Team Exploratory Assault Mission. Acronym: TEAM
Xia Long, #194
Archangel Palpatine, #7589
Evant Taelyan, #9118
Keira Viru, #11708
Xen’Mordin Vismorsus-Palpatine, #3783
Team Exploratory Assault Mission. Acronym: TEAM
Xia Long, #194
Archangel Palpatine, #7589
Evant Taelyan, #9118
Keira Viru, #11708
Xen’Mordin Vismorsus-Palpatine, #3783
An impossible display of colors and shapes painted the entire sky above the surface of the moon of Lyspair as the fragile combination of celestial bodies within the Shroud reeled from the recent rituals carried out on the nearby planet of Antei, now barely visible on the horizon yet still holding the ground beneath their feet in orbit. Just standing there, the team of Jedi who just arrived on the surface could all feel the Force bleeding, slowly abandoning the storied system as if it already knew the end was coming. It was an uncomfortable feeling that wasn’t done justice in the intelligence report prepared by a team of scholars at the relocated and now mobile Shadow Academy.
“Evant, you do a terrible job of picking vacation spots,” Archangel said, a hint of displeasure on the brow of the Shaevelian Sith was almost indiscernible from his persistent stern and serious look except to those close to him. His massive form towered over the rest of the team as he scanned the horizon and assessed their current position. A relentless tactical side looking at defensive positions and casually looking for threats.
“If you thought this was a vacation, why are you wearing that heavy armor?” Keira inquired, the half-Human and half-Umbaran’s pale yet adorable face doing little to inject any seriousness into the question as her eyes looked the juggernaught up and down.
“You obviously haven’t met Archangel, with his helmet off he’s downright casual,” Xen’Mordin interjected, the Consul of Clan Scholae Palatinae coming to the defense of his fellow Brother and personal protector on the mission. A deep black mask covered his face masking his identity, and a thick heavy black hooded cloak covered him from head to toe emblazoned with the logo of Clan Scholae Palatinae on the back, twin dragons wrapped around the old Imperial logo with a sword and sun.
“You honestly aren’t dressed much better for a vacation yourself,” Keira responded with a bit of a laugh, finding the attire of both the Sith to be a bit ridiculous.
“There are smoldering wrecked shuttles nearby, dead bodies and discarded weapons littering the landscape of battle scarred soil, a feeling of impending doom lingering on the edge of the Force, and a former stronghold of Brotherhood power flush full of our enemies. It’s literally the happiest place you could probably imagine,” Evant finally responded defending himself, the Dark Jedi rolling his eyes and running his hand through his mussed hair. As Voice of the Brotherhood, he had assembled the team of five for the mission on behalf of the Grand Master and felt an obligation to issue commands, but among such talent it hardly seemed necessary.
I think it’s perfect.
The mental voice of Xia Long spoke to the rest of her team in a chilling tone. Her pure white hair flowing behind her completely still on the surface of a planet void of any disturbances in the air. Her white eyes glowed as she stared out at the horizon.
“Yeah I don’t know about perfect, but it’ll do,” Archangel responded with a nod, personally content with his tactical analysis of the area. Ready to move out, he pressed his helmet back onto his head.
“Perfectly dead,” Keira muttered quietly, shifting her glance over the landscape. “I still don’t see how the ‘personal touch’ was needed for this one.”
“You plan on questioning orders, or following them?” the towering Shaevelian stated flatly, his helmet’s vocoder distorting his speech slightly.
“Nope,” the Praetor quipped, “but I’m starting to think using you for a battering ram might not be the worst of ideas!” Despite her outward joking, the Gray Jedi was uneasy. She reached across her chest to rub the upper side of her left arm as the sheer unnaturalness of Lyspair bombarded her senses, leaving her feeling cold and empty. Keira’s gold-flecked, blue eyes shifted between Xia and Evant, the only two she actually held any measure of trust for.
A wise decision, the Long Matriarch’s telepathy slipped through Keira’s thoughts. Though you should be more wary of the Council as well. The Praetor knew better than to acknowledge her fellow, recognizing that the words had been for her alone.
Evant seemed to clear his throat as he turned to face the group he had assembled. “The important thing right now is getting inside the old Academy,” the Voice of the Brotherhood spoke clearly. His eyes flicked to Xen’mordin for the briefest of moments, as if he was confirming how sound his command was. “The front door is definitely not an option.”
“What was your first clue?” Keira asked with a smirk.
Archangel turned towards the Praetor only to be waved down by Xen, a subtle motion but one that did not go entirely unnoticed. Keira merely offered the juggernaut an amused smirk, clearly finding his intimidating nature more adorable than cumbersome.
“It may have been the massive amounts of rubble, but I can’t say for sure,” Evant responded in kind to his Praetor before continuing as he mussed his hair again. “As you all know, once inside we have to make sure this area is clear for the researchers en route from the Council. The reports suggest they might be gathered in the passages below the old Academy—”
There are so many still here. Xia Long took several steps towards the center of the group, her eyes held shut as she held her arm out with her palm towards the ground. I feel them beneath us, even now.
“How convenient. Who wants to knock and ask them nicely to let us in?” Keira said with a smirk as she stamped the ground jokingly.
Archangel climbed onto the fragmented wing of a shuttle, glancing out across the field towards the Academy itself. “We need a clear plan before we make any moves,” he remarked. The Praetor made no attempt to hide the roll of her eyes she made from behind him, going so far as to embellish the act.
“That may not be an option, my friend,” Xen offered, his face hidden behind the blank visage of his mask. “We have no manner to gain further intel, and it seems we cannot afford to waste more time than necessary. We are, as it seems, the ‘first wave’.”
On approach to Shadow Academy
‘This is not a good idea’ he thought, as he dropped down from the shuttle wing, his boots cracking the patina of detritus on the ground. He strode forward, his eyes gravitating to the white haired Sadow in the group, his expression dour. This woman’s petulance was getting on his last nerves, and the mission had barely begun! He cast his glare to his consul, Xen. The mask on his face hid his expression from the galaxy, but Archangel could feel the grin that radiated from him. Xen shook his head sharply at the giant man, who let out a huff, striding through the group.
