Shards of a Lingering Darkness
Shards of a Lingering Darkness
A PLA/HSP/IHR Event
Harlot's Veil Nebula
3.5 Parsecs from Cocytus System
The gases of the nebula swayed and twisted slowly, their ethereal momentum illuminated by the blue glow of its strange radioactive activity. Flashes and crawling lights in red and violet interspersed it constantly, the effect dimming true light while still seeming somehow bright. It was a reality that confounded Xantros as he looked out of the Lambda
-class shuttle, even with his own green skin and crimson eyes. His noseless face turned to regard the others in the shuttle with him; a myriad bunch, they were nonetheless ready for any situation that might arise. Emperor Xen'Mordin's instructions had been plain; a scout sent into this nebula after a probe went missing had found some sort of derelict capital ship, apparently one that was still in good order. They were to inspect it, identify it, and determine its purpose there; if a threat, it was to be neutralized. If it was truly derelict, however, any materiel and intel available were to be claimed. Turning, the Duro cast a strong figure as he inspected the nebula once more, arms crossing over the black tactical suit he wore. As always, the outfit was chosen for comfort and practicality.
"How long until we reach the target, Arania?" The Duro asked, looking to the Ewok seated at the copilot's chair.
"We should be in view of it any second now." The words sounded odd from the small voice, though all in the shuttle knew Arania to be no weakling; if anything, the diminutive size she'd been damned to by accident made her more deadly. It made her easy to underestimate. "Adjusting scanners for..." She went silent, surprise blooming on a face streaked by white fur. "There it is."
The others were on their feet in an instant, each of them darting to the viewport as the black hulk materialized out of the celestial mists. Koryn, his green skin paled and his large black eyes wide, gasped faintly at the sheer bulk of the rectangular vessel. Reports had listed a big capital ship; this was huge
. The rodian had seen larger ships, of course, but never of this make and never derelict; turbolaser towers and other weaponry lined its sides wherever visible. No lighting of any sort, emergency or otherwise, existed through the viewports. Arania's tiny hands were a blur as they typed in commands, ordering scans and requesting data on the vessel. The ship's equipment made an odd crackling noise, bringing a curse from the Dark Jedi Master's lips.
"Stang. R3, get the kriff over here." The small astromech droid wheeled over with a blurt of commands and details. "Our sensors are being blocked by this nebula. Plug in and see if you can't boost our signal, or something."
A flurry of beeps and whistles escaped the droid, designation R3-Z44, but no one had any idea of what it said. A small connector popped from a slot in its cylindrical body, plugging into the computer's access port and spitting a flurry of Basic across the screen. <>
A few seconds later, and a new set of commands replaced it. Arania read them quickly, not looking away from them as she spoke. "Hmm, alright. Oppressor-class, whatever that could be. No life signs onboard, engines crippled, no systems active. Looks like it's in an emergency power-down. Last captain's log..." Her words stopped as her Ewok eyes re-read the information. "That's impossible."
"What is it?" Looking down, Thran Ocassus' chiseled features curved into a frown.
"Last captain's log was approximately three thousand years ago, Thran." The Ewok replied. "Let's see who..." She blinked, then looked up, an excited look on her face. "It's a Sith Empire warship."
A series of whirrs and beeps escaped the droid, accompanied by text once more. <> A screech of feedback escaped its frame.
"What in the..." Kalak Ragnose, his eyebrow arched, couldn't finish his sentence before the Force began to scream.
Everyone in the transport felt the sudden blast of danger sense; whereas most threats were like a Kath Hound baying, this was a Rancor in full charge. As one, their eyes flashed to the space left of the Oppressor, just in time to watch the swirling gases blasted away as a ship came out of hyperspace. Its massive triangular bulk and unfamiliar transponder codes set off the alarm klaxons within the shuttle, just in time for them to identify the massive bulk of a Victory II-class Star Destroyer. For all the power of its occupants, the Palatinae shuttle wouldn't even have a chance.
Waving to Arania, Xantros shouted over the wail of the alarm. "Power down all systems. I want this ship as black as night. Set us on a drifting course for that Sith cruiser." Looking to Koryn, the Duro waved his hand, his red eyes tight around the edges. "Prep the emergency space suits. We're going in the old-fashioned way."
"Nothing onboard," Alaris said, looking the ship over. "Nothing alive, anyways. I can't sense anything onboard that cruiser."
"Indeed not." Tra'an replied, ignoring the technicians as they relayed the exact same information. The scanners onboard were barely useful inside the nebula, even at this range. "Still, that will prove beneficial to our cause." Looking over his shoulder, the Shi'ido adjusted his respirator as he took a stock of his team.
Tiberius di Cloud and Imichua Haruki, Master and Apprentice inseparable, stood close together. They appeared to be whispering about the ship, and what it might contain. Nearby, Zuser Whuloc's young form bounced on his heels, ever restless as he awaited the next mission. Of the group, only Alaris, Tra'an, and the carbonite survivor Mograine stood relaxed. Each of them extended the Force toward their target, though Mograine chose not to discuss what he felt with them. Alaris and Reith both knew him for a disciple of Vorrac, and neither was too eager to let slip something that could find that serpent's ear. Looking around his bridge, Tra'an sighed, noting the mass of Force-deaf crewmen and low-level Journeymen operating the ship. With this many people, someone was bound to whisper.
"What do we do, Aedile?" Jinn asked, shifting his balance ever so slightly. Moving like a leopard and just as ready to spring into action, the Twi'lek was easily the most powerful Dark Jedi onboard the ship. "That ship could contain intel, and supplies. Not to mention the possibility of another hull in the fleet."
"You don't think that Lord Ashen would take offense to an unsanctioned vessel?" Reith replied, a smirk on his face. "No, we'd need his blessing to even see the interior for a time."
"And why shouldn't we have it?" The di Plagia replied, his lekku swinging as he moved. "The Dark Lord rewards success."
"We're not alone." Mograine's voice finally broke the silence as he stood up straight, looking out of the viewport.
The bridge's alarm klaxons lit up just as a Nebulon B escort frigate broke out of hyperspace, narrowly missing the Sith ship and nearly touching the Ballista. Crews were open and active in seconds, even as similar lights flashed from the frigate's viewports. The sounds of shields charging and turbolaser batteries being configured broke through the surprise of Tra'an as the ship drifted closer, and he barely managed to turn and yell over the din. The presences of two familiar Dark Jedi onboard and a ship he knew too well were all the cause that he needed to give the ceasefire.
He wasn't fast enough as turbolaser fire began to blast at the newcomer. "Hold fire!" He yelled, pointing at the frigate. "Hold fire. It's the Deep Ice."
"Deep Ice?!" Alaris asked as the klaxons shut down. "What in the blazes is Revan doing here?"
"I don't know," Tra'an replied, "But I'd love to find out."
Nebulon-B Escort Frigate Deep Ice
Eiko's robes trailed behind him as he barrelled onto the bridge, feeling the first slamming impacts as turbolasers hit his ship's hull. "Ceasefire!" He cried. "Stop firing now!"
The turbolasers of the Nebulon-B frigate stopped firing seconds afterward, causing the Templar to hold his breath for a few moments as the Ballista slowly followed suit. Three more green turbolasers smashed into his ship before the firing stop. Feeling a familiar presence behind him, Eiko didn't bother to pause as he strode up to the helm, his Apprentice following suit. James Roberts-Brannigan had only recently been crowned a Protector, yet still he strode with the confident stance of a master saberist.
"Lord Eiko, we're being hailed." Eiko ignored the title of Lord, used to it from his crewmen by now. He understood that it was the safest way for the Force-deaf servants of the Brotherhood to address their superiors.
"Accept it." Eiko said, stepping up to the viewscreen. The nebula's radiation was too intense for holocommunications; they had to do it the old-fashioned way. Tra'an Reith's image gradually came in, fuzzy and weak. "Tra'an. Strange to find you here."
"We could say the same." The masked Quaestor said, planting his hands on his hips. "We were expecting the Palatinae, not the Plagueians."
"Vismorsus' forces?" Tra'an asked, a hint of surprise on his face, but he quickly cleared it. "We were the only ones present, until you came along."
Eiko didn't respond for a moment, closing his eyes and stretching out with the Force. The Sith ship they'd come for was easy enough to find; echoes of agony and pain swirled around it like a dark cyclone. The energy was so intense that it seemed to pulsate, along with the foreign energy of the nebula around it. It made finding anyone onboard impossible without being closer, or at least being more skilled; the Knight gave up the effort.
"I trust you won't interfere with our operations here?" Eiko's tone of voice made it a statement more than a question. "We've a need to search the derelict craft, and we wouldn't want any incidents."
"We're here for a similar purpose." Reith responded. His facial expression was one that Eiko recognized; he was refusing to give in before the argument even began. "Perhaps we can work out an accord."
"Perhaps indeed." Eiko replied, looking around his bridge. From across it, overseeing the weapons officer, Callus glanced at his Quaestor and nodded. The Revanite Aedile was clearly eager to be done with his business. "Allow us some time to think about the problem."
"Very well. We'll do the same." The Plagueians on the screen flickered out. Everyone on the bridge seemed to relax at once.
"Master," James said, looking to Eiko. "Surely we aren't going to sit here and discuss this?"
"You're right, James." Eiko replied. He motioned to his Aedile. "Callus, prepare Lambow, Kel, and Dath. Tell them to break out the space suits; this nebula's too thick for their instruments to detect anything as large as a shuttle." Looking out the viewport, the Quaestor nodded to himself. "We're too close to that ship for them to sense us through the Force, at least until we're safely on the ship."
Roberts-Brannigan brightened up at the words. "Shall I go gear up, Master?"
Eiko looked to his Apprentice, shaking his head. "I'm afraid not, James. I want you to stay here; I'll use the Force to call you if we need any assistance." Looking to Callus, who strode up, the Quaestor nodded. The two left the Protector as he stood still, his face filled with a dismayed expression.
The set of his jaw quickly turned to one of stubbornness. I will not be left behind.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Outside Starboad Cargo Hold
The door panel to the hallway beyond the cargo hold creaked and groaned as it was dragged into its ceiling-mounted bracket, millennia without maintenance or use showing. As one, the Dark Jedi sped through the door, lightsaber hilts in hand but inactive. Arania came last, one hand raised toward the door that she had mentally dragged open. Once she was beyond the threshold, she released his crushing telekinetic grip, the door slamming down in seconds to make a resounding bang. The sound set all but the Master and Warlord of the pair on edge; of them, only their muscles tensed, all else remaining calm. Koryn knelt down as Kalak opened the pack on the Rodian's back, pulling out scanning equipment. Firing it up, he quickly read the results as his cohort stood back up.
"This is strange." The Falleen said, undoing the clasp on his helmet without warning anyone. Dragging it off, he exposed his skin, a deep brown color due to his confusion. "The life support systems of the ship aren't active, but the air's perfectly breathable. It's like..." He shrugged, perplexed by the mystery of it. "It's like no one's been here to breathe the air."
"The gravity's still active." Xantros interjected. "That means that something is, or was, walking around on this tub before it went down." Looking to the rest of the team, the Battleteam Leader quickly disassembled his space suit, leaving it on the floor. The others did the same without having to be told.
"We need to be careful in here; the loss of us or any resources is unacceptable. Kell, you and Arania look for a terminal, something we can hack." The Duro looked next to the Falleen. "Kalak, we need to know what supplies are onboard. With that ship outside, we may need to wait in here for quite some time." Pointing to the Rodian, the Duro continued, his red eyes seeming fitting for the dim emergency lights that illuminated the ship's hallways. "Koryn, you go with Thran and-"
"I go my own way." The Warlord replied. "Unless you'd like to stop me somehow?" As Xantros' smooth face twisted into a displeased frown, the chiseled human nodded. "I thought not. I'll report to you on what I find." With that, he was halfway down the hall when he stopped. His eyes snapped toward the viewport. "We have company."
The other Dark Jedi quickly rushed to the nearest viewport, Arania hopping up and grabbing the ledge to compensate for her height. Their eyes met a strange spectacle; five people equipped with heavy-duty space suits drifted toward the craft, propelled by thruster packs on their backs. The Ewok looked at one of them, probing him with the Force. "That's Eiko. House Revan's come to join us."
"Then that will be his Krath Wookiee," Kalak said in reply, pointing to the huge figure among the others. The horns of an iktotchi also provided a clue. "And that's his star Guardian. Dath, I think. Another inspection party." The Falleen looked to Xantros, raising an eyebrow. His skin took on a red hue; he was prepared for combat if need be. "What should we do, Xantros?"
"It's simple." The Duro replied, a grim look on his face. "This ship belongs to Emperor Vismorsus. All other threats must be dealt with." Each member of the team nodded assent. They spread out silently; all of them knew what they had to do.
It was shaping up to be a bloody evening on the Merciless.
Nebulon-B Escort Frigate Deep Ice
Emergency Airlock; Safety Protocols Deactivated
James checked over his space suit one last time as he took a deep breath, calming himself. Adjusting the electrostaff slung across his back and the lightsaber hilt on his leg's magnetic clip-plate, the Protector assured himself for the third time that he was ready to go. Am I? He asked himself, squelching the doubt only moments later. As if to fight him, another sprang up in its place. This is insane.
"I can do this." He said to himself, grabbing the airlock door's manual release. It was important that he did it manually; the airlock would drain itself of atmosphere if he used the automated release. "I can do this."
Why in the blazes am I doing this? He asked himself mentally, looking up at the security camera he'd disabled. Someone would be there to check on it at any minute; he had to go now. Taking one last deep breath, he repeated the mantra he'd been using to reassure himself. "I am a Dark Jedi. This is what Dark Jedi do."
Pulling hard on the red release lever, Roberts-Brannigan's stomach instantly lurched as he and everything else in the airlock were thrown into space. The crushing power of vacuum mixed with the instant, white-hot fear that paralyzed him; he was drifting through space. Worse, he was drifting through space toward a massive, inanimate object. Looking at the ship before him, he tried to ready himself to grab onto something, but found his motions sluggish; his hands shook within the cumbersome space suit. He'd imagined that this would be terrifying; he hadn't had any experience to tell him that it would be a body-numbing fear, one that paralyzed the mind. Before he could get close enough, though, a sharp pull caught his left leg. It was dragging him toward the ship. He flailed inside the suit to try and stop it, but two others caught his left arm and his right leg, yanking him toward the immense bulk. He closed his eyes, waiting for the end...
...and opened them with a grunt as he landed, a sharp thud sounding, inside the cruiser. His visor cracked; frantically, he tried to compress it before he realized that no air was escaping his suit. "What the..."
"James." Eiko said, his voice sounding one octave below full-on rage. "Did I not tell you to remain on the ship?"
"But Master, I can do this. You could use another saber here, and besides, you know I have the skill to-"
"What about all of that," The Templar asked, cutting him off, "Made you think that you should get here by firing yourself out of an airlock?!"
"The fighters were all under guard, and besides, no one would fly me here even if they weren't."
"Kyyyyargh rooowhorgh rggumph." Lambow growled, crossing his arms.
Callus chuckled. "I'm going to paraphrase that and say that you almost made a very big mistake. You don't want the literal translation."
"Since you're here anyways, James," Eiko said, his tone like ice, "You can make yourself useful. Grab the demolitions equipment; you're with Lambow and Dath."
The Wookiee nodded, but the Iktotchi Guardian's face twisted into a frown. "You expect me to let him slow me down?"
"If you like your arms inside their sockets," Callus replied, glancing at Lambow, "Then yes." The Iktotchi could only scowl as the Wookiee huffed a chuckle.
As the trio headed for engineering, Kel quickly shouldered the heavy slicing equipment, trailing behind his Quaestor and Aedile. The two walked through the ship, not bothering to look out of the huge gash in its side; they'd been aware of the Oppressor's shields as soon as they'd come on, and their particle fields were holding the untouched atmosphere inside the ship quite nicely. Their path took them through several doors and walls, which Callus and Eiko took turns slicing through with their sabers; the Force would be too exhausting to repeatedly use and the machinery behind the door panels had long since rusted itself into uselessness.
Carving their way into a wide dorm, the three stopped instantly as they took in its inhabitants. Skeletons, some in dilapidated robes of brown or black and others in white or black armor, lay strewn across the floor. Ancient carbon scoring and deep, blackened gashes adorned the walls, while rusted saber hilts and heavy-looking blaster weapons lay in piles everywhere. It had clearly been a battle of some sort; judging by the positions of the corpses, some of them in pieces, it had been a fierce one.
"Hold." Eiko said. "Callus, what do you make of this?"
"Boarding action by the Republic during whatever space battle gave this ship her scars." The Aedile replied, nudging one of the dead troopers. His armor seemed in good condition. "Kel, this looks to be about your size. Throw it on." As the Novice opened his mouth to argue, the Aedile snapped at him. "You're the only one here who can't stop a ranged attack, Kaveel. Put the karking armor on. While you're at it, see if any of the blasters still work."
Looking around, the Aedile picked up an ancient-looking saberstaff, thumbing it on. A hint of heat told him that its magnetic field was wearing out, but the blade burned a bright green. Deactivating it, he closed his eyes, drawing on the Force to gather psychometric impressions from the item. Nodding, he released it, letting it clatter to the floor. "Sith victory here. The Jedi Master who had this killed most of them before two Warriors took him down." He looked at the mess, puzzled. "Still, I don't see why they didn't clear the bodies out afterward."
"Maybe they had other things to do." The Novice interjected, his voice quiet next to his superiors.
"Or maybe," Eiko said, a grim note to his voice, "No one was left alive after the battle to do that." He looked to his Aedile. "Be wary. Something's amiss."
S1 Firespray-Class Patrol Ship Chaser
En Route to Merciless
"Pull the slag up!" Alaris cried, as the Firespray wheeled just out of the range of a drifting chunk of durasteel. A scraping sound was heard throughout the craft. "You nearly breached the hull!"
"Will you shut the kriff up?!" Zuser shouted in response. "I know what I'm doing!"
Jinn had to relinquish that fact, but it didn't do anything to dispel the pallor of everyone else aboard the ship. Zuser, well-known in Plagueis for being as energetic and wild a pilot as he was in combat, seemed perfectly into control; the razor-sharp turns and hard shifts of the Firespray led the others in the ship to think otherwise. Tra'an's worries were less on that fact than on the Deep Ice; as soon as the patrol ship was detected on their sensors, they'd probably begin firing at it. His suspicions were confirmed as a crimson turbolaser narrowly missed the viewport.
"Hang on!" Whuloc shouted. "This might get messy!"
The word messy was enough to set Tra'an's stomach on edge; his own piloting experience told him exactly what messy would mean at this speed, especially in vacuum. Had he had a choice, he would have been at the helm, or Alaris, but they and the rest of them needed to be using the Force in case of unexpected danger. Their telekinetic powers might also save them from a collision or other mishap; without sensors or instruments, they had a strong chance of being the ship's only defenses. It made sense that the less-powerful Dark Jedi should be occupied with piloting the ship.
"I don't know if I want you to hurry up or slow down." Imichua said. Five Dark Jedi curled behind the pilot's chair of a Firespray was less than comfortable, but they weren't going in unarmed. "Just don't get us killed."
For all of their trepidation, it was Mograine who had to admit Whuloc's skill. To himself, anyway. The Protector's reflexes and ability were amazing, easily outstripping most others he'd ever seen. It was likely the sole reason they were still alive, Force abilities or not; the ship was literally moving too fast to rely entirely on the reflexes of even an Equite. More turbolasers flashed by, some of them grazing the ship, until Whuloc came within view of the Oppressor; without hesitation, he began accelerating toward a rent that looked like the work of enemy cannons. A very narrow rent.
"Zuser, we'll never-" Tra'an began, but he was cut off by Zuser's yell.
"No time, Master!" The Protector shouted as a pair of missiles tore free from the Firespray.
The explosives smashed into the capital ship only seconds before the Chaser hit its destination; flames curled around the hull as it screamed into open air. Slamming the repulsors to life and cutting the throttle, Zuser cringed as the ship wobbled in mid-air; it slowed abruptly, yet still screeched and let loose a flurry of sparks as it hit the ship's floor. A heavy thud signalled an impact; the sudden loss of gravity turned every stomach aboard as the ship flipped into the air. Crashing into the ground, the six aboard the ship quickly donned the helmets to their TIE pilot suits before the exit ramp creaked open, upside-down. The Dark Jedi climbed out of it without hesitation, leaping to the ground and landing in combat positions. Their lightsabers flashed to life for only long enough to determine what the room was; a repair bay for starfighters.
A crackling noise outside the rent in the ship made them all whirl about. "What was that?" Tra'an asked to no one in particular.
"Sounded like shields firing up." Alaris replied. "It might be an automated response to our missile attack." Looking out of the rent and into space, the Twi'lek shifted uncomfortably. Pilot suits had not been designed for curled lekku. "The Deep Ice has ceased firing. I guess our stand-ins made a good excuse."
"Indeed." Reith said. "Mograine, you're with Tiberius and myself. We're looking for the Bridge. Alaris, you're with Zuser and Imichua. Try to see if you can't get to engineering; I want to know how badly damaged this thing really is."
"As you wish, Aedile." Alaris responded. Babysitting. Joy. "Come on, you two. Look sharp; we may not be alone here." The group moved quickly, not giving anyone a chance to detect them.
Stopping at the door, Alaris glanced to Tra'an and Mograine, who shared a grave look. Even with all of the Dark Side energy pulsing around this ship, each and every one of them could sense a disturbance in the Force. Something was about to go very, very wrong.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
Overseen by Droid Brain
<> The droid brain of the Merciless quickly assumed control of the ship's security feeds, activating cameras that had lain dormant for many, many years. It ceased to calculate the extent of its individualist tendencies instantly as the strangers in the winged shuttle arrived, drifting in.
<> The group within it quickly escaped, one of them lifting a small hand. One of the Oppressor's doors ground open. <>
<> The ship cut off its line of command faster than any living mind could fathom as a new detection arrived. <>
The security network detected several strangers, also in space suits, floating in through a hole in the ship. <>
<> With a growl of code gaps, the droid brain crushed the automated distress response. The shields snapped up before even it could react; it quickly squelched the weapon activation command. Examining the ship that impacted, it scanned the newcomers who emerged. Their lightsabers triggered a new wave of activity in its mechanized routines.
<> Watching every angle at once, it watched as the newcomers who had arrived in their space suits used the Force to draw in a sixth member. <> An error message drew a line of irritated garbage code from the droid brain. It had been left alone for too long; it was developing personality quirks. <>
<> The ship cycled to itself. <> The ship quickly sent commands throughout its frame, into several of the rooms. Inside, spider-legged machines whirred to life, red photoreceptors glowing, repeating blasters and missile weapons charging up. A single directive shot through them all as sixty-five thousand, four hundred and thirty three droid brains were given orders. They held still for only moments as thousands of probes activated, oiling joints and inspecting weaponry.
Eiko's hand was shoved away from the console by the rush of electricity. His left hand hung limply at the wrist, the servos whining lightly under the strain. "There's nothing on this system - let's try to work towards a command station." His voice was taut already as he peered at the skeletal remains of the assault crew. "Don't touch anything that you're not sure what it does, Kel," he warned over his shoulder as he massaged his forearm.
"Something happen to your hand?" Callus called back as he searched through bins and lockers, seemingly unconcerned.
"It's fine. Just a jolt" - Eiko wheeled to stare at Kel. "Does it work?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir." The Novice hefted a light rifle, its black case caked in layered dust, shifting to balance the weight of his slicing equipment and armor. Eiko was already distracted, trying to pull in all the information he could about this room.
"Good." Curtly, the word took up half the space he usually would give to it. A cluttered rush swelled in the distance, rolling through the dorm's ventilation shafts. "Caalllus," Eiko muttered, his vocal processing unit making the sound waver.
"We are inside the hull, Quaestor," Lambow's voice sounded in Eiko's ears.
"Get yourselves set up - I'm not expecting this place to stay quiet while we just rifle through all the leftovers. If you can set up a link with Sigma, tell them that I want all the information on this class of cruiser. There is no time. Pantaro," he called sternly as he switched frequencies, "get the Ice away from here." The sequence of reply clicks confirmed that the Dark Ice would start gliding away from the scene. "Callus, tell me that you heard that noise."
The Exarch's blade was already ignited, the light dipping in and out of the exposed ribs and torn fabric of Republic uniforms.
The thought raced across Eiko's mind that even alarm sirens would have been better than the company of a dead company. Perhaps the alarms were sounding further away, deeper in the belly of the ship - or just in a region.
He flexed his fingers as they returned to form, still feeling pricked with the current, but back to their old nature. "I want into the data mainframe - anything we can glean from this ship is going to be valuable enough." He walked back towards the console, then clenched his fist as he thought better of it. "Callus, let's get through this door. The sooner we get out, the better."
"These look like nice sabe-"
Kel's voice was cut off by Eiko's whole upper body turning toward the Novice, bearing down on him with a slight lean and the vast emptiness of his mask.
"Information is worth hundreds of times what that rusted piece would be worth, even restored."
"What I don't understand," Callus grimaced as he pulled his lightsaber through the last of the bolts on the door and kicked it into the next corridor, "is why everything rusted. The air seems to filter alright - a little stagnant."
Eiko stepped through the doorway behind him, leaning one hand against the door for balance. The glove came away streaked with rust. "Fire suppression system, perhaps."
"The scan said that engineering should be up the lift one level. Forward data mainframe isn't far off of that, I think."
"Engineering that close to the bridge?" Eiko asked. The rhythm of conversation with his former master ate into the rush of adrenaline that had surged into his veins.
"Mid-forward, technically. On a ship like this, maybe twice the length of an Interdictor, that's a lot of grey area."
Eiko nodded, ushering Kel into the center of the formation as Callus led the way deeper into the ship. Eiko let his steps slide sideways as he kept his stance flexible and shifted his gaze frequently.
Tiberius looked at the Equites faces, and could sense something was
wrong, but could not pin point it.
The Dark Jedi Knight looked once more at his Student, and said quietly to him.
“Be careful my Student”.
Imichua replied “Master let me grow, I’II be fine”.
Then they all continued their journey, along the eerie dark corridors of the ghost ship, to explore what was going on, all had their sabers’ at the ready and could feel the emptiness of the ship before them.
Stepping over, fallen items that were around them with great care,
looking and watching for any signs, of movement as they tried to get a
sense of what happened around them, and what if anything cause this ship damage, floating by itself was strange, in itself let alone with no one, and or dead bodies.
Tiberius once more tried to sense what the Equites, were thinking but could not grasp what was on their minds, trying not to let them know what he was doing, was hard enough.
Tra’an looked at the Dark Jedi Knight, and said “Stop trying to play
mind games, let’s get on shall we”.
Tiberius looked at Tra’an and gave a hand gesture, as if to say “Carry on Sir”.
Watching and waiting for any action, the three Dark Jedi finally
split, from Alaris and his group and began their mission in earnest,
following from behind the two elder Plagueians, Tiberius covered the
two from the rear, with saber in hand and ready for action in case,
anything happened with sharp eyes, keen senses alert and willing to
As the Dark Jedi, continued their journey careful not to trip or alarm
anything that might be alerted to their presents, the ship had an
eerie feel about it the three could feel an evil that neither of the
three had felt before, Tiberius’ thoughts began to run riot.
What was it! What happened here! And what the hack were we to do!
As the thought wavered in Tiberius' mind , he wondered what the others were thinking!.
The Right Hand of Justice exhaled loudly, letting the noise echo slightly then fade off the rusted metal of the ship surrounding him. Jinn’s term as Hand had been boring and uneventful. He had first imagined that it was because no one would dare challenge his ability to dismantle corruption, but as time went on, he simply came to understand that it was from fear of the Grand Master that no one violated the Dark Covenant.
Instead, he found himself babysitting a Master/Apprentice duo who reminded him of a mildly amusing slapstick comedy team. Tiberius, as Alaris understood, had been in more Clans and Houses than any jumper he’d ever seen. Imichua, after several years of being a member of Plagueis’ ranks, was still a journeyman. Alaris’ first mission in the Brotherhood had been alongside Imichua and since then, the Twi’lek had been promoted to the third Equite rank, lead a House twice and Clan once, had been on the Dark Council itself and now presided as the chief prosecutor on Antei.
Alaris’ circular thinking returned him to his original disdain and boredom. At least this was shaping up to be at least slightly interesting. Being behind a desk going over reports that were too insignificant to cross Kir Katarn’s desk had grown tired in the first month of his tenure. Standing in a hostile environment, lightsaber in hand; this is where Alaris Jinn di Plagia belonged.
