This is the Run-on submission for Team Alpha of Clan Plagueis in the GJW XI.
Team members are:
Rules for the event can be found here.
Mav’s edit: to include member PINs.
This is the Run-on submission for Team Alpha of Clan Plagueis in the GJW XI.
Team members are:
Rules for the event can be found here.
Mav’s edit: to include member PINs.
“A man’s capacity for failure is directly proportional to his intelligence.”
Plagueis rally point near the Horuset system
“I must reiterate my reservations about the current course of action.” Kz’set said, for what must have been the tenth time. The Verpine had spent the better part of the last twelve hours unsuccessfully trying to convince his Dread Lord to change his mind. Having followed Vivackus across most of the Transcendent, Kz’set ended up in the Dread Lord’s office.
Vivackus tapped his finger against the desk unconsciously, before catching himself and taking a deep breath. This conversation had gone on far too long already; if neither of their minds had changed by now, further pleading wouldn’t change that. He spoke in forcibly measured tones. “Your concern is noted, Wrath, but the decision is done. We send the fleet to Korriban alongside the Master at Arms, the Headmaster, and Esoteric.”
Kz’set soldiered on, “But that choice is illogical. It makes more sense to hold back after all sides are already weakened, to say nothing of the prospect of allying with our current enemy.”
“No,” Vivackus said slowly, “the longer we wait, the greater the chance that either Muz or Jac achieve the Rite of Immortality. Neither of those are acceptable choices, and the longer we wait to side with Esoteric, the less control we have over the entire result.”
“I still contend that you made the decision hastily, letting your pride cloud your judgement.”
“And I contend that you are justifying your chronic indecisiveness behind a thin veil of caution.” The Battlelord went on, “Why are we still having this conversation? I already made the declaration to the Clan, and you’ve had seven standard days to say something.”
“Seven days? You told me just hours before you told everyone else!”
“I left my workstation unsecured during the business on the Anchorage for a reason. Don’t tell me you didn’t look at my personal files.”
The ensuing silence was all the confirmation that Vivackus needed. The civil conversation between unit leaders was threatening to break, and Kz’set’s body language indicated that the last revelation had put the Verpine on edge of expecting violence. He consciously reigned in his tone. “Relax, Kz’set, I left the files unsecured for just that purpose - to ensure that you knew about this before everyone else did. I did not want my right hand left in the dark. This decision was not one that I made lightly; if I am wrong, it will be almost certainly be my head.”
“If we aren’t all dead already.” Kz’set retorted darkly.
“I do not intend to race the other Clans to Korriban. We will come in from the flank once the battle has begun. Does that alleviate your concerns any?”
“I suppose we’ll find out.”
Plagueis rally point near the Horuset system
Teylas smirked as he finished punching commands into the console. Gliding his hand across the control panel with a certain grace, he nodded his head slightly in affirmation at his work as he finished it up. It was a report on all that had happened while trapped in the lower decks of the Anchorage for all of the Clan to read. As he sat down, Teylas was interrupted by the holocomm signal. Returning to his feet, he activated the communications system and was greeted by a familiar face. “Vivackus; what can I do for you?” the Anzat asked as the Dread Lord’s eyes narrowed.
“I told you war was coming, did I not?” the Consul asked rhetorically to an affirmative nod in response. “The time has come, and I require your assistance. Your skill in battle, both as a warrior and a strategist. You are aware of the situation, politically?”
“Yes,” Teylas reluctantly sighed as he folded his arms across his chest. Disinterested in the topic Teylas brushed it off, “Why should we bother?” he asked with indifference.
With that simple question, Vivackus laid out his plans and desires for the conflict brewing both within the Dark Brotherhood as well as the threat from outside. Teylas listened to Vivackus, but only as a sign of respect for someone who had grown to be a friend – or at least as close as Teylas was willing to trust another Dark Jedi. In his time with the Brotherhood, the Anzat had learned that Dark Jedi can be as treacherous and untrustworthy as any in the galaxy. Although not all shared this trait, himself included. Vivackus seemed passionate about this topic likely for his own benefit.
Teylas, however, saw a benefit of his own as the conversation deepened. Eventually he interrupted the Dread Lord, “Let me be honest with you: you are nothing.”
“Come again?” Vivackus responded clearly caught off guard by the comment.
“I don’t mean you personally as an insult. I mean your species as a whole. Really, most species in the galaxy. In my time as a Sith I’ve learned that my greatest ally is your greatest weakness: time. In due time all of the infighting and power mongering between the different factions of Dark Jedi are your undoing. I’ve watched it happen for centuries since before you were born. However, your infighting, now that I am Sith, is also my opening to build power slowly. It is your downfall, your weakness. I, on the other hand, am in a position to lose the small battles to win the war, as it were,” his words were clearly resonating with Vivackus in more ways than one, perhaps partaking some wisdom upon the much younger leader of Clan Plagueis.
“All the more reason to take action now,” Vivackus responded. “Unless we destroy them both, either Muz or Jac could finish the Rite of Immortality. Then your advantage disappears.”
Teylas did not respond at once, clearly considering that fact.
“I can count on your assistance, then?” Vivackus wanted reassurance.
“We will stand with the di Plagia, and continue stoking the embers of this conflict. The longer it continues, the more power I–we, can build through attrition,” Teylas reassured the Dread Lord. Aside from the Anzat’s ability to wage conflict in this manner, it also gave him the ability to, as still being a lieutenant in the Plagueis hierarchy, to simply use the excuse of following orders if any single faction were able to gain absolute victory over the others. However, the brute force of the Plagueis military was nothing to scoff at, including the forces of Ajunta Pall under the command of Teylas. It could, with the correct strategies, come out victorious with the help of their allies. Strategies which Vivackus would no doubt count on Teylas to concoct.
“Excellent. One more thing. I believe the Verpine will be defecting against us. I just had a conversation with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be an attack,” Vivackus said shifting in his chair.
“Are you sure?” Teylas questioned.
Vivackus sighed slightly, “I am positive. The moment I mentioned that we were going to ally with the di Plagia, we both knew there’d be war. Everything else was just words, a feeble attempt to lull the other side into a false sense of security. I didn’t buy it, and I’m sure Kz’set didn’t either.”
“How soon?” the Anzat asked, now with a smirk on his face.
“As soon as he can shore up allies within Plagueis against us.”
The Anzat nodded, “We should begin solidifying our forces.”
“What did you think the purpose of this conversation was?” the Consul chuckled.
Plagueis rally point near the Horuset system
It would seem, to Dralin, that the Sith were inevitably drawn to space. One could claim that it was due to the need to rule on a galactic level. One could say that the freedom of space travel called to the Sith Code. It was, more than likely, the chance to brood while gazing into the abyss out of a transparisteel bulkhead that drove the Sith to space, and Dralin relished the opportunity on the bridge of the Transcendent. He stood with his hands clasped behind his straightened back as his cybernetic eyes took in the inky depths, unblinking with their loss of organic reflex over the years. It had been over a year since Dralin left the Brotherhood, and he returned to find it in yet another state of war.
If they don’t have enemies, he thought to himself, they’ll make them. It’s the way of the Brotherhood to struggle, even if it has to struggle against itself.
He didn’t have to be a therapist to see the martyr complex rampant within the Brotherhood, but the Coruscanti didn’t know the reason for this specific spat. Time would tell, but this was a tune which Dralin was accustomed to dancing. His own history with the Brotherhood was filled with war, and every conflict colored his opinion of the group as a whole. The war with the Yuuzhan Vong colored his opinion against the Dark Council, and his time among the Arconans poisoned him against internecine conflicts. It was only when investigating Ronovi’s death that he decided he was done with the idea of the Brotherhood, but its strength in numbers still drew him back. At the end of the day, Dralin was what the Dark Jedi made him to be: a man with power but no end goal. Conflict gave him strength, but it cost his old decisive nature.
“Welcome back,” a voice buzzed from behind him. “Enjoying the view?”
Dralin turned to see a Verpine addressing him. “Well enough, Proconsul,” he replied with a wry smile. His clipped accent made it unclear whether it was sarcastic. “I am given to understand that there’s a war on. All’s well, I hope?”
The Sith’s mandibles twitched with annoyance. “We have much to discusszzz.” His clawed hand gestured toward the hallway and turned to lead Dralin. It had been over a year since he saw Kz’set, but the bug had clearly grown into his leadership role and he walked without looking back to see if Dralin had followed.
