NI Run-on Story 2




The Search for Kurt

This story is dedicated to the former Warden, Kurt.

 He was one of the Founders of the original House Ar’Kell, the oldest Jedi House.


Chapter One: The Journey Begins



0900 hours


       Personal mission log one-o-four,” Lieutenant Pahn Kreggs spoke into the hand-held voice recorder. “After nearly a month of searching, we’ve finally tracked the Warden and his team to the planet Kyshran, just inside the Unknown Regions. During the past five days we’ve followed Jedi Adept Kurt’s trail through several dummy systems. Looks like the Grand Master was right, because the starmap we were provided with wasn’t nearly accurate. At any rate, we set down not too far from the Warden’s ship. It’s been powered down, it obviously hasn’t been used in a while, and there are no signs of tampering.”

Kreggs paused for a second, stopping the recording. He shook his head. He’d never understood what the big deal was with the Jedi and their passion for antiquities. Thousands or even millions of credits spent looking for ancient relics and artifacts; dwelling in the past. What a waste of time. ‘Live for now, look to the future’ was Kreggs’ motto. Of course, the pay he was getting was great, but on missions like this… Well, on missions like this he had to reconsider his application to the Centurions. The time and effort they had expended searching for these people had been taking its toll of his men. And this place was giving him the creeps. But now they were finally here. And, he had to admit: the place was impressive.

 He glanced around his surroundings. He was standing in a dark hallway, about ten meters wide and thirty meters long. The light from the glowrods he and his men held shone on the dark stone walls, reflected off the archaic-looking script written all over them. Strangely enough, the place seemed to absorb some of the light somehow, dimming the overall view of the interior. He couldn’t quite see the ceiling overhead, but the way the walls began to arch hinted that it came to a point just beyond his line of vision. The polished black floor didn’t reflect the light well, either.

Lined along the corridor on either side he could see black, three-meter-tall statues of some long-extinct creature. They all had four muscular limbs and a thin, fang-jawed face.  Tentacles of some sort extended from its head along its back, and its eyes seemed to glow in the light. Probably made of firestones, Pahn guessed. The creatures seemed familiar, somehow, though he didn’t remember specifically seeing one before. Maybe they were supposed to be the guardians of this place or whatnot… But Kreggs didn’t really care; the statues only held his attention for a moment.

 “So…” Kreggs heard Officer Ralv speak from up ahead. “This is the last untouched Sith Temple, unexplored for millennia? I expected… more.”

 “Well, what did you expect?” the low, drawling voice of Officer Jothin sounded from behind. “Everything nowadays is over-dramatized, made to look a whole lot more flashy that it really is. Why should they have done things any differently five thousand years ago?” He chuckled jovially. “Why, I remember when…”

 “Save it for later,” Kreggs broke in, glancing at his companions. “We’re here to do a job. As soon as we find out what happened to those poor souls who came here before us, we can get our tails out of here and back to Varnus.” He turned to look back at the entrance, thumbing the recorder back on. “We found an entrance here disguised into the side of this mountain.  We also found the obvious remains of a camp just outside the entrance. Almost certainly where Kurt and his men stayed before heading in.” He could make out the light brown of the dirt outside, where they’d found numerous tracks, bits of food, and other evidence of a party’s camping nearby. “The camp is old, though, over a month old. No disturbance of the campsite though, and no other tracks, so we can safely assume nobody’s been here since then. We’ve entered the temple and are about to proceed into the interior. Will log again when we find something interesting, or maybe the lack thereof.” He sighed. “I hope the message we sent to Varnus before heading in got through… If not, and something happens… Well, we’ll be stranded here for quite a while. Jothin brought a dejarik board. Kreggs out.” He shut off the device and clipped it to his belt, hearing Jothin chuckle behind him. Then, holding his glowrod over his head, he nodded to his four companions. “Well, let’s get on with it. Ralv… You take the lead; I’ll cover you. The rest of you hang back behind us. If you find anything worthwhile, give me a yell.” He waited for the nods of his subordinates, then clipped the small glowrod to his shoulder latch and pulled out his blaster carbine. He hoped there wouldn’t be any need for them, but there wasn’t any telling what had taken Kurt and his companions down there… Maybe just old traps set by the builders to protect from grave robbers, maybe something worse. Shaking his head again, he started forward.


They’d gone down two flights of stairs, and were now heading in the same general direction the first room had taken. The winding corridors seemed to turn and descend arbitrarily, without reason or cause. Now the glowrods they held up provided the only source of light. Even that seemed repressed here, much more that in the outer room. Kreggs had let Ralv walk ahead about five meters, in a scouting position; the other officers followed a short distance behind. As they ventured farther into the recesses of the temple, he felt more and more repressed. He didn’t like this, not at all. His men were clearly getting uneasy, and he wasn’t far off, himself. Instead of the tall beast statues, the corridors were lined with columns that connected floor to ceiling. All across the stone pillars was more of that twisting, violent-looking script, which he assumed to be Sith writing. He’d never actually seen if before now, though. His mind involuntarily wandered from one thing to another; try as he might, it was a little hard to concentrate on the task at hand. He wondered what the writing truly said, and if it hinted at what had happened to the Warden and his team. So far there hadn’t been a trace of them anywhere. He’d hoped they wouldn’t have to go too far inside to find their goal, but that obviously wasn’t going to be the case.

They were traveling down another typical looking hallway when suddenly Ralv paused in front of him. Up ahead the corridor made another sharp, right-hand turn and went out of view. Bending down on one knee, Ralv seemed to be studying something on the ground.

 Kreggs strode up to where Ralv was kneeling. “Find something?”

 Ralv glanced up at his commander. “Yes sir. It’s strange… What do you make of it?”

 Kreggs knelt down to see what had caught the officer’s attention. Scattered across the normally pristine floor were small flecks of white. There was a slight crunch as his foot shifted on top of some of them. His brow furrowed.

 “What’d you see, Pahn?” Jothin asked from behind.

 Kreggs stood back up and turned to the rest of his companions. Normally it wouldn’t matter, but here… “They uh… look like crumbs…”

  “Crumbs?” He snorted. “Who would be eating at a place like this?”