The three Dark Jedi, one from each order, ran at near sprints with very little sound. The Dark Side was almost perfectly guiding them through-out the unknown vessel. They rounded corners deftly and confidently until one corner met them with something none of them were expecting.
“It’s a dead end.”
“Shut it, Haruki.” Alaris stopped and put up his hand, silencing Tiberius who was an instant from berating the Obelisk for chiding his student. The upturned hand turned into a point directly behind the two Journeymen. An instant later, that same hand, without moving, was clutching a lit emerald lightsaber.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Exiting repair bay
Having left the other team to search for the Engineering bay, the team consisting of Mograine, Tra'an and Tiberius had left through the sternside corridor in hope of finding some sort of turbolift that could transport them to the Crew Deck, and eventually to the Bridge of the ship. Noticing that the ship design seemed rather archaic compared to even Clone Wars era vessels, the Sith Warrior did not abandon his familiarity of the design; which while considerably different, yet similar to that of Imperial Star Destroyers. Taking this intelligence into consideration, Mograine felt it to be rational to search for the turbolift lobby, which often were found on the rear end of the Flight deck.
Walking through the familiar looking corridors, the dark jedi passed what looked like several minor skirmishes between Sith and Jedi - Empire and Republic, and out of the armor and lightsaber design, Mograine guessed that the equipment, corpses and the ship itself were from the Inter-Sith Wars era approximately three and a half thousand years ago. He shuddered over the feeling of pain, loss and anger that still haunted the ship, but was quick to cast it off - instead feeding on the dark energy, while wondering why it remained so concentrated on the vessel. Was it possible that whatever had happened on this ship had made such an impression in the Force that it became a force nexus of the Dark Side? Perhaps due to the conflict and dark emotions that had occurred here in the past.
Then Mograine was broken out of his philosophical moment, by the heavy-breaths and uneasy movements of Tiberius Di Cloud, who was walking in the back of the trio, but regularly turning erratically around as to face a Vornskr jumping at him from the shadows. The already dark hallway was increasingly growing darker as the lights grew weaker and more dim the further down the corridor they walked. Tiberius' anxiety made Tra'an look back with an angry look on his face, although Mograine felt that the Questor was sending a soothing touch through to Force that clearly made Tiberius feel more at ease. Knowing that Tibs hadn't experienced a fraction of his two companions - the Sith Warrior acknowledged his fear by reinforcing Tra'an's force-boost on Tiberius. Not knowing his new Questor too well, Mograine got the impression that Tra'an was experienced enough to keep his calm. He might even be as experienced as Mograine himself to such missions, especially since he was Shi'do; a species with an unordinary long life span. Even at the age of 100, which Tra'an apparently surpassed, a Shi'do was still considered quite a young adult.
Suddenly the lights throughout the hallway blink out a couple of times in rapid succession before shutting completely off - leaving them in the pitch black darkness of the ship. The three dark jedi immediately came to a halt, and all that could be heard was the deep breathing of them all. Mograine pulled a glowrod from his belt and turned it on - sending an amber beam down the hallway. Both Mograine and Tra'an shifted their force-focus outward from supporting Tiberius to sense for any disturbances. Feeding on his own imminent fear, Tiberius joined them in scanning their surroundings. In a far distant, Mograine felt the excited notion of the other Plagueian team led by Alaris. Knowing that his housemates had encountered some sort of obstacle - Mograine whispered, "I think there's trouble coming", as there were echoes of clanking thuds approaching from up ahead within the darkness.
Imichua tried to focus on the surroundings. The more Imichua looked around the more creeps he got. Something happened here a while ago and it wasn’t a party. Strange looking splatters covered the wall on the left. Imichua didn’t knew if it was blood or something else. With the armory saber in his right hand, Imichua walked behind Alaris. It was hard to concentrate and not to give in the deep fear inside.
Broken items and pieces of metal covered most of the floor. Every step they took made a crackling sound. At some point where the hallway separated into two directions, a silent sound of something that sounded like metal hitting metal got Imichua´s attention. Alaris could feel that Imichua heard something and stopped walking.
The sound started to gain more noise and at some point a shadow was moving from the left to the right on the sailing. “I think I spotted something” Imichua whispered to the team. Imichua activated his saber to gain more light in the hallway. Eight mechanical looking spiders with razor sharp metal straps around their legs were moving towards them. In the corner of his eyes, Imichua saw Alaris activating his light saber.
The first two spiders made an attempt to attack the Jedi. Imichua made a dive under need one of the creatures and forced his blade into the stomach of the spider. With a steady swoosh, he made a cut towards one of it legs. The metal that was attached to the leg of the spider seemed to repel the green blade. Imichua could hear the teeth of the creature grinding in its beak. Quickly Imichua made an attempt to damage the creature vital organs. As the spider rolled on its back, Imichua yelled at the team that the steel was saber resistant and the gut area of the spiders were weak. It seemed that one a few minutes passed since the attack of the creatures while in reality passed an hour. Those things were hard to kill and Imichua´s robe showed some ruptures.
It was faint, and growing louder. The steady sound of metal on metal, and then red glowing dots emerged from a bend in the corridor and it was instantly clear to the Quaestor. "Droids! Spiders! Close your eyes!" The roar of sound from the head of the Plagueian delegation had Mograin and Tiberius not only snapping their eyes shut, but hiding behind their arms in an attempt to protect the vital organs from what was coming. One of the few benefits of fighting droids dependent on optical sensors was just that, they were dependent. And like any other sensor, it could be fooled.
Reaching out to the malevolent nexus of energy, Tra'an pulled in a hideous amount, and pushed out back out inverted into pure, blinding light. The force-based energy raced outwards like a tidal wave from an asteroid impact. Bending around turns and lighting hallways all the way back to the opening. When it faded, the spiders were… gone? It clicked finally for the Obelisk. It was similar to the tricks Krath liked to pull around their temples, placing traps that triggered holocrons holding Force-imprints. With a sigh of relief, the Paladin grabbed his communicator and keyed it to Alaris Jinn, his other team leader. "Jinn! They're Illusions! Look through the Force and find the holocron and destroy it!"
As the voice of the former enemy and now leader of his house burst forth from the communicator at his wrist, the look on the di-plagia's face was priceless. He snatched up the communicator, even as he focused on slowing his focus, so that the Force Sight could snap into place like he'd been trained. "Destroy a holocron, are you mad?" The shout was clear, and the instructions headed anyhow, even in strident objection. A glowing pulsation of energy was clearly visible embedded in the bulkhead the next corridor over, and the emerald-blade was thrown straight at it, as if the walls were not there. The blade melted right though the steel and buried itself in the glowing crystal, making it explode and immediately unraveling the potent illusion. The weapon of choice returned to its master with a silent thought and flick of the wrist. "It is done. Let us hope that you know what you are doing. I will endeavor to be more, careful, in the future. Jinn out."
With a scowl, he turned away from the two younglings accompanying him, both Zuser and Imichua staring in shock. Still unused to the power of Illusions, the entire thing had felt completely real. Both bore minor abrasions and were sweating profusely, and hurried to catch up to the Exarch. "Master Jinn, why are we scratched if they were just illusion?, spoke young Whuloc."
Sighing, and stopping to gather his thoughts as not to blast the Protector, he realized that it was simply inexperience that brought it up. And forewarned was forearmed… Turning to face them, he leaned against a bulkhead and made to look like he was thinking, while actually using the Force Sight to look for other hidden traps along the way and finding it difficult beyond a meter or two, the malevolent dark energies obscuring his Sight. "What the mind believes, young Whuloc, the body feels. Illusion can kill as sure as a knife in the ribs or a 'saber in the gut. Remember that, it may save your life someday." Having plotted a course that appeared safe, for the next few meters anyhow, he took off again without further explanation. It was only afterwards that he remembered to turn off the communicator on his belt.
On the other side of the ship, the others listened, and a smile spread across Tra'an's face. When the connection finally fell silent, it was almost, predatory. "What he said. Let's get going. Keep your eyes peeled, and we'll not fall prey to it again." Both Tiberius and Mograine nodded, and discretely helped their leader make a side-trek into the next corridor to retrieve the overloaded holocron that Tra'an had burned out by over-taxing with his Force Light. Tucking it into a side pocket in his robes, the Obelisk smiled again, thinking of the nice price it would earn among the Krath. This was going to be a good trip after all. Profit and Knowledge. A good trip indeed.
With that thought firmly in mind, Tra'an continued down the corridor he felt would lead them to the bridge, careful to keep his mind firmly in the Force, so that it might aide him in his sight, and keep such unpleasant traps to a minimum.
The members of the Scholae Palatinae team spread out, each group having to carry out different orders. Xantros sent a telepathic message to all of them, in order to make sure that everyone knew what to do.
"The orders remain the same. I and Koryn will try to find a way to slow down our guests. I don't think we can stop them for a long time, but we need as much time as possible, if we wish to commandeer this ship in name of Emperor Vismorsus and House Scholae Palatinae. Try to avoid detection and direct contact, but defend yourself if necessary. Let's do our best to achieve the goal of our mission here. The failure is not acceptable. Be careful, as this ship may conceal dangerous secrets and traps."
Followed by Koryn, Xantros moved quickly through the corridors of the mysterious, ancient Sith ship. The Dark Jedi Knight and the Krath Priest carefully observed the surroundings and used the Seeing Force power to find proper places for explosive charges to be set. Both Dark Jedi had numerous explosives in their bags, which they had taken from their Dark Brethren, what allowed them to cause sabotage. The charges were not powerful enough to damage internal construction of the ship, but powerful enough to distract anyone, who would go that way.
The two Dark Jedi set the charges in every single place that was suitable to do so, until they run out of the explosives. Fortunately, they did not use all of the explosives taken for the mission, as they predicted that they might need some more in further phases of the mission. Finally, Xantros nodded to Koryn and they moved to scout other areas of the ship.
James happily grinned and begins to strip off his zero gravity suit. He wasn’t sure what gave him the idea to put it on and shoot himself out of an airlock, but he was glad to be here, to help out and experience his first mission as a Revanite. No amount of training could give him the experience that real missions with veterans could. Lambow was considered a god in House Revan, being one of the plank owners when it was founded and James was eager to watch the Wookiee work, knowing he would learn a lot from Lambow.
Freeing himself out of the zero gravity suit, he walked over and picked up the demolition equipment. Hoisting it on his back and picking up his Force Pike, he looked around, noticing his master had already left to explore the engineering. He turned and looked at Lambow, who was looking impatient. But then again, Wookiees always have that look on their faces.
James walked up to Lambow and looked at him. “I’m ready, Sir.”
Lambow nodded and spoke. “Our mission is the Bridge. Dath, since youre in a hurry, take the lead”
Dath gave an arrogant nod and began to take off quickly to the Bridge.
Lambow fell back to James and muttered to him. “Remind me not to like that guy…”
James chuckled and nodded.
Dath looked back at Lambow, shouting, “We got a blast door up here that won’t open! Some help from you stragglers?”
Lambow shouted back, “Wait, don’t touch anything. Let me have a look.”
The rather lanky Pontifex grunted a bit, which annoyed the Wookie as he remembered how strangely his implanted vocator was acting. Right now it seemed that it was working fine, translating his words instantly into Basic, but it could fail at any moment since being in this strange nebula.
He walked over to the blast door controls and motioned for the rest of team to take assault positions. He tinkered with the controls for the door for a bit, and the door hissed open.
Of course they revealed a startling array of lethal attack droids. In addition, they were all powered up.
Furthermore, they were all targeting the team.
Then they all opened fire and advanced.
Dath cursed, and he and the Wookie lit up their lightsabers, deflecting incoming fire.
“James! Grab one of those rifles lying around and start taking out those droids!” snarled Dath. He dove towards the nearest one, with random bolts flying about.
He grabbed the rifle, pointed, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He pulled it again, and took a half second to glance at the power meter. He cursed, dropped the rifle, and sprinted towards another one that might actually have some power in its power pack.
He finally found one, and opened fire while taking cover behind a control station. Lambow took quick note of the situation of the Protector, and knew he could now go on the offensive. He shouted, “Dath! Left flank! James, press the right!”
The Pontifex switched to deflecting bolts with just one lightsaber, and reached deep into the Force. The familiar power swelled up, and the Wookie let fly towards the center of the droid line.
The telekinetic strike bowled over a quite a few droids in the center of the line, causing their advance to falter. The big Wookie wasted zero time, and with a Force-powered sprint, reached the battle line and went to work. His effortless soresu moves with his left lightsaber protected the Wookie from incoming fire, while the right used precision strikes, cuts and slashes from the Jar’Kai Niman form to surgically destroy every droid within reach.
The droids reacted to the threat, the left flank curling in towards the center, seeking to overwhelm the Dark Jedi within their lines. Dath growled, and sprinted forward himself, slicing droids himself, adding to the chaos of battle.
The Protector seemed to do well, expertly sniping away while obviously using the Force to improve his evasiveness.
Under the relentless assault, the center of the line was shattered, with the left flank faltering. The Wookie then added his own fury to the combat, and that unit went down. That just left a few remaining droids on the right still coming in and continuing their own assault. The Wookie snarled, and with his right hand, he hurled his lightsaber forward.
The spinning disk of death went forward, guided by the will of the Pontifex. It effortlessly and neatly decapitated the remaining droids, and returned to the paw of its owner. The sudden quiet was deafening.
With just a touch of anger, the Pontifex ordered, “Dath, inform the Quaestor of the attack. James, scrounge up power packs and ensure that all these machines are destroyed. I’ll stand by here in case of reinforcements.”
An explosion echoed through the halls of the ship. The Kraths' charges were being tripped. It was highly unlikely to be due to the other Houses; they were too far away, and they likely would have sensed such a trap.
"Keep moving," ordered Xantros, as another charge detonated. Rounding a corner, the pair found themselves in one of the cruiser's control rooms. The room was relatively small, maybe eight by ten feet, Koryn guessed. A rusted door panel hung somewhat open on the opposite end of the room, leaving barely any room for a quick escape. Four bodies littered the room, all merely husks of who they once were. Lightsaber scoring had destroyed the command consoles so no information could be drawn from them. There had been a struggle here, of which there were no survivors.
"This room will make an ideal choke point for whatever is following us," informed the Rodian. Xantros nodded in agreement.
"I agree. We will set charges around the doorway and hold them off. if things get too heavy, we'll use the far exit." The two Dark Jedi planted three explosives in strategic locations to take down their prey. They waited patiently for their quarry to arrive; both channelled the Force through them in preparation. The energy felt empowering as it ebbed and flowed through their very essence.
The blasts grew closer and closer. Soon the explosions were joined by a metallic clanking sound. The noise grew in number; it was obvious to both Koryn and Xantros what was heading their way. Droids. By the sounds of things, there could be hundreds of them. But numbers would count for nothing as they were funnelled through the narrow doorway.
The duo were crouched either side of the doorway, hilts in hand, ready to strike. Explosions outside the control room announced the arrival of the droids, and bathed the area with a light fog. The robotic army were undeterred and advanced through the mist as more of their number fell to another blast.
Eventually, a lone droid entered the room. The Dark Jedi were silent for a moment as the spider-like droid scanned the area. Xantros signalled to Koryn and the pair ignited their lightsabers, slicing the droid to pieces. The rest of the army - alerted to the presence of the intruders - charged up their weapons, ready to defend their ship from trespassers.
Tiberius looked at Tra’an and Mograine, with his eyes wide open and alert, although he felt the hate and anger that the ship gave off; he concentrated on the Force which gave him focus, and some calm.
The Dark Jedi Knight felt some comfort knowing, he was within a team that wanted him, within it.
The thumping became closer and closer, they heard the sound from 100 yards from the doors of closed corridor, what was it, that was making that sound, only one way to know, Tiberius thought.
The Dark Jedi Knight, looked at his new leader, and said “Sir, Shall I investigate this”.
Tra’an looked at Tiberius, and saw the Knights determined look and his eyes and said “Ok Tibs, but we cover you”.
Tiberius felt the Force beyond the door, and the thumping that was coming closer, and closer toward them, the Knight drew his saber the dark red glow lit up the darkness, around them the familiar hum comforted the Knight, as he pushed forward toward the door.
With one hand he gestured with an up, movement the doors with one swift movement opened, he held his saber with both hands, Mograine, and Tra’an followed after Tiberius from a distance of a few feet.
All three Dark Jedi, had their sabers at the ready drawn glowing a dark red giving the darkness a welcome red glow, looking an exploring around them the three Dark Jedi continued their journey, towards the loud, thump! Thump! Thump!
As the Dark Jedi carried on along, they heard a loud scream from afar what was it, what had happened along this corridor!
As Tra’an had realised the bridge was about, 100 yards in front of the three Dark Jedi, Tiberius could sense something that was wrong, something really wrong, as the three continued their journey along this dark and eerie corridor, the Thump! Thump! Thump! Louder and louder the noise continued, as they got closer to the bridge door.
As Tiberius got closer to the locked down door, he put his ear to the cold metal, placing his hands on the door as he listened, to the noise behind the door.
The Dark Jedi Knight’s eyes widen, with terror as he heard the sounds and he had a good guess to what is was, he looked at his two fellow plagueians, and said “Sir’s, I believe we are hearing a distress call from this bridge, and a recording of events I don’t know, what the Thump! Thump! Thump! Is this could be anything”.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"What are we doing here?" Kell asked, looking around in the relatively small, but mostly intact room. Most of the consoles were powered down, and the left side from the door held an area which looked more like an alchemy lab than a science station. On their modern ships, alchemy labs were usually separate from the science people; no need to bother the mostly Force-blind science techs with things they would not even remotely understand.
"Looking for a terminal, of course." The Ewok had climbed up on some still closed crates labeled with a series of codes Kell wished he understood. There could be valuable supplies in there. Arania had obviously decided to worry about it later.
"Can you read what's in the crates?" Kell wanted to know. The look the Ewok threw him was one of confusion. "I'm a Krath Elder," she replied. Kell nodded, but he wasn't sure if she meant 'of course I do, I'm a scholar' or 'I can't do miracles either.'
The few terminals they had passed on their way here had refused all attempts to activate them, and the Krath was slightly impatient by now. Kell could tell by the way her Ewok ears twitched. "It looked like the terminals we encountered on our way here were in lock down mode. Not in this lab though." Arania frowned. "But something is amiss, it is like the ship has woken up somehow. It is trying to access the database in the computer core here, which seems to have been disconnected from..."
A rumbling noise as if some large doors had been opened came from deeper inside the ship, and a faint hiss and clicking noise suddenly appeared in front of the lab doors. Kell's purple saber hissed to life immediately. "I'll check it out," he said.
Outside the lab doors, spider droids were rushing towards their location. With a curse, Kell attempted to Force push the nearest bunch away from him, but the Force just seemed to ripple through them. Just like it would through holograms in his tactical training lessons. A moment later he felt nothing as the images passed right through him and seemed to leave around a corner. "Arania," he growled. "Someone's sent us fake spider droids. They didn't seem to be able to enter the lab though."
"No projectors in here," Arania explained. "So the ship's brain is alive, at least somewhat. I wonder what the separated database here contains for the ship to want it so badly... ah, there it is. A list of Sith on the ship and, as it seems, in a larger fleet because one ship could hardly transport so many Sith at once."
"Can you download a copy?" It would be interesting to match the faces of the higher ranking Sith with old copies from the respective era.
"I can do something better. I can erase the database and rebuild it with our own images. With that, what remains of the ship's artificial intelligence will recognize us as allies and the rest of them as foes. Thran!" she suddenly shouted at her com. "Are you where I think you are?"
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"Most likely," Thran replied, going through his second helping of a bottle of something strong and tasty he could not otherwise identify. His annoyance over the proceedings since they arrived on board had only slightly lessened. True, he worked better alone, anyway, but he would have preferred to be asked to pick his team. "But no one else has showed up yet," he answered Arania's next question.
Except for the dead, of course. As he had opened the secure part of the bar - no one wanted the bottles to break in a battle, of course - two corpses had floated out of the small space between the bottles and the door. Most likely, whoever they were had been silly enough to try and look for cover in a room that could only be opened from outside.
"There are illusions of droids on the ship. It stands to reason that there are real droids, too, and those images are just a backup."
"Yeah," Thran acknowledged the obvious. A useful tactic on big ships against intruders who were not Force sensitive. "And I think I can hear some of them coming my way!" Battle, finally. He was just ready for it after his next sip. "I'll deal with them."
"Confident as ever, aren't you? No, I need you to get to the maintenance tunnel close to the lounge and climb down a few decks. The data I have here indicates there is a broken link between the ship's brain and the database in the lab I am in. I need you to repair it."
"Copy that," Thran said, his hands going to the small bag with supplies they had brought for just this reason. "I only have basic equipment though. What are you planning to do?"
"I'll make us part of the glorious Sith Empire," the Ewok chuckled. "And I'll make the other teams despicable Jedi."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Crew Quarters Section 5
"We're out of charges," Koryn commented. "And there are still more of them. Fewer illusions than real droids, unfortunately."
Xanthos nodded while studying the dead bodies in the room. "These are no Sith, just common crew. What makes me wonder is how they were killed. They were slaughtered in their sleep. If this was a battle between Jedi and Sith, this is unusual. A Jedi normally does not kill unarmed, sleeping foes, especially when they aren't the real enemy."
"Maybe the Sith killed them as to not leave anyone behind to tell about their secrets?" Koryn speculated. "It's what I would have done had I been forced to leave the ship in a hurry with only a few people to carry along."
"Sounds reasonable. Well, let's get out of here. And I am tired of those droids. Let's move on and stay ahead of them for now."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Before he left the room, Occasus picked up a bottle examining it carefully. He slipped the crystal vessel into a small bag. It was a fine bottle too. He did not like the idea of taking orders from Arania, but he was not stupid enough to bring her wrath upon him; so he complied. He stepped out of the lounge, carefully exploring the shadows. He hid within them, careful to remain hidden from anyone or anything that may appear. He could hear the skittering of droids not far from his position. Waiting, patiently, he developed his plan and readied his lightsaber.
Obscured by shadows, Thran Occasus watched as a herd of droids walked down a corridor. Each step clinked on the steel floor, in perfect mechanical harmony. He remained still and silent as they moved past him. He had slipped away from the other members of his House, intent on claiming the treasures of the ancient vessel for himself. Over the years he had learned the ways of the Dark Jedi, and because of that he knew that the others would be so preoccupied with fighting each other that he could go mostly unnoticed. All he would need to do is avoid the droids that were scouring the ship.
The droids were ancient, covered in dust, and simplistic in their design. Outsmarting them would not be extremely difficult, but they were very real. As soon as they passed, the Warlord moved. From shadow to shadow, he seemed to vanish in the dimly lit corridors. He pried open an access panel, climbing inside the tight vertical shaft. With the flick of a wrist, the panel returned to its original position.
He stepped down the ladder, following his intuitions to guide him to his destination. As he descended he grumbled to himself.
“Taking orders from an Ewok? What have I been reduced to?” he moped.
He continued to gripe and complain about the injustices of this order, paired with delusions about his time as Emperor, until he reached a spot in the shaft where horizontal tunnels met. These tubes were the nervous system of the ancient vessel. Four tubes met in this place and Thran had no idea where they led to. He would have to rely on luck to choose the right path.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Kell Dante paused. He had long known of Thran Occasus. His father was Thran’s most loyal friend and General. He down to Arania.
“Thran is in trouble.” He said “I can sense it.”
“It is nothing that he cannot deal with.” Arania replied, as if to rebuke Dante.
“What should we do?” he asked.
“Nothing. Fate smiles on Occasus. I have seen him charge headfirst into battle without even getting a bruise. That battle is his and his alone. We must focus on our task.” The Ewok squeaked.
“and if he doesn’t restore the link?” Dante inquired.
Just then, Kell Dante’s ears perked up. He could hear the clitter-clack of droids descending on their position. They were real, this was no illusion. Arania looked to him and nodded. They would have to deal with this problem before they could access the computer.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Access Tunnel 4-43H
Thran crawled through the tunnel. The path he had chosen seemed to call to him. It was as if there were a magnet at the end and he was a piece of ferrous metal. He crawled for what seemed like miles, but in reality was only a few hundred feet. He looked up into the conduits searching for the trouble. He found what he thought was the problem.
The wires had been in place so long that the natural entropy of the universe had decayed them into near nothingness. There was one spot in which the wiring was completely disintegrated. He reached into his bag, digging for a hydrospanner and wire mending kit. He began to work, tediously mending each strand. He reconnected the wire and continued down the tunnel. He reached a small computer panel and began running a diagnostic on the condition of the wires.
Suddenly, a voice called out to him. It was an ancient voice, hissing and horrifying. His fingers drifted from the computer, the connection not yet re-established.
“Occasus…My young disciple…You have found me. Stand by my side and we shall rule this galaxy together. I will restore your right to carry Caliburnus. Join me.” The voice called.
Thran recalled this voice. He had heard it many times before. It had lead him to the legendary lightsaber, the object of his obsession, the root of his power; Caliburnus. The voice had spoken to him in the caves beneath the Obsidian Palace on Ptolomea. It consumed him, seduced him, and corrupted him.
“Mi’lord…I serve you…I serve the Sith Empire.” He replied in a whisper.
“Excellent. Search out these Jedi…Destroy them, my disciple.” The voice commanded.
“It will be done, Mi’lord.” Occasus said.
His eyes went black. This was no longer a man on a mission of pilfering and thievery. This was something much more dangerous.
Xantros carefully listened to what Arania said to him telepathically. Something...possibly something wrong...was happening with Thra. Whatever it was, it might put the success of the mission at risk. On the other hand, Thran was tough. He was going to fight...to resist. Xantros could only hope that the Warlord would not fall, as it would be great loss, not only for the task force aboard the ship, but for whole Scholae Palatinae. However, no matter of all, they had to continue the mission and to commandeer the ancient Sith ship in the name of Emperor Xen'Mordin Vismorsus.
Xantros nodded at Koryn and they moved quickly through the corridor. They were determined to make their way through the droids to the bridge of the ship. Suddenly, a group of droids run out from behind of a corner, when the two Dark Jedi were close to a crossing of the corridors. The droids started to shoot at Xantros and Koryn as soon as they noticed them. The Dark Jedi fought back, trying to get through them. Koryn provided cover from blaster shots, while they both attacked the droids with their lightsabers. It took them few moments to eliminate the droids, but the droids kept them busy for long enough to allow the reinforcements arrive.
Even though the Dark Jedi were outnumbered and outgunned, they fought back. They destroyed several droids and damaged few more, but they soon were overwhelmed by the superior firepower of their mechanical opponents. They started to fall back...more and more blaster shots passed through Koryn's defence, but the blaster fire was not accurate enough to hit the Dark Jedi with their unnatural reflex. However, they were both aware that they had to fall finally.
Suddenly, few droids were thrown in the air. The droids turned to new enemy, who turned out to be another Dark Jedi with an orange-bladed lightsaber in his hands. The warrior went through the group of droids like a knife cuts butter. Xantros and Koryn used the chaos caused by the man and joined the fight. Together, the three Dark Jedi quickly destroyed all droids around them. The Duro and the Rodian looked at the third Dark Jedi. It was Thran!
"Thank you, Thran. You saved us." said Xantros.
"Indeed, I did. Now, listen to me. It does not matter that Scholae Palatinae is no longer named a Clan. The truth is that it is only a name, nothing more. It is us, dedication, loyalty and unity what makes Scholae Palatinae a Clan. Not names, not what others think...but what we think. Let's show these pathetic Dark Jedi that they have made serious mistake by depriving us of the status of the Clan. Let's teach them not to make such a mistake again!"
"You are mad, Thran!" said Koryn angrily, "Can't you see that Scholae Palatinae no longer deserves the title of the Clan?"
"You rather mean that it is YOU, who is not worth being a member of noble Clan Scholae Palatinae. Join me or prove to be too weak to be a Dark Jedi and share the fate of this droids!"
"You know you can't defeat me! Join me or die!"
For few seconds, Xantros and Koryn remained silent, shocked with what Thran said. Xantros kept thinking, as he wished to find another solution of the problem, but it seemed that the only reasonable choice was to join the Sith Warlord in his mad quest for the glory. The Dark Jedi Knight nodded and said, "You are correct, Thran. I'm with you." Then, Xantros looked at Koryn, who nodded as well. There were three of them, united by the same goal. They could cause real mess.
