A read-only archive of discourse.darkjedibrotherhood.com as of Sunday May 01, 2022.

[GJW XI] Clan Arcona: Team Pocketrocket


Team Pocketrocket


  1. Teams must have a minimum of 4 participants, and a maximum of 6. For a team to qualify for placement, all posts must meet requirements in these rules and all members of the team must meet post number requirements. However, for participation alone, any individual meeting minimum post requirements will count towards his or her unit.
  2. Any member posting twice in a row will disqualify his team from placing - but not participation credit (e.g. if an entire team is dead, Johnny McDarthman can post twice in a row to get his own participation at the end of the event)
  3. Members must make 3 posts throughout the duration of the Run-On.
  4. Posts must meet the following requirements:
    • Minimum post length: 250 +/- 10 words words
    • Maximum post length: 2000 +/- 10 words.
  5. Points from placement are awarded to the unit of the placing team, irrespective of number of members on each team. E.g. if CNS Team A takes first place, and first place is worth 50 pts (example only), CNS gets 50 points, regardless of number of members on the team.
  6. Edits may occur on a post until a follow on post has been made (follow on posts include “reserving” a space). Edits may only be made by the posts original author (as in, if you have Forum Administration Rights, you cannot edit another member’s work).
  7. Members may reserve post, but no posts can occur until after the reserved post is written.
  8. Judging will follow the Fiction Rubric.


Civil War has befallen the Brotherhood. The Clans have split into three factions: the Loyalists, who have rallied behind Grand Master Ashen; the Rebels, following the banner of Jac Cotelin; and the New Order, led by the mysterious Sith Lord Esoteric. Each faction has stormed the surface of Korriban, establishing impressive fortifications and moving towards the Valley of the Dark Lords. Loyalists, Rebels, and the New Order clash across Korriban’s surface, all three attempting to gain control of the Valley of Dark Lords and the secrets it holds.

The Valley of Dark Lords has erupted in carnage, forces from every unit in the Brotherhood streaming into the ruins and temples, establishing makeshift defensive positions behind virtually every wall. Blood is spilled over every inch, each of the three sides gambling the lives of thousands of Jedi in an attempt to put an end to this conflict once and for all. The Loyalists, following Ashen’s command, seek to break through to the Tomb of Marka Ragnos, where the Disciples of Ragnos once sealed a chamber with writings on the Rite of Immortality. To open it, Ashen has sent three of his most skilled advisors in ancient dark rites and alchemy, but the way is not yet safe or clear for them, as the One Sith were originally entrenched in the Valley and still maintain a strong control over most of the area. Esoteric’s forces have a base of operations at the Tomb of Ajunta Pall, a fortified location that allows them a great deal of mobility throughout the Valley, which they use to harass any operations by the other two sides. The Adept Dantella Novae reluctantly commands Esoteric’s forces in the region, though she seems more interested in stealing the secrets of Marka Ragnos than in defending the Valley itself. Cotelin is seeking to contain and control whatever the Tomb of Marka Ragnos holds, through any means necessary… and before Ashen’s forces can reach it.

You and your team have found yourselves just outside one of the few entrances to the Valley of the Dark Lords. You know that inside the Valley, death and destruction have overtaken the ruins, but you also know that ultimately, victory for one side of the other is likely to come within the walls of the ancient tombs. Your runon should detail the battle within the Valley, and must illustrate (either through success or failure) at least one of the sides in the conflict - this will play a major role in your Story grade.


I dreamed a dream
Through decades flown, cut by star contrails
Through parsecs passed like chronos winding down
I dreamed a dream
Of futures built and families gilt
Of passions persevering
A dream of home lost to vows and found again in blood
A dream of bonds unbroken, forged in death and pain
A dream of dreams forsworn and unlooked for found again

Quelii Sector
38 ABY

“Heeey you, remember y’said you’d tell us another story. Don’t go disappearin’ now,” pouted a pretty Twi’lek with pretty blue eyes still clutching a pretty little fruity drink. She wrapped her free arm around his and pressed right up against his side as if to let him know that this particular hanger-on was particularly curvy. Or curvier than her friend. Whichever didn’t much concern him.

He ran a thumb over her cheek and smoothed the expression from her lips. “I wouldn’t entertain the idea for a heartbeat, sweetling. Please don’t take away that beautiful smile.”

The girl — What was her name? K’aty…Kyn…? K’yna! — flushed with more than just the alcohol and nuzzled closer with a grin.

“Well then don’t go anywhere. Just tell us more about Hapes. What’s it like being a noble?” The other woman asked, considerably less intoxicated than her lekku-shaking pal. Not really a shame, that. She had sharp eyes. Didn’t believe him so easy.

Connor Grey liked a challenge.

“Not a noble, love. I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. I was a noble’s man, not a nobleman,” the Human replied with a perfect Hapan accent. It wasn’t hard, just meant rolling his vowels like he was trying to serenade somebody despite one bantha of a head cold. Then, he just had to add a in a little nudge to that suspicion she was feeling and…Ahh, perfect. “And I’ll tell you both more about it as soon as I’m back, I promise.”

That sharp look in the girl’s eyes faded a bit, and she nodded with a glance at her Twi’lek friend. The con man disentangled himself from his escorts with an easy smile and smoothed his shirt back into his belt, combing a hand through his hair as he strolled to the bathroom, dodging stumbling drunks and tasty waitresses with practiced care. Ignoring the prickling sensation rushing down his spine, he dug into his coat pocket and pulled out his third pack of cigarillos, elbowing the door open while he lit it.

…and stopped still in the doorway.

Cantina bathrooms were always bantha poodoo, but this one had a frakkin’ ship’s load of blood on top of it. Mirror cracked, sinks broken, a pair of twisted up legs sticking out of one stall and a dead girl between them. More red. Somebody in another was sobbing. The Force stopped hinting at warnings and went with the motherly method of bashing him over the head with them.

“Oh, ho-ho-no, not in my kriffing good coat,” Connor growled, pulling the garment tight around him and fixing the collar and cuffs. I’ll piss in the frakking alleyway.

The Human spun around and went right back out the swinging door, curiosity be damned. It wasn’t any trouble slipping unseen by his two tarts and the thick-armed hireling near the back door, and then cold night air was slapping him in the face.

He took a deep breath of piss and vomit on top of more piss and vomit, kicked aside a garbage bag, and jammed his smoke between his teeth while he unzipped his trousers. He hardly got in a sigh of relief before his comm started shrieking like a Hutt’s whore.

“Karking-frak-sithspit,” Connor swore, freeing a hand from its important business to scramble for the device. He activated it with all the grace of a flailing nerf, barely noting the indication that it was a secure transmission.

“Greetings, Master Grey—”

“Who in the name of Palpatine’s ghost do you think you are? The frak do you want?”

“My name is Ernordeth Puer-Irae. I work for Lord Ashen,” the bald miniature said shortly, in the way that people did when they dropped a name that rendered introductions moot.

The con man straightened up reflexively and briefly juggled two items of warring urgency before responding. “In that case…you’ve got my attention. Lord Ashen knows I’ll do anything…for the right price.”

“The job is straightforward: assist our agents in securing a relic that will remain unspecified from the Tomb of Marka Ragnos on Korriban. You will, of course, be paid handsomely.”

“How much, exactly?”

“Double your payment for your last job. Assuming there are no…hiccups…this time.”

“Korriban’s a bit volatile these day. Triple and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

The flunkey paused briefly before nodding his agreement. Too briefly…

Connor rolled his cigarra between his teeth, narrowing his eyes. “I get paid upfront.”

“Not an option. Lord Ashen requires his package safely delivered before there’s any compensation.”

“It’s an unspecified package. How the kark am I supposed to ensure it gets delivered? Seventy-five percent up front.”

“You raise a fair point for a grifter. Half up front. You’ll get the latter half when either the package is delivered or our agents return with assurances that your responsibilities were completed in good faith.”

The rogue Sith chewed the tip of his cigarillo, debating. Finally, he nodded once, decisively.

“Done. Now bugger off.”

He cut the signal before the Lion’s lackey could waste any more of his time and called up a different, even more highly encrypted connection.

The holocomm pinged twice and an overdressed figure in white appeared. There was a pause as its hooded silhouette dipped momentarily, then rose again.

“Unhand yourself,” the man sniffed. Connor responded with an irreverent snort.

“I like a little breeze. But I like credits even better, your Lordship. The sungwa is in the tip-yip coop.”

“Hm. It’s time to go hunting then, isn’t it, Mister Grey?”

“Yes, sir,” Connor replied. “You betcher a-”

Despots. No frakking courtesy, he thought as the holocall terminated abruptly.

Grinning, the Human shoved his comm back into the depths of his coat and put himself back in order, straightening his tie and making sure his pants were still clean. Better not smell like all this poodoo.

He slipped back into the bar and the grin slid from his face as his roving eyes found no sign of the Twi’lek or her friend. He cursed under his breath, and went to order another drink instead.

S’okay. I didn’t have the creds to foot their tab anyway.


ACC Shadehammer
38 ABY

“Can I say it?”




“Pretty please with—” Atyiru whined.

“—No,” Marick said flatly for the umpteenth time in so many minutes. The Miraluka gave her best pout-face, but the Shadow Lord didn’t seem to notice. When he turned his head away to check one of the various holocharts in front of him, she stuck her tongue out at him.

“Fun ruiner,” she grumbled.

“So…remind me again why you’re here, Marick?” Troutrooper gestured at the Consul with a flipper. “If it’s because of the Journeyman who went out on top of the Citadel’s spires during the last thunderstorm in his birthday suit, I already apologized for ‘suggesting’ it.”

Marick’s eyes never strayed from the forward observation window, watching the desert planet of ancient Korriban slowly materialize. At the Consul’s side, his white Cythraul’s pointed ears twitched like miniature radar dishes, taking in the myriad of sounds that bounced around the control room.

“He still doesn’t feel comfortable at the head of the fleet,” Invictus explained for the Consul. The Chiss stood with his arms folded across his chest as he leaned against the ship’s bulkhead, idly twirling one of his knives between his fingers. “He’s also more excited about his new ‘toy’ than he wants to let on, and wants to first-hand its maiden voyage.”

Marick’s eyes tightened to narrow slits as he cast a sidelong glance at Invictus, which only served to prove that one of his oldest and only friends had pegged his motives to a tee.

“Once we land, Cethgus will lead our ground forces, and Timeros will oversee operations from our FOB,” Marick explained calmly, his voice carrying easily to his intended audience.

Troutrooper grumbled something watery before speaking up. “Which means that you have something else in mind for me.”

Marick nodded once. “I need you with me to help show our ‘guest’ proper Arconan hospitality.”

Both Elders turned their heads to regard the rogue Dark Jedi that they had been ‘lent’.

Troutrooper did not skip a beat. “Well, you know me, I’m all about hospitality.”

“Charmed,” the rogue Dark Jedi replied with a tip of an imaginary hat. His grin remained as he slid a cigarillo between his lips and procured a flip-top lighter from his dark fatigues. As he did, Marick unconsciously took note of the butt of an archaic slugthrower poking out from inside his brown coat. He filed the information away and nodded politely.

“Lord Ashen was…” Marick considered his words carefully, “generous enough to offer us the services of Connor Grey—”

“Please, that’s what my mother calls me,” Grey faux-groaned. “Grey works just as well. But you, my lady…” he took a careful step towards Atyiru, took her hand gently, and kissed the back of it. “Can call me whatever you like.” He threw in a wink as he leaned back and ashed his cigarra onto the durasteel floor.

Atyiru drew her hand back gingerly and coughed into it. She leaned over to whisper to Troutrooper.

“Er, is he cute?” she whispered

“Not my type, personally. Too blonde. Also a bit dry.”

She nodded primly and offered a polite curtsy to Connor Grey. “Pleasure to meet you, Sunshine.”

Marick watched the exchange with glacial detachment, but his eyes narrowed at the corners.

As if sensing her master’s hidden displeasure, Kira padded her way over to Connor and sniffed at his coat. Grey did not flinch away from the wolf-like creature, but similarly made no effort to engage her. He simply flashed the same smile he’d given everyone else. Kira flicked her head in what could have been approval or indifference, depending on her mood, and moved silently back to her master’s side.

“Mr. Grey,” Marick continued, “has been hired by Lord Ashen to assist our insertion team. We will rendezvous with the Nighthawk to drop off Grey with Nadrin’s team.”

“Nadrin? Interesting. You think he’s ready?” Trouty asked, more probing than challenging.

Marick nodded, and idly scratched behind Kira’s ears. “He is his father’s son. If anyone can pull this mission off, it’s him.”

Invictus seemed to mull things over, before shaking his head slightly. “Marick, sidebar,”

“Excuse me,” Marick said as he stepped away from the group to walk with Invictus. Atyiru took the opportunity to do what she did best — talk the ears off of their new ‘friend’ by explaining the detrimental effects of cigarras.

“So, Ashen wants us to send another Arconan team on another wild goose-chase into another ancient temple riddled with traps and ancient magicks . Remind me again why we are supporting him?”

“Because he’s the Grand Master,” Marick replied cooly.

“So you follow him blindly? Do you not remember how that turned out on Bosthirda?”

“Taldryan has to be stopped. Esoteric is responsible for too many deaths—”

“Zandro. Sashar.” Invictus peppered the air with their names, half curse, half accusation. The unexpected retort hit Marick with nearly physical force, the names piercing his emotional armor, but he was deep enough into Deadheart that his features hardly changed. The Consul knew his brother laid their deaths at Ashen’s feet.

He lowered his voice dangerously, letting it be known he was growing tired of the argument. “You saw what happened on Antei. Do you really want to be on the end of his wrath should he succeed?”

“Jac would snatch such an upset from the Lion’s jaws,” murmured the Chiss, unusual urgency lending fervor to his words. “It’s the only way to keep balance.”

“And what then? Taldryan will just open its arms to us and invite us over for tea?” Marick barely raised his voice, but his words grew sharper edges.

Invictus grunted, and turned to walk back to the group. “This is a bad idea, Marick.”

“Noted,” the Hapan replied as he rejoined his companions, his features once more blanketed in disconcern.

“—and so, if you look at Arsen Lorak’s study, you’d find that the anti-smoking ads are actually all funded by the same companies that sell you the cigarillos in the first place!”

Connor Grey sighed, and lit up a second cigarillo in response.

“Lord Consul, it’s time!” an officer from the center command console called out. Marick nodded and made his way over, the cape of his freshly pressed Invicta robes trailing at his heels.

“Marick. Marick. Maarick,” Atyiru whispered loudly from behind the Shadow Lord as she trailed him like an overeager pup. “Please?”



“Very well. Fine, you can say it.”

Atyiru bounced from toe to toe with bubbling excitement and stepped up to the command console. Her slender body snaked lithely between Marick and the microphone. The Consul took a smooth step back to give her space.

“All Arconan troops…it’s time to drop the ‘hammer!

A cacophony of cheers rang out across the Acclamator-class assault ship as it touched down on the sands of Korriban.

Troutrooper nudged Marick. “You were thinking of this moment when you suggested the name, weren’t you?”

“Mhm,” the Consul replied stiffly, his lips drawn into a thin line. Atyiru pumped her fist in the air and the troopers ate it up.

It’s just as well, I suppose, Marick thought to himself as he watched the future of Arcona begin.

The Hapan shook his head ruefully and caught sight of Invictus in the corner of his eye. For a moment, he felt a pang of regret at the barbed words they had shared. But only for a moment. The Lion of Tarthos was the obvious bet. Cotelin was a good man, for a Son of Taldyran, but he was too caught up in the ideals of the old relics that rode his coattails. He couldn’t defeat the reigning Grand Master. Once Ashen completes the ritual, no one ever will. It was a trepidatious thought, but served to underscore how important it was to maintain their alliance with the Iron Throne. It was a bond born of necessity, as thick as the blood they’d spilled to earn it. Invictus would come around eventually.

Some bonds are thicker than blood.


ACC Shadehammer
38 ABY

“There’s the fish I was hoping to catch,” Connor Grey said, smiling around the cigarillo hanging from his lips. “Time for a quick chat?”

Troutrooper finished typing on his datapad and handed it to an orderly who appeared and disappeared instantly.

