This post will be used to post fictional updates to the Gathering Darkness Event, as well as to showcase winning entries. Please refrain from posting in it (since I can’t lock it anymore).
Unrest on Karufr!
There has been spreading rumours of unrest sparking up on Taldryan’s Home Planet of Karufr. There have been no confirmed reports of any outbreaks in violence or active protests, but a smattering of anti-Taldryan literature and graffiti has been reported by agents of Taldryan’s Counter Intelligence Service.
The source of this unrest is as of yet unknown, but agents from TalSEC and the Wardens have been dispatched to start ferreting out the cause of these disturbances. More information will be released as it becomes available.
Cole Drayson feigned a relaxed pose, one foot up on the grease-smeared table. He squinted through the smoky-haze of the Mynock’s Haven, trying to locate his contact. He nearly fell out of his seat as a Ryn suddenly slid into the open seat in front of him.
“You the Paladin?” the Ryn asked in hushed tones, barely making it to Cole’s ears. Cole merely nodded in assent, continuing to appear disinterested in the entire proceeding. Cole nearly missed the motion as the Ryn slid a data disc across the table and into Cole’s lap. The Ryn disappeared as quietly as he had entered, leaving Cole to palm the disc and finish the drink he had been nursing the entire time.
Waiting a few more minutes, Cole casually rose to his feet. In a bored motion he tossed a handful of credits onto the table before winding his way through the busy tavern. Brushing by a couple of Gand, he heard a sudden scraping of chairs across the floor. As he reached the exit the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand on end.
Without slowing he pushed open the doors and flowed into the masses of bodies that made up Treasure Ship Row. He let his instincts guide him along the path. The feeling of unease never left him. His hands gently glided over the two blasters securely holstered to each thigh. He could feel the vibroblade that was nestled into the small of his back, as well as the familiar weight of his lightsaber, which hung on the inside of his long duster. Members of the Gray Paladins such as himself preferred a handy blaster at his side, but he had the sinking feeling that he would be needing his lightsaber very shortly.
Cole slipped into a clothing store, never slowing as he made his way to a back exit and stepped out. He had momentarily lost his pursuit, his senses picking up only the general buzz of the busy sector. Wasting no further time he slid the data disc into his reader, verifying the information. The words Taldryan and Karufr instantly popped out, confirming the initial intelligence the other Paladins had received.
The words were cold. Guttural. Cole managed to not freeze up as he hid his reader with practiced ease and casually turned around.
“Sorry my friend, but a what now?” He was stalling, and they all knew it. There were two of them, hooded. Their faces were obscured, but he could see a hint of red and black as the silent one turned his head. His feelings were confirmed; the One Sith.
“Give us the data disc.”
The words were backed by a dark power. Cole could feel a pressure building at the back of his eyes as the two dark jedi tried to force the issues.
“No,” was his answer, hoping it sounded more confident than he actually felt. Two ruby lightsabers ignited in counterpoint.
Crisis on Karufr!
TalSEC Communique #8154-c.6
Copied: TalSOC, TalSIS
There has been a drastic increase in anti-Taldryan propaganda spreading in Karufr City, and other major cities on Karufr. What had initially appeared to be an unorganized show of dissatisfaction is beginning to take on a more serious tone. All initial attempts to infiltrate the protest groups have been completely unsuccessful.
There is some worry that our own security may be compromised, or that the dissidents are receiving outside assistance and information. Recommend SIS confer with SID and begin investigating possible hostile intentions from outside parties.
Rumour has spread of a co-ordinated protest march being planned. No details on timing yet. Will report further when more information is Found.
Flight into Danger
Cole measured the pair of dark siders. Their ruby blades wavered slightly in their hands, as did their chests. He had given them a better chase then he had expected. His hand cautiously moved to the holster where his heavy blaster rested, but resisted to the urge to seize the weapon. The cool grip would feel most comfortable in his hand right now.
His pursuers had other things in mind. Time seemed to slow. He felt as if he existed out of body, watching. The Sith’s body moved across the empty side street, his boots scattering over the duracrete floor.
Cole still did not reach for either his blaster or the lightsaber at his back. Before the first ruby blade reached him, he sidestepped, pistoning his knee up. His knee connected violently with the belly of the Sith, folding him in two as it did so. The other Sith had hesitated a second too long and was now facing the working end of Cole’s blaster.
An red bolt of super heated plasma traced a hot line between himself and the Sith. The Sith parried the bolt just in time, but it had stopped him dead in his tracks. Cole used the time to leave the area, taking a few leaps to grab onto a fire escape two floors up.
His pursuers were after him, climbing up the ladder. Cole raised his blaster again. The leading Sith knew he couldn’t dodge or reflect the high concentrated plasma burst from the Paladin’s weapon. He accelerated his movements. Just as he reached the top rung, Cole unleashed another volley of plasma – but not at the Sith.
The Sith realized Cole’s tactic too late. The bursts went above his head and struck the junction where the ladder was fastened to the platform the Paladin stood on. The junction exploded into tiny clouds of molten metal. The ladder fell and the Sith with it, growling at the Paladin.
