A lone figure stood silhouetted against the back drop of Korriban’s night sky. The burning wreckage of battle bathed the warrior’s adaptive armor in oranges and reds. The figure’s eyes observed the carnage of warfare with practiced disinterest. Women, men, and machinery lay twisted and destroyed in fields of debris. The faces of the fallen were stretched, bloated, and an obscene reminder of how the final throws of death can strip anyone of their dignity.
The sounds of the few survivors on the battlefield filtered through the solitary figure’s audio receptors. The mortally wounded recited prayers, whispered the names of their family, or wept quietly as the realization of their death descended upon them. The warrior listened to one combatant after another as they fought to hold on to a few more moments of life, but the finality of oblivion claimed them in turn. Their deaths sounded like betrayal.
Retracting the armor’s faceplate, the warrior’s eyes closed as the smells of the battlefield threatened to overwhelm its senses. Acrid smoke from burning metal and exploding fuel wafted through sky. Their taint burning the interior of the warrior’s nose and causing its tear ducts to produce liquid. But it was the smell of the dead that crossed the boundary of smell and entered the realm of taste. The sweet, sticky, smell of loosened bowels and decay permeated every inch of the night.
The lone figure spit on the ground and reflected its senses. The sights, smells, and tastes of the battlefield had a common thread. Betrayal. The Sith Lord Esoteric, head of One Sith Intelligence, was an expert on betrayal. Betrayal was the one constant within the Dark Side of the Force and her practitioners would use it as long as they coveted one another’s power. Betrayal was what brought a Dark Brotherhood reconnaissance operation to Korriban, betrayal was what positioned them within an ambush, and betrayal was what led to their deaths.
The Dark Brotherhood had walked through the Sith Worlds in dominating fashion. Planet after planet feel to their overwhelming forces, but greed and betrayal forced the Brotherhood to overreach. False information had been planted by the Brotherhood’s own members and a mission was undertaken to confirm the limited resources of the One Sith on Korriban. It was slaughter.
The deaths of the small reconnaissance force and the destruction of their equipment would do little in terms of crippling the Dark Brotherhood war machine, but the insidious nature of betrayal would pay much greater dividends. The Brotherhood would know they were betrayed, but not by who. Was it the Star Chamber leading the Brethren to their deaths in a quest for greater power? Was it the Grand Master throwing their lives away in pursuit of his former master? Was it merely the inept military leadership of the Master at Arms? Was it the Clans turning against the Iron throne and allying with the One Sith?
The One Sith Spymaster’s thoughts returned to the battlefield as the sounds of struggle filtered through his helmet. A crashed speeder bike pinned a Dark Jedi of the Iron throne beneath its weight. The Dark Jedi’s crippled body fought against the weight, but his stomach lay exposed and his presence in the force was rapidly diminishing. A lightsaber remained weakly clutched in the Soldier’s hand, a symbol of continued resistance.
Esoteric’s foot unceremoniously kicked the lightsaber away as the One Sith knelt beside the Dark Jedi. The retractable face shield remained lifted, the One Sith locking eyes with the Dark Jedi.
“Why would you do this to us,” the Dark Jedi croaked through blood soaked lips.
“Why not,” came Esoteric’s monotone reply.
“The Force take you and your kind,” the Dark Jedi spat.
“The Force is a lie,” Esoteric coolly replied as his blaster discharged into the Dark Jedi’s face.
Standing, the Spymaster re-engaged his face shield and activated his communications array.
“Summon my shuttle and notify our mercenaries. We are needed on Athiss.”
Jac Cotelin sat within the silent meditation chamber. His head bowed, his eyes were closed, and his age-worn hands folded neatly in his lap. The Grand Master controlled his breath in the same manner he had been taught many years earlier by his mentor, Yoni.
The Force flooded Cotelin’s mind with a cacophony of images and sounds and he discarded many of them as quickly as they arrived. Cotelin’s subtle mastery of the Force allowed him to filter the wheat from the chaff and discern the truth from within many truths.
Jac Cotelin was tired and weary. Taldryan had been unseated as the most powerful Clan within the Dark brotherhood, had been reduced to a house, and had recently lost members to the internecine politics of the Brotherhood. And yet his beloved Taldryan had more challenges on the horizon.
