The dull reverberation of hyperspace ran through the soles of Teroch’s combat boots. He sat on his bunk, oblivious to the goings on around him. Not that there was much to be oblivious to, mind. The entire squad had taken Sashar and Zandro’s deaths hard. They’d all separated off to cope with grief their own, private ways. Malidir was propping up the officer’s mess bar, the bartender droid too terrified to take a bottle of Whyren’s reserve whiskey off him. Juda had thrown himself into the infirmary, helping out in various surgeries which Arcona had accumulated after the battle. Kieran was busy beating the osik out of a training dummy down in one of the Eye of the Abyss’ many gyms, and the other members of the squad were just as preoccupied, preferring to distract themselves rather than deal with the grief.
Teroch, however, couldn’t bring himself to do any of that. He’d gone, had a shower, robotically eaten and drank something, grateful that the adrenaline come-down had him exhausted, but beyond that, all he could do was stare at the floor in disbelief. Sashar had been his father. His mentor. He was larger than life, a legend both in and out of Arcona, and had always been as sturdy as his Mighty Guard. It’d fall to the youth to tell Briikase, Trikar and Mirta, his siblings. Likewise, he’d need to confirm it for Voden, Sashar’s partner. Privately, he expected that Voden already knew; the pair’s Force bond had been strong, and Voden would’ve doubtlessly felt the effects, through the Force itself.
The door hissed open and someone entered. Teroch didn’t even bother looking up; he barely registered the sound. A weight bent the bunk next to him, and he felt the brush of combat fatigues at his shoulder. He spared a weary glance to his side and through his inky black locks he made eye contact with Talos Erinos. The Aedile looked how Teroch felt; bone tired, stunned into disbelief and absolutely gutted. To his credit, he didn’t bother trying to console the youth with some trite osik about how Sashar wouldn’t want Teroch to mope about like this, not when he had a squad to lead, he simply produced something from his pocket. It took a moment for the Kiffar to realise what it was; a pack of Sashar’s favourite cigarettes, and his favourite lighter.
He must’ve left them behind.Shab, is there nothing he didn’t plan out?
The lighter was fashioned from beskar, an expensive commodity, but worth it. Emblazoned onto the dull gunmetal grey casing was Sashar’s own emblem, which several of the Erinos sported on their shoulders signifying that they’d survived being apprenticed to him. Talos rubbed his thumb over the sigil, took two cigarettes from the pack, brought them both to his lips and lit them. He then handed one to Teroch, who accepted it numbly.
They smoked in silence. A comfortable silence. There was no ash tray available, so both cigarettes were simply flicked to the floor once down. Teroch turned to Talos, grateful for his silence, grief writ over his features.
He tried to form the words, but floundered and ended up just getting frustrated with himself, which resulted in him punching the wall behind his bunk.
“I know.” Talos said simply, taking Teroch’s now-bloodied hand in his own, looking at the injury.
Their eye contact was sustained. Needing a release, a distraction, hell, anything, Teroch moved in for the kiss.
The Eye of the Abyss arrived with the majority of the fleet the following morning, and shuttles were busy running to and from Giletta Spaceport for most of the day. Naturally, the foxtrots were first off the boat. As soon as Soulfire touched down, Malidir had the squad muster in the ready room for orders. Teroch sat down, already missing Talos, and zoned out whilst the Farmer-come-resident-hardass tried valiantly to boost the squad’s spirits a bit.
He blinked twice when his name was mentioned. “Huh?”
“You’re making dinner, Ter. Get to it. You’re feeding over a hundred hungry commandoes.”
“Oh. Alright.” He said, oddly disconnected from reality.
Without waiting for further instructions, he got up and crossed through to the large industrial-sized kitchen (of Sashar’s own design), but rather than begin preparations and marshalling the droids waiting dormantly, he slipped out of the back entrance to the kitchen, opened a maintenance hatch, and proceeded into the depths of the Citadel.
