Marka Ragnos Cathedral
Tarthos, Orian system
Zaroth sneered as the commlink buzzed. The hunter rolled out of his bunk, heavy boots thunking to the durosteel floor as he sat up. Reaching across to the footlocker, his fingers knocked over a couple trinkets before finally closing around the commlink. Bringing it to his face, the Hunter slowly opened his eyes.
"Get yourself together, the Fallen Spear
just cleared Sepros Control." Ashura's voice came through clear and distinct, no doubt due to his having been up for hours already.
"Dren, doesn't that man ever sleep?" Zaroth stumbled to his feet, staggering across the quarters to find his outer robes. "Doesn't he know what time it is?"
"Probably not. There's no day or night in space, Hunter."
Zaroth froze for a second, silently blanching as he realized that the comm hadn't been disconnected. His thoughts came jumbled, until he was able to regain his composure for a moment. "...Or, as likely he doesn't care."
Ashura laughed through the comm briefly. "Yeah, could be that too. Anyway, he's expected here shortly. Knowing him, it's going to be lesson time for you."
Zaroth nodded as if the comm could hear it. Checking his armory saber at his belt, the Hunter stretched his back briefly, suppressing a yawn. "I'll be dockside in two minutes, Quaestor."
the Fallen Spear
Outside Ragnos Cathedral
looked out at the majesty of the Tarthos Cathedral as natural gravity took over from the artificial generators, a sense of pride filling him for a moment. During his reign as Quaestor, he had rebuilt substantial portions of the Cathedral with his own money, his own sweat, returning the decrepit building to it's true glory.
He watched the snow-capped hills in the distance as Blackwind
spun the ship around to land outside the Docking bay. The Spear was too large to land inside the bay itself, but it would only be a short walk, and from the looks of it, the Apprentices had already shoveled the path.
Turning from the viewscreen, the Lion of Tarthos made his way toward the exit, taking the turbolift to the ship's maw, the hissing of pneumatic landing gear shifting weight as the repulsors powered down. Muz stared through the atmosphere shield, looking out across the bay to see his dark robed student standing by the door.
Hmmph, someone must have clued him in.
Muz thought to himself as he stepped to the snow with a faint crunch. He would have preferred it if the Hunter had sensed his master coming, but he would learn that in time. Moving quickly through the shoveled trench toward the docking bay. Zaroth began stepping toward his master, moving to meet him in near the entry way.
"Zaroth... I trust you've been well?" Muz's eyebrow raised in question as the Hunter approached, then gave a short bow, never lowering his eyes from the Keibatsu
"Well as can be expected, master." Zaroth straightened, walking alongside the Master as continued to walk inside. "What brings you here to Tarthos?"
Muz didn't break stride as he responded. "It's time to go hunt some Jedi, Jedi Hunter."
Zaroth's heart skipped a beat. They were called the most dangerous prey for a reason, and after having heard about the weakness of the Journeymen by nearly every elder in the clan, from Trev's subtle disdain to Vexatus's outright loathing, he did not expect that he possessed the skills to take down such formidable opponents.
Muz paused, turning to look back at his apprentice. Chuckling low and to himself, Muz nodded at the Hunter. "You'll do fine. You learned from me, after all..."
Zaroth swallowed hard, then stepped quickly to catch up to the Master.
"But first, my apprentice, let's go see Ashura..."
Muz and his student stood before the ramp leading up to Ashura's ship, waiting patiently for the Questor to meet them in the Bay.
"Do we have any idea what he called us here for?" Zaroth asked his Master.
"I contacted him earlier about this trip. He's been tracking a Jedi for a while. We're here to continue that" replied Muz.
Just at that moment, Ashura walked towards them and stopped with a meter between them.
"Good, you're here just in time. Do you know anything about this man?" Ashura said, holding his datapad out to Zaroth. Zaroth took it, shook his head, and passed it to Muz, who also showed no signs of recognition.
"Never seen him before." said Zaroth.
