Taldryan: Team 2
Keirdagh Taldrya Cantor
Halcyon Rokir Taldrya
Tarax Eosphoros Taldrya Kor
IC: You are a member of an elite task force assigned to conduct a rapid entry raid in Xlopora City. Your team is tasked with recovering the the lost blade of Ferran, known as Revelation. Intelligence reporting indicates four distinct opposition Forces operating within Xlopora City.
1. One Sith Forces: The Sith Lord Esoteric has been identified by Taldyran reconnaissance teams. Esoteric is an unpredictable Sith Lord and has been connected to the death of multiple members of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood.
2. Unknown Imperial Forces: Arconan agents have reported multiple engagements with Storm Commandos and unidentified Imperial Storm Troopers. These unknown Imperial Forces appear to be coordinating their operation with the One Sith.
3. Sith Revenants and Ancient Sith Magic: Xlopora City is the seat of ancient Sith powers and is protected by unknown quantities of arcane wards and traps. Sith Zombies have been identified within the catacombs underneath the towered palace located in the center of the city. Shadow Academy Scholars have reported multiple deaths resulting from failed attempts to breach warded doorways and structures.
4. The Dark Brotherhood: The Dark Brotherhood is a fragmented organization designed to reward those who excel. Infighting, backstabbing, and treachery are acceptable tactics to achieve results. Dark Council reports indicate at least three skirmishes have occurred between opposition Clans and Houses.
The Sith Medium, Dantella Novae, has provided the Dark Council with a rough sketch of the chamber housing Revelation. She believes that a ritual, of some sort, will be required to gain access to the weapon. This ritual will require a significant cost from the team who discovers it.
This is a time sensitive operation that will conclude in 96 hours (16 real life days!) with the commencement of an orbital bombardment. Due to the short nature of the operation, your team will be limited to light infantry operations (no mechanized forces are to be deployed in Xlopora City). You may use any other equipment from your organization's order of battle.
OOC: The following links provide additional information.
Plot Update Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rPsJ1Xn54cZ1VFYjY3SElrMU0/edit?usp=sharing
Bosthirda Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rPsJ1Xn54cbmNOMURTM3R0R3M/edit?usp=sharing
Dantella Novae Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rPsJ1Xn54cY1piSHZJOHhlMEU/edit?usp=sharing
Welcome to the Dark Crusade Epilogue: Bosthirda, a Run-On Event.
The following rules are in effect:
This is a run-on event based on the most recent Dark Brotherhood Plot Update, Bosthirda Planet Document, and event hook placed at the beginning of each run on.
Sign-ups for the event will begin on 22 February 2014 and end at 2359 EST on 27 February 2014.
The Team Captain from each team will email their team name and team roster to Muz, Raken, and Sarin.
Teams will consist of no less than 5 members and no more than 7 members. Units may submit as many teams as they can field.
250 word minimum per post. No maximum word limit. A post under 250 words will not be considered in a participant’s 3 post total. If a player writes five entries, 3 over 250 words and 2 under, they will still be given credit for reaching the minimum post limit.
Each team member must post at least three times during the event. There is no maximum post limit, but members cannot post consecutively. A single member failing to post three times will result in their teams DQ and elimination from the top 3.
Edits may occur on a post until a follow on post has been made (follow on posts include "reserving" a space). Edits may only be made by the posts original author (as in, if you have Forum Administration Rights, you cannot edit another member’s work).
Members may reserve post, but no posts can occur until after the reserved post is written.
The event will be graded by Raken, Sarin, and Muz using a rubric that focuses on creativity, plot development, realism, and grammar.
The winning team will win the Run-On for their unit. A single Independent Unit can finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in this event. This is a nova producing event.
22-27 February Sign-Ups
28 February: Event Hook Published on all Team Threads (You can read the plot update and potentially divine your mission!)
28 February to 16 March: Members Post on the Forums! This event will be plugged into the Database, but will not conclude on the forums until 2359 EST on 16 March 2014!!!!!!!
.:: FERRAN ::.
Time is fluid.
The dark, ancient forest seethed with raw power and dangerous beasts. The assassin, Ferran, stalked across the surface of Ziost, former homeworld of the Old Sith Empire, under cover of darkness in utter silence. Walking slightly ahead, and with far less grace, were his two companions… allies. The sorceress, Tiamat, was leading their quest, while the Sith Lord, Okemi followed her carefully-controlled interest.
Their journey had been long. For years they had followed the whims of the sorceress in search of secrets lost to the annuls of time. Ziost was just another destination in a hunt that had lasted years and taken them from one end of the Outer Rim to the other. Frankly, Ferran was getting sick of the fool's errand. Why Okemi allowed the sorceress such leeway was beyond him. Were it not for Ferran’s unwavering loyalty to Okemi, he would have dispatched the priestess years ago.
Something suddenly stopped the sorceress in her tracks, her body becoming taught and unresponsive. Ferran stopped and eyed her warily, sensing the disconnect between her mind and body. The quality of the air had changed, Ferran noted, but it did little to quell the growing tide of disgust with the entire venture.
"This had better not be another wild chase, sorceress," Ferran muttered. He stood relaxed, leaned back against a towering tree, and folded his arms across his chest. He watched with distaste as the mad woman waved a gloved hand through the air, seeking that which was not there.
"Silence," she ordered. "I can sense the answers which lie here. The power." Her voice was hollow, nearly a whisper, and sent chills down his spine. As if pulled by invisible strings, the sorceress jerked forward. With every step she started moving faster and faster through the forest. Ferran shared a brief, doubtful look with Okemi before the two followed after her.
The woods began to blur by, but Ferran could feel the pressure in the air getting stronger—the sense of danger thicker—as they progressed deeper into thickening darkness. Their sudden rush was stopped as a massive stone structure suddenly appeared before them. Ferran blinked at the temple. He would have sworn there was nothing in the forest but trees only a moment before. Something had hidden the temple from their sight. They had passed through a barrier.
Ahead, Tiamat stood with eyes closed and head bowed. Her hands were stretched outwards, swishing randomly through the air. Ferran sensed power stir around her. Ancient power. She continued her strange gestures for ten minutes as he and Okemi waited impatiently. A door appeared as if from thin air on the temple's wall and opened with a grinding of stone on stone.
"How is this possible?" Ferran wondered, again struggling to believe what his eyes told him.
"Sith Magic," Okemi whispered from beside him. "Our predecessors were unmatched at guarding secrets." The Sith Lord was looking on in wonder, a strange glint in his eyes at the sight of the temple's entrance.
"It's here." Tiamat stepped through the door. Ferran cursed and followed after her.
The sorceress was heedless of danger or common sense, and moved without grace or subtlety. She was likely to lead them all into their deaths with her childlike actions. Unconsciously he dropped his hand to the hilt of his sword, Revelation, reassuring himself of its presence just in case things went wrong. He stepped through the door and followed her into the darkness. Her path seemed to be taken at random, but her footsteps were sure. Ferran watched for any signs of danger, but nothing so much as moved within the temple.
Then they came across the chamber.
A reliquary stood alone in the center of a vast chamber, completely unadorned by ornament or insignia. It was impossible to tell who had built the temple or what it had been made to hold. It was carved from the blackest of stones, absorbing the weakly filtered light that touched it. Ferran guessed it must have gone untouched for hundreds… maybe thousands of years. Tiamat stood before it, her hands placed upon the surface as pure, unadulterated joy filled her eyes. Floating a few inches above the stone, held by an focus of energy, was a Sith Holocron.
“I have it,” Tiamat whispered. “The location. The answers… I have it!”
.:: COTELIN ::.
He tried desperately to hang on, to cling to the fragments of what he had seen. He reached out, attempting with futility to grab any morsel of information. But, like wisps of air disintegrating into the heat of day, the knowledge faded from view. First, the details of the scene were gone including the forest that had housed the scene. Quickly thereafter, the temple and reliquary faded from his view along with the elated Tiamat. With all the power that he could muster, Cotelin tried to cling his presence to Ferran. In its final moments, the man in the vision turned, almost looking into the Grand Master’s mind’s eye. The look of the assassin was almost smug; as if the vision knew that it would now be beyond reach. It was over then. The vision was gone when Ferran’s visage was whisked away into nothing...
In the place between the Force and reality, Jac Cotelin lingered for a moment. The former Dark Lord of the Sith had lost his grasp of the intricate details of all that he desired. Hatred, anguish, and disappointment all struck at once. Cotelin was desperate for the answers, desperate to have the edge he once possessed but, again, was left to rage at his lack of fortitude and ability. True, to be sure, the vision was of ages past where it is all but impossible to see, but the Jac Cotelin of old would have not only have held onto the vision, he would have been the first to find it. Here, he was not the first and likely not the last.
Thousands of images flashed across the mind of the former Dark Lord, but he paid them no heed. They were the visions of the present and future that had no draw at this time. Cotelin could access those premonitions and that knowledge with ease. Yet this single incident, this secret of the Triumvirate, was beyond him. And that enraged him.
The Grand Master opened his eyes, his aging visage carrying the breadth of his hatred and despair. It was only then that the old man noticed the trespasser in his small quarters. Cotelin’s piercing brown eyes darted to the other man’s wretched face. Cotelin stared, the blood coursing through his veins in time with the rapid beat of his heart. The servant saw the elder’s gaze and cowered back. He was no more than thirty, wearing a simple uniform befitting his lowly position. The man—no, the boy’s—face was ragged with burn marks and scars.
“I have it,” said the cowering boy, fear emanating through every syllable. He held out a small tray. Cotelin hadn’t noticed it before; the boy was bringing him food. “I am sorry,” he whined, “I have it, my lord. Your breakfast, my lord.”
The fury of any other member of the Brotherhood would not have been contained. This boy had interrupted the Dark Lord’s vision, and for that, were he someone else, the boy would have died. But despite his frustration and rage at himself, Cotelin was still a measured and reasonable man.
“Place it on the table,” Cotelin gestured. The boy turned, tripped over himself and spilled the plate onto the floor. Before Cotelin could say anything, the boy ran.
With a sigh, the old man turned away, closing his eyes and bringing his hands to his temples. The recent months had taken their toll on him. Physically, he was weary. Sleep came rarely and, when it did, the dreams were unbearable. Mentally, the elder was fuzzy. He was having trouble controlling his emotions and had snapped on more than one occasion. This had not been one of those occasions, yet the boy had still cowered from him. The most unfortunate part was that Cotelin was hungry, and his breakfast now sat in a mess on the floor.
The door to Cotelin’s chambers slid open with a hiss. He didn’t turn to look; he knew who the newcomer was. Cotelin even knew his counterpart would be coming the second his temper flared after losing the vision. “Not now, Pravus,” Cotelin said cooly.
“Not hungry?” the other Grand Master asked, mockingly, as he walked into the room. “I never knew you to be the type to miss a meal.”
“I never knew a Master at Arms that would hire such an incompetent crew,” Cotelin said, turning toward his counterpart. “Kalen and I are going to have to talk about his staffing.” The old man looked at the younger leader of the Brotherhood. The Voice was a powerfully built man and outfitted for war in his black and gold-plated armor. Long, brown hair—streaked prematurely with grey—framed the hard lines of his face. “Checking in on me again?” Jac asked, resigned to the fact that he would, indeed, need to talk through what was happening.
“Yes, I’m checking in on you. There is concern about—” Pravus was cut off by a flash of anger directed his way.
“Concern? How about they concern themselves with letting me off this ship? I have matters to attend to,” Cotelin snapped at his ally. “Since the most recent victory in the Crusades, I’ve been paraded around with the Dark Lord. It’s time I take my leave.”
“You know Ashen will not permit you to go. You’re too valuable to risk on the front lines.”
“My supposed value has nothing to do with this, Pravus, and you know it. I am being held back because the Grand Master mistrusts me and feels more secure when I am under his control.”
Silence drove a wedge between the men. It was a standard point in their conversations, the moment when each man withholds information due to an underlying and unnecessary lack of trust. It wasn’t that Pravus and he couldn’t trust each other. They had done so on many occasions without lapse. It was just a heavy burden to put your fate in someone else’s hands in exchange for information. They stared at each other for a moment. Typically, this is where the conversation would end, with both men failing to reveal their hand. But not today.
“Revelation is on Bosthirda,” Pravus said, after a few more moments of silence.
“I know,” responded Cotelin, quickly.
“We have known this for several days.” Pravus moved to a table and chairs, taking a seat on the closest. “The question is, how do you know that?” There it was. The reason for Pravus’ visit. He wanted to know how Cotelin was obtaining his information.
