[Code: Dread] Prelude Vignettes

(Ronovi Tavisaen) #1

Code Dread

Chapter 1

The Pinnacle - Level 195
Aliso
37 ABY

It was too cold in the Dread Lord’s quarters. So cold, in fact, that Ronovi could see her own breath, hovering in front of her like a bewildered ghost. She pressed her left hand against the frosted viewing portal, feeling her skin become pinched and puckered from the chill. She pressed her right hand -

No. Colder. Cold, soulless steel.

The Epicanthix may as well be a member of the Technocratic Guild now. Half-cyborg at this point, she boasted both her familiar blue eyepatch and a brand new cybernetic arm. The explosion triggered by the Zygerrian saboteur of the Collective had removed everything from the border of her collarbone down - fingers, palm, wrist, elbow, shoulder. Gone. Ripped away from her. Leaving her sprawled on the floor of the Ascendancy bridge with all her vital organs still remarkably intact.

She had screamed as soon as she regained consciousness. Aimed lightning at a target who was no longer there. The bastard had scurried off amidst the chaos among the naval fleets. She had, instead, zapped lower officers, cuffed others by the arms or neck, slammed faces repeatedly against unforgiving walls. Just to see them bleed just as much as she had. Just to see them suffer.

Ronovi closed her one organic eye.

Then she used her new cybernetic arm to punch a hole directly into the adjacent wall.

Wham.

Perfect metal sheen, this new appendage. Perfectly artificial, just as she ordered.

Wham.

All physical flaws exposed. Just as equal with those emotional and mental flaws she attempted to subdue.

Wham.

Damn Collective scum who deserved to be disintegrated in the dark, unwelcoming vacuum of space.

Wham. Wham. Wham.

There were several new scars along the wall now. A framed painting had been shaken off its moorings from the blows, meeting its shattered doom on the floor. Ronovi was nearly foaming at the mouth. No pain. No pain. No pain.

“Tavisaen.”

She hit the wall again for good measure.

Tavisaen!

Turning wildly around, Ronovi found herself face to face with her Wrath. TuQ’uan’s large eyes were stoic above his respirator, the brim of his hat pulled away from his forehead.

What.

The Kel Dor inhaled, now remarkably accustomed to his boss’s regular fits of temper. “The summits and di Plagia have convened in the conference below for the meeting. Just as you requested.”

“And the leaders of the Willing?”

“Also there. Admiral Ranin has been granted full release from the medical bay.”

Ronovi nodded. Good. Ranin had suffered a concussion after the bombing on the Plagueian flagship. It was welcome news to have her off a hospital bed.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” the Dread Lord intoned, before flexing her cybernetic fingers. The lack of strain or soreness, to her, was like losing a sixth sense.


Silent Scream
Unknown Regions - Aliso Space
Same time

“Mallus. C’mere. I’ve detected something.”

The Chiss wrinkled his nose in both intrigue and impatience. He had been orbiting the gas giant of Tonus for some time now, waiting for a suitable time and angle to land on the Anchorage. The turbulent ammonia atmosphere had made it difficult for him, a relatively new commander within the Ascendant Fleet, to get used to the set-up.

Khryso had been ordered by his summit, Tahiri and Wrathus, to give an assessment of the Anchorage and to keep an eye out for any foreign ships intruding on the boundaries of the Aliso system. After all, a member of the Collective - a Zabrak known as Kel Zar - had been able to sneak in as a trader and initiate an entire, though botched, slave insurrection within the Medina of Aliso City. She had fled the planet upon the capture of Sevrin Arce, but given the aftermath of the war, there was no telling when she’d be back.

Then again, Plagueis wasn’t planning on waiting anymore.

Approaching Captain Ohli at the control panel, Khryso watched data flash across the console. From what they were picking up, Collective remnants weren’t far from here - random squadrons and handfuls of ships that had been stranded after the clan’s deft strike against the Thuvis Shipyards. Some smatterings of Project Indigo, too, and perhaps a few Principate pilots who had decided to maintain an alliance with the Collective. The Chiss nodded with his lips drawn into a thin smile, then turned to gaze upon Ohli.

