[Shattered Ties] The Beauty and the Beasts Team
Winter was coming.
Like every year, the snowstorms had arrived, wrapping the broken cityscapes in a blanket of ice. Decades had passed since the wars that had been fought between the Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, but the marks remained. Left alone in the fridges of the Outer Rim, Mygeeto had never amounted to much during the Empire, so still the planet’s proud spires stood empty and neglected.
Or had until recently.
Dying flames flickered across the smoldering wreckage of one of the shuttles that had collided with the cloud-reaching towers. The burning remains of the shuttle’s cockpit had subsequently ricocheted, being thrown off the frozen spire, before bouncing down between the icy walls and sending flakes of windows and glass plummeting, the freezing remains of Mygeeto’s past all crashing to the surface- right behind the burning shuttle, which struck first, detonating on impact.
The sound had echoed, each explosive repetition shaking free more ice and snow.
That had been a few hours ago.
The wreckage had since cooled, and predictably, as was always the case on worlds like Mygeeto or Tatooine, the rodents had come crawling out of their caves. Like flies drawn by a torch light, the vagabonds and drifters had all been drawn by the rare promise of warmth, but also- more significantly- by the prospect of gold and riches.
Or, more plainly, loot.
Unsurprisingly, the looters had not seen eye-to-eye. There was no law among the galaxy’s outcasts, and
more bodies had joined the cremated remains of the unfortunates who had been aboard the doomed starship. The shuttle was beyond repair, so offered no hopes of an easy escape from the hell that was life in Mygeeto’s crime-ridden underworld, but there was always the chance of something, something that might be worth even a few credits to someone, somewhere.
Not far from the wreckage, one scavenger, wrapped in multiple fur coats, withdrew a freshly bloodied knife from the midsection of another drifter they had just stabbed. They shoved the less fortunate on the floor. This was life on Mygeeto. “Skocha kung,” the figure muttered in Huttese, although their voice was lost, muffled by the thick scarf covering their mouth.
They knelt down over the corpse- and pulled the other’s blaster out of its holster.
A quick check confirmed it was out of ammo.
“Echuta!” Not that it was any real surprise, ammo was scarce, and many just carried empty blasters as deterrents. “Didn’t help you though, did it,” they muttered. A further root through the other’s pockets turned up nothing except for an empty wallet, a half eaten ration, and… wait…
It took a second to unwrap the last object from the tissue it had been wrapped in.
A ball? They sighed again. Worthless.
But as they were about to throw the ball aside… something caught their eye. Its surface glinted. Sparkling. The vagabond’s eyes widened. “Oooooooh,” their voice was suddenly optimistic again. Something told them this could be worth enough for another coat- you could never have too many coats- or, if they were lucky, maybe, just maybe even enough for a ride off that misbegotten dung hole.
They were just about to take a closer look, when the ice in front of them crunched, a footstep.
“P-put it down,” a cold voice shivered.
They did nothing of the sort. Holding onto the spherical gem, their blood-soaked knife was in their hand again and they were on their feet. A humanoid figure stood in front of them, its own face just as hidden behind its hood. A ring of metal thorns circled their head, rusted spikes rising from an old mantle. Their shape was lost beneath heavy layers of dark fur, and they stood clasping an ebony staff for support.
But what stuck out was the exotic sword strapped across their back.
“Shut up, old man,” the first vagabond hissed. The man took an ungainly step in their direction, favouring his walking stick to stop himself falling over. “I found it first. You’ve got one chance to kriff off, or I’ll do you a favour and put you out your misery and take that pretty sword of yours.”
“I n-never said I wanted it,” the cloaked figure muttered, clearly freezing, “I t-told you to put it down.”
The vagabond snorted. “And what are you gonna do abou–”
Before they could finish the sentence, the object in their hand flashed, and for the briefest moment, their eyes turned from the man leaning on the walking stick to catch a glimpse of the sphere they had stolen glowing brilliantly with purple fire. Then it was all over. In a flash, the fire had engulfed the looter’s body, then they were gone, their mind, flesh and bone all returned to the ash from whence they came. There was no scream. No pain. Not even enough time to fear what had become of them.
In less than a moment, they had become nothing.
The elderly figure sighed.
Like so many before them, the vagabond had ignored the old man’s words. It was far from the first time someone had done that. He moved closer, although the cold made his steps slow, stiff. The climate did his cold blooded veins no favours, not that the weight of the broken sword he carried helped, but that particular artifact was his prize and not leaving his sight.
The man reached down over the soot left of the vagabond- his clawed grey-green fingers first collecting the cloth that the drifter had discarded, before retrieving the cursed stone that had incinerated them. The old man sighed before tossing the fire stone back into the wreckage of the downed shuttle. He was not there for parlour tricks and arcane trinkets. The Sith artifacts for which he had followed the Red Fury clan from Antei to Moraband to Mygeeto were of an all more important calibre.
The thrum of another shuttle droned overhead.
More came. But then, more always did.
“Darth be damned, I’ve been relegated to artifact clean-up duty again,” growled the Adept as he checked his gear. Around them the cold and frosty atmosphere of Mygeeto swept past their hull-port view frames. “Locke… I’d rather be facing down Cyris. No one will be killing Sonjie but me and I have elected not to at this time.” Macron donned his battlesuit helmet and locked it in place with a puff of expelled gas. “Good thing it’s a cold planet. I spent a lot of time on the Inos moons. I’m cool, pardon the pun, with ice.”
“Groan. Really? Still haven’t forgiven him for the usurpation eh?” Tasha’Vel checked her own gear and donned a heavy cloak over her cold weather clothing. The Quaestor had a smirk on her face. “I don’t think you actually want him dead. In fact, I think you like him and are merely keeping up appearances. You liked Tarrhyn even if he was a Jedi, as you say. I respect that.” The Alchemist chuffed under his helm and said nothing.
Next to the two of them sat a heavily robed and cowled figure. A faint whine of pulsing fluids hovered around the mysterious broken woman. One heavily scarred and ominously clawed hand reached out and readjusted the coverings. The exposed left hand resembled nothing known to normality; long claws, missing patches of skin, and the hint of metal woven within the suppurating and rugose powerful flesh.
“Ophelia, you doing okay? We will be there in less than a minute.” Tasha looked at her Aedile with concern. “Macron, damn. She looks like hell. I mean, damn. Did you have to stitch her up like this?” The Quaestor looked pensive. Orders had come from above and she agreed. Collect the best you have, and find the artifacts on Mygeeto.
“She asked to be remade after Ashen cut her most deftly apart,” chuckled the madman. “And out of respect for her position as Aedile and as a warrior of this Clan, I complied. She is now a Sith-spawned horror that will strike fear into the hearts of her enemies. Fitting considering she was a One Sith betrayer. This was her wish- to make things right as constructive self-punishment of a sort. Yes, Ophelia?” The robed and cowled figure nodded slowly with a wheeze as the transport impacted the snowy ground below.
The hatch popped open and the three Sadowans exited the droid-piloted ship. Wind whipped around the trio as clouds of blinding snow buffeted them. It was cold here on icy Mygeeto. The planet was within a cycle of even greater than normal chill and it showed. “It’s colder than a Sith’s… er, pretty cold!” exclaimed Tasha’vel. “Good grief.” She pulled the thermal wraps closer around her and donned a rebreather. Her muffled voice echoed from the device. “Almost too cold to breathe!”
“I don’t feel it,” rasped the voice from the heavily robed and cowled Sephi. “I don’t feel anything but hunger.” Ophelia put a set of radar-frequency electrobinocs to her blood-weeping eyes. “Two figures that way.” The feral hand pointed simply to the south. “Prey.”
“Excellent.” Macron’s voice echoed from his helm vocoder. “Let’s investigate. If we encounter Red Fury- or our former allies, I say we kill them with maximum prejudice.”
“I can feel… feel something.” Macron closed his eyes under his helm as they tromped through the snow. “It feels vaguely familiar.”
“I get nothing,” Tasha’Vel remarked. “No Force-users but us. Nothing. Are you sure?”
