Before the Awakening

(Xanos Zorrixor) #21

Antei Orbit
Brotherhood - class Star Battlecruiser Nightfall

The Lord Marshall remained glued to a holographic display of the events unfolding on Antei’s surface. The Krath Temple had been routed. The Shadow Academy plundered. But in the darkness of the Shadowlands of Adas, a thunderstorm gathered, interrupting all scanning attempts by the flagship of the Eighth Fleet to penetrate its dark shroud.

“There is still no contact from Captain Lurzka, my lord,” reported a comm officer.

This charade had gone on long enough, Nix thought to himself. As the Grand Master had foreseen, the Undesirables had flocked like flies to the decaying ruins of their Orders, where the last of them would finally be extinguished so that the Sith could rule alone.

He focused on the blackout across the Shadowlands where the Temple Boyna should be.

“Can you not feel it?” Nix said. “The blossoming of power? They have failed us.”

The Lord Marshall turned his back on the hologram. He had made his decision.

“Commence orbital bombardment.”

There was a momentary pause. The voice of the Nightfall’s captain finally replied: “Lord Marshall…” began Admiral Beeliz carefully, “our strike team is still inside. Should I first inform–”

“Do as I say,” Nix interrupted. “Or do you wish to suffer the same fate?”

“N… no, of course not, my lord,” Beeliz coughed.

The Lord Marshall headed for the turbolift and left them to carry out his instructions.

Back in his private quarters, Damon Nix keyed in an encrypted frequency on his room’s independent holo-console that was coded only for his private channel. Few beside Nix knew the whereabout of the Super Star Destroyer Suffering, let alone how to directly contact the Dark Brotherhood’s flagship, but the Lord Marshall was not just anyone. A few moments passed, then a giant, blue-white face projected into his room, filling it.

Nix dropped onto one knee, and bowed his head.

“My Master.”

The head of the Grand Master of the Dark Brotherhood looked down at his apprentice.

“Lord Esoteric,” Darth Pravus said, “what have you to report?”

“The purge is nearly complete, my lord,” Esoteric replied, “and the Great Obelisk Temple will soon be confined to the history books.” The Lord Marshall raised his face to his Master. “Also, the one who walked away from your Dread Council is with them.”

That made the Dark Lord’s eyes flash.

“I see,” Pravus replied, and was silent a moment. “Let him burn with the rest of them.”

Temple Boyna
Command Center

Xanos’s skin pulled against his bones as he pushed toward his target in the heart of the ancient Obelisk temple. His strength was draining rapidly as he fought to fight back the Krath witch’s mental control. Even as an Elder, the Prophet had his limits, and he too was succumbing to the same weight that had brought the rest to their knees. Even if they could no longer even stand on their feet, Locke and the others still tried to fight on, their hair greying, the weight of their lightsabers becoming as heavy a burden as rocks, as all struggled in vain as the witch’s ritual neared completion.

This was the Dark Side at its most potent, distilled into nothing but a dark oblivion.

His own weight heavy on his ebony staff, the Prophet reached out toward the maelstrom of fire and madness that swirled chaotically like a miniature supernova held caged only by the fragile jar that was the deranged Krath witch’s mind, but about to burst free at any moment now, right in the centre of the command room where once Ferran himself had once held court from his steel throne, which still stood, even now, at the end. The consoles and monitors had all blown and shattered, the desks and chairs reduced to ash.

The Falleen’s grey-green skin blackened and peeled. He had to pull away.

He could not get any closer.

The witch’s voice gloated in his mind. You should have known it was futile, Cyrena said, her own voice strained, and sounding like it was no longer coming from this plane, but then maybe it wasn’t, when she had already sucked so much death out of Antei’s corpse. Xanos’s hair, already grey from his decades spent too deep in the Dark Side, had turned as white as snow, his skin pale, thinning, as the stolen years he should never have been handled back the last time he had come this close to death were sucked back out of him.

