Ambitions - Sid, Tra'an, Ronovi, Fremoc, Eiko
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Create your story. You have a month to do so.
New Tython, 35 ABY
They had become used to it raining blood. Or seeing fiery chariots descend upon the stalks of plants that disintegrated from the screaming embers emitted from gaping red jaws. The carnage was commonplace, with those who claimed to protect them constantly overrun and trampled upon like shrieking beetles under black boots. It had hardened some for the kill.
Only a few klicks away from Menat Ombo's tailcoats, a Harakoan man was being brutally beaten and murdered with a makeshift weapon - a cruel, scythe-like blade on the end of a carved stick, embellishing his skin with runny embroidery that grew clotted and mucusy in the hot Tythonian sun. His family was being carted from his hut one by one, struck by armored fists before the youngest son gurgled his life source from his gashed neck.
The man coughed. The stain spread across the dirt, too dark and severe to be removed. As an armored and robed man stood over him, he could only repeatedly force out one word.
"Why?" he begged, for he could not demand. "Wh...why?"
Slowly, in his blurring vision, he watched the man remove the dark metal from his head. Beneath it was a patchwork of flesh and bone, the burn marks having stretched the flesh of his jaw to grotesque limits. But the Harakoan recognized him, by the nose and by the sunken eyes. He stammered.
He choked on his own tongue, swollen and flapping, as the armored killer drove the hot metal into his back and into his spine. His blue skin erupted in webs of blood, flooding across his stomach, before he collapsed. As the rest were slaughtered, the killer looked above at the skies, teeth bared in a horrible sneer.
His men were ready for vengeance. And all he desired was more blood to be spilt. The Brotherhood's most of all.
Lyspair, Three Months Later
"They can't reach us."
These four words that Headmaster Ronovi Tavisaen Dupar spoke were curt enough, but that did not dissuade the former Quaestor of Revan in front of her. She had not expected Eiko at the academy, but as his work was dedicated to the Deputy Grand Master and to Antei, she imagined it must have not been a difficult trip.
She bit her lower lip. Did he always wear that mask?
"Tavisaen," Eiko began formally, "I came here at the request of Halcyon Taldrya himself. He is aware of your reputation as a warrior and a general..."
"My priorities have been to the Academy for quite some time now. He can't expect me to just leave here to go on a blood spree."
"The Red Plague is not merely localized to New Tython," continued the former Quaestor as if he had not even heard Ronovi. "Troops have been gathering on other major planets, within house dominions. Recruited, as it were. You know of the struggles some of our brother houses have had. Especially after the Tython Invasion."
Ronovi sighed. Removing her flask from under her coat, she enjoyed the hot swill of Whyren's Reserve. That habit was never going away, Headmaster or not.
"Do we have data on their leader?"
"An Equite stranded on New Tython by his unit," said Eiko. "We cannot discover who because he has not divulged it, nor has he divulged the name we had him noted as on our lists. We do not even know if those we marked as dead or MIA have joined him, and that they are dangerous."
"They know us."
If he hadn't been wearing a mask, Eiko may have raised his eyebrows in agreement. "And they can use that knowledge to strike us hard."
Ronovi let his fingers drum against the surface of the desk, never stopping the rhythm. Names were already racing in her head. She knew that most likely Muz and Halcyon were arranging for clans and houses to keep alert on any "rebellion" or "reaction" on their planets. But the Invasion of New Tython had been more detrimental than they thought, and perhaps a more localized team would be necessary. Wasn't it always?
Not to mention that the world of the Shadow Academy didn't offer much in terms of fighting. Sure, combat courses were commonplace here, but Ronovi could only do so much against an initiate or a dummy. No...she may be a scholar, surely, with all the vast wealth of the galaxy's knowledge at her disposal...but it made her crave action again. As if the adrenaline jolt she was used to feeling in battle was becoming thicker and more unctuous in her body from the things she was learning day by day, bubbling and boiling and molding her into some far more malicious than simply powerful and furious...
"Eiko, I want you to contact some good friends of ours on Antei and beyond," she murmured. "As for me, I think I'll relay a message to Kr'Tal. There's someone there who I've been aching to work with again for several years now."
Somewhere in Brotherhood Territory
The air in the cargo hold of the heavily modified YT-2550 smelled of oil and hydraulic fluid. It was not a spotless place by any means, especially when it drifted between the stars without a functioning hyperdrive. What started as a roar of anger and frustration, quickly morphed into a shout of triumph as a distinct sound of click-clack-shunk issued forth from inside the nearby engine compartment. With a grace that would not be expected, after such a primal sound, Tra’an emerged from the compartment looking somewhat worse for wear.
Stopping to drop the hyperspanner in a nearby tool chest, the Plagueian resumed his path towards the nearest wall com, his foul smelling, liquid stained hand avoiding it in favor of the still clean elbow that worked just as well. “Spin her up and get us out of this god-forsaken nowhere. I was supposed to be at Lyspair almost twelve hours ago!” An acknowledging double click on the com was only a split second ahead of the distinctive whine that all spacers knew well.
With a quick climb that plateaued before dropping into a deck reverberating hum, the repaired backup hyperdrive spun up and then slid the ship past lightspeed. With a weary groan of aching body parts that had not been stuck inside an engine in sometime, He trudged off to get clean, even as the very mention of the Shadow Academy’s home once again took him back to the signal that woke him the day before.
30 Hours Prior
“Sun Manadyne Reminds You To Answer Your Com! Sun Manadyne Reminds You To Answer Your Com!” The second time around, Tra’an lunged from his bed for the nearby table upon which he had left his personal communication device, landing awkwardly in the process, and only remaining upright with the luck of a well-placed chair. Sinking into it, he hastily gave the acknowledgement code.
“Greetings to Sun Manadyne, I’m ready to answer.” The com screen flickered for a moment, and the former Revanite gave away no hint of feeling when the face of the former Quaestor of the now defunct House appeared. “Eiko, I presume there’s good reason for waking me out of bed with an emergency signal that hasn’t been used in some time?” The raised eyebrow that accompanied the statement covered the small disappointment well. Only the minx in the bed nearby noticed it, and filed it away to discuss later. She had thought him well past the ideals of his time in Revan.
A moments lag for the transmission to encode, relay, and then decode on the other side was returned with a simple request. “It seems that even if not in the name of our former residence, there is need for your special talents. The Headmaster has requested your presence on Lyspair to assist with some unpleasant remnants of the recent, war, on New Tython.” The mask never moved. Even as Eiko spoke, it served to mask any hint of emotion that might have shown, despite the neutral monotone.
With a sigh, Tra’an refrained from cursing or throwing the com unit against the wall. Now was not the time he wished to be leaving Plagueis. Alas, when the Dark Council called, especialy one to whom he knew would not call without good reason, there was little to be said about the matter. “I’ll arrange private transportation with Libra to deliver me. She can entertain herself on Antei until we return. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Eiko simply nodded, before severing the connection. The Quaestor of House Plagueis cursed quietly before sending notes to his Aedile in Waiting to take over in his absence. Rising quietly, he began to pack, even as his longtime companion rose, the silk sheets sliding sensually down her form to puddle on the bed. Without question, she reached for the nearby jumpsuit and began to dress, already awake. It was not unusual for them to leave in the middle of the night.
24 Hours Past Due
The Headmaster and Praetor to the Deputy Grandmaster both awaited the landing of the shuttle with no small trepidation. It was unusual for their guest to be late, much less incommunicado the entire time. As the freighter settled and the ramp dropped, they breathed a small, quiet sigh of relief. Moving quickly clear, the humanoid gave a high sign to the pilot, who immediately lifted and took off, vectoring for the nearby planet hanging perpetually in the sky.
Dressed in her usual blue trimmed robe, the only defining features of the new Headmaster were her eye-patch and perfect boots that always seemed to shine in the smallest amount of light. In contrast, Eiko was in his standard nondescript black robe, set off only by the steel gray mask that was accented by an offset vertical red stripe, whose meaning was not clear. Tra’an was dressed in the style of their Order’s founder, a very old military fashion of clean cut shoulder accented three piece suit of black fabric with blue accents.
The three stopped a moment to look at each other, before Tra’an broke the ice. “I read over the coded attachment that Eiko sent while we were speaking. I also understand why we’ve been asked to handle this. That said, are we certain that the remaining members of our group aren’t going to explode over my inclusion?” A shake of the head from Ronovi, even as she sipped from her flask, was met with silence from Eiko.
“We’re still trying to arrange secure communications with them, and as of yet, no attempts have been successful.” Ronovi’s voice was ever the same, that slow melodic sound that never seemed to hurry unless she was angry. “Let’s get inside. I have more details than what he was able to give you, and a better idea of where we’ll be deploying to start the infiltration, or where we’ll be deploying to try and confront them depending on the general consensus.”
Eiko’s filtered voice spoke forth, sounding flat and synthesized, “This will not be an easy choice, as both have their dangers. While we are Obelisk, caution may be best advised. Recklessness, can leave lasting marks, if one even survives.” Tra’an nodded at the sentiment as they moved toward the nearby facilities, well aware from whence it came. Moving in silence, they awaited a better place to renew the discussion.
Eiko looked over the information again, passively refreshing his control over the situation. As he gauged Tra'an's understanding with light questions, the back of his mind was rattling away with observations about the new networks that were at work--slicers whose work shone brilliantly through the files and others who would have to be silently or violently pruned from the growing field. The details lingered for a second, sweeping into the back of his mind as he excused himself from the room.
A Plagueian, a Taldryan, the Headmaster, the Fist, and a Praetor...
His burnt skin held the smile back as he listened to the connection form between his integrated comm and the planet. A piercing beep meet his ear and he waited a second before speaking.
"This is the Praetor to the Deputy Grand Master," Eiko spoke clearly. "I have urgent business with the Fist--only the Fist, not a lackey. On my master's authority, I will see him as soon as I've landed at the Spike. Expect my shuttle." With the other two settling into the files of all the presumed dead and missing souls left on New Tython, Eiko swept through the hallways toward the landing platform. A handful of youner students were shoved aside with the Praetor's gesture. Once Eiko imposed himself on Fremoc's schedule, he knew to keep himself on a strict time-table.
The sooner the shuttle from Kr'tal arrived, the sooner the mixed crock of personalities would start to boil--Eiko winced at the thought of tangling himself in the middle of House politics.
"The Spike," Eiko spoke firmly. The structure of his voice bent unnervingly as he settled into a seat on the shuttle and fastened himself in for the journey. He gave himself time to breathe, closing his eyes as he felt the ship shake underneath him.
Antei grew outside the viewports, its harsh lines and constant storms still visible from this height. It was a better place than New Tython--where the Brotherhood was, a reliable pool of information and activity formed. Without Halcyon's assignment to send him back, he would have liked to forget about the Jedi and the last warzone where House Revan had stood together. He cursed himself for nursing that old wound instead of looking ahead.
By the time that the shuttle landed in the Spike's garrison, Eiko was distracting himself with soldiers' files. A few armored members of the Royal Guard swept around the shuttle's ramp and chased Eiko for a number of steps before the Praetor waved them away.
The Spike was a sprawling nest of activity, thinning with every level that Eiko descended. At the second sub-level, he stepped out and waited for the authorization to sink deeper. A few guardsmen milled around the area, busying themselves with training. Eiko watched disinterestedly.
"Praetor." Fremoc stepped out of the elevator into the training area.
"Fist," Eiko nodded swiftly as soon as he heard the voice. "The shuttle is ready to take us back to the Academy. I'd like to keep our event on schedule, for my part."
"It's been a while," Fremoc frowned. "You've been busy, I take it? It's rare to hear so much from you in a month, much less a day."
"On the shuttle. We can speak in the air--or, no air, as it is."
The Fist's tattered cloak rocked with his heavy steps as they started back up to the surface.