Most of the structure was old. Prohibitively so, as it’d been built directly into a mountain. Once Arcona had moved in and built a Citadel directly on top of the old Shadesworn temple, much of the innards had been gutted. However, there were certain points where the two crossed guts, as it were, and in one such locale was the youth able to access the older sewer system. After trudging through pipes which had seldom seen use since before Arcona even existed as a Clan, he eventually arrived at a heavy durasteel door. Crouching down, he lifted up the main interface and disabled the micro-explosive mounted just underneath (designed to permanently seal the door and take an intruder’s fingers off, if tampered with) and then unplugged the backup trap, a spring loaded poison needle trap. Nobody would put more than two traps in one place; if the intruder was cautious enough to evade the first two, then they’d definitely notice the third. The door swung open into a nondescript storage chamber. The walls were exposed bedrock (as expected so deep within the bowels of the Citadel and the Mountain upon which Arcona’s headquarters were nestled. He reached out with the Force and easily located the hidden switch lever behind one of the walls and pulled it, revealing a further secret passage. Not hesitating, Teroch delved further in. Eventually, they reached a ladder which seemed to connect to some disused water distribution pipes large enough for a grown man to walk in comfortably. The Kiffar followed an unmarked selection of pipes, his feet splashing gently in the still, stagnant water until reaching a final bulkhead. The youth tapped in a code to the door and stepped into a large, spacious chamber.
Lining the walls were a multitude of weapons, different armour designs and practice variants of nearly every weapon the mind could dream up. On the floor were various training mats and folded up dummies, climbing frames, and punching bags. Everything was neatly folded away, and didn’t impede movement through the area in the slightest. In one corner of the cavernous chamber was a large desk, above which countless vials and containers rested on a dizzying number of shelves. Below it was a workbench clearly devoted the to the dissection and amalgamation of the substances above. It was the perfect Assassin’s hideout.
It had also been Sashar’s favourite and most oft-used, given its proximity to the Citadel. Teroch felt another wave of absence and grief as he sighted the complex computer/holonet system with multiple flatscreens, com scan displays and holofeeds still showing a myriad of images from the Erinos Patriarch’s last contract. One Alexi Destrof, apparently.
All this was now his.
Swallowing, he began stripping down until he was clad only in his boxer briefs, then began to pick out what he’d wear to kill his father’s murderer – Wuntila Entar.
Malidir walked into the barracks kitchens and stopped short. The lights were still dimmed, nothing was being prepared, and all the droids stood dormant.
“Osik.” He muttered under his breath, fumbling for the comlink in his pocket.
The living legend and now-strongest member of Soulfire contacted Celahir. “Ner’vod, can you do a quick cam sweep and try to pin-point Teroch? He’s gone AWOL.”
The Computer expert clicked in understanding, and came back with a negative a few moments later. “His last seen position was in the kitchens. He exited through the far door…, and then never came back into view. There must be a blind spot just outside the door, and from there, I have no idea.”
Malidir jogged through the door and stopped short. There was only a maintenance hatch. “Thanks. Now run something by me: You’re a confused, angry teenager who’s just lost his second parent. Unlike the rest of the squad, you didn’t know it was coming, and you’re suddenly bereft of a father figure. Would you blame the father for sacrificing himself, or blame the guy who pulled the proverbial trigger?”
Celahir paused for a moment, then sucked in a breath audibly over the com feed. “You don’t think he’s going for Wuntila, do you?”
Malidir exhaled smoke from an ever-present cigar and shrugged. “I would.”
“We’ve got to stop him.”
Alarms started blaring – a very specific triple-tone which denoted the throne room had been breached.
“Shab! We’re too late.” Celahir exclaimed, already setting off at a run.
“Looks like it. I’ll be there ASAP.”
Socorra ducked down, letting shrapnel fly past her right ear when the reinforced durasteel doors at the only entrance to the Throne Room exploded inwards. The two summit guardsmen flanking the doors were knocked flat by the blast, but before the smoke had even begun to clear, he was through and firing.