One story up, Cole slipped through an open window and through the living room of a Nautolan couple who peered at him blankly through their large black eyes. He nodded at them and made his way out of their apartment. Back on the street he wound his way through a couple of back alleys without further incident, emerging in a section of the Blue Sector. This part of the sector was not as crowded, but still buzzing enough that Cole had to keep an eye open for other pursuers.
He was nearly at his destination, when something in the pocket of his coat started to buzz slightly. He rifled through the pocket and produced his comlink, while continuing his way into to the spaceport.
“You’re late,” the voice on the comlink said. “Got some trouble down there?”
“Nothing, I couldn’t handle.”
“Good, got the disk?”
"Then let’s get out of here. I have a bad feeling about all of this.”
The Sith sat on a bench inside the spaceport pressed between a female human on his left and a male Rodian on his right. The leathery Rodian reeked of sweat. He couldn’t resist at probing his mind, only to exploit the fear of getting arrested for the spice he was trying to smuggle off of Corellia.
He smiled, and watched the Paladin enter the spaceport. The man glanced around, while talking into his comlink. The Sith had spent years perfecting his own inconspicuousness under the tutelage of his master, and so the Paladin moved past him without throwing him a second glance. He rose when the girl did. She carried a small travel bag and he stayed close to her and let her body language suggest they where traveling together.
His fellow Sith had inform him about their failure to accomplish the mission moments before the Paladin had entered the spaceport. He now had to complete the mission on his own. He turned from the girl and walked straight into the path of the Paladin, effectively blocking him on his way.
“Do I know you, friend?” the Paladin asked, his eyes taking in every detail of the man in front of him. Unlike his fellow Sith his face didn’t sport the red-and-black facial tattoos. He slouched some, adopting a look of harmlessness.
“I don’t think so. You from here?”
The Paladin took a step closer, angling his body for a strike. The Sith fought down the instinct to adopt a fighting stance of his own. The Paladin would recognize his heritage immediately. “No, I am just on the loop.”
“Ah, then have a great day, sir.”
Cole pushed himself past the stranger, turning when he reached the turbolift that would take him to the docking bay. Something about that guy felt off, but Cole couldn’t quite tell what it was. Even now he was still standing there, smiling at Cole. Then he drew something from his back; something gravely reminding Cole of what he hid on his back as well. The man then bolted for the turbolift.
With a fierce hiss, ruby energy shafts surged forth from both ends of the cylinder the man held. The crowd ran from the revealed Sith in panic. Cole pushed the button to close the lift doors and slowly the cab started its descent to the docking bay.
The cab shook as something heavy hit the ceiling. Cole didn’t have to wait for the glowing spot above him to know that it was the Sith who had just landed atop the cab and was now cutting himself a way inside with his lightsaber.
Cole pulled out his comlink and hailed his partner, Tamir Ript, while distracting the Sith with randomly placed shots into the cabs ceiling. “Tam?”
“What’s happening up there? Where are you?” Came the immediate reply from his fellow Paladin.
“Almost there. I’m in a turbolift, heading down to the Docking Bay. Listen Tam, we got company. Get the ship ready then come up and cover me. I’ll be coming in hot.”
Cole unleashed a final volley into the ceiling as the cab came to a halt. He keyed the door open and slid into the well lit corridor before taking off in a dead run. As he approached the first docking port, Cole saw Tamir stepping out into the corridor from Bay 8 about fifty meters ahead of him. He took up a defensive position, both blasters trained on something – or someone – behind him.
Cole felt a ripple at the back of his head and fell to his knees skidding across the floor when Tamir loosened a barrage of blaster bolts. The bolts whistled past his fleeing comrade’s head.
Out of the corner of his eyes he saw the Sith whirling his double-bladed lightsaber in order to catch the incoming fire.
Cole’s momentum brought him past Tamir who still held his ground, unleashing volley after volley of super-heated plasma. The blaster fire did nothing except slow their assailant down. Cole rolled over to his belly, aiming his blaster along the polished surface. The bolt hit the Sith just above the ankle.
The shot had the desired effect and the Sith howled in pain while angling his blade too far off in distraction. At once the two Paladins emptied their power-packs into the now unprotected chest of the Sith, who toppled over and fell face-forward to the floor.
As Cole stood up, he glanced back up the corridor at the fallen Sith. He had been hit at least two dozen times and the clothes along his back were smoking in places.
Feeling safe for the moment the pair made their way into the docking bay and into their ship. They already had the ok from flight control. The ship’s sublight engines surged with smooth acceleration and within less than a minute they entered the busy skylines of Corellia.
When they exited the atmosphere Tamir asked, “And? Do you know where we’re heading?”
“Yes, give me a minute to feed the coordinates to the navcomp. Coordinates for Karufr are locked. Prepare for lightspeed.”
The pair braced themselves as the stars ahead turned into streaks and the familiar tunnel opened up ahead of their ship as it rocketed into hyperspace.