“The others fight,” Kz’set expounded, “but you know thiszzz. What you must know is that Ashen and Cotelin have splintered the Brotherhood. Clan has fought Clan in the past, but the Council has not stayed neutral. The Star Chamber has not stayed neutral.” As they left the hall and entered an empty room, Kz’set turned to Dralin. “We have not stayed neutral.”
“What are you saying?” Dralin asked in a near-whisper. Green lights on black sclera bored into the Verpine’s multifaceted eyes. “Did I come home to find a Clan divided?”
Kz’set allowed some of his emotions to leak through the inner shields that most Dark Jedi held as reflex. The base of it was alien to Dralin, and he supposed that owed to difference in hive mind thought patterns, but it carried familiar concepts to him as well: betrayal, indecision, anger.
“The Dread Lord has embarked on a course that is…unwise. A third party is interested in destabilizing us, and I do not like where this path leads.”
Dralin’s mind pieced together the puzzle that Kz’set had handed him.
Muz and Jac hold a grudge match, and someone else stands to benefit. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. And somehow, this is all good for the Brotherhood.
“You spent time away,” the Verpine continued, “yet here you are again. You do not seem like one willing to destroy us all, Fortea.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Ashen has gone too far, but does that mean we should sign up to be our true enemy’s lackeyszzz?”
Dralin crossed his arms. “You’ve given me much to think about, Kz’set.” He hadn’t been among the Brotherhood for more than a week, and already the leadership was attempting to draw him into their political games. He knew that the time would come to make some sort of decision, but he balked at the thought that the Verpine would think him so easily swayed without hearing all sides of the conflict. His eyes narrowed and jaw clenched slightly. “I will keep you updated on any developments.”
Imperial rally point near the Horuset system
Major Shivor Dahr saw that he was one of the last officers to arrive as he stepped through the doors leading to the ship’s briefing room. The two tiered chamber featured a double ring of seats, most of the already occupied. From the tenor of the voices as he made his way to his own seat, Dahr could gather that yet another debate between officers was taking place before the meeting started in earnest.
“No, I refuse to accept your point.”
That was Admiral Khadgar, a look of frustration painting his features. Beside him sat Colonel Katherine Flyer, his wing commander off the Intrepid. Both of them had at one point struck out on their own, but they had returned to Imperial service. Even having to regain the trust that had once been theirs, it had not taken long for officers of their caliber to rise to positions of prominence once more.
“That’s because you’ve always been shortsighted, Khad.”
The response came from across the inner ring from where Khadgar sat, and it made it plain to see that the debate was a continuation of one that had been raging ever since Esoteric had taken direct command over the Aggressor Strike Force. The speaker was Admiral Astix, commander of the Grey Wolf. Both Astix and Khadgar represented the two primary viewpoints about what to do about their new Brotherhood allies.
As Major Dahr made his way to the seat reserved for him along the outer ring he noticed that Lord Esoteric was watching the proceedings from his seat, looking for all the world like a spider in the middle of a web.
Probably not an altogether inaccurate description, Dahr thought to himself.
“Funny,” Colonel Flyer said, coming to her CO’s defense, “I was about to say the same thing about you.”
Khadgar nodded. “Bringing them to heel, as you say, would probably be the worst course of action. They are a formidable force, but they don’t need to be broken like some untamed riding beast.”
“That’s exactly what needs to be done,” Astix replied, his voice taking on the same tenor he used to employ with his cadets when he was Dean of Imperial Weapons and Tactics School. “They are headstrong and their actions are unpredictable. Killing their leaders and replacing them with our own would bring them under our control more fully.”
“Typical, thoughtless Imperial doctrine,” Flyer quipped. “We have to smash them and make them ours. To do otherwise might leave us with a useful ally, as opposed to a broken tool.”
“Be careful, Colonel,” Astix snapped, “I wouldn’t want anyone here to think you were advocating a gentle touch with these people because of your… family connections.”
Kate Flyer’s jaw dropped. “What? There isn’t even a Cantor in Plagueis.”
Before the conversation could go any further, Esoteric raised his hand and spoke. “Enough.”
From anyone else, the word could have been a barked command. Esoteric delivered it as almost a whisper, but somehow each and every officer present heard it. The Sith Lord’s manner unnerved him, but Dahr was relieved that the argument had been stopped before it had gotten any uglier.
“Both sides raise interesting concerns, with some claim to correctness. However,” Esoteric explained, “the decision has already been made as to what the course of action with these new allies will be. I will not repeat the mistakes of the past, but I do have plans of my own for them. Besides, I think we all know that if you pursue the correct course of action the wayward nerfs always come back to the herd.”
The last was delivered with a slightly sarcastic tone, seemingly directed at the commander of the Intrepid. Khadgar was fully aware of the implication, the scowl on his face marking that plainly for anyone in the room.
“To the matter at hand,” Esoteric said, activating the holoprojector that dominated the center of the room. An image of Korriban dominated the display while smaller images of the Brotherhood’s warships controlled by Ashen and Cotelin hovered around it. Suddenly, Plagueis controlled ships winked into existence on the far side of the planet, away from the bulk of the ships in the area. “Plagueis has just arrived, and they are beginning their deployments to the planet below.”
As Dahr watched, he saw troop ships issue forth from the Plagueian destroyers as their Acclamator began it’s approach to the planet. He realized that the view of Korriban was a real time feed, and that Esoteric had ended discussion exactly when he had planned to.
“Will we be deploying in support of them?” asked Colonel Nightmare. He was the only squadron commander seated along the inner ring with the wing commanders and flag officers, as befitted his position as the commander of the elite Avenger Squadron.
“Not just yet,” Esoteric said. “I am still awaiting some additional information, but I think it has just arrived.”
Esoteric’s gaze moved to the doors along the far wall of the briefing room which then opened to reveal a man in a uniform of vaguely Imperial cut with a saber at his side. The human was on the far side of middle age for his species, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, with greying hair and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. Dahr felt certain that he knew the man’s lined features from somewhere, but he could not pull a name from his memory to match the face.
Despite what was transpiring, Kz’set couldn’t help but focus on his mission as he strode across the hangar deck. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that the objective he’d been given on Korriban would be difficult to capture with the forces he’d been allotted. Even a less intelligent being would realize that it was likely designed by the Dread Lord to get him killed or at least pinned down. A less intelligent being would decline the mission, but not Kz’set. He was looking for a way to turn the situation to his advantage. He was trying to anticipate all contingencies, plan for all eventualities, but there was one he hadn’t anticipated.
“So, you’re still going off as the Dread Lord’s errand boy despite him siding with our one time compatriots.”
Selika Roh stood at the base of the shuttle’s boarding ramp looking as pompous and deadly as ever. Though he could never tell if it was genuine, he could detect a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Kz’set twitched an antennae in her direction as he replied.
“Not exactly. The Dread Lord has led us into the grasp of people he doesn’t fully understand.”
Selika chuckled. “Of course he doesn’t. He must think Esoteric is the only one to contend with.”
Kz’set nodded. “Vivrackus is being played by Esoteric and Aabsdu. Esoteric is being played by Krayt. I intend not to be played by any of them.”
“That’s the first thing I’ve ever heard you say that made the slightest bit of sense.” Selika replied in what sounded like a genuine tone. “So, what’s your plan?”
“Vivrackus means to remove me, that much is clear. I’m going to find a way to turn this suicide mission to my advantage.” Kz’set still was working out exactly how to do that, but one thing was clear. “Your assistance would be essential.”
“Decisions, decisions.” Selika mused. “Go off with you to almost certain death, or be led into almost certain death by the Dread Lord. Only one of those presents any real odds of survival. Count me in.”
“Good.” Kz’set gestured towards the shuttle. “Together we’ll stand a better chance at getting out of this. Then we can turn our attention to Vivrackus and his new friends, once Cotelin or Ashen weakens them.
As Kz’set and Selika strode onto the shuttle, Brimstone watched from the back of the hangar. It was quite clear they were up to no good and had to be stopped. One he was sure they could no longer see him, he quickly darted out of the hangar and headed to the bridge.
Sentinel Class Landing Craft
En Route to Korriban
Kz’set and Selika stared wordlessly at each other in the landing craft’s passenger compartment, flanked by soldiers and droids. Both seemed to be contemplating the same question in their minds. What insanity had led them to be in a situation where they were on the same side? They had both left the One Sith for different personal reasons, but they agreed on the most important thing. Esoteric, despite what he might lead on, was still a pawn of the even more mysterious Darth Krayt and Krayt couldn’t be trusted. The two were playing a deadly game with each other and neither of them were about to let themselves or Clan Plagueis get caught up in it as long as they could help it.
