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Apogee, Part I

Posted on Tue Jul 30th, 2019 @ 2:17pm by Kalen "Rex" Vickers & Thane & Bomoor Thort & Amare & Rynseh Lahan & Reave & Zenarrah Sozo & Mentis
Edited on on Thu Oct 3rd, 2019 @ 11:31pm

Chapter: Chapter V: Unbound
Location: Valley of the Dark Lords, Korriban
Timeline: Mid Day 4, After "Their Watch Has Ended"

OLD

Lameer...he was fading from the Force now. Someone got to him too. Tal turned to Korriban, and cursed that wretched world. Still, she had to get there. She had to get those people to safety, or at least warn them to leave before it was too late, even if it was the last thing she ever did.

Meanwhile, little did Tal know, that other starships were inbound to the system, and they were not the reinforcements from the Republic she signaled for...

NEW

The Descent came close to piercing the Sith homeworld's hazy blood-orange atmosphere under stealth in pursuit of the sole escape pod that escaped the Jedi space station. The ship was almost entirely invisible to all known sensors; it could only be detected visually, but it was only intended for short duration use. Rynseh monitored the temperatures from the heatsinks near the engine core while vectoring the ship for landing. Eliminating heat and radiation emissions was far more power efficient than a light-bending cloaking device, but there was the trade-off that if the heat remained trapped for too long without opening the exhaust ports, the heatsinks would be compromised and any living creatures inside the vessel would be cooked to death fairly quickly. He already survived near-death by fire once; he didn't want to make another go at it.

"The pod just made landfall," Zenarrah reported to the Jedi Master from her co-pilot's console. "It wasn't a clean landing. I hope the occupants were able to brace themselves for that."

"I have the coordinates," Ryn acknowledged and adjusted their flight patch accordingly. "This planet...this wretched old world. The feel of the dark side here disgusts me. Makes my skin crawl."

Zen silently glanced at him as she sensed an emotional disturbance within the Cathar's mind. Ever since they left Coruscant to track down Thane and Bomoor, it was becoming more and more clear that the old serene Ryn was long gone. In some ways, she preferred this older, grizzled Rynseh Lahan, but in truth she loathed him deeply for knowing that he was a willing part of the corruption that was at the very core of the Reborn Jedi Order, and for what he contributed to it through his dealings with the Galactic Senate and the banking consortiums.

"When I was a youngling," Rynseh added, "my clanmates and I earned a rare field trip to the Coruscant Museum of Galactic History. Have you been there?"

"Can't say I have, no," Zen replied as the cockpit jostled slightly whilst the Descent was breaching the planet's upper atmosphere. She found the subject jarringly odd to bring up at a time like this.

"Most Jedi have no need," Ryn remarked with a calm nod, Korriban's atmospheric fire causing him to narrow his eyes. "Much of what's there is already in the Archives, but the Temple computers does not have the Museum's Alderaan exhibit. It was truly a wondrous world, Zen. Possibly the most beautiful and storied in all the galaxy in its time. So much refined culture, technology, and art came from there, only for a Sith superweapon to destroy it all in the blink of an eye. That was a world worth fighting for. Those people deserved better, and yet, here we are, flying towards the surface of where the evil that plagues us all started. If only I had a weapon of such magnitude. I would use it only once just to fire on this world and end the legacy of the Sith forever."

The very notion that Rynseh dreamed of even using such a weapon for any purpose was staggering to Zen. As they cleared the atmosphere, she wondered if Ryn's musings was the influence of the dark side talking, or the true colours of the man himself. "Rynseh, even if you did that, it wouldn't eliminate the threat of the Sith. Their influence had spread throughout the galaxy. It could still take centuries, or perhaps thousands of more years before we snuffed out the Sith relics and knowledge for good."

"It would be a good start," Ryn said as he angled the ship's nose for a smoother rate of descent. "We may not have a superweapon, but if I can convince the Senate to finance a bombing campaign...hmm, never mind about that. I have visual on the escape pod dead ahead. I'm setting us down."


Some few miles away, also within the Valley of the Dark Lords...

"Are we there yet?" Kalen "Rex" Vickers intoned for the twenty-seventh time in the past two standard hours.