There were any number of explanations for why Cotelin would know secret information of the Dark Council. He had loyalties throughout the Brotherhood leadership. He would regularly fish information from the minds of the weaker Councillors. But that wasn’t the case here, and Pravus would see through a lie.
“Your turncoat doesn’t cover her tracks very well,” remarked Cotelin, honestly. “It was easy to follow the waves she made in the Force and see the things she saw.” And it had been easy. Dantella Novae, a prisoner of the Dark Council, was gifted in the powers of sight in the Force, but she always left a wake. It was as if she imprinted “I was here” on every memory and sight she touched in the Force. “When I learned that Muz had her looking for something, I began to follow her visions. I saw what she saw, and what she told you.”
Cotelin watched as Pravus closed his eyes for a moment, as if he were trying to hide a look of bemusement. The fact that he even knew about Dantella Novae was most likely a cause for concern. Capturing and trying to turn a top One Sith agent was something the Council didn’t even want the Star Chamber to know. But the fact that he had trailed her search for Revelation was probably proof to Pravus that Ashen’s concerns about him might yet be valid.
“What are you going to do with this information, Jac?”
“We’ve been searching for Revelation for decades, Pravus. I had thought the official search had died with Sarin, and I myself had long ago given up hope of finding Ferran’s ancient weapon.”
“That doesn’t answer my quest—”
Cotelin cut him off. “I will inform my Clan of the dangers they are heading into.” He paused, and Pravus opened his mouth to object. “But they will not know of the sword,” Cotelin continued. “That is the will of the Grand Master and Council, and I am, afterall, but a servant.”
“Good,” Pravus said as he stood. “The Dark Lord has concerns about Taldryan’s leadership. Their loyalty…”
“...is steadfast to the Brotherhood,” Cotelin stated bluntly.
“Yes. To the Brotherhood,” Pravus replied, “but not necessarily to the Dark Council.” The younger man started back toward the door, being sure to avoid the mess on the floor. “Keep Taldryan out of this, Jac, and let Ashen have the sword. He’s putting the Brotherhood’s forces behind its retrieval, sending them to Xlopora. His own, special forces, will venture beyond the catacombs.
“To take the sword from his grasp would be a terrible mistake.”
Cotelin nodded and said no more. Without further acknowledgment, Pravus walked through the door, which quickly slid shut behind him.
Jac Cotelin reflected for a moment on the conversation, wondering if he had revealed too much. It may eventually be his undoing, but for the moment, he was confident that he could trust Pravus. Afterall, he did not previously know the name of the city, or the location of the sword within. That information was valuable.
That information was so valuable, that he wasted no further time reflecting. He went to his terminal, opened an encrypted line, and began a message to his Proconsul.
.:: CANTOR ::.
As he stared down at the datapad, Keirdagh's frown grew deeper. He was not a man known for his jovial expressions, but the look that was growing on his face would make a thunderstorm seem cheerful. The message on the pad was, of course, encrypted and short in detail, but it was sent to an address that only one man knew about as a means of private communication between the two. It was sent by Grand Master Jac Cotelin, and it contained troubling news indeed. The next chapter in Ashen’s seemingly endless quest for glory was about to begin..
Squeezed into Cantor’s office was a collection of some of the most powerful men in Taldryan, and the atmosphere in the room was decidedly chilly. Keirdagh spared a moment to look at the faces of each of them as they pondered the news he had just shared. These were his allies, the power behind the Clan. Though what he had shared was dangerous and would likely place Taldryan in opposition of the Grand Master, he knew he could trust these men to do what was right for Taldryan, and the Brotherhood. Each of the men had a visible and unique reaction, ranging from excited to angry. All had fought bravely during the previous campaigns on the Sith Worlds, and none needed to be reminded of just how close Taldryan had come to being crushed during those conflicts.
Speaking from his position leaning against the wall, it didn’t surprise Keirdagh at all that the first person to break the silence would be the former Deputy Grand Master. "You mean to tell me," asked Halcyon Rokir, the viridian-haired Quaestor from Ektrosis, "that within days, the blasted Dark Council is going to be issuing orders to send us on this fool’s errand to recover another artifact? I thought we were finished with that karking nonsense!" A few grunts of agreement followed him, and Keirdagh found his eyes drawn toward Taldryan's young Consul, Rian Aslar.
Despite being surrounded by the group of men he was, Rian was calm and collected, and one hundred percent in control. Sensing Keirdagh’s eyes on him, Rian nodded slightly. "This is not any artifact. This is the sword of Ferran.” He paused. “How reliable is this intelligence of yours, Keirdagh? Are you certain that Revelation is indeed on Bosthirda?"
If the Consul was angry at Keirdagh for refusing to tell him from where he got his information, none of it crept into his voice. Surely though, the Exarch would have more pointed words for him if he’d know just what the gravity of this situation was. Keirdagh realized that possession of such an important artifact in the Brotherhood’s past would increase Ashen’s influence even more. The rumblings from the Clans had grown during the exhausting campaigns, and stirrings of resentment were everywhere. Keirdagh could not allow the Grand Master to hold aloft this trophy as a sign of his greatness. Not when the blood of Taldryan’s sons had paid for it.
"The source is completely authentic and entirely trustworthy. If we want to deny the Grand Master this relic, we need to act quickly."
Rian took only a moment to decide, and nodded in agreement, before the collection of Taldryan's Summit began planning their assault on Bosthirda.
"We'll need to deploy quickly, and set up to blockade the area over Xlopora City. It's entirely possible that there will be One Sith in the area that we'll need to fight off." Keirdagh stood next to the holo-projector in the briefing room, explaining the plan they had. "We want to get a strike team into the City, and retrieve it as quickly as possible. We know the Dark Council will be ordering a move on Bosthirda, and our moving ahead of schedule is going to raise flags."
Pausing for a moment to let the gravity of moving openly against the Grand Master sink in, Keirdagh continued. "Hopefully, we can get in and out before there is much resistance, but we have to accept this now... the Dark Council is not going to be pleased with us, but we cannot allow Ashen to gain control over Ferran's blade."
Rian strode forward and stood next to Keirdagh, taking up the briefing where he left off. "I'll be commanding our fleet in the sky while Keirdagh leads the ground assault. We'll be deploying starfighter wings and elements of the Darkfire Battalion to assist in the mission. The whole of Battle Group I, and elements of Battle Group II, will be joining us. As it stands, we have no support. This is our mission. Make no mistake people, we will claim the sword, and keep it out of the Grand Master's reach." Keirdagh made sure to keep any concern about leaving Rian in charge of the fleet while he commanded the ground forces. Rian was a capable commander, but Keirdagh sensed his experience would be more needed on the ground, leading protecting the team in charge of retrieving the sword.
As Rian finished, an Ensign rushed into the room with a message for the Consul. "Sir, we have a priority alpha communication from Antei."
Tension swelled in the room like a tidal wave. "He knows."
Shaking his head, Keirdagh dismissed Rian's concerns. "He couldn't. Just be calm."
Rian keyed the comm, and a hologram of the Master at Arms materialized above the panel; a recorded message apparently. "Consul Aslar. The Dark Council requires you to assemble your troops and proceed to Bosthirda in the Esstran Sector. Your mission is to secure Xlopora City while a team of covert operatives searches the area to recover an artifact of great importance to the Grand Master. We expect your compliance immediately."
"Apparently the Council is moving faster than we'd been led to believe," stated Rian dryly, his eyes locking onto Keirdagh’s.
"This doesn't change anything. All it does is supply us with a reason to be there. Our mission hasn't changed," responded Keirdagh. "We proceed as planned." It was clear that the fast response from the Dark Council was beginning to sow doubts in the Pantoran's mind, but he mastered himself quickly.
.:: KINCAID ::.
Bodies fell one after another onto the cold, hard ground and the sounds of lightsabers being extinguished announced the end of another battle. This was the seventh group of enemies they had come across in the last couple of hours. Five had belonged to the One Sith, but each one had been ripped apart like a wet flimsi. The search for Ferran’s sword was leaving a long trail of blood.
Aidan Kincaid, Dark Jedi Master and recent inductee of the Brotherhood, was working his way through the ancient streets of Xlopora City with two other members of Taldryan. The first, Primarch Tarax Kor, was a human-cyborg, a bloodthirsty brute, and a long-standing member of the Clan. The other, Templar Rathus Marr, one of Taldryan’s newest and brightest members, a cybernetically enhanced human with expertise in Sith lore and a hatred of failure.
Kincaid, Kor, and Marr had been searching for Ferran's sword for three days already, suppressing every hostile force they came across while in search of its location. Kincaid wasn’t a fan of taking orders from Kor, but he knew why the Taldryan Proconsul—Keirdagh Cantor—had put the man in charge of their team. The fact was, Cantor didn’t trust Kincaid any further than he could throw him… and the feeling was mutual. Even though Master Cotelin had vouched for him, Cantor wasn’t willing to bet on where his loyalties truly lay. Kor may have been the equivalent of a mindless brute, but his devotion to Taldryan was as sure as the Force itself. That was why Kor kept his eye on Kincaid wherever they went.
Dusk was fast-approaching, the setting sun casting long shadows on the ruined city’s streets and alleyways. Kincaid and the team made their way through the darkening pathways deeper into the heart of the city. They attempted to avoid further skirmishes where they could, and utterly obliterated their opponents when they could not. Kincaid made note of Kor’s berserker fits whenever they engaged One Sith minions and wondered why Cantor would rely on the three of them; in fact, all three were atypical for this kind of mission. A cyborg behemoth. A mystic whose only real interest was Sith Lore rather than warfare. And the outcast...
Were they even getting closer to their target? Kincaid was growing tired of this quest. “Kor,” said Kincaid, a query as much as a statement. Kor ignored him. “Kor!” he hissed, irritation flooding his tone.
The white-haired man stopped abruptly ahead of him, paused for a heartbeat before turning around, and fixed him with a murderous glare. Marr stood between the two of them, sensing the tension bubbling beneath the surface. “What do you want, Kincaid?” Kor growled.
Kincaid placed his hand on the base of his lightsaber hilt, the threat obvious to the other two. “I want to know where you’re taking us. This feels like a wild bantha chase with you in charge.”
Marr looked nervous. His discomfort at the situation was evident in the slight furrow of his brow, the dotted beads of sweat, and the ripples of unease that rippled forth from him. “We’ve got enough enemies here trying to kill us. How about we just—”
Before Marr could finish his question, the team was swarmed by a squad of One Sith acolytes. Kincaid’s standoff with Kor had given the enemy enough time to catch up to them, putting the three of them at a disadvantage. Red lightsabers erupted from hilts in a chorus of snap-hisses, surrounding the team and quickly closing in.
Kincaid watched with distaste as Kor took on the first of the attackers; he couldn’t accept the brutality involved in the man’s fighting, but he appreciated the efficiency with which he disposed of his opponents. With a burst of Force energy and the effect of pent-up rage, Kor snapped the neck of the first attacker. He swiped the falling lightsaber of his victim from the air and whirled to behead the man attempting to flank him. Kor kicked the decapitated corpse of the One Sith in the chest, sending it flying backwards into the rest of their opponents. Kincaid didn’t even have to raise a defense.
Meanwhile, Marr was struggling to hold off three of the One Sith by himself. Kincaid thought that the attackers would dispatch the young man quickly, but he was holding them off, even if just barely. Kincaid waited for an opportune moment to strike, calculating the easiest way to fell all three acolytes with minimal risk, but he never got the chance to act. He looked on, bemused, as Kor threw himself mindlessly into the fray. He struck Marr’s attackers from behind and eviscerated them with his own lightsaber before they could overwhelm the younger man.
Kincaid could only shake his head. How the bloodthirsty killing machine had survived so long given his reckless tactics was mind-boggling. Why would the man risk his own life needlessly for another? Kincaid never let emotion cloud his actions and could not understand Kor’s foolishness. But he had no time to dwell on their differences.
A sudden, dark, powerful presence in the Force slammed into Kincaid’s awareness like a freight tram. He recognized that energy from Nar Shaddaa. It wasn’t possible. But there were few others who had such a raw presence in the Force. In one smooth motion, Kincaid drew and activated his amber-bladed lightsaber and ran towards the new threat without sparing a glance towards his embattled teammates.
