|The New Imperium Plotline Forum
|"Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!
|Page 3 of 3|
|Author:||J.A. [ Sat May 30, 2009 3:21 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
They set the AD transport down on the West District’s landing pad, which was no longer in actual use but hadn’t been appropriated for any other function. It was large and flat and cleared of any obstacles, which was all that was really needed. As soon as they touched down, Alyx dropped the boarding ramp and ran outside, the other remaining five Jedi close on his heels.
He made it to the top of one wall, where he could get a view of the palace and surrounding city, and came up short as the vista opened up around him.
What had happened here?
From the air, most of the city had been obscured by smoke, but from here it was clear: Vectur was a scene of devastation. Smoke rose in hundreds of columns, rising to form dark clouds that hung above the city skycrapers. Fires raged everywhere from downed ships and burning buildings, and ground fighting continued in the streets as far down as he could make out. On their way in, there had been all too few NI fighters in the sky, and no ground batteries had opened up to greet them. Now Alyx could see that the latter had all been destroyed, along with the tops of many of the buildings housing them.
The air was thick with the sound of gunfire and explosions, much of it close; the ground battle must have nearly reached the palace by now. The Royal Palace itself was blackened and pitted in many places from enemy fire, and rubble was strewn across the walls, courtyards, and walkways. Furthermore, he could still here the sounds of yelling and lightsaber combat somewhere ahead, as well as feel the Force being used intensely in combat all around.
Somehow, the enemy had invaded the palace with their Jedicon. Altarin’Dakor troops were in the street, and the enemy had established air superiority in the skies. It was his worst nightmare, being realized before his very eyes.
Vectur was being lost, and the Royal Palace was the last stronghold to be taken, holding out to the last, but itself in the process of succumbing to the enemy. This city, this world, the place where he’d been born, the place he called home – it was all about to end. The thought was unbearable.
Even as he took stock of the situation, four Jedicon appeared from around the corner and launched themselves at Alyx and the team. Alyx brought his lightsaber to life, followed by Vykk, Macreed and the others, and rushed forward to meet them.
The first one headed straight for Alyx, ahead of the others, brandishing his lightsaber. He had underestimated the Jedi Master. Dropping his blade to his side, Alyx stretched out his other hand and send a blast of Force energy directly at his opponent, taking him in the chest and blowing him backwards off his feet, sending blood and bone flying through the air. Alyx brought his blade back around and ran forward to meet the second Jedicon, clashing blades with the muscular, tattooed man. The other two moved past, engaging the rest of the team.
Alyx fought his opponent for a moment, dueling back and forth in a deadly dance of skill and blade. Then, slipping around to the side and passing his enemy’s guard, he swept his blade downwards and sliced the Jedicon through the torso, dropping him to the ground.
The rest of the team managed to deal with their two attackers, as well. As the last one fell, Alyx yelled out, “Fan out and engage the enemy! Take out as many of them as you can!” Then, raising his blade overhead, he ran around the corner and headed for the palace’s main entrance.
He stopped as he saw a cluster of Jedi locked in mortal combat with armor-clad, wickedly-tattooed Jedicon warriors. Lightsabers clashed, blasts of energy flew through the air, and the Jedi were falling behind. Bodies and blood littered the walkways and the courtyards below. Alyx recognized Atridd Xoan there, fighting off one enemy, as well as Amleth Uiara, Ken ‘Nova’ Nandos, Draken Ar’Kell, Varanus Templar, and others.
And floating in the air above all their heads were Togorian Jedi Ralagos Akala and a massive reptilian Jedicon with black tattoos on its leathery green skin. Their lightsabers were gone; these two aliens were fighting with teeth, claws and the pure power of the Force.
Then Macreed, Vykk, Moore, Satai and Darcunter rounded the corner and joined him, and together the six Jedi rushed forward to reinforce their comrades, engaging the Jedicon with weapons held high and voices raised in battle cry.
Ralagos floated, fully powered in the Force, his fur standing on end, his clawed hands clenched into fists. The air swirled around him like a vortex. Then, rushing forward, he slammed into the saurian Jedicon, driving them both backwards. They grappled for a moment, raining blows down on each other, then Ralagos gave a roar that drowned out even the clashing sabers and energy flying through the air, shoved his opponent away, and swung his clawed hand, slashing a set of deep gouges across the Jedicon’s face.
The enemy roared, then was sent flying backwards by a powerful kick from the Togorian. The Jedicon flew back and hit the side of the palace, then quickly leapt out of the way as a blast of energy from Akala blew a huge chunk out of the wall.
Then, rushing forward suddenly, the Jedicon counterattacked Ralagos with a series of powerful blows and strikes from claws, feet and tail. The Togorian fell back, blocking the blows with his own well-muscled arms. Then, spinning, the Jedicon lashed out with its tail, striking Akala across the face, then before he could react grabbed the Togorian Jedi, mouth splitting open to reveal a row of razor-sharp fangs, then bit down, sinking its teeth into Akala’s shoulder.
Ralagos roared again in pain, shoving the Jedicon violently away. Fur and flesh ripped free, and he reached up to grip his injured shoulder. Warm blood began flowing freely down his side, mixing with his yellow-colored fur.
Then in a Force-powered blur, the reptilian flipped forward, bringing its hands together and down in a hammerblow, slamming the Togorian across the head and sending him plummeting towards the ground.
Akala hit the deck hard, but still had enough wits about him to roll away, just in time to avoid a blast of energy that annihilated the stones he’d been standing on. He stood, then threw out his good hand, sending a blast of energy of his own. But the Jedicon, rushing downwards full-force, crossed its arms and flew through the blast, coming though with little more than blackened scales on its forearms. Landing in front of the Jedi, it flew forward and slammed an elbow across the Togorian’s face, sending him reeling.
Then the Jedicon brought its hands together, stretched outwards, and a second later a blast of blue energy burst from them, taking Ralagos straight in the chest. The Jedi flew backwards through the air, fire exploding across his torso, and slammed into the far wall hard enough to blast a hole through the side. Ralagos collaped through the opening, debris falling on top of him, and he lay there, unmoving.
“Akala!” Xoan yelled. Locking blades with his own opponent, he pushed the enemy’s saber aside, slammed his handle across the man’s face, then finished him off with a blow that took off his arm and right torso in one curving swipe. Then, rushing past the falling body, he ran forward towards where his comrade had fallen.
The reptilian Jedicon had resumed his spot in the center of the walkway, barring any passage that would allow the Jedi to help the troops on the ground. It extended a hand, and its massive lightsaber flew back up into its hand, igniting with a white glow and a snap-hiss. The slash-marks on its face bled dark blood that ran down the scales on its neck and torso.
Atridd ran forward, drawing in all the Force power he had, violet-white blade raised overhead. He screamed, and the Jedicon opened its own mouth in a roar, a wordless challenge to its next opponent, saliva and blood dripping from its teeth.
Atridd struck with ferocity, throwing all his strength at the enemy. Their blades clashed again and again, his every blow met by his opponent’s unmoving arm, steady as a tree trunk and nearly as large. The Jedicon towered over him, hissing taunts at him as Atridd struggled to gain the advantage and avenge his fallen friend.
Then the Jedicon moved into a fierce counterattack, striking down with blows not as fast as they were powerful. The force behind the saurian’s attacks was incredible, driving Atridd back, nearly cutting himself open with his own blade. He managed to stop the enemy’s blade time and again, but barely centimeters from his own body.
He was so concentrated on the enemy’s lightsaber that the enemy’s tail seemed to come out of nowhere. Catching Atridd with his guard up, the Jedicon’s first strike lashed out like a whip, coming from behind its body to crash across the Jedi’s right side at rib level. Atridd cried out, his side stinging like fire. He lurched to the left, bringing his blade around just in time to stop the enemy’s next blow from taking his head off. He ducked and stepped back, then blocked another powerful overhead strike. It felt like at least a couple of ribs were broken. He found his saber locked with his enemy’s and felt his blade being pushed slightly to the right…
The tail whipped out again, lashing across Atridd’s head. Pain and stars exploded through his head, and he knew his skin had been sliced open. He fell backwards, stumbling against the wall. He pushed off it, the enemy’s blade carving a chunk out of where he’d just been. He stepped back and brought his blade back up groggily. Something warm was flowing down the side of his face, and his head was going numb. He blocked another blow, then another, falling back, his motions getting gradually slower. The Jedicon’s attacks became more fierce, more desperate, thirsty for the rest of his blood. Atridd fell back even more, letting all his fatigue show in his face, his actions…
His ploy worked. With a hiss of triumph, the Jedicon brought its blade down again, shifting its hips and bringing the tail around again for one final, decisive blow.
And at that moment, Atridd let out a burst of speed and rushed forward, reaching out with his prosthetic hand and catching the Jedicon’s wrist before it could complete its swing. Then with his other hand, he brought his blade up in a vertical cut, slicing through the tail just as it came around.
The Jedicon roared in shock and pain, and leapt backwards out of range. The remaining, stubbled end of its tail swung behind it, but no longer reached quite to the ground. The reptilian stumbled, suddenly off-balance. The severed end of its tail twitched rapidly on the ground. Atridd smiled, standing confidently, dropping the deception and letting the raging Force within emanate outwards from his body.
Yelling again, Atridd launched on the offensive. The Jedicon retreated, blocking desperately as Xoan’s powerful strikes pushed it further and further back. Its steps were awkward, its secret weapon neutralized, its technique unsure. Atridd pressed the advantage, his Force strength landing blows that sent flashes of light from their blades and powerful crashes through the air.
Then, knocking the Jedicon’s weapon up with a powerful rising blow, Atridd sidestepped to the left, brought his blade around, and sliced the Jedicon’s right arm off at the elbow. The thick, muscled arm dropped, landing on the ground with the lightsaber still clutched in its fist.
The Reptilian opened its jaws again to scream, but its roar was cut off as Xoan’s blade cut him in half at the waist.
Atridd turned away from the mess just as Alyx finished off his opponent and approached from across the walkway. Behind Xoan, Ralagos barely stirred beneath the rubble, blood running freely over the stones at his feet.
“Get Akala to Medbay!” Alyx yelled as he ran up. “I’ll handle things from here on.”
“Well. Been quite a while,” Atridd said, giving Alyx a dark look. “You don’t look too great, yourself.”
“My men and I haven’t eaten in nearly a week,” Alyx answered. “We were AD prisoners.”
“One of your secret ‘missions’ backfire on you?” Atridd asked testily.
“You could say that.”
“I see. Meanwhile, nearly everyone in the Division is dead. I’m sure you’ve been keeping busy, escaping and all.”
“You’ve got two Titans to chalk up thanks to our efforts,” Alyx shot back, pointedly ignoring Atridd’s insubordinate tone.
“If that’s true, then you have my appreciation – and condolence.” Atridd turned and bent down to scoop up Ralagos’ unmoving body in his arms. “Take care of things while I’m gone.”
“What happened here?”
“We never knew what hit us,” Xoan snorted. “We were outmatched all the way. They were always one step ahead of us.”
“What about Xar? Where is he?” Alyx asked as Xoan turned to leave, the Togorian in his arms.