Ophelia kept silent as she scratched at her face under the robes. Her response was to draw her weapons. The predator wasted no time- time to kill was time well spent.
“No, not Force users. Like an item imbued with the Force, but weak. Broken. And very close to the direction we are heading.” The Alchemist snapped a lightstick and tossed it towards the sounds. “Come out, come out, whoever you are.”
Cold. Always cold. Hoth was bad enough, but again with the cold.
Ophelia growled gently against the thin material that covered the majority of her face. She ached, she felt wrong. She hated and she yearned. Pain seared every nerve ending. Agony coursed through her veins and blood red tears dripped from the corner of her left eye. Each breath felt like the coarse sands of Tatooine and every movement made her feel like she had aged centuries in weeks. She was reborn but she was broken beyond anything she had ever experienced.
Broken glass littered her chambers back home. The skin of her knuckles was still raw from the impact of flesh and bone on the material that showed her what she was. What she had become. A monster.
The voice came again. She knew it was her own yet found it oddly disturbing as it sounded wrong. More deep. More wrong. It was as if the darkness that had existed within her had been given a voice and she yearned to listen to it, to act out the violence that it promised. She was smarter than that, though. She knew she couldn’t let herself go, not here. Not now.
Raw pain cascaded up her spine where the Tuk’ata spikes had been grafted and she shuddered. Her movement altered into a horrific staccato, like some marionette played by an inept puppet master. A ragged wheeze escaped her mouth and the two slits that ran along the side of her face.
“Ophelia, are you ok?” the Twi’leks voice drifted lazily against the wind to her, and she turned her head peering towards her.
“I’m fine,” she growled. The voice not sounding like her own, the voice sounding almost like the one in her head. She looked down at the twin vibrodaggers in her hand and they spun almost lazily end over end. Drawing patterns in the air. They looked promising. An end to this existence perhaps, though she knew they simply meant the promise of bloodshed, of causing pain of the eventual bliss of ending life. “I’m just tired.” she continued with a softer tone as she saw the slightly taken aback look from her Quaestor.
Tasha simply scowled slightly, shooting Macron a dirty look before turning back to the robed figure that stood before them. Ophelia wanted to do things or it was safer to say the voice did and she had begun to agree with the voices assessment of the situation. This wasn’t what it seemed. Her body swayed slightly as her feet adjusted themselves into a position she knew she would find comfortable, to strike from, to move in and engage. To break, smash, kill, maim and eviscerate.
She wanted to hurt so badly. To take her mind of her own pain. Again she felt the pull but ignored it. Again she fought what bubbled up inside.
A look of annoyance ran across her face, but given the obscurity of her clothing, no one saw, as the figured turned in her general direction and observed her for a second. Taking in the slightly exposed and mutated arm before taking in the slight misshapen aspects to her form. It tutted, though wherever in annoyance or admiration she didn’t know and in response she took a step forward.
“You don’t look well my child.” came a simple voice from beneath the robes. Nothing about the tone gave anything away. “Not well at all.”
Ophelia growled and stared hard at the man. That voice came back into her own “Hasn’t anyone told you not to demean a woman’s appearance child?” came her curt reply. Given the Sephis own age, most beings she met had no right to call her child. “I would hold your…”
“Ophelia!” came the curt snap from her Quaestor and she shot her own dirty look towards Tasha before moving away and she began stalking the area like a hunting predator. She needed to calm down, she needed a distraction. Before she killed something she didn’t mean to.
Kill them all.
“She has changed so much. More animal now it seems than human. I wonder how much more of the animal side will take over. Did Macron really have to do this to her?”
Tasha shivered a bit as she watched her Aedile move away to hunt. When she disappeared from view, the Quaestor turned her gaze toward Macron. “Was it really necessary to alter her so drastically like that, Macron? She seems like she could easily lose her mind. I’ve seen this happen once from your experimentation. It was almost like a nightmare, Bentre went mad, attacked his Quaestor and got sent to jail. Please tell me that I won’t have to jail her as well.”
The mad scientist met her gaze with a smile. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to keep her in check. After all, you know there is always an alternative to jail.”
“I’m am sure there is-what let you continue experimenting or just put her out of her misery? You know I don’t relish killing our own people, Macron, but I feel that one day it might have to come to it and I’m going to hate that day. You know I’ve seen a lot happen lately and wish I were as strong as the Lion of Tarthos. Do you know of how to attain such power like that?”
Before he got a chance to answer, there was a loud crash, a yell, and the sounds of a scuffle were heard just a short distance behind a small snow-capped hill towards the left of the two Sadowans.
“I think that was Ophelia.Let’s go!”
The… creature had come out of nowhere.
In dismissal of the robed figure’s warning about its poor state of health, the beast’s mismatched eyes, one more human looking, the other utterly feral and rancorous, had locked on the cloaked figure’s own. It had been hard to make out exactly what the creature was, its face hidden beneath a thin layer of cloth, but in the icy blasts of wind, the fabric had momentarily parted, giving the man a clear look at its deformities.
It was… a woman?
However, before the figure could give the origin of the grotesquely disfigured woman any more thought, the same cold gusts had exposed the patterns on their own clothing:
The blade and twin dragons of Scholae Palatinae.
The monstrous creature growled, rasping through the slits down the side of its cheek.
The beast had then pounced, baring its vicious fangs and claws.
The feral scream had come right at the same moment as another icy gust rustled through the smoldering wreckage of the downed Palatinaean shuttle. The Falleen had looked up from the body of the vagabond that had been stabbed earlier by the second, more unfortunate looter who had tried toying with the worthless Sith trinkets that even the Palatinaean salvage team that had been there earlier had left behind.
Such a waste, the elderly Falleen had thought as he continued to double up his own thermal layers with the ones he had removed from the dead drifter beneath him.
On a nearby snowy mound, which had probably once been a low rise building of some sort, but had long since been reclaimed by the harsh elements of Mygeeto, he saw a crimson lightsaber snap-hiss into existence. The snowstorm masked everything else, and but for the lone flashes of red light, the scene was lost to the white fog of the heavy layers of snowfall that continued to bury the remains of the shuttle.
The Dark Prophet raised a hand to push back the snow for a better look- but the Force did not answer.
He had begun to tire of this. Ever since the fall of the Krath and Obelisk, the Force had refused his call. Instead, he withdrew the broken shard of the sword he had taken from Temple Bellseph back on Antei the previous year. Moving up the nearby hill, he listened to more screams and snarls. He had no more desire to be drawn into a fight with whichever Clan the bladesman hailed from than he did with whatever predator they had disturbed-- and just hoped it had not been one of the giant crystalline worms that were rumoured to stalk Mygeeto’s underworld; those were stories he hoped were just legends…
…however, when he drew close enough to see, he realised it was in fact something altogether far worse than just legendary monsters and sorcerous fairy tales.
The swordsman’s robes were already in tatters, one of their arms shredded. Their robes bore the sigil of Clan Scholae Palatinae, suggesting them to likely be from the very party that had ransacked the smoking wreckage before the Oracle’s apprentice had got there himself. Their lightsaber was still raised in defence, but the look on their face showed they knew it was little hope. The Palatinaean, however, was not the figure that held the Falleen’s attention. The other, a humanoid of some sort, but with a shape unlike anything he had seen before, looked like something out of a horror-holovid. From its feral teeth and implants, to the scars and tattoos that lined its face and exposed skin, the creature was like nothing out of nature. And the ears. Sephi ears. He had known another Sephi once, and the ears were always a giveaway.
That recognition confirmed only one possibility.
Worse, its armour bore the mark of the Inquisitorius. They had been hunting him ever since the purge of Undesirables. It had only ever been a matter of time before one of their minions caught up with him.
It seemed he could not run away any longer.
“Ophelia!” came a female voice from the other side of the hill. There was something familiar, though it was impossible to recognise through the harsh winds that continued to snarl through the frozen cityscape.
Snow-covered Ruined Building
The sounds of combat were unmistakeable. Tasha peered into the driven snow and called for Ophelia, who had dashed ahead into the blinding white. The Sithspawn was engaging in combat with a foe, both white shadows in the hoary scenery. The gleam and hum of a reddish blade was clearly heard.
