Wind whipped through the fiery hair of Tistito Kingang as he zipped through Tanduran’s gates, passing militaristic walls erected by the conquering Thuronian Monarchy. Long Tythonian banners hung from it now, deep blue as they displayed the symbol of the Tythonian Alliance in white - a statement of dominance over the tyrannical regime that the people had overthrown, the blue symbolizing the native peoples of the world that had come together to support a Tythonian victory.
Subtle bunch, as ever, the Swoop Savant thought with a grin.
He rode at the head of his crew, the Nameless, their swoop bikes throwing up trails of dust as they wove between streets and down pathways. Kingang’s eyes swept between the houses, peering out from beneath wide goggles as his duster coat flowed in the wind. All appeared well; Tanduran had been at peace for months now, with crime at a minimum and happiness at an all-time high. Crowds of people had come to town, seeking and creating new work and bolstering the town’s economy. All ought to have been well.
So why was Tisto so uneasy?
He couldn’t shake the feeling that soaked through him, as he and his riders pulled up outside of the Drunken King. A picture of a tiny man with a comically huge head and a crown adorned the sign, a tiny red blade in his hand - an insult to Cy Thuron, one the people had waited years to put up when the Mad King had ruled them. Tisto’s own hand went the cylindrical hilt at his side; he’d built the weapon itself, had learned to use it and the Force through old records and holocrons he’d bought or won with a chance cube.
He heard a chuckle beside him, as Lucia walked up. The Twi’lek had been his best friend for years, and Tisto quietly entertained the idea of them being something more. “What’s eating you, boss?”
“I’m not sure,” Kingang replied, the green stripe tattooed across his face crinkling. “Keep your eyes open.”
“I will,” She replied, her blue lips quirking into that crooked smirk he couldn’t ever say no to. He loved it. “But keep your hand off of that. We’re on the one world left where someone else we don’t want to mess with might have a lightsaber.”
Tisto nodded, heading into the crowded bar.
The hot afternoon sun’s rays soaked into the flesh of the throngs of people walking Tanduran’s hard-packed streets, landspeeders moving here and there between them. Men, women, and children, the overwhelming majority of them were human locals, their exceptions Ithorians and other aliens that had cohabitated for decades. Jackets and trousers in hues of brown, tan, and gray joined shirts, tunics, and even caps in brighter colors, the garb of farmers and tradesmen moving between buildings both rustic and starkly efficient. Each group was a jovial bubble, simple folk sharing stories of simple, yet rewarding lives. People roamed the streets unafraid, confident the Tythonian Security Corps officers at corners and moving through the crowds could keep them safe.
It made the Black Knight’s skin crawl.
Jalen Ramz flowed between groups and through crowds, his eyes focused on the road ahead, green, reptilian skin shining faintly in the light. The Falleen’s clawed fingers began to tap idly at his concealed lightsaber hilt as he moved, unwanted eyes upon his black-robed figure as he strode past a diner, the smell of fried meats escaping into the air.
Tanduran was a place he’d heard of, yet hadn’t looked into - founded by small groups of colonial farmers who’d banded together for safety and convenience, the town’s core had been walled and expanded on when the planet had been conquered two years ago by the Sith pretender Cy Thuron. Buildings meant for housing troops and supplies had been refurbished, cloth banners and flags in bright colors joining darker paints to turn prefabricated durasteel into something beautiful. To many, such a place was peaceful and serene. To Jalen, it was placid and stagnant.
He’d departed from the ragged, war-torn sands of Korriban after an all-out civil war between the Clans of the Dark Jedi Brotherhood had revealed them for what they were - squabbling children, pretenders to the legacy of Darth Sidious. No true Sith remained in this Galaxy - he knew that, now - and had come to this world, this isolated home of the Jedi of Clan Odan-Urr, to find reinforcement and allies among the masses. Perhaps even an Apprentice. What he’d found instead was an old mystic, a Wookiee, and a boy who spoke of fanciful dreams of heroism. Now all he wanted was to get off this world - Tanduran had no spaceport, but it did have smaller bays for a few aircraft, perhaps even a snub fighter or two. That would get him to the capital city of Menat Ombo, where he could get off of this backwater and back to his goals. Even if he didn’t know what they were, yet.
