The Kyataran first moon rose over the Amahara Castle, the pale sliver of light showering the guards below as they went about their paces. Hachiro hefted his spear as he walked the outer wall, the blaster at his side banging into his knee as he walked. The Castle Guard had been mostly outmoded, replaced by the sentinels of the Nihilgenia except for a few dozen, their families having served as royal guards for generations and kept on as a relic, reminders for the tourists, Hachiro thought.
The young soldier straightened his cuirass, the silk rolls glistening in the dim light as he moved. The late night patrol was always quiet, had always been for years, except for that one night last year, when the Keibatsu came home. Even then, the Guardsmen knew and had left for the night, leaving the corrupt usurper to to reap what he had sowed.
Even so, there was something amiss, the night was even more silent than it should have been. Hachiro paused mid-step, his eyes searching the landscape for what seemed wrong. Slowly, the realization dawned on him, his mouth gaping as he ran to the guard post.
Kazahide swore as he lowered himself into the seat before the communications array, tapping out the code on the console before him. He had never had to use the machine before, but the situation somehow warranted it. His lords would want to know of this, and Kazahide hoped and prayed that the black-eyed demon wouldn't blame him.
The black lion of the Lord filled the screen, and Kazahide went over the words he would say again. The image faded and the image of Muz Keibatsu Sadow replaced it.
"My lord, I bear bad news..."
The holonet flickered on, the violet tones casting across the expensive apartment on Coruscant. Shin'Ichi and his student looked up for a moment, the sudden motion catching their attention away from their planning.
Shin grumbled as he rose to his feet, stepping away from the blueprints of the Banking Clan outpost and making his way around the couch towards the purple screen. Macron tittered to himself as he spun the contol module for the explosive device he had been working on in his hand.
Shin cursed under his breath. "The Kuroshin Holonet." Shin pushed a chair out of the way as he moved. "There must be something wrong."
Manji spun around, the bokuto flashing past the Aedile's head. The look of surprise faded quickly from Shikyo's face, supressed as he forced his muscles to return the blow. Manji danced aside the stroke easily, a half-smile playing across his face as he watched his little brother learn.
"Getting better, otouto." Manji batted aside the Sith's return stroke, clipping his brother aside the chin half-heartedly. "But still not good enough."
The door whooshed open, the young silver-haired Raven standing in the opening, his eyes watching the pair continue through their training exercises. He coughed lightly, alerting the pair to his presence.
Shikyo bounced backwards, away from the twin blades of the One-Eyed Dragon. "What's up, Raven?"
Raven nodded at the pair, then stepped into the room. "We're blinking."
Manji looked down, the small communicators on their belts blinking purple, the alert waiting for them to respond. Raven held his in his hand, the Priest having been issued one when he joined the Herald's staff. "This is the first time I've gotten this..."
Manji muttered to himself. Shikyo pulled the item from his waist, flipping it open slowly. "It's not a good thing, generally."
Ashia sat in the center of the circle, the dark violet carpeting soft against her legs as she stared out into the endless night of space, trying to quiet her mind aboard the Fallen Spear.
Disturbed from her rest by a sudden movement, her cerulean eyes flashed open as she realized that the ship was moving. Rising slowly to her feet, the Knight turned from the restful room and made her way down the lift to the Bridge, the doors opening before her to see the Herald talking with Blackwind and her son, Sanjuro. Sildrin's shuttle hovered on the viewscreen beyond them, one of the neverborn sending her the clearance to dock with the Keibatsu warship.
"What did I miss?" Ashia shook her head, her long hair flipping slowly as she sauntered forward.
Muz turned slowly, concern playing across his face.
"We have to go home."
The Autochthonian ship set down on the broken tower of the Amahara castle, the brothers filing out like they had done a year ago, moving silently in the night toward the doorway they had infiltrated last time. Shikyo opened the gate, this time a touch anxious as he peered around the corner, half expecting another tengu.
They stepped quickly and silently through the winding passageways, the man known as Kazahide joining them and leading them along. even hushed whispers failed to pass between them, the gloom and fear spinning through their minds as they dissected the information they had collected so far.
Kazahide led them through the corridors to the front gate. The portcullis opened slowly, their eyes adjusting to the dim lighting of the courtyard.
Mouths gaped and eyes stared.
"My gods..." Muz's voice finally cut the tension.
Rows upon rows of spears stood outside the gates of Amahara castle, each spear capped by a black and violet helm, blood spattered across them and the wood beneath them. Thousands of the remains of the Nihilgenia maintained their silent watch.
Sanjuro's eyes glazed over, turning to look at his father.
Teeth bared across the line, Muz's fist clenching tightly as he stared up at the bloodied helms. Suddenly a loud snarl of pure fury tore from the lips of his brother, the One-Eyed Dragon, as Manji strode forward and smashed a fist through the shaft of the nearest spear, catching the helm as it fell towards him. Placing it upon the ground, Manji turned and smashed through several more spears furiously, determined to give the heads of the legion a proper burial.
Shaking his head, Muz stepped forward and grabbed the Epis by the shoulder.
"Manji, there's too many of them."
Throwing his brother off, the Epis continued to smash through and pull down spears, his one eye narrowed in anger.
"They served us faithfully until death- the least we can do is give them a proper burial."
With a sigh, Muz turned away and signalled to Kazahide.
"Detail a team of ten guards to get rid of these heads."
Grabbing Manji again, the Adept pulled him out of the forest of spears and stared at him, mutilated black eyes staring into the Epis' single good eye.
"We'll get revenge, bro. I swear it."
Fingers drummed on the briefing table as Muz paced around it, stroking his goatee. Breaking the tense silence, Shin'ichi spoke up, his voice twisting with disgust.
"Suukou Bodai. Those bastards have gone too far. Frackin' anarchists."
Shaking his head slightly, Muz frowned.
"I don't know if it is their work... seems more extreme than anything they'd do. And besides, how would they have the power to slaughter so many of the Nihilgenia? They've just been a minor nuisance up until now."
Sitting forwards, Macron spoke up.
"Manji and myself had a run-in with some assassins lately who were affiliated with the Suukou Bodai, and they were stronger than any of the other terrorist threats we've faced. No trouble for us, of course, but stronger than the rest of the group."
Then Manji chipped in, shaking his head.
"Yeah, they might have been a bit stronger than normal, but I don't think they could have done... that. There must be some other explanation."