The city streets had quickly become a disjointed mess. The sounds of battle could be heard all around. What had started as an infiltration mission had become embroiled in war. Kincaid ignored the cries of pain and triumph around him, honing in on the source of the disturbing aura of power he could sense looming ever-nearer. He paused for a moment to better focus on locating the source and pushed the surrounding fighting from his mind.
It was that single-mindedness that nearly cost him his life.
A soft thud sounded from behind him followed by a click and three impossibly short beeps. Instinct saved him. Kincaid was moving in a blur before the incendiary grenade exploded, the rush of heat and force throwing him forward and out of the blast radius' kill zone. He landed hard, rolling into a nearby wall and covered his head with his arms. He got up, bruised and coughing smoke from his lungs. His cloak and robes were aflame, ignited by the blast, but he ignored the licking heat, as his eyes locked on the figure in black, stealth armor, strolling forward.
The One Sith’s head of intelligence was exactly the person Kincaid wanted to meet. The kind of person who could give him answers--answers that would lead to his vengeance. He had abandoned the other two members of the team for a chance at tackling the Sith Lord solo. What he wanted to hear was not for the members of Taldryan. Kincaid didn’t need their interference. All he needed was a few minutes alone.
Arcing bolts of lightning shot from the Sith Lord's hands. The blast slammed into a nearby trio of soldiers—Brotherhood soldiers—and ended them in an explosive blast of dark side energy. Kincaid stopped cold at the sight. The soldiers hadn't merely been struck down, they had been obliterated by raw power. What was left of their bodies was charred, smoking remains that could barely be identified as humanoid.
The scream drew Kincaid's attention. A Dark Jedi of unknown origin walked blindly into the street from an alley. She was shouting orders to her comrades, protecting the remnants of a devastated squad of men and women from blaster fire. The cry drew the attention of the Sith Lord, who turned to unleash more of his power. Kincaid reacted first.
With speed borne of desperation, Kincaid launched himself across the distance separating him from the Dark Jedi and her team. He pulled his secondary lightsaber from its sheath and activated it. The two blades—amber and sapphire—crossed just in time to receive the volley of lightning, deflecting it in a cacophony of light and sound. The force behind the attack caused Kincaid to grit his teeth and pushed him to his limits to hold it back. The deadly energy arced up and away, redirected by the blades into a nearby building. Stony debris rained down on the unknown Dark Jedi, but they had survived.
"Go!" Kincaid shouted at them. He needed to lose the witnesses. Though he didn't care for the ideals behind Taldryan's actions, he owed Cotelin enough to keep the secrecy of the mission. They had to act without the Brotherhood knowing. And the Dark Jedi were far less likely to report being saved by an enemy Clan's member than they were if he had fought with or against them.
Not waiting to be told twice, the female took her squad and fled back towards the outskirts of the city and away from the Sith menace. Kincaid squared off, still holding his two blades, and watched the Sith Lord walk calmly towards him. There was no rush to the Sith's movements as he sauntered through the street. He didn't attempt another attack, which made Kincaid all the more uneasy.
The masked gaze of the Sith locked on Kincaid from a few yards away. "Did it ever occur to you," he asked, out of the blue, "to wonder how I know more about your missions than you do?"
Kincaid's mind raced. He had never had any actual dealings with the being known as Esoteric, but he knew the man had stood in opposition against the Brotherhood since near the beginning of the war. He was powerful… powerful enough to assassinate a Dark Councilor as if slaughtering a nerf. It was likely the Sith wasn't really talking to Kincaid specifically, just taking enjoyment in making conversation.
Esoteric sounded amused. "There was a time when I thought maybe your Clan would fail to pick up on the theme of this little war. After all, you keep walking into these ambushes and dying… all in the name of the Dark Council."
The man obviously didn't think well of the Council. In fact, his opinion seemed to match the prevalent thoughts of the people in charge of Taldryan. Kincaid tuned the Sith out as he tried to think of what to do next. Kor and Marr wouldn't be far behind him, assuming they survived the fight against the minions from earlier. Things would escalate dangerously with them around. But he had no idea how to handle someone with power rivaling his own master's. His thoughts were interrupted when Esoteric gestured towards the sky.
"It looks like Taldryan's old allies have already made their decision."
Kincaid felt an ominous surge in the force and heard thunder overhead. He looked up to the skies of Bosthirda and watched as Imperial Star Destroyers appeared amongst the clouds, hovering above Xlopora City. Fighters exploded out of hangar bays and engaged the Brotherhood forces that had been holding the One Sith armada at bay. The unexpected guests had obviously taken the Brotherhood by surprise.
Something had changed.
He wasn't sure what the arrival of "old allies" meant, but it couldn't be a good thing. Panic and confusion flooded through the Force as the Brotherhood reacted to the new enemy forces. Full-scale battle emerged as the two sides fought for superiority. The mission for the sword was quickly becoming an impossible task. The forces gathering to the city were so far removed from what they had planned for and expected, Kincaid had no idea how Cotelin had not foreseen these events. Was the power of Esoteric that great?
Esoteric had turned away right before the Imperial vessels had arrived, as if he had lost interest in the battles around him. Kincaid held his breath, fearing the wrong move would cause the man to change his mind and engage him. That's when Kor and Marr appeared in front of the Sith Lord, effectively trapping him between the three. This was very, very bad.
"Run, you idiots!" Kincaid shouted.
Kor didn't hear him—or just plain ignored the warning—and rushed to engage. Kincaid wanted to strangle the fool. Throwing yourself without thought at waves of minions was one thing. Throwing yourself at the mass of power Esoteric wielded? It was a very quick and painful way to die. And the stupid, son of a kath hound was going to get them all killed.
Esoteric came to a stop, seemingly unperturbed, and waited for the attack, not even bothering to draw his weapon. Kincaid sprinted forward, already knowing what was going to happen. It only took a moment for Kor to find out, too. Solid, invisible force struck Kor like a durasteel wall, smashing him into the ground.
Kincaid jumped high into the air, flipping over Esoteric's head to land in front of the other Dark Jedi. He held his blades out, just in time to block another arcing blast of lightning. Kor and Marr fell in on either side of them, breathing heavily, but still prepared to fight.
"Interesting. You've provided some amusement on this dreary world," Esoteric called out. "But this little fight has grown tiresome."
Power spilled from Esoteric. Dark waves pulsed around his armor—a literal aura of Force visible to the naked eye. Before Kincaid could react, the power rushed toward them. It hit. Hard. The three Dark Jedi were sent flying backwards and crashed through a wall of a derelict building.
Kincaid struggled to push himself up, bloody and bruised, but couldn't muster the strength to get to his feet. Beside him lay Kor and Marr, unconscious, but still breathing. The overwhelming presence exuded by Esoteric forced Kincaid to look up into the man's cold, cruel mask. Without another word, Esoteric raised his arms skyward. For a brief second, Kincaid could feel the stir of power again… then everything exploded. The building they had landed in began to break up as if wracked by invisible tremors. Debris fell to the ground, chunks of stone and steel threatening to crush all three Dark Jedi were they had fallen.
Forcing every bit of power into the Force, Kincaid erected a telekinetic barrier over himself and the others, hoping to stave off their untimely death. But it was a losing battle. The entire building was collapsing down on them, burying them beneath thousands of pounds of rubble. The twilight of dusk disappeared and darkness swallowed them whole.
"Sorry, gentlemen," Esoteric's modulated voice echoed from outside. "I have pressing business to take care of."
Kincaid's vision began to flicker as the last ounces of his strength drained out of him. The entirety of the ruined building weighed down upon them, entombing them on the Sith World. With his last, fading thoughts, Kincaid reached out with the Force.
.:: OKEMI ::.
Okemi stood aside and watched as Tiamat ran out of the shuttle and down the ramp before it had fully settled. Ferran strode by him, wordlessly, and followed the sorceress out into the open air. The Sith Lord waited a moment before following the two others out onto the surface of Bosthirda. The answers found on his home of Ziost had pointed the three to this world. They were nearing the end of their journey, but what they would find at the terminus gave him pause.
Tiamat stormed forward. Large drifts of snow covered the outskirts of the abandoned Xlopora City, slowing their progress. Raw power surged from the sorceress, flinging the snow to either side of her and forming a clear tunnel to walk through. Ferran did not hesitate as he moved in her wake, although Okemi could see the assassin’s head twitch from side-to-side ever so subtly as he took in his surroundings. Taking the rear, Okemi let his vision roam. They had arrived during night, but the sky was streaked with red. He paused for a moment to consider its meaning. The colored sky was an ill omen if ever there was one, but what it pertained to was a mystery he could not foresee.
Realizing that he was falling behind, Okemi propelled himself forward to catch up to the others. Ancient structures loomed over their heads, tantalizing him with curiosity as to their history and secrets. The designs caught the Sith Lord’s eye. The structures were covered in runes which seemed to pulsate with power long forgotten. Okemi was drawn to this place. It was all he could do to stay on the path, yet he fell further and further behind. With an effort of will, Okemi tore himself away from the relics that surrounded him and fought to focus on the path ahead.
Before he could catch up, a shriek rang out from ahead, forcing him into a sprint. It was the first sound that had come out of Tiamat’s throat for some time. Although it had been far from coherent, it alerted him to the imminent danger. A moment later, Okemi felt a sickening pull at his gut as Ferran growled beside him.
“What...is...this?” Ferran managed through gritted teeth.
Okemi did not bother answering as he searched for his own answers. Everything was just wrong. The Force was twisted here; unnatural. He felt his own powers waning as moans began to rise from all around them. A thick mist had begun to coat the ground. Through the haze that surrounded the trio, inhuman forms began to take shape.
The shapes lumbered out of the mists and their forms took definition. Okemi snarled in derision. The undead had risen forth and surrounded them. An anger-fueled gust of energy flowed out of the Sith Lord and into the first group that came toward him. The energy splashed harmlessly against the group, knocking them back only a step or two before they continued forward.
“You are weakened,” whispered Ferran in his ear, stating what the Sith already knew. This place affected his control of the Force. Okemi did not turn to look at the assassin, and instead gripped the hilt of his ancient lightsaber and brought the crimson blade forward. It had been far too long since he had waded into true battle. The movements, though rusty at first, came back to his muscles as he threw himself into the horde.
A light of pure silver rang out as Okemi saw Ferran throw himself into battle as well, leading the charge with his blade, Revelation. There was much about the sword that Okemi did not know, but it was clear that it contained a primal form of power. For a moment the magics that had stifled his own power disappeared as the sword cleaved through the mist, creating a brief opening in the miasma. Okemi unleashed another torrential blast that had the desired effect, sending the undead flying in every direction. As the sword’s light faded, overwhelmed by the most, so too did his power as the magics took hold once more.
“Their heads! Take off their heads!” Ferran yelled out, as Okemi saw the bodies he believed disposed rise back to their feet. One of the undead moved to attack the woman.
“Defend yourself, Sorceress!” Okemi yelled at Tiamat, who appeared lost, her gaze following nothing in particular. “Damn you, woman!” he growled and leapt to behead one of the undead who nearly managed to eviscerate her.
Tiamat seemed to finally realize he was there and turned to look at him. Okemi was faced with soulless eyes. He could hear something being mumbled under her breath. She released a horrific wail , unleashing dark side energy around them. The mist grew larger, enveloping everything within view. For a moment Okemi was blinded, his own saber’s light extinguished before the mist disappeared.
When his sight returned and the mist faded, Okemi turned to see Tiamat staring at him. Her eyes had returned to a semblance of their earlier state, but still there was a madness that swam under the surface. Wordlessly she turned on her heel and, with strides that belied her stature, she set off on a path into the center of the city. Okemi did not bother to say anything to Ferran, whose gaze he felt at his back, and instead made to follow the woman. The unnatural powers that had gripped him had faded, but were still within the stones of the structures around him. What the sorceress had done to subdue the forces was unknown to the Sith Lord, and was unsure whether or not he wanted to know the answer.
.:: COTELIN ::.
The images and emotions slipped away from his grasp as he stirred, the vision fleeing as his meditation came to an end. The physical realm took hold of him and he once more felt the support of the chair beneath him and the slight chill of the carefully regulated atmosphere of the command room. Around him, several members of the Brotherhood hunched at their chairs over glowing screens, hastily tapping and typing away at various interfaces and documents as if their lives depended on it. Maybe they did.
Cotelin had been tasked with working from this command post outside of Xlopora City, removed from the real action. The order had come directly from the Grand Master, and despite his protests, Cotelin had eventually complied. Yet while he sat here, countless enemies crept closer to power, to usurping and destroying all he had strived for. No longer did he just think it, he knew it. He could feel it through his almost visceral connection to the Force.