The intruder was of average height, lanky, and hadn’t bothered hiding his face. Instead, he wore what looked like a chainmail vest under a black nerf-hide greatcoat, combat fatigue pants, steel toe-capped boots, and a combat head-set, giving him a targeting reticule over his right eye.
He was also pumping stun bolts into the guardsmen like there was no tomorrow. Four were dropped before the sound of the original explosion had even subsided, and by then the shouts and screams of combat littered the grand chamber.
“Teroch! What are you doing?! She shouted above the din.
He either didn’t hear her or he didn’t care, which, to be fair, was understandable. On either side of the Serpentine Throne, Xar Kahn and Xathia were stood, flanking the seated Consul, who looked furious that someone would dare attack him in the heart of his Citadel.
“Take him.” He ordered.
Socorra winced. Teroch had been trained by Sashar, but not to the full extent of a Dark Jedi. He was only young, and hadn’t had time to hone his skills. Xar and Xathia were under no such limits, and furthermore, weren’t Erinos. They’d probably have no problem putting him down.
Socorra hit the general alarm button on her console, stood up and snatched a blaster from her holster. It then hit her that she didn’t quite know who to shoot.
Teroch was a blur. She’d never seen anyone move that fast. The kiffar flickered and had smacked Xathia in the face before her lightsaber even cleared her belt. There was a sickening crack and the stocky woman went down, her jaw clearly broken. He then jutted his hand out, and a disruptor pistol was pressed from a sleeve holster into his hand. Xar’s eyes widened behind his helmet and he dove to one side, barely dodging the huge disintegration bolt. The Heavy Weapons specialist landed at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the throne in a crouch, his hand going for his lightsaber, but again the youth was too fast. A lanyard shot out from his other hand and wrapped securely around Xar Kahn, immobilising. Above his shouts of impotent rage, Socorra noticed Wuntila rise. With his back to the Dragon of Selen, he almost didn’t see him coming. The punch to the back of the head sent Teroch reeling down the stairs and he landed in a tangled heap, barely conscious.
Shaking the wooziness from his system, the Kiffar rose and shrugged off his great-coat, revealing bare shoulders and what looked like beskar gauntlets ending with solid grey gloves.
Crushgaunts. No wonder he floored Xathia with one hit. He must really mean business.
Wuntila drew his own saber and charged down the steps like a freight train. Amazingly, Teroch stood his ground, put his hands up and caught the lightsaber blade in the crushgaunts when the new Consul-apparent swung down his overhead blow. The impact rattled him, though, and badly. He was brought to his knees and only a headbutt to the groin caused Wuntila to back off.
Snarling expletives in Mando’a, the Kiffar dove at Wuntila and swung a punch at the side of the head, but the blow never landed – a telekinetic strike sent him reeling backwards, skidding along the coarse floor, tearing his shoulder into ribbons. Teroch flipped up, eyes bleeding hate and charged once again, producing a wicked-looking beskad from his belt, still turning the air blue in his native tongue.
Wuntila swung laterally this time, and Teroch caught the blow with his right gauntlet. Wrenching the saber from his grasp, the Magnificent Blue Beast preternaturally boosted his speed and lunged forwards, stabbing the blade like a bird’s beak. It glanced off the chainmail vest Teroch was wearing, which was clearly also beskar, and he left himself open to a slice a the side of his head from the [beskad/i].
A hand grabbed Teroch’s wrist, twisted backwards until his shoulder dislocated, and a punch to the face put him down. Bly immediately crouched down, rolled Teroch over, knelt on his back directly on his injured shoulder, and jabbed a needle into his neck, anesthetising him. The rest of the Summit Guard surrounded the youth, rifles aimed at him.
Talos, Celahir and Malidir arrived just after the Guard Captain had trussed up his captive and brought him about. They took in the scene and winced at the sight of Xathia and Xar downed.
Wuntila was furious.
“Kill him.” He ordered without hesitation, turning his back on the scene, heading back to the throne.
Socorra chose that moment to do one of what she considered the most stupid things she’d ever considered; she objected.