Eiko sighed. "You are part of a team selected to achieve goals set forward by the Deputy Grand Master, representing major strategic interests to the Throne. The Headmaster is waiting for us, as are a few other members of the team." The line was delivered as a passionless response, a buffer that kept the truth penned up until it could be released.
The guardsmen didn't flock around the two Equites as they moved through the Spike. Eiko noted the stares in light of the Fist's growing authority and presence on the planet.
As soon as the shuttle started to take off, Eiko handed Fremoc the secured datapad he'd carried with him. "That, my friend, is what we're looking for. An Equite: unknown clan, unknown house, unknown species, gender, or height."
"Simple," Fremoc blinked at the idea of killing one Equite. "How many people are following him?"
"I'm glad you understand. All the information I could collect is waiting for you to start digesting. We know that we are going to New Tython; the continent of Owyhyee, near the planet's capital, Menat Ombo." Eiko repeated information casually. "Other than that, we have hundreds of MIA and unburied dead from our last engagement there who might be fighting with our rogue Equite."
"This is trouble for the Brotherhood, then?" Fremoc scoffed.
"An animal that's snapped its leash and been abandoned will rarely just lay down. While he represents a threat to the Harakoan locals, Halcyon presented it to me as... unwanted attention. I'm prone to agree with him on that." Eiko settled back. "And it's not just New Tython--a handful of other planets are seeing troop buildup outside of the Jedi territory, sapping from Brotherhood Houses. If we can find our mysterious Equite and sever the head, the remainder of the cleanup will be beneath your immediate concern. Without a leader, the movement is just bloodlust, fanaticism, and revenge--easy to topple."
"I've spent the better part of my life studying and collecting information, Fremoc." Eiko's smile shifted into place. "Information is my battleground. You'll have time to look over everything while we wait for secure connection with Kr'tal. From there, we'll choose the best course of action--infiltration, sabotage, storm-tactics..."
"Shaz'air." Fremoc smiled.
Eiko nodded--if only he could guarantee that the Fist would take the news of the Plagueian's inclusion so smoothly.
Designated Quarters, Shadow Academy
Ronovi’s attention was turned to the Acolyte that motioned for her from the Comm. Station. Ronovi had been waiting for a response from her ally for over a days’ time. “Your Excellency. Kr’Tal has reported back. They’ve patched us to another connection outside of Antei, Quaestor Taldrya is on standby, if you are ready to speak with him.”
“About bloody-damn time!” Came Ronovi’s rowdy voice. “Put him through, immediately.” The Primarch moved quickly to the side of the Acolyte, readily waiting for a response. Tra’an cautiously made his way to where Ronovi was standing, his two arms crossed over each other on his chest, eyes glinting in the light from the comm. system before them.
“Headmaster,” came the low-toned voice of the Miraluka. “I apologize for the delay. My duties as Judge over Antei’s Combat Center have kept me busy, especially with my part in the Championship needing some attendance. Thankfully I was dismissed with a win over my opponent, else I would not be responding to this so quickly. How might I help an old friend?”
Ronovi spoke quickly and with a sense of ease; something she had become accustomed to as her most recent elevation to the Dark Council. “Shaz’air, quit the informal nonsense. Your transponder is reading that you are still in the Antei system. Make your way back here to Lyspair, you’ve been tasked by the Dark Council for a mission.” The silence between messages was lit up with cackling before Shaz’air’s voice filled the void once more.
“I still have to get used to you speaking on behalf of the Dark Council directly, Ronovi. I pay my respects, even if you are a friend.” He said, a slight sense of sarcasm audible over the comm. speakers. “I still have a few more days on my Leave of Absence. Ashia is taking care of Taldryan in my state. I will update her while still in range for Kr’Tal’s receivers. I’ll make my way there as soon as possible. Oh, and lay off the booze some, I can smell your breath over the com.”
Ronovi paused for a moment, her temper staying neutral in return, “It’s been nearly 24 hours since we first attempted to contact you. You know I hate to be kept waiting.” She said, refusing to bring up that Tra’an was beside her. “Don’t keep me any longer. We’ll be waiting for you.” She said, leaving her pluralized ending clear and vivid.
Plagueis’s leader shot the Headmaster a quick smirk, full well and knowing what was running through her head. “Eiko is being accompanied by the Fist, and are already on their way. They’ll be here before Shaz’air does.”
Ronovi glanced at the clasp on her coat, the temptation to reach for her flask distracting her momentarily. “We should establish a more discrete location for our meeting; after all this is word straight from Halcyon.” Said Tra’an distracting the Primarch’s attention from her craving.
Landing Bay for respected Guests
2 Hours Later
The sound of hydrolics releasing their gases echoed across the hangar shortly after Eiko’s ship made it’s expected landing. The two Dark Jedi marched down the ramp, Fremoc’s eyes shifting from the lights of the shuttle to the bright florescent lights of the hangar-bay. Quickly he found one of the two Obelisk’s whom he had anticipated. He glanced from Ronovi, to Tra’an, his mouth opening quickly to make audible speech. ‘Where is Shaz’air?” He said, eyes glaring at the Plagueian.
Ronovi stepped forward, hand gesturing for Tra’an to stay put. “Shaz’air’s ship is entering hyper-space now. He was delayed from response due to his more recent activities in combat. Luckily for us, he has an open slate so to speak with his schedule. Tra’an has been invited by Halcyon to join us. That won’t be a problem, will it?”
A small siren rang out from entrance to the hangar, alerting of an incoming ship. Fremoc glanced from Tra’an, then back to Ronovi and then turned on his heel towards the front of the hangar where the Taldryan crested ship entered, the Fist’s arms raising to a familiar crossed form.
The small shuttle landed beside the ship Eiko and Fremoc had landed in. The small landing platform made its way to the floor of the hangar before the familiar frame of Taldryan’s Quaestor stepped off and away from his transportation. The four Dark Jedi watched the Exarch as he neared them, his award-Taldryan armor being slightly tattered at some ends and his armor tarnished in spots, a cut on his lip and bruise on his cheek. One of his hands was gloved while the other was wrapped in a bandage, blood staining the bandage that lay over his palm.
“Glad to see you made time to look good for us, Shaz’air.” Said Fremoc, a glint of sarcasm in his eye. The Miraluka marched over to Fremoc, hand outstretched, “Fist. It’s been a while.” The two embraced for a moment.
Ronovi glanced at the Quaestor’s war-like hair and then back at Eiko who was now standing beside her. “I like your mask better,” she said, before succumbing to her fix.
“I don’t find it a coincidence that we are all here; those of us who hold power and follow the same ideals and teachings.” Said Tra’an. “Let us divulge our newest additions with the full request from the Deputy Grand Master.” He finished, motioning towards Eiko with the nod of his head.
Fremoc and Shaz’air glanced at Tra’an, a sense of dull connection to the man’s words. Ronovi could see Fremoc clenching his teeth at the sound of the Plagueis Quaestor’s voice. Quickly she stepped forward, flask still in hand, and began to speak. “We are still not in a place to divulge this… sensitive information. Let us adjourn to my office.” The four nodded towards the Headmaster and quickly filed in behind her heavy boots, her long paces leaving room for them to keep up.
Two of his men had built a fire in the midst of the gutted village, its scattered strongholds nothing more but clumps of matted dirt and straw like a disintegrated youth's head. As the white-red flames licked at the air, he stood with his helmet tucked under his arm, his crafted weapon's blade shining in the crescent moonlight. His lightsaber lay hidden beneath his robe. He did not use it against runts.
Without looking at it, he knew the hilt of his saber was still stained with blood. His own blood. He had confronted a vicious Mandalorian troop during the war, one of which had a way marksmanship. As he had dodged a storm of blaster bolts, he had cut his hands wide open against the stone crest he had placed himself on, at the command of his superiors. He had scrambled for his saber, watching his gore spread across its once pristine silver, embroidered surface. A gift from the Herald, now looking rustier by the day.
Propping himself against a forgotten tree stump, the deformed warrior looked down upon his scarred hands. The way the rocks had dashed against him still glared at him in the night sky, the cosmos above dotting his disfigured cheeks and eyelids with unforgiving whites and blues. He lay his spear upon the dirt, just as his second-in-command, Rayas Galina, popped his horned red face into the man's peripheral vision.
"Where to now, 'Zel'?"
It was not his real name, but it had been the name he had chosen after being left to die on this forsaken planet. Wiping his brow and grimacing at the rough mosaic of dead tissue against his palm, Zel looked somberly and wordlessly at Rayas.
"We've dawdled too long here, my lord. Don't you think it's time to start striking dead on?"
"That's foolish," Zel simply replied.
Rayas did not blink. "We cannot intimidate our foes simply by killing Harakoans."
Zel furrowed his brow and lulled back his head. As he closed his eyes, he thought of his enemies, all bedecked in their spoils. Bearing the trophies of Jedi that he himself had worked so hard to gain for them. He had been dropped like an infected lump of meat, left to rot and collect maggots. He thought of the ones specifically who had left him behind.
They were weak. Very weak. He knew that from his resources, so far away from Anteian space. His Quaestor had simply disappeared, like dust against the dry air. Men had scrambled to retain power in a typically chaotic system. Out of all of the clans and houses he wished to destroy, they were the weakest.
Grinning, Zel nodded to himself. Yes, he thought. Cut off the limbs that bear the most infection.
The "amputee" rose from his resting spot and grunted to Rayas. Understanding his superior's quieter, more brooding ways, the Zabrak prepared the men to travel.
They were going to Yridia.
Four Days Later
Among the capital, the presence of dark power still lingered among the citizenry. This had been the Grand Master's orders, to occupy New Tython while its wounds still festered. While fears of another battle continued to rise like a few haphazard sparks in the atmosphere, both those of Odan-urr and of the Brotherhood knew that no such thing would occur. Odan-Urr had been far too weakened in the Invasion, and Ashen's decision to allow them to heal was simple best - keep the enemy holding onto hope, and then gut them again. The cycle of power and authority.
Disembarking from the shuttle, Ronovi watched the dust swirl about her in the hot wind. She now donned her usual silver-embroidered coat, her bronze breastplate and gauntlets, and her dark boots and breeches. She bore the simple hilt of a double-bladed lightsaber on her belt, as well as two menacing SSK-7s holstered at her flanks.
She had instructed her team to take separate shuttles and move either in teams or solo. Eiko and Tra'an had decided to travel together, along the outskirts of the capital; Fremoc, on the other hand, was capable enough to move on his own and check on the potential growth of Odan-Urr's forces and local militias. Ronovi traveled with Shaz'air, reveling in the company without having to create discussion - the Miraluka was not one for conversation.
The two of them had perhaps the riskiest assignment out of everyone - they were to speak specifically with the leaders of Odan-Urr. Ronovi had not heard much of any leadership shifts, and she wondered if Ji, that pesky little Gand, was still High Councillor. She had, however, heard of civilian uprisings and troubles; politics, for the Jedi, always seemed to be a consistent problem.
"Suppose they mean to kill us," Tra'an had cautiously suggested as they departed from Lyspair. But Ronovi wasn't worried. Any move from New Tython to again assassinate members of the Brotherhood would result in the same result: Death. And Ronovi knew that so soon after the war, no Jedi would dare lay a finger.
Still, she thought, as she and Shaz'air walked in the direction of Ooroo Abbey, it was amusing to have "diplomatic" discussions with the enemy. Plus - and Ronovi nearly chuckled just thinking about it - they would be speaking in the vicinity of a nearly ransacked location, the great stone idols of the Jedi bearing more than just scars and missing limbs after the grand marble was crushed by a wave of hatred.
Eiko adjusted the folds of a dark brown robe and the small section of decorative fabric that hung over his mask--he took pains to hide himself amid the slow-moving crowds of the residential districts.
