Shadows of the Dead
There was something stirring within the darkness of space. Shikyo could feel this sensation coursing through his veins, burrowing deep in his bones as he watched the operations between the two ships. It was a simple job and the goods being transferred would assist in the coming storm approaching his home planet. Though the transfer appeared in the guise of support to the Brotherhood, Shikyo revealed his true intentions to the Dark Lord. Muz Ashen understood his youngest brother’s desire but such actions seldom go without a price. The party had gathered, some desired and some with forced acceptance, and from the departure to the moment of contact, things had proceeding smoothly. Still, there was uneasiness within the Elder.
History had taught the Krath that the more things seemed to be in place, the greater the snapback would be. Sasuke could not help but believe that this statement would prove its worth in the fullness of time. As the Sorcerer fought to contain his emotions, the pneumatic hiss of the entryway filled the air within the Bridge. He could feel her presence even before she entered the room and it certainly made things more soothing within the psyche of the Krath Elder. Elyria wrapped her arms around the waist of her husband, looking out into the bleakness of space with her husband, smiling gently.
“You’re tense, Shik. Something has you bothered.”
The Kyataran scoffed playfully. He was almost certain his wife had some form of Force sensitivity.
“Something is on the horizon. Something I don’t feel comfortable with.”
“Are you certain that Pravus does not trouble your thoughts?”
Sasuke turned his head towards the Kiffar woman.
“Strangely enough, that feels more comforting than what is bothering me. Pravus is a man with powers unharnessed. Even I could contain him long enough until Musashi arrived. But this… This feeling is much more primal, ravenous, hungry… I’m not certain if I could contain it.”
Elysia chuckled softly before giving a reassuring squeeze to her embrace.
“You are not the only one with strength. You are surrounded by your soldiers, your family, and your wife. Do not think for a minute that you are the only one who will fight. Otherwise, I’ll leave you to sleep in the Nihilgenia’s berthing.”
The Herald was uncertain if his wife truly understood the feelings he was experiencing at the moment but he could certainly appreciate the effort she was attempting in calming the tempest within her betrothed. As the Keibatsu began to feel some slight release in the tension within him, the communications between the Bothan assault cruiser, Resilience, turned from casual announcements to something a little more alerting.
“Your Excellency, there seems to be a problem with the ship. Councilors Biask and Tavisaen are currently investigating the issue however we request your assistance immediately.”
Newly appointed to the level of an Equite, Socorra had left a strong enough impression upon the Dark Lord and his Councilors to be presented with additional opportunities outside of her duties within her clan. However, Sasuke still doubted the young woman, if for nothing more than her allegiances. She was an Arconan and a Mandalorian and with a shrouded past, the Kyataran’s suspicions remained fervent. It wasn’t until Halcyon’s move for power that he saw the exotic woman prove her usefulness and potential to be a strong asset to the Council. Yet at this moment, Shikyo was wondering if giving her the reins on handling the trade operations was truly the best idea.
“Resilience, maintain present course with Scarlet Twilight. I will be docking shortly.”
Turning his attention towards his navigator, Shikyo felt his stomach drop sharply. Whatever was awaiting him out there was luring him into a trap. All the Keibatsu could do was issue the order that would accept the bait and hope that he was more of a predator than the uneasiness within him was.
“Kasshu, make your approach to the Resilience and prepare to board. Inform Captain Katsuhide that Elysia, Tsainetomo, and I will be joining the boarding party.”
The boarding party the Wolf of Kyataru had ordered to assemble milled about smartly in the docking vestibule, waiting for the ships to connect as the Masarao was expertly piloted by Kasshu. Apart from the others, Tsainetomo stood silent as a henge, looking every bit of the cold machine of calculated death that Shikyo and others had known for years. Had they’d known what was truly going on with him, it would explain his distance from them, the chasm growing with each year that had passed.
Inside, the Korun was seething, a result of his recent experiences with Xanos Zorrixor and Trevarus Caerick - Shan Long, to the initiated. There were a scant few who were aware of the ritual the Apostate had willingly undergone to cleanse his soul of the Overlord Sadow’s taint, but they would become so in due time. After all, the rite had the happy side-effect of healing his fractured psyche - something all of Keibatsu stock had in common - and for the first time since learning of his lineage, he felt...whole.
Sai’s mind eagerly embraced the emotions ravaging him while trying unsuccessfully to piece together the events of the past couple of days.
The immediate memories following his and Shikyo’s duel on Antei in the wake of Halc’s attempted coup were...fuzzy, at best. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but everything seemed..wrong. As if something had gone down that absolutely should not have. Which meant that the Dark Lord had toyed with his mind, and that the Dark Council had conscripted him to help the Herald with whatever was happening at the moment.