"This man is a Jedi Knight. I've been tracking him for a while, but other things have come up. He was last seen on Tatooine. You and Muz are to kill him." said Ashura.
Muz simply smiled.
"Zaroth will take the kill on this one, Ashura. I'm just going to watch him do it." Muz spoke with a grave tone, watching his student squirm uncomfortably with the idea.
Turning to leave, Muz paused at the door for the journeyman to catch up with him. "Master, are you sure that..."
Muz waved his hand dismissively. "You'll be able to handle a Knight easily enough, I think... This isn't your first kill I am assuming."
Zaroth stumbled over his own words. He had killed his enemies before, but never fully trained Knight of the Order. The idea stuck in his throat like bad cheese.
"Well, even if you haven't, there's going to be a day or so between here and Tatooine on the Spear. We can get you ready on the way." Muz moved quickly through he halls, a wake of hushed whispers from the other journeman behind him.
Muz paused as he got to the hangar door, turning to bring his sable eyes to bear on the young journeyman. "And you need to be ready, Zaroth. Especially if you plan on being knighted yourself."
Turning back to the door, he raised his arm and sent a message to Blackwind to get the ship prepped for take off and plot a course for Tatooine.
Stepping through to the brisk air of the Tarthos wintry season, Muz cracked his neck. "Oh, how I hate Tattooine..."
Zaroth piped up. "Master?"
Muz shook his head, looking back at the student. "Nevermind. Are you ready?"
"Yes, Master" said Zaroth, somewhat reluctantly, and Muz could feel the range of emotions exploding from his student: excitement, fear and, strangely, love. Though for whom, Muz could only guess.
"Well, I realise that I woke you up quite early, but the preperations must begin immediately. Follow me." the Master commanded. And he rose and walked towards the rear of the ship. Going through the door, Muz ignited his saber and stood in the centre of the large room.
"This Jedi. He is strong, but you're going to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Now, the thing with Jedi is that they will try to turn you to the Light. And this opens up a world of opportunities for your attack. For instance, your wrist-blade can be used as he approaches, after you feign a surrender."
Muz approached Zaroth and gestured for his student to spring his attack. Zaroth kicked out at Muz's knee and brought his wrist-blade to bear at his Master's throat.
Zaroth smiled. Muz pushed Zaroth away and kicked his legs from under him; both drew their sabers. The training continued for the next few hours; rest was unneccesary when one could meditate.
The console beeped, they had arrived. But something was wrong; there was a blockade. Then a voice blared over the comms:
"I know who you are, I know why you are here. But the days of the Light are long gone. Darkness reigns here now. And all will submit to my Darkness."
The Fallen Spear continued planetward nonetheless.
Muz tried not to smile, tapping the side of his chin as he masked his lips. Zaroth felt the mood change in the room, and looked quizzically to the Prophet.
Muz walked slowly toward the bridge, the doors of the hallway sliding open with a pneumatic whoosh. Muz chuckled, watching the viewscreen as the ship broke atmosphere, the 'Spear shuddering slightly as the artificial gravity switched off and the inertial dampeners kicked on.
"...Am I missing something, Master?" Zaroth's eyes darted between the uncommon expression of mirth on the Prophet's face and the blinding golden sands of the planet below them.
Muz chuckled low, a gutteral sound that resonated below the roar of atmo burn. "That drunk is calling himself a knight?"
Zaroth's eyes widened in questions unanswered as Muz nodded at the Hunter's saber. Zaroth unlatched it from his belt, the crude hilt of the armory well-worn after months of steady practice. Tossing it to his master, it fell under the invisible hand of the force, spinning it slowly before the scrutiny of the black eyes of the Keibatsu, checking it for imperfections, feeling the tuned crystal with the Force-sense. Nodding approvingly, he pushed the saber back to his student. He didn't want a crude weapons malfunction to end this joy ride prematurely.
"Master, do you know the man we are stalking?"
"And you're not going to tell me anything, are you?"
"Aries... was once a student of mine." Muz paused for a moment before heading back towards the dock of the Spear, regarding his student out of the corner of his eyes. "And you'll kill him..."