Oppressor-class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Emergency Auxiliary Bridge
There had been a bridge behind the sealed blastdoor - an auxiliary bridge. While modern auxiliary bridges aboard the New Republic- and Galactic Alliance-era starships had most sophisticated command centers in case of emergency like boarding, life-support failure or even the destruction of the bridge itself, the auxiliary bridge aboard the Oppressor-class battlecruiser clearly was out of date. In the end, it looked more like a quite secure bunker that was hidden deep into the hull of the starcruiser rather than a bridge. The room itself was approximately ten square meters, and although it lacked the broad array of equipment as modern vessels, it had the necessary panels to at least steer the ship. A blasterbolt sizzled past Mograine's head, snapping the Sith out of his deep thoughts while studying the vessel he found most interesting - back to the here and now.
The thumping sounds that Tiberius had heard were droids alright, and this time they were no illusion. Mograine then gave himself over to the Force and his awareness of his surroundings and the deadly droids ahead. He leapt forward to intercept the incoming blaster bolts. In midair he battered the blaster bolts safely out of the way for himself and his companions, who were coming through the blastdoor just a meter or two behind him - their lightsabers lit. Landing lightly on the floor, just a meter from the middle spider-like droid with at least one droid to each of his sides, Mograine immediately charged forward at the droid in front of him.
Tra'an understood Mograine's idea the exact moment he executed it. As Mograine jumped in the middle of the droids their droidbrains would make a change of the threat assessment - making Mograine the highest threat. The droidbrains, especially old ones such as these, would then target Mograine, leaving them open for attack from both Tra'an and Tiberius. Even though the latter didn't get Mog's intent clearly through a Force meld such as Tra'an did, he seemed to get the idea as they both charged forward at each their droid with force-enhanced speed. At the same time, Mograine was busy with the middle droid, his lightsaber began to whine and whir through a deflection pattern as the droid opened fire at him. Sensing that his fellow dark jedi had understood his plan, the Sith somersaulted over his target, in case the droids at his flank were lucky enough to aim and shoot at him. He landed in a crouch, his emerald blade effortlessly cleaving the droid he'd jumped over in two. He was quickly on his feet again as another trio of droids were advancing from the other side of the room, their mounted blasters trained at him. Resuming his blade to deflect blasterbolts, he elegantly advanced at this new group of enemies, quickly followed by Tra'an and Tiberius as they clearly had neutralized their own opponents.
The three of them were quick to dispose of the droids. Tra'an sent one of them, with the help of a force whirlwind, hurling into a distant wall, leaving it useless on the floor with its photoreceptors broken and several of its spider-like legs broken into a unnatural position. At the same time, Mograine distracted another droids by sending a couple of chairs flying at them, leaving them open for a fatal slash by Tiberius' lightsaber. The three dark jedi deactivated their weapons simultaneously, leaving the only remaining sounds the ones coming from the crippled spider-droids lying in by the wall kicking its functional feet in the air in a ridiculous way.
"Seems like power's down" Tiberius said, as he wiped some dust off an old computer screen.
"This must be some sort of auxiliary bridge. Often, especially on older vessels, their systems won't be online until emergency measures are activated by the ship's CO" Mograine replied, walking over to the still-kicking droids. He pulled his DL-44 heavy blaster and left two scorch holes in the droids head, leaving it motionless on the floor.
Tra'an, who'd been studying a large chart on the wall that displayed the ship and it's various decks and compartments, spoke out loudly while pointing at a green blip on the chart while running his finger straight up to a topsection of the ship saying 'Bridge' on the chart: "We're here in the Emergency Auxiliary Bridge. From this map, there's apparently a turbolift just ahead leading straight up to the bridge!"
They didn't hesitate, leaving the auxiliary bridge without any further scrutiny through another blast adjacent of the room from the one they've entered. It led down a small corridor on perhaps ten meters until they met a door saying turbolift. They eyed each other before Tiberius, clearly more determined than earlier, tapped the button on the sidepanel. Patient, yet thrilled, the Plagueians waited as the screen atop the turbolift came closer and closer to their deck, and perhaps the acquiring of a new vessel to 'the Ascendant Clan'.
Eiko cut the communication session with Dath. "They've hit a pocket of resistance - seems they woke up the defenses."
"You're still aimed at the mid-forward mainframe?" Callus called over his shoulder.
"Unless you know precisely what we're up against, yes," Eiko replied. "And from there, we find the engineering files on this ship's structure and dismantle whatever we can from the main control. Purge any extra files after we collect them - I don't expect Tra'an to keep to his ship and we know that the Palatinae are onboard somewhere. They might have breached the hull on the other side."
"Do you have more data on Vismorsus's team? Anything more than a guess?"
Eiko hesitated on his answer. "No. They sent in six members, but they could have been anyone. I don't expect them to put a green company into this mission. Not a prize like this."
"And the Plagueians?"
"I don't know." Eiko sighed deeply. "Unless you can recite the manifest for the Ballista
, that's also anyone's guess. I'd expect Tra'an and a handful of others."
"One floor up," Callus announced, driving his saber hilt deep into the lift doors. "Do you have a plan, Quaestor?"
"Up, over, data mainframe, engineering. If we find the Plagueians, we hope our cease fire will hold out. If we find the Palatinae, we answer every blow they give us."
"No orders to kill?" Kel questioned. "Seems like they're in the way of our goals. We shouldn't let them walk over us."
Eiko raised his hand to quiet the journeyman but said nothing. The last seam of molten metal dripped onto the hallway's flooring. Callus planted a kick in the center of the dislodged pannel, locking it into place. Without hesitating, he turned and launched a second, stronger kick into the same location. Frustrated, he tucked his saber in his belt and tore the panel free from the door with a rush of power that branched from his fingertips. The metal block flipped once in the air. Strings and ember-orange flecks of slag hissed as they cooled in the air. Eiko had already ignited his saber to cut into the lift's inner doors.
"I had that," Callus growled. His nostrils flaread and his skin had the lively brush of heat settled into his features.
"Keep guard. The droids will find us," Eiko commanded coldly. The inner door was much thinner and fell foward on its own accord. "We don't need to make it easier on them."
Kel stepped into the lift and punched the buttons. The cage jerked once but never moved. He looked up at the ceiling. "I guess we're climbing then?"
"Take off the slicing equipment and pass it up when we're ready. Careful cutting the doors from here from here, Callus. Noise isn't our friend." Eiko stared at the circle that Callus was carving into the plate metal ceiling.
Callus nodded as he lowered the disc to the floor, levitating the metal into the corner. He tucked his saber away and leapt through the hole, turning back to reach his hand into the box. Eiko waved his hand for his former master to step aside as he sprang out.
"Pass the slicing gear, then your rifle," Callus suggested. When he finally had a hold on the heavy bag of electronics equipment, he set it aside and helped Kel onto the roof of the lift car. Standing on his own two feet again, Kel adjusted his robes and accidentally brushed against the strap of the rifle. The leather separated from the buckle immediately, sending the rifle clattering to the ground. Kel pulled it back up quickly, tucking it under his arm as the sound ricocheted around the shaft.
Callus turned his attention back to cutting open the doors. "You get the outer ones this time, Eiko."
Eiko let out a soft laugh. "Keep it quiet."
Callus set down the section of the inner door and stepped to the side. "You have any sense of what direction we head when we're out of the elevator?"
"For all I know, the mainframe and the engineering section could be adjacent." Eiko exhaled through his mask, causing a rush of static on the speakers. "For the sake of making a decision, we'll head towards the front of the ship. Ready for the door?" Eiko focused intensely on drawing the metal out of the doorway. His forearms tensed with the exertion, but he managed to lug the block away from the door for Callus and Kel, readjusted to his equipment, as they slipped into the once-polished black hallways.
"Engineering is this way," Kel pointed as he read off a sign across the hall. "And the mainframe is, too."
"Keep your gun ready," Eiko nodded. "Whichever is first, we visit first."
"Should be the mainframe," Kel spoke up again. "Just about fifty meters around the corner."
"Good. You two, keep me covered while I get into the system. Pass me the slicing gear." Eiko held out a hand to Kel.
"What are you looking for anyways?" Callus asked.
Eiko raced down the hall, saber in his hand. Even at the brisk pace, his footsteps were light as he stepped through the groaning rusted doorway into the mainframe room. The console came to life with surprising brightness and clarity. Eiko hunted through the first few screens into the torrent of menus and commands underneath the surface. "To answer you, I have plenty of things to look for here," he muttered distractedly. "Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
. Good, it's in the right era. Now tell me who was here and what they knew."
The display wavered as something deeper in the system whined sharply.
"Kriff," Eiko hissed, smacking the side of the terminal roughly. "Don't you lock up on me, you little nerf."
The screen cleared for a second and finally stabilized for long enough to start a draw of information to the archives on the slicing pack.
"I'm not sure you answered my question completely, Eiko."
"If anyone knew about Revan, it's the Sith Empire. They wouldn't have let that sort of history die without wrestling with it a little," Eiko spoke clearly. "Just a planet's name would be good enough, or the manifest from a research team stationed on the ship. Yes, this place might be a trove of good artifacts that we could keep, but this information could be worth so much more."
Callus stepped toward Eiko to catch a glimpse of the files that were rushing into the pack. "You're expecting to carry..."
"The door!" Eiko yelled, his finger pointing directly behind him. "Don't make it easy for the droids."
He turned back to the console to find it shifting again with errors and warnings, the last dozen lights of the mainframe flashing wildly in alarm.
Eiko swallowed the panic that rushed into him. The ceiling turrets were slow to deploy on rusted rails, but they came alive with efficiency that defied their millenia of solitude. His saber met the first blast awkwardly, driving the bolt down and away as he tried to adjust his movements to counter the blasts. Callus shoved him aside and cleanly reflected the red lances back to their origins.
"Good. Now they know we're here," Callus spat. "Grab your data."
Eiko shifted his gaze to look at the clean hole that had been punched through the pack and felt his body sink.
Callus looked down. "Salvage it, Eiko. We have maybe a minute. Get whatever pieces of data that are still safe and we'll get off this ship."
"Engineering." Eiko's voice was flat.
"It was another fifty meters down the hall," Kel offered.
Eiko carefully drew out small blocks of recording media from inside of the pack, slipping them one by one into the pockets he'd sown inside of his robes. He stood up slowly, taking an extra second to flush his mind of the disappointment and carry forward. "There's more here. Get us into engineering."
Derelect Sith warship
Eiko, Callus, and Kel were sweeping the ship on the way to engineering, investigating and salvaging for infomation, blaster clips, and grenades. Suddenly, Eiko stopped the group. "There is something beyond this door." The three Revanites took up a standard breaching formation with Eiko to the right saber ready, Kel to the left grenade in hand, and Callus slicing the door ready to move out of the way of incoming fire. "Breach!"
Through the door was a large corridor with at least two dozen battle droids. Callus immediately moved and ignited his saber deflecting a few blaster bolts into the corridor taking a few droids with the bolts. Eiko used the force to push some of the droids into a larger pile and Kel followed suit with a grenade, taking out at least ten droids. At this point, Callus and Eiko stormed through the door sabers swirling, deflecting blaster bolts, cutting through droids as they moved forward. Kel sat behind cover picking off a few droids while his superiors defeated the rest.
"Well, I wonder how many more of these droids we will be coming upon." said Callus while switching off his saber.
Kel watched behind them while Eiko investigated the droids, "If we can get to the droid brain and take control, that would make our house's job easier. We could procure the whole ship, droids and all, possibly taking out the other houses who are here also. Sir, by the sound of it I think more company is about show up behind us." said Kel, blaster rifle in hand, covering the hall behind the group.
The three Revanites proceeded forward as silently as they could. Full intrusion measures were in place. The didn’t have the firepower to take on all the droids on their way to the bridge, so avoidance and stealth would be their allies.
Of course they ran into the odd droid patrol that got in their way, but they were quickly defeated and they moved on, moving away from the datum point. However, it was pretty clear that whatever droid brain that was controlling the ships’ defenses was aware of their general progress and direction and was rushing more defenders to stop them.
Dath destroyed yet another droid, the last one of the this current group. “Lambow, we need to push through fast, or else we won’t be getting there.”
James didn’t say anything or react visibly at all, but the Pontifex knew from his emotional sense pouring out into the Force that he was in an odd way elated, scared, and eager. From what Lambow knew, that usually meant disaster as individuals that were in that combat high but not skilled enough to learn to calm down and take it easy usually died.
“Aye,” he agreed with Dath. Not looking at the young Guardian but addressing him nonetheless, “James, center yourself. Lose yourself to the Force. Use your emotions when you need them most, and no more. If you don’t control your emotions, they will surely end your days. Stay focused on the mission.”
The Guardian simply nodded, trying to take the advice from the more experienced Revanite.
“Let’s push through now. Should only be a quarter kilometer at this point,” he added, dual lightsabers at the ready.
They moved on, and almost immediately came to a choke point. Lambow halted, and signaled for the other two to provide cover if something were to happen. They wordlessly took up defensive positions, Dath covering the rear while James provided overwatch with his blaster rifle. Lambow stalked carefully up ahead, combat senses fully engaged, the warning whispers within the Force growing louder.
Then it happened.
From the sides of the wall multiple blaster positions opened up, and further up ahead false walls dropped, revealing a boiling mass of spider droids and other assorted war machines. They all opened fire at once, and it seemed as if the very air was suddenly on fire with all of the blaster bolts being fired.
The Pontifex yelled in fury, his lightsaber blades in action, deflecting everything coming his way. However, he knew he couldn’t stay here forever. Even his considerable strength would wear out, and such fatigue could only lead to a slip up that would kill him. Having a general idea of where he was, he knew that a wall over should be some crew member sleeping areas or perhaps some staterooms perserved for officers. That would work, he thought grimly.
“James!” he yelled.
“Yeah!?” said the really occupied Guardian, emptying his rifle’s power packs as fast as he could, desperately providing as much cover fire as he could.
“How’s the rear?”
“Engaged!” snarled Dath, annoyed that the Wookie didn’t ask him.
“Engaged, sir!” repeated the Guardian.
The Wookie ignored the other. “We’re in a cross fire. We need to get out of here. Plastique, wall to your right. Once breached, assualt. Dath, you follow up. I’ve got rear duty and follow. Right now!”
The Guardian didn’t hesitate. He stopped shooting, reached into his battle pack, and pulled out the breaching charge out. He affixed it to the wall on his right, then took cover to one side, blindly pumping shots from the rifle into the mass of droids.
The charge, automatically primed once placed, blew with a huge thump. A second later the Guardian went through the hole, followed by Dath, leaving the Pontifex alone against several squads worth of droids.
Time to fix that. The Pontifex spared a moment of concentration, and reached into the Force. As he had countless times before, through his will he commanded the Force to excite the very air around him, the electrons in the atoms positively vibrating with energy, all coming together into a single moment of explosion. The close-in walls merely amplified the effect.
The resulting flash blinded all droid sensors in the area for several seconds, causing them to shoot blindly. However, by the time they were able to compensate, their target was gone.
The Pontifex moved quickly, and linked up with the other two.
He nodded and simply stated, “Follow me.”
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"This is getting bothersome." Dante stared down on the destroyed droids, and there was a slight trace of sweat on his forehead. "We really can't keep doing this, we should... what is it?"
Arania shook her head and finally climbed down the crates she had been standing on, totally oblivious to Dante's work of droid destruction. "The data link has not been restored. Someone needs to check up on it."
"You mean, check up on Thran." Dante knew who that would have to be. Arania might be the smaller one of them in her current state, but her ego was big enough for the two of them.
"Not so much," Arania said, listening inward. "I'm afraid you were right. Something is amiss, even for him. It seems I have no choice but to get in his way about it." It was not a choice Arania preferred, but there was no telling what a former Consul overtaken by his desire for power could do when left alone. Or, in this case, with two others of the House. "I'll be back," Arania announced and rushed out past him and the destroyed spider droids.
"And she didn't even tell me where to look for this data connection," Dante growled. Hesitating for a moment, he decided to follow the Ewok instead. If Thran was involved, he wanted to make sure she did not accidentally kill the man.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Corridor 19 - A
"Can you feel them?" Thran hissed, his face a grimace of hate, his saber throwing flashes of light against the walls. He had not deactivated it for a second.
"Who?" Xantros had the faint impression of someone close by, but he had paid more attention to Thran and thoughts of what he might involve them into than his surroundings. He pulled himself together. It really wouldn't do to get killed by some other team.
"House Reeevan," the former Consul replied with a sneer and mocking voice. "They carry the name of such a great Lord but they are nothing compared to us."
"If you say so," Koryn mumbled. It was not that he had any special consideration for the other teams on board, but the way Thran reacted, it felt like he was underestimating them. And, if he had not known Thran better he would have thought the man was drunk.
"You want to engage them?" Xantros said, slightly alarmed. "I do not think that is such a wise..."
"As I said," came the hissed reply. "You are either with me or against me!"
"If it has to be." Xantros had to admit he was getting inspired by the words of the former Emperor. Maybe they could show everyone Scholae Palatinae was, and would ever be, the one Clan to rule them all.
Koryn looked from one to the other and felt slightly dizzy. "Yeah, let's do this," he kept mumbling, surprised at himself.
Thran suddenly walked faster, then started running, saber held above his head. "For the Glory of Scholae Palatinae!" he cried, while his saber left a streak of molten plast in the ceiling of the corridor. Xantros went right behind him, falling in with the battle cry while drawing his saber. Koryn shrugged and followed, but left his saber deactivated. It served no purpose to carve burn marks anywhere into the ship.
"You are going nowhere Thran!" A voice, suddenly sounded from right in front of them. A slightly out of breath Ewok scowled at the trio, her voice suddenly not so squeaky.
Dath and James followed Lambow, but it became clear soon that they were not where they wanted to be. Warships were built into compartments to prevent lives from being lost from hull breaches or to allow the enemy to quickly infiltrate. The only access through each compartment would be through a reinforced check point that doubled as a chokepoint that ran in the center of the ship on every deck. Since the odds were that droids would be patrolling these natural chokepoints, in order to get back where they wanted to be, they would have to create another passage way back go back through the wall breach.
“Sir, I think the best thing we can do is create a hole in the ceiling, go through, breach the compartment there, and create a hole in the deck to get over to where we want to be.” James pointed at the ceiling while he was explaining.
Lambow nodded, thought for a few minutes and grunted in agreement.
Dath activated his lightsaber and created a hole large enough for the three before asking “What if there’s more of them up there?”
James looked up and commented. “That would be a problem. Its pretty dark.”
Lambow pushed the two of them aside and jumped up.
“No fear, huh.” Dath remarked to James.
Lambow's head appeared out of the hole, “It’s clear. Get up here.”
James and Dath jumped up and into the dark room, which only had light coming in from multiple holes in a scatter pattern in one area.
The three could hear a sound getting louder. It was coming from the direction of the holes. The light was blocked out for a second and the sound got quieter.
Lambow muttered “Droids, they’re patrolling…”
James let out a sigh of relief and looked around. “Where are we?”
The lights in the room came on. Dath had found the controls and was interacting with the interface on a desk 10 feet from James. “Sir, I believe that are the quarters of the Captain of this warship. I’m downloading his log.”
Lambow replied, "Very well, Dath," before looking around and spotting a small electrum figurine of Marka Ragnos that he promptly pocketed. “Very cool.”
James laugh and wandered towards the closet. He found a robe and put it on after taking off his robe, which had been damaged during the fight with the droids.
Dath suddenly started to interface with the system faster. “Lambow, this thing’s gonna…!”
With that, an explosion occurred, slamming Dath in the bulkhead with a noticeable thump. Dath slumped over as Lambow rushed towards him and picked him up over his shoulder. The noise of multiple legs striking could be heard.
“James, breach a hole there!”
James got the demolition charge set and it exploded in no time, putting a hole on the opposite side of the door. Lambow got Dath out with James at his heels as the droids started to pound on the door.
After about a half hour after the illusionary spider droids, the small band of three Plagueians kept walking through the ghost ship. Zuser had managed to salvage a good amount of lightsabers and stored them in a small backpack he brought that also carried some of his explosives in another compartment. He looked over at Imichua on his left who was doing his own thing to keep himself busy and Zuser looked ahead to the Right Hand of Justice, Alaris Jinn. Zuser grumbled about how he’d rather have been paired up with his master, Tra`an Reith. He bent down to pick up another lightsaber, this one a curved handle lightsaber. He walked along as he inspected it before he sighed and put it away in his bag.
Why am I following this guy? I should be with Master, the one supposed to be teaching me. Not this guy… thought Zuser, looking along the wall. He suddenly noticed that the hallway split off into a four-way intersection, including the path they came down. Zuser watched Jinn try and figure out which way to go and he looked at the hallway closest to him, which was on his right. He heard Alaris mention something about thinking that the left hallway was the right way to go and he waited till Alaris and Imichua started taking the left hallway. Once they started going to the left, the young human took the hallway to the right. A full minute passed before Imichua noticed that Whuloc wasn’t there and he turned around just in time to see Zuser turn a corner down the hallway he took. Imichua looked back at Alaris and stole away to follow Zuser.
About five minutes, several turns, and a few more salvaged lightsabers, Zuser was feeling pretty confident on where he was going. He stopped to kneel and pick up a double sided lightsaber. As he started to inspect it, he resumed his path. As he came to yet another corner to turn, he put the lightsaber away. He had just closed his backpack as he turned the corner. He suddenly found the hallway blocked by Eiko, Callus, and Kel. His blood ran cold and his heart stopped as he recognized their house symbols on their outfits as House Revan, and that they looked like they just got out of a battle. By the time all three sets of eyes registered he was present, he turned around and ran for it.
About two turns later, he rounded the third corner and the next thing he knew, he was seeing stars and was on his back on the floor. Turns out he ran straight into Imichua who was on his back as well. Zuser tried to re-orient his vision as he lay there. He suddenly heard the pounding footsteps from the group of Revanites behind them and he started to sit back up as Imichua did the same, both in minor, minor pain from the collision. He suddenly heard the sound of two lightsabers igniting followed by a blaster priming and he turned around from his spot on the floor and looked up with Imichua. They were surrounded by the Revanites. Eiko looked down at them, “Who are you?” Zuser kept his mouth shut and gave Imichua a look to do the same. Eiko looked up at Callus. “Should we kill them?” Callus looked at Eiko, “Maybe.”
“That would not be wise.” Spoke a voice from behind Zuser and Imichua. Out from the shadows stepped Alaris Jinn, the Right Hand of Justice
Oppressor-class Cruiser Merciless
Overseen by Droid Brain; Multiple Hack Attempts
The droid brain was a blur of activity; every intrusion attempt, every act of vandalism and subterfuge, and each fallen security droid had been noted and catalogued. Data was sifted through and categorized faster than any species could think; actions were decided even faster. The brain was no living organism; it possessed no will and thus had no spirit to break. Sentient beings would give in over time, would lose their will to continue or see the futility of time. To the cold logic of the machine, however, time was but a number for routine observation and recording. A mathematical equation for categorizing sections of data.
It could literally do this until the ship drifted apart of its own accord.
The automated response sent a blur of rampant, impatient feedback code through the droid brain's processors.
The numbers satisfied the droid brain; even if all of the patrol units currently fighting the Jedi intruders were to fall to pieces, they would have served their purpose. A recent query had the machine at ease; its commands regarding activation and service for the ship's 65,000 true combat units were complete. Within moments, the ship would once again be cleared and the mission would resume in full capacity. A chime alerted the droid brain instantly to a new update; hard-line uplink had been achieved. The bridge was under its control.
The sudden flickers that accompanied the loss of terminals satisfied the droid further; the ship had a mission to complete, with or without a Command Crew. That mission did not involve being hijacked by Jedi intruders.
It also didn't require a functioning Command Bridge.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Alaris' eyes locked on the two trained Revanites, whose blades had flashed to life as soon as he'd spoken; their weaponry thrummed violently as they assumed ready positions. Smiling, the Exarch drew his own weapon, letting its viridian blade cast a greenish glow across the floor nearby. As he stepped nearer the Revanites, he motioned to Zuser and Imichua, both of whom scurried thankfully out of his way before assuming ready stances of their own. The tension in the air grew palpable; it was as if the Dark Side itself were swirling around the conflict trying to poison their minds with hate. In the Journeymen present, it only bred fear; the waves of darkness seemed crushing to their incomplete understandings of the Force.
"Do not stand in our way, Plagueian." Eiko hissed, his anger rapidly magnifying. "You already violate the ceasefire, and you stand in our way besides."
"Ceasefire? Pah." The Twi'lek spat. "I stand for the Ascendant House. Any course not designed to aid its mission is against it."
"The Ascendant House?" Callus spat back, his voice full of putrid ichor. "You still cling to that idiocy?"
"Strong words," The Twi'lek replied, his veins pumping adrenaline below indigo skin, "for one too weak to remain."
Standing at the ready for but a moment longer, the darkness of the ship seeped into each combatant until it finally boiled over. As one, the Revanites lashed out toward Jinn, Callus leading with a vicious overhead strike while Eiko attempted a sequence designed to eviscerate the Twi'lek. The Rutian sidestepped Bo'amar's attack, even as his blade nimbly turned aside the assaults of Eiko; quickly, their actions and reactions turned the battle into a thing of awe. It was like watching a talented dancer's rendition of an epic battle; every move was placed just so, each strike quickly parried and thrown aside. When Alaris began losing ground against Callus, he quickly moved on Eiko, shredding the Templar's defenses with unnatural speed and acrobatics. Callus' intervention saved him; the two Exarchs became locked in mortal combat once more, Alaris' blinding speed countered by the Force and his Revanite opponent's natural affinity for the Force.
Meeting in a saber lock, the Quaestor of Revan stared down the Right Hand of Justice for only seconds. Leaping backward, the blue-skinned man barely missed losing a lekku to the overhead chop of Callus before answering it with a telekinetic blast. The unexpected tactic was enough to rock the united Equites backward a few steps and give the acrobatic Equite time enough to dance backward. The three circled one another again, eyes grim and faces set.
"Is that all you..." Alaris' words died as he caught the expressions of Zuser, Imichua, and Kel, all of whom were no longer watching the battle.
Rather, they'd noticed the movement of shadows just outside the range of the lightsabers. "What in the blazes?" Turning, he pointed his lightsaber into the darkness, dispelling it to reveal a forest of mechanized limbs on the floor.
And on the walls.
And the ceiling.
Thousands of glowing red photoreceptors fired up at once, eliminating the darkness as blaster cannons charged.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Kill the vermin.
The voice in Occasus' head hissed. "I cannot." He mumbled in reply. "She would make quick work of..."
"Who in the blazes are you talking to?" Arania snapped. "You..." With a twinge of horror, she extended her Force senses, saw the darkness swirling around Thran through enlightened eyes.
"This madness is at an end. You're coming with me, all three of you, if I have to bring you in-" Her words were cut off as a blaster bolt skidded past her head. The Ewok snapped into action instantly, bouncing and rolling to avoid and deflect bolts as a quartet of droids lumbered forward. Kell jumped to her aid, quickly battering aside bolts of his own.
Thran wasted no time. Drawing the Dark Side into a palpable ball of energy, he hurled it like a wave at the Ewok, Dante, and the droids, catching the two Dark Jedi off-guard and throwing them and the droids across the hall. The Warlord didn't wait to gauge the success of his attack, however; he simply bounded down the adjacent corridor, the Duro and Rodian following in his wake. They'd cast their lots in with Occasus; neither wanted to face the wrath of Arania when she was in a fury.
"Come on." The Warlord snapped to them, as he took his saber hilt from his belt. "We're almost there."
"Where?!" Koryn snapped, his basic slightly accented in his hurry. "Where are we headed?"
"Revan." Occasus growled in response, his eyes glazing over. The fury of the Dark Side had fully taken over.
Xantros glanced back as he heard an Ewok cry and a resounding bang pierce the maelstrom of blaster bolts, the metal plates of the corridor walls and floor shaking. He turned his head to see droid parts fly through the corridor.
His red eyes blinked; had there been that many droids?
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Lambow's green blades danced and hummed as he cut down another trio of the security droids they'd been encountering. They were the last; with a guttural hurrumph and a hiss of vocator feedback, he deactivated his weapons. Extending his Force senses, he took in what he'd been sensing for hours; a murky blur of danger and fury. The ship interfered with all but the most immediate threat precognition.
"Kyyyurgh-" With a growl, he smacked the vocator in his throat, coughing to test it. "James, Dath, regroup." The Iktotchi and the Human were quick to obey. "Anything?"
"Not a noise, sir." James replied. With an eight-foot Wookiee ordering you around, it was difficult to address him as anything else. "I think we're finally clear."
"They had to run out sometime." Dath added, casually glancing around. The grin on his angular face put Lambow in mind of arrogance, but seeing his bladework put another impression forward. The Guardian was confident; it was a wonder he wasn't a Knight. "After all, it's been a few thousand years."