Tsainetomo frowned, rage beginning to knit his brows together. He hated having his head tampered with.
He hated slavery even more so.
Still, in the midst of his confusion, he felt gladdened. A fight was coming, and he’d be in the thick of it. He shifted his weight, attempting to tamp down his rising excitement, and feeling the newly-familiar weight of his lightsaber in its holster at the small of his back. The Apostate had since returned the weapons his cousin crafted for him in favor of the one he’d built that he dubbed Nenshogeru. Searing Wind.
It begged him for release, crying out in that small place within that a lightsaber would hold inside its Maker. Sai’s blade ached to sweep away the hypocrisy that surrounded him, to burn it down to rest rotting in its own filthy ashes.
’Not yet...not yet.’ Sai stilled the small voice within, promising fulfillment at a later time.
Still, the Korun-Keibatsu was surprised - only slightly - to find his hand at the small of his back, his fingers tracing the wrapping around his hilt.
Reluctantly, he pulled his hand away and crossed his arms, his face betraying nothing as Shikyo and his wife approached.
Rusty Servos Cantina
Socorra's feminine laugh erupted from the entry portal and the Arconan confidently strode up to the bar counter. "How’d I know to check here first?” she said, plopping down onto a stool with a full, ruby-lipped smirk. The Erinos' dark Invicta robes billowed around the seat, settling onto the floor.
Turning on her own stool, Ronovi looked to see the new arrival, her brown organic eye studying the bronzed-skin Socorran. “About time you got here. Was starting to think I’d be drinking by myself.”
“Hardly,” the Krath replied, gesturing to the bartender and turning back to her companion, running a hand through her shortened raven locks. “What do you think? Does it suit me better?”
“Cut it all off, eh?"
"Only a meter or two," she chuckled. "Mostly so that Timeros couldn't use it against me in the CHL semis. He's a bastard, you know."
"So I've heard." Ronovi stared into her glass, her voice inflectionless. "It's a shame, I liked the long hair."
The bartender delivered a bottle of Socorran raava, surprising the younger of the two women. She then glanced at the other woman’s whiskey bottle on the counter, and her pale blue eyes shot wide.
"Whyren's Reserve? Really? How many people did you have kill to get a bottle of that out here?”
"Hmm, let me think..." Ronovi looked thoughtful for a moment and started to count on her fingers.
“Ha! That’s cute." Socorra cracked open her bottle and raised it for a toast. "So, what in the Nine Hells are we here for?”
Glass tinked and the women downed their drinks, slamming the bottles onto the counter as their eyes watered.
“Well, I’m certainly not here just for a goods trade," Ronovi nearly coughed, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Aww, you’re here just for me?” Socorra pouted her large, ruby lips, giving the Headmaster a puppy-dog expression as she too rubbed her eyes.
Ronovi’s organic eye seemed to instantly turn to amber ice. “If you think for one damn second that I’m - “
“Whoa, whoa, whoa... I’m just kidding," Socorra replied, throwing her hands up in defense. "We’re drinkin’ buddies, Ronnie! Hell knows Marick won’t drink.”
Ronovi looked thoughtful for a second, the cold dropping instantly. “True. How is he, anyway?”
“He’s good. Very good. …More than good.”
The Primarch raised an eyebrow, and Socorra hid a smirk behind her drink. Ronovi didn't need to be a Krath to read her mind.
“Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.”
“Jealous of him?”
Ronovi's grip tightened on her glass. No words were said to that remark. Socorra’s face scrunched up as she snickered mischievously. Okay, maybe now she was trolling her.
“Soo...how are you doing? It’s been a while." The voice dropped back to sweet and innocent, for the moment.
The Obelisk returned to her whiskey, swirling the contents of the glass. “I can’t safely divulge much of that information, but let’s just say the Academy’s been fun thus far. Yourself?”
“Pretty good. I'm an Erinos now - "
"Yeah, I heard about that. Even after you convinced me to side with the Entars in the Feud?"
"Yup," she laughed. "The only female Erinos to boot. I'm also Quaestor of Qel-Droma now, too. It feels like it was just yesterday that you were teaching me how to deal with politics as a BTL. BAMF, baby."
Ronovi suddenly laughed so hard she snorted her liquor, bringing more tears to her eyes as the volatile liquid burned her nostrils.
"Thought you'd like that." Socorra smirked and tossed back another swig, savoring for a moment the flavor of the exotic zsajhira berries composing the raava. “Unfortunately, I can’t hold my liquor like you, and I have to handle this trade, or whatever it is. I'm quite sure Shikyo didn't bring me aboard to barter some junk."
Ronovi nodded, taking out a flask from within her coat and topping it off with the bottle of Whyren’s. She looked to Socorra, as if expecting her to do the same and shocked that she wasn't. “Really?”
