Dread Throne Room
Rarely was the chamber of the Dread Throne ever packed to the gills with subjects, and rarely was a holocam trained on the throne itself. Specifically, two hover droids were suspended high in the room, buzzing almost sweetly, their lens honed on the individual standing upon the dais. Beside her, a few steps down, was TuQ’uan, whose face was stoic behind his mask. He had not been told what the Dread Lord’s announcement was - only that it was important and required messaging to all those aligned with the Ascendant Clan.
Within the small crowd were the usual suspects: Scudi Ferria and Gaius Julius Caesar, leaders of House Tyranus, flanked TuQ’uan on the right, though they stood on the floor and not on the dais. Caesar leaned on his cane heavily, his stark green eyes blazing like the strange emeralds they were. Ferria, meanwhile, kept her arms tucked behind her back, attempting to ignore the scrutiny by those who were purists within the legions of the clan’s Sith. To the right of TuQ’uan, Tahiri Thorn Morte Tarentae stood in front of a gaggle of newer members of the clan, those novices of the Force and trainees of the Willing, and some within the lower ranks such as Nash Himura, Sarai Andromeda, Myrkal, and Jarron Quorr. Lokast Falls, apprentice to the Dread Lord, held special status and was identified separately from the “newbie” squad.
Familiar faces, otherwise, could be found across the swarm, those who had rooted themselves to the clan and stayed put: Khryso Mallus, Brimstone, Ahsik Warren, Oric Ral, Abadeer Taasii, Zuser Whuloc, Azmodius Equesinfernum, Furios Morega di Plagia, Tra’an Reith di Plagia, Andrelious J. Mimosa-Inahj, and more recently, a newcomer allied with the Royal Guard known as Vaeril Aeraeth. Octavia Morgan Obrie had also returned to the clan, and just in time, too. Notably, however, certain recognizable members of Plagueis were missing. There was a clear link, however: All of those absent (save for Arden Karn, who was still on Ord Mantell) were allegiant to Opress Squadron. And all of them had been enlisted for the first move, set in motion, in the game of chess that the Dread Lord was so willing to play.
After all, Ronovi Tavisaen was not just a soldier, nor simply a fighter, nor a mere pitiful drunk. She was a scholar, a tactician, and in many ways, rather brilliant. And as an individual who had immersed herself in dark lore that burned as nicely as whiskey, she believed in exacting vengeance against anyone who wronged her and the clan; after all, an empire was always mandated to strike back.
Now, however, it was unclear whether her decree would end up proving said intellect or further tarnishing it in the eyes of those beneath her.
“Plagueis,” she began in a cold, yet loud, voice; she knew how to project very well, and she had previous Consul experience to thank for that. “For years, we have focused on one sole enemy: The Collective. Now, however, we set our sights on a new foe. Those who dare to harm the clan and its members must be made aware of our strength and wrath. In the face of bold and defiant aggression, we have no choice but to strike back, and hard.
“Thus,” she continued, “I hereby decree, as Dread Lord of the Ascendant Clan, that Plagueis shall declare complete and total war on Clan Vizsla, and meet them on the field of battle on the planet Zsoldos. All the Ascendant Fleet shall be engaged. The Ascendant Legion shall be responsible for the ground assault. Our mission: To annihilate those mercenaries who have chosen to harm and anger our ranks.”
There was a distinct rumbling that traveled like falling rocks through the crowd. It seemed clichéd, but there it was; a swell of voices, incoherent words tumbling to the floor, a hum and a whirr and a thrum of confusion and pleasure and disdain and glee and outright hatred. Ronovi had expected some Plagueians to disagree with her unanimous order; what she had not anticipated, however, was that the main source of frustration would come from her own Wrath.
“Let me make perfectly clear to everyone here,” he buzzed through his mask, his voice tinged with a sardonic tone, “that the Dread Lord has decided to declare war without consultation and without informing those directly subordinate to her.”
