Veiled Curtain Part I: Three Shades of Black
Imperial II Class Star Destroyer
Within a sparsely decorated room usually reserved for high ranking officers, Bentre Stahoes and Ashia Keibatsu, two executors of the ancient Sith Lord’s will that their Clan was named for reviewed a very interesting intelligence report.
“It seems a mining company has unveiled a time capsule of some description supposedly containing an ancient staff on Vjun.” Bentre studied the photos, scowling for a few moments, then raised his brows in astonishment. The Dathomiri peered at them from around the Consul’s shoulder with an intense gaze.
“Are those…” Ashia’s voice trailed off. “That looks familiar.”
“They look a lot like Lord Orian’s work.” The Consul interjected as he handed them to his Proconsul. “I am cross referencing now. Databases confirm the match,” the Warlord said enthusiastically.
The Augur reviewed the databases as well. Ashia’s curved eyebrows rose in the same astonishment as her Consul. There were numerous photos and diagrams. An image of the lost staff of Sith Lord Urias Orian floated directly in front of the CNS Summit. “This would be a significant find. Any confirmation on the piece?”
The Consul slowly stroked his finger over his chin. One could almost see the gears turning in the Warlord’s head. “No, but the mining company has already made this discovery known through the back channels. If it’s truly authentic, every scavenger and mercenary will be moving on this thing to more than likely sell it.”
“We can’t have that. This needs to be with us.” the Keibatsu stated plainly.
“Indeed…indeed. Who do we have immediately available?” asked Bentre.
The ProConsul looked through the datapad in her hand momentarily. “DarkHawk, Sanguinius and the Dakhani are all aboard the Korsin. You know Takagari is always down for these type of missions. I also hear the Alchemist has been seen above ground and is with him.”
“Lets get them here,” replied Bentre. “Macron, huh? Is that good or bad you think?”
“Depends on whether he finds something of use to him or not.” Ashia went over to the Holonet Communications station and hailed the Korsin. Within moments an opaque figure appeared in front of the ProConsul. Battlelord Takagari “DarkHawk” KogaRyu knelt before his Summit.
“I am at your service” the Battlelord said.
“Takagari, your presence is requested here in the Consul’s office…” the Keibatsu instructed. “Bring Macron with you. Have Sanguinius get your forces ready to deploy.”
“As you wish Ma’am” replied the Quaestor.
Within the hour a shuttle approached the Perdition. It completed its landing sequence and the crew door whisked open. The Quaestor of House Shar Dakhan and a heavily armored Sith disembarked and made their way towards the nearest turbolift. Takagari hit the button for the Command level. Macron did not speak. The madman’s mismatched eyes darted to and fro. He had been in hibernation a long time and much had happened since he had left. There was a lot to take in, including the new vessel.
The turbolift stopped heavily at the requested level. DarkHawk exited the turbolift with the Alchemist following behind him. The Perdition was impressive to say the least. The crew worked diligently. Buzzers chimed and stations were abundantly productive. The Quaestor walked past the Command section and came upon the offices of the Summit. Takagari hailed the office on the door COMM. As the door whisked open the two Sith eagerly entered. Warlord Stahoes sat at his desk, Augur Keibatsu stood beside her Consul with a datapad in her hands.
DarkHawk centered himself on the Summit desk and approached. He dropped to one knee about a meter in front of his Summit.
Macron bowed behind him quietly but did not take a knee. “Consul, Lady Ashia.”
The Keibatsu sighed and looked over the datapad in her hands. She had never quite got use to the Shaevallian’s formality, but was by now quite used to the Alchemist’s quiet arrogance. “These intel reports have just come to us and we believe that it holds enough merit for us to take a closer look.”
DarkHawk scanned through the Intel and photos. His reaction was much of the same as his Summit. “Is this for real?” Takagari asked.
“We believe so, but it bears closer scrutiny.” replied the Augur. “Have a look Macron.”