"Yes, well, don't stand down." The Wookiee said, a hint of a growl coming through in his speech. He tapped the vocator impatiently. "You never know what we might run into."
The three resumed their march, heading for whatever signs might indicate the bridge. As they walked, Lambow kept his eyes forward, his awareness on anything that might be a threat; Dath seemed to mirror him, not nearly as cautious but more than ready for another battle. James lingered behind a few steps as they crept along, looking through the corridor they'd entered. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"These bodies..." He said, looking them over. "The blasts that killed them..."
Dessicated, ancient corpses rested everywhere, some collapsed on the floor, others crumpled on the ground. James spotted droid bodies interspersed within the dead, but disturbingly, no Jedi or Republic troops could be seen anywhere. Every dead soldier or crewman was Sith, every robed figure wearing black and bearing blade-hilted sabers. Several droids were shorn in half as if by lightsaber strikes, but not even one corpse was in pieces, or even gashed; it looked like heavier blaster cannons had delivered their fate. Thinking about it, James looked back once more, spotting the positions of the dead. Looking at their placement, at the angles blasts would have occured at.
It clicked in his head. "Um, Lambow..." He said, feeling a chill down his spine. These Sith hadn't been attacking; they'd been trying to defend themselves. "I think I know what-"
"Quiet." The Wookiee hissed, stopping in his tracks. He stood, Force-senses extended for a moment, looking toward an adjacent wall. The dark maelstrom of energy beyond it came closer, seeming to swirl around a single point. "A person?" The Wookiee wondered.
As he spoke, an orange lightsaber blade pierced through the durasteel, carving a wide circle. The Pontifex reacted off instinct, the Force snapping his blades into his palms seconds before they flashed to emerald life. Dath's blue blade hissed into action, even as Roberts-Brannigan tossed the old rifle aside and took up his electrostaff. The tangerine weapon continued its slow arc, metal hissing and vaporizing to leave a red ring. The cut complete, it snaked out, giving the Pontifex moments to feel the danger and react.
"Move!" He roared, as the Force blasted it toward him. Bringing his blades across it in an X-shaped movement, he sent pieces of the panel flying just short of the Journeymen behind him.
Thran Occasus materialized through the hole before Lambow could say another word, orange blade darting for the wookiee's fur. Behind him rushed Xantros, who engaged Dath, and Koryn, who darted for Roberts-Brannigan without hesitation. The Iktotchi was smoothly ready for the Duro, his surprisingly-advanced knowledge of the Soresu form countering Xantros' Makashi to the move. James, on the other hand, fell back on his staff training as the phrik weapon in his hand crackled and buzzed. Koryn's own Makashi expertise met far less resistance; the boy was good with his weapon, but he hadn't faced an Equite before.
The clash went on for several minutes, highlighted by the Wookiee who barely held the Warlord at bay. The confrontation was strangely tilted; it was as if an unseen voice was telling Thran where to strike, showing him how the Wookiee's balance was extended and where he couldn't move fast enough. All the same, it was only through avoidance and quick reflexes that Thran survived the precision Jar'Kai attacks of his Krath foe; Wookiee muscles, though weaker than those of most of Kashyyyk's residents, were still nothing to be short-changed. Again and again they traded blows, the Dark Side fuelling Thran's hatred even as the will to survive galvanized Lambow's determination.
Nearby, Xantros attacked the Iktotchi again and again, each time falling on a wave of deflections. For a Guardian, this Kelmer was amazing; only the overconfidence seen in his lunging assaults and his combat stance would have kept him with an armory lightsaber. The Duro attacked, again and again, his frustration growing each time. Then, with a lucky turn, the Iktotchi's blue blade pressed home; its edge left a smoking line across Xantros' face.
"You..." The Duro spat, growling at the burning pain. "I've underestimated you."
"You'll find that I'm full of..." The Guardian began, stopping only as he noticed the movement above him, and below, and all around.
"Koryn!" Xantros snapped, as the Priest disarmed the Guardian and held him at saberpoint. "We're surrounded!"
The words caught the ears of Lambow and Thran just as they came free of another clash; glancing around, the sudden awareness of their situation put a pause to their burning emotions. In seconds, thousands of photoreceptors flashed to life all around them; weapons took aim, most of them at James, devoid of any weapon as his Rodian assailant took a defensive stance. None of these droids had any rust, dust, or signs of wear; they all looked well-oiled and well-serviced.
One of the droids crackled, its deep monotone voice met by the sound of blasters powering up.
Dath was a blur of motion, the arrogance in his face changed to concern for a Housemate as he bolted for Roberts-Brannigan. The blaster bolts seemed to begin as one, a maelstrom of red light that met a forest of lightsabers. The Iktotchi was perfect as he moved, catching every bolt that went his way, even as they closed in. Thran, Lambow, and the others all did the same, slowly moving closer together as instinct took over in their combat. The Iktotchi's movements were pristine, sweat breaking across his brow, even as a missed bolt burnt across his hip. Another blast from a larger cannon blew one of his horns clean off; he yelped, but didn't cease, adrenaline flowing through him.
"Get up, James!" He called, even as another blast grazed his ribs. "By the Force, get up!"
Overcoming paralyzing fear and the awe at his ally's perfection, Brannigan cast his eyes around, looking frantically for a weapon. His eyes took in an ancient Sith saber; tarnished and somewhat rusty, it was closer than his former blaster. Reaching out, his fear became fuel as the weapon twitched, skidding unevenly across the floor to his grasp. Its crimson blade thrummed to life as if it had been serviced yesterday, the hilt a little long, but the weapon itself in good condition. Standing, he awkwardly aided his comrade, who began to move toward the others. Getting behind him and heading for the group, the Human sprinted for the safety of Lambow's whirling hulk, calling to his friend.
"I'm up, Dath!" He shouted. "Come on!"
"Great, James!" The Iktotchi replied, even as blood darkened spaces across his body. "Keep your defenses up-"
His words were cut off as a blast hit him square in the left side, jerking his body around. Three more punched into and through his torso, another hitting the side of his head. Dead before he hit the ground, the Guardian's blue saber fell from his hand, deactivating even as his body bounced and rolled from shot after shot. In moments, he was lightly on fire; no one could have recognized the blaster-riddled corpse.
"No!" Roberts-Brannigan yelped, paralyzed momentarily. "Dath! No!"
"Hold the line!" Lambow growled, catching the Guardian as he went to aid his friend. He snarled as a droid crept closer, burning a hole through his hair and grazing his thigh. A green blade split the machine in two; even bisected, it continued firing. "He's dead, James! Help us!"
Thran's rage still burned, but the sea of blaster bolts around brought his senses back to him; tactics took over. Band together and flee, or die; there were too many for them to win this encounter. Far too many.
"This isn't over, Revanite." He hissed at Lambow, even as the two came closer together, deflecting shots.
"Let's just survive!" The Wookiee growled, spinning wildly as he spoke. His fur was singed in multiple places. "We'll square up later, you and I!"
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
Emergency Turbolift - Command Bridge
Mograine tapped his heel as he stood in the lift. "Something's happening." He said, looking to the Shi'ido next to him. "You can feel it too, Reith. I know you can."
"Indeed." Tra'an replied, his eyes closed. "There's... energy everywhere. Not the Force, either."
"What do you mean?" Di Cloud asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Extend your senses, Tiberius. Can't you feel it?" The Human closed his eyes, drawing a deep breath. For several moments, he was quiet, until he started with a jolt.
"I feel it." The Knight said. "It's like a droid, but across the entire ship. Little sparks of energy coursing everywhere, like swarms of insects. That," he said, "And emotions. Fear. Urgency."
"We've arrived," Mograine said, his green blade flashing to life. "Let's not be caught unawares."
"Adapt, Ascend, and Avail, gentlemen." Tra'an said, a smile on his face. His own powder-blue blade burst to life, along with the red blade of Tiberius. "We'll soon have droids and defenses on our side. The ship is ours."
The turbolift doors slowly slid aside, even as the three Dark Jedi leapt into defensive positions, ready to take down all opposition. What met their eyes was far from expectation; the only men, women, and droids on the bridge were long-since destroyed. Viewscreens stood cracked or shattered, terminals and wall controls sparking or hanging free. Fire spat from one terminal in particular, even as a small orb-shaped droid floated over and used a carbonite ray on it to cool the flames. The exultation of victory faded as they all deactivated their weapons, rushing for the controls.
"No." Hissed Tra'an, as he neared the weapons station. It was completely fried. "No, this can't be."
"The damage is recent." Mograine chimed in, even as he checked comms. "Communications are dead. Tiberius, anything?"
"No life support controls, no shield read-outs," He said, looking around. Plugging wires from his datapad into a computer socket, he cursed as a jolt threatened his machine's integrity. He pulled it free in seconds. "Even the data ports. It's all
"Lovely." Tra'an said. The lights were still on, the ship still obviously shielded; looking out of the viewport, Reith spotted the Ballista
. "Someone, or something, is still running this ship. Look at the walls, gentlemen. Look at the floors. This was an intentional blow-out."
"You mean the ship
was trying to stop us?!" Tiberius asked incredulously. Before he could finish, an adjacent bulkhead slid open, revealing Augustus Ragnose.
The Umbaran Archpriest strode quickly into the room before he caught sight of the three Plagueians; cursing the muddled senses this ship left him, his red blade flashed to life on instinct, mirrored by the multi-colored weapons of his adversaries. Staring them down for a moment, he turned to flee, only to have Mograine leap and land behind him. Tiberius and Reith closed around him in a circle, lethal focus on all of their faces. The Umbaran's face held a determined look for mere moments, before he rolled slighlty-sunken eyes and powered down his lightsaber. There was confidence, and there was foolishness, and a fine line between them.
"You win. I surrender." He said to them, raising his hands. "I suppose I'm your prisoner now?"
"For now." Tra'an said, not deactivating his blade. "Tiberius, find something to bind his hands with." Looking to the Palatinaean, the Shi'ido tightened his gaze. "What are Vismorsus' minions doing aboard this ship?"
Kalak's eyes tightened for a moment as he responded. "What do you think? We..." He trailed off, as a skittering noise sounded above and all around them. It was joined by several thumping noises, much like what Tiberius heard, but different. Some of them sounded faster, others heavier. "I've got a bad feeling about this." The Umbaran didn't need to look to see the opinion mirrored on three Plagueian faces as they all nodded agreement.
A second of silence went by, before as one, multiple cutting torches pierced through wall, floor, and ceiling vents, others tearing through bulkheads and even floor panels. Within moments, panels, vents, and doors fell aside, giving way to droids that skittered along the floor or clung magnetically across walls and the cieling. They gleamed as if brand-new, their weaponry gleaming and their parts moving with well-greased efficiency. Some of them looked as spiders, while others were vaguely humaniform. Still others brought the droideka of the Clone Wars to mind, if blockier and tougher-looking. One in particular towered over the others, cannons joined by what looked like missile launchers on its shoulders.
"Uh... truce?" The Palatinaean offered as the droids fell into position. His blade burst back to life; none of the Plagueians paid it any mind. They knew they weren't his targets.
"Truce." Tra'an nodded, falling into a defensive ring with the other three. His eyes joined his Force senses to tell him the obvious truth; there were well over a thousand droids on the Bridge. Even if they all worked together, there was no victory to be had here; flight was the only option.
As one, the machines charged their weapons, and Hell broke loose.
James had his head between his hands. The only thing he could think of was Dath and how he had saved his life and died for him. Had James been better with the blade or not so paralyzed with fear, Dath may have lived.
For now, Lambow and James were safe. Lambow had sliced open a door and shut it behind them before the droids could catch up with them, a break in their run. The big Wookiee was looking over his equipment, making sure everything was operating and in good order. He took a look at James and growled. "Stop moping and get yourself together. Yes, Dath died, but Jedis die all the time. Its part of our way. You want to honor your friend's memory, you can start by living long enough to get off of this shabla thing!"
James looked up at the Wookiee. "We're fighting other houses for a piece of history, Dath is dead... and this mission is a cluster-"
Lambow roared, got up, and physically picked James off the floor by his robe. "AND YOU WILL BE TOO IF YOU DON'T GET YOURSELF TOGETHER!!"
Lambow dropped him and walked back to his equipment. "Forget it, I don't need a worthless Protector getting me killed. If you can't get yourself together by the time I walk out of here, you're staying and dealing with whatever droids come through that door."
James looked down at the ancient Sith lightsaber he had in his hand. 3000 years ago, a Sith fought and died with this blade. His friend was dead, slain in battle in the exact same way. Lambow was right. If James wanted to live to see another day, he would have to get his act together now. There would be time to mourn for his friend on the Deep Ice. For now, the mission was to survive and proceed to the bridge. His Master and Lambow were counting on him.
James looked at Lambow and replied, “I’m ready.”
The Sith paced back and forth, rage eating away at him. The voices urged him to attack the wookiee whilst he was preoccupied with the journeyman, but wisdom told him that survival must take priority above personal vendettas. At least for the time being. If an opportune moment arose where the Revanite were to 'heroically sacrifice' himself to save the rest of the party...
Koryn looked around at their surroundings. There were only two ways out: the door they had entered by, and an elevator shaft. The electrics had undoubtedly been cut, yet the Rodian futilely tried to call the elevator to their floor. Sighing, he peered into the inky blackness of the shaft. Blinking into the infrared spectrum, he could still see no end to the tube. Picking up a piece of slag lying nearby, he dropped it into the darkness. The echoes reverberated through the shaft as it ricocheted off the walls until it hit the bottom. Thraagus surmised that it possibly ran the entire height of the ship.
A thunderous pounding was resounding through the room; the droids wanted their prey. The door wouldn't last long, and the Dark Jedi were effectively trapped.
"You may well be ready, boy," said Koryn, mocking tones subtly lacing his words, "but there is no way out. Unless you don't mind a long drop followed by a sudden stop." Lambow let out a low growl, clearly disapproving of the Rodian's manner towards a member of his House.
"Do you have a plan to get us out of her, Revanite?" Xantros asked, breaking the tension. The Pontifex pondered for a moment, considering the options and resources he had at his disposal. The dull thud of metal on metal continued as Lambow planned and the metal began to buckle. Pointing at the Rodian, he announced his scheme.
"You. Climb up a level or two, and- Kyyurgggh!" He tapped the vocabulator, bringing it back to working order. "-And throw down a rope. Make it quick though. We may not have much time before they get through." Koryn glanced at Xantros and Thran, seeking confirmation. The Duro nodded immediately, whereas the Warlord took a moment to find any flaws or exploitations in such a plan. After a couple of seconds, he too nodded his approval.
Leaning into the elevator shaft, the Priest allowed his sucker tipped fingers to latch onto one of the walls before finding a good foothold. His ascension was relatively slow at first, but soon built up pace. Within a short time, he was one level above the party. The doorway was stuck open, and he glanced into the room. A corridor stretched away, before coming to an intersection. Along the corridor were easily thirty or forty droids performing scouting duties. Thraagus continued upwards. The next elevator door was sealed shut. Grabbing his lightsaber, he sliced through, wary of what might lie in wait. Climbing through, he shifted the grip on his weapon to defend against any potential droid assault. Nothing came. It seemed that the immediate vicinity was devoid of any Artificial Intelligence. Distinguishing his blade, he reattached it to his belt and removed a length of fibra-rope from his pack. A girder of some sort extended out of the far wall, slightly rusted, but more than capable of allowing the other Dark Jedi to climb to his level. Attaching one end of the rope to the girder, he threw the rest down the shaft. Tapping a button on his commlink, he sent a message to the rest of the group telling them to watch for patrols on the floor above them.
"James, you go first," ordered Lambow. The droids had almost broken through; it would not be long before they were upon squad. As soon as the Protector was with him, Koryn sent a message calling for the next. The Wookiee instructed Xantros next, followed by Thran. Finally, as the Revanite gripped the rope, the droids broke through. Their blaster fire narrowly missed the Wookiee as he climbed faster than was natural. Above, the girder squealed under Lambow's weight, threatening to break off at any moment.
"Hurry up, Wookiee," called Thran, looking over the edge as Lambow drew nearer. Droids shot skyward from their vantage point two levels down, but their angle of fire wasn't even close to hitting the Pontifex. Reaching down, Occasus gripped Lambow's wrist in assistance. Suddenly a wave of darkness consumed the Sith.
"Let go, my disciple. This is the moment you have been waiting for... Prove your devotion to me..." With a whisper, Thran responded.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Arania scowled at the remains of the droids around her before she went into the next sector this corridor lead to. A little known fact about her was that she hated droids. Imitations of life which, for the most part, were good for nothing and always thought themselves to be of importance. Cutting them down would have been fun if she had not been so sure than quite a few more of those abominations would scurry about in this old wreck of a Sith ship.
Not only was the Krath losing her remaining patience with the situation, she was also beginning to physically tire. This Ewok body was not comparable to her former, real self, despite the training she had put in. She had to take thrice as many steps to move as fast as she used to be able to.
What had happened with Thran worried her. She felt like chasing him and confronting him about what had happened, but at the same time it was so tempting to return to the shuttle and leave those Force-mad idiots to their own devices. She would never hear the end of it, though. Asides, leaving behind important members of Palatinae would not be a good idea.
The diminutive creature continued through the corridor, slowly extending her Force senses to locate the rest of her wayward team. She found them easily enough, but they were not alone. From the Force signatures with them, it seemed like they found the Revans. Not that far away either, just up a few levels. And Thran, so it seemed, was losing it again.
The woman realized she was already sprinting towards the elevator shaft closest to where she felt the others. To her dismay, the elevator doors were open while the cabin showed no sign of life. From the looks of it, it had been deactivated as opposed to being defunct. The ship, it looked like, was retaking control. She would have to find another way up.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
The derelict command bridge looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Droid parts were everywhere, some of them still whirling and attempting to carry out their orders. The air smelled of ozone and machine oil, making it difficult to breathe without chocking.
Kalak tried to focus on his surroundings, coming out of the rush of battle rather slowly. Maybe because he could not get enough air. He stared into the eyes of the Shi'ido. Tra'an was looking at him as if he was expecting the Krath to do something stupid. Kalak did his best to ignore him and looked around. They had certainly not fared all that well.
Tra'an and him seemed to be the only ones not having sustained any injury. Tiberius was crouching on the ground, concentrating on his wounded right leg. It was nothing serious, nothing a little use of the Force could not fix. Mograine had a bad burn on his back but seemed oblivious to it, instead examining the remains of the droids for anything still dangerous. Dark lines on his face were just beginning to fade, and his eyes still held the yellowish color they turned when he was drawing on the Dark Side.
Deactivating his saber, Kalak tried to appear more relaxed than he felt. There would be more droids, and they all knew it. Kalak deactivated his saber and coughed. "We should get out of here. They will be back."
"He's right," Mograine agreed. "The next batch of droids will likely already know our location. And it is not as if there is anything left here for us."
"We can't keep outrunning them," Tiberius hissed, now back on his feet.
"Well, that is right, too," Mograine nodded. "But that's why we have brains and those things only follow orders."
"That doesn't help us if we are out of ideas," Tiberius said, sounding somewhat resigned.
"Speak for yourself," Tra'an hissed, deactivating his own saber now that it seemed the Umbaran was no immediate danger and may be of assistance again. "I am not out of ideas yet."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"What takes so long?" Xantros was about to give Thran a hand with the wookie when all of a sudden the Warlord let go of the furry wrist and, as it seemed, even gave the large man a Force push down. The enraged cry of the wookie could be heard as he was falling downward.
"Well done," Thran could hear the voice in his head. "I feel your devotion is strong. But now, there are a few more things we need to do..."
Xantros heard the surprised shout of the others, but he was sure no one else could have seen anything, the way Thran and himself had been positioned. "He lost grip," he said, luckily sounding frustrated enough. A wookie was always helpful at one's side, especially in situations like this one. But from the mad smile spreading across Thran's face, the Battleteam Leader was well aware that Thran had switched back to his unstable, unpredictable self.
James just stared for a moment. Then he remembered what he had been told about losses. Asides, Lambow had come alive out of similar bad situations. "We can't sit around long," he said, sounding weird even to himself.
"That's right, keep moving," Xantros waved them on towards the end of the corridor. For a moment, he thought of leaving James behind, now that the thread of House Revan seemed over. But he figured if Thran had any issues with taking him along, he would make those issues known.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
At the end of this corridor section was another lift. The Ewok was just peering up the equally inoperative shaft when the cry of a falling wookie reached her ears. Down the shaft came the sounds of someone big trying to get a grip at one of the openings to other ship levels, and then the wookie flew past her.
More out of instinct, Arania reached out with the Force and stopped the wookie's fall, slowly drawing him into her corridor where the other Krath quickly regained his footing. There was a nasty bump at the right side of his head, but asides from that and maybe his ego, there seemed to be no injuries.
"Lambow," she greeted him, trying to ignore the almost comical situation of a very large furry Krath and a very small furry Krath facing each other. "Where's Thran?"
An enraged howl was the answer. "I thought so," the woman nodded. "I need to find him. Your help would be appreciated."
The heretic Scholae member suddenly whispered, “My Lord…”
With a maniacal grip almost as strong as a Wookie’s, he locked Lambow’s wrist in his palm, and pushed.
The Wookie fell into the inky darkness. However, as he felt the murderous Thran lock his wrists he knew what was coming, and hit back with a telekinetic strike that he thought audibly cracked something. The Wookie hoped it was his neck, but the fall reminded him that he needed to survive first, then take revenge later. However, he knew that his strike was done in haste and for all he knew just hit the bulkhead.
He fell, his big Wookie paws desperately trying to grab at anything that could slow his fall, roaring with rage at the same time. A lip for an opening rushed past, and knocked him upside his head, and if it wasn’t that he had controlled his consciousness through the Force, he would have been unconscious and then dead.
His snarling was suddenly cut short, as he was ensnared in a web of Force energy, or so it looked to him through the Force. It brought him in through an opening for a level, and was gently brought down. It was good to have exited, as this was the second to last level, as he saw on the door markings.
The corridor in front of him stretched to either side and was clear of droids. However, there was a small Ewok with a tremendous signature in the Force that was in front of him. He recognized her instantly.
She asked him where Thran was, and his rage exploded into a howl of fury. She let him vent, then asked for his help.
The rage was quickly suppressed. He knew that he couldn’t maintain that emotion and survive this assault. He cleared his thoughts and emotions, and then nodded. He knew that having a Dark Jedi Master at his side would improve his chances of survival immensely. Assuming she wanted him to live through this, of course.
“Very well,” she said. “Let’s go. I suppose they’re on their way to the bridge.”
He nodded his agreement, and they started off at a fast pace.
His thoughts flashed to the plight of the young Guardian, but quickly suppressed any thought or emotions about him. The Guardian would either survive or die, as the Force dictated.
They were making good progress. The good news was that this level mainly contained cargo areas, and thus the open spaces allowed for quick movement in his desired direction.
The bad news was that he knew he would face countless droids, and had only himself and Arania to count on. The Wookie shrugged that off. He had been in plenty of bad situations like this before. If he died, he died. He had been ready for that for years now, and the fear did not find purchase on his soul. Failing the mission and his comrades did, however, so for their sake he rushed ahead. Besides, he was very familiar with the Master. She had in fact been involved with some of his initial training and access to the Brotherhood, and for that he as grateful to her.
As he strode forward he knew one other thing would have to be addressed. The mad Scholae. It was as he had been told so many years ago by his former Master, the one that found him and saved him. This Occasius was quite mad.
Lambow knew that he owed a debt to his former Master by killing the one that had killed his Master. By the great Bacca, it would be done, he swore silently to himself.
Sheets of blaster fire broke off the trio's conflict as all three sabers swung defensively as each fighter separated themselves from the weavings of their duel. Eiko felt the rage that had been tightening in his throat release for half a second - not a break in the tension, but a shift. His thoughts were still disconnected, frayed by the barrage that was straining Callus's violent deflections and digging into Alaris's active guard.
The three Equites formed a filter for the waves of red bolts; a mixed array of shots slipped through the holes. Eiko drew in his thoughts as he tightened his motion even further, shortening his blocks and saving as much of his energy as he could. His chest tightened with a full yell that let him sink into the stream of the Force - and raw, uncolored passion started to eat away at the rings of anger that were staining his vision. He felt his hold on the Force quake, ripped from side to side by the exertion of tapping into the mettle of an Obelisk. Only once he'd tightened his control once more could he spare the focus to start bringing the other Equites away from this fight.
"Alaris - too many!" he bellowed, sidestepping a shot that rushed through his trailing cloak as he carved one of the hundreds of metallic spiders that left punctured holes in their wake as they picked their way up and down the walls.
A quick glance at Callus told Eiko that his old master was stepping further and further back from the rage that had swallowed him earlier - returning slowly to his cold and focused self. Eiko backed up slowly, trying to maneuver himself away from the onslaught before it wore apart his control of the Force completely. Already, his augmented focus and skill was draining him faster than he had experienced in even the toughest training sessions.
"Alaris!" Eiko called again. Neither of the other two turned to glance at the young Quaestor as he pinned a door open. Kel's blaster sent one shot back into the fray and Eiko felt his thoughts stutter on the image. "Kel, you all, get inside. Alaris! Callus! We can't last like this!"
Alaris matched Callus's retreat with a sinister weight - his motions never fully pulling free from the earlier outburst, always tracking the Epicanthix's movements with any extra energy he found in the middle of the fight.
Callus started working on securing the door to the storage room as soon as he entered, though his entire frame was still ready to retaliate against the Right Hand if Alaris chose to lash out.
"How many did you see?" Eiko demanded. "What is out there that we have to stand and fight against?" His voice was strained and broken with breaths as he recovered his energy.
"You're afraid of the droids," Alaris sneered.
Eiko swallowed his desire to take his saber out again. "Right Hand - there are at least a thousand droids of different builds in that hallway. Your life is on the line as well."
"Arrogant," Alaris twitched his lekku in subtle waves.
"Am I wrong?" Eiko pressed his point sternly.
"This door won't hold for long enough to make this a safe place," Callus interrupted, "though there should be some better holds further on, closer to the bridge."
"Have you grown so soft since Faraspar, Bo'Amar?" Alaris strode towards his fellow Exarch.
Callus stayed silent, starting to slice an entrance into the next room.
"Our goals are not at odds, Alaris." Eiko's voice was calmer now, even as he rifled through all the history he'd drawn out of the archives as he tried to pin together whatever he knew of Alaris. The mask never changed appearance even as Eiko steadied his nerves. "If there's nothing else, then protect your House's future," Eiko pointed sharply at the journeymen. "Face us with your own hate, Alaris, not something you've sapped out of this bad air." He forced himself to turn towards the journeymen.
"The Ascendant House has no peers."
"Do not kill your House's allies!" Eiko swelled his voice with the Force, giving the words the weight that they needed to break through Alaris's mental state. "Your House and my House share old roots. Don't dismiss me - and keep your House's future safe."
"Done," Callus announced dryly. "We need to move to a better space. Alaris, lead them ahead." Callus's voice rose in the back of Eiko's mind. "He's a threat to us, tainted as he is already."
Eiko waved Callus off, unwilling to exert the effort to speak back telepathically. "I'm seeing it too, believe me," he whispered. "You have to trust me." He raised his voice back to normal so that Alaris could hear him as he stepped away from his Aedile, staring at the three journeymen. "Wait a second, Alaris."
Kel had grown strangely silent, the oppressive fear draining his strength. Imichua glanced around to the vents of the room, provoking Callus to periodically check the grates for any sign of droids as well. Zuser was taking his breaths in an uneven rhythm.
Eiko shut his eyes and concentrated on the energy he knew best. He envisioned wrapping his hand around a cord and pulling it towards him, dragging the Force into his control, but he felt like he was grasping at the air, meeting the sudden gasp of air as he strained to build Kel's morale. The layers of dark side energy that clung to the Novice's signature seemed more elastic with each try, snapping back into place. When Eiko had given it a few seconds of rest to rebuild his control, he couldn't sense the fear shackling Kel's expression anymore. Eiko's eyes snapped open and focused immediately on Alaris, whose worn eyes opened slower from his concentration.
"We can't go back into that hall," Callus stated as the journeymen came back to their senses. "A clean cut with a saber would do well against those droids, but there was no chance to get that close to them. Even their own blasters just pit the surface of their armor."
"We'll meet more." Alaris's voice seemed less cutting now, giving Eiko a slight sense of relief.
"Then we'll find a way to get close to them, if we have to fight them. But with a thousand in that hallway and tens of thousands of droids roaming throughout a ship that wishes to eradicate us - kriff and bleeding kriff," Eiko exhaled feverishly, "the comlink with the other squad is pure interference."
