Kal, Eiko, Halc
If things had only gone right from the start. First the shoulder-fired missile had forced them down on less-than-friendly terms. Then they’d picked the survivors, and there weren’t many, from the wreckage. Lastly, night fell. That’s when it got bad. Had they not been heavily armed and equipped, chances were they likely would have lost a few more. Luck, or the Force, had it that they’d been assembled for one purpose.
The Brotherhood was not the only rival of the reestablished Jedi Order. Among those that dealt in Force Cults, Dark Side religions, or in cultural uses of the Force, the Brotherhood was known well. Envy of the Brotherhood’s martial might, organization, territorial situation, and numbers were common among anyone who would have otherwise been their allies. For this reason, the Grand Master found it useful at times to flex his muscle, to demonstrate to his would-be competitors that there was good reason the Brotherhood was top dog.
From his lips, to the hands of the VOICE, directives were given to small strike teams. Infiltrate the Almas System, cause enough of a stir among the Believers Cult to show them the reach of the Brotherhood’s saber, and return home
"It's a trap!" Halcyon called back from the cockpit, his Praetor scrambling into his crash webbing as the shuttle veered sharply to the left. The Dark Prophet's seasoned hands gripped the control yoke, fighting against the pull of gravity as it threatened to buckle the entire ship's hull.
"Incoming warheads! They're everywhere!" Eiko yelled back as his eyes went back and forth over the console, the enemy blips threatening the fill the entire screen.
Halcyon only grunted in response, already seeing in his mind's eye the surrounding space, and knowing what would come. Still he fought against the future, using knowledge cleaned from decades of fighting to pull the craft into maneuvers that the shuttle was never designed to handle. Audible creaks reverberated through the hull, as the deck plating buckled underneath their feet.
"Incoming", the veteran Sith growled through clenched teeth as a warhead slammed into the aft of the shuttle. The two dark jedi were catapulted forward, careening through the shattered viewport. Both had managed to throw up protection at the moment of impact, yet the ensuing impact jarred both men as they plummeted to the ground. Above them the sky was awash with falling debris. Taldrya hung onto consciousness, looking up as the tail-end of his shuttle fell directly atop him.
18 Hours Ago
Eiko hurried down the hall, not quite a run, but quick and purposeful steps that brought him to a large door that parted allowing him to not break stride. The green-haired man was already looking at him inquisitively as he leaned back in his chair.
"I have news of an impending mission from the Voice", Eiko announced without preamble, setting his datapad in front of the Deputy Grand Master. "He has called for a number of our dark jedi to set out to a planet named Almas, to deal with a so-called force-cult".
Halcyon picked the pad up, quickly reading through the information as his Praetor continued with his report.
"And the Grand Master approved of this mission?" the Sith Lord asked rhetorically, Eiko seeing the annoyance and anger in the eyes of his superior. "Thank you, Eiko. It appears your network is beginning to bear fruit once more".
"Thank you, sir", Eiko responded with a slight nod.
"I believe we should crash this party that our dear Vodo is having", Halcyon announced as he rose from his seat. "Quickly pack what you need. You'll be accompanying me".
The Templar gave another curt nod before leaving the room and heading to his temporary quarters.
Halcyon jerked to consciousness, his head blazing with pain. Forcing his eyes to fully opened he saw the twisted metal that lay atop him, instantly remembering how he came to be on his back. Unrestrained anger erupted from his prone form, the metal nearly exploding in response as it flew away from the Sith.
"Ah, good, I won't have to worry about that then", a weak voice sounded from his left. Craning his head he saw a man holding onto his arm as sparks seemed to shower from a joint. "I think your Praetor will need a bit more help".
Everything rang. One eye was shrouded with the remains of a mask, the other was clenched tight against the mix of sunlight and fire. He heard Halcyon's yelling and felt the shudder of the earth as more debris smashed into the sand.
His arm gave out as he tried to flip himself over onto his stomach so that he didn't have to stare into the distant double suns. Eiko breathed shallowly, trying to keep his cracked ribs from crippling him in pain. Without warning, the thought of lying on the deck of a starship, paralyzed while his wounds were cauterized, rushed over him and he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, trying to slowly realign the bone fragments and knit his skin back together.
He thought about looking in a mirror, seeing his cornea as he pulled on the Force to heal the scratch on his exposed eye--patiently letting each row of healing settle before opening his eye. The world was gashed with a long blurry line, but he could see.
Kal stood watching as Eiko brought himself to his feet and surveyed the shuttle's remains.
Without speaking, Eiko limped past the Plagueian and started picking through the wreckage. From the provisions stored behind the pilot's seat, he pulled out a dented case of explosives and a pair of survival packs. He flicked the latches on the back of his mask and pulled off what was left of his handiwork. It bounced off a twisted strut, then rolled up against Eiko's feet. In its place, he strapped one of the troopers' breath masks and suppressed a cough at the first breath of filtered air. He braced himself against the collapsed ceiling for a second before he turned around and stepped out of the ship's skeleton.