Moving over to the window, Muz stared out at Kyataru by moonlight, eyes narrowing.
The Seneschal's blind eyes stared at the fields beyond the gates of Amahara castle. A hint of the stench that the rising sun soon would cause began to tingle in her nose. She watched the silent work of the ten guards that were picking the heads from the spears like foul fruits from the tree of death. Lightly turning her head to the side, she whispered to a nearby guard: "Send in for more guards. Ten are not enough to garantee a ... proper ... burial for all these bodies." The guard hesitated since she was not part of the Keibatsu family, unsure about her authority over the guards. But a quick look at the sheer amount of disembodied Nihilgenia gave the final nudge he needed. After a quick bow he hurried off.
"And I don't want to drown in that foul stench of bodies bloating in the rays of sunlight.", she muttered to herself. The wish for a proper burial bewildered her mildly, since her people didn't care too much about the body after death, but more and more she learned from the respect and utter trust within the Keibatsus and their kin. Something she had almost lost on her way into the darkness. A mere shell of flesh and bones, she thought. She often longed for the moment to be "without skin", as her people called the moment of unity of two or more people in spirit. To shrug off the world and touch the thoughts of others. But for such tainted souls as hers and those of her companions it was a process close to impossibility. She had tried often, but wasn't able to face darkness and remourse - the mere mirror of her own soul.
She leaned against a wall in the briefing room, quietly listening to the debate that was going on. "Maybe we should check the communication systems the Suko Bood...", she started. "Suukou Bodai", Shin'ichi impatiently corrected her. Sildrin nodded, she was picking up the local language quite quickly, but still she was speaking with a thick accent. "We should check their communication systems about unusual activities.", she continued. "Additionally if they are involved I am pretty sure they had to gain new technologies. Either from a different planet or ... by Avarra, I hope not... by an artefact. I can try to slice into their system, searching for unusual transfers of money and hopefully informations. And last but not least we still have the force....", she lowered her voice, knowing she touched a sensitive spot in the common respect for the dead. "...the eyes of the dead and fragments of their dead minds could show us details and hopefully a piece of the puzzle we desperately seek to solve." One of the guards spat out a foreign word - she only grasped the basics of this word from Kyataru: necro.
Her fingers danced across the input field of the communication system. All her senses concentrated on the data stream that slowly spreaded out in front of her inner eye. She saw the glowing knots of the network and pulses of informations that rushed through them. The sub routines she had injected into the system guided her way to the informations she was seeking for. A hand on her shoulder made her flinch and abruptely pulled her out of the virtual surrounding back into reality. A gasp escaped her lips as her senses shifted and adjusted to the new sensations. The hand gently pulled her up; obviously her upper body had rested on the panel while she must have taken complete control over the system merely by using the force. "Are you alright?", Manji's voice penetrated her clouded mind. "Yes,... yes.. I am.", she replied in a drowsy way. "For a moment you... you...and the computer were... ", Manji searched for the right words to express what he had sensed. The Blind Dragon stretched, rubbing her neck: "I know what you mean. Next time I guess I should add a plug to my neck so I can link to the computer that way instead of using the force...", she chuckled. The Keibatsu stared down at her: "Not funny. Don't get lost in that thing. I wouldn't know how to ... pull you out of there."
The Blind Dragon tilted her head backwards, letting her blind eyes rest on Manji. Uncomforting silence fell upon them for a few moments. Suddenly he started to ruffle her hair: "Just watch it, tallu." She tried in vain to get ahold of his hands, snorting: "Begone you pest... and the Casta word for redhead is tallo not tallu!" Finally she got up, trying to straighten her hair. "I don't know why you even bother to learn a few words on Casta. My whole planet is gone anyways. I doubt you will find anyone that speaks that language - besides me and a few of the Ridenow family.", she stepped up, flipping through a few data pads that were lying spreaded on a nearby table. "Ridenow family?", he questioned her. "Ahh, a family that loved to travel and often left my homeplanet. With no doubt many of them were not there while... it was destroyed...", her voice filled with pain.
Manji noticed it and quickly continued: "And I found it interesting that a language has its own word for red haired people. Tallo - redhead.", he grinned at her in a mocking way. Sildrin rolled her eyes: "No wonder why there exists this word. Since most all the force sensitive people from there had red hair and were members of the nobili...", she halted in her sentence. "Oh hoooo", Manji grinned: "So you are of a noble family?" and for the first moment he saw her blushing, her cheeks turning nearly as red as her hair, and then turning pale - the last thing he saw before he flew out of the room, hitting hard the wall. The door shut with a loud banging sound behind him. He rubbed his shoulder with a half grin, looking at the boots that stood next to him. Eyes of black coal peered down at him with a quizzing look on them. Manji took Muz's hand and got up, saying with a grin: "Women... Tell me, bro.. isn't there some of that booze left over?". Muz chuckled, patting Manji's back as they made their way to one of the storage rooms.
Faces were lit by the projected image that hovered above the holo-emitter. "It is not much, what I was able to find out. But there indeed has been some strange actions going on.", Sildrin explained her results to the people in the briefing room. "I loaded the data into each of your datapad in case you wish to take a closer look or to study the results. Though I can't yet tell if they directly have to do with .. the yesterday's incident." Indeed the Suukou Bodai had strengthened, but no one was yet able to tell how much. Ashia leaned to Shin'ichi, starting to discuss a few points while others also formed smaller groups to discuss the results. Quietly Sildrin adressed Muz: "You never gave me an answer. One could still try to pry some informations from the dead..."
Shikyo looked over the chaos of the fallen Nihilgenia, as well as the information of the datapad. It didn't seem possible that the Suukou Bodai could have done this much damage. The Warrior could remember Katsuhide discussing the minor skirmishes he had with the sect but they did not seem to pose a threat to the Wolf's division. This new threat was far more superior than any of the 08th had ever encountered. It seemed only right for him to alert his men on this new presence.
Placing his datapad back into his coat, Rurouni made his way towards the Lion of Tarthos to explain his situation.
"Brother, my men are dealing with the Bodai in the island regions. If the Bodai have increased in strength, they deserve to have as much knowledge on this as possible to avoid more losses as tragic as these."
Muz looked at his younger brother and nodded. The sight of the fallen Nihilgenia was one neither brother wanted to see. With his request granted, Shikyo made haste towards the hangar only to find Mononoke awaiting him the entrance. The Mad Alchemist looked at his brother with the same sinister smirk on his face.