“It’s settled, then. We’ll deliver these reports back to Ajunta Pall once we’re on the Anchorage. I’m sure they’ll know what to do with it.”

“What do you think the orders will be, Mallus?”

Khryso grinned almost mischievously, which was unexpected, given how he typically kept his emotions under wraps.

“Given our Dread Lord’s latest maiming? I think we’ll be starting the squabble this time.”

(Ronovi Tavisaen) #2

Chapter 2

CIS Tundra Station
Northern Aliso Region
37 ABY

Brimstone was pacing. He had been unable to stand still for days now, perhaps even weeks. Being in the colder region of Aliso made his blood boil even more. He cracked the knuckles on both hands, repeatedly, to give himself something to listen to. Downstairs, in the smaller quarters, a few members of the Willing were sorting through various datapads and artifacts left behind by the Confederacy of Independent Systems. It had been months now, and the Chiss still had to deal with professional scavengers.

At least it’s not Scudi, he reminded himself. A rather unprofessional scavenger.

All thoughts of the sad state of New Raxulon aside, Brimstone had been rather isolated in his home away from the Pinnacle for quite some time. In the aftermath of the latest war, he had been recuperating from the assault on the Thuvis Shipyards, tending to both physical wounds and mental strain. What would have suited him better, instead of being cooped up in the station, was actually going after the bastard who had attacked his Dread Lord in the first place. The Chiss was loyal to very few, but of the few, Ronovi was one of them.

And she had refused his request to hunt down Meero “Tripp” Trippani.

“You need to leave it alone,” Gaius Julius Caesar had advised him, after guiding a stubborn and frustrated Brimstone away from the Pinnacle. “This is her fight.”

“I can kill him. I’ll tear him apart.”

“No.” Caesar had shaken his head, the faint wisps of gray hair on his scalp bristling in the chilly breeze of Aliso. “She wants to do that. She has a claim to that. If anyone is going to murder Trippani, it’s Ronovi. Not you.”

“But what’s the point of - ”

“Being Dread Lord does not mean the woman sits on her laurels and lets her ‘minions’ do the dirty work for her,” Caesar had interrupted, ignoring the scowl that had subsequently emerged on Brimstone’s face. “You think she’s just a delicate maiden queen, and you’re the faithful knight? No. That demeans her, devalues her power. Of all people, you should understand that.”

Brimstone normally would have taken umbrage to the subtle reminder of his days with Ronovi in Tarentum. This time, however, he had let it drop.

“I’m not saying she can’t slaughter the guy herself,” he had grumbled. “I’m just saying I can do it for her.”

“Take that on,” the Karness Muur Aedile had warned, “and your head will be mounted on a pike right next to Trippani’s.”

“That’s fine. I’d let her kill me. If it meant I was loyal to the end.”

“If you think disobeying her desires is loyalty,” Caesar had opined, “then you are not loyal at all.”

Brimstone had given up arguing by then, instead focusing now on a console mounted in one of the small, cramped rooms of the Tundra Station. A transmission was being sent off to the clan.


Pinnacle - Level 42
di Plagia Quarters
37 ABY

Hee, hee, hee.

Furios Morega was thinking dirty thoughts. Every time he entered the Pinnacle, he had one image in mind, and one alone. No one could deny that the Epicanthix had a soft spot for childish humor; after all, this was the same man who had suggested naked Wookiee wrestling and run two ridiculous vacations on two mostly inhabitable planets. Mustafar more than Dagobah, of course.

He had decided to stop by the di Plagia quarters to meet with two of his cohorts - the available open bar helped. A service droid was already manning the counter, rearranging the bottles and preparing glasses. Furios swung a wide leg over a divan nearby and eyed the droid warily.

“Master-Morega. What-can-I-get-you?”

“Reactor Core,” he replied simply. “Make it extra hallucinogenic.”