"Map?" Eiko offered softly, holding out a holoprojector from one of the survival packs. A slowly-rotating image fizzled in and out--showing their location near the edge of the terraformed grassy streaks, nestled in a sandy bay. He stopped for long enough to stare at Kal, hunched over as he cradled the twisted servos of his arm.
Halcyon held his pistol up in the air and fired a green bolt, reinvigorating the ringing in Eiko's ears as the Praetor winced. "Show me where the other teams are."
Eiko slipped back into the ship to grab a comlink from the pilot's chest. "It'll take time to connect the comlink and holo, but I can do it. In the meantime, we should head toward water. That means towards the grassy-stuff." Without looking away from Halc, he raised his voice so Kal would hear his question. "What's the Throne's Praetor doing out in a place like this?"
18 Hours Ago
The wide doors of the Dark Hall's Throne Room swung open without so much of a creak, the cold air of Antei rushing into the dark sanctum of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Kal couldn't help but feel a chill as he strode through the doors, cautious but unafraid; fear, when refined, was a source of energy for the Dark Side's adherents. Allowing it to overwhelm you was akin to swimming in a starship's fuel tank - pointless, and likely to get the one doing it killed. Looking toward the great chair, he spotted the stoic form of the Lion of Tarthos as he paced before the seat of power, a look of deep thought within the ebon eyes. As usual, he stood before the Throne rather than sitting in it; some took this as odd. For Kal, it was a respectable sign - Lord Ashen knew that a man at ease was a man prepared for the grave.
"You recieved my summons quickly, then. Good." Muz stopped in mid-stride as his Praetor approached, his hands behind his back. The hilts of his lightsabers were visible within the violet warcoat, eight gleaming cylinders, perfect compositions of Diatium and Adegan.
Kal took his customary knee, his eyes akin to frozen emeralds as they stared at the stone at the Iron Throne's boots. "What is thy bidding, my Master?"
The service of Ashen was taxing and rewarding, in kind; for every time the lines in his face seemed to deepen, another gold fleck would appear at times within his iris. The Dark Side of the Force was not for the weak or the faint of heart. His Master nodded, and Kal sensed his will through the ebb and flow of the energy all around him; rather than a word, or a command, there issued only a feeling that he must rise. Kal had resisted Ashen's will by instinct when he first began service; he had shied away from that habit after receiving a skull fracture for it.
"You will recall delivering a command to my Voice to send groups for the coercion of the Cult of Believers on Almas." Kal did not nod, nor did he reply; it was not a question. "It seems that my Shadow Hand is of a mind to subvert me; my spies inform me that his Praetor, Eiko, has given him the information of Vodo's assignment. Even now, technicians prepare a shuttle for his departure."
"He grows bold since his brother's demise. Do we know his intent, my Lord?" Kal asked, raising an eyebrow. The move stretched out the skin on his face's left side; a faint trace work of scars made itself visible in the pallid illumination of the Hall. "Does he seek to subjugate the other groups, or perhaps to rally the Believers against you?"
"Perhaps." Ashen said, turning and looking at the Throne. He did so often, a fact that the Last Son of Plagueis had taken note of before - it seemed to steady the Keibatsu's mind, to focus the immense power and knowledge that flowed through each blackened neuron and synapse. "Perhaps he simply intends to outdo the Voice, or even to assist his efforts."
"Minute is the lost affection between Lord Halcyon and the Voice," Kal said. "Not to mention the last of the Revanites."
"Indeed." Turning, Muz met Kal's cold eyes with his own bottomless gaze, the black spheres seeming to pierce through the depths of his very soul. Elders would have struggled against the iron claws of Ashen's mind; Kal simply allowed them to sample his soul, knowing his defenses to be insufficient. "Whatever the case, I would have you accompany them."
"In secret, I presume?" The Sith replied. "If I am to confront Halcyon in force, I will need assistance. It is beyond my ability to engage a Dark Prophet alone."
"In secret, yes, but do not presume too much." Ashen replied. "Subvert his attempts to gain a following, disable his Praetor if you must, but leave him alive regardless. If he aims to betray me, I will deal with him myself."
"Yes, Master," Kal replied, turning and walking without further questioning. He had work to do.
"Believe me, I had hoped for a better landing zone as well." The Sith said, gripping the loose wire that continued to send jolts of false pain up his arm and ripping it free. His ring and pinky fingers went loose.
“Don’t play games with me, Vorrac.” Eiko said, placing himself before Kal. His movements were shaky; Kal barely noticed the sway he fought so hard to hide. “Tell us what you’re doing here. Now.”
“The Lion of Tarthos isn’t allowed to send reinforcements for his Hand?” Kal replied, a grin crossing his face. His eyes flitted toward Halcyon, whose green hair was in disarray as he stood. He would obviously not believe the lie, but to Kal, that was fine. Best to keep him guessing.
Halcyon gave him a cool look as he got to his feet, but didn’t press the issue. “We need to-” A prickling sensation played its way along the vertebrae of each Dark Jedi simultaneously, warning of danger. “Move!” The Dark Prophet shouted, leaping backward as his weapon flipped into his hand. Then, all became fire.