 Kreggs shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 “Sir, they keep going on… Looks like we might have a path to follow.” Turning from his officers, who were whispering among themselves, Kreggs looked up to where Ralv was racing around the corner ahead.

Ralv, wait…” Kreggs started forward toward the younger man.

 Ralv halted just at the edge of Kregg’s view. “Hold on a second. The crumbs… they’ve stopped.” Then suddenly his head jerked forward. “What the…!” his panicked cry broke off sharply, followed by a gut-wrenching scream as Ralv was jerked forward out of sight.

 Ralv!” Kreggs brought his blaster up and started forward, then he heard the soft pad of footsteps behind him. He spun around, hearing a gurgling noise, just in time to catch Jothin’s body slamming full-force into him with enough speed to knock him off his feet. Both men slammed onto the floor, knocking a blast of air out of Kreggs as the heavier man landed on top of him. He caught his breath, tried to push Jothin off of him, and caught sight of the man’s dead eyes. Desperately, Kreggs shoved the body off of him, blood having already saturated the front of his uniform. He tried to stand, slipped on something slick, and landed on his back again. Then his senses seemed to return, and his eyes focused ahead. He saw his other two companions ahead yelling at the top of their lungs and firing wildly around the room with their blasters in rapid-fire mode. The blasts lit the air around them and blew large flaming chunks of stone from the walls and columns. Kreggs couldn’t see what they were shooting at, but he caught their mood quickly enough. Rolling over and pushing himself up, he dashed forward, toward where his other companion - and friend - had disappeared.

 Ralv! Raaaalv!” He reached the corner, turned, and stopped dead, suppressing a sickening urge to vomit. A trail of blood went across the floor and around another corner, and more blood was splattered on the sides of the walls. He didn’t know where Ralv had gone, but he decided he certainly didn’t want to know.

His mind raced. Got to get out of here, he thought. Just gotta get out…

He turned around and launched himself back toward the other corridor in time to see Teneris slide across the floor and slam into one of the columns with a thud. Unable to tell whether the man was alive or not, and more concerned with saving his own life, he turned to head back down the main hallway – and froze. There it was. He had only a split second. His blaster came up, his finger already squeezing the trigger as hard as he could. His eyes grew huge, reflecting black pools of nothingness, and he screamed.


                                                *                                              *                                              *


 Varnus – two weeks later

 0400 hours


           Nico Flygras was right in the middle of a pleasant dream. He was standing in the Varnusan throne room, fully decorated with the royal court banners, draperies, and officers in ceremonial dress uniforms. He was standing at the end of a long, embroidered red carpet, just before the elaborate Varnusan throne. Around his shoulders was a beautiful purple robe, and he could feel the softness of his pure silk undergarments as they brushed against his skin. In a circle around him was the entire Jedi Council, dressed in huge gray cloaks with hoods, and the Grand Master himself was in front of him, reading off an aged piece of parchment. Then Xar Kerensky handed the paper to another Council member and pulled out a thick golden chain with the Jedi insignia elaborately done in the center. He reached up, placed the chain around Nico’s neck, and fastened the latch, smiling. Nico looked down at the medallion in ecstasy. Then Xar raised his voice to where all could hear. “With the power and authority vested in me, I proudly appoint you, Jedi Master Nico, the new Grand Master of the Jedi Order and supreme ruler of Varnus…” Suddenly the image started to fade… The room and its occupants blurred together, and Nico felt as though he was being ripped from reality itself. “No!” he screamed. Nooooo!!!!”

 The persistent beeping of the commlink jolted Nico awake.

  Groggily he reached over and hit his hand on the corner of the table. Cursing lightly, he maneuvered himself into a sitting position and hit the receive button.

 “What the he…llo! Grand Master!” He blurted as Xar’s face coalesced onto the screen in front of him. The Grand Master arched an eyebrow. Nico could feel Xar’s baleful gray eyes boring through him. He glanced at the chronometer on the table beside him. Four in the morning? “Up late again, sir?” he asked a little timidly, blinking his eyes slowly. They felt like dead weights. He noticed Xar didn’t have a very pleasant look on his face.

  “Nico. My office. Five minutes.” With that the screen flashed to the New Imperium logo, then went dark, the communications link ended.

 Nico stared openmouthed at the now-blank screen. What was that all about, he wondered, as he brought his hand up to stifle a huge yawn.

 Then it hit him. Five minutes?! The last time Xar had said five minutes, Nico had been twenty seconds late… He didn’t want to go through the lecture again. When Xar was in this mood… Wait, I’m wasting more time! He glanced at the chronometer. A minute had already passed!  He knew it took at least three minutes to get to Xar’s chambers, without losing the dignity that a Jedi Adept had to portray. He wouldn’t even have time to get dressed fully…

  He pushed himself off the bed, shaking his head to clear it. He started off toward the wardrobe, and stumbled as he nearly tripped over a pile of clothes in the floor. He muttered under his breath about the maid slacking off, yanked his wardrobe open, and hurriedly began pulling his robe on.

 As he was running on his way to Xar’s chambers the dream suddenly popped back into his head. The notion that he, Nico might someday be Grand Master. Could that have been a premonition? A hint that he might take the reigns of the Jedi someday? He’d heard that Jedi sometimes had visions, glimpses of the future, and the past, though he’d never had one himself. On the other hand, he had eaten the extra-spicy vornk meat for dinner last night…


 Seven whole seconds early, Nico tapped lightly on the door and slipped inside. Thankfully, he hadn’t met anyone on the way to the office, avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation. He was still wearing his sleeping shorts underneath his robe, leaving most of his legs bare. He closed the door behind him and looked across the spacious room at the man sitting behind the desk.

 “Hello, Nico.” Xar nodded across the room.

 Nico walked to the desk, as dignified as he could while wearing a night robe. “You needed me, Grand Master?”

Xar’s desk was covered with documents and datapads, a far cry from his usual tidiness. Everything else appeared untouched, though. It didn’t look like Xar had been anywhere but his desk since he’d returned.

  Xar’s words affirmed Nico’s thoughts. His eyes widened as if he were startled. “Nico, I am sorry. I just got back from the Senate session on Tralaria. The time difference… You must be exhausted. Well, this will only take a moment.” He reached over to his computer terminal and hit a few keys. “I just received word that team Delta Blue has gone missing.”