"Wishes to eradicate us..." Callus prompted.
"We can't stand there and fight that many. We came here with a team - I expect that there are more Plagueians on board as well?" Eiko glanced toward the journeymen to gather the answer. "We need to find them, Alaris - whoever came on board with you."
"They went to the bridge," Alaris nodded.
Eiko stepped through the hole in the wall into the guts of a medical bay, taking a cursory glance through the broken containers before taking his place beside the door.
Callus took a cursory glance around the medical bay, but he wasn't focused on any one thing. In truth he was hardly even seeing the room, what Alaris had said resounded through the older Obelisk's mind. It had been years since the mission to Faraspar and now here he was again with not one but two journeymen he had mentored during his time in Clan Plagueis. Both Alaris and Imichua had been on Faraspar when Callus had given himself up as a prize for the Crimson Tide so that the team of journeymen could escape.
The months he was held captive seemed like years to Callus and had certainly subtracted from his life expectancy. He was tortured mercilessly and when he wasn't being tortured he was kept in seclusion. The worst part is that wherever he went he was blind to the force with the always present Yalismir. They were dark memories that he would rather leave buried but now...
"You still there?" Callus was jolted from his reveille by Kel's voice.
"I'm fine but we need to keep moving." Callus said turning his mind back to task and thouroughly searching the medical unit now. More than likely anything of use would either be well past expiration or proven to be more detrimental than helpful. From the corner of his eye he saw Alaris. Callus had watched the Twi'lek from the time he was an apprentice, the arrogance had never been there before but with power comes changes. There wasn't much worth remembering about his time in Plagueis but his bond with Alaris had been strong and now here they stand opposites.
Moments ago nothing would have made Callus happier than to end the life of the Twi'lek, and if Eiko hadn't gotten in the way he would have, now they were forced to work together to survive. Life was strange like that sometimes, though Callus knew that Alaris wouldn't hesitate to strike any of the Revanites down if he saw a moment of weakness so they had to be on their guard.
The foray into the medical bay was becoming less fruitful and more likely that the ships defenses would locate them. They were sitting nerfs and it was time to move.
"C'mon," Callus said to no one in particular, "we need to keep moving if we want to get out of this alive." The Epicanthix moved toward the door across the room and began to work on the locking mechanism.
Tra'an took time to walk over and focus his energy, drawing on the Force carefully, so as not to let the malevolent darkness overwhelm him. Kalak moved over to Tiberius and did the same, each restoring their patient's health and removing the damage that had been inflicted. What should have taken only minutes took nearly double that because of the control required to make the energies behave. As they stepped back together, the old leaders of House Acclivis Draco were both beaded in sweat, the effort involved far more taxing than it should have been.
Mograine stretched and nodded in thanks, before moving over to the lift and keying it to open, only to have it stubbornly remain shut. With a few moments focus, the Human rapidly came to a conclusion strung together from the bits of information they had learned the hard way. "It's still alive, the droid brain." The statement seemed to shock the shapeshifter and his former Aedile into focus, as they paid intent attention to what came next. "It's awake enough to have locked us out. This is the only way down that's still in reasonable shape. Any ideas?"
At first, they all stood there silently, and then Tra'an's face began to change. Grinning wildly, Tra'an looked over at Augustus. "Remember that cliff fall we did with Revenge and Timbal way back in the day?" A look of confusion on the Umbaran's face was quickly replaced with clarity and a grin of absolute feral joy. He nodded and walked over to the elevator shaft. Tra'an followed right behind with Tiberius moving to stand next to Mograine. With concentration, each placed their hands on the control panel and focused together, combining their powers and mental will. The control circuits governing the doors shorted first, quickly followed by those governing the lift. The death trap fell about ten feet before screeching to a halt as the emergency brakes kicked in.
With more focus, bolstered now by the addition of Mograine, the trio pooled energy and focus, before exerting one combined wave of power that snapped the two controlling brakes and the cable holding the metal contraption in place, sending it plunging to the bottom of the ship in an uncontrolled careen of screaming metal and sparks. With a grin, they returned to the moment, only to find that time well used was still time spent. The debris that had piled up from the earlier fight was being disturbed. "Umm, I think we have company?" The uncertain question came from Tiberius who had not been idle, having spent the time emplacing a very careful spread of directional explosives, and one very strong breech charge. With the sensors on the bridge damaged, it was the work of moments to camouflage the last.
With grins bolstered by the camaraderie shared in their mental bond, the three Equites nodded in approval of their younger member's work. With combined bonds, they were finding it easier to refute the darkness that swirled about them, and wished that they could include their compatriot. He was sweating from concentration, and it was the work of a moment to help ease the last of his fatigue. Tra'an spoke, and the others looked to him to listen. "What we're about to do is very simple. It's known as a directional resistance fall. We leap for the other side of the shaft, and use something to slow the fall. That something is our trusty lightsabers." With an uncharacteristic wiggle of the eyebrows, grins broke out again. This was a side of the Quaestor few ever saw, and it was easy to fall into with an old comrade and two new ones. "Since we'll be in control, and have disabled the only car running in the shaft, we should be fine. We want to try and get off at the level of the Auxillary bridge, so we can try and regain control of the ship. Is that clear?"
Each of them nodded their heads, and moved towards the shaft. One by one they leapt clear of the ruined bridge, but not before one last surprise was rolled out from Tiberius' Bag 'O Tricks. As the first droids moved into the bridge in a rush, the last thing they saw was a cryoban grenade detonating to create an ice wall, and a glop grenade detonating to seal the ice together into a slurry as hard as plascrete. They rushed forward, as many as could fit cramming into the tight space, only to be surprised by a loud crack, and the decompression of the bridge. Every droid in the room was blasted out into space, and more were sucked into the former bridge even as the droid control brain slammed shut the emergency bulkheads that restored atmosphere to the confined space. As the remaining metal contraptions picked themselves up, they fell prey to the second part of the trap, six cluster bombs that exploded, shredding at least forty of the monsters.
The four dark fell silently in the darkened shaft, lit only by their plasma-blades, and as the approached their destination, it was in a moment of clarity that Kalak felt what was coming. "Jump!" The shout echoed in the space, and without question, each in turn disabled their lightsaber to free fall, maintaining careful control. With the timely warning they all cleared the trap, even Tiberius, and were able to regain control fo the fall, coming to a halt at an entrance well below their destination. They hurriedly got out of the shaft and forced the doors to shut with a manual override before the droid brain decompressed it by blowing out the entire level of the Auxillary bridge.
With a scream of frustration, Tra'an slammed his fist into a wall panel. "Now what?" The others shook their heads as they reconsidered that once again, they were back at square one.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
In the lift shaft between Corridor 20-C and corridor 21-C
"I've been wondering about this droid brain." Climbing up an empty shaft without the help of the Force was not so easy, and Arania did not really have spare breath but she needed to talk out loud to get her thoughts sorted. "If we can find out it's location and disable it, we would have a lot less worries. Unfortunately, I didn't..." The Ewok took a long moment to grab the next hold, which looked like a small force field generator, probably for an emergency break. "I didn't get to see enough of the ship's schematics in the science lab to have any idea where it might be located."
"Ouurakhh graaah-wuurgh," the wookie responded. "Riirgh gruuh not had a change to krchh kaaarrr all the data."
Arania nodded. Luckily, for her the translation problems caused by the interferences were of no consequence. Having a wookie stepson, Shiriwook was easy for her to understand. Ironically, she understood little to no Ewokese, not counting curses and threats. "Where... would you think, such a brain would be located?" The furry woman cursed at the next obstacle. A broken off panel was hanging right in front of her. Normally, she would have just blasted it away with the Force but before they had started going up, Lambow had pointed out that detectable Force use might bring more droids to their location.
"Not anywhere in particular," Lambow answered. He watched the Ewok's attempts to go around the obstacle and decided there was a faster way. Without asking, he put his left arm around Arania and lifted her up to his shoulders. "Hold on," he growled. "We'll be much better off without you crawling up like a retch snail."
Arania had no idea what sort of snail that was, but she couldn't help but agree. A few times now she had been close to losing her hold. A part of her was wondering if this was the reason Lambow had suggested cutting down on Force use. "Very well,"she said. "If you do not mind being steed to an Ewok." There was a hint of amusement in her voice, but also some anger.
"Grichgrough," Lambow bellowed. Arania made a mental note of this new curse.
The next door to level 21 was closed, but considering they wanted higher up, it did not matter. What mattered were the dents in the door suggesting something hard had bumped into it from the other side with high velocity. The woman pointed to the dents. "Looks like droids tried to get in here and the brain couldn't open the door. Which brings us back to the topic. If the brain is truly decentralized, we might just need to cut a few connections."
"Arch urgh like Thran's messed up mind wrghgch ughgh?"
"Yes, there is that," Arania admitted. "But even if cutting stuff makes the droid brain react insane, do you think it could get any worse?"
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
In the access tunnels close to the bridge
"Well done, my student, you will soon be there." The voice was so clear now in Thran's mind as if someone real was standing right behind him. Occasus crawled stubbornly, his deactivated saber ready in his hand, which slowed them down considerably. "Yes, we will soon be there," he whispered back.
"Is this really necessary?" Xantros was not asking for the first time, but his voice was more pressing now. "If droids get us here, we're done for."
"Do you think I would mislead you?" Thran replied in a tone suggesting the idea treacherous.
"Not voluntarily, no..."
Wrong answer, and Xantros knew it as soon as he said it. "Do you think I could fail that badly and..."
"No," came the quick reply. "It is just hard for us to keep up with you, that is all."
"Be vigorous and proud and just stick to me, and we will be victorious..."
Occasus said a few things more but the Battleteam Leader did not listen anymore. Suddenly it occurred to him that they were one Dark Jedi short. James was missing. At the last crossing of accessways, the young Revanite had still been present, helping him change directions in a tight spot. For a second, he considered asking Koryn, but Thran would hear it and the last thing they needed was him going berserk in here for some reason.
The Rodian must have noticed his backward glace. "He's made off at the last intersection. I figured I'd let him, better than him turning against us in here," he explained telepathically.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Somewhere in the access tunnels
James' head peaked out of a small access hatch. He would not be able to squeeze the rest of his body through but he had no intentions of leaving the tunnels. Alone, he was vulnerable to the droids, but from his calculations, they would not be able to enter the tunnels, at least not the smaller ones the mad Palatinae had been using, in any great capacity. To his disappointment, the small corridor he was peeking into was not much more than an access either, probably for larger maintenance droids.
All he needed was to figure out where he was and, with some luck, try to find the others. Lambow might be dead, though for some reason he doubted it. But the rest of his team must be somewhere. The Guardian felt some regret at not being able to call anyone telepathically. The comm units were useless by now, he had only heard static.
The Aedile withdrew his head from outside. Why had the Rodian let him leave? They probably thought he would die in the next droid encounter anyway, but he would prove them wrong.
The medical bay was a good place to rest for a bit from the relentless pursuit of all the battle droids. The Revanites and the Plagueians, unlikely allies, were all trying to figure out strategy to get out of this disaster alive. One such was the novice from Revan.Kel looking at the five remaining grenades that he had left, windering if there was a way to turn them into trip mines or some kind of trap.
Alaris of Plagueis was thinking about when to betray the Revanites and who to take out first. His mind was also being infiltrated by some unknown dark presence, making him suspicious of all around him.
Eiko was thinking on the presence he felt coming from Alaris. Wondering what could be on this cursed ship that was so powerful and dark. Thinking if Alaris was falling under this influence how long before anyone else might be influenced.
Zuser thought about how much better this would be going had his master been around running this mission rather then the right hand.
The last Plagueian Imichua was resting in the corner trying not to think of the impending doom that lay beyond the medical bay in all directions. Afraid for some reason of something unseen on this ship.
Callus had been thinking about this situation and how it was going to end whether the droids were going to kill all of the sith on board or whether it was going to end in bloodshed between houses. The first thing was to get moving so this unlikely team had at least some chance of surviving. "We need to keep moving if we want to get out of this alive."
"Well before we leave I want to rig this door to explode when those droids come in. I think I can make at least three of these grenades into a relatively large bomb and collapse a major part of the med bay making it harder to pursue us,"Kel was saying while rigging the door they came in.
"We need to have a plan to stay alive" Eiko not talking to anyone in particular, "Any suggestions?"
James moved around the tunnels, finding several junctions and a vertical tube. He instinctively went up. He wasn't sure where he was, but he wanted to get as far away from the crazy Scholae who had let go of Lambow. He had the hunch that he would be the next to go and had slipped out at the first opportunity to present itself.
He was tired and he felt that this position, with horizontal and vertical access would be the best place to rest as long as droids were not attacking from both tubes. He pulled out some rations and ate them cold, knowing that the first olfactory sensors were developed long before this ship was built. Right now, he feared the droids more then the Jedis. At least the Jedis would hesitate before killing him, something droids were incapable of.
Spending ten minutes eating and trying to rest, he felt somewhat less tired and more alert.
Time to crawl some more James. Maybe we'll find someone alive between here and the bridge.
James climbed up the vertical tunnel until he couldn't go any farther up. He then crawled in the direction he thought was the forward of the ship. He had no idea where he was, no idea how far he was from the bridge. Eventually, he would have to get out of the tunnel, move through the bulkheads, combating droids as he went along. For the Protector, this scared the living force out of him. He saw how Dath had been mowed down, watched him as he burned from the bolts catching his robes on fire. Dath was older and more experienced then him. Dath had trained with a blade while James preferred the quarterstaff.
After crawling some more, he thought he heard some chatting. Crawling towards the chatter, he could clearly understand the last statement. The voice was familiar. James kicked out the access panel and popped his head out. Around the corner, his master, Callus and three other Jedis were visible.
James grinned and whistled, getting their attention as he pulled himself out of the tunnel and walked towards them.
James explained his ordeal, "Dath is dead and Lambow is missing. We ran into Scholaes, led by Thran Occasus. There was a fight with them, then a standstill as the droids moved in. Dath was killed in the firefight that followed. Lambow, I, and the Scholaes fled, finding a hideyhole to wait out the droids. We went up an elevator shaft and Thran dropped Lambow down the shaft. I broke away from the madman the first opportunity I had and moved around the tunnels until I heard your voices."
Nobody spoke for several seconds. Every individual was trying to find an answer.
“We need to regroup with the others.” Alaris surprised himself with the comment. He knew he would have been safer alongside allies, but saying it out loud gave away his suspiciousness. “We’re too small a group to survive for much longer.” His eyes floated around the room and locked with those of Callus Bo’Amar. (Should have let you die.)
“I agree, but what others?” the Revanite queried. The two Exarchs remained eye-locked for a few more seconds before Alaris broke the gaze and turned his focus upward. “Returning to Plagueians doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me.” (There’s a reason I left in the first place.)
“Grouping up with traitors doesn’t sound all that sweet to me.” Alaris felt his voice rising.
“Perhaps if there had been some leadership shown in Plagueis, some individuals wouldn’t have felt the need to betray it.”
“Perhaps if I left you in the hands of the Crimson Tide we wouldn’t have had nearly as much trouble today. Perhaps I shall do what I should have let them do.” Their sabers were both ignited simultaneously and both Obelisk coiled their leg muscles, ready to spring into battle once more.
Ekio found himself interrupting the pissing match. “Scholae Palatinae!” Silence overtook the room again, short of the buzzing of two slightly out of unison lightsabers. “We can’t survive without both of you. This entire group will die unless both of you can keep us alive and moving.” Eiko moved himself between the would-be combatants and looked back and forth between them. “We move to rendezvous with Scholae Palatinae; neutral ground.”
“Neutral?!” Callus demanded. “They hate Revan as much as Plagueis does.”
“Your Quaestor is right, Bo’Amar.” Alaris deactivated his blade. “They hate me personally for my vendetta against the Kaeths. The Royal House is neutral groundl.” The Right Hand of Justice glanced around the room at the rest of the Dark Jedi within. “The other Plagueians were moving to the bridge. We can likely assume that Scholae Palatinae would do the same. If we get every Dark Jedi and Sith in the Brotherhood to get to the bridge, we have a sizable fighting force; one to be significantly reckoned with.” He let his arrogant smile fall across his face again. “These are only droids. We can melt them all into scrap.”
Alaris turned his gaze to the most recent Revanite to join them who looked frightful to think he was going to meet up with the madman again. “You! What was down that tunnel you just came from?”
Eiko snapped to look at James as his apprentice. Underneath the dead white of the Quaestor's mask, his mood sank. "What Scholaes? How many?"
"Three - A Duro, Xantros, and a Rodian, Koryn, and Thran Occasus. There had to be more, though. They sounded like they'd split from a main group, just like we did."
"Do you still want to rendezvous with the Palatinae, Alaris?" Callus cut sharply. "With a force like that..."
"You'd feel better with the Plagueians, then?" Eiko stepped forward, confronting Callus. "There are no good options - but the Scholae offer a neutral ground," he emphasized. Or the nearest thing we'll find to neutrality.
"You're assuming that the houses won't tear one another apart."
"I am," Eiko nodded. "James managed well enough in the company of the Scholae - with Alaris's assistance, we should be able to do the same."
"Quaestor," Callus protested.
Eiko shook his head subtly. "Against the thousands of droids are swarming through this ship, we'll need to hold the bridge and organize. All of us." He glanced at Alaris. "I hope you realize the number of droids we're facing. Sixteen full bits, a full sixty-five thousand of sturdy units and a heap of scrap machines that are being refitted into the working units."
"Where did you get this information?" Alaris let one eye narrow slightly with doubt.
Eiko pulled a charred fragment of the recording medium out of a narrow slot near his ear. "Just a few fragments of data are interpretable, but that's one piece that I've managed to collect so far. Slashing through will only get us so far; we'd lose some of your House's potential in the fight. And it won't be a matter of hours - I'm supposing that your house doesn't have weeks of rations prepared for this mission."
"Then moving toward the bridge sooner rather than later would be best," Alaris replied dryly, "if you're so concerned with the droids."
Eiko kept silent for a second to let Alaris's words drift away. "James, can you get us back to the group you left?"
"That's not a good plan," James countered. "From what I saw, it has to be safer heading straight to the bridge from here. I'm not sure if I care about the Plagueians or not - Thran's gone completely out of his mind. He's talking to himself, ignoring the two people he's dragged with him. I'd rather face the droids. If we're all going to end up on the bridge anyway, why not skip a step?"
"How much stock would you bet on the fact that the Scholae are headed to the bridge, Alaris?" Eiko looked over his shoulder. "And how much do you trust the Scholae?"
"Not at all," Callus spoke up again. "Either road is going to be near-suicide."
"Would you rather stay in this hold until the droids rust?" Alaris's tone made the words seem like a taunt, but they carried bald truth with them as well. The good options continued to evaporate.
Eiko considered adding the idea of finding the Wookie's body first but let the thought fizzle out in the back of his mind. There were enough options on the table anyways. "We'll head for the bridge by following the Scholae - and that means we start by aiming for where James left Thran and the others. We need every saber in this room committed to getting to that bridge. Don't dishonor your Quaestor by breaking the ceasefire," Eiko warned openly, his voice aimed at the other Revanites as the Plagueians. "We'll need the Scholae as well if and when we find them."
Underneath the surface of his thoughts, Eiko heard the echoing phrase in Ashia's voice, the once light-hearted words chiding him as he went along. You're not much of a Dark Jedi, are you? And again, just like always, he batted the thoughts away as he ushered the others out of safety into the maze of hallways. The politics seeped away as he concentrated on survival, letting him ease away from seeing the situation in extremes. It felt strange, like his body was now straining against the aura that engulfed the ship. He took another deep breath and stepped forward alongside his apprentice.
"You're managing well," Eiko spoke softly, trying to reserve his comments for his tall apprentice alone. "I want you to keep an eye on Kel, especially if we get into more fighting. Until then, head up with Callus and try to get us back to where you left the others."
"Yes, master," James nodded. He quickened his steps to move alongside Callus and Alaris at the head of the column as they started to weave through the halls. Eiko kept to the back of the line, his saber held loosely in one hand as he periodically glanced backwards to make sure that they weren't being followed.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
The coughing Rodian in the middle of slowly disappearing smoke was the only thing moving for a moment. Then a chuckle came from somewhere even deeper in the obscuring cloud. Thran, of course. Xantros threw a worried glance at Koryn, but his House mate seemed to be alright.
When they had come out of the access tunnels and dropped to the bridge floor, the droids that had occupied the room had swarmed on them. Xantros had expected it, but not counted on so many of the annoying things in one room. The flashers and smoke grenades had been Thran's idea, and the fact that they could sense each other in the Force had made it easy just to hit droids, but it had still taken a while.
Xantros was about to ask Thran what was so funny, when Koryn cursed and kicked a remaining droid against the nearest console. With a whistling sound, the thing went dead. "How many of those do you think we just disposed of?" the Rodian asked, his calm voice masking the anger he felt.
"I did not bother to count. More than enough for a lifetime," the Duro answered.
"How much time do you think we have?" Koryn was more visible through the clearing air now.
"Until more droids come, or until the other Houses arrive?" Carefully, Xantros approached Thran, who was staring at one of the consoles.
"Well, both. If the others arrive first, we might have a fighting chance when reinforcements come. We need to get rid of the droid's command center. The brain of the ship, I suppose."
"Yes, we must, but he seems to think otherwise." Xantros stared at Thran's back for what must be the 10th time, wondering if he should just shoot the man. But he had the feeling that it would not end well for him. For the glory of the House and probably Clan again was all well and good, but not if they died a senseless death executed by droids. Or the combined forces of the other Houses if they noticed the mental state of Occasus. "What are you looking at, Thran?"
"If they keep questioning you, you must eliminate them, too, unfortunate as this would be," the voice in Thran's head simply stated. "There can be only one, in the end. The strongest will survive."
"They are just curious," Thran whispered. He had no intention of killing his own House mates unless there really was no other way. He would not, however, stop so close to his goal. To his master's goal. "The consoles are not working," he said in a louder voice. "But we will not really need them now, will we?"
"What's he on about?" Koryn seemed more nervous by the minute.
"I am on about," Thran replied with just a hint of contempt in his voice, "the cargo of this ship."
Koryn was about to ask what cargo, but caught himself in time. They had both heard him whisper to himself about getting rid of those who were too curious. It didn't seem wise to invoke his wrath just now.
"So there is cargo. Where, and how do we get it?" Xantros tried the more practical approach.
"We need," Thran said, pointing at the back of the free standing console he had examined, "to cut the power off completely. Or, better yet, cut the whole console."
"What? Why?" Koryn couldn't help himself asking. "We do not have time for this. The others will be coming soon. They must if they want to have a chance." He paused for a second. "Arania will come," he added.
Thran turned to face him for the first time in what seemed hours. The way he was taxing him, one could think he was looking at a first month apprentice. "Arania has her own problems to take care of." Thran said this with such a certainty Koryn was sure he must sense her in the Force still.
Xantros took a deep breath and calmed himself. This was the wrong moment to let his anger get the better of him. Well, his anger often was the better of him, but it was the wrong moment nonetheless. His comm unit was in his hands and he tried to contact the Ewok; he didn't think it would work but it was worth a try. To his surprise, the comm showed a signal, weak and static, but there it was. It looked like the Krath was somewhere close. "Arania, can you hear? We could really use your help. We're..."
A wave of darkness washed over him so strong it was almost painful. "Do not ever do that again if you want to live," Thran hissed, his voice sounding different than usual.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Corridor 18-A , Bridge Sector
The call from the comm went unanswered. Taking a call from even the Grand Master himself would not have been pressing for the Ewok right now. What was pressing were the hundreds of droids around them again. And endless stream in her tired mind. Her revulsion for those things made it harder to fight them instead of easier. Her anger, she realized, was vanishing for some reason. Frustration replaced it, about not being able to learn more of the ship's secrets, not being able to get to Thran and the others and not knowing what was happening outside with the waiting ships.
Another wave of Force crashed more droids into yet more droids. Her lightsaber whirled and cut apart a few which had come too close, deflected yet more attacks.
Lambow howled something while throwing a few half-dead droids against a wall with his bare hands. The Wookie's temperament had reached a peak; he had trouble keeping his anger far enough in check to think clearly. Sometimes, the tendency of his race to lose control was not only giving the Dark Side in him strength but also caused him to endanger himself.
Arania kicked herself off the wall and somersaulted to where the other Krath stood, landing behind him. "Lambow," she said sharply. "We need to link." Her control and his anger driven raw Force would be the power that might help them make the way to the bridge.
Lambow stared at her for a second, then grunted. Arania's mind reached out to his, her thoughts and planned actions beginning to correspond with the Wookie's movements and ideas. There had been a certain coordination between them before. Now, they were two bodies strengthened by a double-mind.
The woman felt her anger coming back, and Lambow regained the use of it. The difference was immediately recognizable. Lambow went from Niman to Soresu style; he would conserve some energy that way, and there was no need to attack an unthinking foe who would rush at them anyway. Arania concentrated on holding them in check with the Force, only using her saber art on the few droids making it through Lambow's defense.
Even then, the droids kept coming. So close to the bridge, there were just too many. An indication they were on the right track to do something about the droid brain? Maybe, but they might not last long enough to find out. Those thoughts were buried quickly, as a worried warrior is a bad warrior. But denial didn't change the facts.
The sound of activating sabers and a voice came from an intersection of the corridor they had used to get here themselves. "Look what we have here!"
The voice was familiar. The Ewok didn't have the mind to ponder about its owner, but Lambow knew it immediately. "Eiko!" he howled.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
“More” he mumbled to himself, still relishing in the fountain of endorphins that coursed through his mind. “I want more.”
“Did you say something, Thran?” Koryn asked.
The man tilted his head as he examined Xantros. The universe appeared differently to him, he felt invincible more so than any spice fueled hallucination could provide. He shuttered in thought.
“Should I kill a rebellious apprentice? Or simply teach him the error of his ways?” he said, still speaking in whispers to an invisible entity.
His hand jutted forward. The small device in Xantros’ hand crumpled under an unseen weight.
“I said…Don’t…Do…That…Again” the Warlord said, posturing.
He stepped towards Xantros, eyeing him like as a hungry predator eyes a kill. His movements were strange, alien almost. His eyes were empty, soul less and dark. He could feel Xantros shake with anger and fear. A deep breath filled Occasus’ nose, releasing a smile. It was as if he smelled the emotions within his companions.
“If you want to live…You will follow me, without question…” he said, softly.
Even Koryn could not deny that he felt compelled to follow. There was something about the way Thran spoke, the way he stood, that made him believe that this was the only way to get off of this vessel alive. Both tilted their heads to the Warlord in a sign of acknowledgement. As he turned away, they looked at each other. They were overcome with fear, but felt a strange sense of security.
“Yes, my Master, these Apprentices will soon learn of the great power you have promised me…” Occasus said under his breath.
He stared at the console. His fingers ran over it, touching the polished display. He turned around to face the Duro and Rodian.
“Well? Are you going to destroy this console?” he asked.
The Rodian’s antennae twitched and his proboscis wiggled as he drew his lightsaber. The Duro did the same. They approached the console. As the Duro passed, Occasus ran a hand across his bald bulbous head. He turned to watch as the pair hacked at the console as directed. He smiled.
“You are only delaying them, my Apprentice. You must kill the Jedi to release your true power…” the ancient voice hissed in Thran’s ear.
“It’s part of the plan…” he replied aloud.
Koryn and Xantros turned, catching a glimpse of each other’s alien eyes. They said nothing.
“What now, Thran?” Koryn asked.
Thran Occasus mumbled to himself, holding a full conversation with himself. He wandered away from the bridge, intent on finding what was in the hold of the ancient vessel.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Approximately mid-way between Auxiliary Bridge and Cargo Hold
The four Dark Jedi who crossed through the corridor met only silence and emptiness, a welcome change after encountering so many droids. Tra'an wasn't sure how they'd survived; while a few of the idiotic security models they'd faced before still existed, their numbers were few. These new models, on the other hand, were advanced and calculating even by today's times. They made all but the most deadly machines of the Clone Wars look like dainty protocol models; Reith suspected that, at the time, they'd been state of the art and expensive beyond imagining. Undoubtedly, such machines had been purchased by someone of great power such as a Sith Lord or a Moff. But why would they kill off crew members?
The Shi'ido's thoughts couldn't wrap around what was undoubtedly the case in many corridors. He couldn't tell if there had been a mutiny or a malfunction, but one thing was clear; the cannons of these droids would have been the only weapons powerful and numerous enough to destroy their victims in the way that the crew of this ship had been massacred.
