The forest-floor of Dxun was forever clothed by the dense, deep green of the leaves, and thus was in perpetual darkness. The green-gold planet of Onderon could not be seen; neither could the other three moons of the system. Just the dark and foreboding rustle of the leaves – announcing either the wind, or a Zakkeg on the prowl – could be discerned.
Softly, a TIE Defender landed on a clearance on the jungle floor. A rarity, since the trees did not allow such travesty in their realm. However, they could only hold so much against the Mandalorian weapons. The door slid open, and the teal feather-hair of Kazarelth Talismarr shone with an unbelievable glint; the light of Onderon joyously adding itself to the greenish hue of the Omwati. His left hand gripped a datapad tightly, while his strong hand gently stroked his lightsaber’s cool metal handle. His Summit had sent him on this ‘simple scouting mission’, since he was becoming restive inside the morbidly claustrophobic Corsair. His orders were simple: Scout and map the ground area of sector 67 of Dxun. Simple enough for an Acolyte of the Brotherhood, except that the natives of Dxun did not take lightly to invaders. Especially since the natives of Dxun were non-sentient. Without experience or a full-powered lightsaber, a single Dark Jedi below the rank of Guardian would not last an hour in that planet. Moreover, even a Dark Jedi Knight like Kazarelth would not last long with a pack of Zakkegs converging onto him. He smiled at that thought. Smiled that twisted, self-sadistic smile that eerily brought to mind the jerking of half-burnt corpses as they rolled over their funeral pyres, and let out a small Pulse of Force thought. The circlet of invisible energy expanded from his fingertip through the mossy forest-floor erratically, like an amoeba, sensing Life and its absence throughout the region of the forest. Talismarr saw the intricacies and interconnectedness of life in the forest, as he found how the smallest insect affects the lifespan of the large Drexl, how the Orbalisk helps the trees around it and how the tall Epicanthix would help save aforementioned insect’s life by crushing a bigger insect that was about to eat it, and how-
He paused. The Epicanthix was definitely not part of the ecosystem. She was as absurdly artificial on Dxun, as he or his Defender was. He involuntarily called on the Eyes of the Keeper, showing her as a glowing bluish-white haze amongst the thick veil of the dark-red trees’ Life Force. He smiled again as a stronger pulse told him that she was Force sensitive and headed his way. The Krath waited for her, his excitement barely concealed by his face.
Ronovi straightened as another bough came crashing down in the wake of her crimson blade. The Guardian was not fond of forests. Not even the harmless ones that had butterflies flitting across waterfalls to prettier flowers. Her dark, flowing hair blended perfectly with the trees’ bark, yet her furrowed brows and disgusted expression on her face could not be hidden here, at the night-side of Dxun. The Epicanthix’s mind was so preoccupied that she did not even sense the strong Force pulse that hit her and rebounded. She slashed randomly at the branches, taking out her frustration on the ‘simple scouting mission’ Apollo had sent her for. She hacked once more; her biceps throbbing as five branches crashed down – sliced perfectly. She was about to hack again when she noticed the clearing. Her expression changed immediately as she stepped out. She let a minute transpire before digesting the hulking mass of a TIE Defender through her eyes. She halted, and ignited her blade, as her brand of Force energy told her that there was something here that was dangerous to her, something inherently sadistic that wanted to cause pain, something that…
The whisper was a prelude to a hard thump on her face. The Epicanthix let out a cry of anger as she launched herself at the origin of the telekinetic slap. Her power multiplied as she harnessed the Force and before she knew it, her crimson blade met its foe: a purple warrior in full battle regalia.
“That, is a useless blade” said a voice that was peppered with unholy and faint whispers of Death.
“Oh you think so?” the physical strength of Tavisaen manifested itself in her voice, as she struck with the precision of a drunken brawler, and the power of a battering ram. She winced in shock as she found that her opponent’s defence was handled more by the Force than by his frail arms.
“Yes, I do.” He grinned as he seemingly carelessly flicked his wrist and struck the red blade. It trembled and escaped from Ronovi’s hand, and just before hitting the ground spluttered, flickered, and died.
Kazarelth pointed the blade at her and calmly asked, “who are you?”
Ronovi’s shoulders tensed. For a flicker of a moment, she had the urge to retrieve her fallen saber. All she needed was one fluid motion, one spin in the heavy air to seize the cold hilt between her fingers. Yet the air pulsed with that same violent energy, and her head spun from the messages reverberating from all sides from the Force. She did not dare to move toward the ground, else this stranger’s power pin her to the dirt and hold her there, writhing like a coiled serpent.