 Nico’s eyes widened. “The team that went after Kurt. They were sent out when he didn’t come back from his search for, what was it… The last Sith temple or something…”

 Xar nodded. “Yes, their last message we received was sent out two weeks ago. Their orders were to report in once a week, using any means necessary. We must assume something happened to them, too.”

 Nico shook his head. “I guess you know things are bad when the search party vanishes, too. Any idea what happened to them?”

 “Nothing but speculation. The last message entailed that they had a lead on a planet in the Unknown Regions, but we do not know its location.”

 This was not good… “So, what are we going to do?”

 Xar straightened in his seat. “That is why I called you here. I want you to find what happened to Kurt, his team, and team Delta Blue.”

  It took a second for the words to register. When they did Nico felt like he’d been hit right between the eyes.

 “Are you kidding? Me?” But of course Xar wasn’t kidding. He just stared at Nico with a raised eyebrow, saying nothing.

 Nico’s first inclination was to reject the idea straight out, label it as ludicrous… But that hadn’t stopped Xar a year ago from sending him to Myrkr and some other mud ball planet he couldn’t even remember the name of…

  Nico sighed in exasperation. “Sir… Are you sure about this? Why me? What makes you think I could find them?”

 Xar half-smiled. “What were the last two missions I sent you on for? You have proven yourself before. All these missions are training you, making your better. Training you for an important task someday. If anyone can find them, it is you.”

 An important task? His thoughts went back to the dream. Could it really be? But no, that probably wasn’t what Xar meant.

 Xar was still talking. “Do not worry, though, this is not some spur of the moment decision. We are being very careful this time. I should have sent you before now… Besides, there is one more thing I need you to take care of on the way.” He reached down behind his desk and pulled out a datapad from one of the drawers. “You will be stopping by the Danube system and picking up some reports from the scouting/relay station there. There has been some recent activity spotted near there, of unknown cause. I want you to check the records and see what you make of it.” He tossed the datapad on the table and pulled out another datatape. “This is a map of the territories beyond the current NI sphere of influence, and our guesses on where the temple might be. You will still be in Epsilon Sector, but further spinward and toward the Rim. The map is probably not totally accurate, though. You will have to do some searching around, probably in some of the worlds along the border there. They usually get a lot of activity. I am sure you can handle the local denizens.” He tossed the datapad on the table on top of the rest of the papers, and followed it by several sheets of flimsy. Nico resisted the urge to swallow hard.

 “This is everything you need.” Xar nodded toward the pile. “That gives you the authorization, and so on. Like I said, we are taking no chances on this one. You have full authorization - to use any means necessary - to find Kurt and the others. And that means any. You also have the freedom to choose your own search party. Pick the best men we can afford to send out to accompany you.” He raised his eyebrows at Nico, who nodded.

 “I have a few in mind,” he said.

 Xar half-smiled again, and leaned back at his chair. “You know, this reminds me of a very similar incident a couple years ago, about this time.” His eyes seemed to focus elsewhere. “I wonder… Oh yes, one more thing.” He stood up and slowly extended his hand toward Nico.

 Nico glanced hesitantly at the other man. Xar didn’t much like personal touching, including shaking hands. But Xar nodded. “I have a couple more instructions to give you that are too vital to trust to your memory alone.”

 “Ah…” Nico remembered that the Grand Master sometimes used a technique that sent instructions through the Force, orders that the bearer wouldn’t know about or remember until a certain time. He nodded a little hesitantly. “Go ahead, sir.” His hand met the other man’s, and for a moment the universe seemed to swim around him. His vision blurred…

 Nico blinked. Xar was standing in front of him. Everything seemed like it was before.

 “Might I ask what the instructions are about?” Nico said, scratching his head.

 Xar nodded. “Of course. One is a message for Kurt you will deliver when you find him. The trigger for the event will be, ‘Glad to see you again, old friend.’ Say those words and you will know what to say. I also included the password to Kurt’s entire database he held as Warden. I think it is time for the new Warden to be in on everything pertaining to your job.”

 Nico was surprised. “Kurt had secret files?”

  “Yes, some certain information he had gathered during his sojourns. We both decided there would be a time that we could let you in on them fully. I think you will find some interesting things in there. They should be useful.”

 “Thank you sir,” Nico said, smiling. “I am glad you can trust me that much now.”

 “Of course I trust you. Otherwise you would not be the Warden.” He gestured to the pile on the desk. “You will remember the password once you enter hyperspace. I will have Kurt’s database transferred to the Dungeon Ship Lord Keto. Just be careful not to lose it.”

 “No, I won’t…” Nico started. The Lord Keto? He smiled involuntarily. “You mean…”

 Xar nodded again. “Yes, you will be taking the Dungeon Ship on this mission. I believe her presence will be just the right thing you need on this mission. Just bring her back in one piece,” he added warningly.

 “No problem,” Nico said. He extended his hand, gratefully this time. “And thank you, sir. Maybe I can do this.”

 “There is no maybe about it,” Xar said, taking the hand. “Return soon, and may the Force be with you.”

 Nico bowed formally, reached down to gather the documents, and headed out of the office, contemplating who it would be he chose for the mission.


                                                *                                              *                                              *







                     Mathis sat quietly in the mess eating a meal which even he couldn't pronounce. Eating perhaps was not the correct word to use as he slowly shifted the mush around his plate. He was also quiet because the mess at the time of the morning was quite bare of any except the morning cooking crew who were preparing the morning meal for the inhabitants of the nearly refurbished and complete palace. Occasionally one of the cooks would glance in his direction as if to ask what exactly the Deputy Grand Master was doing awake at this forsaken hour. Mathis was very much aware of the looks thrown in his direction but cared not to make any acknowledging statement. The fact was that ever since his contact with the Queen of the Krii'Graq Mathis had been plagued by nightmares. Nightmares so dark and full of foreboding that even he cared not to remember them. After such dreams he would awaken with a sense of unease and a premonition of doom. Then he heard the whooshing of opening doors.


    Nico stepped into the mess hall when he noticed Mathis sitting alone playing with his food. It was then that Nico realized that he had completely forgotten to go back to his quarters to find some more appropriate attire. By then however it was too late. Mathis waved him over to a seat and said,

   "You are up extremely early Nico. I see you even forgot to dress yourself." He grinned ghoulishly.