“Who knows,” the man answered stiffly. “Probably inside the palace, fighting Jedicon. Ask her. She’s finally decided to come out.”
Alyx turned to follow the man’s nod, and there he saw her.
There was Zalaria, standing on the corner of one wall looking over the road to the east, her back turned to them. She appeared to be fighting the enemy approaching from that direction. But she betrayed us. The thought came instinctively, as of its own volition. Alyx didn’t know whether to believe it or not. Nevertheless, a chill flowed through his body at the sight of her. Was she really holding the enemy back, or was she beckoning them onward?
Whichever it was, there was an Altarin’Dakor Warlord in their midst. Which meant that whatever they decided to do, there was little that Alyx and the Jedi, or anyone else for that matter, could do to stop them.
The sound of explosions and fire were growing closer, now. He looked down the main street, and saw the enemy moving forward again, in a fresh offensive. Armor-clad Altarin’Dakor shock troopers were coming in, weapons blazing. One way or another, Alyx knew it would all be over soon.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:33 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Royal Palace, Varnus
“Fall back!” someone screamed.
Kanos leaned back and thrust one bladed end of his fighting staff into the belly of a shock troop. The enemy fell over forwards, taking the staff with him as he collapsed to the ground. Half-tripping backwards, Kanos reached down, picked up a blaster carbine from a fallen comrade and spun towards another target rushing towards him. He fired, sending out a burst of bolts that worked their way from the enemy’s midsection up to his armored helmet, and the enemy fell on his face, landing barely a meter from Kanos’ feet.
Turning, he tried to move back closer to the palace steps to take shelter behind the final barricade there. The others were in ruins, mostly blasted apart by rockets, beam weapons and rail gun rounds. He stumbled over the bodies littering the ground at his feet, both NI and AD, ducking instinctively as blasts of energy ripped by overhead.
He made it behind another wall, gaining the cover he needed, then turned back to peer down the street. AD troops had made several runs on their position, resulting in bloody hand-to-hand combat and utter chaos.
About a dozen NI soldiers remained around him, with a few more still holding positions up on the walls and around the main gates. A group of NI troops next to him hunkered down and opened fire, sending blaster bolts streaking out at the line of enemies rushing towards them. Kanos joined them, raising his blaster and squeezing off round after round. To his frustration, most simply bounced off the enemies’ protective armor, and his arms were too fatigued at this point to accurately hit any of their few weak spots.
In return, a beam of energy sliced through four of the NI soldiers in a single swipe, sending them falling in pieces to the ground. Kanos dove down as the blast slashed by overhead, cutting into the wall. Raising his head, he saw that a large armored figure had nearly reached the barricades, wielding a massive beam weapon in both hands. The enemy fired, sending another beam towards the soldiers on the wall, the blast thick and powerful enough to slice through walls and incinerate anything it touched.
Men were down all around him, screaming in pain. More of the remaining NI troops moved in to fill the positions of their fallen comrades, while pulse blasts and mass driver rounds shot through their ranks, sending more men down in sprays of blood. Kanos centered his crosshairs over the enemy with the big gun and fired, sending red bolts blasting into the trooper’s armor. Again and again he sent rounds into the armor-clad figure, each shot blasting off armor, sending flashes and small explosions into the air.
Finally the large man fell, crashing back onto the street, his gun falling silently beside him. But behind him was another group of shocktroopers, perhaps twenty in number, and they were running towards them, fast. They fired as they ran, and the air between them and the NI troops was filled with crisscrossing blasts of energy and projectiles. More men dropped at Kanos’ side. A few shocktroops fell to the ground. Then from somewhere behind the enemy troops, a bright flash came soaring past them on a trail of smoke.
“Get down!” Kanos yelled as the rocket came in. He dove back behind the last barricade, the other men scattering. The warhead flew past the opening and hit the ground mere meters away…
The explosion blew Kanos off his feet and into the wall, hard. Stone and dirt flew all around him, along with pieces of his own men.
The next thing he knew he was on the ground, staring up at the sky. Pain shot through his shoulder where he’d slammed into the wall, and along his left side. He might have broken a few ribs. Clouds floated by slowly overhead in his vision. Smaller objects soared by much faster, in and out of them. He blinked, unsure for a moment where he was.
Then he rolled halfway over, and saw the crater in the ground where the rocket had impacted. Smoke filled the air. Men were down all around him, most of them dead from the look of them. Kanos’ ears were ringing so loudly he couldn’t hear any sounds of the battle anymore. He pushed off against the stones beneath him, struggling to rise. He made it to his hands and knees, the world still swimming around him. The barricade behind him had been halfway blown away. Beyond it he could see AD troops running, getting closer. They would be here any second. What was worse, he’d lost his blaster somewhere in the blast.
When those shocktroops reached him, it would be all over.
Desperately he looked around, casting about for some kind of weapon. A few guns lay nearby, but nothing with enough punch to get through that armor. He was still the only person in the squad that was up. A few others rolled around weakly, but Kanos knew they were out of the fight.
The enemy troops were getting closer, now. He’d always figured he would die like this, fighting against impossible odds. Considering the life he had led before, it was only a rational conclusion. He’d tried to step away from that, to start a new life, become another person. But ultimately fate had brought him back to this, the true Kir Kanos. A glorious death was what he deserved.
But he wouldn’t go down without a fight. There were others out there, depending on him. He couldn’t help but think of the hundreds still holed up in the palace – and the thousands hiding in shelters throughout the city. Because he had failed, they would die. Because of him.
Sudden anger burst in his chest, and he forced himself to crawl forward. There, lying a mere ten meters or so away, was the massive beam gun that the downed shocktroop had been using. If only he could get his hands on it…
But it might as well have been kilometers away. He could never reach it in time before the approaching wave made it to him. In fact, he had only seconds, now.
Still, he crawled. He reached a hand towards it, as if he could draw the weapon to his hands, like those Jedi fighting on the walls above could. He remembered times, when strange things like that had happened to him on the battlefield, sudden intuition that had saved his life, unnatural feats he’d been able to accomplish at the right moment. And once, when his staff had flown into his hand as though it had a mind of its own. If only that could happen again, now. Why not now, when he needed it the most? It must be the galaxy’s own cruel sense of irony. What a bloody farce.
He reached for that weapon, still trying to will it to come towards him. If only he’d actually learned to control those freak things that happened to him! But the truth was he had no idea what he’d done – it might as well have been magic.
Suddenly, the weapon stirred.
Shock hit him for a moment. Then, with his ears clearing, the sound of footsteps rushing towards him drove him onwards.
Pain and anger and desperation rolled through him. All he could see was that beam weapon, resting there, and he called to it with everything in his entire being. It was his only hope. It was as necessary as life itself.
In a second, the weapon lurched into the air, soared past the squad of shocktroops running towards him. The weapon slammed into Kanos’ body, and he curled his hands around it, barely registering what had just happened. The impossible.
He didn’t have time to think. There was no time for shock or wonder. He simply gripped the weapon, forced himself to stand, and hit the trigger.
The beam flashed into existence, extending straight out to cut into the street fifty meters ahead. Heat assailed him, and a piercing, consuming sound filled his ears. This was more than just a weapon. It was a force of nature.
Blasts of energy ripped past him, missing him by centimeters. Screaming, Kanos pivoted, and nearly a score of Altarin’Dakor shocktroopers were sliced in half in a single swing of his weapon.
Just like that, they were gone. The whole squad of approaching enemies was dead. Down the street, a line of enemies still held their ground, some distance away. They had a small hovertank, which was just finished maneuvering past all the other debris in the street.
Kanos pointed his gun at it and fired. The beam sliced through the air, punching into the body of the tank. A glow appeared over its armor for a second, then the beam disappeared inside. And the tank exploded. Fire and pieces of the vehicle blasted into the air, and men scattered.
His rage was not yet abated. Turning around, he looked up at the walls, where Jedi were still locked in combat with the Jedicon that had penetrated the Royal Palace. He saw a small group of Jedi, trying to hold a narrow section of walkway, outnumbered but fighting valiantly. A group of six Jedicon was rushing towards them, lightsabers drawn.
No, he thought angrily. Enough Jedi had died on those walls this day. He didn’t care how powerful these enemies were, how well versed in the Force they might be. Raising his gun, he fired again. His beam streaked out against the wall, and he swept it across the group of unsuspecting Jedicon.
He released the beam, and six Jedicon were dead, a long, glowing scar splitting the wall that had been behind them.
Only then did Kanos take a deep breath, and realized what had just happened.
I just killed six Jedicon. He doubted hardly any Jedi in the whole NI could claim that. He looked down at the weapon in his hands, his awe overwhelming, giving way to a sense of fear. What are we capable of? he wondered. Would they keep going on until the whole galaxy was destroyed in an endless war? When was a weapon so powerful that its very use might destroy everything around it?
Another sound drew his attention away. Looking up, he saw an Altarin’Dakor fighter streaking down Star Way, flying between the buildings and heading straight for the palace. As he watched, two missiles launched out from the fighter on trails of smoke, flashed by above Kanos’ head and impacted against the tower jutting straight out of the center of the Royal Palace.
The warheads detonated as they hit, blasting fire and duracrete into the air, and the fighter turned away and passed by the other side. Debris rained down on top of the palace, leaving a pair of huge, smoking craters in their wake…
And slowly, the tower holding up the glass observatory above the palace swayed, then toppled and began to fall.
Kanos knew right away that it was coming at him, towards the front of the palace. There was nothing he could do to get out of the way; he’d never make it in time, even if he could run in his present condition. The tower leaned out towards him, a massive cracking sound splittng the air.
And Kanos realized that his luck had finally just run out.
* * *
Royal Palace, Varnus
Zalaria stood on the wall facing east, offering support to hold off the troops from penetrating the palace on that side. Before her, troops hid behind debris and inside the bombed-out interiors of buildings. They knew she was out there. As soon as she’d stepped outside and wiped out a few hundred of them, they’d known they were completely outmatched.
Varnus had almost fallen, she’d noticed. At this point the battle in orbit was lost, and almost all of the NI fighters in the sky had been destroyed, giving Nimrod’s forces air and space superiority. Jedicon still fought with Jedi in the palace, though there couldn’t be that many NI warriors left. The palace itself was about to be overrun by ground forces, especially at the main gate.
Perhaps this would be enough to bring her brother down to personally oversee the surrender. By all logic, he should be there any moment. Zalaria had not interfered enough for him to commit widespread destruction of the planet. Soon, he would come down and they would meet face to face once more, and end this.
Another group of shock troops had overrun the troops at the east side before she’d gotten there, and even now they were taking shelter behind the NI’s own barricades. Bolstered by her assistance, some NI troops had retaken positions up the steps and along the walls, keeping them under cover fire.
At the end of the road ahead, one of the enemy’s massive battle platforms was making its way down the street towards them. Heavily armored and bristling with weapons, it was more than a match for any ground vehicle the NI had to offer, and mere troops would never have been able to harm it at all. Behind it would be a column of shock troops, enough to overrun the palace and complete their victory.
Hopping off the wall, Zalaria glided down to the street and landed amidst the debris – pieces of buildings, vehicles and people. The soldiers in view cowered even further away. The battle platform continued to hover forwards.