What her opponent had said was true; her weapon was useless against his Force power. Therefore, she merely stretched her hand out, and the hilt spun through the air and made contact with her fingers for a brief moment before she placed it deep within her robes. As she attempted to open her mind in hopes of prying deeper into the Force, she could feel something like a hot flame encircling the area where she stood. The energy of the Force seemed to grow warm in her muscles as she paused to breathe before further observing this fellow Force user.
While the Omwati may not have appeared to be so menacing of a physical opponent, Ronovi saw that he held himself in a manner that surpassed her own ability. His finely crafted saber was held perfectly aimed in his slender palm, his pale skin glowing in the light of his blade. She dared not step toward him, but she believed that she had left him too long waiting for any reply to his question.
A warrior when questioned had to answer, even if the opponent wouldn’t necessarily live to repeat it.
“I am no one of importance to you, unless you mean to make trouble with me,” the Epicanthix said. Kazarelth smiled thinly at her attempt to make a sharp retort, and while finely enforced, it held no appeasement.
“Perhaps you are of importance. It’s not too often that two Force-sensitives meet each other on Dxun…especially alone.”
He scanned her down from her dark hair to her boot clad feet. Something in the color of her robes, a regal looking blue, told the Krath that perhaps this Force sensitive was not as simple of an encounter as he believed. While perhaps he had not had too many experiences of meeting solo warriors on a random jungle planet, those he had seen did not wear so familiar of attire as this Epicanthix was. Surely it seemed as if an Obelisk from the very Brotherhood that had ordered Kazarelth to scout this planet…
Quickly he took a step toward the Epicanthix, for he believed to have the upper hand and the presumed Obelisk did appear to take on a fierce defensive. “I want specifics. What’s your name?”
The Epicanthix smiled. “My name? It won’t mean anything to you, but where I come from, they call me Ronovi. Ronovi Tavisaen.”
Ronovi Tavisaen. The name struck hard in Kazarelth’s memory as he clearly remembered who she was. “The leader of Arcano Signum, I presume,” he heard himself say.
Ronovi furrowed her brow. “You know of that?” Then a moment of realization, and she laughed. “I should’ve known. A fellow clan member on the same planet. Well, it’s a honor to be in the same area, though perhaps not for the same reasons.”
“I trust you have a good reason for being here?” Kazarelth asked.
“Well, perhaps you’d love to hear it,” Ronovi said. Then Kazarelth watched as her right hand slowly formed a fist and she shifted her feet against the soft ground. She was facing him full on, her left hand near the side of her robes as she continued, “though I may need to deal with you first. State your name and maybe we’ll start getting a little less formal.”
“True Obelisk, I see” Kazarelth smiled again. Ronovi thought she saw his left foot shift back slightly. She gave the Omwati a sharp look. His frail composition was masked, albeit unsuccessfully, by his flowing robes. He did not seem to notice that his attire was most inappropriate for the environ he was in, and in its wake, did not seem to mind the fact that Tavisaen’s hands had congealed into a fist. The Epicanthix, for her own part, could see the network of the Force around Talismarr. Initially, she had thought of this as part of the Omwati’s intimidation. The sinister blue border around his shoulders glowing dimly just out of her full vision. Yet, now she could see that the Knight was using the Force inherently to even move a muscle. The glow emanating from his body intensified minutely at his wrist as the mauve blade he used weakened and vanished completely with a hiss.
“Your name… Krathling.” Ronovi’s eyes blazed.
“Interesting,” Kazarelth curled his lip, “you know that I belong to the ancient order of Krath, Tavisaen. I did not believe that a feat of intelligence such as what you just presented was possible by Obelisks. How did you find out?” he stared hard into the Guardian’s eyes.
“I think it’s just because you cannot answer simple questions without adding fifty unnecessary words to it. And because you are physical very frail.” The Epicanthix smirked. She could feel the heat that was emanating from the teal eyes of the Knight.
“Interesting… again. Could you be so kind and demonstrate-”
A fist with the destructive power of a small boulder met Talismarr’s lower jaw. The Omwati had been momentarily disgusted as he sensed the aura of the Force around Ronovi. She had timed her blow perfectly. Kazarelth was thrown away, and landed a couple of feet away. He instinctively erected a Shield around him as a blaster-bolt evaporated just before it reached his shoulder and backed away.
