Return Of The Jedi
A long time ago
in a galaxy far, far away...
- Return Of The Jedi -
Dark times have fallen over the
galaxy. An entire Brotherhood of
Sith has settled in the Outer Rim terri-
tories, bend on wiping out the light once
and for all.
Jedi Master MIKE HALCYON and his for-
mer student and good friend, REB QEL-DROMA,
have narrowly escaped the Brotherhood`s agents of
destruction on the waterworld of MANAAN. Hunted by
their former companions KAINE MANDAALA and CYRIS
OSCURA, they face the impossible task of rebuilding the Jedi
But while Halcyon's quest to save Mandaala from the darkness may
Eventually prove both his and his old friend's demise, a series of events
begin to unfold in the far away HYADIS CLUSTER that threaten to destroy
all life in the galaxy forever.
Only a last vestige of light in the darkness remains. Soon, it too may become extinguished...
The torch shone brightly in the night. Its flame lighted the nearby trees, gilded the green foliage of the jungle. Even the animals were silent as the man holding it walked up the small hill where the tall trees and dense bushes gave way into the starry night. There, on the hilltop, a funeral pyre was awaiting both torch and man. On the logs, the slender silhouette of a young woman lay, appearing to be asleep underneath the brown robes - but her hazel eyes would never open again.
The man approached the pyre, stopping right in front of it. Two other figures were there as well. One stood right at the first man's side, his clothes the same white battle-scarred tunic almost completely concealed by the coarse, brown robes with the broad hood. His brown hair had gotten considerably longer, and where before he had a clean chin, he sported a finely trimmed beard. The solemn glitter in Reb Qel-Droma's matching brown eyes was met by a glance of sorrow and loss of the other, older man.
Michael Halcyon looked over the burning torch towards the third man in the round. Black haired with hazel eyes, the figure opposite the pyre stared back. His face was unmoved, the hood of his black robes pulled halfway into his face. Underneath, a blue-black light body armor over a light grey undersuit reflected the fire's light. Then, Kaine Mandaala looked down upon the body of his former student, and anger began to rise again. He respect the mutual ceasefire, however. There was always time for battle later - now they were there to give a proper funeral to a person that had touched them all deep inside - be they Jedi or Sith.
The torch-bearing Jedi Master lowered the fire into the pyre and watched as the wood caught on. Soon, little sparks flared upwards into the night air, trying to reach the bright stars way up beyond the tree canopy. Halcyon stepped back, watching the flames taking over.
"Although Langis had suffered much in her life, eventually falling to the Dark Side, her life was not lost. She may have lived a Sith - but she died a Jedi. Her heritage was entwined with ours, and our destiny will be with hers."
Those few words held much more truth than any of them could fathom... yet.
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Fiery crimson met cool azure as the two lightsaber clashed, a bright flash lighting the faces of Kaine Mandaala and Mike Halcyon, entrenched in a deadly duel. Both warriors pressed on but evening out themselves with their power. Then, the Jedi Master made a swift sidestep, giving way to the Sith's blade and letting him stumble though the place where he had just been. The azure blade came down in quick gash, but Kaine parried it with his own down his back.
Over at the other end of the hill surrounded by jungle trees and dense foliage, Reb Qel-Droma held on against the brutal onslaught of Cyris Oscura. The Herald rained down stroke upon stroke into the Jedi Knight's parries, driving his opponent backwards. Reb's face was pulled in high concentration, deflecting every blow of his enemy's red blade with his own yellow one, meticulously closing any gaps. Cyris' skills with the lightsaber were quite below Reb's, and as such, the Jedi was just trying to tire out his opponent. Fueled by rage, however, Oscura refused to break down.
On the sides, almost unnoticed by the combatants, Langis Gyn Histop stood, her daggers at the ready, but puzzled. She knew that she was supposed to join the battle on the sides of the Sith - but her visions in the cell and what Halcyon had said after she discovered him in the vicinity of the dark-watered waterfall had changed something deep inside her. Irresolutely, she watched back and forth as Jedi and Sith fought valiantly at the hilltop, somersaulted over each other, pulling out all the stops of their skills.
Suddenly, Reb and Mike found themselves back to back, their opponents closing in.
"You know, I have a really bad feeling about this", Reb remarked, watching Cyris rushing up like a mad panther. His eyes glittered in a sick yellow, the black hair pearling with sweat.
"You don't say", the Jedi Master deadpanned, eying Kaine approaching him with the saber humming deadly.
Cyris began to scream - a primal howl of hatred - and ran up the short slope. His crimson blade flied behind him as he jerked his open palm into the Jedi's direction. Reb's own hand came up, his palm thrusting into Cyris' direction. Cyris was stopped cold in his assault but Reb driven backwards. The Jedi Knight slid into his old master. Though Reb steadfastly held his ground, Mike stumbled forward, directly into Kaine's swift gash.
Halcyon managed to whip up his blade, punching away the Sith's and saving himself from sure death, but got left defenseless. Kaines right hand got up, fingers clawing at the sky. Mike gasped as he was lifted off his feet, unable to breathe.
Langis saw the hatred in Kaine's eyes, how they had become a sickly yellow. He had no mercy with his opponent, as he began to crush his trachea. The young woman was shaken to her bone - and something deep inside her rebelled. She tried not to look, tried to find refuge in the green jungle's view, gilded by the waning sun. But she couldn't. She looked back. The other Jedi - Reb - was fighting with Cyris, who was assaulting him with all the reserves he had. He was bound - and Halcyon gasped for air. That wasn't fair... it wasn't a fair battle. And the Jedi deserved a fair battle!
"No!" Langis yelled, thrusting her arm into the direction of the two men. Like a blurred shadow, her knife whisked through the air, the sunlight reflecting on it and turning it into a red blaze. Kaine cried out. He stumbled back, holding his right shoulder where the sharp dagger had pierced right between two armor joints. In front of him, Halcyon slumped to the ground, gasping for air.
"You fool!" the former Herald growled. With a swift movement, he ripped the bloody knife from his body and threw it away. Ferocious anger contorted his face as he raised his left hand pointing into Langis' direction. The eyes of the young woman widened in fear as blue lightning leaped from the fingertips and caught her right in the chest, sending her screaming to the ground a meter away. She twitched as secondary discharges seared her body.
Malice shone in the Sith's eyes as he prepared to launch a second volley of pure hatred at the slender woman, but Michael had regained his composure and was again advancing upon his foe. Kaine spun around to meet the threat and once again blue lightning washed over the hilltop. However, this time they did not quite harm their intended target.
From the corner of his eyes Reb could see that, as they came near Michael, the blue tendrils seemed somehow to stretch, as if they were pulled in. With each bit of lightning that the Jedi Master absorbed he seemed to become an ever more imposing figure. For a moment, Kaine looked stunned as his attack was rendered completely harmless and nearly forgot to block the slash from Michael's lightsaber.
Reb could feel a general sense of victory emanating from the Jedi Master and knew that the tide of that duel had been turned, but Cyris was still proving a challenge. Both of them were trying to manoeuvre themselves into an advantageous position while keeping the setting sun out of their eyes. The dark-haired Sith kept up a stream of swing after swing and the Jedi Knight could do little but reply with block after block, but the sheer fury of the attacks prevented him from regaining the offensive.
Suddenly, Reb noticed a slight hesitation in the others attack and immediately lunged forward. As soon as he made the move, however, he knew he'd been set up. With a vicious grin Cyris slammed the Jedi Knight's yellow lightsaber aside, bringing him off balance. He finished the job with the Force and Reb felt himself slamming hard into a nearby tree.
As he recovered his senses, Reb realised he must have passed out for a few moments and that blood from some wound on his forehead was trickling down into his eyes. As he wiped it away he could see that Cyris was now running back to where Michael and Kaine were still fighting, undoubtedly intending to strike the Jedi Master in the back. Cyris had already gained at least a dozen metres on him, however, and he'd never get there in time. Unless...
Langis' eyes met Reb's and he saw nothing but determination in the young woman. She seemed to have recovered from the twisted lightning far faster than any ordinary woman would have been capable of and was getting up again, only mere metres from where Jedi and Sith were crossing their blades. Hoping that Michael was indeed right about this girl he tossed his lightsaber into her direction.
Without hesitation the young woman leaped forward to where Cyris was lunging towards Halcyon's back. Red blade touched skin as the yellow blade again sprang to life. Then the jungle air was filled with the smell of burned clothing and flesh and only when Michael turned slightly sideways he became fully aware of the drama that had played out behind his back. Cyris was clutching an ugly wound just below his right shoulder and as Langis fell backwards he saw that Cyris' blade had pierced her chest right below her breasts. Her eyes looked glazed and unfocused as if her consciousness was elsewhere.