Or die trying. Muz didn't have to say it.
Zaroth froze in his steps. Another student of Muz? The man's students all became elder members in Sadow, or fell along the way. He had hoped to survive and claim the honor... but he had never heard of any that defected... And Zaroth was concerned about facing a man who had trained under the same master, learned the same tricks.
Muz turned around at the end of the corridor, stepping inside the turbolift. Zaroth snapped back to reality, bolting towards the lift. This was going to be a long day.
The turbolift opened, and the two walked down the ramp, onto the sandy surface of Tatooine. They had landed in the open desert, away from any cities so as to have an easier escape should they become out-matched. Zaroth knew this would not happen, Muz had trained him well, and the denizens of Tatooine would not have any experience facing one Force Sensitive, let alone two. First things first though, Zaroth sat on the sandy floor and began to meditate. He could feel everyone on the planet, all interconnected in some way through the Force. He stretched out his feelings, to the cantinas, to the Tusken camps, to the open expanses of wastelands. Almost immediately, he had found Aries. The man was not one to hide himself. Aries welcomed the challenge; Zaroth would not be able to beat the most powerful Dark Jedi in the galaxy. Or so Aries believed himself to be.
Zaroth rose and walked towards Muz.
“I found him. He is drinking in one of the few cantinas on this rock.” Zaroth told his Master.
“I sense him too. You have any battle plans?” replied Muz.
“I’m working on it.” Said Zaroth, smiling.
Muz was smiling too. “I guess I’ll have to wait and see. Lead the way.”
Zaroth began hiking alongside the Keibatsu towards a nearby city. It was going to take a while, but they were unlikely to tire along the way. Zaroth began thinking about Jade Atema, the woman he had loved since he arrived in House Marka Ragnos. He was content now; no matter what happened he would return alive. They reached the city gates and passed through them, now to find Aries.
Zaroth and Muz moved slowly through the crowds, not wanting to draw attention to themselves as they drew nearer to the cantina. They could sense Aries still inside and Zaroth entered the cantina. Muz stayed outside because Aries would recognise him. Muz could easily tear Aries apart, but that was not why Muz had come. Zaroth sat near the bar and ordered a drink as he scanned the crowd for his target. One of them was watching him, and there was a huge Force signature emenating from the man.
Zaroth knew that Aries would not strike here. They were both taught by Muz, it would be inconvenient and difficult to defeat a Dark Jedi in such a crowded public place. Zaroth turned his head from the man he suspected was Aries and a few minutes later, the man had slipped out of the cantina. Zaroth waited a while before following, using the crowds to confuse Aries. The hunt had begun.
The throng of people masked his prey's trail. Aries had vanished along the narrow streets and the mid-day crowd. Zaroth vexed his luck, his eyes darting to each hooded face, trying to peer beneath each dustmask. Pausing to lean against a stone wall, Zaroth purged his mind of the hunt, and stretched his mind outward, feeling for the points of sensitivity along the ether of the Force.
Ahhh... there he is. Zaroth felt the disturbance, the wound in the force that had to be Aries. There was nothing near him, no others. Odd... Zaroth thought. Where is his army?
Muz chuckled, appearing at the Hunter's side. Wordlessly, the Prophet stepped forward, moving down the lane, the crowd parting before him as he walked toward the moored ship that the disturbance resonated from. Pausing long enough to look over his shoulder at the Hunter, his eyebrow went up.
Muz nodded subtly, Zaroth's trained eye picking up the signal to continue.
What happened with this man and yourself?
Aries believed that prophecy guaranteed him greatness, that he didn't have to work to unlock his potential. Muz paused, his mind sealing off for a moment before continuing. Slay him, and that potential can be yours, youngblood.
They came to the front of the half-buried ship, the crude sign outside proclaiming it as a den of disrepute, though in more veiled terms. Zaroth looked to his master, then stepped forward.
