The Legacy of Ar’Kell:
"An Unexpected Visitor"
Palace Ravenspyre stood as a black fortress against the waning dusk of the jungle planet Frigg. Off in the distance, the huge disk of the new sensor system being built was a stark contrast to the traditional stone exterior of the palace. The next time someone tried a secret landing in Ar'Kell territory, they would be in for a surprise.
After knocking three times,
Marc Iver opened the door to the Quaestor’s Chambers
and entered. Xar would have sensed his presence outside by now, anyway. He
stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Taking a brief glance around the
outer chambers, Iver took note of the decor of the room. A large rug covered
nearly the whole floor, upon which a few seats were arranged near the walls.
The most eye-catching aspect, though, were the tables and multi-leveled cases
containing art of an almost endless variety. Strangely shaped vases, stands,
and sculptures decorated the room. Many were artifacts discovered on worlds in
the Outer Rim, especially belonging to ancient, long-since vanished races. Xar’s
love for alien antiquities was obvious in this respect, and in the fact that he
sponsored his own archaeologist corporation which had procured most of these
items. Iver knew that not all of these items were just for looks, though. He
knew because he had designed the Quaestor's Chamber's
security system himself. That lamp over to his right, for instance, concealed a
hidden camera by which Xar could see who entered and take according action. And
that beautiful arrangement of flowers nearby held an audio sensor. Some might
have considered such precautions unnecessary, even paranoid, but in the Dark
Brotherhood one was wise to take extra precautions, especially these days.
Frankly, they didn’t know who they could trust.
Iver turned to his right and the beautiful scroll-worked wooden doors made from Frigg's jungle trees swung open automatically, revealing the interior of the Quaestor's inner chambers. The room was adequately large, with a big desk in the center and a couple of tall bookshelves against one wall. On the opposite wall of the bookcases was a holo-window showing an expansive grassy landscape, with some sort of a palace in the distance. There were several artifact-holding stands in the corners, and a large piece on the desk itself. Iver was not at all surprised when, as he entered, he found Xar sitting with a lightsaber on the desk in front of him, the saber's handle in about thirty pieces. Xar sat with his arms on the desk, looking at the pieces as if in deep thought. The Quaestor wore a black shirt and pants, as usual forgoing the use of a cloak while in the palace.
"Hello, Iver." he said without looking up. I am glad you have returned safely."
"Of course. I wouldn't return otherwise," replied Iver, giving a slightly sardonic grin that split his wide face. What are you working on this time?"
"Take a look at this mess," Xar said, gesturing with a hand. "The blade is supposed to change colors continuously, but all I can seem to get it to do is flicker off just as it is about to change. A true mystery..."
Iver looked down at the exposed inside of the saber. There were focal points for several crystals. He did not understand why Xar spent his time tinkering with lightsabers, when there were more important things going on.
"Did you want to hear my report?" asked Iver.
Xar looked up at him then, and Iver almost flinched from those cold gray eyes. They seemed colder, of late.
"Your report, then."
Iver sat down in one of the seats in front of the desk and leaned back. "Our sources show profits in Phoenix Tech have decreased by ten percent since the desertion. And with three new corps entering the game, there’s no telling what that's going to do to prices, much less profits." Phoenix Technologies was a research, development, and shipbuilding corporation closely allied with Ar’Kell, run by a Trianni named Amason and based in the same Phare System. However, months before, they had seceded from their Brotherhood alliance, blasting out of the Phare System and heading for the Outer Rim. They still maintained relations with the House Ar’Kell, however, from their new home in the New Imperium, a new organization getting started in Epsilon Sector. Iver was the liaison between the two, and had a fair hand in the corporation, himself. But recently in Ar’Kell, too, relations with the Brotherhood had recently fallen low – to say the least.
"It is called competition,” Xar replied. “Same throughout the whole galaxy."
Iver nodded. "Yeah, well. We’ve still got the Fourth-Class Frigate, if they ever come through. Anyway, on the house front, numbers are getting low in the castes, almost depressing. Two more dropouts this week."
Xar placed his fingers together over the desk and sighed. "Let me guess. Transfers to other houses?"
"Yeah, although I had to break an access level gamma security lock to get the data from the Brotherhood datafiles. The official reason for the dropouts was, of course, lack of adequate Force Sensitivity."
"Of course," Xar said. Iver knew as well as he did that the excuses were a sham. It was against the foundational rules of the Brotherhood for a Jedi to leave one house for another, a blow to the very pride of being part of a Jedi house. But someone in the Brotherhood was allowing members to leave Ar’Kell for other houses, then covering up the evidence. Someone high up.
"Any idea who is involved?" Xar asked, echoing Iver’s thoughts.
"Sorry. Even I can’t break access that high – yet." Iver frowned. Ever since the attack on Ar’Kell by a highly skilled and cohesive group of anonymous Dark Jedi, the Brotherhood’s relationship with House Ar’Kell had suddenly grown – colder. At first, Ar’Kell had sent out a request for aid from the Brotherhood and the Remnant at large, but the Dark Council had quickly swatted the request down on the grounds that no such attack could occur in Brotherhood territory without their knowledge. Other houses had even gone so far as to say that Ar’Kell had staged the whole thing to try and gain status above them, and the Council hadn’t refuted or stopped them. As a result, trust of Ar’Kell in the territories was gradually fading, and with it, its members.
Xar nodded. "I thought as much. Anything else for me?"
"Yeah, Mathis said he wanted to see you about something. He's in the rec room. That's where I'm headed now."
"Okay, we will go down together," Xar said, rising from his chair. Iver did likewise, and turned to open the doors as Xar buckled on his own lightsaber. Then Iver led the way outside, nodding to the elite guards outside the door. Xar paused once outside, saying, "Stay here while I am gone, and do not let anyone in."
"Yes, sir," they replied in unison.
"Okay, come on, Iver."
As the two men entered the
recreation area in Palace Ravenspyre, Xar looked around for Mathis Organa.
Around the large pool in the middle of the room, people were gathered around
chatting or taking a swim in the cool water. Xar's gaze paused on the water, still
remembering the struggle that had happened there over a year earlier. He could
not see Mathis anywhere, however. He turned toward Iver, who had started
heading for the lounge.
"I think he went this way, Xar."
The windowed doors slid open sideways for the two men, and they entered the dimly lit lounge area. The lounge was full today, as all the rebuilding had gotten people busy again, and the outside workers were spending their time here as well. Xar grimaced when he saw so many unfamiliar faces. He took it upon himself to remember the faces of each member of Ar'Kell, in case of an emergency, and since he considered the members of the house the next closest thing to family, he was disturbed by the presence of outsiders. It was a subconscious feeling, one he had always had, along with a sense of territoriality. Xar spotted Mathis over by the bar and headed that way. He slid into the seat next to Mathis, who was eating lunch, and Iver sat down on the other side of him."
The former Quaestor turned his head and nodded as Xar sat down. “Sauron.”
"Billbob," Xar replied, using the man’s callsign.
"What'll it be, sirs?" asked the bartender.
Iver opened his mouth to speak. "I'll have a..."
"We would like privacy, please," Xar interrupted.
"Hey, no problem. You need anything, you let me know, ok?"
"Hey," protested Iver, turning towards Xar, “I was going to order something."
"Then move over there. You do not have to sit with us. Mathis said he wanted to talk to me."
Iver groaned, but stayed where he was. "Where's Kurt?" he asked Mathis.
"Over there, Mathis pointed behind him with his thumb."
Xar looked back and saw Kurt at his own table with a triple order of cheese chips. "I think we should leave him alone for a while."
The other men nodded agreement. Kurt, one of the members who had helped re-found Ar’Kell, had led a team of Jedi into the jungle to explore the ancient temples buried within. Then one day they were attacked by a vicious creature, a local legend known as the Mortigena, and Kurt was the only one to come back from the expedition. Since that time, he had been acting… different. Xar had written it off as stress and hoped that the man would come to deal with it sooner rather than later.
"So, what did you want to see me about?" asked Xar.
"Well, as you know during this period we may be weak again against enemy infiltration,” Mathis replied.
"I know that. I have made the upper levels access coded. You got your card yet?"
"No, not yet."
"Here, use this until then." Xar pulled an access card out of his pocket and handed it to Mathis.
Xar studied the man for a moment. Mathis was a large man, with dark, curly locks of hair falling down beneath where the hood of his cloak was pulled back. His aura in the Force was complicated, confusing. Only two months before, their positions had been reversed. Mathis had been Quaestor, the head of the House, and Xar had been quite comfortable in his position of Aedile, second-in-command. But a few months after the attack on Ravenspyre by unknown dark Jedi, things had changed. Xar had found himself growing in Force power after killing Dasok Krun and absorbing his Force energy in a forbidden Force technique. And Mathis had seen his growing strength and knack for leadership and had approached Xar privately.
”Xar, I want to talk to you about something.” Mathis had a curious look in his eye that day.
”What is it?” Xar had asked, reluctantly, sensing something was amiss.
”I’ll be brief, Xar. I want you to take my place as Quaestor. I will become the Aedile. In other words, I want to change places with you.”
Xar blinked at him, wondering if he had heard correctly. “Excuse me, sir?”
”There are several reasons for this. One is that I can see your leadership abilities are being wasted where you are. You were a Vice Admiral.’
”A position I did not exactly enjoy,” Xar countered. “I prefer the cockpit, the action.”
”I know. But you are also growing in Force Sensitivity, faster than myself. You will be much more powerful than me, someday.”
Xar shook his head. “Then wait until that day comes.”
Mathis’ grin took on a sardonic edge. “I’m not asking this of you, Xar. I’m telling you. The only reason you’re not Quaestor already is that you weren’t here at the original founding. But there comes a time when a leader has to realize when it’s time to step back and let someone else take the reigns.”
Xar frowned. He had expected this to happen someday, but not now…
”There’s something else that sparked my decision. The new apprentice, Draken.”
”Yes, he calls himself Draken Ar’Kell. How is this related?”
”Because I know Draken,” Mathis said. “We go a long way back. He and I swore to re-create House Ar’Kell as Galthain once did, no matter what the cost. We have to continue that legacy.” He stared flatly at Xar. “Draken has Galthain’s spirit, reborn.”
Xar looked at the man in disbelief. “You do not mean you believe those things he says?”