The Grand Master, Muz Ashen, had declared war on the One Sith. Dark Brotherhood forces were spilling into the Sith Worlds region of space. The Clans and Houses were driven blindly to war through the promises of glory and power. The Taldrya had scoffed at the war and deemed it a repeat of the past, but Cotelin sensed something more sinister at play. The One Sith had infiltrated the Brotherhood too easily and their initial attacks were too convenient. Why would Krayt’s undermanned forces draw the Brotherhood into conflict without being prepared for a response?
Cotelin’s mind pulled at the strings of the Force, drawing in the visions he wanted to pursue. The events of the Dark Crusade flashed; planets fell, resources were captured, and the pieces moved into their places. The Houses and Clans were assigned separate missions, no one organization seeing every planet, seeing every objective, or uncovering every mystery.
Cotelin’s will refined his search and his visions focused. It was not the Houses and Clans, it was not the conquest of the planets, but a constant thread remained. It was the Iron Throne. Raken and his Shadowhand operators had been on the Suffering, formerly the Avenger II; the Iron Throne had sent operatives to Loka Dan’s forge, to find sacred stones on Krayiss II, and to every planet that had fallen.
The visions came faster with the keys to the Iron Throne’s plans and then, they were abruptly gone. Cotelin’s folded hands broke their meditative pose and rubbed the stubble across his face. Someone had blocked his inquiry and only a handful of people in the galaxy could disrupt his meditations.
The crumpled pages of antiquated scrolls littered the chamber of Darth Vexatus. Each page held the neat script of the Sith Lord and the messy scrawl of another. Blood spatters adorned the margins and served as the source of the writing on the pages. Vexatus was unsure why he had taken to writing with his own blood, but then again, he was unsure who else had written in his journals.
Prophecy and madness had come hand-in-hand over the past decade. Vexatus foresaw events before they transpired and interpreted them with uncanny accuracy. But the visions came with side effects and his mental health continued to decline. He thought often of Faethor, Trevarus, and Paladin and how they nurtured his abilities. They did so for their own benefit, but they had cursed him. The visions came with meditation, but now they often came on their own and without warning.
One such vision had ended moments prior. The implications of the Dark Crusade and the Dark Brotherhood’s plight spilled out of the Force and into his mind. It was clear to him that ruin lay ahead for many. He could warn the Dark Brotherhood, he could warn Naga Sadow, but he had learned his lesson prior to the Eighth Great Jedi War. He saw the coming of the Yuuzhan Vong and rushed to the Star Chamber to announce his visions. They mocked him, branded him a fool in league with Trevarus, and banished him from their graces. He cursed their arrogance, but years later he would finally read the visions of the Yuuzhan Vong war correctly. It was not that the Star Chamber had read the Force incorrectly; it was they that ushered invasion. In one fell swoop the Star Chamber weakened the Clans, consolidated the fleets, and stripped the Consuls of their Dark Council positions.
This Vision was worse.
Vexatus laughed wildly. Or was it the others laughing inside of him? Or at him?
The Secret Order of Odan-Urr had successfully harried the Dark Jedi Brotherhood since their inception years earlier. Adopting the tactics of asymmetrical warfare: sabotage, hit and run, destroying soft targets; the lightsiders had stolen the Rebel Alliance’s playbook and enhanced it with Jedi Strike teams. House Revan had done much the same before them. But combat was not their only means of waging war.
The Dark Brotherhood was a profane and disgusting organization that used up its members. Often, those in the darkest places would seek the light and many had. Sith, Krath, and Obelisk warriors renounced their lives of hatred and adopted Odan-Urr’s teachings. With their ranks swelled, the Jedi soon found that they were capable of striking faster and with greater frequency against the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is wrong.
Moretheri Mithfaron, Aedile of Odan-Urr, looked at the words of his journal and exhaled. Operations were going well, but his forces could not match the Brotherhood head-on. For months an unknown source had provided Odan-Urr with the Dark Brotherhood’s plans and objectives. Despite this advantage, Odan-Urr could not keep up. Not only were they outgunned, but they were also outclassed. Taldryan alone possessed multiple Imperial trained flag officers and the Brotherhood remained fleet-centric at heart. Odan-Urr was a collection of spacers, reformed Dark Jedi, and the occasional mercenary.