Doors squeaking open as movement stirred from within, Zaroth dropped himself into a combat stance. Rolling out, a half dozen Droidekas sped out, encircling master and apprentice before unfolding and encapsulating themselves in the translucent blue of the personnel blast shielding.
See, youngblood? not all armies resonate in the force. Muz laughed, crossing his arms as he regarded the angry droids.
Yes, master...Zaroth snipped, his mind twitching quickly as he tried to find the path through this crisis. Little help?
Muz smiled, closing his eyes as his sabers slipped from his holsters, activating as the swung by the invisible hand of his mind before he uncrossed his arms to snare the weapons from the air. I thought you'd never ask.
Muz flourished the blades of light; these Droidekas were nothing to him, though he expected his Apprentice wouldn’t be so casual. The red and violet energy swirled around Muz and Zaroth as they launched into an attack, Muz sliced at the droids as he passed them, bouncing off the walls in an astounding display of athleticisms as Zaroth flipped over the droid to reach a better position. The droids could not tell, but Master and Apprentice were co-ordinating their attacks through the Force; this technique was second nature to them now. Zaroth landed and deflected the barrage of blaster fire he had anticipated as Muz unleashed a maelstrom of Lightning from his palms and the droids were destroyed, twitching as they fell to the ground. Zaroth laughed.
“That was fun” he said as Muz turned to face him. The Master smiled at this.
“Then you’re in for a great day” Muz said, chuckling.
“You’d think Aries would have shown himself by now though” Zaroth said, the longing to test himself apparent in the white-robed Hunter’s voice.
“I expect him to soon” Muz mused. “But he may have learned some tact since he left.”
They both laughed at this, but they had little time to enjoy the moment as more droids burst through the door, these ones of the YVH variety and armed with electrostaffs.
“What the hell!?” Zaroth cried.
The droids responded with a unified blood-curdling scream of “Do-Ro'Ik Vong Pratte!”
Where did he get those things from? Zaroth inquired of his Master as one of the three droids smashed into the Hunter.
The skeletal monstrosity lumbered over him; Zaroth ignited his red blade and blocked the droid’s vicious lunge. Zaroth struggled against the droid’s inhuman strength, and just as it seemed he would be overwhelmed, a violet blade burst through the droid’s skull.
“He has many contacts, my Apprentice” Muz said as the droid fell and Zaroth composed himself. Master and Apprentice charged as one at the other droids, Muz throwing his red blade at the droid on the left, impaling it through the chest and decapitating it as he reached the thing. The final droid swung it’s staff at Zaroth, who dodged to the side and bisected the droid at the waist. The two de-activated their lightsabers and passed through the nearby door, which led to a room inside the half buried ship; it was probably a cargo hold. The room was nothing of consequence, the duo were now following a Dark Side signature they had sensed within the ship.
Almost there now, my Apprentice.
Do you think I can beat him?
It does not matter what I think. You will kill him, or he will kill you. We shall see how much you have learned. If he beats you, I leave you down here. Rembember that.
Zaroth bit back the fear, winding his way down the rusty corridors of the half-buried ship of his Master's old apprentice. Silently looming ahead was destiny and pain, and paced behind him was the Lord of the Krath Order. Zaroth let the cool comfort of his saber hilt fill his hand as he moved, trying hard to remember to act with dinity and grace, to show no fear.
The master had taught him to chain his fear, to use it as fuel for his own infernal machine. Zaroth struggled on that regard at times, but he was gaining ground, learning to use his emotions to strengthen himself rather than ignoring them.
Double doors marked what was once the Bridge of this ship. Zaroth paused for a moment, looking over his shoulder at the Keibatsu for direction. Recieving a silent nod, Zaroth turned back to the doors, dropping his weight as he stomped through the doors, funneling his fear into rage and using the rage to unhinge the door, sending the heavy durosteel flying into the room.
The snaphiss of Zaroth's saber crackled to life, casting a pale and eerie glow across the dimly lit room, the pale features of the mobster throwing twisted shadows across his own face-paint.
"I knew you'd come eventually... Master." He sneered, eyes shrinking to slits as he ignored the Hunter closest to him.