The Erinos shrugged. “Left it home. Was in a hurry.”
“Sacrilege. Sucks to be yo-”
Suddenly, the lights flickered, dimmed, and winked out, leaving the cantina occupants in the dark, save the neon lights running the length of the bar and the room, along with holo projections of Twi’lek dancing girls at a few tables. The women turned their heads to the doorway, spying the telltale flashing red emergency lights.
“Osik.” The Mando’a curse was out of Socorra’s mouth before she even realized. Two fingers raised to her lips and she whistled loudly. “Akua!” she shouted, snatching a datapad from her hip. The Krath’s nimble, tanned fingers danced across the display with expert precision. A moment later, her Cythraul pup Akua bounded through the entry portal, slightly surprising the now on-edge Ronovi.
The raven-furred wolf stopped in front of Socorra, tongue lolling out of its small mouth as it panted happily. She must have been up to no good.
“This is my Cythraul Akua,” Socorra introduced as she distractedly and furiously flicked through the datapad. “Akua, be nice to Ronnie.”
Ronovi stared at the beast, impatience growing. “What’s going on?”
The Krath’s hand stopped for a moment, her eyes growing wide in the fluorescent glow of the datapad. “Get Shikyo on the comm,” she whispered, eyes never leaving the pad. “We’ve got a problem.”
Upon entering the Bridge, Shikyo couldn’t help but feel the tension the moment he entered the room. He wasn’t sure if it was the presence of all the Dark Councilors in one area or the severity of the situation but the Krath could feel it clinging to his shoulders like a damp robe. Looking over the faces of the individuals, he recognized Ronovi and Socorra almost instantly. Glancing up from her datapad, the Priestess flashed a quick smile off to the side of the Herald.
“Glad to see you again, Sai. How’s Soulfire treating you?”
The Elder furrowed his eyebrows before turning his attention to his cousin slowly. The Primarch shifted so slightly that if it hadn’t been for his connection to the Force, the Dark Side Adept may have missed it. Sai’s expression stayed stoic even after Sasuke turned toward his own blood with anger fuming in his eyes.
“Soulfire? This true, cousin? You turned Arconan?”
“Shik, this is neither the time nor the place.”
Stepping closer towards the Obelisk, the Dark Councilor clenched his fists tightly, trying to hold back the rage brewing within him.
“I think this is the perfect time. I hear a discrepancy is going on in the mission when I left it in the hands of an Arconan and now I find out my own family has gone to the side that has made attempts on my life before. Tell me Tsainetomo, have they convinced you to betray your own blood?”
The Haruun-Kyataran stepped forward with his own expression of anger and disgust, hand moving closer towards the ornate hilt clipped to his belt.
“Betray blood? Tell me Shikyo, where were you or Musashi when corruption made its way to Naga Sadow? Where were you when the clan saw itself split in two? Were you making sure the Brotherhood had the supplies it needed or were you out whoring yourself out to every female in the galaxy?”
What tension had originated on the bridge held no candle to the energy that was building between the two Keibatsu. Gentle sounds of electric pops and snaps wafted through the air, manifesting the rage building within both men. As the world began to disappear and leave only the Elder and Equite to their emotions, a sharp, feminine bark of orders broke through the psyche of the Herald.
“Shikyo Sasuke Keibatsu, stand down!”
Turning his head in the direction of his wife, Sasuke could finally feel the blood flowing through his body as well as his breaths coming in quick, shallow bursts. Elysia backed up slightly, taken back by the appearance of her husband before standing her ground.
“Your cousin is right. You have an issue at hand. It requires more attention than this matter. You two can beat the frell out of each other at a later date.”
Both Keibatsu looked back at one another before nodding slightly and moving onto the on-going business. Sasuke moved towards the station that Socorra was working on, looking down at her while shaking the heat of the moment from his mind.
“So… What’s the issue?”
The Priestess jumped slightly in her seat before pulling up her displays onto the main screen of the bridge.
“This was our projected course. This is our current course. Now, minor changes can happen without any issue and are easily corrected. However, these minor changes are not caused by accidental drifting. These are course alterations and what’s worse is they’re locked in.”
“Ok, I get why the situation is dire but what I want to know is where is the course leading us to that makes this such an emergency?”
“Well, we’re coming up on a planet and at this rate, it’ll be more along the lines of a collision course than a slow and subtle entry.”
“Then fix it.”
“I’m trying but whoever set this up is skilled. It would be much easier to find the one who set this up than trying to re-route the course.”
“Copy. Katsuhide, take the squad and search through the upper levels. They may try to book it in an escape pod and if they do, I want him brought to me.”