Raising a hand, Zalaria sent a blinding beam of light from her palm that crossed near-instantaneously to the enemy platform and annihilated it in an explosion that filled the entire street with fire.
The enemy advance futher delayed, she took stock of the situation and scanned the sky for Nimrod’s personal ship. Surely he would arrive at any moment.
Then she saw the two missiles streak in from down Star Way and slam into the tower jutting out of the palace’s center, exploding.
The tower began to fall, breaking nearly at the halfway point and toppling downwards, the glass-encased rotating restaurant pitching directly towards the front gate of the palace.
She had no choice. Reaching out with one hand, she grabbed the entire structure with the Power, throwing her strength against it. The falling tower slowed to a stop and hovered there, unmoving. Then, beckoning it forward, she began to pull it away.
The structure itself was huge, comprising probably thirty stories of building. It was far too large and heavy for any mere Jedi to lift or control. For Zalaria, it was not so much difficult as it was bulky. She needed some place to set it down, and rather than toss it into a random building, she decided it would be better to drop the tower in the street and completely close it off to further assault.
Deciding that was the best choice, she drew the tower overhead and guided it down the street, right towards the plume of smoke rising towards the sky from the destroyed platform. The building began to pass overhead, and she kept her hand extended towards it, keeping it aloft with the sheer power granted a Shok’Thola.
So focused was she on the tower that she never saw the soldiers taking aim at her from near the palace steps.
The first blast hit her in the back and blasted straight out of her midsection, the mass projectile ripping through her in an instant and sending bits of her flesh and clothing flying into the air in front of her. She gasped in shock, the force of the shot staggering her forward.
It was followed by another, and another, and then a whole cluster of pellets blasted through her body from behind, passing through her ribs, sternum, out of her chest. Blood and bone fragments sprayed the air in front of her as her body lurched and flailed under each successive hit. Her mouth gaping, no sound coming from her pierced lungs, she was able to half-turn back towards her attackers, catching a glimpse of several soldiers taking aim at her from one of the barricades, then they spun out of view.
She hit the ground, the pain still not yet registering. She felt death quickly looming over her, but she shunted the feeling aside. There was only one thing she could think about. One desperate thought thrust away any concern for herself or anything else. Reaching inside her body with the Power, she felt into her lower abdomen area. Had it been hit? Was the child safe within her?
Panic shot through her. Immortal she might be, but the life within her was very much able to die. And her reckless action may have been the end of everything she had worked so hard to protect. Her very reason to go on. Was the baby still alive?
Before she could attain her answer, a deep shadow fell over her field of vision. Her concentration broken, she turned her head to look upwards – at the wall of duracrete falling straight on top of her.
Instinctively raising a shield around herself, she threw her hands over her face and turned away, just as the tower came crashing down.
The building hit the ground and collapsed with a thunderous crash, filling the entire street as it disintegrated and sent a plume of dust towering into the air. One of the buildings on the side was hit as well, ripping off the external fasod and collapsing another pile of rubble onto the one now spreading out below. The cloud of dust expanded in every direction, rising among the buildings around it and obscuring the whole street from view, extending all the way to the east entrance.
And as the dust and debris began to settle, a silence had taken over the battlefield.
* * *
Royal Palace, Varnus
The tower collaped with a massive crash, shaking the very ground underneath Kanos’ feet. Clouds of dust shot into the air and started working their way towards him.
Still, Kanos could do nothing but shake his head in wonder that he was still alive. The falling tower had suddenly stopped its downward momentum, hovered east towards one of the side streets, then abruptly fell the rest of the way. There was no way such a thing should have happened.
Whoever had done it was more powerful in the Force than anyone Kanos had ever heard of. Even the Emperor had never shown feats of strength and control like that. To whomever it was that had saved his life, Kanos was grateful. It seemed he would live at least a little while longer.
Then he looked up to see another figure making its way along the top of the wall inside the palace. It was a Jedicon, he recoginized immediately. But what was unusual was that it was also a woman. She had long, golden hair that extended to her shoulder blades, and wore a tight-fitting black outfit with patches of armor, but completely open to skin in other, strange areas. Beneath them he could make out wickedly-carved red tattoos, the first of their kind he had seen on any Jedicon.
The women thrust out a hand, and two Jedi that had been rushing towards her were blown off their feet and into the air. Then she reached out with both hands, and beams of energy speared them, sending them falling down into one of the courtyards below.
In response, NI soldiers from atop the wall and down near the steps opened fire on her. The woman turned towards them, hands still out, and the blasts began dissipating within a meter of reaching her. Bright red blaster bolts shot in from all around, but stopped harmlessly short, as if hitting an invisible barrier that no one else could see.
Then bursts of white lightning shot from the woman’s hands into the NI ranks.
Soldiers one the wall were sliced open where they stood, flying backwards as bolts shot though their bodies. The woman swept her hands together, and a sudden wind sprang up, powerful enough to sweep men off their feet and into the air. They flew out over the wall, yelling, then more lightning shot out and tore through them.
More men rushed in, screaming battle cries. By this time Kanos had taken several steps closer to get in a better firing position. Four other soldiers ran forwards, their blasts vanishing harmlessly, and looked as though they would assail the enemy directly.
Then the woman pointed at them, and they simply exploded.
There was no fire or burst of energy. The men’s bodies burst open as if two invisible hands had gripped them and simply ripped them apart. Their insides and bodily fluids gushed out onto the floor.
The sight of such casual slaughter was too much. Yelling a wordless roar, Kanos brought his weapon up with all of his strength. He centered his crosshairs on the woman, who turned towards him, revealing an attractive face covered with red tattoos.
“No!” Kanos yelled, and fired.
The beam blasted out the barrel of his weapon straight towards the woman. Her eyes widened in surprise, and at the last second she threw both hands out together in front of her.
And to Kanos’ astonishment, when the beam hit her hands it split apart, seperating into a half dozen smaller beams that passed around an invisible bubble surrounding the woman. The beams came together again behind her and sliced into the wall, but left their target completely unscathed.
The beam died, and Kanos gaped open-mouthed as the woman stood, still in one piece, and straightened. Her face was a mask of concentration, and she breathed heavily, as though the effort had drained her considerably.
Still in shock, Kanos raised his weapon at her again and fired. The woman looked surprised, and Kanos thought that this time he would have her.
Instead, a thin line of light shot from the barrel towards the woman, made it about halfway, then vanished.
Kanos glanced down at his weapon. He pulled the trigger again, but nothing happened. The weapon’s status indicator had gone from orange to red. He was out of power.
“Sir! Get down!” someone yelled.
Dropping the gun, Kanos glanced up at the woman and threw himself to the side just as a web of lightning shot through the ground where he’d stood. He caught a glimpse of the woman as he fell, standing atop the wall, her eyes glaring balefully down at him.
Then a burst of wind came from beneath him and launched him into the air. The world spun in his vision. He saw someone beneath him, shooting a blaster. The air was filled with the sound of bolts firing below him. Then he saw a flash of light, seeming to come from the direction where the woman was standing.
Then an explosion ripped through the air. Kanos felt himself picked up more forcefully this time, launching him forward over one barricade and down towards the rubble of another one. The ground loomed at him…
Then he hit the street. Pain shot through his side, his hip and left leg. His vision swam, everything a blur, which narrowed to a tunnel of light that slowly faded down to black.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Thu Jun 11, 2009 4:37 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Skies above Vectur
His TIE Avatar floated ten meters above the street, nestled within the shade of the towering buildings around him on all sides. His cockpit was quiet; the only sound came from the hum of his twin ion engines and the beeping of diagnostic and sensor scans.
So far, his hiding spot hadn’t been noticed. Passive sensors had picked up AD fighters passing close by, but they hadn’t gotten a visual on him.
He couldn’t keep flying – not right now, anyway. All he could see were Rann and Tanya’s fighters plunging down to their deaths.
The senselessness of it all was maddening. How could life end just like that? So… casually. Maarek had seen many comrades die before, had witnessed the destruction of thousands, even put an end to hundreds of enemy combatants, himself. But suddenly he felt like a rookie again, losing his wingmen for the first time.
The truth was, Maarek wasn’t really even sure who he was, anymore.
“Are you still alive, Maarek Stele?”
The voice brought him back to reality, not from its content but from its familiarity. He recognized that voice, though he couldn’t quite place it. It seemed unlikely that NI search parties had come looking for him to rescue him.
No, that voice had been accented with the voice of an Altarin’Dakor. And as the dreamlike state he’d retreated into faded into the real world around him, he knew who it was. It seemed that fate would not let things go unresolved.
Terror rushed into his gut. Kamren Thansil had come looking for him, finally.
“Let us settle this conflict,” the AD commander’s voice came over the open channel. “I will duel with you, just the two of us. I swear to you, others will not interfere.”
Maarek stared at his commlink and didn’t respond. A cold chill had sank over him, and he realized that he would indeed have to face all of his worst fears, this day.
“Maybe you are dead," the voice continued. "If you were alive, you would respond. You would not hide, like a coward.”
Maarek forced his eyes shut.
“I killed your friend. He was squadron member. His name was… Petur, yes?”
The pronunciation wasn’t perfect, but it had its intended effect. Indignation sparked in Maarek, quickly turning to anger. He knew the AD commander was prodding him, trying to evoke a response. Maarek gripped his controls tightly, but said nothing in reply. How could he face Thansil now? After hours of dogfighting, he was tired. So very tired. Thansil might still be fresh, having overseen the battle to date from afar. Maarek's fighter had only three missiles left, and had gone through heavy strain already. Kamren's fighter was probably fully armed and ready for battle.
"I am waiting for your answer," said the voice.
Maarek wanted to ditch his fighter somewhere, climb into one of the surrounding buildings and hide. The only thing stopping him was knowing that he’d feel even more vulnerable outside. All his life, the cockpit had been where he’d felt the safest, the most confident. Now even that last respite of peace had been stripped from him.
“If you were alive, you would want to avenge your friend, yes?”
Could he win? He would have to fly at his very best in order to stand a chance. Without proper preparation and motivation, Maarek was as good as dead already.
“Maybe you really didn’t care about Petur.”
The words sent an explosion of anger flaring white-hot inside Maarek. His vision went red. The faces of Petur, Rann, Tanya and Bast stood etched in his memory. The AD had murdered them without remorse.
Cowering here would not honor them at all.
There was nowhere to run. No way to avoid this. In the cockpit he would have to stay. It was, after all where he was born to be. Victor had taught him that.
"Maybe you didn't care about any of your men," Thansil taunted. "You only care for yourself."
Maarek thought of those in the city who were dead or dying because of this attack. Ever since he’d first sat inside a fighter’s cockpit, Maarek had known only conflict and war. And this war would be the end of the galaxy as they knew it. At this point, Maarek had no illusions that the NI could stop the AD. In fact, the New Republic wouldn’t be able to defeat them, either. This was a war without end, one that was destined to happen and that would continue until the path of dominion by the Altarin’Dakor was culminated. It was going to be a long rule.