A primal howl emerged from the normally stoic Jedi Master and Kaine felt something he had not known in a long time: fear. With terrible strength Michael slammed at Kaine's lightsaber, once, twice, with such force the third time that it slipped from his hands. Again Michael raised his lightsaber to strike down the defenceless Sith Lord but hesitated as he some of his normal composure returned. The two of them stared at each other for several long moments and then Michael switched off his lightsaber, turning towards the fallen woman.
Reb had arrived next to them as well and as they kneeled beside Langis both Jedi knew even their considerable healing arts could not save her. At the sight of Michael, the young woman's eyes seemed to regain some focus and a slight smile formed on her lips.
"Just in time to save a Jedi," she whispered.
"It isn't supposed to end like this," Michael replied, but Langis just gave one last smile before closing her eyes as the last of the sun's rays sunk beneath the horizon.
Throughout the night the three figures held their vigilance over the pyre, with none as witness but the silent trees. When dawn came again and the fire had died down neither Jedi nor Sith had yet spoken a word to each. But if someone would have observed them and listened carefully, he might have occasionally have heard two Jedi murmur the words "There is no death; there is the Force." And if he had listened even more carefully, he would have heard a young woman echoing them: "There is the Force."
Staring at the flames, Kaine felt an eerie sense of calm. The raging fire, though chaotic and unpredictable, balanced out the torment that often streamed through his mind. Watching the figure of Langis, unrecognizable now after being consumed wholly, he doubted his own intentions. He had no idea what his plan for her would have included, but he now realized how trivial his exploits were.
The searing heat baked his face, sweat winding its way down his rigid features like a mountain stream. Removing his armor, he contemplated tossing each piece into the blaze but reconsidered, instead piling it all neatly. Though shrouded in fog and darkness, the jungle swamp planet of Mimban seemed warm. Wildlife surrounding them was vibrant and vocal. Kaine could feel the essence of the land pulsating. Sensing a great emotional conflict beginning to surface, he looked to the Jedi.
“You two should leave,” Kaine suggested, half demanding. The Force was behind his words, like a low rumbling of thunder in the minds of all who heard them. “…before that is no longer an option.”
Silently, Michael and Reblet slipped away into the night. Kaine sat next to the now dwindling funerary pyre and addressed the darkness.
“You should go as well,” he whispered.
Emerging from the shadows, Cyris Oscura barked, his face twisted in anguish and disgust.
Kaine’s stern gaze stopped all further interruption from the Dark Jedi Master. “I have taken you as far as I can. It is time for you to choose your own destiny.”
Cyris recoiled from the words, as if arrows at the end of each statement struck him. Still reeling from the injuries he sustained during the fight, he took Kaine’s words to heart. He sensed a change in their surroundings, to that for a moment he considered drawing his lightsaber.
“No,” Kaine stated.
Surprised, Cyris took his hand from his hilt, leaving it hanging on his belt. Unsure of how to respond, he glared at the back of his Master’s head. Suddenly he felt as if Kaine was staring right back, though neither of them had moved. He backed off into the darkness, to find his ship waiting.
Alone in the fading light of the fire, Kaine was reminded of the burning suns of Tatooine.
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The Judland Wastes were indeed barren. No one in his or her right mind would even want to be out there mid-day. With his sanity questionable and a battle droid in tow, Kaine made his way through the scorching sands under the twin suns for what felt like hours. The figure in his dreams beckoned him to traverse the desert planet in search of… something. Though a lot of what was conveyed by his subconscious guide was rather clear, that part was vague.
“I hate this planet!” Kaine yelled to no one in particular. His voice fell short, muffled by the sand. The droid following him had long since stopped, having reached the maximum range from the Vindicator. With the temperature steadily rising, he was reduced to his base undergarments – a mummy-like array of light grey strips of cloth that covered his entire body. Along with his boots and the tunic from his dark grey Jedi-style vestiments covering his head, he only carried his lightsaber, Zanshin. Finding himself near a sandstone spire, he summoned the strength to sprint toward it. He leaned against the shadowy side of the formation and took a deep breath.
“This is insane,” he thought. “Why am I out here?” Pondering his current condition, anger rose quickly within him. He felt the heat of the desert melt in a wash of icy hatred. Looking skyward, he yelled, “Where is it?”
He heard a distant noise, recognizable but faint. Backtracking, he found his battle droid still standing where it has lost power, still holding all of his discarded clothing and items. The sound was that of his communicator, and someone was hailing.
“Master,” said the scratchy droid voice, “you have an urgent message from Cyris Oscura…”
“Come get me and I’ll take care of it,” Kaine commanded. Looking to the deactivated droid, he sighed. “It looks like we’re done here for now, friend. Perhaps we’ll come back, though hopefully not soon.”
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The holoprojection module on the Obsidian 2 sprang to life.
“Looks like he finally got my message,” Cyris muttered. Langis’ eyes were wide but her stare was vacant. She tried to concentrate on looking to the Dark Jedi, though she was still dazed from her blackout in his stronghold on Ashvroth. “And it seems you’re finally coming around.”
She didn’t really hear what he was saying. Muffled sounds were clouded with that of her own heartbeat throbbing in her ears. She saw shapes, recognizable but not distinct. Light still washed over parts of her vision, and she was unsure if it was the environment or in her mind.
“Mas//r Mandaala adder//es Cyr// Oscura,” the tinny voice chattered, as static ravaged the transmission. To Langis, there was a modulation of tones, cycling between normal and surreal. Even when Cyris spoke the pattern was present, though not as strong.
“This is Cyris. I am ready,” Cyris hastily gruffed. “Stupid droids.”
Langis struggled to focus on the disc, its smooth pad emitting a soft glow of cyan. The pale blue pool soon formed that of a human, and she knew it immediately. The voice that followed was clear and definite – it was that of Kaine Mandaala.
“How did y// learn of th//r whereabouts?” the Prophet inquired.
“Your own security force tried to contact you but were unsuccessful,” Oscura said, “They alerted me at the same time in hopes that I may find you.”
The quarter-meter tall figure lowered his head. “I see.”
Silence hung like a thick fog, nearly choking the young woman. Anxiety poured from the junior Herald. “What shall we do?”
“Rend//vous on Circarpous V,” stated Kaine. “We shall end this now.”
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“Circarpous V?” Reb asked, somewhat disgusted. “It’s a jungle and swamp wasteland.”
“Or Mimban, if you’d like,” stated Michael Halcyon as he broke through the atmosphere and searched for a suitable landing location. “Two names for the same place.”
“Confusing, for sure,” remarked his Jedi companion. “And you think the Sith have something for us here?”
“Not quite,” eluded the Jedi Master. “Though this is the resting place of the Kaiburr crystal once sought by Darth Vader before the battle of Hoth, I have it on good authority our once noble Jedi friend might be up to no good here.”
Aboard the wreck of the Miner’s Brother, Orian System, Amphor, CNS Space
Orian Prime lit Amphor magnificently from this vantage. The huge gas giant was a beautiful but deadly companion to the orbiting hulk of an old Republic mining vessel. No sane person came here, except for the occasional Clan mate. Droids ambled about the empty corridors, unbothered by the lack of atmosphere in most of the wreck. The solace was perfect for Macron’s works. Even the radiation storms were useful in mutating his experiments.
Mononoke gloated silently as he gently snapped the last piece of his re-worked lightsaber into place. The addition of the secondary Stygium generator crystal that Shikyo had brought from the Aeten system completed the weapon. The hydrospanner whined as the last Phrikite stud screwed into place. The system indicator jewel plates showed a promising green color. His fingers trembled slightly as he pushed the activator trigger switch.
The lightsaber ignited it with a sharp crackle and hiss, the reddish-orange blade backlighting his tattooed features like some old horror holovid. Mac ran his tongue over his metal-clad teeth with anticipation as he bit his tongue in a nervous gesture. The weapon would either work, or detonate. He tasted blood as he fingered the grip. “Blow me to Hell,” he muttered. “So good so far.” A thumb switch rotated the secondary generator crystal into place as Mac winced.
The lightsaber’s blade lengthened from 130 centimeters to almost 300 as it took on a red color with a hot white core. The Sith cackled loudly with insane glee. It worked just as Kaine and Muz had predicted. The days of meditation and long nights of work had paid off handsomely. He could hardly wait to use the weapon on someone-or some thing. It was perfect for his paradigm of Makashi, Dun Moch and Trakata.
A deep laugh escaped the sadist’s black lips and echoed through his vocoder as he almost drooled with anticipation. Drool in your helm was never good, and he remembered to close his mouth. “Idiot,” he growled.
The madman shut off the weapon and replaced it on his belt with a wistful sigh as he gazed out the view port at the colorful planet. He was an extremely lonely man deep inside, even though he had many that called themselves “friends”. The Way of the Dark Side allowed for no weakness and friends were always questionable. The path of power was never easy.
Only power could build a true relationship in his mind. A person either feared, or was feared. That was the Sith way. “Fear leads to hatred,” he repeated in a simple mantra as he tried to discern the atmospheric bands that wrapped the hostile world. “You are so pretty, but yet so deadly,” he thought to himself. “A lesson to be learned.” He began to drift into a meditative state.
