Ambitions - Sai, Mirado, Marick, Teroch, Atra
The underbrush uttered its sibilant protests, violently disturbed as it was by two pairs of well-worn boots making their unceremonious way through the forest. Their owners, both lean, one from years of combat and the other from a lack of years put on, seemed ignorant to the havoc being wrecked upon their surroundings, running as they did seemingly without regard, or direction. Though their pace was at times break-neck, their breathing suggested a duo having a simple discourse over a snifter of Corellian brandy, so their stopping at a small clearing within the forest was not for rest as it would be for those possessing even average ability...and even less purpose.
“Night comes soon,” the elder of the pair stated, a small toss of his head causing the impeccably groomed hair to fall just so, a strand nary out of place. The younger looked to the canopy of the forest for confirmation, his eyes peering through his own disheveled mane to the sky above. The sky’s cobalt had indeed begun to deepen, and the youth suspected the thumbnail that was Boral’s crescent phase would soon be visible through the tangle of branches high above them. He was about to give his assent when the other man hissed for silence.
Nerves teetering on a razor’s edge, the men fell into practiced routine, crouching, slowly whirling and scanning the undergrowth for approaching threats. When none immediately came, the younger rose, but before the words of wit formed in his throat could burst forth, an explosion of brush and branches cut it short.
A white blur of claw and tooth crashed into the elder man’s chest, mirrored by a growling shadow of fur and fang tackling the younger. All went to the earth in a tangle of limbs and robes, but instead of curses and the cries of the soon-to-be-devoured, the forest’s denizens heard a different sound.
“Good girl, Kira; well done!” Marick Arconae laughed, producing a treat from a belt pouch to give to his Cythraul; the lupine beast snapped it up hungrily, eager for both sustenance and her master’s approval. Clan Arcona’s Proconsul had brought her to the forest to hone her hunting skills, and the exercise had proven a success, given that the men were ‘taken down’ as a tandem, testament to the animals’ growing prowess.
“Heh,” rejoined the other man, picking leaves and twigs from his own Cythraul’s thick, dark fur. “The only reason Kira did as half as well as she did was because she had Kote’s arse to follow!” Teroch Erinos Arconae challenged, his own youthful face lit up by a knowing smile. He, too, had been made proud by his own beast’s ability, and he snuggled his nose deep into Kote’s scruff, breathing in the animal’s musky aroma, dusky and heavy with the scents of the forest. “Kote...” Softly whispering his approval into Kote’s fur, Teroch briskly rubbed the animal’s chest, continuing to breathe in its scent.
“This is great! The Cythraul are working out; good for them and for us,” began Marick, his clipped and accented voice providing a strangely civilized counterpoint to the sounds marking the savagery all around them. “You, for one, haven’t been as bratty.” Marick smiled, ready to bear the brunt of Teroch’s retort. None, however, was forthcoming.
“Though, you have been distracted,” said Marick, the statement more of an indictment than a question. A snap and a low whistle from the Proconsul ripped the Cythraul from their masters’ embraces and sent them hurtling back towards the Arconan Citadel. He watched the animals until the forest took them from sight and he turned back to Teroch, who still hadn’t arisen from his crouched position.
“It’s my father, Marick. Kote is one of the last things that tie me to him. Kote, and…” Teroch let the statement go unfinished as he absently fingered the small silver vial that hung at his throat. “There are many unanswered questions, Marick. I would have satisfaction.” Teroch rose, meeting the Prelate’s even gaze.
The Proconsul entertained the young Adept. “What would you have answered, then? Your father’s deeds and exploits are well documented, and you have the Clan at your disposal for any queries…” he spread his hands, signifying the vast amounts of data the Arconae compiled on arguably one of their greatest warriors.
Teroch interrupted, pulling a small communicator from a belt-pouch of his own. “No one here can help me. There may be another.” Marick’s quick examination of the device told him that it was not Arconan. Clasping his hands behind his back, his curiosity piqued as he heard Teroch outline his plan.
Naga Sadow Space
“…but, there may be another. You don’t always have to go for the ‘instruction manual’ method of finishing off your opponent. Remember: those that wrote those manuals are dead now. A state that your Master, my brother, would prefer you avoid.” finished Mirado Pepoi L’eonheart, extinguishing the training saber he’d brought to the cove, a pair requisitioned from the Sadowan armory for this exercise. An outstretched hand found a forearm, and the Templar helped Atra Ventus to his feet. A particularly nasty sweep to his legs had sent him to the ground yet again, but the Hunter was nonplussed. He’d just been granted a coveted position: Quaestor of House Shar Dakhan, and not even raised to Knighthood. Atra, if anything, was a practical man, and he knew this rare opportunity to be trained by one of the Clan’s foremost assassins was one not to be wasted. Besides, the longer Atra stayed outside, the better, and Mirado agreed. Whether from psychological quirk or a reaction to having been experimented upon in a cell, neither man was in a rush to retreat from the night to closed quarters.
“Then, why all the concentration on the Lightsaber Manual?” Atra asked pointedly. The man never minced words; his muscled frame hardly afforded him the opportunity to be subtle. “Why pound the velocities into my head when all you’re going to do is ignore them?” Atra was not getting upset; quite the contrary. The Hunter knew a lesson was on the horizon, and his face shone with both perspiration and anticipation under the lighting that was attempting to keep the darkness at bay; even without conventional sight, Mirado was still impressed by the Corellian’s eager tone.
“Because,” Mirado said, “you have to know the rules before you can break ‘em. Now, again!”
As they continued to spar, Mirado continued his instruction. “Now – oof! – you’ve been given a sacred charge, Atra. You’re Quaestor now, and I’d gift you a word of caution before you move into your new office.” Mirado’s training blade whirled, mirrored by Atra’s own heady swings, given new life after Atra had landed a kick to Mirado’s midsection.
“Yeah? Argh! “ – the sizzle of the Templar’s training blade buzzed angrily in Atra’s ear as Mirado scored yet another blow on the Hunter’s head. “What’s that?”
Mirado relaxed his stance, extinguishing the weapon and all business, Atra following suit. “The Sons and Daughters? Leave ‘em be. Nothing good can come of dealing with them, not for you, anyway.”
The words were blasphemy in the Hunter’s ear; every new candidate to Naga Sadow was taught to revere the Sons and Daughters almost as if they were the Overlord Himself; how could he, as Quaestor, knowingly ignore them, especially when a good number of them took up residence in his House?
The question was anticipated by Mirado, who continued to speak. “I don’t know what happened, but the Sons are…broken. Nothing short of a miracle can heal them at this point. You just keep your head down, unless you wanna lose it.”
Ignoring the warning, Atra pressed on. “What do you mean, ‘broken’?” Almost on cue, Mirado’s communicator chirped, and the Templar answered. “Speak.”
The maniacal, tattooed visage of Macron Sadow shone ethereal blue from the holo-plate, though the image was lost on the Miraluka. “Mirado, the Clan requires your service.”
“Of course, Macron,” replied Mirado, his voice at once eager and apologetic, a small part of his mind assuming that the Consul had somehow heard Mirado’s warning to Atra. “How shall I serve?”
“The Overlord requires an audience with a wayward soul,” Macron tittered, his insanity ever skating along the mottled surface of the Alchemist’s fevered brain. “His retrieval will be dangerous, but very profitable. This could very well prove to be your end, but it shall be a glorious one, in service to the Clan, of course. You and Atra are to travel to Kar Alabrek; the details will be transmitted to your ship.” Atra, standing at Mirado’s back and peering over the Templar’s shoulder, saw the ghosted image of the Consul nod to someone off screen. “Good hunting.” The transmission ended just as quickly as it started. “For Sadow”, came Mirado’s soft reply, heard only by Atra.
And, the aforementioned Hunter had a thousand questions, beginning with one. “Ok, more terrorists. It should be a cake-walk…right?”
Mirado could only wish that the mission did have to do with terrorists; though a nuisance, the faction that had been wreaking ecological havoc on Sadowan holdings was relatively easy to handle, all things considered. They were a clear enemy, to be shown neither quarter nor mercy.
Mirado’s concerns, however, were all confirmed by the Consul’s short transmission. The whispers he’d heard coming from all strata of the Clan, and some from without, had with a simple order turned into a cacophony of shouts in his head. There was only one mystery that had arisen as of late, sending shivers down even the most sturdy of spines.
He was going to have to track down a man who was, until recently, a guest in the Clan’s most notorious prison. A cousin to the Herald and Grand Master, and thought to have been belched from Hell itself; the 6th Level, if the rumors were true.
A Son of Sadow.
Royally pissed off.
And, not likely to come with Mirado anywhere even if Ferran himself ordered the journey.
“Atra, with me. There’s another stage of your training yet to begin,” Mirado instructed, walking away from the staging area they were using for their duel.
“What’s that?” pointedly asked the Hunter, nerves electric with excitement.
“We’re going to hunt one of our own. We’re going to hunt a Son.”
Atra’s could scarce contain his emotion. It couldn’t be coincidental. At Mirado’s first mention, the Consul suddenly contacts them and dispatches them on a mission that could be classified, at best, as ‘ill-advised’? The floodgate of questions opened. “A Son? But, I thought you said the Sons were broken…”
Lugar Da Forca, Northern Coast
Access Port 17-9-C
2317 Local Standard Time
“…broken! You son of a hutt-karking..”
The remainder of the guard’s insult was lost in a jumble of sniffles and spittle-flecked gibberish as the prone man’s shattered forearm was cruelly ground beneath a booted heel. Around him, the remainder of his squad sent to investigate a ‘faulty motion sensor’ at one of the city’s remote access points at the northern coast lie motionless; the four corpses were barely recognizable as men. The squirming guard fought against the shards of glass that were his splintered bones and ruined nerves in his arm, straining to pull it from beneath his assailant’s foot. He looked up through red-rimmed eyes to find a pair staring into his own, alive yet absent the light present within the orbs of those who held even the smallest shred of compassion for their fellow being.
“I know,” intoned Tsainetomo Keibatsu Sadow, secreting his batons within his coat. “I broke it.” The flat baritone was laced with equal parts certainty and boredom. His never-ending quest had taken the Korun-Keibatsu to countless facilities such as these, and he’d either maimed or killed countless men who looked just like the man he now ground underfoot. More and more of them wore Sadowan uniforms as of late; the losses were sure to cause concern to someone...but not the Primarch.
Sai bent close, keeping his heel on the man’s broken limb. The change in pressure and shifting of his weight caused the guard to cry out, a pitiful sound that was lost on the Son’s ear. The Keibatsu bent close.
“Look at me,” he instructed flatly, producing a strip of flimsi from one of his coat’s inner pockets. The shivering guard did as he was told. “Have you seen this man?”
The guard looked at the picture clutched in sun-darkened fingers. The image that stared back was one of a man with dark hair, impossibly perfect features, and wearing the command insignia of the Dlarit Special Forces. The guard, as low as he was, recognized the man as a clone, one of the Dlarit Advance Commandos, or DAC’s. The word around the campfire was that these clones were trained by the ‘foxtrot-uniforms’ themselves, but had recently experienced some sort of ‘mass-defect’, causing them all to eventually go off the reservation and the program itself to be scrapped. Why this man was asking about a dead project…
The guard’s eyes looked past the flimsi and at the man who was stooped, motionless. Strangely, the impossibly long and full queue of hair at the back of his head seemed to be moving in a non-existent breeze, swaying gently, almost imperceptibly, back and forth.
Unbearable agony laced the man’s arm as Sai stood and cast his senses about him, searching for more guards while keeping his heel planted. “I asked you a question.”
“Yes!” the guard screeched, floating on the edge of consciousness. “I mean – I’ve seen someone who looks like him; they all look alike to me. Please…I beg of you! Just…just don’t…” The guard’s plea went unfinished.
Tsainetomo sighed, thumbing the restraint that held the Tarenti TAW-6A autopistol within the holster at his right thigh at bay. “Funny. ‘They all look alike’. I will confess; I’ve been running into that a lot, myself.” The men whom he’d killed had long lost their individual identities. Sai continued. “Your confession, however, though sincere has bought you nothing.” Sai pronounced his judgment with the finality of death and taxes. “Nothing, but my disdain for you and those of your ilk who would break so utterly and easily. My home used to be made of sterner stuff.”
The guard’s eyes widened, causing a new deluge of tears come, at the sight of the newly drawn autopistol’s matte black barrel freed from its prison. Sai spoke.
“Don’t worry; you may yet serve, guard…” The autopistol chattered four-times in rapid succession, the staccato shattering the silence that had attempted to blanket the access point’s grounds. The guard’s head was reduced to a bloody, pulped ruin.
Sai stepped back and holstered his weapon. The top of his boot that was planted atop the dead man’s arm was splattered in ichor; the Son of Sadow swiped it clean along the corpse’s side as casually as one would toe a petulant street cur from one’s path.
Under the baleful glow of a single lumen that splashed the access area in yellow light, he turned away from his latest massacre. Looking upon the city of Kar Alabrek, its lights glittering as adgeans in the distance, Tsainetomo inhaled deeply, allowing himself a measure of hope that here he’d be able to run his prey to ground and address a mistake, long overdue in its correction.
The following Run-On, designated "Ambitions", is restricted to the members listed in the topic title. No other member is allowed to participate in the Run-On. No members may be swapped out for others - the teams are final.
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Create your story. You have a month to do so.
Marick had only been into Soulfire’s barracks at the Citadel once before. Above the large double doors leading to their facility someone had scrawled “The end is extremely shabla nigh.” He stifled a smirk and took in his surroundings. On one side was what appeared to be doors to a large industrial-sized kitchen, and on the other were doors down to the barracks themselves. The briefing room seemed to have been converted to a bar with sabacc tables, droid servers, and there were half-dismantled weapons lying on some tables, clearly undergoing non-regulation improvements. Pointedly ignoring the shredder ammo clips, he glanced at his companion.
“So who’s on the other end of that communicator?”
Teroch didn’t look back over; he clapped a hand on his hip and Kote, his Cythraul ambled up closer to him, then accepted the offered treat. “You read the threat dossiers on Naga Sadow? Specifically, the sons?”
“Yes, but how in Corellia’s nine hells did you get access to that info? It’s classified, encrypted and way above your pay grade.”
Teroch grinned. “You just have to know where to look. Anyway, there’s one dossier on a man called Tsainetomo. One of the Keibatsu. By all accounts, he’s a total nut-job. Doesn’t care about Naga Sadow, doesn’t care about the Brotherhood, no friends, no regard for the family…he’s lost all motivation and is just existing. We haven’t been able to ascertain where. Incredibly dangerous, too. He fought Sashbuir to a standstill once before, in the Equite Ladder. He subsequently fought with Sashbuir in the Order war. They took down a Krath War Beast and generally kicked some major ass. I wouldn’t think much of it, ordinarily. Buir didn’t really mention him, however there was a note in his codex-”
“Wait, his what?” The Hapan interjected, his interest piquing.
“His codex. He had a...journal, I guess. It was his legacy to me. It’s filled with lists of contacts, safe-houses, locations for further stores of information he included, such as poison recipes, tactics he’s picked up, strategic analysis of half the units in the Brotherhood, Slice, there’s even a half-complete plan to assassinate a Grand Master should the need arise.”
“You mean he had a way to take down another Grand Master?”
“Kind of. Anyway, There was one note in there which listed this communicator, and Tsainetomo’s name in there. I think he’d have had to give a damn about this guy to keep a private means of communication.”
“It’s Sashar. He had means to privately communicate with a lot of different guys. It doesn’t mean he could tell you anything useful about your father.” Marick chided gently as they went through the doors to the shooting range.
Teroch grabbed a Verpine Projectile Rifle from the rack on the wall, chose an aisle and dropped to the floor. As he started calibrating the weapon, he answered.
“I’ve seen the picture that went with the profile. The Keibatsu isn’t his type in that way. Anyway, I get a...feeling, you know?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“Fine, so what’s the plan?”
Finished with his calibrations, Teroch held his hand up to quiet the Proconsul. “Wait a second. You see that target down there?”
Marick squinted, but couldn’t see anything but darkness at the far end of the chamber.
The youth squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened.
“I didn’t hear anything.”
“Exactly.” Teroch rolled onto his back and grinned smugly as he knitted his fingers behind his head. Kote playfully nipped at his elbows, and he swatted at the pup’s muzzle.
Marick squinted down the range again, but it was very poorly lit. “I still can’t see what you were aiming at.”
The Hapan’s eyebrows went up, as if genuinely impressed. “Hardcore. Well, call Sai then. Let’s see where this goes, but I’m going with you if he arranges a meet.”
“Fine.” The Arconae watched his Proconsul leave, then glanced over to the firing range’s only other occupant, Juda.
“You didn’t fire anything, did you?” The medic smirked.