A Lengthening Shadow
The currents of the Force were strange. Normally, Consul Rian Aslar left the spiritual side of things to his Proconsul, and other Taldrya who were adept at seeking out patterns in the eddies of time, but he had been learning. His talent was raw, and still completely unformed, but the Force still chose moments to speak to him in haunting, and terrifying clarity. It was such a vision that woke him suddenly, covered in a sheen of sweat in his field tent on Begeren.
Details were scarce. He had flashes of vistas and locations – many that he recognized – but he could not be sure of what was about to occur. The one thing that the vision had made abundantly clear though was that Taldryan, and it’s homeworld, were in danger.
Sleeping in armour was uncomfortable, but Taldryan was once again at war and it was necessary. It did however have advantages, such as his commlink being already at hand as he rose from his rest. “Dispatch a recovery shuttle to my location immediately. Send word to Keirdagh that he will take command of operations on Begeren. I am needed at home.”
The streets were busy today. It was to be expected in the metropolis that was Karufr City. Unimaginative and boring name aside, this city hid a dark secret. It was a secret that few in the galaxy realized, and the powers that be were keen to keep it that way. This city was home to Dark Jedi. Oh, sure, they largely kept their small little group to themselves, working as puppet master’s behind the scenes of the corrupt government that rose up in place of the Empire, but there was no doubt in the Gray Paladin’s mind that they controlled every root and branch of the establishment.
From the planetary trade alliances, even to the supposed Kr’Tal defense force, the government served only one true master: Taldryan. It was a name that was merely whispered about in the majority of the galaxy. Those who had heard of it assumed it a myth, or at worst some shady criminal organization that was only interested in it’s bottom line. Cole Drayson knew differently, and despite spending the majority of his life hiding from, and fighting their kind, he now had no choice. If he, or any of his people were to survive, they had to convince Karufr’s secret masters to lend their aid.
Quejo stood guard outside the Great Hall of Taldryan in his role as Gatekeeper. Though the position was largely ceremonial, it was an honour he had earned with blood and sweat; and it was a position that he was sure would cease to be ceremonial in the coming days. The rumours of the unrest that was spreading throughout the city like wildfire was sure to see to that.
The return of the Consul to Karufr only lent even more weight to the idea that trouble had at last managed to find its way to Taldryan’s home planet. Though the battles still raged on, and fewer Taldryan teams were being called out to participate in missions on Begeren’s surface, Quejo knew Rian would never abandon his men on the front lines unless there was an imminent threat.
There was nothing to do in the situation though, except stand ready, and prepare himself for the coming conflict, because if there was one thing Quejo was sure of, any enemy who wished to strike at Taldryan’s heart would need to advance over his ruined body in order to get there.
“Looks like things are getting ugly around here,” Cole Drayson muttered to himself.
He was standing under the cover of a dilapidated building in the heart of Karufr City, watching a large group of protestors standing outside the local municipal building. He could sense dark emotions stirring in the crowd as one of the men stood at the forefront of the group shouting anti-government slogans. What Cole found interesting, however, was the repeated mention of the “shadow rulers”; the ones the protestors claimed were the real power on Karufr.
Having just arrived on the planet after escaping the One Sith on Corellia, Cole was trying to find a way to make contact with the members of Taldryan—the Dark Jedi and the very shadow rulers the populace was rebelling against. He could only imagine the horrors the people of Karufr had to endure under such dark masters, but he knew he couldn’t intervene. He needed the help of the Dark Jedi.
“A deal with the devil, huh?”
It was fortunate he had left Tamir—his fellow Gray Paladin—aboard their ship. With unrest in their city, it was likely the Dark Jedi would make their presence known sooner or later. At least now, he didn’t have to worry about his partner being dragged away into some dank hole to rot. The thought of a similar fate waiting for him never crossed Cole’s mind.
Cole released a long-suffering sigh. He had no time to waste. Pulling the collar of his duster up, he stepped out into the rain and made for the protestors. He kept himself to the outskirts of the crowd, taking measured steps so as now to draw too much unwanted attention. It wasn’t working. Compared to the unwashed masses venting their frustrations, Cole’s swarthy bulk and… interesting sense of fashion stood out like a sore thumb. The people who saw him knew he was an outsider and would have gladly dragged them into their problems, but were quickly cowed by his piercing glare.
He didn’t want any trouble. Unfortunately, the protestors were surrounding the building he needed access to. He figured the easiest way to get in touch with the Dark Jedi would be to bully the puppets they had put in charge.
The crowd suddenly swelled with anger. Cole looked up at the steps to the municipal building and saw a group of heavily armed security personnel emerge carrying personal shields and stun batons. One of the seccers bellowed orders at the crowd, demanding they disperse immediately. Obviously, that didn’t go over well with the protestors. A few anonymous members of the crowd shouted in defiance, quickly followed by the others. In a moment, the entire group was shouting en masse.
This is bad.
Cole’s premonition was dead on. One of the protestors rushed towards the seccers and was struck across the face with a stun baton. Instantly, the entire crowd was screaming and rushing forward. What had been a relatively peaceful protest had devolved into pure violence at the drop of a hat. People in the crowd were pulling weapons—blasters, vibroblades, and whatever else they had—and were attacking the seccers.