Where the frak did she come from? Did she emerge from the wall and meld back into it? thought the Rogue Sith, shaking his head at the abrupt departure. Kinky. Intriguing.

“Damn ship is too big,” murmured the Mon Calamari, turning towards Connor with a wave of a fin. “Takes too long to waddle anywhere. We can chat as we walk, but that’s all the time I have. Disembarkation must be completed in ten minutes. What’s on your mind, Mr. Grey?”

“Just wanted to thank you for the hospitality. That was a very nice bottle of…well, whatever it was, it was lovely,” he stifled a belch.

The Mon Cal nodded. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully you didn’t enjoy too much of it. Can’t have you — the brains of the operation — at anything less than one hundred percent.”

“I’ll be just fine,” Connor’s eye twinkled. “A little alcohol keeps me loose.” And too much makes me…too loose.

“Good,” Troutrooper said as he gave the rogue a quick once-over. “I’m surprised you still have that slugthrower on your hip. We’re fighting Dark Jedi, not targets.”

Connor smiled wide. “Ah, shoot, fishy, this thing loves Jedi, light or dark. Hilarious watching a Force User try to deflect a slug.” That poor Jedi Hunter. So great in bed, so terrible at dodging slugs. He patted his side. “But I ain’t stupid. I’ve got my sword, and my…” he ran his fingers through his hair and winked at an attractive female ensign walking past, “ahem, ‘other sword’.”

“Should you find the writings,” the Mon Cal shook his bulbous head, “I doubt that your…’other sword’ will be of much use. If it can cut rock and pry stone, you’re in the wrong field. As for the enemies in the field, your ‘other sword’ will be of even less use against them. Brandishing it at them will cause only momentary confusion.”

“A moment is all I need sometimes,” Connor quipped, his brown eyes inspecting another troop.

“Word of advice: don’t use that line with the ladies,” Troutrooper gurgled as he turned off from the main corridor.

The rogue Jedi chuckled. “Well played, fishy. Well played. A Mon Cal of your renown must certainly be swimming in the ladies. Drowning, perhaps?”

Another turn, an even less-traveled corridor. “Not since I tortured my dying wife, no.”

Connor whistled low. “Okay then.” Why is he showing me all these remote corridors? “Hey, water wizard, thanks for the scenic tour, but I thought, since you’re busy, we’d take a more direct route.”

“I am busy,” yet another turn, this one into a mess of pipes and wires, “but I make time to inspect my ship. In order to ensure smooth sailing, we need to find the holes, weaknesses, lapses, and shore them up before war breaks. I would rather prevent problems than try to solve them midstream.”

Connor exhaled with a snort. “You’re implying something towards me.”

Troutrooper stopped in front of a window above a hangar bay where final landing preparations were being made. Troops checked weapons, quartermaster corpsmen verified equipment lists, transports were loaded, ammunition was loaded, and soon the Hammer would be unloaded. “I don’t know how much Grand Master Muz is paying you,” the Dark Jedi Master said, his bulbous eyes surveying the scene below, pointedly avoiding the relic hunter. “Certainly it’s more than I could offer. But however wealthy he is, there are many others who hold far vaster riches, who could buy your loyalty for ten lifetimes.”

Connor leaned his back against the window. “Your point?”

“I want to win this war.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Yes, you are here to help.”

Grey threw a thumb towards the hangar bay. “You want this mission, this war to succeed, yet your plans rely on those mundanes down there. Good luck.”

Troutrooper nodded. “I must rely on them just like I must rely on you. However, unlike you, their loyalties are not up for the highest bidder.”

“Why are they loyal? Credits are clean and easy. You’ve got more of them than my current employer, I’m your man. Pure business.”

“I suppose if one aims low in life, seeks only credits and trinkets instead of any higher purpose, then, sure, mercenary work is perfect. Or prostitution. Either one. Only difference is your employer asks you to explore distant caves, whereas a whore’s employer explores your ‘caves’.” The Dark Jedi Master paused as the rogue snarled. “We pay our troops, but they fight for more than money. They fight for their homes, their families, their future. They fight for the chance to better themselves. What do you have to fight for? Another paycheck?”

“My reasons may not be as noble as your troops, but I could care less. My payday rolls in, and I roll out,” Connor frowned. “And what happened to your hospitality?”

“It rolled out when you rolled up to me half drunk and unprepared for the mission ahead. For someone being paid as handsomely as you, I would have hoped you would earn your money.”

I could be paid even more handsomely by others. And I’d get fewer lectures. “Perhaps if the deal was sweetened, I would be more willing to be prepared and sober. Maybe.”

Troutrooper turned to Connor. “I cannot offer you more than what others are willing and able to pay. But foul up this mission,” he blinked, ”and I will take from you what is most valuable to you, something money cannot buy.

The rogue inhaled deeply, let the killing air hang in his mouth for a moment, then blew it out towards the Mon Cal. “My price isn’t fixed. If I don’t like my team, my price increases. And if conditions warrant, my price increases beyond what my employer can pay. Threats, veiled or otherwise, make working conditions unpleasant, the team tense and edgy. I might decide that because ‘the current working environment is not conducive to success’, the contract just grew far more expensive than the Lion can afford.”

“But not beyond what other potential employers could pay.”

Connor smiled as he brought another smoke to life. “Glad that we know where we both stand.”

Troutrooper heard his datapad beep. “And you need to be standing with your team right now; you depart in two minutes. I assume you can find your way to the main hangar.”

“You didn’t take that many turns,” he said as he turned from the Mon Cal. Crazy fish. If only he knew who was employing me, he wouldn’t be so bold as to threaten me. Grey coughed. Maybe he does know, or at least suspects, and just doesn’t care. Connor cleared his mind and focused on the Dark Jedi Master as he started away. He had always been good at sensing the emotions of those around him. In his line of work it was often a requirement to staying alive. But his gleanings revealed as little as the fish’s glassy, bulbous-eyed stare had. Either way, crazy. Now where did that ensign go? I thought I saw a medic insignia on her. I could do with some…hands-on, intensive healing before heading out.


AGV Nighthawk
38 ABY

Ship seems to be running better than I expected, with so short a time for repairs…Must have some very good crews at Dusk Station, the Nighthawk Captain, Arcia Cortel, thought inwardly. Then again, the ‘Hawk is one of a kind. No doubt they would have their best working on her.

Cortel paced back and forth in the cockpit of the heavily-modified picket ship, stirring the uneasy nerves of the two pilots keeping the ship in one piece as it shot through hyperspace. The Nighthawk hadn’t been cleared for operational duty for very long before orders were passed down through her DIA channels with priority flags littering them. This time they had come from the Shadow Lord himself and they were, of course, cryptic beyond belief.

Wish he would just come out and say exactly what he wants instead of all this metaphoric duse. As if anyone on board—

“Captain, we’re approaching Korriban.”

About damned time…

Arcia quickly closed the gap between the pilots and the cockpit entrance, where she was pacing. She furrowed her brow as telemetry flew across various screens, informing them of the Nighthawk’s position in space. There was a lot of chatter coming from orbit, and not all of it was Arconan. Taking a deep breath, the Anaxsi woman keyed communications to the bridge behind her, resulting in a sharp ping.

“Legain, activate cloak.”

“Yes, ma’am. Prepping cloak after drop from hyperspace,” the operative responded in a heartbeat.

The Captain sighed inwardly. Did I say after the drop…?

“Negative, Finn. I want the cloak active when we drop. I don’t want anyone to know we’re even here…” Cortel informed the operations officer, her words cool and commanding.

“I…yes, ma’am. Just making sure you know the level of stress we’re about to put on the reactor.”

“Just do it.”

Through the cockpit viewports, the blurring of stars streaked back into points as a desert planet raced forwards to meet them. The small lurch signifying the drop from hyperspace bothered no one aboard the ship, but the entirety of the bridge was still on full alert. This was one of the few times the Nighthawk had engaged cloak while traversing hyperspace. The strain placed upon the reactor was monitored rigorously as engineers stationed in both the Bridge and Engineering ran calculations faster than even Arcia could attempt.

“Excellent, Specialist. You have your coordinates. I expect you to get us there in one piece,” Cortel spoke with narrowed eyes as she turned heel and paced herself through the corridor and into the CIC.

“Captain on deck!” a security Marine bellowed as everyone quickly stood attentive, then dropped immediately back to work.

Arcia didn’t care much for the special attention on each deck, as it detracted from everyone’s duty, but for the life of her, she couldn’t get the Marines to simply stop. Not even the threat of keel duty from the Chief of Security swayed them. Refocusing, Arcia scanned the bridge for her Second and saw him speaking with an officer.

“Locke, a word?” Cortel muttered as she passed.

Silently, Commander Antar Locke turned and followed his Captain towards the aft of the bridge. The two stood in silence as they typically did, reading each others’ expressions. With a quick breath, Antar was the first to break the silence.

“Captain, what’s on your mind?”

Without missing a beat, the woman crossed her arms and cleared her throat. “I don’t know what to expect once we take on our guests. I presume you have made necessary preparations?”

“Yes, ma’am. We have a diplomatic escort ready for them. Do we know anything about these Krath?”

You really think I get to know what the big boys are ever thinking…oh, Antar.

“Just researchers, from what I’ve been told. Dossiers on them are sparse, for whatever reason. Just make sure they’re watched. I don’t want them alone on my ship.”

“Understood, ma’am. I’ll speak with Chief Zakath immediately to double the security shifts while we conduct our ‘guests’ to their destination.”

Good man. You’ll make a fine Captain of this ship…

A loud ping pierced the deck. “Captain Cortel, your presence is requested on the Bridge.”

Moments later, Arcia walked towards the CIC consoles, observing the situation. According to technical readouts on the outer edges of the bridge, they had just entered the upper atmosphere. The suddenly rocky ride corroborated the readings. A rather large jolt caused a few of the junior operatives to yelp, bringing a sly grin to Cortel’s lips.

Should probably have Grinstro check into the inertial dampeners… Arcia made a mental note for her new Chief Engineer.

Making her way back towards the cockpit, Arcia caught sight of the desert world below and recalled her last visit to Korriban. Her first saber had been made there. Shaking away the foggy memories, Arcia narrowed her eyes.

“Let me know when we’ve arrived at the landing coordinates,” she instructed the pilots.

“Yes, ma’am.”

With a quick check of her uniform, Cortel turned and glided down the corridor, raising a hand to silence the Marine before he even had a chance to sound off. “Listen up, crewmen!”

Everyone immediately gave her their attention. Excellent.

“We are approaching our destination and will be setting the Nighthawk down momentarily whilst we take on our cargo. I expect this to be a flawless and quick transition,” Arcia looked from port to starboard as she spoke and keyed the ship-wide communications array. “Chief Zakath, are preparations in place to receive our ‘guests?’”

There was a short crackle before her Security Chief chimed in. “Yes, Captain. I am pleased to inform that their stay aboard the ship will be a most…pleasent experience.”

Arcia grinned at his choice of words and closed out the channel. Before she could speak, however, the pilot chimed in once again.

“We’ve arrived, Captain.”

“Excellent. Now then. Commander?”

The Executive Officer quickly took over and cleared his throat. “Vent all residual tachyonic matter from the core and engines. Prepare atmospheric thrusters.”

“Aye, Commander,” Grinstro from Engineering responded through open channels.

From the cockpit, Specialist Orsai began to verbally outline the process of the landing procedure. “Atmospheric controls are on standby. Taking us down, Captain.”

“Inertial dampeners at maximum. Landing mechanisms online,” Operative Legain announced from Operations.

The Nighthawk shook as it passed through the atmosphere. The occasional caution alarm activated as the ship didn’t normally enter atmosphere, but was quickly silenced per standard procedure as the pilot spoke once again.

“Landing site located. Landing struts have been extended, setting us down.”

The remainder of the landing procedure only took about thirty seconds as the ship rocked, connecting with the planet’s surface. “Hypermatter reactor has been disengaged, Captain,” the Chief Engineer sounded off.

“Touch down confirmed: landing successful,” specialist Orsai from the cockpit stated with a sense of finality.

“Good job, everyone. Continue your standard shift routine. Commander Locke, Chief Zakath, meet me in the hangar,” Arcia ordered as she made her way towards the turbolift doors.

Minutes later, Arcia was joined by her two senior officers as the hangar doors cracked open with a loud hiss. A non-standard gangway extended to cover the distance from the ship’s deck to the surface of the planet where three robed figures stood waiting. Flanking the Nighthawk’s command staff, a group of Marines stood at attention, awaiting orders from Zakath.

Arcia crossed the deck to the hangar entrance and stood with her arms folded in front of her as the Krath Sorcerers approached, stopping halfway up the ship’s gangway. “Welcome aboard the Nighthawk. I am Captain Arcia Cortel, this is—”

“Stygium,” murmured the first Pontifex, a male, as he seemed to look at the invisible ship hull. “Many uses for such crystals. Cloaking–”

“—Lightsabers,” the second continued.

“—Many uses for such materials, indeed,” the third, a female, finished.

You have got to be kidding me…Krath…

Arcia stood motionless, an arm half extended towards Antar and Zakath. “Yes, well…If you would follow Chief Zakath, he will show you to the quarters you’ve been assigned for the duration of the flight.”

The Krath didn’t respond or make any gestures indicating they even heard Arcia, but pushed past her and entered the hangar. The way they glided across the deck made it impossible to distinguish which of them was male or female. With a shake of her head, Arcia stuck a finger in the air and made a circular motion which was answered with the closing of the hangar doors.

“Captain,” Operative Legain’s voice filled the hangar. “We’ve just received new coordinates from the Shadow Lord. Once the Shadehammer has landed, we’re to rendezvous with their shuttle.”

“Understood, Legain. Make preparations in my stead. I will be there shortly.”

Returning to the bridge, Arcia read through the new orders and sighed. Since when did we become the Clan’s frakking taxi service…

The new orders were simple: travel to the new coordinates and await the arrival of a shuttle from the Shadehammer containing Marick and his entourage of ‘skilled Dark Jedi.’ Nothing else. No information regarding why, no estimated time of arrival, nothing. The lack of any proper information forced Cortel to throw the datapad across the deck, causing two junior operatives to snigger under their breath. A glare quickly silenced them.

“Well, let’s get a move on. Orsai, get this bird in the air!”

The new coordinates took the Nighthawk dangerously close to the primary battlefields, indicated by the constant dull sounds of explosions and fighter engines. Arcia monitored the ship’s surroundings via view screens that relayed the visuals from every angle of the ship and offered a toothed grin when she found it.

The Shadehammer hit the ground like a meteor, if meteors could somehow deploy landing struts that dug into the earth. Blaster fire erupted from the ship’s forward turrets as armored doors slid open to make way for the first wave of the Arconan Armed Forces.


They were sitting ducks…Invisible ducks, but sitting nonetheless. It had been nearly an hour since the Nighthawk had arrived at the given coordinates and Arcia was one catcall away from having a conniption. Worse still, the sounds of battle were getting closer by the minute.

If they don’t get here soon, I’m moving this ship… Arcia thought to herself, arms crossed, eyes roaming the view screens. Settle down there, girl. No need to be on edge for nothing.


“What!?” Arcia spun around, her voice more shout than command.

A junior operative, wide-eyed in terror, stood before her with a datapad. Cortel snatched it out of his hands and watched as he scurried off towards the communications room. The Nighthawk’s Captain quickly scanned the contents of the datapad before tossing it aside and hurring to the turbolift.

“Locke, Zakath. Hangar. They’ve arrived.”

Sure enough, a Lambda-class shuttle slowly glided through the open hangar doors of the Nighthawk as Arcia and her two officers entered the control room. The shuttle spun around as its wings folded upwards and the ship touched down onto the hangar deck, allowing the ramp to descend.

The Nighthawk’s command staff welcomed Marick and his company to the ship as rumbling underfoot indicated lift off and departure to yet more new coordinates. Arcia looked over the new additions after being briefed by the Clan’s Consul and narrowed her eyes at the unknown male traveling with them.

He eyed her right back with a whistle, sneaking a peek at her backside. “Hello, gorgeous. Can I get a ride?”