”There’s a special document Galthain discovered, Xar. Draken and I are looking for it now. I need to take some time to study it, and once we find it, I’m sure it will open the path to a new understanding of the Force.”
”What does that have to do with…”
”Xar, Galthain made a discovery about the Force before he died, one that could have changed everything. We have recreated House Ar’Kell in order to rediscover that secret. I need your skills to lead us, while I can best serve by helping from the sidelines, and tapping into resources you don’t have.”
Xar frowned. “You really are serious about this.”
Mathis fitted him with a stare. “I already submitted it to the Council this morning. Congratulations, Quaestor.”
Xar let his thoughts return to the present. He was just getting used to his new position in terms of running the day to day activities of the House, but they were little different from when he had led a battlegroup as Vice Admiral in the Remnant, just before coming to the Brotherhood to resume focus on his growth in the Force. And the House’s operation required a certain level of shrewdness that Xar had learned when starting his private artifact-collecting side business two years earlier. There were always people who wanted something from you, and knew a hundred different ways to get it. He and Mathis were still close, however. The man was the closest thing Xar had to a brother, now. Though Xar was Quaestor, he viewed the other man much more like an equal than as his subordinate.
"Was that all you wanted to talk to me about?" he asked Mathis.
"Actually, no, there is one more thing. Did you know about..." He cut off as all three men sensed someone run up behind them. They turned in their seats to find themselves facing a robed envoy.
"What is it, Novice?" asked Xar, identifying the small pin identifying the man's rank.
The envoy bowed deeply. "Sirs," he said, looking nervously between Xar and Mathis, "I have been sent by Weapons Master Emil Beli to find you. There is something he says you must see. He sounded urgent.”
"Great, now what?" asked Iver from Xar’s side.
"I guess we should check it out," Xar sighed. "Lead on, Novice."
"Yes, sir," the envoy said, bowing again. Then he turned and started toward the exit.
Weapons Master Beli stood as Xar, Mathis, and Iver entered the command center, the envoy quickly disappearing behind them. Xar wondered what Beli was doing in here at the sensor station. "What's going on, Beli?" inquired Mathis, walking up the station.
Beli looked up as Mathis spoke. His black hair and dark complexion cut a striking figure, and his intense eyes searched the Ar’Kell leaders intently. Beli, a dedicated Sith Warrior, had been one of the first Brotherhood members to help re-found House Ar’Kell, along with Mathis Organa, Marc Iver, Kurt Karnes, Gaius Adonai, Nico Flygras, and a few others. "The new sensor system is being tested now,” Beli said, “and we just got our first in-depth look at the system around us from the planet's eye view." He turned, gesturing at the view screen. From here we can see all of the planets in the Phare system, and most of the ships passing though, but not in great detail."
"So what's so special?" Iver asked. "Why did you call us up here?"
"Because we've detected a ship of some sort heading this way." He pointed to the screen, where a small blip marked the ship. "Its current trajectory will take it into low orbit."
Mathis looked sideways at Beli. "This system's full of ships. It's probably something out of Corcom."
Iver leaned a hand on the edge of the screen and peered closer. "Wait a minute. What the hell kind of ship is that? If these readings are correct... I have never seen anything like it."
Beli hit a few buttons and read the display. "It's a small ship, about 20 meters long. It's moving at incredible speed..."
"Mass readings lower than normal craft that size," Iver announced. "Those small projections... not solar panels. Almost no energy output."
"A prototype of some kind?" asked Mathis.
"I don't think so," replied Iver. "It’s coming from outside the system."
"Passing though low orbit now," Beli announced. "Wait, what's this? I'm picking up some sort of signal. It’s garbled. I can't make anything out of it."
Xar, silent until now, listened intently to the static coming from the speakers. "Record it, Beli. Maybe we can decode it."
"Right. Recording... Wait, it's stopped transmitting. I think I got all of it..."
"Hold on, where's he going?" asked Iver, pointing. The blip was moving away at incredible speed. “Heading out fast. Track him."
Beli started typing furiously. "I got him, heading away faster than he came in. Maybe he found what he's looking for."
"Maybe. Where's he headed?"
"Looks like out system... no, wait... He could be heading toward Loki..." Loki was the furthest planet out in the Phare System, a frozen wasteland. It wouldn’t make much sense for anyone to go there.
Suddenly the screen flickered, then the display was filled with static.
"Stang!" he said, punching the console.
"What a great time for them to disconnect the dish!" He sat back in disgust. For a moment the room was silent, the men looking at each other. Each person's face seemed to have the same expression, saying "what now?"
Beli looked at Xar and voiced everyone's question. "So do we go see where he went off to? Or just forget it? You want to take a team after it, Beli?"
Beli thought for a moment. "He's probably at Loki by now, if that's where he's headed. Stang, yeah, I'll go out there. I want to see exactly what that thing was, and why he showed up here." "You can take one of the shuttles. You better bring some guys with you, just in case.
Xar nodded. “Okay, you, Mathis, and Iver..."
"Like hell! I'm gonna go get something to eat!" retorted Iver.
”Oh, come off it Iver, you can take something with you. Okay guys, you might want to take some apprentices with you, to get them used to this sort of thing. I recommend Omega Kira for one.” Omega was a new member who had attached himself quite fanatically to Xar as a leader. It would be good experience for him out on his own. “Any other suggestions?"
"Hmm..." thought Mathis aloud, "How about Sarok and Zysfryar?"
"Sounds good. I will inform them."
"What about you Xar?" asked Mathis. "Aren't you going to come?"
"No, I will keep check on things from this end. Plus, I do not want to leave the palace with all these foreigners around."
Mathis grinned. "Yeah, good idea. That shuttle's on landing pad two, right?"
"Okay, see you there."
"Well, if I'm gonna get something to eat, I better go now..." Iver turned around toward the doorway.
"Wait, Iver," said Xar. "Kurt is down there. Hold on, I will call him." He reached into his pocket and brought out his commlink. Dialing in the correct code, there was a burst of static and then the muffled sound of voices in the background. They heard a 'click', then a loud crunching sound.
"'Lo, this is Kurt. Watcha need?"
"Hey Kurt, this is Xar, I need you to meet us at landing pad two."
"What?! Hold on there, I'm eating..."
"You have eaten enough nachos for now. Get up here. No, hold on… Iver wants you to bring him something from the bar."
"Hold on, okay, Iver? What do you want? Yeah? Okay Kurt, get a slab of ribenes, a fruit cup, a cream shake, a slice of brinberry pie......"
The search team was
assembled at landing pad two. Lined up in front of Xar were Mathis and Beli, and Iver, who was trying to hold the containers of
food, had gone into the ship to start it up. Apprentices “Omega” Kira, Sarok, and Zysfryar were there, too. They had bags of supplies in
hand, and chief technician Thad Balfin had prepped
the shuttle and loaded it with cold suits, in case the party had to land on the
surface of Loki.
"Well, I guess that wraps it up, gentlemen," said Xar. "Find out what is going on with that ship, then report back here. I will be coordinating things from base. I will also check with the system patrol to see if they tracked the ship's exact location. Get in touch with them when you get in range. Understand?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," everyone said.
"You're not coming with us?" asked Omega.
”Not right now, but if you find anything important, I might be along though. Do not worry; Beli, Iver, and Mathis should be able to take care of anything.”
"All right then. Any more questions? No? Then May the Force be with you. Farewell."
Then, as Xar turned back toward the palace, the search team ran into the interior of the shuttle as its engines started with a whine.
* * *
Xar entered his office and almost recoiled in shock
at the tall, black-robed figure standing in the middle of the carpeted floor.
His hood was thrown back, revealing a pale-skinned, rounded face framed by long
dark hair. Standing at probably two meters, he easily towered over Xar.
Xar nodded warily to the man who had entered his office without permission or even being noticed by the guards. In fact, Xar hadn't noticed his presence in the Force, either. His first reaction was to attack the intruder immediately and ask questions later. Only the fact that this man had saved his life only weeks before kept him from doing so.
"You," Xar said. "I have not seen you in a while."
Icis Novitaar – the Traveler – nodded. "Important events have kept me away for a while. I came here to warn you. You aren't safe here."
Immediately Xar felt doubt come up about the man's intentions. "Safe from what?" he asked warily.
"I can't tell you now." With that, Icis gestured to the Quaestor's office. "May we have some privacy?"
Xar noticed the entrance to the chamber was still open, so he quickly nodded and led the man into the room, Icis following behind.
"You had not contacted me since that time," Xar said, moving around to his side of the desk and sitting lightly on the edge of his seat. "I was beginning to think I had just imagined you."
Icis moved in front of the desk, but politely refused the seat that Xar had offered him. "Unfortunately not," he said. "There's a lot we need to discuss."
"It cannot take long, but go ahead. I don't have much time. We have an unexpected visitor in the system."
At that, Xar's interest was piqued.
”Xar, you have to take Ar’Kell and leave the Phare System. In fact, you have to leave Minos Cluster entirely.”
Considering some of the things Novitaar had told him before, nothing the man could say surprised him now. “Why is that?” he asked.
”Because Ar’Kell will be destroyed if you don’t. Xar, the Dark Council is responsible for the attack on Ravenspyre.”
Xar took back his previous thought. Now he was surprised. “You have proof of this?”
”It is in their highest level encrypted files,” Icis said. “But search your feelings as to whether it’s true or not. They didn’t send Dasok Krun and his men, but they knew of the attack. And since it didn’t work, they will try again, much harder next time.”
”Why would they want to destroy Ar’Kell?” Xar asked warily. “What are they after?”
”You know what they were after,” Icis said meaningfully.
Inwardly, Xar had to nod. “The Scepter.” The artifact they had silently agreed not to turn over to the Council. The only thing worth more than the Palace and the House itself. Xar had only heard about it in legends, and to actually have seen it with his own eyes, in the secret vaults of the ruins beneath Ravenspyre…
”Xar, there is more to the Force than you know. Have you ever heard of the “Elfodd Contingency?”
”I cannot say that I have,” Xar replied.
”Xar. What if I told you that there really is no ‘Dark Side’? What would you say to that?”
”I would say you need to travel to Korriban and find out for yourself,” Xar countered. Many had proposed this theory before.
”I am not talking about use of the Force that has been tainted and mixed with Sith magics and the sort,” Icis said calmly. “But use of the Force as it is, pure and true. It is what you do that determines whether you are good, or evil.”
”That much I can accept,” Xar said.
