(written by Bentre Stahoes & Ronovi Tavisaen)
The planet stretched out below as the shuttle descended. The reports so far had been consistent, and that boded well for the operation as they moved forward. Mountains and forests, jungles and plains, spread out below the shuttles as they streaked across the surface. The reports had come in with plenty of points of interest for Clan Naga Sadow. The dark presence on the planet had been enough to draw the Consul and Clan in, but they had found more than they could have hoped for.
The climate was warm enough, and there were some structures of plainly ancient design that bore signs of previous occupation. There had been no fires, but several of these settlements were just a bit too clean. Despite the strong storms that had been detected in other hemispheres and on other continents, a few of the settlements were in good repair. In other places, abandoned Sith temples were wreathed in vines and greenery, as though the planet were trying to reclaim territory taken by past inhabitants.
There were some other anomalous items of note. An industrial structure had been detected nestled into the middle of the largest continent. A number of mines seemed to dot the surface. A large crater seemed to throw off some electromagnetic disturbances. The storms seemed to whip around more violently around this crater. There were other observations reported by members of the Clan, but the most important thing was that the Sadowans land on the planet and claim that which was theirs by rite of the Sadow Empire.
Looking back, Consul Bentre Stahoes took stock of the members of the team he had assembled to escort him to the surface. Of course, his Umbaran Blackguard stood by, intently watching out the window as the landscape appeared to roll beneath their shuttle. Although her Inquisitorius -issue armor covered most of her features, her stance was typical of Syntari.
Ciara was sitting in a row of seats near the back of the shuttle, involved in quiet, but intense conversation with Pel and Archean Tarantae. The Consul had remembered her involvement with the Krath before the actions of Pravus. Her expertise would be of great use to the Clan on the surface, and the camaraderie of the other Tarantae would help to ensure they kept each other safe.
Teu Buhkari Sadow was quietly examining her equipment off from where Alexander Del Gotto and Dakor Terro’k were joking about some shenanigans that had occurred earlier that morning. Bentre had not caught the start of the conversation, and his mind was already gearing up for what kind of threats they could expect. Of course, he knew that it was the threat you could not see that would most likely kill you.
These thoughts consumed Stahoes as the shuttle moved closer to its intended landing spot. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that the Corellian Sadow did not realize that his Proconsul was talking to him for several moments before he shook himself from his reverie.
“There is a bit of a complication.”
The words sunk in, but Bentre blinked twice before nodding. Turning to look out the transparisteel of the peephole, he did not spot the issue at first. They were quickly approaching the landing zone, but he saw only jungle.
“Look at the edge of the clearing,” Ashia Kagan Keibatsu urged, “where the tree line just breaks.”
Several shuttles had already started their own descent and were landing on the planet. Many questions began to whir through the mind of the now-snarling Consul. Who are these people? What do they think they are doing landing on my planet?
Further thoughts of wicked revenge were met with the firm grip of a hand on his flesh-and-blood arm. Bentre turned to see a stern look on the Keibatsul’s face. Her expression conveyed the same irritation he felt, but it also silently conveyed a need to calm himself. He had seen that same face enough times when he lost his temper during meetings with the summits. She helped to keep his head even when his emotions started to get the better of him.
“Prepare for first contact.” The Corellian turned to the assembled Sadowans as he spoke the words. “We might be encountering some hostiles a little sooner than we had expected. I’m seeing some unfamiliar shuttles. We might have to fight our way out of the landing zone as soon as we hit the ground.”
“We will break their legs.” Dakor lifted his armory lightsaber, waving it around determinedly.
“That is,” Bentre had to stop, stifling back the hint of a chuckle, “quite nice of you to offer, my young friend. I really appreciate your willingness and your candor.” The grin no longer threatened to break out, now splitting the Consul’s face for the flash of a moment. “Don’t lose that.”
“Maybe we should wait a moment, and see who it is before we start killing?” the cool tone of the Proconsul cut in.
Stahoes nodded. “That sounds like a plan. If anybody takes a shot at one of us,” he motioned to himself and Ashia, “or one of you, feel free to kill them. Until then, I want to see where this goes.”
There was something on the surface. A cacophony of sensations ranged from completely alien to almost familiar. The Force was turbulent, the future unclear. Bentre only hoped that things would calm down a bit before they went to hell.
“Hands on your weapons, but do not make it too obvious. Remember, I want to at least know who is trespassing on our find before we start making a mess.”
Bentre drew himself to his full height before he strode down the shuttle’s ramp. It took a moment for the man’s eyes to adjust to the natural sunlight of the planet. They had all spent too much time cooped up on the Sadowan fleet. It felt good to feel natural earth beneath their feet, but as soon as the spots had faded from their eyes, the Sadowan group strode forward with their Consul and Proconsul. More Sadowan shuttles would be landing in quick succession, but even now, a number of unfamiliar shuttles were yet descending to join the other intruding vessels as they quickly approached.
Their arrival was largely silent, but there were several glances of uncertainty exchanged between the members of the retinue. The initial mysterious shuttle was finally lowering its own landing ramp as the group drew nearer.
The first individual to disembark was a human. Dressed in an Imperial uniform, the figure motioned to someone behind him. It took a moment for the Sadowan Consul’s eyes to focus, but it appeared that the tall individual was a woman. Though he found it strange, it was not until the second figure emerged from the shuttle that Bentre could appreciate the woman’s height. By comparison, she stood a head over the second figure.