The metal decking reverberated slightly under Connor’s boots, artifact of the turbulence for which the Nighthawk’s inertial dampeners couldn’t quite compensate. The Human looked quickly up and down the corridor and, seeing no one in either direction, bent back over the terminal in front of him and plugged in his datapad. A few keystrokes brought up the device interconnect screen and the terminal registered the connected datapad he held in his other hand. Tapping quickly through the menu on his datapad, he pulled up a list of common backdoor exploits and set them to run in sequence. Maybe I’ll get lucky, and their system administrator won’t have kept up with the recent kernel updates.

Connor continued glancing in either direction, relying on his eyes even though his Force-enhanced awareness told him the area was clear. After a few moments, his datapad chirped, then followed up with a warble that nearly sounded proud, the screen indicating a successful hack. The Rogue Jedi clicked the acknowledgement on the datapad’s screen and pocketed the device, then focused once more on the now-accessible terminal. It should identify the Guest user account as an administrator, granting him full access to the ship’s datastores.

Let’s see what we can find, shall we?

The con man and sometimes-information broker cycled through screen after screen of ship’s logs and mission assignments. With no specific target in mind, he perused the catalogue of assembled data, looking for anything he might be able to resell to make a profit, just in case this assignment went south. Or was less lucrative than anticipated. Or he needed a new speeder.

Standard recon…Reports from the last war…Don’t these karks delete anything? What’s next? Recipes for grandma’s cookies, or fried kowakian monkey-lizard, or…next-generation stealth generators. Now this could make my frakking day!

He debated earmarking the record and scanning further, but caution overruled the rising thrill running up his spine, and he quickly pulled up the picket ship’s security system. The reference to the cloak was just a standard maintenance request, but if he could get physical access and snap a few holoshots of the equipment itself, that might be worth a few thousand credits to the right buyer. Conscious of the risk of exposure at a public terminal, Connor hurriedly dug through the submenus on the terminal, drilling down to those controlling the ship’s holocam array. Once they went offline, the ship’s security detail would no doubt notice within minutes - but if he was quick, and lucky, minutes were all he would need.

When did it say the next shift change was scheduled?


“What the frell is this? Vacuum-packed rations and electrolyte solution?” Connor tossed his tray down irritatedly, pulling out a chair across from where Marick stood and settling into it, annoyance plain on his face.

“It is a military vessel,” muttered Marick, taking a bite out of his ration bar and eyeing the Rogue Jedi flatly. The Hapan paused his mechanical chewing to add, “in the middle of a war.”

“Exactly!” rejoined Connor, forcing a long-suffering look onto his face as he followed the Consul’s lead. “It’s a war, not a monastery. We could die at any time. Shouldn’t we be eating the best?” Despite his gripes, the con man was practically shovelling down his food. I’ve got a frakking schedule to keep. But appearances can save your life. And your wallet. “And drinking the best, for that matter. What’s with the liquor lockdown?”

“It’s Captain Cortel’s ship. She runs it as she sees fit. And you will comply with her regulations as long as you’re on board.”

The threat in Marick’s words were clear, and Connor had long since learned when not to push boundaries. “As you say, Adept.”

Grey glanced down at the chrono on his wrist — three minutes left in the window, time to cut this short — and back up to the Hapan, readying a parting quip. “In that case—”

The Consul’s comlink chirped, cutting off a perfectly good wisecrack as Marick reached down to activate it.

“This is Marick. Go.”

“I’m in engineering,” came a slightly mechanical but otherwise resonant voice. “You had better get down here. I think we have a problem.”

Kark me!

The Dark Adept turned, a single gesture sending his half-eaten ration bar floating to the trash receptacle as he strode towards the mess hall’s door. Connor followed, leaving his own tray where it sat and nervously pulling a cigarillo from the pack in his shirt pocket. Keep cool. There’s no way they noticed the holocams that quickly.

The Rogue Jedi struggled to keep up with Marick while maintaining the image of decorum. Though shorter, the younger man had a distance-devouring stride that threatened to leave Grey behind. All the while, he kept his expression calm, ignoring the worry gnawing at his gut. And what are the chances that there just happened to be an emergency in engineering right after they went offline?

At the end of the corridor, Marick summoned the turbolift and the two stepped in, Connor pressing the button labeled “Deck Four”.

“What do you imagine the problem is?” he inquired, pulling a lighter from his pocket and snapping it open. A flick of his fingers lit the wick and set his cigarrillo aflame. Pocketing the lighter, he took a drag and turned to the Hapan.

“There’s no point speculating,” Marick stated flatly. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

The turbolift descended to the Engineering deck and the pair stepped out, turning aft and heading towards the the junction that led to the ship’s drive core. Connor tapped into the Force, drawing shallowly on his own reserves to keep sweat from dotting his brow. The Nighthawk shook briefly as they reached the intersection and Connor leaned to port to compensate.

Frelling turbulence, he cursed to himself, just as the ship lurched again, tossing him off-balance to port. Grey’s hands shot out reflexively to break the expected fall, but instead he careened into Captain Cortel as she stormed towards the junction, a pair of junior officers in tow. Connor quickly moved his hands off of her, dropping one to his side as the other threw Arcia a faux salute. The con man met her livid stare with his most insolent and flirtatious grin. “I never knew travelling aboard a picket ship could be such a handful.”

Arcia’s hands clenched into fists and Connor could feel the ball of rage inside her grow taut. He could practically see the punch coming, but before the Captain could cock back her fist, one of the officers at her back cleared his throat meaningfully. With a flash of pique, the statuesque woman’s hand flew up and ripped the cigarra from Connor’s mouth, tossing it down at his feet and crushing it underheel. The sense of a spring coiled too tight eased slightly, and her irate glare softened to mere irritation.

“Grey. Lovely. What in the name of Palpatine’s ghost are you doing down here?”

Marick spoke up from behind Grey, preempting the half dozen impudent - and no doubt imprudent - replies that threatened to leap from Connor’s tongue. “Invictus commed me. He said there’s an issue in Engineering.”

“Kirrfing meddlesome…” Arcia trailed off, visibly reigning in her temper. “My chief engineer said the same thing. I was just on my way to check it out.”

“After you, then,” murmured Marick, motioning for the Captain to take the lead.

Arcia strode past the two men, her entourage trailing a meter behind her as Marick and Connor took up the rear. If only they’d move further apart, this would be a stellar place to walk. The door at the end of the corridor swooshed open as the group approached, revealing a scene of bustling consternation.

“Captain on deck,” sounded one of the aids, sending a shockwave of stillness through the compartment. An assortment of a dozen engineers and security personnel spun on their heels and offered crisp salutes, their apprehension apparent.

The Consul of Arcona turned immediately to the sole Dark Jedi among them. “What happened, Invictus?”

The Chiss opened his mouth to reply, but the Nighthawk’s captain interjected first. “Chief Grinstro, report.”

“Ma’am,” replied the gruff Human, relaxing to parade rest and running a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, “It’s like this. We were on shift, monitoring the drive, when the Sith here showed up. Said he had to check on some sort of ‘threat to the mission’. Y’know how ominous they can be…” The engineer trailed off, glancing at Invictus sheepishly, as if just realizing he was still there, within arm’s length.

“Not a problem, Trevor,” Invictus cut in. “As a lot, we can be ominous. And pretentious. In this case, though, I was meditating and felt a sense of impending danger emanating from the bowels of the ship. I followed it down here to ascertain the source of the threat. When I arriv—”

“Yes, I get it,” snapped Arcia. “What happened?”

“Well, ma’am, the Battlelord here felt around a bit, then led us to the cover for the cloak’s primary circuit board. The thing is charred clear through.”

Connor watched nervously as Arcia followed the Chief Engineer’s gesture, striding over to inspect the panel in question. If they figure out that I was tampering with the holocams in this section, they’re going to assume I frakked up the cloaking device. Kriffing perfect. He watched the Captain inspect the cover, noting the tell-tale charring on either side of the panel, then turning slowly back to the engineer. The Rogue Jedi could see rage and consternation warring behind Arcia’s eyes as she fought for control over her tone.

“And your assessment, chief?”

“I’m honestly not sure. It doesn’t look like any sort of run-of-the-mill sabotage. An explosive would have only damaged the inside of the cover, and the generator itself looks fine. Maybe some sort of discharge from stressing her too hard? She don’t do too well cloaking while in hyperspace.”

The con man thought he could detect the slightest hint of lecturing in Grinstro’s tone, as if he had mentioned the fact previously. Interesting…this could actually work to my advantage, if I offer to help fix her up. Before he could speak up, though, Arcia was already barking orders. She’s a vornskr, that one.

“What do the instruments say?” inquired the Captain, her voice carefully — and barely — neutral. “Are we still operational, or do we need to set down for repairs?”

The Chief Engineer rubbed his well-trimmed beard - as graying as his hair - with a hand while motioning to a nearby console with the thumb of his other. “The readouts are all in the green, Captain. There’s a very slight fluctuation in the stealth field, but nothing concerning. Based on instrumentation, everything appears operational.”

“And based on your judgement?”

“Well, you know me, Captain. The ship comes first. I’d say set down and take a look with my own two eyes, were it up to me. But that’s an operational decision. None of my business, Ma’am.”

Grey watched Arcia look back and forth, eyes swinging briefly between the engineer and the engine, before finally pulling her comlink free from her belt. “Bridge, this is the Captain. Find a flat piece of land and set her down. Immediately.” She turned to Marick, as if knowing he would chafe at the delay. The Hapan and the Human locked gazes, and Arcia quirked an eyebrow at her Consul. After a moment, he nodded assent and walked towards the exit.

Connor stayed behind, enjoying the sight of the Anaxsi Captain fired up. It brings a rather lovely blush to her cheeks. I wonder how far down that blush goes? Perhaps if I—

“Grey,” the Hapan Adept’s stern address pulled him from his musings. “Bridge. Now.”


The ride back up to the bridge was spent in frosty silence, despite Connor’s brilliant suggestion of seeing how many articles of clothing he and the captain could lose before the lift reached its destination. The Anaxsi’s glare had been enough to scare the scales off a rancor.

It’s a good day not to be a rancor, the con man thought with a small grin, eyeing the woman out of the corner of his eye and studiously ignoring the black hole of a Hapan standing behind him, sucking all mirth from the air. Buzzkill.

Sweat still prickled on the back of his neck but he ignored that too. It’ll be fine. Wasn’t me, so it’s got to be somebody. I could cover my rear if I just find out who.

His thoughts were promptly derailed when the turbolift doors opened and he stepped out into the hallway on bridge-level to find the Miraluka girl settled on the floor, cross-legged, in a skirt. She sat on top of a hideous orange and green blanket, with a whole frakking picnic set out around her on tiny dishes. She smiled unabashedly up at the group, licking the remains of something off of a fork.

“Hello, my friends,” the woman said cheerily, a certain mischievous edge to her voice. “Lovely spot for lunch, don’t you think? I would’ve had a nice view, too, but since you forbade me from the bridge outside of emergencies, Arcia–”

“Atyiru,” the Consul said, the one word flatter and more long-suffering than one of Connor’s one-night stands. Marick didn’t ask any questions or make any further comments, but the statement seemed to convey every ounce of silent exasperation his body could muster.

“Marrybelle,” the girl replied, picking up a thimble-sized cup and extending it. “Care for a spot of tea? It’s mint.”

The Hapan closed his eyes, briefly, then just kept walking. Arcia glared at the other woman.

“Atyiru, if I didn’t have more important things to deal with right now…” she growled threateningly.

Please let that sentence end with “‘I’d be pinning you down and–’”

"Buuuut you do," the picnicking girl sing-songed, interrupting Connor’s imaginings. “So introducing the airlock and I will have to wait.”

“Clean this up, now,” Arcia hissed with finality.

“Aye, aye, Cap’n,” Atyiru jaunted with a mock salute. “Y’know, dear, you really do need to relax now and again. You’re going to end up like Marick if you keep shoving it all done and closing off your heart.”

“I fully support relaxation,” the con man commented, sharing a wink between the two women.

The captain rolled her eyes with a grunt and went striding off after the aforementioned broody boy without another word.

Atyiru just chuckled, switching back to cheeriness in a blink. Connor lingered, enjoying the view for a second, even if the chick was on the wrong side of crazy. Maybe she sensed him staring, because she turned her head his way.

“And you, sweet Sunshine? Care for a spot of tea to refresh you after all that sneaky business?”

The Human swallowed, and then conjured up a winning smile. “My lovely miss, I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, just the mess with engineering, of course,” the Miraluka commented lightly. Maybe too lightly.

Sithspit, this one’s weird. Hot, but weird.

“Of course,” he agreed, dropping his tone into something honeyed and mellow. “If I had the time to stay for a drink, I would, as long as it meant your fine company. Sadly, though, I don’t. If you’ll forgive me, sweetling, my presence is required elsewhere. Perhaps a little later we can sit down together and enjoy some conversation?”

The woman licked her lips in a way that couldn’t possibly have to do with food and grinned up at him. “Hmm…no, I don’t think so. You’re quite charming, but you, Mr. Grey, lack the good sense the gods gave this carrot,” she conjured the small vegetable in question from her basket, brandishing it. “Ask me again when you’ve found some, darling.”

Connor blinked a few times, bemused, then shook himself. “So you think I’m charming,” he noted, a slow smirk spreading across his face. “I can work with charming.”

Atyiru snorted delicately. “Hopeful of you, dear.”

“Hoping for you with every breath I take,” the con man replied, turning away with a final wink, and headed for the bridge and the inevitable headache that awaited.


“Well, Ma’am, it’s not a catastrophe, but it isn’t pretty either. Looks like we’re fine as long as we stay still and nothing — nothing, not even sand — hits us. But the second it does, the cloak disphases minutely, creating a—”

“Chief,” cut in the Captain, her impatience clear.

Connor lounged in one of the bridge’s chairs, listening to the the exchange with a mix of relief and apprehension. This better not frak up my payday. Both of my employers will have my hide if it does. Sithspit, maybe they’ll fight over the scraps and off each other. ‘Course, I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it then. Kark me!

“If we move, we create a translucent outline. We’re still invisible to sensors, but anyone with eyes will know something is coming.”

“So we’ll be fine!” Atyiru joked, having joined the discussion after supposedly cleaning up. Her wisecracking immediately withered under multiple glares. “Okay, okay, eesh.”

The Chief Engineer coughed. “Ma’am, my bones are telling me that this is just what we get for pushing her in hyperspace.”

Arcia raked a hand through her hair in steadily building frustration. Connor imagined pulling it back himself for very different reasons as he eyed the others.

“We ought to abort the mission,” the wordy Chiss suggested. “If we disengage now, we have a chance at retreating safely.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” the Nighthawk’s captain barked. “Not until I know who sabotaged my ship. Orsai, find us some ground, now. Commander Locke,” she turned to one of her senior officers. “Initiate the Omega Directive. We’re locking down the second we touch soil.”

“No,” Marick stepped in coolly, his face and tone like beskar. “Belay those orders. We will complete our assignment.”

“My ship is—”

“Control yourself, Captain Cortel.” The Consul glanced flatly at the ship’s pilot. “Take us to the drop-point as scheduled.”

“Marick,” Invictus spoke up again. “There remains the chance, however faint, that we will be shot down the moment we enter the Valley. All it would require to clip our wings is one infantryman with half-decent sights on his surface-to-air rig.”

“Then let’s not go into the Valley. The Valley doesn’t sound very nice anyway,” Atyiru piped in, more productively this time. “We can set down somewhere just outside it and happen to go for a stroll in the general direction of one very Sithy temple-thing.”

Hoof it, eh? Great. Add ‘hike through volatile desert full of soldiers and beasts’ to the list of bantha fodder I’m putting up with for these credits. Maybe it won’t be all bad. Maybe someone will get hot enough to take their shirt off…and hopefully, not the fish.

“Plus, it gives the maintenance workers a chance to fix up Hawky in relative safety,” the Miraluka added, seemingly for Arcia’s benefit.

Invictus’ brow furrowed. “Perhaps…”

Marick’s gaze lingered on Atyiru and he gave one decisive nod before looking back over the rest of his group. “Do it.”

The picket ship’s pilot glanced at his captain for a grudging nod before he started pushing buttons and pulling at levers. The tension hanging in the air was palpable. Connor pulled his pack and lighter out and lit up another cigarillo.

Arcia broke the quiet first by redirecting her fury at the poor son of a bantha from Engineering. “Well, Chief? We’re about to land and our cloak is still damaged. Why aren’t you fixing it yet?”