"You make no move to strike against us, even after we've forced you into our little band." Mograine's voice broke the silence, aimed at Kalak. The Umbaran was still a mystery to the Plagueians. "Why?"
"I've never had any quarrel against you," the Palatinaean returned. "I came here on orders from my Quaestor and Emperor. My lightsaber was drawn in defense of myself and that goal when I saw the three of you."
"Come on." Tiberius chirped in, adding to the conversation. "You were enraged by the sight of us. Just like we were when we saw you."
"I admit that this is true, but..." Augustus simply shrugged his shoulders. "It's gone. If anything, I'm beginning to think I'll never get off of this ship."
"I know what you-..." Tra'an's voice cut off in mid-sentence as he spoke.
Stopping in his tracks, he reached out with the Force, sensing for the Dark Side. As always, it swirled through the ship, a nexus of vile power... but something had changed. No longer did it try to veil his vision with fury and murderous urges; he hadn't even despised the droids he'd cut down. Thinking back on it, it seemed that if anything, his fears of the machines had intensified. Even now, in moments of contemplation, he'd been despairing over the futility of his situation. Drawing clarity from the Force as an Equite so often did, he realized the truth. He turned to the others, who stopped to look at him.
"The nexus around us has changed." He said to them, a grave look on his face. "It's eating at our wills, almost as if it wants to weaken us. Something's changed."
"Perhaps the droids are the cause," Mograine offered. "The ship could be trying to stop us, to aid them in destroying us."
"How would a droid brain do such a thing?" Ragnose interjected. "It's a machine; it can't possibly
use the Force. There must be another explanation."
"You're right." Reith said, thinking on the problem. "It seems that there's another threat on this ship, something much worse. We-"
"Droids!" Tiberius shouted, his saber activating as the delayed precognition of danger prickled across the spines of the other three. Their blades came up as a bulkhead nearby blasted open, crab-shaped forms spilling into the hall even as they unleashed back-mounted blaster cannons.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Compromised Cargo Hold - HSP Landing Site
A small retinue of probe droids floated through the air around the Lambda
-class shuttle as their sensors worked it over, scanning its parts and features. The design was analyzed as vaguely Imperial, but did not register with the specifications of Sith shuttles; its parts were strange, its workings different. The tri-winged design persisted, but it had a different configuration and style from those of the past. As one of the probes neared the ship, its cutting torch removed a panel before small arms severed, re-arranged, and connected with the internal computer's workings. The droid began its routine mission with simple commands.
The small droid's intrusion became feedback gibberish as another presence forcefully pushed it out, stopping it from accessing the files within. A query reached the probe.
The commands of R3 were somewhat odd to the probe droid, a little faster than it was used to, but it responded nonetheless.
Merciless. Requesting access to intruder mainframe.>
The astromech replied, beeping and whirring as it manipulated the shuttle's internal controls. A twirl of gears activated the ship's blaster cannons.
The probe droid disconnected with a howl of feedback as it relayed a command to the combat droids stationed around the shuttle; as one, they poured fire at the vessel. Panicking, the astromech droid's ultra-fast commands lifted the ship into the stagnant air, attempting to activate its engines and carry it beyond the particle field. Pieces of durasteel plate heated and warped, some of them tearing through as internal components sparked and explosive ordnance tore half of a wing off, but still the shuttle made it clear; R3 immediately began inputting hyperspace coordinates, seeking home. Its priorities were on repair, refit, and reinforcement for the stranded operatives of Scholae Palatinae.
The shuttle never made it beyond the turbolasers of the Merciless as they swiveled to point, shredding ship and droid alike.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Outside Blast Doors to Bridge, Sealed
"No!" Kell cried as he saw the Lambda vanish in a flash of light. "Our ship!"
Arania and Lambow were quick to join him as he looked at the dissipating remains of the shuttle. Nowhere in its wreckage could any discernible parts of the shuttle or their astromech be seen; only blackened lumps of floating metal and sparks remained. Arania's fist clenched as she watched it disappear slowly, one more piece of junk in the Harlot's Veil. Her Wookiee friend groaned a reply, obscured by his vocator as it fizzled out once again; looking to the others, the diminutive Ewok quickly took stock of their group. Imichua, Zuser, James, and Kell numbered the Journeymen of the group; Eiko stood alongside Callus Bo'Amar, who begrudgingly glanced at Alaris Jinn as the Twi'lek returned his gaze. The two clearly disliked each other; only forced camaraderie had stopped a conflict. The Dark Jedi Master's tired mind still functioned well enough; she knew there was no time for such petty distaste.
"We'll never get off of this heap now." Dante mused, his face a grim mask.
"Speak for yourself, Palatinaean." Callus said, his own face showing signs of defeat. "We can't leave, either."
"Enough." Arania said, silencing them. The aura of the Force around her became apparent to the Elder; it was sapping their confidence. "Feel the Force around you. Draw on it; let it empower you. Fight the effects of the nexus."
The others stopped for a moment, each of them reaching into it; for the Equites it was but a thought, even as the Journeymen closed their eyes and concentrated. One by one, they nodded; confidence began to return. "You cannot let your vigilance drop; something is actively trying to put us into despair." The Ewok's small face took on a speculative cast. "Something here is trying to fight us, and I'll bet that it has something to do with Thran Occasus."
"Occasus?" Alaris said, raising a blue-skinned brow. "Roberts-Brannigan told us of his madness. You think that this could be the source of our lost will? Some darkness trying to consume him?"
"Think about it." Lambow said, understanding his friend's train of thought. It brought clarity to the matter, if not closure. "Thran maddens as we all feel oppression on our minds. We fight it off, yet he has apparently given in; now that he's enthralled, we're weakened." A growl at the end of the Wookiee's sentence brought an irritated smack to his vocator.
"Koryn and Xantros." James said, chirping in as the Equites all eyed him. "When we fought, they looked like they were in a trance, like something was feeding their fury. Perhaps it's because they helped him."
"Theoretical discussions are all well and good," Eiko interjected, his masked face looking from side to side, "But either way, we've got three very big problems. We need to survive the droids, we've got to stop whatever is harming our efforts, and we have to regroup." The Templar saw the looks of suspicion on the faces of the others and waved them aside. "It's our only chance. We need all of our strength."
"The droids are hardly a concern; I've overpowered many of them." The Ewok said, placing a hand on her shoto. "Against us all, they stand no chance."
"How many have you killed? A few hundred?" Callus interjected, fighting off the spike of fear that nearly broke into his mind; he continued anyway, the intelligence he relayed important regardless of its source. "There are sixty five thousand droids on this ship, according to data Eiko and I sliced into before the ship's droid brain shut us out. Even with you, our only choice is escape."
"He's right." Lambow interjected. "Even with you at our side, Arania, we've got to get out. Though you being here makes that a lot easier." That elicited a brief smile from Arania, at least. Lambow wished he could have done more; shaking his head as the despair began again, he brushed the negativity aside. "We need a plan. The longer we sit idle, the stronger this compulsion becomes. It's almost like a weaker form of Battle Meditation."
"Alright." Arania said, taking charge. "We need to regroup, as Eiko mentioned. I'll go with Lambow and Callus; Alaris, stick with Eiko. The Jedi Hunter goes with you, as well as the Guardian." She pointed to Imichua and James, who blinked.
"But I'm a Protector." He said, looking confused.
"Are you?" The Ewok asked, blinking. "Well, you won't be for long; you've grown stronger. Go with them." Pointing to Zuser and Kel, the Master continued. "We'll take the Novice and the Protector. They'll be safer with us. We'll use the Force to communicate, and regroup here when one of our groups has found the others." Without another word, she turned, Callus and Lambow following in her wake. It seemed safer this way; until all of them were together, she didn't need a pair of Exarchs that hated one another at each others' throats.
"I'm Zuser, by the way." Whuloc chirped in.
"Kel Kaveel." The Novice added, introducing himself.
"It's a pleasure." Lambow said, lightsaber hilts still in his huge hands. His eyes were wary. "Well, Zuser and Kel, watch your backs. Those droids could be anywhere."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Sound, scent, and clarity were lost to the mind of Thran Occasus as he lashed out with his blade, striking a droid in half. He'd wanted more; now, as he neared the cargo bay that was his destination, he found himself well-satiated. The Force exploded through him in new ways; new concepts dawned on him, even as new understandings hurled power through every nerve in his body. It was a headier intoxication than the finest liquor, his senses more alive than they'd been in the company of any woman or in the heat of any battle. Even as pain wracked his head, it was swept away; as agony engulfed his skin, it was replaced by ecstasy. It was like the instant result of ten further years of training; everything he wanted was becoming his. Every fiber of his body was a living duel, the screaming torment of too much stress battered back by the surging force of unregulated power.
And it was glorious.
"Thran!" Xantros' voice shouted, watching as a large droid fired a missile at the Warlord. His mouth became dry as the Sith simply stood there, smiling. "Look out!"
The Warlord didn't move; the missile before him simply seemed to crumple. That was the only word for it; its flight slowed, the metal contorting into a tiny ball as a high-explosive blast was contained in a tiny telekinetic bubble. A flick of Thran's hand hurled it back into the droids before him; there, the blast erupted in full, tearing them to pieces. Occasus cackled as another droid leapt around a corner, only to stop at a gesture from the Warlord; Thran snarled as he closed his palm, the machine's parts crunching and twisting as it was crushed. He hurled it aside, his blade coming up to block a maelstrom of bolts. The curving patterns shocked Koryn, his own blade battering back blasts as quickly as he could move; he hadn't realized that Thran had perfected the Soresu form. As the Warlord hurled his lightsaber with a roar, the weapon spinning in an arc to bisect three machines, he caught it before faltering; his eyes, Xantros noticed, seemed to change in hue slightly.
"Too much, my apprentice..." The whisper hissed from Thran's own mouth. His madness was severe enough that he was speaking for the entity that he was following; after seeing the display of power before him, the Duro was beginning to doubt that it was entirely in Occasus' head. "You push your limits too far."
"More." Thran growled, his blade coming up. Once again his blade work looked imperfect, satisfactory but far from complete in the defensive Third Form. The sight boggled Koryn, his bulbous eyes squinting in confusion. "I want it all!"
"All in good time." The Sith chuckled to himself. Looking onward, he hissed, his eyes taking on a faintly yellow hue. "There." He pointed at the wall, the Force conveying a command to the ship's systems.
A rayshield burst into life before them, its red light flickering as the droid brain fought to override it. Thran gave it no chance; with a roar, he raised both hands toward the ceiling beyond before bringing it down upon the machines. They sparked and groaned as the weight shattered their frames, durasteel struts and beams impaling them as panels flattened their bodies. The show was enough to drop the Rodian's jaw; a chill of fear ran down his neck. Thran isn't this powerful. The Sith glared at him, making him regret the thought; he put his eyes down, seeking death no more than his Duros comrade. The two followed the Warlord as he rushed down the corridor, only to stop abruptly as he did.
"Thran?" Koryn asked, looking ahead. "What is it? What's-..."
"Shut up." Occasus hissed, looking forward. "Our query has arrived." The sounds of combat became apparent ahead, getting ever nearer.
The turn up ahead soon became party to deflected blaster bolts and droid parts as the sounds of active lightsabers became apparent. The harsh crackle of cloven metal and the few bolts told the trio that only a small party of machines was up ahead, but all three took their weapons in hand as the sabers drew closer. As the blasters finally ceased, a blast of telekinetic energy hurled a combat droid against the wall and into Thran's vision; his gaze became a glare as Mograine darted forward, green blade severing the machine diagonally. Deactivating his blade, he looked to the three Palatinaeans, stance uncertain. Tra'an and Tiberius soon joined him, bolstered by none other than Kalak. The Umbaran's face was understandably one of surprise, but it split into a smile as he saw his allies.
"Thran! Xantros, Koryn!" He shouted, walking toward them. "It's good that you've come; there are too many..." His voice trailed off as Thran's orange blade flashed into existence. He took a step back, his own hilt still warm in his hand. "Thran?"
"Apprentices," The Warlord said, fury swelling in him; he watched as their eyes began to glaze, the dark aura in the air pouring hatred into them. His Master's aura.
"Kill them. Kill them all."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Doorway to Mainframe Gamma
The mainframe was dark and empty as tiny pinpricks of light marked the computers and terminals, tall, free-standing machines with cavernous walls around them. It had been designed as a place where a crew of engineers could work; now, bodies in Imperial uniform littered the ground, many stricken down in mid-run, one or two black-robed forms among them. Only one dessicated droid chassis joined them, the attack catching them by surprise before more than one decent shot could be fired. The silence of the room lasted only until a green blade pierced its durasteel; the weapon carved a glowing ring in the door before a solid boot sent the separated chunk away from the door proper. Into the room darted, Alaris, followed by Eiko and the two Journeymen with them. As one, they lit their sabers, the collective weaponry illuminating a wide patch of floor around them.
Imichua flinched as he saw the scattered corpses, mummified skin and tattered robe greeting eyes that had scarcely seen true combat. "What the kriff happened here?"
"No way to know." Alaris said, walking slowly around. "Unless..." Opening a panel on the wall, he deactivated his lightsaber before pulling a thick, black wire free. "This looks like a security hologram. Perhaps there's a record of what happened on it."
"What difference does it make?" Eiko asked, eyebrow raised beneath his mask. "Even if it had power, the droid brain would never-"
"Precisely. The droid would fry it." The Twi'lek said, his grin barely visible, "Which is why I've just disconnected its main power wire. And now..." Popping a small panel off of his inactive weapon, the Twi'lek patched the cable into its diatium cell. The holodisplay flickered to blue life, casting illumination around the room. "There you have it."
The four deactivated their blades as they neared the hologram, watching as personnel typed at computers as normal. Suddenly, the sounds of an alarm klaxon sounded, everyone standing at attention. The voice that echoed across their loudspeakers was chilling to the four Force users, both for the message it conveyed and the lack of emotion with which it did so. A female voice, its words were toned to be soothing and relaxing, even as its words brought cries and panic from the technicians in the room.
"Attention," It said to them, its words somewhat grainy through the playback, "The Merciless has enacted Mission Protocol 16. Lord Akrimon must be preserved; all unnecessary drains on shipboard power will be terminated." The technicians scrambled, some going for weapons, others trying to escape doors that had sealed shut. The pair of Sith in the room activated their blades, standing ready. "The Sith Empire regrets to inform you that your services are no longer needed; we thank you for your contributions."
Blaster bolts, identical to those fired by the current droids, poured into the room. Men and women screamed and fled as blasts took them down, utterly defenseless as wide gouges were torn in their bodies and holes were punched through their chests. The Sith fought valiantly, their weapons arcing and deflecting, but first one and then the other took hit after hit, bouncing and rolling before falling still. James shivered; it looked far too much like what had happened to Dath. No computers were targeted; those only powered down visibly as the droids finished their sweep, skittering and plodding along to the next room. The hologram terminated as the security holocams undoubtedly shut down, and silence filled the room once more. Lightsabers flashed back to life as Alaris disconnected his, re-igniting its blade with a snap-hiss.
"Those..." James said, his face twisted into rage. Eiko put a hand on his shoulder; true battle was one thing for his Apprentice, but such slaughter was something that few had to witness. Especially after the death of a friend. "Those bastards."
"Who?" Imichua said, looking at Roberts-Brannigan. He too looked shaken, but his face was clearer, less-traumatized. "The ship's computers? It did what it was programmed to do."
"It's unimportant." Alaris said, motioning to the door. "Come on. We've got to find the others."
As the group went to leave, Eiko's gaze was drawn by a large terminal, its screen still glowing faintly. He strode over to it, lightsaber flashing back into its hilt, and tapped its screen. As expected, it lit up, the words "Command Terminal - Mainframe Gamma" meeting his eyes. He looked at it, feeling the hunger for knowledge tickle at his mind. Kneeling before the machine, he tapped at its controls, rapidly inputting commands and data streams. His experiences with the other terminal had served him well; after seeing its defenses and realizing how they worked, he bypassed the initial security checks and blocked the stream of interference data that had cut him off before.
"Oh, no you don't." He said, smiling beneath his mask. "I have you now."
"Eiko?" Alaris said, looking back. He strode over to the Templar. "Come on. We don't have time for this."
"Jinn, we came here with a mission. This is part of it; it will hardly interfere with our efforts." His hands were a furious blur as he input line after line of data. Machinery around him whirred to life; yanking the access panel beneath the screen off, he hastily unplugged a few hard-link wires. "There we go. And... I'm in!" Popping a data chip from his robes into the machine, he set it to record as video flashed across his screen.
Two men in black robes stood, face to face, staring one another down. One of them was a Draethos; Eiko scarcely recognized him, had never heard word of him. The other, however, drew his gaze instantly; Darth Jadus. Anticipation became glorious success, overpowering the weak sapping of the nexus around him as he stared onward. The two appeared locked in an argument, but even as his data chip drank in minor files and insignificant data, he couldn't help but watch the recording he'd accidentally unlocked. It looked like the recording of a maintenance droid; the quality was grainy at best.
"You see, Jadus?" The Draethos said, hands clenched into fists. "The Emperor is insignificant! His longevity is impressive, but now, I have found a new gift - a better way!"
Jadus' hand waved him away, his masked head tilting. "Come, Lord Akrimon," He said, his voice condescending. "Surely, you don't want to be spouting treason on the eve of our latest discovery?"
That drew Akrimon's attention. "Discovery?"
"Indeed." Jadus said, his arms crossed before him. "We've discovered the complex of Lord Revan at last - his secrets will be ours. The power he found will soon be-"
"Bah!" The Draethos said, turning away with a disgusted look on his alien face. "You spout about the Emperor's lackey, even as I hold the secret to eternal power. No one will stand against me when I master it - not even your precious..."
Eiko's face contorted into confusion as the feed cut off, his eyes widening as they read the words that scrawled across the screen, understood their meaning at the last second.
He had time only to process the feel of hands on his shoulders, pulling him backward before the machine exploded and the world became light and agony.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Koryn's blade flashed and crackled as it rebounded off of Mograine's, his red weapon sending flashes and sparks as it impacted the emerald blade of the Plagueian. Spinning, he caught Kalak's weapon on his own, lashing out against him with a growl of fury. The Umbaran defended himself, unwilling to strike for fear of injuring his comrade, but gave no quarter as he diverted the Rodian's strikes. Thraagus' assault was ceased by Tiberius, darting in toward the Palatinaean's exposed flank; even as he backed off, Xantros dove in to block the surprise attack. Turning back to Augustus, Koryn glanced at Thran, who had engaged Reith and Mograine both; his orange blade danced and rebounded as he wove between the two Plagueians. Some of the blocks and parries were impossible, even for a Warlord; it was like the voice in his head was telling him when and where to strike.
"You will die." The Warlord hissed, as his blade was caught between those of his foes. "My Master commands it."
"Your Master?" Mograine asked, eyebrow raised. He was forced to be silent as Thran's blade deactivated, curving around to flash back into existence. Both of the Plagueians barely avoided the strike, which left a gash across the front of their robes. Mog looked to Reith with eyebrows raised. "Trakata?! He knows Trakata?!"
"Impossible!" Reith roared as he re-engaged the maddened Sith. "It was just a lucky maneuver; adapt to it!"
The Warrior nodded as he joined his Quaestor, the fight teetering back and forth like a set of scales with shifting weight. One moment, the two seemed to make the fight a stalemate, matching Thran's movements; the next, he pulled an unexpected tactic or Force blast out of thin air. He was literally a blur, fighting as if he had two minds. As Tra'an darted in for a vicious overhead assault, Mograine sidestepped, his blade slashing for Thran's exposed side. Nothing the Warlord knew could have saved him, as the Shi'ido knew; his time in Scholae Palatinae had told him that much. Even as the green blade came within inches, though, Thran ducked a strike from Reith and reversed the grip on his blade to divert it. He then turned, launching a complex attack sequence at Mograine that nearly ripped through his defenses, all from a backward grip. He finished the assault with a spinning roundhouse kick, the impact of which sent the Plagueian sprawling. Tra'an's eyes widened as he recognized the Shien assault from instructing holograms.
He took a deep breath, steadying himself as a seed of fear appeared in his gut. Thran did not know Shien.
The two moved back toward one another, only to be stopped as a fresh wave of droids tore free a bulkhead behind Occasus and began blasting at him. Mograine was on his feet in seconds, deflecting beside the Warlord only to have Thran take a swing for him; he barely managed to back flip out of the way. Tra'an took advantage of the distraction, gathering the Force and hurling it at Occasus. The unexpected blast hurled him off of his feet, arcing over the droids to hit the wall behind him head-first. He landed on his back, groaning as Tra'an moved to attack the droids.
Thran's vision swam for barely a moment, his head a blur. Help me, Master, he thought, trying to regain consciousness. As if a floodgate had been opened, the pain vanished, clarity returning as his vision became a haze of red. His green eyes visibly shifted to a pure, sulfuric gold, hatred infusing his every sense.
With a roar of fury, Thran seemed to float off of the ground, his limbs lashing forward as the air visibly rippled from his touch. The blast of power he sent forth dented wall panels and crushed light fixtures, blasting droid and Dark Jedi backward like leaves in the wind. Tra'an and Mograine flew, helpless to stop, before impacting against the far wall as the Force wave dissipated. The two barely got a hold of their lightsabers before Occasus' hands came up, fingers bending in a way that looked a little too familiar.
"Defend!" Tra'an yelped, activating his weapon. "Now!"
"Die!" Thran roared, as arcing volts of purple-tinged energy ripped from his fingertips. His nails blackened as the lightning escaped them, ripping through everything.
Droids and devices popped and crackled, exploding even as their metallic parts warped; Tiberius and Koryn both writhed in pain, screams escaping their mouths as lightning entered their body and crackled across their skin. Kalak and Xantros both stood, sabers barely alight in time to ground the assault as they fought to cover their downed allies. The metal of ceiling, wall, and floor warped and bent as the air itself began to heat up; thousands of Dark Side tendrils tore at them, infusing them with power. Another roar saw a further blast hurl the group backward again, carried upward into the air by the lightning. Each of the Dark Jedi began to feel their lightsabers go hot within their grip; they'd soon explode as the droids had if this didn't let up.
"Move!" Tra'an roared, deactivating his blade and howling in pain as lightning hit his body, diving around the corner. He landed in a heap alongside the others, seconds before the storm ceased. Occasus' eyes resumed their prior color, his breath coming in ragged gasps as his hands throbbed; the well of power was gone.
The vision of the Shi'ido was blurry as he looked onward; he saw the dark form of Occasus stalk forward before motioning to Xantros and Koryn. Groaning, the two got up, limps quickly becoming full sprints as they darted after their Master. As the Plagueian rose, he held in a groan before bending the Force to his will, quieting the pain of the lightning and standing. Mograine soon followed, alongside Kalak and Tiberius. Looking at one another, they stood, eyes wide with shock and bodies still alight with pain.
Tiberius broke the silence first. "When did Thran learn lightning?"
"He didn't." Kalak replied. He shook his head to clear it. "We weren't ready for that. Something's terribly-"
His words were cut off as a door behind them blew off of its hinges, slamming loudly into an opposite wall. Not to be surprised again, each had his blade active immediately, ready for a surge of droids; their eyes met a far stranger sight. An Ewok and a Wookiee, both with sabers lit, joined Callus, Zuser, and a young man with a blaster rifle. They powered their weapons down immediately, though only the Ewok spoke. Her squeaky voice carried perfect basic; Kalak felt a hint of joy at seeing Arania, but wasn't quick to deactivate his blade. Not after that last fight.
"Where is Thran?" She asked. When they didn't budge, she took a breath, looking up to Tra'an. "It's good that we've found you. We're mustering near the bridge." She closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded. "Come. We must meet the others."
As she moved, her speed almost matched by her fellows, the Plagueians and Augustus were left dumbstruck for a moment longer. "Come along!" She shouted, spurring them all into motion. Whatever waited ahead, it had to be better than their last meeting.
Anything had to be better than Occasus.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Overseen by Droid Brain
The droid brain's processors nearly overloaded as it tried to counter all of its own built-in defenses, focusing the lenses on the Jedi that had struck. His behavior hadn't matched typical patterns from the beginning; while he fought with the Force and used a lightsaber, he'd been alone from the start. The other Jedi fell back to safety, regrouped as all programs indicated they would. They overcame personal grudges for one another, while the loner forced two into his service. He had attempted to kill the Wookiee; he'd tried for others many times since.
The droid brain watched as the Human stopped in his tracks, looking slowly up to a hidden security holofeed. He stared at it for a moment before his face split into a slow, dark smile. The look would have frightened most beings, except perhaps Sith Lords as the droid brain was programmed to understand, but to the machine it was as if a flare had been fired. Every warning sign went up; emergency commands went out to every droid in the vicinity. The time for extermination was at an end; the time for testing was at hand.
Satisfied, unworried by the pitiful few hundred machines destroyed by the Jedi so far, the droid brain settled into its common routines. Its original programming, to return the cargo to the Sith Empire, was moot now; its secondary subroutines, added by the ship's commander, had taken precedence. All that remained now was to wait.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"Hold him down!" Alaris shouted, even as he pinned Eiko's head to the ground. Blood poured from his face and neck, darkening robes and the floor around him. Shards of his mask could be seen everywhere, burned at the edges. "By the Force, hold him the kriff down!"
Eiko's world had exploded into pain; his right eye was a blur, while the right side of his face was on fire. Thinking was becoming difficult; he saw James' worried face over his own as he held Eiko's arms, felt the pressure of Imichua as he pinned the Templar's legs. The world became faint as blood continued to pour from a destroyed face, the muscles that had been below skin burning as the bones screamed through his head. The ignition of a lightsaber nearby brought fear, but he couldn't remember why until its edge made contact; the pain that he'd felt before was an echo next to the fiery agony of its touch against his face. He shrieked, an inhuman sound that no living being should have made. His vision began to shake as unconsciousness threatened to take him.
The Twi'lek persisted, holding him down with Force-enhanced strength as he pressed his blade's edge against the Quaestor of Revan's face again and again. Finally, he dragged it across his jawline and neck, completing the seal. The entire procedure took less than five seconds; it felt like a year to Eiko. As Alaris deactivated his weapon, he and the other two backed off, letting Eiko roll over and climb shakily to his hands and knees. He gasped and shuddered, snatches of sound escaping his mouth in-between breaths as he tried to fight back a wave of vomit.
Looking around slowly, he tried in vain to regain his full senses, knowing he'd lost far too much blood. The touch of hands on his neck was accompanied by a gasp as the Force poured into his body, mending flesh that screamed in protest, turning fires of agony into smoldering embers and slowly bringing clarity back to the Templar. Blood vessels slowly created new fluids; his own clarity allowed him to focus, aiding the mending exponentially as he drew on the power that bound all living things. As it ceased, he slowly stood, still slightly off-balance but not nearly as badly. His vision was mostly clear; a small patch of his right peripheral was blurry, but at least he could see. Looking behind him, he saw Alaris back off, breathing somewhat heavily.
"Th-thank you." He said, his facial muscles creaking and stretching uncomfortably as he spoke. The ache grew worse.
"We're still on this ship." Alaris said, his voice sounding a bit forced as he spoke. "We need you to survive."
Eiko nodded slowly before looking around. Everywhere, he could see shards of glass and metal. Alaris' face was grim, but Imichua looked on him with what could only be called displeasure; James' face was a plain depiction of horror. That enhanced the fear in Eiko's own mind; at the back of every thought and action, he searched for a reflective surface. My face, he thought, looking more feverishly. They're looking at my face. Seeing a shard of glass, Eiko pulled it to him, the Force fueled by the dread that engulfed him as it lifted the object. Grabbing it, the Quaestor rubbed soot and char off of its surface before turning his saber on, looking in its reflection. What he saw reflected horrified him nearly as badly as James; it was like he'd been kicked in the chest by a rancor.
"Eiko?" Alaris asked, his experiences clearly the reason for his composure. The other two couldn't speak. "It's alright. We need to move; the droids will have heard that."
Eiko didn't respond; his eyes took in the right side of his face. The skin from just below the eye down was essentially gone; horrifying bubbles and missing patches around the edges showed the original burns, while a jagged line showed where skin had ripped. Lightsaber cauterization had barely grazed the edges of exposed muscle, but the blackened surface seemed to twist and contort with every breath, teeth visible through a hole in the cheek. His eye was blood-red around the iris; he didn't want to know what the damage would have been without the help of Jinn. Even his ear was damaged, the outer edges gone, blood still somewhat wet along the jagged end of it. A voice in the back of his head told him that ear repair was the easy part; at best, his face would be a mass of scar tissue. He touched it disbelievingly, felt the face he hadn't looked at without a mask on in months. The face he'd just had torn from him by his own lust for knowledge.