Why, then, was he cooped up here with minor functionaries and soldiers? Surely, after all these years, there were those who could serve a role as simple as overseeing a command post. They claimed he was of strategic importance, that he couldn't be risked in the chaos and carnage on the front lines. But there was more to it than that.
The answer had been there all along, of course. He had hoped not to see it, in a twisted sense. To deny its truth by refusing to acknowledge it, to bury and squirrel it away as if to relieve the shame from the shoulders of his brothers. Ashen had fallen to the same pitfalls that fell the great Dark Jedi that came before him in so many generations past. Paranoia and fear was long-ingrained by the old systems of the Sith. Masters rarely grew this old without heinous actions saving them from untimely demise. Most masters would have been dead by now. It seemed that Ashen, despite his strength and long-held position at the top the Brotherhood, was feeling the paranoia those old masters developed. A seemingly inescapable ancient hysteria.
Perhaps it was fear of the old ways, of the constant downfall of master after master, that drove him now more than anything else. The Grand Master was afraid of Ferran’s blade falling into anyone's hands but his own. He was so consumed by his paranoia that he was willing to endanger the Brotherhood's members. That was why Cotelin, with all his power and potential to aid in this struggle, was left to rot in this command post. All under the scrutinizing and watchful eyes of minions of Kalen Aquillarum.
He was jarred from his mental reflection right as he began to contemplate just how to pry himself from this location without too much suspicion. Nearby one of the Councilor's screens flashed slightly, a small box with a line dancing about to the man's voice—Keirdagh's voice.
“I said I want support —Dark Councilors —on my objective because we are getting attacked by goddamn Sith Lords.”
The reply was swift and automatic. “I’m afraid we can’t spare any extra troops to your area. You’ll simply have to hold out as long as possible.”
The man had just cut communications as Cotelin stood, his sudden stirring somewhat alarming the comparatively diminutive individual at the control panel. The strength and volume of his voice in the area typically punctuated with little more than terse words and the beeping of machines. “I’m not going to sit here and play with computers while I have men out there—good friends—who are risking their lives and getting slaughtered for this mission.”
While most present seemed to lack the ability to respond immediately, as if shocked into a daze, the Master at Arms quickly stood and moved forward as if to intervene, speaking in a calm and collected voice despite a certain anxiousness in his demeanor. “Surely, Master Cotelin, you have been informed of your crucial nature. The Grand Master himself has said we can’t risk someone such as yourself on such lowly matters, after all. We simply can’t allow something like that to happen.”
The man seemed to spit out platitudes and praise as if they were supposed to give Jac pause. Unfortunately for him, they did not.
“Frankly, Kalen, I don’t care how much the Grand Master worries for my well being. You there,” Cotelin pointed to a nearby aide. The youth must have just recently made his way into the Brotherhood judging from the green-hue to his face. “Go round up a speeder and have it ready for me to leave immediately.”
Kalen moved physically in front of the man, now quite blatantly flustered. “Master Cotelin, I must insist, I can’t allow you—“
Cotelin finally let anger get the best of him. The Force rushed outward in a torrent and tossed the Hapan aside like a dry leaf caught in a gale.
“Allow me?” Cotelin laughed. “You can’t stop me.”
.:: CANTOR ::.
Keirdagh took position behind a bit of crumbled duracrete that had once been an apartment block of some sort. Troops from Taldryan's Darkfire Battalion were hunkered down all around him, pouring fire across the wide boulevard, where One Sith troops forces were entrenched. The last sortie he'd sent out, accompanied by members of the Wardens, had been crushed by dug in One Sith forces, and set upon by torrents of lightning fired from the hands of previously unseen One Sith elders. Only the intervention of two of Taldryan's Dark Prophets had been able to rescue the Journeymen from being completely routed.
Now, all he could do was keep his head down and wait for word from the oh-so-gracious Dark Council as to when they would be sending support to help hold the objective that had been given to Taldryan. A flash of green crawled up beside him, and calmly asked, "Any news from the Council?"
Keirdagh didn't bother to take his eyes from scanning the enemy lines, and responded with a derisive snort. "The Council rushing to save us? Impossible. The One Sith might just go ahead and do them a favor by finishing us off for them." It didn't take too long to finally hear back from the Brotherhood central command.
A vaguely familiar voice started sounding off in Cantor's ear, relaying the orders he expected to hear. "I’m afraid we can’t spare any extra troops to your area. You’ll simply have to hold out as long as possible."
Sub-vocalizing a command to close the comm with headquarters, Keirdagh let loose a string of profanities that could have made a smuggler blush. Beside him, Rokir's morbid chuckles broke the tension of what would otherwise have been dire news. Taldryan was once again being abandoned by the Dark Council, and would, as it always had, be expected to survive on its own.
Shuffling backward, being careful to keep his head down, Keirdagh started to issue orders to dig in further, and take every precaution to stay safe as they would have no relief. His impromptu briefing was interrupted though by the familiar whine of approaching repulsors. It was a whine that years of service in the Imperial Navy would never let him forget: it belonged to Imperial drop ships.
"Shavit!" cursed the old warrior as the familiar visage of a Sentinel-class landing craft filled the skies above the boulevard. Waves of storm commandos started dropping into the street, while pouring fire into the Taldryan lines.
The elite members of the Darkfire Battalion did themselves justice, taking a heavy toll on the Imperial troopers as they rappelled to the ground. But what had once been a precarious balance between the attacking One Sith forces, and the entrenched Taldryan troops, had swung wildly against Keirdagh and his men.
"Taldrya, forward!" shouted Keirdagh as his golden blade shimmered into existence. "Give the men some cover!" Lightsabers in every colour of the rainbow joined his as Taldryan's Dark Jedi sprang forward to act as living shields, redirecting incoming enemy fire back at their, while their troops did their best to stem the overwhelming tide of white armor.
It's amazing how quickly battle tires you out, mused Keirdagh, his blade flashing between blaster bolts. His skill with a lightsaber was not the greatest, and he felt at least one impact on his battle scarred breastplate. His brothers were not faring nearly as well. One of Taldryan's newest Knights was cut down by a flurry of blaster fire, and the One Sith Lords had joined the battle and were flinging debris and lightning down upon their lines, constantly occupying the Dark Prophets. A panicked shout rang from behind him as one of his troopers called out a warning.
"Stormies coming up from the southwest!"
Taking a moment to assess the new threat, Keirdagh realized that the dropships must have been a distraction, designed to keep Taldryan's forces occupied while larger groups landed a safe distance away and then joined the battle. Meanwhile, the Dark Jedi of Taldryan were being more and more overwhelmed. It appeared as though any machinations the Dark Council may have had to deal with Taldryan and its rebellious leadership caste today may finally be coming to fruition.
I'll be damned if I'm going to make it easy on them though.
"Taldrya!" shouted the bearded Sith, "prepare to fall back on my mark. Darkfire: grenades on same mark!" Keirdagh held his men in position for as long as he could, waiting for maximum effect of the battalions grenades. It cost Taldryan two more Jedi. Two more men who he'd been charged with protecting. Two more men he had ordered to their deaths, all so he could inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible, only to further Ashen's foolish goals. "Mark!"
The Jedi of Taldryan sprang backwards, taking cover as best as they could, while the missiles flew forth from their troops. Grenades of all types—from incendiary to fragmentation—littered the street. Standing his ground as best he could, and bracing himself against the violent eruption, Keirdagh shielded himself with the Force and watched the carnage his men had unleashed. For a brief moment, he thought the wild gamble would pay off, until he caught the glint of sunlight on armor from the northeast. Another column of Imperial troopers was approaching from the other end of the street.
Knowing that death was surely going to take them if they stayed, and seeing no need to doom his men to die for the Grand Master's insane whims, turning to face his men Keirdagh began to prepare his men for retreat. He would simply need to get a message through to Tarax informing him that they would have no ready support if his team needed it. Enough Taldryan blood had already been spilled today.
It was while his back was turned that a speeder arrived high above the boulevard, which was why he almost missed what happened next. In his despair, Keirdagh watched a black-clad figure launch himself out of the speeder, free fall through the air, and come crashing down into the street like a meteorite. The figure hit the ground with a massive explosion, throwing debris and troopers into the air like shrapnel. He watched the figure stand back up and ignite two golden blades of his own.
Jac Cotelin had arrived.
Silence descended onto the battlefield. Both sides felt the change as much as saw it. Keirdagh felt his own spine straighten as the familiar form of Cotelin stood amidst the carnage. “About damned time,” he said to himself. He started to move toward the Grand Master, but stopped in his tracks as Cotelin turned away from him. Chaos erupted as the Lords of the One Sith turned their attentions to the Grand Master, whose very presence seemed to embolden the Taldryan troops. Seeing Cotelin’s arrival had removed all thoughts of retreat from Keirdagh’s mind, and the same held true for the rest of his forces as they re-engaged the combined One Sith and Imperial forces.
The Sith Lords were now the focus of Keirdagh’s attention. There were four in total. A Twi’lek male and female, who seemed to be making a straight line for Cotelin, along with a Shistavanen to the right and a Falleen to the left, attempting to flank him. Keirdagh saw a streak of green shoot off to his left and let a small smile crease his face as he turned to the Shistavanen, who bared sharp, elongated fangs back at him. In the distance he could hear the clear voice of the Dark Prophet, Telaris, calling out orders to the rest of the men as he took charge of the soldiers. Keirdagh was primed for battled, and Telaris knew instinctively to let him handle it.
“Here doggy doggy,” Keirdagh taunted under his breath, before loosening a war cry and bounding straight into danger. A howling roar was sent back in response as the Shistavanen leapt into the air with his ruby-saber extended. Without slowing, Keirdagh jabbed at the empty air and watched as the Sith Lord was sent hurtling backwards only to land back in the spot he started off in.
Keirdagh’s massive form barreled straight at his opponent, who managed to rise back to his feet with unnatural quickness. His golden blade attempted to spear the One Sith, but was parried at the last instant as the Shistavanen turned into the attack. Keirdagh’s momentum could not be stopped. He tackled the furry creature and sent both of them crashing into the blood-soaked ground. The Shistavanen managed to get his feet under him and his leverage to send Keirdagh tumbling into the side of a stone wall. Keirdagh groaned as he the wind was knocked out of him. Battle-honed instinct, however, tugged at his senses, and he rolled to the side. The blade of a lightsaber bored a hole into the wall he had just been leaning against.
“Damned mutt,” Keirdagh grunted. He lashed out with a powerful kick, his heel finding the Shistavanen’s knee, eliciting an audible pop as fragments of bone erupted from the flesh. The Sith Lord howled in pain and fell onto his back. As Keirdagh took a step toward him, the Shistavanen let loose a rage-filled explosion of Force-energy. Keirdagh barely managed to get his blade up in time, feeling his face flare up in pain as a portion of the lightning snuck through his defense before he could catch it all.
Shoving back the pain and ignoring smell of burnt hair, Keirdagh focused on his blade and the roiling energies that crackled against it. Snarling in anger, he stomped forward, pushing the energies back at the Shistavanen. The howling of the Sith Lord grew louder as Keirdagh grew nearer.
“Shut up!” Keirdagh growled as he brought his foot down onto the Shistavanen’s chest, collapsing the beast’s ribcage into his lungs and stopping the flow of energy. With a flick of his wrist, Keirdagh slipped his lightsaber through the Sith Lord’s neck and watched as the furry head separated from the rest of the body.
Anger still roaring through him, Keirdagh finally took notice of the raging battles around him. His eyes took in the entire scene in an instant. The Taldryan forces had managed to flank part of the One Sith forces and were in the process of closing the noose. Telaris was pushing another group of soldiers through a throng of Imperials. The Falleen was being pushed back by an emerald blade wielded by Halcyon Rokir. And, lastly, a maelstrom of red and gold sparked against one another as Cotelin and the two Twi’lek’s exchanged blows.
Keirdagh moved toward the Grand Master with massive strides, eating up the distance as he attempted to peer through the wall of light that surrounded the battle. With only a few yards to go, Keirdagh girded himself to enter the fray, blade held at the ready, but suddenly found himself staring up at the sky as a wave of power flattened him instantly. Keirdagh took a moment, not feeling himself to be in any danger, and instead focused on getting his bearings. A shadow fell over his face and a familiar visage stared down at him.
“Working on your tan?” Halcyon asked as he stared at the burn marks that Keirdagh had received from the Shistavanen.