A sharp ping interrupted his self-indulgent reverie. “Master, you have a holovid call,” came the droid voice. A screen lit up behind Macron and showed the visage of a Sith security droid, one of his progeny.
“Damn you, Ess-Three,” huffed the Tribune in embarrassment. “I expressly told you not to interrupt me here. I am conducting important… business.”
“Yes, Master. I see you are busy ingesting important optical data, but the caller will not wait.” The droid’s snide voice almost carried a dry hint of sarcasm.
Macron made a mental note to wipe his memory soon. Cheeky droids were not his style. “I told you…”
“Yes, Master. No need to repeat your words. You also programmed me to protect you from harm. Ignoring this call would be very bad for your health,” replied the droid dryly.
“In fact, it could be fatal.”
“I see,” replied the alchemist as he became curious. “Put it through.”
A blue figure began to form on the holoprojector. The usual Amphor ion storms were playing hell with the transmission. Pops and crackles came through the sound unit. “Boost the gain, you dianoga dung heap of a droid,” yelled the Sadowite as he slapped the thin disc in frustration. The image fizzed and wavered, and then became solid.
“Macron,” said the figure. “I have need of your skills.” The dark figure commanded instant respect and seemed to ooze power even through the long-range transmission.
Macron instantly recognized Kaine Mandaala. The Sith knelt, placing one fist on the floor. “Yes, my liege. How may I serve you?” he said with a tremble in his voice. Kaine was definitely on the ‘To be Feared’ list.
“It is time to repay me for the lessons I gave you,” chuckled the image of the Prophet. “Meet me on Circarpous V. Bring your armor, weapons, alchemical equipment, droids, and your mutations. They will be of use to me. Coordinates will follow. And Mononoke- you may die on this mission. Does that scare you?” asked the former Herald sagely as the blue figure seemed to bore into his skull with black eye sockets.
“Not nearly as much as you do, my lord. There are worse things than death. It will be done as you say,” said the Keibatsu simply. “ I will begin immediately.”
“Good, good. Bring your modified gunboat, a transport for your charges, and your scientific gear. You may have a chance to revenge yourself on an old enemy. Transmission ended.” The blue image disappeared as Macron sprang into activity. Fear of Kaine, and a hunger for revenge drove him to a flurry of activity.
The two Jedi made their way back to their ships. A pair of Actis-class interceptors were resting on a clearing down to the south. The concerned and worried soft whistles of two Astromech-droids welcomed Mike and Reb as they left the jungle and approached the starfighters. A yellow R4-unit and a red and white R7-droid with a black dome rolled over the ground towards their masters.
“It is a dark night”, stated Reb with a glance towards the starry sky. As no answer came he looked over to his old friend. Halcyon was staring absentmindedly into the darkness of the jungle. One hand was hooked into his belt, the other hung limp down the waist. A night wind came up and played through the old Jedi master’s hair and beard. Unlike Reb he wasn`t clad in the coarse, brown Jedi robes. Halcyon’s had been given away to another Jedi this night.
The R7 unit whistled a question. Reb patted it on the dome appreciatively and nodded. It then rolled over to the blue Actis, raised itself into the astromech port and began to wake the sleek fighter. The other droid let out a series of determined beeps and whistles. Then it headed for the yellow Actis, mirroring the R7’s behaviour.
“Mike?” Reb tried again. He frowned.
“It`s alright.” The Jedi master turned around, seemingly snapping out of it. A dark shadow was cast on his face, though. “Let’s leave.”
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As the two interceptors left the jungle world behind and headed for their hyperspace rings in space, Reb opened up a commlink to the other ship.
“Where are we going? Kaine will follow us – or we him. This isn`t over, yet.”
The blue Actis fired its potent engines and jetted on a fiery stream alongside the yellow one. Mimban’s sun came up behind the jungle planet, plunging the two ships into the broad light.
“I need to find Korath Lorren”, Mike answered. The hyperspace rings were getting bigger and bigger as the distance shrank.
“And you have of course an idea of where to find him?”
“No, obviously. Let me guess – the Force will guide us?”
“It will, young one – but only after we refuelled. And I need someone to check on this Actis’ starboard converters. I seem to have a drift.” The yellow fighter slowed down and began its approach for the ring. The clamps shut down and locked it in tight. The blue fighter just darted past, cutting throttle to zero just a millisecond before the other ring’s clamps would miss it. The remaining force pushed both hyperspace ring and interceptor forward.
“Having fun?” Mike remarked dryly.
“What do you mean you have a drift?” Reb ignored the quip. “The Actis is perfectly fine.”
“Well, I can only guess, but I am quite certain that my little droid over here has something to do with it. I remember him complaining to me that the ship wasn`t used to its full potential. Alright, now he`s laughing. Why is he laughing? This droid is mad!”
“If we stop by a good garage, I can have a look myself. Unless, of course, you prefer a total stranger to work on such an intricate and delicate piece of equipment”, Reb offered.
“I wouldn`t want to steal your fun, young one”, Mike came back dryly. A set of hyperspace calculations followed. “That’s a civilized star system where we are without doubt going to find the needed facilities. It’s quite a way, but I have a feeling the detour will be worth it.
“The Force?” Reb requestioned curiously.
“Oh, quite so. That, and the fact that I definitely need something to drink.”
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“Impressive. Quite impressive.” Reb pulled up next to Mike outside of the spaceport. In front of them, a huge marble alley stretched out into the city. Bright skyscrapers with fancy decorations joined each other, connected through archways and bows they formed the pulsating, lively center of Hyalar, the ruling capital of Hyadis.
Mike stepped to the side to let a group of travellers pass into the spaceport behind them. The city was bristling with life. Merchants were rummaging about, families passed along in the warm, golden sun and entrepreneurs made their way into the skyscraper maze. Every now and then, Hyadis security personnel with their black trousers, the white vests over the crimson shirts and the polished, round helmets stood vigilant.
“These dresses sure are fancy.” Qel-Droma studied one of the security men in their vicinity. The hood of his cloak was resting in his neck, his hands placed on the hips. The climate was comfortable.
“Those are Imperial Guards”, explained Halcyon, examining his own battle-scarred tunic. “They serve the people of the Hyadis Cluster and Empress Jalla Faleel. You could say they double as both guards and ambassadors.”
“Did you look that up on the galactic encyclopaedia or have you been here before?” Reb threw his old teacher a mustering glance.
“Oh, I have been here before, alright.” Stroking his beard with one hand, Mike looked back from the corner of his eyes, a familiar smirk crawling on his features. Reb instantly knew that there was more to this than met the eye. And he was also certain that he would find out in time – not now.
“Alright”, he gave up. “I`ll check for the ships.”
“Good. And I will see what else I can find. Call me up on the communicator once you`re set.”
“Very well.” Reb nodded, giving the guards a last glance. The sun reflected on their polished boots and helmets. “Until then.”
He turned and headed down the outer ring of the port into the direction of the maintenance hangars where the two Actis were to be carried to.
Mike set himself into motion as well. First he would try to find a tailor to buy a new set of clothes and then head for the inner city district. Surely the Rimrunners was still in business. A bar like that, up on the upper levels of one of the taller scrapers, would have a hard time running out of patrons – especially with the kind of scoundrels that were frequenting such an establishment. Not only was the Rimrunners a great hub of information, they also made the best cocktails within at least two parsecs.
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The sun vanished behind Reb as he passed through the huge, open garage door. Several droids as well as two dozen beings of different species were working left and right on starfighters, skiffs, gliders and barges. Metallic clanks welcomed the Jedi knight, the distinctive aroma of oil and grease crawled into his nose. Suddenly, he felt all at home.
With a rejuvenated smile on his face, Qel-Droma approached what seemed to be an office capsule rising several floors above the garage ground. A set of staircases led up to the windowed room where a busy-looking Duro ushered off a Gran to work. His desk was filled with datablocks as Reb entered the office.
“Hullo”, he caught the Duro’s attention. The blue-skinned alien looked up.
“I`m sorry to disturb you, but I`m searching for me and my friend`s spaceships that have been transferred here from the spaceport just recently. I wanted to check them myself.”
“And who are you?”, the Duro demanded to know, shuffling through his blocks.
“The name`s Qel-Droma. Reb Qel-Droma.”
“Oh, yes, I see here.” The Duro held up a datablock. He read over it, tilting the triangular head slightly.
“So I can work on them?” Reb was eager to get his hands on the Actis again. Who knew what the psychotic droid had done to it. Behind the Duro, visible through the office glass, a large skiff was lowered from the hall’s second level. Yellow warning lights flickered, the transport lift making an awful noise.
“No can do, Sir. The vessels are impounded.”
“Excuse me – did you say they were impounded?” Qel-Droma blinked.
“I did, Sir. Spaceport Authority regulations. No long-range-capable vessels are to be allowed off-planet without Imperial escort ships.”
