Arcona: Team 5
Teroch Erinos Arconae
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!!!!!!!
My first combat against--not for--the One Sith. I feel nothing towards them. Not anger, not hatred, not rage. Nothing. I am a Sister now, a member of the Dark Brotherhood. I should loathe enemies of the Brotherhood. Fiery contempt should boil within me at the mention of the One Sith. Yet I feel nothing. Perhaps my memories of my time with them prevent me from hating them. My loyalties are with the Brotherhood and Grand Master Ashen.
Perhaps my master sensed this lack of all-consuming rage and assigned me this mission. I am surprised he chose Clan Arcona. Yes, they claim the greatest number of Dark Jedi, but they cannot claim the greatest number of victories in the campaign against the One Sith. House...I mean, Clan Plagueis emerged the victor from the Dark Crusade. Why did the Grand Master assign me here and not to the Ascendant? Or why not send me to Taldryan, which boasts the most Elders in the Brotherhood? Incalculable power resides within the Great Hall on Karufr. They could have spared a Dark Adept or two and still had plenty for the battle for Bosthirda. I do not question my master as his motives and goals are on a deeper plane than mine. I am merely curious.
My escorts approach. Their thoughts are...muddied. Some are raging, some are placid. I hope they focus their thoughts before we depart. This will be the most intense mission of their lives. To reach the palace would cripple all except the most skilled and powerful Dark Jedi. Beyond that lies…
Six pairs of boots clomped their way up the shuttle’s ramp. “I hate leaving the Serpentine Throne especially during duress, but--”
Strange. The Clan’s Consul has been assigned to this mission. The severity warrants such a luminary, but this shuttle is swollen with powerful Dark Siders. How curious that he has been forced to leave his post. Yet we need a leader for this epic excursion.
“There shouldn’t be a ‘but’,” Teroch scoffed. “Who cares if the Grand Master gave you the order? You’re a Consul. Make your own decisions. Do what’s right for Arcona, not the Brotherhood. Do you think that the shabuir who sits on the Iron Throne does anything for us? No, he wants us dead. That’s why he’s saddled us with this ‘important mission’ and her.”
Dissension? No. More like, frustration. Rebellion. Distrust. Powerful and unwieldy. Dangerous. If focused, he will be a formidable ally. If unfocused, he will be a terrible impediment.
“Are you finished?”
“Are you still here?”
“Are you two gents going to stop bickering and allow us to complete our Muz-assigned task?” The Priestess smiled as she took the seat adjacent to Dantella. “Boys. Can’t spar with either of their swords here, so they spar with words. They’re not flying, so we’re safe. With Vic and fishy at the controls, we’ll be down and back up again right quick.”
Such a calming, fair smile. I fear for her. She may have seen combat before, but is she prepared for the depths into which we descend? More resides on Bosthirda than just the Brotherhood and blaster-headed stormtroopers.
“Atty’s correct. The sooner we complete this, the sooner Marick gets back to his command chair.” The Consul started to roll his eyes in response, but expertly caught the expression of emotion and buried it beneath a head turn and a furrowed brow.
Inner turmoil with his command. This is a man who has sent men to their deaths without blinking. And yet while his words say otherwise, he longs for the danger of this mission.
“Invictus, course to the surface plotted. Ready to go.”
“Roger, ‘fishy. I hope for everyone’s sake that your recent ‘passing’ gave you respect for death and not a taste for it. I want a clean path. Check the course again. Don’t want to fly into a ‘capship because your slippery, giant flippers accidentally hit a wrong button.”
Such insolence! Insulting a Dark Master was an instant death sentence in the One Sith. Teroch--the young human--had a reasonable dispute with his Consul. This “Vic” person, though, just savaged the Mon Calamari.
“Hmm. Let me recalculate quickly...Okay, new course set. Heading straight for the Imp Star Deuce-class ship known as Mother of Invictus. Don’t think we’ll make a dent in her, but at least she’ll make us happy one last time.”
Oh. Laughter. Coarse and morbid humor. Did not expect that from him. Then again, I’ve never seen a Dark Jedi Mon Calamari before. Did he say that off-hand or did he know I prefer my humor with a side of death?
“Can we get a move on, please? Getting dark planetside and it’s harder to savor kills when you can’t see them.”
“Have a problem with the dark, human?”
Shi cocked his head at Dontella. “Only in that, as I said, I can’t see my kills. Light or dark, doesn’t matter, you die in both.”
“We need her alive. She’s the only one who knows where to find the sword.” The Hapan gripped the Primarch’s shoulder.
The hand gripped unflinching stone. “I could pry the information from her before we land…”
The former One Sith met Long’s hard gaze. “And I could have you prying information out of whomever I chose.”
“I’d like to see you try,” he said as a muscle at the edge of his mouth twitched upwards.
Does he honestly believe I could not or would not contort his mind to my will? “I would try. However, retrieving the sword requir--”
“Wait,” the young Mandalorian interrupted. “Muz is sending us--a collection of Arcona’s and the Brotherhood’s finest--on a fetch quest for a sword? Of all the di’kut’la…”
They do not know the depth of the mission? They do not know what this ‘fetch quest’ entails? Why did Master Ashen assign me and this mission to them?
“Teroch, quiet,” Invictus growled. “If I didn’t have to fly this cranky shuttle, I’d come back there and shut you up myself.”
The Mon Cal reached for a lever. “Hangar’s open. Detaching...now.”
The shuttle shuddered away from its moorings and sped away from the Abyss II.
Dantella’s icy stare passed over each member of her new team like a scientist studying a new breed Sithspawn. While most went about their varying pre-battle rituals of checking weapons, armor, and datapads, their leader stood with his hands clasped behind his back, eyes locked on the void of space out the shuttles viewport, distant.
Very subtly, the Adept reached out through the Force, gingerly probing the Hapan’s mind. She found little resistance as his thoughts were focused but on a different pane. And so she pressed deeper, piecing together fragments of his thoughts and forming a more clear picture.
They were out there. Dying for him. His troops. His soldiers. He should have been with them. The Shadow Lord of Arcona had always stood as a beacon of power and fortitude, carried unflinchingly by those who had come before him. And here he was, running off to achieve another artifact of untold power. It would end the same way Kalsunor had. Pravus and Ashen would claim the object. They had used the Brotherhood as their own personal chess pieces time and time again. And there was nothing any of them could do, it seemed, but go along with it.
Dantella let the information settle as she filed certain notes away while trying to analyze the others in real time.
As the Eye of the Abyss II , the Consul’s flagship, grew smaller and smaller in the fading light of space, Novae felt the sinking feeling that swelled in the pit of the Hapan’s stomach.
Once again he was leaving his responsibilities to go play errand boy for the Dark Council. A Consul should have been planted on the Command ship coordinating his troops. Or was that a cowards line of thinking? Where did a leader draw the line between cowardice and bravery, between duty to the Brotherhood and responsibility to the Clan? Arconae and Consul. Leader and Servant.
Which one was Marick, Dantella wondered.
A voice transmission played back in the Consul’s memories. Dantella tapped into the memory with the delicate care of a master pupetteir.
“In oh-ninety-six hours, we will commence an orbital bombardment of the planet. Hopefully the Brotherhood doesn't lose another Consul in the process. May the Dark Side guide you,” Pravus had said at the end of his briefing. While the Voice was speaking to each of the unit leaders, the added comment toward the end seemed to strike a certain chord with the Consul.
Would the voice of the Brotherhood make such a comment solely for Marick. She could only guess as to the two’s opinions of the other, and she had a feeling they both kept it that way for a reason.
Memories continued to flow. Dantella saw flashes of Jedi Planet. New Tython, it had been called.
A shuttle lifting off into the air. A pair of soldiers left behind. Mentors, friends, brothers. Fathers. Zandro Erinos was a better Consul than Marick ever was. Sashar had been a better warrior, assassin, leader. And they had left them to die while an orbital bombardment tore into the core of the Jedi stronghold. Even after all these years, apparently it was still a tender spot on the underside of Marick’s armor. And Pravus knew it.
Fascinating. Dantella attempted to push deeper, but felt a sudden wall of iron blocking her mental intrusions. It was like running straight into a solid blastdoor that had appeared without warning.
Marick turned to face the woman, his cerulean eyes sharp and clear as ancient Sith crystals. His handsome features were drawn into a stoic mask, so devoid of emotion that even the Umbaran felt the sense of disjunction with her own emotions. There was simply nothing there but a stone-wall of battle-hardened resolve.
“The only reason you gained access to my mind was because I allowed you,” the Hapan spoke calmly, the slight lilt to his basic giving it an almost aristocratic assurance. “The Miraluka already knows the rule, so I’ll make it clear to you if you want to complete this mission in one piece. Never presume to alter or toy with my thoughts. I’ve sparred mentally with men and things that were more than men, creatures far greater and more terrifying than even an Adept like you. Do we have an understanding?”
Silence filled the shuttle. Dantella pondered the Consul’s threat over and weighed her options. She could kill him now, but her pride could take the hit. Patience was a virtue, and the Adept, unlike the members of her “team” had all the time she needed for her plans to come to fruition.
“Very well,” she said with a slight bow. It seemed to mollify the Consul, who turned back to the viewport, hands remaining clasped behind his back.
The sinking feeling didn't leave the Consul. As usual, there were too many variables in play. He cast a sidelong glance at Atyiru and nodded to her a silent thanks for helping him handle the last exchange. He was confident in his ability to match willpower with the Adept, but it would be good to have an empath close bye monitoring the situation. She offered an impish grin that she then masked by tapping Troutrooper on the shoulder to ask another far fetched question about Mon Cal anatomy. Marick felt the tendrils of doubt that always seemed to trickle free before a mission. Was he doing the right thing? What would Wuntila have done. Zandro, Sashar...Timeros?
The shuttle lurched suddenly as it hit the atmosphere, drawing Marick out of his thoughts.
“Hang tight,” a familiar voice called out. Invictus. He had always been there when Marick needed him. A true friend. Marick didn’t have many of those. They had bled together for the sake of Qel-Droma, determined to prove that being trusted with the reborn House was no mistake. The veteran Chiss was always calm and steady like a windblown leaf. Even as he now steered head first into the madness of combat.
The Consul looked around at the crew assembled, and slowly the inner turmoil boiling within him retreated to the recesses of his mind. By no stretch of the imagination would anyone in the Brotherhood have predicted that this lot would come together on a single mission, let alone the same Clan. And yet, they had.
A former Headmaster and one of the galaxy’s only Mon Calamari to claim Dark Mastery. A blind girl who had found her place in a sea of darkness. A former Son of Sadow turned Apostate. The perfect clone struggling to find some meaning in it all. A wandering Chiss.
They were not here for Marick, the Hapan realized. They were here for something greater that they all believed in. Something that would stand long after their bodies became one with the Force.
No, he was not Wuntila, Zandro, Sashar or even his mentor Timeros. He was Marick Arconae. Whatever path he chose to follow would be his and his alone. He would let the scholars debate the semantics later. His Clan needed him. Marick let himself sink freely into Deadheart, his face hardening to an impassive mask as his resolve coiled tightly around his body.
No Arconan would die this time. He swore it. Whatever the cost.
He was like a demon. A true Avatar of the Dark Side. He sat on the ancient Onyx Throne in what had once been a great subterranean hall, resplendent in his dread. One leg was draped casually over the arm of the huge throne and his helmet rested at the foot of the chair. Over his shoulders was the black Slayerskin cloak he’d fashioned from the skin of his fallen adversaries, his hands were covered in drying blood, and across his lap rested the sword. The scene about him was a bloodbath. Thirty four corpses littered the chamber and each had been gutted in such a fashion as to drain all of the blood from them. The entire floor was a lake of red, like a hellish carpet. Splashing about, hopping from corpse to corpse, arbitrarily tearing at the innards of the hapless crowd were two grotesque Sith beasts. Another curled around his throne, its tentacles protectively brushing the occupant's form, whilst a final creature was up in the rafters of the cavern, gazing down imperiously.
At the centre of the scene, a lone, naked and shivering survivor knelt, seemingly oblivious to all the blood gently lapping at her knees. She gazed up at the scene, disbelieving. Her name was Dantella Novae, and she knew hell.
The Umbaran’s eyes opened with a start.
It’s already starting. The visions. None of them are prepared for what we’ll find down there. The planet claws up at you, infecting your mind with macabre scenes to send the weak-willed running for their mother’s skirts. They have no idea what they’ll find in that city. Nothing could steal them against the horrors of that dead city.
“Anyone feel that?” Teroch enquired, shivering and hugging himself.
The Mon Calamari didn’t look away from the controls, but he bobbed his head in agreement. “Power. And danger. We’ll need to be careful.”
“Just get us down. One problem at a time.” Marick ordered, staring at the planet taking up their entire viewport.
“Oh, that part’s a guarantee. One way or another, we’ll be hitting the ground. Alive is the tricky part,” Invictus said, glancing over his shoulder at the rest, his lip quirked into a smile.
Shi Long offered a rare grin filled with teeth.
Dantella turned to stare out of a side window, watching various parts of destroyed craft burning up on re-entry, leaving a hazy mess of orange comets streaking across the uniform brown planetoid mass acting as a backdrop. They truly didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation.
Bosthirda was not just any other planet. It was there for one purpose; to tempt in the greedy, and to make sure none but the strongest left. There was no doubt left in her mind that Bosthirda would be their grave.
The shuttle hit the ground amidst a cacophony of war. The square in which they touched down was riven by a crisscrossing lattice of blaster-fire. On one side, members of Arcona’s finest huddled behind a half-collapsed wall, trading sporadic blaster-fire with black-clad armoured soldiers, mundanes to the last man, who nevertheless had tactical superiority; their wall was sturdier.
“Teroch. Shi. Go.” Marick ordered as the landing ramp descended.
They didn’t wait to be told twice. The master and the student exploded from the shuttle, their lightsabers lit, their implacable will imposing itself across the battlefield instantly. They were veritable avatars of the Force - paragons of what a thousand thousand warriors aspired to be, but only those blessed with the touch of the Force could ever hope to come close to. In moments, it was over. The square fell silent.
Dantella Novae descended the ramp, Marick and Atyiru flanking her. The Miraluka was probably there for the Consul’s protection as much as her’s.
Inwardly, the Umbaran smirked. There were only so many differences the Dark Side could stomach, and apparently distrust was universal: The Brotherhood and One Sith weren’t that different after all.
“The Palace. We have to reach the Palace. There are two routes. One is through the city. Dotted throughout it are a quagmire of traps--”
“Trap!” Troutrooper yelled out in a watery gargle. The entire team tensed momentarily, but then relaxed once they realized there was no impending danger. Teroch pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head while Atyiru flashed an impish grin.