Still, Maarek knew he couldn’t live under such a galaxy. He would fight it to his dying breath. Not out of mere duty, but because he had no other choice. If he could take down as many Altarin’Dakor with him as he could, then he would go out a happy man. And most of all, there was one pilot out there whom he knew he had to kill: the man who was searching for him even now.
"I think you are dead, Maarek Stele," came the voice. "And soon everyone you want to protect will also be dead..."
Reaching up to his commlink, Maarek clamped his hand over the transmit button. “I’m still alive,” he growled into the mic. “Let’s end this, you AD kriffer. I’m right here; come get me!”
Gripping the throttles, he pushed them forward, sending his fighter lurching ahead. His craft rose, the buildings beginning to pass by more quickly around him.
In the sky between the buildings, a lone AD fighter began to pass by at about a thousand meters, then at the last second cut in and began a sweeping dive towards Maarek.
“Youare still alive!” came Thansil's exultant, almost jubilant voice. The fighter dove straight at him, and warnings went off in Maarek's cockpit as two missiles shot out of the approaching craft towards him.
"Kriff!" Maarek shouted, pulling the throttles back. Forgoing his climb, he put his fighter on its side and dove to port down another street, then punched it again, sending out chaff and countermeasures as fast as he could.
Panic shot through him as he saw the missiles make the turn onto the street. Keeping his fighter banked, he reared back on the stick to turn down another side street, this one narrower than the others. His breath caught as the opposing buildings came within spitting distance, but somehow his fighter managed to turn in time.
Behind him, the first missile turned too early and hit the corner of the building behind, exploding. The fireball apparently disrupted the lock of the second, and it flashed across the street and slammed into another building on the other side. Glass and ferrocrete blasted out and rained down on the street, while gouts of smoke rose up to the sky.
On his new heading, Maarek realized he had lost track of Thansil's fighter, but he hoped that he had evaded his opponent, as well. Tall buildings of myriad designs and colors swept by, and he crossed another wide intersection...
A glance caught Thansil's fighter ninety degrees to port and above him. His first glimpse of Thansil's craft gave him a good look at what he was flying. His opponent's ship was a heavy, without question. A thickly armored fuselage, swept-out wings bristling with weapons. It was similar to the hook-winged fighters from before, but this one looked modified.
Five beam weapons opened up on him as Maarek's TIE Avatar flashed across the intersection. The reaction hadn't been fast enough, and the beams sliced through the street and over to cut into one of the buildings behind Maarek as he passed.
Maarek pushed the throttles, trying to gain some distance. If he could keep the fight low, he might be able to level the playing field. Plus, he knew the city a lot better than the AD commander would. He might just have an advantage.
He had almost reached the edge of the business district, where skyscrapers gave way to a large park area. But just before he got there something flew into the gap between the buildings and sent an array of beam weapons into the air in front of Maarek.
With no other choice, Maarek hit the reverse thrusters and ducked his fighter down another side street to port.
Another AD fighter! He was obviously being hemmed in, with other fighters keeping out of the fight, but not letting him run away. They wanted to make sure he and Thansil fought a battle to the death.
Grimly he realized that even if he survived his fight with Thansil, he wasn't likely to stay alive much longer than that.
In the distance he caught a glimpse of the Royal Palace. Columns of smoke and dust rose into the air nearby, and he immediately recognized that the trademark tower atop it was now missing, ending in a jagged block of ferrocrete jutting into the sky. Less than a week before Maarek's birthday party had been held there, hosted by Rann, Tanya, Bast and the others...
No, stay focused, he thought, shaking his head to clear it. Letting his mind wander was a sure way to get himself killed.
He cut another left, passing between massive buildings near the city center, then pulled back on the stick, rising sharply to the tops of the towers. Some buildings towered higher than others, rising two hundred floors or more, but the top of each structure was uniquely designed and decorated in a myriad of Varnusian designs. He looped around a one massive building’s towering spire, curving back the way he’d come, and spotted Thansil’s fighter just a few klicks ahead, heading to starboard. The AD commander noticed him, as well, and started turning towards him, but Maarek got lock first and sent a missile flying out towards the enemy.
The warhead shot across the tops of the buildings straight for its target, and Maarek pushed the thottles hard, following it in. Thansil, unable to evade, had no choice but to turn into the missile and try to shoot it down. The enemy fighter turned, and an array of beam weapons shot out into the missile’s path, detonating it in midair.
By that point Maarek had closed the distance and rolled down lower to get a high shot at his opponent. Thansil continued his turn, trying to angle down on Maarek, but he was coming in too fast. The enemy fighter loomed closer in his sights, and Maarek thought for a second that he had him. But at the last instant Thansil reversed direction and blasted away, and Maarek had to wrench the stick back to get his crosshairs over his opponent. Even still, he knew he would have only one pass.
He opened up with all guns as Thansil’s fighter shot across his sights. Laser fire passed by beneath, then he saw the enemy’s shields light up as they stitched across the fuselage and then shot by overhead.
Then, his run past, Maarek inverted and dove back towards the streets. He knew his blasts hadn’t been able to penetrate the enemy’s shields. Thansil was probably angling back to get a shot on him from behind…
His missile alert went off again as Thansil sent a parting shot his way. Already passing beneath the building tops again, Maarek launched chaff and dove around another corner. Behind him, the missile flew straight through the chaff and angled downward, slamming into the street and exploding.
He pulled up, and suddenly beams of energy were dancing by overhead, he glimpsed the enemy fighter coming down from a high angle. Turning inside the enemy’s aim, he headed straight for the enemy fighter, goosing the throttles as much as he could. Maarek stayed just below his opponent’s firing range, though that meant he couldn’t get a firing angle, either. He shot underneath the enemy fighter, then pulled a hard-G turn to port to try and come around on Thansil’s tail. The tightness of his turn plastered Maarek back into his seat.
But when he came back around, his opponent was nowhere to be found.
A quick scan of his sensors revealed nothing of value. There was no way he could make out Thansil’s single blip among all the other dots on there, much less with the enemy’s jamming. He soared over the rooftops, scanning the sky above as well as the streets below, but saw nothing.
What was Thansil up to? The knew the last thing he needed to do was get confident and walk right into a trap. Thansil had to be hiding behind some buildings, just as Maarek had done. He’d have to wait his opponent out.
Cutting the throttle back, Maarek spotted a tall skyscraper jutting out a few hundred meters from the others surrounding it, and chose that as his fall-back spot. He moved alongside, then killed his forward thrust and hovered on repulsorlifts only. He carefully scanned the sky, alert for any sign of the enemy. Other fighters were still above him, dogfighting what remained of the NI fighter contingent. Other than that, all was silent.
Taking several deep breaths, he tried to settle his nerves. The last few moments had been intense, the adrenaline pumping in Maarek’s veins. It wasn’t just the high-stakes flying in between buildings. It was his opponent. Maarek knew this was the most dangerous and skilled enemy pilot he’d ever faced. Thansil would be quick to capitalize on the first mistake Maarek made. Already his nerves had kept him from taking full control of the situation. He had to calm down and think.
Behind him, the building walls were countless panes of transparisteel, reflecting the city and sky surrounding them. As Maarek turned to port, he caught a glimpse of his own fighter, mirrored in the glass beside him.
A brief glimmer from behind the transparisteel was all the warning he had, and he shoved the stick downwards as four beams of energy shot out of the side of the building, passing within a hairsbreadth of Maarek’s canopy. Fire and shattered, flaming transparisteel blasted into the air around him, and a warning blared through the cockpit as his shields were overloaded. Maarek’s Avatar dove towards the ground as the beams swept down through where he’d just been, slicing all the way through the building from the other side. Glass and metal rained down after him.
Thansil had spotted him from the other side of the building and fired straight through! Maarek cursed himself for not remembering the power those beam weapons had. That brief lapse in judgment had nearly cost his life. Pushing the throttles forward, Maarek pulled away and began a high-speed evasive turn. Behind him, the beams faded out, and he caught a glimpse of Thansil’s fighter coming around from the building’s other side after him.
From that point, it was on. Thansil was on his tail, and Maarek knew he was in for the fight of his life. Pushing his throttles to the max, he dove for the streets.
Buildings zoomed past him on both sides as he passed into another street. He jinked and twisted as much as he could, bright beams of energy shooting past and missing by mere meters. The beams shot by to port, then raked to starboard, and Maarek dove lower. Then they came back down for him, and he had to jink to port and rise. Acting on instinct, he dodged with every bit of skill he could muster. Thansil’s beams flashed out blue, then yellow as the weapons cycled to let the others cool, keeping the rate of fire constant. Maarek knew he couldn’t dodge forever. Sooner or later his luck would run out.
As the buildings grew lower, he pulled up and turned tight to port over the rooftops. Thansil stayed right behind him, pouring more fire all around Maarek. Beams passed by so close he thought he could feel their heat, always just one step behind, cutting through buildings around and in front of him as he shot past.
His missile alert went off, too close for Maarek to even launch chaff. He kept rotating and a bright object flashed by just beneath him and pulverized the side of the building next to him.
Maarek kept twisting and turning, pulled a tight loop to starboard, and saw the enemy’s weapons blast into a tall building half a klick ahead. Continuing to loop around, Maarek cast about desperately for something that might help shake the enemy off his tail.
There! Another klick to the east was a large skyscraper that was still under construction. Maarek knew because he’d flown past it before en route to landing at the palace. If he remembered correctly, that building should still have a large gap through the center where there was nothing but metal beams. He thought his smaller Avatar might just be able to fit through there.
Finishing a turn that nearly blacked him out, Maarek shot towards the building, looming like a hollowed-out skeleton over the surrounding structures. He made as if to pass by it on the right, hoping he could catch his enemy by surprise. Then at the last second, he dove towards it.
For good measure, as he headed for a network of scaffolding and structural beams, he opened up with his lasers, sending shots blasting through support structures and the surrounding ferrocrete. Metal and fire exploded in front of him, raining down just as he dove beneath and through an opening barely larger than his Avatar. He blinked instinctively as he came within centimeters of thick metal beams.
Thansil had not followed him through. Behind, the whole internal structure of the building collapsed into a cloud of smoke and dust. It looked like Maarek’s shots had been too accurate.
Cutting the throttle back, he waiting for Thansil to circle the building. Just like before at Sigma, Thansil passed by on the other side, but wasn’t foolish enough to continue on his present course. He knew Maarek would be waiting for him. Unsure whether to watch left or right, Maarek was caught half off-guard when he saw Thansil’s fighter curve away on his port side. He throttled up to go after him, bringing his nose up to tryi and get his crosshairs on his opponent’s fading engine nozzles.
He cut loose with his lasers, sending blast after blast after the distant enemy fighter. By now he was kilometers in front of Maarek, and to the best he could tell, none of his shots hit. Maarek cursed; Thansil was too far away, and was easily avoiding his fire. In the atmosphere he just couldn’t catch up fast enough. He considered using his last two missiles, but he knew Thansil was probably just as good at avoiding them as Maarek was. Plus, if he used them now, he’d have nothing but lasers, which would take forever to knock down that heavy’s shields.