His feet dragged sullenly through the ancient Korriban sand, occasionally kicking up a dusting into the face of the diminutive Jawa trailing just two feet behind. From the way the Human slowly slogged through the hot valley, his arm held up in a makeshift sling from some of Reave's wrappings, one would not deduce that the smuggler spent his formative years on a desert world.

Brushing the dust sharply from his widebrimmed hat, but not quite deigning to remove it, Reave uttered a few expletives in Jawaese that were becoming fairly well-known to the third sentient traveller beside them, the beleaguered and troubled Mentis of Rattatak. Unlike Rex, however, Reave was showing no signs of fatigue or weariness - the Jawa merely carried on, regardless - aside from the occasional curse (typically directed at the sandwyrm-fearing, constantly-grumbling Rex, though they were).

“We’re in the valley now,” stated Mentis, who’s usual pale complexion had been made rosy and purple by the various scars and bruises that covered his body, leaving him feeling thoroughly terrible, “We will get there soon.”

G4-3K then droned out a low, fizzing warble of wariness as a few small rocks tumbled down a nearby rocky outcropping. It was the sixth time this had happened, and, as on every other occasion, the aptly-nicknamed 'Brick' was convinced it was one of Rex's sandwyrms come to consume him. True to form, as before, Rex now unclipped his blaster from its holder for the sixth time and aimed it at the offending inanimate stones.

“Hold on,” the Rattataki Force-user hissed, stretching out a hand in the direction of the tumbling rocks, “I sense people coming!”



Tal Omna had no illusions regarding her fate; she was already dead. Part of her rebreather mask was shattered and her lungs were being exposed to an atmosphere that was toxic to her, and she had a grievously deep lightsaber wound that wasn't instantly fatal, but did enough to ensure the odds were hopelessly stacked against her. She accepted that the only reason she was able to survive the crash of her escape pod, and having the ability to slowly crawl away from it whilst leaving a smeared trail of her own blood behind on the hard lifeless surface of Korriban was due to one thing, and one thing only: the Force.

Her left arm was shattered from the landing, she lost feeling in both legs, and she struggled to pull herself with the remaining good arm she had left. She didn't know where she was going, or what to do if danger came for her. She was becoming light-headed, the blood loss and poisonous air gradually taking their toll on her. She was feeling so weak and delirious that when she heard footfalls bounding closer to her from behind, she thought she was just imagining things, or that one of Korriban's many nightmarish denizens came looking for an easy kill.

Please end it quickly she silently plead in her mind to whomever it was approaching.

A large hand gently placed itself on her dislocated left shoulder, and a comforting, deep, almost fatherly voice spoke softly to her.

"Be at ease, padawan," the man said as a subtle wave of Force energy numbed the pain in her left arm. "Let us help you."

Tal was familiar with the voice, and before she could put it together with an identity in her mind, two pairs of caring hands deftly lifted her up and turned her over onto her back. She instantly recognized the stone-faced man as Master Lahan, the hairless Cathar war veteran, but she didn't recognize the Nautolan female. She did, however, recognize the blue amphibian's lightsaber; it strongly resembled one of Master Thurius' prototype schematics Tal had seen back when she learned to construct her first lightsaber. It was shown in the classroom as an "ambitious" yet "risky" design rejected by Thurius, and served as an example of what not to do when making one's first lightsaber, yet there it was, a design made reality and clipped to the belt of a stranger wearing Jedi robes and an unusual golden armor cuirass.

"M...master...? Master...Lahan?" Tal asked, her words barely audible from the damaged voice synthesizer from her broken mask. "How...who is--"

"Shh," Ryn gently shushed her. "Save your strength. This is Zen. She was a Temple Guard, but was reassigned to me as a Shadow."

Zen glanced up at Ryn, once more caught off guard by his choice of words. It was a white lie to be sure, but one she sensed Ryn actually had every intention of making into the truth. He really did trust her. She was astounded at how flawless her ruse had held up, even to this moment.

"We received your distress signal," Ryn added. "The fleet is on its way." On one knee by her side, he leaned forward and placed a paw on her forehead, closed his eyes, and felt what Tal had known; it was too late for the Kel Dor padawan.