“If time is of the essence, then let’s move,” he said, his voice deep with annoyance. He hefted his backpack onto his shoulders, and began moving carefully through the boneyard of destroyed craft. The others in the group exchanged glances, Xia’s lips curling into a smirk. The large man was clearly out of his element, working in a mixed group of different clans together. The last time he had worked alongside another Clan in earnest, Xia knew, was the taking of the Super Star Destroyer Avenger II.
The Shadow Academy stood stark against the setting sun, a black structure bordered with orange and yellow. Archangel had been there, as had almost every man or woman of the old caste. It had been a center of learning, of culture, and of experimentation. He could smell the old tomes, crisp under his touch, the unusual alchemical fumes mixing with the lignin in the air. And he was here to raid it, to wreak havoc on its halls, to destroy what filth infested its corridors. What had once been a hallowed institution of learning was now desecrated.
“How are we to get into the Academy?” asked Evant, as he drew level with the larger man, needing almost two strides for each of Archangel’s. The others had caught up with Archangel, though the Sadow women held back a few paces more than necessary. To his ears, they were quiet, but in a society predicated on the use of the Force, speaking aloud was not a prerequisite for communication. Archangel shrugged, adjusting the straps of his backpack so it would lay more comfortable against the armor plating.
“We must consider what alternatives are available,” he said, his voice and mind slipping into a more analytical and tactical tone, one which he employed whenever he needed to attack a problem or defend a mistake. The structure had been built to withstand assault, and to a lesser extend, bombardment. It didn’t have many weak points, and even fewer entrances of note.
“Where else then?” Xen asked from over Archangel’s shoulder, “The Old Bailey?”
The Old Bailey was a colloquial name of the small offices and holding cells maintained by the Brotherhood’s security personnel on the Shadow Academy campus. A regrettable necessity, as the charged atmosphere of a place of learning would occasionally spark a disagreement which devolved into fistfights, or outright warfare. The cells were lined with heavy padding and were specially designed to hold fledgling Force users without hurting them. It couldn’t hold any of the individuals in their party, but would be difficult to overcome.
“There is a loading area for the servant commissary in that area, isn’t there?” asked Evant, who turned slightly to cast his voice back to Xen, and the women beyond. Xen nodded slightly, and aimed a finger to the right side of the Shadow Academy.
“Down that side of the structure, entrance would be easier as it is unlikely many of the students knew about it. Archangel knows more of the internal structure of the area than I, I should think."
Archangel let out a short bark of a laugh, letting the tension in his frame release with it. He had spent more than enough time in one of those cells, his anger having gotten the better of him on more than a few occasions while studying in the Shadow Academy. He turned to the group, his momentary smile fading as he saw the Sadowan women.
“You wanted quick, let’s move. Double time,” he announced, before moving off at a quick lope, lengthening his strides into a jog which would eat up the distance and still leave him with energy when he arrived. Anyone with military training would be able to keep up the pace without any issue. It wasn’t his fault no one else in the party possessed such training.
In truth, the small group had no issues letting Archangel take point, long legs and strong endurance propelling him forward toward the loading area. While even the air seemed to scream in a silent throw of death, if there was something less than friendly in the rubble, the Shaevalian was a nice large first target. It was what Xen paid him for after all.
They kept up the pace well enough however. Arch would periodically let out a mutter to himself as he constantly surveyed their surroundings. Evant and Xen walked in a comfortable silence, though Xen would periodically let loose a few audible notes as he hummed to himself. The two women brought up the rear, walking equally in silence. The periodic shifts in facial expressions from the two indicated there was so much more going on unheard to the rest of the group.
“Hold up.” Wait.
Archangel’s voice came suddenly quiet but crisp. The statement came simultaneously with a single prompt from the female elder. Arch’s eyes narrowed in focus through the rubble. The slipping death throws of the system had masked it, but the Daughter of Sadow had felt it clear as day just while it was the hulking soldier’s trained eyes that saw it.
The group took several silent steps forward, closing the gap between themselves and Archangel.
“Ah yes… Sith Hounds, lovely,” Evant said flatly.
“Well I guess that means there is some way into the place,” Keira said nodding, eyes focused beyond the rubble. Xen reached up and put a sympathetic hand on Archangel’s shoulder.
“I know that is disappointing news. I’m sure there will be plenty of walls for you to go Arch-smash,” he said.
“Can’t I Arch-smash now?” Arch whispered eyebrow cocked as he looked back on the others. The sight of Evant and Xen with lightsabers in hand, coupled with the folded arms and slight head tilts of Sildrin and Keira was his answer. Arch sighed and pulled his lightsaber from his belt in a huff.
“Sucking the joy out of everything,” he said shaking his head. The Battlelord let out a echoing bellow and charged.
The three near skeletal-thin hounds turned and raced toward the group with a howl to meet Archangel’s scream. Archangel brought his green blade down in a single swing, slicing one of them in half. Evant twirled his twin azure blades around impaling another. With his right hand Xen made a fist, pulling the third toward him with an invisible thread of the Force, purple blade crackling with unstable energy slicing its head off. The two women from Naga Sadow remained standing in place, arms still folded across their chests.
That was a bit much.
The three men looked down at the now dead half starved sithspawn.
“Well at least they won’t be an issue for us or anyone else here,” Evant said confidently, placing his lightsabers back in their place on his belt. He nodded his head a few more times agreeing with his own statement.
Keira pointed toward the deftly hidden cargo area on the Academy’s side.
“Plenty of time for you boys to play later,” she said.
For several moments Xia’s senses remained fixed upon the Sith Hounds - her blind eyes yet staring beyond. The last breath of life escaped the beasts to join the flow of the Force. It pained her some as she knew about the intelligence of Tuk’atas. But any attempt of communication would have been in vain considering the state those beasts were in - half insane from hunger, focused on continuing their task of guarding what had already been abandoned.
It had been ages since she had last set foot in this place.
Eventually she looked away and caught up with the others. Her steps brought her swiftly to Evant’s side. She slightly turned her head into his direction.
I did not know that Tuk’atas belong to the ‘inventory’ of the Shadow Academy. Shouldn’t they have been evacuated?
Her telepathic voice quietly lilted in his head.
Evant’s mouth briefly twitched and he decided for a scarce answer: “There were reasons…”
Nothing else could be forced out of him. Not in this way anyhow, but a fragment of one of his thoughts flashed up in Xia’s mind. Anyone else might have missed it, but Xia’s sensitivity with the Force and her high empathy read even the slightest of hints.