“You little brat.” He spat at his opponent.
“I could say the same about you!” Ronovi’s aggression was even more intimidating than her unnatural build and strength, her fist proving to be as much a threat as the SSK-7 in her left hand.
The Omwati’s hand dived inside his robes just as the Guardian shot thrice. She was not a great marksman, but she was getting there.
“Fight me without a lightsaber, you coward.” She screamed with anger.
The Krath snarled just as Tavisaen took a well-aimed shot at his hand. She had noticed that the Knight had removed his shield. Whether temporarily to regain the energy, or because of her repeated attacks, she did not know. All she did know that his hand was about to be roasted horribly.
The bolt left its birthplace and raced towards its target. Accelerating constantly, it covered the ten feet between them in almost no time. It could feel the quarry’s heart throbbing now, it could even envision his hand roasting. It hungrily tore towards his hand and in a flash it was all over.
The bolt was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a deep, haunting blue blade. As if in direct contrast of the Obelisk’s clothing, the fabled Sapphire Blade pointed itself at her, as she saw Kazarelth’s triumphant smile hold her mind’s sway.
“I am Kazarelth Talismarr, Right Hand of Malice.” He said simply, not allowing his voice to rise above a whisper and knitting deathly whispers from the Force, as usual, with it.
At the sound of the Krath's name, Ronovi couldn't help but feel the pressure in her head rising as her blood pumped faster. To see this frail figure holding the elegant sapphire blade, so perfectly crafted and presenting such power, was intimidating as well as exhilarating. In a way, she had asked for a battle, and here it was standing before her. The adrenaline in her body was rushing full-speed. She felt a smile dance upon her lips.
"I didn't know that someone so logically apt liked to cheat," she said.
"Oh, I didn't cheat," Kazarelth replied as he gracefully twirled the hilt of his blade in his palm. "You told me not to use my lightsaber. And I didn't. Just following orders, Tavisaen."
Ronovi felt her smirk fade as quickly as it had come as the realization fell upon her like the hot and heavy atmosphere of the jungle. What he had said was true, and now her challenge was met. As anyone would expect, he had rightfully claimed the award he now gripped so fiercely in his hand. The Epicanthix felt her brow furrow, but her heartbeat did not falter. Nor did it rush to a heightening crescendo or beat savagely like a drum. Instead, she only held her SSK-7 tighter, feeling the cold metal grow warm against her sweaty hand.
"So," she heard herself murmur as her feet moved before her mind could react, leaving deep tracks in the soil as she walked, "the Right Hand of Malice faces the Obelisk Sergeant of Arcano Signum. Pity that I don't run away."
Kazarelth bared his teeth in a sharp grin. "I don't expect the new leader of my former team to act rash and run back to her shelter."
"You shouldn't," Ronovi said. "Because I'm going to give you a lesson in manners."
With that, she raised her SSK-7 and fired three more times, only to see the beams of energy disintegrate into the thick air as Kazarelth erected his Shield once again. The two were circling each other now, and neither faltered in their stances, Ronovi's being an aggressive position and Kazarelth's being more of a defensive. Ronovi could now feel the Force pulsing from her opponent, pressing into her as if it were a heavy weight strapped against her chest. Her own aura seemed weak in comparison, but it was just enough to declare a fierce incentive. Now it was only a matter of time before either of them reacted, before the tension was broken into fine strands and the flames ignited once and for all.
Then Kazarelth spoke. "Teach me, then."
Ronovi roared loudly, the sound of her voice shaking the branches of the trees as she fired two precise shots while racing toward Kazarelth at the same time. It was at that moment that she clearly underestimated Kazarelth's potential; while he did not appear to be physically strong, he was certainly agile. In a few moments, Ronovi made contact with thin air, as Kazarelth had almost casually jumped aside after deflecting the blaster shots once more with his weapon. The reverberation of Ronovi's strikes rang in her ears as she fell on one knee, and in her eyes she saw the glint of blue as Kazarelth raised his sapphire blade.
It would've been a clean hit, had it not been for the weight of Kazarelth's weapon. While the blade was deadly, it was heavy in his hands, and the humidity did not help as he attempted to swing a deft blow at Ronovi's exposed neck. Instinctively, Ronovi somersaulted into the dirt and fallen leaves of the plantlife, and the blade came crashing down on foliage as the Epicanthix struggled to a half-kneeling position, facing her opponent.