An undercurrent tugged at the heels of his thoughts, slowly drowning them with the memories of fighting on the plains and hills away from the heart of the city. From underneath the cloth and mask, he watched the infrared signatures of the passersby--the cold dark spots of weapons, armor, and other foreign species.
Suppose they mean to kill us. Tra'an had such a plain voice when he considered the obvious. It lingered in the back of his mind, an impetus to watch every motion of the crowd as Tra'an talked to one of the shopkeepers on the planet. Underpinning the Plagueian's fevered pursuit of victory was the tightening rope of politics, and Eiko felt it pull at him as well.
They'd be justified, Eiko thought. Everything stayed locked in his mind, behind hand-crafted masks and facades. He intentionally relaxed his shoulders, recollecting all the knowledge he could about the Tythonian variety of Jedi and mentally rehearsing how he could draw his ice-blue blade or blaster from underneath his costume. Like it or not, he was tied in with the Plagueian again. Old roots always tangled together more often than new growth. Tra'an's skill kept him in the tight race for supremacy--few could hold a Quaestorship as securely. Security made Eiko uneasy as he waited for the first move, the unexpected crash of pride or anger running amok.
Eiko let a breath out and listened to the hissing of his mask as it leaked the spent air out into the street. It wasn't something to worry about now. He was standing in the It'kla district watching the street. This house sat on one of the busiest streets--and so it was placed early in the duo's investigations to minimize attention. Family members of killed civilians became the first line of information, gathering information under the premise of pro bono investigation.
The vibrant red door opened up and let Tra'an out. For a second, the voices that were rising inside fell silent before they rose up in anger. The feeling bit into Eiko's consciousness.
"Next, then?" Eiko didn't glance at Tra'an, didn't try to spark more conversation with the taller man.
"There should be a better way than this," Tra'an growled.
Eiko let his neck rotate. Tra'an's face was red--with anger? Embarassment? Both? "Lead the way, Prelate." Eiko's hand swept out in front of him, palm up, ready to follow the Plagueian. "Perhaps we're playing on too sore of a subject. We don't have the time to chase down cantina hearsay, but... we could consider the Militia, if we can risk their involvement."
"Didn't your slicers find information from them?"
"Some, yes. Not all, though. We all keep some information trapped inside our heads."
Tra'an motioned for Eiko to walk with him as the two continued to talk. Eiko felt the weight of every word he spoke while they walked through the crowd. Inside his mind was a scale, tipping with every new consideration about the Red Plague's influence, presence, identity, structure, and motivation.
"The families know their own grief and their loved ones--"
"Slim odds, excess attention." Tra'an cut off Eiko's thought. "You're counting on one change of heart, preceeded by recognizable signs, followed by execution."
"If we involve authorities, we risk even more attention."
"We can cover those tracks as we make them."
"Then I'll let this be your choice," Eiko nodded. Still bound up in his own thoughts, he felt like he was staring at an array of knots: Brotherhood politics, Jedi politics, and this mess with the Red Plague. There was nothing new to digest--all the information needed to be unearthed, scraped, cleaned, and turned over again and again until it revealed whatever the Shadow Hand wanted. Halcyon had let it land in Eiko's hands so crudely that he struggled to put the pieces back into place. He could see one end of the Red Plague knot--tangled and frayed, dormant in the hands of the five Obelisk--but the other end was lost somewhere in the middle of things.
How do you follow a disease? He imagined tugging the frayed end, watching the entire knot tighten and one section of rope slip a little more than the others.
"A plague needs carriers." Eiko realized. "Carriers won't always show symptoms--but where plague spreads, there are carriers. Transit records in and out of infected regions..."
"Back to Ordain Vonoro," Tra'an nodded.
"They've been pulling in recruits--we should at least find enough trends to start pinning down ships and persons of interest. If you want your militia, then we can still have them--otherwise, let's start the hunt."
The streets still bore scars of the uprising that had left Menat Ombo in tatters. It was easy to see if one knew where to look for the scorch marks upon the cobbles where homes had burnt to the ground, or stables and stalls had burnt beside them. It was even more visible in the people, in the intermittent feelings of rage and hostility as Harakoans and Tythonians would pass by each other, ever wary. The murder gangs would not soon be forgotten.
AS the disguised Eiko and the shape-shifted Tra’an moved slowly towards the spaceport in a drifting pattern, they sampled the feelings about them. Even as Eiko recoiled slightly at the rage and displacement displayed, Tra’an took it in stride, well used to it from Kapsina. The adopted home planet had plenty of such feelings after his rise to power. Few transitions were bloodless, and his had been rather demonstrably bloody in the wake of the failure of Jaek Kaeth.
The smell of peat and manure rose thick in the air, almost cloying so, even now and here in the capitol of a world that held a sophisticated spaceport but miles from its walls. A study in contrasts could not be better seen than the seemingly Tythonian native walking around in unassuming garb and the covered stranger that seemed not to be seen by anyone at all. The power that radiated off the pair was subtle and felt unconsciously by most, as they worked to pay attention to and taste the world around them through the Force.
By unspoken agreement, they had spent some time sliding into and acclimating themselves to seeing through the Force, and interesting experience in the best of times, in a well-known environment, downright challenging in an alien place. The currents were moving in odd ways, seeming to react to the evident emotions. It was worth noting that while the Jedi were not much in evidence, their Padawans were still around, if discreetly dressed as Tythonians.
It was, in fact, such a person who brokered their first real lead. After all, it takes luck to spot a Jedi Padawan shadowing someone, much less noticing that the kid doesn’t realize it’s a trap. Speaking through the Force, Tra’an and Eiko linked themselves, so that they could share information and power with maximum flexibility. Silently, they limbered their weapons, lightsabers falling into palms as they advanced rapidly upon the flankers trailing at a discreet distance.
The streets seemed to empty rapidly, almost as if it was known in advance what was going to happen. The closer they got to the city walls, the emptier it became. Finally, the tracked man turned to face his tracker at the edge of the last stretch of buildings, before one would enter the No-Man’s land next to the walls. “Come out kid! I know you’re there!” The rather tall Tythonian was dressed non-descript, in brown leathers that looked worn form a lifetime of use. Brown hair and brown eyes completed the look, rendering him generic, save for the yellow cord around his right arm.
The Padawan emerged from his hiding in a nearby alley, only to panic as the two toughs did the same, moving in with menacing grins. The Tythonian grinned, his boasting filling the air. “Not so tough without your Masters to protect you, are you? They shouldn’t send you out alone!” Unlimbering a blaster, the tough glared at the kid. Even in his fear, the Jedi-in-training fought to stay calm, but the fear kept his grasp of the Force at bay. Even as he struggled, it slipped further and further away, only to leave him caught in the hands of the enforcers.
Tra’an and Eiko continued to move forward slowly, their old training and times spent together coming back as if it had been but a day before. With each word of boast, each step of lumbering hulks, they moved yards in silence and obscurity. It was as the fool was leveling the Blaster, speaking of the greatness of the deliverer that two of the very best Dark Jedi struck. Tra’an focused his will upon the boaster, immobilizing the fool in a cocoon of the Force, even as Eiko activated his steel colored lightsaber with a thrum and thrust into the spine of the nearest brute. With a short anguished cry, the heap of muscle let go its prize and collapsed upon the weed-strewn cobble stones only seconds ahead of his companion.
With a mixture of awe and fear, the Padawan looked at them, trepidation holding his tongue only moments. “Did Master Drodik send you to save me?” The hope and joy that shown like a beacon winked out just moments later at the harsh sounding chuckle from Tra’ans modified throat.
“No. Not in the least. I’m sure that if he knew we were here, his heart would turn black and his blood run as ice. Return to him, and tell him that Plagueis sends its regards, and that he owes it for your Life. Have him take you to that Jedi you call High Councilor, and let him hear how he owes the Brotherhood for cleaning up his own backyard.” The slight sneer at the end did the trick, taking the extinguished joy, and twisting it savagely into a sharp flare of anger and hatred.
Leaning forward, he locked eyes with the youngling. “Feel that boy? That’s the true source of power in this Universe. Use that as fuel, let it lead you to the Dark Side. When you’re ready to learn of what can help you prevail over enemies like this, come to Lyspair and ask for Tra’an Reith. I’ll find you then. Off with you now!” The eyes of the Tythonian were colder than the pits of Morroth, and the hatred had burrowed deep. With a grin, the boy fled to serve his purpose, perhaps more than one with time.
Turning back to the matter at hand, Tra’an observed Eiko pulling the fool into a nearby deserted building, and followed with a grin. He rarely took pleasure in these things, but it was the right time to get personally involved. Such things could only ever be fun.
Ronovi had to stop herself from emitting a slight whistle from between her teeth. Despite the utter obliteration of large portions of the Jedi buildings and temples, the reconstruction efforts were impressive. The Halls of the Watchmen, once riddled with gaping holes from the fiery teeth of Brotherhood fighters, had been quickly albeit roughly patched up. The courtyard that had been turned black from blood and blaster bolts had been refreshed with new soil and plants. Even the Garden of Meditative Reflection, perhaps one of the most valued areas of the Abbey, had a brand new dome and surrounding artifacts.
It was almost too easy. The Odanites most likely had more support and allies than the Lion of Tarthos had first ever conceived.
Four guards of the Council of Odan-Urr led Shaz'air and Ronovi to the Meeting Chambers - also adequately rebuilt - and deep into the main council chamber. Ronovi, though unable to join the legions of Dark Jedi who infiltrated the space, had heard of the unique structure of that particular room. It indeed opened up like an enormous chasm, a pit almost more suited to an arena. But instead of combatants, there were several brown-robed Jedi huddled beside one another, very much outnumbering the two Dark Jedi.
Exchanging a look with Shaz'air, the Epicanthix wondered if they stood a chance of making it out alive if necessary. But from the looks of the Jedi, none of them were ready to make the first strike.
Seated in a carved chair above the Jedi who sat cross-legged on the carpet of the pit, a simply dressed Nagai presided over the Council. As the two Obelisks neared him, he rose quietly yet abruptly, never once averting his eyes or bowing his head. Despite his calm features, Ronovi could tell he was not afraid to rise up to the presence of the enemy. But the Gand was nowhere to be seen.
"Your names, ranks, and intentions," he spoke somberly, like a military commander addressing soldiers.
Ronovi stretched her teeth in a pained smile. "Darth Evil, Malicious Murderer...Amusement." She tapped her finger against her gauntleted wrist as if conveying an imaginary time device. "But we're not really into formal introductions. We came here for a brief Q and A."
The Nagai did not flinch. Well, he certainly has brass ba -
"You both are rather intrepid to come to our sovereign planet," he replied. "Unless, of course, you mean to cause trouble."
"No more trouble than we've already caused," Shaz'air retorted, and Ronovi wondered if he was fighting back a smile.
"We came to speak with your Quaestor."
Frowning, the Nagai narrowed his already frozen eyes. "You are speaking with him."
"...You're not Ji."
"No. I am Drodik Va'lence al'Tor. High Councillor Ji is dead."
A soft murmur rippled through the space, as if the Jedi were skeptical that the Brotherhood was unaware of this chain of events. Ronovi repeated the word like she were sampling a hard candy.
"A sacrifice in the grand scheme of things." Drodik waved his hand as if brushing away his own words. "But to dwell on his martyrdom is not useful. You come to speak of the threat of the Red Plague."
Ronovi could feel Shaz'air's body bristle as he spoke. "They have grown in numbers across many territories of the Brotherhood. Not just New Tython."
"The Red Plague, for the past four days, have not been active on our planet," said Drodik. "In fact, we have heard witnesses claim that some men identified as Plague members departed from Tythonian space."