One thing was clear from Evant’s reactions: experiments with Tuk’ata had always been dangerous.
Experiments… her voice lilted inside of his head again.
He attempted to keep his facial expression under control. Mindwitch!
This word forced its way into his mind. The Voice of the Brotherhood did not miss the faint hint of a smile on the lips of the woman next to him.
What if she tried to read more of his thoughts?
The secrets of the Dark Council raise little interest in me. I prefer to stay inside of my mind.
Xia let herself fall back to join Keira again. Evant remained with a questionable silence inside his mind - and he hoped that she had retreated mentally. He frowned - if it was so easy for her to follow his thoughts… he shook off his discomfort. For now the mission was more of a pressing matter.
Archangel’s voice distracted him: “Here!” The Battlelord had raised his hand. In front of him was the cargo bay.
Archangel let out a quiet curse, "what now?” He turned around and addressed Xia begrudgingly. “Miss Long. As former Seneschal it should be easy to gain access to the system and open the doors, no?”
Before she could answer, Xen raised his voice. “Arch, you really believe our current Seneschal wouldn’t change the locks, so to speak?"
“Maybe we could use Arch’s head to bash in the doors?" Keira added with a little laughter.
Evant rolled his eyes while Archangel generously ignored this unworthy comment.
Xia’s serene voice creeped into their heads once more.
I haven’t had to do anything with computer systems for years. but if we could bring down one of the heavy cranes with our sabers - into the direction of the doors or walls…
Not very elegant, but without doubt an effective plan. Evant thought and nodded. “Ok. Let’s start.”
Cyan and sapphire plasma blades disappeared into a molten pit of superheated durasteel that liquified and dripped from the support structure of the loading crane. A sharp hissing sound came as the lightsaber blades fought to retain their shape against the massive structure in the hands of Evant and Keira who held the blades still and stirred the molten metal.
“Evant, pull more towards Keira, we need the crane to come down more this way,” Xen barked orders in the distance, his hands up on either side of his head pointing towards the crane in his line of sight trying to triangulate the anticipated trajectory of their makeshift battering-ram-crane.
Another sharp hiss came as the blade cut into new metal towards the Praetor and the crane let out a massive groan as its weight shifted into the forming gap in its support structure. “Shouldn’t be too long now,” Keira announced, her blade still submerged into the support structure tearing it apart.
“Sith hounds must have come from that direction,” Archangel noted, standing on top of a large crate in a crouched position pointing across the loading area. “I don’t see where else they could have come from so quickly.”
“Will you stop worrying about Sith hounds and help take down this crane?” Evant responded.
“You two seem to have it under control ,” Archangel responded, his slightly disoriented speech amplified for them across the way from his helmet. Violent barking from hounds erupted almost as if in response.
“Well control isn’t really our priority here it’s speed,” Keira noted, rolling her eyes. Her head slightly tilted as she tried to pick up where the barking was coming from. Evant did the same.
“No, accuracy is our priority we only have one crane here and you two need to pay attention. Evant stop moving and Keira pull your blade all the way over to where his is,” Xen yelled out over the growing sound of barking and howling, completely ignoring it and focusing on the task at hand.
“Actually no, there is another,” Keira responded, looking up at another even more massive crane as she rocked her lightsaber and started to pull her blade towards the Voice. The crane above her moaning as if complaining about what they were doing.
“Why the frak does the Shadow Academy have a bunch of hounds anyways, are they putting away books?” Evant complained, unable to pinpoint where the hounds may be approaching from as the sounds echoed all around the bay.
“There are various laboratories in the Shadow Academy where they do all sorts of research. There are any number of unknown monstrosities down there,” Keira replied looking over at Evant. She knew full well the Dark Councilor knew why the Shadow Academy had Sith hounds and his question was rhetorical, but she answered in kind with a familiar sarcasm he came to expect.
“Well I’ll take my monstrosities known, thanks,” Evant responded as a snapping sound rippled up the crane as it began to fall into the wound created at the base. Liquid metal still pouring out as it began to buckle.
“Will you two shut up so I can figure out what defensive position we need to take up when the hounds get here?” Archangel barked as he pushed one massive shipping container with his shoulder into another, a sharp grinding metal sound filling their ears as he was forming a barrier.
“What do we need that for, as soon as this crane gets us inside we’re going in,” Keira complained as the entire crane began to shift and fall. The Voice and his Praetor disengaged their lightsabers and rushed around it to the far side. Xen sprinted to get himself clear as well, his eyes peered through his mask to watch it fall directly into the trajectory he had planned.
Xia Long sat silent, and motionless to the side.
The massive weight of the shipping crane toppled over, falling into the newly created gap as the weighted head of the crane went smashing into the Shadow Academy wall. The crane bent and buckled on impact making an impossibly loud sound and shaking the entire grounds. As the crane settled the Jedi looked to see if their plan had worked.
A massive Shadow Academy loading crane lay crumped, bent, and sitting against the unfaltering Shadow Academy wall.
“Okay that wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped,” Evant said as his attention immediately turned to the barking hounds again, sounding even more furious than before as if they’d awakened every beast on the grounds.
“I still think Arch’s head would have been more effective,” Keira smiled, her comment falling on mostly deaf ears as Evant smiled back and rolled his eyes.
“You are all overthinking it,” Archangel commented, standing atop a shipping container and looking around.
“Well I didn’t hear any plans coming out of you, you’re just climbing objects and pushing things around,” Keira responded, looking around for solutions herself and trying to see if the crane had at least done any damage at all.
Blaster fire rung out, very clearly from the far side of the hangar. Barking from the hounds seemed scattered and more random than before.
“Well maybe the enraged hounds are giving our original targets some trouble down there,” Evant replied, also looking at the crane trying to figure out how the wall could possibly still be standing but not having enough knowledge of physics to form a proper complaint about why the plan didn’t work.
“What about all those hangar doors over there?” Archangel asked, now standing on top of a stacked shipping container about six meters above them.
All the Jedi except Xia all tried to look in the direction Archangel was pointing.
“I’ll find out,” Evant broke into a sprint and rushed across the Shadow Academy loading docks.