The Elder regarded the images quietly and then closed his mismatched eyes. After a few quiet seconds he opened them. “It appears to be authentic. The image matches engravings I have seen of the staff in the Temple of Fire and Tombs of Orian. But the instrument has no power other than the sentimental. There was no mention of any artifact of this sort having actual power in the Force in the archives. It was merely a symbol of office. Still, the staff has a power of its own for the morale of our Clan.”
“We have cross referenced the photos through the database and found that it is indeed a match. I’m inclined to believe it is legitimate. Having said that, we need you to verify and retrieve it,” instructed Consul Stahoes.
“Opposition?” asked DarkHawk questioningly.
“More than likely…and probably heavy. Seems the word is out about this so every low life scumbag will be looking to grab it and sell it on the black market,” said the ProConsul. Ashia looked at the port windows as stars scrolled past. “We can’t let that happen.”
“We need to move fast on this. Get in, grab it, get out,” the Consul stated firmly. “Keep it as smooth as possible.”
“Understood Sir, I will return to the Korsin and have Disciples of Dakhan jump on this immediately.”
“Very good DH. Given both the historical and intrinsic value of this artifact to the Clan, we would like full support on this. We will need more than DoD. If this truly is the Staff of Urias Orian I want you to ensure its return,” the Keibatsu said intently. “Macron will go with you. His expertise on artifacts and Lord Orian’s history is solid. And he is one of our Elders.”
DarkHawk heard the seriousness of his PCON’s words. “Understood Ma’am, rest assured HSD will carry out your request.” The Battlelord immediately gave a hardy genuflection to his Summit, “We will return with the staff.”
Both Summit members simply nodded. Takagari rose, executed a crisp about face and left the Consul’s chambers with Macron following behind with a measured stride. There was a purpose to their steps as the two Sith made their way to the turbolift. DarkHawk hit the button for the hangar and the turbolift rushed to its destination. Takagari studied the Intel reports further. “Details, the details are what makes a mission successful” he told himself.
“I can hear your thoughts,” commented the Juggernaut with a chuckle. “We will be successful, I assure you.” He clenched an armored fist. “And I will personally enjoy crushing the life from those pitiful thieves.” The madman looked down at his hand. It had been just a microsecond slow to respond and trembled slightly. Shaking off the hibernation sickness was taking more time than he had expected. He might not be ready for full-on battle. He clasped his hands behind his back and hoped no one had noticed.
The turbolift halted, the doors whisked open. The Quaestor’s shuttle crew had stood by waiting adamantly. As soon as the Battlemaster appeared the shuttle commander fired up the engines. Within moments the shuttle made its way down the tarmac and left the Korsin’s hangar.
DarkHawk hailed ahead to his Aedile, “Master, House Shar Dakhan has a mission. Gather the team. I will be there shortly.”
“I will have them ready for you,” replied the Augur.
The shuttle raced on its course, making its way to the HSD ship. The pilot expertly maneuvered the shuttle into position and down the flight deck, landing in its designated spot. DarkHawk disembarked the shuttle before the engines wound down. He raced to his ready room where the HSD members awaited his arrival.
Macron took his time walking to the ready room. There were documents to study on his holopad display. He had to be sure. If this was indeed one of the lost objects of Orian’s time it could be a rallying point for the Clan. The Clan seemed in need of something to unite them and make them hungry again. This could be just the thing. He could also feel something, a nagging feeling in the Force. Like most things this operation had the possibility of more going on than met the eye. The Alchemist was uncertain as to what the future held. His vision was not clear.
DarkHawk brought up the intel report on the main viewing screen. The House sat intently taking in all the information. Seeing this piece of the Clan’s history had a palpable effect. Though the staff held no powers but the historical and sentimental value was priceless. The feeling of absence hovered over the House. “The Staff of Urias Orian belongs to all of us. It shall not be lost within the bowels of the black-market. It is part our legacy” the Battlelord said intently.
Augur Sanguinius stood. “If all of us are on this Takagari we should have little problem retrieving it. And as for those that do stand in our way… well, we know how to deal with them effectively.”
Battlelord Malisane Sadow acknowledged his Aedile and agreed. “DarkHawk this should be a by the numbers mission. Are you worried?”