Neither of them was sure exactly what or who awaited them on Korriban. With everyone at each other’s throats like this, it wouldn’t take much to cause a situation that quickly spiraled out of control. Their goal was to survive the impending carnage as long as possible and only move when the time was right, hopefully with allies at their side. There was no backing out now, Korriban is where they had to be if they were to do any good.
As they worked their way towards the planet, the pilot’s monotone voice on the intercom broke the awkward silence in the cabin.
“My lord, we are detecting weapons warming up on the Transcendent, they appear to be locking onto us.”
Kz’set and Selika exchanged curious glances, with Selika speaking first.
“What the kriff is up with that?.”
“Possibly a malfunction or an attempt to cover us?” Kz’set chimed in,quickly thinking of other possibilities. “Not likely. This is highly suspiciouszzz.”
Selika nodded as Kz’set keyed the intercom to reply. “Any communicationszzz?”
The monotone of the pilot answered quickly. “Negative…Hold on.” There was an awkward pause in the transmission before the pilot continued. “We have incoming fire from the Transcendent.”
“Well, that didn’t take long.” Selika mused right before Kz’set spoke calmly into the comm.
“Evasive pattern Osk-7. Get us on the ground.”
Without another word, the pilot turned the shuttle into an evasive maneuver as the first shots hit the landing craft. As he scrambled up to the flight deck, Kz’set could feel the more shots impacting the shuttle’s shields. They were holding, but it wouldn’t be long before the star destroyer’s powerful guns penetrated them. It only took a few seconds for Kz’set to reach the flight deck and he vaulted into an open auxiliary station when he arrived. The exemplary efforts of the flight team and Kz’set’s efforts to keep the shields up probably extended the fight for a good deal longer than it should have lasted. However, the result was seemingly inevitable as eventually shots began to hit the hull, one of the first ripping through the shuttle’s main engines. From there, there was nowhere to go but down and the only thing to do was to make sure they landed alive. Kz’set could see Korriban’s surface closing in quickly. It was only a matter of seconds before impact. He braced himself, focused himself, doing everything he could to ensure he survived what was about to happen. And then it did.
The blast doors of the bridge opened and Vivackus Kavon di Plagia strode through. Wordlessly, he passed by officers and workers until he reached a weapons station, and the Chiss standing behind it.
“Brimstone, move.” The Dread Lord commanded as a crimson blade erupted in his hand.
Sparks erupted from the console as the lightsaber blade slashed back and forth into the electronics. The man sitting at the terminal was already dead, decapitated from the first swing, but that didn’t stop the Dread Lord from carving the body into progressively smaller pieces. Vivackus had a personal rule against murdering peons for the sole purpose of occupying his anger.
He had never broken that rule before.
When the storm passed, Vivackus’ heavy breathing was loudest sound on the Bridge. “Please tell me exactly what ran through your head when you launched an attack on my right hand.”
Brimstone did not reply immediately. “I thought that was what you wanted, sir.”
“Is that so? Did I tell you I wanted that?”
“The answer is no. No I did not.” Vivackus strode forward, grabbing the Chiss by the collar and pinning him against the wall. His hand shaking, Vivackus’ still-ignited lightsaber blade trembled like an animal straining against a leash. “Do I look blue?”
“Do I have the color blue anywhere on my attire or in my skintone.”
“That should tell you that I am neither an Obelisk, nor am I you, so I am failing to grasp why you think I would want something so stupid as my Wrath being executed by my own flagship.”
“Please, sir. Kz’set was plotting to undermine you.” Brimstone pleaded.
“I know! Why do you think I sent him down into the middle of a war zone in the first place for an objective of minimal tactical importance?” Brimstone winced as Vivackus’ grip tightened. “By sending him down to the front line of the battle, I could prevent him from working to convince others in the Clan against me. Not only did you take it upon yourself to try to kill Kz’set, you failed. Now, someone with almost complete knowledge of our fleet’s capabilities and attack plans is within arms length of not one, but two enemy factions, and you guaranteed that any residual allegiance Kz’set had towards Plagueis has evaporated.”
Vivackus let go and turned. “Get out of my sight. You have preparing to do.”
Brimstone breathed a sigh of relief, before registering the last phrase. “Preparing? For what?”
“For your mission. You’re going down to the surface to finish what you started. And you’re going alone.”
The Dread Lord exited the bridge before he felt the need to flay another slave. It was an assignment that Brimstone could not reasonably hope to accomplish, and live. Whatever the result, Vivackus would have one less problem to deal with.
Since their initial conversation regarding allegiances during the conflict, Teylas hadn’t spoken to Vivackus for more than a brief moment at best. However, in the mean time, Teylas had been gathering his own troops. As the Anzat expected, he wasn’t exactly trustworthy of how the allegiances of his forces were falling. None the less, he planned to continue with a void of trust in the front of his mind for his fellow Plagueians. He didn’t entirely trust Vivackus, either, but their goals appeared to line up enough for a partnership. Moreover, Teylas gave Vivackus no reason to distrust him, as he had made clear many times his goal was not to usurp his position as Dread Lord, but to focus on building the base of Plagueis and his own personal military. Any other ambitions were easily obtained through the attrition of time giving Teylas’ long life the advantage.
His concentration on the command deck of the Ascendancy was snapped by a comm officer, “Sir, we’re getting a communique directed right at us.”
The dapperly dressed Teylas raised an eyebrow before nodding.
The holocomm in front of him sprang to life with a blue hue which spread it’s light into every corner of the room.
“Are you-- are you receiving my signal okay?” the unknown face asked seemingly tapping his own holocomm device.
“Yes. Who are you?” came the sharp snap back.
“Well, hi, I’m uh. Well the name is Connor Grey, and I have a business proposition for you,” the man responded.
“What kind of proposition? This isn’t exaclt–” Teylas was cut off by Grey, a Dark Jedi he recognized from intelligence reports. Not exactly the sort that the Anzat would be caught hanging around with too often, though.
“Well see I’m down here on the surface, and I’ve been rummaging around through this Tomb of Ajunta Pall, and found a few things I’ve heard you might be interested in. I might be willing to tell you where they are and share… for a price,” the business proposition was laid out before the Anzat. “Something about a Rite of Immortality, too?”
‘This could be a nice distraction,’ Teylas thought to himself. ‘But it could also be a trap. But the rewards could be… lucrative.’
After a brief pause to ponder the idea he finally responded, “What assurances do I have on this intelligence you claim to have?” A moment later a large file was uploaded through the comm link. Taking it a look over, some of the artifacts listed were of intrigue to the Anzat. Some the forces of Plagueis had been trying to track down for many, many years.
“I will take this under advisement and notify you momentarily,” Teylas responded with a bit of hesitation.
“Oh… just take all the time you need. Not a war going on, or anything,” came the last reply as his holocomm signal died out, darkening the room.
Pressing a few commands into the holocomm console it sprang to life after a few short moments, “Vivackus. We may have finally found an opportunity to gain an upper hand. Some artifacts that the clan has been searching for, since before you joined… we may finally have an opportunity at them. I’m sending you the pertinent information now.”
Vivackus’ hologram looked over the information quickly then turned his attention back to his quaestor, “How do we know this isn’t a trap?”
“We don’t. I have reservations, but I think that the rewards could outweigh the risks if we formulate a plan of action,” Teylas assured his much younger superior.
The hologram nodded, “Do it, and forward the plan to me immediately. We’ll leave when we’re ready.”
“Understood,” Teylas nodded as he shut off the communications channel. Punching a few more commands into the holocomm he pulled back up the recently familiar face of Mister Grey. “Where do you want to meet?” he asked coldly.
Shuttle crash site
Consciousness returned to Selika slowly, allowing her to realize that it wasn’t a welcome change. Every part of her hurt, and she was fairly certain that there was something more than pain afflicting her left leg. Lacking any real medical training, or the ability with the Force in order to heal herself, she could not discern anything specific about her injury beyond not-inconsiderable pain. The first thing that greeted her eyes when she finally summoned the willpower to open them, however, was not what she had expected.
She saw the sky, lit with the slightest sign of dawn on the horizon. Pulling herself up into a sitting position, she saw why it was sky and not bulkhead that filled her view. The entire starboard side of the landing craft had been ripped open, likely taken along for the ride when the starboard wing had been sheared off on the way down. Selika groggily remembered the sound of screaming metal, then nothing but blackness.