"Heading elsewhere, little brother?"
"I'm heading to the 08th. They're currently engaged with the Bodai and I want them to be prepared for the upcoming threats."
"Hee hee. Good thing I prepared this for you. However, do you have that little "gift" I asked of you?"
Shikyo reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a crystal and handing it to his brother. Macron hovered over the object like a peasant hovering over a chunk of gold. This crystal meant a lot to his brother and the reward, in return, would be worthwhile for the younger Keibatsu. With a wave of his hand, the Battlelord led the Warrior into the hangar.
While the Keibatsu main were sequestered and burdened with the shackles of strategy, Sai was thankfully free in the winds of action. For the Abomination’s apprentice, action of any sort was a release for him, and would be until he’d been groomed to make the decisions that mattered. The Korun had served faithfully as an arm of the Keibatsu will, and while the others were trying to divine who, or what, was responsible for this heinous crime, Sai decided to await his next orders by making himself as useful as possible.
As the Kyataran sun cast its baleful rays on the scene in the courtyard, Sai was counted amongst those who were ordered to police the area. He hadn’t been asked, but Sai was always of the mind that people handled taking orders a little better from those who’d demonstrated the willingness to carry them out themselves. The Korun’s darkened features drew a few curious looks, and his tripartite eyes drew more than their share of comments, but as he busied himself with the removal of the spears and the heads thereupon, Sai found that as long as he stayed as active as the others, he was largely ignored.
The task was therapeutic for the Guardian as well. He felt a sort of kinship with these slain guardsmen, who presumably fell while serving the family. Sai’s expectation was no less, and he was honored to help show the proper respect for these servants of their shared masters, these souls who’d already been hastened to their final reward.
Sai stood amongst a pile of gore-smeared spears, having organized the work detail into a sort of assembly line. He was currently removing heads from the weapons, silently reciting a prayer of sorts as he held each one reverently in his hands. The Guardian was also taking note of forensic details from each head, all the better to assist his master and the rest of the Family in exacting their revenge. Details of the assailant’s weaponry filled his mind, as cauterized wounds indicated the use of an energy weapon, clean cuts from back to front telling a blade’s tale. The direction of the cut also told of valor exhibited by the deceased, as these wounds were usually dealt to kneeling foes in ritual execution, and the stories Shin regaled to Sai on quiet evenings all told of fierce warriors out of whom surrender would be hard pressed to coerce.
Still, Sai refused to grant any measure of respectful thought or feeling to these supposed foes, the Suukou Bodai, and the knot of hate currently twisting in the part of his mind that contained his master’s bond fueled the Korun’s disdain. It did not matter to Sai that they'd never crossed him directly, but his master's hate was his own. If delivering death to those trecherous jackals gave the Keibatsu happiness, it gave him happiness. Galvanizing the feeling was the discovery of a few heads that had not been severed in the traditional sense. These standouts appeared to have been bodily ripped from their torsos, and Sai took special note of them. Such violence would have been very visceral, almost personal, as the passionate detachment required to deal such a blow would have been considerable indeed.
Satisfied with his initial findings, he quickly found a guardsman to replace him in the line, who was more than happy to take Sai’s place. As he instructed the replacement on what he was to look for and how to report those findings, it seemed to the Korun that he had ingrained himself within the few members of the rank and file in the courtyard; Sai smiled inwardly at his successful attempt at leadership. He strode toward Amahara Castle’s gate, feeling the lush history, as well the seriousness of the crimes, bearing down on his shoulders like his sweat soaked robes, prompting him to hasten toward the Keibatsu conclave to give his report.
Raven sat quietly on the mat in the room he had been given for the duration of his stay, meditating. He silently cursed to the black clouds swirling in his mind. He wasn't enjoying this at all. He wasn't in the know, he had the disadvantage, and he hated being in that situation. What kind of non-Force group could kill netherbeings? From what he knew of the Nihilgenia, he wasn't entirely sure it was even possible to kill them without some form of necromancy.
He allowed his conscience to sink deeper into his mind, spreading his senses across miles of the land under the Kyataran sun. There was a lot of life here. All pontential allies. Raven made a mental note to see if he could find any impressions of these Suukou Bodai in the Force later.
Another entity unfamiliar to the Magistrate puntcured his field of awareness, sending ripples in the Force drifting back to the castle. Sai Na'Ashar. The name floated around the beings presence. Raven relaxed, and then thought for a moment. When striking and enemy stonger then yourself, strike at the weakest point. That's what every moment of his martial arts training screamed, and he exploded back into the present.
If these Bodai bastards could kill a thousand Nihilgenia, then they would be smart enough and powerful enough to kill a Guardian, with heavy losses, but killed nontheless. Raven snatched his lightsaber off the small desk to his left, before throwing a cloak over his shoulder, jamming the door switch into the wall on his way out.
"Where are you headed Raven?" Manji queried as he drifted around the corner from the briefing room, his kimono draping from the arm he held out to stop the Priest.
"We have a visitor," he replied dryly.
"And who's that? Last thing I need now is more bad news," Manji cursed under his breath at the end of his sentence.
"Nah, it's Sai. My issue is that a thousand so called "neverborn" were just slaughtered. Regardless of how you plan on killing these terrorists, we need every dark jedi possible, and not another death."
Manji snickered. "You talk like a lightsider kid. Now go pick him up and get back to the briefing room." With that, he strolled off, the silk kimono dancing behind his steps.
Raven stepped outside the castle's great doors, and found Sai staring into his face, drenched in sweat. The Tetrarch raised a finger and an eyebrow, and sneered at the same time. "Alright, how the hell did you do that?"
"Did what?" Sai responded, looking surprised. "I don't even know who you are."
"Raven. Formalities go here. We're on the same side, so don't try to kill me. All there is to it." The younger Krath strode back inside, leaving the huge doors open, not even waiting for Sai.
The wind picked up sending her warcoat flapping about her ankles and flipping her long auburn hair across azure eyes that glistened in the fading light. A heavy sigh fell from the Knight's lips as a single tear carved a path down her cheek. She hugged herself tightly as she looked out across the sea of spears and helms; each one a silent sentinel on the fields outside the castle walls.
Sanjuro stood with his mother, quietly observing as the guards proceeded to take the helms and spears down. Slowly he put his arm around her and laid his head against her arm. She patted his hand and looked down at him.