“Damn it Evant, wait up,” Xen spat as he too broke into a sprint. Archangel jumping down from one shipping container to another with a loud crash before hitting the ground and breaking into a run as well. Keira looked over at Xia and shrugged her shoulders and started to run as well.
Xia Long slowly started to walk.
As Evant reached the hangar doors he pushed hard on a large yellow button next to an up arrow.
As he kept pushing over and over the rest of the Jedi caught up. The howling and yelping of hounds even louder on this side of the bay. “I don’t have a defensive perimeter plan for this side of the facility,” Archangel complained as he looked around. “Xen grab that cart of goods and drag it over here.”
Xen looked at Arch for a moment then slowly walked over, grabbed the cart and began to pull. The Emperor didn’t bother questioning the strategic mind of his fellow Clan mate. Evant looked over at Keira regarding the button and she simply shrugged her shoulders, then Evant pulled out one of his WESTER-35 pistols. A blue blaster bolt erupted from the barrel to bury itself into the hangar door controls and the door began to slowly rise.
“That seriously worked?” Keira asked, a bit taken aback.
“Yeah I don’t know, it’s worked for me in the past, was worth a shot,” Evant responded, keeping his blaster pistol out ready to defend against anything on the other side. As the door lifted the lighting inside began to come on, casting a brilliant white light across the entire area with enough lumens to properly work on any manner of equipment used to service the Shadow Academy. Xia finally caught up and walked up behind the other four as they all stood together and looked at what wait inside. A dozen speeder bikes, and a pair of AT-ST. The bipedal walkers stood motionless next to walkways designed to allow entrance through the top.
Xia’s voice crept into all their minds. * I can feel that the hounds are upon us.*
Evant looked over at her though she didn’t look back, “We didn’t need the Force to tell us that.”
“Any of you know how to drive a chicken walker?” Xen asked, looking at Evant knowing full well he knows how to drive at least some vehicles. Evant looked over at him and saw him looking over.
“Yeah, I mean, I know my way around one well enough but I need a gunner if we’re going to do much more than wobble around,” Evant smiled and kept staring back at Xen who was looking around. “Yeah that means you Xen, you just push the buttons I tell you to.”
“Seriously? I’m not sure I like this whole not being the one giving orders thing,” Xen responded as Evant started running towards a walker, Xen fell in step behind him as well his black Emperor’s cape flowing as he ran.
“Okay, everyone take defensive positions inside the hangar in case those hounds get here,” Arch yelled out, realizing he was left alone with the ice witch and little girl he shrugged.
The AT-ST powered up and the sound of the gyroscopics hummed as it rocked back and forth, it took several wobbly steps sideways and crashed into the stairway scaffolding used to reach the cockpit. The three Jedi outside took a few steps back. “Maybe we take defensive positions over there?” Arch said and the three moved to the left side of the hangar with less approaches for the enemy… and fewer Voice-piloted walkers.
As they quickly moved so too did the AT-ST as it wobbled and nearly fell over. It smashed a nearby speeder into pieces in a noisy commotion before coming back upright and turning to face Xia Long directly with the main turret inadvertently. Normally calm and collected, she sidestepped to the right out of the direct line of sight on the main weapon quickly.
“You know, you two could be a bit quieter, we aren’t actively trying to attract Sith hounds,” Keira spat, a bit annoyed and glaring at the vehicle. “I thought you knew what you were doing.” Inside the AT-ST was mumbled yelling, no-one could make out what was being said but it was a heated exchange inside.
A massive eruption of noise, a deafening screech mixed with metal on metal, stone on stone and an unnatural sound grated deep in the mind. Everyone’s attention went towards the crane they felled earlier as it swung away from the wall where it had impacted earlier and spun like a top before coming to a rest again with a bang. The wall it had impacted had been broken into a hundred pieces with fragments strewn out across the bay.
A familiar screech came from the opening they tried so hard to create themselves just a few minutes earlier as a massive dark colored and dreadful looking Terentatek clawed its way into the opening.
“Well, at least we know what had those dogs all riled up,” Keira smiled as she ignited her lightsaber. Archangel and Xia did the same while inside the AT-ST more mumbled shouting could be heard.
Xia’s head tilted to the side, her sightless gaze focusing on the Dark Side beast. I do not believe this constitutes a joking matter, her disembodied voice mused.
“Can’t help it,” Keira replied with her smile firmly in place, “it’s just my nature.”
Despite her audible bravado, the Praetor was in no rush to make the first move. In fact, she was already back pedaling in order to gain a better vantage point. The Terentatek let out a bone chilling howl that seemed to reverberate within their bodies and even their minds. It was an entirely uneasy feeling that was hard to shake, like a cold hand sliding its wispy fingers around your very soul.
Xia Long was similarly unwilling to make the first move, her violet blade at the ready but not in motion. The pale half-Sephi had already contemplated pulling the Force around her like a shroud and disappearing from sight, but knew better than to try such a tactic against a beast such as this. It would only be more attracted to her.
Archangel raised his emerald blade high, his knuckles tightening around the hilt in preparation, when a sudden clang from behind him caught his attention. One of the AT-ST’s viewport panels had fallen to the ground, and not of its own accord based on the damage present. The large Sith’s gaze flicked to where the piece was meant to be, seeing Xen’s masked face within the opening.
“Why are none of you attacking that thing?” Xen called out, an almost disappointed lilt to his voice.
Keira almost dropped her saber to the ground, pivoting about in a blur of motion to glare up towards their companion. “I’m sorry, which of us is sitting in the walking tank!?”
“Yes, well, about that…”
“If you tell us the weapons are malfunctioning…” Archangel groaned through his vocoder.
“Exactly that, yes,” came Xen’s monotone reply.
The beast does not share your fondness for idle conversation, Xia’s frigid tone cut through them all. The frank manner of the statement was enough to snap everyone’s attention back to the now charging Terentatek.
Keira’s attention split for just a moment, glancing back towards the AT-ST, with Evant within, and then towards the opening the giant beast had created. Her mind worked quickly through their present priorities, and the true mission that had brought each of them to the Academy. Not all had been shared, not by a long shot, and Evant had been clear that his Praetor was to keep it that way. Opportunities had a way of presenting themselves, and this just so happened to be one such time.