”I believe you’ve already learned an inkling of this from your former master, Runis. It would be interesting to see his records, to see how much he actually knew.” Novitaar paused in thought. ”Xar, I have a lot of things I can teach you. You will need them in the future. I hope you will heed my words and accept my offer.”
Xar had learned too much from the man already to write him off as lying. ”Assuming what you say is true, what do you want in return, Icis?”
”I want to go where you go. I will lend my services to you, and all I ask in return is that you listen to me.”
Xar leaned back in his chair, wondering how his life was about to change. “Tell me more,” he said. “I am listening now.”
* * *
On board the shuttle, Iver was briefing Omega, Sarok and Zysfryar about the
current situation. "Woah", exclaimed Sarok, "What do you think it was?"
A new voice broke through before Iver could answer. "Probably some punk testing out some new craft. I say we blow the idiot out of the stratosphere."
"Don't be too rash, Omega. It would benefit us more if the craft and its pilot be captured and interrogated" mused Zysfryar.
"And that’s what we're gonna do," grinned Mathis, turning toward the cockpit.
Thirty minutes later they reached the site where the craft was last spotted, then began trying to determine the course which the craft had gone. At this moment, Xar came on over the comlink.
"Beli, do you read me, over?"
"Loud and clear, Xar. What is it?"
"Seems like the Phare System Patrol was unable to get anything concrete on the position of that craft. Calculations of possible destinations point highest to Loki. I suggest your team do a quick search of Loki as soon as possible."
"Right. Over and out."
"Ok guys, lets keep our eyes open for anything suspicious," said Beli.
Time passed slowly as the team began its tedious search. They were beginning to lose hope when Iver, who was still halfway through his brinberry pie, caught sight of something.
"Gfffmm, ffmm ooffgg ffaayyy!!!"
"Say what?!?!?" shouted Mathis.
Hurriedly swallowing the final pieces of pie, Iver repeated, "Look!! Over there! On the far side of Loki! See that small black speck! I think that’s it!"
Pushing the shuttle's engine to the max, the team speeded towards the unidentified craft, unaware of the unfolding events.
Mathis quickly ran over to the computer and started
an analysis on the unidentified craft. He waited as the CMD ran its
calculations and started pouring information on the screen.
"Holy hell....its unbelievable" Mathis gasped.
The Apprentices turned to look at Mathis as Iver ran over to the computer.
"WHAT!?!" Beli shouted.
"I think what he is saying is that the damn ship is almost completely organic. There is very little actual metal chassis to it but it seems to be held together by some animal pelt. Wait a minute.....I can't believe that! Seems to show almost nil power source," said Mathis.
Iver finished the rest of his pie when he turned to the rest of the party, "What I was actually trying to say is that there are multiple life forms on that craft. What is even more fascinating is that they are not protected by vacuum and yet they live!"
"Well what do we do?" asked Sarok. He looked eager to do some killing.
"First things first....the Quaestor needs a full readout of the information we've picked up. Lucky for us the ship hasn't spotted us.....and yet I feel like we are being watched. Does the sensor reveal anything to show that the ship has seen or noticed us Beli?"
"Not as I can see....but I have that same....."
"Wait a minute...I'm picking up a message. It's coming from the ship but it's not aimed at us. I've got the frequency now" said Zysfryar excitedly. Zysfryar quickly punched a few buttons and then the static crackled and cleared..........
All that could be heard was an ominous screeching noise. The crew aboard the shuttle turned a pasty white color.
Phare System, in orbit Planet Loki,
Iver sat at the shuttle's controls, his head down, his eyelids drooping in half-sleep. Beside him, in the copilot's seat, he was dimly aware of Beli's faint snoring. The shuttle was sitting in low orbit over Loki, on low power standby. They did not want the unidentified ship to notice them. The ship in question was sitting a few hundred kilometers further north, still broadcasting its strange and chilling signal. The rest of the party was back in the cabin catching some sleep. Iver wanted to join them, but he had to be alert and at the station in case the unidentified ship started moving again. He was managing the on station part, but the part about staying awake was getting tougher by the minute...
Iver snapped awake with the beeping of the console in front of him. Did I doze off? he thought. Looking down at the computer, he sat up straight with a start. "Hey, Beli! Wake up!"
Beli’s eyelids fluttered open. "Huh? What's going on?"
"That ship is moving, that's what! Come on, wake everybody while I get us going."
Iver brought the ship up to full power as Beli engaged the intercom.
"Attention, everyone, the alien ship has started moving. Get to your stations and strap in."
The shuttle lurched forward as Beli turned back toward Iver. "Where is he headed?"
"Tracking him," Iver said. "What the... he's headed into the planet's gravity well. A lot slower than before.”
Beli started typing in an intercept course. "Looks like he is headed north toward those mountains."
"We'll follow him in from behind," Iver said. Behind him the cockpit door slid open, and Mathis entered.
"What's going on?" asked Mathis.
"He's moving again," Iver answered. "Looks like he found something."
The shuttle continued to pursue the alien craft down toward the surface of Loki. As they got lower, they could make out a vast plain below them, with an icy mountain range off in the distance. The alien craft descended to 5000 meters above the mountain range as they passed, then descended once they passed a tall line of mountains ahead. As the shuttle flew over, the occupants could barely make out the ship ahead.
Iver slowed the ship as Beli was announcing, "There is a rift up ahead. Looks like a deep chasm. Not very wide, I am not sure we can fly in there."
"I can fly this thing anywhere," said Iver.
"That's as may be, Iver," interjected Mathis, but as Beli was trying to tell you, there is not physically enough room for the shuttle to enter."
"Oh... Uh, well, I guess that's different then. So how do we follow it?"
"The cold suits Balfin put in here. We'll use them and rappel down the side.”
"Are you serious?"
"I am always serious," said Mathis, that grin he always had never changing a bit. "Can't you handle it?"
"Just checking. Sure, I can handle it. In fact..."
"I hate to interrupt you two," Beli interjected, "but the ship just went down into the chasm. I lost it down there. Can't scan through the ice... Stang."
"Don't worry about it. It's not that deep, is it?" asked Mathis.
"According to the scanner, which I admit is limited, there is no way out of there."
"Good. Set us down, Iver."
"And Beli, inform the Quaestor of our current situation."
With the slightest of bumps Iver set the shuttle down on the frozen surface of Loki...
"I look like Kurt after a 10 course meal,"
complained Iver as he put his coldsuit on.
"Yeah but at least you'll stay alive," said Beli, "That’s what these suits are for."
"Actually," said Zysfryar, "I think I look rather good."
"Ok guys, quit chattering and start moving down that rift. We don't have a lot of time," said Mathis.
The team got out of the shuttle to stand before a wide rift. The walls were smooth as marble and the bottom could not be seen. Suddenly it did not seem appealing to go after the craft.
"Wow," exclaimed Sarok, "it sure doesn't look friendly."
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," grinned Mathis. "We'll go down in pairs, Sarok and Iver make the first team, Beli and Omega team two, while Zysfryar and myself will make team three. Keep your eyes open and stay alert."
Slowly, each team descended into the rift. The winds were surprisingly strong and they nearly lost their grip. After a long and perilous journey, the team finally made it down to the bottom of the rift.
Mathis grunted as he dropped the last few feet to the
floor of the chasm. He turned, seeing the far wall in the distance illuminated
by his shoulder-mounted light. He was looking through the glass front of the
dome-like helmet he wore, his breath condensing on the glass. He could hear his
breathing loudly inside the mask, and took note that only this bulky suit and
oxygen tank on his back kept him from freezing instantly.
Looking around, he saw his comrades nearby, searching their surroundings as he was. He could see that the canyon ran in two directions.
"Hey, I'm Darth Vader!" said Omega, his heavy breathing audible voice over the built-in comlink.
"Quiet over there," Mathis responded. "Okay, everyone keep an eye on your systems gauge on your HUD. You have a limited oxygen supply, though it shouldn't run out for hours, if there's an emergency he will have to act fast." He pulled a beacon off his leg pouch and set it down at the base of their climbing ropes. "If you get lost, use your tracking system on your HUD to find your way back here. Oh, and one more thing. If we need to send any messages back to base, you can send on to the shuttle and it'll be routed back to system command. We have no way of contacting Ravenspyre from down here, though. Also, I'm not sure how well the transmitter will work if you're not in the main rift floor. Say, in a cave, for instance, the signal might not make it back to the shuttle. Okay, everybody clear on that? Then let's go..."
"Okay, boss." said Zysfryar’s voice. "Which way do we go? Are we going to split up the team?"
"I'd prefer not to right yet. Besides... I sense a presence down this path. Follow me guys."
Setting off into the left passage, Mathis tried to pinpoint the strange presence he felt. It was like nothing he had felt before. I suppose I will find out when I find it, he thought.
"Well, looks like this is a dead end," Sarok's voice came over Omega's comlink.
Shining his lamp across the wall ahead, Omega thought he could see a change in
its structure. "Hold on, I think I've found something," he said.
"Looks like a different kind of rock..." He began walking forward,
feeling ahead with his hands outstretched. It was too dark to even see them in
front of his face. Abruptly his arm hit something, and he felt along what appeared
to be a strangely shaped rock. "What's this?" he asked aloud.
"Hold on Omega. I'll be right there," he heard Mathis say.
"Here, let me get a look at it." Omega moved so his shoulder lamp shone on what his hand was touching, illuminating a monstrous face with fanged jaws!
Mathis heard Omega's yell and saw him stumble back
away from the wall. Shining his lamp on what had given Omega such a scare, he
sighed in relief. "Relax, its just a statue! Looks like it was carved out of the rock."
"I can't see!" yelled Omega. "Everything's white!"
"Stop breathing so hard, you've fogged up your mask!"
"Oh! Okay, thanks." Omega stopped moving so frantically.
"Okay, mates. Time to see what's up here. Iver, Zysfrayar, glowlamps!"
"Aye, sir!" replied Zysfrayar. "Hey! Looks like we've entered some kind of cave!"
"Right then. Shoot the ceiling."
