[AFoC] Prologue Fiction

Chapter One

The Bounty

Ebon Ridge
Zsoldos
37 ABY

The spaceport of Jasper was not for the faint of heart to roam about in, and Juur Gogh was well accustomed to both the noise and the obscene odor. Spaceship fuel, rusted metal, and warm booze all contributed to the atmosphere; Ebon Ridge wasn’t going to smell much better, either. Still, Gogh was in the mood to gamble away his sparse savings, as well as drown his sorrows and tribulations in cheap lum in the least contaminated corner of the cantina.

The Mandalorian sniper hadn’t picked up a good bounty in well over a month, and Vizsla wasn’t exactly giving him the most lucrative of assignments. Gogh knew that both Roark and Cole had standards; he had been sloppy in his latest assassination attempts, and they were more likely to commission someone else over him to do the dirty work. So much for finding opportunities in this forsaken clan - now he was going to have to fight off an infection and a hangover, as he strode to a beat up table in the cantina, brushing away desert residue and ignoring the coughing of a sickly man sitting nearby him.

The tired looking barkeep quickly brought out a pint of foamy lum, and Gogh eagerly guzzled half of it down in just a few gulps. He sighed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and worked the kinks out of his neck. He was wearing civilian clothes and feeling a bit exposed without his armor, but at least no one would recognize him. Mandos had a way with becoming anonymous when they weren’t wearing their helmets.

As Juur Gogh drank, he ignored the various beeps that suddenly went off on the commlink attached to his hip. To his left, two scruffy men had challenged each other to a duel, which was perfectly okay in this part of Jasper. He was more interested in that exchange than picking up whatever scolding call he was supposed to pick up.

When the beeping didn’t subside, he groaned and activated the transmission. “What.”

“‘Bout time you answered, Gogh,” emerged the gruff and cocky voice of Montresor, one of his superiors. “Buck up. I’ve got an assignment for ya.”

Gogh blinked; he hadn’t expected that. “Right. What do you want?”

“Well, that’s the tricky part: It’s an esteemed member of another clan in the Brotherhood. Lot of our guys feel too squeamish to take it on, but money’s money. Some Zabrak chick’s offering us a lot of coin to take this individual out. You game?”

Gogh polished off his lum and burped loudly, scratching at the growing stubble on his square jaw. The gambling would have to wait, though he’d probably order a second drink. “Sounds stellar. Where to?”

Ord Mantell
One Month Later
38 ABY

Arden Karn di Plagia was on a mission.

He had traveled to a small town in one of the mountain chains of Ord Mantell, the pink sky stark and almost painful on the eyes. The man had been busy trying to track down his brother, and that brother was currently on a Luchrehulk, selling weapons. Arden had gone the way of trying to forge a meeting, if only to make sure that his sibling wasn’t actually partial to the Collective, but rather selling to any paying client. It was the best he could do at this point.

He kept his own equipment hidden in his robes, which were blue and fur-trimmed, similar to the clothes Bail Organa had worn during the era of the pre-Palpatine Galactic Senate. His lightsaber was tucked away in the folds of fabric, as well as his SE-44C blaster pistol, which had been customized with a more comfortable grip and a scope. Arden’s sniper habits would never die, and now, he paced the worn down pavement of a spaceport, trying to seek out anyone who would have connections to his targeted arms dealer.

The thought of Plagueis was far in the back of his mind by this point. Arden couldn’t have cared less about Aliso, about the Dread Throne, about Ronovi or TuQ’uan or anyone else. All that mattered to him now was family. And as he headed toward a nondescript building toward the eastern flank of the spaceport, he was ready to make his case to the representative from whom he had wrangled an hour to speak with at a nearby café.

Arden was not particularly fond of the smell of burnt caf, but he was willing to endure it for the sake of his objective. He found the representative pinching chak-root snuff at a table close to the window, the rims of his enormous Boltrunian nostrils a powdered red as he snorted the goods.

“Kraw Gorto, right?”

Gorto lifted his head up, his face uncannily similar to a rugged hillside. “Yeah, what’s it to ya?”

“Giotar Midghar,” the Human introduced himself, utilizing one of his many aliases. “I understand you represent Coren Karn.”

“Again. What’s it to ya?”

Arden grimaced; he had forgotten all about Boltrunians’ “fine” manners. “I’d like to make a connection with him. I’m interested in what he’s got in his arsenal.”

“His arsenal, eh?” Gorto let out a gruff, gruesome laugh, bits of remaining snuff bursting from his nose. “Well, lemme tell ya somethin’, bucko; what he offers ain’t cheap. And who he sells to ain’t yer run o’ the mill clientele, neither.”

“What makes you think I’m run of the mill?”

“Ya just get one o’ them feelin’s, ya know? Just not sure what ya have to offer here.”

“Money,” chided Arden. “Lots of it.”

As he spoke, he began to feel the hairs on the nape of his neck prickle, as if a breeze had picked up around him. This was normally what happened when he sensed something off in his environment, though he wasn’t detecting anything malicious from the Boltrunian. Gorto seemed utterly intrigued by both the presentation and demeanor of the Human, his bulbous fingers drumming the surface of the table, as he reached for his tin of chak-root snuff again.

“Tell ya what,” he grunted, sticking his thumb and index finger into the tin. “Lemme give Karn a call. He may work wi’ the elite, but he ain’t tied down to nobody. Ya just sit tight, and I’ll be right back with ya.”

With that, Gorto inhaled more snuff, stuck the tin into his pocket, and stood up from his chair - just in time to receive a blaster bolt full in the face.