Now the Headmaster could feel a slam of energy against her gut, a ball of frustration growing from a small hard knot into a great sphere of "What in Hell's name?" She thought about stepping further toward Drodik, but she knew that any sign of approach would cause the Jedi to react, and she surprisingly wasn't in the mood for offing dozens of light siders today.
"Well, that was rather pointless."
Ronovi muffled a curse. To think that they had arrived days after perhaps a full migration of Red Plague soldiers was far more than agitating. She swiped a citrus from a market stand and gave a death glare to the vendor before he could protest.
"Shouldn't all be in vain," she muttered callously as she tore away the peel and bit into the fruit's soft flesh. "No fighting force leaves any planet bare-boned. Reserves have to be scattered somewhere."
"So you suggest we scrape for these guys on a planet we don't much care to protect?" asked Shaz'air.
"I suggest we find someone who can tell us where they went," replied Ronovi in between bites. "Especially if their leader is among those who left New Tython."
"So where do we start?"
Ronovi scanned the crowded marketplace with an arched eyebrow. She let the tendrils of her Force senses grope at the air, her skill of psychometry becoming sharper with each breath. She focused on objects, people, places. Anywhere where an imprint of a Force sensitive would linger. She started walking after letting a few more words hang in the air, the Miraluka following close behind.
"Find a braggart."
It'kla District (Reconstruction Zone)
Eiko hauled the brute up the stairs and into the dusty interior of the house, carefully feeling the center of balance shift so that he could maintain control even without height and strength on his side. Even if his demeanor stayed neutral, he relished the opportunity to unbalance, lifting the Tythonian up onto his toes and shoving him backward against the rough earthy walls. It was empty, part of the reconstruction effort going on throughout the city.
Before the Tythonian could right himself, he heard the living hum of Eiko's saber pointed evenly at his chest.
"Explain," Eiko called roughly.
The Tythonian spit at the saber and watched as the thin strip of steam rose instantly on contact. He thought it was enough of an explanation. Eiko lunged forward and let his saber dig into his captive's shoulder, then leashing in the howl of pain with the threat of his saber.
"The bodies are out of the way," Tra'an dusted off his hands as he stepped inside, still grinning fiercely.
"What did you want with that padawan?" Eiko demanded, then he shook his head again. "Are you part of the plague?"
The Tythonian sneered. "You're hunting them, are you?"
Tra'an adjusted his gloves and started entertaining thoughts of tortures--near-deaths that would bend the Tythonian away from his wit and tear him apart bit by bit. "My turn?"
Eiko slashed at the other shoulder. "Did you want to meet death slowly, kriffer?" He felt his mind yank against the restraints of reason--something raw writhed underneath his skin and begged for him to put the Tythonian down. The boy--the padawan, still braided and careless--reminded Eiko of what life had been years ago and, while that realization rose up in his mind, passion was still flowing out into his consciousness like blood from an open wound. "Tra'an?" he called as he stepped back, "do the honors."
Eiko stepped back and let his thoughts settle around him as he forced himself to breathe regularly.
The Tythonian choked, lifted up over the floor and assaulted with bursts of energy. Soon, the illusions would start and he would scream out as nightmares rose out of his thoughts to tear the truth out of him. The cold exterior faded and Tra'an gloated as the Tythonian came to his knees.
You really are a pendulum swinging wildly, Eiko thought to himself.
"I haven't heard from the Plague in days!" The Tythonian gasped, his eyes squinted shut as he spoke past all the pain that made the edges of his words ragged. "I swear! I swear on the Oath."
"Burn the Oath," Eiko rose. "Where are they?"
"Gone where?" Eiko lit his saber again.
"I don't know--I only work a few jobs for them! You have to believe me, I'm not involved."
"What's the yellow cord around your arm?" Tra'an pointed.
The Tythonian looked confused for a second, then panicked as he started explaining as quickly as he could. He tugged at the cord once before he realized that his exposed arms were burnt. He swallowed hard to ward off the pain. "It's for sympathizers--anyone who wants to help them get the Council away from the Jedi and get our planet back to ourselves. That's all. That's all."
"That means you've been involved."
"No--I mean, yes, I've been getting jobs from them, but I need something, right? I need to survive."
Eiko shook his head. "That's all he knows. We picked a brute, not a brain. Tra'an." The name slipped off his tongue, warped through the microphones and speakers until it was spit out like a command.
Tra’an cracked his knuckles, a small piece of atmosphere that completely belied what he was going to do next. Reaching out with the Force, the Shi’ido grabbed the man’s chin, and pushed with enough force to quickly rotate his neck, but with only just enough to snap the vertebrae, not enough to sever the spinal column entirely. Crouching down to rifle through the man’s pockets, he looked him in the eyes. “This will be your punishment, a slow, lingering death, unable to move, even as you smell that you’ve fouled yourself. It will take about two minutes for you to pass out, and they will seem like an eternity.”
The quick search yielded two communicators, three cred chips, and one crudely drawn map. Turning to Eiko as he stepped away from the body, the Quaestor flashed the spoils to his companion. “Brawn or not, the man isn’t without curiosity. I suspect that this map may be of some limited use, and even if it isn’t, the tech is what we needed most anyways. You can slice it with that portable piece of technological wizardry you carry with you and get what we need.”
With a small sound of annoyance that sounded like static, the former Revan Quaestor took the proffered tech, even as they left the ramshackle building behind. If nothing else, the little trace they left could be attributed to random violence or foul misdeeds, given that there were no lightsaber or scorch marks on the body. The last thing they needed was to further destabilize the area. Even if we don’t like the lighties, the fact is that Muz wants them. Halc would not appreciate us making things worse and having to bring the Iron Fleet back out here.
Eiko plugged one of the communicators into his portable slicing kit, before placing them both in an inner pocket in his robes. The sand didn’t play nicely with the electronics at the best of time, much less during the midafternoon when the setting sun caused the wind to rise and send small sand flurries down the alley ways. The wind carried everything with it, not just the sand. The sounds and smells of the marketplace came with it, as the wind blew away from the center of town and out towards the walls and through on to the spaceport.
“Do you think they’ll have found something by the time we meet up with them?” Eiko asked Tra’an. The thin, metallic voice cut clearly through the wind by being distinctly out of place.
A small chuckle escaped the lips of the transformed shapeshifter. “I suspect that Ronovi will have just out of Whyren’s by now.” He chuckled harder. “So yes. She has this thing about bars and information.”
Ronovi Tavisaen, Obelisk Primarch, Headmaster of the Shadow Academy of the Dark Brotherhood, glared at the empty flask that failed to yield even a drop of precious whiskey to her parched tongue.
“Shaz’air, we need to make a detour.” The soft, mellifluous voice was still sharp enough to pierce through the hum of the market.
The response from the Quaestor of House Taldryan was less than elegant. “What?”
“I said, we need to take a detour.” The edge of her voice frosted just a bit, enough to be noticeable.
He blinked, before raising an eyebrow. “Why?”
With a sigh and dramatic flip of the wrist, she held up her empty flask, hanging over the ground, obviously just as dry as the market around them. “I’m out.”
With a roll of his eyes, he turned away, tossing a casual, “So?” over his shoulder.
“The last time I went without Whyren’s for more than ten minutes, I broke a man’s nose just to feel it squish, the healed it to do it again. You won’t be happy if I don’t get my whiskey.” Leaning forwards, a thin smile stretched her lips flat and bloodless, her words lilting just enough to make implications of things he wouldn’t want to happen.
With a shake of his head, the Exarch pulled out the audio map they had obtained at the port and asked it for a local bar. While attempting to determine the location, Ronovi looked around and spotted a sign that said in basic, Dry Lips Cantina, with the local version scrawled underneath. With a quick stride and swift movement, she was already gone by the time he put away the map to see where she was going. Cursing under his breath, the Miraluka moved quickly to follow, even as the device in his pocket continued to beep at him.
As she reached the threshold, the Epicanthix slowed down long enough to smooth her coat, ensuring that they hid the distinctive hilt underneath. It gave her partner just enough time to join her, before they entered the dimly lit establishment. The tall beauty moved gracefully for the bar, adeptly avoiding everything between her and the bottle her eyes had alighted on. Reaching the smoothed wood, a surprising find in the dusty environment, she leaned forward to rest her elbows on the bar.
The bartender came over to her with a smile, seeing where she was looking. “An excellent choice Ma’am. The Whyren’s is,” he said before being cut off.
“I’ll take the bottle,” the Centurion interrupted him. “The whole bottle. And a flask if you have one. I’ll need a spare to fit the rest of that.”
The bartender just raised an eyebrow before she put down enough credits to cover the cost of the bottle, plus ten percent. With a smile, the exchange was swift and precise. A grin now shone upon her face, with a momentary savoring of the smell as she popped the cork on the bottle of whiskey. As she stood up to begin pouring the liquor into a flask, her coat shifted back to reveal the hilt at her hip.
A nearby man, of normal and non-descript stature saw it and immediately jumped up and pointed at her. “She’s one of them! A stinking Jedi!”
Immediately, Shaz’air turned to face the man, legs sliding into a defensive posture even as he said to Ronovi, “We need to leave. Now.”
Ignoring him, the female Obelisk was already onto her second flask, finishing the preservation of that amber liquid moved at a precise pace, one not interrupted by the pleasurable roll of her eyes and deep sigh of satisfaction at the sharp, spicy scent. The bottle landed back on the countertop, with a quick clasp of the latch on the flask as the stranger with a yellow armband approached her. Turning with a half-smile to the man, the Dark Jedi answered with a lazy grin.
“Yes?" she asked with a lazy grin. "May I help you?”
The slow smolder that had begun when he jumped up burned even hotter now at the insult to his challenge. The fact that she regarded him as nothing only fanned the flames of his anger hotter. “I demand that you show me that hilt on your hip and prove you’re not a Jedi!” he hissed.
At this second, louder proclamation of her supposed status, even more people took notice, the band on the cantina stage coming to a halt. Still in a reasonably good mood from her luck at finding a double bottle of the Whyren’s Reserve, a full twelve ounces of her favorite Whiskey, Ronovi patiently smiled at him before answering laconically.
“I’m sorry. I don’t even know your name. We have to be friends before I can open my coat for you.”
The consternation on his face was something that only amused her even more. The flummoxed look only grew as she smiled more with each passing moment of his deepening confusion. Shaking it off, the man reached for her hip, only to encounter the palm of her hand in mid-swing, having anticipated his movement. The distinct pop of a broken nose was audible in the silence of the crowd, even as the man fell to the floor, dead from having the cartilage shoved like a knife into his brain.
Stepping over the body, the two made their way for the door even as all the chairs in the cantina slid back at once, generating a tremendous noise. Shaz’air looked at his companion with a sigh. “You really couldn’t have found a better way to handle that?”
Looking over at him, even as she loosened up for the brawl, “Really?” she said. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages.” As she reached into her coat, the thickened fingers returned immediately with vibro knucklers, which began to hum as she tightened her fists. “You didn’t really expect me to walk into a bar without having some kind of fight did you? This is how we get information.”
Even as she turned her face past the door to take her half of the cantina, Tra’an walked in with Eiko right behind him. “I told you she’d be in a bar. And ready to fight no less.”
The roll of the eyes which accompanied this statement revealed the Praetor’s distaste with the fact that his companion had indeed been correct. It was not his way to fight in a bar when other, stealthier methods would do.
Eiko turned to face Ronovi who stood between he and the dead-body at the back of the bar, eyes quickly sizing up what happened in the time the Headmaster and Quaestor had entered the building, before returning to the looming subject at hand.
"Much like you, we ran into a bit of trouble ourselves."
"Yeah, only our little encounter wasn't caused while being distracted from the real mission." Said Tra'an, a sarcastic tone rippling through his speech.
Eiko continued over the Plageuin, "We managed to meet a zealot of sorts for the Plague. After some intense discussion, we managed to extract a data-chip from him." He said in a low tone. Ronovi shot him brief glare, her mouth opening slowly as she spoke. "Let's talk about this some-other place, possibly somewhere more private?"