“What? Should I have wasted the bullet?”
- Kel Rasha
“The Sons,” Mirado began as he led Atra towards the exotic sports model landspeeder they’d taken to get to the cove. “The Sons are broken. No, that’s unfair.” He added after pondering a moment while digging for the command cylinder for the vehicle. “They’re doing what they do best. They’re jockeying for favor from the Overlord, and from the Grand Master.”
“I thought Darth Ashen WAS a Son. Is he not?” Atra asked, working the scissor door on the speeder once Mirado had flicked the unlock button. He still wasn’t too keen on riding in a speeder with a blind driver, especially one who drove so unnecessarily fast, but the Templar handled the vehicle well. The wide streets of Kel Rasha were still relatively empty, the population projections for the city being perhaps a bit on the optimistic side.
“Oh, he is,” Mirado affirmed, sliding into the driver’s seat like he owned the thing. Technically, it was Atra’s, but the Miraluka had grown fond of the thing, and wasn’t giving it up without a fight, and the Quaestor likely hadn’t been notified of what he actually had at his disposal. “But he represents the whole of the Brotherhood, from us to Taldryan to Arcona, and everyone else in between. Besides, I’ve seen holo of both the Overlord and Darth Ashen training. He answers to Aurelius, if you can call it that, purely out of respect.”
And there it was again, another choice blasphemy, if one were to listen to the indoctrination that all new Sadowans were given. Naming the overlord, and not even his full name, such an act was the height of arrogance. What made matters possibly worse was, the Fist, Mirado’s own cousin, was among the Sons. “So, which of the Sons are we hunting?” Atra asked, more than a little uncomfortable at the line of conversation, though not particularly enthused by the prospect of tracking one of them down. The Templar who was currently whipping the landspeeder on a hell-bent-for-glory death ride to the airspeeder port outside of town, he was one of the more accomplished killers that Naga Sadow had to offer. The least of the Sons stood further up the chain of Equites. It was not looking to be a good day.
Mirado was silent for several minutes before answering. Sai, because he would call him that and nothing else, was unique among his peers. In several ways, he had achieved what Mirado was still seeking; ice cold, calculating, terrifying. Indeed, the Miraluka had been satisfied with frosty, patient, and creepy. He knew his advantages over the Keibatsu, and had in fact prepared to kill the man should the need arise. This wasn’t how he’d planned to do it though. He respected Sai, and tracking him like an animal was unfitting of the man. He deserved better.
“Sai,” Mirado finally said at length, “And if I were you, I’d remember in the shortest of order that when the time comes, he was supposed to be brought in alive.”
“I have no desire to kill him.” Atra said, wondering what in the inverted Hells of the Sith Mirado meant.
“Pity he doesn’t share that opinion.” Mirado rumbled, his baritone voice rumbling as he found himself in a progressively darker study as the kilometers burned beneath the speeder. “He’s already killed Dlarit personnel, so he knows he’s being tracked.”
“So, we’re in trouble then.” Atra reasoned. It wasn’t a far cry to assume that Sai had bribed, intimidated, or befriended people in a position to feed him information. Odds were favorable that even that transmission Macron had sent had been monitored, and if that were the case, well… a snowball is a snowball, no matter how it rolls.
“Yeah,” Mirado said, and suddenly pulled the speeder over on the side of the road. “You use any kind of clearance, it gets logged.” He stated matter of factly. “So, we’re going to have to stow away on an airspeeder. Only way to get to Kar Alabrek without getting logged. We’ll stash the speeder here. I’ll have Naomi grab it later.”
Atra could see in the near distance the runway lights for the airspeeder portage. Due to laws that restricted the airspace in Kel Rasha, the portage was almost eighty kilometers due north of the city. He couldn’t imagine his Master’s wife getting herself to Aeotheran and hitching a ride to the middle of nowhere up the coast being high on her to-do list, but the Quaestor wasn’t about to question the Assassin’s motivations. He would, however, question him about their quarry.
“So, he vanishes, then gets locked up, my Master and I wind up being involved in his escape, and now what?” Atra asked as they moved through the dark evergreens that surrounded the airspeeder portage. He watched, in the low light, as the Miraluka picked his way through the natural surroundings as though it were the simplest thing in the world. After a moment, he settled into a pace a few meters behind, and just followed as they moved through the coastal woodland.
“Yeah, that’s about it,” Mirado said. “I imagine Aurelius wants him back to punish him for whatever it was he did that got everyone in such a bind. Details are sketchy. My Master knows better than to tell me too much.”
“Why? Atra asked as he slid slowly down a small draw into a ravine that ran parallel to the east end of the portage.
“He keeps expecting me to kill him or some such Sith stupidity. Apparently wasting time and resources is a grand tradition among them. One of these days I need to plant a bomb in his refresher, just to keep him paranoid. He works better that way.” Mirado said with a shrug as they moved towards the fence. With the recent terrorist activity, there were Dlarit police guards mobbing the place, but they were looking for, well, terrorists, not a pair of motivated Obelisk.
With a Force assisted leap, both men wound up on the other side of the fence, and made their way to a cargo speeder. They’d be in Kar Alabrek in no time, and shortly after that, they were in for the fight of their lives. Silently, Mirado wondered if Atra had been born with the good sense to run away when things got hairy, before realizing that he was most certainly going to find out.
Cargo Hold, Air Speeder
En Route to Kar Alabrek
It hadn’t been difficult for the two men to gain entry to the cargo speeder. For two Jedi, especially an assassin, stealth was a simple matter. Mirado stood calmly, his arms crossed as he leaned against the durasteel paneling. Atra, on the other hand, was having a much harder time. The young Hunter’s breathing became shaky, each breathe long and shallow. He was doing his best to remain calm, putting up a strong front for Mirado. Atra wasn’t claustrophobic; it was far more psychological than that. Glancing about the small hold it was all the young man could do to keep images of his confinement out of his mind. Five years was a lot of baggage, and despite his new status it would still take time for Atra to adjust.
Mirado couldn’t see Atra’s reaction to the hold, at least not in the conventional sense. Still, the waves of anxiety radiating from the Quaestor were hard to miss. “Atra,” Mirado stated flatly as he moved towards him. The man’s head snapped towards the assassin in response, the concentration required to keep calm causing his forehead to wrinkle. The Templar said nothing else as he grabbed Atra by the collar and slammed him back against the wall.
“What the hell?” Atra sputtered as he fought against Mirado’s grip, but the man was stronger than he.
“You reek of fear,” Mirado stated flatly as his brow wrinkled in frustration, “Do not fight it, and do not cower before it. Embrace it.”
Atra fell to the floor with a solid thud as Mirado released his grip. The Quaestor glared at his master’s brother for but a moment before letting out a long sigh. That had not been the first time he had been told such things, but it had been so long he had almost forgotten. Memories of his father pushed at the edge of his consciousness. Atra could almost hear the man’s words echoing in his mind. Let it flow through you, because in the end, only you remain. Cursing silently he hopped to his feet, exhaling as he elevated. “You’re right, of course.”
Mirado nodded in acknowledgement, his thoughts returning to the task at hand. He needed to prepare as too many unpredictable variables had come to be. Atra was the first and most pressing of the variables. He would die against Sai, of this there was no doubt, and in this way presented a liability. Still, there could be use in all things and they may find a benefit to having the Hunter involved.
Atra’s voice broke the silence of the hold, Mirado’s sightless cyber-optics shifting to focus on the man. He shifted uncomfortably, as if not sure if he should say what was on his mind. Finally mustering the will to move forward Atra fixed his curious eyes on Mirado. “I do not believe Sai is the threat everyone seems to think he is.”
Mirado almost laughed at the obscene nature of the statement. How could Sai not be a threat? He had been the paragon of the Sons, one of their best, and deserved the fear and respect he had gained. “You’re gonna have to explain that one to me.”
Atra sighed with frustration, noting the mocking tone in Mirado’s response. “Listen, okay? I’m alive,” Atra stated flatly, letting that statement hang in the air before continuing, “I’m alive when Sai could have, and should have, killed me. He had defeated both Locke and my master. If he is a threat to us in any way, why are the three of us still alive?” The events of Sai’s escape weren’t exactly common place, but Atra knew that Mirado would be privy to what had happened. Sai had left after handedly demonstrating his superiority without so much as touching Atra.
Mirado’s head hung down a moment, contemplating the Quaestor’s words. Atra’s statement held a ring of truth, but only offered more questions than answers. “Don’t get me wrong, Mirado... He terrifies me,” Atra continued, not waiting for Mirado to answer, “I want to be like that.”
The assassin smiled, that was something he could relate to. “Just try not to fawn so much when he is killing you later,” Mirado replied dryly, his humor darkening as he glanced to the side, as if looking beyond the walls.
Atra nodded in acknowledgement as the assassin manually overrode the cargo hold doors. The cargo speeder was still in the process of landing as the two Jedi leapt to the ground, using the Force to soften their landing before running for cover. Other than the dead personnel, they had no clues as to where Sai would be heading, or what he was up to for that matter. Mirado signaled for Atra to move, noting the way was clear as they made for the city of Kar Alabrek. There, they would have to keep their heads down while sniffing out information. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was a necessary risk, and one Mirado would take pride in accomplishing.
Reconstruction Site 3-D
Kar Alabrek, ever struggling against the enemies of Sadow who would see her razed, was going through a relatively calm period in her tumultuous history. The reconstruction efforts were, save for a few recent hiccups, going as planned and the excitement generated by the city’s rebirth was beginning to draw more and more military personnel and their families back to the area to either assist in her continued protection and growth.
The site-designate ‘3-D’ was quiet in this, the precious moment just before night gave way to day. Earth-movers and cranes of varying spans lay still, awaiting the crews to fire them up for the day’s effort ahead. The barracks were just beginning to stir with the early risers and caf-preparers, but the foremen within the two-story administrative structure in the midst of the site had not yet been roused. In this way, the site was identical to the dozens of others that dotted the pocked landscape.
Identical in every way, save one: a long-haired man propelling himself out of one of the second-story windows, the pane exploding outward in a shower of glittering shards, his arms crossed in front of his flying form so as to better protect his face and head. The tangerine columns he held in each hand traced angry, twin-parabolas in the air as his body arced towards the ground.
His impossibly long queue of hair, however, would be shedding pieces of glass for hours to come.
Tsainetomo alit amid a sudden updraft of dust, the only evidence of his use of the Dark Side to cushion his fall upon a telekinetic manifestation of his will. The glass shards fell about him as some crystalline ice-storm, deadly but still beautiful as they caught the first rays of the daybreak. The Keibatsu spun to face the window then backpedaled while extinguishing his lightsabers. Two determined looking gunmen filled the darkened maw that was Sai’s escape route and blasterfire began to rain down upon the seemingly defenseless Primarch. The crimson bolts splashed into the soil around him as the gunmen attempted to draw a bead on him. Sai would not afford them the time to do so.
With the practiced, hurried ease of a gunfighter, Sai stowed his hilts and pulled his autopistol in one fluid motion, more feeling rather than hearing the creak of his holster’s leather over the screaming blasters above him. The TAW-6A was of Tarenti stock, and Sai had grown fond of the slugthrower in the short time he’d possessed it. Thumbing the fire-selector to ‘F’, the Son of Sadow sent a hive’s worth of stinging metal up towards the window, the weapon jackhammering in his hand.
Heavy slugs pinged against the durasteel of the sash and bulkhead, the whole of the area erupting in sparks as Sai emptied the magazine; still more found their way into the window as the heavy brass casings clinked merrily on the ground. Sai’s defilade opened a rose-garden of crimson blossoms in one gunman’s chest; his partner ducked back within, but not before he witnessed his comrade’s death: open-mouthed, wide-eyed, the blood bright and frothy in his mouth.
Sai, even in retreat, couldn’t suppress his grin. Though, minutes earlier at the moment of his victory, the Korun-Keibatsu was interrupted by a nearly-forgotten communicator’s buzzing in his pocket, and had to stop just short of his target.
A chorus of anguish filled him then, as he knew he’d be denied yet one more time of his goal; the distraction was, unfortunately, complete, and he, forced to flee.
All things considered, it had been a good morning for the Keibatsu. His form was nearly flawless, men had fallen under his blades... but it seemed that circumstances would have to force him to table the issue of ‘the mistake’ for the time being. He’d uttered one word before he lost himself amongst the construction equipment, disappearing as the morning took full hold of the sky.
The Force lent Sai wings that flew him over the terrain, his strides becoming fuller and faster and taking him back towards his temporary camp in the shadow of an unfinished barracks. He was being obvious earlier; Sai had wanted his exploits to be captured by the “random” security cameras that a military installation was expected to have, and he needed certain eyes to see him...at certain times. It would do him no good to have those same cameras record where he slept. Jogging to an eventual halt, he took deep, calming breaths as he took out the communicator that had jolted his focus earlier, leaning upon the duracrete wall.
His heartrate calmed even as he recognized the sender’s code. A code he’d assigned to one out of a thousand in the Brotherhood, a man of singular distinction. Unwilling to compromise his position, he hastily tapped out a message in a code he knew the recipient would recognize, telling him exactly where to find him, and when.
The man Tsainetomo knew deserved, and expected, no less.
The smell of ozone was electric in the nostrils and the eyes stung with the pepper of spent cordite all about the second floor of the administrative structure. And throughout, the stench of ruined flesh permeated all.
, as he was known by the remainder of the cadre of mercs that he’d hired walked from room to room, surveying the damage from a pedestal of spit-shined officer’s boots and the haughtiness that came from a position snatched by deceit and destruction. He moved with the efficiency of a warrior trained by warriors, but his eye beheld detail as no jeweler’s could. Such was his bent, his genetics cooked just so by his erstwhile Sadowan masters in stolen cloning tanks years ago. The foresight granted by his exhaustive training had allowed him to survive, staying one step ahead of his creators. However keen his vision, one thing escaped him now, and his perfect features crinkled in consternation as he voiced his confusion.
“How?” His voice trilled in the still of the air, as pleasant and as patient as a schoolmaster. Oren’s gloved hands, covered so as to better protect his immaculately manicured fingertips, clasped themselves behind his back expectantly, his ear awaiting an answer.
“Well,” began one mercenary, “it looks like came upstairs, he cut up those four guys over there,” – a pile of still-smoking man-flesh lie at the far end of the hall – “and then cut up those other guys, beat up them
guys” - a filthy-nailed finger pointed to a pair of men slumped against a wall - “before he jumped out the window. Then, he shot that
he jumped out the window.” The dolt beamed with pride as he finished his version of recent events, fists as large as soup-bones planted squarely on his hips in satisfaction..
“No, idiot,” Oren said as he pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to both stave off yet another headache and exercise patience. Mercenaries nowadays had suddenly become very hard to come by, and Oren didn’t see the wisdom in killing someone who clearly only wanted to please.
“’How’, as in ‘how the frell
did he get so karking close?!’ You morons!” The clone erupted, and the band of mercs jumped at the sudden change in their employer’s mood. Of course, none present would have an answer, but the Advanced Commando knew who would. He took a deep, cleansing breath. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Work, you know?” The clone flashed a toothy smile, raking his hand through his cut-to-regulation hair as if his outburst never occurred. “Excuse me; I must make a call.”
“Hope it’s to the bank,” a faceless, gruff voice called. Oren’s smile got wider as he left the room to his personal quarters containing the secure comm unit, but it never touched his eyes. Locking the door, Oren sat at the desk and powered it up, frowning impatiently as he waited for the connection to be made.
A heartbeat, then a heavily modulated voice. Oren thought that it sounded at once artificial and menacing.
Oren’s mind crystallized around the indictment; he had done things in his relatively short life that some would call cowardly, but he was no cowen. He had not been trained, had not been bred
, to be so.
There was no trace of the earlier trill. “The bottom line is this: I cannot accomplish what is needed unless I have tools and information to do it.” Oren’s voice hardened. “You’re my supplier, and you’ve been holding out. On a whole hell of a lot.”
The commando had been working for the faceless voice in the bonds of a shared hatred for all things Dark Jedi, and especially, of Clan Naga Sadow. It didn’t hurt that he paid well, either. It was a great arrangement, as far as Oren was concerned. He was getting funded to do what he was going to do anyway
, and he had done it well. Well enough to help start a significant amount of the non-Force users who lived under the Sadowan umbrella questioning the benign motives of their landlords.
Oren’s fist thundered on the desk, roaring as he interrupted. ”I am changing the agreement!”
A pregnant pause filled the air, the tension as thick as the smell of death just outside Oren’s door. An apt reminder, enough to cause the commando to soften his tone. “There’s been...there’s been a complication. I expected advance word...never mind. I need more money for men, weapons, and uniforms if I am expected to deal with said complication and subsequently deliver.” The plea in the clone’s voice was almost genuine.