The young woman broke into a sprint, drawing the beast’s focus as she did so. Rather reluctant to damage herself unwittingly, Keira deactivated her saber and strapped the hilt to her side in one smooth motion. As the massive creature barreled down upon her, the Praetor deked to the side and vetoed straight to a staggered sequence of shipment crates. Taking a deep breath, she kicked off the ground and hopped onto the first crate, a quick series of hopping strides taking her to the highest stacked crate. The beast roared behind her, much closer than it had been before.
The Praetor continued her chosen path, sliding along the metallic surface and dropping out of sight. She barely managed to clear the space between the crates and the wall before the Terentatek crashed full force into them, crumpling the alloy against the wall. “I certainly hope you have a plan,” Archangel called as he dashed to reposition himself closer to the opening created by the beast.
“Do I look like the kind of girl who has a plan?” Keira responded through gasping breaths, tapping into the Force as she sprinted full tilt towards the Shaevelian. “Tag out,” she yelled as she passed him with a tap to the shoulder.
The Praetor didn’t spare even a single glance back, the tell-tale sound of the AT-ST’s metallic legs repositioning the transport behind her. Keira felt a glimmer of guilt at the back of her thoughts for a single instant, but she knew what she was actually there for. Others could waste their time with the so-called Undesirables, but Keira had data to retrieve. No matter the costs.
As she disappeared through the makeshift entrance into the darkness within, Keira hoped Xia — at least — wouldn’t hold it against her.
Inner Docking Area
Xia leaned gasping behind a couple of toppled crates, having dodged a swipe of the massive beast’s claws. This Terentatek was another abomination - born from the actions of the Shadow Academy for sure. But the more pressing question was why the Dark Council wanted Terentateks.
The white haired witch chewed on her lower lip as she thought about it. With Antei lost, perhaps the experiments had also been lost to the Shadow Academy… perhaps.
Carefully, she reached out with her senses - not a good idea with all those beasts sensitive to the Force, but she wanted to know each one’s position. Her eyebrows lifted, barely visibly as she sensed Keira already beyond the walls - moving away from them. The Praetor’s Force aurora filled with determination to achieve a goal, but a goal beyond the one known to Xia. If there had been more time and not a couple of dangerous and deadly beasts around, the Elder would have attempted to get to the bottom of it.
A snarling sound nearby made her flinch. A head of a huge Tuk’ata moved around the corner of the crates right into her visual field. She suppressed the idea to vanish from sight, knowing it wouldn’t hide her - even more - it would alert the beast immediately.
Drool dripped from the beast’s fangs. Her hands reached for her Amethyst Kukri and her saber, calculating the chances to win against such a beast. Chances weren’t good at all and Archangel and the others were busy with the Terentatek - or in Keira’s case busy with something completely different.
A feverish thought came to her. Could she? How intelligent were these beasts? Hopefully intelligent enough. She dropped her hands to her sides.
She had already done this - long ago. Now, probably, her life depended on it. She took a deep breath and just before the Tuk’ata saw her, she made her first move.
The word in Sith trickled into the beast’s mind. It shook its head and immediately turned towards her with a snarling sound.
Black orbs narrowed at the words and the Tuk’ata leaped forward, but Xia stood there - motionless, showing no fear. Puzzled, the beasts came to a halt right in front of the white woman that spoke its tongue. Xia’s heart pounded in joy with the confirmed intelligence of these Tuk’atas. Intelligent enough to try to bend them to her will.
It replied with hesitance in the same language while her words in Sith lilted in its head. A continuous dialogue, blending spoken and telepathic words. The Tuk’ata spoke of its and other’s torment, their capture and of experiments and her voice spoke of freedom, punishment of its tormentors, and a way to serve the true Lords and heirs of the Sith.
The Tuk’ata inhaled the scent of the white female in front of it. She did not smell like Sith, neither was there pure Dark nor Light around her. Yet those words within its head were… convincing.
The words continued to flow into its mind, soothing what wished to be soothed, stoking the fire of anger that was already there.
Its head had moved close to hers, forehead to forehead. Black orbs stared into white ones. Finally, the Tuk’ata bowed its head in obedience.
Carefully the mind witch placed her slender hand on the beast’s snout. In fluent Sith she asked for help against the Terentatek. A fire of hatred burned behind the Tuk’ata’s eyes - it would prove that Tuk’ata were far superior to Terentatek. With a fluid motion it turned around, leaping away to get its companions’ help.
A faint smile appeared on the mind witch’s mouth. But this time it was genuine.
Inner Docking Area
The look of blistering frustration cast his face in a dour pall, as he rounded on the massive beast. It was huge, with razor-sharp spines of bone ranging out of it from every spare location. This creature had been built for war, built by the Sith of old, and perhaps some of the Shadow Academy’s alchemists. Akin to the rancor in size, it rivaled its creators in sheer evil and prowess in combat. The last thing Archangel wanted to do was attack it directly. He knew a fool’s errand when he saw one.
The AT-ST lumbered slowly, its servos whining with outrage, disuse and contaminated oils serving to slow the movements of the joints. Archangel swore loudly, and dashed back, sprinting from cover to cover as the creature began the inevitable approach. It filled the area they’d cleared, its broad shoulders getting caught on the ragged edges. Shallow streams of blood welled from the wounds rent into its flesh, but it didn’t seem concerned.
“You’d best get that thing moving, Xen!” he shouted into his communicator, almost drowned out by the metallic screech of bending high-strength metals. The door, it would seem, did not stand up against the creature’s mass and determination. A whine and growl to one side caused his head to snap in that direction, his lightsaber up and ready, his heart sinking as the situation quickly seemed to deteriorate.
Two Sith hounds bounded around a corner of stacked containers, and barked their defiance as they raced towards the Terentatek. They moved with sinuous grace, leaping gracefully from container to the floor then back up again, varying their speed and location with ease born of training and instinct. The massive Terentatek seemed to consider them for a moment, its tiny eyes blinking unknowingly at them.
“Aha!” shouted Xen, the buzz and crackle of electrical discharge feeding through the communicator along with his voice, “I think I got it!”
The AT-ST’s cockpit turned slowly on the vertical axis, orienting itself on the massive Sith-born creature. Its chin laser blasters rose and aimed directly at its head and fired. Only one of the blasters fired, and the bolt dissipated against the creature’s skin, hardly slowing its steps towards it. The hounds let out a deep, merciless howl, and bore down on the creature, charging its ankles with impunity.