   "I was summoned by the Grand Master....and you know how he gets when you don't arrive on time!" Nico replied.

   "Yes, I do know what you mean. Our Grand Master is a perfectionist. Though I would not say that to his face if I were you. I remember when we returned from the Loki mission and he flattened Kurt's nose against his cheek! Now I did explain to the Grand Master that technically Kurt could not have killed that Krath priest by pushing him over the cliff only because the Priest was already dead for quite some time, but, what can you do." Mathis grinned.

   "That is why the Grand Master summoned me, because of Kurt I mean. Apparently the Centurions he sent out got themselves lost...or worse. He has ordered me to lead another expedition to find exactly what happened to them and Kurt. I'm to hand pick a team and head off straight away."

  Mathis perked up when Nico mentioned a mission but then he realized that being the Deputy Grand Master certainly curtailed his more adventurous pursuits. A cook ambled over and passed a plate of Nico's favorite morning food and then quietly left. Nico quickly wolfed down the meal as Mathis turned to him again.

   "As much as I would love to join you on this adventure my duty belongs, at the present, here in Varnus. But I can offer some advice. For your team I would suggest you take along Omega Kira and Draken Ar’Kell. I know both well and they are definitely handy in a fight. They are resourceful and both have served me well in the past when it comes to such missions."

    Between mouthfuls of food Nico replied, "Yes I think I will requisition them now. Thanks a lot Mathis, I'd best be going now." Nico quickly shoveled some more food in his mouth and raised himself off the seat.

   Just as he turned to leave Mathis grabbed him by the arm and said, "One last thing. Make sure you take some extra ration packs of nachos. If Kurt is alive out there I am sure he will be going mad with hunger. Nachos are about the only thing that will serve an appetite such as his. Good luck my friend and by the way, make sure you put on some clothes before you leave."

     Nodding with embarrassment, Nico made his exit with a nod of thanks. He then ran quickly to his rooms to get changed.


                                                *                                              *                                              *




                Omega Kira was working on his personal ship the Warbird, a modified Kuat Drive Yards Starwind-class Pleasure Yacht when his comlink buzzed. "Sir." he said with an annoyed tone.

"Report to Nico at 0900!" said an unfamiliar voice. Omega put his tools away and closed the access hatch near one of the laser turrets. He strode through the passage ways wile trying to clean the grime off his face. He opened the door to his quarters, and opened his wardrobe. Searching through the jungle of clothes Omega found his Jedi Division uniform and ran into the fresher. He looked at the chronometer. "Crap! I am going to be late!" he said grabbing his uniform. Finally at 0845 Omega was spiffed up and ready to meet with Nico. He strode down the hall to the briefing room. Omega found Nico standing there organizing his data pads. "Welcome, Omega" Nico said, handing Omega a data pad.

   "Here is a brief explanation of what we will be doing. The others will be here shortly." Omega wondered what was going on. He preferred to stay and work on his ship. Omega skimmed the data pad and waited for the others to come.


                                                *                                              *                                              *


GM Sauron


  Draken was still chewing his last bite of breakfast as he jogged into the briefing room. For a second he thought maybe he'd went to the wrong briefing room, but then he spotted Nico and Omega conversing near the front. Both men turned to look at him. He swallowed before speaking.

   "Sorry I'm late," he apologized. "Just had time to throw some stuff into my bag." He tossed the duffel bag with the others against the wall and started toward the Warden.

    Nico nodded. "No problem. The rest haven't arrived yet..."

 Just as he finished the doors swooshed open again, and Jedi Knight Gascutone and Jedi Templar Rocanon strode in. Both men had been recruited to the Jedi from the Intruder Wing shortly after the NI’s founding. They looked around for a second, then caught sight of the three other men and went to join them.

 "So what's up?" asked Rocanon. He slipped into a seat on the second row.

  "Everyone's not here yet," said Nico. "I don't like repeating myself, and I'm sure you're going to have a lot of questions about this one..."

  The doors opened again, and the rest of their party arrived, flanked by a full dozen Centurion Stormtroopers


*                                                 *                                            *




 Mathis barged into Xar's office, a look of agitation plastered on his face. Not even he could believe that security could be so easily subverted. Xar looked up at Mathis from his seat with a questioning gaze.

   "Have seen the latest HoloNet report?" He asked.

   "No, I have been looking into other matters," replied Xar.

    Xar flicked his holovid on and looked incredulously at the latest report. Looking up angrily he said, "WHAT IS THIS!?!?"

   "It seems that someone out there feels threatened by our little expedition. Whoever it is has a lot of gall and some very good contacts on our side of the border. I am betting that either they desperately do not want Kurt to be found. Or there is something in that particular vicinity that they desperately do not want uncovered."

   Xar tapped his fingers lightly on his desk as he considered what Mathis had just said.

   "I just cannot believe this! Very well, it seems that this little operation has just become all that more important. Follow me...Nico must be made aware of what has just transpired." Xar said.

   Quickly both men stormed out of the room and headed towards the briefing area which had been designated for Nico's use. As they arrived they could both see the men slowly filing out of the room. Mathis stepped forward and said, "Everyone back in the briefing room. The Grand Master has an announcement you all should here."

   Quickly the men took their places and waited patiently for Xar to begin. Xar stepped to the front of the room while Mathis took a place beside Nico.

   "Contrary to what you men may have heard this mission is still continuing. The holo you just received is a diversion created by myself and the Deputy Grand Master to throw off any trouble you men may come into from outside factions. As you all know, all is not well and various warlords are even now massacring each other over petty differences! This mission is vital and must be seen to its conclusion. You will all continue your preparations… Nico come with me."

   Nico and Mathis stood and followed Xar to his quarters. Xar took his seat and looked intently at Nico. "What I am about to tell you is for you and those you trust. That holo transmission was not a diversion but a blatant attempt at stopping you from reaching your goal. We have no idea how that transmission was relayed.... yet. Mathis, I want you on it and brief Walt Amason. You must quash this leak. Nico, I want you to know that this mission has suddenly become more than just a search and rescue. Obviously someone knows and this means that you and your men will be susceptible to ambush and worse."