"We'll get them, mother." His purple eyes looked up into hers. She managed a small smile and nodded to him.
"We'd better get inside, your father will be wanting a family meeting."
Large oak chairs surrounded a heavy table in the great room of the castle. The family sat around it, as various maps and scrolls and datapads covered the table top. Muz paced back and forth a bit. The restlessness in him growing as his mind itched to extract revenge on all who had dishonored the family.
Sildrin had already tapped into the communications to see what she could find. Her blind gaze moved across the room and a sour look graced her visage as it fell on Manji for a moment. The One-Eyed Dragon smirked a bit and took a swig of his sake before passing back to Shikyo.
Ashia raised an eyebrow at Sil but she just shook her head; she'd probably fill her in later. Manji had a knack for being annoying at times so she didn't think much of it.
The only one missing was Sai. No sooner had the realization hit her, then Shin'ichi pipped up, "He's outside helping the guards. He'll be in in a minute." She nodded her head.
A quizzical look crossed Raven's face. "Shin, I think you're loosing it. You just answered a question that hadn't been asked." He chortled.
"Ash asked it, actually." Shin returned with a grin.
"Don't mind them, Raven. The 'Twin's' are just at it again." She smiled sweetly, knowing her nickname for them irritated Shin.
"Ok, we need to get down to business." Muz stopped his pacing. His dark eyes reflected the dim light briefly as they settled on the room. "It would seem that the Suukou Bodai have gained strength. We need to gather intelligence on their numbers and their current location."
"I'll take care of that." Shin spoke up. "I'll take Sai with me."
Muz rubbed at his chin in contemplation for a moment. "You'd do better alone, you know."
"The kid's gotta learn though. Don't worry, he'll be fine."
"Who'll be fine?" Sai drifted into the room; his face smudged with dirt and blood. He sat down and looked around expectantly at the family.
"You will. We're going on an intel dig, my apprentice. Just try to stay alive. I don't wanna have to haul your fat arse back here." A salacious grin creased his face.
Shimura managed to catch a glimpse of the many rotting skulls that have been so brutally stabbed among pikes. With one arm behind his back and the other one holding him up, he dropped himself down for another pushup. Whoever had done such a callous act held a special place in the Battlemaster’s heart. Though disappointing as it was Shimura also found himself stomaching a certain guilt. These were his people, he wasn’t suppose to be feeling envy.
As Shimura hoisted himself back up a bead of sweat dropped from his forehead and splattered in a spherical pool on the gym floor. It was ironic…he envied his unknown enemy but also despised him. He would enjoy tearing out the throats of their attackers with his teeth but such daydreams were pointless at the moment. Hopping to his feet he clipped his saber back to his belt and threw on a cloak that would cover his unclothed upper half.
Turning around Shimura met a familiar face, Shikyo’s. “I saw your ship in the hangar..”
“Yea, I got in just in time to see the display.”
Shik’s face tensed up as he chose not to speak of the earlier events. “I was just leaving…and I knew I could find you here.”
“Really…Where is it you’re going?”
“To join the 8th against the Bodai…you should come…I’m sure your expertise could be used.”
“Well you talked me into it…lemme go change into my intimidating robes and I’ll be right down to the ship. We’ll show the Bodai who they really kriffed with.”
"…You will. We're going on an intel dig, my apprentice. Just try to stay alive. I don't wanna have to haul your fat arse back here." A salacious grin creased his face as Shin spoke. The rest of the party snickered. They were all apprentices at one time or another.
“You are next, Mononoke. What have you discovered?” asked Muz.
"My analysis is complete, thanks to the information Sai gleaned," said Mac as he picked absent-mindedly at one of the heads on the table beside him.
Manji glowered at him and spoke. “Have you no regard…”
“No, Master. I don’t. He is dead, and surely doesn’t care. It’s good that you didn’t witness what happened in my lab work last night,” he said with a grimace. “I think it even revolted me, slightly.” The others made faces of disgust, which Macron relished.
The alchemist donned an examination glove and held it up by the nostrils. A holonet projector opened up above them, showing a view of tissues magnified by thousands of times. “ In any case, this particular head illustrates my point. Notice the scoring on the entrance cut. The pattern is typical of energy weapons, but not of lightsabers. This looks more like a Morgukai saber-staff, or even a beam weapon. It’s far too sloppy for a saber cut.” Murmurs drifted through the gathering.
“However, this one of an officer's wound…” The screen changed to a stored image. “Is definitely a saber cut. Clean, hot. Probably made with a Stygium crystal powered blade. Thanks to Shikyo, I was able to make a few tests myself on some convicts last night, in true Kyataran tradition.”
The scene cut to a screaming felon’s face as a bright red blade swept it from the shoulders of the owner. The unmistakable giggle sounded in the background as the camera magnified the site of the blow. “Almost identical,” hissed Mononoke. “Not an easy weapon to manufacture.”
Shin’ichi rose from the massive table as Macron continued his report. Nodding first to Muz, then the rest of his family in succession, he clapped a strong hand on Sai’s shoulder, who was paying rapt attention to the holo and the gory images it displayed, his strange eyes wide in fascination. “Are you coming, young one, or do you have a more pressing engagement?” asked the Epis with a grin.
“Of course not, Master.” Sai hurriedly got up from his place, barely having warmed the seat. The screams on the holo, along with a few more chuckles, followed him out the door.
In the hallway outside of the briefing room, Sai wiped his grimy features clean with a rag he produced from within his robes. Falling in step with Shin’ichi, he remained a pace back and to the left as the Abomination of Kyataru addressed him, commanding voice echoing off of the corridor walls.
“Good work, my apprentice. You’ve done more than you know, and are about to do even more.”
Sai replied to the first qualifier in Shin’s statement, his tone betraying his desire to hear the rest of the briefing: “Master, I do what I can, but Mac has only addressed the first wounds I found, and we haven’t stayed for the rest...”
“I’m not sure he will even touch that other stuff at this point,” Shin’ichi interrupted.
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t, which is why you are the student. Now, listen, and learn: the bladed wounds are self-explanatory, but there might be a hint of mockery in their delivery. The right ones will pay for those in time.”
“I’m following you,” Sai replied, “but those aren’t the ones that bother me.”