“Just a feeling” the Quaestor said. “And I have learned to trust those instincts.”
“Well we trust your perception of the mission Sir. We will execute this operation with precision and deadly force when needed,” said Warrior Erik Cato confidently.
“Good Erik, I want you to lead the Disciples into the archaeological site. The rest of us will be reinforcements and recon patrol. Any sign of resistance while Erik and DoD acquire the staff, we take them out.”
Jinius spoke abruptly, “Still worried Boss?”
Pausing for a moment at the comment, “Just a feeling” Takagari said.
“Macron will lead a heavy assault squad in case the retrieval teams have trouble but only if needed. I would rather have him work as a science officer on this mission.” The room quieted a little. The madman had not been seen in well over a year and there was some resentment that he had not been present during the conflict that drove the Clan from the Orian system. “Your thoughts Macron?”
“There is an aura of uncertainty about this mission. More I cannot say, my vision is not clear. Expect the unexpected.” The madman looked about the room. “I’m confident that the valiant warriors in this chamber can handle it with skill. And we will crush those who stand in our way.”
“Any questions…then lets get this done!” DarkHawk ordered. “Move out!”
On the other side of the Perlemian Way, a dense fleshy skinned hand sifted thru intel reports. Baltrog Quillen sat on his newly acquired throne diligently reading the reports in front of him. His claw like fingernails separated the pages as he went from one to the other.
The Iktotchi’s forehead raised in astonishment where eyebrows would normally rest. Low audible grunts emanated throughout the Itkotchi’s throne room. Baltrog extended one of his long meaty fingers and a black fingernail depressed a COM button. A loud squawk floated throughout the room.
“Essk, Get in here!”
Essk Tsubra, a behemoth of a Trandoshan, made his way from the ready room he currently was stationed in. He moved his beastly mass towards his master’s chambers. The Trandoshan’s hulking body quaked as he walked. The exposed claws on his feet raked across the cold steel of the Refuge floor. Essk entered the throne room and approached the Iktotchi who was still studying Intel reports.
"What you got there Boss?" the Trandoshan asked.
"We have had an interesting sales offer come through," Baltrog answered, "An artifact Essk."
Essk frowned, "Artefact Boss?"
"Yes. It is being offered by some miners on a planet called Vjun. It looks like they are a small independant group, not affiliated with the mining guilds. They clearly have no idea what they have except that it is old."
"What is the artefact?"
Baltrog studied the image in front of them. "It is a staff. I recognise it from documents I took from my former enemies amongst the Dark Jedi."
"Dark Jedi big trouble Boss."
"Indeed they are Essk," Baltrog answered. "And they caused me a great deal of trouble. That is why this interests me. If all is as it appears, this is a staff belonging to one of their deities of sorts. My research of the location would suggest it might be genuine."
"This Vjun?" said the Trandoshan, "Not heard of it."
"I seriously doubt many have," Baltrog replied, "it is something of a lost planet. It was a hotbed of activity during the Clone Wars and the Empire’s time but largely forgotten since."
"I do not see point," Essk admitted.
"It is not relevant," Baltrog replied, "Thousands of years ago a Sith Lord named Urias Orian visited Vjun."
Essk peered at the image over Baltrogs shoulder.
"And that his staff?"
"It appears to be," the crime lord replied, "And if it is I want it. Essk, gather the troops and the twins, time to go hunting…”
“Yes Boss” the Trandoshan said as he meandered off.
A stiff smile broke over the Iktotchi’s face. Within minutes the Trandoshan returned with a group of mercenaries, bounty hunters and pirates. Plus two menacing Rattataki who were both dressed in long flowing black cloaks with matching gold trim around their necks. Their hoods were pulled up over their heads and you could barely make out their chalk-white skin.
The Trandoshan led a league of unsavory individuals to the end of the room to where Baltrog “The Bull” Quillan stood in front of his throne.
“Ahhhhh, my flock of mischievous parishioners…. Come, come see what I have in store for you. You all are to journey to the remote planet of Vjun. There you will locate the Illban Mining Company and retrieve what they have found. Once you have my prize in your possession, kill everyone who remains.” Baltrog barked.