 Xar then explained the details and conclusions that he and Mathis had drawn up.

“This is not going to be easy. Good luck my friend and may the force be your guide."

Nico bowed and quickly hurried back to the briefing room.


                *                              *                              *


Grand Master Xar


"...and that concludes our briefing," Nico finished.

"Now," he said, looking at the members gathered in front of him. "We have a dangerous mission ahead of us, but together we can accomplish our mission. Everyone gather your bags and line up against the far wall."

  Everyone complied, with the Centurions flanking the Jedi. Then Nico brought out a large holo-camera and sat it in the middle of the floor, setting it for auto-record. Then he hurriedly moved to the center of the line and smiled profusely.

 "Everyone say cheese!"

"CHEESE!" The Jedi called out in unison.

The camera flashed, and a small copy of the image was projected onto the side wall.

"Looks good, everyone," Nico said jovially. "Well, time to get going. Oh yeah, one last step." He brought out a datapad and checked the role one more time. Yes, Draken, Omega, Gascutone, Rocannon were there. Roger McReed, who had joined after the NI’s founding, was there. Raven and Darcunter, two old Ar’Kell members, were there and ready.

"Okay, guys, we'll be heading out to the Palace launch pad and transferring to the Lord Keto now. This is it... Let's get moving!

With that the party formed a line and made their way out of the room toward the landing pad...




As he rounded the corner, Kiz Thrakus ran right into what at first looked like a stampede. "Whoa what have we here guys? The latest shipment of Jengardin Mountain Spew come in and I didn't know about it?" Nico grinned "No I don't even know what Jengardin whatever is, And I don't know if I want to know"

  "Well Nico your probably right on that one. So what's really up?"

  "Well" Nico said "We are on a mission for the Grand Master and he told me to hand pick my team and I picked a few of your guys to come along I hope you don't mind?"

 "Mind? You’re getting them out of my hair."

 "Hey!!" Draken yelled.

  "Just kidding guys, I'm going to regret saying this, But you are taking some of my best guys," Thrakus replied, grinning.

 "I know, and at this rate You'll be addressing me as Jedi Master"

 "Well that may be true, Nico," Thrakus said. "But when I do you'll be addressing me as Sith Lord."

 "Is that a challenge I detect in your voice?" Nico replied.

 "If it is then how about we make it an official challenge? Since we both started at Jedi Knight the first one to Jedi Master wins and the loser buys drinks. Fair enough?" Thrakus, a native of nearby Jengar, had been with the original Ar’Kell defectors and among the NI’s founders. He and Nico had a private but friendly feud going ever since they had joined Ar’Kell about the same time.

 "Sounds like a bet to me, Kiz."

 "Well then," Thrakus said. "I won't keep you, Good luck on your mission my friend, and may the Force be with you." With that Thrakus bowed and Nico bowed in return and so did the rest of the party.

 "Thanks we will my friend. And I'll try to bring your guys back in one piece, But don't hold me to that."    Thrakus grinned evilly. "If you want drop a few of them off on some planet somewhere. Oh I don't know what the nature of your mission is yet. But if you should happen to run into some difficulties stop by Jengar, We should be moving there in the next few days and will be able to offer some assistance if you run into any problems."

 "Will do," Nico said "Now we really have to go, We don't want to make the Grand Master angry."

 Thrakus turned to Draken, MacReed, Omega, Dark Hunter and Raven. "Good luck guys, I'm going to miss you. Remember guys if anything should happen I'll either be here, at Jengar or on board the Dreadnaught Galthain when it gets back. For some reason I have a bad feeling about your mission"

  “Thanks I will remember. It looks like Nico is getting antsy. We must go now. Good luck," Draken replied.

 "You too, my friends, you’re going to need it," Thrakus said as they turned and walked away. With that Thrakus turned back down the hall and headed off in the direction they came from.





Hangar Bay,

DGN Lord Keto



The two fighters were barely on the ground with their canopies open before the intercom was blaring.

    " All members of House Ar'Kell to the Commodore's office immediately."

    The two pilots vaulted from their fighters and took off at a dead run through the corridors of the Dungeon ship. They arrived just as the other four delegates from House Ar'Kell were arriving.

    " Jinx, Neres." Draken Ar'Kell’s greeting was short and terse. The Aedile of House Ar'Kell, now just one of the houses in the New Imperium’s Jedi Division, seemed a little shocked to see the two new arrivals. Jacob "Jinx" Skipper was the head of the Krath subdivision and Neres Warjan was the commander of Malice Squadron.  Both men had joined after the NI’s founding and come to Varnus to join up. The strange thing was, neither of them had been at the mission briefing given by Nico. Skipper held open the door to the office as the others went inside. Nico looked up from his desk.

    " Gentlemen, welcome. Time is short, so I'll get to the point. Since I am a former Ar'Kellian and I know that you all are the best the house has to offer, I'm appointing each of you to a different slot imperative to the mission." Each of the Jedi nodded their assent, letting him continue. "Jedi Templar Draken, I am assigning you as my second in command. Jedi Knight Omega, you get to command our fighter wing. Guardian Raven, you be his second in command. Jedi Knight Warjan, I want you keeping watch over the mechanics and technicians. Jedi Knight Jinx ‘Skipper”, you're my advance scout, since you have been through these areas before. Protector Dark Hunter, you will be in charge of the ground ops once we get to this temple, as well as in charge of the Centurions that we have on board. Any questions?"

  "Most of those Centurions couldn't find their rear end with both hands."

   All the attendants turned and looked at Jinx. His face was absolutely calm, yet his words were laced with anger. " Idiots couldn't even assist with forces under a rebel ambush, so why are expecting them to survive an assault on a Sith Temple?" Time seemed to drag on as each Jedi tried to fathom what he had meant by those words. Finally, Adept Nico broke the impasse.

   " You all are dismissed. Skipper, stay here for a moment, please."


Jarak Maldon


****Thirty Minutes Later****


  "Got that Jinx?" Nico said at his desk.

  "Yes sir." Jinx said already walking out the door.

    Just as Jinx left another figure entered the room. Tall, blonde, Alderaanian, wearing an Intruder Wing’s Rear Admiral's Uniform.

