Bentre made his way through the labyrinth, the dark corridors and storage rooms coiled beneath the display rooms and research facilities of the rebuilt base. The museum was completed only a few weeks ago, the leftovers from the grand opening event were only just depleted. Bentre chuckled to himself, remembering that there was still an unopened bottle of the good wine still in his office. It was pilfered under the justification that he didn’t want to deal with the snobbery of such an event, regardless of the truth that the Kyataran spoke.
Nobody really looks at what is in front of them. The rebuilding of the City was all but complete, the result of months of protracted fighting and even longer rapid construction. The Cathedral was the jewel of the city, the pride of the ancient House, even as it lay hidden from the view of the population. The walls construction changed, going from reinforced wallboard and concrete to broad transparisteel. He was deep enough below the facility now that the reinforcement was superfluous. Eyes glossed over the researchers as they prodded at old relics with brushes and picks, as technicians scanned them with all manner of tools. It was quite the process, and a key part of the greater work now. The antiquities could be studied safely here. The more intense pieces could be researched, tested, fiddled with. 3d Printers and artisans would make copies for official display, and to hide in fake caches should an enemy clan decide to come make them theirs. The real items…well, Bentre had a thought as to where they were hidden, but it was better if he didn’t know. He’d seen some of the Inquisitorius’ art up close, and he had hoped to never be on the receiving end.
He stopped, turning to watch as a craftsman, garbed in an odd mixture of sterile labwear and the thick hide apron full of tools and singe marks hammered a final hinge pin home with a fine rawhide mallet. He reached out, letting his senses extend past his fingertips, his consciousness grazing the edges of the silver plates of the box. He let a smile creep up on his lips, as he let the name fall from them.
“Lord Keibatsu.” He turned to greet the Grand Master as he approached, dipping his head in a bow, careful to not let his eyes break contact.
He nodded back at the Rollmaster, his stride continuing on toward him as a metronome. “Enjoying?”
Bentre motioned with his head, his eyes directing toward the craftsman behind the glass. “Of course. Interesting work.” He paused there, leaving the comment to hang in the air.
Muz turned, heading back the way he came, the unspoken urge settling within Bentre to follow, not from the Force, but from curiosity. He took a few quick steps to catch up, then kept pace with the man. “I am led to believe that…” He paused, considering his next word wisely, “…we… have a new prize to claim?”
Muz kept walking, a quick nod his only response. Bentre dissected it in his mind, playing out all of the various angles, all of the potential boons and threats of following the man, of seeking what he sought. Bentre knew that the Lion was looking for something very specific, something important to his work, but he could not help but try to suss it out. The hall opened up, a round room with a large holodisplay in the center, the image of a Khaleeshi totem floating in hazy cerulean above the emitter. Muz stepped quickly to the side, fingers flickering between the command panels and calling up something different on the display.
It took Bentre a few seconds to recognize the terrain, the dust and the disintegrating statues.
Muz looked directly at him and nodded. He considered it. “There hasn’t been a good scan done of Moriband since…”
“Two years ago.” Muz finished the statement, before swiping his hands, the display zooming into a specific area, the fog of time showing something beneath those sands. Tunnels, corridors, tombs, antechambers. Artifacts from the graveworld of the Sith.
“What do you have?” He asked out loud, then immediately second guessed himself.
“Nothing.” Muz shook his head. “An idea. A part of a map, maybe hiding a key, maybe hiding something else. My data is incomplete.”
Bentre watched the man, his mind racing. Of course the data would be incomplete. The last time they were there, the Civil War had interrupted all of their plans. It would be easy enough to send a survey team, a few decent researchers, a couple of junior members to observe and secure it, should one of the other units come poking about. “I can have a team there in three days.”
Muz raised his eyes, making eye contact with the rollmaster. “Thank you.”
The dust and sand swirled madly around them, beaten into a frothy mix of air and death by the repulsorlift engines of the dropship. Mactire had been the first off of the transport, bound for the ground, letting the Force cushion his fall. A quick circle of the landing zone, and he found himself a spot, leaning against his staff as he watched the ship descend. The maw of it widened, exposing the others, clanmate and mundane alike. It was an interesting premise, he had thought, when it was posed to him by Sang and the Rollmaster. To go to the ancient throneworld. He turned his head, the view of the mountains obscured by dust swirling thick around him. He had missed the brotherhood’s war here, never set foot in the old Sith Empire’s ashes. And yet, he was, on a babysitting mission. Guarding a bunch of mundy scientists should some fools come crawling by. As if there were often patrols past this dead rock.
DarkHawk sneered out at the brightness of it all. He would have much rather finished his campaign in his city, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. He danced along the edge of cruelty in his mind, civilization and feral playing tug of war with his emotions as he paced the edge of the open bay, watching the ground grow closer. Perhaps here he would find answers, a reason, something to tip the scales one way or the other in his head.
Lilith watched him as he stepped off, the dull thud of armored boot colliding with hard stone, the subtle crunch of dust being ground beneath his heel as he stepped forward. She smiled as she looked up, the outline of mountains barely visible as the crew started to push the equipment out onto the sand. “It’s beautiful, in a sad way. What do you think?” she turned, setting her bright goldengreen eyes on Firith’rar.