Well, isn’t this interesting. Looks like the harmony that Arcona likes to preach about isn’t quite so real as they would have us believe.

The snarky thought brought a grin to Connor’s lips as he lounged around on the bridge, happily ignoring the suspicious glances that were being directed towards himself and the three Krath mystics that had joined the group of Arconans. The tension in the air was thick, probably not helped by the smoke that Connor was adding to it as he lazily puffed away on his cigarillo while the rest of the group squabbled amongst themselves. Deciding to try and glean some more information about what was going on, Grey sidled over to the flirty Miraluka who had lectured him about his smoking earlier and began to speak out of the corner of his mouth.

“So, I’m getting the distinct feeling that I’m somewhat of a polarising figure here, darling. Care to let me in on the big problem?”

Atyiru didn’t turn around, but her bubbliness seemed somewhat subdued as she replied.

“We were meant to be dropping you off with Nadrin and his team, but it seems as though that may be changing.”

The words were simple enough, but there was something in the woman’s voice that made Connor take notice, turning his attention to the discussion that was going on between Cortel and her Consul.

“I need to get in contact with Nadrin. Can you patch me a link to him so we can work something out?”

Arcia scowled slightly but said nothing, finding time to throw a dirty look in Connor’s direction as she punched numbers into a communication board and stepped back to allow Marick access.

Nighthawk, is there a reason you’ve set down and not opened your doors yet? This place isn’t a beach resort, you know.”

The voice that came through the comm sounded quite young, and Connor could tell from the tone that the person to whom it belonged saw himself as something of a quick wit.

Sounds like an idiot. If this is who they planned to send me with then this is going to be even easier than I imagined.

“Nadrin, we have experienced something of a technical hiccup and that’s why we haven’t opened the doors yet. Is your squad with you, and if so, what specialists did you bring?”

A pause stretched through the conversation, as Connor worked to keep the curiosity off his face as he listened intently.

“A few technical specialists, they told me what they do and it sounded dull so I can’t say I paid too much attention. I also have a few ordinance people with me as well, they know their way around machinery and did a tour or two on the Invicta. If you drop the hatch, I can send them aboard and to be honest, the mission probably won’t be delayed too much while we wait for them to do what they need to do.”

Connor watched Marick’s face closely, his eyes searching for any signs of the man’s dispassionate mask cracking. While none seemed to be forthcoming, the rogue could sense the quiet calculation that was going on behind the Consul’s intense eyes.

“Negative, we can’t afford a delay with this. There is a chance that we might not be the only people after this objective. I need your whole team to help with fixing the Nighthawk.”

“Not being funny boss, but I don’t think I’ll be able to keep these guys alive on my own. I’m good, but I’m not suicidal.”

“You won’t be alone, we’ll escort the group with you. Wait for my signal. Marick out.”

The comm link closed and Marick turned to face Arcia, obviously having expected the explosion that was coming.

“No one is leaving until I know who sabotaged my ship.”

The comment came with a pointed look towards Connor, who tapped ash off the cigarillo he held, shrugging slightly in the woman’s direction as he did so.

“Sweety, I had nothing to do what that.”

“Oh shove off with your ‘sweety,’ Grey. You have no trust from me and my crew is smart enough to realize sabotage is a very, very poor move,” Arcia spat as she looked from side to side. “Now that makes the list of suspects decidedly short, doesn’t it?”

Connor’s smirk didn’t help things, and he was almost disappointed when Marick stepped in, his voice as hard as beskar.

“Enough. Arcia, we cannot afford to delay any longer, and we need to make sure that we get the writings and keep these assets alive. With the whole of Nadrin’s team here, the Nighthawk will be secure and will get fixed up quickly while we can accomplish our primary mission here without putting Mr. Grey and these Krath at unnecessary risk.”

The finality in the Consul’s words were palpable, and Connor wasn’t particularly surprised to see Arcia pause before nodding once in acceptance, her gaze laced with suspicion as she glared at the rogue Sith. He ignored the look, instead switching his attention to the other members of the party to see if anyone else was going to speak up.

On the plus side, fewer bodies to frak with my plans, but I will be dealing with more Dark Jedi now. I don’t think I’m getting paid enough for this.

The thought came to him at the same time as a new Sith entered the ship’s command center, this one decked out with a mask and dark robes. When he started speaking, Connor recognized the voice as the same he had heard briefly over the ship’s comm.

“Have we reached a conclusion then?” Nadrin inquired. “My team is outside and ready to listen to whoever is in charge here, but we should really get going and quickly.”

Connor almost had to make a double-take as he looked at the diminutive Sith who had just spoken, surprise clouding his features slightly before they split into a wide grin.

Seriously? This guy’s a runt. How the hell is he going to be useful in a fight?

“Well aren’t you just the most darling little Sith I ever saw? How in seven hells were you meant to protect me from the big bad world out there?”

The masked man turned towards Connor and intense feelings of anger and disapproval rolled off of the man.

Oh, he is going to be easy to toy with if he’s this quick to anger.

“Who the hell is this di’kut?”

“And he swears like he’s a big bad Mandalorian. Kid, you’re looking at the asset who is going to lead you to these writings that your boss wants so badly.”

The last part of his speech was accompanied by a broad grin and a bit of a flourish as he offered a mocking half-bow to the man. Nadrin ignored him, turning instead to Marick as Connor leaned back against the wall and watched as the Consul responded.

“We will be going with you and escorting Connor Grey here and these three Krath to the writings. Time to move out.”

“No, we need to get to the bottom of who it is that has crippled my ship.”

Arcia’s words were laced with icy conviction as she stepped forwards, eyes narrowed with anger and suspicion. Marick turned towards her, his eyes as cold as her tone as he began to speak.

“Arcia, we covered this already and I won’t hear about it again; these people are leaving the ship, and the rest of us will escort them.”

The woman looked like she had more that she wanted to say, but she held her tongue with obvious difficulty.

“Fine, but if Grey is going then so am I.”

The captain’s words forced Connor to work to keep keep any sign of his surprise from showing on his face. He had honestly expected the woman to simply stay and sulk on her ship, but apparently she felt strongly enough to come and keep a closer eye on him.

“Hon, it’d be a joy to have another member of the fairer sex with this group.”

Marick turned to Arcia, his eyes seeming to search for something as he looked at the woman before simply nodding and motioning for everyone to begin their disembarkation. Arcia stormed from the bridge, evidently going to collect the gear she would need to venture into a warzone. Ignoring the woman’s departure, Connor stood up and began to walk towards the hatch, knowing that the rest of the group were following him as he approached the ship’s exit.

Well at least we’re here, that’s something.

The rogue approached the hatchway that led from the ship and turned to face the group that trooped along behind him with an exaggerated flourish, gesturing towards the sandy wasteland that lay outside.

“Ladies, gentlemen, kids and fish…welcome to Korriban.”


“Ah, Korriban,” Troutrooper said to no one in particular. “Do you smell that?”

Invictus sniffed. “The only thing I smell is unwashed fish.”

“Quiet, both of you,” Marick snapped. “We’re on a mission. Focus.”

The two shrugged at each other and fell into line. The three Krath Pontifices fell into line, too. Troutrooper blinked his bulbous eyes. “Ooh, fancy robes. I wish I could have such ornate and intricate robes. Oh wait, that’s right, I can. Just need to bother the her—“

Marick snapped his fingers, eyes boring holes into bulbous eyes.

“What? Oh yeah. You can get those robes, too. Just need to—ow! Who smacked me?" Invictus looked away quickly. "Damnit, Invictus! Just because you’re not an Elder doesn’t mean we can’t—“

“Shut up!” everyone yelled.

Troutrooper blinked.

“Okay,” Marick sighed. “Now that we got that out of our systems, Connor, please lead the way. We need to get moving away from the Nighthawk so they can head home for repairs and be ready for our extraction.”

“I’m happy to lead,” Grey said, lighting another cig. “But I’d like some pleasurable company up front with me.”

“I’m right here for ya, hon,” Troutrooper waddled to the fore.

Connor blew a smoke ring in the fish’s face. “Not what or who I had in mind.”

“Smooth, fishy,” Atty giggled as she stepped to the front, “but I think you should swim with your own kind in the rear.” She motioned with a tip of her head towards the mystics.

“Can do,” he said as he waddled to the rear of the group. “But let it never be said that—“

“Shut up!” everyone yelled.


“So, now that that’s settled…first thing’s first!” Connor shouted over the noise of the Nighthawk’s engines and the hard gust of sandy wind that greeted them like the bantha it was. He could already feel the frakking particles edging their way into nooks and crannies he only ever wanted his hands to go. “A couple of ground rules.”

He waited as his little group of misfits, led by the pretty Miraluka, trudged out onto the sand and away from the pickett ship. Spitting some grains out, the con-man narrowed his eyes at some of the group’s furry hangers-on.

“Rule…not-one: lose the dogs. I’m not getting paid enough to deal with stupid poodoo, and that includes excess canines.”

The bigger, slimmer white one stayed by Marick’s side. “No. She comes with us,” the broody Hapan intoned, face flat as ever.

Atyiru picked up the smaller, bulkier brown one, face transforming into a perfect pout despite the lack of eyes. She squeezed the creature to her chest. “Ivo is a good boy. We don’t really need to leave him, do we? Please, Connor?”

Connor dragged a hand down his face and pulled out a cigarillo. “Fine, sweetling, but only because you ask so nicely,” he paused. “And because you’re easy on the eyes.”

The Miraluka smiled at him. Arcia glared at him, and the con-man threw her a wink. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, love.”

“Oi, oi, enough with the mooning o’sik,” the new kid complained. He glared sideways at Connor. “You’re no commander, di’kut. Quit trying it.”

“Nadrin,” Marick said. The boy glanced at his Consul, glowered, then nodded firmly.

Always with the one-word addresses. Sithspit, what’s with these people?

The Hapan’s eyes cut back to Connor, presumably all the indication he was going to get to continue. The con artist rolled his eyes and exhaled smoke.

“As I was saying…I might not be a commander, kid, but I am your one and only hope of getting out of this Valley alive, let alone three feet into it. So, smiles everyone, and listen up.”

At least the stupid dogs managed to look attentive.

Connor held up three fingers, ticking them off. “Rule one: you do exactly as I say, when I say it, no questions asked. You want to be proud or stupid and not listen, then you can do it alone or dead. Rule two: listen to rule bloody one. And finally, rule three: ladies, you’re both beautiful,” he finished with a grin. “So don’t forget it.”

He almost made a quip at the more womanly-figured of the three Krath advisors, but decided against it. The gods only knew how ugly she was under that hood…if she was a she at all.

Too melodramatic for my tastes anyway.

“Everyone understand? If not, frak off and hop back aboard,” the Human said flippantly, refocusing.


“—care not—”

“—boy,” the little trio of lion cubs replied together. Connor rolled his eyes.

Marick nodded once, speaking — metaphorically, at least — for the group of grudging-looking Dark Jedi. Atyiru alone gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up, setting her dog-thing back down on the ground.

Next to the other Krath, Troutrooper blubbed.

Turning on his heel, Connor popped the collar on his good coat despite the fact that he was already sweating and sauntered towards the cracks in the hills that would give way to the Valley. Atyiru followed immediately behind him, and the rest fell into their own special little formation, Invictus on Marick’s right side with the others fanning out, while the Pontifices stuck to their huddle.

Hmm…on second thought, maybe I should let the girls go first. That’d be a worthwhile view. He opened his mouth to suggest as much, but Arcia cut him off quickly.

“How do you know where we’re going?” the captain questioned.

“I’ve been to Korriban a few times.”

“What for?”

“Vacations! It’s lovely. Beautiful scenery, charming pit-monsters, great local cuisine.”

“How about you answer the question?” his interrogator sneered.

How about you do less frakking talking and more looking pretty? Connor thought irritably.
He stopped and turned to look over his shoulder. “I am answering your questions, love. Aren’t you listening?”

Marick glowered up at him, looking like he was about to give some monosyballic reprimand, but Atyiru stepped up first. “Hey, you two, quit it. Let’s not fight. We’re all friends here, remember?” she piped in, making a soothing gesture.

Behind her, Invictus narrowed his red eyes and snapped, “Remember who the commanding officer is here, Atyiru. It isn’t you.”

Several of the Arconans gave the Chiss an odd look, Marick included, if barely glancing counted. Atyiru’s brows furrowed. She looked a bit hurt.

“Ah, right, my apologies. I’m simply attempting civility,” she murmured, stumbling to smile at them all.

Well…there’s something there. Interesting, Connor thought, taking the exchange in as he quickly turned to the Miraluka, offering her a grin. “You achieve much more than civility. Your sweet presence alone is enough to end wars.”

Near the back of the group, Troutrooper groaned and put a flipper to his fishy temple.

Atyiru merely gave him a wryly amused look. “If only,” she commented, gesturing around them.

“We need to keep moving,” the Hapan Consul finally reminded them. “Arcia, hold your questions and focus on the mission. That goes for all of you.”

“I’m not sure how to hold a question. Do I cup my hands around it? Oh, no, what about pinching it with my pinky out? That sounds more proper. Hm, but what if my question is improp—”


Shaking his head but unable to keep from smirking, Connor turned and started walking again. The rest followed.


They traveled slowly, avoiding hostile or overly exposed areas, for a good hour or two. Strict silence was ordered and mostly enforced, and Connor quickly found himself bored as a eunuch in a cantina’s backroom. He itched to entertain himself with the Miraluka girl, or see if the Nighthawk’s captain would loosen up a bit.

And for whiskey, another pack of cigarras, and a frakking gigantic payoff, while I’m wishing.

They had just trekked over another painfully orange sand dune when an oddball bit of conversation from the rear of the group caught the con-man’s attention. He listened intently, but couldn’t hear much without a little help from the Force.

“…troubled, boy?” That was the Elder fish’s voice.

“…n…hing, Trouty. Jus…uncomfortable. I don’t know…all these…unch of di’kuts .”

“…try being a…amari in this heat…Plenty uncomfort…”

“Oooh, oh, can we finally talk again?” Atyiru cried exuberantly, causing Connor to flinch at the sudden attack on his enhanced senses.

Her little dog yipped.

Releasing the Force, the con-man looked her way. “We can talk whenever you like, dear.”

Marick half moved to protest, but seemed to deem it not worth the energy — or perhaps not worth dealing with the Miraluka’s enthusiasm. Connor grinned.



Well, there goes another chance to prove myself

The thought filtered through Nadrin’s head as he sullenly trudged along, his eyes narrowing as he glared at the non-Arconan members of the group that walked in front of him. He had felt that this assignment was a way of proving his command ability to some of the nay-sayers in the Clan, but now he found that the opportunity had been stolen from his grasp. He was, to say the least, not overly pleased with the fact.

Yet, some of them would still find reasons to doubt me anyway. And even I can’t deny that the team is more useful helping the Nighthawk get back to being operational than being a test case for me to prove myself.

The thought was a surprisingly mature one for the Sith, and he snorted slightly at the fact that he seemed to be acting more sensibly. While he had always seen himself as devoted to the Clan, he knew that there was a part of him which festered and hungered for more recognition and respect from his Clanmates. He didn’t want to just be known as ‘Zandro’s kid’, he wanted to be recognised and appreciated for his own benefits. While he knew that certain members of Arcona understood what he could do, he also knew that there were pockets of opinion where the view of him was less favourable, ranging from maniac to incompetent and childish. He tolerated the viewpoints, knowing that ultimately their thoughts meant nothing, and that the only person whose regard he required already trusted him. The thought caused him to look over at Marick, wondering if even he had some misgivings about Nadrin and his abilities.

Doesn’t matter. I know what I can do, and that should be enough for them. I’m not here to impress them, I am here to defend Arcona and crush its enemies, and that is a job that I know I can do.

Looking around the group, Nadrin couldn’t help but feel that there was some sort of disharmony brewing. He hadn’t been present for the initial leg of the journey, and he believed that something had happened, probably tied to his team being taken from him to fix the Nighthawk, but he couldn’t put a finger on what it was. From the three Krath he didn’t really get much apart from a feeling quiet contemplation and wonder at the sheer history that surrounded them. Looking towards Grey bought a small bubble of hate to the surface of Nadrin’s mind, and while he knew that it was probably justified, he also didn’t really believe that this man alone would be a reason for the somewhat frosty undertones that seemed to filter through the group.