“Synthcrystal lightsaber,” muttered Macron. “Probably Palatinae.” The Alchemist chuckled. “Let’s go say hello.” He clenched a hand around one of his own blades and ignited it. The fiery sword ignited with a scream and hissed as it immolated snowflakes that drifted into it’s path.
Tasha’s own amethyst blade ignited in response as the two dashed forward to plunge through the snow. “I’m concerned for Ophelia. She’s become rash.” The Twilek Grey Jedi took the lead as she moved with more alacrity than the Juggernaut. She had a feeling of foreboding. “I think we are being watched.”
“Aye. I’d be concerned for her foe,” giggled the madman. Both of them crested the rise in the snow and the Adept suddenly stopped. “I feel… Barrier!” Both warriors stepped back as they both felt impending danger. Ramparts of Force-energy erected themselves around the pair just as a mine detonated from under the hoarfrost, spraying the air with durasteel balls. The force of the blast knocked them prone although the barrier effects prevented them from being torn apart.
There was little time to contemplate the situation. Two Journeymen figures bearing the seal of Palatinae on their armor stepped in with lightsabers, one red and one yellow. Tasha had retained her grip on her own weapon and deflected the killing blow, purple fire against red light. The Savant whirled and launched a furious counterattack. A one handed strike with her lightsaber knocked her opponent’s blade away and the Quaestor yelled, channeling the Dark Side to blast her foe with bolts of crawling blue electricity.
Meanwhile Macron had dropped his own weapon in the blast. It lay close by but there was no time to reach for it. His own foe stabbed at him with a scarlet weapon. Armor or no, contact with a lightsaber blade would spell certain doom. The Dark Side flowed instantly into the madman; quickening and strengthening his movements. The Alchemist side stepped the lunge and reacted with a spinning Force fueled knife-kick to his assailant’s sword arm. A sickening crack resounded as the elbow was brutally shattered. The madman tackled the unarmored enemy and bear-hugged him as they fell into a snowbank. He began to squeeze, screaming in rage and exultation as he began to feel his opponent’s ribs begin to give way.
Ophelia continued to struggle with her own ragged target. Her hunger for battle drove her onwards. She literally wanted to tear the human apart limb from limb. A vibroknuckler punch caught the man in the gut as her left hand swept his lightsaber arm upwards. Vomit spewed from his split lips to stain the snow a sickening yellow. Her artificially enhanced muscles surged as she overbore the less massive man. “Yeaarrgh!” he screamed as her flensing teeth tore out his throat. Warm blood sprayed across her mutilated face as the body dropped and began to kick. The mutated Sephi licked the coppery liquid from her lips with a forked tongue.
“That was… interesting,” remarked the hooded and robed figure that walked up out of the white fog. “You are Sithspawn.” It was a statement of fact, not a question. The wizened figure looked harried and shivered against the cold. “And a member of the Inquisitorius. I suppose it was only a matter of time.” The elder Falleen hefted the shard of broken sword that he carried. “I imagine you are here to bring me in as an Undesirable.” The sounds of combat just beyond the two ended abruptly.
As Ophelia turned with a snarl, the Twilek and Alchemist crested the rise. Macron had reclaimed his weapon and hefted it unlit. Tasha stood beside him, her own blade thrumming with violet light. The Elder spoke. “Show your face, traitorous Palatinae. Your friends are all dead or about to be so. I’d like to see who you are before we kill you like an Akk dog.”
Snow-covered Ruined Building
Akk dog, a beast. Just like you.
“Shut up. Shut up.” All eyes turned to Ophelia and she turned her back and moved away from the group as she watched Macron and Tasha move in towards the robed figure before them. She was curious but had also grown bored. Her heeled boots crunched in the snow and before she knew it her foot sunk deep into a drift she hadn’t been paying attention to. She growled and yanked her leg through, moving back towards the onlookers who hadn’t taken her eyes from her.
“Were you telling me to shut up?” the Elder asked her quizzically. A sickening smirk played across his lips as if daring her to say yes. Tasha looked on concerned and it seemed as if the robed figure seemed to simply stand and stare.
“No,” came the simple yet short reply. “Myself.” Macron raised an eyebrow, his smirk widening and he simply nodded before turning back to the figure.
“So again before I gut you,” he started towards the robed figure. Stopping as suddenly as he began as the figure lowered his hood exposing the slender features of the Falleen.
“Yes, yes I heard you the first time Macron,” something took the Elder by surprise and Ophelia watched him take a momentary step back. The Twi’lek likewise let out a small gasp. Ophelia, well Ophelia was lost and couldn’t care less.
The taste of blood still lingered on the edge of her forked tongue and she closed her eyes savouring it. They were talking about something and she had zoned right out. Her features still hidden by the folds of her cloak; she raised her hand to her face and ran her fingers through the left side gash in the side of her cheek. It felt strange, but it felt good. Raw to to the touch but the pain made her feel alive. She shivered and let out a small giggle before spinning on her heel in the snow in delight. Whatever was being said by the others stopped as they once again stared at the demented sithspawn.
“Ophelia, this is Darth Vexatus, Macron’s Sith Master.” the Twi’lek spoke to her softly. Ophelia looked towards the Falleen, then to Macron then back to Tasha. Shrugged once then turned scanning the horizon.
“No one left to play with. How sad, how sad.” she muttered in a sing song voice. As she began to spin on her heel a strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders and she instantly reacted before she realised it was Macron. He raised a hand and pointed towards the crest that Tasha and he had come from.
“Go over there, might be something to play with. Be nice though, we need information as to where the rest of these traitors are.” he said as slowly as he could. Ophelia understood, the fact he spoke too slowly annoyed her. She wasn’t stupid. Just…well she wasn’t sure what. The Sephi, or what was left of one, nodded and began to walk off. Before she moved too far she looked over her shoulder, the folds of her hood trailing with her and she spoke in that voice that wasn’t quite hers.
“I don’t know who you are Falleen, could care less you are an undesirable. You are not my target. Later may be a different story.” She was gone before a reply came. Trudging through the snow which had piled deeped as the group talked. Nearing the crest of the hill she looked forward and could just make out two shapes in the snow. She smiled a wicked smile and moved towards them.
“I will, yes I will.” They were both alive as she neared, though one less so than the other. A few slaps to the face roused them and before they could struggle she had them to their feet, one supporting the other, then like a drill instructor she marched them back the way she had come and stopped at the top of the crest looking down towards the group. “We need information from you, well only one of you because pretty sure you both know what we want to know. So I am going to play a game. Well more so you are. Over there,” she pointed towards the others. “Well that’s relatively safe. First of you to make it lives. Easy right?” They looked at her confused and she flicked her fingers towards the others. “Go on, hurry up now.” She stepped back and watched as the two began to hobble slowly towards the Macron and company.
“Not yet.” she muttered and took a step forward, hands racing behind her back drawing her twin vibrodaggers in one smooth motion. As the blades came forward she gracefully pushed herself into a forward dive behind the two men. Wet snow rushed to meet her as she turned the dive into a roll stopping just behind the two Palatinaeans. Her blades danced, slicing their conjoining legs just above the ankle. Blade met flesh, slicing easily through the achilles tendons. The men screamed in agony the noise carrying itself even above the heavy snow. “I said it was a race. You cheated by helping each other. This is your punishment. Have fun sweeties.”
Much more like it. Good Girl.
“The information you intimidated out of them is very helpful,” commented Macron as Ophelia walked by his side. “Don’t feel bad about their deaths from exposure. You gave them a chance, which is more than most would do.” Tasha had scouted ahead and they awaited her return.
“Granted.” Ophelia touched her raw slitted cheek. “The authorities here on Mygeeto have been alerted according to our Palatinae friends. Red Fury made some sort legal warrant on the goods.” The Sithspawn looked at her compatriot. “Tell me. Why did you not do this process on yourself?”
“He tried,” spoke up the shivering Falleen Elder. “The process failed didn’t it, Macron?” The alien wrapped his cloak tighter about himself. “His body rejected the process and he nearly died. I saved him, with the Force.”