"Gotcha boss," said Iver. "Come on, Zys." Mathis could see, via his lamp, Iver and Zysfrayar unloading two large glowlamp grapples from their backpacks. A recent design by Thad Balfin for use in underground caverns, glowlamp grapples, for lack of a better term, were shot from a large cylinder-like launcher and would take hold in rock, or ice with tough, sharp quadranium spikes that would extend and hold the lamp in place when it hit a wall or ceiling. These glowlamps would provide ample light for exploration and marking one's path through tunnels. Iver and Zysfryar had the shooters ready by now, and with a double bang the two grapples were launched and hit the ceiling overhead with twin thunks. Then the glowlamps inside flickered to life, and the chamber was filled with light. Mathis heard everyone's collective gasps as they saw what lay before them. They were standing near the entrance to the front of what could only be described as a temple, carved right out of the side of the rock. Stairs led up to the entrance, which had stone pillars with some unreadable text covering them, extending from the floor to the twenty meter ceiling. Statues of nightmarish monsters guarded the stairway and the entrance. "What the bloody blazes is that?"
"It looks like an ancient temple, sir." replied Sarok.
"Of course it is!" replied Iver. "But what's it doing here?"
"Good question. We had better report this back to base. Any way we can, we have to let the Quaestor know about this. Then, we find out why this is here."
Iver turned to face Mathis.
"Then let’s do it."
They all turned around, to get out of the cave for a
clear transmission. The first thing they could see in the light of the glowlamp was some huge, shaking fur. They quickly looked
up, when an enormous roar filled their helmets, and they all backed away.
The creature roared again and its huge paw went upward...to come down on Saroks helmet.
They had no choice. They had to enter the temple, or die. They took up the unconscious Sarok and pushed the huge gate.
The gate opened, and they all fell into darkness.
They all fell down in some great, deep, black hole.
The first thing Mathis heard since he had slammed his head against the hard and
probably cold floor, was again a huge roar from the
beast. Then he realized where he was and what he was doing here. He looked
around and he saw the others waking up, too. All except Sarok,
who was still unconscious.
"Everybody OK?" asked Mathis through the comlink. "We’ve got to get out of here. The creature will probably follow us."
"I don't think so," said Beli.
Everybody looked at him, and then at the gate.
"Anyone recognizes the species?" asked Mathis again.
4 "no"s was the answer he got. The monster seemed very eager to run to them and devour them with a miserable kind of taste, but it was somehow stopped as if by some sort of invisible wall. It kept running to them but it smashed his head (if you could call that part of his body a head) into some strange invisible material, every time it came closer than about 5 meters to them.
"That must've been the presence I felt," said Mathis after a long silence.
"That's not everything of it," replied Kurt. "It feels extremely dark around us, you know what I mean."
"Let this rest for some time. We should have a look at Sarok too." said Mathis, who felt responsible for the guy. "No way we can give him any medical treatment he might need, in here, and no way to call for some." They all turned to see Sarok.
"His life support seems OK," said Iver, after he had examined the suit.
"I can see no damage to his suit. Fortunate that his faceplate wasn’t cracked and his body exposed to vacuum. It seems to work all fine, but it worries me that he stays unconscious." replied Mathis. "OK, let's put it all together." he went on, "We have here 7 people. One of us is wounded. We have no way to contact Ravenspyre, Minos Cluster command, or even the shuttle as long as this creature blocks the exit. There might be more exits, but we'll see to that later. Our suits are protecting us from freezing, but we only have an oxygen supply for the next 36 hours. We don't have weapons, except for the light blaster rifles attached to our suit, and 4 lightsabers. Anyone has special ideas to get out of this mess?"
No one reacted to Mathis’ question. They just looked
around them and their mouths fell open with surprise. This was no ordinary sort
of alien temple they had entered. This seemed to be an ancient Krath temple, from the engravings on the walls around them.
Minutes past without a word.
Finally, Iver said: "I think we should investigate this. This might contain some really valuable, and maybe lost information."
"And how do you think you'll do that" replied Beli sarcastically. "We've got one wounded man, and some monster waiting outside to devour us."
"I say we split up." said Kurt. "Two people waiting with Sarok, and the rest goes have a look at this temple."
"I don't like the idea of splitting up," said Mathis, after he had heard Kurt's arguments, "but it seems the only solution to me. We investigate this place or we just die in here, waiting for some miracle to happen. We have no choice."
"Who'll be looking after Sarok?" asked Zysfryar.
"I suggest a staff member and an apprentice," added Kurt, "two apprentices would be too inexperienced and two staff members would just be unwise. And besides, I'm hungry.".
"Quit whining," was Beli's simple answer.
"Well," said Mathis. "Kurt'll stay here with Omega, OK?"
They all agreed.
"I say we go!"
Mathis, Iver, Beli and Zysfryar had been walking through these narrow, dark
corridors for what seemed like ages. They met nobody and nothing, except for
some horrible beast statue from time to time. There was no conversation. Nothing to say.
Kurt and Omega's situation was almost the same. Sarok was still unconscious -that blow must've hit him hard- and all they could see was the dark corridor the others had entered. Every five minutes a report from Mathis came in, but it was always the same :
"Nothing special. Still following this corridor. My computer tells me that we are at about 1.5 standard kilometers from you."
Only the distance in the message changed from time to time. The monster outside seemed to have given up smashing its "head" and it sat down next to one of the nightmarish, ugly statues. How it could breathe in here, Omega couldn’t begin to fathom.
Suddenly an excited message from Mathis came in:
"We see some light at the end of the corridor! This might be a room or even an exit. Wait!"
Long minutes past before Kurt and Omega heard anything. Then: "It's a room" shouted Mathis’ voice over the comlink. "By the Core, the ceiling is high above our heads. The walls are illuminated by some sort of light-giving toads. And that cursed organic spaceship we were following is here in the middle of the room. We'll investigate this."
"Remember," replied Kurt, "don't waste your time. We have limited oxygen supply."
"OK," was Beli's answer. "We'll give you more information later. Investigation team over and out."
"Beli," asked Mathis, "do you recognize the material of this space craft?"
"No I don't," replied Beli. "It's unlike anything I've seen before. The scan tells me there are no organic life forms aboard...except for the ship itself. There is no power plant inside it, and power output is approximately zero. Not even some life support. Last time we checked the power output was at Ravenspyre, but there was at least some output. I guess it was because it was flying then."
"Remember the speed," said Iver. "Such a speed is not normal for any known spacecraft."
"How did it come in here? There must be some other entrance," asked Zysfryar.
"I say we leave the ship for a while." said Mathis. "Let's seen if there are any other entrances or exits. Zysfryar, come with me. We'll investigate the right part of the room. Beli and Iver will investigate the left one. Remember, keep talking so we can keep track of each other. Move!"
As the group slowly started to explore the room, it
soon became apparent there were no visible entrances or exits. However this
ship had gotten there remained a mystery.
"Hmmm," thought Mathis to himself, his normally jovial features wreathed with concern. "This is very, very weird. How in blazes did that ship get in here?"
Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by an excited Kurt. "Guys, It's Sarok. He's coming around. Sarok, just take it easy. You've suffered a nasty fall but you seem to be ok. How do you feel? Where does it hurt?"
The group could hear some rustling of fabric as if someone were attempting to move, then things went quiet for a second. Then, with an almost audible sense of relief they could hear Kurt and Sarok talking. All appeared well for Sarok. Just some minor bruising. What was more troubling was his recounting of his experience while unconscious.
"It was so strange," said Sarok. "The last thing I remember was running like crazy away from whatever was trying to make dinner out of us. Then all of a sudden I was in this huge hall of some sort. It was very dark and very cold, yet it was somehow comfortable. I felt totally at home and relaxed. There were others there but they made no sound. But somehow I felt welcome, like I was supposed to be there. Then the scene changed and I was in another room, not unlike this one in fact. I could hear people laughing and talking but could see no one. There were goblets and dishes strewn about large serving tables, each mounded high with various type of food. But I didn't recognize any of it."
Sarok began to smile, obviously enjoying his recollection of this place. He could not explain to the others where it was or even when it happened but he did know with certainty that it had happened in the past and was reasonably certain that it had occurred nearby.
"Well," said Mathis, "That's a mighty interesting tale and I'm sure there's something to it but we're running out of oxygen. We have got to get out of here soon or we won't be getting out at all."
With that Sarok, who now felt surprisingly refreshed considering his fall and subsequent injuries, began to walk with Kurt towards the room the others had been exploring. Some moments later, they arrived. As he entered the room, the ship began to hum. When he stepped back out of the doorway, the ship stopped and returned to its apparent lifeless state.
"What the heck is that all about," questioned Iver. "Sarok, how are you doing that? And quit it. You're ,making me nervous."
"I'm not doing a darn thing," said Sarok, somewhat indignantly. "How do I know why this thing is acting like that?"
Kurt and Mathis exchanged amused glances and then turned to Beli who had just returned from the far corner of the large room.
"Well? What did you come up with?" Mathis asked, not really expecting an answer.
Beli, however, surprised him by noting there was something odd about the area he had just come from. "I don't know how to explain it but there's just something not right about this place. There's some form of writing or something on that far wall," he said, indicating a spot about 15 meters away. "The trouble is I don't recognize it and whenever I try to get close enough to study it, it disappears on me. Not only that, when it does reappear it looks different. Like it's a different text or something."
While Beli had been recounting his experience, Sarok had slowly begun walking over to the spot Beli had indicated. As he neared the area, a faint glow began to appear on the rocks and discernable words could be seen. The ship began to hum even louder as lights began to appear on it. It was almost as if it were powering up. Suddenly, with a roar, the ship lurched toward the spot where Sarok was standing.
"Sarok, move!" screamed Mathis, but Sarok seemed not hear. His eyes were glazed and his mouth slightly open. He seemed totally mesmerized by the words he saw. The ship neared and then abruptly stopped and nestled close to him. Suddenly he turned, his eyes were dead pools of inky blackness and were bloodshot. "Come," he said and the sound reverberated in the large room though he spoke in a normal tone, "We are expected."
"Expected?" asked Kurt. "No thanks,
I've got plans..."
Sarok's facial expression changed as he repeated his request. He seemed to be struggling to speak, as if in a lot of pain. "Please trust me... you will not be hurt..." At the exact moment, a doorway opened at the side of the ship.
"Do we follow?" whispered Zysfryar, as everyone turned to look at Mathis.
"Yes, we do. Apparently, Sarok is in the hold of some alien entity, we cannot just leave him behind. Besides, he, it, whatever. has guaranteed our safety. As much as I distrust it, my senses do not suggest that we are in danger," said Mathis with a wry grin, "Odd, isn't it?"