She tried to concentrate. Her already feeble grip on the Force appeared to wane, and she knew that she was losing confidence. But Ronovi still had the upper hand in physical strength and she would not forget the potential damage she could cause. Quickly she switched her blaster to her opposite hand as she pressed her palm into the dirt, lifting her legs up in a half-formed spinning kick as Kazarelth aimed another blow with his blade.
The reaction was fierce as both sides of the Force collided. Ronovi found herself spiraling through the air and crashing against one of the nearby trees, her eyesight temporarily blurring. While disoriented, she still picked herself up, only to find that Kazarelth had fallen as well, having actually been tripped up by Ronovi's improvised move. The Omwati roughly coughed, spitting flecks of dirt out of his mouth before chuckling and shaking leaves off of his sapphire blade.
"Not bad, Tavisaen," he said.
Ronovi felt her feet shift again as she raised her hand, half-open in an aggressive stance.
"I'm not done yet," she growled, and the only thing she wished for was luck as she charged.
Kazarelth backed in tune with Ronovi’s charge. The Epicanthix, though strong and crisscrossed by the Force energising strokes, was still not very good with timing. The pinch of overconfidence added to that made a very good recipe for getting humiliated. The Krath could feel the tall trees coming behind him as he felt Tavisaen’s mind think of the dangers within the forest. In a flash, he jumped back and disappeared.
Ronovi could only scream “coward!”. Only her good sense made her not take another step into the dark, gloomy jungle. The clearing was a safer spot than the jungle, from both the callous predators and the scheming and spineless Omwati. She spat at him once more before suddenly noticing a shadowy silhouette moving ahead of her in the forest. The indiscernible form and size suddenly found itself lodging against the word “Zakkeg” in her brain. As soon as her mind made the connection, her eyes could see a small pack of the beasts converging towards the clearing. She backed away slowly. Her ship was at least fifty metres away. She found herself thinking furiously at the same time. A couple of shots from her blaster would distract the lot and buy her precious seconds.
She nodded her head minutely, just as she pressed the trigger, bubble of Force energy struck her stomach, robbing her breath and dispersing the remnants of the connection she had with the Force.
Kazarelth’s lips twisted themselves into that evil smile. His mastery of the Mind Trick and his extensive taste for his opponents’ fears created potent illusions.
Ronovi lifted her head slightly. Her strength had left her. The invisible bruise on her stomach was taking all her endurance away. Her eyes could see her foe walking towards her. She would not accept defeat, she told herself. However, Talismarr heard her mind.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter if you do not accept defeat, Tavisaen. You are defeated.” He whispered as he brought the sapphire blade to her neck, knocking away her blaster with a careless telekinetic flick. “Now, all that remains for you is to either die here, or cede to me.”
The light in her eyes was starting to flicker, yet it could hardly mask her defiance. The warm blood of a fighter that pulsed through her could never accept defeat. She thought she had enough strength to put a punch through his smiling face. Yet she could feel the powerful conduit of the Force from Kazarelth to her entire being. He had closed every other worldly sense and focusing on her, roasting her in his presence. She could feel her confidence and her epidermis dry and wither slowly. Talismarr was no stranger to defiance, and he had a reputation as a pitiless necromancer. She felt her skin crawl away from his inescapable aura as she finally understood what he was meaning to do. He was going to prepare one of the Grails of Life, a readymade vial of healing prepared from her Life essence. He was going to tear her life and in the future, use it to stitch his own life with hers. Her Life itself would be enslaved to him. The Obelisk murmured, “no”. And instantly felt herself muster courage. A fighter never goes down crying and begging. She adjusted herself and let her faltering eyes look directly at him.
They did not focus at Talismarr’s face. They focused somewhere behind him where a monstrous reptilian creature stood, facing the two of them.
‘Zakkeg!’ she screamed in her head, and instantly the Krath twisted himself to see the creature. He gripped his blade tightly as he spread out his Shield in a large radius around him, releasing the Epicanthix from his spell.
Ronovi felt the weight lift off from her stomach and the voices disappear from her head and her eyes clearly watching the real predator.