He pulled off his pursuit, letting Thansil’s craft disappear behind a line of buildings, and made a wide loop, scanning the horizon. The battle was still going on, but he could barely see any more NI blips left on his sensors. AD troops had overrun the streets, and the palace was probably falling to the enemy Jedicon even now. This had to be it; if he was going to defeat Thansil, he’d have to do it right now.
“Let’s end this!” he called out over the comm. Looking down at the city below, he spotted the widest-looking avenue he could see running in the direction Thansil had gone. Looping around, he dropped altitude and headed towards it.
It was a wide thoroughfare, though now totally unoccupied by traffic. Dropping between the buildings on either side, Maarek leveled off at about fifty meters, watching to see if Thansil accepted his challenge.
“I agree,” Thansil’s voice came back in his ears. The man seemed exuberant; he didn’t sound tired in the least. “This duel has been an honor, Maarek Stele. Let us finish this like true warriors.”
In the distance, his scanners showed Thansil’s fighter dropping down into the thoroughfare as well, coming to virtually the same altitude as Maarek. The enemy craft began picking up speed. Maarek pushed his throttles forward, as well.
This seemed to be one of the longest streets in all of Vectur; separated by over a dozen kilometers, Thansil dove into the street from one end while Maarek began to speed down the other, the two craft heading straight for each other.
On a head-to-head pass, Maarek knew he should have no chance. But he was tiring, and he still had his missiles left. He knew he couldn’t keep fighting at his current level. This was the only choice; he would only have one chance to finish this.
The two fighters grew closer, gaining speed. Maarek’s missiles quickly gained lock, but he didn’t fire. At this angle they would be easy for Thansil to shoot down. No missiles came from his opponent, either. Letting his finger hover over the trigger, Maarek kept closing.
“I have you this time, Maarek Stele.” Thansil’s voice was completely level and calm, full of confidence. Maarek forced himself to smile, feeling all emotion suddenly fade away. This was it; now he knew what it was to face the last few seconds you knew you would be alive.
He began to fire lasers blasts randomly down the thoroughfare. He knew none of them would be effective, but he hoped they would throw his opponent off just a bit.
The distance continued to close. Thansil’s fighter became visible – at first just a dot, then a speck that quickly swelled to become a fighter, weapons bristling, ready to fire.
Maarek’s Avatar soared over the streets, the buildings to either side a blur. Thansil’s assault fighter came in directly at him. Neither pilot flinched. Neither would turn away.
Thansil’s fighter came square within his crosshairs. He knew that he would be right inside in his enemy’s.
And as Thansil’s fighter finally loomed in the viewport, Maarek squeezed the trigger and sent his last pair of missiles streaking out at near point-blank range.
At that same instant, Thansil opened up with all beam weapons.
Maarek blinked in shock as the bright beams of energy sheared his left solar panel completely away next to the fuselage. The wing spun away, and his Avatar lurched to port, looping completely over.
Maarek’s missiles hit the nose of the AD fighter dead-on. The warheads exploded. Thansil’s fighter burst through the flames, dove for the streets, bounced off hard, then curved up and to port and slammed into the side of a building.
The fighter exploded, sending a fireball ripping through the building’s side and sending glass and duracrete into the air.
Maarek twisted the stick, managing to right his fighter, but it immediately began to slew to one side. His speed dropped and the Avatar stalled, plunging downwards.
Maarek had no choice. He reached up above him, pulled his emergency levers, and ejected.
He blasted free of the fighter on his cockpit seat. Below him, the Avatar plunged down and slammed into the street, exploding into a thousand pieces. The blast washed out across the street and swept across the side of a building, ripping inside. Maarek continued to float on the small repulsorlift built into his seat, but he was still flying forwards at near-breakneck speed. His seat had no vectoring or thrust controls whatsoever, and the world swam around him in a blur. He was spinning out of control.
The transparisteel-layered side of the building his fighter had hit loomed straight into his vision. He was headed straight for it, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He tried to control his spin as best he could in his seat at the last second. Then he slammed into the building’s large windows, bursting through the transparisteel. Maarek’s seat ripped a gash through a ceiling above him, rebounding him off and sending him spinning again. His vision swam, blurred. He hit things he couldn’t identify, felt their impact against his body. There was no pain yet.
The last thing he saw pass through his vision was a wall coming straight at him.
Then he impacted, and all conscious thought left him as the darkness came…
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Tue Jun 16, 2009 4:45 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Xar stood in the intersection of two palace corridors, taking in the silence and the sudden stillness that seemed to hang in the air.
For the last hour or more, he'd been running throughout the palace, looking for Jedicon and fighting them wherever they could be found, and saving what few civilians, soldiers and other Jedi he could find.
So far, he'd killed twenty-eight of the enemy Jedicon, sometimes two or three at a time. He'd been fighting at full power, and though Nimrod's forces were powerful in their own right- far more powerful than an average Jedi from this galaxy – few Jedicon were a match for someone of Xar's level.
It still wasn't enough. Xar wouldn't be satisfied until he'd killed every last one of them.
But a moment ago Xar had been stopped in his tracks. All of a sudden he'd felt incredible pain in his back, chest and midsection, as if something were ripping through his body. It had taken a huge amount of willpower not to succumb to the pain and simply pass out. He'd never felt anything like it before – but he'd instantly recognized what it was. It was the Bond, and it was Zalaria's pain he'd felt.
Up until now, he'd never actually felt pain coming from her – though to his knowledge she'd never even been injured since they had first Bonded. But this time, what he'd felt was no minor pain. It had felt as though he were dying, himself. And if it was that intense for Xar, it must have been far worse for her.
Now, he couldn't feel Zalaria at all.
There had been many times in which she'd shielded herself off from Xar, making it so that he couldn't sense her or feel emotions from her. Xar had never been able to emulate that kind of control, and she'd never taught him. So sometimes Xar couldn't sense her, but she could always sense him.
At first he’d felt a sense of stark panic, but soon after a wave of suspision had come over him. He knew that there shouldn't be anything capable of killing Zalaria. She was, after all, a Shok'Thola, an Altarin'Dakor Warlord. She was immortal, incapable of really dying, and she was more powerful in the Force than anyone else in this galaxy.
That left only one possibility that Xar could consider: Zalaria was hiding from him again.
Now, moments after her sense had faded from his mind, Xar felt something else: a terrible darkness approaching, even now threatening to fill him with unnatural, visceral fear.
As fate would have it, he would indeed come face to face with Nimrod again today. The Warlord was on his way down.
Xar stood in the now-empty corridor, thinking of what he had to do. Zalaria had shut herself off from him, and Nimrod would be here within moments, most assuredly to oversee his victory over the New Imperial forces. What was Zalaria planning?
All his trust for her had long since faded away.
Icis had been right all along about her, he realized. He had no more illusions that she would come to aid him. Most likely she intended to negotiate a surrender, then try to get her and Xar some kind of immunity. Of course, that assumed that she really cared for him at all. Maybe she would join Nimrod and help him take over the galaxy, instead. They were, after all, siblings.
Perhaps she planned to take Xar back to the AD galaxy. Any of these could have been her plan all along. But if that were true, why carry on the farce of helping the NI for so long?
The feeling of darkness and dread was growing closer.
The logical part of his mind knew that he had to surrender. This battle was lost already, and there was no hope Xar had of defeating Nimrod and driving off the AD all by himself. If he resisted, he might end up getting everyone on Varnus killed for his stubbornness. Every man, woman and child on his home planet could die, his entire race wiped out. This was his home.
Still, one thing remained that held him back: Xar was a Varnusian, and Varnusians had never surrendered to anyone. They’d seen their homes and even their world razed and plundered countless times, but they’d never given in to the enemy before. He couldn’t just quit, now.
Xar's last encounter with Nimrod had shown the vast difference in their power levels, and he knew there was no way he could match his opponent. There was, however, one thing that he hadn't been able to try before. And so far it had saved him from certain defeat time and time again.
Xar didn't believe this was the end. He had a destiny. Zalaria had told him of the prophecy that an outlander would defeat the Altarin'Dakor's attempts to carry out their grand Return. Well, it was time to put those prophesies to the test.
Standing in the empty corridor, stretching out with the Force, Xar began to sense the latent life energy that existed all around him. Deeply immersed in the Force, attuned to the energies created by all life, he could feel every living thing in the palace, the city, and the continent they resided on. Soon, his sense of life energies grew to encompass the entire planet in a vague sense of exuberance and vitality. And slowly, little by little, he began to beckon that energy, to ask its assistance, drawing it in and focusing it right here where he stood.
He knew this would be the only chance of victory. He just hoped he had enough time.
* * *
The dark transport launched out of the Grand Crusader’s forward hangar, streaking out towards the planet hovering below.
Escorted by an array of heavy assault fighters, the black ship passed by the shattered NI formation, now an array of twisting, lifeless hulks floating in the void. It passed the remnants of the Nexus, two dark, silent hulks slowly separating themselves from each other. All survivors had long since fled the devastation.
Passing the scene of destruction, the ship began to plummet into the planet’s atmosphere, far faster and at a steeper angle than any normal ship could have. The escort fighters broke off, letting the transport plunge downwards, burning down towards the surface seemingly unscathed.
As it approached the sprawling city laid out across the main continent, it slowed, and another group of fighters moved in to provide an honor guard. They descended towards the city, a massive metropolis now obscured by hundreds of rising plumes of smoke and flame.
Quickly the transport descended to the point that it passed over the buildings of the city itself. NI fighters, some of the few that still remained, turned to try and engage the mysterious newcomer. At just the sight of it, they knew that something terrible was approaching.
But even as the NI ships began turning towards the ship, even as they targeted the vessel to engage, they began exploding, one by one. Every ship that so much as moved towards the approaching black orb simply detonated in midair. As dozens exploded within the span of moments, the rest turned away, simply unable to defend against an attack they could not even see.
Then, at last, the transport approached its target.
The Royal Varnusian Palace at first lay enshrouded in dust and smoke, but as the dark ship passed through the cloud, the structure became visible, its scarred, scorched exterior clearly visible, unable to hide further. The escorts finally broke away, presenting a clear landing target for the approaching vessel.
And as the ship moved to settle down upon its target, it was as though the entire planet held a collective breath.
The Destroyer had arrived.
* * *
Royal Palace, Varnus
Kir Kanos slowly came to, his eyes fluttering open, and he groaned.
He was lying face-down in the yellow-white dirt, and his body was crying out in pain. With effort, he rolled over onto his back and squinted as the sunlight bore into his eyes. He didn’t know how long he’d been out, but it seemed not much time had passed. The blue sky hung overhead, filled with clouds of dark smoke that moved slowly across his field of vision.
His right leg was agony; it felt broken in at least two places. His ribs hurt as well, and he figured that he’d probably cracked a few of them, as well. Breathing was difficult, almost laborious.
The sounds of battle had died down, sounding distant. For a moment he thought the battle might be over. But the noise of an approaching ship drowned everything else out. At the edge of his vision, he could make out a black sphere, descending nearby.
Grimacing in pain, mindful of his injuries, he rolled halfway over and managed to prop himself up on one elbow to get a better look.
What he saw sent a jolt of fear straight through his bones.