Shikyo scanned the room quickly to find the “Commanding Officer” of the ship. Finding the hardened gaze of a wizened Human male, Shikyo focused his attention on the Officer.
“Captain, split your security forces in two. Have them check amid ship as well as the engineering levels. They may still be trying to escape or may have more work to do. I want their comms directed to me. Tell them to approach with caution and set weaponry to stun.”
“Aye aye, Sir.”
Looking over the area, a puzzled look found its way on the Herald’s face.
“Wait, where’s Vodo?”
Tsainetomo stalked from the bridge, his humors boiling and his bloodlust aching to be sated. He’d kept up a calm front, if only for the sake of the crew and Sasuke’s wife, but he knew that the bridge would not have survived a fight between he and the Elder.
He tired of his cousins thinking that emotion was their sole providence. Though from a divergent line, Keibatsu blood still coursed through his veins. Sai had the same potential for power within him. But where his cousins drew on rage and insanity, Tsainetomo used elation and clarity for his fuel. Shikyo strove for power, for influence.
Sai only sought the fight.
“Steel sharpens steel,” was a phrase he’d picked up along his travels, and it rang truest when he was in the midst of a fight or a duel. Sasuke was unaware of how close he’d really come to being killed...or into being forced to kill his cousin.
The Primarch gave into his emotion, letting it flow unabated through him. Well, as unabated as he could; even he noted the squadrons of security forces breaking ranks around him as they rushed to obey the Herald. Sai actually enjoyed this. These men, usually accustomed to altering their behavior based on hearsay and reputation, now steered clear from him based solely on his presence.
It was what he’d been working towards these many months. Sai found validation in their fear.
Rounding a corner, he found his thoughts straying towards Socorra. The woman had nearly sparked a family feud that would’ve killed them all with a single utterance.
Beautiful women throughout history often had that effect. And, Socorra, despite her attachment to another in his new home, was beautiful.
Admittedly, Ronovi had a certain strength, a striking quality about her, that lent her her own beauty; the fact that she towered over all the other women, and most men, that he knew added to that in his own mind. But, Socorra...
She seemed to be aware of the effect she could have on others, and didn’t play at naivete when it came to her looks and manner. That confidence was attractive to Sai. Plus, it didn’t hurt that her ample curves hinted at the give in a woman’s body that made a man be glad to be a man...and yearn for the pleasure of bedding her.
Sai’s tripartite eyes flew wide at his line of thinking. It was dangerous, this. Ranks and station aside, she’d chosen to be with his friend, and he knew that he must respect that at the very least.
He laughed to himself, attempting to table the thoughts of the swell of her bosom, the sway of her hips and a betrayal of his friend in favor to more pressing matters.
Matters like the wave of furtive desperation hitting him within the Force, his ethereal senses suddenly attuning themselves to the being some meters ahead...someone who, by all rights, should not be feeling as if they wanted to get off the ship as soon as they possibly could.
Drawing his TAW-6A, he chambered a round as his gait went from a purposeful walk to an urgent trot. He rounded another bend in the corridor, noting his path was taking him towards the escape pods.
The sharp clatter of a datapad hitting the deck confirmed his suspicions and he sprinted forward. In the gloom of the ship’s emergency lighting, the faint outline of a man took shape as he approached. The man’s alarm at discovery flared in the Force, and Sai used it as a beacon, drawing down on the shadowed form ahead of him.
Whomever he was, he’d reached the escape pod, and the hatch whooshed open. Sai’s auto-repeater jackhammered in his sun-bronzed hand, but it was too late. The slugs pinged harmlessly against the armored bulkhead as the man ducked and scooted inside the pod amid a shower of hot metal and stinging sparks. The hatch and blast door slid shut and Sai heard the muffled roar of booster rockets igniting just as he reached the viewport. The triple nozzles of the pod glowed white-hot, reflected in his strange eyes.
Cursing, Sai holstered his sidearm, stooping as he did so. “You forgot somethin’, m’friend,” he uttered as he retrieved the dropped datapad. Sparing another glance at the blast door, he stood and walked over to the bulkhead, fingering the comm unit’s activation stud.
“Bridge, this is Tsainetomo.” He waited patiently for a response.
“This is Bridge, go ahead.” Shikyo’s voice came back tinny through the speaker.
“I got good news, and I got bad news. The good news is, you can call off the search. The bad news is, I think your slicer got away. He dropped a datapad. I’ll be bringing it up directly. Tsainetomo, out.”
The Keibatsu didn’t wait for a response as his finger released the comm unit’s stud. One last angry glance would’ve cut the blast doors and reached into the ink of space to crush the escape pod and the saboteur inside if he could will it. There was nothing for it, though, and Sai made his resolute way back to the bridge.