“This is our chance!” Evant shouted. His voice echoed within the confines of the AT-ST, “We need to move into the complex now, away from the Terentatek.”
Xia’s ethereal voice entered their minds, a wisp of a whisper on the winds, I believe my pets will keep it occupied for the moment. I concur with the Voice.
Archangel growled, almost feral with a mixture of annoyance and rage. He hated being jerked around at every step, and now Keira had vanished, leaving them in the midst of a battle which would be difficult to escape from, let alone win. He needed to find that woman, and bring her to bear. Desertion was a charge which carried the death penalty in most militaries, including that of the Scholae Palatinae Legions.
“Move!” he bellowed, his voice amplified by a sharp press of Force energy and not a little rage. His legs pumped quickly as he dashed across the distance towards the door which would lead deeper into the complex. Xen and Evant fired several more times, the chin blasters doing little but causing a distraction to the Terentatek, which seemed to be trying to kick at the Sith Hounds, with little success. The dogs were working in seamless unison, one attacking with a swift strike, only to flee when the larger monster turned to reply. The second would then attack from a different angle, never allowing the creature an attack of opportunity. Pack tactics at their best, it would seem.
The two Dark Jedi in the walker clambered out of the craft, and jumped down, landing lightly among a pair of shipping containers, shielding themselves from the melee. They joined Archangel in his headlong sprint, to where Xia was standing in the shadows of the doorway. She waved them over, a murmur of impatience coloring the tendrils of Force energy surrounding her. Archangel stopped at the door, and turned to the witch.
“We are going to find that girl,” he said, finality in his voice, “And when we do, I’ll wring her neck myself.”
The lights flickered with the faintest hint of life. The halls had always been ominous, but in this state, it made the skin crawl on the back of everyone’s necks. Any undesirables who were still alive here, must surely have gone mad. Archangel, Evant, and Xen all held lights, while Xia walked silently behind them, face passive as she kept her mind on alert.
They rounded a corner, each knowing the location of the sealed paths down by heart. Keira’s head popped up from behind some rubble. Arch gritted his teeth and tensed, but Xen swiftly stepped between the hulk of a man and the Praetor. Even through his mask and horrible lighting of the hallway, he saw the unmistakable sign of dried blood around the pile of debris.
“Looting the dead already?” Xen probed as he turned slightly back, putting a hand up to Archangel’s chest. Rage was a powerful agent, but there was a time and a place for retribution.
“Waiting for you to catch up, know it can be hard to move quickly when you are so… big,” Keira responded eyes locked on Archangel’s helmet. Archangel inhaled sharply.
“Plus I seem to have hit a bit of a snag,” she continued after a moment. She turned on her heel and began tearing down the hall.
A red glow began to illuminate the hall, down a set of steps and there it was. Sealed and runed in ancient Sith, the main door to the lower levels stood resolute before them.
“It’s the main entrance, any Novice could get past this thing,” Archangel barked. It was a true statement when the facility was operational.
“No… Emergency,” Evant started, hands raised. Xen finished the statement, “Lockdown.”
“It is really creepy when you guys do that,” Keira said leering at the two. She took another step closer to the door, and the air all around them began to buzz.
“It tickles, at first,” she said.
Could we please stay focused? We have all we need to get past this. Even in their heads Xia’s tone of annoyance was crystal clear. Evant waved his left hand signalling everyone and reached forward with his right. He took a step, then another, and another. No buzzing tickling sensation. He reached the door and pressed his palm firmly against it. There was a moment of silence and the door slid open.
“Dark Council all access pass. This should be easy enough then,” Archangel said nodding his head. A roar echoed through the halls from up the stairs behind them. The Terentatek had apparently decided it had enough of the docking area.
“Double time I think,” Xen said with a real sense of urgency. He moved forward and turned his flashlight back on only to narrowly avoid tripping over the fallen bodies of several undesirables. He shined his light further down the passage.
“That is a… lot of blood.” he said firmly planting his feet back down.
“A Sith afraid of some blood?” Keira pried. Xen shook his head.
“No, it’s just the blood is still wet. This was recent. Very recent.”
“I’m starting to get the impression we could have just sat in our shuttle outside and waited this whole thing out over a bottle of Corellian Wine,” Archangel said as he scanned the room and considered possible approaches the enemy might take. He reached out and pushed the control panel with his armored fist, which sealed the door back up behind them.
“Well I’m going to have a look around,” Keira said as she began to walk across the reception area of the Shadow Academy towards the main archives.
“What the frak do you need to look around for?” Archangel said, still annoyed at the girl’s newfound proclivity towards running off.
“Undesirables?” Keira said, hoping the statement was sufficient as an answer.
“Yeah we already found them, lots of pieces of them,” Archangel responded, the heavy metal clank of his armored boots on the floor echoed as he walked to the middle of the room. He carefully looked over the four different paths into the various areas of the Shadow Academy before pointing to the path on the far right. “I’m guessing that there leads to the Sith Alchemy labs.”
“What gave it away, the claw marks all over the floor and walls or the stench of death and bile?” Xen spoke up. He wasn’t sure what their next move should be but knew wandering aimlessly wasn’t a good idea.
“Yeah well, I don’t see much alive, so maybe you guys wait here for the researchers and I’ll have a look around,” Keira suggested.
“Sounds good to me. I don’t suggest the alchemy labs though by the looks of what came out of them. That’s unnatural,” Evant responded, leaning against the door just glad to be clear of the intense activities only moments before.
“We aren’t just sitting around doing nothing.” Archangel complained, pulling off his helmet and glaring at the Dark Jedi to show his annoyance at the suggestion of staying idle during a critical mission. “We need to sweep the whole facility and ensure it’s clear."
There is more to this, Xia spoke in the Force, standing off to the edge just looking in the distance but with a stare that could be felt on Keira.
“Look. We can all handle ourselves, and we’ll cover more ground, and faster, if we split up,” Evant suggested.
“The researchers are here to secure items from the vault. All the undesirables already appear to be dead, but we need to secure a route to the vault which is that way,” Archangel said as he pointed to a path to the left that was completely dark. “Didn’t any of you read the debriefing from dee-bee-bot?”