“Selika,” Kz’set’s voice croaked from behind her.
“Lovely,” Selika thought out loud. “The least you could have done is have the decency to have died in the crash, given what you just put me through.”
“You must not be hurt too badly,” the Verpine shot back. “Else your biting wit would have suffered.”
Selika rose to her feet, pushing away the pain that shot through her leg as she did so, and turned to face Kz’set. The Verpine was pinned under a section of the overhead that had come loose, unable to move.
“Well, isn’t this a sight,” Selika said, then held up a hand before the Proconsul could respond. “Yes, I know. I need to rescue you because I probably wouldn’t survive crossing the wastes of Korriban alone through all that fighting.” The last was delivered with a patronizing, child-like tone.
Many people said Verpine didn’t have expressions, their hardened carapaces not really given to expressiveness. Spend enough time with one, though, and you began to be able to read them just as easily as any other humanoid. Given how well Selika and Kz’set knew each other, she could tell that he was scowling. Or, at least the Verpine equivalent.
“Well?” he prompted.
“Just trying to figure out why you hadn’t extricated yourself before I regained consciousness,” Selika replied.
“Well, if you must know, the metal is wedged in here quite soundly, telekinesis wouldn’t budge it,” he explained. “And my saber is caught between my leg and the decking.”
Selika chuckled to herself, igniting her saber as she did so. A few quick slashes were enough to free her begrudging ally. Selika even held out her hand to aid him to his feet.
“So,” she mused, “It looks like Vivackus decided not to wait for your removal after all. I guess the suicide mission wasn’t quick enough.”
“Or else he thought I might somehow succeed, and thought the better at it,” he said as he pulled himself up.
Selika rolled her eyes at that, eliciting another bug-scowl. “Whatever the reason, we have to get moving. Vivackus doesn’t strike me as the kind of man to leave a job half done. Or a target half assassinated.”
Kz’set nodded. “It will be light out there soon, so we’d best get moving.”
Suddenly, a weak, throbbing ping began to issue from the cockpit. Both survivors looked at one another in surprise, then Kz’set lead the way to the forward hatch.
“It looks like the shuttle’s comm system hadn’t been destroyed in the crash at least,” Kz’set observed as he entered the cockpit section.
As Selika followed him in, she grimaced in revulsion. “It might have, but the same can’t be said for the crew.”
The port side of the cockpit ceiling was crushed in, the new overhead height being about a centimeter above the padding of the cockpit seats. The chief pilot’s legs remained in his chair, but most of the rest of him was splattered across the instruments and bulkheads. His copilot had fared better by comparison. The man’s forehead had apparently received a single, sharp blow when it attempted to manually interface with his control console.
“And this is why I never became a pilot,” Selika murmured to herself.
If Kz’set heard her he gave no sign, instead hunching over in order to reach the comm board on the right side of the pilot’s console.
“If it’s Vivackus calling to gloat…” Selika said.
“Not his style,” Kz’set reminded her.
Static filled the comm channel, but then it finally resolved into a voice. “Furios to shuttle Gamma One. Kz’set, please respond.”
Selika’s eyebrows rose. She had not expected to hear the voice of her Aedile.
“I repeat, Furios to Kz’set. If you are alive, please respond.”
Kz’set motioned for Selika to speak, obviously not wanting confirm his survival just yet.
“Shuttle Gamma One. Furios, I read you,” she answered.
“Roh!” Furios said. “We monitored the attack on the shuttle. Is Kz’set there? Did the Dread Lord succeed?”
“Not completely,” Selika said, wanting more information before tipping her hand.
“I’ll bet those One Sith are behind this,” Furios went on, anger evident in his voice. “This alliance never smelled right from the beginning.”
“You’re right,” Kz’set spoke up. “It is nothing but folly.”
“My lord,” Furios spoke quickly, relief evident in his voice. “I’m on planet leading the forces of Ajunta Pall! I’ll dispatch troops to rescue you immediately!”
“Excellent, but we will likely meet them half way. It doesn’t seem wise to remain at the scene of your own attempted murder,” Kz’set responded.
“Indeed, my lord.”
“What is the situation? Our disposition of forceszzz?” Kz’set asked.
“Vivackus is still in orbit, but reports say he is set to arrive on-planet shortly. The quaestors are with him,” Furios reported.
“This alliance never sat right with me, nor Taranae,” Furios explained. “The Aediles are with you, my lord. As well as a significant portion of our forces.”
“Good,” Kz’set said. “We might have a chance. Send me coordinates, and Selika and I will rendezvous with your forces.”
As the comm channel closed, Selika looked at Kz’set with an appraising eye. “So it looks like the civil war has come to Plagueis in earnest. How’s it feel to be a revolutionary?”
Kz’set’s only response was yet another scowl.
Nu-Class Attack Shuttle
En Route to Korriban
The whine of the aged engine reverberated through the landing craft’s hull as Dralin sat across from the Dread Lord of Clan Plagueis. The two men couldn’t look more different for light-skinned humans; Dralin’s face was smooth as always from his daily shaving, while Vivackus’s face was eternally stubbled. Close-cropped and styled auburn hair contrasted with long, free-flowing black hair, and nearly a sixth of a meter separated their heights. All of these contrasting details, however, pointed toward the same personality quirks: pride and control. They were two star charts pointing to the same system, and this common ground would serve as the Consul’s staging ground for a political offensive.
The Dread Lord smiled across the aisle toward Plagueis’s wayward member. “I understand that Kz’set spoke with you, Dralin.” Vivackus’s voice was that of a father taking an interest in an estranged son’s hobbies, tinged with no small amount of humor. “Perhaps you’d like to hear both sides of the story?”
Dralin crossed his arms around the crash webbing holding him into his chair.”You could say that I was holding out for it,” the Coruscanti man ventured. His short time among the post-Ronovi Plagueians taught him to keep his Sabacc cards close to his chest, and it wasn’t a lesson he would unlearn soon. This subject, however, was close to his heart. “Why did you do it? Why turn your back on the Brotherhood that raised you to where you are today?”
Vivackus likewise crossed his arms, mirroring the body language of the man he was to persuade. It was a common enough tactic, but the Sith Battlelord did it on reflex. “You of all people should know, Dralin. How far did your loyalty to the Council get you during the Vong war?” That got Dralin’s attention; the people he lost on Antei haunted him for years when he was still with Tarentum, all to regain the Council’s pride and joy wasteland without so much as a ‘thank you’. “You, more than anyone, should know that the Iron Throne only sees the Clans are tools to be used, and nothing more. We’re pawns, pieces on a dejarik board for the Councilors to move around.” Vivackus’s face grew grim. “I intend to leave the board and become one of the players, and I invite all of Plagueis to do the same.”
The ex-Tarenti nodded slowly as his eyes narrowed in thought. The Brotherhood’s tendency to waste its resources on pointless backstabbing was something he had railed against for nearly a decade. It was an old point of contention, and one that resonated with his personal politics. After all, Dralin did not even refer to himself as Sith; in his mind, he was a Dark Jedi first and foremost. The idea of a Sith sounded good as a data point, but the mentality of its adherents was self-defeating.
Could Vivackus truly be working to break this cycle? By finally betraying the Brotherhood, could he be acting with responsibility toward his people?
“You make a sound case,” Dralin mused. “It does make one wonder if the system cannot be fixed, and must simply be abandoned to build something better.” His brow furrowed as he considered the Dread Lord’s words, and the di Plaguian watched him behind hooded eyes. “But is this Esoteric the right choice? What do we even know of this…individual?”
“Not much,” Vivackus conceded with an incline of his head. “We do know that Esoteric provides an edge against the rest of the Brotherhood, however, and that is the point. We both know that the Grand Master and Cotelin are unchanging. Better to side with the wild card than to side with two ideologies that we know are broken.” Vivackus smiled with confidence. “Real change is coming to this part of the galaxy, Dralin. I intend to lead Plagueis into the future, not cling to the past.”
The Consul’s words resonated with Dralin politically, but something else was clearly bothering him. Vivackus looked at him expectantly.
“The officer on the bridge of the Transcendent. That…Chiss made a poor choice, yet the officer was killed?” Dralin shook his head slowly. “That is precisely the sort of self-defeating behavior that destroys Sith in the end.”
Vivackus steepled his fingers and considered Dralin over them. “Consider, perhaps, the ramifications of punishing Brimstone directly.” As Vivackus spoke, Dralin heard his own accent reflected in his voice. “Someone must serve as the example, and what kind of message does it send when I kill my supporters during the middle of an organized attempt at insubordination?”