He glanced at James, then looked away, raising his hood. "James... don't." He said, trying to spare the young one. He'd had enough trauma on this ship to last a man for years; he didn't need to dwell on this. "Don't look."
"Come on," Alaris said. "I'm sure a surgeon could do something later, Eiko; for now, we need to survive."
Eiko stood still, shock still filling him as he felt the disfigurement. It was one thing to think that he'd known what such a loss would be; it was another entirely to face it down. Suddenly, it was clear to him, the pain and depth of despair on those who had freshly lost a limb or a feature. He'd thought it as simple as getting a cut; in reality, he knew that life wouldn't ever be the same. His reverie was broken as James approached, something clutched in his hands. He extended it to Eiko.
"Who we are," he said slowly, looking at his Master resolutely, "Is not important." He held the item out to Eiko, who took it. A mask; that of a Sith Warrior. It had belonged to one of the fallen pair.
Eiko turned it over in his hands, studying it for mere seconds before nodding. Without hesitation, he placed it over his face. "Our message is." He said, completing the guiding words of Revan before moving to follow Jinn. His pace was interrupted by the wave that hit his thoughts, just as it swept over the others.
"Come!" Alaris shouted. "Arania contacts us; they've found the others. Let's see if we can't get off this ship alive." His stride quickly became a sprint, matched by those behind him. As they ran, James couldn't shake the mental image of Eiko's injuries, the fears of the same happening to him.
Or the faint, metallic skittering noises that crept closer to them from any given direction.
Nebulon-B Escort Frigate Deep Ice
"What is going on?" Alarm klaxons where blaring again as the weapons of the Merciless tore through the shuttle just outside the derelict ship. "Are we under attack?"
"No, Sir. The fire has destroyed an unknown shuttle. There are signs that the battle started inside the cargo hold it emerged from."
Captain Pantaro's eyes narrowed as his mind went into overdrive. "Any signs that they will be firing upon us?"
"Negative, Sir. But there are signs of activity other than the weapons now. It seems a part of the ship has woken up."
"Initiate a full non-invasive scan," Pantaro ordered. "Pay attention to any patterns in their energy output which may signal an attempt to contact us."
"Understood." The scan officer started the procedure, routing the results through their code database to find any hidden codes which might come from the team on the old vessel. "Negative, Sir," the result came not too much later. "No signals from the team."
"Not yet," the captain nodded. "Repeat every 5 minutes." He was not about to take chances, but his orders had been clear. He was not to interfere unless the ship was in danger.
"What are they doing?" The Captain's voice was calm on the outside. He had long since learned to keep any signs of fear or nervousness hidden. Yet with his immediate superior not on board, the team over at the derelict ship and a potential enemy vessel nearby, it was not so easy to think clearly.
"I believe they are passively scanning the wreck as well," came the reply. "No hostile actions detectable."
Captain Young nodded, his hands folded in front of his face. A long moment, he thought about his next actions. "Open communications with the Deep Ice," he finally ordered. "I do not trust this supposed wreck at all, not after this display. And I am sure, the other commander does not, either."
"Yes, Sir." The LCdr. at the comm followed orders, and a moment later, the paternal looking face of the Deep Ice's commander appeared on Young's monitor.
"I believe we might soon have a common enemy," Young started. "And a common problem regarding our teams."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
"What has happened?" Arania demanded to know.
Several others started to talk at the same time, but a quick move of Arania's hand cut them off. She pointed at Tra'an. "You first."
A few minutes later, Tra'an's story and some corrections from Tiberius added up to a picture the Krath didn't believe possible. "Lightning," she muttered. "Now this presents a whole new challenge. We need a new strategy."
"We had a strategy?" Surprised about his vocator working for once, Lambow continued quickly. "That is, unless running from one point to the other counts as a strategy. Do you plan to rescue Ocassus so-called apprentices?"
"If possible." Arania pushed a large pile of junk out of their way with the Force as they went into the next corridor. "But if we find a way to safely dispose of Thran and they are with him, they are expendable. If possible, I'd even like to bring Thran back with us. Would love to pick his mind. Or the mind of his master. With some precautions, of course."
"I would like to get a pick at some other parts of him and grcharr..."
"We will need to get up to meet up with the others," Zuser dared to interrupt the dialogue of the two. "Why didn't we just go back the way we came?"
"And run into droids possibly already after us?" Callus shook his head. Then he pointed. "Here."
The emergency ladder leading up through the decks was still in perfect shape. "As good as any way up," Arania agreed. She made an inviting gesture to Tra'an. "You first, me and Lambow last. The others are on their way to meet us."
Tra'an gave a quick nod and tested the stability of the ladder just to be sure. Then he was climbing already. There was enough space for two people to go up or down next to each other, but it still felt cramped. They went up single file, just in case they needed the extra space for their sabers or blasters.
Callus was quick to follow and barely beat Mograine and Tiberius to it. Everyone who had been present at the Thran/Master attack still felt beaten up but no one wanted to waste a second to do something about it.
Arania went up last with the thought that, should something come from behind, she would climb up on Lambow again and protect them. While she started climbing, something was tugging at her mind, a memory of something she had seen in the science lab, but right now, it escaped her.
To their surprise, they made it almost to bridge level before the droids closed in on them again, their skittering coming from all sides. To their even greater surprise, they were not attacked. It wasn't helpful to their nerves, though; combined with the despair they had to keep pushing back, the rest of the way up proved very exhausting.
The wookie's hair was standing up as he climbed, and Arania knew she didn't look any better. "Static," Tra'an suddenly said. "My hair is standing up. And I can feel it in the Force, too."
Arania sniffed. The Ewok nose detected the ozone caused by lightning. "Thran was here." The Krath had been so intend on listening to the droids and watching their backs, she had ceased to scan for Thran or his strange alter ego.
"That's not possible," Mograine snapped. "He took off in the other direction, towards the cargo holds."
"Well, someone has been here using Force lightning. Do you think there is another madman running around following Thran's unseen owner?" Tra'an didn't want to consider the option, but by now he had run into too many things deemed impossible just the day before.
"Keep climbing," Zuser asked. "We need to get out of here."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
In front of Cargo Hold V
"What has happened here?" Koryn, still trying to regain his composure, stared at the doors to the cargo hold. It was obvious the door had been sealed by several security measures, including blast doors which would take quite a while to cut through with a lightsaber. But that was exactly what someone had done. And through the ragged opening, they were able to see inside the almost complete darkness behind, just interrupted by a few green lights, and some blinking red ones.
"Someone has cut through the door," Xantros replied, still quite shaken as well.
"I can see that." Koryn almost snapped. "Why? And who?"
"Be quiet!" Thran's voice cut through the stale air like a whiplash. That was unlike him; his usual self would have asked them to shut the frell up or something similar colorful language. But now, he just stepped through the hole in the door without bothering to see if they would follow. But of course, they did.
"The lights aren't working," Koryn checked the panels carefully to be sure. "In fact, all energy in here is routed to... to those things over there."
"Stasis containers!" Curiosity taking over, Xantros came closer, not noticing the fire in Thran's eyes. "One of them is operational." He pointed at the one with green lights flashing, showing operating status. "But someone has opened this one before shutting it down."
"I told you to be quiet." Thran's voice was sharp now, and the other two fell silent. The possessed man leaned forward, touching the stasis container with a sort of reverie they had not seen in him before. Then his expression changed to reverence, yes, almost worship. "This is it," he announced. "What we have come for. Tell me how to open it, Master."
Xantros drew in a sharp breath as he begun to put the pieces together. "But if that is..." he whispered almost inaudible.
"Yeah, then who was in the other container," his House mate whispered back. They had a very bad feeling about this.
Lambow continued up the stairs, following the lead that his former House mate had set. The various metallic clinking coming from various directions around them continued to tell them all that they were being observed and tracked, although why they held their fire while they were vulnerable was a mystery.
The thought made him growl to himself angrily. Below him the Ewok muttered, “I know. I don’t know why they hold their fire either, but I don’t like it at all.”
The Wookie decided to put that thought to the side. Another one immediately came to mind. The other big threat was this mad Scholae character. It was obvious that he was being at least partially controlled by some other being with far more power than they had thought of. Although he himself was powerful in the Force he knew that he had as yet much to learn, many subtle and key things about the nature of the Force that separated him from someone as unquestionably powerful such as the Ewok below him. Yes, he knew he wanted that knowledge and lusted for it, but he would never sell his soul to gain that.
This Thran apparently had no such compunctions. From experience the Wookie knew that compromising oneself was the fast way to their doom. However, the question remained as to how many they would take down with them.
The Wookie had long ago decided that he was living on borrowed time, after so many harrowing times. He didn’t fear death. He only feared to die and not leave behind a legacy, where the name of Lambow would be as widely known and respected as the name of the Great Bacca. Of course such thoughts were heresy to his species, and partly the reason why he had been exiled.
Facing down this Thran would be his distinct desire and pleasure. One on one the Wookie had no doubt that he could take him down. Even facing augmented powers, with skill and luck, he knew that he would overcome. Even if he failed and died he would not care. He would die gloriously, and his name would assuredly be known to all as a great warrior. He would also avenge the death of his master, and he would also take revenge on the murder attempt from before.
And he thought he knew how he could do it. They really needed to reach the bridge.
“Tra’an, status?” he asked.
The former Revanite grunted back, “Less than ten meters… Hold on….”
The steady clanking of boots on the stairs above him slowed down and then stopped becoming as numerous as individuals reached their exit. Then it was his turn.
He turned and saw the others facing away from him in a protective semi-circle, lightsabers at the ready but not lit. Oddly enough there weren’t any droids waiting for them, although the Wookie saw that there was a holocam trained right on them. The Wookie willed into the Force and brought one paw to a close, the action being echoed and amplified through the Force and crushed the holocamera, sparking and spewing electricity as it was crushed.
The Ewok didn’t comment, but merely pointed forward and said, “Tra’an, on point. The bridge should be only a few turns down this corridor. There should also be escape pods here on this level, take a moment to see if there are any left and operable. It would be nice to have a fallback option if we have to have our cap ships pound this thing into dust with our turbolasers. Also, keep a sharp eye out, there should be a security checkpoint as we reach the bridge. It intentionally narrows down into a chokepoint which will make it easy for them to just sweep it with laser fire.”
They all nodded or just said nothing, but their collective will strengthened, as Lambow felt it through the Force.
“Move out,” she ordered.
They did. Mograine periodically checked into each escape pod that they found. Some were already gone, some were obviously damaged beyond all possible use, and the rest looked like all of their on-board circuitry was melted out. Lambow grunted as they passed the last one in that condition. It was obvious that the droid brain had done this to prevent anyone from leaving the ship alive. He distantly wondered if the three escape pods that had managed to leave made it, but he doubted it. Escape pods were generally very easy targets for turbolaser fire.
They moved forward cautiously, taking up defensive positions as best they could. Lambow felt that they all tensed up as they approached the security foyer, but nothing happened, besides yet another holocam tracking their movement. Lambow crushed that one two.
“No response as yet,” Arania said, with a hint of suspicion in her voice. “Everyone, take up defensive positions. Lambow, on me. We’re breaching the bridge.”
He merely nodded and reflexively gripped his dual lightsabers. As the Ewok punched the activation switch, a stray thought went through Lambow’s mind. He wondered what a sight it must be from the other side to see an Ewok and a Wookie come in.
As the doors opened, he banished the thought and the both of them activated their lightsabers.
There was good reason for this. There were at least a hundred assorted combat droids in the bridge, all of them training weapons on the intruders.
They all heard a sinister voice come through the Force, “Let the cleansing begin!”
Then the room exploded with firepower.
Oppressor Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Cargo Bay V
He paced in front of the heavy metal doors. It was the last barrier between him and his goal, nothing would stop him now. The heavy doors overlapped each other, creating a nearly impenetrable obstacle. The thatch work of metal was too thick to be cut. He sized up the door one final time, unsure of how to act.
“Master…how do I get to you? Tell me.” He said, pleading for guidance from the ancient spirit that had been guiding and controlling him.
The voice had gone silent. The Apprentice was on his own and he must prove his facility of determination. Occasus grew furious. His body shook with anger. His face contorted. He had let go of everything, letting the force course through him. He had become a conduit for the archaic evil that inhabited the entire vessel. He turned to his followers, still clinging to loyalty out of their fear of what he was capable of. Neither of them had seen such power before, nor did they care to see it again. They were battered from the battles they’d seen. They stepped away from the blast doors staring at him, silent; as they were commanded to be.
His body quivered. He stepped towards the blast door, placing a single palm on the cold durasteel. His eyes drifted closed, allowing the mysterious power to flow through him. The metal began to contort around his hand, bending and creaking under the stress.
He let out a ferocious roar, one that would cause a bull rancor to flinch and cower. The doors blasted open, leaving a jagged edge around the opening. It was just large enough for a person to pass through it. He turned back to his apprentices.
“Come, Lord Akrimon has lead us to the secret.” He spoke, with a poisonous hiss.
Koryn and Xantros looked at each other, then back to their leader. They spoke in unison. “Yes, my master. ”
“Who is in the stasis container, Master?” Xantros asked.
It was easier for them to cave and call him master, than to try to continue distinguishing between the arrogant model and the dangerous spirit. Thran’s mind had become polluted, violated by the power that ran through his veins. The man looked back at him. His beautiful green eyes leached of their color, now a cold jaundiced yellow. This was not the man who stepped onto this ship.
“That is none of your concern. Follow, without question, or face my wrath.” He said, his voice trailed off into a mumbling of some foreign tongue.
His voice was hissing, slithering, and chilling to the bone. They could not understand what he was saying, but one phrase stuck out. “Ja’ak Sith-saaraij” or “I am the True Sith”. He turned back to the hole.
The two accomplices looked to each other, knowing what language he was speaking. He was speaking the words of the Sith, the language of Korriban. They were overwhelmed with fear. The bad feelings they had previously had now decayed into pure unadulterated dread.
He stepped through the opening, tossing aside the pieces of the door. He breathed in the stale air, his eyes rolling back into his skull. The feeling rolled over him like an orgasm, causing him to lurch slightly. The members of Scholae Palatinae stepped in behind him, hands at their sides only inches from their weapons.
Occasus turned to the stasis tube, glowing blue. Inside of the tube was a gaunt pale figure. His body was desiccated and old, mummified through time. His skin was hued in red, the color of blood. Small tendrils hung from either side of his mouth. In his hands, he clutched a pyramidal prism, etched with bits of metal. Its insides beat red, as if it was alive itself.
The warlord stepped towards the stasis tube, drawing his weapon. The saber snapped to life.
He droned on in the foreign tongue, inspecting the man within. “Akrimon.” He said.
His apostles looked at each other, drawing their weapons in suit. He had mentioned that name before, they knew it was of major importance. Koryn whispered “by Darth…That’s a…”.
Xantros finished his sentence “A holocron…a Sith holocron…”
Thran’s voice became thin, wistful, and raspy. He had been reciting a monologue to the man, a quick speech. They could not understand it. He extended his hand, clutching his fist and drew it towards himself. The prism like device smashed through the glass of the stasis tube. Alarms rose up from the silence. Warning lights indicated the failure of the tube and the danger facing the being within it. The holocron gently spun as it came to the man who had beckoned it.
The moment the ornate device touched his skin, what was left of Thran Occasus erupted into laughter. It was not the laughter of humor, it was the laughter of victory. It was sinister and pure evil. He raised his prize up, glaring at it with wonder and amazement.
“I’ve done it…” he said, reverting to standard basic.
As he stared into the device, the air around him made the journeymen feel uneasy. A quake of dark energy shook the cargo bay, echoing down the halls of the vessel. It shook the vessel to its core.
A voice echoed from the device. “You have done well my Apprentice…Now, you have become the Sith’ari that will help rebuild our great Empire…”
The room went dark, swirling with a terrible energy. A bright light appeared.
“Master…” He fell to a knee. A spirit appeared. It was ghastly and white, its form identical to the being within the stasis tube.
“Rise…I will now teach you what you wish to know.” The spirit said.
Resume posting, gents.
The Wookie and the Ewok we making a great pair as they started to take the bridge of the ship. The styles they were using just seemed to fit with each other. While Zuser and the novice from Revan were taking a more defensive stand point using some sabre skill and alot of blaster fire along with the few grenades the novice had left. Explosions and force causing the dilapitated droids flying all around the bridge.
"Hey Zuser, how many you got?"the novice asking with a smile on his face.
"I count ten so far, why whats your count Kel?"
"Eight, wait make that nine." Then throwing a grenade to finish off what was left, while everyone else used the force to pile on the remaining droids to make sure they were all done for. "I am definately glad to have you at my back with your sabre Zuser."
"Likewise Kel your blaster skill is great, where you learn to shoot like that anyway?"
"Well the planet I was raised on"
"Will you two shut up," the Ewok said raising her voice with the use of the force "We have more pressing matters to attend to here. We need to find out the soure of that mysterious force energy, stop these droids and get the hell off this foresaken ship, this idle chit chat can wait until we are not about to be killed."
"Oh I am sorry when did you kill my master and take his place?" The novice saying all the while having his blaster trained on the Ewok.
"What?" Anger beginning to swell within the Ewok, "I should cut you down where stand to make an example to any who speak up against me."
"I would love to see you try you fuzzy little childs play thing."
"Gwaaurhh," Lambow with the force amplified Wookie war cry getting everyones attention, "This is exactly what this mysterious presence wants from us, betrayl. We need to focus. We need to stop getting in each others faces."
"I am sorry masters, I must remember to focus on the here and now," the young Revanite remarked, "Zuser the story,will have to wait."
Just as the words came out of his mouth the all to familiar sound of droids was all they could hear.
Post on the way.
Thran’s eyes were filled with triumph as he gazed up at the spectral form of the ancient Sith. He hungered for the wisdom to rebuild the Sith Empire, to take what he felt was rightfully his: a title, a prophecy fulfilled, and the Galaxy. The Warlord began to converse with his Master in Sithese. Koryn spoke little of the language, but managed to pick up the occasional words: ‘power’, ‘victory’, ‘death’. The Rodian glanced over at Xantros who appeared mystified by either the language or Akrimon himself, Koryn could not tell.
Koryn stepped lightly towards his comrade-in-arms, careful to make as little noise as possible for fear of drawing the attention of Thran and his Master.
“We should leave,” he suggested, his voice barely audible. The Duro shot him a puzzled look. “He usurped the throne of Cocytus. You think he would let us live when we cease to be useful to him, which I fear could be all too soon?” The Rodian’s gaze drifted back to the two Sith. They were deep in conversation, the Warlord apparently being lectured. On what, the Priest could not decipher.
“Koryn think of the possibilities,” urged Xantros. “We could be offered power beyond our wildest dreams. The Sith Lord could teach us of things lost to the annals of time, the wisdom we could gain from him; the techniques we could master.” It was unclear whether Xantros truly believed what he was saying, or had merely been poisoned by the dark energies swirling about the room, emanating from the holocron. Koryn gave a subtle shake of his head, indicating that he could not take a risk in hoping his life was spared.
The Rodian gave one last brief look towards the Sith before silently stepping towards the exit. He stopped a few paces behind his fellow Krath.
“Watch your back, my friend.” A small nod signified Xantros understood. With that, Koryn left the cargo bay, travelling further into the bowels of the ship.
“It seems that the Force has chosen your Apprentice.” Thran turned towards Xantros standing alone before him. Rage consumed him; the Rodian had betrayed him. He had turned his back on the Sith’ari and he would pay. Akrimon sensed his disciple’s frustration. “The Rodian may still be useful to you, whether you or he realise it or not.”
“He is a traitor to our Empire, Master,” spat Thran. “I would now see him dead than an ally.” A cold smile spread across the spectre’s gaunt face.
“Therein lies his purpose, my disciple. He will seek allies – the other Jedi aboard this ship.” Akrimon’s dark grin mirrored on Thran’s own face. “He will lead you to your destiny, and you shall destroy them all.”
Koryn darted through the corridors of the ship. He had no destination in mind, he just wanted to escape the dark aura that was taking over. He realised he had paid no heed to the direction he had come through the ship whilst in the company of Thran. Likely a side effect of the aura, he concluded.
Suddenly, the Rodian collapsed to his knees. Bile rose in his mouth, and a fit of coughs engulfed him. Simultaneously, he felt as if a great weight had lifted from his shoulders, yet he felt more trapped than ever. He had likely been shielded from worst of the darkness consuming the ship, having been at the proverbial eye of the storm, and had escaped into a maelstrom. The corruption was probably attacking his mind and body all at once instead of gradually as it would have the rest of the teams.
Ittu, he had almost forgotten about the others; he had been so concerned with keeping Thran’s anger in check and his own wellbeing. Picking himself up, he continued on through the corridors as quickly as he could. He had his objective, and his destination would likely be the bridge. Logic told him he would need to go up at least three or four levels.
Making his way up a flight of stairs, Koryn could hear the clattering of droids. Rounding a corner, he discovered where the noise was coming from. Grabbing his lightsaber and activating it, he realised they hadn’t opened fire, but appeared to be scanning him. Photoreceptors whirred, and more and more of the droids appeared to take an interest in him, but still there weapons stayed cold. Slowly, the Krath backed away, keeping his defences up just in case. He took off down the corridor in search of another stairwell.
Behind him, the droids processed the information, uploading it the ship brain.
It was as if there were one person with three forms in the instant that followed. As soon as Tiberius saw the crowd of droids, he immediately tossed the thermal detonator that he'd kept on his chest, a deft thumb twist setting it for a five second delay as it hit the deck and rolled forward even as the command from the speakers finished speaking. Arania drew the bridge doors back together again with a deft yank of the Force, even as Lambow ran his lightsaber down the join to weld them together. The crew of combined Houses split to the sides, allowing for the blaster barrage to begin the burn through on the door, and the focus to be set on the battle coming when it breached.
Tiberius reached into his satchel of goodies and produced a shaped charge and set it for a five second release and held his thumb on the switch, the other hand hefting his lightsaber. Mograine and Tra'an readied their lightsabers, even as Arania had finally gotten fed up with playing games of luck and chance. Reaching out to each of the Equites, she gathered their minds through the Force and melded them. When the first meld was complete, the Journeymen were next, brought in as lesser participants, and yet still there. The resulting change was almost immediate, as each felt the cloud of darkness lift and vanish from their senses, their foci were nudged and all riveted attention on the door, the rest of them readying weapons and implements for the next step.
With a cacophonous blast, the door gave and melted away almost as if it had been dipped in lava, the molten metal having reach the point of vaporization form such intense fire that the sudden vanishing lead the an equalization in the pressure. Steadying their nerves, the Dark Jedi Master among them commanded simply, "In pairs." With precision, Lambow sent a blinding flash of light to overload the optic sensors of the droids, even as the others headed their guiding power and closed their eyes. Trusting in the pressure in his mind, Tiberius followed it almost instantly with the shaped charge and set the timer to proximity explosion.
When it passed through the still dripping door as the droids closed in mindlessly to flood the corridor, it sent a barrage of magnetic shrapnel flying through the room. Even as the droids optic sensors came back online, they were faced with a sharp metal pieces propelled at astonishing speeds that not only damaged through sheer force, but played hell with their circuitry through current imbalances and overloads due to the magnetization. Tra'an was next, peeking around the side with his trusty E11-b Blaster Rifle and opened up to full automatic, letting the bolts fly in a well-paced spray across the front of the grouping closest to the door. Pulling back around the door, the rifle's power pack chamber opened and ejected the overused pack, the steaming hissing mess hitting the nearby wall.
With warning provided by Arania's well governed instincts, Tra'an sprinted away from his cover and skidded down the corridor moments before the bulkhead he leaned against began to glow cherry red. Tiberius set some well emplaced positional traps at low heights as he was covered by the well timed defensive skills of Alaris and Lambow, before they retreated and grabbed him by the collar. The entire party retreated around the corner before the rest of the bulkhead finally melted and the droids emerged in lock step at four droids across. With patience and trepidation, Tra'an covered the rear point, flanked by Mograine and Eiko.
As the first set of droids tripped Tiberius's special toys, the entire corridor erupted with a hellish concoction of thermite and phrik shards. The expensive anti-droid device superheated the rare conductive metal and ignited a miniature lightning storm that effectively fried the entire first four ranks of droids before Arania made it worse. Bringing the combined might of the meld to bear, she sent a massive wave and forced the storm of ignited ionic material into the bridge exterior and fried almost half of the remaining droids before it collapsed.
The entire deck shuddered and groaned as the corridor began to sag from the extreme heat, warping in places as it rapidly cooled. Rushing forward, Lambow, Alaris, and Callus jumped into the fray, bring perfect precision together in a triad of sheer offense. As they engaged the remaining droids and slogged through the misshapen remains, the next set of Dark Jedi jumped the exterior corridor and moved to fill the opening in the center of the line and expanded the confrontation, thinning the droids out. As the rear group finally made the transition, a hole opened to the next deck, exposing a twisting warren of darkness and wires covered in semi-molten slag.
With the last of the droids dispatched, Arania fell to a knee, strained from holding the meld so long and coordinating so many different actions. She let it go and they focused together. Tra'an turned at once to the Ewok. "This place is damaged beyond use. Why did you return us here when we'd already been here?" All eyes turned to their defacto leader by measure of power and awaited her answer, even as they tended to their wounds or those of their comrades.
"You've been here before, Tra'an," Eiko replied, his voice muffled by the mask and the wounds that were slowly drying. "I don't assume we'll pilot this ship, what with its armies already moving here. We can salvage all we want, but this ship has to burn."
"The Palatinae's ship was destroyed. With the ship's defenses online and with this interference blocking every kriffing signal on the ship, we can't speak to our ships so they can evacuate us - and you've brought us down a dead-end road. You've cornered us," Tra'an glared at the shorter Quaestor.
"Don't give the nexus a foothold." Eiko pulled the mask off his face, turning away from the group as he gasped; the air hit the blisters and hypersensitive nerves. He felt the tightness in his throat again, the raw skin tingling on the edge of pain. You wanted to see so badly, didn't you? You wanted to know what the ship knew.
Eiko managed a slight smile, keeping his cheeks from moving much as the tingling shifted into the spikes and prickles of the burn. The price for knowledge was steep, but what fragmented information he had now was worth more than years of study - scholars had lusted for this much, and it had fallen into his hands.
"We're not using the bridge," Arania spoke up at she slowly stood up. "At least, not for its equipment. Corrupted as he is, Thran won't let us leave alive."
"There's no way to leave," Callus repeated. "You lost your landing craft. We can't get a shuttle from our ships into the shields without losing them to the ship's defenses. We are here."
"We were fine communicating between ships before we boarded. The interference is being generated from inside. If it's the shields... Tra'an, Arania: we can't let this ship stay. We can't pilot it - not with a hostile core sabotaging our efforts." Eiko replaced the mask and turned around.
"We could reverse the order that set the droids to kill everything on the ship." James stepped over to his master's side, lowering his voice. "Are you doing alright?"
Eiko waved his hand to dismiss the thought, still drawing lightly on the Force to staunch the pain whenever it bubbled to the surface. "We can't get into the system again - the first few times, perhaps, we had a chance. Now, with the system very much awake, the droid core has taken to destroying its own terminals."
James felt the chill run along his arms and shoulders as the smell and the sight of Eiko's wounding flashed into his memory, tipping him from the calm that he had collected into the waves of fear. His jaw tightened involuntarily and he stared first at the floor, then out the massive viewports, then back to the floor as he tried to return to natural breathing.
"If we destroy the droid brain, we might be able to keep the ship together long enough to salvage pieces from it," Eiko continued, "but no one will be able to keep the whole ship. Even after the brain is shut down, we'll still have Thran to deal with, and the damage that originally crippled this ship. If we stay here, Thran will come to us - even as strong as you say he is, we stand a better chance here than in a hallway. All our enemies will come from one direction."
Tra'an heard the voice of a boy underneath the mask - without his own mask, Eiko's voice was nothing but ordinary. Still, he spoke sense. "No one knows how we're getting off of this ship."
"James might be right - the interference might be from the droids or the droid brain. With the source gone, we should be able to move forward. I'd suggest that taking extra guests on the Ballista would be the best way for them to get back into their own territory."
"Why not the Deep Ice?" Tra'an asked caustically.
"Thran. Perhaps it'd be best to leave him in the control of the Right Hand of Justice - and a House with the resources and skill to subdue him." Patronizing, Eiko noted to himself, almost sorry that he couldn't threaten the former Revanite. "If you feel that your ship wouldn't be sufficient, then I'll extend safe passage on the Deep Ice to any member of Scholae Palatinae returning to Judecca or Antei."