“And so, we come to the point,” Shin continued. “Concentrating on the energy wounds gives everyone focus, gives everyone something concrete to base our search upon, something solid that we can think about. We are still a bit in the dark as to what really is going on, and it does no good to dwell in conjecture. My Nihilgenia are notoriously hard to kill and to think about what could rip their heads...” He let the rest go unspoken, a touch of enraged wistfulness having crept into the latter part of his statement.
At once Sai recognized the uncharacteristic emotion and the possessive tense his master had used, and the Korun fell into their usual routine, designed to pull Shin out of the foul mood into which he was about to descend.
“Well, Master, chin up! In a few moments, you’ll be getting plenty of exercise.”
Shin snapped from his melancholy reverie. “I’m not following.”
“You know, hauling my ‘fat arse’ to and fro, trying to get me to learn something besides scowling.” Sai lightheartedly quipped.
Shin smiled in spite of himself. “Well, when I said ‘arse’, I meant ‘head’. Oh, my apprentice: you’ve no idea what you’re about to get into.”
The pair bantered a moment longer as they came to the terminus of the corridor. The door to the hangar bay opened, and Shikyo and Shimura’s departure drowned out the rest of the conversation with the roar of repulsorlifts.
Raven looked to Muz, Manji, Ashia, Sildrin, Macron, and Sanjuro, and spoke up. "Well, unless you all have changed dramatically in the last thirty seconds, We're not just going to stay here and wait," His voice was dry, even bored.
The rest of them glared at him for his seeming disregard for the situation. Manji muttered something about "gaijin."
"Hell we're not. But unless you can fight an enemy you don't know, I suggest you listen." Muz fired back, "Unless you have a better idea."
"Actually, I have a question. How do you kill a Nihilgenia?"
Ashia answered, "I know what you might be thinking, but they aren't mystical beings, as their name implies. They are clones, like stormtroopers trained in the arts of Kyataran warfare."
"So, poison, radiation, will affect them as it would us?"
Macron squirmed next to the holoprojector.
"I would assume so, but it's never happened."
Raven remained silent, his eyes staring at the macabre images displayed on the holo, a pensive expression across his visage. The others looked to the young Krath, in anticipation of his response. He turned to them. "You must have thousands under your command."
"What are you implying?" Macron asked, and was still grinning at the mention of poison.
"I'm implying that the Nihilgenia were simply weakened from a traitor or infiltrator of this castle. Wouldn't be so hard to kill them after that. I wouldn't put it beyond a group of terrorists." The Priest noticed Sanjuro out of the corner of his eye, who had a pre-enraged epression on his face, unbelieving of such a possibility. Raven simply nodded, wiping a strand of hair from his face, and looked to the rest for a conclusion.
Shikyo handed over his bottle of sake to his cousin, enjoying the luxuries that the Mad Alchemist had provided inside the Sith Infiltrator he had dubbed the Adraelech, after the God of Chaos from stories he had heard as a Mifune. It was an incredible ship that seemed to glide across the skies of Kyataru like the clouds above. Looking at the screen on his console, the location of the 08th base of operations. Bringing the ship down on one of the many islands of the area, Shikyo and Shimura caught the formattion of the Nihilgenia forming.
Katsuhide stood prepared at the head of the formattion, his helmet covering the slight smirk he had on his face. As the hatch opened to the Infiltrator, the troops pulled themselves together, looking like any well organized division. The Warrior and Battlemaster walked down the ramp in haste, meeting the commander with a salute. Just like clockwork, Katsuhide snapped the same salute.
As soon as those words left his lips, Rurouni flinched a little, hating the idea of his friends addressing him as "lord" or anything in that nature. Katsuhide removed his helmet to see the look upon his friend's face.
"I apologize. Shikyo, our battle with the Suukou Bodai has been proceeding very well. We have reclai-"
"I have heard, however we have an issue."
"What is that?"
"The Nihilgenia of Amahara have been massacred."
There was a tone of great sorrow in the young Keibatsu's voice. Katsuhide lowered his head and closed his eyes. Though they were demons on the battlefield, the Nihilgenia seemed to be bretheren nonetheless.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Shimura cleared his throat slightly and spoke up.
"We're gonna need someone to help us out, which is why Shikyo and I are here. It would be great if you could help us out."
"But the 08th will need a commander."
Shikyo nodded at the veteran.
"I know. Hence the reason I am here. I am promoting your second-in-command for the time being."
A soldier stepped up from the front line, saluting. The Warrior approached him, placing his hand on the man's shoulder and speaking in Kyataran.
[By my authority as a descendant of Kyudai Tsuwamono Keibatsu, I grant you the title and rank of Commander of the 08th Nihilgenia until the return of Katsuhide. Lead your men well.]
The soldier bowed with the Aedile, as Shimura helped Katushide gather what few belongings he had. With a few barks in Kyataran, the 08th prepared for what drills or operations they had prepared. With the ship prepped and ready to return to Amahara Castle, Shikyo passed around one more bottle of sake to give tribute to the fallen warriors.
Not long after the Adraelech departed the castle hangar, a lambda transport followed in its ion trail, and arced in an opposing track to some unknown destination.
“Would’ve been nice to ride around, with some of Shikyo’s sake on board,” Sai lamented as he and Shin’ichi watched the shuttle’s departure, still standing in the hangar bay. Sai, of course, had not the pleasure of sampling the famed draught, being not of the Keibatsu family proper. It still would’ve tasted nice, of that he was sure.
“Lesson number thirty-six, my apprentice?” asked Shin’ichi of his charge. The numbers of the ‘lessons’ Shin taught Sai were, in truth, inconsequential. The posing of the question was more to get the Korun to apply the correct lesson to the situation.
“ ‘If you think you’re being watched, get the watcher to look where you are not’,” Sai recited from memory.
“Excellent! If there is indeed treachery afoot, Shikyo and Shimura have no doubt been spotted leaving, as was that shuttle we sent,” Shin’ichi expounded on the lesson. “No doubt, emboldened by a perceived weakening of our forces, these jackals will get sloppy.”
Sai continued to stare out of the open bay at the vapor trail the lambda traced across the Kyatarn sky. “So, now we’re to wait,” he stated, a trace of impatience creeping into his tone.
“No, my apprentice. We are not.” Sai turned to his master’s voice, whose owner was now standing over a non-descript access panel in the hangar deck. Shin lifted the panel as Sai strode over, revealing an impenetrable dark within. “This is the way, my apprentice, hopefully, to more answers.” Sai peered skeptically into the dark access shaft.