“<The arrangements will be made. Contact in....>
The clone’s mind automatically catalogued the details of their scheduled communication, shunting the remainder of the conversation to a small part of his increasingly fevered mind.
The greater part was busy celebrating at hearing what he wanted to hear. Oren was getting more money. He would need it. Sai had gotten too
close this time. The transmission ended. Oren smiled, uttering one word as he lost himself in thoughts of his attacker. His maker. How close they’d come that morning to finally ending their comic tragedy.
Starwind Pleasure Yacht
The Pendragon was one of two refitted Starwind Yachts in Clan Arcona’s military possession. It was the personal transport for the Consuls of the Shadow Clan, used primarily for diplomatic missions. The Pendragon II resembled its twin ship in every way, but was used only as a decoy when ever the Pendragon was in transit. While the Pendragon was still being worked on, the nearly complete Pendragon II was sitting idly in the Giletta Spaceport on Selen. It had been easy for Marick to borrow the ship for a “diplomatic” trip to speak with the summit of Clan Naga Sadow. Despite the workload, being Proconsul did have a few perks.
“This is Pendragon requesting permission to enter the Orion System,” Marick spoke into the comm. The Pendragon II used the same transponder as the Pendragon, so no one besides the Summit Guard, Consul, and Proconsul could know the difference.
“Pendragon , this is Dlarit Control. You are cleared to pass,” a non-descript voice answered.
“Well, that was easy enough,” Teroch commented as he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Kote yipped in agreement, sitting obediently at his master’s side and pressed up against his leg.
Marick nodded and glanced down at Kira, who was curled up in a ball of white fur at his feet. “Now it’s just a matter of finding this Tsainetomo. You sure the message said to meet on Kar Alabrek?”
Teroch glanced off to the side for a moment before answering. “Positive. The code was meant for sashbuir, but I was able to sift through his Journal and found that the key to cracking it was left underneath the entry about his fight with the Sadowan during the Equite Ladder championship match.”
Marick nodded, remembering watching the holo of the match vividly. It had served to further cement the late Arconae’s legend, and thinking of it brought back a mixture of pleasant and painful memories. He could see that Teroch was still looking out into space, eyes narrowed ever so slightly. The Proconsul could sense the troubled teen’s emotions despite his efforts to hide them, and knew the boy was also remembering the past. They had both lost a father, though Marick was sure he’d never be able to truly match Teroch’s pain.
There was more to him coming along on this trip than met the eye. Marick had hoped to connect with the youth, but so far, their conversations had been restricted to friendly banter. Any time he tried to get remotely serious, Teroch would cleverly change the topic. It would take time, and Marick hoped that this Tsaimetomo would help give Teroch at least some of the answers he craved.
“Alright then, we’ll dock on Tarthos and take the air speeder to Kar Alabrek. Suit up.”
Teroch’s melancholy seemed to slip away as a grin pulled at the corner of his lips. “Let’s go, Kote,” he said before turning and exiting the cockpit, presumably to prepare his armaments.
Kira yipped and then whined slightly, looking up at him with her mismatched colored eyes. Marick nodded and reached down to scratch behind her ears. “I know girl. We’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
At least, that’s what the Proconsu kept telling himself. He had read the dossiers on “Sai” and after watching his battle with Sashar, and silently prayed that Teroch’s powers had matured enough for them to stand a chance if push ended up leading to shove.
They were pretty conspicuous, even given their incognito clothing. Then again, when two massive canines loped along besides their owners, eyes tended to wander.
“We being followed?” Marick murmured to his companion, who briefly closed his eyes, stretching his feelings out into the pedestrian traffic of the street.
“No.” He said a moment later, his hand still going to the prominently displayed SSK-7 blaster pistol at his hip. His other hand was wrapped around the thick metal chain leash which was being pulled and strained at by an over-eager Kote. Marick’s Cythraul seemed to have been better trained, and was trusted to follow verbal commands.
“Calm down. It’s not like anyone will give us any trouble with these two. The civvies are shitting bricks just at the sight of them.”
Teroch shrugged, the hairs on the back of his neck raising themselves, prickling. “I know. I’m not worried about the great unwashed. Have you noticed what I’ve noticed?”
“What? That they have no spoon-benders watching us?”
Teroch nodded grimly. “Exactly. I’ve never been here before, but, if someone rocked up in the Dajorra system in a CNS-livered shuttle, I’d not let them walk around unescorted, or at least not under constant surveillance.”
Marick glanced around casually, “We probably are under surveillance, kid. They’re just better at hiding than us.”
“I find that hard to believe. We’re both trained Shadesworn assassins. If we were being watched, we’d know straight away. No two ways about it. No, I think it’s far more likely that they’re hoping we’ll deal with a problem they have.”
“Well, last intel we had on the Sons indicated that Tsainetomo wasn’t exactly their star pupil. I heard he was locked up. If he sent us these co-ordinates, I’m guessing he isn’t in the slammer anymore. Maybe they think we have a hit out on him or something.”
“An awful lot of ‘if’s there.”
Teroch lapsed into silence as the two came to a stop outside a building site. There was evidence of a firefight having occurred not long ago, as well as a smashed transparisteel viewport quite far up on the bland, corporate-looking building opposite. The pair quickly crossed the road, entered the building site and quickly located the half-finished barracks complex. Something definitely didn’t feel right. It was far too easy.
“Okay, timeline. I’m guessing that smashed window has something to do with our host, as did the signs of gunfire. It’s happened recently, as in the last few hours, or they’d have replaced the window. If it’s happened recently, where the fierfek are the police? This doesn’t smell right.” Marick finished, his hand unclipping his lightsaber.
“Trap.” The Hapan agreed.
“I’ll go up top and provide overwatch. You go in with the Cythraul and make a lot of noise. Draw attention. If it gets messy, I’ll provide covering fire and we withdraw.”
Teroch shrugged off his jacket, revealing a beskar mail sleeveless shirt, and a heavily modified E-11 strapped to his back. He handed the weapon silently over to Marick, who turned it over in his hands briefly, familiarising himself with the modifications; namely, an added vertical grip under the barrel, a personalised stock which didn’t retract, a tri-light scope and a second barrel strapped to the side of the weapon, presumably for when Teroch had planned to use his weapon at longer ranges.
The Proconsul looked down at the white Cythraul and clicked his fingers once, bringing Kira’s attention to him. “Guard Teroch, Kira. Guard.”
The Cythraul seemed to consider this, and Marick pushed the command home with the Force, making sure the creature would follow his orders. A moment later, the white-furred pup yipped an agreement, and her owner ruffled the fur on her head affectionately, before glancing up the side of the warehouse. He sighted a fire escape with access to the roof. Without another word, Marick jumped up, augmenting his flight with the Force, and clambered onto a fire escape. Seconds later, he was gone.
Left on his own, Teroch pulled his jacket back on, un-holstered his pistol, and opened the curiously unlocked door. Kira was first through, bounding silently into the large chamber. There were a lot of disused packaging crates and cargo containers stacked high, making a series of aisles. Kira took off down the central one, and Teroch followed, mercifully glad that his own Cythraul, Kote, had the sense to keep quiet. Abruptly, both Kira and Kote stopped, their ears pricking. Straining his own senses, Teroch didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe.
It all happened at once. Both Cythraul snarled and shot forwards down the aisle, Kote having yanked the leash from Teroch’s hand. At the other end, a dark-skinned humanoid of indeterminate age and gravity-defying hair appeared, holding something in each hand. He took one noncommittal looked at Teroch, said “You’re no Sashar.”, and threw a flash-bang at the Cythraul.
“Contact!” the youth bellowed, and opened fire, however Sai was already moving, spinning around to the other side of the aisle and out of sight. The flash-bang went off a second later, and both Cythraul howled in pain and disorientation. Teroch, however, had braced himself and was already moving. He jumped over the incapacitated beasts, boosting his speed with the Force and dropped to his knees, skidding past the end of the aisle. An orange blade bisected where his head would’ve been as he passed, and he brought his blaster around to fire, however Sai kicked his hand aside, then moved forwards, kneeing the youth in the face.
Kote was there in a second, and snarled as he leapt up, snapping for the assailant’s wrist. He instead punched the Cythraul in the muzzle, then backpedalled a pair of steps as Kira shot through the space he’d just occupied. Both dogs placed themselves between Teroch and Sai as the youth got up, blood running down his nose. They kept their heads low, ears down, and snarled in unison at the saber-wielding opponent, who eyed them cautiously.
The clone shrugged off his jacket, and, noting that his blaster had skittered from his hands earlier, drew two circular poles from their resting place on his right ankle holster. Depressing a button on them caused identical sharpened blades to protrude from the hilts at ninety degrees: Noghri sickles.
Holding one in each hand, he waded in, the Cythraul on his heels.
The saber de-activated, and Sai produced an identical hilt from the folds of his clothing, then snapped the two emitters together and twisted. Connected together, the two hilts comprised a small but sturdy-looking quarterstaff. A quarterstaff which he managed to catch one of the kama swings with, then clip Kira on the muzzle, offer a boot to Kote’s nose, then finally he caught the second swing of another sickle with the opposite end of his quarterstaff. He moved in close to headbutt Teroch, however there was the sound of a gun discharging. Acting on impulse, he rolled laterally and came up in a crouched defensive stance, weapon still in hand. The Son of Sadow smelled something burning, and realised someone had managed to shoot clean through his hair.
“Son of a-” before he could complete the curse, a second shot lanced out from the rafters, scorching dangerously close to his shoulder. Whoever was shooting wanted him to know that they had a bead on him. He rose slowly, pulling apart his quarterstaff, then clipping both parts back to his belt, and eyed his antagonist.
“I’m Teroch.” The youth managed breathlessly, telekinetically calling his blaster back to hand.
“Charmed. Care to call off your dog?”
Kote had been slowly advancing, snarling, baring his teeth at the Sadowan.
“Kote! To me!” Teroch snapped, and reluctantly the Cythraul loped back to his master.
“So, Teroch. You’re force-sensitive. Nobody else knows I’m here apart from one man who sent a call to me not so long ago. You’re not him-”
“No, I’m not. I’m his son.”
Sai blinked. “Oh.”
Atra audibly sighed as he swirled the drink before him. He wasn’t so much interested in the alcohol, having sworn off it after some rather unfortunate events, but he needed to keep up appearances whilst Mirado did what he did best.
Mirado was hunting.
Despite his apparent lack of interest, the assassin’s senses were open to their fullest. In fact, the man’s very species lent itself an advantage in this regard. His natural Force Sight allowed Mirado additional vision where others were lacking. The slightest shift in Mirado’s stance denoted to Atra that he had annoyed the assassin. Cursing himself silently he buried his eyes in his cup, sipping slowly and methodically.
Mirado turned his attention back to the city streets in time to spot something he had not expected to see. Two Cythraul bounded along next to two men, men he couldn’t help but feel he recognized but couldn’t confirm at this distance. “Atra, eyes up,” the Miraluka hissed through closed lips, causing the Corellian’s eyes to immediately respond. “Without being obvious.”
Atra cursed his momentary lapse, something he had been doing often since coming to train with the assassin. Glancing back down he reached out with his senses as well as his eyes, allowing them to mingle with the natural Living Force around them, better masking his search. “Neither feels like Sai to me.” Atra muttered as he once more shut away his connection to the Force. Having been face to face with the Son once before it was a feeling that Atra would not have forgotten. Swirling the drink once more Atra thought back to his discussions with his master, Methyas, before travelling to meet with Mirado. Ambitious is the word he had used, responding to the Quaestor’s open comments in regard to the hierarchy. And it was just that, ambition, which drove him. It was not for want of status that the Corellian had made the move for power, but for want of strength and the thirst for answers. Answers as to who was directly responsible for his confinement and experimentation, though it was the result of Macron’s research he couldn’t know for sure the Consul had direct involvement. Answers as to why his family had been targeted so long ago. With the answers he would take power and strength, strength to shatter those who wronged him and the desire to become so much more than he was now.
“Obviously, Sai wouldn’t be spotted so easily.” The Assassin’s respect for the Son was audible in his tone, though he made no attempt to conceal it. “There is more to things than what you see.” Though Mirado had already made the connection, he allowed Atra to work through it himself as he signaled the Quaestor to fall in line. They moved silently through the crowd, further back than what would have been possible without Mirado’s gifted sight. This was the Miraluka’s natural element and he was very good at what he did.
As Atra fell in step behind his temporary mentor he tried to follow the train of thought that had been dangled before his eyes. They were following two very large animals and their owners, what bearing could that have on the Son they hunted? True enough; the two men seemed very out of place. Why would they be here in the city? Better yet, they moved like they knew exactly where they were going, and by the way people had eyed them it was obvious they weren’t frequent travelers of Kar Alabrek.
As their unwitting guides moved into the Reconstruction District, Mirado motioned for Atra to follow him into the darkness of the side alleys. The assassin sniffed the air slightly as they moved; there was something off about the scent, something that was not typical of the location.
The stench was unmistakable and couldn’t be hidden from Mirado even though it seemed like the location had been scrubbed clean. This made Mirado more cautious as they slowed down, the Dark Jedi on full alert. It seemed to Atra as if time moved at a snail’s pace, each small step an eternity. The silence of their advance was broken in an instant as a flash bang ignited in the Administration building nearby. Voices rang out as the sounds of combat began. Mirado glanced at Atra to make sure he was following before bolting forward, moving at a speed the Quaester had to struggle to keep up with.
By the time they arrived the fight was almost over, nonetheless Mirado motioned for Atra to hold position, knowing his brother’s apprentice would more than likely succumb to such an encounter. Reaching out with his senses Mirado felt something familiar, something he had not felt in a long time. Sai, the assassin thought to himself as he recognized who was causing such a conflict inside. Mirado’s attention had been so focused on the nearness of his target that he was truly startled when Atra brought his attention to the roof.
The discharge of energy was what had given away Marick’s position. While new to his role, the Corellian wasn’t without skills and a brain to use them. From their vantage point Atra had no issues spotting the perch on the roof the Proconsul had taken. Mirado nodded, wasting no time as he climbed the side of the building using a series of footholds that only one such as he could have found. Atra watched in awe as the assassin scaled the building as if it were merely a jungle tree. Before disappearing onto the roof Mirado gave Atra a quick signal, the Quaestor knowing what was expected of him.
“When there is nothing else, be the distraction,” the Jedi Hunter muttered as he let out a long breath. This was not something the man was looking forward to. The young Dark Jedi advanced into the building, making no attempts to hide himself as he came upon the tail end of the conversation between Sai and Teroch. “What a twist!”
Both Sai and Teroch spun their attention to Atra in response to his exclamation, sarcasm dripping heavily from the man’s words. “Oh, sorry, is this private? I mean, I can come back?” The way Atra carried himself betrayed the fact that this persona was a façade, though he contained himself enough not to give away just how out of his element he was, nor how dead he would be if either decided to test him. As he moved, Atra’s eyes glanced to the rafters, hoping Mirado was in place.
Marick was confused at first with the unexpected arrival. He was left with the decision to keep his sights on the Son of Sadow, whom he knew to be the larger threat, or move to the new unknown. Fortunately for Atra, the decision was left unmade as a cold blade found itself pressed against the man’s neck. “Hi,” was all Mirado said as he grinned towards the Proconsul.
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
Sai stood stock still, his muscles corded and bunched, ready to spring at the slightest provocation despite the inquisitive nature of his statement. He needed time to process recent events, but it seemed like the Primarch would not have that luxury. A man – ’boy, more like it’ Sai surmised - claiming to be Sashar’s son had come in answer to Sai’s coded response over the commlink, and Atra, the young Hunter he’d passed by on Gamuslag were suddenly within his sanctum sanctorum, with at least one more unknown assailant in the rafters above. Sai regarded the Hunter, looking him unblinkingly in the eye as he pronounced, “I know you.”
Abruptly, four Force signatures flared as the Dark Side was being marshaled by its self-styled masters. Atra crouched, the defiance glinting in his eye. Teroch looked around furtively, then upwards towards the rafters. The Cythraul’s hackles raised, and their fangs bared themselves in anticipation of combat. Sai needed to do something before things got out of hand.
Sending a wave of dread outwards, Tsainetomo’s tripartite eyes flashed as he laced the Dark Side with an undercurrent of warning, so that all who drew upon it would feel his intent. “Enough!
Atra took a single step back, the sudden effects of Force-induced nausea momentarily overwhelming him. The Hunter’s hold on the Dark Side relented, as did Teroch’s, who eyed Sai warily. The Cythraul yelped, their tails curling involuntarily betwixt their hindlegs. Sai could feel the air rush out of the building as the Force’s presence diminished, telling the Korun-Keibatsu that the other two wielders, too, had decided to keep things peaceful for the moment. Sai breathed a small sigh of relief as he added, wearily, “Please, enough.” His sun-darkened hands were not filled with his batons, but curiously, were spread in a placating manner, which caused Teroch’s eyebrows to knit in confusion.