   "Jarak, what the... why are you here?" Nico said rather stunned.

   "Well, if you read your New Imperium Charter it says that any Attaché is responsible for the safety of the officer in which he or she serves. In this case..." Jarak started.

   Nico waved his had, "Yes, yes, I know. But WHY are you here?"

   Jarak took a seat at Nico's desk, "Because I can help. I have been searching for information on my family for the last five years everywhere. If you check some records I brought with me, you may find some interesting things."

   "I am not interested in reading the history of Royal Alderaanians Jarak..."

   "Those people were also Jedi, some knew quite a bit. If you look at these tapes, you can find something interesting AND see why I am coming." Jarak took some data recorders out of his uniform jacket pocket and handed them to Nico.

   "Thank you." Nico said.

   "Welcome as always, now I must be reporting to the bridge." Jarak said.


   "Yes, I may be a Admiral but I still know how to fly a ship."

    "Very well, dismissed."

   Jarak stood up and walked out of the room. Nico looked at the tapes he was handed for a while. Thoughts of what they were raced through his mind. At last, he placed one into his data display. The Crest of the Maldons appeared on the screen, followed by an index. Nico was about to dig deep into history, and very useful facts...



  Grand Master Sauron


 The doors parted and Nico strode onto the bridge. The dim lighting of the room was offset by the display screens and console lights. Ahead, out the viewport, the planet Varnus hung, silent and serene. The Lord Keto was in a relatively low orbit, and Nico could make out the lush forests and blue-green ocean below. He could also see a roundish gray area: Vectur, largest and capital city of Varnus and the Jedi Division. Since the bridge of an Imperial Dungeon ship was located underneath the main body, they had an unobstructed view of the world below.

   He glanced around the room as the doors swooshed closed behind him. The bridge crew members were all working diligently at their stations, he noted. The limited facilities normally given to Dungeon Ships had been removed and revamped; the Lord Keto was a state-of-the-art ship, complete with more luxurious and comfortable facilities, upgraded weaponry, a larger hangar, and various other improvements. It was no longer a true dungeon ship; although some of the high-tech Imperial interrogation and holding chambers were still in place, most had been replaced by more adequate facilities for the ship's new role in the Division.

   In the lower area in the center of the bridge, Rear Admiral Jarak Maldon turned and saluted the Warden.

   "Welcome to the bridge, sir."

   "No need for the formalities, Maldon," Nico chided him jovially. "Save it for when our lives depend on it." Both men chuckled at that.

    "So," Nico said. "Is everything ready for our mission?"

    "All personnel reporting at stations, all fighters accounted for, supplies loaded and ready." Jarak nodded.

    “Good. We have clearance from Vectur?"

    "Affirmative. We're clear to go."

    Nico realized he must have spent more time checking those computer records that he thought. Yet he still had only scratched the surface of the former Warden's classified files. The man had kept an awful lot of secrets; he wondered who else knew what was in them.

    "Everything's ready, we just need your word to get underway," Jarak interjected into Nico's thoughts.

    Nico moved down to join Jarak at the command chair. He gazed out at the stars ahead, the ship already turning to bear on their heading.

    "The word is given," he said, his thoughts elsewhere. "Take us out. Let's get this over with." He wondered what was out there to confront them, to challenge them in their objective. Somehow he doubted this would be an easy - or pleasurable - trip.

    The stars flared into starlines, and the Lord Keto shot into hyperspace, into the black, unknown expanse of deep space.




      Captain’s Lounge

                     DGN Lord Keto



                     The galaxy as seen through hyperspace was showcased behind the bar, seemingly surrounded by bottles newly refilled with Merenzane Gold, 198-proof 'medicinal' whiskey, Elba beer, and a host of other drinks popular throughout the galaxy. The lounge was approximately half-filled, equally split between Centurions and officers of the Division. Boisterous laughter came from the large knot surrounding one of the main tables. In a corner, one silent individual quietly sipped his water and gazed through both the real and unreal into the knot, memorizing faces and thoughts.

The last Warrior of the Shadows.

Once an ancient order, dating back to the founding of the Old Republic and destruction of the Sith Empire, they had been all but wiped out in the devastating Sith War, most especially above Yavin IV as they fought to protect Exar Kun and his civilization. And now, four thousand years later, there was one left. He knew of the light, and all sides of the dark. And he sat and watched, content to let the crowds events swirl around him.

  "Hey, here's an interesting rumor. I hear that there are two people on this tub that come from royal families. I know that Admiral Maldon is one, but I can't figure out the other. Anyone know?" The young, brash Centurion glanced around the table. When he received only blank stares, he extended his gaze to sweep the entire room."

  Hey, I know who would know. Jinx, do you know who the other Prince is? Besides Maldon, of course." The man-shaped shadow from the corner spoke up.

   " I do, but to tell would be dishonorable. I am afraid that you will have to find out yourself. As for me, I must be getting on to the flight deck. I have patrol as soon as we finish this jump. Later, folks." With that, he got up and left. As the door began to close, another individual swept in and belied up to the bar. Klarsk, the young Centurion, looked over at him.

   "Draken, sir, I have a question I was wondering if you could answer." Recieving a nod, he continued." I know that Rear Admiral Maldon is Alderaanian royalty, but I heard from a reliable source that there was another royal aboard, yet we can't figure out who. We asked Skipper, but he didn't tell us. Can you help us out?" Draken Ar'Kell just laughed.

    " I think that it's very obvious. Let me let you in on a secret. Knight Skipper is a Renatasian. When he was a child, his world was attacked by the Centrality navy in an attempt to conquer it. His family was the ruling family that was established as the head of the resistance during the invasion. Towards the end of the invasion, their castle was captured, and all his family was brutally murdered by two high-ranking officers, Aldin Tace and Tornath Markas, who, until their recent deaths at Skipper's hands, were commanders in the rebellion. Anyway, back to the story. Following the invasion, he ceded the throne to another family. In return, they established him and his line as the Crown Prince, or Princess for the females, of Renatasia."


Grand Master Sauron


                      Danube System

                     1800 Hours

                     DGN Lord Keto


                     Nico watched with slight trepidation out the bridge viewport as the Lord Keto sailed its way through the Danube Asteroid Belt. All that's happened so far, and this is just the beginning, he thought as he lounged in the captain's chair. Rear Admiral Jarak was over at the Tactical Station, overseeing their safe passage through the asteroid belt itself. Of course, most of the asteroids were far apart, and few were in the direct path of the Dungeon Ship.

