had was that of thousands of men in a fleet of my own. There was something simple about that life that I miss.” Jac walked towards a display case on a wall. His walk had an obvious limp. He was injured.
“Rest your concerns, Rian, I will be fine,” Jac stated bluntly, reading the Quaestor’s thoughts. “I have found what I came for and whatever pain I endure now is worth it.” Cotelin flicked his hand towards the display. The glass on the front of the case shattered but held in place without falling. Then, with another slight movement of Jac’s hand, the shards fell to the side, neatly rolling into a pile.
The Grand Master reached into the case and pulled from it a heavy bound book. “I’m glad that the tradition is upheld.” Cotelin smiled and turned to Rian, noting the confused look on the Quaestor’s face. “This is the logbook that was handed down to me when I became a Rear Admiral and Commodore of the Avenger. Each of us that succeeded on the Avenger kept written logs, knowing that certain things should never make it to the Imperial Network. I had hoped this would be here.”
“This is why you came? Nostalgia?” Rian pestered.
“Yes,” Jac said, humored by the Quaestor as he walked closer. “That, and someone needed to save Shadow half a dozen times.”
“What’s in it that is so important?”
Cotelin opened the book carefully and flipped through the pages. “Here.” Jac handed the book to Rian. “Read.”
The Quaestor took the log and started where the former Dark Lord pointed. The book was heavy and worn. The writing on the page, however, was clear: Our tasks today included the escort of members of the High Court of Inquisitors from this sector back to Eos. Among them were, Grand Master Paladin and Master Yoni. It was my first time meeting either, and an honor. I was fascinated by these men, yet at the same time terrified. Yoni, it seemed, took an interest in me. He asked if I had ever been curious about the Force. He invited me to Eos with them, but I had to decline. Perhaps someday soon.
Rian looked at Jac. “Now I think I understand.”
“Aye,” Jac said as he reclaimed the book and started back toward the bridge.
“Jac,” Rian called after, trying to catch up. “How did you know this would be here? Wouldn’t it have been on the original Avenger?”
“I have my sources. And a source told me that when this Avenger was commissioned, someone just happened to have this book at the christening to present to the Commodore.” Jac smiled to himself, happy for his own good fortune.
Cotelin and Rian joined the rest of their team on the bridge. Now Shadow was completely prone, exhausted from the fights. By this time, they had been joined by other teams, and the bridge was being overrun by curious allies.
Aeson and Talon looked around at their brethren. It was a mix of clans and houses represented; the Brotherhood’s finest. Yet, despite the talent that was on the Star Destroyer, it had been their team that accomplished the most. It was a source of pride to know that Taldryan had accomplished this feat.
One member of Scholae Palatinae approached the split husk of Necar and started searching the body. “Hey!” yelled Talon. “Away!” The younger Jedi fled, but not before grabbing one of Necar’s lightsabers. “He was onto something, I guess,” remarked Talon as he started fishing through the bloody robes of Zoraan’s apprentice. He found something in one of the deep pockets of the robe, and pull the object out. He held it up to the light, a bright purple square.
“Onto something, indeed,” agreed Aeson, his eyes focused on the Holocron they had found. “Hide that before someone else tries to lay claim.” Talon did, stowing the holocron away for further study.
“Damnit!” shouted Shadow, still laying on the floor. “Someone come tell Muz to pick up his prize ship! And get me a damn medpack!” As always, the Master’s quips were met with a combination of laughter and sneering.
Looking around, Jac couldn’t help but laugh as well. “Shadow, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a tow. It may be a while, so, mind if we join you?”
“Not at all,” Shadow responded. Exhausted, Jac and the rest of Team 7 spread out on the floor next to the Taldrya. From there, they gazed out the overhead viewports at the Shroud, wondering what new plans the Dark Council had for them beyond.