Sai made a mental note of the boy’s expression as he listened to the footfalls of heavy boots approach them. Soon, Mirado and Marick both materialized from the gloom, the clasp on the latter’s cloak sending a wave of recognition through Sai’s mind as surely as the vibrodagger that Mirado had held to the clasp’s owner’s throat slid home within its scabbard at the Sadowan’s back.
“Arconae”, Sai pronounced, addressing the man who now called the white-furred canine to heel.
“Kira, to me.” Kira growled protectively and obeyed her master, eyeing Mirado who now eased his way to Atra’s side. “I am,” Marick responded, a slight bow of the head indicating his respect for Sai’s reputation if not for the man himself. “Proconsul…”
Sai interrupted, holding up a hand. “You should know that rank and title hold no bearing here.”
Whether the Primarch meant on Tarthos or here, in Sai’s makeshift domicile, Marick couldn’t tell. His only response was, “Marick, then. And, the boy speaks the truth. He is Sashar’s son.” The Proconsul paused a moment to let the statement sink in. “I give you my word as Arcona’s Proco..” He paused again, remembering for the moment to respect Sai’s admonishment. This man was obviously important to Teroch, and would get a measure of respect until he was deemed…unimportant. “I give you my word.”
Atra’s attempts at breaking the tension did not cease. “Well, well, the gang’s all here!” Arms crossed satisfactorily across his training-broadened chest, the Hunter looked at each face, and then cleared his throat conspicuously, noting the seriousness had left none of them, save maybe Teroch, whose youthful curiosity was beginning to get the best of him.
“So, you’re Tsainetomo Keibatsu Sadow,” Teroch whistled appreciatively, wiping the blood from his nose with a sleeve. “Sashbuir has written about you, and the holos of you are accurate.” Sensing this was meant to be a complement, delivered in the clumsy way reserved for the Adolescent, Sai nodded in acknowledgement. “I need to ask some quest…”
Mirado erupted. “Am I the only one who’s going to say that Arconae have no business on Sadowan holdings? I doubt that any of my Summit will acknowledge any meeting with you, Proconsul, nor will they avow of knowing you’re here.” His voice began to rise at the incredulousness of it all, his hands itching to be filled with his lightsaber hilt. Sai knew that if Mirado acted, Atra was sure to follow his lead, and as up as he was for explaining away dead Dlarit personnel, the Primarch did not have the stomach for doing the same for Arconae.
Sai spoke, the weariness in his voice causing its usually rich baritone to crack slightly. “Please…I can tell you have questions. I must have my say, and then if your questions remain, I’ll do my best to answer them. But for now, Mirado,” – here, he turned to the Miraluka – “the Arconae are here because I allow it. That must suffice for now. Now please, with me.” The Son of Sadow turned and made his way to a small cooking element, radiating with heat and a low, orangish-yellow glow. He squatted, stirring a small pot of stewing legumes, the aroma thick in the stale air. The Sadowans and Arconae regarded one another, shrugged, and followed. The Cythraul took up a silent patrol of the barracks’ perimeter, following Marick’s and Teroch’s silent commands.
They sat around the cooking element while Sai took off his long coat and holster, placing them out of sight but well within his telekinetic thrall. Sai sat with an exhalation of air, and more than one of the quartet was minded of an elderly uncle sitting in his favorite chair to smoke flavored tabac out of a pipe. They all appraised Sai in silence as he began to spoon out some rations from dented cans and handed them all a portion with equally dented bowls and rusted flatware. Still, the Keibatsu carried out the ritual as if he were seated in a palatial dining room, his attention to detail bordering on the compulsive. The men began eating furtively, awaiting Sai’s explanation.
Though very different in origins, loyalties and species, at this singular moment, the four Darksiders had a shared thought: Sai was just a man.
The Arconae had heard tales – Teroch, from his father’s hand, no less – of a warrior nearly without parallel. Cousin to the Grandmaster, who was a fierce warrior in his own right, and worthy bearer of the Keibatsu name, feared throughout the Brotherhood. The Sadowans had felt the influence – and sometimes, the sting – of the Sons and Daughters of Sadow upon both Clan and her enemies, and seated before them was one who, at one point, had been considered their paragon. His reputation had spread, maybe not far and wide, but far and wide enough.
But now, huddled in the meager glow of a cooking element, a slight tremble evident in his hand as he meticulously lifted a spoonful of food to his mouth was no Darkside-demigod.
There was no force of nature, the Wind of Retribution-incarnate ready to sweep all from the land who dared crossed him or those who (still) thought well of him.
There was only a tired, battle-weary man.
Sai stopped mid-chew, feeling four sets of senses upon him. He looked around sheepishly – sheepishly – and offered a word of apology.
“I’m sorry; I was taught a season for All Things.” Sai moved his cookware aside, waiting until the other four had done the same. He wiped his mouth, took a moment to gather himself and then spilled all in a rush.
“Our home,” Sai began, addressing the Sadowans, “was once a very different place. Focused, there was nothing our dedicated group could not accomplish – including securing a charter of Clanship from the Dark Council. Our potential was vast and unrealized,” The timbre of pride was unmistakable in Sai’s voice. “Then, something changed.” The Sadowans and Arconae alike looked on appreciatively as the Keibatsu’s eyes misted over. “The Overlord was nowhere to be found, leaving the governance of Naga Sadow to those ill-prepared for such a responsibility. The Grandmaster had nothing but judgment, offered no help,” he spat, reigning in his emotion. “I was consigned to prison for some imagined slight, and escorted by my own brother in Sadow.”
Mirado spoke at this. “Speaking of, the Consul and the Overlord would have words with you.” Though his voice was soft, the command in the Templar’s voice was unmistakable. Sai offered a slight, tender smile.
“Mirado, allow me to finish. I admire your dedication to your duty, but I will not – I cannot, abide by that command.
“You see, the Clan has lost its Way, is devoid of focus.” Sai continued. “And I, either by public opinion or by my own hand, have been rendered irrelevant. My time may be over.” He leaned in so that the glow of the cooker danced in his strange eyes as they locked on his brethren-in-Sadow. “But, I promise you: Naga Sadow will be great, either by my hand or by my death.”
“Does ‘your hand’ include the killing of your own kind?!” Atra, having witnessed the security holorecordings of men and women wearing Dlarit uniforms still smoldering after Sai’s passing, couldn’t wait for his turn to speak.
Sai took a moment to consider this. It was true; some Dlarit personnel had fallen to his blades, but some weren’t what they appeared to be. “Unfortunate thing, that. I believe, however, if you and Mirado broaden your view, you will discover the truth to this.” Sai shrugged noncommittally. “Or, you will not. Either way, I win.”
The cryptic nature of the statement seemed to frustrate Atra, but Mirado interrupted. “You ‘win’?! This isn’t a game, Sai. We’ve been sent to bring you back, one way or another.”
“And, you truly believe you can do it?” Sai’s question had no flavor of challenge to it; it was an honest question, delivered with a warm smile. “Mirado, there is a man – a clone - not three klicks from our location, who I’ve been tracking for a long, long time. His name is Oren, and I think that he will hold more answers to more pressing issues about what may be concerning the Overlord and Consul than those pertaining to me.” Mirado made to speak again, but halted once he caught Sai’s eye. “You can tell them, should you so choose, that I overpowered you, and that I will have audience with them both in time.”
Mirado saw the folly in pressing the matter, so he quieted himself. Besides, he saw that Teroch was champing at the bit to get in on the conversation.
Sai noted Teroch’s impatience, as well. Regarding the Arconae, he continued. “Which brings me to you.” He inhaled, shaking his head, the great queue of hair following suit. “It is said that you cannot truly know a man until you fight him. In this way, I knew Sashar. It was he whom I was expecting to darken my doorstep, but instead, I find his son.
“You see, I had a commlink delivered to him when I resigned as Sadowan Consul. He and two others. I am not totally derelict in my duty, Mirado;” – he shot a look at the assassin – “it’s simply that I’ve stopped allowing others to define what my duty is.
“I was a heartbeat away from killing Oren when my comm buzzed; I thought it was Sashar. I had to break off my attack and give these coordinates, which have now been totally compromised.” Sai stopped, remembering that this was a simple conversation, not a tactical meeting. Old habits died hard, he supposed. They died as hard as he. “Tell me, young Teroch; where is your father? Why does he send you in his place?”
The youth swallowed once, fond memories of his father rushing to the fore. “He is dead.”
If the revelation shocked him, the Korun-Keibatsu didn’t let on. “There were very few Brotherhood members who I respected; your father was foremost among them.” Sai bowed his head slightly, both in acknowledging his friend’s passing and of the youth’s melancholy.
“However,” Sai began again, “we all may benefit by this unexpected development. My killing of Oren has been my immediate goal, and it is my hope that my penultimate goal can be achieved by this.”
“Which is what, again?” Atra’s confusion was genuine.
“The unification of Naga Sadow,” Sai stated simply. “By my actions, the Clan will be focused again – even if it is focused on killing me. If enough Sadowans believe that I am their greatest threat, true or no, I will be. My name will be a rallying cry much as our progenitor’s was…if not for the same reasons.”
This time, it was Marick’s turn to whistle appreciatively. He knew that Sai was sacrificing the one thing that might’ve given him purpose – his home – so that they could have purpose in his stead. Could he, pushed to the same brink, do the same?
Teroch’s voice rang out, curiosity getting the better of him. “So, why you…I mean, sashbuir…” Exasperation took hold of the young Adept, seizing his tongue.
Tsainetomo’s baritone was strong once more, no trace of the cracks of weariness evident. “Teroch, Sashar understood, as I did, that at the end of the day, we are but tools, just as we use tools in our chosen profession. Sashar, as I am, was a tool of his Truth.”
“Which is…?” Teroch was completely bought in, hearing familiar words uttered by his father falling from Sai’s lips.
Sai spread his hands, grinning as he did so. “As I said, it was his Truth. I can give you no more insight into that as I could as to the reasoning of the stars’ paths.” Teroch’s eyes narrowed and Sai saw the exasperation returning. “I can, however, let you know what my Truth is, and maybe that will give you answers.
“Teroch, I have spent a long, long time becoming who I am today…”
“A Son of Sadow?” Atra asked, jumping the gun.
“A Keibatsu.” the Hapan countered, knowing that blood does not always a Family-member make.
Tsainetomo chuckled. “’Son’? ‘Keibatsu?’ These are merely words, given power by those who would believe in them, instead of the people who are labeled with them. No, in becoming a warrior, an expression of my Truth.” Sai regarded his clenched fist as he spoke. “Everytime I step into battle, I confront my Truth. When my slug leaves the barrel or when my blade crosses another is the purest, most truthful moment of my life. When all my training comes to bear, when my attention to my technique and form are tested…and the poor execution of the same can spell my death. Sashar understood this….” Sai trailed off, unsure if Teroch was getting the lesson. He sighed.
“It is difficult to explain, but I can show you, if you’re interested. Tomorrow, I go to kill Oren. I may succeed, I may not. Either way, I go. This is something else Sashar knew: it is not the man who chooses his circumstances, but vice-versa. The best we can do is ensuring we’re prepared for them.”
“But, why wouldn’t you succeed?” For the moment, the Templar had no interest in philosophy. “I mean, what could stop you, besides my dragging you back to face the Consul?” Mirado had forgotten neither who he was nor whom he served. “Besides, what guarantee do you have that Atra and I won’t destroy your charade by exposing the truth of all of this?”
Sai seemed to think on this for a moment. “I guess I don’t. As to the rest…because Oren knows how to kill me, all of us.” His hand swept across the gathering.
“How would he know to do this, Sadowan?” Marick asked warily, thoughts of compromised intelligence skulking through his mind.
“Because, Arconae,” Sai said, his teeth gleaming with menace. “I taught him.”
Administrative Building, Designate 3-D
Oren typed away at his desk, manually drafting cheques to be disbursed to the new crop of mercs he’s merrily purchased by dint of his benefactor’s sudden influx of credits. It was menial work, but he didn’t mind, because it meant his men were happy, and happy men meant protection for his hide.
A disembodied voice emanated from within his inside jacket pocket, and he took out the comm unit, still typing away as he spoke.”
“How we doin’?” Oren was insufferably informal when he was happy.
The voice answered back. “We’re fine. The new shipment of materiel just arrived, and the men are unpacking the crates as we speak. D’ya wanna come down and inspe…” Oren interrupted.
“No, no. Just make sure the slug units are set up where I specified, and the sonic disruptors, too. Post the new men, and brief the old. We’re going to have company very soon.” He shut down the communicator without awaiting a response. Coin ensured obedience.
He typed faster, knowing that the men would want to get the cheques cashed so that they could drink or prostitute away their earnings that evening. Oren didn’t mind. After all, a good bit of them would probably die anyway, and he planned on stopping payment to the cheques in the morning regardless.
He’d need the credits to buy passage off-world, Sai or no Sai. His benefactor had a new mission for him, and he was eager to sew his special brand of mayhem wherever he was told to.
Mirado, as he was always wont to do, scowled. There was plenty of reason for it really. Sai was asking a hell of a lot from him. Sure, he could say that working with Arcona was some kind of stretch, but it wasn’t. Mirado had spent a little time on Antei, answering to Teroch, and a few others. Maybe having them in Sadow’s own system was a bit of a stretch, but nothing that the adaptable assassin couldn’t handle.
No, Sai was asking him to violate every bit of loyalty that he had. There wasn’t much, to be fair. He could care less for the Sons as a body, even though he could count his cousin, the Fist, among them. He’d also had fair dealings with Shikyo and Sai. It went no further than that. Even the Overlord, with whom Mirado had waded into the thick of battle, meant nothing to the eyeless assassin. It was his loyalty to his home that mattered.
“Stang ‘em.” Mirado finally said at length. “I got nothing better to do.” He added as he perched atop a wrecked footlocker. Whatever manner of critter Marick had brought with him sniffed at him a moment, but seemed content at that. It was simple professional courtesy, one animal to another.
Sai, warrior poet that he was, observed the Miraluka. He was a ghost among Naga Sadow, a hunter and killer par excellence, but not one given to deep thought. “This is nothing more than another contract?” he asked at length, drawing out the words for the benefit of the Arconans. Teroch might have been his boss for a short while, but knew little about the guarded Miraluka.
“Yeah,” Mirado muttered. This talk of truth was, well, pointless. The truth was, either you were the predator or the prey. Nothing simpler than that. “Presuming there’s something in it for me.” He added after a moment. There was no such thing as a free lunch, on either end of it.
“What of your orders?” Atra asked. “Won’t this find you a traitor?” As Mirado’s Quaestor, these kinds of things would snowball uphill, and the human had no desire to be caught in the middle of the drekstorm.
“Not all missions get accomplished,” Teroch answered for the Miraluka. Raised Mandalorian, he knew that discretion was the better part of valor. “And no plan survives past first contact.”
“Pretty much,” Mirado said. “So, about killing this guy?”
Sai reached to his belt and drew his bottle, taking a long pull. “He has the means, and the desire, to kill us all. Think of it as ethnic cleansing. He’s behind a considerable amount of trouble, and removing him from the equation is necessary. So long as I’ve got you here, do be so kind as to begin doing your job.”
“I’ll find him,” Mirado said. “But after this, I’m going to need something to take back, or else things are going to get messy for all of us. We screw this up, and it’s not just us getting in deep, but it could mean war, and we know what happens when the Grand Master’s empire threatens to shake itself apart.”
“The Grand Master fixes it.” Atra said, putting two and two together in short order. Having never met Muz Ashen, he could only guess from what others had told him, but that seemed to include the man having no tolerance for foolishness, even from his own family.
“So, we don’t screw it up.” Marick commented as he scratched his pet behind the ears absently. As Proconsul to a rival Clan, the idea of helping Naga Sadow become stronger might seem counterintuitive, but the opposite was actually true. While they held no allegiances, both clans could form a self-sustaining cycle that made both stronger. Eventually, there would be a dispute big enough to warrant action, but by then, their collective strengths might also be enough to deter it, allowing them to grow even stronger still. Really, this was pure good business.
Reconstruction Site 3-D
0642 Local Time
As it had done thousands of times on thousands of mornings prior, the golden light of the sun crested the horizon, beating back the darkness. Shadows were birthed and lengthened as night gave way, giving depth, shape and color to the otherwise drab landscape. Across the city men, women and alien alike awakened, snapping the ties that threatened to drag them back into slumber even as others welcomed sleep, their night shifts over and the work of running the city turned over to the day.