“C…can’t go on… much more,” coughed someone, though at that point, the Prophet was not paying enough attention to whom the voice originated, or whether friend or foe.

The maelstrom hissed and zinged when he tried to reach toward it again, the sparks flying off in all directions, one striking something with a metallic chime, and he heard a drone like an engine shutting down. “N… noooo…” came the Kaiburr-Unit’s metal voice.

Cyrena stared back at Xanos from the depths of the dark inferno.

You have lost, apprentice of the Oracle.

Her mind shards redoubled their attack and it took all the Prophet could do to remain conscious. Xanos let go of his staff and fell to his knees, no longer any more able to fight back the power the sorceress had awakened than could Locke, or Pel, or Kalu. His groan joined the dark choir of screams from the Inquisitors and the surviving Obelisk rebels as Cyrena’s laughter echoed through the command center, the walls thundering, bricks falling, pillars collapsing as the Temple Boyna shook from the combined dual onslaught of the orbital bombardment outside and the madness that had been awoken within.

The witch… had won

Inside, a small part of Xanos understood why Pravus had ordered this madness purged, and the Undesirables marked for death, the Krath and Obelisk expunged from history, but… there was always another way, the Prophet was not ready yet to surrender… Even so, even with all his resolve, his strength faltered, and he fell forward onto his elbows, his face near enough the dark fire that he felt the heat against his skin, burning, cooking.

“We… cannot…” Another voice behind him, not the same, but still no consequence.

There was nothing any of them could do.

The Force is not always the answer.

A voice. Xanos was not sure where it had come from. Was it his? It was not Cyrena’s. Female. So none of the others. He did not understand. Was he imagining things? He reached out, trying to push through the mad cacophony, but his power was too drained, his strength exhausted, he could no more collect his thoughts than try to stand up.

The message rolled through his mind again. The Force… the answer…

A flash of insight shot through the Falleen’s mind.

“No,” coughed Xanos, looking up at the writhing shape of the insane Krath witch, the last apprentice of the last Krath High Priest. He pushed his arm out to reach for his staff, and slowly, heavily, dragged it back toward him, pulling it bit by bit, even though it only weighed a few pounds. “No,” the Prophet repeated again, responding to the mad Cyrena’s earlier proclamation that he, the Oracle’s apprentice, had lost, and she already the victor.

No,” Xanos growled for a third and final time, and with all his might, pushed himself up from the floor with his staff. Even if he could only make it onto his knees, it was better than to die like a dog down on the ground. “It is you… who don’t… understand,” he choked the words, struggling even to breathe in the ash and smoke that was filling the room.

The Prophet shut his eyes again and, with all his focus, reached into the great tapestry that bound the universe together, every link and chain, every thread that tied everything and everyone together in one whole, unified collective commonly called the Force. But it was not all powerful. It was not absolute. There was… another way.

With the last of his strength, the Falleen funnelled his remaining energy into his hand, like a silver spear, a small hole where the dark maelstrom did not reach, a quiet, tranquil haven, free from the darkness of Antei, free from the madness of the last apprentice of the High Priest, and… punched his fist into the chaotic whirlwind of darkness!

The rest of Xanos’s body burned and smoked, where his arm had pierced through the shell that Cyrena had sheathed herself within, but where he had pushed back the Force, where he had fought back her dark vortex, nullifying it, suppressing it, even if he could only do so within a small, concentrated bubble, he reached for the sword held in her hand, her focal point, and clasped the blade, it taking all his willpower not to pass out.

Cyrena was too taken aback to react.

Lost in her own absolute conviction of her victory, certain there was no power that could overcome her own, she did nothing as Xanos pushed the ancient sword of Son’Jiatt, the sword that had brought an end to Tiamat’s madness before her, back in Cyrena’s own direction, and shoved, throwing himself forward into the arcane storm with all his weight, forcing the blade up into her ribs, and directly through her heart!