Jalen’s sharp eyes caught motion as he turned down Forn Street, noticing a group of people in cloaks darting down an alleyway. He felt the tingle at the base of his spine, his Force awareness foretelling danger, quietly moving to follow them. They were stealthy - but they could not match an adherent of the Force, and he slipped right in behind them to catch a glimpse of dozens of men and women, all prying open crates concealed beneath dumpsters or under tarps. He was still, near as quiet as the vacuum of space.
But not quiet enough, he realized, as he felt the barrel of a blaster rifle press against the back of his head. “Who’re you?”
“Well, Master,” Gui said with a sigh, “We gave it our best shot.” The young Kiffar pushed the dreadlocked hair out of his copper-colored face, his hand running over the stripe of his familial tattoo.
Liam’s weathered face creased into a smile as the boy spoke, his blind eyes staring aimlessly from behind wild, untamed silver hair that ran down his back and over his face. The old man’s hands clutched a rough-hewn wooden walking stick, his hunched posture hiding his impressive height as his billowing cloak did some small bit to disguise his sizable build. And yet, for once, Gui was surprised that his Master wasn’t the biggest man in the area.
That distinction went to the one behind them, perched on a blue crate in the alley.
He looked toward the Wookiee Lambow, who sat nearby, arms crossed, and huffed out a few words in his native tongue. The alien Jedi’s lightsabers sat idle on his hips, worn hilts used for nothing but hunting since the war on Korriban.
“Something troubling you, my friend?” Liam asked the large being, his hoarse voice almost amused.
Lambow’s clawed finger clicked on the translator implant in his throat. The speaker crackled, having been unused for months. “Don’t see why I’m here.”
“We needed a mechanic,” Torun replied, getting an indignant look from Gui.
“He’s one,” Lambow replied with a huff. “Even if he can’t fix a lightsaber.”
“Hey!” Gui snapped, his hand touching the hilt of his weapon. It was the weapon of a Knight, the weapon he’d built, and it had worked just fine - for an hour or two. “I’ve almost worked out the kinks.”
Lambow huffed again, looking to Liam.
“My friend, you are here because-,” He stopped, his expression going slack, as if he were dazed. His blind eyes, normally still and unmoving, seemed to dart about. “Oh…,” He said, slowly. “No, that can’t…”
Gui’s eyebrow quirked, and he went to ask Liam if he was alright; Lambow shoved him aside, nearly sending him into a junk pile. “What do you see?” The Wookiee asked, as Liam’s eyes went to a man in a long coat, quietly approaching a group of Corpsmen gathered in front of the Drunken King Cantina.
“Too late,” He whispered, futility in his voice. He pointed - and the man exploded, fire consuming the people around him as the blast shook the streets.
Permacrete pebbles rattled loose of the ceiling, falling and smacking down onto the blue head of Tekk Parsa. “Ow! Karabest!” He snapped.
His eyes swept around the gray walls of the cell, peering beyond the bars to see Corpsmen in white uniforms shaking awake from their boredom and moving to grab blasters. The bastards had done nothing except for play Sabacc and drink Corellian whiskey - his whiskey - since they’d thrown him in here.
“Sounded like an explosion,” The voice of Suur chimed in, the pirate’s beard showing the roughness and stubble of a few days’ captivity. “Maybe someone hit a fuel barge or something.”
“Not fuel,” A gruff, serious voice from the corner chimed in. Jason’s eyes panned up from beneath the brim of his hat, purple locks of hair spilling over his face. The Drifter had the most grim look on his face that Parsa had seen outside of a Huttese bath house. “That sounded like rydonium.”
“He speaks!” Tekk shouted in amazement. “Thought you’d died on us over there, Hunter.”
The sounds of blasters and screaming outside made the Aleena’s ears perk up. “Still might, from the sound of that.” Suur chimed in again. He looked at the cell around them, at what might have been their tomb. “Still glad you blew our cover for that fist fight?”
“He earned it,” Tekk spat in reply.