“Saved me?” The Alchemist growled. “Anything but. You fed me exactly what you wanted me to hear- you made me an experiment as much as I have others. You are no Sith. And although I cannot feel the Force from you I am sure it is another trick of the Apostate.”
The crunching of bootsteps became louder. “I can hear you all the way down there,” gestured Tasha’vel as she jerked her thumb towards the rough city below. “In any case, let’s move. I’m guessing the Red Fury creeps are hunting the same target we are. There’s a pretty rough looking cantina ahead. I guess even the locals need a drink every now and then, assuming it’s not frozen. We can find shelter there and perhaps just the right kind of scum we need for information.”
“We need to find shelter. I agree.” Xanos looked ahead. “I know exactly the way to find what we need.” The Legend reached into his belt pouch.
“Some crazy artifact?” Ophelia became very interested. “Some power of the Dark Side?”
“Credits,” smirked the withered Falleen. “A power that even rivals the Dark Side of the Force when it comes to base greed.”
“I see,” commented the madman dryly as the four crunched ahead in the snow. “Nothing too vile, too debased.” The door was illuminated with slap-dash lights that appeared as a dim beacon in the snow and fog. “I haven’t been in a place like this in years.”
City Edge, Mygeeto
The music as they approached the derelict cantina was beaten only by the rowdy barks and clamour of alien voices. The music itself was not the usual loud thumping you got in many nightclubs, but a more delicate, enchanting melody. Every now and then, a blaster charge sounded somewhere in the far distance, though it was impossible to tell if it originated somewhere inside the broken cityscape or out in the wild, icy fields. An occasional growl from the snowy wilderness completed the midnight chorus.
Tasha ran a finger down the side of one of the frosted windows. Her hand came away coated in black grunge. “This place… is filthy,” Tasha muttered as she rubbed her hand against her thigh to clean it.
“I must disagree, young one,” said the Elder who had now joined them with a slight smirk. “This is the galaxy’s true heart,” the Falleen added, before saying something in his own language to the rough looking Wookiee doorman that was standing outside the front entrance. The Prophet then reached in his satchel again and handed over a handful of credits. The Wookiee roared back something in its native tongue, then, after a brief look at each of the others-- with a noticeably longer pause on Ophelia, who managed to give off a sense of unease even with half of her face hidden behind her veil-- it growled again before stepping aside to let them enter the cantina.
Inside, the volume of the music drowned out the outside world. Old, rusty heating units buzzed on the walls, some with an occasional electric spark thrown in now and again in for good measure. Vagabonds from all walks of life huddled in small groups beneath each heater. In front of one, a male Togruta butted too close into the back of a female Falleen, who promptly snarled back and pulled out a blaster-- causing the Togruta to quickly retreat again. This was life on Mygeeto for the few who struggled to survive.
An alien from some unrecognised species approached the Sadowan party.
It pulled out some assorted items and said something in a language that was probably in one of the usual backwater gutter tongues like Huttese. Macron was about to push forward when Tasha said something in her own native language Ryl. The alien looked at her before it glanced uneasily at Ophelia. It muttered a reply, probably in more Ryl, before turning and disappeared back into the assorted throng of degenerates.
“I told him to back off unless he wanted my girlfriend to eat him,” Tasha grinned with a nod at Ophelia.
Although the Sithspawn herself said nothing, Macron replied: “I’ll take that as a compliment.” The mad alchemist chortled to himself. “This is why people always come to me when they want cosmetic work.”
Ophelia growled a little, but her piercing eye was fixed on the musician at the front of the crowd.
A female Dathomirian, the musician was a painfully thin, pale girl with near grey-white skin. She had various tattoos adorning her face, and a few others down her bare arms-- which, unlike practically everyone else in the cantina, she did not have wrapped in multiple warm layers. That was unusual.
The Dathomirian was playing an unfamiliar stringed instrument, which had a number of people up at the front of the stage absolutely transfixed as they swayed in tune to her notes. There was something about the woman that made it impossible to pull your eyes away as she floated back and forth across the stage, holding her audience entranced, as more drifters made their way to the cantina in search of a brief moment’s respite from the cold, bleak existence that was all the ruined city outside offered them.
Ophelia growled when she glanced back briefly at the Wookiee guarding the entrance. A beefy, well built pair of figures had just entered, both decked in patchwork armour, variously made up of pieces from, among others, Ubese, Mandalorian and Imperial armours. “Authorities,” the Sithspawn hissed.
Macron’s eyes glanced between the trio that made up Mygeeto’s answer for ‘authorities’ and the strange figure dancing on the main stage playing her unfamiliar instrument. “I need a moment with that girl,” the alchemist grinned, the seam around his helmet hissing before he pulled it off. “Can one of you keep them busy?” He gestured back at the two figures by the Wookiee studying the crowd. One of them had stopped to focus on Macron and the others, and now turned back to his compatriot and was saying something.
The Dark Prophet raised his hand toward them and spoke something in the old Sith language of Balc.
“There must be something on this planet… blocking my incantation,” the Falleen said. He repeated the invocation, but still nothing happened. “I tire of the Force’s games.”
Macron eyed his old master. “Their loss,” the fellow Elder said, “if one of the artifacts is affecting the Force, you’ll just have to take care of them the old fashioned way.”
Tasha smiled as she cracked her knuckles a bit before stretching and turning to Macron. “Been awhile since I got a good crack at my Echani. Plus, distractions are always fun.” Tasha began to walk past a few tables and closer towards the authorities. As she neared the authorities, the Marauder slammed hard into a nearby alien standing close and knocked him right into the Wookie.
“Oopsie!” Tasha exclaimed as she grinned sweetly. “I am so sorry. So how are you all doing this fine day?” The Wookie snarled while throwing the alien to the side and began to make his way towards her.
“Well looks like I’ve angered a Wookie. Think I will be going now.”
Quickly, she bolted in the opposite direction as the Wookie and the two others gave chase. “I sure hope Macron hurries up soon.” She began to zig-zag through the Cantina with the authorities hot on her trail. Unfortunately, the Wookie was catching up real fast. Turning on her heel, she spun around and side kicked the Wookie as she came back around and began to rapidly punch him in the chest. It let out a roar as it swiped its claws towards her. She leaned herself backwards to avoid the strike as she countered and punched him again. She hoped that this would buy enough time for Macron to do what was needed. Reaching up behind her, Tasha drew out Vishra’Reyal, the heirloom Echani blade of her grandfather. As it sprang to life in her hands, the blade sang as she whirled it around and sliced into the outstretched arm of the Wookie.
City Edge, Mygeeto
Pointless, she plays with them… Kill them quickly and get this done.
It made sense…the voice. She hated it before but now it sang with a voice almost like honey. She wanted it, yearned for it…she gave in. Her cloak billowed around her as she turned suddenly. The roar from her left as the Wookie struck back went over her head, along with the chair that missed her by inches.Her head turned and observed the chair descend and crash into the back of a patron knocking him forward into his drink and then through the table.
Chaos erupted. The bar descended into a brawl. Fists flew, furniture shattered but until now the only weapon drawn was that of the Quaestor going head to head with the rampaging Wookie.
“Yes.” The sound of metal grating on metal echoed softly behind her as he hands wrapped around her vibrodaggers grips and drew the pair. They danced in the dim light, they cut as she weaved, they sliced as she waltzed among patrons. She stabbed, cut, ripped. Patrons who weren’t paying her attention. Thunk her vibrating blades sunk deep into the neck of a Quarren, as she attempted to twist it free a fist swung in and cracked her across the cheek sending her stumbling into the dying Quarren. As she stumbled her cloak caught around the fist of her assailant and pulled the clasp loose ripping the material away.
“What the kriffing heck are you?” a voice screeched out and silence descended as Ophelia pushed herself up. Even Tasha stopped and stared at her not having seen her Aedile properly since Macron worked his wonders. Tubes and cords filled with strange liquid ran around putrid flesh that cascaded up Ophelia’s body. Scars, stitches, and scars stuck out like a sore thumb. Her back was red and raw and spines grafted from her Tuk’ata erupted through the material. Her face…her face was ruined and her forked tongue crept out of the gap on the right. “You’re…not…geh.”
