They all sat up at once. The ritual had ended suddenly. It was a reflex almost as they shot up from the jungle floor. They sat in silence, breathing deeply, the humid air oddly soothing as they processed what they had just gone through. The trials were over, the nightmare they had faced inside Xen’s mind was at an end. Each knew it would probably be weeks before they had fully recovered from the mental exhaustion that was setting in on them. None stood, bodies surprisingly too sore to move. Several fell back from their sitting position, heads too heavy to keep up.
“Is that it? Is he free?” Mune asked, finally breaking the silence. Polis Jones shook his head.
“No. Not free,” Polis said slowly, hand holding his head. While the others had the Force to draw on, the experience for the archeologist was far outside his normal scope of abilities.
“So we went through all that for nothing? We could have been fighting and stopping the New Dawn!” Dek Ironius exclaimed, calm exterior shaken from the ritual. Even Polis could pick up on the dark tension sitting on everyone’s shoulders.
“Not for nothing.” Polis responded. He pointed half heartedly at the floating crystal still sitting in the center of the group. “Just not finished.”
The crystals ornate carved surface had gone from dull to vibrant. Its darkness had given way to an intense pulsing light. Just looking directly at it would make one’s skin tingle. Stana was the first to stand, her willpower overcoming the ache in her muscles.
“Polis. Just how does this thing work?” She questioned. She reached a hand up to touch it, but stopped several inches short, apprehensive of it.
“We just need to get it near Fallax. It is more or less, full of Xen’s remaining life force. It should handle the rest if we can get it to the palace,” Polis explained.
“So it is protecting Xen… Will it pull Fallax out and put Xen back in? Is it really just a prison for a spirit?” Elincia asked, slowly approaching the crystal as well.
“Ahh. Err. No. Not exactly…” Polis responded.
The pain was unimaginable. Every beating of his heart coursed it further through his veins. It was beyond anything he had ever experienced before. Beyond anything he had brought upon others before. The weak, false Cocytus Emperor was also experiencing it, a point Fallax took some enjoyment from.
Haera had left, her little invention had done its job. Fallax stared at his naked body in the mirror. It was truly his now. Xen’Mordin had not the strength to ever claim it as his own again. The pulsing black lines of corruption had lessened, but not disappeared. The cracks in his skin had healed over. The aging effect had gone as well. He was fit, strong. For the first time in millennia, Fallax felt the strength and power he had when alive in his original body. He dressed slowly, feeling the life pulsing in his body. The pain was something he could handle. The pain gave him rage, which gave him power. It wouldn’t be long until Haera and her team found a way to permanently stopped the corruption.
But first he had Palatinaeans to kill.
Fallax left his chambers and made his way to the throne room. He could sense every single person moving within the palace. Beyond the palace walls he could feel the chaos that was the battlefield in Teyr. Sadon was busy at work drawing the Palatinaeans out. Fallax smiled.
He entered the throne room to find several more bodies had joined Desric and Kadryn. Zidane and Erin lay lifeless on the ground. Fallax exploded with rage. The nearest several servants collapsed, all the veins in their body rupturing at once. Fallax reached out through the force to find his other disciples.
Danni and Groznik were captured, chained together in a damp ruin in the jungle. He would have to send men to retrieve them. Rylla was dead, but her body was nowhere to be found. Watop had fled. Fallax would find him once this was over, and ensure the torturer experienced worse than he had ever given. Fallax paused, sensing that Aeshi, his best assassin had also fled. She was already out of the system. He had misjudged her loyalty, had been convinced she would be one to stay to the bitter end.
Several more servants entered the throne room only to thrown across it by Fallax in his rage. He would not rest until every Palatinaean was dead.
Blade stepped lightly over another corpse, one charred from the flames beyond recognition. She had stayed out of the battle, but as it waned, she knew should would need to more closely survey the damage. With so many dead, the city was nearly silent.
“Nice of you to finally join us,” Lexiconus yelled out from further down the street. Up ahead there was still the occasional sound of blaster fire, but that too was petering out.
“I was… busy,” Blade said as she approached, having to step over another dozen bodies to reach the group of her clanmates. The weary look in their eyes was enough of a sign that they wouldn’t press. They just didn’t care.
“Is it done?” She asked. Lexic shook his head and pointed ahead. The entrance to the top tier’s plaza was barely visible through the smoke.