There was nothing he could do here now, and all thought of trying to meet with the members of Taldryan fled his mind. In the chaos, Cole knew he had to retreat and wait for things to settle down. He cursed under his breath. Things just kept going from bad to worse. Then he felt it.
A shuddering tremor of terror and pain. Guided by his power, Cole instinctively sought the source of distress and his eyes fell upon a young girl who had fallen to the ground. She had probably only been there to watch what was happening, curious to see what the protestors were doing. Now, she was in serious danger of being killed as the seccers and protestors fought each other.
Cole, the idiotic hero that he is, willed power into his limbs and leapt through the crowd to protect the girl. In the middle of the chaos, he was targeted by both sides of the fight and weapons were turned on him. Cole smiled, though there was no humor in that look. He became a blur of constant motion, disarming the first attacker—a security officer—then turning his newly acquired stun baton on the others. Each strike was quick, brutal, and very effective. In moments, a circle of bodies had fallen around Cole and he was able to break free and reach the girl.
He scooped her up in his arms and forced his way through to the edge of the crowd. Anyone foolish enough to get in his way received a crushing blow to the side of the head with the stun baton. The girl clung to him, crying and shuddering in fear. When they were finally clear, he put her down, holding onto her arms to make sure she was steady.
“Go home,” he ordered. He had tried to be gentle, but had probably just scared her more. She looked up with wide, terrified eyes, and then bolted like a rabbit. With a sigh, Cole tossed the stun baton and turned back towards the riot, satisfied to watch it play out from afar.
Darkness suddenly descended over the crowd. Cole felt the cold, slithering touch of the dark of the Force. It was an illusion, seemingly affecting both sight and sound. Drawing on his own power, Cole pierced through the illusion by channeling the Force into his vision. Instantly, the darkness cleared, and revealed a group of men dressed in military garb pulling the confused civilians out of the area. As they were unaffected by the illusion, Cole deduced the military were there on behalf of the Dark Jedi. Which meant…
He felt their presence moments before he saw them. Five… no, six, Dark Jedi appeared from within the gaps of the crowd, their weapons drawn but unignited. The mere sight of them made Cole twitchy and he instinctively made to grab for his blasters. No. Fighting the urge, he slowly lowered his hand and watched the Dark Jedi relax a fraction. One of them, most likely their leader, stepped forward.
The man appeared to be young, barely old enough to be called a man. He seemed a bit feisty in Cole’s opinion, almost as if he was itching for a fight. Cole smiled inwardly. Normally, he would love to teach the kid a lesson, but now was not the time or place.
He took a step forward, and gestured with his unarmed hands. “Since you’re all trying to keep things low key here, I guess you don’t want to start anything.” Cole nodded his head to the soldiers removing the protestors. “Can’t have them knowing they really are controlled by the evil ‘shadow rulers’, eh?”
The kid’s eyes flashed with rage for a moment, but he controlled himself. “You’re the ‘Gray Paladin’ I take it?” he asked. Obviously, the Dark Jedi had already done some investigation of their own.
“Drayson. Cole Drayson.” Cole reached into his pocket and pulled out the data disc he had acquired in the Mynock’s Haven. “You’re going to want to bring me to your leaders, boy. We have something to discuss.”
For a moment, Cole wasn’t sure what the Dark Jedi would do. They were a prideful bunch… maybe he should have tried for a bit more tact? Sithspit. It’s not like he knew anything about tact in the first place. Good thing Tamir had stayed safe aboard the ship. Who knew what would have happened had the Dark Jedi been any more wary.
Finally, the leader stepped back and nodded towards the others. Cole forced himself to stand still as the Dark Jedi moved to surround him. Two grabbed him from either side, while a third slipped her hands into his duster to disarm him. He was glad it had been the girl. Finally, they twisted his arms behind his back and slapped a pair of stun cuffs on him.
Cole raised an eyebrow at the treatment, a sardonic grin on his face. “Well, now that that’s done, shall we get moving?”
With a shove from behind, the Dark Jedi started marching him forward. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly how he had planned for things to happen, but it seemed he would get his chance to meet with the leaders of Taldryan. He hoped they would see the sense of his offer. After all, they shared a common enemy. Cole gritted his teeth. They had to see sense. If not, the Gray Paladins would not be able to survive.
For that reason alone, he had come here. To ensure the Paladins survived their war with the One Sith, Cole was even willing to make a deal with the devil. He grunted as he was shoved again. They were leading him towards an armored vehicle. As he ducked his head to enter, he had another premonition of trouble. He knew he would pay a price for seeking out the Dark Jedi. Hopefully, all it would cost him was his soul.
A Glimpse Behind the Veil
A painful jolt ran through his body, waking Cole Drayson from his slumber. He blinked his eyes groggily, squinting at the overhead lights. Arms at either side of him kept him on his feet as he tried to remember his last thoughts. He had been captured by the Dark Jedi when trying to get their attention, and then only blackness.
The bastards drugged me!
