Zakath sat in the middle of a small forest clearing, his long tail curled up around his legs as he slipped into meditation. Having finally been relieved of heavy duty to the Clan, the Barabel had taken the opportunity to relax and go on a hunting trip, to ignore the business and politics of the Dark Brotherhood for a too-brief time.
A long hissing sigh escaped him as he opened his mind to the Force, reaching out to feel the life around his him, as Atyiru had taught him. He could feel the numerous life forms that inhabited the forest, bustling around and going about their daily activities, completely unaware of machinations and schemes, concerned only with survival.
If only I can be as they are.
Zakath sighed and tried to recenter himself after that errant thought, refocusing on the life energy and trying to find peace within himself.
Zakath reacted without thinking, leaping to his feet and throwing himself sideways. An instant later, a burst of blaster fire began to spray the area where he was just sitting. Snarling, he dashed forward to where a huge fallen log stood, his BlasTech E-11 blaster rifle propped up against it. Snagging the rifle, he leapt behind the log and took cover. As he hid, the blaster fire began to intensify, although somewhat strangely, it didn’t seem to be trying to focus on him specifically.
“Keep Zakath pinned down- we will deal with this Undesirable scum ourselves! And then the Grand Master will reward us all!”
Zakath let out a roar as the Force-amplified words boomed across the landscape. Those words meant only one thing to him.
The Inquisitorius had found him.
Grasping his rifle, Zakath took a quick peek over the top of the look. He could see various troopers surrounding the area in a large semicircle, their armor identifying them as Iron Legion troopers. But what immediately attracted his attention was the three black-robed men standing right behind the troopers. Obviously the Inquisitorius agents, they were oddly not moving, instead seemingly content to observe the action. Zakath’s eyes narrowed at them before ducking back behind the log.
They had just implied that they would deal with him personally… so why weren’t they moving?
Zakath crept to the closest side of the log and risked another look at the three men. They now had their hands raised up to the sky and appeared to be chanting. After a second, Zakath could feel dark power wrapping around and through them. And then they threw their hands downward.
Zakath was instantly pinned onto the ground as he felt the sheer power of the Dark Side crushing him, as if grinding him underneath its heel. A heartbeat later, sheer agony inflamed every nerve ending in his body as a cloud of dark energy appeared and began to wrap around him. For the briefest of seconds, he felt warm. And then his blood turned to ice as the energy began to attack his scales, slowly beginning to dissolve it. He tried to choke out a painful groan, but found that his throat was crushed shut as well, as if someone was intent on choking the life out of him.
You are Undesirable scum. The Dark Brotherhood is better off without you.
Zakath could taste the sheer hatred that dripped from the Force-transmitted thought, as if it were poison that burned on contact. He was beginning to see black clouds appearing rapidly at the edge of his vision as he struggled in vain to escape the dark grip he was in.
You will die. This outcome was inevitable the instant our Grand Master marked you for death.
Zakath couldn’t even let out a whimper as he felt death close in on him, but could only stare up at the brilliant blue sky that was rapidly becoming hidden under black clouds as the Force set his body ablaze. He could only hope that death would come quickly.
But first… the Force will be stripped from you. You are unworthy of its power.
He could see nothing but black clouds now, interrupted only by the ruby light of blaster fire. Had he not been out of his mind with pain, the Barabel would’ve noticed that the blaster fire seemed to be subtly lessening, as if one trooper after another were beginning to stop firing.
When the Force is purged from you, you will-
Almost instantly, the energy dissolved into nothingness, and for a long moment, Zakath wondered if he was dead at long last. His scales were now half-melted into a hardened shell, his nerve endings still rippled with the lingering renmants of the Dark Side’s acidic touch, and he could taste blood in his mouth. It wasn’t until he clawed at the ground with his talons did he realize that the ritual had apparently been disrupted, releasing him from its grasp.
Groaning, the Barabel rolled onto his chest and slowly lifted himself up to his knees, crawling toward the relative safety of the fallen log. He collapsed against it and breathed in the sweet air with deep gasps, feeling the lingering wisps of energy trickling within him. A stray blaster bolt exploded into the ground, reminding him that he was still under threat. Spotting his fallen blaster, Zakath snatched it up and let out a rumbling growl.
Rage now filled his eyes, causing them to explode with purple fire.
The Inquisitorius had found him, but if he was going to die here, he would take as many of them with him as he could.
Snarling, the Barabel propped himself on top of the log and began to fire wildly in the direction of the blaster fire, soon zeroing in on his prey as he began to pick out the Iron Legion armor that flitted to and fro amongst the trees. But in the back of his mind, Zakath wondered where the Inquisitorius agents were.
In a few minutes, it was all over.
Zakath was breathing heavily as he finally slumped down to the ground, his bloodrage fading away as he sensed the last of his prey’s life force ebbing away. Letting out a long sigh, he let his head fall back onto the log and closed his eyes, content to just sit there and rest.
“How are you feeling?”
Zakath’s eyes snapped open, and he swiftly brought up his rifle to point it at the speaker, a tall humanoid figure that was dressed in what appeared to be an exotic mix of armor and silk clothing, his face hidden behind a mask. He was slowly walking toward Zakath holding a sword downward in one hand while his free hand was cleaning the blade with a handkerchief.
“Your name,” Zakath hissed as he braced against the log to steady himself while gauging his chances.
“Ah, forgive me,” The figure said as he placed the hand holding the handkerchief behind his back and bowed slightly. “Tamashi Bloodfyre, newly arrived in Clan Arcona.”