“--Born of Sith Magic few can survive,” Novella continued as if uninterrupted. “On top of that, it is riddled with skirmishes and conflicts as the Brotherhood quarrels within itself as much as against the Imperials. It will be extremely dangerous.”
“And the other?” the Mon Calamari asked, his voice reminiscent of water babbling through a brook.
“The Catacombs. They are a labyrinth beneath the city filled with Sith abominations best left in nightmares. Both have their advantages, and both have their perils. The choice I leave up to you.”
Marick exchanged a glance with Invictus, who shrugged.
He was their Consul. They looked to him to make these choices. Dantella privately wondered if he’d be able to save any of them; let alone himself. He needed to be more decisive if he hoped to best the trials Xlopora had placed at their feet. A lot more decisive.
The small, supposedly elite group stood for a moment in the silence of the ruinous square. It was not a patient nor kind silence, neither deep nor smooth. This silence was frayed at its edges and brittle with the blood and horror steeped into the very earth under their feet; yet at its core, there was a discernable camaraderie, a quiet in the stillness reminiscent of candle's glow.
It is not mere indecisiveness...he leads them yet lends his ear; they are all to offer their opinions...such effete strangeness. What are you doing, Consul Arconae? Dantella wondered.
"Well...I for one would prefer the traps and other darkity things, really. Fishy can help us with those. But catacombs and Sith beasts? There could be mutated space-turtles or abominations or something as terrible as Marick's sister!"
There was half a beat, and then the girl continued. "Er...y'know, the insufferable bitch one. Not Emily. She's lovely. I'd totally hi—"
"No," was the Consul's short, hard interjection as the Chiss beside him snickered.
More humor. What do they think this place is, if not their grave? I fear their ignorance for its depth.
"Both are perilous indeed, but I can attest that swimming in sewage is an unpleasant experience...unlike certain familial encounters."
Marick's sigh was accented by a slightly exasperated shake of his head. Atyiru and Teroch chuckled openly, and Invictus smirked. The mirth, though glimpsed earlier, seemed even more childish and displaced now.
"We take the city," said the Clan's Shadow Lord firmly. His subordinates exchanged nods, purposeful if yet unsomber.
No, perhaps not so ignorant, I think...more than that...is it levity born of the very doomed fate they face? Either they’re mad fools, or open-eyed and proud enough to see their deaths inbound and laugh at them...I would doubt not my Master, but I’m dithering among folk addled by their own shadows here.
They fell into a loose formation, fanning out with their leader curiously at point as the group pressed on into the skeletal, haunted remains of greatness that was Xolpora. The Chiss stalked to his right side. The Miraluka paced just on the other, between Marick and Dantella, still the Umbaran's apparent guard. Dantella recalled the Consul's earlier warning, and decided, for the time, to leave his mind be. There were others to cultivate.
First for her inspection was the bloodthirsty Human that had complained of the low luminosity shortly before. The puppeteer brushed soft and piercing as an autumn’s dusk breeze into his mind, but no sooner had she set foot in his mental purview than she was dashed against cold iron, beaten back by a bitter winter wind. There was no purchase, no depth within. Memories wearing one set of eyes slipped through her fingers, and in their place roared forth the looming face of another. She was refused utterly, and the few glimpses she could tease free were unfeeling fractals.
A mind rigorously protected. Disconnected. A mind not this body's own. I wonder what you’ve accomplished, Human, Spirit, whichever you are, to pave such a way. But, no matter.
The Umbaran turned her cool god’s eye elsewhere, peering at the brash teenager, Teroch. His mind was much easier to penetrate, just a sleight of a lock or two…
Turbulence. Constant turbulence, strained to control and reigned by temper. Flickers of faces, flickers of anger or resentment, of pride, joy, devastation, all ultimately ruled by the emptiness that could not be filled. There was no ground underfoot; it was a wandering maelstrom of youthful wounds, attempts, and failures all breaking up against each other, burning, crumbling, and distant, the sound of a hawk’s cry.
Dantella pulled back, making note to herself. Too unstable, that one. Havoc straining at its leash, ready to fall. She moved on to the Chiss. Like riotous Teroch, Invictus’ mind, though sharp and resolved in its fortitude, was little challenge for her to dissect...
Fire of conviction. Pillars of blood, stone, steel: blood to baptize, stone to strengthen, steel to—to cut. True purpose, there, to define all things, to bind all souls and thoughts and actions. There is no adversary, there is but that to be cut. Tread with life, so does death. The mission, cut. All obstacles, cut. You, intruder, cut—
Dantella withdrew, appraising Invictus with a careful new eye. He gave no indication to acknowledge the shortly ordered mental ejection, prowling on beside his leader with a warrior’s grace, alert and shoulder-pinched. Yet, there was something.
A study, that one. Interesting. I must divulge exactly what that third eye can see.
Left with two final candidates, Dantella’s pale eyes roved between the Miraluka before her and the Mon Cal in her periphery. Selecting a more worthwhile target, she eased her senses forward.
The Mon Calamari’s mind was near effortless to walk, more like an open lake than the vault she had expected of a Master. It was quiet and ageless as a river stone, smooth and deep as the ocean trenches. There was nothing and everything, somewhere, just another step ahead on this shore, just another league deeper into the depthless sea. Long did she peer into that darkness, searching, reaching for the whispers of ancients and secrets so complex…
Dantella was so utterly dumbfounded she nearly lost her concentration, missing a half step as her physical body faltered along with her consciousness. She refocused, and teased at the mire again…
Blub. Blub, blub. Blub.
What by my masters have I stumbled upon, Dantella thought, and no sooner did another chipper bubble sound in her mind.
Blub-glub. That means, ‘why hello’, if you’re curious.
Highly disturbed, the Elder retracted her mental tether. She counseled herself, Perhaps caution should yet be taken. Open doors are only inviting for so few reasons.
With but one remaining unexplored avenue, the Dark Adept aimed her inquisition at the seemingly weakest of the party’s links, though the Consul’s earlier commentary left her pondering if the young, laughing Miraluka was a telepath in study as well. She probed the girl’s mind and…
Streaming sun fluttering on skin, blossoming tender warmth within. A fickle breeze dancing across the earth carelessly, yet so very aware of the preciousness of every step. A clear, open sky serenely singing eternity, and a river flowing nearby in an endless tune speaking of a forever peaceful by-and-by.
“This is my memory of light, and you are welcome here, Dantella Novae,” came Atyiru’s gentle, psychic call.
It was not an open door as Troutrooper’s faculties had been. No, this was an embrace, something shared. She was being welcomed indeed. Outward of her mind’s eye, she saw the Priestess turn and proffer a blind smile as they stepped around some rubble and blaster-fire rang far off within the labyrinth of crumbled streets.
I know little what to make of the girl, save that the brightness she naively shows will be smothered and doused in the machinations of this place long before her heart stops. Teroch, too, will break here. Perhaps Marick, if he does not resolve himself; no, even if he resolves himself. The others, if not shattered in mind, are sure to die, no matter what faith their Consul maintains. But I will see to it that they are guided to Master Ashen’s desires before their passing.
The blade. There is nothing more important.
Another black-armored figure fell in a spray of blood and burning flesh, and the Arconans once more gathered in the ensuing stillness, faces made macabre by the fulminate glow of their sabers penetrating the thickening shadows.
“Getting dark,” Shi Long observed once more, the thrilled breathlessness of battle still tinging his voice.
Invictus skewered their guide with crimson orbs. “How much farther?”
“Hours yet. We are lucky to have come so far without running into—” to the aside, Trouty gave a small blub sound. “—an unfortunate incident. To go any quicker will be suicide.”
“You won’t be able to see soon,” murmured Atyiru to the Consul. Marick’s face remained impassive.
“None of us will be able to see a frakkin’ thing. There’s no moon!” Teroch growled.
“Not ‘none’, Human.” Dantella reminded in her spider-silk tone.
“Right, just the haar’chak majority—”
“Teroch,” Marick interrupted, firmly in control. “Remember the mission.”
“Or don’t, but that wouldn’t go very well,” Trouty commented.
“None of this will go very well. We will still be completing the mission and getting home regardless.”
“I’m afraid,” the Miraluka admitted softly. “This place feels awful. We’d be wise to fear it.”
“Like the sea in storm,” their Mon Cal added.
Atyiru nodded. “Like a night with no moon.”
“Like the anger of a gentle man,” Invictus surmised, gaze passing over his comrades and their tagalong, who held herself with an imperious exasperation, lingering on the encroaching blackness making the buildings look like shapeless giants.
“Enough,” Marick ordered, his voice calm and steady. “Keep moving.”
The gentle crunch of pebble underfoot announced the Arconans’ move to follow Marick’s order. With hushed voices and gesturing hands, they began to reconcile their intel with the shadowed landmarks all about them, all the better to find their path.
And all, the Umbaran noted with an impatient curiosity, but the Long. Squatting just off to the side, the Human seemed to be inspecting something. Dantella heard his soft baritone just over the dry gust of wind that momentarily drowned out his companions.
“Do you not obey your Consul?” she asked, moving towards him. “Need you a reminder that there is nothing more important than Revela..”
“I beg to differ,” interrupted Shi. “Come. See.” Skeptically, Dantella drew nearer, finally bending to peer over his shoulder into his open palm. “Look at this...it’s as fine as chalk-dust, and rough at the same time. It’s the same stuff that was old when the Triumvirate walked on it, but still...it’s all new to me.”
Dantella scoffed. “It’s a handful of dirt.” The Umbaran felt her ire begin to simmer, but Shi continued, rising to face her and brushing his hands clean slowly and deliberately.
“Yes. It is.” He spoke so that only she could hear. Corded forearms crossed a broad chest as he leaned in. “Make no mistake, Novae, I don’t want your sword. Truth be told, I wish none of us had ever heard of it. It’s a crutch, and warriors don’t use crutches - at least, I don’t. Thinking about the whole thing, Arcona doesn’t need the sword because in my opinion, using it will only make the clan weaker but we’re here and I’ll help them get it.”
“Ah, so you do follow orders. Marick you might ignore, but our Lord Ashen still holds sway over you, I see.” The smile colored Dantella’s tone, but not her blanched features. The fool. A mere conversation is accomplishing what my probe could not. Keep talking...
“Orders?” Shi replied, brushing off the Adept’s attempt to bait him. An upturned corner of his mouth betrayed his amusement. “I’m here because I want to be here. Hell,getting the damned thing is what’s really important here...not the sword itself, if the Council stays true to type. They won’t even let us keep it even if we find it and it doesn’t wipe us out altogether.” He paused. “Novae, I’m a fighter, not a wizard, so the ‘scenic route’ is probably going to put a beatdown on me, and them too. Still, I’m going on, and so will they.
“The thing that keeps you out of here” - a bronze finger tapped his temple - “keeps me from seeing out there.” The Long swept one arm towards the deepening dusk that framed his companions, the motion catching Invictus’ eye. “Let’s go,” he called to them.
Shi threw a nod over the Elder’s shoulder in acknowledgment, but his words were still reserved for her. “Point being, me, old ‘Mister Self-Reliant’ is going to have to count on him and the rest to get through this. And you?” This time, Shi did smile. “You, ‘Princess Puppetmaster’, were just manipulated into making, just for a second, your precious trinket less deserving of your attention than a handful of dirt.” He roughly shouldered his way past the Adept and he moved towards his mates, offering a last few words. “Sacrifices abound...”
Dantella’s eyes narrowed, but the lesson was not lost on her as she followed after a beat.
Yes, Human. Sacrifices will abound.
Atyiru forced a smile. "Let's keep moving. Where do we go from here, Donnie?"
The Umbaran wrinkled her nose at the casual nickname. "Over this rise first then towards sector 8-C."
"That's not too far."
"No," Invictus cut in, "but there's direct route. Got a cluster of buildings, including one behemoth, between us and 8-C. A better flight path would have put us closer, fishy."
Troutrooper shrugged. "Some of us are enjoying this stroll."
Shortly over the rise, Marick froze the group with a fist, then squashed them with a downward push. He tapped his ear then pointed towards a corner ahead.
Invictus nodded. “Blasters and sabers,” he whispered. “Lots of blasters, but not many sabers.”
The Consul shook his head. “Shouldn't be, Atty, so you won't have to worry about tending to the wounded. Messaging Legorii. Standby.”
They watched the scene unfold. Three Dark Jedi retreated from advancing Imperials. Not a single blaster bolt hit its mark as the three avoided or deflected them all. Running out of options, they ran into a large, derelict building.
“They're not ours,” Marick declared. “No other Arcona forces are in this sector. Dontella, where's the sword from here?”
She frowned. “Through that building, the one those three just entered.”
“Great,” Invictus grimaced. “We'll have to go around the backside, which...” he paused, “well, I don't think it ends.”
“Do we go below?”
Their Consul sighed. “I'm sorry. We should hav—“
Troutrooper stood and stretched out his flipper.
“TT,” Marick hissed. “Get down! You're gonna give our position away!”
His flipper wavered then seemed to catch on something. He burbled inscrutably.
“Does he do this often?”
Atyiru shrugged and smiled. “No, but no one really knows what goes on in that mind of his.”
“Does he even know?”
The Mon Cal's flippertips twitched. He held one up slightly above the rest. “Teroch.”
He growled before replying. “What, fish?”
“Pull my flippertip.”
The Mandalorian cocked his head. “Why?”
“Pull my flippertip.”
“Pull my flippertip, boy! The pressure's building!” He started to shake.
Erinos searched his seniors' faces, hoping for guidance. Blank looks abounded.
“Nnnnrrrgggghhh...I'm...Can't hold...forever...” Troutrooper's mottled face paled, perspiration beaded on his clammy, bulbous head.
Teroch shrugged and leapt to his fellow Elder's aid. He pulled the flippertip hard and Troutrooper relaxed, smiling.
Then a blast rang out from the Imperial tank.
“Follow the shot,” Marick yelled.
Shi pointed. “It hit their hideout.”
Troutrooper blinked. “It didn't collapse? Here, let me try it again.” Another reach of his flipper, another 'grab', but this time he did not wait for assistance. He pressed his finger and the tank fired once more. The second shot penetrated deeper, hitting a support in the middle of the building. They watched as the building succumbed to gravity, grinding the Imperials into the decaying street and splattering building pieces across the square.
Twelve narrowed eyes turned towards Troutrooper, who gurgled a chuckle. “What? A fish can't do his job and have some fun, too?”
“He can,” the Battlelord said, “but not when it jeopardizes the team and mission. Your little stunt alerted everyone to our position. Well done.”
“Yeah, good job, Di'kut Jedi Master.”