Cole kept his feet marching stolidly forward as he was escorted by the Dark Jedi of Taldryan. Every instinct he had was screaming out in agony, trying to throw him into a flight for his life. At this point though, there was no turning back. Disarmed and surrounded by these Dark Jedi who had hidden from the galaxy for years, Cole knew he had no hope, even if escape was his option. Instead, he had to bargain with these people. He would make his deal with the devil, and even if it cost him his life. He would save his people from the One Sith.
Large, ornate doors loomed ahead. A solitary figure stood at the foot of the doors, a gatekeeper of sorts, looking very much like the Royal Guardsmen of old down to the Force Pike he held before him. Cole could feel the Force flowing from this figure, but no words were issued as he pushed the doors inward allowing Cole and his guards to enter. He was brought into a room awash with natural light. Windows surrounded much of the room, and clouds could be seen rolling by at eye-level. Cole tried to take in as many details as he could, but the room seemed more functional than ceremonial.
A large table dominated the middle of the room, with enough seating around it for well over a dozen people, but only three beings were currently occupying it. Seated at what appeared to be the head of the table was a large blue-skinned humanoid. Projected behind the man were two holograms, both depicting men in stained and torn battle armor, one with an alarming amount of green and the other most easily recognizable by his beard. I hope those two monsters are fighting the One Sith, not torturing innocents Cole thought to himself, knowing that the Brotherhood still battled for control of Sith space
Letting his eyes travel to those left of Blue, he took note of the other men in the room. The first, radiating a deep calm along with his terrifying power was a human man, lacking any sort of discerning features, possessing the kind of bland face and build that would allow him to disappear in any crowd. Loitering toward the rear of the room was a lithe male with elegantly styled midnight black hair.
Green motioned to the men that held Cole, and they let him go, turning on their heels and walking out. The young Dark Jedi that had helped capture Cole was dismissed along with them and the Gatekeeper closed the doors behind them. He was now alone and on display, trying not to flinch at the oppressive dark energy that came off the others in waves. Each one was powerful in the Force, but it was from the bland one and the two in the hologram that the dark side seemed to boil off.
Without looking up from the report he was reading, Blue started to talk in a deep, authoritative voice. “I have no idea what you think you were planning, Jedi, but we have had our eyes on you since you made planet fall. We have a team converging on your ship as we speak to capture your accomplice.” The growling threat was unheard, but clearly understood from the steel in the alien’s voice. “This information you brought with you… where did you get it?”
“I got it from some sleezo on Corellia, and you can take it as the first half of my payment.”
“Payment you say? Bringing us news of the One Sith’s involvement is hardly news. Our Intelligence sources have been trying to track down their insurgents for weeks.” Drawing a deep breath, the alien finally took his eyes off of the report, and fixed his piercing glare on the Paladin. “If you think telling us something we already know is going to keep you alive, you have sorely underestimated us.”
The idea that the information wasn’t news didn’t faze Cole. He had kept information off of the data disc for this specific purpose. The Paladins needed Taldryan’s help, and he was going to get it. Straightening his back, he took a purposeful stride forward. “There is much more that has not been put in that report that I know about, and I have come here to secure a temporary alliance with your people.”
The bearded one erupted on the transmission behind the Consul. “Kriff this Rian, this kid already knows too much. Kill him and burn the body, we need to focus on the blasted One Sith.” A chorus of agreements sounded from Green and Black.
Bland shook his head and interrupted the remonstrations of his colleagues. “This man came here on a suicide mission. He knew we’d locate him. He knew we’d take that disc from him. He delivered it to us.” Curiosity seemed to move him as he stood up and moved closer to Drayson, before continuing, “No Yacko, I don’t think he’s a threat. Something else drives this one, and it’s not zealotry.” Cole could feel the mental probe assaulting him, and despite all his defenses, felt it sliding through his barriers like butter.
No, I would not like to test this man, he thought, a slight tremor running down his spine.
Even as Cole heard the words No. You wouldn’t rattle around inside his skull, he heard the bearded man’s exasperated dismissal, and decided to try to regain the upper hand. “You are not the only ones who are fighting them right now. The One Sith are engaged in a war to wipe my people off our planet, all while you play at war in the ruins of a crumbled empire.”
The information that the One Sith were engaged on many fronts seemed to take the Taldryan’s aback, and Cole jumped on the opening. “There’s a spymaster organizing a delaying action. He’s been overseeing everything while Taldryan dances to its tune. He’s luring you into a trap, and it’s going to snap shut on Nicht Ka.”
Silence blanketed the room for what felt like an eternity until the Consul spoke. “This is just not enough information, I’m afraid.” Rian shook his head and nodded toward Bland. “I’m sorry Telaris, but Keirdagh is right. He already knows nearly as much as we do. He even knows where we’re attacking next.” Rian stared hard at the man before he continued on. “And he knows far too much about us as it is. No, the risk is too great, he and his accomplice have to die.”
Shavit, thought Cole, so much for playing my cards close to the vest. “The One Sith have a mole in your organization. We intercepted information from them to Nicht Ka, and that’s how I found you.”