As for the Arconans…Marick is a bit cold at the best of times, but he doesn’t seem to be the source of this disharmony. Atyiru is too goody-goody to be involved in anything underhanded and Trouty is probably uninterested in petty squabbles. Invictus is more than loyal to Marick, so I can’t really see it being him, which leads me to thinking that maybe it’s all to do with that little tiff that I saw between Grey and Arcia.

The conclusion didn’t feel complete, but the Warlord shrugged that particular worry away. He decided there and then that he would keep an eye on things just in case, but ultimately he would follow Marick’s lead, as he always did. With that, he sped up slightly so as to come up next to his Consul, speaking quietly as he did so.

“So boss, why did you bring me with you and this group when you left my team back at the ship?”

Marick carried on walking, glancing briefly to the side that Nadrin stood on before responding.

“You’re more useful to me here where something might go down than back at the ship babysitting some mechanics. We have people there to watch over everything. You would have been a wasted resource.”

The answer satisfied some of Nadrin’s curiosity and he nodded, however there was still a feeling of unease that lurked at the edge of his subconscious.

Maybe it’s not the group’s harmony that I’m worrying about, but the group in general.

“I’m going to go for a leak, I’ll catch you guys up when I’m done.”

Turning back and walking towards a nearby series of rocks behind which he could hide, the young Warlord felt his unease strengthen as he left the group behind. Cloaking his body with the Force, Nadrin unholstered his slugthrower pistol and began to stretch out with the Force, actively looking for the source of his disquiet. Moments seemed to slide past as he searched, and he soon found what he was looking for: a malevolent presence approaching. It seemed to be fixated on the group that the young Sith had just left. Slowly inching forwards, the Erinos could sense the presence move past the rock behind which he was hiding, and as he felt his target move onwards, the Warlord jumped out and fired instinctively. His shot hit home, catching the predator that he had sensed in the side of the head and throwing it into a crumpled heap on the floor. Keeping his gun out just in case, Nadrin slowly approached the creature and nudged it cautiously with his boot before finally being satisfied that it was dead.

Just a k’lor’slug. We need to be careful though, there could be more of them around.

With the death of the creature, Nadrin’s feelings of unease had dampened to almost nothing and he was satisfied that it was probably just the fact that they had been tracked which had put him on edge before. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a ripple in the air, but he dismissed it as a heatwave and, happy that the group was no longer being followed, the Warlord holstered his pistol and began to jog back towards the group, his job done.


The company halted for the night. The distant din of mortar fire sounded a resonant bass-line across the twilight sky. The pop-up tents helped ward off the brunt of the desert chill, but only for those who were allowed inside the canvas folds.

“Kriffing desert, kriffing cold,” Connor mumbled to himself as he flicked his thumb against his lighter three times before it finally struck. He pulled back a flap and looked inside at one of the sleeping rolls to see the Miraluka chick bundled up like a cocoon. She turned slightly, and he could see that she was hugging her dog-creature like a teddy bear.

How come the mutt gets to sleep next to the cute blind chick. Stupid furball.

“How can you sleep in the middle of a battlefield?” Connor asked idly.

“Marick and Invictus are on watch,” she said simply, shifting under her bedroll.

Conor waited for a follow up, but apparently the Miraluka thought that was all the explanation that was needed.

“Besides, they know that if anyone gets hurt, I need to be fully rested to be able to properly attend my duty as field medic–”

A wail pierced the silence of the camp. The mutt wiggled free from Atyiru’s arms and howled. A louder howl mirrored him back. It growled low in its throat and headbutted the Miraluka’s side. The woman roused and rose quickly, brushing her mane of long white hair back into a tail.

“Someone is down,” she said gravely, as she gently pushed past him and ran out in the direction of the howl, following her mutt.

The little guy must have somehow communicated with the Hapan’s bigger white one. Those creatures are way too intelligent for their own good.

The rest of the team filed out one by one. The kid and the fish went first, with the shapely woman taking up the rear. As she passed, Connor couldn’t help but admire just that. Arcia hissed and glowered at the rogue attaché. Grey sighed and fell into line, wondering how, again, he had gotten involved in this mess.


When he arrived at the site of the commotion, two of the hooded Krath were bent over the body of the third member of their clique. For once, none of them seemed to have a comment for the situation. The Hapan showed up from one direction, his eyes taking in the scene like a computer. From the other direction, the Chiss appeared and looked at the dead body, grimacing.

Connor got a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach as he knew what this could mean for his mission. It was only a matter of time before someone–

Arcia sneered as she drew one of her blasters and trained it on Connor’s chest. “Don’t move a muscle,” she said coldly.

“Are you serious? I was at the tent trying to have a smoke!” Grey snapped. “Ask the blind one!”

Connor realized the irony of what he had said, and sighed. Fortunately, the Miraluka didn’t hang him out to dry.

“He was at the tent with us. You know this, Arcia. Besides, these are surgically precise knife wounds,” she explained mechanically. “This was done by the hand of a trained killer.”

Connor held his hands up innocently. “My hands are way too pretty to be carvin’ up Krath. Besides, I just got my nails trimmed–”

His banter trailed off as Atyiru threw him a look that came with a wave of emotion he was sure could not have been his own. Something in the wave told him to stop talking, and for some reason he instinctively headed it.

He studied the woman closely, her tanned, exoticly pretty face illuminated by the moon above. She looked slightly haunted, as if she could feel the collective pain of the Krath and was pushing it down somehow. Connor tried to place why the look was so polarizing. And then he realized it. It was the first time he hadn’t seen her smiling. And for some reason, he found himself inclined to do something to fix it. As he took in the situation with a more analytical head, however, he found he had no answer, for once. He frowned.

“I don’t think anyone in our group is responsible for this,” the Consul said evenly, surveying their surroundings intently. At his side, his large white wolf seemed to be doing the same thing with only her eyes and twitching ears.

“Everything has gone fubar since he showed up!” Arcia growled.

“Actually, everything went fubar when he showed up,” Grey corrected, jabbing his thumb in the direction of the masked kid.

“Don’t try and pin this on me, di’kut–”

“Alright, calm down everyone,” Invictus said, a martial hint of command to his voice.

“Someone is trailing us,” he continued. “They somehow got past our perimeter. There are too many elements for us to single anyone out. It could be Taldryan. It could be the One Sith. Or it could be one of the other attaches we were briefed on as being major players in this conflict. This, of course, does not rule out someone working with the enemy.”

Marick nodded in agreement to his friend’s logic. The Consul turned to the two remaining Krath. “Honor your dead however you see fit, but be prepared to move at first light. We need to make it to the temple post-haste.”

The Krath nodded solemnly from behind their hoods. Connor frowned as he watched everyone in the group nod their understanding.

“We use the buddy-system going forward,” Marick continued, his voice calm and unwavering. “No one goes off on their own. Understood?

Silent acknowledgements followed.


They set out just as the sun began to climb from its twilight slumber.

Now we have a dead Krath and a definite snake in our midst. This keeps getting worse.

The thought was one that Nadrin knew the others in the group had to be sharing, all except for the person who was committing these sabotages. The fact that the man didn’t know who it was that was undermining their mission frustrated him, and he was having to work to keep the anger from boiling over and clouding his judgement. That said, he felt a grim sense of satisfaction that no Arconans had died, but that satisfaction was tempered somewhat by the realisation that this also meant it was probably one of those Arconans who was behind the shenanigans.

An Arconan would find it hard to kill their brothers and sisters, even if they were working to disrupt the mission as a whole.

The conclusion seemed to make sense to the Sith, but he felt a spike of frustration at the fact that while he could assume that the traitor was an Arconan, he couldn’t identify them. He gritted his teeth and glowered out of his mask, his eyes passing over the men and women who made up the group, suspicion heavy in his gaze. His attention was stolen, however, as he felt a shiver in the Force, and the sense of something new nearby. A quick glance showed that everyone was accounted for…except for Kira.

What has that mutt gotten into, I wonder?

Slowing down, Nadrin silently allowed the group to move on ahead of him before making his way towards Marick’s Cythraul.

“What have you found, then?”

The Cythraul was sniffing at the ground and, when she noticed Nadrin, she huffed in a very ladylike manner by means of acknowledgement. Her eyes left his and trailed off into the distance, and she bent one paw at an angle as if pointing.

“Come on then, let’s see what, or who, you think that you’ve found.”

The animal began to move away, following an unseen trail towards whatever it was that had piqued the Cythraul’s curiosity. A presence in the Force grew as they went, and Nadrin followed Kira around one final pile of debris to find a figure there. Without a thought, the Warlord brought his weapon up and snapped off a shot, only to see the figure jump lightly to the side, avoiding the slug.

“Hold fire there, I’m not your enemy.”

The voice was that of a woman, and Nadrin found himself holding his fire as directed without fully understanding why. When the figure lowered her hood, her bald head and rather striking features combined to pull forth a memory from the various briefings on the recent string of conflicts that had besieged the Brotherhood, bringing a name along with it.

“Dantella Novae. Last I checked, you were very firmly placed in the ‘enemy’ list that I keep, so why don’t you enlighten me as to why that has all of a sudden changed?”

The woman snorted, the un-ladylike sound seeming somewhat alien coming from her, and opened her arms out wide with her palms facing upwards, an unspoken sign that she wasn’t armed.

She’s armed even with empty hands.

A smirk followed the previous snort, and Dantella nodded towards Nadrin’s gun, which he still had pointed at the woman.

“Come now, can’t you put the toy away so that we can talk like adults?”

The Warlord mulled over his choices for a handful of seconds before finally holstering the gun and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Good boy. Now, as I was saying, since the…re-education I received at the hands of the Brotherhood, I have found myself as one of your Grand Master’s most ardent supporters. You are also fighting in his corner, so I am led to believe, at least, and so we are not enemies. Simple really.”

As Dantella spoke, Nadrin found himself believing what she was saying, however he was also conscious of the fact that she was a known manipulator, and that any words that came from her mouth had to be taken with a pinch of salt. As he contemplated the veracity of her statement however, a glint of metal from Novae’s waist caught the Warlord’s eye and he peered at the object.

A knife.

The connection was immediate as the Sith remembered the fatal wounds suffered by the second Krath Alchemist, and he realised with absolute clarity that he was being played. His hand dropped to the pistol at his hip and he hauled the weapon up, his voice rising in a shout as he did so.


With that, he began to fire.


Marick had sensed Kira and Nadrin moving away from the group, but he knew that his Cythraul and one of the Shadicar could be trusted and so he had paid it little heed. However, his advance was halted by a feeling of great unease and distress from Kira through the Force.

Not good.

He stopped and spun around, the rest of the group halting as he did and exchanging curious glances.

“Something has happened. I think Nadrin and Kira are in trouble.”

The gunshots that followed his statement confirmed it, and the group ran towards the sounds of combat.


Nadrin’s shots burst forth, striking the stone behind Dantella as she nimbly danced away from the Sith’s slugs. The Warlord moved as well, running to the side as he continued firing at Dantella with careful shots only for the woman to dodge everything he threw at her. Nadrin ducked down behind a rock and began to reload his weapon, panting slightly as he did so.

“You’re making a mistake Arconan. We’re on the same side!”

The Arconae ignored her words and ran out from behind the rock, his now-reloaded weapon swinging up towards Dantella. As he pointed his gun at Novae, Nadrin had to throw himself to his right to avoid a telekinetic blast, shooting as he did so and missing the Adept’s forehead by a handspan. He landed delicately on his feet and threw out a hand in front of him, a hammerblow of invisible energy bursting out towards Dantella which she dissipated with a telekinetic blast of her own.

I forgot what it was like fighting a real Jedi.

Running to his left, Nadrin fired off another pair of shots as Dantella ignited her lightsaber and dodged, her crimson blade a blur as it batted away the two bullets. Nadrin gritted his teeth, firing again and emptying the clip towards the woman only to see his shots either miss or be parried away. Skidding to a halt, the Warlord threw out another burst of telekinetic energy and was more than a little pleased to see Dantella falter, the strike clipping her back leg and spinning her around. As she crashed to the sandy floor, Nadrin summoned his will and soared inhumanly high into the air, bringing him up and over an outcropping behind which he could once again reload his weapon.

“I need to get a larger clip.”

The words were filled with vitriol as the Sith finished reloading and emerged from behind the rock, his eyes scanning for any sign of his opponent.

“Come on out Dantella. You’ve managed to kill one of our group already. I won’t let you get any more of us.”

A voice emerged from somewhere to his right, echoing through the morning air and bringing Nadrin’s head around quickly.

“How many times do I need to tell you, that wasn’t me? But if you aren’t going to believe me—”

The voice moved suddenly as Nadrin felt warm breath at the back of his neck.

“—Then I’ll just have to kill you.”

The Sith felt a wrenching lurch from the Force as horrible understanding swept over him. He jumped forwards, waiting for the inevitable deathblow to fall and snuff out his life. The strike never came. As he landed, Nadrin spun around and saw Kira atop Dantella, mouth clamped tight over the woman’s left bicep and pinning her to the floor. A scream of frustration and pain wrent the air, and Dantella’s normally delicate features were twisted with anger as she tried to free an arm to do something about the Cythraul atop her.

“Thanks, Kira.”

Aproaching the pair, Nadrin knelt alongside Dantella and pressed his gun to her forehead, looking down at her with anger blazing in his umber eyes. She looked back at him, her own expression pinched as she fought to stop any sign of fear from showing on her face.

“You lose, murderer.”


Nadrin pulled his pistol back and stood, glaring down at Dantella’s lifeless corpse. Kira relaxed her jaws and let go of the woman, looking up at the Warlord haughtily as if waiting for thanks.

“I am going to buy you the biggest bag of treats you have ever seen when we get back.”

Nadrin felt the approach of the rest of the team, but there was something he needed to check before they arrived. Leaning down next to Dantella’s lifeless body, he flicked back the hem of her robes to reveal the pair of knives that he thought he had seen earlier, letting out a relieved breath as he did so. Reaching out, he patted Kira’s head delicately and looked over at her.

“I was right, she had knives. She must have been the one who killed the Krath.”

Standing up, Nadrin turned to face the approaching team members and nodded down at the pair of knives he had discovered, wordlessly showing why he had been fighting.

Without a word, the Sith walked towards the group, Kira following behind.


“What were we saying about sticking together last night?” Connor wondered out loud as Nadrin pointedly brushed past him.

“Sod off,” the boy growled.

“He has a point, Nadrin,” Marick conceded as he rejoined the group. The Consul had hung back to examine the body, and was now walking beside the Nadrin and Kira. The white wolf moved back to her master’s side and nudged her head into it. Marick scratched her ears idly.

If Connor hadn’t known any better, he would have thought he almost heard a bit of emotion in the Hapan’s tone when he spoke to the kid.

“I…I’m sorry, Marick. I knew something was wrong, and wanted to show you that I could handle it.”

“She could have killed you,” the Hapan replied. There it was again. Was it…concern? Was that even possible? Maybe the heat was finally getting to his head.

Stay focused, Connor, the con-man reminded himself as he eavesdropped.

“I know,” Nadrin said, his tone actually sounding remorseful.

The Hapan reached out a hand and placed it firmly on the kid’s shoulder.

“You did what you thought was right. Your father would have been proud, but just as concerned,” the Hapan said calmly. Connor had to strain to make out the words. The Consul was good at controlling how his voice carried. Grey made a note to look into that bit of subterfuge if he made it out of this in one piece.

Things quieted as the group continued onward. A momentary reprieve.

And then all hell broke loose.


A few things happened all at once.

Atyiru’s tiny mutt let out a high pitched howl of warning.

A series of battle cries echoed around the group from multiple directions.

Lightsabers hissed to life, blasters screeched.

For all the faults of cohesion the group of Arconans had, they knew how to handle battle. Connor realized that as they moved into a defensive ring without so much as calling out to one another.

The first wave of attackers crashed into their formation, all wearing black robes trimmed with red. One Sith. Acolytes by the look of them. There were at least a dozen, and they weren’t alone. He could sense more signatures as well, much louder through the Force. A few mid-range and even an Elder.