More scattered vocal reactions, guttural utterances that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, Ronovi could feel the veins bulge in her forehead, the heat swelling at the tops of her cheeks and around her nose. She had never sensed, not even using the Force, that TuQ’uan Varick was capable of talking back to her. And he had. Uncharacteristically, he had.
“Varick,” she warned. “I would hold your tongue in the presence of your superior.”
“Yeah, shut it,” Lokast snapped beside her. “You don’t talk back to a Sith like that.”
“Careful, Falls,” TuQ’uan chided. “I may not be a Force user, but I am your Wrath.”
“And I am your Dread Lord,” Ronovi cut in, icily, her voice full of both phlegm and fury. “And the Dread Lord declares war.”
And that was that. Scudi did not argue; nor did Caesar. They knew their roles, and they were silent. Wrathus, had he been there, would have been likely threatened to tear TuQ’uan limb from limb and reassemble his dismembered body like an abstract sculpture. Tahiri, cautiously eyeing the Wrath, looked perturbed by his outburst as well. How had this decision, out of all the other decisions Ronovi had made, affected TuQ’uan the most?
TuQ’uan, in the meantime, said no more. He had been at a breaking point for months already; now the cracks in his calm demeanor were beginning to form.
Somewhere in the Unknown Regions
Appius Wight was on edge.
He had received the IFF on his personal ship, an M3-A Scyk fighter, very early in the morning, when he had decided to tinker with the hyperdrive and ensure that it was purring smoothly. It had come from an unknown vessel, but the information he had gathered later, using the tools that Vizsla provided him, was very clear. An unidentified vessel, somewhere beyond Zsoldos, had docked along a space station on neutral lines within the Brotherhood’s dominion. According to the data, it held approximately two thousand slaves - slaves. Ready to be carted off to the Outer Rim.
The very thought of enslavement made Wight’s blood boil. He had been the founder of the battle team Deathwatch, and its purpose was very clear: He would not tolerate violations of his light side tendencies. He had reported it all to Montresor, who had signed off on the mission, and Deathwatch, now led by Kano Tor Tydex, was setting coordinates according to the IFF, heading over to save thousands in bondage.
Appius had decided to accompany Deathwatch to the unnamed space station, only because he believed that Tydex could use the support, and in the back of his mind, a niggling sensation of dread lingered like pins and needles. The recently appointed Aedile of House Wren was well aware that a set-up like this could be a trap, though arranged by whom, he wasn’t sure. He had not exactly been filled in on every happening occurring within Vizsla; he hadn’t had enough time yet. So he followed his doubts and anxious ruminations and flew with the battle team. Kano didn’t mind, so long as his decisions as battle team leader were not challenged or questioned. He was, after all, confident, though not to the point of arrogance; in short, he knew what he was doing.
The entirety of Deathwatch - Rajhin, Mauro Wynter, Dral Falgorth, Hector Ricmore, Trenkyp Zkig, Kade Ra, and Katropolis - descended onto the space station from their personal ships, the artificial atmosphere forming a bubble around the area as they circled the slaver vessel. It was a basic bulk freighter, Baleen-class, and did not appear to be broadly patrolled or guarded. This immediately set off klaxons in both Appius and Kano’s heads. They both gesticulated for the team to stay back a few paces; Appius drew his WESTAR-35 blaster pistol, while Kano had his Reynolds DE-21 slugthrower at the ready. They were equipped with a lightsaber and murder axe, respectively, for melee purposes.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Appius hummed through his helmet to Kano.
Kano nodded, his long braids flopping about as he did so. “Head toward the port side. We don’t want anyone getting caught in possible gunfire.”
“Roger roger,” chirped Appius in reply, imitating a B1 battle droid.
“You’re a nerd.”
“Never one to sugarcoat,” grinned Deathwatch’s founder. “I like it.”