“Kriff.” Bentre muttered the monosyllablic word with a grunt. Still, there was something familiar about the man. While he could not pin down the identity of either individual, he felt like he already knew something about the woman and her dark-haired companion. The tension only increased as the gap between the group and the shuttle closed more.
As though in silent response, a pair of identically-armored soldiers disembarked the shuttle close behind the dark-haired man. From other shuttles, even more clone-like soldiers appeared. They took a place flanking the original pair, with heavy repeaters drawn. They seemed to size up the Sadowan group for a moment before raising their weapons. This drew a similar response from the Sadowans, with lightsabers being activated and lifted to the ready in response.
“You have to forgive them!” Bentre called out, lifting up a hand. “You see, it isn’t that often that I find someone has decided to squat on something that I - ”
He stopped, holding up a single finger.
“Forgive me. I mean, we had laid claim to. Given that I can’t be assured that an approach would not result in blaster wounds or lost limbs, perhaps you would care to identify yourselves?”
The Corellian flashed the biggest, fakest smile that he could muster as he shouted across the field which divided the respective parties. The tall woman across from him blinked - with one eye, at least, as the other was nothing but a glassy blue patch.
“ You laid claim to this planet?” she repeated incredulously.
“Tavisaen,” the human male warned.
But “Tavisaen” wasn’t done. “I hardly think you, even with all your grunts, can fly across the galaxy placing stickers on places you feel like claiming. ”
A flash of rage passed over Bentre’s face. He could feel his ears growing red. “Grunts?” he chuckled. “Well, I mean, I guess they might not look that impressive. You might want to be careful. See…” He raised a finger again. “Sometimes, those sorts of things can get you bit. And a Lion …” He pronounced the last word with relish. “…is not the sort of things you want to mess with.” He jerked a finger at himself and his group. “Even if this lot does not look impressive, one of our number knows a bit about Crusades and might have a word about this kind of thing.”
The woman, whom Bentre now recognized as Ronovi Tavisaen, cast a skeptical look at her Consul, who obviously must have been Arden Karn di Plagia. It was clear that the forces squaring off with Naga Sadow were allegiants to Clan Plagueis, and there were now two clans laying “claim” to a planet. Still, Ronovi’s tongue had not lost its luster. She had more to say, and she did so with a smile, stepping toward the Naga Sadow Consul with a hand placed gently on the hilt of her saberstaff. As she strode forward, Bentre held up a hand to stay his companions’ weapons.
“I’m familiar with Ashen,” she remarked, unfazed by the clicking of blasters as she grew nearer to Bentre. “I worked under him when he actually could hold onto the Iron Throne without his grip slipping. As for Crusades, I think my clan knows a thing or two about those as well, given that we conquered quite a few planets compared with the rest of you lot. Now, tell me…how did you learn about this planet, and what makes you think you can just hop over here and act like you own the joint?”
“You’ll have to forgive my Wrath, Stahoes,” Arden intoned. “Some things never change.”
Bentre smiled. “She would do well to remember the identity of my Proconsul, Karn.”
“I could hardly give a Wampa’s ass if Ashia is - ”
Now it was Arden’s turn to raise a hand, and Ronovi, surprisingly, fell silent. The Dread Lord of Plagueis slowly approached Bentre, though he did this diplomatically, calmly, unlike his second. His face remained stoic beneath his thatch of dark hair, and he kept his fingers close to his blaster, which Bentre now realized the man preferred over his lightsaber.
“What did you come here for, Stahoes?” he asked, as courteously as he could. His lips were then drawn into a thin line.
“Ah.” Bentre pointed to the ground. “See, we fell upon this location during a bit of a look-see into one of several systems. The Collective attack on Orian has displaced our forces in a rather uncomfortable way. We’ve been looking for something, anything, that could help us. One of our teams found something that felt big and dark here.”
“Heh!” Ronovi snorted. “ ‘Big and dark.’”
She rolled her eyes when she was shushed by the Dread Lord again.
“My clan discovered information on this planet through our databases on Aliso,” Arden told Bentre. “The Confederacy of Independent Systems had quite a bit of material for us to peruse and explore. There’s a vast number of resources that will benefit our clan. Infrastructure, military, all that.”
He then gestured for Ashia, who stood at a distance, to join Bentre, Ronovi, and him in a makeshift huddle. There was murmuring from the rest of Naga Sadow and Plagueis, but no one dared move, let alone speak, as the clan summits convened.
Ashia broke the silence. “Do we really have time for this kind of posturing? Our goals don’t seem to overlap. There’s no reason for us to have an inter-Clan conflict over this planet.” She pointed her comment at her Consul in particular.
Ronovi simply shrugged; clearly, she was not enthused about speaking further. Arden spoke instead.
“I don’t see any reason to instigate conflict,” he commented. “I’d imagine we have our own priorities to deal with.”
“So, what,” Bentre interjected, “this becomes a ‘you don’t mess with us, we don’t mess with you’ situation?”
“Well, neither of us would want to waste valuable resources or manpower on a petty spat, now, would we?” asked Arden.
“I’m okay with spats,” grumbled Ronovi under her breath.
The rest of the troops were beginning to relax a bit, lowering their weapons and dropping their offensive stances. Bentre couldn’t help smiling. Despite this snag, things were still going the way he wanted, and he wouldn’t let this intrusion ruin his mood.
“Well, I guess that is progress, at least,” he quipped. “Though perhaps we try to take this a little further than a simple non-aggression pact?”
His words were met with a slow nod of agreement from Arden. Tense glances were exchanged between Ashia and Ronovi, but both seemed to be in silent agreement as well.
Around them, a warm wind was beginning to pick up.