Perhaps sensing some trepidation in his apprentice, Shin began to tease him. “Warrior born, yet darkness ye scorn?” he playfully rhymed in imitation of Muz, who was known to spout poetry born of madness mid-battle. He continued in Kyataran, his family’s native tongue. “[Fear not, for the Way of the Warrior…]”
“[…is Death],” Sai finished as he hoisted himself down through the access hole and into the awaiting darkness. Shin’ichi lingered for a moment. True enough, as his apprentice, Sai had to know the family’s creed. What caused Shin’s hesitation was that Sai’s response was in Kyataran, and he had not taught the Korun a single word. Sai hadn’t ever, to his knowledge, even visited the planet. Ever since the Keibatsu had returned to their homeworld, they had been assaulted with questions aplenty. Shin would have to add yet another to the list, and he sighed as he followed his intriguing apprentice down into the blackness.
The pair followed the winding corridor in silence, the dark seeming to press upon them like some malevolent spirit. Sai’s internal gyro told him they had been traveling in a generally easterly track, and downward at that. Shin gave no hint to where they were headed, but clearly followed an ordered path. Finally the shaft opened to reveal a vast cavern, dimly lit and hewn from the bedrock upon which the castle stood. At its center sat a massive reservoir, the waters as still, black, and endless. As Shin and Sai stood side by side, Sai thought that looking into the murky depths were as looking into Muz’s eyes.
Sai fought to not lose himself in the liquid abyss as Shin spoke: “Even a demon needs to feast, and the Nihilgenia have need to drink.” Shin knelt to the water’s edge, filling a vial he produced from a belt pouch with the fluid. As his master attached the vial to a portable analyzer, understanding dawned on Sai. This was the reservoir that fed the castle, and as if reading his apprentice’s thoughts, Shin spoke up as he worked.
“Amahara Castle is fed by various wells and rivers, but this is the main water source.” He frowned as the analyzer’s display gave him results on the sample. “Hmm. Trace elements, bacta, hydrogen, oxygen, orbalisk venom.” At the last, Shin glanced at his apprentice, whose tripartite eyes told of the effect one of Macron’s “battle cocktails” that contained the listed ingredients had on him.
Shin’s frown deepened. “It’s basically the same stuff that Mac makes up, but the ratio’s are all wrong,” he explained. “It’s as if someone used a very, very nasty perversion of Sith Alchemy on this water. I’ve never seen it used to such a scale, though.”
“Who could’ve done such a thing?” asked Sai, who was answered by a not so surreptitious clattering of pebbles on the bank to their left.
The pair whipped around, Sai drawing his katana with the ring of singing steel as they were approached by intent and menacing footfalls.
Reddish hair swung in front of azure eyes, the woman moving gracefully toward them, her heeled boots sending the occassional pebble astray, small splashes of water where they landed.
"Who the frell are you?" Shin started, his saber screaming to life as he regarded the woman. "And how did you get down here?"
She smiled faintly, her eyes glistening in the purple light. Shin knew that access to the raw pool was restricted, a datapad doing a dna sampling at the door. And since neither of them had heard an explosion, she must have sliced the entry mechanism.
Ashia's Sister? Sai watched the woman move, seeing something familiar in her way, but unable to place exactly what it was.
No. Ashia is an only child. Shin stepped sideways so they could flank the woman if she charged. They couldn't see a saber on her belt, but she stank of the Force, unusual for one who carried just a blaster.
She's the one who's done this...
Shin merely nodded, his eyes locking on the woman. She moved toward them, stopping outside of the range of their blades, watching them like a caged animal at the zoo watches the people.
Turning abruptly, she dove into the pool, her split skirt flaring as she pierced the water. Shin Bounded to the water, his blade slurping back into his hilt as he went into the murky depths. Stay here, Sai. Tell Muz.
But master, the venom... Sai knew of the ameliorative effects of a touch of Orbalisk venom, but that much of it, well, no one really knew what could happen. Each person reacted differently.
Do as I say, and don't worry about me... The thought floated back to him, almost relaxing in it's tones. [The way of the warrior...]
Macron slipped the burnt flesh under the microscope, checking the pattern of vitrification, the silicon from the Nihilgenia's armour turning to glass at the very edge of the sample. This wasn't just a powered weapon, as they had thought.
Mac spun, bringing the sample underneath the spectroscope as he powered up the machine. The door whooshed open, Nekura Manji stepping through. "I thought you might have come here."
Macron grimaced. "I'd rather be out hunting the bastards who did this... but we have no real leads."
Manji nodded. "I'm not one for waiting, either, but we don't really have much choice." The epis didn't like Muz's decision to get everyone to Kuroshin where it was safer. It was further from the scene of the crime, and if the low-born hounds did anything again, he wanted to be there to stop them.
"Well, it's a good thing we did. the lab aboard the Spear is good, but I needed the bigger equipment for this." Mac tittered a bit as he moved the viewscreen for the Spectroscope.
Shimura and Shikyo stepped from the Adraelech, their eyes adjusting to the darkening hangar, the artificial stone sealing the Kuroshin hangar from prying eyes. The Nihilgenia behind them was missing his helmet, faint scars drawn across his cheeks as a testament to his service to the Keibatsu line. He dragged a manacled Kyataran behind him, the man's kimono shredded from the combat he had seen, pink lines beneath the wrecked fabric, the bacta having undone much of the damage that the Keibatsu had done when they had uncovered the Suukou Bodai cultist, hiding in the makeshift spaceport that served as a base of operations out in the islands.
"Kage kyou dai, bring our guest down to the fourth level. Macron will see to him afterwards." Shikyo bowed at the Nihilgenia before he turned, heading for the War room, the nervous system for the Keibatsu war machine.
The Nihilgenia bowed deeply before heading for a turbolift, dragging the prisoner along. The hidden dungeons of Kuroshin held no refuge for those who had wronged the Keibatsu. The cells were deep within a labyrinth of madness. Only a pattern of lights would show the Nihilgenia to the cells within, keeping him on the right path.
The soldier smiled, knowing full well that the man he ushered would be given full compensation for the horrors his group had visited on his troops. The Keibatsu brooked no threat to themselves or the neverborn. They were all, as the brothers were keen on saying, 'Brothers in the Shadows'.
Muz looked over the datapad the young Krath had brought, his glossy black eyes moving subtly across the lines of glowing text. "And you said that she had reddish hair?"