“They are snubfighters…”
“With hyperspace rings. Says here in this report.”
“Well, surely I could still work on them?”
“No can do, Sir.” The Duro shook his head in an awkward manner that suggestion he was deliberately trying to emphasize his point of view opposite of a human rather than an intuitive gesture.
“Why not?” Qel-Droma argued. “I`m not leaving the planet – I just want to fix them up.”
“Sorry. Spaceport Authority regulations are clear in that point.”
A Twi`lek technician swooped past Reb and chucked a number of reports on the Duro’s table. They exchanged a few words after which the technician growled something and left again.
“The regulations aren`t that strict in this point”, the Jedi tried a different approach, calling upon the Force and reaching for the mind of the Duro. “You can let me to my ship.”
“I`m afraid I can`t do that, Sir”, the blue-skinned alien replied. He put down the datablock. “And if there isn`t anything else… I`m pretty busy.”
Reb gnawed his teeth. Why did this always happen to him?
Further arguing with the Duro seemed pointless though, and he decided to go exploring the city instead.
He headed back to the entrance of the spaceport and looked out over the marble avenue leading back into the city. An almost continuous steam of speeders went to and from the city along the centre part of the road. On the sides, pedestrians walked from building to building in the shadow of the great trees that lined both sides of the avenue. From the signs on them, most were in use as either shops or hotels catering to the crews of the ships making call at the spaceport. Like the avenue itself, the buildings were mostly made of marble, which made a sharp contrast with all the metal speeders passing by.
Though the avenue seemed to go all the way into city, Reb decided against walking and instead approached one of the many cabs waiting near the spaceport entrance. To his surprise, the driver was a Rodian, a race hardly known for earning money through honest jobs.
"Where to?" inquired the Rodian as Reb took place in the seat beside him.
"Just take me to city," Reb replied absentmindedly, while gazing at his surroundings. As the avenue sped past, he realised that Hyadis had to be pretty rich for an Outer Rim world to be able to afford all that splendour. The most obvious source of income would be trade, but now that he thought of it, the spaceport had been pretty empty for its size.
"What's happened to the merchants?" Reb inquired to his driver.
"Nasty business with some pirates," the Rodian answered. Though he had a thick accent, he seemed to speak Basic fairly well. "More and more ships get 'relieved' of their cargo lately. The Imperial Navy has been trying to crack 'em down, but with little luck so far. Word's going around CQ is behind it."
"CQ?" Reb asked.
"Oh, just another greedy local crime lord. Before, he mostly dealt with smuggling and extortion, it seems he's just gone a step further. They'll catch him sooner or later, though. The Empress understands a bit of shady dealing," the Rodian's snout seemed to twitch a bit here, "is good for the economy. But blatant piracy, that's something else entirely."
"Well, impounding ships hardly seems the way to restore trade," Reb remarked.
The Rodian driver shrugged while switching lanes to overtake some slower cargo-speeders. "The Empress is protective of her people," he remarked. "In a few weeks everything will be as normal, though I've heard your complaint more often. You're a pilot?"
"Shall I drop you near the Rimrunner, then? That's always a favourite among my space-going clients."
"Well, I don't see why not," Reb replied. "Guess I need to start exploring the city from somewhere.
The Rodian deftly flew the speeder through the city traffic and stopped before a particularly tall skyscraper.
"Just ride the turbolift all the way to the top to get to the Rimrunner," the Rodian told Reb, his snout forming something that crudely approximated a smile.
After paying the cab driver Reb thanked him and stepped out onto the streets. The style of the buildings wasn't as extravagant as near the spaceport, but the sheer size of the metal and glass skyscrapers told they had cost quite some credits as well. Just as he was about the enter the building that supposedly held the Rimrunner, he was stopped by two of the Imperial Guards like he had seen at the spaceport earlier.
"Papers please," one of them instructed Reb, the expression on his stern face telling he would appreciate disobedience.
"You don't need to see my papers," Reb tried while waving his hand trying to force himself inside their minds. He was hardly surprised that it didn't work.
"What do you think you are, a Jedi?" the other guard inquired, the two golden stripes on his shoulder indicating he was of higher rank.
"Sure seems dressed like one, though, Chief," the other trooper remarked, looking at Reb's earthen-brown robes.
"Well, you still got to show us your papers," the one addressed as 'Chief' informed Reb.
"I didn't break any laws, did I? "the Jedi Knight asked while reluctantly handing the lower-ranked Guard his ID card.
"We'll see about that," the trooper answered while comparing the ID card with some information on his datapad.
"Different last name," the guard reported his findings, "but the first name's the same and if you think away the beard... could be him."
"Well, I say we let the Cap'n sort that out further," Chief informed his subordinate. "That's what they pay him for." Turning to Reb, he said: "You, mister Crush, will come with us."
Reb grimaced. This day was rapidly progressing from bad to worse.
The emptiness filled him. Sitting in silence aboard the Vindicator, for the first time in a long time Kaine noticed the void within. It bothered him. An intense cold, like a sharp ache in the pit of his stomach consumed his thoughts. As the YT-2400 loomed in orbit, he tried to dismiss it as regret.
“Cyris has served well. It was time to let him go.” He thought. “Langis was unpredictable. Foolish. Weak.”
Though he thought it, he did not believe his own words. He knew it was he who had failed with her. Taking a deep breath, he began to dismantle his second lightsaber. “Macron may prove to last longer. His unpredictability spawns from madness. I’m sure I can control that.”
The silver emitter lay in pieces as he carefully disassembled the agean crystal assembly. Slowly he pried the crimson jewel from the weapon and placed it into a waiting box. He reached for a similar box, though caked with dust and grime, and sealed in a waxy substance. Using a small blade he nimbly broke the seal, quickly opening the container. The deep azure gem shone brightly in the intense light of his workbench, casting a cyan glow. He studied the crystal, inspecting it for any damage or flaws.
“Funny,” he thought, “when I removed this from the hilt so long ago, I never thought I’d put it back. Yet I kept it.”
Rebuilding the lightsaber, he chuckled to himself. The crystal was a perfect fit – as it should have been. The weapon went back together perfectly. Igniting the blade, the rich blue aura flooded the room, washing out his workbench spotlight. He caught a glimpse of himself in a reflection of the lamp’s metal shade, and felt a grin creep across his face.
Kaine deactivated the lightsaber and walked to his chambers. He knelt down to a box at the head of the bed. The plain metal box seemed rather unimportant, and showed no visible signs of entry. No latches, locks or hinges appeared anywhere. Using the Force, he manipulated the mechanism and the lid slid open. He reached inside and pulled out an armful of tan cloth wrapped in brown cloth.
“A ship is approaching, Master.” The gargled droid voice ripped through the silence like a jagged knife.
The searing lines of hyperspace became muted as the ship lurched. The YT-775 transport came to a halt as the stellar lines resolved themselves into discrete points once again with a shudder. The scintillating colors and sterility of hyperspace were a wonderful meditation aid for the madman. He loved to watch them, line after vivid white line as they resolved themselves indefinitely forever into infinity. Legend had it that watching the hyperlines made you go insane. That was not true- he was insane long before that.
“Mimban,” whispered Macron as he studied the sensor readouts. The return to realspace always left Macron slightly nauseous. All was well with his new vessel, freshly dubbed the “Interrogator”. The systems read green and none of the slavering beasts had broken free just yet down below. Droids were not a problem- they could be trusted, unlike apprentices or Sithspawned monsters.
An immediate hail was given by another ship orbiting the planet. “Master, you are being hailed,” replied R3 drolly.
“I see that, you sarcastic bucket of bolts.” Mononoke rolled his eyes in mock disgust. “For frell’s sake, just put it through. Time is of the essence here, stupid droid.”
“As you wish.” The R3 unit patched the comm signal through as various other droids gathered around. Somewhere in the small hold, one of the mutations roared forth it’s ravening hunger. “Will you go feed Sweetums, Ess-Nine?” asked the Sith as he twiddled with the comm-set. “Clean that cage too, while you are at it. And give it an injection, I don’t want it coming to full consciousness just yet.”
Two Sith security droids, several Dark Eyes, and twin IT-3 units clustered about Macron as he lit the switch. A familiar ghostly figure manifested itself like a hoary blue shade on the holoprojector. Macron bowed low in respect as his fingers trembled. “My Lord, I have arrived as requested. I humbly await your orders.”
“Good,” replied the ghostly figure. It was now clad in what appeared to be Jedi vestments. “You brought the items of course. Rendezvous with the Vindicator, and we will discuss matters personally. Kaine Out.”
Macron did a double take as he saw the outfit. “Jedi garb? What in Zandru’s Nine Blazing Hells?” he mumbled while walking back to the hold area. “Good Gods, I hope I don’t have to wear that ridiculous crap,” he muttered as his memory was jogged. “Jedi Bastards tried to send me to the Agri-Corps.” He smiled as he remembered fondly the beatings he had given other padawans until he was expelled from the Praxeum. “Besides, I look awful in brown.”