Dralin nodded slowly and wondered whether Kz’set, the Wrath of Plagueis, made the right choice.
Somewhere near the Valley of the Dark Lords
All was interrupted by the ever nearing sound of heavy weapons fire. If all was going as it had appeared before they left, all three factions should have landed by now. Given the directions the sounds were coming from, that assumption was still a valid one. It still wasn’t evident what the three sides wanted on Korriban, but they definitely all wanted something and that was a recipe for one hell of a mess.
Kz’set and Selika were both on edge, Kz’set perhaps a fair bit more so. Someone had already tried to kill them once today and it was only a matter of time before someone else shot at them. It was almost worth taking bets on who would take the next shot, but before Kz’set could suggest such, he heard a sound from his comlink.
“Furios already?” Selika asked. “Should have taken him at least another ten minutes.”
Kz’set looked at the unit and frowned. “No, not him. Wrong frequency. It’s not coming in over any of our standard channels.”
Selika quirked an eyebrow. “Fascinating. You going to answer?”
Kz’set glared at the Krath before keying the comlink on. “Who is this and how did you get this frequency?”
A deep male voice responded. “That’s a heck of a way to greet someone who’s calling to offer you help.”
Kz’set rolled his eyes. “It’s perfectly appropriate under the circumstances. Don’t make me ask again.
“Allright, allright.” The voice replied. “Name’s Grey, Connor Grey. And since you’re going to ask this next, I’m calling because there’s something I have that I think is of interest to you.”
Kz’set muted the line as Selika spoke up. “Who the kriff is that and what could he possibly have?”
“He was mentioned in the intelligence reportszzz.” Kz’set answered. “Relic hunter, probable Jedi Praxeum drop-out, and supposed expert in Korriban’s history. Our former employers also had some dealings with him. Even Synin bought information from him.”
“That’s not what I’d call a glowing endorsement.” Selika commented when Kz’set mentioned his former master. “Synin makes this Macron fellow I keep hearing about sound sane.”
Kz’set glared at Selika and then keyed the comm. “So, what exactly do you have to offer us Mister Grey.”
“Haven’t deciphered it all yet.” Grey promptly replied. “But I have determined it is definitely a holocron made by Ajunta Pall and it mentions something to do with a Rite of Immortality. From what I’ve heard that’s what has gotten everyone all excited around here.”
From their looks Kz’set and Selika had the exact same question at the exact same time. “And why exactly are you offering it to us.”
“Because you’re the only ones that haven’t threatened to kill me at the mere mention of it yet.” Grey replied, a hint of fear clear in his voice. “That tells me that you’re the least likely to do something crazy with whatever knowledge is contained in it or destroy it outright because someone else might do something crazy with it.”
Kz’set wasn’t entirely convinced by the answer, but was still intrigued none the less. “You have my interest. Where should I meet you.”
“The tomb of Ajunta Pall,” Grey answered quickly. “What I have is too dangerous to move right now. Might want to hurry, it’s only a matter of time before I’m found.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can.” Kz’set answered and then promptly closed the channel. Looking at Selika, she spoke up immediately.
“Did you know Ajunta Pall made a holocron, especially one that had to do with this immortality thing?”
Kz’set shook his head in the negative and thought for a moment before speaking. “Every dealing with Grey, well at least the ones I’ve heard about, have never been a straightforward. He also doesn’t exaggerate and his findings tend to be genuine and accurate. If he has something of this value, we need to get control of it. That way, we’ll have leverage and not just over Vivackus.”
“Agreed,” Selika replied. “But there’s a more practical concern, how are we going to get there.”
Kz’set was about to respond, but he suddenly twitched an antennae as he strained to hear something. The distinct whine of a respulsorlift could be heard nearby and they were getting closer. Instinctively, Kz’set gestured to a nearby rocky outcropping. Both Plagueians scrambled for cover behind the rocks just as what sounded like a large vehicle stopped nearby. After examining the vehicles, Kz’set whispered to Selika.
“AAT. Markings suggest it belongs to Odan Urr. Must be scouting ahead of the main landing.”
“Lovely.” Selika whispered back. “Lighties are just what we needed.”
Kz’set quickly calculated some possibilities in his head. Before he had settled on something, he ‘heard’ something coming over his natural radio frequencies.
“M’lord. Lord Furios instructed us to contact you in this manner. A armored vehicle was spotted in your vicinity.”
All that could be seen when Kz’set responded was a slight twitching of his antennae.
“Spotted the target. Support is requested.”
“A fire team is in your vicinity.”
Kz’set clicked an acknowledgement and looked back at Selika who gave him a strange look.
“What was that all about?” The Krath inquired.
“Verpine stuff.” Kz’set answered. “Furios’ troops are nearby, but we still need a ride”
Selika got a snarl on her face at first, but then a wicked grin. “I draw them out, distract them, and you blow their heads off?”
Pulling out his shatter pistol, Kz’set nodded. “Sounds like a plan to me. And if it gets ugly, we have support”
As Kz’set snuck into a better ambush position, Selika stepped out from behind the outcropping and walked towards the tank with a slight limp. The Tank’s commander had already popped out of the vehicle’s top hatch. He quickly gestured at Selika.
“Who are you, what are you doing out here?”
“Thank the Force you arrived.” Selika shouted back with a hint of exasperation in her voice. “Our shuttle was shot down by those traitorous Plagueians and, I was the only survivor. Could you help me, I’m trying to reach Grandmaster Cotelin.”
It didn’t require much help from the Force to make the Odanite officer buy Selika’s ploy. He shouted down into the rear hatch opened and the two gunners stepped out and rushed to Selika’s side. As they did, Kz’set moved behind the vehicle, using the Force to cloak his movements.
‘Gullible lightsiders’ Kz’set thought to himself as he lined up a shot on the commander. Just as the gunners got to Selika’s side he squeezed the trigger, sending a slug ripping through the commander’s head. A split second later he did the same to the now exposed pilot. Catching them by surprise, Selika snapped out her lightsaber and made short work of the two gunners. As the last body fell, four Plagueian faceless troopers appeared over a small rise. Kz’set waved them over.
“Clean this up, then take us to Furioszzz.”
The troopers gave a wordless salute and efficiently pulled the dead commander and pilot from the tank. Kz’set promptly climbed into the commander’s station and Selika settled into a gunner’s station. Once the troopers took the remaining positions and two of the exterior handholds, the tank pulled off, heading for an assembly area closer to the Valley of the Dark Lords. Furios paced in front of an Armored Interface Craft that was offloading troops. Kz’set shot a look at him from atop the AAT, displeased with the number of men and vehicles present.
“This was all you could manage?”
“Taranrae is bringing more from the Preeminent, but it’s confused up there.” Furios shouted back.
“Very well.” Kz’set said, still unsatisfied. “It will have to do. Our destination is the Tomb of Ajunta Pall. We must get there before any of the others.”
“At once my Wrath.”
Meanwhile, Elsewhere on Korriban
Connor Grey keyed off his commlink with a heavy sigh. Things were about to get complicated for him very soon. Complicated, but very profitable. He turned to face the robed figure behind him.
“They both have our invitation?” The figure asked.
“Yes my lord, they are coming.”
Nu-Class Attack Shuttle
Air Space Above the Valley
Dralin and Vivackus stood at the open side of the attack shuttle, both grasping the straps situated for troop unloading. The air rushed past them as they descended through the atmosphere rapidly, and they both gazed out across the Valley of the Dark Lords with the same confident nonchalance. Behind them were arrayed the slave soldiers that they had brought to help them break through any initial resistance, as well as to serve as a screen for their movements later.
“Lord Teylas will be joining us below,” the Dread Lord explained with a raised voice. “Lord Callus is likewise flying in with Teylas, but he’ll be leading the troops in battle when we split away.”
Dralin nodded to Vivackus, but said nothing. It had been some time since he had seen combat, and once again he was facing it on a foreign world in order to promote another man’s endgame. The experience left a bitter taste in his mouth, but he supposed that was his reward for neglecting to advance his own agendas and simply follow the lead of others. At the very least, Dralin could hold his choices in reserve for the right moment to act–no one could take that from him. The craft slowed as it prepared to touch down on the Valley’s desolate floor, causing Dralin’s cape to flap as the approach to the ground kicked up gusts, and he adjusted his lightsaber at his hip before stepping off of the transport.