Sai nodded, trying to keep his eyes from wandering around at the weapons displayed in the war room. The Herald had installed a few modern pieces of communication and tactical equipment, but had them encased in more traditional Kyataran woodwork, making the whole room seem appropriate, ageless as it always had. Muz was obviously one for tradition.
"I think she sliced through the access panel, pirating one of the Keibatsu samples..." Sai offered, stepping toward the eldest Keibatsu. "If you look here..."
"Good thinking Sai, but it's not been sliced." Muz's mind raced back to Ilum, the expedition that he and his brother had taken to collect some crystals from the devastated Jedi cave.
"But I don't understand. Macron's not a shifter, and he wouldn't have run from..."
Muz held up a hand, inspiring silence in the journeyman a moment before the doors opened, Macron and Manji stepping through with urgency. Sai turned back to look at the Adept, the look he received telling him to keep this development quiet for now.
Macron spoke first, his words coming tinnily through the vocoder. "I've discovered something that I think you should know, Muz."
"Did we get gassed?" Muz smirked, the sarcasm reminding the Sith that he still wore his helmet, and that he didn't have to deep within the confines of Kuroshin, a thousand Nihilgenia defending them, as well as his own air filtering system.
Macron slowly removed the scarred battle helm, his facial tattoos stark against his pale skin. "Ah Sai...good to have you here for this too...those poor clones that were cauterized...I ran a few more tests. Some of them were killed by a saber. And spectroanalysis can tell me the colour of the adegan he used."
"He?" Muz mumbled. "How do you know it's a he?"
"Well, there's two colours we were able to discern. One was regular powered, the arcwave pattern matching one of your own making, a synthetic crystal." Macron scratched his head, the air around him cauing his skin to crawl, giving the sith the impression of insects.
"One of my own sabers, or one I've made for the Brethren?"
"One you've made for the brethren. The wave is consistent with your most recent work, so it's one of the blades you've made in the last few weeks."
Muz stroked his chin, trying to go through the inventory of people who had come to antei to pick up one of the newer weapons before giving up. The list was too long, and he had assistants who would deliver sabers to the clans as well. "And the other?"
"The other we only found by chance. I think whoever used this blade only did so once or twice out of all those men." Macron spoke slowly, a tinge of anxiety creeping into his voice. "The pattern is very advanced, it's obviously a multi-phase weapon, and the colour, quite rare. Matter of fact, I've only seen two like it."
Muz watched the Alchemist squirm, his mind breaking down the possibilities, telling him the reaction before it came from the Sith's lips. His mind cursed in denial, fury pushing aside fear that the Herald quashed before it reached his own voice.
"The blade was turquoise." Manji growled, his brother's agitation growing in his own heart. He knew how much the Lightsider played in the family's downfall those years, and unwilling pawn or not, there would be a reckoning.
Boots clicked on the stone flooring, sending echoes rippling down the corridors. The Nightsister paused for a moment outside the door to the war room, she could hear voices within. She had just stepped through when one single word fell from Muz's lips.
Ashia froze just inside the door. Her eyes went big as a slew of Kyataran swear words slipped past her tongue. The entire room turned in astonishment and watched as she crossed the room to her husband.
Her eyes darted back and forth in agitation at the dark pools in front of her. Muz could see the hate swelling up inside her, matching his own, as she stood with her hand absentmindedly upon the hilt of her sword.
Muz growled low as he started to pace like a caged lion. The weapons that clung to the walls of the room vibrated menacingly, threatening to leap off at any given moment and bury themselves into anyone who crossed their path. Ash moved back from him as her own fear of what lay beneath, surfaced in her. The Herald stopped when he saw the look of fear in her eyes.
Manji broke the tension. "If it is him, we will find him. He can't take all of us." He regarded the exchange between his brother and sister-in-law carefully. Everyone knew something had happened on Malchor V but what nobody seemed to talk about. The only thing known was that Eojin had appeared and fought Muz. Now it seemed as if the Lightsider was on their own soil.
"What of the other sabre?" Sai ventured forward quietly. He really had no idea who Eojin was but the reactions from the family meant it wasn't good.
Macron looked up and tittered a bit. "We should go through the logs to see who got what in the last couple of weeks."
"Raven will have that info. Has anyone heard from Shikyo?"
"Eojin Quon-shen<" thought Mac. "Frack." It was well known that the Master was quite powerful, and the nemesis of Muz. Macron frowned. He wanted no part of a tussle with that man, as it would certainly be his last.
"Something is not quite right here. Would the filthy lightie execute people like that? I mean, even if he thought of them as ‘less than human’ that would be an act of the Dark Side. Could he have turned?” queried Mononoke.
The thought passed through them all. A turned Master of that power would be a very bad thing. Very bad, indeed. Sai grasped the idea of a horribly powerful Jedi Master turned dark, and began to realize who Eojin was.
“Maybe so,” wondered Manji. “He certainly wouldn’t use poison or biochems like orbalisk venom,” stated the Epis knowingly.
“You are right about that,” said Ashia as she paced. “No lightie could take that stuff. Even a skin splash would be agonizing, although he could nullify it with the Force. No, it would be like carrying trash around for him. Not likely. Maybe that woman has something to do with it?””
“Point taken,” said the alchemist as Muz thought deeply. “I have a guest to attend to anyhow. Perhaps he can be of some…assistance to us,” cackled the madman as he cracked his knuckles. “I’m off for a refreshing torture session. I’ll let you folks know what I find out stat,” he said as he turned and left the door with a swish of his red Korribanian cape.
“Good work Kage, he’s bound nicely,” said Mac as he examined the Bodai terrorist. The unmasked Nihilengia smiled faintly. Macron had taken to hanging about with the Neverborn, as he was one himself in an odd way. A certain primal sympathy existed between himself and the experienced warrior.
“Well, let’s get this wampa and nerf show started,” said the Sith with a grin as three modified Interrogator droids hummed into the room. A tattooed hand closed the liquid-resistant curtains, and the screaming began.
The shrills of brutal agony created a cause and effect to the Warrior, as a smirk found its way upon his face. As the Sith made their way towards the war room within the castle, Shikyo stopped as the thoughts of the bretheren within seemed to be focused on one thing: Eojin. The younger Keibatsu remembered the name well after the expedition on Malachor V. It was an experience that he would not forget, nor would he want to relive. Shimura stopped and looked back at his cousin.