"Come!" said Sarok, this time in a more urgent tone. He seemed impatient to get moving while the rest were still standing back from the ship. "There is not much time!"
Reluctantly, the rest of the group followed Sarok into the ship. As the last member stepped in, the door closed and left no sign of its existence at all. It was as if there had never been an opening at all!
"This feels weird," mused Beli. "The ship has an almost... living aura surrounding it. The infrastructure is like nothing I have seen before. I would love to meet the engineer who designed it."
"I agree with Beli," remarked Iver. "It feels like no ship I have ever been on. Look at the walls!! The door!! There is no sign of the doorway which we entered just moments before!! The material itself looks seamless, as if organic..."
A sudden rumbling sound drowned out the rest of Iver's sentence. The earth was shaking as if it was about to split apart, as if debris were falling onto the ship from the cavern walls around it. Everyone was bracing themselves for the worst when Omega pointed to the wall where Beli had seen the weird writing. "Mother of... !!!," exclaimed Omega.
The wall was changing. Morphing. Warping. There seemed to be no definitive way to describe the event. A myriad of colors was swirling around in a shimmering whirlpool of light. It was as though a rainbow was playing with the waterfall, every corner shining brilliantly with colors. Without warning, the ship jerked forward and went straight through the aurora of lights.
* * *
"Well guys, I don't
know about the rest of you but I want out!!!!
What are we doing here? I mean, we just flew through a bloody wall in spaceship
that's made out of living organic tissue. Does anybody else find anything
disturbing about this?"
"Kurt," said Sarok in an eerily soothing voice, "you have nothing to fear. I need you and your fellow Dark Jedi to help me in my quest."
"There," said Beli. "There's your answer. We are here because someone needs our help. Now stop whining!! I've got the worst headache."
Kurt walked towards the far wall of the ship and slumped down in the corner, looking rather angry. Suddenly, the ship began to rumble violently. "Brace yourselves!" shouted Mathis. As they looked on, the ship flew through another wall, and was in a room identical to the one they left with one major difference...an alien form stood in the middle.
Jedi. Long have I awaited yourrrrrr prrrresence." shouted the voice all over the alien
"I bet you have" was Iver’s sarcastic reply.
"Watch your words, Iver," reminded Sarok. "Do not insult him or I can't promise you your safety anymore."
”Oh, scary," said Kurt from his corner. "The only thing I care about is food. I'm starving."
"Kurt, this is not the right moment to start whining about food. Think instead," said Mathis with an irritated tone.
Before Kurt could add a nasty reply the door opened again, and the alien said: "Get out of the ship, Jedi. You can take of yourrrrrrr helmets. There is enough oxygen in herrrrre."
"Nice, but I don't trust him." muttered Mathis. "One of you volunteer to try it out first?"
"I do," replied Zysfryar, and he took off his helmet. He took a deep breath. "Hmm, good air, a little cold, but refreshing."
Then everybody took off their helmets.
The alien voice continued: "You can come out of the ship, my honorrrrred guests. Let my introduce myself: I was once the High Prrrriest of this temple, long beforrrrrrre you werrrrrrre borrrrrrrn. That was when this planet was still habitable for humans... verrrrrry long ago. But let us leave this matterrrrrr forrrr a while. Would you please follow me?"
"I guess we have no choice," told Mathis, who had already descended the ramp while the creature was introducing itself "Let's follow him, to wherever he wants us to go to. Be sure to keep your weapons ready, though."
"You will not need them." said Sarok. "As I said before, you are under his special protection. You should be honored about that."
They all followed him. And while they were walking through a lot of chambers, filled all with the strange illegible writing, the alien was giving them some lecture:
"You arrrrre the firrrrrst visitors I've had for centurrrrries. This planet has been deserrrrted forrrrr decades since the grrrrrreat disasterrrrr. I will tell you about that laterrrrr, togetherrrrr with the task I need you forrrr. But firrrrrst I will brrrrrring you to the dining rrrrroom. I thought you might be hungrrrrrry, and I orrrrrderrrrrred to prrrreparrrrre a meal."
"Great," shouted Kurt. "We owe you so much, thank you, thank you... where's the food. I'm sick of those concentrates."
"Patience, my hungrrrrrrry frrrrrriend. We will arrrrrive therrrre rrrrrrright away. Don't be too hasty orrrr something bad could happen to you."
But his remark was spilled to Kurt, who was already running towards the next room, which he hoped to contain the desired food.
"Hey Kurt. Wait!" shouted Mathis.
The only thing they heard from the other room was a loud horrifying scream...
"What the..." muttered Mathis,
and he started running towards the door. When he finally arrived there he saw
Kurt sitting on the ground next to some table filled with some substance.
"Noooooo," said Kurt again, but a lot more quiet, now. "If there's one thing that I disgust the most in the whole universe, it's strawberry pie. And guess what's the only thing there's displayed on this cursed table..."
"Kurt," began Mathis with anger in his voice, "you scared us to death with your horrifying scream, and the only thing what matters is food? You can..." The rest of Mathis’ probably impolite reply was lost in the voice of the huge High Priest: "What do you want, human? It has been decades, beforrrrrrre any supply ship made it to this place. But do not desparrrrrrre, I am surrrre ourrrrr cook can find something else."
"I hope so," was Kurt’s reply, while the alien was pressing some buttons on a very antique looking comlink.
"Go ahead, Jedi, and eat as much as you can. I can always orrrrrrderrrr new things, just like for ourrrr hungrrrrry frrrrriend herrrrre." urged the alien.
The others didn't need any more stimulations, and the Jedi 'attacked' the pie. In a few minutes everything was devoured with great taste. This had been very painful for Kurt. The Krath priest pressed again some buttons on his comlink, and a couple of minutes another alien appeared from another door. He was definitely not from the same species, but still the Jedi couldn't recognize him.
"The food as thou hast ordered, my master." said the cook.
"Thank you, Derrrrruty. I won't need you any morrrrre today. You arrrrre frrrrree to do what you like." replied the Krath Priest.
On the plate was again a huge portion of strawberry pie, and some other things for Kurt. Well, the 'some other things' looked like old bread. "Geeez, this is just old bread," was Kurt’s remark.
"Do not complain. You are lucky you are still alive. You are Chosen." replied Sarok, and he added a severe look to his words.
"Enough with this bickering," said Mathis. "Eat and shut up!"
When everybody was seated and satisfied, the Priest started his speech:
"My name is Todunonza. I was borrrrrn about 937 standarrrrrrd yearrrrrs ago. I am an Uzitian. I think you haven't hearrrrd of ourrrr rrrrrace beforrrre?" Even Beli had to admit that he hadn't.
"Long ago, I became the High Prrrriest of this Krrrrath temple. Once this planet had a nice, soft and pleasant climate. This temple was crrrrowded with people, most of them humans, like you. But the prrrrroblems began when the Jedi discoverrrred ourrr sanctuarrry. This temple had been shielded forrr the rrrrest of the galaxy forrrrr too long. Ourrrrr memberrrrrs had become decadent. When the Jedi attacked to destrrrroy our base, the firrrrst thing that was hit was the powerrrr generrrrrratorrrrrrr. As you prrrrrobably know this is a small planet, and when the generrratorrrr was destroyed, a huge catastrrrrofy happened to the climate. Most of the atmospherrrre was blown away and the rrrrrest simply leaked away frrom the planet. All natural life died because of the lack of air. The temple had some oxygen supplies, but this wasn't enough... About 2 months laterrrr, all human life, and some aliens had disappearrrred. At exactly that moment, the currrrsed Jedi attacked, and destrrrrrroyed the imporrrrtant arrrrrtifacts, which were storrrrred in this sanctuarrrrry. Only a few perrrrrsons could escape, including me and my cook -you have seen him lately. He speaks some ancient forrrm of basic, but you can underrrrstand him in some norrrmal converrrrsation. All others, except me and Derrrruty, have died in the last years because of naturrrrrrral causes, which means age. When the Jedi left therrre wasn't much left of ourrrrr beloved home. We send out a scout ship, to searrrch forrrr humans, who could help us. That was the ship you saw on your scopes. And now we come to the point. I will now tell you why I have brrrought you here..."
Mathis looked contemptously
upon the dotering old fool. This imbecile was
obviously suffering from a serious case of senility! Mathis pointed his finger
and said "You will not dictate to me old man. Let me tell you why I have
come here looking for you! Quite bluntly and straight to the
point. I don’t believe your story for a minute. I want the truth, I want
you to reveal to me the knowledge contained in that decrepit skull of
yours....I want to know where you have hidden the rest of these artifacts and holocrons....and then I want you to swear allegiance to
Mathis walked straight up to the astounded old priest and barely inches away from his face Mathis shouted, "Failure to comply with my demands will result in the complete and utter destruction of you...your damned cook and this Force forsaken place! How do you like that, old man?"
The old Krath priest simply opened and closed his mouth in shock. Kurt turned to the others saying, "Well that's what ya get when you don't feed me properly."
With that the Dark Jedi drew their sabers and awaited the reply of the “Krath” priest.
* * *
The late morning sun was
almost directly overhead Palace Ravenspyre. High flying cirrus clouds made
wisps across the blue sky.
Quaestor Xar Kerensky stood on one of Palace Ravenspyre's topmost balconies and gazed around at the recent repairs made to the palace's outside structure and surrounding grounds. The construction teams had done a good job; in fact, one could hardly tell any damage had ever been done. How easy, he thought, it was to repair the physical damage. But the mental effects would remain much longer. Lives had changed, people had died. Some of the members tried to cover the hurt with an outward cheerfulness, or busying themselves in their work. But Xar had had enough of suppressing emotions. He himself was still trying to sort through all the confusion. In the past few weeks he had had to question what he was fighting for, and why he was where he was. Amazing how a little knowledge could shake someone. But now he was free from Runis' bonds, bonds he had not even been aware the dead man held on him. Dasok Krun, the man who had destroyed his family, was dead. For once, perhaps the first time in his life, he felt free.
In the ensuing weeks since his battle with Krun, Xar had, in a way, had to learn to use the Force all over again. Using a power still considered lost and outlawed millennia ago, in a moment of anger and desire for revenge he had reached out and grabbed hold of the man’s very spirit in the Force. Drawing that power into himself, he had absorbed the man’s Force Energy in a way that would give him some of the man’s power, and maybe some of Krun, as well.