"Aries..." Muz spoke with a grave tone, letting the old name hover in the air before them.
"Now you will face my wrath. Now, you will know the Prophecy as true."
Muz chuckled, a deep resonant sound, as he stepped through the doorway. "No, Aries. Now, my student will kill you and feast on your destiny..." Muz paused, his hands resting casually on the sabers on his belt. "...Or I will."
Screaming in hysterical rage, Aries pulled his twin sabers through to his hands, using tethers of the Force. Their cerulean blades spilled out into the dark chamber, buzzing angrily as if to say that they wanted to sup on Zaroth's blood.
"All right, then." Zaroth cracked his neck, letting the rage seep into his muscles. "Let's see if you're worth the trouble."
The blue light danced around the red, occasionally colliding with the opposing energy in brilliant flashes of discharged power. Zaroth grasped the hilt tighter, his black gloves groaning as he blocked the ferocious strike with his crimson blade. He followed through, sliding his blade across Aries' in a screeching display of hot light, until the crimson left the cerulean and went screaming at Aries' right arm; only to be turned away by the second blade of light that his opponent wielded. Zaroth was suddenly pounded by an invisible ball summoned by Aries that tore through the air before dissipating, having sent him flying back into a nearby deactivated protocol droid.
The Hunter let out a blood-curdling roar, more animal than human, the moment of pain well forgotten having been replaced with rage. He rose and tore down his hood as he screamed
“You will die here for your arrogance!!”
Aries laughed. “None can kill me, least of all a pathetic whelp who crawls at my old Master's feet”
Zaroth roared, pushing back Aries with the Force and lunging at him, the lightsaber ignited as he held it to the throat of his enemy. Aries, being the one with superior strength, pushed him back with ease and threw him at the wall. With inhuman speed, the monster pummelled Zaroth, pinning him to the wall as he did so. The imposing figure sneered as he picked up the Hunter by the throat and brought him close to his face.
“Killers are quiet, boy,” he whispered.
With that, Aries prepared to impale Zaroth. But before he could strike, Zaroth screamed bloody murder and a surge of Force energy touched his Master's trained perception as the very air around the two combatants seemed to pulse. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the huge wave erupted, overwhelming Aries' Force barrier he had raised and catapulted him through a crumbling wall. Zaroth seemed to remain suspended in the air for a split-second when Muz's telepathic voice resonated in the Hunter's head.
Destroy him!!! Finish this and claim your destiny!
Zaroth snarled as he disappeared into the darkness when Aries recovered, using the pain he still felt to feed his desire. The desire to torture this fool psychologically before he killed him, thus strengthening the Hunter's connection to the Dark Side.
Zaroth tasted blood. His mind seethed backwards, reaching for his lessons, looking for an advantage in the words Muz had said over the years. 'If a man can't see, a man can't fight'
Coppery and salty, Zaroth spat, his mind wrapping around the glob of blood midair and directed it into the eyes of his assailant. The Force complied and soaked Aries' eyelids, the tang of blood stinging the man's eyes shut, blinding him as he raised his hands to wipe them clean. His concentration buckled, Zaroth rolled into an aggressive posture, his saber snapping to life and clipping away at the air mere inches from the lost one's face.
Aries backpedalled quickly, evading the searing of the hunter's blade, wincing at the blood in his eyes and he feebly injected his saber as a defense. Zaroth caught it on his own blade and spun it out of the way, bringing the pommel around to bash in the criminal's forehead.
A welt formed, dark purple blooming on Aries' forehead as he fell backwards. Flailing his legs as he fell, he managed to trip up the Hunter, sending Zaroth sprawling on top of him. Landing face to face, Aries snarled and tried to roll his assailant off of him. Zaroth closed his hand around the man's saber hand, controlling the weapon as he smiled ferally at him. Bringing his head down fast, Zaroth split open Aries' head wound with a brutal headbutt. The skin at his crown erupted in a dark miasma of half congealing blood, pouring down his face. Running into the man's eyes would blind him further, tipping the scales in Zaroth's favor.