The Mon Cal walked through the gauntlet of stares and took the lead. “Yup. I fouled that up royally. Sacrificed three enemy Dark Jedi to weaken the building, smashed a contingent of enemy Imperials with said weakened building, opened a path to the sword, not to mention hampered anyone trying to use the catacombs. My bad.”
Troutrooper stopped for a moment. “Come on,” he shouted over his shoulder. “Let's get moving. We don't want someone dropping a building on us.”
The group moved quickly into the ruinous remains of the building, avoiding jagged chunks of mortar and wicked, centuries-rusted bars of metal as they navigated the roiling mist of dust. No one spoke, their figures tense as they left the open hostilities. Despite the structure’s massive size, they only had a short distance to travel before their guide indicated a set of unremarkable doors as their destination.
They all paused for a moment, observing the entrance. The Miraluka girl leaned over to the Mon Cal and whispered far too loudly, “Bet ya it’s locked. Maybe if we shoot it with lightning, it’ll open…”
“There is no lock,” Dantella stated brusquely, striding forward. “Such would imply a means for us to enter by our own will, when it is the palace’s that reigns.” Her blue-rimmed, ghostly eyes darted back to them. “Come! Offer yourselves!”
Haltingly, but after exchanging nods between their leader and one another, the Arconans all moved to press their hands to the seamless doors just as the Umbaran did. A faintly audible hum was the only response, and then the gates swung too-silently open, birthing them into an inverted womb where no life reached.
Freedom, she thought, and without pausing, descended into the void, a squad of six beating hearts behind her. The doors swung shut after them, this time with a final, resounding crash that rattled her teeth, though the Adept cared little. The party reformed their previous formation and proceeded.
The darkness was deep, even to Dantella’s eyes. The collection of colorful lights ferried in their hands could not beat it back; no more than a man could move a mountain. It enclosed them, sinister, leeching. Black shadows sagged concave and hovered, pressing, stifling, hungry for the red warmth of blood and the gray taste of souls enshrined in bones. It was a beast awoken from restless, tormented purgatory, stirred from a sleep with no relief, built of malicious nightmare and unfulfilled desire. It yearned for them, yearned like some men yearned for life and all men yearned for death.
I will see you fed, monstrosities…wait just a while yet. You’ll have your damned meal. And while you pick fish bones from your cursed teeth, I will be free, Dantella thought with vehemence at the disturbingly alive blackness around her, her vision stamped with phantom images of horror and death.
Cloak of skin
bath of blood
throne of stone
a smirk bestown…
No, the Umbaran denied the ghosts that, normally caged behind her eyelids, were free to pantomime where they pleased in the dark. No, this will be done and I will be free. The sword. The sword.
The sound of flesh smacking into something much more solid pulled her from her reverie. There was a bare grunt of pain, and somewhere vaguely ahead of her the pale, sky-tinged glow of the girl’s white hair swished as she shook her head.
“Marick, let me take point, please. I can guide us,” the Miraluka suggested softly, and though she spoke normally, the dark hushed her voice to a whisper just as it dimmed their lightsabers.
Another meaty thump came from somewhere in the back. “I am very in favor of the blind leading the blinder,” gurgled Troutrooper.
A triad of hazily luminous, crimson gems, set in a face cast in a diffused sapphire glow, bobbed as Invictus nodded. The Shadow Lord, a monochromatic outline awash in aquamarine, lifted his hand in affirmation before realizing the action could be misconstrued in the low light.
“Form up,” the Consul ordered calmly. There was a shuffling of bumping elbows and flippers that followed as Marick moved and Atyiru was unceremoniously spat out at the group’s head. She stumbled, and something clattered to the ground, accompanied by the distinct sound of shattering plastic.
“My comm!” Atyiru cried, sounding strangely as if she’d just lost a limb.
“We’ll get you another when we’re out of here. C’mon,” the Chiss in their company called. The clustered gang of Darksiders, crouched in the deep shroud of the ancient passageway, began moving again, listening to the distant howls of artillery fire and the unnerving crumble of stone and dust.
The Arconans moved at a steady pace as a newfound respect budded for the Miraluka guiding them. There was something in the air Dantella couldn't quite place, something connecting the team she followed. It was a simple emotion, but one so very alien.
There was no trust in the One Sith. Was this what comradery felt like? The girl knew her friends were counting on her, and that feeling evoked a palpable sense of resolve in her steps as she navigated the darkness as easily as if it were her own mansion.
The Umbaran found herself wondering, just for a second, What would it be like, to walk in this...trust...and not in fear…?
As they turned a bend, however, Dantella was knocked off her feet as she narrowly avoided the ceiling that collapsed a handful of feet in front of them. The Chiss managed to catch her. Offering no acknowledgement, she pushed away from Invictus, dusting off her robes.
More great chunks of stone and mortar tumbled into the hallway, a cloud of dust rolling toward them. Dantella choked on a polluted breath, covering her mouth and nose with her voluminous sleeves; but it did little, and her eyes began to water and sting with the bite of the dirt.
“Oops,” Trouty gurgled as if suddenly dunked under water. Any musings of camaraderie vanished under instinctive fury.
You damned fool, she thought of the Mon Cal that coughed in great, bubbly heaves. Fool! I will not have you ruin this. You will play your part!
“Cover your mouths!” the Miraluka medic at their front instructed even while, nearby, Shi Long went on breathing deeply, as if to savor the feeling of suffocating on dust.
“There’s no getting around this. Which way now?” Invictus asked as he cleared his throat, eyes attempting to pierce—no, to cut, to cut—the Dark Adept where she stood.
Dantella returned a scathing look. “The route I had chosen was the safest. Any other way we diverge from here will be suicidal.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Teroch growled.
Marick’s voice was a calm sanctuary amidst storming sea. “Then select the quickest.”
Dantella sighed and closed her burning eyes, opening the doors in her mind to the essence of this place, the names of the twisted shadows and the cruel memories in their shaded spools. A hundred histories pirouetted through her skull, screaming and screaming, demanding something. By her masters, they all wanted something, so very badly; their greed, their hunger, would not go unsated.
So much screaming…
The Umbaran snapped her eyes open and exhaled with a slight tremor. When the breath was gone, she lifted her shoulders and gazed icily at her party of pawns. “We go back forty meters and take the hall to the left. Be prepared. Horrors await us.”
“Descriptive horrors?” Troutrooper blubbed, prompting, and Dantella switched her glare to him. Those bulbous, double-lensed eyes broke the light of the sabers they caught and held it so that it seemed two small, sickly moons stared back at her, revealing nothing but their waxy surfaces.
“Much too descriptive to speak of,” the Adept replied coldly, turning on her heel and advancing into the gloam from whence they’d come.
For when you reach them, they will consume you, and you will speak no more.
The first room they came to, roughly an hour later, after traversing a maze of sculpted and decayed halls, was completely unremarkable. Its walls were bare save for creeping growth and mold, and its floors were smooth but for three gentle sloping divots along the far right edge. It had absolutely no other discernible exits. No doors, no crumbled windows, no stairs or hidden latches or keyholes. It was a dead end.
And from the very second their feet crossed the threshold, every one of them felt a chill, like the trailing touch of frozen, long-nailed fingers, scuttle down their spine.
Shi Long chuckled hauntingly. “Now that…feels exciting.”
“Don’t say it.”
“Fine. Blub, then.”
“Do you even know where you’re going, di’kut?” Teroch snarled at their guide, discomfort evident in his tone.
“Of course,” Dantella snapped back, frigid and somber. “Don’t you have any sense at all? We cannot simply pass here.”
“What do we have to do?” Marick asked, icy eyes scanning the bland space with computer-like efficiency but finding nothing.
“I do not know.”
That caused a sharp stir. Teroch’s voice lashed out again. “What do you mean you don’t know?!”
“I don’t know, child! This place is greater than all of us. I’m only witness to the death it’s caused. There are many trials, each unique. One wants something—you give it. You sacrifice. Here, it starts.”
“It wants what it doesn’t have,” Atyiru murmured, off to the side. Heads turned, lightsabers extended to find her form in the dark. She knelt prostrate before the divots, ear pressed to the stone, fingers digging between their cracks, as if to be closer to the evil underfoot. “It’s not just starving…it’s desperate, envious, greedy. It hates us. So much. And it can’t have what we do, so it wants to take it away. Can’t you sense it? It wants to feel.”
“And you lot think my handful of dirt is crazy,” Shi Long laughed.
“Trouty?” their Consul turned to the Master, not about to ignore the empath’s observations completely.
“Well, this might just be my fancy, but I’m fairly certain that the scripture in the bottom of those depressions is good backup for the touchy-feely talk too. I’m sure the palace is very sensitive and all, but,” he shrugged, wagging his flipper-tips.
Teroch groaned again. Invictus knelt down next to Atyiru and held his lightsaber close to better read by. “I…can understand this,” he sounded vaguely surprised, and rightfully so.
“Sith Magic has no true language. To be bound to one mortal set of characters would be nonsense.” Dantella sniffed, earning a scathing snort in reply from the Wanderer-marked man.
He read aloud. “All in the name of Death came three…three to whisper, to touch, to see…three to sacrifice to we…who is this we?”
“It, them, the people, whatever you would call them,” Atyiru speculated, tapping the ground as if to indicate the building.
“Monsters,” Dantella breathed, almost to herself.
“Right, well, assuming some crumbling ruins don’t want a streetwalker’s show, I think we can say it wants senses,” was Trouty’s watery observation.
“No kriff,” Teroch deadpanned. “But the hell is that supposed to mean? Does it want my eyes?”
“I think it’s figurative.”
“Really, now? You think—”
“Deactivate your sabers,” Atyiru suddenly exclaimed. “All of you!”
“A theory. It wants us to give up our senses, fine. But let’s try recreating that loss before we actually go tearing out organs.”
“But does it want all three from each of us, or just one sacrificing each?”
“We’ll see. I’ll take sight. Do it,” Marick’s own blade died first. The others flowed, Dantella obeying last. They were plunged into blackness so complete that it was like infinity confined to four walls.
“Now, touch?” No one moved. “Come now, I have a local sedative, won’t last more than an hour. Whose hands can we go without for a time?”
“Take mine,” Invictus offered, but Dantella cut him off.
“No, I will,” the poison-master said, tone implying something indecipherable.
Atyiru administered the medication easily, never having had any need of light. They all waited until the Umbaran gave confirmation that her fingers were indeed numbed.
“Alright then. The last was speaking, yes?”
“Everyone, quiet. Silence comms too,” Marick ordered. They each did so, and waited.
Nothing happened. Teroch expelled a loud, agitated breath.
“This isn't working.”
“Maybe we were wrong.”
“Maybe it’s picky.”
“No, maybe it is. What if it doesn't want silence? What if it actually wants a voice?”
“I, uh...offer…mine?” Atyiru said suddenly, the statement trailing unsurely. No sooner had the words left her mouth than she began to choke, trying to speak but unable, despite her clear airway.
An awful howl split the air, reverberating through the walls. Even their teeth and bones tremored in time with the percussion. It was a vicious, gleeful sound, full of raving malice, harsh as boulders grinding together. As if the foundations themselves laughed.
The three divots in the ground flared with alacritous amethyst light. Stone older than ages split and shrieked, giving way, and the floor opened up and swallowed them whole, sending them spiraling into oblivion.
Even with the prescience afforded by her visions, the shriek of splitting stone startled Dantella, causing her to gasp in surprise. The sharp inhalation saved her, filling her lungs with air mere moments before the group plunged into the refuse-littered waters below. She struggled to keep her head above water, fighting the cistern’s tumultuous pull, but stray debris rained down upon her and threatened to drive her under. A stirring from the Force sent klaxons blaring through her mind, and she immediately pushed upwards with what strength her shocked reflexes could muster, heaving against the large section of stone that threatened to crush her. The chunk of granite flew straight up - but a complementary force shoved her down, into the frigid depths.
As she was propelled down into the unplumbed depths, blinded by the silt and slime that pervaded the cistern, her Shadowcloak caught on a sinking piece stone. Resistance from the water had done little to stifle the momentum of her telekinetic push and the stone-caught garment acted as a fulcrum, spinning her around and slamming her face-first into the submerged chamber’s wall. A meaty crunch - audible despite the depth - testified to the speed of her impact, and bright red blood tinged the turgid water, mixing with the dirty brown surrounding her.
Carbon dioxide burned the capillaries of her oxygen-deprived lungs and the Umbaran struggled through her shock-induced fugue to summon the Force and slow her respirations. Rage at her predicament fueled her, and she siphoned strength from it to steady her breathing and ignore her body’s clamoring. She trampled the instinctual gasp that threatened to fill her lungs with air and tried to reorient herself upwards. Pain from her shattered nose fought against her control, and the blood that now permeated the water around her denied her sight of the surface. Just as the burning in her lungs grew too insistent to ignore, a mottled blur of purple and orange cut through the liquid cage, flippered hands grasping her cowl and dragging her, floundering, behind them.
She breached the surface with a gasp, sweet air filling her protesting lungs and granting the clarity she needed to suppress the pain that splintered across her face. Dantella ignored the involuntary wheezes that forced themselves through her shattered nose and turned towards her amphibian rescuer.
“If you ever,” the One Sith shouted, “touch me again, I will unfin you!”
At least, she tried to shout it. Despite her normally articulate nature, the words were lost under the gurgling of water, vomitus and blood that spewed from between her cracked lips.
Troutrooper turned his head sideways, looking at her straight on with one questioning eye, and at the still-sputtering group of Arconans with the other. “Did anyone catch that?”
“Sounded like glub-blub to me,” snorted Teroch.
“What?” Shi Long rejoined, a too-rare grin sparking onto his lately-solemn face, “You don’t speak Fish?”
The Chiss and - oddly - the Miralukan shared a look that screamed of suppressed mirth, and Dantella summoned all her will to keep from plastering them across the grimy stone cistern’s walls.
They can have their laughter. For now.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop.
Water trickled down from a stalagmite overhead and into the underground reservoir of grimy water. As the laughter dissipated an eerie silence replaced it, accentuating the metronome of the falling droplets.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop
Unlike the passageways above, the caverns deep beneath the surface of Xlopora were illuminated well enough that Dantella was confident even the Hapan could see the path ahead. She let the Dark Side seethe through her body, and was almost surprised with how quickly her aches seemed to mend and her breathing regulated. It was as if the Dark Side itself had been infused into the granite walls.
As the Adept’s eyes adjusted further, she realized that the dim illumination was coming from a line of crystals protruding from the stones around them. The shards were a stark, translucent white and while individually they emitted only the fraction of light a typical lightsaber crystal would emanate, together they were legion.