At first, he had noticed nothing special. Then, he had felt his Force Sensitivity level beginning to rise, and before he knew it he was using too much power to accomplish once normal tasks. Trying to use the same amount of Force as always, he was unused to his new strength and quite a few dangerous mistakes had ensued. Trying to float a cup of water to his hand had ended up crushing the thing into a ball, and lifting heavy objects to move them had resulted in them flying much farther than expected. He had jumped too high by accident and sprained an ankle on the way down. Even his sensitivity to beings around him had increased. As a result, he’d gone back to the basics, as his master had once taught him, to adapt his skills to his newfound power. Now he had a grip on things, though he continued to grow in strength, and he did not know when it might end.
And now Novitaar was telling him unbelievable things again, about a secret contained in a document that would change their lives forever. Why us? Xar wondered. Why hadn’t anyone else heard about this before?
There was also the matter of their mysterious visitor. Xar had not heard from the team in almost thirty hours. The frustration was mounting, and Xar was seriously considering sending another search party after them. However, with most of his command staff part of the missing expedition, he would be hard pressed to find others to send without decreasing Ravenspyre's ability to be run properly.
Suddenly he sensed, more than heard, someone approach behind him.
"Sir, it’s Draken Ar'Kell." said an envoy's voice behind him.
Xar turned to the messenger, the man Mathis had told him about, one of the newest recruits to the house. After that, he had decided to keep Draken close, to see what he could glean from him. "Yes?"
"Sir, Lord Misnera has arrived. You asked to be notified."
Xar's face brightened. "Ah yes! Thank you very much. The main landing pad?"
"Excellent." Xar turned to go, then turned back. "Send a message to Professor Archaron. Tell him to meet me in the Golden Hall."
"As you command." Briskly the envoy turned and began a quick stride to the turbolift. Xar turned to follow.
Xar made it to the landing
pad just as the shuttle's boarding ramp swung down. Standing midway between the
shuttle and the entrance doors, he watched a robed figure descend the ramp.
With a motion of Xar's wrist, two assistants began following him as he strode
towards the shuttle. As the two men neared one another, the robed man tossed
back his hood and smiled. Xar quickly strode up to his old Daleth
Squadron mate. "Vamp! Good to see you! I trust
you had a pleasant journey?"
Alyx Misnera stopped and clasped Xar's hand. Of a similar height with Xar and brown-haired, his eyes had the look of loss and determination that natives of Xar’s home planet of Varnus often had.
"Hello, Xar. Very pleasant. And great to see you again, after all this time. Beautiful world you have here, if a bit muggy."
"We prefer to think so," Xar said, smiling. Instantly he felt better with the man around. Their history together went way back. Thirteen years Xar’s elder, he had been in the Royal Palace Guard on Varnus, and had been assigned to Xar as a bodyguard during his teenage years, before the attacks. He’d thought Misnera had died in the battle, but years later, after Xar left Grand Admiral Thrawn’s expeditionary fleet and returned to the known galaxy, he and “Vamp” had been assigned to the same Daleth Squadron in the Remnant Empire, in Minos Cluster. Now they were both members of the Brotherhood, and nothing had made Xar happier to learn that his former bodyguard would be transferring to House Ar’Kell as a staff member.
"It truly is good to have you with us,” he said. “May my servants get your things and bring them to the palace?"
"Of course, I am grateful." As the servants moved towards the shuttle, Alyx gestured around at the massive edifice before him. "Most impressive. A beautiful work of architecture. It truly seems hundreds or even thousands of years old."
Xar nodded. "That was the goal in designing it. So, how have things been?"
"Pretty well, for the most part. You of course know Commander Qiliang came back out of retirement. That makes three of us old Daleth members around. Boy, things were so simple then. Out there, you just have your and your squad mates' lives to worry about, and the success of the mission. Now, it's us who determine who does what."
"Yes. I heard you were getting tired as Proconsul and Jedi advisor to the Fleet Admiral?"
"Well, I had been doing the job for months, and I really had nowhere else to go. What can you do next, when the Fleet Admiral is your boss?" Alyx chuckled.
"Yes," Xar agreed, smiling. "Well, I am very glad you decided to come here with us. We need an influx of strong Jedi very badly. I believe you will find it a refreshing change in Ar’Kell, though."
"I’m sure, Xar." As the servants passed them on their way to the palace, the shuttle behind them started to rise on its repulsorlifts. "Well, enough keeping you waiting out here," Xar said. "Come on inside, and I will show you around.”
Xar and Alyx entered the main hall of Ravenspyre, as the servants took the latter's luggage to the nearest turbolift. Alyx looked up and around, remarking on the beautiful artwork and the renowned Golden Hall. Xar led his friend to the center of the hall, where the Ar'Kell Professor, Krath Priest Vynd “Delta 1” Archaron, was waiting for them.
"Alyx, I want you to meet Vynd Archaron, the Professor of the Ar'Kell Academy. Vynd, this is Alyx Misnera, also known by his old callsign, Vamp."
The two men shook hands, and Alyx said, "Nice to make your acquaintance. I heard something about that. You used to be in the Sith Order, right?"
Vynd nodded. "That's right. But certain, shall we say, discoveries, while I was closed up in the Academy changed by mind. Besides, I seem to have lost my piloting skills and reflexes. Let's just say it's a disadvantage of getting close to some of Frigg's - indigenous species." Vynd had vanished in the Ar’Kell Academy, which had been renovated from an ancient temple out in the Friggian jungle, for several weeks, then came back claiming he wanted to devote his time to studying more than war. Xar wondered how else he had changed, in there.
"How unfortunate,” Alyx offered. “I rarely get out nowadays, either."
"I regret I could not introduce you to the rest of my staff," said Xar apologetically, "but they are occupied elsewhere, on a mission."
"Well, I'm sure I can meet them upon their return."
"Good. Well, I must see to the construction teams now. They just finished some new installations to our facilities, and need to be coordinated on their way off-world. Would you care to dine with us tonight? Say, about nineteen hundred? That will give you enough time to get settled into your quarters. Please, feel free to explore as much of the Palace as you like, except the areas sealed off from all these civilians and workers that are around right now."
Alyx nodded. "Sounds great, I will be there."
"Good, then I will tour you around the palace, and we shall talk of old times."
"I would very much like that."
"Excellent. I shall see you then. Now, if you will excuse me..." Xar turned to an envoy standing in the corner.
"Please see Lord Misnera to his rooms. Extend him full courtesy. Alyx, make yourself as home here. I think you are going to enjoy staying here with us..."
The three men left, each going their own way.
Later, Xar stepped into the secret treasure chamber in the innermost part of the secured area of Ravenspyre. Passing by various boxes of artifacts and treasures, he made his way to the central stand in the room, and gazed at the fabled Scepter of Karanishma. He just wanted a look, wanted to know if what Icis said was true. After being long lost for centuries, it had been found deep below the palace. How it had gotten on Frigg, he had no idea. Reaching out to the scepter, his hand closed around the staff that the Star of Karanishma stood upon. Waves of pure Force flowed through him, and it was as though his mind opened into the rest of the galaxy. He saw glimpses of the past, present, and possible futures, things that might have been, things that might yet be. But they were unclear images passing through his mind, like viewing events through a milky glass. He couldn’t make out any details. Then suddenly what he was looking for came to him, and an image of the Grand Master of the Dark Brotherhood, Justinian Khyron, dressed in all his pomp and splendor, surrounded by a circle of his dark advisors. He watched as the Grand Master’s lips moved, and words came to his ears, words that spoke of Ar’Kell as a threat, as a wild force that needed to be controlled, that needed to be whittled down. Words that Xar could scarcely believe. They were enough. Xar pulled back before the Grand Master could notice his presence – the Scepter had more powers than he was aware of – but in the shock of it, he lost control. Blackness came rushing at him.
Hours later Xar woke up, released his grip, and got up, striding silently out of the treasury with new purpose in his step.
* * *
The Krath priest's laugh was unlike anything the Ar’Kell team had heard before. It simply shivered their skin.
"Put down yourrrr weapons fools!" hissed the Krath, "They arrre useless against me!"
With a speed borne of years of training, Iver had reached the side of the Krath and brought his saber down directly onto the Krath's head. What happened next was unbelievable. There was a blinding flash of light and when vision was restored, Iver was lying on the floor halfway across the room, unconscious but seemingly unhurt.
"I have no intention to hurrrrt any of you... but do not test my patience again..."
Seeing Iver down forced Mathis to reassess the situation. Obviously this old fool was no pushover. He possessed power that Mathis very rarely saw used except among the old Jedi Masters. Time for a different approach.
"Well then, if I believe you, that you have no ill intentions towards us, what reason, if any, should we help you at all?"
"Haha... " chuckled the Krath, "have you no inkling of the powerrrr I possess? Have you not seen what happened to your comrrrrade? That powerrrr and morrrre could be yourrrrs if aid is grrrranted to me."
"Hey Mathis," whispered Kurt, "why don't we see what this old fool has to say? Who knows, it may benefit us."
Mathis nodded slightly as if in agreement. "Ok old one, speak your piece, we shall see what you want to get us into... "
While the Krath Priest was
about to begin his reply, Iver awoke with a groggy look on his face.
"Welcome back, Iver," said Mathis. "Hear what this old-timer has to say us.".
"At firrrst," began the alien, "I will show you my goodwill, and that I don't have any harrrd feeling towarrrds you. Follow me."
The Priest started for some corridor, and the others followed him.
They passed some huge deep canyons, and the Krath started his speech again. "This is one of the verrry deep canyons, forrrmed when the evil Jedi attacked and ruined this place. Do not underrrrestimate the depth of this abyss, it nearrly rreaches the innerrrrrr corrrrre of this planet, and..."
"Quit the lecture, old fool," said Iver.
Then they entered a small room. The room was filled to the roof with books, bookrolls, datatapes, everything you could imagine.
"Therre," began the priest again. "does this satisfy you?" he added with an evil grin.
The teams’ faces began to glow with greed.
"Leave us alone to discuss this," said Mathis.
The Jedi retreated into one of the corners of the room and they started to whisper to each other. After a couple of minutes, they joined the Krath Priest again. "We'll do it." said Iver. "Lead us back."
The Jedi and the priest emerged again from the library and walked next to one of the huge canyons. Suddenly Kurt gave the Priest a push, and the priest fell down the incredibly deep abyss.