Ophelia’s fist wrapped its way around the human male, lifting him easily. Her red eye glared in the light whilst her normal one blinked back tears of frustration. She screamed. Wherever in rage, anger or pain even she failed to know. Then her second fist swung in, daggers abandoned and she punched, and punched and kept punching till what was a face was nothing more than a mess.
“Kill them all.” she wheezed, dropping the man and scooping up her daggers before launching herself at clearly terrified patrons. “All of them,” and the daggers descended once more.
City Edge, Mygeeto
As the full-on bar brawl erupted behind him, Macron strode quickly to the rough stage area. The Alchemist pulled off his helmet and spoke to the wide-eyed Dathomiri woman. “Greetings.” The madman eyed her tattoos. “It is no accident we met today. You obviously have some skill in the Force. Judging by your tattoos and demeanor, I find it unusual to find a Nightsister here on Mygeeto.”
The clamor in the back began to get louder as Ophelia started to rip into people. Screams in various alien languages and shouts of anger could be heard. “Observant. And judging by your own tattoos and demeanor, you must be a Dark Jedi or possibly a Sith. Although they are supposed to be extinct. Your comrades are not exactly the friendly type, eh?” remarked the grey-skinned young woman. She took the Elder’s proffered hand and stepped down from the stage. “Perhaps we should talk outside.”
“I agree,” said the Sith quietly. “As much as I’d like to join the mayhem, speaking with you may be more important to our cause.” They both stepped out the back door as a chair flew across the room to smash into the wall near the back exit. The door closed behind them as the cold swept up. “Do you not feel the cold?” asked the Alchemist.
“I do,” she said quietly. “I’m stranded here. I’m only sixteen suns, and I was captured by Red Fury slavers. Our ship was a rattle-trap. We were fired upon by some military-type snubfighters and crashed when we landed. I managed to get away with my garjitar instrument and not much else. My name is Klleeta by the way.”
“I am Macron. Here,” gestured the Sith as he handed her a thin folded emergency blanket, a roll of thermal tape and some dry rations from his belt-packs. She wrapped herself in the unfolded crinkling sheet as the two walked away from the bar to huddle by the waste bins out back. “I hate slavers. Many of us do. Tell me,” the Adept leaned in closer. “Have you seen any Red Fury scum around here? Perhaps with an object strong in the Force?”
“My own skills are very limited. I had not yet reached the age of majority and full training when I was abducted. But yes, as you say I have seen such an object. The group of bastards that abducted me came in about a day ago. I could tell they wanted to retake me but the bouncers scared them off. They had a lock-case box and guarded it with suspicion. I could feel something inside… they mentioned staying in a flop-hole about a kilometer from here. They were on their way to a place called Kasador.”
“Excellent.” The Sith handed her a hold-out blaster and a vibrodagger. “You might need these, especially if you hang with us. You know how to use them?”
The teenager nodded. “I have training in most basic weaponry.”
“Good. You can pick up better gear from the fallen. Violence surrounds us, like most Dark Jedi. Or Sith for that matter.” He grinned evilly. The battle had spilled into the street from the front door of the rough cantina. “Looks like we are missing the fun Klleeta. You just may get the chance to revenge yourself on the Red Fury scumbags eventually.” He could see Xanos backing from the door with a hammering blaster in hand, then Tasha with her vibroblade cutting a Togruta in half, and finally Ophelia who was in the grip of blood-madness. Screams and shouts of anger reverberated from inside. “You might die.” The brief statement was frank and honest.
“So be it,” said the tight-lipped young woman as she taped the blanket down around her body to form a rough suit. “I am a Nightsister even if I am young. If I can kill some of those echutas then it will be a price I’m willing to pay.” She hefted the weapons she had been given with one in each hand.
“Excellent. Here come my associates. Stay away from the Sith-spawned one. She’s a delightfully loose cannon.” The Sadow chuckled. “In fact they are all rather dangerous. Tasha might be your best bet for a friendly ear, but she is on her way to being a Darksider too in my opinion. In any case I’m sure they have managed to kill the so-called authorities in there.” The Sith smirked at the term. “We will need to get moving quickly.”
The Nightsister had shown them out back to where the gang of slavers had kept their private speeders parked away from the local riffraff. The Falleen’s long, waist-length braid of greying hair now trailed behind their chosen landspeeder as the Dathomirian witch piloted them through the desolate streets of the once great metropolis. Sirens could be heard back in the direction of the cantina from which they had made a quick exit- but not before the monstrous Sephi had had her way with every last sapient in the bar.
Ophelia had been far from discrete.
The creature was sitting right beside Xanos in the back of the speeder. He had always known the Sephi to be a beautiful race, but in this case, the apple had fallen far from the tree. Ophelia’s cheeks hissed as she drew in air through what the Prophet imagined were practically gills down her face. Even for his monster making apprentice, Xanos felt Ophelia represented a new level in just how low Macron’s experiments could sink. He had taught his apprentice the ways of alchemy, yes, but had never meant it for this purpose.
Another squad of police swoop bikes shot past down a neighbouring street, heading in the opposite direction. At least the carnage Ophelia had caused had created a distraction for the time being.
“You feel troubled, Master,” Macron, who was sitting with the Nightsister to make sure she didn’t do anything, called back from the front seats. “Quite unlike you to show your thoughts so openly.” The suspicion in the alchemist’s voice was raw; it was more than clear that Macron did not trust his Master, and believed that Xanos was only faking the Force’s refusal to respond to his command.
The Prophet stayed silent and did not answer.
The pair’s relationship had soured long before the Falleen’s disappearance. The year earlier, when he had briefly returned from exile to harness the ancient magicks of the Orian System, Macron had stood against him. That had been two betrayals in as many years, his other apprentice having stood against him on the bloodied sands of Korriban back during the climax of the Dark Crusade.
Neither trusted Xanos, none of them did, but then, he had ceased to trust them either.
They were all of them drowning in darkness, even if they didn’t know it. His eyes drifted to the Twi’lek sitting opposite Ophelia in the back. Even without the aid of the Force, it was not difficult to sense the doubts that Tasha battled with in her constant struggle to find her balance between the light and the dark.
But that was a doomed path. The former Sith Lord’s own mistakes were testament to that.
Turning his mind back to the present, the Falleen pulled up the bandage he had wrapped around his upper left arm. It was still damp with blood from where the Wookiee doorman back at the cantina had clawed it. He pushed the bandage back against his wounded arm again. Macron had provided a healing agent of some kind or another-- Xanos knew better than to ask what-- which hopefully would help the wound heal quicker. It was fortunate that Tasha had been there as well, as the Prophet likely would have been unable to overpower the feral creature on his own-- though together they did eventually deal with it.
“I don’t see why they’d bring the artifacts to a bolt house this far out,” Tasha questioned, studying the derelict buildings where Klleeta had led them. Like everywhere in the city, there were the odd one or two vagabonds rummaging around the ruined streets for anything of value, but that was all the sign of life that the Falleen could make out. The Nightsister had given the city a name-- Kasador-- but that was all they knew so far. They were heading to an unknown destination with an unknown guide.
The Prophet was not filled with confidence.
“Agreed,” Macron said, replying to Tasha’s comment, his robotic-sounding voice being modulated again now that he had put his helmet back on to shield against the cold as the speeder swept down the all but deserted streets. “This had better not be a trick.”
“No trick,” Klleeta replied, not sounding worried. “This is not the true Kasador.”
Xanos closed his eyes to reach out with the Force to sense what the woman meant… but felt nothing. However, whether that was the Force refusing to respond or because there genuinely was no deception to sense, he could not tell. “I feel nothing,” the Prophet said in any case, breaking his silence.
“Strange,” Macron answered suspiciously, turning to study his former master, “because I do.” The Falleen gave no reply again, not that Macron had expected one. “There is… a powerful presence, very powerful.” The alchemist paused for a moment. “It feels… familiar.”