Dantella studied Marick as his eyes seemed to drink in the entire cavern: every corner, angle, and shadow that spawned from the overhead lighting. She noted that while the others had made light of their current predicament, their leader had maintained an impassive, mirthless mask. Was he always this dreary?
As she looked closer, however, she could see the furrows of his brow knitting together in frustration. She met the same sheet of beskar when she tried to probe the Hapan’s mind, but there was little the Consul could do to mask his frustration through the Force. Despite his ramrod posture, there was an unseen weight bearing down on his shoulders.
Do they realize their leaders struggle, or are they too enveloped in their games?
“So, which way now, your One Sith-ness,” Teroch snipped at the fellow Adept, arms crossing over his chest.
“It appears, youngling, that we have stumbled into the forgotten cavern of Telios,” Dantella replied, letting the verbal-jab graze harmlessly off of her shoulder. She was pleased to see the “‘youngling’” remark hit a chord with the youth. A bronze, powerful clasped Teroch’s shoulder to prevent him from taking a swing.
“Telios?” Marick asked, turning to face the Umbaran.
Dantella nodded, her eyes going distant as she reached into memories from the past. Visions. “The three came this very way and were met with the spirit of Telios, the spirit of regret. It was said that Telios had been a prophet in his living days and was one of the first to grasp the concept of Farsight through the Force. Perhaps the fall was not accidental. Be wary though. The path ahead almost cost Okemi his very soul. Tiamat’s determination and Ferrun’s resolve saved it, ” she shook her head slightly, eyes returning to their glacial sharpness. “I believe that if we continue on this path we will reach our destination. Perhaps it would be best to split up to cover more ground.”
Teroch scoffed. “Yea, because that always works in the holovids.”
Marick cast a sharp glance at his fellow Arconae but said nothing. Instead he returned his attention to Dantella and shook his head. “No, we stay together and push forward as a team.”
While the Consul’s tone was iron, she noticed his jaw clench and the skin around his eyes tighten. No one questioned him, though.
“Let’s get going, then,” Shi’s baritone carried undaunted through the caverns. The team nodded, and made their way forward. Marick kept one of the twin shoto sabers on his belt in his one hand but left the blade closed. Atyiru, Teroch, and Invictus mimicked the gesture while Shi simply let his hand rest on the tapered hilt protruding from his waist. The troubling Mon Cal seemed content with his flippers free, bulbous eyes alert for anymore potential traps he could announce. He was the true danger. She would need to keep her guard up with that one. Too unpredictable for one as powerful.
As the team moved forward, they discovered that natural walkways had formed above the water, twisting and winding like the roots of a tree but wide and flat enough so that two people could walk at a time. The narrow stone was interspersed with wide disk-like openings that would fit three or four at a time.
Marick and Invictus took point, their boots treading lightly as they made sure to avoid the darkening water. From behind them, Atyiru picked up a fragment of stone from above and chucked it into the water, watching. Through her unique vision she observed as the stone disappeared into the murkiness below. Deep below.
“Try and keep to the stone walkways,” Atyiru choked out, her voice raspy, making it sound almost masculine. “The water has gotten deeper.”
“Thank you Captain Thrawn,” Teroch mimicked her tone by lightly applying pressure to his own throat. Atyiru stuck her tongue out at the Erinos, stumbled, then steadied herself on Shi Long’s shoulder.
Dantella shook her head. They still don’t get it, do they? She watched ahead and noticed that Marick had turned to Invictus and was speaking low so that only the two of them could hear. Curious, Dantella, tapped into Invictus’ mind, not probing like she had earlier but simply observing from his perspective.
“-And we ended up down here anyway. I’ve put us all in grave danger,” Marick said quietly.
“Stop that,” the Chiss replied curtly.
“Beating yourself up over every single decision,” Invictus explained as he stepped over a crevice in the stone underfoot. With the rest of the team behind them, Marick allowed an actual frown to form on his lips. Through Invictus’ crimson orbs she could see the beginnings of dark shadows forming under the Consul’s eyes. The healthy glow of his skin typically masked the signs of fatigue, but in the caverns pale white light it became more clear.
“I know this isn’t how we planned it,” the Chiss continued. “But do you remember the conversation we had when the Arconae tapped you for Proconsul?”
Marick was quiet for a moment but then nodded. “You said that it would only get harder, but that if anyone could do it, it was me.” The words came out flatly.
“I still believe that,” Invictus nodded. “Never forget who you are, Marick.”
The Consul nodded, soaking in his friend’s wisdom. Dantella realized that there was more to the two Arconans’ relationship than anyone bothered to realize. Vague impressions of memories and feelings flittered from the Chiss’ mind. Both had come from less than ideal upbringings, and each had traits that made them clash often but together made them a force to be reckoned with. The bond they shared was one that had been forged on not just the battlefield, but the creation and rebirth of an entire House. They were brothers, and the closest thing each other had to family.
Dantella retreated and sank back into her own body. She chewed on the concept of family, trust, and friendship. How did they do it? Did they not understand that something or someone would eventually come along and take it all away?
As she glanced around to acclimate herself back into her own skin, she heard a haunting noise that caused her to freeze in place.
Bath of blood
throne of stone
a smirk bestown...
A hallowed voice spoke the words throughout the entire cavern. At first, the Umbaran assumed it to be another figment of her mind; but the entire team seemed to turn to regard her. They had heard it and expected her to divine meaning from it. She opened her mouth to speak, but the pale white light in the room shifted to a hazy sunburst, the water beneath thickening and turning into a bright crimson.
The very stone beneath their feet seemed to shift like tectonic plates, sliding away into the cavern walls. Atyiru yelped as she struggled to find something to grab on to, but ended up plummeting face first into the pool of blood. The others reached for stalagmites but found them frail and brittle as wafers.
And so they plunged into the crimson depths, swallowed by a bath of blood.
Slick, molten copper filled her mouth, the taste of amaranth coating her tongue and clogging her nose, her airways. It gushed, putrid and thick, down her throat and flooded her lungs with a different kind of life than normally inhabited them. It molded into crimson castes that weighed her chest with iron, dragging her down into the depths of its sanguine sea.
And in those depths, she found a haphazard dimension of shattered glass and blood. There was no form around her, no true color or shape. It was all forms, all colors, jumbled up, there a second and then gone, then running, screaming, disappearing if she looked too long. The chaotic void would shift and slither with every beat of her heart, booming and morphing in time with the pulse of her body.
Somewhere in that blindness, a syrupy, smooth, cackling, calm, loud, quiet voice whispered in her mind and wrapped around her soul. That voice knew, and saw, and was, and this time, it spoke—
Dantella wrenched her eyes open with a gasp, feeling tears flowing freely down her pale cheeks. A ruby-faceted face with plains and smooth ridges of blue swam into her vision as her gaze refocused, blurred between one nightmarish reality and another.
She stared back into his scarlet eyes, seeing fissures and cracks splintering in them, spider-webbed across the surface for all to see but running deep into his skull; like glass marbles cracked beyond repair, held together only by lacquer. In that second, she saw the brokenness, dredged up to the surface, her gaze cutting through the paper mask that was his skin, to the red-ink flesh below.
It was a simple anchor and all that she needed. She had survived worse. Broken, yes, but alive, and if she was alive she could be free—
Vaguely, she realized that they were in a new chamber, on solid ground, next to a crimson shore, both soaked with blood that ran and dripped like water instead of clotting and clinging to skin. It occurred to the Adept that the Chiss had a hand on her shoulder, grip vice-like, supporting her. She tore away from his hold, glaring at him, her vulnerability quashed into the dust and silenced. Drops of acid half-leapt from her tongue, words of reprimand nearly formed to make good on her earlier promise of violence were she touched again.
Dantella closed her mouth, jaw clicking shut, and turned away. The Chiss gave a jagged little bark of sound that might have been a pained laugh or a caustically amused scoff.
“Get up,” was all he said as he stood and stalked predatorily away, less gracefully than before, with a roughness to his step.
The Umbararn nearly stayed seated out of sheer scorn at being ordered about by a lesser, but good sense told her not to dally with such ridiculousness. She stood, beating down the tremor in her muscles mercilessly, steadied with the sound calling of the Force. They needed to move.
“’Try all you like…nothing will change…’” Telios’ voice had taunted, ripping the worst possible truths of all truths from the many-faceted future and skinning her alive with them; truths barbed and bloodied with painful lies, until there was no way to walk but into destruction…
The sword, Dantella mentally chanted, glancing around.
Troutrooper was off to the side, blinking his bulging eyes and looking calm for the entire world. He chattered rather too amiably at Teroch, who slouched insipidly next to him, features dark and jaw tense, fine tremors running along his fingers as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Close to the edge of the wine-hued pool, Shi Long crouched down, splashing his hand in the waters over and over with deliberate care, muttering to himself. Marick stood, spine straighter than ramrod beskar, every line of his body tense as if coiled within an inch of snapping, face hard as durasteel, so hard that it grew brittle and threatened to crack. Atyiru was the only one still slumped on the floor, on her hands and knees, head bowed as she shook violently.
So it caught us all, she reflected, grimly displeased.
Invictus prowled over to Marick, almost reaching out to clasp the man’s shoulder and shake him into action. His hand fell short, however, and back to his side. All the better, Dantella thought. The Consul appeared as if he would shatter at a touch. The Chiss leaned close, speaking softly instead. She strained to hear the words, attuning to the Force—
A spear of pale, crystalline blue flared into life. The Miraluka was on her feet faster than Dantella would have thought the slight girl capable of moving, her limbs flowing then lurching jerkily like splattered quicksilver.
Atyiru pointed the saber at Marick.
Her medic’s hand was deathly still despite the quivering of the rest of her body, the great quake in her voice. “Is it true?” she rasped, then stronger, “Is it?! The Force damn you, Marick Arconae, tell me!”
The Consul’s vitreous azure eyes shot to his subordinate, fixing on her with an intensity that rivaled most madmen’s passions. “Atyiru, stop,” he spoke, voice empty as oblivion, no emotion, no query to it, in complete opposite to his fevered gaze.
As if…he knows…but what…?
“My parents!” Atyiru screamed, advancing forward. She dropped her weapon, too incensed to use it. The fingers of one hand clamped around the back of his neck while the others took a fistful of his shirt, as if to shake him in pure fury. Instead she beat at his chest, shoving him, but he made no motion to stop her, just enduring it. “Tell me it isn’t true! Tell me! Tell me you didn’t lie to them! Tell me you didn’t hurt them, kill them! All the gods take you, Marick, tell me!”
Her agony vibrated in Dantella’s bones, projected into the Force. The Umbaran set her teeth against the sensation, watching. No one moved.
Marick did not move.
“I didn’t kill them, Atyiru,” he said, and left unsaid.
The silence hurts the most…
The Priestess’ fight drained, as quickly as blood from a slit throat. She released her Consul and took half a shaking step away from him. “…that’s it, isn’t it? All these months…that’s it. Why the calls stopped after Ziost? Why I haven’t been able to contact them at their old address? The-they’re gone…they think I’m dead…”
The watery blood that saturated her blindfold dripped down her cheeks, apparitions of tears. Even without eyes, she seemed to stare right at the Consul, right through him. “You…you told them I was dead…” she whispered, almost to herself, her next words hushed and confused like a child’s ruined smile. “But…but you’re my friend…”
“You needed to be focused for the wars ahead,” Marick replied, something tickling the edges of his void-cold tone Dantella could not yet identify. “For you and the Clan.”
“The Clan…?” Atyiru’s face twisted strangely, her mouth convulsing as the muscles reflexively attempted a grin and could not, as if their ligatures were severed. “Marick, you’re not the Clan.”
The way she said it conveyed a sort of simple truth, one of precious few in all the universe. Dantella watched the words crumble between the pair, destroyed by gravity, by the same gravity that stooped the Hapan’s shoulders.
The Consul did not reply.
Atyiru began to shake again, more severely than before. “You’re even colder and crueler than your sister ever was!” she cried with a last, desperate sort of disbelief; then she crumpled to her knees at her Consul’s feet like a doll with cut strings and curled in on herself, sobbing openly. The Hapan’s expression cracked just the slightest.
Marick knelt down, took the Miraluka by the shoulders and slowly picked her up off the ground, pulling her to her feet. For a moment, she sagged in his hold, her cries quieting; then she pushed away, moving to retrieve her discarded saber.
“Enough!” Dantella barked, now that the spectacle was just about done. “Cease your blabbering, girl, and let us go. All of you,” she pointed around at the various spectators, who still stared on with varying expressions of interest. “Leave her! Move! We must claim the sword!”
They stayed in place, their gazes flickering between their peers. Dantella threw up her hands, scoffing.
Unbending fingers caught her wrist in midair, squeezing hard, until the small bones creaked and ground against one another, threatening to crack. Dantella bared her teeth in a slight snarl, head whipping around to stare at the Chiss who held her.
There was no malice, mockery, or intent to harm in his thrice-divine stare—just a lesson. And it truly did cut her, right to the bone.
They…won’t do it. They won’t abandon each other. We stand here before the throne and yet still! All this, and still…they…
“We’re Arconan. You need to learn,” murmured Invictus as he released her arm, though she found herself trapped in his gaze until he looked away.
Every fiber in her body told Dontella to split Invictus, to add his blood to the miasma they just bathed. She felt the Dark Side swelling through indignant rage. No one...No mere Equite...No unworthy--WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!”
Troutrooper stepped back, head bowed. “My apologies. I can be clums--”
The Umbaran flushed, nostrils flared, eyes daggered. “You…You are a pathetic, juvenile, incompetent, terrible excuse for a Dark Jedi Master! Your bumbling nearly killed us! And here, in this room, you stumble into me like a drunk. Did you swallow the red water? Does blood inebriate you? Perhaps we should let some of your blood out, see how much you imbibed.” She reached for her saber, but her hand felt nothing. She felt again. Nothing. She glanced around the room. “My saber. What--Where? How?”
“I may be those things, yes,” the Mon Cal said as he clipped Dontella’s lightsaber to his belt, “but my bumbling is keeping someone here alive. Old spy trick: the bump-and-snatch. You’ll get it back when you aren’t a raging pot of boiling hate. Now,” he turned to Marick, “she’s right: we need to get moving.”
Marick nodded, giving a quick glance at Invictus and back to Atyiru. The Chiss gave a curt head bow and attended to Atyiru. “Shi, you ready?”
He opened his hands and let the blood-water fall into the pool before standing. “I am ready,” came the weighted reply. Shi Long shook for a brief moment then walked measuredly to the group.
Teroch stood before Marick could ask him. “I’m fine. I’ll be better once we’re done with this fetch quest.”
“Dontella,” the Consul gestured to the door. “You’re in the lead.”