“And those must be love scratches,” Keirdagh responded as he rose to his feet, commenting on the wounds that criss-crossed Halcyon’s face and neck. “What the hell happened here?”
“What do you think?” Rokir snorted. He turned his head, and Keirdagh followed his gaze to see Cotelin come striding toward the both of them. Behind him were various pieces of what remained of the Sith Lords.
“Gentlemen,” Cotelin greeted as he neared the other two Taldrya.
“Took you long enough,” Keirdagh said as he shook Cotelin’s hand, with Halcyon nodding in agreement.
“Taldryan cannot be allowed to fall. I am sure the Dark Council may want a word or two with me, but for now we can focus on—” Cotelin’s words died off and his gaze seemed to lose focus. Keirdagh’s eyes narrowed in concern, and for a fleeting moment he felt a chill reverberate through the Force.
“What’s happened?” Halcyon asked before Keirdagh could.
“We don’t have much time, and the mission has just become more complicated,” Cotelin muttered, returning to the here and now. “I can no longer sense Kincaid. He and the others were stopped somewhere near the heart of the city.” His dark, brown eyes flashed. “We must go to them. We will not abandon our brothers to death.”
Keirdagh was surprised by the emotion in Cotelin’s voice. It was something he had not heard before—a desperation combined with weariness. But there was also a hint of anger. Keirdagh understood. This whole mission, this whole crusade, angered him to no end. But they had committed, and they were here. Which meant they needed to succeed. And Keirdagh was not sure that they could be sidetracked from the mission to go and save the others. “Jac—”
What he was about to ask was cut off by Cotelin’s shaking head. “I know what you would say, Keirdagh, and I would logically agree with you, but for the premonitions I feel. I will explain everything on the way. I know where they are. The three of us will retrieve them and then retrieve the sword.”
“Lead the way,” Halcyon responded immediately.
Keirdagh held his tongue. Instead, he looked back to see the rest of the battling forces in the distance. Telaris was issuing orders to the soldiers and Dark Jedi, directing them to engage the remaining enemy. The One Sith and their allies had bent them, but Taldryan remained unbroken. He knew Telaris would hold the line as long as he could.
With conviction, Keirdagh finally nodded in agreement. “Let’s go.”
.:: KINCAID ::.
"...Think he's dead? With our luck, he's dead. Listen, you've got way more history than me, Tarax. If I say it, they'll probably just flay me alive. We've got to—"
"Shut up, Rathus. Pay attention to what's in front of us. Kincaid looks bad, but at least he's breathing. Give him some space, I doubt your face is the first thing he wants to see."
Kincaid’s eyes slowly cracked open, obscured by a haze of fatigue that weighed down upon him just as heavily as his aching limbs. He felt something warm drip onto his forehead, rolling down the side of his cheek. In a daze, he moved a hand to brush it away, glancing to the red smear it left on his hand with a sense of detachment. After a brief moment everything came rushing back, his hold on consciousness secured as his eyes adapted to the dim light peeking through the immeasurable amount of rubble around them.
The pale man hovered over him, brow knit with concern as a trickle of blood flowed from a gash on his temple. Another drop formed from the wound, threatening to splash down on Kincaid once more. Kincaid pushed the man aside to avoid it, sitting up suddenly with the motion. Stars flashed in his eyes from the rush of blood due to the sudden movement, but he ignored them as he spoke.
"I'd appreciate if you didn't bleed on me, Marr." He sneered almost involuntarily as he wiped his hand on a nearby slab of rock.
Despite the strain of the Force and the tremendous danger of the attack they suffered, he seemed to be in one piece. The others, too, seemed to have escaped death or maiming, through a combination of his desperate efforts and sheer dumb luck. Kor sat perched in a crouch on a leveled piece of rubble, a good distance from himself and the young man.
"Er, yes, sorry about that,” Marr mumbled. “You're alright, then?"
Kincaid gave a tired nod in response, breathing deeply as he rested for a brief moment, drawing upon the Force, as if to test the connection once more after his exertions. The deep focus and flowing power eased the worst of his aches, while the rest he forced himself to compartmentalize and ignore for the time being.
"Well, at least we're all alive,” Marr pointed out sarcastically. “Now we can wait to slowly die together. Maybe we'll get lucky and the rest of the building will collapse and crush us first, so we don’t have to suffocate instead." Marr spared a glance upward as he spoke. It was hard to tell just how serious he was, Kincaid noted. Maybe pessimism was how he kept himself alive. Either way, it made him less than ideal as a team mate.
He was about to reply when Kor spoke up. "Enough of this. Keirdagh knows we're out here, and something tells me that Jac won't simply abandon Kincaid." He cast a glance in the man's direction, daring him to argue the fact. "Taldryan has been in scenarios like this numerous times, and we never leave a man behind. Ever."
Marr seemed satisfied by that answer, judging from the fact he finally closed his mouth. Unfortunately, the man’s nervous urge to say something still remained in his features. Kincaid ignored him. For the moment, things seemed calm... until a rumble shook the debris above them once more. The two other Dark Jedi sprang up as if womp rats were nipping at their toes, with Marr adding in a flowing stream of Huttese profanity for good measure.
Kincaid would have been amused, if it weren't so tiresome. He could sense a presence above them, more vividly than the other two could. And, he mused, more vividly than he wanted to. Eager to get the two to stop their ... antics, he spoke up, his voice surprisingly weary and hoarse to his own ears.
As if to prove his point, light flooded into their small cavern, momentarily blinding them. Just outside the opening they could hear voices. "Right where you said he'd be, Jac." Keirdagh Cantor's face appeared in the opening momentarily, peering inside. "Looks like... Tarax and Rathus as well. And looking a lot less torn to bits than we expected."
Kor spoke up first, a mixture of relief and weariness in his voice. "It wasn't for a lack of trying, Keirdagh; I'm surprised we ended up as well as we did." He looked at Marr, a wicked grin on his face as he added, "Although I wouldn't be surprised if Rathus wet himself." Cantor simply shook his head and stepped away from the opening. Kincaid was glad to see that others found Kor as irritating as he did.
The rubble shifted once more, the loud rumble filling the chamber as the crew above channeled the Force, lifting the rubble chunk by chunk to carefully avoid causing a cave-in. Once the hole grew to the size of a man, a torso dipped down into the pit, leaning over the side. This time it was Rokir, his distinct green hair ragged from the day’s exertions. He extended a hand, gesturing for someone to step up and accept the boost upwards. The fretful Marr moved forward without missing a beat, grasping the hand and scrambling up with little care for grace.
It was distasteful, Kincaid thought. The members of Taldryan were all so reliant on one another and eager to offer help. Were they really Dark Jedi? The way they babied the recruit still shone through even though his status was that of an Equite. Next went Kor, though he chose to be a bit more dignified at least, and Kincaid followed.
"How exactly did you end up like that?" Cotelin glanced at the three one-by-one. Kincaid knew he phrased it as if to refer to the group, but in the back of his mind he felt—knew—it was directed at him. He took the chance to explain before either of his overly eager “team mates” got the chance.
“Short version?” Kincaid asked. “We ran into a bit of trouble.” He gave Cotelin a meaningful glare. “Esoteric.” Cotelin’s brow furrowed and he nodded, gesturing slightly for Kincaid to continue.
"We didn’t really get into it, but he’s here for a reason. And he was wired into our secure communications.” Kincaid glanced at Cantor. “He noted that Taldryan was obviously unhappy with the Dark Council… and suggested we might want to switch teams.”
This was met by a low growl from the older members of Taldryan. Kincaid ignored them, focusing on Cotelin. Cold fury seemed to fill the old Grand Master’s face as he absorbed that bit of information. Kincaid knew Taldryan was on the outs with the Council, but he couldn’t imagine a betrayal of the Brotherhood. Even in his short time in Taldryan, Kincaid knew well its steadfast loyalty to the Brotherhood itself.
“Then,” Kincaid continued the story, “the two idiots over there decided to show up and accidentally pinned Esoteric between us. Naturally, he didn't like that. That's when he flung us into the building and brought it down around us. It was a close call, but—"
He was interrupted as Cantor strutted quickly over, half muttering to Jac. A flash of annoyance crossed Kincaid’s face, but he listened intently to Cantor’s report regardless. "Rian has made contact. Seems that the Taldryan fleet is engaging those Star Destroyers. They're trying to keep things clean, but..."
"But the skies won't be so friendly anymore,” Cotelin muttered.
"Not to mention they brought in the big guns. We don't know how long it will be safe for ground forces down here now, Jac. Not with our new friends. We're on a clock, and we don’t know who’s keeping count."
Kincaid started slightly, a memory resurfacing in his tired mind. "Esoteric. He said something about friends... No, it was allies. He said, ‘It looks like Taldryan's old allies have already made their decision.’ Right as the Destroyers popped up."
Cotelin closed his eyes and sighed wearily, bringing his hand up to rub his forehead. "I should have known. We need to get going. Now."
None of them offered a word of protest. In fact, they were far more silent than Kincaid had seen them since arriving here, despite the place being a battlefield. Apparently, having a deadline made the men from Taldryan more serious and grim than anything else he had seen.
Cotelin led them to the center of the city, snaking throughout alleyways and around enemies. Any foolish enough to walk across their path were quickly struck down by whomever managed to attack first. Time was of the essence. They no longer had the luxury to play with enemy forces or fight any unnecessary engagements. It was less than an hour's journey, but it felt like a lifetime before they came to stand before an obscene, ancient palace.
Ornamental carvings and depictions of various creatures engaged in profane rituals, their dead stone eyes cast upwards to the heavens, stood forever frozen in the throes of some strange passion. The years had not been kind to the stone building, the grey walls worn and blackened, making a circle around the building in an attempt at warding off intruders. A lone arch marked an entrance. On either side, giant earthen monstrosities gazed down at them, their faces frozen in stony contempt—a final warning to those who sought to make their way into the strange temple.
Cotelin’s demeanor was eerily similar to that of the gargoyle's as he spoke. "I've seen this place before. Felt it. We're here."
It didn’t take long for their group to come across the team the Grand Master had sent for the sword. As soon as they entered the palace’s ancient courtyard, Cantor sensed Ashen’s lackeys first and warned the group to arm themselves in preparation. Kincaid reached out with the Force, attempting to get a read on the nature of their counterparts, only to have his extended senses assaulted with a dark and vile sickness. From what he could feel, the Grand Master’s search party was corrupted to the very core.
Something was very wrong about them.
“Who… what are they?” asked Kincaid.
In front of him, Rokir replied, “Judging from those outfits? The 'fabled' Nihilgenia—the Grand Master's elite household guard."
“The only ones Ashen would trust to go after the sword,” Cotelin added disparagingly.
The Dark Jedi zombies were aware of the team’s presence and made their way closer. They appeared to still be armed, some even showing signs of moderate Force ability. Kincaid grunted. “So much for their fearsome reputation.”
“Careful,” warned Cotelin. “It seems that they ran afoul of Esoteric and his ilk, only to be brought back by whatever Sith energy still resides within these ruins.”
None of them questioned Cotelin’s assessment.
Without another word, Kincaid ignited his lightsaber along with the rest of the group and charged into the sea of undead. He noted how Cantor, Rokir, and Cotelin each threw their own telekinetic attack at the front line of the Nihilgenia, sending them flying backwards into the oncoming wave, and moved in to strike the fallen undead.
While the others preferred a more direct approach to their combat, Kincaid’s mastery of the Ataru form gave him the freedom to leap over and around Ashen’s fallen team while swinging his amber-bladed lightsaber with brutal efficiency that tore through enemy body parts with graceful ease.
Kincaid spared a glance over his shoulder and saw the rest of the team cutting down the zombies with almost inhuman ferocity. Cantor covered Marr, the Elder’s golden lightsaber striking down a half dozen undead for each one of the young Templar’s. Rokir and Kor cut into the mindless corpses effortlessly, the green-haired man utilizing both Force and lightsaber while the cyborg tore into flesh like a bloodthirsty nek with his fists and lightsaber. Cotelin, fighting on his own, unleashed brilliant storms of lightning at the Nihilgenia while his two golden lightsabers moved faster than the eye could follow.
But the battle seemed endless. With every zombie they fell, another three took its place. More than just the remnants of Ashen’s Nihilgenia were being raised by the ancient Sith magic. Warriors, thousands of years old, were reanimated and threw themselves mindlessly at Kincaid and the other members of Taldryan. The dark side energies of the old ruins seemed to feed the undead, giving them power greater than they ever had in life, while draining the strength from the living.