   Those few were enough, though, to make it necessary to blast them with bursts from the quad-turbolaser turrets. The green beams shot out and decimated any of the space rocks that ventured too close.

   Ahead, out the viewport, one particularly large rock was growing larger and larger. Actually, it wasn't an asteroid at all, but perhaps the source of all the others; the massive rock was the remnant of a long-destroyed planet,  which had been broken into pieces as if by a massive hammer and spike. The largest chunk had been made into a long-range NI scouting base and listening post, the Lord Keto's current destination.

   Less than an hour later, the Dungeon Ship was in a geostationary orbit over the large entrance to the interior NI base. Once the ship was in place, Nico turned to the communications officer. "Bring up a visual comm link with the base commander," he instructed. "I'll speak with him from the ready room."

   "Aye, sir".

   With that Nico got up and headed for the turbolift. The lift carried him up into the main interior of the ship, where he got out and headed for the captain's normal quarters.

   Once inside, he moved across the spacious room and sat down behind the working desk. He took a moment to check the desk's secret compartments; yes, Kurt's secret files were still there, safe and sound. He'd have to delve into them fully once they made their next jump, outside the Varnus Quadrant.

   A few quick commands into the desk computer, and the link with the scouting station came up. The base commander's rough face and scruffy-looking beard came onto the screen, but the officer was turned away, apparently looking at something else. Then he seemed to notice the open link, and turned to face Nico.

   "Hello, sir. To what do I owe this visit by the Jedi Division?"

   Nico gave a thin smile. "Hello, commander. Let me be brief. My mission here is fairly simple. I understand there have been some strange and anomalous readings made in this system, and I need any information you can give me on them."

   The base commander leaned back and sighed aloud. "Well, that's an interesting request. Yeah, we've been getting some darned peculiar energy readings lately... Well, I shouldn't put it that way. Actually, we've only seen it twice, but it was something I've never seen or heard of before."

   "What was it you saw?" Nico asked.

   "Well, it's hard to describe. We have systems in place to monitor energy readings, say, from ships that pass through the system, stuff like that. We got a flash on the board just for a moment, then it vanished. But we could get some information about it, but it's a kind of energy I've never seen before."

   "What do you mean by a kind of energy?" Nico asked, slightly confused.

   The commander shrugged. "Look, I don't really know much about it. I'm not trained in that sort of department. Maybe you should get a scientist or someone to work on it."

  Nico nodded. It was obvious he wasn't going to get much out of this guy. "If you wouldn't mind, could you send me a full report on the readings you've received on those dates?"

   "Of course." The other man turned around and motioned somewhere off-screen.

   Nico saw a flashing window indicating an incoming transmission, and his system began downloading as he continued.

   "By the way, when was it these readings were taken?"

   "The files we are sending you contain full reports," the man said, turning back to the screen. "Although I don't really see what the big deal is here... They're just some abnormal readings. They happen to places all the time."

   Nico restrained the urge to spit back a harsh reply. Instead he stilled his emotions and asked again calmly. "But, when were the readings taken?"

   The base commander sighed aloud, a bored look on his face. Nevertheless he glanced downward a moment and called out the times. "One was taken three months ago, the same time a group of NI fighters was on a training mission in the system... The second was taken two weeks after that. Nothing else in the time since."

  "All right, commander, thanks for your help. If you see anything else be sure to send word back to Varnus." Then Nico reached over and cut the connection without waiting for a response. I think maybe that guy needs a lesson in manners, he thought.

   He brought up the file he'd been sent and glanced through it. The reports weren't as detailed as he was used to, which indicated a lack of discipline on the base crew's part. Still, they offered little the commander hadn't told him personally. Leaving the time and energy readings chart in the background, he connected to the HoloNet to contact Grand Master Xar...

   Several moments later the Grand Master's face dominated the screen in front of Nico. Instead of using a full-fledged hologram generator, as used in Star Destroyers, the Lord Keto had opted instead to use a more basic system that could be accessed from the ready room terminal.

   Nico straightened and gave Xar a brief salute. The Grand Master's face seemed a bit tired, and there was a slight hint of sweat on his forehead. He must have been training again.

   "Good day, sir. How are things on Varnus?"

   "As well as can be expected," Xar gave a half smile. "Been an interesting day so far, I anticipate you have equally interesting news for me?"

   "Yes. We've reached the base here at Danube. I have the reports from the listening post about those readings you wanted."

   "Understood," Xar nodded.   Nico punched a few commands into the control pad, sending the files he'd gotten from the base commander on up to the Grand Master. Unlike the conventional method by which he'd gotten the files, the HoloNet transmission was almost instantaneous.

   "File sent," he announced.

   "Stang. I knew this day was going to get more interesting. Look at this."

   "Excuse me?" Nico scratched his head. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about."

   Xar glanced back up. "No, I suppose not. Anything look funny about the first reading?"

   Nico brought the visual back up. "No, nothing in particular." Physics wasn't one of his strong suits anyway.

   "Hmm. Oh well, the point is this. These readings happen almost exactly at the same moment Maarek reports seeing that ship when on that joyride. His flight recorder was smashed up, so we could not be sure what he really saw. This proves he was not just daydreaming."

   "Oh." Nico had gotten some rumor about Stele seeing some super-ship in space; he hadn't given it any credit, however. "So you're saying this could be real?"

   "Affirmative. In fact, from these readings, there is no doubt about it."

   "So... what does that mean?" Nico asked.

   The Grand Master sighed, leaning back in his seat. "To tell you the truth, I have no idea. If Maarek got an accurate vision of the ship, and if these energy readings are correct, whatever he saw was way beyond anything we have today. It was also heading out-system, as if Danube was just a stopping point in some journey. If whoever runs that ship is from around here, I am sure we will eventually make contact. The fact that there was another reading might imply that they use the Danube system as a staging point. In any case, good work, Nico."

   "Thanks, sir.”