"Who did this to you?" Zen asked, a bit less gently than Rynseh. "Who attacked the station?"

Tal was wheezing, on the verge of her last breaths. It became obvious to both Jedi Master and ex-Jedi Knight that the end for the padawan was nigh, and Tal felt the dawning of the Force descending upon, close to taking her away from this life. There was no time for descriptions of her assailants. There was no time to lay out the course of events that led her to Korriban broken and close to expiration. There was only a few words she could muster before she was returned to the Cosmic Force...

"It...it was........S-...Sith..."

Tal's breathing stopped, and there was only the faint distant howls of air currents ripping across the ancient war-torn landscape.

Zen stood up and gazed down squarely at the unmoving Rynseh, wondering what he was going to do or say next as there was a bleep from her comlink. She pulled out a small datapad about the size of her hand and read the new sensor data from the Descent's automated systems.

"The Red Raptor's location has been triangulated," she reported. "Just a few klicks south-by-southeast from here. There's also definite signs of another crashed vessel near those coordinates. If Thane and Bomoor did this..."

"I doubt it," Ryn remarked as he scooped Tal's corpse into his arms and lifted her with ease as he stood up, as if the deceased female weighed almost nothing at all. "But if they did, this rock shall be their tomb along with the rest of the Sith."


Elsewhere, having departed the Temple of XoXaan some hours before...

Korriban's ancient primary, Horuset, was bright - and hot.

When first the group had finally departed from XoXaan's temple, the once-headquarters of the fallen One Sith, it had been practically blinding. Long hours endured within the near-total darkness of the tombs had left their eyes unprepared for the unyielding brilliance of the sun, but they had soon adapted, weary and beaten though they were.

They had made better distance during their return journey than their first expedition through the Valley of the Dark Lords, now that they were mercifully absent a Force-hunting Sithspawn predator. They were fortunate to have memorised well their initial wanderings within the valley, now that they were less their droid navigator, who remained piled upon a grav sled in pieces, along with a variety of other trinkets they had purloined from the Sith temple - including one of the fabled kaiburr crystals, refined and ancient as this particular example was.

Thane considered himself and Amare to be, effectively, the rightful owners of such artefacts now, anyway. Of all the beings in the galaxy, the fate they now wove for themselves as successors to the Sith legacy left few but them worthy of the heirlooms. Were the Jedi successful in claiming them, after all, they would simply destroy them. Only the near-absolute quarantine of this world to Force sensitives had kept the occasional forgotten prize untouched by graverobbers and overzealous wizards, of either Force persuasion.

Knowing full well the condemnation that Quellus and his inquisitor-esque compatriots would shower upon them, Thane wondered how Master Sotah would receive the news of their absolute rejection of one of the Reborn Jedi's fundamental commandments.

"If we continue at this pace," he said aloud, striding onwards, his black greatcoat once again wrapped tightly about his grey robes beneath, "we will reach the Raptor by nightfall."

Aside from the group having more confidence in their course, Thane wondered if the proximity of King Hazzarah's glittering crimson prize within the grav sled's bundle was having some influence upon them. Its overwhelming presence had almost become an unspoken truth between the group, each of them preferring not to speak of the temptation it beheld - at least for Thane and Amare.

For Amare, wandering an open wilderness like this felt familiar. She was grateful to have company this time, at least, even if that company were the same two men that once left her behind to fend for herself, a stranger in a strange land. Unlike Lorrd, however, there wouldn't be a random person on a high-performance speeder to save them if they succumbed to Korriban's elements.

Struggling to keep pace with her faster and more strident Human master, she stole a glance at the strange construct they were bringing with them. It made sense to bring salvage and other prizes along after surviving so much danger in the temple, but there just felt like so many different kinds of wrong to bring such a droid along. She was content with just having G2 put back together in one piece, but there was no telling what could happen if they began tinkering with technology possibly made by Sith for who knew what nefarious purpose.

"I don't know about this...'souvenir' we're bringing, master," she shared her concern aloud. "The droid responded to my spell, but...I'm a bit worried what it might do if we can fix it and turn it on. I've heard stories about assassin droids on Nar Shaddaa. Some say even Jedi are afraid of them. If this thing is one of them, it could be big trouble for us."