They’d almost been home free with a fat case of credit chips and six bottles of fine whiskey - and then the bouncer had to go and call him little guy. Now they were stuck in a holding cell, surrounded by cells full of wannabe traitors and rough thugs who’d been transferred in just a few days ago. They didn’t seem perturbed; rather, they eyed the window hungrily, as if they enjoyed the blasting and the screams. As if they’d been expecting it.
A sinking feeling hit Parsa; they had all been transferred at the same time, which was weird for a town like Tanduran. He moved over to the window, scrambling to climb on top of the closed refresher.
A reverberating thrum from outside sounded, like very deep repulsor engines; it stopped, followed by the whirring of hydraulics and a charging noise. Jason’s eyes widened. “That almost sounds like a…”
“Tank!” Parsa screamed, leaping for cover seconds before the wall of their cell exploded in a burst of red light.
Shakily, Parsa picked himself up, watching as prisoners who’d been locked up minutes ago were suddenly slipping their binders and swiping key cards on their cell doors. They rushed from their cells, improvised shanks making short, bloody work of the few screaming guards left in the place; their white uniforms, rapidly staining red, were trampled under more than a hundred feet.
“Hey!” Tekk bellowed. “What about us?”
One of the men, a bald one with a nasty burn on his left cheek, spat on the ground outside their cell. “Long live the King!” He snapped, before running toward the weapons lockers with the rest.
“What the fierfek is that supposed to mean?” The Aleena shouted after him.
His heart sank in his chest, as he heard booted feet heading up the rubble. Men with rifles, dressed in black combat gear strapped over plainclothes, bandanas of red and purple over their mouths, levelled rifles at the Outlaws with dark laughs.
“The Prince was clear,” their leader growled. “No outsiders allowed.”
Outside of the cell, a brown leather satchel flipped open; a steely cylinder flew from it, and into the hands of Jason Hunter. Tekk’s eyes widened as the man stood tall, his face grim and determined as the blue blade illuminated its angles.
“Walk away,” He said coldly, menacingly. The quiet drifter was gone; in his place stood a warrior.
“A Jedi,” One of the men growled, taking a step back. “He’s a Jedi - kill him!”
Hunter moved like a force of nature, striding forward and swatting aside bolts of plasma as if they were flies. His blade lashed upward, cutting a man’s ribcage open with a glowing gash; he took another man at the throat, carving his gun in two like butter, before stabbing up and into the last. Drawing the weapon out, he stared at it for a second, as if it were a bottle he’d tried to put down.
Then, he clipped it to his hip. “Come on,” He said, motioning to the dead men. “Take their rifles, it’s time to go.”
Tekk stood there dumbfounded for a moment, as Jason sprinted out of the obliterated wall. Then it clicked. “Wait, you could have done that this whole time?!”
Ringing ears and pain greeted Torin Ardell as he woke from the blast, laying in a heap next to the bar. Beside him, he saw Zoso Quinn, a small trickle of blood running from her temple down to her cheekbone as she stirred. They’d been having a drink, celebrating recent successes and talking about the good times, swapping war stories.
They’d been talking, chewing the fat with their men, and the bar had exploded.
My men, He thought in a panic, not even noticing the inch-long gash on his right cheek as he staggered to his feet. What greeted his eyes was a nightmare. The front of the Cantina was obliterated, shards of glass and wood scattered where tables and windows had been, spattered with the slick redness of gore. He could see uniforms down, KUDF men and women missing arms and legs, bleeding from everywhere. Some of them were just gone, only the odd boot or hand left, and alongside them a handful of men and women in leather riding gear. His ears were still ringing, his mind in shock, as Quinn shook him and shouted wordlessly.
Slowly, sound came back into the world. “…have to go!” Zoso shouted. She slapped him; the sting shook him awake, his head clearing. “We have to go, now!”
“What-” He began, as armed men and women in mercenary gear strapped over farmer’s garb leapt through the front of the bar, faces obscured by masks and rags in purple and red.
His mind snapping into combat mode, his father’s lessons ringing in his head, Torin snatched up a sidearm from a fallen soldier and snapped his arm up, the shot ringing out and taking a man in the face. Sprinting forward, he caught the man’s rifle in mid-air, spinning to put another two down with crisp pulls to the chest. Three came on his flank, only for a burst of fire from Quinn to mow them down.