They all heard the last, hate-filled scream of the priest, "Noooooooooooooo, trrrrrraitorrrrrrrrsssssssssssss!!!!!" and then it became quiet.
”Kurt? What did you just kriffing do?!” Iver blurted. “W agreed to tie him up somewhere privately!”
"Forget that! Ruuuun!" shouted Mathis. Not a moment to early. They had just entered the safety of the library as a Force-storm blow from the canyon. It tore everything that was not attached to the path with it.
"Feeeeww," said Kurt. "At least we got rid of that pathetic old fool. Now let's find this cook, as we agreed."
”I didn’t tell you to kill him,” Mathis said, his eyes narrowing. “What were you thinking, acting on your own like that? You just murdered him.”
”He was an enemy, Mathis. You knew as well as I did he had no intentions of peace with us. This was our best opportunity.”
”Even so,” Iver said, “You will never do that kind of thing again without permission.”
”I understand,” Kurt said.
”This place is affecting all of us strangely,” Mathis mused. It irked him that Kurt had disposed of the priest in such a cowardly manner, but that was how he’d been trained, after all. And it wasn’t his place to make the final call. “Come on, let’s find the others,” he said.
The Jedi had been walking through the endless corridors for some time. At a sudden moment, they all stopped.
"You'll have to agree that you're lost, Mathis." said Iver.
"I'm not..." started Mathis, but there came a sudden end to his reply as he saw something on the wall. "Look there! That looks like a map to me!"
"It is a map," said Zysfryar, who was the closest to it.
They all studied the map for some time.
"So here's the library, and here's the kitchen, if I all understand it well," said Beli after some time. "We should better take a picture of it." and he did as he told. "Okay. I have studied it enough. It only shows part of the temple so we still have to follow our first plan." replied Mathis. "I memorized the way to the kitchen, so follow me."
When they finally reached the kitchen, they found an astonished cook standing in front of the door.
"Right," said Mathis. "We were looking for you."
Before the unlucky creature could say a word, they had already pushed him into a chair.
"You're going to tell us the exact location of the exit of this place. I warn you, it should be close to our ship. Don't think about aid from your miserable master, cause he's dead." said Mathis. "If you keep your silence, or if you have lied to us, you're dead too, understood?" He’d had to adapt his plan to account for Kurt’s rash actions.
The only thing the creature could do was nod. Then after some silence it gathered its courage and said: "Doest thou hast a map?"
"Right here," said Beli, and he gave his picture to the creature.
"It beath very easy," continued the cook. "Thou shouldst just follow this
corridor to the end and thou whilst see thy ship."
"Okay. Beware, if you lied to us, you're dead." said Mathis, and he locked the creature up into some of its storage lockers.
Then he turned to his companions and said: "This is good. The exit isn't far away from the library. We can just get one of the repulsor units to carry the books, and we might get out of this creepy place in about two hours. If we hurry..."
"What if we encounter that monster again?" asked Sarok.
"We'll see to that if we meet it." said Mathis. "Hey, what's happened to your eyes? They look normal again."
"I don't know. I feel so strange, so normal." replied Sarok.
"So, let's get moving!" shouted Mathis.
Sarok grunted as he and Iver loaded one of the last crates
onto the repulsor sled. The Jedi had luckily found some fold-out boxes that had
been undamaged from age. In them they had piles the books, scrolls, and ancient
datapads, along with the artifacts that had been
"Boy," said Iver. "All this ancient information. This stuff could be the greatest discovery since the refounding of the Dark Brotherhood. I mean, this will put Ar'Kell at the forefront of the Brotherhood."
"Yeah," sighed Sarok, breathing heavily. "But these artifacts sure are heavy."
"Yes, but I could hear Xar now if we left them behind. Hey, you all right? You look kind of pale."
"I'm all right."
"Hey, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten you to do this after that hit you took. Why don't you take this sled up to the exit? Beli's up that way. We'll take care of the rest. You'll need your strength for the haul from the exit to the shuttle. It should be a good kilometer without atmosphere, and we only have a little air left."
"Yeah, I think I'll do that. Thanks."
Iver started over toward the next pile as Sarok began pushing the sled up the corridor.
Sarok made his way through the kitchen and approached the
locked cellar door.
The voices, so many voices.
Walking up to the door, he placed his hand on the handle, and turned. Ever so slowly the handle turned, then with a sudden click the door started open. As the door swung open Sarok could see a line of light, ever widening, the gap increasing. Finally the door swung all the way open, and Sarok was bathed in illumination. The light swelled, filling his vision, then suddenly the world vanished in blackness.
"Okay, that's the last of the books," Iver
"Great," replied Mathis. "Where's Sarok? It's time to go."
"I sent him on up to the exit with Beli."
Mathis pulled out his commlink and called Beli's frequency. "Beli, do you read me?"
"Yeah, Mathis, I hear you."
"We're finished down here, about to bring the last shipment with us. We need that repulsor sled. Is Sarok there with you?"
"Huh? Sarok? No, I haven't seen him in an hour."
"What?!" He turned to Iver. "Hey, call Sarok!"
Iver lifted his commlink to his ear, and a moment later shook his head. "No answer. His commlink's off."
"Why would he turn off his commlink? Oh, stang... We've gotta find him! If he passed out again, or got lost...
Hey Beli, work you way this way. Look for Sarok, We'll meet midway."
The two teams met at the halfway point.
Interestingly, that also happened to be the crossroads for the original room
they came from. "Well," said Mathis. "He's not back our way, or
your way. That only leaves two ways. Either back towards the kitchen, or in one
of the side corridors. Now I hope he had more sense than to wander off, and he
knew the way back to the exit, and that makes me not like the
The group of Jedi rushed into the kitchen, to find Sarok lying unconscious on the floor. And one by one their eyes rose to the cellar door, which stood wide open, revealing a bloody mess of meat strewn around the room.
"It's melted all of them!" remarked Omega.
"Forget that," said Beli. "The cook is gone! Where did he get off to?"
"Worry about that later," replied Mathis. "Check Sarok's condition."
Iver moved to where Sarok was lying face down. He knelt down at his head, checking for Sarok's breathing. Then he carefully rolled Sarok over onto his back. "He's alive. Unconscious, but breathing normally. I suggest someone stay here with him while the rest of us find that cook. He must be responsible for this."
Mathis nodded. "Agreed. Anyone want to volunteer? Well then, Kurt can watch him. Zysfryar can help. All right, let's move out."
The group of five Jedi ran out of the kitchen toward
the main hall. Mathis stopped at the crossroad and addressed the others.
"Okay, men. We'll split in two groups. This guy can't have gotten far. He
may have taken one of the side passages, so don't get lost. I'll take Omega
with me. The rest of you..." He was cut off as a high pitched whine broke
the silence around them, growing louder and louder. The men looked at each
other, and suddenly it dawned on them.
"The ship!" they shouted in unison.
Then a low roar grew to complement the whine, and the Jedi stumbled into the main chamber just in time to see the alien ship rise into the air, a glowing light surrounding it. The ship stopped just before its fin-like panels touched the ceiling. The roar of its seemingly nonexistent engines grew to a deafening level, and the ship was surrounded in a shroud of light. The light, which had the form of the ship, suddenly shrank into a glowing ball of pure light, brighter than a star, growing smaller and brighter, until it vanished, and a shockwave of light pulsed out, and then the room was silent. The ship was gone.
Mathis turned to his companions. "What in the Maw was that?"
"I have the feeling we had better get back to the exit now," said Iver.
Sarok had barely regained consciousness, and Kurt was
carrying him over his shoulder as he ran toward the exit. All around him he
could hear a warning klaxon, and a strange alien voice speaking in the
background. He and Zysfryar reached the exit doors to
find the other Jedi busy putting on their cold suits. Less than half the boxes
were piled nearby, and the repulsor sled was nowhere to be seen. Kurt set Sarok on his feet. He was a little unsteady, but assured
Kurt he was all right.
"Hey! Get into your suit," said Mathis. "That alien ship took off, and I got a feeling this place didn't like that!"
"What about all the other boxes?"
"We’ve gotta leave them, now hurry, I'm about to open the doors!"
As soon as the party was suited up Mathis and Iver
pushed open the doors, and all the atmosphere in the
cavern rushed outside into the cold. They managed to hold the crates from being
sucked out, which were sealed airtight. The group of Jedi rushed out onto the
surface, running towards where the shuttle was waiting.
Fortunately this exit had let them out above the giant crevice. Kurt and Zysfryar were each holding one of Sarok's arms up, helping him along at a slower pace. As Mathis reached the top of a rise, he could see the rift on his left, and the shuttle sitting near the edge, exactly where they had left it. He sighed a breath of relief, one that caught in his throat as he glanced up at the sky. A small speck of light was moving towards him, which grew into the dreadful shape of the alien craft that had blasted out of the main chamber. The craft flew in low, over Mathis’ head without a sound, and onward towards the shuttle. As it approached, a beam of purple and red energy shot out from the front of the craft, hitting the surface in front of the shuttle. As the alien ship flew over the ship, the beam drew a line across the ice and cut right through the shuttle. Energy sparks coursed across the shuttle, and as the beam passed through the other side, the shuttle opened, split entirely in two by the beam of energy, and exploded into thousands of pieces. The beam vanished and the alien ship pulled up into the sky, and without warning shot into space faster than the eye could follow. The Jedi looked in horror at what had happened before them. Their chance of escape had been destroyed, and there had been nothing they could do to stop it from happening.
"This is bad," remarked Omega.
"Well! Thanks for telling us! I had no idea!" yelled Beli. He looked at Mathis. "Now what do we do?!"
"Calm down Beli. Iver, you still got that transmitter?"
"Yeah, sure. Ah, I get it. The Platform Haven, right?:
"Indeed. In fact, you can almost see it above us, blinking in the night."
Iver handed his transponder to Mathis, who set it in the ground and activated it. "In the rift, our signal could not get out, but here in the open it should reach them."
"Great," remarked Kurt. Now all we have to worry about is running out of air before they reach us, and starving to death."
Suddenly the ground beneath them started shaking. The men, in their bulky suits, were thrown to the ground, struggling to get up. "An earthquake?" yelled Omega.
"I don't think so," replied Iver. Turning to Kurt, he said, "You were saying about worries?"