The droid complied, mixing together the Spice Liqueur and Blue Tonic was ease. It brought the cocktail to Furios promptly, and Furios was left to swallow down its admittedly harsh flavor while lounging on the long couch. Good. At this rate, he would be tasting colors and hearing visions in no time. Maybe with enough of these bad boys, the Pinnacle truly would look like a -

“Brandy, please.”

The former Dread Lord, Arden Karn, had managed to slip by Furios without him noticing. The sniper was up to his old ways, the Epicanthix presumed. Furios respected being sneaky - after all, when he was sneaky, he felt childish glee. Especially after bombing the heck out of kyber mines on Thillon with his new best bud, Trevain. He actually kind of missed the guy; maybe he should send a holo-post card.

“Where’s Tra’an?” Furios asked, as Arden sat in the plush, red easy chair opposite to the divan, nursing his golden beverage. There were plenty of lovely pieces of furniture for the di Plagia to recline on.

“Probably out hunting for more Whyren’s Reserve. You know Ronovi’s stingy with it.”

“What? No spare bottle down here?”

Arden smiled thinly. “You have to ask really politely.”

Furios had a hunch as to what that actually meant.

In a few minutes, the Kaleesh emerged, his shoulders hunched over as he entered the space, which subdued his impressive height. He was already holding a bottle of what appeared to be the fine whiskey; now all he needed was a glass. Once that was provided, the three di Plagia sat and silently drank for some time, listening to the hum of the lights above their heads and the footsteps of the Willing echoing below them. The Pinnacle was busy, as usual.

Tra’an finally disrupted the tranquil booze session. “So,” he interjected. “The Ascendant Clan strikes at the Collective.”

“Yep. Preemptively this time,” Furios gruffly added.

“I would have done the same thing, were I still Consul,” Arden remarked. “It’s high time we stopped letting the Collective come to us. That reunion with Sevrin was unnecessary.”

“So we’re okay with this?”

“The di Plagia don’t necessarily get a choice in the matter,” Tra’an pointed out. “The Dread Lord is the Dread Lord. What she says, goes.”

“She was more compliant during the war.”

“That was before she got her arm blown off.”

Furios raised his already half-empty glass of Reactor Core up to Tra’an. “Touché,” he replied.

“Best we can do is support the clan’s efforts,” said Arden. “As for me, I don’t feel like it ends there. You know Ronovi’s past habits - always trying to turn things upside down wherever she leads. There’s unconventional, and then there’s erratic.”

“Do you not have confidence in your former Wrath?” asked Tra’an.

“Confidence that she can be successful? Yes.” Arden sighed. “Confidence that it’ll stick? Not at all.”

He sipped more brandy and stood up.

“You two have your fun. I have some family matters to attend to. Before this all gets out of hand.”

“Will you not be joining the campaign?”

“The Dread Lord’s business,” retorted Arden, “is not always my business. Good day, gentlemen.”

And with that, he was gone, slipping away from the bar as the droid continued to buzz behind the counter. Grinning with dilated pupils, Furios was already feeling pretty good, turning to face the now pretty gnarly-looking Kaleesh.

“Karn. What a card,” he chuckled. “Hey, Tra’an. You ever notice that the Pinnacle looks like a giant…”

(Ronovi Tavisaen) #3

Chapter 3

Isle of New Raxulon
Aliso
37 ABY

A zephyr was picking up along the pockmarked shore, and little beads of water were shaken from their moorings and disturbed, scattering among both the pebbles and fragmented glass shards that were haphazardly buried in the sand. To the west of a large dune, the hollowed out remains of old barracks sat lopsided on a slope, its entryway reminiscent of the sloppily opened mouth of a fish. And a dying one at that. The smell was the most offensive, made even worse by the bursts of wind gusts that picked up and carried shrapnel of trash and rubble across once perfectly pristine sandy glens and dales. It was the smell of burnt rubber, melted plastic, and sour oil. It was the smell of mechanical decay.