The Dlarit Advanced Commando cut quite the silhouette, standing as brazenly as he was at the open viewport that Sai had escaped through almost twenty-four hours ago, his perfectly coiffed hair undisturbed by the gentle morning breeze. Oren mentally ran through his checklist even as he scanned the structures within his field of vision, the corner of a perfectly engineered eye earning a crinkle for its efforts to stave off a beam of sunlight.
’Sonic disruptors, check...extra men and slug-turrets stationed...transport leaving in t-minus 30...’ Oren’s usually fastidious mind was splintered, torn between his lust for logistical preparation, his relief at being so close to leaving Tarthos for his new assignment, and his excitement at the prospect of finally putting Sai into the ground, once and for all.
He held no pity for the mercenaries who were sure to die today; Oren had held his briefing the night before, and was more than a little disappointed at the lack of sobriety and seriousness that had infected the cramped, musty room he’d used. Some were paying attention, even taking notes and assuring their respective assignments to the slug-turret crews, but not enough for Oren’s comfort.
Their enemy was simply too dangerous.
Turning away from the viewport, Oren sighed. His excitement would have to be reserved for his upcoming trip. His benefactor had promised details once he’d boarded the transport, and it was leaving in short order. The commando had no doubt that he’d elude Sai once again, make the transport, and be back to sowing the seeds of discord once again. Still, he felt a measure of regret that he would not see the light finally leaving Sai’s strange eyes, never to torment him again.
The clone made his way down the steps, absently barking orders. The mercs, finishing up their preparations, redoubled their efforts in an attempt to look busy.
’Fools...I tried to warn them.’ The thought was not one of pity, but of self-assurance. Oren would escape; yes, he would. As much as he wanted to stay to see his foe’s end, duty beckoned. It was a hard choice, but Oren made it. Although Sai could die that morning, the prospect did not warm Oren so much as it did steel him. These, after all, were the hard decisions that had to be made...in order to ensure one was around to make any decisions in the future.
42 Minutes Earlier
Teroch awoke with a start, Kote a heartbeat behind him. The Adept’s eyes adjusted to the pre-dawn gloom while his canine yawned, the beast’s jaws wide and full of teeth. Kote arose to his feet, stretching, and loped outside. The Arconae’s eyes followed, his affection for his pup beginning to crease his youthful face with a grin, when a sudden realization fully awoke him as surely as a bucket of cold water to the face.
He was alone.
Scrambling to his feet, Teroch made a quick scan to confirm what he’d already known. There was no sign of Marick or Kira; neither was there one of the brash Hunter and blind Assassin from Sadow.
More disturbingly, there was one of Tsainetomo. Two, in fact. Though he had awoken alone, Teroch did espy Sai’s longcoat and holstered autopistol, hanging serenely on the banister of the staircase leading to the barracks’ second level.
Sashar’s son debated whether he should call Kote back to him; his instincts were electric with warning, but he ignored them. Leaving the Cythraul pup to his business, Teroch climbed the stairs.
Reaching the top, Teroch was greeted by a different scene than the one on the lower-level, cluttered as it was. No, the second level was completely bare; no crates, no half-assembled racks, nothing. Just floorspace and viewports.
And Tsainetomo standing at the far end, pulling his mane back and tying it with a scrap of cloth. Even though the Korun-Keibatsu stood still, the bushy queue seemed to move, swaying in a non-existent wind.
Teroch fully entered the space, his eyes never leaving Tsainetomo’s. “The others?” His simple query was spiced with the acrid flavor of accusation.
“Gone ahead.” Sai’s baritone rumbled across the empty space between them. “Mirado, I sent ahead about a half-hour before Atra and Marick...and them, I sent about a half-hour before you awoke. They attack within the hour.”
Teroch’s mind worked as he asked his next question, knowing what the answer would be even before the words left his lips. “Are we to join them?”
Surprisingly, Sai’s answer was...complex. “’We?’ That’s not entirely up to me.
“Young one,” the Son of Sadow continued, “I know for a fact that I am not joining them. I have been far too exposed by your...curiosity.” Again, the statement was not an indictment, but a simple listing of fact. “I was not ready to be found by the Sadowans yet. And, as I’ve told you, we are but tools.” Sai jabbed a slender finger at the Arconae. “Your unexpected and untimely arrival has been turned into an advantage.” Sai’s smile was broad as he crossed his arms, awaiting Teroch to come to some sort of conclusion.
Which, to the youth’s credit, he did in short order. Teroch’s eyes widened in indignation. “You’re using us! To kill the commando!”
His mind flashed back to the night before, when Sai had - almost too obligingly - given up the details about Oren’s origins in Sadowan cloning tanks, his training at the Sadowan’s hand, and even his tactical predilections, in what he thought was an attempt to make their assault easy. The Adept began to pace as details fell into place; Sai had, throughout the course of the evening, had planted enough seeds in the Sadowans’ and Arconae heads that when they had come up with a plan of assault, with Mirado as forward scout and the rest to follow shortly thereafter, it seemed as if they themselves had come up with the plan. Teroch’s heart fell as he contemplated the depths of Tsainetomo’s manipulations.
The smile left Sai’s face almost as abruptly as it had come. “As all tools are meant to be. Don’t look so shocked, young one; it was you who called me, remember? It was the Sadowans who sought me out. In the end, we all may get what we want. Well, at least the Sadowans may; they’ll have answers to some pressing issues that no longer concern me, and they’ll be even more focused on bringing me to their brand of justice.”
Teroch’s voice, cracking with the rawness of youth, interrupted as it erupted from his emotion-choked throat. “Shut up! I am not to be used...I looked for you because you meant something to sashbuir...I can’t believe you could be so selfish!”
Sai’s stony demeanor cracked, if only infinitesimally. “How can you speak of selfishness, even as you stand here debating with me, knowing that your Proconsul places himself in danger, and not even for Arcona! He’s here because of you, Teroch. Your quest to become better, to improve yourself as all of our Order have wanted to do before, has blinded you; you’ve no more sight than the Miraluka.” Sai shook his head as he finished. “You seemed to have forgotten what’s important as you search for an answer to a question you can’t even fully ask. So, I ask you, young one; knowing what you do, do you still wish to parlay, or do you wish to help Marick?"
Teroch's answer was silence as he remained where he was.
Sai chuckled. "You are truly your father’s son.”
Teroch could stand no more, his resolve hardening his heart. The Adept’s voice was cold. “My father would never be as you, Keibatsu. What do you know of him?”
“I know that the dead don’t give a fierfek about the living...and our time is wasted by refusing to do the same.” Sai’s curse made Teroch’s eyes widen. Gone was the warrior-poet from the evening before. There was only frigidity.
Teroch began to marshal the Dark Side as he made his decision. The man that his father may or may not have called friend would be made accountable, if not for the slight to him then to the slight to his Proconsul. A young hand stole to the shoto hilt at his side.
“Tsainetomo, I have come for an answer to a question. However the question seems to now have changed, the answer, I think, should be the same.”
Sai’s arms uncrossed, as the familiar moments began to color his senses with alarming clarity. “And, what would that be?” The Son of Sadow’s dark hands filled with batons, twirling them absently before he stilled them, locking his tripartite gaze on Teroch, and his manner of escape, the stairs beyond.
The tension was palpable, choking the already stale air within the barracks. “I think you know. Sashbuir was known to you by virtue of combat.” The youth’s dark eyes stared back. “I would be afforded the same courtesy.”
Sai’s grin never touched his eyes. “Well, allow me to reintroduce myself.”
The Dark Side flared as Sai bounded forward towards Teroch, twin columns of sunset erupting from his fists as he closed on the Arconae.
2 Hours Earlier
The night was quiet as the unlikely group of Dark Jedi from two very rival Clans rested and prepared for the coming day. They had all agreed to take their own shares of a night's rest, but decided who would take first watch with a game Sai had taught them called, Janken. Marick had found it odd of how a parchment could beat a stone-but he abided by the rules nonetheless. Still, he ended up drawing watch with Sai, and wondered if the Son of Sadow had planned it all out. He always seemed to have a plan, but something told the Arconan Proconsul that he was a man of strange honor, and whether it was through the Force or his gut, he did not feel threatened.
They were each warriors of various backgrounds, but warriors nonetheless. It was interesting how a common goal could unite those of different beliefs but similar minds.
Atra had found a comfortable spot to rest and closed his eyes while Mirado, close by, sharpened one of his blades. The scraping of stone against metal filled the barracks with an almost calming metronome. Teroch lay on his back with his hands behind his head, eyes closed as he welcomed the chance to revitalize. Though powerful he was still maturing into his powers and knew the value of a proper night's rest. Having Kote curled up beside him didn’t hurt either. Marick flashed a rare smile as he watched the teen turn over on his side, his arm falling limply over Kote’s chest. The Cyrthraul did not seem to notice, or take offense. His sister, Kira, had found a spot under the bed that Marick had claimed, enjoying the small confines like a cave.
Marick made his way through the barracks and stepped out into the night air. He found Sai sitting on a pile of rubble that stacked high enough to grant a watchful view of the surrounding terrain. His hair blew wildly out behind him despite the lack of a strong wind, his bronzed skin aglow from the moon's pale light. His eyes stared out in introspection, and the approaching Hapan could hardly begin to imagine what was on the Son of Sadow’s mind.
He had a hawkeye’s view of the initial confrontation with Teroch, and could safely say that Tsainetomo was as terrifying as his reputation. Marick had never seen Teroch so evenly matched, and even to the master assassin’s trained eyes the intricacies of the exchange had still registered as elegant blurs. The Proconsul had a feeling that if the Son of Sadow wanted him dead, he would be hard pressed to stop him.
“I wanted to ask you something,” Marick stated more than asked.
“If you’re looking for answers, kid, you’re not going to find many with me,” the Keibatsu replied flatly.
Marick ignored the deflection and folded his arms across his chest. “Before I became a Quaestor or Proconsul, I was the leader of Arcona’s internal security, Oblivion Brigade. I spent the entire time learning how to sniff out traitors, how to track them down, and how to deal with them. I learned a lot about the nature of sentient beings, but there are still many things left a mystery to me.”
Sai was truly sympathetic, despite his earlier rebuff. Still, neither he nor Marick would be well served by games. The Primarch, still staring into the distance, replied. ”You've yet to ask your question, I've noticed."
“You love your Clan the same way I do,” The Hapan explained, hardly one for well articulated speeches like his Consul was known for, but still eloquent in his own right. “How do you detach yourself from your feelings? How do you give up everything you’ve fought and bled for? Can you really turn yourself into an enemy of your home, of your family? Even if it’s for the ‘good of the clan’?”
Sai didn’t initially respond, and seemed to think on the boy’s words.
“Being a leader, Marick, is sacrifice,” he explained plainly. “Our personal ambitions are outweighed by the needs of our duty to our family,” turning his head for the first time to regard the Arconan Proconsul. He noticed then that he really was just a boy, his crystalline eyes betraying the youthful glow of his handsome visage. The weight of the world seemed to swell in those eyes, and the Primarch glanced away from them.
Marick shifted his gaze down towards the ground as the blunt response settled over him. He had heard those same words before, and realised suddenly who’s they had been. Sashar had said the same thing to him back on New Tython, before the Arconans had divided up and Marick assumed control of the Qel-Droma operation, leaving his mentor to lead the assault for Galeres alongside his brothers.
“Sashar, what If i’m not ready?” Marick had implored.
“You don’t have a choice. Being a leader is about sacrifice. Always remember that. Arcona is more than you, me, or Zandro or Wuntila. Our own ambitions never outweigh the Clan's. We are but tools, the children of the Shadow Clan.”
Silence fell over the two as a stray gust of wind howled and blew thin strands of black hair across Marick’s face. Could he ever turn his back on everything he believed in, if it meant betraying his family, his home? He hoped it never came to that point, which only heightened the Hapan’s respect for the Son of Sadow.
“True enough,” the Hapan finally said, glancing back at the Sadowan. “One last thing, then.”
“Go ahead,” The Keibatsu replied calmly.
“It is not widely known, but Sashar’s death really took its toll on Teroch. It got to the point where fingers were pointed, blame was laid, and Arcona was nearly torn in half. He is like a brother to me, and is a valuable member of my summit. He needs answers, resolution, something, and I don’t believe that I have the ability to give it to him.”
Tsainetomo stoically digested the new information, lowering his head - slightly - before responding.
"Something like that is big, Marick, and shouldn't be asked on another's behalf. I can, however, empathize with you." His mind flashed to his own trials in Sadow's name. "Your delivery is misplaced, but your intent is honorable." Sai's voice was as velvet granite. "Teroch knows what he wants. If he looks hard enough, he'll find it. If I'm to help him with that," he said, locking eyes with the Hapan, "I assure you he won't forget my lesson."
Marick bowed his head slightly out of both respect and perhaps habit. “Thank you,” was all he could think to say.
“In return, I give you advice,” Sai said. “Mirado and Atra are reliable and will cover your six, but they will need your experience. Both are talented, and both have their roles to play for the future of Naga Sadow. Though it wasn't my intent, they are now in mortal danger, and their fate is not to be any more intertwined with mine than it already is. Oren will be ready for you, do not underestimate him.”
“You have my word,” Marick said, slowly extending his hand towards the Son of Sadow.
Tsainetomo Keibatsu Sadow regarded the Arconan’s hand for a moment before reaching out and grasping it firmly. Their eyes met momentarily, and both nodded in mutual understanding.
“Good luck,” was the last thing Sai offered before turning his attention back to the coming dawn sneaking up over the horizon.
Reconstruction Site 3-D
0745 Local Time
Marick passed the macrobinoculars to Atra and pointed towards the construction site they were targeted to strike. In the distance, the lone completed building was nestled safely amongst a collection of unfinished foundations of varying completion. Cranes and bulldozers and all sorts of machines dotted the sepia glow cast by the sandy dirt of the occupied site. Sentries patrolled the perimeters, and the turrets that had been constructed looked to be slug-powered rather than laser operated.
“Sai wasn’t kidding,” Marick muttered. “Oren knew how to make things tough for us. Even a lightsaber is hard pressed to deflect slugs..”
“Challenge accepted,” Atra countered with a confident grin. Marick sighed, but the Corellian didn’t seem to notice.
While the two Dark Jedi looked similar in age, Marick suddenly realised how different the two were. The true weight of Sai’s words began to sink in. While skilled in combat and in no way free of his own demons, Atra had never truly lead a unit into battle. He had been thrown into the fray of combat and was forced to learn, just as Marick had during his first war. The Corellian had never never knowingly sent a man to his death, though.
Marick had been doing it for over three years, going back to his time as a Battleteam Leader. Atra had never been forced to chose between one man living while another died for the sake of the “greater good”. Decisions. Choices. He had never had an entire House’s eyes looking to him for instruction and guidance after one of their shuttles had been gunned down due to a tactical error on his part.
The Proconsul shook his head, erasing the thoughts of the past. He was here now, and had a job to do.
“Just follow my lead,” he said, unclipping his shoto lightsaber from his belt.
“I err-uh, don’t know why Oren had us double tha’ patrols,” came a tall man with a strong jaw, square head, and tight-trimmed hair. He was chewing gum rather loudly and had the look of someone who enjoyed attention. The others seemed to ignore him, though, all focused on the tasks at hand.
Suddenly, the man stopped chewing, and the gum dropped from his mouth. An army of spiders burst forth from the ground and where all converging on him. They started to climb up his legs, slowly washing over him like a sea of black hairy legs and bulbous bodies. He screamed, and started to run in frantic circles. The two mercenaries flanking him looked at the man blankly. They simply saw the man clawing at his own skin, yelling about spiders or something like that. They saw no spiders.
Atra seemed to enjoy watching the merc’s torment, trapped in the illusion that Marick had forced upon the mundane’s mind. The distraction was just what they needed.
With preternatural speed fueled by the Force, Marick sprinted forward from his cover and snapped his lightsaber, streaks of fluorescent cyan light trailing in his wake. The Hapan became a blur of black hair and white robes, showing Atra where the “Black Flash” moniker had come from. The Prelate was on the first mercenary before he could cock back the hammer of his slugthrower pistol.
Marick’s saber slashed twice with a deft turn of the wrist, the ‘merc crying out as both of his hands detached from the rest of his arm and fell to the floor. The second ‘merc leveled his rifle at the Hapan and depressed the trigger, but Marick grabbed a hold of his first victim and thrust him into the bullet’s path. The ‘merc’s body convulsed as his torso shred to bits of flesh and blood and became holier than a high-priest of the old religions.
Atra took advantage of Marick’s distraction and thrust his own cyan lightsaber, through the ‘merc’s chest. He grunted and ceased firing as his eyes rolled lifelessly back into his head and he toppled forward to the ground.
The first mercanry was now on the floor, digging his nails into his skin and writhing in self-inflicted agony. Marick put him out of his misery and looked up at the turret that was spinning to focus on him.