The group began to move, more rag-tag than anything, but still united. Despite their harrowing mental trials - and Atyiru’s very public tribulation - old habits and muscle memory carried them the first few steps forward.
Teroch, noticing that his mentor - Master was too formal for Shi, and he wouldn’t have answered to it even if the youth ever called him that - hung back, stealing glances at the sanguine expanse.
The youth allowed the others to pass him so that he could have a short palaver with the Long. "So...what did you see?" The question was spiced with both a battle-hardness and the excitement of youth.
"Have you ever bathed in blood?" Shi's response seemed to dodge the question. "I mean, really bathed in it? Like swimming in lotion. It's amazing." Shi's baritone held genuine wonder. The pair trudged along silently for a few paces while Teroch worked out if the Long was purposefully ducking the query.
At length, the Arconae spoke. "So what you're saying is you saw something, most likely dealing with all the blood you've spilt...don't tell me that the big-bad-Korun is filled with regret? Oh, this is rich!” He choked back a laugh at the last, causing Dantella to mutter something intelligible to the effect of chiding him for not being serious.
Shi, on the other hand, was more tolerant than their guide. "Yeah, laugh it up, kiddo. That was pretty good, but you're only half-right." Again, the silence blanketed them. Knowing his mentor's penchant to talk at length, the Adept was surprisingly patient as he waited for Shi to finish.
"Well, yes, what I saw was indeed blood-soaked, but the regret is that my memory of that is one of a dead man. If I'm bothered, it's not because of that. It's because I want so much to do it again!" Shi felt more than saw Teroch start at the pronouncement, so he reached across the dimness to clap Teroch soundly on his back in reassurance. "Don't worry my young friend; that time's done and done. Besides, I walk beside you now, freshly 'bathed' and off to make grand new memories!" The lightness of the statement belied the seriousness of the secret Teroch had just wheedled out of Shi, and a mental checklist was bulleted with an important mystery for him to solve later on. If there actually was a later on.
Blood dried on their skin and they walked on stone through dusk-dim darkness, leaving yet another door far behind. Unlike the crystal-lined rivers of red, the hallways here were smooth and seamless rock, illuminated evenly in gray by no discernable light source.
Dantella marched on ahead, eyes stretched wide to the present and the past, steps growing quicker the closer they drew to their destination. Marick strode at her heels, his flanking subordinates lagging slightly back as compared to earlier. Invictus walked closer to Atyiru, keeping her under a critical eye. Behind them, Troutrooper, bubbly and undaunted, chattered at length, seemingly just to further annoy the rigid-shouldered Umbaran that lead them all on. A few meters behind him, Shi and Teroch walked more slowly, speaking quietly to one another.
“…listen, my friend, I don’t need a third eye to see what you’re doing. I’m well, truly. Go to Marick,” Atyiru was saying softly to her minder, dredging up some mischief from depths of patience.
“I think you’d need any number of eyes first,” replied the Chiss with a small smirk, seeing their Consul’s head turn at the joking as Trouty chuckled in a gurgle.
The Miraluka made to reply but cut off when Marick stopped in place, allowing them to catch up. He glanced to Invictus, then toward Dantela, and the Chiss gave a nod as he went after his charge, leaving the other two to walk together.
They kept moving.
“You had no right," Atyiru said at length, into the murmur-punctuated quiet. “To do what you did; whether you believed it was good for me or not.”
“I did what needed to be done,” the Hapan recited numbly. The words came from his lips, but were not his own. “I’m not going to apologize, Atyiru.”
“I don’t expect you to, and I wouldn’t want you to. You're my friend, Marick; it only follows that you’d hurt me the most.”
She held up a hand to forestall any response, continuing, “I am going to forgive you because lies can be recovered from, even if their damage remains, like a deep wound that scars. There is no recovery from death, on the other hand. You lied and did wrong, but it is repairable, so to hold a grudge would be a waste.”
Marick bit down on his molars, but then spoke with a rare hint of emotion, frustration leaking out, “And somehow you still make light of everything? Don’t you understand? This is the life we live.”
“It’s all I have.”
Marick shook his head. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” he recited flatly, the same words with which the master assassin had based his personal creed. “Those words are not just some remnant of a forgotten order, Atyiru. They speak to the very nature of the world we live in. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, only darkness.” The Hapan seemed to sink back into his emotionless mindset, because the tired and gray words simple became dulled and blunted.
They lapsed back into quiet, treading deeper into the heart of the hell they had delved into.
“And yet, darkness cannot exist without light,” the Miraluka spoke softly, her voice finally her own. “If nothing is true, Marick, I will make it true. There is more to life than death. Life should always come before death. The journey is more important than the destination.”
Marick said nothing. He continued forward, his eyes focused ahead but his mind elsewhere lost in thought. Blinking once, he turned to regard Atyiru. She had given up everything to be with them. Despite her views falling dangerously close to that of a Jedi, she embraced Arcona as her family. Marick reached over his neck and pulled something off. He balled it in his fist and then slowly extended it towards the Miraluka. Atyiru took the item with a tilted head. Without waiting for a response, Marick close the woman’s hand around the item and then darted forward without another word.
Atyiru opened her palm. In it rested a round pendant bearing the Arconan symbol, flat-faced and lusterless in the even-toned lighting.
There was little need for more words. Both increased their pace as Shi and Teroch rejoined the body of their group, and all together they hastened along, chasing after Dantella, who herself chased things no mortal man could possess.
She ran as if through a dream.
Phantoms danced at the edges of her vision, dissipating if she studied them too closely, shadows always lurking just out of sight. They sang softly to her in voices of discord, and when she breathed, she could savor something dark and powerful on her tongue.
A door loomed ahead.
Freedom! came the unadulterated thought, a cry from deep in her soul, unfettered from the logics or machinations of the present.
Dantella spun around to shout at her team of minions to hurry, and found more ghosts in their place. Her heart stalled in her chest.
She had not even felt the vision overtake her like normal. The transition had been flawless, the lullabies of horror wrapping her in their melodic embrace perfectly. Where did she stand now? The Umbaran glanced about.
Her body was hers, her Shadowcloak billowing around her hands. All of the team was present, but their features and voices were blurred, as if underwater. Mirages danced over their figures instead, including her, seven specters in the night, and only three with any life.
“Steady,” a man said, bearing a sword at his hip, repeating the words of a friend. “We are close. We can yet be free of this madness, yet pull our heads above the dark waters. Steady, Okemi. We are close, are we not?”
The last words were addressed to whomever she played, and the lines came unbidden, “The answer lies right before us. You will see. Onward. Onward!”
The man moved from the shadow-Sith King’s side and reached for her. “Steady,” he repeated again. “You promised us—”
The world resolved into crystalline focus. Dantella was falling backward, into empty air—
No, she thought as she stumbled backward from the force of Invictus’ pull on her cloak. She had nearly run right into the wall—no, the door—before them, lost below the waves of what once was.
The Umbaran tore away from the Chiss, hardly aware of the tromping of footsteps that rushed up behind her, the others present. She cared not. They were nothing. This was everything.
I’m here…finally…it’s here!
The gateway to destiny awaited.
It rose before them, an obsidian piece of history, a huge pair of iron doors older than their precious Arcona, more stalwart than the hardiest rock, and with no discernable way to open it. Their last obstacle. Beyond the door, power untold and unchecked pulsed, vibrated and strobed like a miniature pulsar star. Each of the group could feel it; Revelation was waiting for them, and only the door stood between them and executing the Dark Council’s will.
Dantella’s lip quirked in the quasi-darkness at the irony. The sword was a weapon of unparalleled power, one which none of the group desired. Most of them weren’t strong enough to wield it without destroying themselves, however to truly wield the mighty blade and utilise its potential was a feat only an elder could manage. Most would be instantly devoured by Revelation’s insatiable hunger. It was a weapon worthy of only the mightiest warrior. None in the group could claim that title. None wanted to, save for perhaps Shi Long, yet he obviously looked on Revelation like a crutch. He wouldn’t sully his calloused swordsman’s hands with such a handicap.
There were still strings to pull, still each of them had their part to play, and the timing would have to be exquisite, but the Umbaran had managed thus far. The only complication seemed to be their bond. By now, Novae would’ve had any group of One Sith tearing each other to pieces in mistrust and suspicion, plots and counter-plots weaving through their interactions in a dizzying display of subterfuge, but these members of the Brotherhood...they lived up to the moniker. Even the Miraluka’s realisation hadn’t shaken them all that much. If she didn’t know better, she’d have assumed they didn’t care. That was clearly a mistake Dantella wouldn’t make again.
“In polite society, I believe the custom is to knock.” The Mon Calamari remarked after nobody made a move to try and circumvent the obstacle.
Shi looked over to Marick, who nodded. Shrugging, the Korunnai walked forwards and hammered the base of his fist against the metal three times. Each rang out like a gong, shaking the air, causing Atyiru to cover her ears, rasping out a protest.
The sound slowly faded, and the doors didn’t move an inch.
“Nobody seems to be home.” Trout’s face assumed a parody of a human smile, and Dantella once again quelled the urge to try and throttle the fish.
“Shab this.” Teroch said shortly, lit his blade, and charged at the door.
“No! Don’t! You’ll-” Dantella was cut off as the youth’s blade smashed into the door, and the tangerine length vanished almost instantly.
The Mandalorian was thrown backwards in a subsonic shockwave that took him off his feet. He landed next to Shi, who helped pull him up. Apart from being covered in dust from the floor, he seemed unharmed.
Grinning gingerly, the youth called his saber back to hand, but frowned when he flicked the activation stud and nothing happened.
Fool. He is undeserving of his power. He knows it. Everyone around him knows it. Why do they persist in keeping him around? His stubborn nature and inability to follow commands make him a liability, surely.
“The door will absorb any energy thrown at it. You’re lucky you just got knocked over. It could’ve killed you. Clearly you’re undeserving of this place’s full wrath, fool child. Do not rush in again, or you could kill us all.”
Teroch turned and rounded on the Umbaran, his eyes flashing dangerously. “I’ve had just about enough of your mystic osik, you pompous chakaar. Once this is over, I think a carbonite bath for your blue ass should be-”
“Teroch, be quiet.” Marick snapped, then gestured at their last obstacle. “Dantella, how do we get past this?”
“What do you do when you are in the presence of a king?” She countered, then knelt delicately in the dust, heedless of the mess it made of her shadowcloak.
Bowing her head towards the door, Dantella waited patiently. Sighing, Marick imitated her. One by one, the rest of the party took a knee. As soon as They had, there was a rumble of ancient gears moving deep in the stone, and the doors swung open.
Before them was a circular chamber, devoid of any pomp or ornamentation save for the sole focus; huge in stature, startlingly life-like, and untouched by the ravages of time, the statue shifted under the flickering neon green torches which ringed the chamber. The stonework was perfect; the craftsmanship evident down to the smallest dimple and imperfection carved on the warrior’s face. The millenia-old torches, ever-burning through Sith sorcery cast dancing shadows across him. Not one of them spared the statue a second glance. Every single pair of eyes capable of sight were fixed on what the statue held.
Dantella’s dispassionate eyes fixated on the stone statue and the archaic, hauntingly beautiful blade that protruded from it. The dual-edged sword, despite its time entombed in the forgotten depths of Xlopora emitted power and strength in its purest form. The blade had been an extension of one of the galaxy’s most renowned warriors, the man who would go on to form the Order of the Obelisk. The blade itself looked to have been dipped in polished quicksilver while the core maintained a dull sable hue that twisted and turned in intricate patterns up the blades center.
Something guttural stirred within the Umbaran, an excitement that had, until that moment, been weighed down under the gravity of doubt. Against all odds, her team had somehow made it. She was so close to freedom she could almost taste it! The sword was the key. It was all that mattered. Her team had outlived its use. It was time to act--
A sudden flash of light slashed across her eyes, causing her entire world to fade to white. Gone was the earthy scent of ancient stone and the dry arid air.
No...I am so close, not right now, please!
There was no stopping the vision, however. A shudder rocked through the Adept’s body. Her eyes opened--though she did not recall ever actually closing them--and she was once again standing in front of the sword. The smell was the same as it had been moments before, but the air was significantly less arid. This time, the Arconans were nowhere to be seen either.
Dantella took a step forward, but she was no longer in her own body. She blinked again and realized she no longer grasped the ultraviolet spectrum her people had proudly developed. Her muscles felt the same, but when she looked down she saw that her robes were gone, a set of tight-fitting armor clinging to a shapely figure.
““Madness, Okemi, we must stop,’” a voice croaked. A human male lay on the floor, armored plate giving way to a tattered cape that puddled around his hunched form. His angular yet handsome face was framed by long dark hair that parted evenly at the center and fell to his shoulders. His eyes were blue, like crystals. It looked just like Marick...except the signature was wrong, and the little tuft of hair under the lower lip combined with a set of faded scars matched not the Hapan’s flawless, symmetrical features.
Looking down, she realized she was holding something grasped in her fist. Her eyes darted back towards the human laying on the floor and saw that his hand had been severed mid-forearm. Fresh blood spewed from the wound. No It couldn’t be...
“Okemi!” the human growled, desperately grabbing the Dark Side and bending it around the stump of his former sword hand. His face twisted in pain as the wound began to slowly mend itself, cells reforming, skin stretching to bind them.
Dantella turned her eyes towards the burly man with matted skin that bore a true and distinctive red hue. By the Force, it was an actual Sith Pureblood in the flesh! He wore a gold chain around his neck that clinked at the slightest of moves, his massive shoulders guarded by twin pauldrons and a flowing cape. Everything snapped into place for Dantella as if her head had suddenly been dunked into ice water.
The Pureblood was staring at her. Not at her, she realized, but at whatever it was she gripped in her hand.
“Let us go,” Dantella found herself saying in a voice not her own. She turned and started to walk away, Okemi falling in-step. He did not seem to even bat an eye at his fallen comrade who slowly rose to his feet.
Ferran watched as his two closest companions left him, indifferent to his sacrifice. Turning to face the statue and his lost sword, the future paragon of the Obelisk order sneered and muttered a curse, remaining hand extended towards the blade.
As broken oaths recoil,
So shall issue forth phantom of oil,
Reap the lives of the unworthy,
And in no age, show any mercy.
Death you wield and so death be:
He who draws my blade free,
The hunter will come, death to thee.
Dantella’s vision washed out again in a flicker of light. She blinked and was back with the Arconans, herself, body her own. She had fallen to her knees. At her side, the Chiss had a hand on her shoulder, again. As her mind worked frantically to piece everything she had just seen together, she did not push the male away. He helped to her feet before peeling off.
The Umbaran steadied herself and looked around. The Arconans had formed a semicircle around her, all sighted eyes baring judgment down on her.
“The words,” Marick said, stepping towards the Adept.