There was a structure down the street that stood out from the other neglected buildings. Its entrance was still ages old and beyond repair, but it was the subtle marks that the Falleen caught. The snow had been pushed away, where the doors had clearly been recently opened, and the hinges themselves, while rusted, looked in a far more serviceable condition-- such as the fact they hadn’t been prised off to sell for a few creds-- than the vast majority of the doorways that had been removed, leaving most buildings without doors.
“There,” Xanos said, gesturing at the door. He had not needed the Force to identify it. His natural perceptiveness was just as good, something most of the Brotherhood’s Force-wielders too often forgot.
The Nightsister did a sharp turn and brought the speeder to an abrupt stop in front of the entrance. The biting wind was the only sound for miles. They had come a long way from the massacre at the cantina.
“Beneath us,” said Tasha. “There are people beneath us.”
Tasha watched the Nightsister hop off the speeder to get better look at the entrance. The door was bolted shut from the inside.
“I wonder how you will get in?”
“There is always a way in. We just haven’t figured it out yet.” Tasha answered as she leaped off the vehicle and onto the powdered snow. Macron smiled a bit at the two.
“I find it fascinating. A Sith, a Gray Jedi, one Falleen, a wonderful monstrosity and a Nightsister all out in this delightful freezing weather trying to figure out how to open a metal door.”
The Quaestor laughed. “Yes, what a lovely bunch we are, but does anyone have any ideas?”
Macron stood there pondering a moment or two while he began to walk along the side of the door. “It’s a typical blast door, heavily fortified to withstand some heavy blaster fire, even from ship cannons. So shooting it won’t open the door and I highly doubt they just have their keys under the welcome mat.”
“No kidding, Macron.” Tasha sighed. “So we can’t shoot it, but can we take a lightsaber through it?”
“Lightsabers alone would take way too long, but there still may be a way.”
After pacing around the door a couple times, Macron stretched a bit and leaned against the side.
Xanos seemed to be in thought and Ophelia meanwhile had been pacing restlessly around the snow covered ground. “I need action…something…to Kill!” Her voice trailed into a primal growl. She seemed to be struggling a bit at resisting her animalistic tendency.
The Falleen gave a bemused smile. “You know if you both took your sabers to the sides of the door and used the Force, that should get us inside.”
“I think we can handle that.” Tasha walked over to the left side of the door and ignited her crimson lightsaber. Taking the handle, she pushed the blade deep into the side and began to slowly work the blade down. Super hot metal began to ooze as she continued to carve while Macron did likewise to the other sides with his own lightsaber. After a few moments both the mad scientist and the Quaestor stopped.
She turned towards her Sith companion.
“Now for the fun part. Are you ready, Macron?”
“Let’s do this.”
Macron and Tasha began to focus and concentrate on the door. Throwing her hands out and narrowing her gaze, the Marauder began to pull her hands back to her. The door began to creak and groan under the pressure as Macron added to the forced pull. After several moments with Tasha panting heavily from the amount of sheer strength and heaviness of the door, it caved and flew outward.
“Incoming!” She yelled as the door went sailing through the air and stopped just short of the speeder. Macron turned around and leaned up against the side of the now open door. He took in a deep breath before smiling behind his helmet.
“Takes a lot out of you, but I always love to show off.”
Tasha smirked. “That wasn’t all you, Macron. I had a lot in that too you know.”
As Macron stood up again, he gestured to the open entrance.
“After you folks.”
They moved silently through the narrow corridors, eyes straining against the lack of light. The chemical lights every hundred feet or so were hardly enough to even see hands in front of your face, let alone the twists and turns of the labyrinthine complex. The Jedi Hunter sneered, his hand reaching for his lightsaber, the cold metal of the armory hilt soothing the sweat of his hand. It was a few degrees warmer underground, but the claustrophobic corridors had brought anxiety to play.
He debated lighting the saber again, letting the red light bathe across them all, before his mind screamed at him for foolishness. They had already tried that, and it brought all manner of poor decisions to their feet. The rest of his team had been picked apart. The Red Fury was bad enough, with their slavers and the Nexu trainers. The Scholae were just adding insult to injury, seeming to seek out the sound of lightsabers, using illegal Tenloss disruptors to spill two of his best friends into the air. It was the unexpected arrival of his companion that spared his life, his invisible hand smashing the Scholae snipers into the walls until there was no movement from them.
His companion moved with a measured gait, the dull thud of his boots connecting with the floor meting out a constant pattern. The tone would change, the ground sometimes durocrete, sometimes metallic. He had figured it had to do with whatever might have been beneath them, but it mattered little now. He just followed the Dark Lord, eyes darting in the darkness, trying to see something, anything.
Muz paused, lowering his head a degree as he kept the Dakhani Jedi Hunter in his periphery. He reached out, feeling along the edges of the world, tasting the patterns and letting them seethe in his mind. Underground, his senses were dulled anyway, and with so many lesser artifacts and the maze of corridors, he was having trouble finding the path to his prize.
Muz turned slightly, looking at the apprentice. He was tall, young, proud. Zabrak. Sith, as if that word meant something now. He had a name, but it didn’t matter here, underneath the snow and stone. It might matter if he was strong enough to survive where his compatriots had fallen. Muz nodded at the journeyman.
The words formed in his head a few times before he allowed them to escape his mouth, the pregnant pause that hung in the air grating on his own nerves and setting fire to the doubts inside his head about the Lion’s patience. He discarded the original question, and began anew. “How many do you sense?”
“Too many.” Muz sighed, feeling something else play across his senses, a glimmer of familiarity ahead around a corner. The journeyman chuffed, the subtle click of his saber coming off he d-ring on his belt punctuating his nervousness. He looked ahead, seeing the glow shift across the stones ahead of them, reflections of saber blades and molten metal. His eyes darted from the glow to the Master, then back again, hoping for some sort of reaction to gauge what his response should be. Muz just stepped forward, the same pace as before, quick but not exerting, assertive. Another entrance that he was not expecting. A sneer curled the side of his lip for a moment before he willed it away, the Force whispering to him the color of their shadows, his mind recognizing their resonance, their patterns in the world.
The heavy door fell outward with a loud collapse, a swirl of snow pouring up and the howl of brilliant white light assailing the corridor as sabers regarded him and the journeyman.
“Lord Ashen,” commented Macron Sadow as he bowed his head. At that same time, the Sith-spawn launched herself at the Journeyman by the Grandmaster’s side. In the merest flash of a second she was held motionless in an invisible iron fist. The others stood silently as Grandmaster Muz Ashen spoke.
“Greetings Alchemist, Quaestor… Heretic.” The Kyataran frowned briefly at Xanos. He looked at Ophelia as she struggled against his telekinesis… “Aedile. You I am unfamiliar with.” His eyes regarded the face-painted young woman with the other three. Ever succinct of wording, the Elder wasted no breath. Beside him the unnamed Journeyman held his lightsaber ignited. “Put that away.”
“Go ahead,” nudged Xanos as he he edged the young Dathomiri forward. “Be polite.”
“I’m Klleeta,” the young woman said with a waver in her voice. She did manage to look the Grandmaster in the eyes however. “I’ve never encountered anyone with your presence.”
“You are a Nightsister.” It was a statement and not a query. “Why are you here?” His warcoat flapped briefly as he gestured towards the tunnels beyond. “This is no place for children.”
Klleeta’s jaw hung open for a brief second. “I am no child. I was abducted by Red Fury slavers. I came with them,” she turned to regard her companions, “To seek vengeance on my captors.”
Muz looked coolly at the crew as he let Ophelia drop. “You may find death.” He looked at Ophelia as she gasped for air through her breathing slits and raw mouth. “You bear the mark of the madman on you.”
“Thank you.” Macron remained unusually quiet and bowed his head briefly. “She is stronger than ever.”
Tasha muttered something disapproving under her breath and then cleared her throat. “Might I suggest we dispense with the pleasantries and move on? Our time is running out, and we still have Red Fury and Scholae operatives to deal with.”
“The Palatinae sided against me in the last major war. I will give them no quarter.” The Grandmaster gestured to his silent companion to follow alongside. “Darth Vexatus. I hope you learned something from your failed rituals.”