At the sight of the Zakkeg behind him, with three more also appearing, Kazarelth cursed irritably to himself. It was hardly the time for him to deal with nuisances when he had bigger fish to fry. But the Zakkeg gazed at him hungrily, their jaws snapping as their bulging eyes scanned the Omwati. Behind him, Ronovi was slowly rising to her feet, the effects of Talismarr's spell slowly lifting from her body as she felt warmth return to her flesh and bones.
Kazarelth couldn't help but grin as the Zakkegs approached; he hardly seemed like a suitable meal for them, but he was certainly up for a game. Maintaining his Shield, he straightened his arm, allowing his fingers to point directly at the Zakkeg who flanked the front end. Ronovi saw him mouth the words before she dropped to her knees in preparation for the blow.
The draw of the Force almost lifted both of the Force users off their feet, but the Zakkeg dealt with it much worse. A couple of them of them were thrown back, scattering the small group in different directions. As they rolled around on the dirt in the clearing, their soft undersides were exposed compared to the hide that protected their sides and back almost like durasteel.
Kazarelth made way to lift his blade, but he was disrupted by two blaster shots flying past his ear. Both of them landed in the underside of one of the Zakkeg, which groaned audibly before sinking into eternal sleep. Then another shot crippled another Zakkeg, but the others were already righting themselves and making their way toward Talismarr. He thought quickly before briskly maneuvering around the scattered pack, swiping at their legs with his blade. His senses were put to good use as he detected every opportunity to strike the Zakkeg down.
Behind him, Ronovi stood silently, her blaster still smoking as she held it at an invisible target. She was moving slowly as she scanned the clearing, hoping that she wouldn't waste her shots against the Zakkeg's hide. Her irrational side told her to just leap over and start wrestling, but she knew that the Zakkeg would merely pin her down and, she casually concluded, tear open her throat. Keeping that in mind, she decided on a different strategy.
Although the Epicanthix was not small, she could still move subtlely. With her feet barely touching the ground, she moved in a horseshoe formation around any Zakkeg that was still disoriented. While they were big, they still weren't big enough to take her down completely if she struck first. One shot would do the trick to distract them. Firing into the air, she waited for the Zakkeg to turn its head the opposite direction before she gave it a sharp blow with the bottom of her boot and fired two shots into its soft side.
As she backed away from the smoking corpse, she suddenly felt the power of the Force increase tenfold as she found herself just behind Kazarelth. He, however, has his back turned, and both were staring at the remaining and oncoming two Zakkeg as the two brandished their weapons. Whether she liked it or not, it appeared that they were now, inadvertently, working together.
“Zakkeg hunting in groups!” Kazarelth bemusedly said to his now-ally, “Never seen that one before.”
Ronovi did not say anything, choosing instead to snarl at the oncoming beasts. Their hindered movements did nothing to change the hideous red armour that was built around them by the gaia of Dxun. They looked about as ill-suited for cooperative hunting as the two Dark Jedi; constantly shoving against each other and barking and hissing and snarling along the way.
“Well, do you have a plan or what?” Tavisaen growled finally. Her hands gripped her SSK-7 tightly, as beads of sweat made way to her wrist from the palm of her hand.
“Killing one of them is impossible, especially with a blaster. Once you get your lightsaber, run to the Defender.”
“And where precisely where would my lightsa-” Ronovi could not finish the sentence. The Guardian could see her lightsaber’s handle corkscrew through the air from behind the two Zakkeg. As she focused on her formerly fallen weapon, its blade emitter exploded with a flourish of red, slicing a gash on the durasteel-like hide of the animal. Mildly irritated by the pinprick that was the powerful strike, the Zakked snapped at the flying ‘saber. Instead, its teeth met its partner’s hide. With a terrible roar of pain, the other beast rammed its head at the ‘attacker’. Soon, the fight escalated into a battle, as the two Zakkeg twisted and coiled around each other.
The Epicanthix had already started running, ignited saber in hand. Her ally was catching up on her, somewhat out of breath.
“Didn’t think that would happen…” he panted as he caught up with her.
“Me neither, that was great timing – I did not know what you were doing ‘til…” her eyes widened as she looked where the Omwati’s eyes were, “oh that.”
The “wounded” Zakkeg were stirring, and quite a few had snapped out of their blaster-induced siesta. The two Tarenti were quite far away from their escape ship, and one of the reptilian creatures had taken an unnatural interest in the lone TIE Defender. As the beasts converged, the only option remaining with the Dark Jedi was to run.