A frown crossed his twisted face as he thought more deeply. “Jedi dogs… I remember.” The scene of Reb Qel-Droma thwarting him on Korriban resolved clearly in his odd mental theatre. The wily Jedi had stolen a holocron and slyly replaced it with a decoy as the Clan Naga Sadow recovery team prepared to leave. The Jedi Knight had shook off a dose of the first Sith poison that the Sadowite had brewed easily. He had subsequently attacked and beaten the party badly.
They had come back empty-handed with an obvious fake. Even now, the red bloodstained Korribanian cloak that Macron covered his battle armor with to this day came from that painful and embarrassing incident. Mononoke still remembered the brutal beating his Master Nekura Manji had given him a few days later. His tattooed cheeks began to burn from the humiliation and shame.
“I wonder,” mused the Tribune as he ground his durasteel-clad implanted Nastah teeth. “Could that be the old enemy Kaine spoke of? I truly hope so.” His heart surged with joy, hatred and anger as he clenched his armored fists. The Battlelord had trained very hard ever since, hoping to revenge himself on his enemy, among others. Mononoke began to meditate as he waited for the docking maneuver to finish. This time, he would not be so easy to beat.
The turbolift doors slid open and the small cabin was instantly flooded with a buzz of chatter, neon light and the latest Modal Nodes' hit. Even though Figrin D'an wasn't with the combination any longer, the remaining band members made up for him with ease. Beyond the cabin entrance, the Rimrunners stretched out over several floors, connected through covered stairwells in what seemed to be a fusion of Nar Shaddaa functionality and Hyadis show-off. Several dozen beings of different species clustered around a barmile, sabacc-tables, a holonet screen and the ubiquitous separees - some just mere alcoves, others fully detached with cloth screens. The Rimrunners brizzled with life and Mike felt an easiness wash over his body like he hadn't felt in quite some time.
The Jedi master stepped up on the floor and made his way through pilots, smugglers, dealers, thugs and all other sorts of scoundrels. Weapons belonged to the good tone in this establishment, and Unity knew there was seldom a week going by where the Runners' owner didn't have to fix a broken or burned down screen. Speaking of which...
"Fix me up with something nice", Halcyon ordered the woman behind the bar, a Zabrak with flattened horns. Apparently nothing was ever changing as fast as galaxy-wide Empires and fashion.
"Sure." She hauled a glass and poured a couple of liquids into it, producing a brown caramel-like substance. Halcyon slipped her a couple of his last Imperial credits.
"Thanks. Say, who's running the place now?"
"Finn", the Zabrak answered over the music. "He took over from Callus half a year ago. Been here before?"
"No", Mike answered, a smile peeking through his beard. "Thanks!" He grabbed the glass and left the bar. Mike loved the Nodes, so he grabbed a table in the vicinity of the band on the second floor. It was a live performance, albeit one relayed via holonet. What he was looking at were just the blue holoprojections of the all-Bith band.
Halcyon was there to gather information, yes. But - from his point of view - he had earned a private minute between just him and his beverage. He sincerly hoped that it was something quite intoxicating. The Jedi master frowned and tried to drive away the dark thoughts that gnawed at the edges of his mind again. The last days had been devastating. It was better to refocus and carry on. Not think about what happened on that jungle planet... not think about Langis.
"Blast", he growled and took a big sip. Immediatly regretting it, he clenched his teeth and sucked in breath sharply. That was some change compared to the water he'd been living on for the last months. A hearty laughter brought his attention to a woman sitting on a desk nearby. Her coal black hair quivered as her shoulders shook with the chuckle. Her black eyes glistered with amusement and her obviously natural tan went well with her leather flight jacket and the dark blue jumpsuit pants. A heavy blaster pistol was holstered in her second belt.
"Watch it, old man", she quipped, "that's some hard stuff."
"I've downed worse", Mike retorted, turning in his chair so he could face her. She was either a mercenary pilot or a smuggler - her sort of ragtag clothes and the body language gave her away. Also, her softly slanted and small nose, together with the full lips probably helped her to earn lots of contracts from her male contractors.
"I think you lie."
"I never lie."
"What are you then? A Jedi?"
The woman cocked an eyebrow and eyed him up and down. Mike always thought the robes would give it away, but they seemed to have some inherent camoflage effect. She shook her head, smiling. Halcyon got up and sat down next to her at her table. She threw him a wry look.
"Who said you could sit down here, Jedi?"
"The name's Mike Halcyon. And I thought a woman like you wouldn't be afraid of an old man", he countered, returning the wry grin.
"You know - from this distance, you don't look that old." She leaned forward. The neon lights reflected off her shiny hair and played with a silver bracelet around her right wrist. The only piece of jewelry the Jedi master could make out. "Must be the beard."
"Most likely. So, are you going to tell me your name, or do I have to resort to mind tricks?" Mike smirked.
"Alright!", the woman laughed. "Ana Yashev. I'm a freighter pilot. And what's your business?" Even though she appeared to be open and friendly, Halcyon hadn't missed her right hand leaving her glass and hovering about her waist. She knew her patrons.
"I sell those nice robes."
"I see. I'm happy with my stuff, though. You're not gonna make a profit off me." Yashev leaned back and sipped from her drink. In the background, the Modal Nodes made a short pause only to continue with another good piece.
"You might make some off me", Halcyon said, drinking something as well. The grin hadn't faded from his face.
"Oh yeah? And with what?" she questioned. "I don't sell cloth."
"No you don't. But you probably know your way around here, do you not?"
"Possibly." Now it was up to Yashev to smirk. Her hand had left her waistline and joined the other on the glass. She leaned forward again, a cheekish glitter in her eyes. "What do you want to know?"
"I suppose this is going to cost me?"
"Old, but not dumb."
"Quite to the contrary, Miss Yashev." Mike feeled for the rest of his credits in his pockets. He wasn't going to win a fortune with that. As a matter of fact, he might not even be able to afford a meal eventually. That woman better knew something of interest. "Why don't you start with telling me what's new around this place?"
"What's new?" She arched an eyebrow. "You mean aside of the Empress impounding all ships? Or the rise in pirate activity we're experiencing along our safest starlanes? Or maybe the Hyadis Cluster's diplomatic strings-pulling and see-sawing between New Republic and Imperial Remnant?"
"Yes, like that."
"Are you kidding? That's common knowledge! Are you new in the area?" She was flabbergasted. "You probably came here with one of the last pluoguses."
"Of course." Visions of his impounded Actis, surrounded by mechanics, tearing it apart, flashed in front of Mike's mind's eye.
"Well, old man, looks like you're outta luck. You're stranded on this glorious planet until further notice." Yashev, though a pilot, didn't seem to be worried too much herself. Something was amiss about her but Halcyon couldn't pinpoint it. Yet.
"From my experience there is no such thing as luck." The Jedi master took another sip from his drink and wondered if Reb had already found out about this and if yes, what his old Padawan was currently up to...
"I do most humbly apologise for the manner in which those brutes brought you to the palace," the elder man standing in front of Reb said, though it seemed more of a formality than a true apology. The man, whose hair, moustache and long beard had all gone perfectly white from age, had not bothered to introduce himself, though from his manner he appeared to be an important man in the palace staff. His deep blue eyes stared at Reb's, almost as if he was trying to look into his very soul.
"However, the Empress, she insisted that you be summoned to the palace as soon as she heard of your arrival," the older man continued. "Most insisted. I'm sure you understand." Reb's understanding did apparently not need to be confirmed, as he immediately continued. "The Empress is now ready to receive you."
Reb merely nodded and followed the steward. After he had been apprehended by the imperial guards in the city, they had escorted him into a speeder with blinded windows. They had flown for some while and when they had exited again they had been in what appeared to be some sort of large barracks. Officers of subsequently increasing rank had all inspected him and his identification until he had ultimately been brought before the steward of the palace. From the conversations and his surroundings, Reb had deduced that apparently the empress wanted to speak to 'Vice Admiral Reb Crush' most urgently and that he was now indeed in her palace. He had a bad feeling about it all.
The inside of the building was quite impressive: each floor of the broad corridors they walked through was made of polished marble, beautiful paintings decorated the walls at regular intervals. They stopped before a heavy double wooden door where two of the imperial guard were standing. They wore much the same garment as the imperial guards in the city, though of a formal cut and each wore a long red cape. Though they carried a blaster at their belt, they stood at attention with ancient looking spears. Both guards appeared to be women. They examined Reb sharply for a few moments and then opened the door in silence. He quickly followed the white man inside, who announced the visitor to those present in the room.
"The honourable vice-admiral Reb Crush, of the Imperial Remnant."