The Dread Lord lead the detachment toward the drop site of the second shuttle, and the Quaestors and their military compliment were there to greet them. The two groups merged seamlessly, with Vivackus taking the lead, with his Quaestors at either side as his right and left hands. Dralin stood off to the side of his House’s Quaestor, Teylas, marching in step ahead of the troops that maintained a respectful distance from the powerful Dark Jedi.
“We will need to engage at least one group to make our movements believeable,” Vivackus reminded them. “After that, we will allow Callus to take control of the group and make our way to the objective.”
Dralin nodded and ignited his lightsaber for the first time in a long time. The familiar snap-hiss of the blade felt right to him; he had hidden the weapon during his personal exodus to keep a low profile, but he knew deep down that this was the way he was meant to fight. The column rounded a corner within the Valley and spotted another group in the distance. Muz-aligned Loyalists appeared to be heading for an outlying area, likely an evac zone, but at the sight of the Plagueis traitors they practically howled with rage and drew their weapons. The Loyalist forces consisted mostly of low-level Force users and military cannon fodder. Dralin grinned as he saw the writing on the wall–the Loyalists had numbers, but they did not boast a single Equite among them.
For the time being, Dralin shut out thoughts of Dread Lord against Wrath, or Quaestors versus Aediles. All that mattered for him now was joining the fight, and when the two armies clashed he again found his taste for blood. The ebb and flow of Djem So guided him through the fight as he struck again and again, batting aside elementary lightsaber-resistant weapons and finishing fights that his opponents had not yet realized they had joined. The Plagueian army was itself a lightsaber, for the gaping holes among the Loyalist force were likewise cauterized. No reserve force filled in for those struck down, and reprisal was minimal. Without thinking, Dralin fall back on his old military tactic of surrounding himself with underlings and guiding their movements with the Force. Battle meditation was one of his specialties, and he even deactivated his lightsaber to better focus on directing his chosen group directly with his mind. The slave soldiers reacted strongly, and Dralin’s later reflection would guess that they had never experienced a boost of morale before in their lives.
The last of the Loyalist forces broke and tried to scatter. Dralin, snarling, raised a gauntleted hand to point and direct his commandeered soldiers, but Vivackus raised his own fist, ordering everyone back.
“Let them run,” the Dread Lord commanded with a smirk. “Let them tell their bootlick masters that the Plagueians have taken to the field.”
Dralin released his hold on the soldiers, and watched as the morale he granted them through the Force drained away. He felt a twinge of wrongness at the idea; he’d always been of the opinion that no man deserved to be a slave. The strong were meant to lead the weak, but could one truly count on the support of someone who had no conviction? He shook his head slightly to clear away his thoughts, but his senses, already enhanced by the Force, directed his attention elsewhere now that he was finished navel-gazing.
“You can feel it too,” Vivackus urged Callus. “You felt our power, our rightness in turning on the Brotherhood’s forces.” The Dread Lord’s face gleamed with the exhaultation of his victory, even over so weak a force. A victory is a victory, no matter how small, Dralin mused. “When this is over,” Vivackus continued, “and Cotelin and Ashen lie at our feet, should we not continue? To halt our momentum with the Brotherhood seems…wasteful.” He grinned. “Why not Esoteric as well? If we have this power, why not turn on him and take what is ours by strength?”
Callus saluted and lead the column in the opposite direction as the Dread Lord turned and signalled to Teylas and Dralin to follow him to the ruin. Behind Vivackus but ahead of Teylas, Dralin’s expression darkened as he considered those words. ‘Why not’ indeed? Shall we turn on anyone and everyone and continue this cycle of self-defeat as well? While this method was, strictly speaking, the Sith way, Dralin knew it for what it was: a destructive cycle that threatened the goals of those who justified the behavior. Any trust he had in Vivackus evaporated, and so once again he continued his high-stakes sabaac game and waited for the proper moment to lay down his cards.
Valley of the Dark Lords
Teylas had been watching the forray going on throughout the valley as all the different combat forces. For now he, Dralin, and Vivackus had found a spot to collect themselves momentarily.
“How much further?” Dralin asked.
“Not very far now. Right behind that… building…” Teylas hesitated to use that term to describe the ruins in front of them.
“Let’s go,” Vivackus ordered succinctly. The group jumped over their cover, Teylas motioning for all their support troops to follow. As covertly as possible they made it towards the coordinates they were given for the Tomb of Ajunta Pall. For the most part, the mainstay of forces were ignoring anyone who wasn’t directly coming at them; it was that kind of battle – bloodbath. Not to mention they were a bit out of the way of the main array of combat.
Teylas led up the rear, not entirely sure of Dralin’s allegiances. He had barely spoken to the man in the past, and he rode down on an entirely different shuttle leaving the Anzat unsure of the pleasantries of conversation held between Dralin and Vivackus. Nevertheless, the Anzat refused to turn his back on Dralin.
Instead Teylas shuttled down with Callus Bo’Amar; a man that Teylas surely didn’t fear, but in fact, while their working relationship on the battlefield was a bit strained, they were akin in many ways. However, while their battlefield relationship was a bad chemical reaction waiting to happen, their cantina relationship at the bottom of a rum bottle left little need for improvement.
As the two made it behind the ruins they could see the large open space that was the entrance to the tomb. The mass, and it was quite large, of troops suddenly stopped.
“I guess this is where we find out if this was a trap,” Vivackus said as he began to come from behind their new found cover overlooking the tomb entrance.
“I don’t understand,” Teylas said smacking his comm device. “Not getting a signal while trying to call Grey. Weird.” After a short pause he continued, “I guess we have no choice now but to go in and hope he’s in there.”
“Or it could be a welcoming part of a different sort,” Dralin somewhat cracked a joke to no amusement of the other two. “You know, armed. With guns.”
“They better be very big guns,” Teylas smirked as the quad came from behind their cover and started making a discreet stroll towards the large open mouth of the tomb’s entrance chamber. Again Teylas motioned for the troops to follow. It wasn’t long before they were overcome by one of the many dust storms that had been circling the valley. The four covered their faces as the dust and sand turned up, the fine particles slamming their face at high wind speeds before finally settling out.
As the air cleared Teylas turned behind him to notice the shadow of figures quickly advancing on them. The Anzat used his natural telepathy to slam Vivackus’ mind with a warning message of what was coming, as the two turned quickly to prepare for what might come.
Finally, the air was settled revealing before them the traitors that were against them: Kz’set, and Selika. Flanking them were Taranae and Furios, also traitors, undoubtedly. None of these people particularly worried Teylas, for various reasons. But as a group, they posed a threat. A threat that required eliminating for Teylas to continue on his plan and draw the conflict out much further. It was almost predestined, as they gathered around one another in almost a circle, with Kz’set and Vivackus reaching the center. Behind each side of the circle were the troops of Clan Plagueis, simply waiting around unsure of what to do, who to listen to, how to follow. Holding the line, for now. At that point, though, the entrance to the tomb was crowded with troops to the point where Teylas could barely see the entrance. But that also meant it wouldn’t be hard to slip away, if need be.
Teylas, remaining in telepathic contact with the Dread Lord, decided to submit some wisdom to him: ‘Don’t do anything to jeopardize the mission.’
The tension in Korriban’s dusty air was more than palpable. Hands were on weapons with some already drawn and pointed at people on the other side. The looks that were being shot across the space between the two forces were so intense they could have melted the armor of a star destroyer. In the middle of it all, Kz’set and Vivackus stood staring at each other wordlessly. It was obvious to the observers that the two were sizing each other up. While they were looking for a weakness in each other they were both going out of their way not to give anything away. It was if the two were playing in the Galactic Series of Sabbaac. This game, however, had even more at stake.
After a several tense moments, Kz’set was the first to speak, one spindly finger on his lightsaber.
“So, you went from trying to get me killed to actively trying to kill me. I figured you’d be more original than just shooting me down”
“Wasn’t my plan, for what it’s worth.” Vivackus replied, his face still stoic. “But I’m beginning to wish they had killed you.”
Kz’set twitched an antenna. “Why, so you could take this relic unopposed? Couldn’t resist having something to hold over everyone’s head.”
Vivackus chuckled slightly. “I’m assuming you’re here for the same reason. Whoever obtains this relic has power over this situation.
“They would also become a target, but I’m assuming you’ve considered that.” Kz’set chimed in. “Of Cotelin, of Ashen, and almost certainly of others, possibly even Esoteric. You don’t know him like I do, he will betray you eventually. Has he even told you what his purpose is here? Not that you should believe him, but has he even bothered to tell you?”