He motioned for his Rattataki Lieutenants to come forward. The two moved forward and pulled back their robes to reveal more of themselves. One male and one female approached their minister. He handed a data disk to the female, pulling her in closer.
“Kee’ri, expect resistance. Force users. Make sure none return for an encore.” The Bull sneered.
As the two Rattataki turned away Baltrog spoke again. “Gabrael, please stay a moment. Your sister can take lead on this. I have something more divine for you on Ord Radama.”
The Korsin’s massive engines spun up and began gain speed, moving the Marauder-class Corvette through space. Within seconds the Korsin vanished racing towards its target. The jump to the Vjun System gave the members of HSD time to prep Krill Flight, 3 ATR-6 gunships.
Aedile Sanguinius made his way into the hanger and found his team readying their transport. “DarkHawk, you are going to want to see this.” the Augur said. He handed his clanmate a piece of paper. “The communications guys gave that to me just before we jumped.”
The Quaestor looked at the intel sheet Sang had given him. His eyes widened a bit and then he handed it back. “Greedy miners. Damn, looks like we are going in hot.” replied DarkHawk. “Not a lot of wiggle room here on this mission.”
“No doubt,” Sanguinius said sarcastically. “How’s he doing?” He gestured at Macron who was checking over an HK droid in the shuttle bay. “We’ve worked a lot together over the years. He’s good to have around in a fight but still a bit unsettling.”
“Good. I think he’s a little more together mentally since before he disappeared.” The Quaestor shrugged. “He’s always been an asset in my book.”
“Well, he’s been there for me a few times when I was sitting in the Consul’s chair. The main issue with his methodology is collateral damage. Sometimes… well, often actually the wrong people get killed and things get broken when he engages in combat. He can be a loose cannon.” Sanguinius eyed the madman as Macron’s labor droid pushed a hoversled loaded with military crates onto one of the shuttles.
“It’s true. But it’s a loose cannon is better pointed at your enemies. Aside from that he’s got deep knowledge of historical Sith lore and archaeology. I’m hoping we can keep him assigned to scientific duties on this mission.” Darkhawk took a holopad from one of the deck officers. “Looks like the preflight checks are go.”
Within minutes the strike team comprising of members of HSD and twenty hardened SP Rangers made all their preparations after hearing the news. The plan was to take all three ships, one for the troop transport. The remaining two would serve as fire support.
The entire strike team loaded up in blacked out ATR-6. The other two ATR’s were already making their way down the tarmac. Finally the third, followed suit, making its way down the launch bay’s tarmac and into the blackness of space.
With everyone on board, Commander Krill, leader of the Rangers, broke down basic assignments.
“Sirs, with your permission…” Krill stated, aiming his comments at the House Summit.
Both Takagari and Sanguinius nodded.
Commander Krill continued. “We will split into three groups. Devil’s Shroud will roll with Alpha team, DoD will run with Bravo team to retrieve the target , the rest of us will be providing cover support, in case we have visitors…which we plan on. We don’t know know our opposition, but we do know the layout. One way in, one way out. We are just as much as fish in a barrel as anyone else. Ensure COMM’s stay open on freqs 4.71 and 5.87, eyes up, weapons hot.”
Etah spoke next, “Mercs are us….I love it!” he said as he connected his helm to his Dark Age Sith Armor.
Macron did the same. As the helm clamped down on his Battlesuit he flexed his crushgaunts. Beside him his HK droid shouldered a heavy repeater blaster. “22, it feels good to be moving again. I hope you oiled your joints tin can.” The Adept checked his analysis equipment over.
“Master. Be sure you can keep up old man,” the droid quipped smugly. HK 22 earned a cuff upside it’s metallic head with a clang for it’s efforts at humor.
Augur Entar nudged his Apprentice and Quaestor, “You ready for this?”
“I am Master, but I feel a strange intrusion in the Force…a familiarity,” replied DarkHawk.