Scudi Ferria didn’t mind it, though. She sat perched on the edge of a small building’s roof, which she had scaled easily, eating shark stew from a wooden bowl. As her spoon scraped for the last of the guts, she exhaled loudly and let her eyes settle on the waves that withdrew from the coast as quickly as they had dared to kiss it. Below her, a limping crab did its best to skitter into its new home beneath a metal husk that was once a freighter’s nose. It slipped away into the confined darkness, paused, scurried back out, and then fled once again from the sparse sunlight.

The slim Chiss slurped up the remaining broth, looking petite compared to a nearby mountain of metal scraps looming behind her. Then she tossed her bowl to the side, bored of it, and hoping to find some new cutlery.

New Raxulon was not just a treasure trove to her; it was her home. Sure, Scudi had a commute these days; she was needed often at Korada Monastery, the headquarters of Karness Muur, where she was now Quaestor. But the inherent lack of respect aimed at her from the rank and file Force users left her disinterested in making the trek. Not even her accomplishments during the Disorder campaign had seemed to put her in good graces with some of the Plagueians. And now that she had heard her Dread Lord’s decree to attack the Collective on her encrypted commlink, she was even less inclined to help her. Why should she continue to put her life on the line for such ungrateful people?

Still, though, there was Julius, and Scudi did have a soft spot for the old man. He was like a grandfather to her…no, perhaps that was too harsh. A father? A violent uncle? Yes, that third one worked.

Swinging her legs off the roof of the caved in squat edifice, Scudi began to navigate down the shoreline toward the Decimator, her personal vessel. The Monastery was awaiting her return from the junk heap.


Aliso City
Nightfall
37 ABY

Behind a drug store, a spy was getting stomped into the duracrete by a black boot.

He screamed as the blood welled up in his ear canal, the cartilage split upon impact, spraying his life fluids from his split tongue and cracked teeth. As the enormous heel of the boot came down on the side of his head again and again, the spy became all too familiar with the color red in his vision.

“No…please…! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you everything!

“Fool,” snarled the helmeted assailant above him. “You have nothing valuable to offer me. Not anymore.”

“But…I can tell you about my boss…I can tell you about Kel Zar…”

“You think I don’t already know all I need to know?! I have eyes everywhere. I’ve been told everything!”

“Then…then why…?”

“Simple!” growled the monster. “Because you shouldn’t be here. And I’m the pest control!”

Then, before the spy could say anything else, the hands of Wrathus folded around his neck and lifted up. Each finger pressed wildly into the spy’s jawbone, projecting unimaginable strength, and the Plagueian revelled in the texture and sight of stretching and ripping skin, as if splitting the seam of a blanket. In a mere handful of seconds, the head of the Collective agent had been torn clean off its foundation, the exposed throat spouting flood like a wakened geyser as the body slumped to the ground.

The Aedile of Ajunta Pall stood motionless for a moment, backlit only by the single street lamp to his left, the alleyway clear of everything except carnage. He held the spy’s head in his hands for another moment, thumbs tracing the matted curls, before dropping it like a loose weight. Then, sighing, he released a trail of vapor from his visor, his face damp beneath the helmet.

“Interesting,” murmured a voice from behind him. “I would have just maimed him myself.”

“What are you doing here, Ranarr?” Wrathus demanded, not needing to turn around to sense the presence of his clanmate.

The copper-maned Cathar emerged as if from the shadows, shoulders shrugged beneath his robes. “Same reason you’re out and about. Tahiri expected me to go hunting for Collective infiltrators. Looks like you beat me to my target.”

“Too slow. The Inquisitorius would suit you better.”

“Where are you off to now?”

“The Nimbus Room,” replied Wrathus, an unseen smirk simmering. “I’ve given it quite the reputation. Yet all the people I wish I kill like to hang out there. Like swarming flies for me to swat, if you will.”

“Fair enough. I’ll head toward the Sand Pit. I’ve heard a couple of Collective cronies may be getting involved in the fights.”

“Your apprentice?”

“Oh, Ahsik? Already there, enjoying the fights.”

“Save me a snack,” joked Wrathus.

“I’ll bring you a Bantha shish kebab.”

The older man frowned, his curmudgeonly ways emerging in full force. “You can get me a shish kebab. But I don’t do Bantha.”