“I think we’re all going to die here. Probably of boredom.” He muttered, hands subconsciously patting the sheathed vibroblade at his back. He dropped down from on top of the container he was sitting on, his boots clattering against the bulkhead as he made his way to the swirling sand, stopping to look at her. “But you’re here…” he turned away, letting his voice trail off.
She chuckled, watching him grow indistinct as he joined the others, crewmen setting up the tents and shelter walls, hardening under the electrical current to make a solid roof, to give them somewhere to hide from the sandstorms they knew would be coming eventually. The Twi’Lek stepped out, the maglev cart pushing the final crate of provisions and equipment from the bay, looking at Lilith as she motioned to the pilot to take off. Lilith popped off of her spot, letting the sand brush over her boots.
The Twi’Lek stared at her, watching her feet. It took her a moment, before she knew she was being watched, her eyes darting up quickly. “Well, are you going to help, or…?”
Temporary Research Station
“At least on Sepros, you have the bugs.” Firith kicked back a snort of Corellian whisky from a flask, looking at Tasha across the fire. “Here, dead silent.” He waved a hand at the world around them, the stars above. It had gotten cooler when the darkness settled, but the bitter cold hadn’t set in yet. It was the ‘summer’ season yet, and it wouldn’t get too dangerously cold.
“At least the machines are giving off a little ambient noise.” Lilith offered, smiling for no good reason except maybe to exasperate Firith.
“Yeah, great. Sonar thuds and the whine of gennys are just what I love to go to sleep to.” He shook his head, standing up and stepping off into the dark. “Need to see a man about a dog.”
“If you see one of the others, tell them the ration heater is cooling off.” Tasha called out before slumping backwards a bit, leaning herself up against one of the sonar mapping arrays that the scientists were sent there to operate. It was supposed to be a pretty easy assignment, a blue milk run. Go down to the planet for a few days, keep the creeps off of their scientists, escort them back. She blinked her eyes slowly, letting her eyes gaze past Lilith and over to the other camp, a few other journeymen and equites camped out on the other side of the ‘station’. She chuckled. It was a bunch of tents meant to keep the sand out of the expensive equipment, not some sort of awe-inspiring prefab base like the stormtroopers used to get. But still, a job was a job. She let the warmth and the throb from the mapper lull her further, like a mother’s heartbeat.
“Not today!” Tasha bolted straight to her feet, her weapon in her hand almost immediately, eyes blinking away sleep and sand, the bright star of the system blurring her vision. The razor hum of her blade caressed her ears like an old flame. They came into focus slowly, each of the others standing at the ready, weapons in hand.
“What the frell?” Firith snarled. “Where are they?”
Lilith breathed out deeply, looking around. “It must have been a dream.”
“They were grey?” Tasha sniffed, trying to shake it off, to settle her heartbeat back down. It was obviously a dream, but to all of them? It would have to be…
“More than that.” DarkHawk twisted the weapons back, sliding them into the scabbards on his back and legs. “Grey and brittle looking.” He looked at Firith, at Mactire. “I’m going to bet everyone had the same dream.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Lilith looked from the dark armor of the battleteam leader to the weathered form of Firith as he spun his blades in his hands.
“It mean that it might not be boredom that kills us.” Firith smiled.
Tasha froze, holding her breath for a moment. “Listen.”
“Exactly.” Tasha’s eyes went wide. “Nothing.”
Two Hours Later
“Prepare for the jump, Commander.” Riku barked the order easily, his mind taking inventory of the forces aboard the ship. “We are already behind schedule.”
“But sir, the order just came in.”
“That means we are late, son.” He shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose as he gave the order to engage the hyperdrives. The signal was interrupted, the uplink from the Moriband expedition flickering and then evaporating completely about ten minutes ago. Lost contact was not unusual, but the order came from Muz himself. There was something quite wrong, and he didn’t want to show up late to that party.
The stars blurred into blue-grey mush as the ship bashed its way across the cosmos, barrelling toward the ancient throne. He stood there, arms clasped behind his back as he watched the warped space bend in front of him like oil on water.
“Coming out of hyperspace in ten, sir.”
“Good. Prepare my shuttle.” The dusty world slammed into view as the door closed behind him.
Riku stepped out into the blinding sun, troopers and sensitives alike flowing out behind him. It was all he could muster on such short notice, but it would have to do.
There wasn’t much left. the dust had taken almost everything. There were half buried supply crates with the Sadow symbol still on them, and some scraps of cloth from the tents of the temporary base, but not much else. Yet something…
Riku moved quickly, past the remnants of a lean-to. The sand hadn’t taken everything, not yet. A chemical firelog still smoldered, a thin wisp of smoke rising from it as the wind tried to bury it in sand. Riku’s eyes narrowed as he pulled his helmet on. Something wasn’t right. The sounds of igniting lightsabers behind him reinforced the thought. The sensitives were feeling it, too. Riku smiled as his weapons filled his palms.