Aries' bucked himself, throwing the hunter from off of him, staggering to his hands and knees as the crimson tide began to rush over his brow and into his face. Zaroth flipped to his feet and hauled off into the other man, his knee cracking ribs as Aries snagged his boot in his free hand. Landing with a solid thump, Zaroth felt the wind knocked out of him and took a moment to react, rolling backwards to his feet again.
Writhing in pain, Aries tried to heal the damage of his ribs splintering into his lungs, no doubt. His breath came raspy and painful. Bringing his saber back to bear on his foe, Zaroth smiled subtly.
His leg seared as the blue fire burned a hole through his thigh, severing the tendons as he crashed to the floor. The criminal dragged himself towards an opening leading to his ship, hoping desperately to escape with his life; or at least a semblance of it as the injuries were piling up. Zaroth dragged himself after Aries, saber in hand, slashing at his enemy's legs as he felt the sting of the Force healing his wound. Staggering up onto one knee, Zaroth continued attacking Aries as he tried to drag himself away. Finally, Zaroth's leg healed and he managed to stand, severing Aries' left leg at the hip and holding his red blade at his enemy's throat.
“Yield.” Zaroth ordered. “It is over. Ascension is at hand, my brother. How does it feel, traitor?”
Aries' cold laugh echoed around the battlefield. “Are you going to kill me?” He laughed again.
“Of course you are. Your Master speaks and you scurry forth to obey, like a dog among men. So go on, do it. Claim your ascension, boy. Take your place at your Master's feet.”
The laughter seemed to pierce Zaroth's heart as he lowered his blade slightly. Indecisiveness took hold, and the Jedi Hunter took a step back. The familiar voice entered his mind.
Are you going to let him take you down like this?
His saber arm shook. He raised it higher. Aries continued to cackle.
“Do his words crawl in your skull, boy? His teachings trap you in his service? Kill me. Join his slaves.”
Slave or not, I can show you real power.
Zaroth's grip tightened, saber humming as if it called for blood.
Kill him. Use your hatred and destroy him.
Darkness took over Aries as the burning scream of the crimson lightsaber ripped through his jugular.
Zaroth dropped to his hands and knees as Aries' head hit the ground. His saber skittered across the uneven floor, coming to rest in a shallow groove, cut by someone's saber. The hunter panted, his mind racing as he felt the man's words worm back from his memory into his thoughts.
Am I a slave?
Muz watched him curiously, those shark black eyes disconcerting and dispassionate. Zaroth didn't need to look up to know the blank expression. He called it 'Zan Shin', no mind. It was easier to do what needed doing when you didn't think about it. Zaroth let the dead man's voice echoe away from him. If he didn't think about it...
"Well done, youngblood." Muz's voice boomed in the small room. He raised a hand, gesturing at the fallen one's saber. "Claim your prize."
Zaroth watched a line of spittle drip from his mouth, splashing against the floor. He felt the toil, felt the burn in his muscles from the fight, and more still, felt the slick oily darkness around everything, the temptation of the Dark Side. Sweet on his tongue, he felt it course through him, cooling his arms and legs, knitting shut the tears in his skin. He repressed a cackle as he pushed himself up, standing with a smooth motion.
Hand outstretched, he wrapped tendrils of unseen energy around the foe's saber, drawing it to his open hand. Fingers closed around the cool metal, and Zaroth's eye caught a speck of the dead man's blood on the otherwise pristine hilt. Calmly turning, he offered it to his master.
Muz shook his head slowly, refusing the gift. Zaroth quickly snapped it open, nimble fingers finding the hidden latch to allow him access to the crystal chamber. Eyes widened as he regarded his fortune. The foe's saber had rare crystals within, and they would serve better in his own saber. Aries was too weak to keep it, so it would be his. Muz had made mention of claiming the man's prophesied destiny, and for a moment, Zaroth wondered about that, his mind wandering as his gaze bounced around the smooth lines of the lightsaber crystal.
To the victor, goes the spoils.