A large, spherical-shaped craft was descending onto the street in front of the palace’s main entrance. Behind it, Altarin’Dakor forces had moved up as far as the end of the road, but were not advancing further. In fact, they stood at attention, as though in greeting for whoever was arriving in the black ship that was landing.
The craft descended, and in the background, a massive beam of blinding yellow energy appeared out of the sky and plunged into the heart of the city. It was followed by another, the two beams raking their way across the horizon, sending gigantic gouts of flame rushing up into the sky.
As if the bombardment from orbit was there to accentuate its arrival, the spherical black transport finally touched down gently, with barely a sound to be heard. The line of AD shock troopers behind it all dropped to their knees.
Then the ship’s boarding ramp descended, and at that moment, all hope left him.
Before the ramp had even touched down, two heavily tattooed figures burst from the opening and leapt into the air. They flew off, heading in opposite directions, and Kanos could do naught but simply look on in wonderment.
Then as the next occupant emerged from the transport, his eyes could focus on nothing else.
A massive, black-armored figure emerged from the vessel and strode purposefully down the ramp. His boots touched the ground, his massive black cape swinging behind him. The armor itself looked exquisite, beyond anything Kanos had ever seen. It was midnight-black, yet appeared intricate, made of many segments that joined together and allowed a broad range of motion. The figure was well over two meters, and its breastplate was broad and massive, yet it was the helmet that was most riveting. Two wide, skeletal wings swept out from its sides, and in the center, two red eyes glowed inhumanly.
The sight of the figure sent sheer terror through Kanos. He knew this was the Warlord. He knew this was Nimrod.
The figure approached the steps, though by now they were covered in debris and bodies, looking nearly impassible. But then the debris began to move, sliding to either side, clearing the way. Kanos lay just outside the rubble, and he watched as the black armor-clad figure passed not ten meters away.
Suddenly blaster fire erupted, and Kanos fliched. Red bolts streaked out from both sides of the steps as NI troops there opened fire. Their bolts came within two meters of the Warlord, and simply disappeared, impacting an invisible shield they could not penetrate. Kanos wanted to cry out, to call them off, but he could no more scream than stand up and join the fight himself.
The NI soldiers were blown backwards instantly by an invisible force, their bodies flying through the air to slam into the barricades and walls on either side. The large boulders and stones that had provided cover or had been blasted away followed them, slamming into the soldiers’ bodies and grinding them between the duracrete, burying them in the holes that their bodies’ impacts had made.
After that, two Jedi came running down the steps, their lightsabers ignited.
They never made it halfway. The two men slammed into something invisible, halting them in their tracks, and they screamed, lightning coursing over their bodies. Then they simply burst into flames. They were immolated within seconds, and as the flames faded, the only evidence that they’d even been there were two blackened spots on the ground where they’d been incinerated.
The Warlord had not even broken stride. He hit the first step and began walking up, one foot in front of the other.
From behind the Warlord, two Jedi appeared from within a side entranceway that the NI soldiers had used as an access point. One of them rushed out towards the dark figure’s back, raising his lightsaber. Behind him, his companion reached out a hand to stop him, but he was too late. He cried out after the attacking figure, his face and voice filled with despair.
“Amleth, no! Don’t do it!”
Kanos watched, horrified, fascinated. The Jedi came within a few meters of the Warlord, and suddenly was launched backwards off his feet. The Warlord never looked back as the young Jedi slammed into the opposing wall hard enough to blast chunks out of it.
Turning away from the mess, Kanos kept his eyes on the Warlord. Nimrod came within steps of the two massive doors that guarded the main entranceway to the Royal Palace. Just before he got there, another Jedi appeared from the side, sliding to a halt and raising his blade overhead. The man was dark-haired and broad-shouldered, and Kanos recognized him. He was the roguish Jedi who called himself Nova, often brash, leading an upstart faction of young Jedi who believed that force was the best way to win, and believed the ends justified the means.
Now the young Jedi stood mere steps before the approaching Warlord, his blade held high, a visceral roar emanating from his throat.
“Come on!” Nova screamed at the top of his lungs. “Let’s see how powerful you really are!”
Kanos just kept watching. He couldn’t turn away. This was, after all, the end of everything he knew. It was all over.
* * *
Royal Palace, Varnus
The main doors split open, releasing a sliver of light into the room that widened as the doors swung open all the way. As they did so, a river of blood ran into the room, mixed with small bits of flesh and bone, and a broken lightsaber handle, spreading out to touch the edge of the Royal Varnusian seal set into the floor.
The Warlord strode across the dark red slick, the sound of his boots echoing off the walls. He came to a rest in the center of the chamber, standing directly over the seal.
There he paused, simply standing there, letting silence settle across the entire chamber. Two corridors branched out directly in front of him, leading deeper inside the palace.
Out of one of them burst a blinding ball of light, brighter than the sun, streaking through the air directly towards the Warlord.
Nimrod made no move to evade, even if he had been able to do so. Instead, he raised both his armored hands directly towards the Focus Bomb and caught it dead-on.
It seemed as though the Warlord might be in trouble. The ball shone in his hands, driving them back slightly, and what might have been a grunt of effort escaped the Warlord’s lips, enhanced by the artificial vocalizers in his helmet. The blinding brightness of the ball reflected off the figure’s black armor, and for a moment it looked as though the Warlord would be overwhelmed.
Then suddenly Nimrod threw his hands upwards, sending the Focus Bomb flashing up into the air. The ball hit the ceiling and burst through, traveling upwards and out of the palace itself, and was gone.
The Warlord turned to look down the corridor from where the attack had come.
And out of the second corridor came a blast of energy, a bright beam of light that streaked towards the Warlord’s side.
The time Nimrod did not struggle with the attack. He reached out with his left hand, and the beam slammed into an invisible barrier half a meter in front of his hand and collected there, turning into a shifting, fluid blob of energy hovering in front of him.
Then the Warlord extended his hand further, and that same energy shot back down the way it had come, streaking back through the same corridor, magnified twofold. Its passing burned the tapestries and paintings off the walls, warping even the stone walls as it passed. Then the beam hit, and a massive explosion ensued from deep within the palace, filling the corridor with fire.
But the assailant had moved on from there, as well. Up on the balcony, a door burst open, and a dark-clad figure flew though in a blur, flying over the railing and heading straight for the armored figure, yellow-white blade extended directly for the Warlord’s faceplate.
Xar slammed into an invisible wall of air. He hovered there for a second, two meters from Nimrod, his blade held futilely in front of him, yet it might as well have been light-years away. Then a wave of Force blew him backwards.
He hit the back wall with bone-crushing force, knocking an indention into the wall in the shape of his body, arms, head and legs. His lightsaber went flying off somewhere.
Pain exploded across Xar’s body from the impact, and he knew that only his power in the Force had kept him from being killed. Still, he hung there in the air, pinned against the wall, the pressure against his body overwhelming. He struggled to move, but it was like trying to lift a mountain. A groan escaped his lips as he stared balefully at the dark figure, the Warlord in the center of the room.
Finally, Nimrod spoke, and it was as though thunder peeled in the chamber, echoing off the marble floor and the columned walls.
“You have been defeated,” came the voice, filling Xar’s ears with its deepness, making him want to weep and beg for forgiveness. He gritted his teeth instead. His plan hadn’t worked. He’d been almost sure the Focus Bomb would have given Nimrod more trouble. Yet it was clear that he just wasn’t strong enough to create a Focus Bomb capable of defeating the Warlord. Even the combined Force power of every living creature on the planet, all that he could summon, had not been enough to phase the Warlord.
How could anyone be that powerful?
“Resisting any further would be utterly useless.” Nimrod’s voice came. Xar closed his eyes. His desperate attack had failed.
The Warlord paused, letting the silence stretch out for a long moment. Only the rumbling of distant explosions and blaster fire could be heard echoing in from outside. He just stood there, arms at his sides, watching as Xar struggled beneath the overwhelming weight pressing him against the wall.
“Surrender,” Nimrod commanded finally.
Xar struggled to take a deep breath. He’d been in this position before, both with Nimrod, and before with Kronos. The last time, he’d managed to summon up enough strength to distract the Warlord and escape. But this time, the pressure was so strong he could barely think straight. He knew he’d lost, that there was really nothing else he could do.
But he could not surrender. It went against everything that made him who he was.
He managed to take a breath beneath the crushing force pressing against him. “I’ll…” he stammered, “I’ll… never… surrender… to you…” He broke off, gasping.
“You fool,” Nimrod said derisively. “I spared your life before at Altima’s order. Now you have tried my patience for the last time. Some things can be forgiven, to one who has accomplished so much.”
“So why… kill… me now?” Xar managed to say, between gasps for air. His chest struggled to heave, each breath bringing strain.
“It doesn’t matter. Unlike the others, I have neither the patience nor the desire to break you, to turn you to my side.”
Then the Warlord gripped him in an unmovable fist of air and pulled him away.
Within a second, Xar was thrown between the floor and wall like a rag doll. He was flung face-first down onto the floor with enough force to shatter the marble beneath him. Then he flew back against the wall again, crushing stone. Then he flew downwards again, slamming into the floor, then against the wall again. Then down a third time.
Once, twice, three times Xar was flayed between the floor and the wall. The final time Xar was thrown back against the wall the Warlord released him. He crashed in further than ever the final time, then his broken body fell to the floor.
Xar fell so that his head was facing the Warlord, and that was the only reason he could still see him. He stared blankly, in shock, as sheer agony ripped through his body. His bones had been crushed, his internal organs ruptured. Ribs had punctured his lungs. His skull was fractured and his vision was turning blurred. He knew all this from what little of the Force still flowed through him.
It was enough to know he was dying.
He opened his mouth, but blood gushed out of it, falling onto the floor beside him. He struggled to breath, each motion of his chest bringing agony. After everything, one simple attack had fatally ruptured his entire body.
Still, Nimrod stood motionless in the center of the room, like a black mountain unable to be shaken.
This was the end. The prophecy had been wrong. Xar’s destiny – what he’d believed in all his life – was to die lying in his own palace, all the power and knowledge he’d ever gained proved insignificant next to the unstoppable might of the Destroyer. He was merely another victim.
Where was Zalaria? He wondered about her dimly, realizing his thinking was no longer working properly. His whole body was crying out in the agonizing throes of death. She’d abandoned him, of course. There was no hope in her, no hope at all. He was truly going to die, this time. What a fool he’d been to think he could face a Shok’Thola. All of his efforts had been useless, as ineffectual as a single gust of wind against a mountain.
“And now,” the thunder boomed, driving finality into the air. “Die.”
Xar looked away. Finally, after all he'd endured, after so many harrowing encounters and near-death experiences, Xar knew his life was over. Destiny would not intervene to miraculously turn the tide. Xar’s whole life had built with so much anticipation, and instead of delivering on its promised glory and significance, it had brought him to this singular moment, where it would all simply… end.
Nimrod’s voice filled the air for a final time. “Goodbye, Kerensky. I only regret the trauma that my sister will incur as you pass from this life into… What?”
The abrupt change made Xar strain to look back up… And stare at the heels of someone standing right in front of him. The newcomer was short and thin, and small of stature. He could only glimpse from behind, but with shock Xar realized he was little more than a boy.