They crashed over them from out of nowhere. A tidal wave of faded armor and angry flesh, the screaming of accelerated plasma scorching everything around them.
“Contact!” The radio blew up in his ear. Bolts flew from his hand, catching one of the assailants in the chest, staggering it back, as dark eyes framed by a gray face grew more cruel, shaking off the wound and plowing forward. He stepped low, sinking a blade into the gap between chestplate and arm, his blade drinking in its life as he turned to focus on another, no time for idle thoughts like wondering where they came from, who they were. The important part was they were trying to kill him.
“Retribution to Aedile. We are seeing a LOT of life signs down there. Status report?”
He spun, a dervish on the field, clobbering another with the butt of his pistol and drawing him closer into his waiting blade, tearing it from him and slashing into another’s throat, feeling the sharp crashes of old blaster bolts marring the finish on his armor. It knocked a little wind out of him with each hit, but he pushed forward, silently bellowing with rage as he dove into a throng of them, the heavy report of his slugthrower muffled by his helmet, the reverb of blade against armor deadening the fine nerves in his fingertips.
He moved from one target to another, his mind trying to find efficiency, to find weakness. The slugthrower was only slowing them down, and some of the strikes from his blades barely did even that. The screams behind him made it worse, the sounds of journeymen getting overwhelmed a bright failure in his eyes. He bounded backward, a trail of gray viscera following his blade as he backed up, spread with a quick flourish. Hatred bloomed in his eyes, regarding the dead and nearly dead assailants in front of him. He casually raised his wrist and let his mm9 punctuate his thought for him. The eruption sent armor and flesh flying with a roar.
He looked beyond them, toward the horizon. There were more coming, hundreds, maybe thousands. His helmet magnified on a whisper, the swarm of gray pouring from the edge of the mountain. He stood up straight, pride swelling his chest as a smile crept up onto his face.
“Riku, Status?” Bentre’s voice pulled him back, or was it duty?
“Frelled.” Turning, he watched a few dozen more pin down a neophyte too foolish to seek cover, blaster bolts perforating shadow academy issued robes without hesitation. Riku sneered, leveling his other wrist at the swarm, the rocket screaming toward them.
“Fall back!” The order came through. Riku roared, letting his slugs tear through another one before slamming a fresh magazine into the weapon. He motioned to the others, the few who managed to survive the onslaught to retreat to the shuttle, the crack of his weapon shaking their teeth and rattling their senses.
New Sadow Palace
“Do we know what they are?” Bentre stared at the holocomm, watching the armored figure of Riku from across the vastness of space.
“No.” He looked irritated, looking down at his armor. “Really hard to kill, though. They wore old armor. Not sure what from. Everything looked gray.”
“Gray?” Bentre repeated, eyes darting to Sanguinius and Locke, then back to the holo.
“Not sure how else to describe it. Like tired and old gray.” Riku shifted his helmet from one arm to the other. “What are we doing?”
Locke nodded at Bentre. Looking back at the holo, he continued. “I’ll coordinate the clan. We’re sending backup. Hold for now.”
Riku’s eyes narrowed at that, but duty took precedent, and he nodded, the holofeed cutting out. Bentre turned around, addressing the Consul and Proconsul directly. “They need a fair bit of reinforcements.”
Locke smiled. “Call everyone.”
It was dark as the grave, only a few feet away from their sabers. Firith snarled something about his flask being only half full as they found collected everyone they could. One minute, they were sitting around eating breakfast, the next the sand had swallowed them up. Lilith looked over at him and managed a weak smile, the fall having twisted her ankle a bit. She was working on it, but slowly. Tasha found two of the crew and Mactire, but there was no sign of DarkHawk or the other journeymen.
The tunnels were cramped, walking on sand that made the top of the corridors graze their heads, but at least it seemed somewhat stable. They had prodded the top of the outside cavern with sabers, with the Force, but nothing made it give way. It was a trap, and they were being forced to play now. Tasha hated that thought.
“So, what now?” She wasn’t sure who said that, Mactire or Firith.
“I imagine we take this tunnel as far as we can, try to make maps.” She dug around for her datapad, bringing up a note taking app so she could keep track of what they saw.
“Or we could stay put and wait for the cavalry to arrive.” Lilith chuckled.
“And what, let them blow the sand up with bombs to get us out of here?” Firith growled. “Do you know what happens when you burn sand?”
“I mean, Muz could…”
“Muz is probably dealing with some crazy bloody Sith monster or something, like usual.” Firith snapped back. “Besides, what good are we if we can’t take…” He looked at her, letting his eyes slide down to her ankle and quickly shut himself up.
“I hate to say it, but remember when it was quiet?” Mactire spoke, rather quietly.
“Yeah?” Tasha forced a little laugh.
“I wish we had that now.”
They all grew silent for a moment, their ears tuning themselves past the sabers and glowrods, into the dark. Skittering and scratching echoed quietly from deeper in the tunnels. The sounds of more weapons clearing holsters drowned it out in response as they saw the first set of eyes reflecting their saberlight in the distance.