“It’s an ambush!” Troutrooper bellowed as a surge of lightning erupted from his flippertips, slamming into an oncoming Acolyte and sending him flying away from the defensive huddle.

Connor quickly drew his slugthrower and took cover behind the lightning-slinging fish. “You don’t say!?” he called out.

Gotta be safe here, right? No one is going to take out this guy, the con-man’s thoughts raced and he assured himself.

Keeping his weapon at the ready, Connor quickly surveyed the area. To his right, Arcia and Atyiru were back to back, nearly pressed against one another in an awkwardly attractive battle weave. Arcia quickly dropped to a knee before drawing her single blaster pistol and sending two well placed shots down the field, slamming into their intended targets. Atyiru ensured the rear was well protected, using her saber to effortlessly deflect bolt after bolt back towards the opposition, a creepy grin spread across her face.

Damn those two are lookin’ sexy as ever…better make sure at least one of them survives this mess, Connor thought to himself as he studied the pair.

A distracting gurgling sound brought Connor’s attention back to the seething Elder behind him as even more arcs of lightning spewed from the fish. The sheer power strobing out of him caused Connor to back away slightly, shielding his eyes from the onslaught.

That guy is going to end up cookin’ himself if he doesn’t calm down! Grey chuckled inwardly.

“Watch out, Atyiru! You missed one!” Arcia hollered at her superior, noting the stray blaster fire that had nearly grazed her.

With a huff, the other woman retorted back, though her words were lost in the commotion. What he did catch, however, was Arcia’s crisp voice cutting through the blaster fire.

“Are you going to do something or just sit there and look pretty, because you’re really failing at it!”

Oh, don’t be like that, hon. I can be more than just a pretty face.

In her banter, Arcia left her flank open, of which one of the Acolytes quickly took advantage. The Nighthawk’s Captain was impacted on her left side and tumbled over, trying to throw the man off of her. Connor took the opportunity to take aim and bullseye the thug between the eyes.

“Like that, hon?” Connor asked with a mischievous grin.

All he received in return was a dissatisfied grunt. Arcia and Atyriu fell back into their defensive stances and Connor turned to look in the opposite direction, his eyes finally settling upon Marick and the others.


Marick and Invictus moved like two sides of a spinning coin. There was a familiar harmony to their coordinated efforts. Whenever Marick’s flank was open for attack, Invictus seamlessly stepped in to defend. When Invictus overextended his lightsaber in a feint, the Hapan stepped up to parry the riposte and give the Chiss an opening for the killing strike.

Connor noted all of this as he ducked away from a volley of blaster bolts. He looked around and watched as the two hooded Krath Pontifices worked back to back, weaving some sort of spell over an opposing set of figures also wearing hoods. The only difference seemed to be the red trimmings of the “bad guys”, and the rich purple of the two “good guys”. Good pertaining to the ones on Connor’s side, of course.

So many hoods. I could have sworn I was on a backwater planet. Heh, hoods. I crack myself up, Connor mused as he fired the remaining shells of his slugthrower into the enemy lines.

The rogue thought he heard one of them grunt in pain, but he was too busy reloading to really notice. He was a lover, after all, not a fighter.

Off to the side, the masked kid was making quick work of one of the One Sith grunts, lifting him up into the air with the Force and hurtling him bodily into another one. Kid might be little and have a mouth, but those Force skills…he’s like a frakking wrecking ball. Not bad.

Just then he saw another threat come bounding over yet another sand dune — he was starting to think they were the true obstacle, here. Connor watched as the new enemy shimmered into view like some kind of ghost. His eyes could barely track the assassin, but a faint ripple of displaced air showed that he couldn’t have been anything more than a novice.

Grey was about to call out a warning, but then a flash of sable robes flickered across his peripheral. Marick had broken away from Invictus and somehow made his way to the masked kid’s side, just in time to thwart the ameture assassin.

“Damn, he’s fast,” Connor whistled.


Blue contrails lit the air, tentacles of plasma darting past the One Sith’s defenses and searing through flesh. An inarticulate gasp punctuated the Chiss’s final lunge and Invictus straightened as his opponent doubled over the saber that pierced his gut. The Marauder’s eyes flicked briefly to his right, seeking out the sable blur that marked his Consul’s dance with death. So much for cold dispassion, the Chiss snorted ruefully, eyeing the way his brother cut through the crowd of combatants. He can shutter his soul all he wants. But there’s still heat beneath the surface, even if he rarely lets it out these days. Once this war is over and the tides of leadership have changed, maybe - just maybe - that will change as well.

The Pontifex attaché to his left - surprisingly awkward with a saber, despite her lithe form - struggled against a hail of blasterfire that pelted the pair. An urging from the Force prompted the Sith to raise his own blade, intercepting a trio of bolts that made it past the Krath’s defenses and scattering them amongst the the One Sith that surrounded the makeshift perimeter. Invictus kept an eye on the mystic, hoping an opportunity would arise, as he threw himself against one of Esoteric’s acolytes.

The younger man was clearly new to his saber and Invictus parried the clumsy strikes easily, his blade circling lazily around the One Sith’s. For all his apparent disconcern, the Chiss drew steadily on his emotions, the Force granting him a panoptic perspective on the battle that raged around him. A second acolyte, this one female, approached him from the rear with her green saber at the ready, and Invictus briefly wished that he had brought K’tah with him.

No, he mused, ducking under the sweep of the Sith’s saber and spinning effortlessly, the Force granting him a preternatural grace. His own saber lashed out, quicksilver searing the younger Sith’s shins and causing him to leap back. With a flick of his wrist, Invictus reversed his grip on the cerulean blade and brought it around with the momentum of his own pirouette, bisecting the female acolyte at the knees. The Chiss rose as he spun, kicking the still-lit saber out of the downed acolyte’s hands and sending it whirling towards her compatriots. Better he be on Port Ol’val, safe, if things fall out here.

Turning back to the younger Sith, Invictus raised his lightsaber to a guard position and the unsteady acolyte retreated a few paces, clearly intending to regroup with his fellow assailants. While the Arconan kept his eyes on the One Sith, he was nonetheless content to let the man withdraw and instead focus his attentions on the Lion’s lackey. The Pontifex continued to struggle against the onslaught of blasterfire and Invictus caught the prescient scent of charred flesh and ozone on the stale desert air. His gaze darted right and his saber followed, blue fire meeting red as he picked off a volley of blaster bolts that threatened to down the pair.

The Pontifex glanced his way and Invictus met her gaze steadily. It was only for a moment, but that was long enough for regret to show in the Arconan’s crimson stare. The Krath looked puzzled. Then Invictus flicked his thumb against his saber’s actuator, and his cerulean blade went dark. In the suddenly dimmer light, the Chiss couldn’t see the knowledge of betrayal burn through the Pontifex’s eyes, but he saw the red hail of blaster fire burn through the woman’s chest. A moment later his blade lit again, deflecting a second wave of blaster bolts that threatened his midriff. Invictus swatted the half dozen fiery darts back at their source and, confident the trio of shooters would duck behind cover, turned briefly towards the fallen Krath.

The woman’s jaw was clenched, her grimace nearly audible despite the commotion that drowned the battlefield. One hand covered the still-smoking hole that hollowed her right breast, the other reaching towards the Chiss. Whether the gesture was meant to threaten, single him out, or simply to ward off attack, Invictus knew he couldn’t risk the chance that she’d survive long enough to tell tales. Two heartbeats brought him within striking distance. He raised his saber then paused, noticing a glint from the Krath’s upraised hand.

Quickly, before the shooters could adjust their aim, the Arconan grasped the woman’s hand, drawing on the Force to overpower her already-frail frame. He mentally forced aside the Krath’s palm, baring the hole in her chest. A single plunge, precisely angled, slid the hand - and the vibroblade it held - into the open wound and past the woman’s ribs, cleaving her aorta. As the Human’s lungs exhaled for the last time, Invictus pulled the hand free and glanced around. Two down. One to g—

The thought cut off as his crimson eyes met the blue- and violet-stare of Marick’s Cythraul.

“Good girl, Kira,” muttered the Chiss, forcing a soothing tone into his voice and reaching out towards the canine with the Force. Her only response was a growl, resonating deep in her throat. Invictus felt her anger - the whole litter was more intelligent than most people gave them credit for, as Invictus well knew from K’tah’s oft-exasperating perceptiveness - and tried to tamp down on her suspicions of betrayal. For the briefest of moments, the Cythraul’s hackles started to lower. Then she lunged for his throat.

Invictus reacted instinctively, untamping his fear and harnessing it, flooding adrenaline through his veins. Time seemed to slow and he saw the canine’s jaws sink into his neck and tear through his jugular. He screamed at his legs to move, to dodge the attack and scrabble away from the Cythraul, losing her in the chaos of the battle that swarmed around them. Instead, his off hand rose, bringing the Krath’s with it. Time rewound, his vision clearing, and Kira hung ever so briefly in the air. Then the vision was smothered by reality. The thunderstorm of white fur and protective rage slammed into the Chiss, burying the Pontifex’s vibroblade in her lungs. Still her jaws drew forward, struggling to stop the Arconan, to protect her master. Invictus felt his hand turn gracefully, twisting the knife. Then the fire left her eyes. And his.


As Marick’s offhand dagger casually relieved the life of a One Sith Acolyte, a silent screech of agony cut through the Hapan’s conscious like a shot through his heart. The zen-like harmony of Deadheart flickered out like a candle. An icy chill streaked through his veins, dampening his battle adrenaline like a junkie coming off of a high.

The One Sith corpse toppled lifelessly into the sand, and the sound of blasters crying and sabers hissing seemed to fade away.

Something was wrong. The vibrant sunburst pallet of Korriban’s dessert dissolved to a dull monochrome. His muscles felt heavy, as if his blood had been replaced with lead. He turned numbly towards the source of the sudden anguish. His heart knew what had happened long before his rational mind had time to catch up.

Kira lay on the desert floor. She wasn’t moving. Invictus was leaning over the wolf protectively, shouting and pointing at the remaining Krath attaché.

Marick’s knuckles whitened around the hilt of his dagger and lightsaber. He felt alone. Hollow. Empty. His body started to move mechanically of its own accord. One of the last remaining enemies tried to shank him from an exposed flank with a vibroshiv, shouting a battlecry to Lord Esoteric.

The Shadow Lord instinctively stopped in place, letting the attacker pass through the air in front of him. In the same fluid motion he cleaved the Acolyte’s torso in two with lightsaber. He continued forward as if the exchange had never happened.

Sound returned as color seeped back into his vision.

“She killed her!” Invictus yelled, holding Kira’s head in his arms and gesturing at the body of the dead woman beside him. Marick numbly noted that it belonged to the female Krath attaché.

“Have you gone mad? You let those blaster bolts through. You killed her!” the last remaining Krath cried, pointing to the body beside Kira’s.

His rational mind struggled against his heart’s desire, and without Deadheart to keep them separate, Marick’s fury bubbled to the surface without filter.

“It was you all along wasn’t it?” Marick scowled, his handsome features contorting into an ugly scowl. “I trusted you. I let you into my team. It was you all along, was it not?” Every word was tight and clipped.

The Krath stammered, his hood falling back to reveal a very plain looking man with pale skin, pale eyes, a birdlike nose and thinning hair. “My friends are dead because of your mission! Has the desert heat caused you to go mad?! He is the one who killed them, are you that blind–”

Marick didn’t let him finish. One second, the Adept was ten paces away. The next, he was close enough to whisper into the Krath Pontifex ear. Close enough to embrace.

A slender beam of cyan light seared easily through the Krath’s chest and jutted out between his shoulderblades. He tried to call out, but slumped to his knees as Marick retracted his lightsaber and drove his knee into the dying man’s nose. A sickening crack sounded as the Krath’s head jerked backwards, and he toppled over lifelessly into the sand.

Marick turned numbly to Invictus. His oldest friend. He looked around and saw that the rest of his team had come out of the skirmish relatively unharmed. They all had mixed reactions, havinghad watched the Consul slay the Krath attaché in cold blood. Atyiru dropped to her knees, a haunted look on her face. Her hand covered her mouth and she sobbed.

His too-blue eyes returned to Kira laying still on her side, eyes closed. He looked at Invictus, a flicker of hope betraying the years of combat experience that reminded him that hope was just an illusion.

Invictus shook his head solemnly. “Marick…I’m sorry, I wasn’t quick enough…”

Marick shook his head, matted strands of his long hair splaying across his face. He kneeled slowly and ran his hand through his Cythraul’s fur. He remembered the first time he had seen her in the Felurigade. She had been such a tiny thing, fierce and fearless with her slender frame and mismatched-colored eyes. She had chosen him, she had. They had been together since, rarely apart. They did everything together, to the point that the others had teased him on how he cared more about his pet than his “friends.”

Invictus placed a hand on Marick’s shoulder, looking over at the rest of the group and frowning, waving them off. And so, he was also the only person who saw tears leaking out of the corners of the Shadow Lord’s eyes as he buried his face in his companion’s furry neck and silently wept.


“Hey hey,” Connor cheered himself. “I got the last one. You saw that, right, fishy?”

Troutrooper and the other Arconans sheathed their weapons and headed to Marick and Invictus. Those with Cythraul ran. Those without lagged behind to ensure no further attacks.

Grey holstered his slugthrower and sighed. “Come on, master fish, that was a great shot. Fifty meters, moving, wasn’t even in the crosshairs, had to free sight the kill. I bet you couldn’t do it.”

The Dark Jedi Master turned. “We lost someone very dear to our hearts in the fight. Please be quiet out of respect for the deceased.”

“Who? The Krath? Nobody cares ab—“


Connor frowned. “Kira? The canine? Just a mangy mutt—Hey! HEY! No need for—okay, I retract whatever I said or didn’t say.”

“Listen to me,” the purple glow of the Mon Cal’s saber hummed menacingly under Connor’s chin. “It would be in your best interest if you remained silent for the rest of the night. You do not understand the gravity of our loss. You would do well not to be flippant. Don’t laugh, I know what I said.”

The relic hunter nodded. “I get it, she’s special.”

“Far more special than you.”

“But I didn’t do it. You saw me, I was next to you the entire fight,” he pointed at the ground as the Dark Master nodded. “Jokes are a defensive mechanism. They just spew from my mouth. You should have heard the fireworks I vomited at my parents’ funeral.”

“I know you didn’t do it.” Troutrooper paused. “If you didn’t…and the Krath didn’t…” The Mon Cal blinked.

Connor raised an eyebrow.

“Mr. Grey,” the master Arconan gurgled, “if I were you, I’d sit back, shut up, and enjoy the coming fireworks. You’re gonna have a front-row seat to something big.”


They walked in silence for a long while after that.

If the Hapan’s eyes seemed a little red, no one gave it a second thought.

Still, even Connor could tell when he looked: though Marick was unemotional and boring as ever — perhaps even more than before — there was a raggedness to it. He was frayed around the edges, blank and crumbling. It was the kind of look Connor saw sometimes on certain roughs in rancor-waste cantinas, soldier types or hard cons, guys who had seen too much or done too much or lost more than a paycheck or a pretty woman. Guys who didn’t work right anymore.

Ugh, he thought. And this is the kind of messed up people I’m supposed to be working with. Great. Like they weren’t watching too closely already. What else can go wron—

He cut that particularly frakking bad idea off immediately. He had enough damned trouble without inviting more.

Still…opportunities are opportunities. Grief is a great distraction…

The con-man’s eyes flickered over the gloomy group, surveying them again. There was little else to do but trudge westward through sand and wait in morbid quiet while Korriban’s son-of-a-frakking-bantha sun climbed higher and higher in the sky behind them. Damn thing was baking him in his good coat. He almost took it off, but the wind flaring the edges just gave a nice touch he liked too much.

Arcia, of everyone, seemed the least affected. Oh, she gave her appropriate pause, bowed her head, but Connor knew at just a glance that she didn’t care. It was all over the tight way she moved, the sharp look to her eyes when she glanced at Marick or the others. Impatient, and struggling to be polite. She was waiting for them to just get over it and get moving faster.

The teenager, the Chiss, and the lovely blind one seemed, next to their Consul, the worst off. At least, with Atyiru, he could see why: she had one of those canines with her too. The conniving fish has made it abundantly clear that they were important.