“Yeah,” Keira responded sheepishly before continuing after the others looked at her for further input as to what she had read. “Okay so maybe I skimmed it.”
“Right, we’ll head towards the vault together. Keira gets to look around, albeit in a very specific direction, and we all get to see how much blood there is on the floor in other parts of the Shadow Academy,” Evant responded acknowledging the plan and shaking his head.
Xia looked at Keira as she bounced down the hall into the darkness and began to walk. She was certain that the Praetor was after more but wasn’t sure what, and her acceptance to go along with the plan to the vault must mean things were still moving according to half-Umbaran’s plans.
Keira sauntered down the dark hall with her hands firmly clasped behind her back, as if merely taking a leisurely stroll. Her Umbaran genetics allowed her to see easily see within the shadows that enveloped them. “Looks like there’s no blood on the floor, strike one, oh mighty Voice,” the Praetor chortled from in front.
“Care to share with the class?” Evant replied.
Not particularly, she thought to herself as her gaze shifted along the ceiling, and settled upon the source of the subtle swinging noise, nearly imperceptible if she hadn’t seen the source. “Just some broken light fixtures,” she opted for instead.
A grunt of frustration snapped Keira’s attention back towards the group. “Oh, is the big man afraid of the dark?” she teased at Archangel.
“Just stay in sight,” came his gruff remark.
The Praetor glanced towards Evant, the most subtle of motions, but with an intent that could not have gone unnoticed to more attuned senses. Like those belonging to the pale Elder who’s sightless eyes still followed Keira closely. To Evant’s credit, he remained impassive to the matter at hand. “We’re here,” he mused out loud instead, turning towards another sealed doorway and pressing his palm against the access panel.
Xia stood off to the side, the tendrils of her awareness snaking into the room as the doors slid open. She felt a flicker of recognition, a shudder of fear, and then silence. The edge of her lips twitched slightly at the sensation, but her expression remained otherwise unchanged. Some had managed to hide within the archives, that was plane. If the others had sensed it before the Undesirables had shrouded their presence remained to be seen.
“I’ll go first,” Archangel stated as more an afterthought than anything else, since he had already marched through the center of their group and strode confidently into the room. There was more lighting within, the room having been saved from most of the horrors found without — either by providence or design. Keira’s arms slide across her front and a clear frown stretched across her features for the briefest of moments before she composed herself once more and followed along with the group.
The Long Matriarch followed up the rear, her hand reaching out as she strode down a series of shelves within the room, gliding her fingers over the surface. Much knowledge is contained here, her words whispered within their thoughts, not without a hint of enticement. Perhaps, forbidden knowledge as well. One of her eyebrows arched meaningfully as her empty eyes flicked towards Keira, the Praetor shifting in response.
The raven-haired woman opened her mouth as if to say something, but shut it just as quickly. She looked pensive for a moment, her eyes shifting as her mind raced looking for a course of action. Her task was as much a test of her abilities by Evant as anything before, but the retrieval of this data in particular was not an option. Suddenly Keira’s eyebrows stitched together in confusion, her gaze shifting towards the corner. A slight smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth as Keira’s right hand rose up from her side, the concentrated energy of the Force beginning to crackle between her fingers.
“What’s up with the light show?” Xen called, turning towards the new sound within the vault.
Let’s see how fast they run, the Praetor’s thoughts drifted to her companion, making eye contact with Xia as she focused briefly on the telepathic link. Keira then took a step forward and thrust her hand forward with her fingers extended. Deadly blue streaks lashed out like a whip, only infinitely faster in its traversal. Sparks shot into the air as the concentrated tendrils of dark power struck a dataserver in the corner. A sharp cry, several in fact, came in response as at least three — by Keira’s count — humanoid beings sprinted to make an escape. It just so happened they would serve to be the perfect distraction for the Praetor’s mission.
“Tsk tsk,” Keira intoned glancing towards Archangel, “not so secure after all.”
A feral growl escaped Archangel’s lips. He finally had found a target for his frustrations about the mission. He was here for a hunt and he would get one. He smelled the fear in the air and it only fueled the rage pumping within his heart. The Juggernaut began to move - and nothing would stop him.
Or so he thought.
After only a couple of heavy steps something hard hit his legs, making him trip forward. His free hand stretched forward, and Archangel used the kinetic energy to roll instead of fall. Nonetheless, the momentum was lost. His head had turned to the side as he rolled, searching out what had caused him to trip. White eyes met white eyes and he mouthed: Why?
His fist was about to slam into the woman’s face. But, while not faster than him, Xia had expected that reaction from the Juggernaut. She dodged and vanished from his sight, cloaked by the Force.
We need them… alive, was her hasty reply inside his mind. Archangel spat upon the ground as he noticed Evant and Xen had finally caught up with him.
They will lead me sooner or later to their hideout. If you kill these three, you will never find the others.
Xen gripped Archangel’s shoulder, his eyes focused on the dark corridor beyond them. But there was no trace of Xia to be seen.
“She… is right," Evant added.
“Hey. Where has Keira gone again?” Xen frowned and looked around.
Archangel gave a short howl of frustration and slammed his armored fist into the ground. “These… women!”
Xia quietly followed the Undesirables. Wrapped in a cloak of shadows and clad in soft clothes they would not hear nor see her. This mission had turned out to be more than the briefing had given away. The Dark Council had its filthy hand in every aspect of this mission. Her face remained expressionless, but scorn filled what usually was emotionless.
And on top, she had thought all knowledge had been safely moved before the former Muz Ashen had performed the devastating ritual - leaving behind only a wasteland on Antei. It pained her.
After a couple of minutes she found the hideout. She let her tongue run over her teeth. All these people. Many were ill, suffering, she also sensed a couple of dead ones.
Maybe not all of them were innocent, but yet they were hunted for the wrong cause. Her own pointed ears gave away her Sephi heritage from her father. She had been also on the list of the Undesirables - and due to an unpredictable whim of the Dark Council the Sephi had been redeemed.
Her plan was easy.
The eyes of the leader of this small pack of Undesirables widened as a telepathic message entered his mind.
Evant was tempted to walk up and down, pacing, but still was able to maintain control enough to win over his tension. Yet he could not help but to jump into the air as three big ball-like objects rolled towards them from the shadows of the corridor. The three heads rolled a bit further, but then halted. Their eyes lifeless and mouths wide opened as if they still screamed. Archangel had already ignited his saber, staring at the heads.