It had transpired that the Sadowan Grand Master had arrived at the subterranean city of Kasador via a similar gateway located in another part of the ruined city that survived on the planet’s surface. None of them knew exactly where they were headed, but it was clear that they were on the right track just going by the wounds that had been inflicted on some of the authorities that policed the underground streets.
The Jedi Hunter accompanying the Grand Master was kneeling over one of the bodies, examining it.
“Lightsabers,” concluded the figure, whose name Xanos was not familiar with. The young Sadowan journeyman lifted a piece of the mismatched armour Kasador’s security forces favoured. There did not appear to be any sign of struggle, and it had been pieced clean through the midsection by a single strike.
“Tràkata,” commented the Prophet, referring to the lightsaber form which he himself had once favoured.
Both Muz and Macron nodded in agreement, the three of them having been the original scribes of the Dark Brotherhood’s first books on lightsaber combat and the Jedi Arts. “Scholae assassins,” Macron added. “We must be mindful.” The alchemist’s visor drifted across the narrow passageways that linked up with the corridor they were on.
Both of the stabbed security officers had been Muuns. That had struck Xanos as somewhat unusual when the dregs they had encountered back aboveground had mostly hailed from the usual Outer Rim backwaters like Tatooine or Ryloth. For the Muuns to have taken an interest in such a remote, distant world like Mygeeto was a sign that the Red Fury must have been involved in something larger than just the petty band of pirates that the Sadowans had believed.
Ophelia and Tasha had kept their eyes on the group’s rear as the party made their way through the halls. Every so often, however, the Sithspawn would glance over her shoulder back at the Grand Master-- it was more than evident that neither of the pair was ready to trust the other. Xanos had no idea what their history together was. At that moment, the Prophet’s chief concern was the reason for Lord Ashen to be there, as he had known Muz long enough to know that he would only have come for a specific reason.
Just like the Falleen himself.
Xanos had not taken his eyes off the Grand Master since his appearance. It would not be the first time the two might be pursuing the same prize… though hopefully it would not come to that. Nobody, though, be they Scholae, Sadowan or otherwise was going to stand in the way of Xanos’s goal.
“Hold a moment,” said the Dathomirian with them, holding up a tattooed hand.
The woman had stopped them at an archway that opened into a much larger subterranean labyrinth. Buildings, for lack of a better description, rose through the underground caves, like a sea of metallic stalagmites, all competing for the dull light radiating from the striplights on the ceiling that served as the cavern’s artificial suns. It seemed, for all intents, a thriving city hidden beneath the ruined surface.
“Kasador,” said Klleeta, almost reverently, “I thought it was just a legend.”
However, it was not the city itself that the Nightsister’s eyes lingered on, but rather a platform in the near distance, atop which sat a number of transport shuttles. The thrumming of their engines resonated in the group’s ears. “There,” the woman continued, pointing toward a group of figures who were loading a number of boxes on board one of the waiting shuttles. “That is the prize you have been hunting.”
“Then let’s get this done with. Kill them all and have this hunt done. OI’m bored of trailing through the snow and crap on this planet, now let’s finish this.” Ophelia started forward but felt a strong grip rest on her shoulder stopping her in her motion. She turned and looked into the helmeted face of the Alchemist. “Let me go Macron. I need to rip, rend, tear. Destroy. Those traitors, those filth…”
The backhand came out of nowhere and caught her around the jawline. Her head snapped back almost instantly and it took her a second to realise the blow hadn’t come from the Battlelord but from her Quaestor. She stared at Tasha and snarled.
“Get a hold of yourself Ophelia. This is not you, you are not you!” The Twi’lek berated her. What was said next passed over the head of the Sithspawn as a sort of haze took control. The quaestor kept talking but Ophelia had already wriggled free from Macron’s grip and crouched before pushing herself forward. “…and another thing. Ergh!”
Ophelia’s hand clasped quickly and efficiently around Tasha’s neck, lifting the Twi’lek with brute strength from the ground and bringing her down hard into the floor. Wind escaped the Twi’lek’s mouth but she managed to roll away as a thundering blow descended towards her head. The blow struck the ground and if any pain was felt by the Sithspawn she didn’t show it. Tasha attempted to scramble away but one of Ophelia’s hands wrapped itself around her leg and began to pull back. Then she felt the edge of a blade at her throat.
“Stop it you monster!” The young Nightsister snapped. The blade pressing ever closer to the jugular of the Sephi. “You are after them, not her. One more move and I’ll slit your throat and leave you here to bleed.”
Devour her, this whelp dares threaten you. Rip her eyes out, feat upon what’s left of her!
“Get….get off me girl.” Ophelia’s hands had already slid gently behind her back aiming for the scabbard that rested in the small of it, her hand gripped the pommel of one of her knifes.
“Ophelia, stop.” The voice was calm and yet held enough authority in it that she stopped without a second thought. She looked up into the face of Muz and slowly withdrew her hand from the blade. Her head dropping to look at the ground as calm descended once more.
He watched her for a moment longer, his shark eyes unmoving as he reached out with a hand to help her up. He stepped aside, turning back toward the seemingly endless shade that beckoned them further down the hall, unopened chambers sealed by dust and primitive locks begging for their attention. They had been searching for what felt like hours, the crude map Tasha scribbled on her datapad showing a veritable maze of an undercity, the remnants of ancient civilizations, tomb, aqueducts and cellars. The labyrinth would have been annoying if it were well lit. In this perennial darkness, it was downright infuriating. None mentioned it, but they all felt just as bellicose as Ophelia, but they just kept it buried.
At the heart of it all, we are all beasts. Savage, hungry and horny. All that civilization has taught us is how to pretend that we’re not.
Muz moved further down the hall, his hand reaching out in front of him, the fingers opening wide, wider than looked comfortable, his mind drinking in what details they could manage, the songs that the Force sang in the dirt beneath the city. Vexatus mirrored the motion, talons trying to scrape meaning from the stale air, his eyes trying to see a color he could not see any more.
Muz tilted his head, drawing his hand back and watching the Falleen from the corner of his eye. There were more of the Scholae beast masters ahead, not far, and some rather nervous equites. The concentration made him think that they were guarding something more than the captive Red Fury operative. He turned, his eyes sliding over the Heretic as he spoke to the others.
“Ahead and right. Nine.” Muz paused, letting Vexatus draw his own arm back in. The Falleen nodded at him, then turned to Tasha and Macron.
“Dangerous prey, we have here.” The expression that crossed his face might have been a smile, but it was impossible to tell, given how quickly it vanished. “But I feel that we are close.” He turned back to the Grand Master, who nodded after a pregnant pause.
The journeyman muttered under his breath, closing his outstretched hand and jamming it into his pocket. Tasha looked at him, curiously. “What was your name, again?”
“Keks.” He shrugged, staring at the floor.
“Shar Dakhan?” She smiled at him briefly, then looked back at her makeshift map. “Interesting name. Iridonian?”
The journeyman chuckled. “No, they call me the Keks Monster.”
“They?” Ophelia all but growled the word, deeper and more guttural than would have been expected from her slight frame. The journeyman stepped back at the sudden vocalization, his hand reaching for his blade out of instinct.
Muz turned to Ophelia, his hand pointing down the hall. “Save it.” She half nodded, half bowed at the words, turning toward the hall and following as he started walking, the heavy bootfalls on antique flagstones a metronome as they all moved toward their goal.
The time for civility was almost over.
The time for civility was indeed over.
Whether it had been the tightness of the cramped corridors through the Kasador underworld, or possibly a side-effect brought on by the close proximity of the amulets and scrolls that the Red Fury pirates had smuggled down there to the small underground shuttlepad that waited outside the next doorway, the end to the group of Sadowans and exiles’ journey could not come soon enough.
They had reached the end of the hallway to where Ashen had sensed the group of Palatinaeans.
Having made his way to the front of the group, the Dark Prophet’s clawed hands ran over the stones that made up the final blast door they needed to pass through to reach their goal.