“Atra, duck-” Marick started to say as the turrets gun-barrel lined up with the two Obelisk. A loud yell echoed out from the direction of the turrent, and a body fell from it’s elevated position and landed with a resounding thud-crunch. Marick squinted his eyes and let a rare grin cross his face as he spotted Mirado.
The Assassin, who had gone in before Atra and Marick, offered a silent salute before disappearing.
The art, because it really is an art, of assassination isn’t a study in killing so much as a study in murder. While it’s easy to consider the two words synonyms, the reality is much more different. Killing is taking a life, while murder is planning to do it. The plan may at times be half-cocked and improvised in every definition of the word, but there is hostile intent.
Such intent was evident in the engagement at the reconstruction site. Several men, trained to handle the ravages of the Dark Jedi, moved in a unified manner, prepared tactics carrying them throughout their actions. Slugthrowers popped in staccato dissonance, the weapon chosen due to the difficulty in blocking the projectile with a lightsaber, and the absolute truth that the rounds could not be sent back to the shooter by the same means.
Marick, accustomed to combat engagements, delivered a stellar performance, his actions flowing from him in harmony with his own inner orchestra. Atra, who was much greener, but by no means unmotivated, made up for his lack of experience with a grim determination. A third party however, planned to paint a lovely portrait.
Many would write off the Obelisk as grunts, mere mindless war machines, but the truth of the matter was considerably more complicated than that. In many ways, the darkness which held sway over the hearts of the Brotherhood held less influence within the Obelisk than it did in the other orders. This isn’t to say that the Scions of Ferran weren’t consumed by the Dark Side, no, it was more that their training offered them a unique perspective.
The Sith reveled in their fury like drunks in a winery, claiming that such acts made them more powerful. The Krath accepted the darkness, allowing it in as matter of course in their work. The Obelisk however, more than the other orders, required a tight control, more restrictive than one would imagine. As the truly Elite of the Dark Jedi, acting in anything other than a clear, focused mind spelled potential disaster.
Of course, being Dark Jedi as they were, even the greatest of the Obelisk could be known to act on their anger. Mirado was nowhere near the greatest of the Obelisk.
The rush of the bitter wind struck his face like needles, his nerves lighting up as the cold air struck at velocity. He dashed through the construction area, moving among the equipment and materials on site, pausing only long enough to adjust his course to avoid pockets of mercenaries. His target was something a bit more high value and a lot more dangerous in the immediate future.
Born without eyes, like any Miraluka, Mirado used the Force to see, and in his vision, he could see a crane occupied by a single man with a very powerful laser rifle. Unlike a blaster, the solid coherent beam couldn’t be deflected, and arrived on target quite literally at the speed of light. Bringing that weapon into this engagement simply would not do.
At the base of the crane, the Miraluka jumped, grabbed one of the crossbeams which supported the whole structure, and began swinging. Each muscle in his body worked in harmony, directing his weight and momentum up, around, and through the assembly. Mirado’s other senses, far keener than a human’s, told him a wealth of things about his immediate environment.
His ears detected the telltale scraping of ferroceramics and plastics scraping and grinding off one another, no doubt the shooter assembling his weapon. Mirado’s nose, however, told volumes by what it did not detect, fear. This shooter wasn’t afraid, not in the slightest. It wasn’t hard to guess that this was business as usual for them.
Still, the assassin ascended the crane assembly, swinging about like some kind of simian, leaping as much as climbing to minimize the shock of impact on metal, meaning less for the shooter to detect about Mirado’s ascension.
At the top in quick order, Mirado could see the rifleman bringing his weapon to bear, swinging it towards the Arconan in a strange land. He never completed the action, however, as the steel blade of one of Mirado’s blades dug into the base of his skull, turning his lights out for the last time.
Over the rail the assassin scrambled, kneeling down to take cover and concealment behind the safety walls in the operator’s booth of the crane. For a moment he took stock of the situation, pushing his senses out wide. Another shooter was assembling another weapon, the silhouette of the thing looking much like an e-web type device. That would’ve been a powerful equalizer, as his people were in the slow but methodical process of being cut down.
Again, it was another weapon that had no business in this engagement. Quickly Mirado plotted his options, before arriving at the kinds of conclusions that such plotting tended to bring him to. Through the Force, he read the impressions on the controls left behind by other operators, giving him a rough idea of which lever made the thing turn.
Standing, and prepping for the inevitable, Mirado tossed the lever, and felt the crane begin to turn. Immediately he hopped out onto the crane arm and ran, his booted feet barely making contact with the framed arm of the heavy lifer. Halfway down the arm, he simply jumped.
Soaring in a decidedly downward fashion, he aimed himself at the e-web operator feet first, a terminal velocity drop kick delivered via air mail. The gunner, whose attention had become divided upon hearing the crane start up, looked up just in time to see size 16’s, before a heavy impact ended his life too.
At that moment of impact, the Miraluka used a telekinetic application of the Force to counter his velocity, springing off of his target to land on his feet. With his violent intentions coming to a full steam, he felt it was time to rejoin his fellow Obelisk. They didn’t necessarily need his help, but expediting the process certainly had appeal.
Atra nodded towards Mirado, more to acknowledge the man’s presence than for any other purpose. “Come on,” the young Quaestor muttered before charging towards the building entrance. It would be suicide to enter that way, that was for certain, but Atra wasn’t without a plan. They needed to move on Oren fast, lest the target get out via some hidden exit. They hadn’t had time to memorize the floor plan, and due to it being mid-construction such a thing wouldn’t have helped regardless. Marick followed closely, his senses fully open and his experience warning him away from the entrance.
Marick was moments away from speaking up when realization dawned on him. Atra had no intention of simply walking in. The Corellian had spotted a nearby generator on their initial rush; for all intents and purposes it seemed to link directly with the main lobby where most of the mercenary forces would no doubt be gathered. It had also been under heavy guard, but that guard had been dealt with moments before. Atra’s cyan blade spun in the air a moment before severing the lines, allowing only the briefest of pauses to acknowledge the loss of power. Shifting his momentum into a pivot he lunged towards the sheet-covered wall nearby. There were certain advantages to half-constructed battlefields and Atra was using his wits to take advantage of them. Marick prepared his own saber, watching as the Corellian used his saber to weaken fabric of the sheet before his body broke through.
Inside the building was pure darkness, having no readily available emergency lighting. Mercs shouted frantically for someone to redirect power from a working section of the grid, chaos taking over from order. Just as their eyes were adjusting to the newfound darkness light once again punctured the veil. Blinding white shot through a wall far to the right of the entrance, answered by groans of pain as the men covered their eyes. New cries filled the lobby as pain and fear took the place of confidence and bravado.
Atra was moving quickly, shifting with the agility that was commonplace for the practitioners of K’thri. He spun low, getting behind his first target with minimal effort. Whilst Mirado had taken it upon himself to teach his brother’s apprentice the intricacies of hand to hand combat, the Corellian wasn’t without his own drive and thirst for knowledge. In his own time, he had taken to the studies of a more specialized variant known as Vim. His eyes flashed dangerously as he augmented his sight with the Force, allowing him to see unimpaired as he struck at the meridian points in the mercenary’s neck. The man crumpled to the floor unconscious, not even having time to cry out.
The Black Flash was in full form, carving through the various personnel with relative ease. These men had expected a saber user, that was evident based on their weaponry, but no amount of preparation could have readied them for the amount of skill now on display. Marick’s saber carved a path to the rear stairs, weaving between targets as they fell in the confusion. Dashing forward he shifted to the side, leaning around a rifle as he brought his blade up from below. The rifle fell to the ground with a heavy thud before its owner’s limp form followed. Marick knew the tactical advantage of the high ground, especially with the threat of turrets, and wasted no time getting into position. As he approached the mercenaries manning the deadly slug throwers he blanketed them in the Force, letting their own delusions and fears take hold as madness took over their minds.
Atra showed a bit of green under his collar, focusing more on clearing the threat than approaching it tactically. Unlike Marick, Atra hadn’t had enough true combat experience to earn a moniker of his own. Still, one couldn’t help but find themselves describing the Quaestor of Shar Dakhan as a Dark Wind. He moved as a blur, utilizing the acrobatic forms of K’thri, lashing out with invisible strikes to the enemies around him as if the wind itself were a weapon. Utilizing a more applied focus of Force Strike he was able to combine the fluidic movements of K’thri with the focused striking of Vim. Finesse and control turned into a tragic dance. He wasted little time clearing the crowd, the mundane mercenaries having little in the way of natural Force defense to protect them. Letting out a long breath Atra made his way to Marick, loosening his grip on the Force to allow his reserves to refuel.
“Why didn’t you kill them?”
Atra glanced at Marick, noting the confused expression on the man’s face before making his way over to the stairs.
“They were merely paid to kill us... Not the one who actually wants us dead.”
Marick watched, still confused, as the curious Corellian bounded up the stairs two steps at a time before following. Neither of the Dark Jedi showed concerned as they moved through the levels. Mirado had entered a few floors above them and would have cleared most of the threats without alerting anyone nearby. Still, the biggest threat was Oreno and they weren’t able to say for certain how someone trained by Sai would react to such a situation. The clone was dangerous, but he could flee just as easily as he could turn and fight. Still, Atra had a small sense of assurance, getting the feeling that Mirado wouldn’t let anyone flee this building quite so easily. Marick on the other hand was focused on locating their target. His senses were on full alert, reaching out like tendrils to each coming floor.
The Dark Jedi came to a halt between floors, Atra waiting patiently for more information as Marick pinned down the exact presence he felt. “He’s on the next floor,” his uncertainty was left unspoken as Atra nodded in acknowledgement. They weren’t dealing with a Force-user, as such Oren was far more difficult to find. They made it through the entrance to the next floor quickly, coming to a corridor that seemed to siphon them through half the building before an entry way turned into a larger auditorium like room.
“You’re not him...”
An unfamiliar voice echoed in the emptiness, Atra and Marick spinning around in unison. Oren stood arrogantly across the room, seeming to be more focused on the cleanliness of his hair than the threat standing before him. Twin hisses filled the room as their cyan lightsabers roared to life. Atra raised his saber defensively, taking the Soresu stance but keeping his feet pivoted in such a way that he could switch to Makashi seamlessly if needed. Marick left his stance more open, not giving away which form he was using.
“How amusing,” the clone muttered as he turned his back on the pair, a small chuckle escaping his lips, “though I can’t say I’m surprised.” He glanced back over his shoulder, disgust showing on his face.
“He got so close... I have to say I’m almost insulted.” A side door slid open as Oren began to leave the room, clearly uninterested in the current threat.
“He can’t get away!” Atra shouted as he rushed forward, Marick pulling ahead with the Force amplifying his movements. All at once the pair became frozen, their bodies contorting in sudden pain. Strange speakers were set up at the four corners of the room, emitting a sonic blast that crisscrossed the auditorium. The initial pain was more from the unexpected nature of the devices than actual damage. The ringing in Atra’s ears was enough to drive him mad, coupled with the pain of his constant headaches. He had stumbled over his own feet, now lying face down as the sonic disruptors had caused his equilibrium to fall apart. Several feet ahead Marick was having similar issues, the dizziness threatening to overwhelm him as he managed to keep from puking. Propping himself up on one knee he fixed a glare upon Oren, the clone finding the scene the epitome of amusement.
“I was saving these for him. I was going to take great joy in finally ending this game, on my terms.” Oren’s arrogance was thick, only fuelling Atra’s anger at the situation.
Oren leaned casually against the jamb of the side door, his arms folded loosely, almost as if he were leisurely watching hovertraffic glide by on a pleasant afternoon. Indeed, the commando’s mein was the polar opposite of one who was otherwise regarding two erstwhile assassins.
A slow smile crept across his chiseled features while he observed the Darksiders writhing in aural agony. On the floor, Atra and Marick bodies seemed to rebel against them, their hands seemingly torn between trying to shield their ears and propping their owners up. The high-frequency waves were amplified to an obscene level, and the Force-users were hard-pressed to remain conscious. Painfully craning his head around, Marick attempted to shout instructions to Atra, but the Corellian was beyond hearing. The alternating frequency shifted, and Marick’s head bowed, the new waves taking him to a new plateau of discomfort. Atra instead continued to glare at Oren, who met the Sadowan’s stare with his own, mirth-filled eyes.
“You son-of-a...arrgh!” Atra’s curse went unfinished as Oren began to mock him, feigning a lack of understanding. A slender finger pointed to his ear, and Atra saw that the clone was wearing ear-protectors, the yellow foam barely visible in his canal.
Atra, with the defiance evident in all of those who hailed from Corellia, shut his eyes tight in an attempt to block out the excruciating pain, and began to shuffle forward towards Marick, who, to his credit, still hadn’t left his knee. The Arconan was visibly trembling in his own attempts to call upon the Force to shield him from the sonic assault. Marick, tears beginning to stream from his angry face, craned his head once again, and lifted a shaking hand, passing hand-signals to the young Sadowan.
’The fight is strong in that one’ Oren observed with silent admiration. Pulling a hold-out blaster from the small of his back, he stepped away from the door. “Ah, ah,” he chided with the affectations of a schoolteacher. “Secrets don’t make friends.” The smile was still there as he strode forward and backhanded Marick with a loaded fist. The Arconan Proconsul’s head whipped around viciously, and his upraised hand stopped its elegant movements, joining its mate on the polished deck. His blood splattered brightly on the tiles, the crimson dribbling from a split in his lip.
Marick’s hate-filled glare met Oren’s back, the latter having turned away, his left hand snaking within his trouser pocket. It produced a remote of some sort, and with a flick of the button, the sound blessedly ceased for the briefest of moments. The Force-users began to gasp for air, and they struggled to recover.
“Well, this has been fun. Not as much fun as I hoped to have before my trip, but fun nonetheless.” Oren, having reached the side-door again, whirled with a flourish, the blaster leveled on his would-be-killers, who had by now gotten to their feet and had taken halting steps towards him. Oren’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “My, you two are a tough lot! You’re making this hard for me. Do I want you to die on your feet, or on your knees?” Seemingly oblivious to the approaching danger, Oren’s hand stole to his chin as he seemed to contemplate his choice. “Yes. I want you on your knees.” His finger depressed another button on the remote, and Marick and Atra were once again blanketed by invisible waves of subsonic agony. They pitched forward once again, almost shattering their teeth as they involuntarily ground against each other within their bombarded skulls.
“See? I’m not entirely without mercy? This time, it’s not so loud in here, so you can actually tell one another how to die!” A laugh ripped itself from the clone’s throat. “You guys ready?”
Oren pointed his blaster with purpose, drawing a bead on Atra’s forehead. The anger and bile rose in the Corellian’s throat as he fought with all of his being to call upon the Force. It was there, roiling as an ethereal ocean just beyond his reach, the subsonics serving as a rather effective breakwall, keeping him from its ebon depths. Atra’s frustration rose, marking time with his increasing rage.
Marick’s experience began to shine through, the Dark Side helping him to beat back his own pain to a dull roar; it was enough to allow the Hapan a word of warning. “You pull that fierfeking trigger, and I’ll personally rip your smug tongue from your mouth to use as an asswipe.”
Oren’s attention was turned from Atra for the briefest of moments, captured instead by the Arconan’s slowly rising to his feet. “Perhaps I’ve been too lenient”, he admitted, his tactical nature once again taking over. “No, I’d rather not hear your pewling as a blaster bolt eats its way through your guts.” His thumb hovered over his remote, preparing to wash the room in yet another level of stomach-churning pain.
It happened all at once.
A white flash of fur and teeth sprung from the door that Atra and Marick had used earlier. The Assassin was a half-step slower than the Cythraul, his own lithe body exploding through the door.
Oren swung the blaster around to face the new assault. Atra, either unable or unwilling to be subjected to any more torture, finally broke through the barrier keeping him from the Force; it washed over his being as he drew it in, the Dark Side’s oily fire begging to be commanded. Atra obliged, his rage and pain coalescing into a singular column of his will. It punched, unseen, into the commando’s gut, breaking an engineered rib and knocking the wind from Oren in a rush and his aim off-target.
The blaster barked twice as the clone staggered back heavily against the side-door’s jamb, and the sizzling hyphens splashed impotently around the charging Cythraul. Kira leapt for Oren’s throat, and might have had it had the pup not been suddenly affected by the subsonic disruption. A yelp crawled from the animal’s chest as its flight was altered; still, Kira had been trained well. Her jaws clamped around Oren’s left hand in a vise-like grip, and the commando roared in pain as his bones were shattered, the ichor flooding from the spaces in Kira’s teeth. Oren’s right arm spasmed, and the blaster launched itself from his grip. Shock began to seep into the clone’s body as he reacted, driving a clenched fist into the Cythraul’s snout. Kira released Oren with a whine.