The Krath witch screamed, and the pair of them, Prophet and Sorceress, collapsed on top of each other, as the ritual collapsed, the energy rebounding like snapped rubber band, shattering the stone throne where it had begun, and hurling those around it away into the desks and walls or whatever object they each struck first.

Outside, the storm finally ceased, and it began to rain.

The madness was over.

Outside of the Obelisk Temple

Rain poured across the smoking fires that had now gone out over the broken spires of what had once been the Great Obelisk Temple. The Obelisk cultists had been finished, and with it, their Order consigned to dust. Recovery teams were hurrying across the wreckage that remained following the combination of the mad witch’s Force Storm and the Lord Marshall’s planetary bombardment by the Navy of the Iron Throne.

Captain Lurzka was speaking with the Sadow Consul, who had a crutch under his left shoulder to help support him. Locke’s apprentice, Kalu, was sat on a chair nearby, a medic examining the Zabrak for any signs of internal damage from the impact when they had all been thrown back from the blast when the ritual was brought to an end.

“For a moment, I thought you weren’t going to make it,” Lurzka said.

Locke winced a little when he turned to the captain to answer.

“Not all of us did,” the Consul replied, and nodded his head over at the motionless robotic skeleton that had been carried out from the ruined command center before the Lord Marshall’s fleet had finished razing the temple’s main pyramid to the ground.

“At least it makes my report easy,” Pel said, who himself was having one of the staff officers make sure that his uniform was still tidy, as befit an old Imperial admiral. Even if it had been years since Pel had been a member of the Empire, some habits died hard.

Nearby, a tired man growled, and Locke took a glance-- wincing again-- to see one of the Obelisk who had fought them back inside the temple, but who was now restrained and being escorted to a waiting shuttle by more forces from the Inquisitorius. Their face was burned, and the Consul could not make out which it had been, not that he cared. The Dark Council would decide the fate of the Undesirables who had made out out alive…

Hopefully for the worst, Locke thought privately. There was no love lost between him and the Obelisk, nor Krath who gave the Order he had once called his own a bad name.

As Lurzka and Locke talked about the results of the operation, the captain explained why, in his and his men’s eyes, the last holdout of Undesirables who had trapped themselves in the Temple Boyna had reinforced the reasons why the Dark Council wanted to unite the Dark Brotherhood into a single, coordinated group.

“As a military officer,” Lurzka continued, “it just makes sense.”

While they had been talking, another shuttle had thrummed past over their heads, and had now set down on a clearing behind the medical tents. An upturned AT-AT stood next to where the Imperial shuttle had landed, having been swept up in the tornado that had torn through the base camp-- and the temple itself-- during the final battle.

Locke recognised the markings on the shuttle.

“I will speak with you later,” the Consul said, and made his way to the shuttle, the Inquisitor from Tarentum joining him. Kalu was still being checked over for head injuries, though Locke expected his apprentice would be fine after a few hours of bacta.

The Lord Marshall was already waiting at the foot of the shuttle’s ramp.

It was Pel that approached first. He had, after all, been the Inquisitor specifically assigned to the unit not just for the capture of the Kaiburr-Unit, but secretly to keep an eye on the Sadow Consul as well.

“Greetings, my lord,” Pel said, while Locke nodded beside him.

“Inquisitors,” Nix said curtly.

Behind Locke and Pel, the Obelisk they had heard complaining earlier was pushed forward by a pair of armed guards, the prisoner unsteady on their feet and looking close to collapse, their clothes scorched. The man had his hands shackled, as well as a mask covering his mouth, which was more like a canine’s muzzle than to stop him speaking.

“Filthy Sith dogs…” the Obelisk growled, but stopped short of more when one of the guards behind him shoved the butt of their rifle into the large man’s back. Even if the Obelisk warrior might have been strong on a normal day, right then, in the Inquisitors’ camp, he was nothing but another prisoner, and still drained both from their fight and the Krath witch’s mind control.