“Archangel is leading the final charge. It should be over by the time we get there.” The Quarren added.
The group of Palatinaeans walked in silence toward the plaza. The soldiers around them kept close enough of an eye out for any New Dawn who might attempt to attack. But for the Palatinaeans, they knew the New Dawn had all fallen back towards Ohmen and the Palace. This city was dead and it was time to make the final push.
They entered the plaza, and were speechless at the amount of bodies that had piled up in there. Bodies of civilians, New Dawn, and Palatinaeans alike made it nearly impossible to venture further in. Beyond the bodies, they were able to make out the hulking mass of Archangel, who was carrying a person over his shoulder. He waved and began to step up and over the sea of bodies toward them.
He threw Sadon Teraah at their feet. The right hand man of Darth Fallax let out a grunt of pain. His legs were bent awkwardly, in locations that were very clearly not his knees. Sadon screamed in pain as he landed. The disciple clamped his mouth shut, biting his tongue, hoping to remove the satisfaction of seeing him in pain from his captors. After several moments of attempting to stifle his screams he spoke.
“This changes nothing. Fallax will kill you all.” he managed to spit out.
“Well, let’s not keep him waiting,” Archangel responded. He slammed his large foot down on Sadon’s head, crushing it. While none of them could actually hear it, they all imagined they had heard a scream of rage in the wind.
The New Dawn were falling back. So many of the disciples had fallen. As the Palatinaeans advanced, more of the military fell in line with them, recognizing the long standing authority that they held in the system, and the bonds from years on the battlefield. The New Dawn, Darth Fallax himself, had failed to account for the long history of the Clan, and the Military.
Jurdan Krennel let out a bloodlust roar as he ran up the street towards the palace. He had committed to the Palatinaean cause completely, Wielding the lightsaber of his fallen half-brother he carved his way through dozens of New Dawn soldiers, those who still foolishly remained to defend their leader.
Kell Dante put a calming hand on the Jurdan’s shoulder, slowing the man.
“You will want to save some for for the palace,” Kell said calmly. He had never been in doubt that his men would return to him, and that Scholae Palatinae would win the day. Several shots of blaster fire flew past the Adept’s helmeted head. He sighed as return fire was sent past him, striking the New Dawn men beyond. The palace loomed ahead, rising high into the air, it was the ultimate permanent reminder of Imperial power in the city.
The men’s comms crackled to life, and the Grand Admiral spoke clearing in their ears.
“They are going to hold up in the palace. We need to breach the walls, and quickly if we are to make it inside. We’ve got a urgent package to see delivered,” Mune said. Jurdan and Dante turned to look at each other and then nodded, racing up the street to gather with their clanmates.
They met up with them a street away from the palace. In the shade of the building between them and their final goal, the senior members of Scholae Palatinae were huddled around a holoprojection of the palace, debating how best to breach its walls.
“I still think knocking on the front door is the best approach,” Jorm contested, bored from the continued debate. Over the years, the palace had been attacked many times, each time leading to even more defensive building. “Or we can just blow the whole thing,” he added.
There came a roar, as a bulky freighter came barreling overhead. Alara came running into view.
“I had an idea! Zhan did the same thing to us!” She said excitedly. Seconds later there was a crunch of steel impacting steel, and the doors of the palace were laid open.
A wall of New Dawn Soldiers formed up to defend the entrance to the palace. The Palatinaeans charged forward, before the two forces met, blaster fire from the city flew out, punching a hole in the New Dawn’s line. Zehsaa called out on the comms to her clanmates.
“It was awfully nice for them to line up like that.”
The jest just bolstered the Palatinaeans’ eager attack of the palace. Without even stopping their running pace, the bulk of the Palatinaeans found themselves within the throne room, and began the battle against the remaining New Dawn. Polis, flanked by Stana and Elincia followed the Palatinaean forces closely, and withdrew the crystal from his satchel. It shot high into the air and exploded, sending a blast of light and energy toward Fallax on the far side of the room.
By the time everyone was able to see clearly again, There were two men standing in Fallax’s place. One was clearly Xen’Mordin, at least his body, hunched over still in pain. The other was a strange face to all in the room. Darth Fallax reborn, body as it was in his youth, so many eons ago. The sound of maniacal laughter filled the throne room.