He would have to step up operations on the planets utilizing guerrilla tactics if they were to slow down the Iron Throne. Target their supply chains, hit their fuel depots, and potentially even infiltrate the Brotherhoodâ??s ranks and destroy it from within. He had their next targets, the desolate rocks of Athiss, Ashas Ree, and Svolten.
Morotheri leaned away from his desk and reflected on the irony of his position. Attacking from the Shadows, deception, and stealth. He was about to out-Sith the Sith.
The amber color of an unknown bourbon clung to the bottom of an intricately designed bottle. A single glass rested on its side, the contents spilled across the surface of an expensive creel wood desk. A lone occupant sat at the table, her head down and resting on the curve of her arm.
It was not the picture of the whimsical rogue that the world envisioned. There was no twinkle of an eye, no flask, and no arrogance to be had in the room. There was only a self-loathing that came with disgust.
The alcohol was having its intended effects. Psychological walls dropped and the inner-voice of her mind began the all-too-familiar chatter.
You are a failure.
You are a fraud.
You are your worst enemy.
The alcohol was the key to the words. The words were the key to unlocking the spark. The spark sat at her center and the words fanned it into a fire until the self-loathing burned away with pure hatred.
Hatred for the Dark Council and hatred for the Grand Master. She had not failed them, they had betrayed her. When she needed their support to build greatness they condemned her to failure. Where she sought revolutionary ideas they sought comfort in their traditions.
But she would have her day. The fools handed her Plagueis and she would use it to destroy all of them. Built on the betrayal of Satal Keto and Exar Kun, Plagueis had never found a way to excel, but that had all changed in the Dark Crusade. Plagueis was on the verge of domination and she would use their momentum to strike the Grand Master and his allies when he least expected it.
Ronovi Tavisaen stood a blazing beacon of hatred within the Force. The alcohol within her system burning away with the cleansing fires of the Dark Side. She could see the images of the future, could feel the fires of the Dark Brotherhood fleet burning in the skies above Korriban. Her self-assuredness and confidence returned with a pure sense of purpose. She saw her destiny and knew how to obtain it.
Ashen would die.
Enduring, steadfast, and strong; the Mountain of Arcona stood in the form a 26 year-old Miraluka female. Her lightsaber weaved the intricate defensive patterns of Soresu as her combatant assaulted her with wave after wave of attacks.
A sorrowful killer, Atyiru Araave, stubbornly refused to take advantage of her opponent’s missteps. Instead she let go of her conscious and dropped into the natural rhythm of combat. Her reflexive defensive sequences came without effort and her mind wandered, detached from her physical form to explore the Force. Her ability to engage these Force combat meditations had enhanced greatly during the Dark Crusade and excelled her performance significantly. She had been honored with a double battlefield promotion for events she could hardly even recall. She was merely an instrument of the Force.
And then the Force spoke to her.
“Kill him. Kill him now. Ascend to your rightful place.”
The Command was from within the Force and Atyiru’s body followed her mind, her defensive posture uncontrollably switched to offensive. Her feints became strikes and her lips mouthed the word die over and over again.
Possessing an extreme internal locus of control, Atyiru regained her composure and fought the base suggestions of murder screaming in her mind. With a flick of a finger her lightsaber disengaged, her pale skin colored copper red, and her breath came in labored exhaustion.
“What in the hell is wrong with you,” her combatant and Proconsul asked, his lightsaber still ignited.
The Krath Knight looked back at Marick, confusion and fear in her eyes.
“Arcona is in danger and so are you.”
The hulking form of Brent “Archangel” Ligur Victae picked up his pace. The main hangar deck of the NSD Exidium II served as a make shift track and the Soldier ran without the aid of the force. Clothed in in shorts three sizes to small, running shoes, and ear buds, the massive Soldier was a striking presence to the support personnel working on the deck.
Archangel could care less about them. They were pieces of garbage (P.O.G.s); cooks, supply techs, and naval personnel who had never tasted the fear of battle. What did they know? They would all return to their homes one day and receive the welcome of heroes, but they were frauds. Archangel knew it and he could tell they knew it when he looked in their eyes. Heroes.