“Commander Krilis, I believe,” the Lord Marshall replied, evidently more well informed than any of them. Locke had no idea how the aid to the Dark Council knew the Obelisk warrior’s name, but it did not surprise him that Nix would have had access to more thorough classified records than other Inquisitors.

The Obelisk muttered under his breath as he was herded up aboard the shuttle.

“The Grand Master will be pleased with your results,” Nix said, turning his attention back to the two Inquisitors. “Today saw the end of the last traitorous rebels of the Krath and Obelisk cults, you should feel proud.” His eyes drifted to the medical tents behind Locke and Pel. “And what of the other member-- or rather members– of your party?”

The Lord Marshall gestured toward the camp, and Locke and Pel began back toward the tent where they had left Kalu and the remains of Kaiburr so Nix could see for himself.

“My apprentice will heal,” Locke answered.

When Nix did not reply, Pel added: “The Kaiburr-Unit was disabled,” the Battlelord said, “although we are uncertain what became of the Shard itself. Destroyed, I presume.”

“I see,” Nix said, though for the moment he did not elaborate.

Kalu was still sitting with the medical team when they got back inside the camp. When the Zabrak spotted the Lord Marshall, he bowed his head in respect. The wreckage of the Kaiburr-Unit remained where it had been, crippled by the witch’s arcane storm.

The Lord Marshall studied the otherwise empty camp with a quickly souring expression.

“In addition to the Undesirable you recovered,” began Nix, his tone darkening, “I was under the impression there was a fifth member join your team inside the temple.”

Locke and Pel both looked at each other in turn and frowned. Locke had a vague memory of… something, but the final battle was a blur, the memory of everything that had happened before the Krath witch’s ritual backfired and exploded now all muddled.

“In addition to the Undesirable we captured, there were only the three of us, my lord,” Pel said, his answer surprisingly slow, as if he knew he was trying to recall something, but the thought kept running away from him, “Consul Sonjie of Naga Sadow, his apprentice, and myself.”

The Lord Marshall’s eyes flashed, but to his credit, he kept the fire in him hidden.

Somewhere in the Shroud
Inquisitorial shuttle

“You will take us to Gallinore,” Xanos said, waving his hand at the pilot.

There was a pregnant pause. “I… I will take us… to Gallinore,” the pilot finally answered, nodding his head stiffly, the robotic movement seeming more droid than human. The onboard astromech bleeped an acknowledgement from the co-pilot’s chair when the pilot plotted in the course from the Antei System to Gallinore in the Hapes Cluster.

The Falleen turned back to the small comm console behind them.

“It is done, my Master,” the Oracle’s apprentice said. He leaned heavily on his staff. “There will also be no record of my actions on Antei, nor our recovery of the artifact.” He still sounded drained from his battle, and it was still an effort even to stand upright. The Falleen’s face looked burned, almost incinerated.

His Master did not pay any attention to his apprentice’s weakened condition.

“And the Shard?”

The Falleen looked down at the dark bloodstone that was hanging from his necklace.

“Safe,” Xanos said, “I will see that it leaves Antei rather than fall into the hands of the Inquisitors or any of the Dark Lord’s other agents.” His amber eyes looked into his master’s. “This meaningless purge does neither us nor Pravus himself any good. The resistance will only grow.”

“You have done well,” the Oracle replied. “The Tripartite Path will not be silenced with a blade. Like the Sith Order itself, a belief does not die with those who follow it.”

Indeed, during the weeks he had spent on Antei, the Prophet had recovered scrolls and documents, which could be used to continue the teaching of a new generation of Krath and Obelisk adherents. Their two Orders might have been gone, and the Brotherhood shackled to the yoke of the Sith, but the past was not so easily erased, and try as hard as the Dark Council might, the teachings-- the legends– would not be forgotten.


(Marick Tyris) closed #22