The bombshell had the expected results. The bearded one in red exploded in a comical burst of anger. The Consul’s eyes widened and Black rounded on the room while yelling, proboscis emerging slightly from his cheeks.
“That’s impossible. If there’s a traitor here, I’ll have his brains for lunch! You, Jedi, tell me his name before I take your soup myself!”
Backing away as Telaris intercepted Black, Cole began to think he might have pushed too far in his desperation. Drawing on the Force for calm, he answered them quickly. “I only have his code name and a description, but you won’t get it out of me until I have assurances that you’re willing to help my people.”
The objections and threats that rained down upon him were impressive, to say the least. Only the figure of Telaris blocking him from the others seems to have kept them at bay. Surprisingly though, it was Keirdagh who shouted everyone down. “Shut up, all of you. We’re going to talk about this without wanting to eat anyone Arvalis, so sit your ass down. Mav, get this kriffing jedi to a holding cell while we figure this out.”
It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Telaris who opened the door to Cole’s barren cell. “You have what you want. We’ll promise to at least try to help your people if you can help us avert this crisis.”
As he started to object, Telaris waved him off. “You’re not going to get more than that. Don’t mistake my advocacy for weakness, Paladin. If you’re looking to betray Taldryan, I’ll cut you down myself.”
Swallowing nervously at the threat, Cole simply nodded and followed Telaris out of his cell and back to the Summit Chamber at the top of the Spira Taldryae, to find out what would come next.
Only Light Can Purge the Dark
Teams had been dispatched, orders given, and finally it looked like Taldryan was starting to get ahead of the situation that had caused such unrest on Karufr. Rian Aslar sat staring out over the city that he’d called home most of his life. Taldryan’s presence on this planet had been largely ignored by the people who lived here. There was a thriving economy, relative peace, even an extremely strong home defense force to prevent the planet from being used as a pawn in the galactic struggles.
But now, thanks to the One Sith, their presence had been revealed. It meant risk. It meant Taldryan was in danger. If news of a planet being ruled by a secret cult of Dark Jedi made its way out of the system and back to the ears of the New Jedi Order, the fools from New Tython wouldn’t be the only light sided zealots invading Taldryan’s home. The whole of the Brotherhood might be revealed to the Galactic Alliance, and that was a fight that the Dark Jedi would lose.
It meant hard decisions, and it meant that everything their new Gray Paladin friend feared about Taldryan might have to come true. Reaching for his comm link and cursing his Proconsul once more for being off planet, Rian opened the TalSOC channel. “Lock down the planet. Bring the fleet into interdiction mode. Nobody gets off world until this order is rescinded.”
The Great Hall was exploding with activity as Cole Drayson was being escorted from his chambers. Though he’d earned some measure of fame by defending the gates in the recent riot, he wasn’t extremely happy at the fact he’d been forced to use violence. The Gray Paladins in general had no qualms about things getting dirty, but rioting civilians going up against an organization as well armed and scary as Taldryan wasn’t what he called a fair fight. He’d done his best to minimize the damage he’d been forced to inflict, but he imagined that he had already been labelled a butcher by some.
Catching the eye of one of the young warriors who had come to his aid during the defense, Cole sauntered over and started walking along with him. “Gorn, what is going on?” he asked casually, though the aggression that was starting to filter down to him through the Force was setting his teeth on edge.
“Not sure, just got called to the armory, something big is going on.” The young man seemed hesitant to say anymore, and shuffled off toward his objective, leaving Cole Drayson afraid of what was to come. Looking over his shoulder at his ever present escort, he dropped his voice to a growl.
“I need an audience with the Consul immediately.”
It was exactly what he feared. The meeting room at the top of the Spira Taldryae had transformed into what looked like a war room. Only there was no indication that Taldryan was under attack. Instead, there were live feeds of prominent politicians and public places, and there were indicators showing the massing of troops, lots of troops. He may not be a Jedi, but there was no way he could be a party to a massacre, even if it was dooming his people to abandonment and destruction at the hands of the One Sith. Somehow, he had to stop this insanity, even if it meant his own death. Wishing they had not been smart enough to disarm him, Drayson began stalking across the room toward the Consul when a voice pressed down on his thoughts like a lead blanket.
“You won’t win that fight. Think of another option. Quickly.” Recognizing the voice from his earlier encounter of the leaders of Taldryan, Drayson began trying to do what he was told, even as Rian looked up and scowled at him. Apparently the Dark Jedi were used to sniffing out incoming violence.
“Lord Consul,” began Drayson quietly, “rather than whatever you’re about to do… I might be able to offer an alternative…”
“You want us to do what?!” The voice coming over the secure comm was incredulous, and Cole couldn’t blame them for sounding that way. “No, there is no way we’re sending that many people to you. We haven’t received any help from these karking sith, why should we take care of their problems?”
“Because we need them, and they don’t need us. This is to save innocents lives Joel. We can secure the aid we need, and we can save people. The Paladins can survive. Isn’t that the whole point of why I got sent on this nek chase in the beginning?”
The sigh was audible. “We still haven’t found Savaros. But we’ll come. You’re right, we need to do this.”