The Boltrunian crumpled to the floor like wet paper, silent, a neat and precise hole having scorched its way through his right cheekbone and behind his eye before escaping out the back of his skull. Arden hissed in both shock and hidden rage, reaching into his robes for his pistol. He watched as a man clad in familiar armor ducked behind an array of tables, terrified patrons screeching and attempting to flee. The Dark Jedi deftly dodged two more blaster bolts, both now clearly aimed at him. Gorto hadn’t been the target; he had.

A Force shove did the trick, sending the assassin flying into his back and causing him to skid across the wooden floor. Within the next second, Arden had fired two shots, deliberately, into the man’s legs. His armor may have been resilient, but it had discernible gaps around the knees, and being incapacitated, rather than dead, was his priority right now.

Ignoring the looks of the employees and remaining customers, Arden dragged his howling would-be murderer out into the open air, where the sky was almost neon, given how harsh it pink hue was. As the man struggled to stand, the former Dread Lord of Plagueis cuffed him on the shoulder, pushed him into the dirty road, and stared coolly and malevolently down at him.

“You meant to kill me, and you ruined a very important meeting of mine,” he intoned. “Get to talking now, before I make you.”

“Guess you’ll have to make me,” wheezed the hunter, actually managing to laugh despite the circumstances.

Arden wrinkled his nose. “Fine. But I’ll warn you…it’s going to hurt.”

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Chapter Two

The Confession

Dread Lord’s Office - Level 195
The Pinnacle
Aliso City
38 ABY

Ronovi was restless. It had been a mere month since House Tyranus, which had replaced Karness Muur and Ajunta Pall, had begun modifying and securing the fortifications around the new Fort Dooku. Construction of the Tyranus Citadel had been notably fast, with slaves, Geonosians, and members of the Willing hunkering down to erect the castle and the residencies around it. Now, despite the completion of the barracks, the flourishing of the Market District, and the inevitable arrival of the Entertainment District, the Dread Lord remained wary. With the initial excitement of her edict’s enactment having passed, she did not want anyone within the Ascendant Clan to lose energy and become complacent within their new structure.

Opress Squadron had also been busy, settling into its new home on the Instigator, which Ronovi had gladly bequeathed to them so long as it still remained subservient to the Ascendant Fleet. She had sent the Dreadbringer, Wrathus, and his men (and woman) out on various contracted attacks, seeking out dissidents of Plagueis and Collective remnants. Kel Zar, however, had not been found yet. Hopefully, she would be properly dismembered in due time.

Sitting down at her desk in her office, the Consul busied herself with filling a glass with whiskey when the doors slid open. A blank-faced officer of the Willing, one that Ronovi did not recognize, bowed to her before stepping toward her desk. The Dread Lord was not amused.

“Bow again to me,” she snapped, “and I’ll end the romantic relationship between your head and your neck.”

“Apologies, my lord,” mumbled the officer. “But Lord Karn specifically instructed me to give you this.”

He handed Ronovi a holopad before quickly excusing himself from the room. Her brow now furrowed in curiosity, she let the disc-shaped device sit in her palm before setting it down on the polished wood of her desk. With a simple press of a button, the holorecording began, and the Dread Lord stared down the bruised and bloodied face of a man in what looked like Mandalorian armor. And he was weeping.

“Go on, now,” emerged Arden’s calm and collected voice from offscreen. “Tell the nice lady everything you told me.”

The stranger lit up in blue jerked his head to the side, wincing, as if the effects of what must have been Arden’s torture were still reverberating. He was fairly scruffy looking, unshaven, his whiskers now spattered with dark blood. He stuttered, coughed, and then spoke: “Lord Tavisaen…my name is Gogh.”

“Full name.”

The man flinched again. “Juur Gogh.”

“And your occupation, Juur Gogh?”

“Sniper, sir. Trained for fifteen years. I once was an established mercenary within th - ugh!”

What looked like the butt of a blaster pistol materialized, and the hologram of Gogh’s face careened backwards, new plasma spurting from both nostrils. As he howled, the tone, pitch, and volume of the di Plagia’s voice did not change in the slightest.

“She does not want your backstory, Juur Gogh. Tell her what you did.”

Blubbering, the armored sniper tried to collect himself, and Ronovi could only silently watch and wait. She could feel each muscle in her shoulders tense like coiled springs. If Arden had decided that this prisoner was important enough to film, then clearly, he had greatly insulted the clan of Plagueis. Both how and why were to be revealed.

“I…I…” Gogh finally managed to spit it out, his mouth clogged with blood. “I was hired to eliminate Arden Karn di Plagia of Clan Plagueis for a sizable bounty.”

Ronovi’s eyebrows shot up like rockets.

“And who hired you, Juur Gogh?” hummed Arden.

This was obviously the one datum of information that Karn’s would-be assassin did not want to share, but at this point, he had no other choice. When the silence had lingered too long, Arden’s voice finally hardened.

“Who sanctioned the hit on me, Juur Gogh?”

“Clan…Clan Vizsla.”

It was as if the Dread Lord had been struck by Force lightning - something she had endured before. She reeled back in her chair, clutching her whiskey glass, and nearly spilled the precious booze.

“Good job, Juur Gogh,” murmured Arden. “Now, tell the nice lady what’ll happen next.”

Gogh was now getting emotional; he had truly been emasculated. “I shall be sent back to Vizsla.”

“Yes.”

“Alive.”

“Go on.”

Gogh’s lips trembled. “In a cargo box.”

“Enjoy the ride, my man. Tavisaen, I’ll see you back on Aliso.”

And then the holorecording ended.

The veins in Ronovi’s head were now bulging. This was an act of aggression, full stop. She knew that Vizsla was indiscriminate when it came to bounties and contracts. But sending out someone to kill a recognized di Plagia? If anything, that potentially signaled war.

She downed two mouthfuls of whiskey, slammed the glass down, and turned on the commlink built into her desk.

“Put me through to Declan Roark. Now.

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