Like the rest of the palace, this room was built in a lavish style, again with marble floors and pillars. Each of the four walls was one great painting, each depicting some battle in a different era. The large throne on the centre of the dais caught the attention, however. It seemed to have been cast of solid gold and made in the shape of a great beast; the armrests being it's paws and the great cat-like head with manes hovered above the woman sitting in it. She had bright red hair which had been brought upward in an elaborate hair-dress. Heavy make-up covered her face, which was all white, except for her lips which were the colour of blood. Deep green eyes regarded Reb expectantly as he stood before her.
He made the slightest of bows towards the Empress of the Hyadis Cluster and it pleased him to see several of the advisors flanking her majesty frown at the subtle insult.
"I believe you... invited me to your presence," Reb began. "Though I must say the manners in which such invitations are conveyed are no longer what they used to be."
"Nor have the manners of the Remnant increased over time, I see," retorted Empress Jalla Falleel with a melodic, yet strong voice. "Tell me, are you here to bargain with us, or merely to spy?"
"As it happens to be, neither," Reb replied. He decided to test her patience a bit.
"Then what business do you have on my planet?"
"Just visiting, in fact."
"Just visiting," Faleel echoed. "Very well, since you're clearly not sent here to negotiate with us, I'm sure Captain Indaru can make you confess your true purpose here." She made a slight gesture with her hand and Reb could sense that two guards were moving from the doors towards him.
"Now," Reb said while raising his right hand, "that might be a very hasty course of action, as it appears your men have misidentified me."
"Lies," one of the advisors next to the Empress announced. He was a somewhat older man with streaks of grey beginning to creep in his black hair. He did seem vaguely familiar to Reb. "Or do you deny that we never negotiated during the conference of Denubaris IV?" The pieces slid together in Reb's mind. He had indeed negotiated over some trade agreement with Hyadis with that man, whose name was something like Lartes or Lertes.
"Certainly not. I was indeed in service of the Remnant, though that is truly a lifetime ago. If your intelligence service had done their job a little better you would have known I resigned years ago and that they are unaware of my current whereabouts. Something which I would like to keep that way."
"And who better to send to spy on us than someone whose records claim is no longer associated with the Remnant?" Laertes, yes, that had to be his name, questioned.
"You stare yourself blind on your own prejudices and fail to see that which is before your eyes," Reb countered, growing agitated. "Do these robes," he ruffled his brown garments, "hold no more meaning in this galaxy? Have you forgotten so much that this," he flung his lightsaber in front of the throne, "is considered some oddity that not even your own guards recognise as a weapon? Have even these noble courts fallen so low that they no longer offer their hospitality to a wandering member of the Jedi Order?"
Though he had nearly whispered the end of his tirade, it was not without effect. A number of the advisors debated heatedly among themselves; only the Empress kept silent and regarded Reb with cool green eyes.
"Any beggar could claim he is a Jedi Knight," Laertes exclaimed. "Not to mention the fact that it was the Jedi..."
"Enough, Bin," the Empress spoke at last. "He speaks rightly, our hospitality is not as it should have been." She turned her attention back to Reb. "Please, be our guest for the next few days."
Part of him wanted to refuse, but that no longer was an option. Besides, watching the politics of the palace for a while might be interesting.
"I would be most pleased," Reb answered with a slight smile.
"So, while Mike was busy dealing with the other Sith, we were back to duelling among ourselves," Reb continued his tale to Jalla, as the Empress insisted he called her. Two knives were dancing above the table in imitation of the lightsaber fight Reb was describing. "He advanced aggressively, but I managed to keep parrying his blows. Sooner or later he'd tire me enough, though, so I decided to trick him; I used the Force to tug at the amulet he was wearing. He was so afraid of losing it that he dropped his concentration for a split-second. Just long enough."
One of the knives suspended in the air gave a vicious stab at the other and in a dramatic motion it fell back down on the table. The other knife headed back to Reb's hand, who used it to cut a piece of meat from his plate. As he chewed and contemplated what kind of animal the meat could be from, Jalla's green eyes regarded Reb expectantly. No longer in formal court attire her hair hung down in curls towards her shoulders. Without the heavy white make-up, her face looked softer and Reb realised that she was actually quite attractive. He guessed her to be somewhere in her mid- or late twenties, which made her fairly young to rule an entire planet.
She kept looking at Reb, a frown forming on her face. It took Reb a second longer to realise what was the matter. "Pardon me," he muttered as he directed her knife back in the direction of her plate. She nodded with a smile and continued eating. Reb took a swallow of the wine and continued his tale.
"So, with the Sith dead, I went to help Mike, but he had dealt with his foe as well. It turned out the spoils of war wasn't quite what we expected. When we activated the amulet the Sith had carried, it turned out to be..." Reb paused a few moments for a dramatic effect, "a music box."
"A music box!" Jalla exclaimed. "I refuse to believe you were risking your life over some music box!"
"Neither did I at the time," Reb answered with a grin on his face. "Though it apparently is the truth."
"Well, at least it makes for a nice story to impress royalty with," she said with a tone that made clear she believed little of it.
"Trust me, it is true," Reb defended himself. "Here," he said while taking a golden object from his robes and handing it to her. "The very music box I just told you about."
Jalla examined the golden disk, which was about the size of a palm. In the centre was the head of some strange animal, it's name or origin a mystery, surrounded by a number of glyphs, which were definitely Sith.
"It looks like an amulet of sorts," Faleel remarked. "Hardly a music box."
"Yes, well, you see how we were fooled. Push the nose."
Hesitantly, Jalla pushed the nose of the strange animal with her index finger. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then the disk opened like a flower, revealing two figurines with lightsabers locked in duel. A tune that had been composed millennia ago filled the dining hall.
They just listened to the tune for a few minutes, then Reb picked up the artefact again, manipulated it to bring it back into it's dormant form and returned it to his robes.
"Amazing," Jalla commented on the strange device. "We have some old relics her on Hyadis, but that music box seems truly ancient."
Reb nodded. "And now you see that we Jedi aren't in fact all lying bastards."
"No, I guess you're not," she answered, laughing. They each ate some of their food before Jalla spoke again. "This Mike, he's a good friend of yours?"
"He is," Reb answered. "He thought me everything I know about being a Jedi Knight and we've been through a lot together. I suppose you could meet him too. As your troops have grounded all ships going off the planet, I doubt he's going anywhere soon."
As he spoke those words, the Jedi Knight felt a strange sensation come over him. He blinked with his eyes to clear away the feeling of fogginess that clouded his mind. When his eyes opened again, his vision seemed somewhat milky, as if looking through some dirty glass. He looked at Jalla and noted she wasn't sitting across him anymore, but had taken the seat to the right of where's she had been sitting. She was looking at the person in front of her, apparently unaware of Reb.
Something was decidedly not right, a part of his mind alarmed him and suddenly he realised it wasn't the Empress who had shifted seats... it had been him. Alarmed he looked to his side and saw a young man, clad in dark clothing, blonde hairs framing a face that had just the stubbles of a beginning beard. Reb looked dumbstruck at the younger version of the man he knew so well and then he realised what had happened.
His vision blurred and he found himself back where he was, Jalla, no, he himself, once again sitting in his rightful place.
"Of course, you've already met him," was all Reb could utter.
The Modal Nodes had ended their concert with two encores. Their newest tunes had been met with an overall good approval, the Rimrunners's patrons cheering even though the formation couldn't hear it. Mike was sitting on a table in the back of the room, hovering over his drink. Taking all of his last credits, Ana Yashev had left an hour ago to 'check on some business', never to return. Ever since, Halcyon tried to read sense into what he'd gathered.
Apparently, the Cluster's hyperlanes were being waylayed by pirates. Normally, the Hyadis Imperial Navy would have made short process with the criminals, but they seemed to have the uncanny ability to make the jump right before a patrol cruiser could arrive. In addition, their numbers seemed to have skyrocketed in the last months. And while the Hyadis Navy hunted shadows, almost every merchant in the Cluster was ambushed and looted. The skylanes were unsafe, and Jalla Faleel had grounded each and every hyperspace-capable vessel on the three inhabited planets Hyadis, Avena and Iol. While she was trying to find a way to counteract the recent pirate surge, the citizens - especially the spacefaring merchants - were becoming less and less happy. Yashev had told about a mechanics strike on Avena that shut down the capital spaceport for three whole days.
Then there was the Cluster's volatile diplomatic situation: Situated at the fringes of Remnant and Republic space, both star empires were trying to sway the Empress' loyalty. A contract with Hyadis would mean an increase in trade income and taxes. Not to mention that the Cluster could fittingly serve as expanded borders against the other empire. Yashev had a name for him, too: Moff Vanderbilt Riven, the regional Imperial governor. Riven apparently was old-school Empire, providing a safe haven for Imperial fugitives and - rumor had it - war criminals.
Mike stared into the vestiges of the brown drink, thinking. This didn't look like a galaxy-threatening Sith uprising - more like a common bureaucretic problem that would be dealt with sooner or later. He hadn't escaped the Dark Brotherhood just to find out why a couple of pirates were able to trace the routes of some realm's navy. In addition, he hadn't found out anything about Korath Lorren and, in turn, nothing of value how to help his old friend Kaine.