Cotelin cursed. “Take off their heads. It’s the only way to put them down for good.”
The Grand Master’s sudden insight proved effective. The tide of the battle turned as the Dark Jedi began a coordinated strike to decapitate the zombies. What had started out as an elegant display of Force and skill turned into a mindless bloodbath as they slaughtered the undead in droves. Blood and gore littered the courtyard.
Finally, with the last reanimated corpse disposed of, everyone took a moment to catch their breaths. Kincaid took the moment to survey the scene. He had seen the archway engraved with images before, but had not before taken in the rest of the area. Beyond the archway, spanning out in a semicircle, were a dozen towers of various sizes. Each had a door at its base—some large and some small. One of the towers was of a size where a grown man would have to crawl to go through the entrance. The only thing in common between the towers seemed to be the vast amount of carvings on the surfaces of each.
Before anyone could even suggest it, Marr started inspecting the towers one by one. Kincaid watched him run his hands along the carvings, mumbling to himself. Kincaid looked to his master, and saw that Cotelin was eagerly waiting for whatever Marr was trying to find. Perhaps this was the reason they brought the weak link along with them in the first place. After scrutinizing almost a dozen of the towering pillars, Marr looked up at Cotelin and stated with absolute surety, “This is the one.”
Kincaid watched intently as his master walked over to the old tower identified by Marr and read the inscriptions. Cotelin and Marr communicated with each other in another language, a strange guttural language that may have been some derivation of ancient Sith. Cotelin then dismissed Marr, and staying alone by the tower, dropped to his knees in meditation.
.:: TIAMAT ::.
“We are here.”
Beneath her fingers, the carvings alluded to power overwhelming, to knowledge beyond anything the high priestess had ever imagined. She ran her hands along the stone surface of the tower, basking in the glory of thousands of years of Sith legacy. Were it not for the call of powers hidden within, Tiamat would stay here for hours, simply studying the runes and the construction of the towers before moving onward. She was eager, indeed, but had not expected such intricacies, such power.
As for the others, their interest did not match hers at all. Okemi, the Sith Lord, walked around the open area, studying the physical structures as if to find out what was their proper military use. Tiamat knew Okemi would have an interest in what the runes said, but he himself did not have the patience to dissect the inscriptions.
Then there was Ferran. Always untrusting, always pessimistic. He simply stood at the archway, staring at Tiamat with a hand on the hilt of his sword. The man was powerful, indeed. Without the balancing aspects of the Force, Ferran would easily dispatch any foe in a fight. With the Force by his side, he was even more deadly, but his innate powers were no match for Tiamat’s or even Okemi’s. But what Ferran did not appreciate truly was the sword at his side. Revelation, as it was known, multiplied the powers of its wielder. For now, at least.
Tiamat mumbled to herself in ancient Sith as she read over the inscriptions on the eighth tower. She had to be careful in her readings. The lore she had read insinuated that to complete the ritual before the wrong tower would still lead to a pathway beyond, but that path would lead to certain doom. Each of the towers was engraved with carvings that were slightly different from the others, and Tiamat determined that she had to find the one with universal similarities to its counterparts. And, after careful consideration, she had found just that.
Tiamat stood before the tower and held out her arms. She focused her energies on the tower itself, and slowly recited the words on its surface. The priestess was careful with her pronunciation, making sure each syllable of the ancient, guttural language was correct. As she chanted the sayings, she felt power coursing through her being. The old forces that protected this place found their home within her and Tiamat was endowed with energy. It reached a crescendo as she finished the incantation, and Tiamat unleashed the forces and all of her power upon the doorway.
The Force flowed through her body like blood through her veins. Tiamat drew from it, barely giving in to the unfathomable power. She watched with confidence as the door before her opened. Ferran walked up beside her, looked through the door and then glanced at Tiamat inquisitively. Okemi shifted his weapon hand to the pommel of his sword, a nervous twitch he had developed over the years. Tiamat knew that they could not feel the power that she felt. It was beyond their grasp.
“Follow,” Tiamat commanded as she moved through the entrance.
.:: COTELIN ::.
Cotelin let his breath out, but kept his eyes closed. Tiamat’s thoughts still floated before him, still within reach. Proud that he held onto the vision, Cotelin knew that he had the information he needed. He let go of the priestess, letting the vision fade back into nothingness. Words and sounds enveloped him, his mouth becoming a conduit for them as they were released once more after thousands of years. The words were those that sought power—his power. They clawed at him, wanting more. Cotelin focused his will on the words, each syllable carefully imbued with all that a Grand Master could bring to bare. With a final breath, the last sound was made. He fought to stay conscious, slowly bringing his eyes to focus as an opening began to appear before him.
He felt Kincaid’s strong hands grip his arm, stabilizing him. Cotelin rose to his feet, fighting to keep himself steady as he nodded a thanks to Kincaid who stepped away. The other four came to surround him and peer at the darkness that lay beyond the opening.
“I take point,” Keirdagh announced, snapping Cotelin’s attention away from the opening and back to the group. “Tarax, Rathus, Jac and Kincaid follow in that order. Halc takes the rear. Jac, do you know what’s down there?”
“No,” Cotelin answered, training his gaze once again on the darkness before them. “I’ve seen nothing beyond this point. But what we are looking for is down there.” He watched as Keirdagh assimilated the information. Cotelin knew they were going in blind, perhaps to their deaths. But there was little he could do at this point to bring more information to bear. His power of foresight was waning, and he had neither the time nor the energy to seek another connection to the triumvirate. Cotelin saw Kincaid shift restlessly beside him, their connection clearly showing his unease with the entire situation. The others kept their own counsel to themselves as they awaited word from the Proconsul.
Keirdagh said nothing else. Instead, he ignited his lightsaber and entered the darkness of the tower, a move that did not surprise Cotelin in the least. Kor followed right at his heels, while Marr hesitated, conflicted for a moment. The Equite looked to his companions and Jac could sense that he was looking for some boost of confidence, some solace. There being none, Rathus reluctantly disappeared into the opening as well. Cotelin followed without hesitation, and felt Kincaid do the same behind him. He was enveloped by the darkness before finding the faint light that Cantor held at the lead. Another light soon joined in as Halcyon entered last and ignited his emerald blade.
Keirdagh kept the group of six on a brisk pace down the series of steps that spiraled deeper and deeper underground. The air felt thick in Jac’s throat, reeking of mold and other scents of things better left unknown. At the bottom of the staircase, though they had room to spread out ever so slightly, the group still moved single-file. Not a single sound existed in the space, save for the shuffling of their feet and their laboured breathing of the fetid air. Cotelin felt the discomfort of each of his companions, some more acute than others, as they continued on a seemingly linear path. They had not passed a single branching hall, their winding path never deviating from its original course.
A larger source of light glowed ahead. The two lightsabers at the fore were extinguished simultaneously. Keirdagh looked back with a questioning stare, but Cotelin could only give a shake of his head. He could sense nothing from the area ahead, and had no more information to provide. Keirdagh nodded in response as he turned back and continued forward.
“Is it supposed to be this easy?” Rathus nervously asked no one in particular. His mumbled words echoed around them as they entered what appeared to be an ancient crypt. The Grand Master reached out to the Equite through the Force, calming him and hardening him for the fight ahead. Cotelin wanted to see Marr survive this; he was, afterall, a curious one with great potential.
Large stone pillars were placed throughout the crypt, acting as supports for the tower above. At the center of the chamber stood a raised dais, bathed in the emerald glow of green torch fire that surrounded it. It was the solitary statue sitting atop the dais that caught the Grand Master’s attention. The statue was of a carved warrior locked in a savage, bloodthirsty pose. The dead, stone eyes seemed to peer directly at Cotelin, igniting in him a sensation that the former Dark Lord rarely felt: a chill down his spine. He had seen the statue before, long ago on Eos, in his studies with Master Yoni. Jac remembered well the warnings that adorned the ancient writings, but he had never learned where or what the statue was. Fear found a hold on Cotelin’s heart.
At the side of the warrior, an intricately carved stone scabbard rested, holding a hilt that was not made of the same material.
“The sword,” Rokir whispered from over Jac’s shoulder.
Before Cotelin’s warning could reach his lips, the entrance to the chamber behind them suddenly slammed shut and his senses lit up with the presence of others.
.:: KINCAID ::.
Esoteric’s modulated voice rang throughout the crypt, causing battle to erupt. Kincaid spun at the sound and found One Sith Adepts, four in total, rushing towards his group. Crimson blades flashed into existence, matched quickly by Kincaid’s and the others. The One Sith ran at them, clashing fiercely as their wielders pushed themselves to their absolute limits.
This is a waste of time, thought Kincaid, knowing that if they didn’t take out the Sith Lord, Esoteric, this whole mission will have been in vain. He ducked an Adept’s lateral sweep, then countered with a knee to the man’s chest stunning him. Before the Sith could recover, Kincaid called upon the Force and hit his attacker with a wave of energy that sent him hurtling into one of the nearby stone pillars. The man hit—hard—and fell to the ground, temporarily stunned.
“Master!” yelled Kincaid, turning towards Esoteric. “We have to kill him!”
In acknowledgement of Kincaid’s warning, Cotelin simply raised his hands in front of him, closed them into fists, and pulled backwards. The four Adepts were pulled off their feet and flew over the heads of the Dark Jedi, thrown deeper into the crypt. This left Esoteric cut off from the rest, alone, and at their mercy.
“Yacko,” Cotelin ordered. “Take Tarax and Rathus and deal with the others.” Kincaid and Rokir stood on either side of the Grand Master. “We will handle him.”
Esoteric laughed in response, the hysteria in his voice sounding crazier from behind his mask. In the blink of an eye a lightsaber appeared in each of his hands, their crimson blades coming to life with a loud snap-hiss.
Kincaid lunged at the Sith Lord, swinging his amber blade at the man’s right side. Esoteric swept his own crimson blade out to block the attack. He pushed Kincaid away and twisted his left wrist simultaneously to catch Rokir’s blast of lightning with his other blade. Kincaid flipped backwards to avoid Esoteric’s riposte, giving Cotelin the needed opening to unleash his own volley of bluish-white lightning. Kincaid’s eyes widened in surprise as his master’s attack hit an invisible barrier inches from Esoteric’s face.
Kincaid moved in on his opponent again, this time intent on keeping him occupied in order for Rokir and Cotelin to flank and overwhelm him. Esoteric parried his overhead strike with both lightsabers and slammed his head against Kincaid’s face, breaking his nose. Momentarily blinded by pain, Kincaid reeled backwards while blood spilled down his chin. Before the Sith Lord could move in for a fatal blow, Rokir attacked with uncanny speed and ferocity, keeping Esoteric occupied so that Cotelin could finish establishing the Force meld between the Dark Jedi.
With the searing pain in his face under control, Kincaid rejoined the assault on the powerful One Sith leader. Hoping to quickly close the distance, Kincaid threw his lightsaber at their opponent. Esoteric ducked the flying weapon, causing it to hit and block Rokir’s own attack as the green-haired man swung in a sideways arc. Kincaid cursed loudly as that little stunt sent his lightsaber flying away further down the crypt, away from reach. Esoteric round-house kicked Rokir in the stomach, causing the Prophet to stagger backwards a few steps and give the Sith Lord some room to manoeuvre.
Before Kincaid could reach for and activate his second lightsaber, Esoteric slammed him with a powerful telekinetic blast that sent him flying. A second before Kincaid’s body would have flown through one of the stone pillars it was abruptly pulled sideways and away from the supporting structures. Cotelin had saved him.
Esoteric growled in frustration, displeased by Cotelin’s timely intervention. Incapacitating Rokir with a flash of blinding light, the One Sith reached out with one arm and tore a pillar from its resting place. The ancient stone cracked as it tore free of its foundation, splinters of stone and dust billowing into the air. Kincaid looked up to see the heavy block of stone flying towards the blinded Rokir, who was about to get crushed under its monumental weight.
In a blur of motion, Cotelin jumped in front of Rokir and slashed down with his two golden blades, obliterating the stone projectile. Debris and dust flew in every direction, further repelled by the Grand Master’s push. Rokir regained his eyesight and, joined with Cotelin and Kincaid via Force meld, attacked Esoteric with renewed viciousness.
.:: CANTOR ::.
Keirdagh hadn’t wasted any time acknowledging Jac’s command.