As the Epicanthix said that Shaz'air turned around at the sense of something coming behind him. Tra'an spoke softly, he too sensing what was to come. "I think we've been followed." He said, chin raising towards the other end of the bar, motioning the other's full attention. Three men entered into the room, one of them was darker skinned and bore a scar across his face familiar to all four of the Dark Jedi in the room.
The high-pitched hum of a charging blaster rang out across the bar from the back-door in which the three intruders had entered, announcing their intent. Ronovi turned on her heel, eyes sizing up the band of men. "Now fella's, let's take this outside, shall we?" She said in a mocking tone, shoulders shrugged and arms half-way raised.
Two of the men raised their arms slightly above their waist, their hands each clenching a metal cylinder; their form was duly noted by those who recognize Soresu. Shaz'air moved first, being closer to the three he raised a free hand and pushed a table and it's chairs towards the three men while his other hand reached for his Jedi weapon. The blade sprung to life just a a firey-green bolt of energy shot towards Ronovi, the Taldrya's long arms extending to bat away the bolt.
Two lightsabers ignited from behind the Exarch, a bath of orange and light blue filling the bar from behind his back. Two more weapons sprung to life before him, one green and one yellow. Ronovi stood upright, un-clipping the SSK-7's at her side, standing beside Taldryan's Quaestor. "I don't understand... I asked nicely." She said, face completely emotionless.
The former leader of Revan outstretched a gloved hand and tapped the Miraluka on the back, motioning for his attention. "Shaz'air, back out now, we need to relay the information on this chip to Fremoc right away." Orange light ceased to bathe the bar as Tra'an led the way out of the building. Ronovi glanced over at Shaz'air and then to Eiko, shoulders shrugging once more in a nonchalant way. "It's now or never." She said, lifting the two blasters towards her target and pulsing the trigger on her pistols. "After you!"
The other followers of Ferran darted out after Tran'an in single file as Ronovi slowly back out, bolts flying from her weapons in cover-fire.
Over the ruckus from the bar Tra'an could be heard talking out-loud, "... yes, that's right. They're Jedi. I don't recognize them, but they certainly knew we were here." His hand was outstretched holding a comm device. The Plageuin Quaestor looked for Eiko as he exited the building, weapon drawn. "Eiko, patch over the codes to Fremoc, he'll analyze them on his ships computer while we find cover."
The masked man grabbed a comm link and another piece of technology as he began to encrypt the proper codes to the Fist. Tra'an placed the communicator in his pocket and began to search for a shelter. Ronovi barreled out of the bar and began to run to catch up with the rest of the group, her long-strides quickly catching up. Cutting around a corner, they came in site of a small inn with a shallow roof. "That'll do!" Said the Headmaster.
The Prelate nodded in agreement and bustled past the group, meeting the innkeeper he persuaded him to let them temporarily use one of the rooms. The small Harakoan barely protested as the rest of the group filed into the building, Shaz'air and Ronovi having to duck to enter into the low-ceiling entrance.
Eiko looked around the room for a moment, then nodded that it was safe. Ronovi spoke first. "Data-chip? Anything of importance on it?"
"It's a personalized chip, though it has a high-military grade coding over it; something the Iron Throne uses... nothing I can't handle. I bypassed the various safety locks that were on it - whoever owns this doesn't want it to be found, so there must be some revealing information on this." Eiko said while he pulled the coding-device from his pocket, surveying the small, luminescent screen.
"How much longer until we can hack it properly?" Said Ronovi, her nose filled with the aromatic scent of booze from the Whyren's that had spilled over her fingers while she had been pouring it into her flask.
"Not too much longer. I'm being gentle with it, as there could be some valuable information on this. Fremoc is doing what he can. We should know shortly as to what is happening." He said, eying Ronovi as she succumbed once more to her addiction.
At the shuttle Fremoc received the data transfer from Eiko, and immediately started to run it through the ship's computers, trying to find the origin point of the codes. Being on the shuttle had been boring for him, but he volunteered to stay behind with the Royal Guardsmen protecting himself and Ronovi, to keep the ship safe.
"Guys, return to the ship. It's only a matter of time before we know where we are going with these codes," stated Fremoc over the comlink to Eiko, loud enough for them all to hear. A message scrolled across Fremoc's screen as he exhaled a large plume of smoke. "I've got a location."
"I've got one as well," stated Eiko. "We're almost at the ship now."
Fremoc walked to the back and lowered the ramp for his allies to board the shuttle. The four followers of Ferran walked up the steps, the smell of booze and ionized air filled the Fist's nostrils, followed by Ronovi's slight swagger as she strode up the ramp. Fremoc hit the ramp controls once more, to close the ramp before turning to the group. "Trouble?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle," stated the Headmaster.
Eiko had walked to the console that Fremoc had previously vacated and began to work his magic between the computer and his own handheld console. Tra'an began to pilot the shuttle out of the hanger, allowing everyone to relax as they exited the atmosphere. Looking to the masked man, "The ship determined the origin to be in the Yridia system."
"I know, I'm checking a few more things. I'm certain I can pinpoint it a bit better if I try a few work arounds that I know of." A moment of silence a then a chuckle of success echoed from the mask. "I've got a location between Yridia 3, and Yridia 4." Without a word Tra'an plotted the hyperspace route to the Yridia checkpoint.
"Oh Yridia, how I loathe thee," grumbled Ronovi. "We should go in there and just take one of their shuttles at the checkpoint."
"No Ronovi," the Fist's tone carried a command as well as his experience. "As much as I would want to go in there guns blazing, that is not how we do things. You are a member of the Dark Council, and supposed to remain neutral."
"Tarentum is where I came from, I know everything about them, including how fracked up they are. I want to see them burn with the rotting corpses they love to play with."
"Even with you knowing everything about them, and all of your hate towards them, you are still a member of the Dark Council and supposed to remain neutral, and not instigate fights." The Fist's own rage starting to pour from him. He took a long pull at the cigar before exhaling, "I have a plan though. Guardsmen, take off your armor."
The four Royal Guard members in the room looked at each other and then at their Commander. The only brave one was Cethgus underneath his red armor, to step forward, "Sir, we are not allowed-"
"Take off your helmet."
"Take it off." The Zabrak pulled the red helmet off, and before the Arconan could realize it, Fremoc's armored fist Cethgus in the nose, knocking the man backwards. Blood started to run down from the man's nose, "Are you going to question me again?"
"No sir." He began to take the rest of the armor off, as well as the others.
"Just before we exit hyperspace, everyone put the Guardsmen armor on. We're going to use this to get past security and move freely through Yridia."
The sparse shade of the crooked tree barely protected the camped soldiers from the sinking heat of the sun, as the silhouettes of temples and estates rippled like shadowy mirages in the distance. If one were to gaze from a watchtower of Deh'naalia, or from a balcony on Anshar Kahn's estate, the noticeable dark and muddled smudge on the landscape would perhaps cause some confusion. If one were to look closer, however, that smudge would be a swarm.
Rayas sat against the withered trunk of the tree with his battered helmet propped against his knee. He had worn this armor for a long time, since he, too, had been flicked away like a dead scab from the Brotherhood's arm. The other members of the Red Plague wore war trophies and trinkets of their own, their breastplates bruised and scarred, their helmets jagged and weeping. Some of their armor had been ripped from dead bodies, other pieces merely metal scraps of past glory. Many of the men did not even remove their helmets as they roamed about, the torn tails of their robes scattering dust about the dry, harsh plains of the planet.
And, as Rayas smirked at the image of so many soldiers buzzing as if they were in a hive - similarly dressed, similarly minded - not a single ribbon of red to be found.
Rubbing a hand against an ulcerated hole in his crown - he had lost a vestigial horn on New Tython - the Zabrak rose from his resting spot and walked slowly over to Zel. The man was standing a suitable distance away from the rest of the Plague members, stiff and unyielding. He never let go of his spear.
"Zel," he spoke, but his superior hushed with him with a wave of his hand.
"No talking. Listen."
Rayas fell silent, even though he heard nothing. Zel breathed in, then out. His happy exhalation was rough and uncomfortable.
"Remind me to thank our little friend for the Yridia hyper-coordinates, Galina," he said. "You're a wonderful little messenger."
Raising an eyebrow, Rayas realized that for the first time, Zel was actually threading together phrases that were longer than three words at a time. He tried speaking with him again.
"Zel," he proclaimed, "once the dead have smoldered...we ought to take over Messina."
A small grunt emitted from Zel's throat. Rayas didn't know if it was skepticism, so he continued.
"We would make a much bigger impact should we direct communications to the Tarentum summit. They're weak enough to comply with our demands if this planet is sieged..."
"The only sound they'll hear from me," growled Zel, "is a blade through their stomach."
The Zabrak frowned. He had always been the more militaristically minded second-in-command, the one who had planned out several of the Red Plague's strikes on Tythonian soil. But even then, Zel had ignored much of the strategy put behind the attacks. True, he was strong - Equite 4 rank now, what with all of the massacres he had caused - but he was no future-minded man. Rayas tried again.
"It's unwise to simply kill and trample, Zel." He felt his voice grow warm and sticky in his mouth. "We need a plan. If we can take over Yridia II and Yridia IX, what's to stop us from taking more? Plagueis. Scholae Palatinae. Taldryan. We can take them all. We can conquer them..."
He didn't hear the clatter of the javelin as it dropped to the ground, nor did he hear the suppressed primal scream-turned guttural snarl as Zel backhanded him. The crack of the Dark Jedi's knuckles against Rayas's red face caused every helmeted head to pivot, the eyes staring blankly behind their near universal visors.
Rayas gingerly lifted his hand and stroked the growing purple welt that was growing on his cheek. Zel's visage, countered with the Zabrak's subdued look of surprise, was alight with fury, the scars stretching and contorting in terrible ways around his mouth as he spoke.
"I do not care for your stupid wishes for power, Galina!" His hands twisted about as he yelled, as if he could not control their tics. "Conquest is unimportant. It is temporary, fleeting. No. I wish to destroy the Brotherhood, ruin it from the inside out, and leave it to die. Because there are only two things that linger on forever without ever being threatened, Galina. The first is death. The second..."
Zel paused for a moment, allowing the rumble in his voice to subside. What was left was a wisp of malice, issuing from his lips like a feathering plume of smoke.
Rayas did not respond. Not this time. He was not in the mood to be slapped again.
"No more talk of take-overs or tyranny, Galina," whispered Zel, a frightening smile emerging from the mangled doughy skin around his teeth. "I grow tired of the same games. We kill, we burn, we leave. Do you understand?"
Again, Rayas did not speak. He watched as Zel retrieved his spear, the Human cradling the blunt part of its blade in his hand as if soothing a small child. His rough fingers stroked the tip so that only the smallest amount of blood trickled from his cuticles, and with a loud slurping noise, he sucked up the plasma and sighed with disgusting satisfaction.
"So...remind me again of the plan?"
"Once Messina has fallen..."
Rayas's voice noticeably shuddered. He composed himself, letting the anger he had learned to control disappear.
"Once Messina has fallen, and the temple of Deh'naalia decimated, we take the Messina estate's ships to Yridia IX. The Tarentae's fleets are authorized - they will be allowed into the Mystics Asylum. There, you'll find..."
"Yes." Zel's growl rose in volume as he pronounced the word, almost as if the idea of revenge aroused him. "Bloodfyre, my dear...come to Papa."
The arrival at the Yridian checkpoint had gone very smoothly, but Ronovi was growing tired of wearing the red armor of the Royal Guard. Therefore, she was pleased to strip the pieces of it away from her frame and return to her usual attire, once the transport had safely landed in the jungle of Yridia III.