The team was right to avoid the turbolasers, for they would have gone off rapidly had the Mandalorians approached from the front. However, what awaited them on the port side was not much better. Before anyone else could react, a slew of blaster bolts cascaded as if from the heavens, spraying the durasteel of the space station and lighting it up in dots of orange and red. Cursing loudly, Appius grabbed his lightsaber and activated it, using his mastery of Niman to bat away any remaining fire. Then, tapping into his Force bank, he trained his “eye” on whomever, or whatever, had initiated the assault. What he perceived, to his surprise, was not what he had anticipated.
Wrathus felt the signature of other Force users, the uncomfortable pressure of the light side, and it pulled him to his feet. He stood alone in the hold of the *Instigator.”
“Take the ship down to fifty meters,” he said into the ships comm, adrenaline already coursing through his body. “And when I exit, open fire on our targets and then deploy the rest of the squadron and hold at fifty.”
“When you exit, my lord?” the Instigator’s captain asked.
Wrathus did not respond. Instead, he overrode the in-flight safeties and pushed the button to open the side hatch. As the door slid open, and the artificial atmosphere poured in, redolent with the stink of a perceived peace, he let anger fill him.
The ship descended to fifty meters. Below, the spaceport clung to the side of the asteroid like some great insect, with many smaller “insects” crawling over it. But he perceived the presence of his target as clearly as he would have if he had been standing an arm’s length away.
He stepped to the doorway, drew on the Force, activated his lightsaber, and leapt out into the air.
A roar, heavy with hate and rage, pulled Appius’s gaze skyward. A man descended like a meteor. His cape flew out behind and over him, a comma of darkness, and he held a lightsaber in a two-handed grip. Power went before him in a wave of visible distortion. The ship out of which he had leapt opened fire once again.
Appius fell fully into the Force, raised his defenses, took a fighting stance, and deflected the blaster bolts that came his way. He leapt back and out of the way of the man’s two-handed slash. He landed in a cocoon of power, hitting the ground in an explosion of might that shattered the ground around them and sent chunks of stone flying.
As he landed, the Mandalorian looked around and watched as six, ever increasingly dangerous looking characters stepped out from various hiding spots. An impressively tall Epicanthix stepped up, wielding a blue saber with a confident smirk. He was flanked by a Pau’an with a red blade and a bronze-headed woman, who was casually twirling a red saberstaff.
A light brown Cathar stood behind a young Zabrak, the latter of whom was excitedly gripping the shiny new hilt of a yellow lightsaber. And the hulking monstrosity of a Shistavanen leapt down from a nearby stack of durasteel boxed cargo, all black fur and glowing red eyes. Add in the claws and fangs, and he looked more predator than man.
Appius brought his attention back to the man who’d dropped from the sky. He watched him straighten up to his full height.
Fracking hells, I didn’t think there were many people of Rajhin’s height. And these guys have three all around there.
His eyes met with the “eyes” of the man. Two red slits stared back at him from the helm. The anger he radiated was tangible to Appius, made the air feel greasy, polluted. Suddenly, two jets of vapor shot from the red sections on either side of the mouth piece.
“It’s amazing how easily you fell for our bait.” His voice unnerved Appius; it was as if three or four people were all speaking in unison. And each one sounded more insane than the others.
In an instant, the Aedile of Wren finally put an answer to that bad feeling he’d had this whole time. He let out a long, disappointed sigh.
“This was a trap. My guess is that you lot are the ones who leaked the info about that slaver ship. And based on your appearances, and the popularity of that emblem on your cloak, I’m also going to guess that you are from Clan Plagueis.” Receiving no indication to the contrary, he continued. “Well, that answers the who - what I don’t know is the why. If you wanted to kill us, why didn’t you just blast us from space?” He gestured to the ship hovering overhead. “Or am I reading your intentions wrong?”
The Plagueians all chuckled at his question. And the leader spoke.
“Oh, no, we are here to kill you. There’s just no fracking way I’m not doing it myself.”
Now it was Appius’s turn to laugh. “Oh, well, I’m flattered,” he said with feigned bashfulness.
“That’s great, now enjoy being ‘flattened’!” Wrathus gestured with his left hand, and a nearby power pylon came crashing towards Appius.