“Irrelevant,” Vivackus scoffed. “We matter, and will matter more once we claim this artifact.”
“Do you really think I intend to let you do that?” Kz’set queried. “Besides, since it appears you got the same information I did, has it yet occurred to you that this might be some elaborate ruse meant to snare us both? And so you’re aware, you’re just another pawn in the grand scheme of another who’s a pawn in someone else’s grand scheme. The only way to win this game is not to play.”
Vivackus simply scowled in return. The two leaders grew silent for a moment, as if they were both contemplating Kz’set’s words. In the gathered crowd though, some had decided that the time for words had ended. With most of the assembled throng focused on Vivackus and Kz’set, Teylas figured that this was a chance to sneak into the tomb and claim the holocron. To that end he started creeping towards the tomb’s entrance, hoping to go unnoticed.
The problem was, he failed in that regard. Dralin saw Teylas moving from his place in the crowd, and now, finally, made his allegiance clear.
“Kz’set!” He shouted. “Vivackus is distracting you; Teylas is moving for the relic!”
Snap-hisses of lightsabers, the rattle of blasters coming free of their holsters, and the whine of droids training weapons could all be heard. There might have been a chance resolve the situation civilly a moment ago, but now it was clear what was about to happen. There was only one way it could end. With a flick of his finger, Kz’set whipped his lightsaber into his hand and extended it’s orange blade. With another flick of his hand, his forces charged forward and opened fire.
In seconds the area outside the tomb was a chaotic swirl of light and metal. Dark Jedi, droids, and soldiers collided. As more and more chose sides and entered the fray, the situation quickly descended into one no one could control. Blaster bolts and explosions drowned out shouted orders. It wasn’t clear who had the upper hand given all the chaos but neither side seemed intimidated by the other.
In the middle of it all though was the two leaders. Though Vivackus and Kz’set had moved towards each other, both had gotten caught up in the flow of battle. The Dread Lord found himself in a sea of B2 battle droids, his crimson saber dismembering one after another. The Wrath, for his part, had been wading through a throng of black clad Faceless, in an attempt to reach the Dread Lord. They constantly tried to work their way towards the other, both seeming to have the same idea. If they could best the other, then perhaps all this would end.
After cleaving a droid in twain, Vivackus finally found himself within striking distance the Verpine. Noticing this, Kz’set spun around and engaged the Dread Lord. With a practiced grace, the Wrath launched into a furious series of slashes and thrusts. It was all the Dread Lord could do to keep up with Kz’set as the Verpine was the more advanced and technical saberist. Despite that, Kz’set did have one major weakness and Vivackus was about to exploit it.
“Though I know you won’t show it,” Vivackus stated as he parried a thrust from Kz’set. “I know deep down you have fear. I know your weakness, and you will succumb to it.”
Kz’set instantly felt the Force ripping into him, creating a sensation he hadn’t felt in a long time and never this intensely. Something began to build inside him, his fingers began to tremble, his carapace started to quake. His attacks slowed as the fear gripped him. Not any specific fear, it was simply raw terror. He began to lose focus. When a blaster bolt passed near him, one that in his right mind Kz’set would have immediately known wasn’t a threat, the Verpine lunged in panic. That was the one split second opening Vivackus needed.
The Dread Lord sent an arcing bolt of energy towards Kz’set, striking him right in the chest. The pain was enough for Kz’set to lose the grip on his lightsaber. Vivackus followed up with a swift kick to Kz’set’s midsection, sending him skittering to the ground. With a sneer Vivackus looked down at the Wrath.
“I knew you would succumb. Fear has always been your weakness, fear of being wrong, fear of destruction. It is your fear that paralyzes you, and now it will be your fear that ends you.”
The Dread Lord raised his lightsaber to end it, but a second too late. A ripple through the Force sent Vivackus flying backward as Selika came to the aid of her ally. The di Plagia landed hard on his back and winced as pain arced through his chest. Channeling his anger, the Sith willed his body to ignore it and staggered to his feet. Selika’s preferred style of combat was almost identical to his own; Vivackus would have significantly more difficulty breaking through her mental resistance.
All those mental calculations were immediately discarded, as the figure of Callus threw himself headlong at the Krath, tackling her into the ground and once more clearing the path between the Dread Lord and his Wrath.
Kz’set had likewise returned to his feet, and appeared to have shaken off the mental attack. “Don’t let him in the tomb!” the Verpine shouted to Dralin, who was engaged in a saber-lock with Teylas. Kz’set called his own saber back to himself in time for Vivackus to reach him.
Kz’set struck with surgical precision, prodding for openings, while Vivackus’ motions were more reckless and vulgar. The Dread Lord had stopped concealing his anger. The events that had taken place since arriving at Korriban were frustrating to say the least. This act of insubordination was pointless. Couldn’t Kz’set see that if he had just followed, they would all be in such a better place right now?
Vivackus faltered for a second as his attention drifted away from the present and was punished for the lapse in concentration with a smouldering cut across his left forearm. Kz’set, emboldened by the stroke of good fortune, pressed the advantage.
The Battlelord backpedaled, partially to give himself time to recover, but mostly to give himself time to think. Once they crashed on Korriban, Kz’set could have just joined with Cotelin’s forces. How did the Verpine even know that Plagueis would be here?
Kz’set feinted, drawing Vivackus’ blade upwards while coming in below. The human only barely responded in time, as the sabers clashed. As the beams of plasma screamed against one another, Kz’set taunted. “Who’s scared now?”
Grey must have been feeding information to both sides. But what could a treasure hunter have to gain from pitting them against one another? Who is he working for? Connections began forming between previously unrelated events.
Kz’set swept for Vivackus’ leg, causing him to stumble backwards.
A number of Plagueian members were former One Sith.
With one clean motion, Kz’set cut through Vivackus’ lightsaber hilt right below the focusing crystal. The blade instantly died.
While Ashen and Cotelin were occupied by each other, Plagueis forces should have been able to simply clean up, were they not plagued by this infighting.
Vivackus regained his footing, extending his hands. “Wait-”
The Wrath stepped forward and drove his lightsaber through the Dread Lord’s abdomen. The di Plagia fell backwards.
Why didn’t I see it before?
Kz’set stood over the fallen man, looking down at Vivackus, writing in pain below him, wondering whether he should end the suffering. Calling upon the Force, Kz’set bellowed a single word.
The attention of all combatants snapped to where Kz’set stood over Vivackus’ supine form. As they slowly lowered their weapons, the echos of the Verpine’s exclamation faded into unexpected stillness.
The assembled Plagueians stood wordlessly as the life ebbed out of their leader, Kz’set glaring down at him. Then, suddenly, the stunned silence was suddenly shattered by the sound of two gloved hands slowly clapping. Selika and Callus, no longer locked in battle now that Kz’set had achieved victory in his, turned their heads toward the entrance to the tomb in order to see the source of the sound.
“Excellent, just excellent. This couldn’t have gone any better,” a voice boomed.
Standing before the now open doors, framed by the stone hall within, was a black armored figure. It was one that Selika recognized, and the elation that Selika had momentarily felt when Kz’set had triumphed over Vivackus and the misguided course he had plotted evaporated. Esoteric had been waiting for them. Beside him stood a pair of stormtrooper squads flanked on both sides by fully deployed droidekkas, their blasters and shields more than most Sith could overwhelm. It was now obvious that the Sith Lord had been maneuvering them towards his own goal the entire time.
“Esoteric,” Kz’set spoke the name like a curse, obviously realizing as Selika did that they had all been played.
Their true opponent bowed theatrically. “In the flesh, so to speak. I almost wish that this had been harder, but you were just so easy to play. There was some debate amongst my followers if I should have killed Vivakus outright to establish our ‘dominion’ over your little fief,” Esoteric said, a tone of contempt dripping from his words, “But I knew that with you of all people standing at his side there would be no need for such heavy handed theatrics.”
“You knew I would never go along with this alliance of his,” Kz’set realized.
“Why do you think I approached the di Plagia alone amongst the Council? Why seek to make your clan my ally instead of any of the others?” Esoteric asked. “I knew that Vivackus couldn’t resist the chance.”
“And that I would fight against it,” Kz’set said.
“I could trust the other clans and houses to busy themselves with the task of tearing one another apart as they followed Cotelin and Ashen. But Vivackus might have stood back and waited for the conflict to exhaust itself, taking advantage of the conflict,” Esoteric continued, “Especially with the ever logical Verpine standing beside him.”