“The words you spoke,” the Hapan repeated. “They sounded like gibberish. Were you able to understand them in your own mind at least?”
Dantella’s heartbeat quickened. This was it. Her chance to get everything she wanted. She just had to play this right.
“Some of it. I was back there. With the triumvirate. I know what we have to do,” she spoke numbly, eyes meeting the Consul’s.
“Ferran wanted to make sure not just anyone could pull the sword free,” she explained, and then recited the words she had seen spoken in the vision.
And in no age, show any mercy.
Death you wield and so death be:
He who draws my blade free,
Must bear a mastery, greater than me.
The Arconans became pensive and quiet as they pondered. Dantella felt the hairs on the back of her neck tingle. Would they believe her? Would the gambit work?
“Are you sure that’s what it said? The meter’s grammar seems a bit off,” The Miraluka mused, tapping a finger against her lips.
“Ferran was an Obelisk, wouldn’t surprise me,” Invictus said with arms folded across his chest and a mocking grin. Teroch, Marick, and Shi simultaneously narrowed their eyes at the Sith.
“I don’t mean to be pompous, but I will,” Troutrooper said in his watery voice. He turned and walked towards the statue.
Yes. They bought it. The arrogant fool...
“They key word I think was mastery. No offense, pups, but it seems this was my true purpose of joining you on this mission. With your permission, Lord Consul?”
All eyes turned to Marick now. The Consul looked at the sword, then back at his team. His eyes met with Dantella’s, as if asking, Are you sure about this?.
Dantella nodded her head, hands clasping in front of her.
“I trust you, Trouty. You’ve more than earned the right to try,” the Consul said with a nod. Then addressed his team with the poise of a leader whose experience outweighed his charisma. “Teroch, take watch at the door. Everyone else, be on your guard. We don’t know what will happen if the blade is removed.”
Dantella watched the Arconans watching the fishbrained Master as he mounted the dias in front of them. A malicious grin threatened to break across her Umbaran features as the Dark Jedi approached the sword. Years of training were all that kept the expression from her pale lips.
Troutrooper glanced back over his shoulder, waving a flipper at his teammates and offering an amiable half bow, as if accepting an award that he wasn’t entirely convinced he had earned. Marick sighed, though whether in relief or impatience, Dantella could not discern. The Mon Cal continued, wrapping his flipper around the top of the sword's hilt, ignoring the hand attached to it. With a single, powerful tug, he drew on the sword to free it from the stone.
It did not budge.
Frowning, Troutrooper reached into the slipstreams of the Force. He struck deep into its mystic energy, drawing in the very essence of the ancient stones that made up the antechamber. The dark energy coalesced into his body as he breathed it in, the scales of his skin glowing with a pale azure light.
Who is it that seeks my power? The voice rang out through the Dark Jedi Masters mind.
“I believe that would be me, your Swordly-ness?” Troutrooper replied.
Why do you seek it?
“I have things to do, of course. Foes to kill, scores to settle, friends to protect- the usual”
The ancient sword seemed to mull over the mixture of sincerity, confidence, and humor in the Mon Cal’s words. The light surrounding Troutrooper pulsed as it bore down on the Elder’s spirit, as if to test its strength. For all the joking, Revelation met a mighty wall of resolve fueled by the knowledge of one who had dedicated their life to studying the Force. While not of the Obelisk, Troutrooper was a former Headmaster, a veteran of over a hundred campaigns, and one-time spymaster of the Emperor's Hammer.
”Give it to me!” Troutrooper demanded.
With a gurgling yell, he pulled with all his might. The sword lurched free of its imprisonment, power surging from Revelation. It filled every corner of the room, seeming to crawl across the skin of the party. Troutrooper staggered, his grip on the hilt almost slipping. He moved a second flipper to grasp it, regained his balance and then turned to face his team. Dantella couldn’t quite contain a smirk at the Mon Cal’s apparent pride. Fool…
“I don’t feel any different,” Troutrooper murmured, perplexed, holding the sword up with one flipper. He took a step forward, but his robes had snuck underfoot and tangled into a heap. The Mon Cal let out a watery yelp as he stumbled down the dias. Revelation slipped free of his flippered grip, spinning through the air.
As it spun, all color seemed to seep out of the antechamber, replaced with a blanket of dull monochrome. Heat siphoned away as a bitter chill washed over the gathered Arconans like an icy tidal wave. It took the Umbaran by surprise when she realized she felt it as well - not through their minds, but playing across her own pale skin. All sound in the room was sucked into a vortex. The silence that remained was like the vacuum of space. And like the void of space, all breathing seemed to hold, suspended tautly in time.
Revelation spun end over end. Invictus was closest and, instinctively, the Chiss reached a hand out and took hold of the sword. As his fist closed around the hilt - Ferran’s mummified hand still attached - Dantella felt the surge of power that filled him. Fire raised along his nerves, heat suffusing his bones, threatening to turn them to ash. He could see himself standing on the battlefield holding the sword, cutting through his foes like children bearing sticks. The blade severed indiscriminately through flesh and plate alike. He saw his Clan rallying behind him. Promises of victory, glory, and immortality flashed across his vision.
A voice was screaming, but Invictus - and, indeed, the rest of the Arconans - seemed not to hear it. Time and space seemed irrelevant. He held the ancient sword of Ferran himself, and the Umbaran realized, incongruously, that the voice was her own.
A black oil seeped free from the statue, pooling at its base and materializing into a roughly humanoid shape. Like quicksilver, the oil came to life and, with an unholy speed, lunged for the one who held Revelation .
“No!” Dantella’s voice yelled, somehow breaking the silence.
The oil-figure shifted into a pattern of tiny blades like a hailstorm of inky shrapnel. Without warning, color flooded back into the antechamber.
Invictus turned to face the storm of oil shards. He tried to bring Revelation up to parry, but the oil passed right through it. The viscous shadows seemed to harden then, a thousand blades tearing into his flesh. Crimson blood gushed from countless openings in the Chiss’ cerulean skin.
Invictus fell forward, face first. He slammed unceremoniously into the granite stone, Revelation clattering as it fell from his grip and skipped away.
Blood pooled around the Chiss. Sound returned from the void, replaced with frantic shouts of panic and sorrow.
Atyiru was at his side before anyone else. The field medic frantically turned the Chiss over. Her bronze skin seemed to grow pale as she covered her mouth with a hand. Experience took control as she went through the motions: checking vitals, reaching for tools from her side-kit, and siphoning the Dark Side to to bend it to her will. Her hands moved mechanically as she worked, somehow steady despite the feeling of dread swelling.
Marick stood numbly in place. As the medley of color and sound flooded back into the room, the Hapan felt something inside him break, truly break.
The hardened lines of Marick’s impassive mask shattered. Realization set in slowly as his rational mind and his emotions were reunited. The two conflicting sides of the Consul tore into one another in a brutal melee.
He...he can’t be...
Shi was yelling something as he and Troutrooper baited, dodged and weaved their ways through the onslaught of the ever-shifting oil-figure that had just brought down Invictus. Marick knew he had to move, to do something. And yet his every muscle felt like melted wax, weak and boneless.
Dantella joined Atyiru as they frantically tried to pool their strength together. The oil-figure seemed to notice, and made a preternatural dash towards the two females.
Move, dammit. Move! Marick urged his body forward, but felt sluggish. It was like his blood had been replaced with lead. Sorrow, regret, and grief flowed freely, long repressed feelings bursting at the seams of his consciousness.
I’ve failed them... was all the Consul could think.
Dantella’s mouth gaped wordlessly, her eyes glassing as she beheld the oily phantasm that heralded the end of her immediate future. The specter’s arms lengthened and solidified into wicked-looking blades as it approached with sure strides; the Adept could only hope that she would fall as mercifully as the Chiss.
The rest of the Arconans were similarly transfixed, unable to move whether from shock or the influence of the shifting guardian. Troutrooper, crouching next to the Long, heard a barely audible curse as the latter bolted forward then rolled, coming up next to the blade. Shi’s hand stretched towards Revelation.
Ferran’s hand, calcified over the years and still clutching the sword, was spattered with bright flecks of Invictus’ blood. It was a harsh reminder of the doom that the former One Sith had led them to, but to his credit, Shi only hesitated slightly when he went to grip the hilt. Ferran’s grip relaxed, the bony fingers loosening as the stump rolled to the side a moment before the Primarch’s palm folded around the powerful weapon.
Dantella’s look melted from horror into surprise. So focused was she on her beloved prize that she was able to momentarily ignore her attacker to instead see Shi rising with it clutched in a bronze fist. She tempered her shockingly covetous spike of jealousy stabbing her in her heart with the all-too recent and vivid memory of the Chiss’ downfall.
Shi closed the distance between them, rushing the guardian and dragging the formidable blade upwards. The vicious crescent split the anthropomorph up its back and it violently lost its integrity, flowing like an ebon river in an arc above the Arconan, trailing the weapon’s tip. Shi completed his swing and drove the tip of Revelation into the granite floor, which spiderwebbed with cracks as the blade rang. The Primarch pinned the roiling mass and held it fast despite it lashing randomly about with lances and ugly barbs. It seemed to be unable to choose between escape and attack, and the Long struggled mightily on one knee, a dual white-knuckled grip trying to steady the bucking blade.
Troutrooper kept a wary distance while looking at Shi, whose forearms corded as sweat glistened on his grimy brow. “It seems the Force isn’t everything,” he gurgled as he appraised the struggle between the human and the otherworldly being.
Indeed, Shi Long warred, but not within the Dark Side. He, too, was subjected to the rush of limitless power, of visions of battlefield supremacy and unquestioning influence as Revelation begged him to use it to lay both foe and friend alike before him as wheat before the scythe.
Must bear a mastery, greater than me.
The words cut through Shi’s thoughts, shattering the illusion. Realization strengthened the Primarch. Where Invictus’ visions held the promise of a deeply longed for future, Shi’s were of a gloried past. They weren’t meant to show him where he and the Clan could go, but instead were a roadmap of how he got to where he was now. A path of blood and bone, trod under his booted sole.
“You...thought to tempt a dead man,” Shi spat through bared teeth. “I have no need for your promises..!” Whether the bold pronouncement was for show or if it were true, Dantella couldn’t tell, but what was sure was that Shi seemed to gain strength from it. She watched his struggles cease and the sword steady itself. Like Dantella’s failed probes from before, the specter had no purchase within the Korun’s fractured mind; what it attacked was the totality of a man who, like Invictus, was irrevocably tied to conflict, this much was true.
But what was also true was that Revelation had always been used to impose Ferran’s will, and those who would fall before him would marvel at what he seemed to accomplish using the weapon, but not at the man who wielded it. The ‘ends and means’ of Ferran’s life were grossly misunderstood by his sword’s would-be possessors, focusing on it instead of the warrior himself. The understanding at the core of that dichotomy was what bound Ferran to the blade, and Shi and the other Obelisk to Ferran.
The Long invoked this understanding now.
“I am..Shi Long!” he exclaimed, and the specter seemed to thrash more violently. “I am strife, made flesh!” The others, newly witnessed to this side of their friend watched in shocked silence. Shi seemed to be channeling something from deep within him, something just as ancient and primal as the magic that spawned the thing that now was being drawn into the sword, filling the dark runes running down the spine of the accursed blade.
Shi continued, his shoulders bunching and his back straightening. “My forebearer - Ferran - was strong, and I am strong. You were made for him, to be used. But me?” Shi Long pulled the sword free from the floor. “They make things like you because of me!” He bellowed, throwing his head back, his eyes wild and wearing the wide smile of the insane. A sudden rush of wind matched his fury as the oily guardian was drawn up into the sword, unable to resist the truth within Shi’s words and his core. The same truth that resided once within Ferran.
“My strength flows from within, not from some talisman,” the Obelisk spat in disgust, trying to calm himself. He held the sword and looked from Troutrooper to Invictus’ barely stirring form. “Where others have spent lifetimes looking to use your power, I have spent mine so that I would have no need of it. And like your master before me, I can lay you down.”
He swallowed, closing his eyes and taking a few more calming lungfuls of air. When they opened, they were locked on the Consul. “But, not yet.”
“Marick, get over here now!” Atyiru yelled.
The Consul walked numbly towards the group that had gathered around Invictus. Each step was reluctant. He knew what would happen when he got there. He would have to face the truth. For the first time in years, Marick Arconae was scared.
Off to the side, Shi Long kept a two handed grip on Revelation, his willpower and pride keeping the devilish blade contained to its metallic prison.
“The wounds are not healing,” Atyiru said, her voice small. “I...I don’t know why, everything I try isn’t working. The amount of b-b-blood loss is...Marick I don’t-”
The group parted as Marick knelt down next to the closest thing he had to a true friend in the world. His face looked sickly, devoid of the healthy flourish his handsome glow typically cast. His eyes were hollow and empty.
“There...there might be a way,” Dantella said from the side.
“You knew this would happen, didn’t you?” Marick said flatly. His voice lacked its typical even-keeled steadiness and felt strained.
“No, the words. I didn’t... I didn’t want... I swear-” she stammered.
Marick sneered as he rose to his feet, emotions flowing freely as the Dark Side enveloped him. With blurring speed and an unholy strength, the Hapan grabbed hold of the Umbaran and threw her down onto her back. In the same flowing motion he drew one of his lightsabers, ignited the blade and held it hovering over her slender neck, his knee pinning one arm to her side.
“You knew!” the Consul yelled.
“LIAR!” Marick cried as he leaned into his lightsaber. Before he could, he felt something slippery on his shoulder that gave him pause. Turning his head, he saw that Troutrooper had moved over to him.
“Killing her won’t bring him back, Marick,” the Elder spoke in a somber, watery tone. “She said she knows a way that might.”
Marick’s body trembled with rage, muscles quivering as moisture leaked from the corners of his eyes. He felt something then: a subtle yet soothing presence. He looked over and saw Atyiru clutching the pendant he had given her over her chest. Seeing her without a smile on her face chipped away at the fury swelling within. He had told her never to alter his emotions, but for once he realized how much he had taken her abilities for granted.
The Consul moved off of Dantella, but kept his saber activated.
“Alright. Explain yourself. Now.” Marick said as he let himself slowly fall back into Deadheart. He had already broken his promise once. He couldn’t do it again by abandoning them now.
“Arcona won sovereign over Bhargebba during your crusade against the One Sith, correct?” Dantella said slowly and carefully.
Troutrooper coughed into a flipper. The skin around the corners of Marick’s eyes tightened.
“Yes, we have access to the planet.”
“The Forge of Loka Dan is there, is it not?”
“Yes...” Marick said, skepticism creeping into his tone.