The Mandalorian reacted just in time to catch the falling mass with the Force and stop it from smashing him into paste. But when he tried to push the pylon away from himself, he found it intent on crushing him. Glancing back at the Sith, he saw him standing with his hand outstretched. With some grunting and groaning on the part of both parties, it wasn’t long before they realized that this wasn’t a match either was going to win.
Appius smirked, let his grip go, and dodged to the side of the falling pylon, barely avoiding disaster. He hurled his own lightsaber at the Sith, who savagely batted it away and shouted to his compatriots.
“Savages! Kill them all!”
With a howl, the Plagueians charged the members of Deathwatch as they regrouped on Appius, who recovered his saber with a flick of the wrist. Kano, meanwhile, was also ready. He had the team swarm around the “Savages” as if forming pincers, then raised his axe in order to bury it into the head of the nearby Shistavanen. In response, the beast snarled and swung his clawed hands, which forced his opponent to sidestep as well as duck from the lunge of the woman with the saberstaff.
Meanwhile, the rest of Deathwatch had their own skirmishes to manage with the claustrophobic muddle of close combat. The Zygerrian Ricmore was utilizing both his Bryar and his stiletto to keep the Zabrak at bay, remembering his Imperial Martial Arts training while also attempting to avoid the worst consequences of the Dark Jedi Knight’s Force powers. Zkig, a mere Kel Dor Padawan, and Katropolis, a Neophyte Togrutan, both relied on the Togorian Rajhin to support them, as they used sabers, swords, and daggers to fend off the unhelmeted Epicanthix. And Wynter, bronze-skinned and pearly-eyed with no pupils, provided blaster cover for Falgorth, whose repeating blaster cannon ripped up sheets of the durasteel spaceport’s bay and left large, angry scars. But despite the shouts, the clashing, and the heavy property damage, it was an almost entirely even fight on the ground. Neither side would give.
After a few more minutes of melee that went nowhere, the man in the helmet stepped back, breathing harshly, the vapor from his visor looking more like angry gray clouds now. Beside him, his “squadron” stood in offensive positions as the two teams squared off, though it was clear that exhaustion was taking its toll on everyone.
“Well, this has been fun,” intoned Appius in between deep inhalations and exhalations. “But tell me, will it go anywhere?”
“I wouldn’t get cocky,” growled the leader of “Savages.” “You may have ground control, but we have the aerial superiority. Now, you have a choice: Withdraw from these shipyards, or get blasted from orbit by our Corvette.”
Kano couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A low laugh rumbled from behind his thick beard. “If your plan was to bring us here just to scare us away,” he sneered, “I heavily question your caliber as a strategist.
It was now the helmeted man’s turn to laugh, and it sounded even more disturbing than his voice, like a choir of deep-throated demons were chortling. “Fools,” he retorted. “You think we brought you here just for fun? No, Vizsla, killing you was only Plan A. Plan B was merely distracting you.”
Appius’s eyebrows shot up beneath his own helmet. Distracting them from what? It was only then that he felt the vibrating of his commlink against his hip. Amidst all the chaos, and all the fighting, he had forgotten he had it. And the transmissions he had missed were more than urgent. Stepping back, he pressed the proper button and heard his Quaestor’s voice bellowing through the link.
“Wight, answer me! The Ascendant Fleet is descending on Zsoldos! We need you back with Wren now!”
And that was when it all dawned on him: Without Deathwatch there to assist, war had begun between his clan and Clan Plagueis.
Wrathus laughed again, a hollow, raspy laugh. “And that would be our cue.” He signaled for the Corvette to descend. “Opress Squadron, it’s time to leave. And remember: mercenary heads are worth one point, Mandalorian heads are worth twenty, filthy grey path walkers, fifty. And if you kill any miserable, odious, cowardly, full-fledged Jedi garbage…you win! We’ll see you all very soon, on Zsoldos.”
At this, he and his troops boarded their ship and swiftly departed the station.