Violent shouts erupted from the three Erinos stepping inside the doorway, the pleas for the life of their adopted nephew falling on deaf ears. They hadn’t seen the carnage in motion, but it was quite clear from the scene just what he had done.
Wuntila slowly returned to and once again occupied his throne, his tall, imposing figure casting a grand shadow across the floor, flickering and playing over the still body of the lad that had so viciously attempted to assassinate him.
Socorra was left standing by her console, white knuckles still gripping her pistol. Wun had made the information broker and analyst his assistant for the entirety of the Jedi war. She had garnered his respect for her brilliant mind and valor on the battlefield, resulting in an extremely rare double field promotion. Without hesitation (but a bunch of colorful curses) she had relayed his orders for the fleet to obliterate Menat Ombo from orbit, knowing that the Consul and Soulfire Sergeant were still in it.
...which is why she found it odd that out of everyone in the room, she was the only one left untouched. Perhaps out of respect for Talos, as she was still his apprentice? In either case, she could hardly believe what had just happened; not that he had attacked Wun, but how he did it. As far as Socorra knew, Teroch wasn’t Dark Jedi, so how the kid had been so quick was beyond her comprehension. His ferocity and savageness reminded the desert nomad of her childhood in her Bharhulai tribe, which brought a slight smirk to her lips.
Except for the whole insanity thing, his display was quite admirable.
Her pale eyes left Teroch and flicked up to her Master Talos standing in the broken doorway. His face was contorted with every emotion possible; guilt that Teroch had done this, the sadness of the loss of his brothers still eating at him, and volatile fire that he was seconds away from losing another family member at Wuntila’s hand.
Socorra felt his emotions rippling through their master/apprentice bond. Their link had been a fantastic thing on the battlefield, having saved both their lives on several occasions, and forging their friendship on a much deeper emotional level after back-to-back combat. But here, now, when he was still upset with her for having relayed Wun’s final orders, and the emotions he felt towards Wun himself, it was an awful thing. It clawed and tore at her own heart to feel her mentor and friend this way.
Shakily holstering her pistol, she took a deep breath, summoning the courage to speak. Amidst the shouting and accusations being thrown their way from the brothers Erinos, she quietly stepped up to the Consul-apparent’s side. The young Krath bent down slightly to his ear and spoke in quiet tones that only Wuntila would hear, her exotic Socorran accent flicking off her tongue like the Black Sands themselves.
“Great men are forged from the fires of Hell, and what I just witnessed was something emblazoned, rising deep from those fiery pits. His spirit and his passion were ignited all at once into a brilliant display. Is this not what you look for in the hearts of all Arconans?”
She paused a moment, but the Consul’s countenance remained stoic and stubborn. The apprentice again threw a glance at Talos, pale eyes locking with his deep sapphires as she whispered to their superior. Socorra knew she was greatly overstepping her bounds as an aide, but so was her master, for that matter. Maybe they both would be arrested for insubordination.
“Sir, I was a lot more awkward and laughable, but this is how I was introduced not only to Arcona, but to Soulfire -- a rifle in my face. I’m fairly sure Sashar would have been proud all the same to see his son in all his glory.”
“There is time now, to think on this. Please don’t let your anger decide his fate for you.”
Socorra might have flinched before, back when she hadn’t been used to his many sudden outbursts during the war. But as if the Huntress knew he was going to balk at her words, she quickly thumbed through her datapad and handed it to him, her olive-skinned hands visibly trembling. On the screen was a vivid panoramic image of the gigantic hole Wun had violently punched in rage into their shuttle after they mobilized the FOB on New Tython. She had taken the photo merely as a joke to show Talos at some point.
For a moment, the Consul’s expression changed to something unreadable as he surveyed the damage he had caused to the ship, hardly even remembering he had done such a thing during his rampage.
But even then, that wasn’t her full message. He had punched the larty because he was angry at Talos and Celahir for disregarding his orders. Killing off their nephew might very well look to be an act of revenge and cement worse hostilities against him. He had had little choice in ordering the fleet to open fire at New Tython. Here, he could control everything.