Four missiles rocketed their way into the clearing as dark forms appeared on the rocks above, heavy blaster rifles mounted for better aim as they poured streams of energy at the Dark Brethren. Standing and defending themselves wasn’t an option; the sheer volume of firepower had each Force user leaping, rolling, and diving aside as they sought cover behind the pieces of wreckage all about. Even these would be no shelter; the sustained fire of several heavy weapons quickly gave a glow to the sections of hull plate.
“What the kriff do we do now?!” Eiko shouted over the din, looking at the Deputy Grand Master. Halcyon simply closed his eyes, his hands coming up.
Slowly, the most intact section of the ship’s carcass began to creak and shift, lifting from the ground. Eiko watched with an expression of awe beneath his makeshift mask, Kal’s face holding a cool expression as his eyes gave away his true wonder. The vessel lifted in concert with the Prophet’s hands, the living bonds of energy between all things turning and bending as they carried it upward. With a flick of his wrist, the Taldrya sent it into a slow spin; another flick saw it pick up speed. A third had it whirring and spinning, blaster fire ricocheting off of it in all directions as their foes tried in vain to shoot this new threat.
With a final motion, the Sith Lord sent it flying toward their attackers’ position.
A violent blast consumed the ridge as the ship impacted, its remaining fuel and fluids contacting blaster packs and sparks from the stone as their metallic tombs ripped open like flesh against a blade. The explosion turned the bodies of some foes to vapor and ash, hurling others in one or more pieces down the valley from whence they came, their munitions adding to the explosion. For a moment, the valley was filled with light to rival a Tatooine sunrise and winds the like of Mustafar; Eiko looked up as the glare died down, seeing the falling field of debris.
“Master!” He shouted. Halcyon simply thrust his hands up, his titanic will forming an impenetrable barrier as metallic fragments weighing more than a ton came to a rest in mid-air.
Seeming to push the air before him, the Shadow Hand sent the wreckage flying aside as if it weighed nothing. Standing and dusting himself off, he spoke. “We need to move.” He said, pointing to their original destination in the fields. “That was just the welcoming committee; every Believer within fifty miles will have seen that.”
“Er... my Lord?” Eiko said, gesturing around, “It seems they’re not our only problems.”
Vorrac was nowhere to be found.
5 Hours Ago
The Lambda-class shuttle sailed smoothly through the blue hyperspace vortex, allowing it's two passengers time for preparation.
"Is this all the information you could get on Almas?" Halcyon asked, his eyes still pouring over the datapad in his hand.
"Yes, my Lord", Eiko quickly answered as he looked up from his own reading.
"Eiko, Halcyon or Halc will suffice here and 'sir' will be used in the field. There is a time and place for formalities, but those are few and far between".
"Yes, sir", Eiko responded with a nod of his head, quickly catching what he said, "I mean, ok Halc".
"Good. The trappings of the office can be useful, but also gets tiresome. Now, there doesn't seem to be much of anything on this Almas".
"No, there wasn't", Eiko agreed. "As you can see, the best information we have concerns a Darth Rivan. Our own information is sparse on who he was, although he controlled some sort of Sith artifact. We don't have any specifics on the artifact, nor any mention of it outside of the entry on Rivan and Almas. There was some cursory information about the Jedi also having been on the planet at some point, but without more time there was only so much information available".
"I believe it's going to be one of those missions", Halcyon told his Praetor who nodded back in understanding.
The Templar didn't quite catch the curse that escaped from Halcyon's lips as the Shadow Hand's head turned from side to side in a quick survey of the area. Not finding anything with his eyes the Sith turned inwards; eyes closing ever so briefly as he allowed himself to open up completely to his surroundings. A sudden backlash of dark side energy greeted his Force presence, visibly staggering the Dark Prophet.
"Halc..." Eiko began, but was quickly waved off by the Elder.
"I'm fine", Halcyon assured his Praetor, "but there appears to be much more going on that we previously believed".
"Did you find any sign of Kal?"
"No", the Sith responded as he shook his head, "it's actually too hard to glean much of anything from our surroundings, although I believe many have your idea of moving towards water. Managed to get a sense that there was a large concentration of the Force being used. Keep working on the comlinks however as we'll need them still".
Eiko nodded as he turned to fetch the second breath mask, responding with his own string of curses.
"The Plagueian seems to have also taken the other breath mask, sir. You can use mine in the meantime".
"No, I'll be fine", Halcyon said as he motioned for his Praetor to keep the breath mask on. "Did he take anything else, or do we have what we need?"
Eiko took a minute to rummaged through the survival pack, or what had managed to come through the wreckage, before responding, "No, everything else seems to be here."
Halcyon took one final look around, his senses amplified for the moment and catching the sounds of enemy forces somewhere in the distance.
Kal's breathing was muffled by the mask, but his chest heaved from exertion. He had just crested the small hill that overlooked a body of water. What seemed to be Brotherhood shuttles were now wreckage that was littered throughout the area as well. He had pushed himself to exhaustion to reach this point, needing to take control of the situation before the Shadow Hand and his lackey. Below he could see bodies milling about.
"Yes" he whispered to himself, spotting those who could prove useful.