Dark Prophet and Vodo Biask have forwarded the recordings of their mission to Nicht Ka. Access the full report of their activities and actions here.
The Price of Honour
The reports filtered back. Vodo returned to Karufr, battered at the hands of the Brotherhood’s chief enemy. Halcyon, mission completed, had returned to Begeren once again to carry on Taldryan’s campaign there with Keirdagh and Kincaid. The unrest and the uprisings on Taldryan’s throne world had subsided.
Yet still, Consul Rian Aslar was uneasy. They had brokered a deal with these Gray Paladins. It was a deal in exchange for their intelligence and their practiced hands at soothing angry masses. Now, the Paladins had delivered. Now Rian Aslar had to discover what type of man he truly was: he had to decide what value his word—and the word of Taldryan—had.
Honouring their agreement meant more war, and more bloodshed to protect a possible enemy. Failing to do so would be living up to exactly what everyone likely expected of a Clan full of Dark Jedi, and it would also protect Taldryan lives.
The glow of the briefing holograms in the amphitheatre aboard the still new smelling Khyron class Star Destroyer Resurgent cast a cyanotic hue onto Rax Von Klug’s skin. “The mission, everyone, is simple. Taldryan’s First Battlegroup will enter the Hallion system in as close to geosynchronous orbit above Hallion Prime as is possible.”
The holograms above the Sith Battlemaster carefully mimicked his speech as he continued onward in the briefing. “We do not expect the One Sith to have a large military fleet present upon entry. The Brotherhood is still keeping them tied up in other locations. But we do not have unlimited time. Elements of the Winter’s Wrath and Ghost Wings will sweep the skies of our enemies. Once the skies are clear, Battlegroup I will take up defensive positions, and our mission planet-side will take commence.”
Rian Aslar strode up to the lectern and nodded his thanks at Rax. The Quaestor of Dinaari was new to the task of leading briefings in Taldryan, but Keirdagh valued Rax’s tactical acumen and ability as a pilot, so Rian had no reservations allowing him to take the lead on such an important operation so early in his career with the Clan. “Taldryan. Today we pay our debts. Today we defend those who we pledged to defend, and we repay faith with honour.” Rian looked around the amphitheatre at the leaders of Taldryan’s military, and his brothers and sisters. “You know of Cole Drayson. You know what he sacrificed to defend us when he thought us enemies. You know what his efforts and the efforts of his people have done for us in identifying the traitors in our midst. He did this all on the promise of our aid with nothing but faith, and belief that we would not betray his trust.”
“Today, we prove ourselves worthy of it.”
The Great Escape
Screams cut through the sounds of battle, but Zoron couldn’t spare the men or the time to help the wounded. The One Sith forces were ruthless and we literally hacking their way through the streets of the city in an effort to wipe out any supporters the Grey Paladins had. The cold, logical side of him also realized that the Grey Paladins would likely never return to this place, so saving a handful of Hallions wouldn’t matter in the long run.
As Zoron moved down the streets, he couldn’t help but glance at the Grey Paladin with his troops. This Cole Drayson reminded him very much of himself, what with his love of blasters and reliance on his innate skills rather than his Force abilities. Even the man’s choice of clothing was similar to what he preferred whenever he wasn’t armoured for battle.
Zoron’s comms crackled in his helmet. " … oron. Status?"
He knew that his Consul should be monitoring the battlegroup sitting miles overhead, so the fact that Rian was able to spare a moment to check on his unit was a good indication that the space above him was clear of enemies.
"Advancing toward the Grey Citadel. ETA is… " Zoron glanced at Captain Ruondo, Darkfire 9’s commander, who held up three fingers in response. “… 3 minutes. Streets are mostly empty, little resistance from One Sith thus far. We can hear heavy fighting ahead.”
“Excellent. You will…” Rian’s voice cut off abruptly. After a short pause, he came back over the comms. “Zoron. You need to move expeditiously. A One Sith fleet has just jumped into the system. Move.” The transmission cut out.
Zoron turned to Drayson and Ruondo. “Clock is ticking. Enemy fleet in system. We gotta move.”
Ruondo immediately opened the comm channel to all the Darkfire members. “Double time. Now.” The soldiers responded immediately and opened up their strides into loping runs with Drayson and Zoron matching the pace.
Alerts were blaring on the bridge of the Resurgent as the One Sith ships jumped in. Watch standers began calling out information as soon as their sensors updated.
Rian spun to the large display in the center of the bridge and watched as the space around his fleet filled with red symbols. A veteran of many campaigns and battles, he nevertheless felt the tension rising in his body as he read the sensor’s analysis of the enemy strength. He looked at his own fleet’s formation and nodded, happy that he had set up a defensive perimeter prior to the One Sith arrival.
“Launch all remaining squadrons. Focus fire on the lead capital ship. Take it down fast.”
Zoron caught a flicker of light out of the corner of his eye and looked up. He saw the One Sith trooper a second too late and knew he couldn’t get his rifle around in time. He tried anyways and steeled himself for a blaster bolt to strike him.