"Or useful for us," Thane responded simply, not breaking pace. "Whatever may be a threat to us, as Force users, will suitably serve as a threat to our opponents, too. There's three of us, whilst they are plentiful and varied." He now cast a brief glance behind them, back to the crumpled mess of droid on the sled. "I am the last person to defend a machine, usually, but there must be some merit in a design handed through two-dozen millennia. Besides, it'd be a wonder if we can even get it operational."

"It feels strange to admit it," Bomoor hummed as he walked onwards, now just ahead of the others, "But other Force-users are now our biggest threat. Not just Axion, but those of the Reborn Order that bear us ill will. I mean, if those up on the station knew what we were doing down here..."

As he mentioned the satellite station, he focussed his attention upwards into the sky and suddenly experienced a strange sensation in the Force. He knew Thane was feeling it too and he looked backwards, "I think... I think something has happened to the Shadows up there."

Still developing her own sense of the Force, Amare couldn't feel what was high up in orbit as easily as Bomoor. However, the concern in the Ithorian's tone gave her pause. "But how?" she asked, a sliver of worry flavouring her voice. "That station looked very tough. It would probably take a lot of ships to do any damage to it."

Thane had begun to open his mouth in response to both his friend and apprentice, when another disturbance within the Force rippled delicately nearby. It was but a droplet against the ocean of dark side energy that had served to blind much of his more precise Force talents, which in turn had caused him to rely awkwardly on some of the merits afforded to him courtesy of his bond with Bomoor and his more-attuned psi-sensory talents. Even though it was minor, it was very present, its apparent signature a contrasted (and conflicted) note spoiling Korriban's dramatic melody.

The former Jedi Guardian raised a hand to signify silence, not intending his immediate action to be impolite, and called upon the Force to more accurately focus on their surroundings and augment his physical senses. Briefly, he thought he had heard the tell-tale whistling of a droid, against a backdrop of deep mumblings, incoherent voices being carried on the valley's dry winds.

Having been walking for some time, they had discovered there were numerous paths and ridges that lined the Valley of the Dark Lords, ancient and weathered as they were, and their own path had placed them slightly higher against the circumference of one of the valley's mountains, with a wider and more open area beneath them, down a short incline which did not quite amount to a cliff. If one did jump without the aid of the Force or a jetpack, Thane noted, it would likely result in permanent injury or death, and he knew their path and the open road below would eventually intersect. The voices and sounds he had detected, he was now certain, were originating from the lower walkway.

Given the conversation that more or less confirmed their conclusion that some tragedy had befallen the orbital station, Thane did not need to say anything to note the recognition in his companions' faces, with Bomoor already nodding his understanding of the threat that may be beneath them. Certainly, at least one of the figures was a Force user, with any number of others potentially concealing their powers, if they had any.

With the grav sled perched gently upon the dusty ground, the trio poised themselves. Thane, with another gesture to the other two, stepped to the edge of the ridge first, his lightsaber hilt held firmly in one hand. A gust of wind caught him as he looked down at the unknown party, and both his hair and greatcoat's lapels billowed in the warm current, but it did not affect his sight of the unlikely quartet staring back at him.

Backing up the group was what appeared to be a battered and mismatched G4-series astromech, its faded pink-and-beige plating pale against the bright pink of its optical sensor, which occasionally fizzed as it focused on Thane above it. Beside it was a creature Thane had had limited experience with before, but that he recognised as a Jawa, although a peculiar wide-brimmed hat was perched atop two angry golden eyes that - along with an oversized repeating blaster that almost dwarfed the Tatooinian - were pointed directly at him. Finally, there were two Humanoid figures glaring up at him with confused expressions: one was a dark-skinned thickly-sideburned Human man, garbed in a duster with a small handheld blaster joining the Jawa's in aiming him down, whilst the other was a being he instantly recognised, even if his queer company confused Thane.

"You!" Thane hissed at the pale-skinned Rattataki - one of Axion's favoured Dark Jedi enforcers.

TBC

 

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