“…All right, then,” mumbled Ranarr. With that, he disappeared back into the Alisoan night. It was like the Battlelord to work alone, and besides, even with Wrathus as his elder superior (literally and figuratively), the Aedile knew that the difference in rank changed the dynamic. He didn’t mind, though. Examining his rather bloodied fingers, he contemplated the usual.

Okay. Just a taste.

He licked the plasma off his left index fingers and smiled.

(Ronovi Tavisaen) #4

Chapter 4

Ascendant Legion Base of Operations
Aliso City
37 ABY

In a hangar bay close to the foundation of the Pinnacle, swarms of Ravagers, Wraiths, and the Willing were doing military exercises.

It had been a long time since members of the Ascendent Legion had been proffered the carrot of actual combat. With most of the battles against the Collective taking place in the vacuum of space, Plagueis mostly relied on its glorious Ascendant Fleet to do the dirty work. Now, however, agents were being sent through the city to root out informants and dissidents, and the Legion’s job was to maintain a sense of order and be prepared for ground strikes at any moment.

Andrelious, still raw from the war and new to the clan, was smoking a cigarilla and leaning against one of the walls of the space as the soldiers pushed through their drills. He had seen similar demonstrations from his former clans - Arcona and Taldryan included - though to him, it was sometimes difficult to discern what was merely a dramatic display of showmanship and what was actually a representation of strength. He brushed a light coating of dust away from the lapel of his uniform, thinking of how his kids were faring in the room next door. As long as they weren’t playing with explosives, they would be fine.

As the faceless visors of the Ravagers and Wraiths caught the light of the hangar, an officer whom Andrelious didn’t know by name approached the rows upon rows of military assets, who all sprung to attention, firearms locked to their sides. The officer wore the standard Imperialist uniform with dark cap, her red hair tightly wound into a standard low bun. She stared at the array, arms folded, before speaking.

“Allegiants to Plagueis and loyalists to the Legion! The time has come for action, not for waiting - for striking, not for biding one’s time. For too long, we have simply reacted to our enemies in the region. No more. You will part of the great battle against our foes, and you shall contribute to their destruction!”

Even those who had been acclimated to say yes seemed enthused by this small speech. The Willing roared in approval. The Wraiths and Ravagers nodded.

“For Aliso!” cried the leading officer.

For Aliso!”

“For the Dread Lord!”

For the Dread Lord!”

“For the Ascendant Clan!”

For the Ascendant Clan!”

Lovely, thought Andrelious with a sardonic grin. Now all they need to repeat “Adapt, Ascend, Avail,” ad infinitum until they vomit.


Hak’s Hideout
Aliso City
Two Hours Later

“So, I don’t get it,” Zuser Whuloc mumbled between bites of his deep-fried nerf sandwich. “We have an alliance with the Principate now. The Dark Council can take care of its own kidnapped Deputy Grand Master. Why the kriff are we bothering with the Collective still?”

“Because,” Muse Nashesir posited over the brim of her glass, “a wounded animal is still very dangerous.”

“Oh, you mean like the Dread Lord? You know…a literally wounded animal?”

“Not cool, Whuloc,” teased Silas. “Tavisaen is, like…two steps above animalistic. At least.”

“You’re being generous.”

The three of them had convened at Hak’s Hideout for drinks and a bite, as well for the chance to scout out any potential Collective spies to snuff out. In a few days, the “Aliso Law Enforcement” - basically, Plagueis’s troops - would be cracking down hard on any signs of chaos in the city. Any “threat to the public well-being of the citizenry” - or, more accurately, any threat to the clan - would be dealt with harshly.

They had expected Abadeer to accompany them, but the Togruta had declined, stating that he had, “other obligations…” whatever that meant. Still, the food was good. Zuser eagerly tore into his sandwich, the crispy meat laden with the perfect amount of spice.

“So, what do you think?” he asked through a mouthful of food. “Do I get to fly around in my ship again?”

“If you buzz the Pinnacle again, Tavisaen will nail your skin to the wall,” Silas replied.