“Please, Your Excellency. Show him mercy, and if he is well-taken care of, you might have forged your greatest ally, perhaps even greater than the legend his father was.”
The young Krath bit her lip, heart pounding ferociously in her chest as she waited with baited breath. Socorra was just a Journeyman, afterall. She was risking her future and her life itself by even standing up to her leader in such a bold and outrageous manner.
After a moment he handed the pad back to her and surveyed the room, his dark cerulean eyes taking in the chaos around him. This was how Wuntila’s reign would begin -- full of controversy, division, hatred, and death. A dark time for Clan Arcona, with the Entar at its head, and it weighed far too heavily on his shoulders.
With a swift motion he held up a blue hand to cease the shouts from the Galeres Summit, but there would be no silence - they shouted even louder, vehemently and desperately defending the youth nearly to the point of belligerence and violence.
“Enough!” Wuntila’s deep voice bellowed, echoing past the throne room and reverberating through the citadel corridors. The shouts finally ceased, and he quietly and calmly gestured a hand towards the guards.
“Put him in a cell,” he said simply, “and get a medic and repair crew in here.”
“The rest of you, get out.”
He turned and said something privately to Socorra and her tanned face paled a little, eyes widening. She mumbled an awkward “yes, Sir” before turning off the alarm and logging out of the console.
The guards collected their prisoner and tended to Xathia and Xar on the floor. The Erinos were left stunned, but Socorra grabbed her jacket and swiftly moved down the stairs, raven hair bobbing with her hurried steps.
She threw Talos a quick hand signal that said move out, but the thoughts she projected from her mind clearly read: You might want to leave before he changes his mind.
The Huntress stood against the railing of a white balcony at the Citadel, basking in the sunshine and the cool breeze that whipped up into the alcove, swirling around her, sending goosebumps across her bronzed skin. When they arrived back home from the war, she found this spot and it quickly became one of her favorite locations in the star system. It was nice to come here to contemplate.
For once in her life, Socorra’s meticulous and methodical mind was thrown into a chaotic myriad of doubts, fears, and confusion. Her Master sensed the uncharacteristic change, and went to find her, his own mind thrown into complete turmoil. The Templar stepped up next to her and leaned on the railing as well, his deep sapphire orbs taking in the sight that her pale ones enjoyed.
Her hands trembled still, causing his blood trail ring to repeatedly glint in the sunlight. It was battered and marred from their battles, her own blood and that of her enemies filling in the ridges surrounding the sanguine liquid in the clear stone center. Talos hadn’t seen it since before the final battle in Menat Ombo. That battle would also be the last time she saw her mentor smile.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “Wun is a stubborn blue mule; all I did was buy Teroch some time, and nothing more.”
“It’s more time than we had. Not many men can stand up to him, let alone a Journeyman.”
Socorra scuffed a boot across the hard ground, not quite sure how to reply, but opening her mouth anyway. “I tried to appeal to his sense of Arcona’s future, rather than the trite osik you three were shouting at him. I heard something about his ego, where his honor is, how he owes it to Sashar.. all of it was a losing battle.”
Talos was quiet for a moment after those words, and she knew then her social awkwardness was slipping out. She had already crossed the line with their superior, it couldn’t really get much worse than that, could it?
“You do realize Wun could have had you killed or arrested along with Teroch? He still might. It was both brave and stupid. You’ve got so much going for yourself, and I’m trying to understand why you would throw it all away for someone you barely know.”
She turned and studied her master’s expression, trying to gauge his emotions and thoughts. Is he actually angry at me? Is he...worried? Ugh, one-armed combat is easier than this.
“I didn’t do it just for Teroch - frak, I’m not even sure I did it for him at all. The little di’kut tried to assassinate our Consul and take a bunch of Arconans with him...”
“I did it for your family, Talos, and for Arcona’s future. But mainly--” Socorra paused, growing sheepish and awkward.
“I did it for you.”