Meanwhile, Mirado, having sensed his compatriots laid low, left his feet and dove, sliding across the smooth tiles of the floor. Though sightless, the Miraluka could see everything within the Force. He devined the blaster’s tumbling, arcing trajectory and turned on his right side, still sliding as the weapon dropped perfectly within his palm. Completing his twist upon the floor, Mirado’s senses honed in on the speakers. Two perfectly placed shots destroyed a pair of the monitors and effectively broke the circuit. The aural assault stopped suddenly, mercifully.
He got to his feet, scanning the room for Oren, but the clone had disappeared through the side door. Mirado first helped Atra, then Marick, to stand as well. The Arconan checked on Kira, who seemed no worse for wear as she licked Oren’s blood from her chops.
“First blood’s yours, girl,” Marick said, his voice heavy with intent. “Last shall be mine.”
Teroch’s eyes widened in sudden shock as the Son of Sadow filled his vision, the sunset of Tsainetomo’s blades angry in the dim light of the upper floor of the building. His own silvery-blue tinged blade sprung from his fist, leaping to his defense as surely as his command of Soresu’s saving graces. The Adept slapped away three probing sweeps thrown by the Korun-Keibatsu, then twisted away in a cyclone of Ataru, sending an argent thrust towards Sai’s head. The Primarch halted his advance, the tip of Teroch’s lightsaber dangerously close to his forehead.
Sai came in again, scissoring his own weapons in short, scything sweeps at Teroch’s legs; the Adept leapt away, then advanced, hammering at the Son’s hastily erected defenses. An overhead strike by the Arconae was trapped by the cross of Sai’s lightsabers; Teroch gritted his teeth against the Keibatsu’s strength, and a pained gasp escaped his lips as Sai’s knee pistoned upwards into his gut. Teroch took two staggering steps back, then landed audibly on the deck as Sai’s weighted fist ended what his knee had started.
As on the day before, a trickle of blood spurted feebly from Teroch’s nose as he arose, noting Sai’s look of contemptuous disdain.
“You’re wasting my time,” the Primarch pronounced, even as Teroch renewed his offense. The Adept darted in and out, but his blade was met again and again by the twins at Sai’s command, slapping away the Adept’s attacks as if they, themselves were bored. The Arconae, in a manner befitting those in his adolescent age group, spat at Sai in indignation.
“Stand still! Why won’t you start fighting me?” His rising emotion choked his voice.
Sai looked impassively at Teroch. “Pup, I’ll start fighting when you stop playing!”
Teroch’s attack ceased. “‘Playing’?” His confusion was genuine. “What do you mean?”
Sai relaxed his stance, if only slightly. His blades remained in-front of him, the left one held in a reversed grip. “Don’t be stupid, pup. I mean when you stop ‘playing’ at being ignorant to the realities of the world we live in. ‘Playing’ at being a warrior...and at being your father.”
Teroch’s eyes misted over, but Sai would not stop. “You have so much potential; so much. But you refuse to see it. You worry about the wrong things, give your focus too much free rein.” The Son of Sadow’s voice was strong in his judgement. “I cannot help you, Teroch.” Inexplicably, Sai powered down his weapons, but kept them in hand. “I can’t, not until you help yourself.”
Teroch seemed to think on Sai’s words. His gaze met the floor, the easy pacing of Tsainetomo’s boots reaching his ears.
Was he really taking his new life seriously? Did he really try too much to be like Sashar? Sai’s questions, though scathing, were valid.
He looked up again at the Son, who’d by now had stopped his pacing. Again, the blades erupted from the slender hilts with stereophonic sibilant screeches. Tsainetomo’s voice rumbled in the space over the growl of their weapons.
“So, pup, I ask you: What. Do. You. Want?”
The defiance blazed in Teroch’s eyes. “Come, Son of Sadow. I will show you.”
The laugh that erupted from Sai was genuine as he once again moved to close in on the Arconae.
The cythraul paced around the edge of their makeshift arena, his eyes locked on the two combatants before him. Flashes and strobes of light from their weapons flashed over his features, but the creature didn’t engage. Not yet. Whilst the most unruly of the Cythraul (much like his master was the most unruly Arconae), Kote was loyal to one man: Teroch. When Teroch needed help, the cythraul would be brought in. The animal understood the need to hang in reserve, thanks to none-so-subtle prodding in the Force.
Inside the youth, the Force flared like a supernova. He bolstered his speed and strength, then shot at the Korun with an alacrity reserved for Elders of the Brotherhood. So sudden was the shift between ‘motionless’ and ‘in motion’ that Tsainetomo nearly didn’t catch it. A flicker, and Teroch was there, all angst and swinging blades as if he were hacking at a the very man who had killed his father. Only his sheer speed made the attack dangerous. One of Sai’s tangerine blades came up, catching the strike, and his other shot out in a dirty little stab at the Arconae’s stomach. Teroch leant backwards at the knee, letting the blade pass over him, then batted it away with his blade as he came back up, swearing all the way. It wasn’t the belligerent screaming in Mando’a one would expect from a pure-bred Mandalorian, either; it was a constant stream of muttered curses which almost seemed to help the kid concentrate.
Smirking despite himself, Sai backed up a pace, confident he could keep Teroch off-balance emotionally. However, the clone pulled up short, planted his feet shoulder-width apart, held his saber loosely in his left hand, and his eyes drooped slightly. The Korun-Keibatsu frowned and tentatively reached out with the Force. Just as he’d feared. Sai had only ever seen his opponent adopt that stance and expression once before; Sashar had clearly taught his son the Mighty Guard. A combination of reflexes augmented by the Force and the Obelisk’s ability to temporarily augment their combat abilities to truly mythic proportions meant that for at least the next three minutes, it would take an act of God for Tsai to get a strike in.
Well, he could always stick to Ataru for a reason. Maybe his Soresu isn’t fit to hold a candle to Sashar’s.
The Sadowan waded in, both sabers bared, and was unsurprised to see a cerulean blade there waiting for him, rebounding his first, second, third, fourth and fifth strikes without Teroch so much as moving his eyes. Impressed, Sai boosted his speed to the top end of his ability and pushed harder, raining down more and more blows at the boy, but he was either blocking them with his own single blade or simply shifting out of the way of the strikes.
Pulling back a half-pace, the Keibatsu popped one saber in the area. Free of pressure, the blade de-activated itself to save power, but Tsai’s hand was already struggling to contain a glowing ball of pure energy which crackled with black sparks before he shoved out at Teroch. With such little space between the two of them, there was barely time for even the Arconae to react. His eyes widened, and he dove laterally, bringing up an instinctive barrier in the Force. It was barely enough. A crate behind him was obliterated, plasteel splinters shooting across the arena, and the murky glass windows running tall and parallel either side of the upper area of the partially completed barracks were all shattered by the pure force of the Sadowan’s clan ability: the Force Blast.
Teroch came to his feet, with his saber still in hand, but looked shaken. The Mighty Guard had been defeated by a simple alternate attack. He looked up at Sai with a combination of awe and hate. Sashar had developed the Mighty Guard, or the Kandosii Aran in Mando’a, as an ultimate defence, and Sai had brushed it aside like it was nothing. It had taken Teroch months to learn that.
“I’ve seen that defence before, boy. Of course I’d develop a counter for it. You’re going to need something new to even challenge me.”
Snarling in a self-righteous rage, Teroch was up and swinging his saber at Sai like he was chopping at wood, but the Korun-Keibatsu was expecting it. Again, his two blades strobed, again he lashed out with a minimal movement, and again the teenager was on the floor, bleeding and panting.
“Yes, that’s right. Let me antagonise you. That’s what Sashar would’ve done.” Sai spat, growing more frustrated at Teroch’s lack of experience. His sheer potential and power were off the scale, but that was all worth nothing if he couldn’t control himself. It was a disappointing waste. Sucking in breaths, Teroch kept his head bowed for a moment, collecting himself. Tsainetomo was right; he’d be fodder for the most junior of Equites in this state, and definitely no match for a Primarch who apparently knew a fair few of his father’s tricks.
So he used one of his own.
“You guys look like hell,” Mirado dryly noted, able to make jokes at his own expense even now; they must’ve been in a state if the sightless Sadowan was able to sense it.
“What?!” Atra yelled, his ears still ringing as he waited for his hearing to return to normal.
“I said, you guys LOOK LIKE HELL,” The Assassin repeated in a louder tone.
“You want to suck my what?!” Atra countered, removing his hands from his ears and offering a sly grin. Mirado chuckled and patted his clanmate on the shoulder.
“Nice timing...” Marick commented softly as he waited for his equilibrium to balance out. His legs wobbled and he nearly stumbled back to his knees, but caught himself. Kira whined slightly in concern for her master, and nuzzled her furry head against his leg and looked up at him with her mismatched eyes. The Hapan patted the Cythraul’s head and scratched behind her ears.
“Oren is getting away, though,” Mirado pointed out.
“Not for long,” Marick replied as he closed his eyes and began to concentrate.
Atra looked at Mirado in confusion, and then the pair stepped away from their Arconan partner as the air around them rippled with the Force. A tiny black sphere of singularity appeared in front of the Hapan and slowly manifested into the shadowy outline of a typical Hawkbat. The apparition was like nothing either Sadowan had seen, though. A creation of pure darkness, the Arconan Force Wraith was about a meter long and sported a pair of jagged wings and a thin long neck capped off by a pointed beak. Each Clan had their own unique abilities, but neither Mirado or Atra had ever seen one of the fabled Wraiths in person.
The Hawkbat flapped its wings as it took flight and bolted out the same door that Oren had used for his escape.
Marick’s eyes seemed to refocus once the creature left the room, and turns to study his companions.
“Watson will get us an idea on Oren’s location. Meanwhile, there is probably valuable data here that could be of use. Mirado, see what you can find. There shouldn’t be much resistance left, but I’ll leave Kira here to watch your back.”
The white Cythraul tilted her head to the side but seemed to understand her master. Mirado turned his attention towards the wolf-like creature and nodded his head. “Got it.”
“Atra-” Marick started to say before clutching at his temple and wincing in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Atra asked, taking a step towards the Arconan Proconsul.
“Well...I know where Oren is headed. Looks like he’s hired a Bounty Hunter to help with his escape, though. A good one, too. He took out my Wraith, which could only mean...” Marick didn’t finish the thought and instead motioned for Atra to follow.
“What the HELL was that?” Oren demanded as he watched the shadow-creature dissolve into nothingness. The clone was walking at an accelerated pace and clutching his bleeding hand as he walked down a long corridor that run underneath the construction site.
“They’re called Force Wraiths,” the Bounty Hunter at his side explained. “They are impervious to physical attacks, but if you can bait them into attacking, they have to materialize,” He brandished a pair of Blastech LL-30 pistols whose barrels still smoked from the recent energy emissions. His face was shadowed by the brim of his stetson-style hat.
“And I guess it was just my good fortune you knew that?”
“I’ve dealt with Dark Jedi before, and I’m sure you didn’t hire me for my dashing good looks.” The Trianii replied casually.
He was tall and lean with long black hair that ran down his back, pointed feline ears and thin but bushy tail. He wore a light armorweave vest with matching baggy pants and leather boots. At his belt was the holster for his two pistols, as well as an assortment of spare clips and a grenade or two. The Bounty Hunter twirled his pistols around his fingers and sheathed them in one fluid motion.
“It also means they’ll be here sooner than later,” The Trianii added.
Oren grit his teeth and continued on his way down the long underground corridor that he knew would lead him to the bay his speeder had been stashed at.
The doors at the end of the hall opened then, and Marick and Atra came darting through, both looking none the worse for wear from their previous states of temporary vertigo.
The Bounty Hunter grinned and in the blink of an eye had both of his LL-30’s back in his nimble fingers. The unique blasters screeched as a volley of crimson dashes cut through the air towards the approaching Dark Jedi. Marick and Atra’s lightsabers hissed to life, and they both slipped into their respective knowledge of Soresu to deflect and turn away each of the blasts while still advancing forward.
The Trianii made a tch. sound as he started to backpedal off the balls of his feet, moving as easily as if he were running forward. In the next blink, the Bounty Hunter sheathed his blasters and drew out a long stick-like weapon from his back that Marick instantly recognized as a Stokhli spray stick. The Trianii depressed the trigger, and a fine mist started to spray free. Marick let his anger flow freely through his body as the Dark Side elevated his speed to preternatural levels.
Before the mist had a chance to harden into the net that could ensnare even the wildest and strongest of game, Marick’s cyan blade flashed in front of him, severing the spray stick in two.
“Nice try, Soto.” Marick said, a rare grin on his handsome features as he followed up his slash with a forward kick.
The nimble Trianii leapt away from the kick and threw his hands up in the air in mock surrender while pulling his pistols free again. “Didn’t think I’d run into you in this part of the Galaxy.” He said with a grin, leveling the blasters at the Hapan. Marick lowered his saber and motioned for Atra to hold.
Oren growled and yelled at the Bounty Hunter. “What are you doing, don’t just stand there!”
The Bounty Hunter shrugged a shoulder and lowered his pistols.
“Sotodeh Durran. You know that what ever he’s paying you isn’t worth your life.”
“True enough. The Force Wraith gave you away, but I couldn’t be sure until I saw the emblem on your cloak.” Sotodeh gestured at the pendent logo of Clan Arcona acting as the clasp of the Proconsul’s black cloak. “If I’d known I was going to be dealing with the “Shade of Port Ol’val”, I’d have brought bigger guns.”
During his time as Quaestor of House Qel-Droma, Marick had the task of establishing the Dark Jedi of the Arconan house into the ecosystem of the shadow port known as Port Ol’val. And in that time, he had built connections with more than a few underworld contacts, including a few of the galaxy’s more notorious Bounty Hunters. He had worked with Sotodeh Durran before, and they both knew the other well enough to almost be considered friends. As close as friends as a Bounty Hunter and a Dark Jedi could get, that was.
“Are you fucking kidding me? I paid you upfront, insolent scum!” Oren sneered. Sotodeh just shrugged a shoulder casually, which seemed to enrage the clone even more as he hopped onto his escape speeder and fired it up. He had thought of everything to take down Tsainetomo, and everything had been ruined by a trio of fledgling Dark Jedi and an unloyal Bounty Hunter. “Damn you all to hell!”
Marick sighed and glanced over at Atra before returning his attention back to Sotodeh.
“Can we borrow your speeder?” The Hapan inquired, sheathing his saber.
“Depends. what’s in it for me?”
“Your life,” The Hapan replied curtly, though his voice lacked even a trace of intimidation. After a slight pause, he smiled. “You’ll find a present waiting for you in your account when I get back to Selen.”
“Yeah, I hear you’ve moved up in the world,” The Trianii answered, folding his arms across his chest.
“We can catch up later,” The Hapan was blunt, and held out his hand.
“Aye,” The Bounty Hunter said, tossing a pair of keys to the Proconsul. “Have fun, my bike is clocked faster than his, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Just try and bring her back in one piece.”
“I’ll think about it,” Marick retorted as he climbed onto Sotodeh’s speeder bike and motioned for Atra to join him. The Sadowan had watched everything with a mixture of awe and quiet reserve, and Marick was sure the Knight had learned a lesson on the value of networking.
“Hang on tight,” The Hapan said as he fired up the engine and sped off after their prey. The cat had become the mouse.
The wind whipped at his face as Atra held on to the speeder for dear life. Marick steered as if possessed, cutting corners and maneuvering at speeds reserved for the suicidal. Mentally the Corellian was spending his time cursing the very ground that sped past at such high speeds. It was an odd spin of good fortune that Oren had hired that particular Bounty Hunter. Thankfully, Marick had handled the situation well and made things a whole lot easier for them.
"We're catching up!"
Marick shouted into the wind, the words almost lost to Atra behind him. Still, the meaning was conveyed as the Quaestor's eyes flashed dangerously upon spying Oren. Sotodeh had not lied about the speed of his bike, and for that both Dark Jedi were thankful. Marick punched the throttle, increasing the speed to impossible levels. Atra could feel the flesh of his face pulling back, as if it were about to rip from his bone. The world became a blur, yet Marick still maneuvered flawlessly. With malicious intent the pair pulled up alongside Oren, the clone too intent on maneuvering to spare a glance behind him. The Hapan made his plan clear, motioning towards Oren's speeder. Atra nodded quickly, planting his feet squarely on the seat he had previously held.
Oren grit his teeth, cursing the speeder bike as he tried to wring every last ounce of power from its engine. He had to get away as soon as possible, his target had been Tsainetomo, and yet here he was. He let out a long breath, taking a moment to glance behind him as a dark shape filled his vision.