“Prepare yourselves,” was all the Falleen said, his voice as unreadable as ever.
The former Sith Lord-turned-Undesirable brushed his hand down the doorway to the control panel and keyed it to open. A ring of bright lights blinked on at the floor, followed by another set a few feet higher, then a third, a fourth, and so on, as the mechanisms holding the doorway shut whirred, and the ageing components inside kicked back into action, possibly for the first time in many years, before the door started to rise, a warm blast of air briefly shooting out underneath when the seal was first broken.
Behind the Dark Prophet, the Sithspawn monstrosity growled like a dog, while alongside her, Kleeta, the Nightsister who had led them there from the cantina back on the surface, readied her own weapons. Behind whom, the lone survivor from Lord Ashen’s original infiltration team beat his own hands against his chest, the Iridonian as much a wall of muscle as anything else. Macron was eyeing the Journeyman with interest, and probably contemplating his next round of experiments.
“Move!” ordered Muz, who had taken up position at the back, likely out of an unwillingness to trust any of the others at that stage. The Falleen could not blame the deposed Grand Master, but with the Force’s continuing reluctance to heed his call, Xanos had been forced to devise his own tricks. He pulled a hand from within the satchel that hung at his waist, and hurled a handful of whatever arcane dusts it was he had brought with him-- which promptly proceeded to set the air itself alight when they struck the floor.
The wall of flame provided the distraction the group, and in particular the Force blind Falleen, had needed when they burst through the doorway out onto the waiting shuttle pad. The first sound to greet them was not the snap-hiss of lightsabers or the tschew-tschew of blasters, but rather the rumbled growl of the hunting beasts the Palatinaeans had brought with them.
The twisted creatures’ heads were the first to turn in the Sadowan team’s directions, having already smelled them even before the door had drawn open. Macron gave one of his telltale chuckles, and looked from the monstrous hounds toward the beast he himself had given form.
“I think they recognise you, Ophelia,” the Sith alchemist said as one of the Palatinaean beastmasters looked back from a group of pirates who were being ordered at lightsaber point to load the crates of artifacts they had stolen onto a waiting shuttle, whose ion engines were already alight and droning.
“It’s too late,” the Palatinaean barked, before issuing a final order to the Red Fury gangsters who the Palatinaeans had clearly captured. The Prophet recognised this one as Natth a’Niel Palpatine. The Red Fury pirates hurried to carry out the Dark Jedi Master’s instructions, while the other Palatinaean equites with him turned their blades in the Sadowan party’s direction. Most were unfamiliar to Xanos, though a couple of faces he recalled from their time in Clan Naga Sadow many years earlier, Talon Jade and Rosh Nyine. Their change of allegiance was probably an insult to the Sadowans themselves, but the Prophet cared less, to him all of them-- Palatinaean and Sadowan alike-- were all equally blind.
Tasha, Macron and the one who called himself the Keks Monster were all slightly more impassioned.
“Council worshiping scum!” snarled Macron, venting his hatred of the Dark Council and what he saw as the Palatinaean sycophants who were too cowardly to stand up to the Dark Lord and his Inquisitorius.
The result was immediate. The Sith Hounds sprung at the behest of their controllers. Xanos raised one wrinkled hand confidently to ward a Tukata off with a barrier of Force energy- and nothing happened. The monstrous creature bowled him over and began to maul the elderly Falleen. Ophelia snarled and jumped on top of the Tukata, fighting it tooth and nail with her own mutated form.
The trio rolled over and over in a snarling, screaming, bloody mess. Xanos howled in pain as he was ripped at by the Tukata. The Sith Hound howled in pain as Ophelia ripped into it with her own fangs and teeth which were ironically similar to the Hound’s own. Blood spilled everywhere of several different shades and gobbets of unidentifiable flesh flew forth from the violent free-for-all.
“Fascinating,” chuckled Macron as a Sith Hound leapt for him. “Outnumbered.” Unlike Xanos he had full command of his Force abilities. A wave of the Alchemist’s gauntlet-clad hand launched the creature from him back at the Palatineans. Even so, it was not enough. Two Palatinean Equites were right behind the monster and engaged the madman with lightsaber attacks. The Hound he had flung away got up, shook itself off and headed back for the madman at flank speed.
Tasha’Vel held her ground as a Palatinae Equite of nearly equal prowess engaged her with a lightsaber. The Savant saw from the corner of her eye that Ophelia was now getting mauled by another Tukata that had plucked her off of her target creature. It chewed the Sith-spawn’s arm with it’s menacing jaws and Ophelia screamed. The sound was more like the beast that gnawed at her rugose flesh and not Sephi. As the Equite closed on the Quaestor with a red blade Tasha yelled angrily. Ophelia was her charge, her friend. The Dark Side had finally closed in on the Savant, at least for the nonce.
“Stop them from launching. Take the ship.” The order was to the point. Klleeta and Keks moved to circle the side of the conflict and engage the Red Fury pirates at Grandmaster Muz’s command.
The Nightsister ran with preternatural speed and fired her hold-out blaster at point blank range. The blast caught one of the Red Fury pirates in the leg as he responded in kind. The pirate dropped to his knees but not before his own blast of green fire caught Klleeta in the guts. She staggered as she channeled the Dark Side to ignore her pain. The wound was lethal. She knew it. Blood vessels broke around her eyes in the telltale sign of a Nightsister as the Fanged God urged her forward to vengeance. She staggered the three steps to her target and fell upon him with the vibroblade she held in her other hand, driving it deep into the slaver’s skull right between his beady eyes. Both died and fell together in a twisted lump of limbs and gore.
Keks attacked the other Red Fury loaders, prompting them to drop their cargo loads and defend themselves. They had effectively been delayed and their pilot had been killed by Klleeta.
Muz Ashen had other plans. Naath was a problem. The Dark Jedi Master and his control of the Tukata could undo all they had fought for. As the Grandmaster felt his comrades fall beneath the beasts around him, he found the shatterpoint. The Tukata must be stopped. Killing the Dark Jedi Master would not serve the Brotherhood at large but there were other ways to skin a Tukata. One of the beasts leapt at him and the Kyataran moved impossibly quickly, faster even than the beast’s keen eyes could perceive. In a literal flash he stood some ten meters from Naath. The Palatinae opened his mouth to speak and Darth Ashen gave him no opportunity. A wave of hands, and a cloud of numbing darkness washed over the enemy Elder. His connection to the Force was suppressed- and so was the Master’s control over the Tukata.
Growls resounded from the beasts as they realized they were free of outside control. They were quite intelligent and resented such treatment. Being creatures of the Dark Side they knew only one way to express such discontent. They turned and attacked their former enslavers. Chaos ensued. Tukata attacked both sides and the Red Fury as well. Screams of pain and horror echoed in the chamber.
Tasha’vel dueled her opponent to a standstill as he was jumped on from behind by a Sith Hound. The Palatinean Equite screamed in surprise and agony as she turned to help Macron. He had managed to kill one of the Equites and the Sith Hound had turned on Tasha’s foe, but the third Equite had scored a lucky strike on the madman’s face. The blow sheared open his helmet and ruined his Sith-spawned eye leaving bloody liquid to drip down his face as he squinted with his good eye. Tasha moved in and drew the Equite’s attention. Macron responded with a blast of Lightning that stroked the Equite’s side, dropping him to the ground unconscious and twitching.
“We’ve got to get to the ship,” Tasha urged. “Lean on my shoulder.” The two shuffled as quickly as they could to the ship. Ophelia and Xanos moved in similar fashion, both of them being wounded badly.
Ophelia stopped to growl at the corpse of the dead Nightsister who had attacked her and Xanos pulled her away. “There’s no time,” gasped the mangled Falleen. Keks stood in front of them deflecting blaster shots from the few Red Fury who had not fled. “Get the artifact!”
Behind them the Tukata still raged against their captors. A thunderous crash of stones erupted, the chamber cut off behind them by masses of falling stones and debris. Muz emerged from the swirling dust warcoat flapping from the airpulse of his work. The Grandmaster spoke in a menacing voice as he gestured at the remaining pirates. “Run.”
And run they did.