“Thank you, this is even better than that decaying mess of a body you called an Emperor! I am renewed!” Fallax jeered. Xen’Mordin stood up straight and pulled his ancient lightsaber hilt from his belt. Fallax pulled his own crafted lightsaber to his hand, and the two faced each
other ready to duel.
“I died once by that blade, I will not be stopped a second time,” Fallax sneered. In a series of quick flashes the battle was done. Xen was in no state for combat, and Fallax cut Xen’s hilt clean in half. Xen pulled away from Fallax as fast as he could, desperate to put space between himself and his former possessor. The remains of his lightsaber hilt flickered and sparked in his hand.
“Pathetic.” Fallax laughed. The New Dawn and Palatinaeans had come to a standstill, eyes locked on the two men.
“Yes. Yes you are.” Xen mocked softly. His body ached, and his head pounded. There was so little time for him to act. His hand shot forward, mind reaching out with the force to send the sharp and deadly bottom half of his lightsaber blaster bolt fast as the ancient Sith Lord. As Xen’s hand moved up to launch it, so did Fallax’s primal raw dark side energy erupting from his fingertips.
The lightsaber hilt and force lightning collided dead center between the two. Energy from Fallax’s lightning arched through the hilt, overloading its remaining crystal and power sources. The explosion was tremendous.
Xen’Mordin was launched back, hitting his head hard on the ground as he landed. He remained still and unmoving. Fallax lay on the ground screaming. Metal shards from the lightsaber hilt had kept its momentum, impacting hard on his body. Even now the blood began to pool. The remaining New Dawn loyalists turned and attempted to run, only to be mowed down by the Imperial Military awaiting them. The members of Scholae Palatinae gathered around the dying body of Fallax.
Lexiconus grimaced, and reached out with the force to hold the shrapnel in place, preventing it from working its way further into the Sith Lord’s body. Elincia placed a hand on the Quarren’s shoulder.
“This isn’t some patient to save Lexic,” she said. Lexiconus nodded.
“Oh I know. This is just keeping him here a little longer,” he replied. The other Palatinaeans shot each other sideways glances knowing what was being said in the statement. Lexiconus wouldn’t commit the act, but he would let his clanmates have their revenge.
Eventually Fallax’s screams stopped, and his body lay still. The abuse inflicted on him by the Palatinaeans he so completely under estimated had finally taken its toll. The Palatinaeans turned to bring their attention to Xen’Mordin, only to find a trail of blood from where he had fallen, leading out toward the entrance to the throne room. The Emperor had vanished.
“So Xen put a secret medical facility in the middle of this frozen wasteland, and told no one but you?” Elincia questioned, a tinge of annoyance on every word. She pulled her long white heavy winter coat tighter around her trying to protect herself from the frigid wind, a more appropriate alternate to her ever present white lab coat given the conditions.
“Technically it’s a secret medical ship, and all the Emperors have had one,” Stana explained, purposefully ignoring the second half of inquiry as she removed her right glove to key in the access code. “An emergency place to recover should his own people turn against him, or attempt to attack while in a weakened state. Ood kept his in the jungle. Thran kept his parked behind Big Daddy’s.”
“And Xen keeps his where we’d all freeze to death,” Evant joked under his breath through clenched teeth. He shuffled awkwardly in place also eager to get inside out of the cold.
“That still doesn’t explain how you knew about it and I didn’t,” Elincia pressed, her annoyance growing as the door finally slid open.
“Finally,” Evant sighed as he rushed inside past the others inside the small ship. “What was the passcode the egomaniac’s life story?”
Stana gestured to Elincia to enter next, who hesitated before following Evant inside. The lights of the repurposed assault ship flickered on one by one as the door sealed behind the trio replacing the howl of the tundra with the hum of a electronics aboard the ship. Xen’s medical droid, Bones, came zooming into view to greet them.
“Much to discuss!” His synthesized voice rushed.
Stana held up her hand, a gesture to the medical droid to be silent as both Evant and Elincia stood at the foot of an elevated medical table in their own contemplative silence. “I managed to get Xen away while everyone was preoccupied with Fallax,” Stana explained, breaking the silence to join the two looking up at Xen’s immobile state front and center.
A series of tubes and wires connected to the body and head of the leader of the Clan. Around him a myriad of sensors and medical equipment beeped and hummed with life. A brilliant blue glow cast a sickly yet sterile light on everything from three massive bacta tanks on the back wall. Multiple medical assistant droids manned several medical stations performing diagnostics and administering drugs.