He immediately motioned for Tarax and Rathus to peel away from the rest of the group and headed towards the four Adepts who were standing ready for them. Keirdagh could feel the explosion of Force powers behind him, but he knew that he had to keep his mind focused on the opponents in front of him, especially if he wanted to make sure Tarax and Rathus survived the fight.
Glancing over at the two Equites, Keirdagh didn’t have to try hard to get a proper read on the men. Rathus was a mystic. He would rather avoid confrontations such as these, and approached the four Adepts warily. Tarax was the exact opposite—a bloodthirsty hound that could barely be kept on his leash. He was practically salivating at the opportunity to violently dismember numerous opponents at once.
As if on cue, Tarax lunged at the Adepts, a feral growl emanating from deep within his throat. Keirdagh followed suit, cursing himself for not developing a plan of attack beforehand. Beside him, Rathus squared off against a single Adept in hopes of finally claiming a prestigious kill for himself.
The Adept squared off against Keirdagh, striking forward with his crimson blade. Keirdagh ducked his foe’s initial attack, came up below him, and flipped him over his back. He kicked the Adept in the face before the man could get up, momentarily knocking him senseless and temporarily out of the fight.
A loud crack resonated from behind Keirdagh, and he looked back to see a giant piece of a pillar flying through the air in the opposite direction. He forced himself to ignore it, trusting the others to manage without him. A sharp expletive from Rathus’ direction brought Keirdagh’s attention back to the immediate fight. He jumped to Rathus’ aid before the Templar’s opponent could kill him. With swift movements, he deflected the crimson blade, then thrust his fist into the One Sith’s stomach and unleashed a volley of lightning, frying the man to a crisp.
With Rathus out of harm’s way, Keirdagh turned to the next fight, pressed by another Adept. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the bloodcrazed Primarch get disarmed by his two opponents and steadily lose ground. One of the Adepts kicked him in the knee while the other used the Force to throw him into the ancient statue. Enraged and filled with bloodlust, Tarax grabbed for the closest weapon available.
The grating noise of metal against stone filled the air, unmistakable and clearly out of place. Keirdagh twisted fully around to see what Tarax had done, only to catch sight of what he immediately realized would be a catastrophe.
Tarax’s face was twisted into a vicious snarl, his eyes locked onto a foe as his left hand gripped tightly the sword in the statue's sheath. With a vicious yank, he pulled it from its resting place with mindless, adrenaline-driven ferocity. Keirdagh opened his mouth to yell to the man, and to the others, only to be drowned out by a terrible and overwhelmingly loud screech. The sound filled the air as a miasma of pure dark energy spewed forth from the emptied sheath. The air clouded with the dark side-infused mist, darkening the chamber with a blackish-purple hue.
Despite the waning light, what came next was still clearly visible, though in a way Keirdagh wished it had not been. From out of the mist, tendrils of solid power flowed forth from the emptied sheath like a wellspring of dark power, snaking around the sword and onto the floor in multitudes. The ghastly manifestations gathered in the air like writhing tentacles, curling and branching out until they finally seemed to find what they were after—Tarax's hand. As if guided by their 'brothers', the tendrils surged forth, burrowing and writhing into the flesh-and-machine fusion of an arm the cyborg possessed, swallowing flesh and metal alike with seemingly no resistance.
Perhaps even worse than the view was the bloodcurdling, inhuman screams of pain that erupted from the man's mouth, growing louder and more sickening by the second. Keirdagh took a step forward, hoping to find some way to aid his comrade, only to be stopped short. With a mix of a hiss and a whine, the dark side tendrils glowed a deep, dark purple. In less than a millisecond, Tarax’s arm disappeared—flesh, blood, and metal simply ceased to exist, having been ‘eaten’ by the void.
Finished with the arm, the tendrils shot past Keirdagh, etching a gash into his leg. Nearby, one of their foes was far less fortunate. A black tentacle gouged through the Sith’s skull, eating through the flesh in an instant and leaving the dying body to slump uselessly to the ground. The tendrils threatened to send whatever they touched into the void and everyone was desperate to avoid being grazed by them.
Keirdagh watched Tarax collapse lifelessly onto the ground and feared the worst. The man’s twisted stump of flesh and machinery where his arm once was leaving behind a trail of blood and debris. Keirdagh winced as Kor’s head made a half-crunching, half-cracking noise as it slammed into the stone. Much like the One Sith’s corpse, Tarax’s body slumped to the ground like a ragdoll.
The others were still dealing with their own assault, but Keirdagh couldn’t leave Tarax to the ravages of the dark energy. The mist had spread throughout the crypt in the air burned like acid, searing his flesh and lungs, but he could still fight. Across the room, Rathus was already slumped slightly, letting out hacking coughs as the poisonous mists clung to him and weakened him. Keirdagh saw that the others were holding out despite looking just as miserable, their years of experience with such things granting them some resistance to the forces at hand.
He surged forward through, ignoring the vile substance, squinting his eyes, and covered his mouth as he moved to throw the unconscious Tarax over his shoulder. One of the Adepts jumped at him, but Keirdagh simply twisted around and used Tarax’s lifeless legs to smack into the man’s face. He finished the stunned Sith off with a quick slash of his golden blade. Keirdagh saw the remnants of the enemy were regrouping for another push, despite the horror unleashed in the crypt.
As if conspiring to make the situation even worse, quakes began to rock the chamber. At first, the Taldryan Proconsul thought them yet another effect of the sword's removal, but the rhythm of the room-shaking earthquakes made him quickly realize what was truly behind them—an orbital bombardment had begun. Above them, the city surely burned as the bombardments set out to level it to the ground.
.:: KINCAID ::.
All hell had broken loose.
The crypt had erupted into chaos when the sword was freed from the statue. Somehow, Kor's foolish actions had activated some sort of protection—a curse. Tendrils of the dark side were spewing forth from the statue and attacking anything that moved, while a black, poisonous mist—a possible side effect of the magics—had already taken down Marr. Even Kincaid could feel his own strength being sapped from him. The battle against Esoteric was becoming even more frantic as he, Cotelin, and Rokir were forced to dodge both the Sith Lord's attacks and the threads of dark side energy.
Esoteric's minions were mostly dead, the remnants being mopped up by Cantor. The grizzled old man was still in the midst of battle, the dead weight of Kor’s body on his shoulders. Kor's body had been ravaged by the curse, and seemed to be drawing the mist into his open wound. Marr simply could not withstand the poison. Kincaid realized it was only through the battle meld initiated by Cotelin that he and the others were still standing. Still fighting.
Kincaid jumped back as a swarm of black tendrils converged on his position, the serpentine swaths of dark side power slashing through the spot where he had just been standing. Before he could move to avoid the next swipe, he was slammed backwards by Esoteric's telekinetic attack. He cursed as he flailed backwards, but managed to land on his feet only to have to dive out of reach of another tendril. Cotelin and Rokir stepped in between him and the Sith Lord and launched twin bolts of bluish-white lighting.
The twisting attacks crashed into Esoteric’s invisible shield and exploded in a ball of blinding light. Their attacks were hitting and everyones’ powers were draining rapidly. Kincaid pushed himself into a running leap and took another swing at the Sith Lord, only to be deflected by the man’s crimson blades. He exchanged a flurry of blows with the Sith, then sensed another surge of power from behind and dodged left. A dozen dark side tendrils thrust themselves at Esoteric, but the Sith Lord dodged them all with a series of twists and turns.
Kincaid was growing exhausted. He checked to see how the others were faring, but things looked bleak. He cast a quick glance at Cotelin and saw the man freeze up. In that instant, Kincaid felt pain and despair flash through their bond. Cotelin’s eyes looked haunted.
.:: COTELIN ::.
The premonition hit him hard. For an infinitesimal moment in time, the near-future exploded before his eyes in horrible, vivid detail. Bodies on the ground. His allies—his friends. Massacred by the evil unleashed within the crypt, then buried under the weight of Xlopora City, never to be found again. The broken bodies… the blood. He couldn’t shake the sight from his mind. Every member of the team lay sprawled half-hazardly where they had been slain. Parts of their bodies ravaged by the dark side tendrils and lost to the void.
"No!" Cotelin screamed. The sound of his own voice snapped him back into the present.
Kincaid and Halcyon were deeply engaged with Esoteric, their lightsabers crashing into the Sith's over and over, trying to break the man's impenetrable defenses. Anything the Sith didn't catch on his own blade, he intercepted with a barrier of pure energy. It was a fight the two couldn't win, and they were all quickly running out of time.
He couldn't let his vision come to pass. He had to do something. The black miasma and the dark side tendrils were spewing forth from the statue. The crypt was beginning to fall in on them. Battle damage had taken out most of the supports, and the bombardment from above piling debris on top. Everything was coming to a head. The ancient Sith magic was getting stronger. Striking swifter. It was pure dark side energy.
In desperation, Cotelin flew across the room towards the fallen sword of Ferran. Tendrils of black plunged at him again and again, but he used the Force to deflect each one away into the darkness of the crypt. He landed above Revelation, bent down, and picked it up. The sword sparked briefly with silver light—a flickering of the power it possessed—but it disappeared quickly in the growing darkness. Cotelin held the sword out before him and cried out. Rage. Frustration. Desperation. Hate.
He channeled every ounce of emotion into himself, preparing for a wildly reckless, and potentially fatal, act. In the heart of the mist, surrounded by the dark side tendrils, Cotelin emptied himself, scattering his power out to touch every inch within the crypt. Then he pulled. And he pulled again. The power. The darkness. He drew it all into himself.
He drew the black mist from Kor and Marr first, absorbing the energy like pulling venom from a wound. The mist swirled around him, a dark cloud of malevolence. Blackness was all he could see, as he was standing in the very center of the vortex of Sith magic and dark side power. In the distance, seemingly light years away, he heard Keirdagh scream his name. But he couldn't react. It was all he could do to pull the energy into himself. The amount of power was insane. It felt as if he were being burned from the inside out as the raw, dark side energy coursed through his veins, his very soul.
The dark side tendrils compressed around him, creating a black aura around Cotelin's body. He sensed, rather than saw, the eyes of the others in the crypt watching him in awestruck terror. Even the eyes of the Sith Lord, Esoteric, could be felt, weighing Jac’s actions as if trying to understand their purpose. But, Cotelin had no purpose the Sith Lord would understand. He had acted to save his friends.
He absorbed the last remnants of the energy, drawing in the darkness and mist, feeling it fuel the power within him. Cotelin seethed with the power, feeling as if he were about to explode. The whites of his eyes turned utterly black, swirling with the Force, as the curse disappeared from the room. The power was pounding in his head, the ominous beat in tempo with his racing heart. He had taken too much.
Needing to release the power, Cotelin turned his black-eyed gaze on Esoteric. He leaned forward, channeling the absorbed power. With his arms before him, the Grand Master released a deafening roar and a torrential wave of pure, black power at the Sith Lord. Esoteric seemed to sense the attack and willed a shimmering barrier in front of him. Cotelin’s power slammed right through the hastily erected shield and struck Esoteric full force, sending the man flying backwards. He crashed into the wall of the crypt, his stealth armor cracking violently on impact. The Sith Lord fell limply to the ground and remained still, seemingly lifeless.
Cotelin fell to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut. The release of so much power had left him drained—barely able to move. Revelation slipped from his grasp and clattered onto the floor. He could barely see, but he felt the presence of the others gather around.
"Jac, you crazy bastard!" Keirdagh shouted. "What were you thinking?"
"We have to get out of here. Now," Rokir interrupted. The quakes were getting worse. Large chunks of stone were falling from the ceiling and the entire crypt shook with each volley that hit the city above.
"The… sword," Cotelin muttered, grasping blindly for the fallen blade.
Rokir retrieved the sword from the ground and strapped it to his back. Barely able to move, Cotelin allowed himself to be lifted by Kincaid and half-carried/half-dragged towards the exit, which had come unsealed in the devastation of the orbital bombardment. Chunks of debris littered the stairway, but it was still solid enough to support them. With their goal accomplished and no time to spare, the team fled.
.:: CANTOR ::.
The drum of the turbolaser blasts impacting on the surface above them was steadily picking up in speed as the six battered and bloody men staggered out of the crypt. Two of their number were wounded, perhaps fatally, and the rest bore the obvious signs of having survived a titanic encounter. With Cotelin being half dragged by Kincaid, and Kor being draped over Cantor's shoulders, over half of the team was hindered. "Halc, take point and don't discriminate. Just burn down anything that gets in our way!" panted out Keirdagh. Receiving a grim nod from the Prophet, the team started ascending the stairway out of the crypt.