"What's wrong, Shik?"
Rubbing his face with his hand, the Warrior looked back at the Battlemaster.
"Nothing. Just be warned the room is not gonna be plesant."
The Zabrak arched a brow at his cousin, as his involvment with the Force became a little more apparent.
"You know, you really should start looking at becoming a Krath instead of a Sith."
The Aedile flashed him a nasty look.
"A Sith can learn more about the Force and still be Chaos Incarnate to the rest of the galaxy."
With a smirk and a nod from both men, they made their way into the war room to watch an enraged Muz and a concerned Ashia work alongside Sai and Nekura to discover the answers to the many questions they had about the lightsider.
The entrance of two more Keibatsu served not to quell the ordered confusion in the War Room, but to enhance it. Seeing the Lion in such a state caused Shikyo and Shimura to rush in past the threshold, vociferously opining on the actuality that Eojin would have something to do with the events that had taken place. Sai wisely backed away from the frenzied assemblage, hoping that Ashia would soon exert her calming influence, enough for Muz to take control once again. A good thing he did; his mind, having received a Force induced image, had been suddenly occupied with blind eyes and red hair.
It seemed Shin’ichi traveled for an interminable length of time down, down, down through murky blackness. His rebreather should’ve been working just fine; it might have been the fumes of the orbalisk venom permeating the reservoir that the device had trouble scrubbing. His muscles burned from exertion, but his will carried him through any thoughts of giving up, as reddish hair swirled in the waters in front of him, just beyond his reach, urging him on as a hare to a hound.
The Epis completely lost sight of his quarry at one point, so he counted on the Dark Side’s unerring guidance to bring him through what could be a watery grave. The venom’s fumes became stronger now; he surmised he’d have to head back to the surface soon if he was to survive as a sensation in his lungs began to match the one in his shoulders, back, and quads.
A grayish light ahead of him gave him new hope, and he redoubled his efforts, swimming powerfully towards it. Shin hoped his apprentice had done what he’d asked, as he suddenly got a feeling of dread, one that only the appearance of his Family would erase.
Without warning, Shin found himself at the light, then tumbling through fifteen feet of air. He landed soundly on a stone floor, and as he looked around, he found himself in a grotto, more darkness at a far end and torches burning in regular intervals along the walls. Curiously, the ceiling did not match the floor; it shimmered as a puddle reflecting dim light, but the juxtaposition of water appearing above him was unsettling. Shin quickly got to his feet, unclasping his saber hilt from its place on his belt.
The Epis was suddenly aware of an unnatural stillness, as if a great power was marshalling itself before being unleashed. Reflexes honed by countless battles alerted him to a presence unseen, and he ignited his saber, settling into one of the varied stances and open wariness that his chosen discipline afforded him. His nostrils were filled with the smell of burning ozone as he awaited the attack he knew was to come. If the time had come for him to step into the Clearing that awaited all men, so be it. Shin was glad to pay his way.
Seductive chuckling reached his ears, and as he whirled towards it, amethyst blade spinning unconsciously, he was faintly aware of two thoughts: that the red-haired, blue-eyed Valkyrie closing in on him was beautiful, and that it was too late.
The world flashed bright in the Epis eyes, then melted away to darkness, and Shin was all too happy to be wrapped in its ebon embrace.
Sai’s senses were under assault, with the War Room’s cacophony of argument punctuated by various voices all uttering ‘Eojin’, and from images, unfamiliar and unrelenting, splitting his head from within. He staggered into a rack of Muz’s meticulously arranged weaponry, the sound of which finally galvanized the assembled Family members into shocked silence, all heads whipping around to look at the apprentice of Kyataru’s Abomination.
Shimura was the first to speak, starting to admonish the Korun for interfering in affairs that didn’t concern him, and that there were better ways of getting someone’s attention than to knock over a shelf like some drug-addled wampa, when Muz’s powerful strides through their assemblage and concerned visage stilled his tongue.
Muz reached Sai, grasping both shoulders in strong hands, but the Korun was beyond seeing. True, the tripartite eyes were wide, but they were clearly staring at something not in the room. The shock that was already palpable suddenly became a living thing as Sai, clearly in a trance, began to speak.
“[O Lion, you hunt, and come away unsated! You see, and you do not! You are as the Other...seek her, and find answers!]” Sai’s seemingly foreign tongue effortlessly filled the air with rich Kyataran melody. All the jaws in the room suddenly became slack, just as Shin’ichi’s was moments ago in the hangar bay. Macron stifled an involuntary giggle with a hand clapped across his own mouth.
Muz challenged the beacon of hope that seemed to shine in their dark world of mystery. Instinctively, he responded in the language they all heard issue from the Korun’s mouth. “[‘She’ has no answers for us]”, Muz uttered, nodding towards his wife, her sable hair seeming to emit its own dark light in the luminescence of the War Room’s lamps.
“[Not her...her]”, Sai gestured toward the door just as Sildrin glided through, and all heads turned from the Journeyman to regard her in wide-eyed fascination.
Sildrin looked, as only the blind can, at the silent assemblage, clearly knowing that she was the center of attention, but slightly annoyed for having missed the joke.
"I... erh." Macron gulped to himself as he strode the halls of Kuroshin . He had lately fought his Krath Master in combat on Antei, and had predictably lost. Again. "Darth be damned... again," he muttered as he walked. Now he must return to the War Room, and report to the *Daimyo. "For frell's sake, This isn't going well!"
"Nevermind." The alchemist strode the halls, empty of life except for soldiers and droids. "Again, it happens..."he thought. "The others come, and take lives. Is it the Will of the Dark Side?", wondered Macron. "Did I screw up by allowing that clone to live? Would... MALAK wil this... augh." The jawless Sith Lord rolled about in his thoughts. Nausea rolled about in his frame. The Ancestor touched his heart. Hell gave him an upset stomach.
Mac pushed his way into the War Room after the inhabitants had dickered. Macron knelt on one knee, with the alternate fist laid upon the stone in an obscure Kyataran style. "My Liege," he said as he knelt. "My analysis indicates... no conclusive data. They are experts. My sister may be involved. The victim had been trained in anti-torture mind techniques. Please forgive me."
"Rise," replied The Herald. "Your... sibling is making trouble. Macron. You know what I mean."
"Anaxela," stated the Sith. "She is about. My sister. I...Cannot control her. She is too powerful and evasive. "
* Lord in Kyataran