Remembering just what the Dark Master had threatened, Connor fell back a step, coming up beside the Miraluka pacing behind him. He put an arm around her shoulder, and have a light squeeze when she didn’t shrug it off.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, sweetling,” he said. “I can see how terrible this must be for all of you. She must have been very dear to your heart. I can’t possibly imagine what that’s like, but if I can help in any way, please let me know. I worry for you.” He squeezed her shoulder again, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

“That’s kind of you,” Atyiru replied, hardly a whisper. She didn’t smile. “And no, you can’t imagine it,” her voice cracked. “…the pain he’s in right now.”

She was obviously speaking of the Hapan who marched listlessly behind them. Connor repressed a snort.

She stiffened under his arm, her tone suddenly hollowed as she went on. “I could show you. But I won’t. You’re not half a man true enough to carry all that knowing.”

“Uhhh,” he leaned just a bit away. “Pardon me, love?”

“Pardon you,” Atyiru said, her whole demeanor blinking right back to that of a sad little lady. She sighed. “I wish I could help. I wish I could undo all this. But…” Shaking her head, she trailed off. “Ashla and Bogan help me, there’s no wishing. Just death. Death and pain. And it’s not even for the wrong reasons or no reasons. There’s no being angry. That’s what hurts the most.”

“What are you talking about, sweetling?” Connor asked her, trying to keep his tone easy despite the sudden thrill of interest. Did she know something he didn’t?

She gave that tiny shrug she’d given him back on the ship, the deliberately nonchalant one. It was a good shrug; all innocent and empty. He debated stealing it for future use. The best tricks were always stolen ones.

“We’re fighting for a worthy cause, aren’t we? Loyalty to our commitments and honor to our oaths. You know that, don’t you? Loyalty, if only to your own life and pockets.”

“You wound me, my dear,” the con-man said with a dramatic frown.

The Miraluka gave him a look with just her eyebrows and empty face. “No,” she murmured. “I truly don’t.”

“Hmmph,” he hummed. “Well, I feel hurt anyways. Right to the heart! You should kiss it better.”

“Still charming, but still so little sense, dearest Connor.”

He studied her for a half, second, feeling a strange twinge in his chest. “Well, maybe you just haven’t stuck around me long enough to see it yet.” He intended to leave it at that, but…found himself asking more. “Would you leave it all, if you could? All this unpleasantness?”

Atyiru slowed to a stop, shrugged out from under his arm, and turned to smooth his coat lapels with gentle hands. She smiled at him, scrounging up some bit of real warmth. “No,” she echoed. “I wouldn’t.”

Then, she pivoted on her toes and trudged on, her odd little pup dragging at her heels, even more broken looking than the rest of them.

Connor stared after her bemusedly and grimaced, kicking up a puff of orange sand.

Well, frak.


“Behold!” Connor gestured. “Marka Ragnos’ tomb! The heart of the Valley of the Sleeping Kings! Also more commonly known as the Valley of the Dark Lords, for you less wordly. Home to traps upon traps, beasties, dead frakkers, and a lovely souvenir shop—”

“Quiet,” Arcia snapped at him.

“Hon, if you want me to shut my mouth, all you have to do is cover it with yours.”

She nearly decked him. Atyiru lunging forward and grabbing her arm was the only thing that kept the con-man’s lights on. He backed up a few paces, wary — yet strangely excited — by the sheer anger in the captain’s eyes.

“Perhaps not the best time to to make merry,” the Miraluka said. Connor was quietly glad she’d decided to ditch her and Invictus’ silent vigil over Marick to defend him. “I’m certain it’s interesting, but another time. Arcia, everyone, let’s not make this journey in vain. On we go, yes?”

The Hapan didn’t even do his nodding thing this time. He just walked robotically forward, staring creepily at Connor, waiting. Troutrooper gurgled in the back and Nadrin grunted. The Chiss was quiet.

Shaking his head, Connor crammed a cigarra into his teeth and started them down the sand dune, towards the enormous temple of a tomb before them, under the watchful eyes of carved stone giants, robed and waiting.

Towards frell-knows-what we go. Hopefully, it’s my paycheck.


“Ughhh, are we there yet?” the blindfolded girl moaned.

Good question…we should be there already. Then again, I don’t usually drag a group of moping high and mighties around with me, Connor mused to himself. They’d been walking for what felt like hours, but according to his chronometer it had only been about twenty minutes. Still, in the darkness of the tombs, their view on time could be warped.

The general feel of the ‘tomb raiders’ was that of sorrow however. Connor and, he noticed, Arcia, held those feelings at bay with their pragmatic view on life. Just one more reason she was so attractive: she just didn’t care. Unfortunately, that also meant that she just didn’t care about him, but that was part of the challenge!

“We’ll get there when we do, Atyriu. Be strong, stay focused.” Marick spoke for the first time in hours in a hushed voice, but Connor could feel the man’s eyes boring into the back of his head.

“Can’t be very much further, everyone. Just be patient and we’ll be–” Connor attempted to ‘reassure’ his traveling mates when the uncaring captain piped up.

“I don’t even think you know where we’re going.”

“An’ you’ve said that how many times, hon?” Grey grinned.

Satisfied with the scoff he got in reply, Connor led the group into a wide archway that gave way to a larger chamber. Though empty, it had a sense of fullness to it that all of them felt. With narrowed eyes, Arcia surveyed the area in an instant, but couldn’t seem to find anything she found objectionable enough to yell at him for. She took another step forward into the chamber.

“If I didn’t know any better, Grey, I would say you were leading us into–”

“A trap!” Troutrooper half bellowed, half gurgled.

In a matter of seconds, gear locks relaxed, cables whined as they were finally released, and two massive blocks of stone came rocketing towards the captain from either side. With all of his awkward finesse, Troutrooper swept his flippers forward and caught the twin slabs of stone with his otherworldly telekinetic power, just before they reached the Anaxsi woman. He burbled under the strain of the heavy blocks as Arcia quickly scrambled backwards, allowing the Elder to send the stones back on their path. They slammed together once he let go in an echoing crash that engulfed the room.

“Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?” Connor asked, smirking broadly, only to be greeted by the disdainful looks of Arcia and the Master Fish.

“Does anyone else feel something rumbley?” Atyiru piped up just as the floor beneath the group dropped out from beneath them.

This is the last time I agree to be tour guide to anyone… Connor yelled in his head as they all slid down a chute of smoothed stone and tumbled across the floor that quickly welcomed them to a solid and frakking painful halt.

After much groaning and composing themselves, the group rose to their feet and Connor took a glance at the surroundings. He spread his arms confidently. “Ah, wonderful! Right where we need to be. Now if you will all follow me…”


The durasteel door - incongruously set in the same beige granite that comprised the rest of the tomb - whooshed open with a well-maintained precision that belied the structure’s age. Connor led the somber group into the vaultlike chamber, his eyes trailing over the stark walls and floor with disappointed disdain. The Dantooine native had found it to be a common theme in his years of treasure hunting - the more important the item, the less likely it was to be surrounded by baubles and trinkets, no matter how valuable they might be. It was as if the austerity of the room were meant to highlight just how priceless its centerpiece was. Kark. Swiping a few knickknacks would have made a good cover if this goes south. With an expansive gesture, the conman put it from his mind and summoned his best Tour Guide voice.

“Ladies, gentlemen, kids a—”

“Stuff it, blondie,” muttered Arcia, shouldering her way past him and surveying the chamber with the critical eye of a Captain inspecting stowage. “I take it that’s what we came here for?”

Grey’s eyes regretfully left her figure, looking instead in the direction the Anaxsi had pointed. A slender, chest-high column stood in the center of the room. The only ornamentation in the vault was inlaid into the pilaster. Whereas the remainder of the chamber was comprised of nothing more than polished stone, the column was covered in ancient Sith script - most of it, he noted, warning of the dire consequences that would be visited upon interlopers from beyond the grave. Interspersed between warnings, corusca and durindfire gems collected the room’s light and threw brilliantly colored shadows across the vault’s floor.

“Presumably,” murmured Connor with more than a hint of sarcasm, distracted by the interplay of shadow that the gems splayed across the granite floor.

“Manners!” squeaked Atyiru, in yet another of her well-meaning attempts to keep the groups’ simmering tempers from boiling over.

“‘Presumably’? You said that this - how did you put it? ‘Wasn’t your first rodeo.’” The Nighthawk’s captain stared blasterbolts at Grey, his apparent disregard fanning the flame of her pique.

“No need to get so testy, love,” retorted the conman, his honeyed tongue once more in evidence. He strode easily to the pedestal, resting a hand on top of it and forcing his posture to remain casual. Still, his eyes traced the colors. There was some sort of pattern. He was sure of it. “I’ve visited the Tomb itself in the past, and knew the layout well enough to get us here, didn’t I? I would wager you’ll find the writings inside. Hopefully the craftsmen had the foresight to ensure their hidden compartment was hermetically sealed.”

Arcia, her agitation unassuaged, opened her mouth to retort, but it was Marick who spoke instead. “So how do we open it?”

There was a brusqueness in his tone that said it would brook no more delays. With a sigh, Connor pulled his eyes from the colors and looked back to the column. He couldn’t see a single hinge, button, or crack in the piece’s finish. For all that it was carved and set with dozens of gemstones, it looked organic enough to have grown there. So much for bluffing…

With a sigh, Connor met the Hapan’s icy stare. “Well, that’s the million-credit question.” The conman looked to the Chiss standing at the Hapan’s side. He seems the type for puzzles. “Any thoughts, Blue?”

“Just one.” Invictus took a few steps towards the pilaster, the remainder of the group fanning out in his wake. The Battlelord ran a blue hand through his long, sable hair, as his other palmed an item from his belt. His crimson eyes took in the colors reflecting onto the chamber’s floor, then darted between the column and Marick, as if mentally measuring off the distance. With mounting impatience, Connor watched the Chiss ponder the column before sparing one last glance for his Consul. When Invictus looked back towards the pilaster, and Connor, the Human saw resignation flood his crimson eyes.

“I’m sorry.”

Before the words had even left the Chiss’ mouth, Connor knew he was dead. The Arconan’s hand moved faster than the conman’s eyes could follow, lobbing the thermal detonator he had pulled from his belt. It flew straight at the Human, clearly propelled by Invictus’ will. Grey acted instinctively, his legs tensing to leap away from the grenade, but he knew he would never move in time. Time slowed to a crawl - but he felt himself slow with it. Disbelief slackjawed Marick’s face even as he reacted. He fought his brother’s telekinetic grip on the thermal detonator, fingers twitching to the left as if guiding the grenade. After what felt like minutes, Connor’s knees finally began to bend even as the detonator veered off course.

Then it exploded, and a fiery hell ripped out and over the group.

Connor had prescience enough to erect a barrier, blunting the thermal and kinetic energy that threatened to engulf him. Despite his efforts, the force of the detonation still threw him from his feet, sending the conman - and the column onto which he had latched - hurtling across the room. The blast slammed him into the unyielding stone of the chamber’s wall, and the bejeweled pilaster followed suit, crashing into his chest. Something cracked loudly and the Human wasn’t sure if it was the column or his ribs. Then his head hit the stone wall and he wasn’t even sure which he preferred.


When Grey’s eyes finally opened — When the frak did I close them? — the Hapan and the Chiss stood a few meters apart, and no amount of credits could have convinced the Human to so much as sprint between them. The pair’s lips were moving, but Connor had trouble deciphering the words over the ringing his ears. Instead, he looked to his left, then his right, before finally focusing on the pillar that lay cracked open beside him. The chamber inside was empty.

He suppressed a smirk as his hands patted their way down his shirt, finally finding what they sought. Well, that was convenient, at least, he thought, digging into his pockets and pulling out a cigarillo and his lighter. His fingers - apparently unbroken - flicked the lighter’s ignition and he brought it to the tip of his cigarillo, setting the paper ablaze. He inhaled deeply, struggling to banish the pain in his ribs and spine and head — Kark, there’s nowhere I don’t ache — and sought out the rest of the Arconan cohorts with half-focused eyes.

The fish was in the far corner, apparently caught in the detonators blast radius, and the cute one was tending to him. Despite the complete lack of her usual exuberance, Connor found that he liked watching her work. There was a competence to her ministrations that he found soothing. Father would have liked her. The thought should have been disconcerting but, perhaps by grace of his concussion, felt right.

Near the entrance, the boy was also off of his feet. Unlike the Mon Calamari, though, Nadrin appeared at least semi-conscious. Arcia stood a dozen paces to Nadrin’s left, hand on the butt of her blaster. She looked perplexed - a fact which, Connor noted, detracted not a whit from her beauty - but that paled in comparison to the confusion that painted her Consul’s brow.

With a shake of his head that he immediately regretted, Connor forced himself to focus, mustering his will to dampen the ringing in his ears.

“—had no choice!” There was a pleading tone in the Chiss’ voice, begging to be understood.

“No choice? No karking choice? You betrayed me, betrayed Arcona!” Marick’s cry evinced the confusion of a man seeing what he had always believed impossible. Yet there was a hint of something else beneath it, as if he too were begging, imploring his brother for a reason he could bring himself to understand.

“What was the alternative? The Lion has always been unstable, his ways and whims a pendulum of vacillation. And you would make of him a god? How many months, or years, or even decades until his mood swung against Arcona?”

“That doesn’t give you the right to turn traitor!” The confusion in the Hapan’s voice was gone, subsumed in the mounting rage that blistered from his tongue. Invictus looked pained to hear them, as if each word, and its unrelenting harshness, were a physical blow.

“If he becomes immortal, he’ll rule like the tyrant he is - but with a force that not even the Star Chamber will be able to temper. And one day you’ll misstep, and that will be it. Arcona dead, and my only family with it. I can’t let him complete the Rite. I won’t…”

Invictus trailed off and Connor knew that the Chiss’ words had fallen on deaf ears. Marick’s face had hardened, his lips compressed to a line, and his hands had inched towards his vibroblades. Invictus followed suit, dropping his palms to the twin hilts of the sapphire blades that were sheathed at the back of his belt. Still, there was a glimmer of hope in his crimson eyes.


Marick made no reply, and the glimmer was swallowed by regret as Invictus slowly drew his blades. Then the two become a blur as they slammed against one another. Their movements were too fast to see, their already preternatural reflexes spurred to new heights by the Force. Like a pair of forged cred chits, they pushed against each other even as they were pulled together, and sparks flew where they met. Neither man spoke. The clamor of combat had drowned the din of discourse.

What else did they have when words failed them?


“You think you’re going to just kill me and then…what!?” Marick sneered.

“No, you stubborn brat, I’m trying to prevent you from throwing the future away into the hands of that megalomaniac you call a Grand Master!”

Invictus rolled out to the right and then spun into a slash with the blade in his left. Marick bounded backwards and away from the feint, waving his right-hand dagger protectively in front of his face.

“And Kira?” Marick’s voice was flat and sharp as cut glass.

“You’ve said it yourself, time and again, Marick,” Invictus explained bitterly. His mouth spat words of venom, but his heart still weighed heavy for having to use them on his friend. “Sacrifices are necessary for the good of the Clan.”

Marick’s lean muscles twitched as he let out a feral yell at the top of his lungs before throwing himself at Invictus with abandon. The Hapan crashed into the Chiss’ cross-guard with an emphatic grunt, but Invictus was ready for it. He bent his knees and augmented his strength with the Force, pushing the smaller-statured Consul backwards as he unfurled his crossed arms with a loud, “Kah!”

The Arconae staggered backwards but recovered instantly, pushing off the balls of his feet to throw himself again into the Chiss’ defenses. He accelerated forward with preternatural grace, slashing with a series of wide parabolas and lightning-fast jabs. The twin vibrodaggers weaved so deftly under the Hapan’s guide that ghostly streaks of silver light trailed the vibrating blades.

It was mostly show, and Invictus knew better. He focused on the Hapan’s core, trusting years muscle memory and discipline to parry and bob appropriately between the flurry of furious strikes. The Dark side seemed to come easily here in the heart of the tomb, so he wasn’t shy about tapping its reserves for alacrity.

Marick obviously wasn’t thinking clearly. He knew that Invictus’ sapphire blades were extensions of his body and that he had never beaten him in any of their knife-sparring lessons before. On top of that, Invictus had been fighting in scraps for longer than the young Hapan had been alive.