It never came.
He finished bringing his rifle to bear but the trooper was down. He looked around quickly and saw the barrels of Drayson’s pistols swinging away from the dead trooper.
They entered the Grey Citadel’s courtyard through a gap in the exterior wall that the One Sith forces had opened. The carnage within shocked even Zoron. One Sith troopers lay about everywhere, some smouldering from lightning strikes, others eviscerated from saber slashes, and others simply piles of red mush. A Darkfire trooper swore and it came across the comms. Zoron understood the sentiment, even if these were their enemies.
An explosion from inside the Citadel snapped them back to the task at hand. Drayson broke into a run towards the sound and the Darkfire troopers immediately advanced as well. With a last look at the corpses around him, Zoron joined them.
The Resurgent shook as One Sith turbolasers hammered at its shields. The Taldryan forces had successfully crippled two of the One Sith capital ships, but that had only served to even up the fight. The One Sith fleet was still very much a threat and Rian needed Zoron and Drayson to finish up quickly.
“Sir! The Fury and the Valor are bother reporting heavy hull damage. Estimate that they will be combat ineffective in six minutes unless something changes. Dark Prophet II and Justice are also reporting their shields are failing.”
Rian cursed under his breath and knew that they would have to withdraw in the next few minutes or risk major losses. Stabbing his finger down, he connected to Zoron’s squad’s feed and sighed with relief as he saw that the troops had made contact with some of the Grey Paladins.
“Launch the shuttles - get them down to Zoron’s location now. Maneuver the Resurgent and Justice to shield the Fury and Valor to buy them some time.”
Zoron was once again stunned as he entered the Citadel’s dining hall. Corpses littered the room and only a few One Sith troops were still fighting against the remaining Paladins. The One Sith troops were in the middle of the room and were facing away from Zoron’s troops.
The Darkfire team wasted no time in taking advantage of their position. The last One Sith trooper was cut in half by a dozen laser blasts before he even knew his allies were dead.
Drayson strode forward to the Paladins and hugged one.
“Kajin. Where are the others?” Drayson looked around hopefully but the other man, who Zoron now recognized as Kajin Savoros, shook his head.
“We are all that are left. They managed to get troops into the sleeping quarters and killed almost half of us before any alarm was sounded.”
Drayson hung his head and stood silently for a moment.
A voice broke in across their comms. “This is Intruder 1. Inbound to the courtyard. You’re out of time inside, the fleet needs to leave now. We will be down for exactly 90 seconds. Anyone not onboard will be left. Intruder 1 out.”
Zoron cleared his throat and began shouting order. “Captain, get your scouts back out to the courtyard and hold that point now! Medics, get your charges on their feet and moving! Master Sergeant, 30 seconds to get whatever intel you can find off these bodies then back to the courtyard! Everyone else, get moving. We’re down to 80 seconds!”
“Sir, Intruder 1 and the other shuttles report that they have lifted off and are enroute. They will be clear of the atmosphere in 45 seconds.”
Rian immediately opened the fleet-wide channel. “Fury, Valor - jump now.” Rian paused for a moment as he watched the green blips disappear from his screen as the wounded ships fled into the safety of hyperspace. “All ships, prepare to jump the moment the transports are away. Once all transports have jumped, engage hyperdrives. Do not, I repeat, do not wait for orders.”
The watch stander’s voice cut in. “20 seconds!”
Rian leaned forward in his seat as he watched the flurry of activity on the screens.
Rian saw the string of green symbols that represented his transports all snap off the screen as they cleared the gravity well of the planet.
“JUMP!” Rian shouted and felt the lurch as the ship slipped into hyperspace. He slumped back into his seat and smiled.
The procession that returned to Taldryan’s Great Hall was a strange collection of people. Mixed together were a group of some of the most dangerous dark Jedi in the universe, walking next to and chatting amicably with members of a group of people who prior to the last few months would have been generously called their enemies. Keirdagh watched as the group wandered in to the Great Hall, where he would join them all shortly, and mused over the implications of all that had happened recently.
The One Sith had lost countless footholds throughout old Sith space. The maddeningly familiar allies that had appeared above the skies of Bosthirda had not yet made reappearance in the conflict. A group of gray Jedi had resisted the One Sith and were now being harboured by Clan Taldryan. The mastermind behind the attacks on the Brotherhood and the Gray Paladins had yet to be captured, even though he had only narrowly escaped Halcyon’s wrath. That confrontation, Keirdagh was sure, was still on the horizon, but approaching fast.
Wars tended to push people to their breaking points: to break down alliances and build up new friendships forged in war. War was a cleansing fire that would change everything, leaving nothing and no one it touched unchanged. It had already brought one new ally to the fold: the Gray Paladins had requested permanent asylum and shelter from Taldryan on the flight back from Hallion, and Rian had agreed in principle.
The storm was brewing. The tension gathering throughout the Brotherhood was starting to gain an electric property. Having only recently returned from the battles on Begeren, Keirdagh knew that ultimately he had many more questions than he had answers… but he knew one thing for certain.
Change was on the air.