She had not been on this planet for a very long time. The population, since she had been Consul and then Quaestor, still must have been very small. House Reinthaler had been situated in the wilderness, until it succumbed to decay when the numbers of Tarenti sharply fell. If the rumors were true - that Bloodfyre had fled from the throne of Yridia and Anshar had stepped in once again to spare the nobility - then perhaps there was some hope after all for the house.
Or perhaps not. The Tarenti were weak - very weak. And Ronovi, deflecting an automatic scowl from just thinking about it, knew that Bloodfyre had betrayed the Brotherhood with his cowardice. Because of the Shaevalian's unexpected resignation as Prince and failure to alert the Dark Council, Tarentum was in shambles. And if the house wasn't prepared in the next few hours, or so she estimated, it could lose everything to a herd of angry, jaded warriors.
Beckoning the rest of her companions out of the shuttle, Ronovi felt her boots sink into the swampy ground as the majestic canopy of the planet hung over their heads. It was far too humid for her liking, a great change from the temperature and climate of Lyspair. She drank greedily from one flask of Whyren's, all in an attempt to cool herself down.
"So where do we start?" Eiko asked.
Ronovi coughed, the excess whiskey tickling her throat. "Well, we've got two outposts to start from. Since the Red Plague ships appeared between Yridia III and Yridia IV, they've got two planets to choose from in terms of hiding out and preparing for battle. Yridia III, to me, was the better first step."
"And if they're not here?" said Tra'an.
"Yridia III is also home to a complete archive of Brotherhood information and Krath studies called the Pyramid," replied Ronovi. "At least, it was before I left. Now I'm not so sure. But even if the Red Plague hasn't made it there and tried to infiltrate it, we can perhaps check it out and see if it's still accessible. If so, maybe some consoles are stable enough for us to use in order to detect movement in Yridia. The Pyramid had everything from DNA banks to navigational systems to alert us of incoming or outcoming Yridia traffic."
"And where is this magical archive?" Shaz'air inquired with a small sneer.
The Epicanthix let her eyes flutter about the foliage, her periphery vision tinged with plants and shrubs of all colors and shapes. If her memory was correct, the Pyramid was not far from the dock where they had landed. She had purposely, as Consul, built the small port several miles away from Reinthaler's base. So if her calculations were sound, she knew exactly where to go. And perhaps if Red Plague had enough connections, they'd find it, too.
After all, if some of these warriors had been thrown aside by Tarentum...
"East-south-east," she heard herself declare, pointing an index finger in the direction of the rising sun. "Let's get a move on, boys."
The County of Messina was quiet. Very quiet. Master Anshar had left his servants and workers to tend to his personal property. They worked the mills. They managed the supplies and the goods. They even swept the manor and cleaned it so that even the walls could shine like polished eggshells in the morning light.
The Yridian Prince's butler set out a glass of brandy for himself to drink, as the master now tended to matters on Yridia II. He was accustomed to the man's disappearances - after all, this was the third time he had chosen to reign over Tarentum. The butler let the crisp golden liquid simmer on his upper lip, bristling the hairs that grew there.
There was a strange stomping sound from outside the manor. The esteemed servant rose from his seat, letting a brief, questioning interjection tumble from his mouth. He pulled the curtain aside and froze at the sight before him.
The carcasses of his fellow employees were smoldering. The estate was on fire.
"This is where your archives are?"
The Pyramid was exactly what its name implied - a massive prism catching the light of the dawn on its tip and looming over the five Dark Jedi. They had encountered no resistance or defensive troops along the way, so that was already a bad sign that Red Plague had not shown up here. However, the sight of the building did make Ronovi grin, especially when she heard the drawing of breath from all of her allies.
"Was, it looks like," she corrected Tra'an's exclamation. "When I left Yridia, I don't believe my successors ever bothered to continue maintaining this place. Most likely all the data was moved, or if not, it's sitting there...waiting to be looked at."
"Isn't that a little counterproductive?' Fremoc asked.
"Tarentum," snorted the Primarch, "has been nothing but counterproductive since I left. Now, stand aside. We're checking this place out, with or without the Red Plague."
She approached the Pyramid's entrance, a simple sealed door that was hidden under a small arch that protruded like a golden overbite. The access pad still looked to be intact, however, and as Ronovi let her one organic eye settle upon the screen, a thin shaft of light massaged her retina and a small tinny voice could be heard.
"Access granted. Welcome back, Quaestor Tavisaen Tarentae."
"Oh, this is just pathetic," groaned Shaz'air.
The lobby of the Pyramid already looked neglected. Chairs, floors, and tapestries on the walls looked withered from premature aging, the reds and golds mutated into sad purples and mustards. Ronovi's eyes scanned the space, looking at the forgotten furniture and framed pictures. However, it was not what she saw in front of her, but what she heard. The hum of generators buzzing along the walls, the vibrations beneath the floor, and the warmth filling the lobby - it all signified that the power was working, and the Pyramid was still active. But how?
When the turbolift also complied with Ronovi's gaze, she stepped inside and dug into her memory about where they should go next. If Red Plague was perhaps situated on a different planet, it could be moving fast to attack. They had to quickly maneuver toward whatever data banks were still available, in order to detect the "prints" of where any rogue ships had traveled. That is, if those systems worked at all anymore.
She remembered the headquarters of Reinthaler and its battle teams at the time - Spectre, Black Phoenix, Zurhidon, others - and pronounced her destination slowly.
"Access to Floor B3," she ordered.
"Access granted," replied the voice.
The turbolift lurched downward like a tumbling capsule and shook abrasively as it reached the lower levels of the Pyramid. Even Ronovi felt a little shaky as she stepped off of the "ride," exchanging determined glances with Shaz'air and Fremoc as they moved to the front. Tra'an and Eiko, once again standing together, scoured the several doors and entryways that were typically sealed - but with the former Tarentae around, all of their walls of defense could be breached.
"So," Fremoc said to Ronovi, "door number one, door number two, or door number three?"
Ronovi only had a moment to stretch her mouth into a smirk when the door to what once were the Krath Laboratories zipped open. As the extra light seeped into the room, she let her eyes refocus upon the vast silhouettes of data banks and DNA reserves that still appeared to remain intact. She would have rolled her eyes were it not for the fact that someone was here, and as she reached for her saberstaff, a strangled scream preceded a small red body as it hurled itself at the five men.
The hiss of five different sabers and saberstaffs stopped the being in its tracks, its legs skidding on the slick floor and its eyes glowing a harsh amber in the multiple sabers' glow. Its miniature robes hung limply from its haggard frame, and its long ears drooped as it attempted to clutch a spluttering shoto saber in its paws. As the plasma blade it held feebly swooped back and forth like a pendulum, the intruders slowly lowered their weapons and stared.
Ronovi recognized the Kushiban almost immediately. He, too, appeared to have aged too soon, like the Pyramid. But no better reaction could have been made besides the wordless expression that Tra'an directed at the Epicanthix. Which, translated into Basic, would've been this:
"Rabbit. It's a rabbit. ...Explain."
Tra'an's eyebrow twitched.
"Raimi--a Kushiban." Ronovi waved her hand absently.
It looked familiar; Ronovi's expression lit with hints of emotion and quickly shuffled them underneath the surface until they could be addressed later. Without a mask, Eiko noted, he would have looked the same. Nostalgia hung in Ronovi's fingers, her glances past the Kushiban towards the arrays of machines and now-empty tanks that once held the experiments of the Krath.
The Kushiban didn't matter to Eiko. He already had his lightsaber tucked underneath his robes, leaving his fingers free to fiddle with the wire to his slicing equipment. The Pyramid's short life had ended before he'd even taken the Aedile's seat in his old House. Eiko forced his face into a sneering expression, crushing the memories before they unseated his focus. Oh, how cold you've grown, he thought to himself.
"How long have you been here?" There was wonder in Ronovi's voice, staring down at the creature.
The Kushiban was a quarter of the height of the Headmaster, reared up on its hind legs. Its fur slowly shifted towards white.
"Start on that terminal and tell me what you find," Eiko whispered as he tapped Shaz'air on the shoulder and pointed inside the laboratory. Even if Ronovi's exterior seemed dry of emotion, the conversation might wander away with a current of sentimentality.
Raimi's yellow eyes glinted brightly and focused on the shift of fabric. "Not yours! I am the--I am in charge here." The light-grey fur flushed red and Raimi bared his teeth.
Eiko stopped mid-stride. He straightened his back and exhaled.
"It's fine, Raimi. He's with me. It's official business," Ronovi reassured the creature.
It twisted its head sideways. "And who are you to tell the Director of the Krath Laboratory what is and is not official business?"
"I'll start hunting in the Security Office, then," Eiko bowed lightly before turning back down the hallway, following the signs that would lead him to another console. He glanced at the dust lingering along the floor, marked with only one set of footprints.
"No, Eiko," Ronovi shouted back. "We need the DNA banks. Raimi, don't you remember me? Ronovi?"
Eiko turned back to see the creature shifting back to white, his furry face turning reverently towards the Headmaster.
"Quaestor? Quaestor!" Raimi settled onto all fours for a second, then tilted back up to rest on his rear legs. "I made sure to protect the Laboratory, Ron-o-vi. Everything is still working, just the way that you wanted it to be. So much to tell you. So much--forty-nine new varieties of flowers--most poisonous, most poisonous..."
As Ronovi followed the Kushiban as it danced around the lab tables, bounding up empty crates and containers to the work surfaces, the others slowly walked into the main chamber of the laboratory.
"Don't touch that!" Raimi's screech broke the silence again as Shaz'air started towards the first workstation.
"Raimi," Ronovi warned.
Eiko glanced over his shoulder as Raimi's fur started to settle again. He watched the flickering displays in front of Tra'an and Shaz'air--signs of deteriorated powersources unable to support the whole workstation. "I need a console that's linked to the building's power."
Ronovi pointed towards another door deeper in the laboratory. "All the databanks are in there. Research data, DNA profiles..." Her voice dropped slightly. She looked back at Raimi, his paw clawing at the air in muted protest as Eiko started towards the heart of the Pyramid. The planet had been all but abandoned, its infrastructure left in the hands of one Dark Jedi who scratched a life out of the Pyramid's supplies.
If Bloodfyre was as inept as it seemed, she knew that Eiko would pry open the database to find everything intact. Half a thought crossed her mind about the Red Plague and the troves of data, but she ignored it.
As soon as he was able, Eiko turned off the primary display for the database console, linking it directly with his mask. Two years ago, the defenses would have been more formidable. Eiko idly twirled the wires of his slicing box as he punched holes in each firewall that separated him from the wall of information.
"Find the Tarentum MIA list," Ronovi called out.
Eiko waved his hand dismissively. "System's outdat--"
His voice caught as he finally saw the size of the archives, growing at intervals as the database updated with new links. Everything was reduced to numbers, abstract and weightless on their own, but Eiko knew these numbers.
"Well done." He slowly nodded in admiration. "I'll update my list of possible Plague members from here."
Even if he'd wanted to copy everything, he would die sifting through the amassed information--every Yridian, every Tarentum marked by their own specific sample of DNA. Before he triggered any alerts on other systems, Eiko started up the slicing box and set it towards building defenses while he continued working. He gutted files and stored them alongside all the other mission-relevant details he'd brought with him.
"DNA data on missing personnel is downloaded."
He slowly drew himself out of the archives and started through the line of emergency protocols that would give the console overrides over all the other systems.
"Emergency systems: activated. Containment proto-"
Eiko slammed his fist into the console, shutting off the voice as he hunted for any other signs that the machine would rise up underneath him.
"Upstairs," Ronovi yelled. "Don't you dare wreck this system!"
Eiko laughed mechanically. "I'm still in control, Headmaster." Information, fresh from collection and penned up behind Tarentum's borders. His throat was dry and his fingers rushed instinctively through every barricade that stood between him and his next goal: navigation logs.