“Physically the separation from Fallax was flawless. All of his bodily systems are at one-hundred-percent, there are no sign of corruption or even the slightest wear. Absolutely physically fit.” Bones explained eagerly, interrupting Stana before she could continue.
“And?” Evant questioned after a brief pause, his eyes fixated on the unmoving body of his friend and mentor. His connection to his former Master was so effortless it required no concentration at all. He could sense it the instance he set foot on the planet, but now, so close, he could still sense only a cold faceless signature in the Force, a deep void absent any emotions or feelings, one that offered him no reassurances.
“Like I said, physically his body is immaculate. It’s just his brain isn’t.” The droid hovered a little higher pointing to a screen. The single line on its display remained flat and unmoving. Elincia rushed to the display and pressed several buttons. All charts showing the same thing.
Zero brain activity.
“This… This cannot be.” Elincia said softly, her annoyance replaced with disbelief. Stana shifted on her feet, looking sympathetically at the Proconsul.
“He trusted you two. Is there anything we can do?” Stana pleaded hopefully. Elincia’s mind raced thinking of possible results, none good. Evant stood silently.
“He is gone,” Bones spoke up before Elincia could decide how to state it. “However, my programming prohibits me from turning off the life support systems.” Bones pointed toward a series of switches then floated off to the far corner of the room, dimming to allow the trio to discuss the matter further. Evant tensed, his body feeling countless at emotions at once, too many to control.
“He deserved better than this…the damn fool… we turn it off and let the Force decide,” The Regent said after a moment, his tone suggesting that even he wasn’t so certain, his entire mind consumed by the void in front of him. Stana shook her head and stepped between him and the life support controls, a determination in her glare.
“I called you here to help. You can’t really be giving up on him that easily,” She said angry and frustrated looking Evant in the eyes as he turned to look at her, continuing only after a brief pause with no response, “He wouldn’t give up on you.”
“No, Evant is right. We either let him die with dignity, or hope he can find his way back through the Force,” Elincia said. Bones lit up in the corner.
“We can keep him alive here indefinitely,” The droid interjected into the conversation before returning to low power mode.
“Then we let him live. He can find his way back. I know he can,” Stana said decisively. Evant shook his head slightly and looked at Xen’Mordin. He pursed his lips and concentrated. The room remained silent, aside from the machines keeping Xen alive. Evant’s eyes darted back and forth across Xen’s body. He finally stepped back from Stana and the controls.
Elincia cocked her head to the side and addressed Stana.
“No more games, who are you? And just how long have you been sleeping with him? I ran background and medical checks on all of Xen’s mistresses, you were not one of them.”
“And I was the one who put together the background checks for you to review. He has his secrets, me included,” Stana said, emphasizing the statement in way that suggested there was nothing more she would say on the matter, locking eyes with Elincia unable to hide her deep sense of concern for the man connected in a hundred ways to the ship they now stood on. Elincia nodded in understanding.
“Fine. I have seen less likely things occur. He might find his way back,” Elincia said, returning her focus on the biodata being pulled from Xen’s body.
“If he does he will have a lot of explaining to do. This puts a damper on some of our… plans,” Evant said shooting a sideways glance at Elincia.
“Egomoon, Dark Talon, White Star… They all can wait,” Stana said impatiently. Elincia and Evant turned and stared at her.
“How did-?” Elincia managed to get out. Stana gritted her teeth in response.
“We keep Xen alive, and your little projects can keep on going. As far as the Clan knows, Xen’Mordin is dead. Eli, that will cause some contention for you, and Evant, I imagine the Council will have… things that need to be taken care of with that vacuum.” Stana said. She rested a hand on Xen’s shoulder. The other two nodded. The matter was settled.
They left Xen’Mordin where he lay, droids and instruments still taking vitals and administering drugs, systems still ensuring his body stayed alive. Brain wave scanner still absolutely still. They gave a final nod to Bones, who whirled back to life to ensure the body would stay alive, and then turned to venture back through the small door out into the freezing Cainian plains to their own ship
The secret medical ship locked down, returning to low power and keeping things just functional enough to power the machines keeping Xen alive.
And then the brainwave scanner began to quiver.