They would shuttle him and his men to Ashas Ree in a few days and then they would go back to their games of Sabacc and grab ass. The Dark Jedi and the fancy armored marines would do their job and the Navy would soak up the glory if there were any to be had. The last capital ship engagement had happened months ago against Zoraan and it didn’t look like any more were on the horizon.
The Sith Battlemaster could feel the anger rising in his massive Shaevalian chest. He checked his chrono and snorted in disgust as his pace dropped off his customary time. Footfall after footfall reverberated on the deck of the Exidium and Archangel’s mind fluttered from topic to topic. Disgust at the P.O.G.s, his extreme emotional relationship to his wife, and the ferocity he would unleash on the One Sith.
And then it hit him. The megadiverse landscapes of Ashas Ree, the garish Temple of the Sith Lord Garu, and a splinter of Freedon Nadd’s spirit flashed through his mind’s eye. Ashas Ree was different from the dead planets Scholae had assaulted previously. It was alive and it possessed the answer to many questions. Archangel could sense his purpose on the planet and knew the information that he must uncover.
The Battlemaster stopped in midstride, his baritone voice booming at the support staff nearby.
“Prepare my shuttle and armor.”
Archangel checked his chrono one last time. He would need to run more.
Scion Altera sighed as he read the latest intelligence reports. The Marshall of Tarentum’s armies, Maxamillian von Oberst, had deployed months ago and remained within Sith space conducting operations and clearing flash points designated by the Fist. Oberst’s efforts were extremely successful, but his victories were not Tarentum’s victories. He was operating independently or with elite raiding teams.
Oberst’s absence was troublesome.
Scion was a military minded man and had been raised like many of his contemporaries within the Emperor’s Hammer. Elevated to the rank of Colonel, he held the prestigious position of Wing Commander and successfully rebuilt a neglected organization.
Now, all these years later, Scion had been called to rebuild another organization. He had served in as the leader of House Kaerner, but now the entire of Tarentum’s woes rested on his shoulders. His calm and calculating demeanor had paid initial dividends, but Tarentum’s struggles had continued through the Dark Crusade.
Scion needed commanders to lead his troops. He needed Apollo, Bloodfyre, Anshar, Kane Vader, and the combined powers of Tarentum’s old guard. If they could not be stirred, he would need the breed of Aventine and Intoxication to reach within and operate above their station.
Scion sighed again. He would need his House’s help in the months to come or the Iron Throne would pass judgment upon them that could very well see the end of Tarentum.
The Grand Master
Purple and red lightsabers ignited as Muz Ashen’s head tilted backwards and his voice bellowed a challenge to anyone and everyone. A bodiless Mandalorian helmet lay at his feet and a severed arm rested nearby. The visage of Muz Ashen was a horrific sight to behold.
The memories of New Tython remained fresh within the Grand Master’s mind. It cemented his legacy and solidified his rule over the Dark Brotherhood. Challengers would rise and fall, but Muz Ashen had outlasted them all. His reign had just entered his seventh year and new challengers questioned the wisdom of the Dark Brotherhoodâ??s latest campaign. Ashen took little notice in their thoughts and discarded them as easily as he replaced Dark Councilors. They were shortsighted fools who squabbled over petty issues. The Dark Brotherhood would always hold those who thought they knew better, who thought they could rule better, and who thought they could excel beyond the sitting Grand Master.
But the Lion of Tarthos still had claws.
Ashen’s eyes turned to the command viewport of the Suffering and watched the holographic displays of his fleet’s deployment. Naga Sadow and Plagueis would engage Athiss; Taldryan, Scholae, and Tarentum would siege Ashas Ree; Arcona and the Jedi of Odan Urr would descend upon Svolten. The forces of the Iron Throne, led by the 75th would support each plant and in some cases take the lead. Sith Worlds were falling one after another and Muz Ashen was one step closer to his ultimate goal.
The Suffering’s command net opened with effortless usage of the Force. The leaders of the six Dark Brotherhood units responded in order of their prestige and waited silently for their orders. The Grand Master’s voice betrayed little of his mood.
“Proceed to follow on objectives. The spoils of glory to those who succeed.”
Ashen’s hands folded behind his back as the units of the Dark Brotherhood executed his will and vanished into hyperspace.