Blaster fire singed the edges of imported fabrics and punched holes in the back of dining room furniture. Slowly, the estate was beginning to look like its attackers' pitted armor.
The estate's guards ducked behind the garden wall, popping up to shoot weakly at the rush of soldiers emptying onto the estate's grounds. Across the valley, another ship landed and two dozen soldiers started their road in towards the estate's main buildings.
Somewhere, in a corner of a storeroom, a woman's voice cried out. The noise carried almost as far as the sound of the bolt that punctuated the end of the scream.
Overhead, the ships that had released the Plague swarms onto the estate circled like buzzards--unafraid of the now-crippled anti-aircraft guns.
With a growl of frustration that sounded odd and distorted through the mask’s synthesizer, Eiko slammed his fist into the console one last time before sprinting for the nearby turbolift. As the doors slid closed, a female voice stated, “Name and –“ only to be cut off mid-sentence as the slicer’s skills rendered the security inert.
“Take me up Scotty.”
The turbolift slid up one level and discharged the Obelisk into an empty, dusty corridor. Knowing that his target would be the only console with a flashing symbol on it the Praetor rushed forward. Rounding a corner into the main server room, three displays shone back. The left hand display was black, reflecting only the lights from overhead, the in the middle a serene blue and green indicating status nominal, and the one on the right flashing angry reds and yellows.
With a grin hidden behind steel, lost forever to the world, Eiko grinned in triumph. As he reached the terminal, he stopped long enough to run his fingertips over the keyboard and casing, almost as if to bond with the machine. A quick blast of air as Eiko whispered to the Force, asking it to circulate the air, caused the dust and grime to lift from the electronics and blow away. Matte black surfaces stared back, the keyboard in unfamiliar letters, but with a universal format that denied them any real meaning. Placing those talented digits on the keypad, the Praetor’s grin grew just that little bit extra, before shifting to a look of concentration.
Eiko’s fingers and mind worked quickly, almost fast enough to blur. His mask was set to ignore the subvocalized humming that happened when he worked, a relic of better days, now buried in the pain and misery that drove the Obelisk. The trait remained, one of those tiny quirks that goes unnoticed because it’s been around so long that it’s as much a part of the skill, as it is distraction. The initial protocol that had cut off access to the lower terminal was quickly circumvented, only to have another pop up and seek to deny further intrusion.
For nearly ten minutes, Eiko waged his war of logic and code, slaying all phantom guardians of the mechanical storage, before shouting in victory. The last firewall yielded to the ingenious slicer’s miracle mind as a tightly stretched piece of fabric did to a good set of shears. With smooth, precise motions, he restored root access to the systems below, and streamed the data he’d been looking for into the terminal. With a cocky grin and a sigh of relaxation, the slicer walked away from the defeated console, a touch of swagger to the stride.
The scene he returned to downstairs was almost comical, an idea reinforced with Tra’ans eyebrow twitching on a regular basis, if not constantly. Raimi was perched on Ronovi’s shoulder, directing her from place to place, keeping the Headmaster busy marveling at all the new formulas, hybrids, and other discoveries made in the last few years of isolation. Tra’an was working to ignore the Kushiban’s voice even as he tinkered with the interior of the shoto. A small toolkit lay out on the table next to the Paladin, the well-worn leather shining brightly from obvious care.
Leaning against the doorway, Shaz’air looked on, bored and unwilling to interfere with Ronovi’s handling of their host, even as Fremoc was buried in reports from the GMRG that had come with him. The beuracracy was the one thing he hated most about keeping it running. The Fist hated paperwork. With a grunt of satisfaction, Tra’an removed his tools and closed the casing of the smaller weapon, flipping the ignition switch with a small grin. The weapon hummed into existence, shining with a steady glow, the sound of the pulsing plasma harmonized like a well-tuned instrument. It was now obviously in much better working order than when they found it. The way the Krath’s head snapped over at the sound, and how he bounded from Ronovi’s shoulder to a nearby stack of books, and from there across several other steady objects to land on the table with a small skid showed that he recognized it.
“Mine! Return it to me!” Raimi demanded, paw outstretched.
With fur tingeing a dark pink, edging towards red, Raimi hopped from foot to foot, his fur darkening with every second of delay. Tra’an handed the weapon over, even as Eiko brought up the system’s navigational beacon and communication network display on the screen after re-enabling it. The small creature almost purred in delight as he took hold of the plasma blade, before dropping into a defensive stance and executing the maneuvers of his chosen form with precision and elegance.
With a smile, the rabbit-analogue disabled the symbol of his profession and bowed to Tra’an.
“Thank you. I had forgotten what it was like to have it work so well.” With that, it seemed as if their host had mellowed considerably.
“It was my pleasure. I enjoy working with them," Tra’an responded in calm tones before handing over something small. Even then, it nearly filled the Tarenti’s paw. “Here’s a spare battery. You’ll need it soon. That one’s almost shot.”
With a quiet movement, the toolkit vanished, just as Eiko called everyone over to the terminal.
“I’ve found the Plague. Unless that is, someone else is raiding the Yridia system in force.”
Anshar Kahn's Estate
"Th-the master will h-hear about th..."
The butler wasn't allowed to finish his sentence as the hot blade pierced his gaping mouth, splitting his upper lip and opening his face up like melting pottery. As the metal inserted itself into his tongue and maneuvered to the back of his throat, he felt his eyes well up with brown blood that also trickled out of his nose. He was in agonizing pain as his nerves, one by one, shut down like fraying wires. It wasn't until the spear had slowly broken through his head and been withdrawn like a skewer that he finally died.
Zel let the now faceless body slump to the ground, its withering frame oozing lifeforce all over the pristine mahogany floor. Twirling his spear, he turned to face the window, where the courtyards were complete bone-black in the morning light. Out of the corner of his eye, he witnessed a fellow Plague member yank a sword out of a screaming maid's stomach, pulling out several intestines with it as they coiled around the blade like pipework.
Anshar Kahn Tarentae would not be able to return to his estate soon enough. If he ever came back, he would find it to be a festering sore on the landscape of Messina. But where to next? Deh'naalia, by this point, was unattainable - reinforcements would be alerted at some point, and they had to strike where people could be slaughtered. Zel heard a shuffling sound and turned to the doorway, where Rayas had suddenly appeared
"Issa," was the only word that the Zabrak pronounced, as if he were reading the Human's mind.
Zel nodded briskly, subduing a light chuckle. He was not used to pleasant sounds. Instead, he walked casually out of the manor, but not before grabbing a large flask of brandy and dousing his teeth with the contents. When the liquor burned the scars in his mouth, he spat a deluge of alcohol onto the floor and watched it spread in seemingly innocent puddles on the floor. Once he was outside, he let his spear fall to his left hand as he outstretched his right one.
A single spark from the Force was all it took to set the manor on fire. Watching as the tongues of inferno licked away the fog, Zel whistled and signaled for his men to move. The Issa Spaceport called to them, teeming with souls to put out like burning candle wicks.
As they departed, and just before the cinders began to form along the manor's scorched foundation, a lone survivor sent out the distress signal.
Hangar Deck of GSP Belligerent
The shuttle touched down with no trace of skid, the difficulty of which was belied only by the amount of sweat present on Tra`an’s face. It wasn’t every day that he attempted a full speed landing with a ship on a moving, one pass intercept. The GSP Belligerent was already boosting at full speed for Yridia IV, and the shuttle wasn’t exactly a Tie after all. Fortunately, none of the others were paying even the least bit of attention to him, having hit the deck as they were coming to a stop.
“I want the squad of GMRG ready to go when we hit the ground on Yridia IV. Make sure they’re supplemented with three squads of Marines. I don’t want any fuckups with these scum.” Fremoc roared.
Ensigns sprinted at full speed for the requisite destinations, having no interest in the Fist’s wrath. Ronovi leaned against the frame for the hatch with her flask held loosely. The whiskey slid smoothly into her belly and warmed her soul ash she contemplated where this was going.
Twenty Minutes Earlier
“Come with us Raimi. We could use your talents and skills.” Ronovi implored the Kushiban, who steadfastly refused to leave.
The visit seemed to have done wonders for his ability to act rationally. Resting comfortably on his hind legs, the Krath gave her the look. It was one she knew well, and led to a sigh that wasn’t even remotely hidden.
“Quaestor…, no, Headmaster, you know I cannot leave my post any more than you could stay away from yours. Just don’t let it go two years without coming to see me this time, yes?” With every moment that passed, the renewed grip on sanity seemed to edge further from his grasp.
It was evident to the former Tarenti that very little of her friend and colleague remained. If she could not convince him to come, then she steadfastly held to the hope that the anger which had fed him for so long, would not diminish anytime soon.
“I will return Raimi. Don’t pass into the ether, ok? I need to pick that brain of yours on what you did with those living crystals. They could be powerful.” With a smile, the rabbit-analogue perked up, before he scampered off into the passageways of the sub-basement.
His white fur was quickly lost to the corners, as Ronovi seemed to crumple just a little. Turning to leave, it was as if some part of her soul was being left behind with the Kushiban. As the turbolift doors closed, her fist slammed into the side paneling.
With a hard voice, the Headmaster gave her last Tarenti command. “Lock Sub-basements from access other than myself or Raimi Mistwalker. Acknowledge command.” The computer replied with an affirmative beep, voice responses being limited for interactions only.
As the lift ascended to the surface, the Headmaster regained control of herself, face hardening, posture straightening, hand flexing to restore feeling. It was a remarkable transformation, as the Headmaster reasserted herself, locking the person away into a personal, inner Dark Vault.
Fremoc raised an eyebrow as she emerged alone, but said nothing. They made their way to the shuttle, just as Shaz’air poked his head out to find them. Disappearing back inside, the Dark Councilors hurried, the engines moving from idle to lift as soon as their feet hit the deck. The hatch closed behind the pair, with neither looking back.
Bridge of GSP Belligerent
“Two hours? You can’t do better than that?” Fremoc paced back and forth behind the captain’s chair.
The irritation in his voice was very noticeable, but the captain remained unperturbed. It didn’t do for the officers of the fleet to become agitated around the Dark Council, as it served as an excuse for immediate termination.
“Milord, our system is capped at eighty five percent efficiency at the moment. I’m afraid that that one of the engine mounts has come loose and we were unable to repair it fully in time before you called us for pickup. Running at maximum speed to come get you hasn’t helped much either.” The human remained forward facing, eyes on the tactical display before him.
The middle-aged male was just beginning to gray, a full head of hair that was black with silver tips. It certainly served to not only add a distinguished feel to him, but impress upon others that the job he did was something he took seriously enough to age prematurely. A steady baritone voice called out routine commands while answering Fremoc’s questions, curses, and other irritations.
“Radio ahead and see if we can get a fix on where they are now, and what they’re doing.” The steady voice was acknowledged with a sharp, “Aye Aye!” as the Lieutenant manning the communications station sent out the request to the navigation system.
"Sir! We've received a distress call from Messina!"
Anshar was beginning to grow tired of this. He was trying to have a relaxing day for once, sharing a glass of something with his Aedile and good friend Dranik. Dranik slowly lowered his glass at the sound of the petty officer's high-pitched voice, his fingers flexing as if he wanted to throttle her for disturbing their peace and quiet.
The Quaestor stood up from his desk. He had become so accustomed to bad news. First it was his good ally Bloodfyre's departure. Then it was a spitting series of warnings from the Lion of Tarthos himself. Dilapidated house barracks and headquarters. Forgotten archives. Lost men. They had done wretchedly during the Invasion of New Tython. Dozens dead.
As the officer awaited a reply, Anshar let his hands slip down the sides of his robes, brushing away the dust that had accumulated around his waist. "Where on Messina?"