He had felt no one approach; it was as if the boy had appeared from nowhere.
"Who is this?" Nimrod demanded. "And how did you---"
“I’ll give you one chance to walk away and live,” the boy said, his voice full of youthful intensity. “I don’t want to kill you… But either way, your reign of terror ends, right now.”
A moment passed in tense silence. Then a peel of laughter came from the Warlord’s helmeted mask, lasting but a brief – almost condescending – moment.
“Insolent young one,” the voice intoned, “You do not know whom it is you address. Your courage is laudable, and I see you are quite formidable in your own right, but you have no chance of victory, here."
Another moment passed before the Warlord continued. "But, I understand that you act in ignorance; therefore I will permit you to live, provided you will flee from my presence immediately, that I may spare your life from premature---"
“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear!” the boy interrupted. “You’re finished, Nimrod!”
“You fool!” boomed the Warlord. “You incur the wrath of my anger. You shall both perish toge…”
He broke off as the boy’s Force aura changed. What had once been a respectable Jedi power level suddenly skyrocketed, rising faster than anything Xar had ever felt before. Dimly he recognized the familiar sense of a barrier being removed – the telltale sign of a Force Mask being dropped. The boy’s power kept rising; it was insanely fast! Soon his Force aura became just as bright as the Warlord’s – and shot right past, with no signs of slowing at all.
“What are you?!” Nimrod shouted. Then he raised his hands, and a flash of energy erupted from them. It pulsated rapidly, stretching out and growing, blinding in brilliance, brighter than the sun. It became a beam of purple-white energy, streaking across the floor towards Xar and the boy.
Xar screamed. There was no time to act – no one, nothing, could withstand such a blast. The faintest of hopes had been shattered.
The beam grew closer, consuming everything, wider than the boy was tall. Amazingly, the stranger stood at ease, his head tilted back. Xar tried to throw his hands over his face. They would both be incinerated in an instant.
Then, as the energy reached his face, the boy stepped forward and screamed.
Instantly the beam stopped, shying away from him, like an invisible bubble pushing it back and away. His hair flew wildly above his head; his arms were outstretched, hands open wide.
The beam reversed course.
It refracted halfway across the room, splitting into multiple beams as it ripped up the floor at Nimrod’s feet – then enveloped him.
The Warlord grunted as the blast threw him back into the air, ripping his cape apart, and he threw his arms up in front of him.
Then the boy calmly raised a hand – and a ripple burst out of his palm.
It traveled across the room in half a second, like a tiny wave distorting the very fabric of space. It hit a few pebbles of stone that had been thrown into the air, and they disintegrated.
The Warlord screamed as the wave passed across his body, first ripping the armored gloves off of his hands and arms, turning the gauntlets to dust. Skin was exposed for a brief instant – then was seared off, followed by muscle and bone that disintegrated in its wake. The Warlord’s night-black armor – impenetrable even by lightsaber – shattered and ripped free, melting into constituent atoms at its owner fell back through the air. Then, for an instant, Nimrod’s body was exposed. Xar saw a young man, with dark skin and hair, and a look of bewilderment – and wonder – on his face.
And then, from the boy’s calm, outstretched hand, a beam of energy ten meters wide erupted into the air.
Xar thought he saw the beam vaporize Nimrod before he was overcome by blindness. He screamed in sheer terror, huddled at the feet of the stranger, the shaft of light traveling upwards with a rush of wind and burning air from the boy’s still hand. Then finally the blast died away, revealing an empty entry chamber, a perfectly round, ten-meter hole in the wall, and what could only be a deity standing over him.
What had happened was impossible.
Overcome by the pain of his broken bones and ruptured internal organs, Xar blacked out.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Tue Jun 16, 2009 8:24 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Royal Palace, Varnus
Xar was in mortal danger, she knew. He had faced her brother again, and had failed.
The knowledge brought her out of her temporary hibernation. Her body had healed by now, made fully whole once more. She reached out with the Power and let it rage within her.
The line of defenders had been routed and were scattering, heading inside for cover. Nimrod's shocktroops had advanced to the steps and were starting up when the pile of rubble behind them exploded outwards with a sonic boom that reverberated through the air.
Massive chunks of ferrocrete crashed into armored troops, crushing their armor and soft-bodied forms like insects. Stones hit soldiers and ripped them to pieces, and the shockwave from the blast sent the survivors hurtling through the air.
Zalaria stood in the cratered epicenter, a bubble of energy surrounding her body, her hair flowing wildly around her head. All the rubble around her had been blasted away. Her gaze turned to the scattered and injured soldiers, those who had been bold enough to strike out against a Shok'Thola. Shocktroopers littered the steps, struggling to rise and often collapsing again, their faceplates and eardrums bursted, their feet slipping on steps wet with their comrades' blood.
She raised her hand, preparing to finish the remainder off, when her danger sense flared higher than ever before.
It was Xar's final moment.
She turned in shock and looked towards the palace, knowing she was too late to stop whatever was about to happen...
Then an impossibly wide beam of blue-white energy erupted from the palace’s main entrance, emerging straight through the front wall and blasting diagonally up into the air. It continued onwards, striking out into the sky, through the clouds, and out of the planet's atmosphere, until its end could no longer be seen.
Zalaria gasped. She'd never felt that much power since Altima had directly engaged in battle. That could only mean…
But then she felt it. Her brother was dead.
Confusion gripped her mind. She looked across the battlefield. Everywhere, Nimrod's soldiers had paused in stunned bewilderment. They milled about, as if knowing something had changed, but uncertain what it actually was. Their master was no more, his influence no longer on their collective consciousness. They were leaderless.
One of Nimrod's Kodonn'Dakor Jedicon, the woman with the yellow hair and striking red tattoos, stood on top of a large pile of rubble, part of the palace wall that had collapsed. She was staring up at the palace's main entrance, her face frozen in shock. She knew.
The woman spun then, and Zalaria caught her eyes. Zalaria’s mouth twisted into a smile.
The Jedicon's expression became a mask of terror. Turning, she leapt away and began flying west, away from the battlefield. Launching herself into the air as well, Zalaria streaked after the Jedicon at several times the woman's speed, the ground blurring beneath her, hair flailing wildly behind her. The Power surged within her like a mighty torrent.
Cindlin hadn't made it fifty meters before a blur shot in front of her, and the Warlord's hand clamped down on her face. Trapping her.
Zalaria held the woman aloft in midair. The Jedicon screamed, clawing at the immovable hand holding her in its vice-like grip, shrieking for mercy in Altarin'Dakor, begging the Warlord to spare her life, even swearing service to her.
Her thirst for vengeance unabated, Zalaria turned and hurled the woman down the main thoroughfare leading to the palace, using her power to Push the Jedicon away with the immense strength of a Shok'Thola.
The woman's screams died before she reached supersonic velocity, and her body flashed down Star Way and impacted the front of the huge attack platform hovering down the street. The body crashed through and an explosion blossomed out of the front, obscuring it from view. Then a blast of energy from Zalaria's hand finished the job, obliterating the tank and sending pieces of it high into the air and crashing into the buildings around it.
Admiring her handiwork, Zalaria turned back to the line of terrified soldiers below. They began scattering beneath her, giving up all pretense of discipline and order. She ignored them, letting them flee. They were unimportant.
She turned back towards the entryway and took off flying. Something had happened in there, something she did not quite understand. And that concept was something that, for the first time in a long time, gravely frightened her.
* * *
Royal Palace, Vectur
Xar awoke, holding just above the edge of consciousness. Dimly, through half-closed eyes and blurry vision, he saw the figure standing over him. The boy hesitated, hovering over Xar a moment, as if afraid to touch him. Then, finally, he reached down and pulled Xar up underneath his shoulders.
Xar felt himself being carried, his feet sliding across the floor. Corridor walls slid by in his field of vision. He caught a glimpse of the boy, holding him up with seeming ease. He looked so familiar…
Then Xar felt his body began to change. The pain faded as if hit with a powerful suppressant. He felt shifting within his torso, in his abdomen. And he heard pops as his bones set back into place - all without pain. Every other time he'd been healed, he'd either felt intense pain - like that from Runis' dark side healing, or he'd felt like being plunged into ice-cold water. This time, there was nothing. Only... tranquility. It was like the stranger's very life force was being imbued into Xar even as he was being dragged, filling him with strength and energy.
The sense of motion stopped, and his eyes slowly came into focus. The floor beneath him was soft. Still bewildered and half in shock, Xar looked around, saw the stranger had taken them into a small study somewhere on the main floor. Desks with computer consoles sat on the floor, and real books filled built-in cases in the walls. The stranger let him go, and Xar lay back on the rug beneath him, staring for a moment up at the ornately carved ceiling.
Slowly Xar brought himself up to a sitting position. His body felt perfectly normal - better than normal, in fact. He wasn't even fatigued. It merely felt... unsure. Was this real?
He looked up at the boy, who was standing over him with an unreadable expression on his face.
"Who... are you?" he asked uncertainly, wondering if the boy was real, or some kind of apparition.
“I think you know," the boy began, then hesitated. "I am… Well, I'm your son,” he finished, trailing off a bit sheepishly.
Xar stared at him, transfixed. The words hit his ears, but for some reason they didn't seem to register. The boy opened his mouth again.
“I’m from the future. I came back to save you, father.”
Xar continued to stare blankly at the boy. He wanted to say the boy's words were ridiculous, impossible. Part of his brain, the logical part, told him that he'd truly lost his mind from the trauma he'd undergone. The only thing filling him was only a stunned sense of wonder.
"This... Well, this isn't exactly the way I imagined meeting you," said the boy.
Xar knew that this couldn't be real. Had Nimrod killed him? This had to be a dream. Time travel was impossible. If it were feasible, surely someone would have discovered it already by now. Of all the people in the galaxy, why would his son be the one who could travel through time?
But all he had to do was look at the eyes, and he knew the truth. Those eyes were the same as his own.
He took several deep breaths of air, feeling the sensation in his lungs. The carpet beneath him felt soft, made of fine Varnusian fabric. This felt very, very real. He couldn't be dreaming. Slowly, reality settled its way back in.
A thousand questions ran through his mind. "W... Why?" he managed to ask. It seemed as good a place to start as any. He didn't think he could handle how, yet.
“You…" the boy began, then gave a sigh. "All right, I'll try to make this easy to understand. You died, father. Nimrod killed you. My whole life I’ve grown up and never even known you." He shook his head, gave a small grin. "All my life I wanted to meet you. But now that you’re here, I have to admit… I don’t really know what to say.”
Xar listened in stunned silence for a moment. A burning question rested on his mind. “You mean… I was supposed to die in there?” he whispered.
“That’s all changed now,” the boy said. He gave a smile, but didn't look as reassuring as he probably intended.
Then another thought hit him. “But if I was going to die today, and you're here, that means that Zalaria…” Xar began.
The boy nodded. “Right. Mother is pregnant with me right now. She never had the chance to tell you. Or rather, she didn’t feel it was the right time, before… Well, she always regretted it. It nearly destroyed her, that you never knew.”