“Embrace that feeling. This veil will lift very shortly,” the Augur said confidently. “The Force has a way of making things clear to those who trust it.”
The ATR’s broke into the planet’s surface, wind shear raced across their winglets. As the transports made their descent the planet became more clear. Knight Calenhad watched as the gunship flew over the ruins of Bast Castle. The planet was a mass of barren acidic desert. The terrain showed swathes of greens and whites from the crystallized acid salts that permeated the dead soil. When it did rain the liquid that came down from the evil-looking clouds was often composed of concentrated acid. No plant life lived here.
“Castle to our East,” Cal announced. “This place has an atmosphere of darkness.”
“It’s a magnificent sight. We should surely pay it a visit after our objective is cleared……much to see inside still,” exclaimed Macron. “Given that so much happened here it is not surprising that Vjun is a dark place. The Sith were here long ago, and The Empire after that.”
The Flight commander piloting the ATR hailed the other two gunships.
“Spectre two and three, continue on current glidescope, Echelon formation. Mining location two klicks to our northwest. Eyes open, weapons hot…”
The gunships came in low and fast. Staying low kept them out of most radar tracking, keeping them tight to the terrain aided them to shadow themselves even more. Warrior Erik Cato watched out the port side window, the gun turrets of the other two ships never stopped moving. Each gun making sweeps of their designated pattern as the ships maintained their formation. The first gunship made an standard combat descent, circling their LZ on a downward spiral as the other two gunships trailed behind to provide cover. The shuttles masked themselves behind massive rock formations. A thick cyan mist loomed heavily around them. The crew had limited visibility and relied on their instrumentation to land successfully.
Spectre-1 shuttle crew door opened and the Rangers methodically made their way out forming a perimeter around their LZ.
Commander Krill bringing his weapon to ready, “By the numbers Rangers, lets move out!”
The Strike team broke off into their assigned groups and made their way South towards the yawning mine entrance. As the teams separated off to flank the entrance, Krill ordered four scouts to trek ahead and survey the mouth of the adit. The four Rangers disappeared and within minutes had the mine entrance in sight. Each pulled out their electrobinoculars, scanning the surrounding area and memorized every detail.
“Commander Krill, entrance in sight, but we have an issue…”
Krill expressed a puzzled look across his weathered face, “What is the issue Ranger?”
“Sir, the mine appears to be abandoned. We have shipping containers scattered around, they definitely have been ransacked. Whoever it was, looks like they were looking for something, we got fresh blaster marks on some of the containers, so someone is not to friendly,” the Ranger said.
“Shavit,” Krill exclaimed.
Krill held up a closed fist and the Strike team stopped in their tracks. Krill came over COMM’s “Looks like we have company, the mine site appears to be abandoned by the crew but there may be hostiles on site, maintain radio silence, we are going dark…”
The teams closed in on the mine entrance, moving stealthily across the terrain, converging from three different directions. The four Rangers Krill initially sent ahead to scout, closed in on the wreckage of shipping containers scattered through the work site. One of the container doors creaked as the door clasp knocked against its locking mechanism. One Ranger gave the hand signal to move forward. Cautiously they approached, as the SPEC-OP team closed the gap, one Ranger setup a laser designator for the assault shuttles to identify.
Krill and his team, crested the last rock formation to gain a better visual of the mining site. The Commander watched his four Rangers approach their target. The smell of death was pungent to say the least. The lead Ranger gave the signal to hold fast as he used the muzzle of his assault rifle to push the container door open. Inside was a graphic sight, dozens of miners were herded inside this container and slaughtered. Gore and viscera lined the interior walls and blood flowed towards the exit.
In a trained whisper the Ranger called his commander, “Sir, they are dead…”
A low voice whispered in the Ranger’s earpiece, “Who is…”
Krill pulled a small laser light from his web belt, and flashed dots and dashes to his remaining teams. Recognizing the signal, all three teams again made their way silently to the mine.
entrance. Hugging the rocks that encased the opening to their treasure, the convergent movement of the teams was swift and precise. The entrance was less than three meters ahead when the sound of blaster fire echoed from the tunnel.