The M/PLT Haven received the distress signal, and
sent another shuttle to retrieve the stranded Jedi. Using a spare repulsor sled
that had happened to be on board, the men loaded the remaining crates near the
exit into the shuttle and lifted off. Less than an hour had passed.
"Palace Ravenspyre called ahead," said the shuttle pilot after they were on their way. "They said to bring you here the minute we picked you up. You guys owe us one."
"Tell me about it," said Iver, who had accompanied Mathis to the cockpit.
"Well, the amount of knowledge we have discovered here should more than make up for it. All we have to do is send another team down to retrieve the rest.”
"Captain!" The copilot turned around, his eyes alert. “The Haven has issued a broad band alert! There are tremendous power readings coming from the surface of Loki!"
"What? Where from?"
"Almost the exact same spot we picked up these guys! Inside that huge fissure, but the readings come from as deep down as the planet's core!"
The shuttle's pilot turned to their Mathis and Iver. "Is there something you forgot to tell us about that place down there?"
"Sir! Sir! Oh, by the Emperor's grave, what’s that?!"
All four heads turned toward the planet below them. The fissure they had come from began glowing inside, like a pulsating bolt of lightning out of the darkness. Then, an enormous shockwave sped across the surface, moving away from the rift with incredible speed. Then a huge beam of energy shot out from the rift, five miles wide and extending into space. The beam blinded everyone before the shuttle's automatic light sensors shut the viewpanels down.
The shuttle seemed like a tiny speck next to the massive beam erupting from the surface of Loki. Nearby, the Platform Haven, while not hit by the beam, was bathed in celestial light. An ionic surge swept out from the beam like lightning, temporarily cutting off all power to the Platform and the shuttle. By the time the systems came back online, everyone was staring at the incredible sight projecting from Loki's surface. The beam was still shooting steadily into the void of space, of a purpose none who saw it could dare guess.
* * *
Kurt pushed himself up off the floor, a drop of blood
falling from his chin to the stone below. Rising, he looked up just in time for
Xar's fist to hit him again, knocking him onto his back from the force of the
"You stupid idiots! What did you think you were doing? Fools! Do you have any idea what you have done? What knowledge that priest could have given us! Instead you killed the poor wretch, and angered a powerful being who had control of an entire planet!"
Mathis walked up from behind and put a hand on Xar's shoulder. He couldn’t stand to see Kurt being beaten further. "Xar, let me take responsibility. We decided to take care of them one way or another. Kurt just followed it out.” He thought a moment. “We were following the Sith way."
Xar's gaze met with Mathis’. "Maybe the Sith way is not our way. That situation called for the utmost care and diplomacy, and you blundered through it like idiots. I feel that we just made a wrong turn in our path, and there may be no going back now.” He turned to the gathered team members, covered in dirt and grime from the past several days in the caves. “In any case, go clean up and get some rest. We will meet at sixteen hundred for debriefing and to study what you did manage to bring back. Hopefully there will be enough to appease the Council of their wrath over this mess. That is all, gentlemen. I will see you later.”
The men started to dismiss, then Xar caught Mathis’ arm. “I need to speak with you privately,” he said.
Mathis nodded, and followed the Quaestor through the winding corridors of the palace to his office.
They moved into the wide office, and as the doors swung closed behind them, the lighting came on to full, and Mathis gasped in shock at the tall, dark-clad figure standing in the middle of the room. He hadn’t even noticed the man’s presence in the Force! “What the blazes…” he began.
”Relax, Mathis.” Xar raised a hand toward him. “I am sorry I did not warn you before. There are things you should know.”
Xar gestured to the pale-skinned human in front of them. “This is… Icis, the man who saved my life some time ago. He also goes by another name: the Traveler.”
Rex bowed his head toward the former Quaestor. “Mathis Organa, cousin to Princess Leia Organa Solo,” he said. Mathis blinked. How did he know who he was? And that last name… his cousin was married now?
”Who are you?” Mathis asked.
”I am one of many Travelers,” the man said, no particular emotion showing on his pale face. “We have traveled throughout the universe, through thousands of years, recording the most important events in history. I traveled long and hard years, but I believe I have found what I’ve been looking for.”
Mathis sneered in disbelief, and glanced at Xar. “Funny joke, Xar. You always do have a strange sense of humor. Where’s the punch line?”
Instead, it was Icis who spoke. “I understand you are looking for the Elfodd Contingency.” he said. It wasn’t a question.
Mathis looked back to the visitor, eyes widening. “How did you know…”
”That is what you meant before, is it not?” Xar spoke.
Mathis considered. He had never told Xar the name of what he was searching for. “What is the Elfodd Contingency?” he asked, staring at the tall man.
”I cannot say at this time,” Icis replied. “But I will help you find it.”
”And why should I trust you?” Mathis retorted.
This time Xar spoke up. “Mathis, there are more pressing events at hand. Icis has revealed a terrible secret: The Dark Council is behind the attack on Ravenspyre.”
”What? Now that is ridiculous!” Mathis stared at Xar in shock. Had he gone mad?
From within his cloak, the tall man produced a datachip. “I believe you’ll find this most enlightening,” he told Mathis. “In the meantime, I suggest you begin preparing to leave Frigg, if you want to live longer in this life.”
Mathis looked askance at Xar. “Is this for real?”
”I am afraid so,” Xar said. “I am making preparations already.”
* * *
Three weeks later
glad you agreed to meet me on such short notice, Master Chandel”
Xar said, bowing to the dark-robed figures in front of him.
”It is our honor,” said Grand Master Lei Chandel, Grand Master of the Society of Shadows. “And may I present my Deputy, Dark Jedi Master Kerdan, and also my Master at Arms, Dark Adept ‘Osiris’.”
The gray bearded Kerdan and almond-eyed Osiris bowed in respect, and Xar matched their gesture equally.
Chandel continued to address him. “I believe you will find Erebria a pleasant alternative for your asylum from the Dark Brotherhood.” He gestured up at the sky, a deep blue that was offset by a haze of purple from the majestic Galbagos Nebula behind it. It was beautiful.
”Actually, as you know my homeworld of Varnus is not far from here,” Xar said. “I intend to make our new base there.”
”Ah. All the better,” Chandel said nonchalantly. “At any rate, Ar’Kell will be most welcome with us in the New Imperium. Your friends at Phoenix Technologies have already made themselves at home.”
”I am grateful,” Xar said, studying the man. He didn’t know Chandel that well, but after their fateful discovery of the Dark Council’s treachery, he’d had little choice but to seek out other factions nonaffiliated with the Imperial Remnant, and the Dark Brotherhood. Factions far, far away from Minos Cluster, in fact. He had found a friend, someone he’d known during his Imperial service, named Admiral Arfann Dogar, who had once led an Imperial fleet using captured Rebel ships called the Intruder Wing, from X-Wings to Mon Cal Star Cruisers. Dogar had seceded from the Empire after word of Thrawn’s defeat, and it was quite fortunate for Xar and Ar’Kell they had decided to settle in Epsilon Sector, in the fertile Erebria System, only light years from Xar’s home world. They had been the group who began the still-ragtag group of organizations comprising the New Imperium, and were now developing the sector into a save haven to live in. A little searching by Xar had found the new Intruder Wing, along with a small group of Jedi descended from the once Grand Master Crona, a traitor to the Brotherhood many years before. His successor, Chandel, had led an ever shrinking group of Jedi and was in dire need of members, as well as guidance. The Society of Shadows, as they called themselves, worked in secret, just as they said, hiding from the dangers of both the Dark Brotherhood and Luke Skywalker’s revived
Upon arriving at Erebria, Xar had found that not only had Chandel and Dogar joined forces, but a number of other fleets disillusioned with the old Empire that had assembled in Epsilon Sector, as well, including various corporations like Phoenix Tech. Now Xar found himself part of a much larger movement, and he could see an entire alliance coming together before his own eyes. And it looks like Ar’Kell is joining the growing list of renegades, he thought half-cynically.
Now, more and more forces were starting to assemble in Epsilon Sector, and adding to the ranks of the New Imperium. Already the groups were forming an organized seat of government to go with it. And once again, it seemed Xar’s knack for diplomacy was going to be called on, to bring the stragglers together into something resembling unity. Doger’s Intruder Wing, Chandel’s Society, Walt Amason’s Phoenix Corp, and Admiral Ryskar D’larit’s Strike Fleet were in the running already. This was going to be big.
”I will bring Ar’Kell here within the month,” Xar said. “Can your men be ready to transfer to Varnus, along with the others?”
”We will manage,” Chandel said. “And as Admiral Dogar said, I’m sure the Intruder Wing will be ready to give House Ar’Kell a welcome reception as well. We are looking forward to new days of prosperity, under your leadership.”
Xar nodded and grinned. There was one more condition Chandel had given Xar when Dogar had introduced them. Xar was to be the leader of the new, combined forces of House Ar’Kell and the Society of Shadows. And just as before, Xar was about to be promoted to lead a larger group of Jedi, and somehow he felt like a stranded shipwreck survivor on the river of destiny, being gradually swept into bigger and larger places until finally he reached… something much grander, and outside his control.
Xar took a breath before he spoke. He knew there would be no going back, now. “If I am to lead a Jedi Order, then I will need to have a rank accordingly.” He looked across at Chandel. “Only one Grand Master can appoint another.”
Chandel’s glanced sideways at Osiris. “I expected this,” he said. “Very well, but know that I do not care for pomp and splendor. It will be simple. Kneel.”
Xar obeyed, and he looked up as Chandel drew his lightsaber and ignited it with a red burst of light and a snap-hiss. The blade settled over Xar’s right shoulder as Chandel spoke.
”I hereby bestow upon you the rank of Jedi Master, and give you control of the Society of Shadows. A more formal ceremony will have to wait, but I assure you, my word is binding. It is done.” The red blade vanished.
”I accept,” Xar said, feeling a new sense of strength and responsibility settle into him. He was a Jedi Master, now. Whether or not he was as strong or knowledgeable yet as other Masters was irrelevant. He stood.
”When you return to the planet Frigg,” Chandel continued, “do what you feel necessary to bring your Jedi here. We will be ready.”
Xar nodded. “And so this begins,” he said heavily.
Chandel smiled. “Congratulations, Grand Master.”
* * *
The End of
An Unexpected Visitor
Next: The Flight of Ar’Kell
Copyright New Imperium 2006
Compiled by Joshua Ausley