Kaine. Time was running short. Halcyon knew that he could still reach the Sith, but with every minute he waited, he seemed to move away further and further. Eventually, it would be too late to save him. Frustration cooked up in the Jedi Master. So much had been sacrificed so far - even a young and innocent life. Langis. It should have never come to this. Why had she been there? Why had she accompanied Cyris and Kaine? It had been a matter between Sith and Jedi - there was no need to draw in the young woman.
Everything Mike had tried to suppress the last days came rushing back. A wave of sorrow flooded over his body. Emotions he had thought long buried broke through his usual stoic self control. Halcyon's shoulders quivered. His hands reached for the glass, the knuckles rising white has he clinged to it.
"There is no emotion; there is peace", the old Corellian recitated, reaching out with the Force to find calm and serenity. It was difficult. So many emotions shook the Force around him, so many sentient beings were connected in the living energy field, reflecting his emotions back on him.
"There is no passion; there is serenity." Mike breathed in heavily, letting the Force flow through him. This time it worked. His heart stopped beating so fast, all the cloudy emotions were swept away by a wave of light. Like cooling, calming liquid, it washed over him and cleared his mind.
He got up. Hanging around in the Rimrunners any longer was a waste of time. Staying on this planet was a waste of time. He needed to find Reb and plan their next course of action. As soon as they'd get their Actises out of impound, they should head somewhere else - some planet that Kaine actually had a link to. Corellia. Or Ralltiir.
Mike left the empty glass on the table and headed for the exit. The bar was filling up now that the evening dawned. Slipping past a circle of Rodians enjoying a conversation over high alcohol bottles, he reached out with the Force and searched for the familiar life signs of his old student and close friend. Stepping into the escalator, Mike furrowed his brows as he located it right where he knew the royal palace was situated.
He had hoped that he would have never been forced to go there again.
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Drawing in the robes, the hood pulled deep into the face, Mike took the long lfight of stairs up to the palace's main entrance. High lanterns gave off a soft light in the darkness but were not needed with the tall skyscrapers and Hyalar's night life surrounding the lofty palace. Two guards awaited the Jedi Master at the top. They crossed their spears in front of him.
"The palace is closed for the night, citizen", the one on the right said. Behind them, a high arcade led deeper into the building.
"I will be gone soon", Mike stated. "Let me in."
"I'm afraid we can't do that, citizen. Please come back tomorrow."
Halcyon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Why had there always be so many obstacles? Why couldn't just once everything go easy? There was neither time for diplomatic banter now nor time to wait for the morning to come.
"I am no threat", he opened up the eyes, giving a subtle wave with the right hand. "You can let me in."
"He's no threat", the one guard explained to the other, pulling back the spear. "We can let him in." The other nodded and pulled back his own aswell. Without hesitation, Halcyon passed them both and entered the arcades. A lonely figure, he made his way past the high columns and into the inner chambers. His robes waved left and right after him, the hood still pulled into his face.
Mike felt that he was nearing Reb. He took a turn left and pushed open a heavy wooden double-door. Behind the doors, the throne room awaited. The throne itself was empty and only a few light stripes tried to fend off the darkness. Two guards with flowing red cloaks turned around, surprised.
"Hey! Who are you? What are you doing here?" One stepped forward, pulling a heavy blaster from his belt, aiming it at the Jedi Master. The other brought up a blaster rifle, joining the other man. Heavy steps echoed from behind as suddenly another six guards broke into the throne room behind Mike. He threw a short glance back, noticing how they were drawing their weapons aswell.
What was it with these people? What was their problem? Mike was just here to fetch Reb and leave.
"I am searching for a friend of mine. I will take him with me and leave again."
"You will do no such thing", a guardsman stated, appearing from behind the six new ones. His helmet and vest were adorned with much gold, in the hand holding a blaster pistol trailed at Halcyon's chest. He obviously was the officer in charge. "You are under arrest for breaking into the palace. Put your hands up behind your head and follow us."
"I have no time for this", Halcyon retaliated, turning around. He reached out with the Force, touching the minds of the guards. The Corellian Jedi envisioned how he would grow in statue and presence, taking in the entire room and dwarfing the Hyadans. They wouldn't even try to open fire from their guns because it would be fruitless anyways. Doom would await them.
Fear flickered in the eyes of the officer. He made a step back, followed suit by his guardsmen. Two dropped their rifles, the others had their hands shaking too much for a steady aim. Step by step, they backed off.
No. Don't do that!
"What?" Halcyon looked around, trying to find the one that just spoke. But all guards were trembling in fear, taking cover behind the dais and the entrance respectively. Then, suddenly, an adjacent door flew open and a beautiful woman strode in. Her red hair flowed over her shoulders like fire, the green eyes piercing like emerald shards. Following her quick pace came Reb, lightsaber in hand.
"What is going on here?" Jalla Faleel's voice was demanding and stern. Her gaze focused on the robed figure in the middle of her throne hall that dared to disturb the peaceful evening. She shot a contemptible glance over to her guards. Then she build herself up in front of the man, demanding an immediate answer.
"I am sorry for the hassle", Mike explained, turning towards her. "Me and Reb will be gone soon to leave you in peace."
The Empress threw a glance over her shoulder to the Jedi Knight. Reb pulled up next to her, frowning.
"Oh, so that is your mentor, huh?" Faleel snorted. "Not one of fine manners, that is certain. Put down that hood", she demanded.
Mike hesitated. Then, slowly, he reached for the brim of the coarse fabric and pulled it down into the neck. His dark hair and the long beard couldn't conceal his figures enough for the Empress. She was taken aback.
"Michael Halcyon. Now everything makes sense!" She looked over to Reb and her gaze was of stone. "And you are even joining forces with this treacherous Sith! From all the beings on all these planets, I would have expected a Jedi to be the first to stand up against the scourge of galaxy. I am disappointed, Mr. Qel-Droma."
Reb heaved his eyebrows and threw Mike a glance. The Jedi Master countered it with an unreadable expression in his face. He didn't say anything.
"Captain Indaru!" the Empress addressed the golden helmeted officer at the foot of the dais who was finally recovering. "Place them both under arrest. Collect the entire palace guard. And shoot them if they resist."
The captain of the guard motioned his troops forward and slowly they moved towards the two brown-robed men. Mike noticed Reb had closed his eyes in concentration and he mentally prepared himself for the fight to come. A few guards, no matter how well-trained they were, could hardly expect to stop two Jedi. Two of the guards were standing next to Reb and grabbed him by the arms. He opened his eyes again and looked straight at Faleel.
“You loved him,” he spoke. The words were a statement rather than a question. The expression on Jalla’s face became even more angrier than it had already been.
“I loved him and he betrayed me. A proper Sith indeed.”
“I… I’m sorry, Jalla,” Mike started, but he was immediately cut off by Faleel’s angry voice.
“Save me your glib words. They may have worked once, but not this time. Take them away.”
“So, is this how you rule your empire?” Reb asked softly. “Like a whimsical child?”
Jalla motioned the guards to stop and the deep green eyes stared at Reb with pure hatred. He was glad looks couldn’t kill.
“Fine,” she said and walked over to where Mike was held by the guards.
“You have something to say?”
For a moment, Mike kept silent, staring in the distance. With each passing second, the frown on Reb’s face became more grave and the smile on Jalla’s face more menacing. Just as she was about to turn away again, Mike finally spoke.
“Look, I’m sorry. What I did then was… wrong. I never should have come and when I left… What is done is done, though. I wish I could go back in time and change things, but I can’t.”
“And if you could?”
Mike hesitated for a few moments, thinking of how to bring his answer.
“I wouldn’t have come here. Despite all the words I used then, I never really loved you. I wondered what it’d be like to sleep with a princess and I acted on that. That’s what I regret.”
A tear rolled down Jalla’s face, though she quickly wiped it away and looked as angry as before.
“So I was nothing more than a toy, was I? So, you will also confess to being a Sith?”
“I was, once. But no more.”
Jalla laughed, though it was mocking sound without any mirth behind.
“You get stuck in your own web of lies, Mike. Even I know there is no redemption from the dark side of the Force.”
“So some believe,” Reb spoke from behind her and she turned so she could face both Jedi. “So the Sith would like everyone to believe. But if we were, do you believe there would be anything in this hall but death?”
The Empress of Hyadis thought in silence for a few moments before speaking again.
“Fine. Let them go. Leave my palace. Leave my city. Leave my planet. I don’t want to see either of you again. Ever.”
She turned towards the door of the throne room as the guards released their grip on both men.
“How are we to leave if you’ve grounded all ships?” Reb asked.
Faleel turned at the door to face them. She seemed about to say something, but then she turned again and left them alone with the guards.