Zakath’s body subtly relaxed, but he still kept the rifle pointed squarely at Tamashi’s chest. “And why are you here?”
“I had business at the spaceport,” Tamashi said as he straightened up, resuming the cleaning of his blade. “I happened to overhear the three Inquisitors commandeering the Iron Legion troopers for what they said was for an Undesirable target. Seeing as Eldar is in Arcona’s sphere of influence, I decided to investigate. Rightly so, it appears.”
“Then… you dizrupted the attack on me?” Zakath asked, lowering his rifle a fraction.
“The ritual they were conducting?” Tamashi’s masked head nodded slightly. “They were so focused on it that they never saw me coming. The troopers failed to set up an appropriate perimeter so I was able to surprise the Inquisitors. When you joined the fray, the chaos was enough to divide their attention and allowed us to dispatch them.”
Zakath stared at Tamashi for a long moment and then grunted, struggling to get to his feet. As he stood up, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply as he tried to get the swaying under control. Finally he opened his eyes and looked at the armored figure.
“Show me their bodiez,” Zakath said finally. “We will need to strip them of any form of identification, and then burn them. We cannot rizk word getting back to their mazterz of their ultimate fate.”
“Of course,” Tamashi nodded. “And after?”
“I talk to the Summit,” Zakath growled. “Thiz attack muzt not go unpunizhed.”
“And you’re absolutely certain that they were Inquisitorius?” Atyiru asked intently, her lips pulling down into a frown.
“I have no doubt,” Zakath replied, his voice a low rumble as he stared unblinkingly at the Consul, his eyes glowing with anger. “They named themzelvez servantz of the Grand Mazter, and targeted me specifically- az an Undezirable. There iz no other concluzon I can see.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Uji said, his holographic form clasping his hands behind his back. “What concerns me more is this ritual they were using. If the Inquisitorius is capable of such power, we may be in more danger than previously thought.”
“Yes, our knowledge of Force rituals is a bit lacking compared to others such as Tarentum,” Atyiru sighed and leaned back into her chair, one hand absently playing with her braided hair. “Our strength has always come from working in the shadows, not manipulating the Force so overtly as these Inquisitorius are doing, and I’m hearing rumors from other areas as well… it does not bode well for us.”
“If I may, Consul?”
Everyone paused and turned to face the speaker, who was now pulling back his hood to reveal a handsome face, though unsmiling, with cold and icy eyes staring piercingly at the Consul.
“Go ahead, Braecen,” Atyiru nodded toward the Quaestor.
“The Inquisitorius has proven themselves a danger to us, their rituals especially so. And they dared to attack us openly. This cannot be allowed,” Braecen said, his voice deadly soft. “I propose that a team be put together to answer that threat.”
“A fine sentiment, but we cannot counter the Inquisitorius openly,” Uji replied. “If we go this route, it must be in secret.”
“Indeed,” Braecen replied, his eyes flicking to the Proconsul briefly before returning to Atyiru. “I propose we form a team that has two primary goals. First, to quietly and secretly counter the Inquisitorius activities within our domain, and show to them- covertly and without being actively exposed- that we are not mere prey to be hunted whenever they wish.”
Zakath remained silent as the Quaestor spoke, but his fiery eyes flared up as Braecen continued to spoke.
“This will need to be handled delicately,” Atyiru replied, releasing her braid and steepling her fingers as she considered Braecen’s words. “I agree that we cannot just allow the Inquisitorius to be so brazen in our territory, but we cannot risk attracting the Grand Master’s attention so soon. The Clan isn’t ready for it.”
“I agree, that is why this team will be supported by us covertly, with no overt ties with Arcona,” Braecen nodded at the Consul’s words. “And secondly, if the Inquisitorius is wielding Force rituals against us, then we need to dig up where they acquired such power and claim it for our own. It will not do for the Inquisitorius to wield something so potent without us answering in kind.”
Atyiru considered the Quaestor’s words for a long moment as everybody else waited patiently. Finally she spoke, her voice firm.
“Very well. Zakath, step forward.”
The Barabel obeyed, moving to the forefront and bowing his head in reverence to the Consul. “Conzul?”
“As you have witnessed the power of the Inquisitorius first-hand, and understand the full danger that they represent, I am charging you with this task,” Atyiru began, her voice commanding. “You will form a team that will hunt the Inquisitorius from the shadows, disrupting their plans within our domain, and protecting whatever targets that the Inquisitorius is tracking. Furthermore, you will also begin to investigate the rituals that the Inquisitorius has begun to wield, and claim it for our own.”
“It will be az you command,” Zakath growled out, bowing his head in submission.
“We will support you covertly whenever possible, with an substantial allotment of credits, and more to come on an as-needed basis,” The Consul continued on. “You will operate with full sanction from me. As we cannot risk the Grand Master’s attention however, you will report your activities to Braecen, who will act as my liaison to your team and vice versa. This will give us a cloak, however thin, that your activities are independent. Your communications should be as discreet as possible, however.”
“I understand,” Zakath said as he glanced over at Braecen. The man merely gave a slight nod toward the Barabel, but otherwise remained silent.
“Do you have any questions?” Atyiru asked.
“Only that if you permit it, I would like Tamazhi Bloodfyre azzigned to my command. He iz alzo aware of the dangerz, and iz currently lacking an azzignment. I believe he will prove to be a valuable azzet,” Zakath said before he looked up to meet the Consul’s gaze, his lips peeling back into a toothy vicious smile. “Then we will make the Inquisitorius sorry they ever laid eyez on uz.”