As they ascended, the stairway seemed less ominous, and simultaneously much more treacherous than it had as they got closer to the surface. The ancient stonework was crumbling, dropping boulders, and continuing sounds of debris crashing around below them kept echoing upward. Rokir blasted the larger chunks that fell at them with the Force, obliterating them into dust. As they passed the halfway point in their climb, Keirdagh's comm unit buzzed to life. An automated emergency call was repeating on Taldryan's tactical frequency. Apparently they'd been out of range while below ground in the crypts.
"Resurgent to Master Cantor, please respond."
Without preamble or introduction, Keirdagh started shouting into his comm device. "Rian, what the hell's going on up there?"
"Yacks!" came back the immediate reply from his Consul. "Thank the Force you're still alive. Ashen appears to be cutting his losses and ordered all Brotherhood forces to start bombarding the city with everything they’ve got. We tried to hold them off, but we're massively outnumbered up here."
Apparently the Grand Master had learned of the demise of his Nihilgenia. With the loss of his elite team, he would not want the One Sith, or their Imperial allies, to have a chance of obtaining the sword. He probably realized he’s not getting the sword today, thought Keirdagh to himself. "Listen Rian, don't try. Cut losses and get out of here. If you can, try to get a shuttle in to recover us, and have the pilot come in hot. Don't risk the Clan for us though." He consciously left out any mention of the fact that Revelation was currently strapped to Halcyon's back. Better that Muz should think it destroyed by the bombardment, than to come looking for it later.
"We've got some fight in us left, but I understand." Rian paused, knowing that he could be dooming some of Taldryan's finest if he heeded Keirdagh's advice, but ultimately he seemed to come to the same decision Keirdagh had. The Consul’s voice was heavy with emotion as he continued: "You're right of course. We'll do what we can but... it’s probably not a lot. Your pilot's already on the way down in one of the Escort shuttles, and he might just be crazy enough to get you out. May the Force be with you all. Resurgent out.”
It took them another few minutes to escape from the tower’s spiralling staircase and into the palace courtyard. The sight that greeted them after clearing the debris from the entrance was unrecognizable as the city they had left behind a few short hours ago. "Looks like Muz is taking a page from my book," chuckled Halcyon. Upon a questioning look from Rathus, Halcyon explained: "Glass the planet. Mop up later."
"Can it guys, and keep your eyes peeled. If our ride even makes it, he's going to be coming in hot, and we need to be ready. In the meantime, be ready to fling some of this rubble at enemy fighters. It might keep us safe until they call an orbital strike down on us." Upon reflection, the team looked comical, a circle of lightsabers held at the ready, with men standing next to broken rocks, staring at the sky in defiance of the death that was surely about to rain down upon them. But it was a sight that made Keirdagh's heart proud. His brothers would be defiant until the end, and that was worthy of remembering. He just hoped someone would.
When starfighter lasers started crashing into the ground to either side of them, the old warrior thought the time had finally come. At least, until he recognized the distinctive design of the Hyperion-class starfighters cutting through the sky, bracketing an Escort shuttle that was weaving dangerously in and around crumbling buildings.
As the shuttle careened into the clearing above them, Keirdagh thought he recognized his Rollmaster at the helm. With manoeuvring jets firing, the shuttle presented its ramp to the team, while hovering three to four meters above ground. Shouting encouragement at his companions, Keirdagh waited for the rest of his team to board before unceremoniously flinging Kor’s prostrate form onto the shuttle. As he prepared to make the leap himself, the entrance to the catacombs exploded forth with flame and debris. Igniting his saber once more, Keirdagh turned to face this threat.
All he could see in the flames was the shimmering form of a man, masked and seemingly one with the flames, slowly stalking toward him.
"Yacks, there's no time, get up here!"
Preparing himself to make a foolhardy last stand, Keirdagh set his feet and yelled, "Go, get out of here!" before he felt an invisible hand crush down all around him, and yank him skyward. Crashing onto the ramp of the shuttle, he found himself looking into the eyes of Jac Cotelin. There was no emotion in the eyes, and no color. The black eyes of a changed man stared at him.
Though Keirdagh noted at least one thing hadn't changed: Jac would not let his friends perish. At least not today. He wasn’t sure how Jac still had anything left to him, but he was glad to be pulled onto the ship.
Sitting up, Keirdagh stared down at Esoteric as the ramp closed. The Sith Lord did nothing but watch as the shuttle began its ascent, bracketed by flames and explosions. When he was gone from view, Keirdagh turned to his pilot. "Nice flying, Howie. Now get us home."
.:: COTELIN ::.
As the worn and weary group disembarked from their shuttle into the Resurgent’s hangar bay, it was hard for Cotelin not to appreciate the brilliance and beauty of the Clan’s newest flagship. Even after its first major battle, the destroyer still glistened with the polish from its commencement. He had not been on the ship since its christening. Walking through the hangar today gave him the same feeling of awe, only this time the smell was different. The new-ship smell was replaced by the smell of burn and rot, a smell that emanated from Jac himself.
The Grand Master stood idle and quiet as he watched medics come and wheel Rathus and Tarax quickly away from the group. The other Elders refused care, and when a team moved to approach Jac, Halcyon wisely steered them away. Soon they were on the move, heading to a room for debriefing. As they walked, Cotelin considered what had just happened, reliving the battle in his mind. He had intended to sacrifice himself, to die for the others by absorbing the energies that consumed them. It was a skill studied and perfected by many Dark Lords, so that they could seethe and siphon the energy around them.
It was, generally—and in all Jac’s experience—a temporary boost in power, meant to be called upon for incredible feats. But this time it was different. This time, when Jac held Revelation aloft and seethed from the world around him, the power had remained with him after its initial use. It was, Jac ventured, an effect of the sword itself, or perhaps part of the curse that emanated from the statue. Likely the latter, but either way, he could feel the power coursing through his every being.
And he could feel the power destroying him. He knew the feeling. It was the rot of the Dark Side. He knew what it felt like to waste away under the burdens of sheer power. He had been fighting the decay for decades. Now it was accelerating, and the Grand Master could not control it.
Lost in thought, Cotelin barely noticed when they entered the room and he absent-mindedly took a seat. They were at a round table that comfortably seated five, though seven now wrapped around it. Along with the four remaining from the mission—Kincaid stood in the corner—they were joined by Telaris, Rian, Nyssa and Howlader for the debriefing.
Without a word being said, Jac watched as Halcyon Rokir pulled Revelation from his back and set the sword at the center of the table. The blade glowed bright as it swung through the air and, when it hit the table, the room erupted in conversation. Rian turned to his Proconsul and offered a tepid congratulations on a successful mission. Telaris, who had been the last to arrive, gave warm regards to Aidan Kincaid and received a cool reception back. Nyssa, who was enthralled by the artifact, was pulled away by Rokir when she reached for the blade.
Jac did not share in the muted revelry. His absence was quickly noted and dampened the feel of the room. Keirdagh turned to address the Grand Master first. “Jac, what is it?”
Cotelin jerked his head to the Proconsul as the question pulled him from other thoughts. The room fell silent as the remainder of the Taldrya looked to their elder for the first time. Cotelin could at once sense their questioning minds. He had last left their presence an old man, but each of them secretly noted his quickly advancing age. The minds of his allies darted with questions about his demeanor and even his smell. But mostly, the Force stirred with questions about the man’s eyes—his jet black eyes.
Jac didn’t answer the questions. Instead, with an effort so slight that it surprised him, he willed the minds of many of the Brotherhood’s most powerful to change the subject.
They did. Jac listened intently as Rokir recapped the mission for the benefit of the others. He was detailed and thorough, making sure to allow Kincaid to offer any additions from his team that were relevant. Jac realized that was the only reason Kincaid was allowed in the room, because neither Tarax nor Rathus were available to tell their portion of the mission. Otherwise, the feud between Aidan and the Proconsul would have kept Jac’s apprentice out.
Keirdagh himself interrupted from time to time, pointing out certain contributions from others in the battle for Xlopora. He praised Telaris for his involvement in holding back the Imperial intervention, and mentioned many of the other Dark Jedi that fought bravely against increasingly long odds. Even though it made Kincaid displeased, both Rokir and Cantor praised Rathus for his help, especially in decoding the Sith runes. Rian interjected at one point, giving a quick overview of losses the Clan sustained, and brothers they lost in combat.
When the time came to describe the battle below ground, Jac was amused as none of the team could put to words exactly what happened. He knew that they could not explain that which they did not understand. So Cotelin reached out to his brethren and placed the images directly into their minds. With ease, he showed them what happened, rather than explaining it.
Each took a moment to digest what they had seen flash before their minds. Halcyon was the first to break the silence. “Why the bombing? Did they not know there were Brotherhood men on the surface?”
“They knew,” Rian responded quickly. “But the advance team that the Council itself sent to retrieve the sword had been destroyed. Keep in mind that we had lost all communication with you. The last intelligence we had was that Esoteric had entered the chamber.”
Keirdagh gnashed his teeth and slammed his fist against the table in anger. “So, Ashen bombs the city to keep the sword from Esoteric’s hands, no matter the personnel cost to the Brotherhood?”
“It’s like I said,” Halcyon responded, clearly not upset. “Glass the planet first, clean it up later.” That did not seem to make the Proconsul any less angry, though the remark that followed from Telaris helped.
“The Dark Council has no idea we have the sword.” Telaris let the statement hang for a minute before continuing. “I venture that they don’t have much of an idea what it even looks like. By the time the Brotherhood’s records of Ferran begin, he’d already lost Revelation. His most notorious event, when he killed Tiamat, was with a different blade.”
Cotelin sensed the others considering the implications of Telaris’ statement. Nyssa spoke up first. “That means we can study the sword, and use it, without the Council knowing.” She paused. “That will give us a great advantage.”
“It will,” added Rian. “Taldryan will ha—”
The Consul was cut short by Jac abruptly standing. Without saying a word, and without acknowledging anyone, the Grand Master walked to the door. He paused for a moment after considering his exit. Jac turned to the Taldrya. “Well done, my friends.”
As he walked through the door, Cotelin heard the scuffle behind him. The voices raised, not in anger, but in concern and dread. The former Dark Lord could feel the anxiety that remained in the debriefing room. He heard the door open again when he was but a few paces away. It was Aidan Kincaid, Jac’s apprentice, who didn’t belong in the room regardless. The man followed silently behind Cotelin, falling into his place as he had learned.
Then the door opened once more as the feelings of anxiety emanating from the room turned to resolve. Jac stopped so that Keirdagh could catch up.
“‘Friends’?” the Proconsul snapped at Cotelin as he wheeled around in front of the Grand Master. “‘Well done, my friends’? That’s all you have to say?” The bearded man was close to Cotelin, letting his frustration show and, from what Jac could tell, perhaps getting more emotional than he had intended. “I don’t know what the hell happened down there, Jac, but you sure as hell aren’t going to get away with whatever this is.” Keirdagh motioned to the path that Cotelin was walking.
When Cotelin still refused to answer, Keirdagh pushed on. “Jac, I know you. What the hell is going—”
Jac finally broke his silence. “Aidan.” The apprentice was begrudgingly by his side in but a moment. “I don’t pretend to know or understand what drives the two of you at times.” Keirdagh looked to Kincaid while the latter held his gaze on the Grand Master. “You, Aidan, I have welcomed into Taldryan, yet I find your loyalty to this Brotherhood lacking.” The apprentice did not acknowledge the statement, though Jac needed no response. “And you, Yacko, are of my distant blood and one of my oldest friends. Yet here I bring you my capable and trustworthy apprentice, and you can find no welcome for my choice.” Keirdagh acknowledged this statement with a sigh, but otherwise held his tongue.
Jac continued. “These are things that must be quickly remedied. Aidan, you will learn your place here and develop a loyalty to match my own. Yacko, you will accept him and train him when necessary. You will work together.”
“Dammit Jac, tell me what this is all about,” demanded Keirdagh heatedly.
Jac sighed and walked past his counterparts, sidestepping his angry and concerned friend. A few paces down the corridor he stopped and turned back, feeling old because of the power consuming him. Jac’s pitch black eyes darted back and forth between the two men, though to them he would look lifeless. He generally never lacked in courage, but it took a moment to strengthen his resolve here, despite the power that coursed through him.
In slow, distinct words that he was sure they would understand and hear, he told them what the curse was doing to his body.
“In less than a year, I will be dead.”
.:: END ::.