Arania seemed to be recovering her strength quickly, moving more and more as she stepped into the center of the conversation. "No matter what, the brain has to die before we can get out."
Tra'an nodded. "There was a map a few levels below - at the emergency auxiliary bridge."
"The power-draw for even a simple intelligence unit would probably force it to be near the main power supply," Eiko muttered. "Considering its value, it may be on the other side of the main droid forces. And Thran will chase us, no matter where we go."
Callus nodded. "We should take on Thran here - on our terms. We can handle the droids while we wait."
"House Revan votes that we hold the bridge first," Eiko spoke up, the formality acknowledging the lines between the Houses that still were dictating the group's survival.
Oppressor Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
What remains of the Main Bridge
Lambow growled and bellowed, and there was more than a hint of frustration in the wookie's voice.
"The bridge," Arania nodded. "A dead end means we have our back protected. As there is no way off the ship at the moment, we do not need to think about an escape route before the droids are dealt with. But Lambow is right. As him and me have speculated on before, it seems more and more likely that the droid brain is not centralized. More likely, it has several nodes all through the ship, with a few of them acting as core. With the extensive damage the ship has, it would have shut down ages ago otherwise. Now we could - or rather I could - crawl through the small access tunnels and hack away every node to be found. But it would take ages, and we do not have that much time. We will need to locate the central nodes."
Eiko thought about this for a moment, his hands making fists without him noticing. "Those would still need to be close to a major energy supply, right?"
Tiberius nodded. "It would have been an easy thing to scan for if our equipment would work. but we might have taken out one of them just now." He pointed at the tell-tale signs of melted high power conducts in the destroyed ground plates.
With a tilt of his head, Tra'an thought about it. "I can't be made to like fighting in a dead end, but i see no better alternative. When do you expect Thran to be here?"
"He is already on his way," Arania answered, and from the Ewok's voice, it was not clear if she looked forward to it or considered it a dangerous nuisance. "And he is not alone."
"Yes, we know, his two lackeys..." Callus started, but the woman cut him off with a move of her hand.
"I'm not talking of them. It is new Master I am worried about. The voice he has been hearing - it is even stronger now. And there is someone else, too.." Arania shook her furry head. "Too much Force swirls to see the details." She didn't mention her real worry; that the new Master Thran followed was in fact a very old one and way too powerful for her to deal with. The kind of power she felt reminded her of minor confrontations she had had with one Brotherhood Grand Master or the other. But it was even more... rooted in the Force. And more warped. It was impossible to describe. And another dark mind, as powerful as the one with Thran, seemed to be lurking just around the corner. Maybe she was losing it now.
Lambow was the only one who was able to see the short flash of doubt on Arania's face. He was able to read other furry creatures' expression a good deal better than everyone else around here, but even he almost missed it. Again, he growled. His vocator seemed to be gone for good.
"This new Master," Alaris contemplated, eyes half closed and feeling into the Force, "is from this ship, yes? A remnant spirit? Maybe it would be possible to..."
"More droids!" Zuser interrupted the train of thought. And sure enough, sounds could be heard from the corridor again. "This is getting too repetitive for my taste. And we will run out of resources before they do."
"No droids. Someone else is coming," Mograine exclaimed. "It sounds like he's running at full speed."
"Thran?" Kel suspected.
"That would be too fast." Tra'an readied himself like all the others. "and I doubt the madman would run from the droids, he is more the type to dive right into them, I think."
The Ewok had closed her eyes for for a moment. "Koryn," she said calmly as she opened them again. "He does seem to have broken free from Occasus' destructive influence."
Tra'an's E11-b was already aimed at the direction of the sound that was now getting very close. "Can we be sure of it?" he inquired.
"It would be wrong to take anything for sure on this ship," the Dark Jedi Master answered. Ripples of anger were coming from her through the Force. "But don't kill him unless he attacks first."
The Rodian charged around the bend of the corridor a moment later, very much out of breath and with a wild look in his eyes. Lacking the protection of the group, he looked like he was about to lose control of himself any minute.
"He might be free from Occasus, alright," Kel said. "But this isn't much better in my book."
Koryn slithered to a halt in front of them, breathing heavily. He stared at the blaster pointed at him as if he had never seen such a thing before. Then he visibly calmed down. "Tra'an?" he asked in a hoarse voice.
"Who else would that be? What were you running from?" Zuser inquired.
Shaking his head, the Rodian tried to remember. "Too much darkness, all uncontrolled," he gasped. "All came at me.. at once."
"Of course." Alaris took a step ahead of the others and focused on the man. "Where is Thran now? And what is he doing?"
"Cargo... cargo bay. When I left... anyway." Koryn slid down a warped wall and tried hard to compose himself. "With his new Master."
"Who is that?" Alaris spat. "Speak already, or..."
"Fight the nexus," Eiko reminded everyone. Easier said then done, he felt the urge to kill and destroy pushing at him.
"Stasis chambers. Two of them." Finally, he could breathe normally again. The Rodian turned his attention to the Ewok now kneeling next to him and scrutinizing him. "I am fine now, really. There were two stasis chambers, one of them empty. Thran opened the other. His Master's." Feeling far from fine, Koryn didn't want to appear weak and slowly stood up again. "Akrimon. That's the name. Akrimon, the Sith Lord."
Eiko stumbled back. "The other stasis chamber... was there a name to it?"
"No. I mean, I do not know. I had no chance to check." Koryn blinked. "It was empty and out of order. It didn't seem important at that time, either."
"Akrimon had... or has... a rival," Eiko explained. "And I remember the Force lightning residue we felt earlier while climbing up here."
"Wonderful." Koryn looked at everyone to see if someone might suddenly have red eyes. "Is anyone feeling funny, maybe? Asides from the standard creepy feeling in here?"
"If he is out of his chamber," Arania mused, "he might not need to lock onto someone else. Eiko, what do you know about this?" The Krath's eyes blazed with curiosity and annoyance from missing a probably vital information.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
Fighter Repair Bay I-6b, Hull Compromised
Security Holonet Override - Droid Brain, Active
droid brain shifted its many myriad functions and duties to its septuple server cores, each controlling millions of mirco-commands and processing hundreds of thousands of new stimuli every microsecond. All operated simultaneously, all worked with the full efficiency of the droid brain, and the brain percieved every second of it as clearly as the most-studious organic being; at times, its own upgraded efficiency astounded itself. A warning warble of feedback nearly overrode that thought process, but the rampant machine quickly filed that under useless data and purged it; it had been aware of the personality quirks and erratic code strings within its own processors for centuries, and had become quite accustomed to them. Focusing on the holocams in the repair bay that its primary focal processes had zeroed in on, it watched as thousands of combat droids in nearly every make, model, style, and improvised improvement closed in on the oblong, overturned vessel that had blasted its way into the Merciless's side and triggered the ship's shields. It took special attention as the combat droids, synchronized beyond needing any leader, sent a unified request its way.
The droid brain quickly took in the data from a myriad of floating, wheeling, and crawling sensor units and deciphered it, breaking down what it could and couldn't understand. Basic words like Firespray
and designations such as S-1 were categorized under unconfirmed data, not matching anything in its database except the vague similarity it had in shape to the archaic S-250 Chela
-Class of the accursed Republic. Finally, it came down with a named designation, relaying it to the mobile weapons it observed.
The sound of a metallic clang resounded as a grate from above fell away, a dark form falling toward droids that screeched out in alarm - and the holocam froze. A shriek of infuriated feedback erupted from the droid brain as it tried every reroute to other cameras, found each one in the same state, shifting and buzzing with static. The image remained exactly the same for several minutes, frozen as some ancient recording machine might have been, before blinking to white static. A quick series of restart commands brought them back online; the image they portrayed sent another cascade of erratic rage through the machine's circuits, frying several minor wires. Thousands of battle droids were in pieces, blasted apart or rent by a lightsaber, some crushed into tiny balls while others had clearly been burnt and warped by Force lightning. The twitching leg of one in particular stuck out from the durasteel wall, its mangled form touching the image's peripheral edges.
And the Relentless
was upright and in position for boarding.
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Barracks Unit 92-g
Converted Meditation Chamber
Xantros' silence could be held no longer as he watched the spectre of Akrimon stand above Thran, whose eyes were closed and whose brow was coated in sweat. The Duro could feel the emanations of the Force between Ocassus and the Holocron as the Warlord focused, exercising his will and mental ability on its complex and devious traps. Something was wrong; he had to speak.
"Master?" He asked cautiously, before sharpening his tone as it was met with silence. "Thran. Something's out of place."
"Silence, worm!" Akrimon snarled at him, "Or I'll destroy you and-"
"Be my guest." The red-eyed Palatinaean replied, spreading his arms wide. The darkness around Thran was real, but it seemed to emanate from him. Akrimon's spectre wasn't the source. "You can't, can you?"
"Pathetic ingrate." The ghostly Draethos growled in reply, his already-fearsome face twisted into an enraged glare. "If you could fathom even a hint-"
"Oh, shut up." Xantros replied, walking clean through the apparition. It didn't stop him. Placing a green hand on Thran's shoulder, he tugged faintly. "Thran, we have to-"
The minimal light in the room seemed to dim and the air thicken as Xantros was hurled backward, slamming into a durasteel wall without any apparent source. It was as if a tendril of the entity within Thran had lashed out, sending a Force blast from the Warlord's subconscious. Standing, shaking disorientation from his head, the Duro stood and watched them. Thran began to chant faintly, his still form beginning to hobble back and forth as the holocron lifted into the air. Slowly, it began to revolve, before spinning faster and faster; Ocassus' words intensified in their fervor as the spinning increased, until the pyramidal device was a blur and the Sith was nearly shouting. Finally, it stopped in mid-air, the top cracking open and curling apart.
"At last..." Thran said, looking up to his Master. "At last, Master, I've succeeded. Caliburnus will be mine!"
"Indeed." The Draethos smiled. Then he flickered.
It clicked in Xantros' mind, even before the darkness in Thran and that in the Holocron met. "It's a Gatekeeper. Thran, no!"
Five tendrils of blue-white lightning ripped free from the holocron, throwing Xantros down a hallway as the air around the holocron was whipped into a fury. The Gatekeeper of Akrimon diminished in size to its proper inch-high figure before vanishing entirely, a shadow seeming to pour through it. The darkness within Ocassus left for but an instant, his mind becoming lucid and confused for terrifying seconds as his Equite power was utterly dwarfed before this blackened thing; then, lifting into the air with a pained howl, his consciousness found itself subdued and locked away as the shadow merged with his body. Without prelude, he collapsed to the ground, the holocron setting down neatly beside him.
Xantros groaned in pain, standing and fighting the aches that now cascaded through his body; seeing Ocassus, he rushed to his fallen comrade. "Thran!"
The Warlord's eyes snapped open; the jaundiced yellow intensified to sulfuric gold as every vein nearby swelled with blood, seeming to turn the whites of his eyes red. Veins along his temple bulged and musculature along his body swelled and tensed. Lifting from the air, he floated above the ground for a few seconds before extending a hand to his fallen saber, which flipped obediently into its Master's grip. Setting down, he threw his head backward, roaring with laughter born only from success. It stopped Xantros in his tracks; the tone of Thran's voice was overlayed by a second, this one far more of a reptilian growl.
"At last," He uttered, "I live again." Turning to Xantros, the not-Thran's eyes became a picture of fury, his empty hand extending a finger curled like a claw. "You. Defiant one."
"It's... you." Xantros said, his blood running cold. There was no mistaking this one; Ocassus' mind, if still existing inside of this body, was clearly helpless inside of his own head. Now, a Lord of the Sith had taken his place; the Gatekeeper posing as his spectre had been merely unsettling. This beast was the definition of horror. "Darth Akrimon."
"Kneel," Akrimon roared, "Or be destroyed."
Oppressor-Class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Outside Brain Core 7
The maelstrom of blaster fire and missile launches seemed to illuminate the Ewok as she flipped about, leaping toward and off of droids even as her shoto rent them to pieces. A burst of purple lightning sent a crab-shaped droid flying toward a durasteel wall as her blade took a humanoid model's head off; she felt the heat of blaster bolts as they intensified their fire on her, forcing her to spin and dance as her saber formed a whirring and growling barrier. Alongside her, Lambow's ferocity and skill tore through the machines as soon as he could near them, the blades of Tra'an, Mograine, Tiberius, and Kalak aiding him in his plight. Through the Force meld, each of them moved in perfect unison, the ball of Equite fury finally allowing them the leverage to move foot by precious foot through the throng. Eiko, Callus, Dante, and Alaris formed a third prong, while James, Zuser, Imichua, and Kel assaulted from a fourth. Together, the group slowly ripped its way through the waves of droids, fifty fallen turning to a hundred and then two as they cleared a corridor. As one, they all silenced their blades, panting and gasping for air. All had minor grazes and edge burns from blaster bolts, even Arania; none had escaped unscathed.
"We," Tra'an panted, his facial features warping faintly as his fatigue affected his shapeshifting abilities, "Cannot... keep... doing this."
"Are... you... kidding?" Callus asked, the heat of battle still within his veins. "I could do this all day!"
"Quiet." Eiko said, one hand pressed to his adopted mask; some wetness at his collar told that the intense combat and speed of his heartrate had re-opened a few cauterized blood cells. "Feel the Force around us."
"What about it? It feels..." Tiberius chipped in, before stopping in shock. "It feels fine."
"The nexus!" Arania exclaimed, her senses awry. "It's-"
Immediately, all of their minds erupted in agony, a shriek of ten thousand voices echoing and bashing against every corner of their skulls. The pain of it was enough to make them all clutch their ears, dropping them to their knees as the noise made the floor seem to reverberate. Arania's vision became clouded with black spots; a trickle of blood began to run from Zuser's nose as Callus's hands let slip a line of crimson fluid from his left ear. Alaris' lekku twitched in insane agony and Kalak's teeth gritted together so tightly that they nearly cracked. Then, in an instant, it was gone.
Groaning as one, the group stood upright, shaking their heads. "What in the blazes..." Kell began, before the characteristic clattering began once more. "Not these again!"
The droids poured through in a maelstrom, nearly five hundred this time; as one, they assaulted the unprepared group, who curled into a defensive ball of lightsaber and Force power. With the meld destroyed and no concentration to get it back, every one of them knew they had no chance. "Zuser!" Arania cried, "The door!"
Plunging his saber into the only door in the hall, Whuloc quickly carved a wide hole in it, his Padawan-styled braid nearly being burnt off by a stray bolt before he kicked the panel and dove inside. One by one, all of the Dark Jedi leapt into it, Arania last; her saber batted a few blasts away before she made a mighty pulling gesture, several mechanical shapes being forced together through the hole. Effectively jamming it, the machines lost any chance to fight as six lightsabers stabbed into them in unison, none hacking parts off but all deadening a machine. The barrage quickly began to heat the door, which began to glow red.
"What do we do now?!" Kel shouted in frustration, throwing down his rifle. "We're stuck like... woah." His eyes widened as he looked around, taking in hundreds of screens, cables, terminals, and wires. A gigantic machine sat at the center, blinking lights and holodisplays giving read-outs and instructions.
"Move." Arania snarled, pushing the Novice aside. She read the words along the side of the machine, translating the Sith characters in her head before her eyes widened. "Core seven..." She said, before looking back to them and pointing at it. "It's a server core for the droid brain. We've found it."
"So what do we do now?" Eiko asked, his remaining eyebrow raised behind the mask. His face's mutilation warred with a lust for more knowledge. "We need to-"
"Simple. We do this." Alaris' blade flashed to life, not waiting for permission.
Green plasma carved first one slash through the machine before being joined by Tra'an's blade, then Mograine's, and then by the rest of them as they began destroying everything in the room. Arania finished off the sequence, violet arcs of electricity bursting from her paws to cascade across it all and fry everything. An audible frenzy of feedback sounded outside of the nearly-molten door, the fire against it stopping entirely. With a Force push, the Ewok knocked aside the disintegrating portal with little effort, her eyes widening as she took in the scene before her. It was chaos.
Droids skittered back and forth as if drunk, some models ran into one another, others sitting still. Those on the ceiling had plunged as if their magnetics had ceased to work, their legs kicking. By no means were they dead; these were clearly recalibrating themselves. One of the humanoid droids seemed to reach success first, blasting a bolt at Callus that was summarily deflected. Arania needed no more preamble to yell an order.
"Slaughter them!" She shouted, leaping out as the Dark Jedi assembled on the disoriented machines. This five hundred never stood a chance.
Oppressor-class Battle Cruiser Merciless
Barracks Unit 92-g
Converted Meditation Chamber
"Why?" The Duro found himself asking, about the entire situation. "Why all of this?"
"Why? Well, power, of course." Akrimon said. "Have you not witnessed my dark mastery already? Even when dormant, I can inspire devastating abilities in my followers."
"Dormant?" Xantros asked, before hearing the telltale skitter of droid feet. His blade leapt to life as machines began to saunter out, none of them aiming their cannons.
"Stand down." Arkimon growled, his hand waving the Knight off. "These machines serve me. In a way, they always have."
Xantros' eyes felt as if they would fall from his skull as he watched the droids take kneeling positions, the Sith Lord before him waving them off to their various duties. The Force nexus on the air was gone; for the first time in what felt like years, the Battleteam Leader could think clearly again. Instead, all of the dark energy that had permeated everything seemed to be flowing from the holocron, ever filling Thran's consciousness. An idea formed in the Duros' head. The holocron... it's transferring him into Thran. It's not done yet.
"You said that you were dormant." Xantros said, green face taking a confused cast. "You've spoken to Thran this whole time."
"My Gatekeeper, fool." Akrimon replied, waving him away as if it were obvious. "My power alone when in spiritual form is enough to taint the area; the Gatekeeper needs little help to whisper to my followers." Turning, the Sith looked into a stray shard of glass, seeing his reflection. He seemed to be sizing Thran's form up. "This body will do. Even if its owner was a fool worshipping a relic." Looking to the Duros, Akrimon's eyes tightened as he beckoned Xantros forward. "Come. I would destroy the Jedi before we leave this place."
"Our mission?" Xantros inquired.
"Isn't it clear?" Akrimon replied. "To clear your wretched 'Brotherhood' and all of the other fools pretending at power in this Galaxy. To rebuild; to start the Empire anew." Akrimon's eyes closed as he shook his head, apparently still struggling with a tide of memories. "This cosmos has long needed the touch of a true Sith to give it strength; I am the first, and you shall be my first student." Turning, the Sith began walking toward another corridor. "Come."
His words were met only with the ignition of a lightsaber blade, the furious expression of Xantros, and the words that emitted from the Duros' noseless face as he eyed Akrimon's holocron. "For the Empire."
The droid slaughter was over within mere seconds. The quickest to recover were those first targeted by the adept users of the living power. A quick huddle in a circle served to allow them to watch each other's backs as they brainstormed. "One down, five to go, said the shapeshifting head of House Plagueis, "and yes, I know there are seven, but we'll never get the one in engineering. I suggest that we concentrate on taking out the other five and then cutting the control runs outside of the end section. It'll keep the damned thing from interfering with our ability to leave, though there won't be a ship left likely enough when we're done." A couple of quick glances around the group were confirmed when Eiko cleared his throat and made to give a suggestion, before he was abruptly cut off by Alaris.
"Look, I understand that you are in dire want of more information. This ship and your greed has already cost you your face human, is that not enough? Must it also cost us our lives? We do not have the luxury of trying to salvage or mine these things. Be done with the thought!" The last was said with a snarl, the risks being enough to unnerve even a seasoned warrior such as Jinn. The thoughtful looks passed between everyone else, finished by a nod from Arania sealed that idea away.
Callus stepped forward, "Then the next question is how we go about doing this. We are A, dodging untold number of combat ready droids of differing types and styles that are all extremely deadly; B, running from one of our own who is delusional at best and been suppressed by a Dark Wraith at worst, one that can apparently summon Force Lightening. That being the case, I fear we've stumbled upon the hiding place of one of the last Lords of the Sith. Such is implied by the video we saw before Eiko," Callus stumbled for a moment before regaining his composure, " was injured. Lastly, let us not forget the Droid Brain controlling the droids and the rest of this ship. It's obviously not foolish and is well aware of the Force and what can and cannot be done with it."
As he stepped back, Mograine moved forward. "Our biggest issue is surviving more droid waves in the hundreds or thousands. Even if we stick to back corridors and traversing maintenance passages, we can still be out numbered, cornered, and rendered unto death. We must carefully choose our plan of attack to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. I suggest splitting into three groups. The first two are server hunters, out to cripple the droid brain and its army. The last is Arania and Lambow. With him to use as transport," a roar of protest surged forth from the Wookiee, leading to gibberish from the translator, before Arania shushed him, "she can stay just ahead of our biggest threat, serving as a mobile lure while we keep the droids away from them both."
As he stepped back, the ship was displayed again on a portable holo-comm that Tra'an had brought along for the purpose. Some sections were still in gray, but everything all of them had covered was well filled in thanks to the similar devices each Plagueian carried. "We've roughly sixty-five percent of the ship mapped. The best thing to do is to plug one of these into the electoral runs and get it to ping for the server locations, and go from there. What say you all, can we do this? Or do we stick it out together and try to make it as a single group?"
All eyes turned to the Wookiee and the Ewok as the thoughts percolated. It would be up to them to execute the most dangerous portion of the mission if they agreed to it. Time was running out, all other options seemed exhausted, and all of them were run ragged. Cooperation was their only hope, and a little bit of luck wouldn't hurt.
The big Wookie took a deep breath. Calling upon the Force, he let the flow of energy pour through him, revitalizing sore and tired muscles, putting to heal the various scorch marks from blaster burns that had come way to close. Centering himself in the Force, he knew that he was at a crossroads. They all were.
In his enhanced state, he merely nodded at the Ewok by him. Through their brief connection, she nodded back.
“We have no choice. Thus we must succeed. Normally this is when we say some trite about surviving and all that frizz, but we choose not to. We will fight and prevail because damn it, we’re too damn good to do otherwise. Besides, dying as a Ewok doesn’t suit me.”
She mounted the already waiting Wookie. “Stay alert, and we’ll see you soon. Complete your missions.”
With that, they left.
“So where do you think we should head to?”
The Wookie answered, and she nodded her head. “Good idea. Not only do we attract them to us, but we can clear out a path to some sort of extraction point in the hangar bay as well. Maybe even long enough to either find a way out or clear an area long enough for a combat extraction.”
The Wookie stopped suddenly, and then brayed at something above. She looked up, and understood. “Let’s go. I’m positive the brain knows our exact position now and is vectoring droids our way.”
They passed a few corridors unmolested. The wait grew heavier, the expectations of overwhelming forces to be brought to bear was almost tangible. Then they knew they were there.
There was no need to talk. With their simultaneous ignition of their lightsabers, the battle was joined. As before, with his dual emerald lightsabers, they wove a complicated yet beautiful net of energy that denied passage from most incoming blaster bolts. Normally not concerned with accuracy, the bolts were reflected back in such a way that it was impossible to not miss hitting something.
As deadly as his dance was, the Ewok Master was something else entirely. The first droid that had approached was instantly crushed through the Force, and then the various bolts and parts were ripped apart. With incredible speed, every scrap part was then accelerated through the mass of combat droids, penetrating armor as if it wasn’t there. Scores of combat droids fell, yet more took their place.
The air was getting heavy with blaster bolts. Arania knew that the Wookie was getting overwhelmed. She knew that it was not their destiny to die here, and she grew angry that some mere droids were blocking their way.
She was done with this. She didn’t like to pull upon the Force in this way, but she saw no other choice.
She returned her now shut down lightsaber to her belt, almost automatically. Through the Force, she felt the current of Dark Side power, the energies of the living Force that was surrounding them. She instantly channeled this current, and became a lightning rod.
Out of her nails burst forth the crackle of displaced air, mega-jules of electricity pouring forth. The power sought out and was enhanced by the power cores of the droids, and then the renewed power sought forth yet another target, and another, and another, all in an ever increasing pattern. First two, then four, then sixteen, and so on.
Within a second, every droid in the area was being attacked by the Force lighting, their power reactors overloading.
Then they all blew, one after the other.
The Wookie and the Ewok hit the deck, with the Wookie using the Force to prop up the chassis of a destroyed droid as a projectile shield. He also put up a low-level shield that protected them from the effects of the blasts, but when it was all done and over, they were dazed, but alive.
They gazed at the carnage around them. The explosion of about two hundred had utterly sundered apart the other few hundred. It was time to go.
The Wookie walked forward and picked up a few objects here and there. The Ewok saw them as power packs for blasters that had miraculously been spared exploding. He mentioned just one word, and she understood. Used properly, they could be set and used as grenades.
She smacked her dry lips, her body now paying the price for such a raw display of power. “It’s time to go. Let’s move.”
The Wookie said nothing, but she climbed on him and they departed.
The scores of droids that were destroyed on the floor did not notice their departure.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
Somewhere in the belly of the beast
The small control room was smelling of ozone and old machine oil. The only light came from the blinking panels in front of Akrimon, illuminating Thran's face in an eerie way. It was cramped with two people, but that was not the reason Xanthros felt like running out of here. Akrimon was mumbling to himself, and it felt like the madness Thran had expressed so often was for some reason combined with the newly discovered Sith Lord.
"Knowledge," Akrimon suddenly said. "I need to know what has happened on this ship in all those years. And what is going on ourside." The Sith Lord threw a sneering glance at Xanthros' uncomprehending face. "You wanted to know what we are doing in here, now you do. Even a feeble mind like yours should understand that knowledge is power." Not wasting time to wait for a reply, Akrimon called up a display of the area of space around the vessel. "Two ships. None of them belonging to a group the former owner of this body had any connection to. How unfortunate, but we will make do."
Xanthros had already suspected that Akrimon would not settle for this old, derelict ship. Useful as the droid brain and its droid army might be against a few unprepared members of the Brotherhood, there was just too much damage and too much outdated technology. But that train of thought made him realize something else.
They had found a holocron, not a body, in the stasis pod. This likely meant that Akrimon's original plans had gone awry somewhere – no one liked to have to take the first possible body of someone else, if at all. Arania was the best example for that. In turn, to Xanthros this meant that the Sith Lord had made crucial errors before, or maybe it was just that he had had an enemy stronger than he was. And something that he had learned from Thran – with arrogance came errors – might eventually prove his wannabe master's downfall. He might be able to become a Force ghost, or something alike, but even the mightiest Lord would eventually neglect his guard.
Xanthros would just have to go along and wait for an opportunity. Asides, there were the others on this ship, likely already devising a plan to rectify the situation.
Oppressor-Class Cruiser Merciless
Transport Junktion 12, Deck 12
"This isn't going to work." Trying to keep frustration out of her voice, Arania stood in the middle of yet more droid junk. "Thran - or whoever controls him now - isn't coming to us. There has been enough time, even considering the size of the ship."
The wookie growled his agreement, then pointed to one of the many lift shafts around the large open toom they were in. "Going to through all the decks might help you locate him faster."
"Hopefully he is not after the others yet, but it does not feel that way." Since Thran had become something else, the Ewok had a hard time locating his presence at all, but there had been no disturbance in the Force to show the rest of their stranded group was in trouble. "So what would I do if I was a just awakened Sith Lord from the past, stuck in Thran's body?"
"Find a better body," Lambow bellowed.
"That, too, but I would first look for information. A lot has happened in all that time. And then I'd check up on the Brotherhood ships and would possibly try to get one or both of them."
"All by yourself?" Lambow lifted Arania up and placed her on his back again before entering the shaft.
"I'm talking about a Sith Lord's power. Would you doubt any of our Grand Masters to achieve the same?"
Lambow chuckled as he started climbing downwards as he had done a few times before. Obviously, he doubted the ability of at least one of their former leaders. "Maybe we should try and trap that guy into your body. Would confuse him more than it did you I bet."
'That guy' wasn't quite a good translation from Shiriiwook and conveyed a lot of negative opinion, something translators wouldn't have picked up. "He might be stuck in Thran's body," Arania warned, "and his mind might be gone to the mad side somewhat, but to become so powerful, he definitely was not born this morning. Or whatever morning his existence was put on hold. As for trapping him in my body - not a fan of that idea, even if it would be workable."
As the wookie climbed downward, cursing ancient Sith Lords coming back from the not-quite-so grave, the basic idea of making the menace change bodies again would be sound. To be powerful enough, even Akrimon needed the midichlorians. It had been quite an effort for Arania to achieve stability in her new body. In theory, this stability could be undone and trap Akrimon - at least for a while. It was what one of the Light Jedi might consider - and likely fail with it.