   "Very well," Xar said, straightening. "That is all for now. Proceed with your mission. Remember to check in; one of the envoys will be available to take any messages if I am not available. Oh, by the way, have you checked Kurt's files yet?"

   "Uh..." Nico hesitated, slightly embarrassed. "Actually, I haven't been able to find the password to get in yet." He felt his face heat up.

   Xar smiled. "I am sure you can figure it out. Just think about what Kurt likes more than anything else."

   Nico grinned involuntarily. "All right, I'll do that. Thanks, Grand Master."

   Xar nodded. "Good enough then. Xar out." The screen changed to the NI logo, then went back to his regular system files.

   Nico got up and stretched. Time to go to work, he thought. He checked his chronometer, shut the computer down, and headed back up to the bridge.


 Grand Master Sauron



                     2300 hours

                     DGN Lord Keto


                     The swirling, tunnel-like sky of hyperspace filled the bridge's viewport. The Lord Keto had successfully made it into hyperspace and was on a heading taking the ship outside NI space and into the unknown...

   Nico got up and stretched, then stifled a yawn that threatened to creep up on him. He realized he hadn't gotten any sleep since four o'clock the previous morning, when Xar had woke him from that pleasant dream... And boy, look where he was now. Less than a day later he was in hyperspace high-tailing it out of NI space, into unknown territory.

   "I'm going to get some rest," he announced.

   "All right, sir. See you later," Jarak said. "I'll probably turn in soon, too."

    Nico left the bridge and took the turbolift up to the captain's quarters. Locking the door securely behind him, he went over to the desk. Actually, it wasn't quite time to sleep just yet. Opening the secret compartment in the desk, he brought out Kurt's personal data drive and hooked it through his desk system. Time to find out what Kurt's got hidden in there, he thought.

   He brought the system online, and first thing a window came up requesting the proper identification and password.

  Now, what was that password again?

  He strained to remember, but it just wouldn't come to him. What was that hint Xar had given him? He was so tired... He felt his eyelids begin to droop. Just a little sleep wouldn't hurt anything... Maybe it'd help him to remember... The desktop came up to meet his head, and everything went dark...




  "NACHOS!" Nico yelled. Nico was thankful that he was in his quarters. He realized he had fallen asleep and the computer was still on. He typed in the word. That must have been the password. Kurt wouldn't have forgotten it, and Nico wouldn't have said it for any reason. He was in, looking through Kurt’s most valuable files…




      Simulator Chamber, DGN Lord Keto

                     Hyperspace, 0230 hours



                     In the cold stillness of the simulator chamber, tow men were matching their wits, and skills. One was dressed in a plain, non-descript black jumpsuit, and the other in the proud colors that proclaimed him a member of the Centurions of the New Imperium.




                     The modified Cygnus Spaceworks XG-2 Missile Boat swooped and dove in on the damaged TIE Defender. The target was barely moving now, both of its engines sparking badly and one of its wings almost torn away. The pilot played his last shot, launching all of his remaining warheads on auto fire, trusting them to seek out his antagonist. Miraculously, they all did. In seconds, no less than four advanced concussion missiles were homing in the rakish Missile Boat. Its pilot immediately broke off his attack on the damaged Defender, and orientated his craft towards the oncoming warheads. Quickly flicking weapons control from warheads to guns, he waited until the last possible second.

  And then he fired.

  The nose of the bomber seemed to erupt in blue fire as all of the fighter's guns, four densely packed ion cannons, cut loose across the simulated void towards the oncoming death. Three missiles died outright, their onboard electronics overloaded by the ion cannon's disrupting beams. The four was so badly damaged that it quit tracking its original target, switching instead to the only other target in the area. Klarsk's TIE Defender.

  "That's the third time in a row!"

  "That should teach you to brag to a superior pilot." The victor stood and pulled off the simulator helmet, revealing his shocking mane of black and silver hair. The challenger, the Centurion Klarsk, likewise disconnected himself from the equipment, pausing to grin rue-fully at the older man.

  "That's okay, gramps. One day, contrary to popular belief, youth and exuberance will defeat age and wisdom."

  "Be careful, sonny-boy. I may have age and wisdom, but I still haven't lost all my exuberance." They both were still laughing as they walked into the lounge. Consigning himself to defeat, Klarsk pulled out a five-credit note.

  " Hey, barkeep. Two drinks over here. One Merenzane Gold and a ... what did you say you wanted?"

  "Chilled water, please. I have a mission to fly once we exit hyperspace." The bartender, a grizzled veteran nicknamed, of all things, 'Rookie', just shook his head. At this hour, the lounge was nearly deserted, with only a few crewers just getting off their shift walking in.

  "One-day, Klarsk, you'll learn to take after the older pilots, like Skipdog, here."

  "Skipdog? Is that what they call you? The old-timers, I mean?" Jinx stared into his glass with a half-smile spread across his face.

  "Yeah, that's what they used to call me, back during my days as an Alliance pilot, and during my stay at the Imperial Academy, right before Hoth." Other crewmen wandered over now, intrigued by the possibility of a story."

  “But, hey now. We exit hyperspace in a couple hours, and I got to make sure my fighter's prepped for system recon. See you later." With that, he got up amidst the mutters of disappointment from the assembled crew.

  He wandered down the passageways to the hangar, and then to the bay were his personal fighter was kept.    "Ahh, once more into the breach."


 Grand Master Xar


                In Orbit, Planet Unknown

System Unknown

                0900 hours


  The DGN Lord Keto dropped out of hyperspace, and a brown-white globe loomed in the viewscreen.

   Nico stared out the window at the planet below. “Well, this is the first planet on the charts. Let’s hope we can find what we’re looking for here. If that map of Xar’s is inaccurate like he says, we could be in for a long hunt.”

  Beside him, Omega nodded gravely. “Habitable atmosphere, a number of large cities, tech level Space. Not much more on it, though. The main city looks like some of the seedier places on Coruscant. I pity whoever’s going down there.”

   Nico smiled. “Very well, Omega. Get a team ready, we’ll be going down immediately.”

   Omega looked back over at him in shock. “But… sir…”

   Nico gave him a level look. “We need the best guys we’ve got to find the right route to the Sith planet, and the answer lies below.”

   Omega swallowed hard, then nodded. “As you say, sir…”


Continued in Chapter Two…