Outside the palace, the weather had turned into a drizzling rain. In the lights from Hyadar it made the whole complex seem gloomy and it made the steps leading from the palace treacherously slippery. Mike and Reb carefully descended the long stairs in silence, their hoods drawn up in a vain effort to keep their faces dry. They were nearly back in the city proper when Mike spoke for the first time after leaving the palace.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Reb answered. “I think I caught a glimpse of the past.”
“A glimpse of the past?” Mike repeated.
Reb quickly told of the vision he’d had in the dining hall, of Mike and Jalla sitting there, while he himself had only been some unseen observer.
“Truly strange,” Mike remarked. “We’ve had visions of the past before, but those were memories from our ancestors. I don’t know what this means either.”
They walked further, both sunken in their own thoughts. They returned to city, still vividly alive. People and speeders were still making their way throughout the streets despite the rain and late hour.
“Just how much of your past is yet to catch up with us?” Reb asked as they stopped at an intersection.
“Not too many, I hope,” Mike answered. “Not too many.”
“I hope so,” Reb replied grimly.
“Let’s go,” Mike said, pointing towards the road that would lead them to the spaceport. “I don’t really want to find out what Jalla is going to do when she does see us again.”
“No,” Reb agreed. “I don’t think we would.”
Aboard the Vindicator
“Yes, I understand,” replied Macron to Kaine’s query. “I will go to the surface with my equipment and ready the droids for the impending operation. It is ironic that you and I are a few of the Dark Jedi that do not find their use dishonorable.”
“This is going to be a war, Macron. Is war honorable?” queried the Elder. “Choose your answer carefully.” The powerful former Jedi regarded the Tribune with eyes that seemed to penetrate to his very core. Macron thought deeply, closing his eyes and feeling for the inner truth that lay within.
“There is no honor in war, only the victor and the vanquished. Irregardless of what my compatriots think, the only thing that matters is if you live or die,” hissed the Sith as he clenched an armored fist. “I’ll use whatever tool it takes to finish the mission, no matter how ghastly.”
The Prophet chuckled. “Spoken like a true Sith. Always ready for conflict, are you? Your bloodthirsty nature will serve me well in this regard. You have heard of these pirates, hmm?” Kaine continued to regard the readouts on his massing droid force as he spoke.
“Pirates? No, my lord I have not. Are they ours?” Mononoke asked with a puzzled look.
“Not this time, unfortunately. In fact, so far I have been able to learn very little of them, which is unusual. They have even ‘lifted’ a shipment of Thaissen crystals leaving this world that I was going to use in a prototype Force-detector unit. You have heard of the Kaiburr crystal as well, yes?”
“Indeed I have, my liege. A most powerful entity…” Macron’s voice trailed off as his eyes glazed over. Crystals of any kind were a special love of the Sith’s. “And quite interesting.” He drifted mentally, lost in mad thoughts of glittering facets and silica lattices. "I wonder what mere pirates would want with them?"
Kaine coughed loudly and brought him out of the reverie. “Rejoin your mind to your body, Equite. You may encounter other servants of the Force in this matter,” stated the former Herald. “Without darkness, there can be no light. Without light, there can be no darkness. This is why the Sith and Jedi were ultimately unable to destroy each other. Keep this in mind.”
Mononoke looked startled at the Prophet’s words. That was almost tantamount to heresy, and yet to say so would mean nearly instant death. “As you wish, Master,” spoke the confused alchemist with a bow and a flourish of his red cape. “It shall be done as you say.”
“You can dispense with the theatrics, Macron,” laughed Kaine. “No need for that here. Now get going.”
Mononoke turned on his boot heel and strode away quickly. There was much to do. A plan for maximum droid strategic efficiency was spinning in his head. As well, questions abounded in the lunatic’s keen mind. “What in blazes does he need an army for? And my mutations? Kaine is always so secretive… to be expected I suppose. At least the bioassault-gas is remaining stable. They should have the shells loaded by now… I’d hate to be the ones they are intended for.”
A snicker passed his black lips as he boarded the Interrogator through an airlock that hissed shut behind him. The thought of watching the insidious face-melting gas work on his foes always made the Battlelord smile. He thumbed his comlink and hailed the ship’s cockpit.
“Ess-Nine, ready the ship for departure. We are going to drop planet side. Here are the co-ordinates. And for frell’s sake, try to find a semi-dry landing spot this time.” Mononoke shuddered at the thought of this swampy hell. “I hate bugs… always the damn bugs.”
Kaine’s comm chirped to life.
“I cannot find your beacon to guide me to the factory,” the Sith growled.
“And you won’t,” Kaine amused. “It will find you, as soon as I tell it you’re coming.”
Macron expected and accepted the cryptic answer, and soon a navigation signal made itself known. Though dense at first glance, the canopy of the swamp planet revealed a pathway through to a clearing. As his ship approached, a large portal opened in the surface. Moss covered doors concealed the entrance well enough that, unless one knew this was the location, no one would ever find it.
The Silooth descended into the cavern. Kaine’s beacon sent out a signal asking for permission to auto-navigate and Macron accepted. His assault gunboat slowly made its way through the twisting tunnels until it reached a heavily armored door. As he approached, the door cracked open. A bright orange light bathed the ship. A few hundred meters later, the Silooth settled gently on a large landing platform. The massive cavern was buzzing with activity as scores of battle droids were being assembled.
Stepping to the edge, the corners of the Sith’s mouth started to curl with delight. The sight was unimaginable – hundreds of what appeared to be Clone War era battle droids were standing in a ready formation. He had only seen this before in images from the Battle of Naboo’s massive planet side assault. Now, under the direction of master Mandaala, they were at his command. One painted as a captain approached him and saluted.
“Master Goura, what are your orders?” the droid’s monotone vocoder grumbled.
“Some modifications are in order,” Macron stated, his head turning upward as his eyes shone down across the platoons. “Modifications… indeed!”
* * *
The amber dawn of the twin suns blanketed the sparse landscape of Tatooine. Vapor lazily trailed off the near-freezing hull of the Vindicator as sunlight crept across its surface. Mos Eisley was already buzzing with activity before he had landed. As the gangplank lowered, he descended quickly. His carmel colored boots stepped into the warm sands and he stopped to survey the . Not many had stopped their business to look his way, but those who did seemed disinterested with their new visitor. He made his way through the increasingly busy streets until finally approaching the infamous Chalmun’s Cantina.
“You!” a voice cried out.
Cautiously, the Prophet turned to face the street.
“Modifications…I need some sleep,” grumbled the Sith to himself again like some unholy mantra. He had been extremely busy in the last week, overseeing extensive refit and retooling operations. Mononoke had made sure to upgrade the creator and factory droids, and then had let the new ones join in on upgrading their brethren. Plans from many modern manufacturers had been sliced. It would be a lengthy process, but the work was progressing nicely.
Various droid models scurried about here and there, going about their business like metallic ants. The army of robots was rapidly increasing their skills and fortitude. The factory droids had been taught to upgrade themselves and their offspring with modern processors, and a Sith alchemical plating and armory forge had been built. The bots had even built an advanced weapons plant, and were being equipped with more modern firepower. The whole facility laid beneath an old mine, and the mineral resources were convenient.
“Darth blast him. It is amazing how Kaine got a hold of all this magnificent mess,” muttered Macron as he walked along the gangway overlooking the incredible pits below. The drug-addled alchemist had not slept in over ten days. The Sith cocktail of vile chemicals coursing through his synthetic veins had kept him alert- so far.
“Master Macron, we have an incoming transmission for you on an encrypted channel,” canted one of the floating intelligence droids.
The Battlelord nodded. “Show me, Dee-Twelve.” The scene resolved on the holoprojector as the many encryption protocols came into play.
“Macron, this is Kaine. I have landed on Tattooine, and am about to debark. Have you been successful?” The ghostly blue figure wavered as the long distances between the holonet transmitters came into play. The distance did not diminish the force of his dark will and intent.
“Indeed. Things progress as you have requested,” replied the Sith as he bowed. He swept an arm behind him, indicating a holoscreen with multiple images of the seething droid works. As well, some images reflected the stored mutations deep below the surface in confinement cells.
“Excellent. And the weapon?” came the voice of the Prophet across the light-years.
“The nanotech bio-virus is almost ready. I really cannot understand why you would want a bio-agent that disassembles ferrous metal as well as flesh,” replied the confused alchemist. “In any case, the requisite droids have been modified to be host carriers,” giggled the madman. “They will serve adequately.”
“Proceed as planned,” came the voice from the flickering menacing hologram as it smiled. “I will contact you as needed. I am going under deep cover, and may not be readily available,” stated the Prophet. “Have your forces as strong and ready. Your time for open battle will come soon. May the Force be with you,” commanded the blue figure as it faded out.
“Yes, Milord,” canted the lunatic to himself as he turned to the blinking datapad before him. An obscure tingle of the Force touched his senses. He frowned as a feeling of instability wafted through his mind. “And may the Dark Side be with you….”