“And so while the rest of the Brotherhood was fighting one another,” Kz’set spoke quietly, “You ensured that we would be fighting ourselves.”
“Got it in one, Kz’set. That’s what I like about you,” Esoteric mused. “Always able to get to the truth.”
“You’re right,” Kz’set replied, setting his shoulders. “And I know your hidden truth.”
“Oh?” Esoteric replied in amused tones.
“Who else would come back to bring the Brotherhood under his control once more, flanked by Imperial warlords from Aurora Prime? We did our homework. It’s quite obvious who you are,” Kz’set said, his voice growing stronger as he went on, “Astatine.”
Esoteric threw back his head, the sound wholly unexpected sound of laughter issuing forth from his helmet’s vocoder speaker. “You are even easier to play than the Imperials. With them I had to work to maintain the fiction that I was their former master, taking what I needed from their minds to supplement what I already knew. Their forces served as convenient cannon fodder, to be sacrificed to reach my real goal.”
Finally, Kz’set seemed to be at a loss for words. Selika had never seen him in this state, almost driven to numbness as the last of what he thought he knew came crashing down. It was obvious that he had finally been stunned into inaction, so somebody else would have to step forward.
“Even cannon fodder can be valuable,” Selika appealed, moving from the crowd to stand next to Kz’set. She knew that the only hope now was to try to persuade Esoteric, whoever he truly was, that the Plagueians before him could still serve. They had to buy time. “Plagueis can still follow you, Lord.”
“Oh it will,” Esoteric replied, a more serious tone entering his voice. “But I already have all I need from you. None of you are required.”
At that, a comm unit on the dark lord’s belt beeped, indicating an incoming signal. Esoteric pulled the device from where it was clipped and activated it. A small image of a middle aged, grey haired man in an Imperial-style uniform.
“My lord,” Xander Drax, former Imperial and Brotherhood member turned One Sith spoke over the communications channel, “The Ascendant Fleet and the remaining embarked army units have been secured as you instructed.”
Selika’s stomach knotted as she heard the man speak. Drax had been fighting against Plagueis for the better part of the last two years, and he was one of those that Selika herself had sought to distance herself from when she left the One Sith before the assault on Ziost.
“Good, Drax. Your missteps at Athiss can now be forgotten,” Esoteric said with a slight hint of praise. Looking back toward Kz’set, he addressed the Verpine. “Obedience is something I reward. Perhaps once I have reclaimed the Brotherhood that is rightfully mine, he can serve me as Dread Lord.”
“And what are your plans for uszzz?” Kz’set demanded, finally finding his voice once more. “We have more than enough to make a fight of it, if it comes to that.”
“No, I don’t think you do. You are beaten and broken,” Esoteric derided him. “You just don’t have the intelligence to realize it yet.”
Esoteric returned his attention to the still active comm unit. “You have your orders, Admiral.”
Drax nodded, then the hologram flickered and disappeared as the channel was closed.
“That was the one lesson you kind never seemed to learn during the Crusade,” Esoteric explained. Selika felt the man drawing the Force to him in great amounts, and readied herself for his attack. “You brought your ships, you landed your armies. But sometimes, the situation calls for the simple application of overwhelming force.”
The only warning that Selika had was a roar of sound from above, almost like thunder. Looking up she saw green light raining down from above. In a heartbeat it hit the ground before her, exploding into bright fire before the shockwave of the impact smashed into Selika and drove consciousness from her.
Furios was standing much farther from the initial impact site where turbolaser fire had blasted a crater into the surface of Korriban, so he had only been knocked down to a knee by the first blast. Those that followed it hit all over the valley, many vaporizing soldiers and droids alike in washes of green energy. As he watched, Esoteric stood motionless before the tomb with a hand held palm upward over his head. The Sith Lord seemed to be deflecting any energy or debris that came his way with an extremely powerful shield of Force energy.
Through the roar of explosions and the dust that filled the air, Teylas reached his hand out to pull his Aedile to his feet. The two had been on opposite sides of the feud between Dread Lord and Wrath, but none of that seemed to matter any longer.
“The fleet is firing on us!” The Anzat yelled to be heard over the cacophony. “Find Kz’set, get anyone you can out of here!”
As Teylas moved off in the other direction, obviously trying to seek out others amidst the chaos, Furios headed for where the Verpine had been standing. He found Kz’set under a small pile of rubble that had been blown out of the ground with the first turbolaser hit. Furios dug at the rocks, then saw Kz’set stirring.
“I’m fine,” Kz’set croaked, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “Where is Roh?”
Furios saw her laying across a rock about the size of a bantha nearly twenty meters from where she had been standing before. She was quite obviously injured, blood issuing forth from various wounds and large bruises already starting to stand out in contrast from her olive skin.
“There!” Furios pointed.
The two moved over to her body as explosions rocked the valley around them. Furios saw that she was still alive, but her injuries were significant.
“Take her,” Kz’set ordered.
Furios pulled her up and across his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and followed behind him. The Valley of the Dark Lords was now a graveyard two times over, the forces of Plagueis joining with the Sith Lords whose tombs dotted its walls. As they moved quickly to try to find refuge from the rain of fire, Furios saw others moving together as well.
Dralin had Callus beside him, the Quaestor’s arm draped over the other man’s shoulder for support. Taranae ran headlong through the explosions with Brimstone right beside her, apprentice and master once again working side by side. The sudden attack had fused the two sides of Plagueis together once more, uniting them against a common enemy. All that now remained was to see if that renewal of shared purpose would survive the hell in which it was being forged.
Valley of Golg - Korriban
Kz’set sighed as he looked over the piles of strewn datapads. The survivors of the battle at Ajunta Pall’s tomb had been fortunate to find refuge in these caves. It seemed their pursuers, for a time, had relented. The Verpine knew that wouldn’t last though. Beyond that, he had no intention of hiding for long. Plagueis had been deceived, he had been deceived, and that’s something he wasn’t going to stand for.
"M’lord, reports are coming in that Arion and Khan made it off the Transcendent before it fell. They’re on their way here now. " Teylas stated, breaking Kz’set’s focus.
“Good.” Kz’set muttered. “That’s at least something. We’re going to need everything we can muster if we mean to take back what is ours. What else do we have left.”
“Not much.” Teylas answered. “We’ve been trying to reach the Saraask’ar, but haven’t heard back. Some of our forces managed to make it off the fleet, but…”
"We’ll find a way to make it work, especially now that we’re working together again. " Kz’set replied, still trying to devise a plan. Esoteric and this Drax character had firmly outmaneuvered both him and Vivrackus, and that in and of itself was an impressive feat. Taking back their rightful places in the galaxy would take effort, planning, and more than a little luck. But he would think of something, he always did.
“It’s a tricky business. Playing a game in which you’re unsure of the pieces.” A voice came from behind Kz’set that he did not readily recognize. He spun around to see a man in a breath mask, green and silver armor, and a pair of matching pistols at his hips. A distinctive rifle was slung over his back. After a moment. Kz’set figured out who it was.
“Indeed mister Karn.” Kz’set replied, looking the masked man in the eye. “And in this game, I fear that losing is not an option.”
Valley of the Dark Lords
It had been some time since the one sided battle between Esoteric and Plagueis had unfolded in the valley outside the tomb of Ajunta Pall, but the signs of the battle still littered the area. The man now striding through the scarred field of battle still retained allegiance to the Ascendant Clan even if his position had taken him away from Plagueis. While he no longer held the position of Dread Lord, Montresor still carried the motto of his former clan with him. “Adapt, Ascend, Avail” were more than just words for him.
As much as it pained Montresor to see the destruction that spread out before him, he had been given a mission to accomplish. His master had sent him here to find one particular body amongst the many, and the Praetor had not been about to return to him with anything short of success. Hours of searching had finally brought him to his goal.
“My Lord,” Montresor spoke into his commlink, “I have located the body of Vivackus.”
“Good, good,” his master’s voice came back to him. “And his condition?”
“His essence is almost completely gone,” Montresor responded.
“Almost?” his master inquired.
“There is still an ember,” Montresor continued, bending down and placing his hand upon Vivakus’s chest right above the charred flesh around the lightsaber wound in the man’s abdomen. “I’m not sure, but I think it may suffice.”
“Then collect him,” his master ordered. “Useful tools should always be salvaged. And I still have a purpose in mind for this one.”
- FIN -