“Still coming!” He shouted, when a deep thrum, almost a growl, sounded to his right.
With a cry, a figure charged forward, his lightsaber glowing a bloody crimson as his foes turned their weapons on them. He knocked aside two shots, smashing them the way an athlete might hit a ball, before cleaving the first man he could reach in two at the waist. Spinning roughly, his blade came up over his shoulder in a two-handed grip, slamming into the top of another’s head and parting him down the middle, two smoking halves falling limp with a scream. Quinn and Ardell took the hint, pouring fire into the enemy as they retreated before the howling man.
Panting, his pale face red with blood and pockmarked with tiny chunks of glass in his skin, Tisto let his blade slide back into its hilt with a snarl. Frantically, his eyes swept about, too shocked and too full of adrenaline to really see the carnage.
With a groan, a Twi’lek woman stood up from the wreckage, her left arm hanging limp and bloody. From behind the bar, a male groan sounded, as the barkeep stood up with a bruised body and clothes soaked in the contents of the liquor cabinet.
“Who’re you?” Quinn asked Kingang. “Jedi? Sith?”
“Biker,” He said in reply, regaining his composure as the Twi’lek waved him off. “This is Lucia. And my crew,” he turned, only to finally see the carnage. “My crew…”
Zoso took him by the arm. “They’re gone. We need to move,” Slowly, men and women on the floor and under debris began to stir, to shake off the disaster or weep over wounds. “We have wounded, and need evac. You’ve been drafted.” A voice beneath the rubble drew her eyes, and a black-haired woman emerged with a cough. “Morgan. Thank the Force.” She helped her up, before looking to Tisto. “Try to get the comms up, get us some reinforcements.”
“No good,” Lucia’s voice creaked. “They’re jamming us. What do we…” The sound of angry voices outside drew her gaze.
“Quickly,” Torin said, snapping off a shot too quick for eyes to track. A scream of pain rewarded him. “They’re on the move.”
“I trust relationships with the Zawi are in order?” Turel Sorenn asked Gideon, as the two strode down the halls of the Tythonian Palace. They’d been discussing economics for hours, and Sorenn was beginning to grow tired of wordplay. Leave politics to politicians, he thought to himself.
“They’re intact,” Gideon Varos replied.
Prime Minister of the Tythonian Alliance, the man looked hale and healthy, though a shadow remained behind his eyes and to his cheekbones; he’d been imprisoned by the Mad King inside the horrific internment camps at Purity Rock, Thuron’s designated dying ground for undesirable beings and nonhumans. His presence had cemented the Jedi victory before the war had begun - but months of starvation and desperation didn’t leave a man over a couple of years. Turel felt a pang of sorrow for him - and then that pang intensified, and possessed his entire being. He felt like he’d just been punched.
Gideon noticed, stopping short. “Are you alright, Master Jedi?”
“I feel a disturbance in the Force,” Turel said, leaning against the wall. “A significant one. Something is wrong.” His eyes darkened, as an aide to Varos came running.
“Sir! Master Jedi!” He said frantically, holding up a small holoprojector. “This came in from Tanduran, and now we can’t hail them on the comms.”
Gideon activated it, and a man appeared. A cloak obscured his body; over his face, he wore a black mask, ovoid and devoid of feature. The man stood up tall, stately and determined, revealing a lightsaber hilt on his black belt and gloved hands.
“My name is Torrek Marth,” The recording said. “To Minister Varos, and the Jedi who support him - you are in my Palace,” He crossed his arms. “Tanduran is mine. Any approach will be met with extreme retaliation. Kindly leave my world to its rightful King.” With that, the message disappeared.
Gideon looked to Turel, who had gone white. “I’ll mobilize the Security Corps, get them on the move.”
“No time,” Turel replied. “The Treaty is clear - a foreign entity has dealt a significant blow to your nation. This is a KUDF matter now.” He keyed up his comms, tuning it to the Arca Praxeum’s listening frequency.
“This is Proconsul Sorenn, authorization 1-1-38-B. Get me the General.”