His old friend seemed to come to the same realization as he threw both of his daggers at Invictus’ neck. The Battlemaster’s head nodded left and then right, the blades whizzing harmlessly through the air. The Adept used the temporary gap in combat to ignite one his lightsabers to life.


From the other side of the chamber, Atyiru cried out, “Stop it!” She wanted to run over and scream at both of them, to remind them that they were brothers. Troutrooper was in bad shape, though. On top of the burn wounds, he was dehydrated beyond belief.

“Arcia, do something!” she pleaded.

The Nighthawk’s captain grit her teeth as she trained her blaster pistols back and forth, trying to draw a bead and failing. “I can’t, they’re moving too fast and I can’t risk hitting Marick!”

Her heart sank, and a crippling wave of helplessness washed over her. A tiny voice in the back of her head that belonged to her brother and first mentor, Timeros, told her to fight through it and reminded her that she had a job to do.

I have to trust him, both of them, she assured herself.

Pushing away the despair, she put her faith in Marick’s good sense and redoubled her efforts to save Troutrooper’s life.


“Draw your saber, now,” Marick snapped coldly.

“No,” Invictus replied tightly as he shuffled away from a jab of the Arconae’s lightsaber.

“I said: draw. Your. Saber,” Marick put emphasis on each word.
The Hapan was losing his temper. Good. For all his talk of perfection, control, and that stoic mask he constantly wore, he was still the same boy who had frozen up in his first real taste of combat action, forcing Invictus to take over command despite being the subordinate officer.

While Invictus wasn’t able to match the younger and leaner Hapan’s speed, he knew he could bait him into making a fatal mistake. He just needed to push a bit more…

“No, Marick,” the Chiss flashed a cocky grin. “I don’t need my saber to stop you. I didn’t need it to stop Kira, either.”
Invictus had hoped to play on his old friend’s rage.

It worked.

Something visibly broke inside the Hapan. It was the tell-tale shift of rational thought to primal aggression. He had expected it to be reckless and wild like the the sea in storm, raw and untamed.

He was wrong.

The levies that had been built to keep Marick’s emotions in check finally burst and the floodgates poured opened. The Dark side enveloped his entire being, and Invictus could see the shell of his aura through the Force shift from passive grey to a scowling crimson. And then he was moving, faster than the veteran fighter’s eye could follow.

Marick’s lightsaber licked out twice across Invictus’ neckline. The Chiss leaned away from each slash and jabbed twice in return with each of his blades before sweeping his trailing leg across the Hapan’s ankles. Except Marick had already feinted to his right and then winked out of view like a corporeal figure.

He materialized a heartbeat later at Invictus’ flank. Lightning reflexes and nudge from the Force allowed the Chiss to throw himself into a sidelong roll. Had he hesitated a moment longer, Marick’s saber would have impaled him through the heart.

The Hapan shimmered away into the cloak of the Force and reappeared again from a different angle. Each time, he would strike like a viper and then immediately recoil and disappear. Invictus thought he could decipher a pattern, but the Adept did not seem to be using anything he had seen before.

Invictus could use his twin blades to overcome even a skilled lightsaber duelist that was using a single-handed style by exploiting the weakness of the off hand. He had never noticed until now that Marick did not have an offhand.

The Arconae could lash out with his saber in his right hand once, and then mimic the same action perfectly with the left, seamlessly alternating his shoto hilt from hand to hand. The unceasing attacks frayed the edges of the Chiss’ defenses, and from there they only unraveled further. For a desperate moment in the madness, Invictus thought he could sense a familiar pattern to the onslaught. He waited until Marick flickered out of his vision and thrust each of his blades out to either side of his body like pointed wings.

Marick materialized and took a long gash across his torso, blood trailing in a thin rivulets through the air in front of him. The Arconae did not wince or grimace or slow his step. He continued his ethereal assault, appearing low enough to kiss the ground. He swept Invictus’ legs out from under him, but the Chiss turned his backward momentum into a smooth roll, coming up in a hunting crouch with one leg spread wide to the side and the other bent at the knee. He panted heavily as he moved both of his blades in front of his face in a defensive ward.

There was no way Marick could be working so methodically in his current state. He was an assassin taught to avoid drawn-out duels and finish a fight quickly. He should have been fatigued from the long march through the desert, the stress of losing his pet and the sting of mistaken betrayal from the only person he thought he could trust. He should have been making mistakes.

And yet, in the peak of his anger and rage, Marick Arconae was somehow still in control.

This wasn’t the arrogant, driven Quaestor he had served under all those years ago. This wasn’t the same insecure kid who got cold feet his first time trying to lead a battlefield. Marick Arconae was a force of nature. A weapon hand-crafted to serve as the blade of Arcona’s will.
He understood now his folly. He had miscalculated gravely. Invictus felt something he hadn’t known since his childhood. Fear.
Invictus let his fear drive him. He couldn’t fail now, not after everything he had sacrificed to get here. Marick would understand when he was calm. He would see that everything Invictus had done had been for him. For
Atyiru. For Arcia, and Trouty.

For Arcona.

As those thoughts flittered through his mind, he misplaced his back foot on a simple parry. Experience told him that it was something he could compensate for. But then he felt an alien searing sensation against his flesh as sudden agony flooded his conscious.

Quick as blinking, Marick had drawn his second shoto saber, ignited it, and cleanly severed Invictus’ left arm at the shoulder. Blood squirted momentarily before the wound cauterized, and the Chiss dropped to his knees. The useless appendage thumped wetly against the floor, the Sapphire blade in its grip skittering away.

Invictus’ eyes locked with Marick’s just for a moment. He searched desperately for a sign of understanding. Anything that would assure him that old friend knew why he had done what he had.

There was only contempt in the Shadow Lord’s eyes. Cold, lifeless and
empty. Apathy. His lightsabers disengaged, but a slender stiletto edge jutted free from his right gauntlet and jabbed into the flesh of Invictus’ other shoulder, right between the joints. The Battlelord cried out in pain but desperately willed the Force to keep him upright through it.

“Marick, I–”

The Consul gripped the Chiss by the back of his hair and glowered down into his eyes.

“What you did is unforgivable,” he said numbly in a voice that reminded Invictus too much of Timeros. He tried to quickly think of the right thing to say, something short and blunt that could convey the hours on end he had spent rationalizing his course of action.
But no words came. Words were just wind, afterall.


He was tired of caring… No matter what he did, something always went wrong. What was the point?

His hand started forward with lethal intent, but he froze in place as a silent scream flashed through his consciousness.

The Hapan looked over to the other side of the room, tracking the scream to its source. Atyiru stood, bloody palms open in pleading.
Never soothe me, Atyiru he heard himself saying long ago…
She was doing it now. He was aware of it, but it did nothingto fill the empty void that had settled into the pit of stomach.
Please, don’t… her voice spoke into his mind, loud and resonate as if she were standing right beside him. Miraluka couldn’t cry, but Marick had spent enough time close to Atyiru to know that her soul wept. He could sense, through her, that Troutrooper was going to pull through, and that Arcia had moved to take up guard in case any other enemies presented themselves. That Invictus was beaten.

His anger did not diffuse, but the chains of control he had come to rely on for so long began to restrain the beast that had awoken. In his mind’s eye, he could see the familiar outline of Deadheart, and he ran towards it, letting the cold dispassion settle over him like armor.
Marick’s sneer melted away into a stoic mask as he kicked Invitus’ remaining Sapphire blade out of his grip.
“Mal’ari’carun,” Marick spoke the Chiss’ birth name. “You have dishonored not only yourself, but the Clan and all those you swore to protect and defend. By my will, as Shadow Lord, I retract your status as a Shadeborn and sever your link to the Shadesworn of Clan Arcona. You are hereby banished, and if I ever so much as hear a whisper of your presence again, I will end your life personally.”
With that, the Consul of Clan Arcona turned away from the stranger before him and walked towards his only remaining friends.


The con-man turned half his attention to the clamour, watching Marick and Invictus go at each other like two rabid rancors…if rancors could move like a couple of tiny, angry deities.

I should have known from the start, when things first went to bantha fodder on their ship. It’s always the guy that calls in the crime in the first place…Oh well. Definitely not my business now, eesh…I’ve got better things to worry about.

He glanced down, eyeballing what remained of the Rite’s container. Some of the little jewels had broken from their settings. He reflexively reached to pocket them when a scream sounded through the Force in his mind.

Connor jerked his head up towards the big showdown again. Invictus, missing an arm — sweet frakking sithspit! — was on his knees before Marick, who stood over him executioner-style. They stayed that way for a second, the others off to the side, before the Consul started saying something vicious and dramatic about banishment. Then, he turned away.

Seems like it’s over, the con-man thought, standing with a wince. He gave the hollow, bejeweled container a last longing look before jogging over to join the little party of not-so-successfuls.

Connor almost approached Atyiru, a perfectly good offer to help clean up her bloodsplattered body ready. He almost thought of a way to tease Arcia into laying her hands on him, in violence or otherwise. But one look told him all he needed to know.

He glanced back at the lopsided Chiss. Welcome to the loner life, ya poor, stupid son of a bantha. It’s easier this way. Nobody to cut your arms off when you show you’re not one of them.


The con-man turned. Atyiru stood in the passageway out of the chamber, Marick already walking away, Arcia and Nadrin helping carry Troutrooper.

“Coming, love. Got goodbyes to say before you lot head back to your ship, after all.”


The corridors of the ACC Shadehammer felt hollow and empty despite the cacophony of battle commands mixed with the wailing cries of agony echoing out from medbay. The Force surged all around them, both polarized sides of its power feeding and repelling against the madness of war. Dark and Light. Good and Evil. Life and Death.
What did any of it matter?
Marick Arconae returned solemn nods to all the officers and soldiers who took notice of his presence and saluted proudly with fists to their chests. Even as exhaustion pounded at the corners of his eyes, the Shadow Lord of Clan Arcona maintained his mantle of responsibility.

The Comm room cleared out with a simple turn of the Consul’s open hand. Marick leaned over the terminal and tapped in a series of emergency codes all unit leaders were given.

As he waited for the connection to link, Marick was forced to scroll through the details of the mission with a far too eidetic memory. He grit his teeth and balled his fist and used every ounce of control he had left to steady himself. He had to see this through. It was his duty to the Clan and to the Brotherhood.

Marick had expected to see Muz Ashen’s familiar face, but was greeted instead by a helmeted figure that sent a shiver down the Hapan’s spine.

“Lord Pravus,” Marick said formally in a practiced, neutral tone.

“What do you have to report?”
Marick blinked once, lowered himself deeper into Deadheart and retold the sabotage of the Nighthawk, the death of the three Krath advisors, and the ambush by the One Sith forces. He pointedly left out anything about Kira’s death or Invictus’ betrayal. He wasn’t sure if that was because he was simply not capable of speaking the words aloud for fear of them becoming set in stone, or because the tactical part of his mind deemed it unimportant to the end results of their mission.

Pravus listened intently and didn’t so much as move or speak through the hologram. Finally, he spoke: “Do not worry about the scrolls. You did the best that you could given the circumstances. I’m told that the traitor Dantella Novella was killed by your team, and that you were able to get Connor Grey close enough to the scrolls. You came closer than any other Loyalist teams.”

“Grey performed as expected, sir,” Marick said a, hint of anger tainting his usually steady voice. “But, I failed.”

The hologram of the Deputy Grand Master was quiet for a moment. Between the flicker of the shaky connection and the Mandalorian visor of the other man’s helmet, Marick felt the familiar sense of helplessness he typically got when trying to speak with Pravus.

“Again, do not concern yourself with the scrolls. Everything is going according to Plan.“

That’s…not right. He’s not telling me something. What plan?
And then cold realization sank into the pit of the Arconae’s stomach, overriding whatever guilt, regret, or sorrow the Shadow Lord had been carrying. Why would the Deputy Grand Master be answering the Grand Master’s personal comm? In all his life, Marick had never been afraid to ask such a simple question.

“…Where is Ashen?”


Kr’Tal System
38 ABY

Invictus resecured the pressure bandage that covered the stump of his left arm, absentmindedly doing a final check of his beleaguered Clawcraft’s system as the countdown to reversion neared zero. When the chronometer hit two seconds, he moved to pull the lever, and a moment of confusion passed before he realized he had reached with his left hand. Again. I’ll kill that ungrateful little brat. I watched his back for years. I supported him when no one else would. And this is how he repays me?

Snarling in frustration, the Chiss reached again, this time with the right arm, and pulled back on the lever. The mottled lines of startrail converged into points, and he eyed Karufr in the distance. It had been nearly a decade since he had seen the planet which he had once called home. Somehow, he didn’t think he would find a warm welcome. A beep sounded from his comm console and he mindfully pressed the blinking button with his remaining hand.

“Incoming craft,” crackled the voice over his fighter’s speakers. “This is Kr’Tal control. State your identity and purpose immediately or we will not hesitate to fire.”

“Control, this is Clawcraft QC124. My name is Mal’ari’carun, formerly Quaestor of Ektrosis. I have information that I believe Lord Rokir will find quite valuable.”

Hitting the button again to cease transmission, Invictus muttered to himself. “Hopefully he’ll agree that revenge is a small price to pay for Arcona’s eventual destruction.” Then the Chiss sat in silence, waiting impatiently for the control center’s response.

I dreamed a dream
Through fears unfaced like passing passersby
Through tears unshed and words unspoken in the dark
I dreamed a dream
Of family that never came to be
Of sanguine halls rubbled in the dirt
A dream of brotherhood reduced to brother’s blood?
I dreamed a dream
And now that dream is dead


Connor Grey stood just outside a small, private shipyard in the sandy business sector of Dreshdae and smiled from ear to ear as he stared at the screen of his datapad.

Transation frakking received…Sithspit, that’s a lot of credits for a ‘failed’ mission. I love my life, he thought, reading the notification alert again. It was a special, secure account, the deposit directly wired. No identification or routing information was listed, no names except one that had little to do with where his new flush of cash had come from: Puer-Irae.

Thanks, little lion cub.

Tucking the device into his coat, Connor pulled out his pack of smokes and his comm. A few taps and pings, and the thing presented him with the figure of his second employer, white robes, hood and all.

“Fully clothed, this time. Promising.”

“Your Lordship,” the con-man greeted, dipping his head. He lit one of his cigarillos.


“Got a couple tip-yips all ready for dinner. Chased off the sungwa too.”

“Then you best catch your transport, Mister Grey.”

“Yes, your Lo—”

The kriffing bastard hung up on him again. Connor scowled.

Whatever, at least I’m getting paid. Sooo paid.

He paused to finish his smoke, then sauntered over to a small commercial shuttle inside the shipyard. Three or four other potential passengers milled about. The droid steward beeped at him.

“Welcome aboard, Sir. I must inform you that there is no smoking on this fligh—”

“Shove it, mate,” Connor cried, hoisting a small bag over his shoulder and tugging at his tie as he walked up the ramp. He found a seat that wasn’t too dingy and plopped down, carry-on on his knees, his legs lolling. He blew out a mouthful of smoke and grinned again, unable to contain a thrill at the idea of his second pay-off.

Connor thought of the precious, fantastical scrolls that sat in his bag and felt his smirk grow wider. Still wish I could have gotten some more of those gemstones, though. And one of the girls, while I’m at it.

Oh, well. He’d find some pretty little things that liked rich guys once he was out of the Brotherhood’s little warzone. Pretty little things, a good glass of whiskey, and as many cases of fine cigarras as he bloody wanted.

Connor was so busy imagining his glorious spending binge that he almost didn’t notice one of the other passengers staring at him across the single aisle. Almost. The con-man stared back, narrowing his eyes, his good senses telling him he shouldn’t be celebrating just yet.

The other man didn’t blink. His eyes were hard. He looked non-descript, clothing plain. But at his belt…his coat half hid them, but Connor knew those two blasters. Only a very select few carried sidearms like that, and they were no one he wanted anything to do with. Two specific Merr-Sonn blasters. One, and a spare.

Connor swallowed, his smirk gone, a sour taste in his mouth. He felt the shuttle taking off, and mechanically strapped into his seat, but he and his Nephilim watcher never broke eye contact. The con-man’s mind raced, but his mind held only one, angry thought.

The Force damn that Damon Nix!