There were no more. These were the only survivors. The Tuk’ata or that Terentatek or both did already the job.
The Matriarch of the Longs decloaked, stepping into the light. Xen chewed his lower lip. Would this woman lie to them? How certain was her loyalty? Archangel growled: “I… want to see it with my own eyes!”
The following moment seemed to span an eternity. The Juggernaut’s icy white eyes flicked from the disembodied heads, their silent screams testament to their final moments, to those of the Long woman. She returned his glare with one filled with silent determination, and perhaps a touch of stubbornness. She bore the brunt of the man’s attention with ease, years of intrigue and subterfuge in Clan Naga Sadow providing her with ample training.
Xen interjected his body between the two, ending their duel and cutting off Archangel’s possible field of advance towards the troublesome woman. He slashed at the air in front of his subordinate, ending any escalation. Despite the man’s mask, Archangel could feel his disapproval flooding into the Force surrounding them.
“We will have words, Madam Long,” he muttered, his voice seemingly calm, but beneath, he seethed with barely controlled rage. He turned abruptly, and his foot lashed out, booting one of the heads across the room with a furious kick. The head sailed through their air for a few moments, before bouncing with a meaty, sickening thud.
“That was a little uncalled for,” said Evant, his tone suddenly dour. Gone was the levity he’d displayed for most of the mission, the light jovial nature he expressed himself. He frowned, watching the head rock slightly as it settled in its new location. Xia seemed to exude a feeling of disgust, vitriol aimed directly at Archangel alone.
The large man motioned to the team, following the retreat path of the Undesirables. He didn’t wait for them to follow, nor did he fail to notice the significant glances cast between the Voice and the Consul of Scholae Palatinae.
As described, the Undesirable holdout was little more than a ruin, a backward storage room with emergency lighting jury rigged to provide illumination. Food wrappers and other detritus was spread throughout the area, several sleeping pallets and more than a few medical containers making up the rest of the trash. The lights flicked as the team moved through the filth, taking care to watch for traps, or tripwires.
“They left in a hurry,” Xen said, his voice pitched low, both for security sake, and the mausoleum like feeling of the area. Blood patches, old and rust-colored, decorated a corner, possibly the last resting place of an enemy of the Dark Brotherhood. Evant frowned, his eyes moving back and forth, examining the ruins with a trained, intelligence-trained eye.
“Don’t sound too disappointed,” said a female voice from the shadows. Keira loomed out of the darkness, and flicked a jaunty salute at the group before taking several long leaping strides to get to them. She winked at Evant, her hand resting on a pouch slung over her shoulder like a bandoleer. Archangel remained quiet, his stony expression downcast, his quarry having gone to ground and out of his reach.
Xen regarded a ration wrapper on the ground, nudging it with his foot. He shook his head after a moment, and nodded to Evant.
“Time to move. Our mission is complete. Let’s return to the shuttle, and return to the fleet.”
They moved in silence. Each carrying the weight of their voyage to the Academy. Archangel bore his wrath of lost bloodsport. Xia nearly floated off the ground mind clear at the lives she had managed to save. Xen’Mordin was relaxed, having enjoyed the opportunity to go in the field and not sit in meetings all day. Keira’s head bobbed side to side, content that the holocron she had snuck off to find was now secure. Evant was sure-footed mission now completed.
The silence was punctuated with the knowledge there was still a very angry terentatek looking for them. Death by a nightmare sithspawn was not how they wanted to end this mission, so close to being able to return home. Each step away from the Academy lightened that prickling feeling at the back of their minds.
“Did we start a campfire for our return?” Xen’Mordin asked eyes peering through his mask toward the horizon.
“Campfire? What? No of course not,” Evant said shooting Xen a confused sideways glance. Xen was pointing in the direction they were heading. Evant’s head snapped back to look at where Xen was pointing.
“That is way more smoke than from a campfire, Xen. That looks more like a fuel fire than anything, you need to get out more,” Archangel said, eyes squinting to try to pull as many details from the rising smoke as possible.
I have a bad feeling about this. Xia’s thought washed through their heads.
They picked up their pace, no longer afraid of tracking unwanted attention from the terentatek. As they cleared the crest of the hill they had landed behind, they each slowed to a stop.
“I’m going to go with yes it was fuel. Our fuel,” Archangel said. Their shuttle was engulfed in flames across the clearing. The wake of the crashed path showed it had only gotten airborne for a few seconds before quickly crashing.
“They were in a hurry,” Evant said sighing in frustration. Xen was already running down the hill toward the wreckage.
“NO! You nerf-herding bantha-brained sithspawn!” The Consul screamed in frustration. Reaching out through the Force while he screamed the flames pushed back into the fuselage of the shuttle, revealing the tightly packed burned corpses of those who had tried to take it.
“Xen, that is a bit of a melodramatic reaction!” Keira yelled. The others nodded in a baffled agreement.
“That isn’t one of Scholae’s shuttles, what gives?” Evant asked as they closed the distance to Xen.
“I left my crossword in there. It’s going to be so boring flying back to Judecca now,” he sighed. Archangel arched an eyebrow.
“You said you were working on reviewing the mission details,” he said. Xen shrugged.
“I lied, though I don’t think my lie is as bad as others…” The Consul said, voice trailing while pointing back to the Long Matriarch. Her eyes were wide, locked on the burning corpses within. Her mind raced as how this could have happened, after giving the Undesirables a chance to get free of this forsaken moon.
“What makes you think she had anything to do with this?” Keira said clear tone of offense in her voice.
“Those are the Undesirables. She let them go,” Xen said pointing to one of the burning bodies and continued.
“That is clearly a Verpine corpse. Pity no one told them Evant flies with reversed controls. They must have been really gunning it to get out of here before we got back.”
The academy is large, who knows how many people were hiding there.
“It doesn’t matter how they got the ship. They are dead now at any rate. And now we get to camp for real. The researchers won’t be here for a while,” Evant said instantly stepping in, making an attempt to defuse the situation. Killing each other now would be counter productive, and he had to be honest with himself, Evant really wanted to keep living.
“How long is a while?” Archangel said looking down at the Voice. Evant gave a slight shrug and couldn’t help but grin.