“If we bring the sword there, we could use the fires within to reshape the sword and destroy the malevolent spirit that haunts the blade. There is a type of alchemy my former Master studied called Soul-binding. With ancient blades like this, they were as powerful as they were because of the binding between the weapon and a soul. By replacing the original soul bound to the blade, we could ‘reforge’ the blade into a true weapon, guided by the spirit of one loyal to his friends.”
The team listened and for the first time on their entire mission, no one made a wise remark.
“That’s all well and good,” Shi long said from off to the side. “But it doesn’t bring Invictus back to us.”
The words cut through the group, each with their own reaction to the realization. Marick’s fist balled at his side, knuckles turning white.
“No, it does not,” Dantella said as she wiped moisture away from the corner of her eye with a sleeve. “It will purge the spirit that did this to him though into the ether, and he can live on through each of you.”
There was a silence that fell over the team. All eyes turned once again towards Marick.
“Alright, let’s get moving then-”
A string of Mandalorian curses cut the Consul off as Teroch returned from his scouting.
“We have company, we need to-” Teroch saw the body on the floor. The youth’s face wrinkled as his mouth opened but no words came out. “What the...”
“I’ll explain-” Trouty started to say, but was cut off by Marick’s curtness.
“What is it?”
“Well, we’ve got company,” the youth said as he knelt down next to Atyiru. “Looks like the others have found their way here. We need to move, fast.”
Marick let himself sink lower into Deadheart, pushing aside emotion so that he could focus his mind on the task at hand. Bit by bit, a plan formulated in his head as he looked from each of the members of his team. They continued to talk, no doubt filling Teroch in, but to Marick it was all just wind. He breathed in and then exhaled slowly through his nose, lifting his head to address the others.
“We need to get the sword and Invictus out of here. The only way we can do this is to split up. Teroch, Shi, Atyiru, Dantella, you are going to take the sword and rendezvous with the Nighthawk, which will be our only chance of getting you all to Bhargebba. Once there, do whatever you have to do to ensure the sword is taken care of and the soul-binding is completed,” the Hapan spoke mechanically, his tone leaving no room for question or comment.
“And what of us,” Troutrooper inquired.
“We have our own role to play,” Marick explained. “Trouty, do you think you have a good enough image of Revelation to create a convincing illusion?”
The Mon Cal thought for a moment then nodded. “Yes, but it would help if I had a base of which to build the illusion on.”
Marick leaned down and gingerly pulled Invictus’ Sapphire Blade free from it’s sheath. He held the blade in hand and studied it, his resolve threatening to crack yet again as he looked down at his dying friend. Shaking his head, he handed the blade to Troutrooper. “Will this serve?”
“Yes,” Trouty replied with another nod.
“One problem, how do we get out of here?” Teroch asked.
“I know the way,” Dantella spoke, continuing at their mistrustful, wounded gazes. “Without the blade, I cannot be free. Your goal and mine remain the same.”
“Alright. Get going. Trouty and I will distract them as long as we can,” Marick said, turning his back on his friends and moving with Troutrooper over towards the statue.
Teroch hefted Invcitus’ body over a shoulder with augmented strength, Atyiru close to his side to offer support. They looked back at Marick one last time before following Dantella out of the antechamber.
“You’re putting a lot of faith in them,” Trouty explained once the team had cleared the room.
“If I can’t believe in them, what else do I have, Trouty?” the Hapan replied in earnest.
“Well said, my friend,” Trouty said with a nod.
Marick drove the Sapphire Blade into the statue. He then took the discarded hand of Ferran-- which still had maintained basic malleable form despite years of entombment--and set it around the hilt. Stepping back, he turned to Trouty and nodded. The Elder stepped forward and began to slowly weave a web of deceit around the blade. Fragment by fragment, the illusion fell into place, the Sapphire Blade transforming into the very likeness of Revelation.
Dantella Novae ran. She fixed her path in her mind’s eye and paid heed only to its direction. She did not think of the twin possibilities of freedom or torment she was running towards, or the pain and mistakes she was running from. She did not think at all. She merely let her footsteps and the footsteps of those behind her be the drumbeats of doom that spurred her forward.
Run, was her only thought, while the rest of her mind lay, for a time amidst the simple motions of flesh, paralyzed into silence. When the tears returned to her eyes there was no reflection behind them; she simply wept long and journeyed on.
The traps outlined in history’s memory were undone, or already-triggered, or simply...gone. They faced no more obstacles, none but the darkness and the dirge of their feet and hearts. On and on it went, through halls and haunts, rumble rife around them, and if blood splattered the ground, if they ferried a corpse through the sepulcher, none gave attention to it.
Then, light ahead--
They burst onto the surface, birthed by the gaping maw of a ruined archway from a womb of shadow into an alight and agonized world. The red sky stretched out above them, pink-tinged clouds of smoke hanging in the atmosphere from the night’s battles standing in relief against the glare of the purifying dawn. The long night over Xlopora had passed. They were free, though they did not hold freedom.
For a fleeting moment, everyone stilled. Teroch went to his knee, breath heaving in great gasps from his corpse-bearer’s sprint. Atyiru knelt at his side, keening softly, and took Invictus’ deathly form from the Adept’s shoulders, cradling him in her arms. Shi stood under the archway on the precipice of damnation and salvation and held Revelation away from his body in quiet revulsion.
Dantella took a single step forward, pale countenance fixed on the rising, sanguine sun that warmed her face and dried her eyes, and breathed deeply.
I see, now…
“Move,” Shi’s voice urged them, for once not dallying pleasantly to savour life, but hurrying to preserve the honor of it. He brooked no compassion or pause. “Get up, Teroch. Radio the Nighthawk. Both of you, get up. We have to go.”
“For Ashla and Bogan’s sake, can’t we mourn for a moment?” Atyiru cried, clutching at their comrade’s dying body as Teroch grit his teeth and wobbled to his feet, tabbing his comm unit.
“The enemy will be on us any moment,” Dantella found herself saying. “We’ll never be free if we don’t escape now.”
The other woman scoffed but shifted Invictus into a soldier’s carry over her shoulders and got to her feet without further argument.
“‘Hawk, come in, ‘hawk,” Teroch was saying into his comm. “We need immediate extraction at this location. You hear me? Immediate extraction. Prep the medbay. Frak, prep everything. Just get over here!”
When a small, quicksilver ship melted out of the sky and materialized distantly overhead minutes later, Dantella exhaled once more and half-closed her eyes. No more of the past of this place touched her mind. No more did the shadows cackle just out of sight. They were right in front of her. They were behind her. They were gone.
Perhaps...perhaps they were never there at all…
She boarded the stealth vessel amidst a flurry of Arconans and knew that, somehow, in some way, at the end of all this, she would be free. Even if it was not in the manner she had anticipated.
Yes...now I see…
Xlopora City Ruins
“Look! Up ahead!” a voice shouted as footfalls echoed. “There it is!”
The voices gained bodies as a cadre of Dark Jedi stormed into the antechamber, weapons drawn. At their head was a man with pale skin, pale red armor, and tattoos patterned all over his face. After Horizons, there were few who did not know of Macron Sadow, former Consul of Clan Naga Sadow.
“Arconans,” he sneered, as he stalked towards the dais on which Marick and Troutrooper stood. “I don’t know how you managed to snake your way here before me, but stand aside.”
“We arrived here first, Macron,” Marick replied calmly. While the Sadowan was an Elder, Marick technically outranked him as an acting Consul.
“You think the two of you can stand against the might of Sadow?” As the madman spoke, Roxas, Maelous, and Shirai stepped closer, lightsabers humming ominously.
Troutrooper shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. However, I think you weren’t the only ones to figure out the path here.”
Macron spun and sneered as a team of Jedi made their way into the antechamber.
“I thought I smelled a gathering of the Dark Side,” their leader spoke from behind a mane of white-grey hair and a full beard that lent to his age. At his side, a colorful A'lora Kituri mimicked that smile. Marick also noted a familiar form lingering just behind.
“Nice of you to join us, Sanguinius,” Marick called. The former Arconan had served under Marick as a Quaestor and leader for years. His recent departure for Odan Urr had left questions on both ends of the spectrum. Still, he could see that Sang was one of the few people who was not surprised to see that Arcona had reached the platform.
“So, how do you want to play this, Macron?” Troutrooper asked, stepping forward calmly with his hands folded behind his back. Both he and Marick had yet to draw their weapons. “An all out melee? Are you willing to gamble on who the Jedi decide to support?”
Macron giggled in response, and then started laughing. “Jedi, really? Hah! I will make each of you my personal pets. Oh, the things we could learn from cutting open those Jedi skulls...”
Marick sighed softly. The Son of Sadow really was insane.
“Hm, well this is less than ideal,” a sudden voice filled the entire chamber. The collection of Dark and Light Jedi looked around for the source of the voice. It materialized in the form of a lone figure clad in all black. He wore a mask to conceal his face, but nothing concealed the sheer weight of his presence in the Force.
“You see, I find myself in need of the sword which you all seek. And you are all standing in my way. Oh, is that an Arconae I see?” The voice was made just as haunting thanks to the robotic tone that shrouded it.
The Jedi peeled back as the Sith Lord made his way forward. Muscles tensed, but no one made a move against the One Sith mastermind. No one but Macron, whose anger had bubbled beyond control.
“You. This is all your fault. You sent the plague, and the war! I will hang you from your entrails and feed your blood to my subjects!” the Son sneered as he ignited his lightsaber and threw himself at the Sith Lord.
Esoteric didn’t halt his walk forward. He did, however, raise one hand. Macron crashed into an invisible wall of energy and found himself hurtling backwards through the air. His body cracked into the granite walls of the antechamber with a loud grunt. Esoteric continued to walk towards the dais.
“Ah, yes, Arconae indeed. I just helped relieve you of one your own, did I not?” Esoteric inquired calmly as he stopped at the base of the dais and looked up.
“You killed Orv,” Marick said evenly, matching the Sith Lord’s tone perfectly. He wasn’t about to rise to the bait, though. “You will pay for it. Soon.”
Esoteric laughed. He took the steps of the dais one by one. “Step aside, boy, I have no desire to add another Arconae to my list.”
“Suit yourself,” Marick said with a nonchalant shrug. He hopped off the dais, Troutrooper joining him.
“Thank you,” Esoteric said, but then paused. He looked at the sword entombed within the statute. Really looked at it this time. Something was wrong. With a sneer, he waved his hand across the statute, and the illusion faded away. There was no ancient sword of untapped power: Just a rounded, ordinary hilt with a sapphire-hued blade.
“What have you done with the sword, boy?” Esoteric turned, his anger bubbling through the Force. “Do you have any idea of the forces and affairs you are meddling with?”
Troutrooper answered this time, shrugging both flippers. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Realization trickled to the rest of the Brotherhood members gathered. The sword was gone. Their efforts had been in vain.
“Fools! I will personally make you pay-”
A cacophony of lightsabers springing to life filled the antechamber in response. The collective might of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood, for once, stood united against a common foe. All the pain and suffering they had each suffered over the long crusade against the One Sith had been a result of this masked man.
“You just don’t get it, do you,” another voice called out. It carried the weight of power earned, not granted. Jac Cotelin gave body to the voice as he stepped into the antechamber, flanked on either side by Keirdagh Taldrya Cantor and Halcyon Rokir Taldrya. All sabers were now lit, except for the former Grand Master’s.
“The Brotherhood has held together longer than you’ve been playing at these games, Esoteric. And it will continue to live on long after you’re gone,” Cotelin said evenly, his voice carrying easily through the hushed chamber.
“You know nothing, Cotelin,” Esoteric spat as he stormed towards the Grand Master, his Force signature flaring.
Jac leapt forward, lightsaber springing to life, ready to meet the Sith Lord face to face. He made a quick cross-cut at Esoteric’s midsection, but the blade passed right through him. Esoteric phazed out in a ripple of light, then materialized on the far side of the room. His figure appeared for only a heartbeat before becoming enveloped in shadow disappearing from view.
Keirdagh growled and turned to follow, but Halcyon placed a hand on his shoulder. The former Deputy Grand Master shook his head.
Jac disengaged his saber and sighed. He noticed Marick and Troutrooper standing side by side, watching the exchange quietly.
“So, you’re Marick,” he said calmly, walking towards the Arconan Consul.
“At your service, Lord Cotelin,” Marick replied easily. He didn’t bow or make any other gesture, however.
“Clever trick, Trout,” Jac nodded to his former fellow Dark Councilor.
“It was the boy’s idea,” the Mon Cal replied with a shrug.
Jac nodded, then turned his full attention to Marick. “What did you do with the sword? Do you have any idea how long we’ve been searching for it?”
AVG Nighthawk, en route to the Kamat Krote Hyperlane
For such a small ship, there was quite a bit of chaos. Crewmen scrambled about, all chattering at each other or into their comms, and the whole ship hummed and shuddered whenever the weapons fired. The world pitched and whorled as whomever piloted the craft spun it in a deathly evasive maneuver.
Dantella gripped some convenient hand-holds on the wall and listened to voices cut through the maelstrom.
“Get me in contact with the medbay, now!” Atyiru was barking at a pair of mundanes that brought a stretcher, bearing Invictus’ fatal frame onto it. “Maaks! Trauma incoming! Need transfusions and fluids, now--”
Another Miraluka appeared, this one male. He touched Teroch’s arm briefly in passing before moving alongside Atyiru and the other running medics. “What’ve we got--”
They were all gone a moment later, disappearing around a corner. Dantella stood numbly for a moment, getting jostled by ship movements and scurrying people alike, at a loss as the Chiss’ body was carried out of sight.
Focus, she reminded herself after a moment, hoisting her robes and hurrying after Teroch and Shi Long as they stormed up the the bridge. My master needs--
My master will kill me.
Dantella knew it. What the Arconans were doing, what she was helping them do, it wasn’t what Master Ashen wanted. He wanted Revelation not...not whatever this was becoming.
What the sword’s becoming? Damn the sword. What am I becoming? she thought wearily, suddenly aware of the tiredness in her bones. I could stop this now, take Revelation and go...I could bring Master Ashen the newly-forged blade, and explain its similar power...I could...what? Think, think, the Umbaran pondered as more orders rang out around her.
“Arcia! Dammit, woman, where are you?” Teroch was shouting. A pretty human with shock-colored, dark hair framing her face slid out from under a console, green eyes hard and sharp.
“Doing my job, boy!” she barked back, irritation plain before she turned cool. “Everyone’s at their stations, sir, and Valkish assures us we've got supplies for just about anything. Orders?”