“That’s more Wrathus’s thing,” argued Muse.

“Still. Skin to the wall.”

“I’m eating here!”

The door swung open, and Lokast Falls stepped him, his face hidden beneath a hood. He sat at a separate table from the other, and Naesc, the beloved Bothan bartender, swooped over to bring him his standard ale. The three other Dark Jedi looked at Lokast, then at each other, then back at Lokast. Zuser shrugged.

“Loner,” he murmured. “What can you do?”

“He’s Tavisaen’s apprentice, ain’t he?” grunted Silas.

“Yes. He’s a closed off one. Lot of trauma, I bet.”

Muse said nothing. She was thinking about the trauma Plagueis would inflict on the Collective. It was going to be very good.

(Ronovi Tavisaen) #5

Chapter 5

CR90 Corvette Respite
Unknown Regions - Open Space
37 ABY

Kel Zar was getting antsy.

She had just received a transmission from her superior, Ghafa Ordam - a mixed one. On the one hand, the Collective had managed to capture the Deputy Grand Master of the Brotherhood, Evant Taelyan, and now could weaken the hierarchy of the organization. On the other, the Principate had caved to the whims of the Brotherhood and declared an alliance between the Iron Throne and the Triumvirate, so that wasn’t exactly stellar.

Still, something stung more to her, even a year later. The Zabrak had not forgotten her failure in the Aliso system to free the slaves of the Ascendant Clan. She herself, though she didn’t like to talk about it, was a former slave, and she had thought that the Principate would be disillusioned by Plagueis’s support of such an atrocious system. But they had overlooked it, allowed the political correctness game to play out and worn blinders. Kel Zar knew that Sevrin Arce had been a fool, but she was not done yet with the wretched Plagueians.

So she had pulled together a Collective splinter cell. Ugh. Splinter. She hated the term. Remnant wasn’t much better. It was a motley crew, far too weak to take the Ascendant Navy head on…but it was something. It could cause chaos, if that.

Her spies had also been on the move, including those Principate mutineers she had managed to keep on her side. If they could sway enough of the Alisoan masses, perhaps an inside campaign could actually work. This time, with more competent actors.

Moving to the control panel of the Respite, Kel Zar keyed in a transmission to one of her most prominent operatives. When all she got was dead air, she frowned and tried another one. The sound of static filled the cockpit of the CR90 corvette - then, a fit of coughing.

“Uveq! Pull yourself together!”

“Sorry, boss,” wheezed the Weequay over the transmission, his wobbly hologram standing out starkly. “Bad time to call. Corellian ale is not for breathing.”

“Where are you?”

“Local bar. Drowning my sorrows. We lost another one, Kel.”

The Zabrak’s eyes widened. “Not…not Anchon.”

“‘Fraid so. Decapitated. Well…head not cut off, per se, but - ”

Uveq’s mumbling was interrupted by Kel Zar’s fist, as she slammed it down, hard, against the panel, causing buttons to light up.

“I have one requirement for you imbeciles - do your job and don’t get killed! Why is that so hard?!

“You wanna come down here and try it! They’re Sith, boss! They’re good at murdering people!”

“Never mind,” growled Kel Zar. “You’re the head operative now. Get me a full report on Plagueis’s movement so we can figure out where to go from there.”

“That’s another thing, boss…they’re moving, all right. And fast.”

“The kriff you talking about?”

“What I’m saying,” muttered Uveq, before slurping more ale, “is that you may want to bail out of the system. Now.”

“What are you…?”

But then the hologram disappeared, the transmission cut off, as another signal beeped on the panel. Kel Zar blinked. She did not recognize the source. Gingerly, she opened the call.

“Who is this?”

A cool, calm voice emerged from the console. A voice of the enemy.

“Kel Zar, this is Khryso Mallus of Clan Plagueis, speaking to you from the Anchorage. We have ships coming your way. Do you stand down, or do you fight?”

The bastards. They were coming for her.

“Bring it on,” the Zabrak snarled, her lips stretched thin and turning very, very white.