Pain. The world was pain for the two forms that skid across the ground. Atra did his best to focus his power, absorbing as much of the impact as possible. Oren was not as fortunate. Atra groaned quietly as he moved to wipe the blood from his right eye, pain coursing through his arm as it moved.
"Yeah, that was smart," the Corellian muttered as he shakily rose to his feet.
Oren coughed up blood as his body slammed into an unfinished wall, the durasteel denting in response. The world spun as the clone focused on regaining his equilibrium. Climbing to his feet he could feel that his left arm was broken and his knee joint was weakened. Anger filled his vision, a prideful rage encompassing his being. These were merely Dark Jedi, the very beings he had been trained to slaughter like fools. He would not fall so easily. Before his eyes Atra rose slowly, his back to Oren. A smug grin spread on the clone's face as he grasped a nearby durasteel panel, swinging it with all his remaining strength.
The resounding crack echoed across the construction yard as Atra fell to the ground. Oren could barely contain his glee as a sharp laugh rolled out. It had been all too easy to take down the young Quaestor.
"I told you, only Sai matters. You're just a nuisance."
Oren allowed his laugh to devolve into a chuckle, focusing past the pain as he turned to find the nearest escape route. The Quaestor hadn't followed him alone, of that he was sure, and Oren didn't want to be around when the other one showed up. With a final grunt he began to move slowly, careful not to put too much pressure on his weakened knee. He didn't need to hinder his escape any more than it already was. A small sound caught his attention, Oren freezing in place as his genetically enhanced senses went into overdrive. Was it his imagination or had he heard correctly? Again the sound came, a small shifting of the debris behind him. Turning slowly Oren spotted something that should not be.
Atra stood at his full height, his appearance shocking Oren in more than one way. As blood dripped slowly from his forehead, the yellow starburst that surrounded Atra's pupils had consumed the grey of his irises. His pale skin was now covered in scrawling, lightning-like Sith Tattoos that seemed to glow with a nearly imperceivable blue light. The Corellian's features were calm and sharp, his eyes cold and almost dead in appearance.
"What the..?" Oren exclaimed quietly, all ego gone from his voice.
Atra said nothing as he stepped forward, Oren stepping back in tandem. The Quaestor continued, unphased as Oren backed himself against the durasteel wall. He had spent his remaining strength on trying to knock out the Dark Jedi, and had barely enough stamina left over to make an escape. Still Atra moved forward, raising his right palm as he concentrated his remaining power into the center of it. Oren could only look on, broken and for once in his life scared, a feeling he thought he would only experience with Tsainetomo. Atra came to a stop just before Oren, close enough to reach out and touch him. Slowly he extended his palm into Oren's face, stopping mere inches from him as the condensed power coursed within a tightly contained sphere.
Oren opened his mouth as if to speak a fraction of a second before Atra unleashed a powerful Force Blast into the clone's face. The clone's head snapped back, smashing into the durasteel wall with a sickening thud. Atra didn't so much as blink as he continually released blast after blast, each one diminishing in power until the Quaestor was completely spent. Oren slumped to the ground, blood and gore following his descent. Only then did Atra blink, glancing down towards the motionless body as his eyes reverted to normal, accompanied by his tattoos fading from existence. A glimmer of recognition and regret flashed over the Corellian's features before the world faded, Atra falling to the ground unconscious.
Marick arrived just as Atra hit the ground, hopping off the speeder bike to survey the scene. Amongst the debris he found the Dark Jedi and the once living clone. A long sigh of relief escaped the Arconan as he attempted to wake the Sadowan.
"Hey, you still alive?"
A long groan answered him, followed by muttered words.
Again the groan rumbled from low in Atra's throat, the Corellian's eyes opening slowly to reveal their grey hue.
"I said, what took you so long?"
Marick merely shook his head as he helped Atra to his feet, gazing upon the broken form of Oren. An approving look passed over the man's face having wished to do much the same to the clone. The sonic blasts had been a cheap tactic, and one that still left him somewhat nauseous.
"Can you walk?" Marick asked quietly, shifting his focus to retrieving Oren's body.
"Hurts like all Hell," Atra grimaced as he shifted his weight, fatigue taking over his muscles, "but I think I'll manage."
Marick nodded in acknowledgement, using the Force to amplify his strength as he lifted their target over his shoulder.
"C'mon, we got a ways to go."
Atra nodded, looking upon Oren's broken form as Marick looked on ahead. His mind tried to process what had happened moments before. He felt broken and weak, but looking upon his fallen foe he felt something else as well. Pride. The Corellian closed his eyes tightly, piecing together the events of the day.
Tsainetomo... You would have beaten him easily... Atra clenched his fist tightly, following behind the Arconan as his mind worked. I'm not strong enough, not yet. Wait for me though, one day... I'll be strong enough to challenge you. With renewed vigor Atra picked up his pace, trying to keep up with Marick despite the pain.
The Arconae, who hadn’t bothered to don his jacket after getting up, pulled off his beskar mail vest and held it in one hand. Bare-chested, he heaved in gulps of air and beckoned Sai forward. The Korun-Keibatsu frowned in confusion, but didn’t move. Teroch clearly had something planned, and only a moron would attack when he didn’t know what his opponent had in mind. Shrugging with a feigned nonchalance, the Mandalorian charged forwards, spiralling his saber in his left hand. The slash came high and wide, like a flash of lightning, and Sai’s blade deflected the blow, rebounding it, leaving the youth open. Teroch didn’t bother trying to drag his blade around. Instead, he lashed out with the mail vest, hitting the Son of Sadow in the neck and face with it. The heavy metal garment obviously weighed more than it looked, and Tsainetomo was thrown backwards a handful of paces, his face bleeding from numerous cuts. He grinned, despite feeling a ringing in his head, and surged forward once more, eager to see what other tricks Sashar’s legacy had up his metaphoric sleeves.
The youth dropped his saber when Tsai was a pace away and swung the vest again. It caught one of the Keibatsu’s sabers, wrapped around the blade and he grabbed the other end as it came around, then yanked down. Sparking and hissing in protest, the blade was dragged between both of them, and before he could bring his other weapon to bare, a booted foot stamped down onto his instep, and the clone’s thick skull impacted against Tsai’s nose. He reeled back, bleeding from the attack, but Teroch didn’t pursue. Instead, he stopped short, dropped the vest, and telekinetically called his lightsaber to hand. Adopting an unusual stance, he didn’t bother activating the saber, but instead held it at one side with both hands, his legs spread wide, as if preparing to draw an ancient sword from a scabbard.
Sai quirked an eyebrow.
He took a half-step forward, and Teroch made his move. He drew the saber out, activating it and swung horizontally before him, whilst at the same time blasting a shockwave of telekinetic energy and lightning out in a broad arc before him.
The lightsaber strike, the Primarch was ready for. He’d brought both blades up vertically to catch Teroch’s blade, counting on his strength to meet and counter the blow. What he did not prepare for was the ethereal attack which bolstered the physical one. Arcs of electricity danced around Sai’s weapons and into his body, and the telekinetic forces struck as a hammer, flinging the Korun-Keibatsu back through the air before bouncing off the far wall, winding him. He crumpled to the floor, hacking a dusty cough. Teroch deactivated the blade and clipped it back to his belt, his chest heaving with exertion.
“So,” Tsainetomo managed, “You seem to have the focus now, but what do you want?”
His voice was flat, bereft of emotion. “I want people to call Sashar my father. I don’t want to be known as his son. I best his legacy, become stronger and more powerful than he ever was, and I will give his death meaning.”
Tsainetomo, who’d by now had rolled to his side as he recovered, did a most curious thing.
He began to laugh. At first, a barely imperceptible chuckle, it grew into a hearty, throaty laugh.
“And now, you have the means to get it!” Sai’s smile was wide, and genuine.
Teroch, whose face had drained of its battle-lust, allowed confusion to settle over him. He stepped forward, and took Sai’s offered forearm, helping the Sadowan to his feet.
Sai placed his hands on Teroch’s shoulders as he explained. “Teroch, I’ve seen your father in you. It’s in the way you move, the way you speak...the way you fight.
“Your fighting is,” - here, Sai had to pause to find the right phrasing - “it is inspired. I’ve never seen someone fight so closely as to mirror Sashar.”
Teroch could not help the wave of pride that washed over him. He’d tried so long to be as his father was, to have the same esteem and respect. Sai, however, would not let him float on that high for very long.
“And, therein lay your problem. Well, to be more accurate, the problem with teaching you.
“Sashar - your father - was a great warrior. But, that’s because he knew who he was, and was only that. Nothing more, nothing less. He was a great example, Teroch, but only that: an example to be noted as you walk your path. You were so full of what came before that there was no room for anything I may have offered you,” the Son of Sadow continued. “It was only when you relied on your own skills and mind - when you aspired to be better - that you could defeat me. It’s fine to take inspiration, boy; but only when you aspire to be your absolute best can do you stand a chance at claiming what is yours.”
Teroch nodded slowly, and sat on the ground, clearly exhausted. What Tsai said made sense. If he wanted to honour his Father’s sacrifice, he had to exceed him, not imitate him. He had to be Teroch, not Sashar’s son. He had to be better than Sashar.
That was no small task.
Teroch said nothing for a very long time, even as the cythraul, having noted the absence of malice in the air, trotted up to the Arconae with a whine. His hand seemed to move of its own accord, half-patting, half-ruffling the fur at the top of the animal’s head.
And, just as well. The understanding of Tsainetomo’s lesson required no words, no verbal indication of understanding on Teroch’s part. No, now that Teroch knew the path, he now had to walk it.
His legend would outstrip Sashar’s; of that, he had no doubt. As long as he continued to move towards mastering himself, for his own sake, it had no choice but to outshine sashbuir’s. Smiling to himself, he knew that his father would have it no other way.
The youth raised his eyes, and saw Sai walking away from him, towards the staircase and cracking his neck as he did so.
“Now what?” Teroch asked the retreating Sadowan.
Sai stopped just as he reached the staircase, his hand frozen above the railing. He seemed to be weighing his words. Truly, as random as his meeting of the Sadowans and Arconae seemed to be, things seemed to fall right into place. His own ambitions concerning Clan unification, though the brainchild of a lone mind, were actually brought closer to fulfillment by the involvement of others. He’d need to meditate on this, but for the moment he spoke, calling over his shoulder.
“Now...we part ways. You and Marick, back to Selen, and the Sadowans..?” He paused, as if genuinely unsure as to what Atra and Mirado would do now. “Well, you can ask the Sadowans yourself, but I’m sure they’re going to have scads of paperwork to do, now that the mission is accomplished.”
Teroch snorted in disbelief. “Oh, you’re sure they’ve accomplished the mission, are you?” He stood and crossed his arms in half-challenge, a smirk creasing his youthful face.
Sai turned fully to face Teroch. “Oh, I’ve no doubt. In fact, you can see for yourself; they’ll be here soon.” Teroch’s ears strained, and they did indeed pick up the whine of a speeder approaching the barracks.
Teroch had one last question for the Korun-Keibatsu, this man who in the space of one day had taught him more than he’d learned in his first few weeks in Soulfire. “And, what about you?”
Sai’s tripartite eyes bored into Teroch’s. “Oh, I’ll be around.” And with that, Sai disappeared down the staircase and was gone. And, though he didn’t know exactly why, Teroch had as much doubt as to the veracity of Sai’s claim as Sai himself had about the mission’s success.
The Arconan, whether he realized it or not, had just entered into a pact. One where, should he stray from the Path, he’d be soundly corrected. The thought chilled Teroch as much as it excited him. The speeder that he’d heard approaching finally reached the barracks, and Teroch bounded down the stairs, Kote following close behind.
The speeder pulled up to the barracks just as Teroch exited the structure through the space where the front door would eventually be installed. Kira leapt from the craft and met a barking Kote, the male showing what passed as jealousy at the female's recent chance to fight. He chased her around, nipping at her heels while Mirado, Atra and Marick disembarked.
Teroch took a look at the headless corpse strapped to the back of the speeder; it was trussed up as some hunting trophy, and he supposed that in some way, it was. “Oren?” he asked, the pronouncement sounding more like a statement than a question. He nodded to Atra, shouted a greeting to Mirado and grasped his Proconsul’s forearm in a warrior’s clutch.
Marick patted the corpse’s chest. “Indeed. We took him down.” The Proconsul’s eyes, as was the rest of the team, were filled with an indescribable light, as if he’d come to some sort of epiphany while he was in battle. And, he did.
Marick had learned a lesson of Leadership: that he could find satisfaction in the successful completion of a mission as much as he could by claiming the glory of personal achievements. In witnessing Atra’s actions, Marick saw that he could lead others effectively, and that though the spectre of sacrifice was ever at his back, he could actually count on it as an ally now, as long as he was willing to share the risk with his comrades.
Meanwhile, Mirado had just gotten off of his communicator. “Well, the Dlarit Police Force are on their way. I could only stall them for so long, but after our little ‘going away party’ for Oren, there’s going to have to be some clean-up. I’ve instructed them to come get us in about thirty; that should be long enough for you guys to get back to your transport while we run interference.” Marick and Teroch both voiced their thanks to the Sadowan, for both his help and for the speeder. Mirado, already brimming over with confidence, had also reached a new level of self-understanding. The Miraluka knew now that as long as his home, his Clan, had enemies, he would be among those who would defend her. He needed no orders to fight for Clan Naga Sadow. Her strength and continued survival was much more than a mere ‘contract’. And as long as he fought for her, he’d be counted as more than a mere assassin.
Atra, who’d by now finished unstrapping Oren’s corpse from the speeder and had covered it with a tarp until their escort arrived, made to say his goodbyes, as well. He’d realized that, were it not for Tsainetomo, the Arconae may not have had a reason to visit Sadowan space. As it stood, he was glad that they met, for now, by virtue of trial by combat, he’d begun to forge a very powerful alliance, one that could eventually blossom into a full-fledged one between their respective Clans.
He’d asked Mirado what he’d found while he and Marick had chased Oren down on the speeder bike. “Oh, you won’t believe this,” Mirado began, “but as much of a scumbag that Oren was, he was also an obsessive record keeper. The files I downloaded contain names, dates, financial transactions, name it. All going back for five years or more! We didn’t get Sai, but we did get something that I think will help us in the long run against that ‘other’ business we’ve been dealing with.” Mirado quickly eyed the Arconae, old habits of distrust threatening to kick back in. “The Summit should be pleased.”
Atra smiled, though it wasn’t his usual smile that usually heralded a smart remark or one of his trademarked jibes. No, Atra, too, had grown. Mirado sensed something altered in the Corellian’s Force Aura; the streak of determination that now ran through it was as the bedrock under their very feet, and none too different from another being’s with whom they were now better acquainted.
As if reading Mirado’s thoughts, Atra spoke, but to Teroch, who was making sure their animals were secured before embarking the speeder himself. “Where is he?”
Teroch paused, knowing exactly who Atra had referred to and recalling the last words Sai had spoken to him. The Arconae looked absently skyward, as if divining the Primarch’s location in the clouds, then back to Atra. “Oh, he’ll be around.”
Atra, despite his youth, understood. He now knew that Sai, beyond the stories and legends, and the flimsis and the holovids and the hushed words of awe that Naga Sadowans uttered when it came to the Keibatsu, had earned his reputation simply by being who he was. Sai had no need to prove himself to anyone but himself.
’Not a bad way to live,’ Atra mused appreciatively. In the space of one day, he’d gone from wanting to prove himself to the Clan, to a much more complex estimation of his role: Atra had discovered that if he were to understand more about himself and the strange power he’d accessed when killing Oren, he’d be a much better scion of Naga Sadow just by being himself.
And there was only one man who’d he’d compare himself to. Not in a fool’s quest to be just like him, but to eventually be better than him.
Having said their final farewells, Atra and Mirado watched the speeder holding the Arconae zip off into the distance, a small plume of dust close behind. They’d sat on the same rubble pile that Sai had the evening before when he had his conversation with Marick, patiently awaiting the Dlarit Police’s arrival, but none more so than Oren, whose headless corpse lay in the dirt at their feet.
The day before, Atra Ventus, Marick Arconae, Mirado Pepoi L’eonheart and Teroch Erinos Arconae had all come to Kar Alabrek, inspired for one reason or another to find one man, as all Obelisk were inspired to follow Ferran in quests for martial perfection.
However, in their meeting Tsainetomo Keibatsu Sadow, the quartet got much more than they bargained for. Their inspiration led them to aspire to be the very best that they themselves could be, just as Ferran had been inspired by Alaiedon, who himself had aspired to be his very best. In that, they all had transcended base ambition, and the rest of their Obelisk brethren.
These were the thoughts held by Atra, Corellian and warrior of Naga Sadow. He allowed his smile to grow a bit wider, thinking one last thought:
’Not a bad way to live, indeed.’