“What do you think? Get us the frak out of here! Engage the cloaking drive! Uji, open comms! Contact the ’Abyss II. Celahir, I wanted an update on the other Clouses yesterday. Kalon--” he cut off as the ship pitched sharply forward in a dive. After a moment he resumed, spitting a string of Mandalorian invectives. “Yo, di’kut, plot a course for Bhargebba, not the damn ground!”
The ship dived again. “What was that? I didn’t quite hear you, sir,” a helmeted man yelled from the cockpit.
“Cut the kriff!” Arcia chided them all.
"Headed for the Descri Wris now, bossy--ahem, boss-lady."
Dantella found it in herself to roll her eyes. Arcona is clearly a Clan of misfits. Complete and utter fools, the lot of them…
“Someone get Nath and Naradas up here. We’ve got a prisone--,” Teroch paused. “--An aide for them to watch; and tell Nath to be gentle.”
Dantella narrowed her eyes at the youth. If nothing else, her pride remained. “I am an avatar of the Dark Side, child. I could make your entire crew my puppets. I won’t be treated any lesser.”
“Just try it, you haar’chak--”
“I’m not going to fight you, boy,” the Umbaran snapped. “My objective is the sword, in whatever form. Now be silent and follow your orders, little pup.”
She could see how he ground his teeth, see the anger in his eyes; but he merely turned about and resumed his captain’s duties. Dantella sighed and observed the rest of the goings-on, watching Shi Long stand with Revelation in his grasp out of the corner of her eye.
My objective is the sword, she repeated to herself, pushing away the honest thoughts of freedom that had run so liberally through her mind amidst the madness and grief of Xolpora.
“Preparing to jump to the hyperspace in three, two, one…” the pilot announced, as the stars blurred out the windows, so much like her convictions.
Dantella closed her eyes, and waited.
When she opened them again after an untold measure of time, the lurid surface of Bhargebba loomed out the viewports, and the question of her fate, of all their fates, loomed with it.
Xolpora City, Bosthirdia
Marick met the former Grand Master’s eyes unflinchingly. “It cost me one of my brothers, sir. And quite frankly, I don’t give a damn how long you searched for it. Regardless, it’s gone now. Do what you wish to me, it will not change anything.”
Keirdagh grunted, obviously having a contrary point of view. Jac simply nodded. “Very well.” He turned to the rest of the Brotherhood members gathered.
“Further bloodshed would go against our goal. Feel as you wish towards each other or Ashen, but know that you are all part of the Brotherhood. Don’t forget that.”
With that, the former Grand Master made his exit, Halcyon and Keirdagh trailing.
Bhargebba, Esstran Sector
Above the Forge of Loka Dan
Bright sunlight lit the somber party, a dozen strong, as they came to a stop amidst a grassy field on the lush world’s northern continent. It struck a discordant melody, incongruous with the looks of suspicion and dejection that flittered alternately across the faces arrayed before the Umbaran Adept. For her part, Dantella just shook her head, hood slipping off her bald scalp and falling flat against the shoulders of her cloak. She turned away from the group - and the travois they carried among them - and her eyes sought out the depression in the grass that marked the hidden entrance to the Forge.
“Dwomumidwannu,” she murmured, half under her breath.
The ground trembled beneath them, its rumble chasing the solemnity from the sheltered land and punctuating the opening of the vault beneath them. Synthstone retreated, revealing rough hewn steps leading down into the maw. The Adept strode forward without pause, feigning a confidence that had long since fled. When I get back to Antei, Ashen is going to have my ribcage for a coat rack…
The Arconans followed a few meters behind Dantella, their footfalls echoing around her as she descended into the bowels of the earth. Despite its recent scouring by the Dark Council, the chambers in which she found herself smelled stale, filled with an unused air that testified to millennia of undisturbed abandonment. She reached the bottom of the staircase and stepped off onto the smooth faux stone below, absentmindedly kicking an overturned crate out of her way. The discarded container skidded across the floor, overturning a pile of refuse in the corner and coming to an abrupt halt against the wall, jarring a cloud of dust into the already-musty air. The scientist shook her head at the sight, bridling at the thought of the previously grand complex fallen into such disarray. Over her shoulder, she heard the fiery Mandalorian whelp passing orders to his team.
“There’s nothing left here to fret over. It’s been ransacked by your...by our...Masters. Only their agents would treat a site of this magnitude with such impiety.”
Teroch ignored her, continuing to issue commands that they maintain their guard within the Forge. The Umbaran shrugged off the disregard. It had grown disturbingly common place over the course of their mission. Once the sword is reforged and bent to my will, we’ll see how his tune changes. She found solace in the thoughts of retribution as she strode towards the single doorway, inset within the wall opposite the staircase.
The former One Sith felt a gathering of energy within the chamber and the door retracted soundlessly at her approach, testament to the longevity of the Sith sorcery with which the structure had been imbued. Dantella passed through the doorway and, heedless of the antechamber beyond, redoubled her stride. The clacking of her booted soles against the synthstone played counterpoint to the lockstep of the group trailing in her wake, and the gargantuan entryway before her opened onto the Forge proper.
Shallow steps led up to the top of an ancient balustrade, and the Umbaran’s quick stride soon gained the top, where she stopped before a stone outcropping. The abutment’s top - too smooth to be natural - was polished to a high gloss. She laid Revelation upon it, and turned in a full circle, surveying the sweep of the Forge around her. The Arconans marched behind her, carrying the bier-bound body of their fallen comrade.
Crimson light reflected from the molten rock beyond the low wall, painting the stone a menacing hue and washing out the color of the Chiss’ cerulean skin. They laid his still form at her feet and backed away slowly, as if reluctant to grant the few meters distance necessary for her to complete her work in peace. They had changed his clothing on the way to Bhargebba, and had crossed his hands over his chest. His right held the lightsaber he’d carried for so many years, and the left his remaining Sapphire Dagger. The pose bespoke his martial heritage, and the shallow rise and fall of his chest twined with the calmness of his expression to evince the order he’d always championed. She shook her head, dismissing the sentimentality, and turned back towards the sword. Its silver blade gleamed in the red light, as if stained by the blood of the thousands it had slain, and a smile played across the Umbaran’s pale lips at the thought of what she was about to attempt. It would be a masterwork of alchemy and biological manipulation.
If it works.
She drew the Dark Side to her, the Force coalescing around her as if a shawl drawn about her shoulders, and spread her awareness throughout the chamber. The Forge pulsed in time with the beat of anger within her, and it was clear its power centered on the on the makeshift anvil upon which the sword rested. She could feel the stares of the Arconans like targets upon her back and she knew she needed to keep them distracted while she determined exactly how to accomplish her goal. The spirit of Ferran, while powerful, was far from malleable. If she was to retain the sword’s strength, while bending it to her will, a great deal of delicacy would be required.
Something to entertain the peasants, then, she thought, beginning a nonsensical chant in the same Sith dialect she had used above to unlock the tomb’s entrance.
She reached out with her mind, a probing tendril of energy gently brushing the stone outcropping. Even expecting a reaction, the violent surge of hatred backfeeding through the probe left her shocked, and she struggled to continue chanting. Before she could lose her nerve, the Adept reached out with a second streamer, laying it upon Revelation’s pommel. The current of rage surged, threatening to scour her mind free of her consciousness, and she reacted on instinct, before the powerful emotions could subsume her. A final tendril of the Force lashed onto the base of Invictus’ scalp, and a cry of protestation ripped itself from his blue lips. The shout shocked the fallen Sith’s clanmates into action, and they moved forward as one, intent on stopping her machinations.
You’re too late, she thought derisively, as she felt the current of Force go to ground within the sword. Parsecs and ages too late. Before they could rip the convulsing body from the bier, she lifted it with the Force and threw the newly-made corpse - along with the weapon itself - into the roiling river of magma that surrounded the Forge.
Shi Long leapt forward, vengeful intent writ clearly on his bronzed features, and drew his lightsaber. He took a single step, then a sharp clap shook the chamber, its concussion throwing the Arconans from their feet. They fell in a jumble of limbs and equipment, and a small smile played across Dantella’s lips. Connected as she was to the Forge, she had felt the transmutation of the sword. She turned away from the group, and a swift tug with the Force pulled it from below the surface of the molten rock. It landed softly in her outstretched hand, cool despite its recent submersion.
She spun on her heel, looking back towards the Arconans and brandishing the reforged sword menacingly. Wisps of inky darkness trailed from its black blade as she turned. Even as she held it still before her, interposed between her would-be attackers and herself, the weapon seemed to exude shadows of smoke from it’s single, menacingly-curved edge. A fatal glimmer filled her white eyes, and she took a moment to savor the obvious unease of the group arrayed before her. Even as he regained his footing, Teroch’s eyes stared hungrily at the blade. Shi Long, likewise, fixated on the sword - though his own gaze was one of wariness. The others, too, locked eyes on it, varying degrees of unease and greed apparent on their faces. Only the Miralukan healer appeared immune to the blade’s pull, instead focusing her blind attentions on the Umbaran Adept.
Dantella, despite knowing full-well the power of Ferran’s spirit and the purpose of the Forge, found herself surprised at the sword’s apparently unscathed form. It bore not a scratch, nor did a single disfigurement marr the inky length of its blade; and its hilt was startlingly cool to the touch. In fact, it seemed to chill even as she held it, a cold rage to rival any the One Sith had personally known. With growing suspicion, she felt the icy hatred leak into her veins, and snow white glyphs seemed to etch themselves outwards from within the core of the sword. A growl grew deep within her as she focused her intent onto the blade, struggling to bend it to her will. For all her machinations, she had never considered that she might prove unequal to mastering the blade’s spirit. And yet, as she battered her intentions against its own pulsating rejections, she felt an implacable bulwark of resolve deny her attempts.
The chill grew, unabated, and she felt the icy claws of frostbite dig into the tips of her fingers as she forced them to grip the protesting pommel. Finally, the cold ripping a maddened gasp from her throat, her fingers flew open. The blade tumbled towards the floor - and stopped in mid-air. It wobbled momentarily, then seemed to leap into Atyiru’s waiting hand. She looked at it, perplexed, head inclining as if to study the length of it, despite her sightlessness. Her fellow Arconans followed suit, each studying the unexpected changes in the weapon. And though none of them could read the Cheunh glyphs that were slowly fading from the blade’s surface, there was no doubt as to what they said.
Dantella, looking down at the triumphant Arconans, groaned internally. Lord Ashen is not going to be pleased with the new blade.
Atyiru looked away from the sword and back to the Adept. “You should be careful when playing with such sharp toys. If you drop them, you’re liable to get cut.” Before the Umbaran could muster a reply, the uppity Krath had already dismissed her, turning to address her companions. “C’mon. Let’s get this back to Marick. At least he’ll have gained something from all of this - assuming the Grand Master doesn’t try to take it as well.”
They started towards the still open entryway, and it was all the Miraluka could do to conceal her shock as a voice spoke up in her mind. Hello, it murmured cheerfully. Would you like to right some wrongs today?
Welcome home, she thought in response. If the Dark Council does try to confiscate you, they’ll have a bit of a surprise waiting for them…
The Dark Hall, Antei
The Dark Council, when united as one, reminded those that stood against them of the true strength of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood. Standing shoulder to shoulder in concave, it also showcased the wide range of sentient beings that had, despite their varying cultures and beliefs, united under a single banner to establish a common goal. The Justicar and Master at Arms, farthest to the left, kept their arms folded across their chests. Beside them, Headmaster Solari glowed from within the core of his droid-encased body. To his right, Baxir, Orv’s mysterious replacement as Herald, kept his hands behind his back. On the other side of the lineup, farthest to the right, Fist Valhavoc held a similar posture.
At their center, Grand Master Muz Ashen was flanked by his Elomin Shadow Hand, known simply as ‘Raken’, and Voice of the Brotherhood Darth Pravus. For this gathering, all their collective attention seemed to be focused on the man standing before them.
Marick Arconae met each of the Councilors’ gazes unflinchingly. The Consul was no stranger to any of these men, and despite being called before them to answer for his actions, fear was the farthest thing from his mind. He had taken the time to change into his more formal Shadeborn robes; the soot, grime, and dried blood of his battle had long since been washed away.
“Consul Marick Arconae,” Darth Pravus announced for the sake of decorum. He had forgone his Mandalorian armor in favor of his white robes trimmed with gold, revealing the hardened face of one who had transcended a threshold most men could only dream of achieving.
Marick dropped to one knee and bowed his head, then rose back to his feet, standing tall. In his hands he bore the true subject of today's meeting: what had formerly been Revelation, the lost sword of Ferran.
“Lord Cotelin has informed us of the events that took place below the surface of Xolpora City. Is it true that you were confronted with the One Sith known as ‘Esoteric’?”
Marick nodded firmly.
“And is it true, then, that you were able to recover Revelation prior to this engagement?” the Voice continued, his voice crisp and sharp as a sword of diamond.
“We were,” Marick replied evenly. “At a grave cost.”
“And is it true, then, that you disobeyed orders and - instead of bringing the blade to the Dark Council, as instructed - you took your own measures to keep the blade from us?” Pravus’ face revealed neither frustration nor nonchalance. It was an impassive, emotionless visage that would make a stone statue blush.
“I did. The blade needed to be tamed. It was something that would have destroyed any who wielded it. It was a risk I could not take. You are all far too valuable to have lost.”
There ensued a mixture of murmurs and at least one scoff. Marick continued, heedless of the interjections. “I did what I felt was the only logical progression, and utilized my resources to achieve it.” The Consul took the blade and held it out for all to see, wielding it easily in a one handed grip. “The blade has been reforged without the curse it once carried. However, I believe that my Clan has more than earned the right to carry this relic.”
The Councilors broke out into discussion, but were quieted by a single raised hand. The Lion of Tarthos stepped forward, his dark eyes meeting Marick’s.
“That is not your decision to make, Marick.” the Grand Master spoke calmly despite the severity of the situation.
Marick let a rare flash of emotion show as he grit his teeth, twirled the blade in hand and stabbed it into the ground between him and the Grand Master. It sunk into the durasteel plating as if it were fresh soil.
“I beg to differ, sir,” the Hapan said as the blade began to glow with an ardent light, tethering it to his hand.
“Enough of my family has suffered for this crusade of yours. Arcona stands as a symbol of the Brotherhood’s power no matter what task you throw at us. We earned this.”
Ashen said nothing, his eyes remaining locked on Marick. There were none present who that the Grand Master could dispose of Marick without a thought. It would be as simple as swatting an insect from his shoulder.
“Very well. Revelation will reside in the possession of Clan Arcona.”
The Grand Master nodded to Marick in dismissal, and the Hapan pulled the blade free. Its glow faded as he turned and strode towards the grand entryway. He stopped, just before the door, and looked back over his shoulder at the assembled Council.
“It’s name, Lord Ashen, is Invicta.”