"Your personal estate," the officer replied, knees shaking as she attempted to maintain a rigid posture. "It was under attack around 700 hours this morning."
"And the outcome?"
She nervously blinked. "Nearly obliterated. Hundreds of people under your employment dead."
Dranik started to rise, but Anshar beckoned for the Shi'ido to stay seated. He rounded the corner of his desk, his knuckles bumping against the ugly pile of datapads along the table's sleek surface. To the right of his head, a graying tapestry of Lord Khyron's crest was growing weary and sad on the wall.
"And who's responsible for this heinous act?" the Quaestor asked.
The officer shuddered. "We don't know, sir."
Anshar could feel his face harden. Yridia IV had been placed under siege before. First, it had been threatened by a man named Adamu. Next, Lady Nilani had recruited the Church of Infinite Perception to take over the struggling planet. But this time, the consequences were far more dire. The last two invasions had been quelled by Tarenti forces, with some help from Arcona. But numbers were much smaller now for the house. And whoever had committed this act was moving fast, like a plague striking at an exposed groin.
The fact that there was no information on who the attacker was aggravated the man's condition, and Anshar felt his eye involuntarily twitch as he approached the officer. Instead of hurting her, however, he pressed a large finger, hard, into her gray uniformed chest.
"Not good enough," he hissed.
Quarters of the GSP Belligerent
Ronovi could hear Fremoc's demands for progress from the bridge, but she had no desire to stand there and watch the crew of the impressive frigate dart back and forth like pinballs. Instead, she had resigned herself to a forgotten chamber on the gunship. There, she spent her time reclining her head against the slick wall and, of course, drinking.
As the sickly amber liquid bubbled in the back of her throat, the Epicanthix coughed in surprise as the door hissed open and Tra'an stood before her. She frowned. She had not expected him to check on her, out of everyone else. Their alliance was simply cordial from what she gathered, as he had once been an esteemed student of hers while she still served as Praetor to Taigikori Aybara. Normally it was Shaz'air who sat with her, and although he was not talkative, his presence was certainly that of a friend.
"Did you need something?" she asked, unable to mask the typical candor in her voice.
Tra'an was not fazed. "Are you doing all right, Tavisaen?"
"Hmmm? Yeah, fine. Peachy. Why?"
"You don't seem like it," said the Plagueis Quaestor.
"And?" Ronovi laughed. "What, are you concerned or something?"
The man's face did not change expression. "I always look out for the men and women I work with."
Well, he certainly liked to put on a serious - and strangely compassionate - air. Humored and sighing, Ronovi beckoned for Tra'an to sit beside her. He walked toward her, but instead of seating himself, he leaned his weight against the bulkhead and stretched out a hand. It took a moment for Ronovi to realize that he was gesturing at the flask of whiskey, and begrudgingly, she passed it to him and allowed him to partake in a crisp mouthful.
"Tell me, Tra'an," she asked as she retrieved the Whyren's from him, "what are your ambitions?"
Tra'an arched an eyebrow. "To keep Plagueis strong at all costs."
"Oh?" Ronovi teased. "No self-motivation?"
"By strengthening my home, I strengthen myself." The Quaestor's tone seemed to lighten then. "I didn't know you were the philosophical type."
The Headmaster shrugged. "Comes from drinking and discussions with my former boss." She looked toward the small viewing portal and exhaled. "Shame the souls here in Tarentum can't be the same way."
"Shame the souls in Scholae Palatinae couldn't be the same way," replied Tra'an, and suddenly Ronovi understood. He knew exactly where she was coming from. They both had departed from their home units due to disillusionment - abandoned by either mentors or leaders who they believed they could trust. Left to deal with people who were incompetent in commander positions. They both had to move on. And they both, in the end, had benefited from their exoduses.
"You saw Raimi back there," said Ronovi. "Raging mad." Her fist found a bulkhead in her frustration and left a light mark in the metal. "Forgotten by the very house he gave his entire life and spirit to. Given up all of his personal ambition to the name of Tarentum, only to be abandoned and left to rot like a damn corpse. But I guess I can't take Tarentum very seriously anymore."
She heard a sudden flurry of footsteps and voices from above and knew that at least an hour had passed since their flight from Yridia III. Yridia IV was waiting for them, probably already infected with a disease that they would have to purge.
Eleven-year-old Deane Prokaryen watched his father Archos struggle to close up a small gap in the hull of a YT-2400 that sat lazily amongst the gleaming plethora of other ships. The spaceport was teeming with people even though it was still early in the morning, with several restaurants and even bars open for breakfast hours. However, the wonders of a metropolitan port on the very agricultural planet was uninteresting to the young Corellian boy, who preferred to stay close to his old man and observe him.
He had not forgotten the encounter with the woman in white on Yridia II - that had been two years ago, on Taras, as Archos fixed a YV-1300. She had demanded access to Castle Tarentum, slicing off his father's thumb in the process, and they had been forced to comply. As a result, Archos had vowed to leave Yridia II, but he did not have the money or the ship to flee from the actual system.
Times had changed harshly. The great Kratocracy that the two had become accustomed to was dead and gone. In its place, in the boy's opinion, was chaos. There was no protection, no great politicians, and no hope. Thus, he was simultaneously amazed and terrified when a cluster of freighters suddenly screamed over his head, circling the vast spaceport.
He knew something was wrong when an anti-aircraft gun burst into flames within Deane's periphery vision. The rain of red gunfire showered upon the armaments, cannons and guns all singed and scorched by the attack. As the counter maneuver faded within less than a minute, their feeble response being a few scattered shots, the citizens of Issa had already ducked their way into establishments screaming for their lives.
But Deane was frozen. As the smoke rose above his head, he watched as the freighters, after their vicious attack, settled rather gracefully down upon the port that was now riddled with smoking holes and a few bodies that had not escaped imminent doom. In the next moment, Archos had gripped Deane's arm, the stump of his thumb poking harshly into the boy's flesh.
"Son, run!" he was roaring. "We gotta run!"
But he was silenced all too quickly as the doors of the freighters opened and the beasts filed out. They were all dressed in gruesome gray and black, their armor protruding from their bodies like distorted husks, their raw weapons blazing in Yridiae's light. A stun rifle shot knocked Archos backward, ripping his grip from his son's body, as the intruders darted like hornets towards their prey. Their undeniable speed unmatched, they were able to cut down fleeing men and women, severing their flesh and caving in their skulls. Archos was pinned to the floor by a scarred man with a spear as his son watched in horror.
"Dad!" Deane screamed, attempting to claw at the attacker. But in response, he got metal in his stomach. It worked its way upward, cleaving his chest in two, his lungs bursting from the pressure of the hot blade. As the boy choked on his own tissue, he heard his father's primal scream and got to see the man's bearded head drilled with an approaching Zabrak's unhewn sword.
Teeth, gums, and hair were separated by delicate swordplay. Chunks of flesh were left to melt in the heat of the stars above as Deane and Archos Prokaryen finally succumbed to sinister fates. As Rayas pulled his sword out from the Corellian's bubbling brain matter, he was met with another slap from Zel.
"I always kill the families, Galina," he growled. "You know that!"
Rayas shook off the blow like it was a mosquito gnawing at his cheek. As the Red Plague streamed into the buildings, cantinas, and other businesses around the spaceport, he could already hear the screams. The most disgusting part was that none of the deaths were quick. No man or woman who was a Dark Jedi in the group used a lightsaber unless absolutely necessary. In this case, the people were like cattle to slaughter and divide up into slabs of raw meat to devour. And Zel craved the taste.
Following Zel into a small pub, Rayas stood back as the Human used a meaty fist to smash the array of bottles to the ground. As the huddled masses shrieked for mercy, he turned the furniture into weapons, sharpening table legs and using them to pierce women's breasts and sheer off lumps of fat from their mammaries. He picked up shards of glass and stuck them into men's eye sockets, ignoring their pleas as he carved out the blubbery orbs of sight from their bleeding faces. He did not even stop with the children, using his spear to impale them like piglets ready for roasting.
Rayas only struck when a maddened Bothan desperate for escape came swinging at him with a broken flask. He ended the creature's life by decapitation and was grateful that Zel did not witness what would be considered a cheap, emotionless kill.
If vengeance truly could not be quenched, then the madness of the former Brotherhood member would be unstoppable. And for the first time in a long time, Rayas feared for his own life.
Within an hour, over a hundred bodies lay stinking and warm from their own blood as the undaunted soldiers of Red Plague stepped out of buildings almost casually. Several of them, while strolling to their freighters, wiped blood from their weapons and resheathed them, spitting into their hands to scrub away human grime that had grown like red dirt on their palms. They had to leave Yridia IV soon, in case Tarentum actually decided to wake up and retaliate.
Rayas had had to pull Zel away from a particular liquor store, as the man had lost it temporarily and begun beating the dead vendor's open skull over and over with the handle of his spear. The blood had squelched and spat from the wound with each blow, flying in all directions and hitting the Zabrak in the forehead. He wore the beads of death on his face now and did not bother to fleck them away, in case Zel would notice and mark it as weakness.
The scream of engines above signaled the men and women of Red Plague to move faster, as they clambered for their freighters and revved up the engines. In the air, a shuttle was hurtling at top speed toward the besieged starport. Zel moved to the front of his freighter and struck the pilot soundly in the back of the head with the flat of his hand in order to get him moving. Then he heard a transmission crackling on the speakers.
"By the order of the Grand Master's Royal Guard, you are hereby placed under arrest and will be detained by the Iron Throne. Stand down from your ships and - "
"Not a chance in Hell!" Zel roared in response, just before shutting off the link. He turned to the pilot. "Fly, damn it!"
The freighters lifted off into the air, lurching forward in an attempt to block off any gunfire that reached them. Zel's ship made it through the atmosphere unscathed, as did Rayas's, the two ships hurtling from Yridia IV's reach. Their goal was Yridia IX, and several of their men were able to follow. However, one packed freighter was not so lucky.
It turned out that a young mechanic, brown hair slowly turning white from the shock of the attack, had pulled himself from the shelter of a bulky freighter where he had hidden away from the clashing of blades and the screaming of victims. Dragging a sprained ankle, he half-walked, half-crawled his way across the side of the spaceport, being careful not to garner the attention of the ships. To the left of him was an anti-aircraft gun, still somewhat intact, its large barrel gazing at the sky above. The mechanic threw himself at its metallic body, fingers scraping to enter the security code.
A sharp pain lanced through his fingers as he touched a loose wire, and, abandoning all regard for sparing his life, he risked electrocution to stick the wire back into its rightful place. His thumbs and index fingers pounded out the specific security code, a code he had forced himself to remember, as he and his father had both worked on the spaceport and set up the anti-aircraft guns piece by piece.
It was all so convenient, but the man had been on duty. He knew what he had to do.
With a feeble yet brisk hum, the anti-aircraft gun sprung back to life on the defense system. One aimed shot was all it took to drill a neat little puncture wound into the freighter's hull, dismembering its drives. The mechanic, letting out a rough yet relieved sigh, collapsed to his knees at the sight of his handiwork. He had never fired a gun before in his life, but there was a first time for everything.
The only choice left for the remaining soldiers of Red Plague was to touch down on Issa again, the ship's engine failing as its occupants prepared to fight again.
Yridia IV atmosphere
"I recognize that voice," Ronovi whispered.
Eiko nodded, his breaths short behind his mask. The man who had yelled at them in reply to their commands had played a bad card. Now the group could use voice recognition to their advantage, in order to further divulge who the possible leader was.
"There is a chance we can play back the transmission on the Belligerent," Fremoc replied. "The gunship occasionally stores messages as archived recordings. Perhaps we can use that for further identification."
"No time to think about that now," Shaz'air smirked as their shuttle, with a rocking sensation, landed beside the downed freighter. "Time to do some dirty work."