Xar found himself completely speechless. He let himself fall back to the floor again, dumbfounded. He was a father. He was supposed to be dead. Those two facts overwhelmed his ability to even think. An overwhelming sense of weight fell on him then. It was true; his worst fear had been realized. Everything his life had built up to had been meant only to end this day, on the floor writhing in front of Nimrod.
He had no destiny. Everything he’d believed about himself had been a lie.
“Father, listen! Stay focused!" The boy's worried voice shattered through Xar's thoughts, suddenly frantic, as though he'd remembered something, as though he could read his mind. Xar looked up at him.
"I don't have a lot of time," the boy said. "I wish I could say I saved you for my sake, but there’s another reason. Doing this was a big risk, but I have to take the chance. I need your help, father."
Xar opened his mouth to ask what, but the boy cut him off, his expression deadly serious.
“Listen, father. The future... It's dominated by death and devastation. By an endless war, one that we’re losing. I’m doing everything I can, but it’s just not enough. They’re too powerful. I think my only chance to stop them is now, in this time.”
Xar shook his head, not sure he was following. “You mean… the fighting is still going on?” he asked dimly.
The boy nodded gravely. "It never really ends."
“I can’t believe the Altarin’Dakor are that powerful…” Xar trailed off.
“The... What? Who?" the boy asked, looking confused. “No, not the Altarin’Dakor! Don’t worry about them; you’re going to defeat them!” He knelt in front of Xar then, a look of near-panic on his face. He grabbed Xar by the shoulders, staring intently into his eyes. “Listen! The Altarin’Dakor are irrelevant! It’s the Ones you’ve got to be worried about! The Ones!”
“The… The what?” Xar blinked.
The boy's expression became pained, and anger filled his eyes. “Father! In the future, the Ones have destroyed everything! Every civilization will eventually be wiped out by the Ones and their brutal leader, Altima.”
“Altima?” Xar said, shocked. “He’s still alive?”
“Altima can’t be killed,” the boy said in frustration. “I’ve got to figure out how to stop him, in this time. It’s all got something to do with someone named Malduke. That's all I know."
“Malduke?” The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t recall why. “I don’t know who that is.”
But the boy was still focused on other things. He stood up and started pacing back and forth across the rug. “I’ve tried everything I can think of! I’ve traveled from one end of the time-stream to the other. I’ve gone all the way to the end… of everything. And all the way back to the beginning… Even to the Celestials. No one has any answers.”
“The Celestials?!” Xar blurted.
The boy simply nodded absently, continuing as if it didn’t matter at all. “Father, listen. In the future, the Ones destroy all things. It’s the end. Of everything. There are just too many of them. I can defeat one or two, or a handful, maybe. But there are trillions of them! Quadrillions! I have to stop them before they come out. That’s why I need your help. It’s the only thing I haven’t tried…" He turned to look at Xar. "It’s my last hope.”
Normally, Xar would never have believed such an incredible story – except the boy had just killed an Altarin’Dakor Shok’Thola. It had been… casual. It had been like swatting a fly.
“What do you want from me?” Xar asked, feeling helpless. Insignificant. “What do you think I can do?”
The boy stared at him, seeming in intent thought. Finally he spoke. “Just keep going on as you are, right now. There are a few more things I have to take care of first. I’ll return to you when the time is right.” He looked around the room, suddenly looking desperate again. “I... have to go now. Mother will be here any second.”
“She’ll want to meet you!”
“No. It’s important that she doesn’t. Just… Don’t tell her about me yet. I have to leave.”
“No, wait! Help us fight the AD!” Xar cried out as the boy turned to leave.
“I will. I’ll be back. Until then, take care of yourself, father! You have to stay alive!” The boy moved to the door, glancing outside, and started to step through.
“At least tell me your name!” Xar pleaded.
“You’ll know my name,” his son said, glancing back at him. Then he disappeared through the doorway.
Xar just stared after him, unable to get up and follow, unable to even think straight. For a moment he sat there in a stupor-like state, mulling over what had just happened. Now that he was gone, the whole thing was starting to feel like a dream again.
He had just met his own son. From the future. He had saved Xar's life. He'd said there was another threat out there, strong enough to make the Altarin'Dakor seem insignificant. Dire news for anyone to bring, much less his own son. Then another thought hit him.
His son was the most powerful Force-user he'd ever seen. A chill washed through him.
Suddenly a new figure appeared in the doorway, and Xar looked up as his wife glided quickly in, her face a mask of concern. “There you are,” she exclaimed. "What are you doing in here?"
Xar stayed seated where he was, unable to say anything. Zalaria came over and knelt down beside him.
“Are you all right? My brother is dead. What happened?” she demanded.
“I…” he began, then shook his head. Where to even start? “I’m fine,” he said finally, staring into her eyes. Suddenly emotion flooded back into him, and he felt his love for her swell back to where it had been months ago. Any negativity, any animosity caused by disagreements they'd had, just faded away. Also gone was his distrust. At that moment his love for her was so strong it felt his heart would burst.
Zalaria was carrying his child. It was incredible.
“I felt you very close to death, Xar,” she said, breaking into his thoughts. Her face was still full of concern.
“I know… I felt you die too,” he said. He looked at the rest of her then, noticed the holes that had been ripped through her vest, the blood staining her torso and legs as she knelt beside him. “Is that what it’s like? It felt as though…” he broke off, unable to describe it.
She just shook her head, her face gravely serious. “Xar, I… I must apologize. I spoke in haste, before. If you had died… To think that I never would have had the chance to tell you…” She broke off uncertainly, and for the first time ever Xar saw indecision in her eyes. And there was something else there too, impossible as it was… Fear.
“It’s all right,” he assured her. He reached out, placed a hand over her midsection. “He’s going to be fine,” he said softly.
Her face suddenly became an unreadable mask. “How… How do you know about that?” she whispered. Then she blinked, leaning forwards, staring at him intently. "Xar, who killed Nimrod?"
Xar paused, watching her face, seeing that she had no idea what he was about to say. "I... I saw our son," he said finally.
Her eyes went wide. But before she could respond, Xar spilled it all out. She listened quietly as he recounted everything that had happened, from the moment Nimrod had stepped foot inside the palace until Zalaria had walked into the room.
When he was finished, he looked at her face, her expression still unreadable. "What do you think?" he asked her. "Do you believe me?"
She seemed to consider for a moment. Through the Bond, he felt a dozen conflicting emotions swirling within her. Which would win out? Which earth-shattering revelation would she address first?
“What did he say his name was?” Zalaria finally asked.
Xar just shook his head. “He said I would know his name.”
She paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. “I had a vision,” she said, “back on Mies. It was… our son.” She arched an eyebrow, her gaze going to the floor, then back to Xar. Then suddenly her eyes widened. “He told me the same thing. He said I would know.”
A chill ran through Xar. Before he knew it, he found himself smiling. "Then... It's true! You've seen him too? You never told me that!"
“He warned me, Xar,” she said. “He warned me about Nimrod. He told me to stay close to you. I didn’t heed his words, and you almost…” She broke off. For a second he thought tears would well up in her eyes.
"Come here," he said. Leaning towards her, he put his arms around her, felt her hands snake around his neck. Then she buried her face into his chest, and he held her.
For a long moment, they clung to each other fiercely. He felt her breath against his chest, strong and vital. Her scent, though mixed with sweat, grime and blood, was intoxicating.
Finally she reached up, placed her hands on his face, and kissed him softly. He returned the kiss, closing his eyes, savoring the softness of her lips, the closeness of her face to his. Then she pulled back, a curious expression on her face.
"I have an idea," she said. "Come quickly; we have to get to the Command Center."
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I'll explain on the way." She stood, drawing him up to his feet finally, and began leading him towards the exit. "There are still millions of Nimrod's forces out there, some even in the city and the palace. They have to be dealt with."
"What can we do?" Xar asked as he followed, worry returning as reality set back in. Varnus was still occupied by Altarin'Dakor forces. Both Zalaria's and the NI's forces had been routed, nearly wiped out. Could she stop them all by herself? Why had his son left so soon, when he could have helped defeat all the AD?
"There is an ancient order, one which we Shok'Thola have practiced through the ages, and all of our most trusted commanders and admirals know about it. It is called Shu'Du'naman, and it means that the victor of an engagement - or a war - has the right to claim ownership of everything belonging to his opponent - even their military personnel and resources."
"You mean you can take over all of Nimrod's forces?" Xar asked as she led them quickly through the corridors.
"In theory. The Altarin'Dakor and everything they have are, ultimately, the property of the Shok'Thola," she answered. "Militaries and worlds often change hands after a conflict. The Jedicon, however, usually will not defect. Often they must be killed one by one, to the last man."
"So what happens if you invoke this right on Nimrod's forces?"
"We'll find out soon," she promised.
* * *
Royal Palace, Vectur
Zalaria stood over the main command console, with Xar at her side. They were the only two occupants left in the room; the rest of the command center was empty. Yet there was no sign of damage or forced entry, no bodies. At some point the chamber must have been evacuated.
On the way up, they had encountered no one else in the corridors. There had been plenty of bodies, though, evidence of the devastation this long, bloody day had wrought, and the price that had been paid. There were soldiers, men, women and even children, lying disfigured, even mutilated, their blood staining the stones red. He'd wanted to look away at the sight of them, but he forced himself to gaze at them, to remember what their victory had cost.
Rage, and thirst for power and glory had done this. The palace itself was a shambles, in ruins. Some whole sections had been destroyed. It would take a long time to clean up the destruction, to repair the damage, to mend the wounds.
As Xar watched, Zalaria reached over to communications control and switched to an open frequency, then depressed the transmit button. It was a message that everyone would be able to hear, on either side, from those on the surface to the forces still hovering in orbit.
It was a message she wanted all to hear.
“Attention, all Altarin’Dakor forces,” she said, speaking in their native language. “The Shok’Thola Nimrod is now dead. I am his sister, the Shok’Thola known as Zalaria. As the victor of this engagement, I invoke Sha’Du’naman. As of this moment, I lay claim on all resources and personnel that belonged to the Shok’Thola Nimrod, as my own. All dissenters to this claim as well as any order I place henceforth will be under orders of immediate execution.” She paused, allowing her words to sink in, to be understood. Then she continued.
“As of now, all hostilities against the body known as the New Imperium are to cease. As your new Shok'Thola, I command this order be obeyed immediately and without hesitation. All Altarin'Dakor forces are to immediately withdraw from the field of combat and take up a holding position onboard your command ships in orbit. I will arrive shortly to personally oversee the transfer of command."
Xar listened to the authority in her voice, and felt the aura through the Force that she was projecting. Even he wanted to obey. He expected that anyone who decided to disobey those orders would be summarily dealt with. His doubts that Nimrod's forces might not believe her were quickly melted away. This was really going to work, he realized.
Then her next words, spoken in Altarin'Dakor, jolted Xar to his core.
"From henceforth I declare, under the Right of Conquest, and as the sole Shok’Thola present, that all territories and holdings of Nimrod, as well as those of the New Imperium itself, now belong to me.”
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:44 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Royal Palace, Varnus
“About time you let me see you about this,” Vannik said, putting the final wraps around Thrakus’ upper arm and shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Kiz said idly, continuing to gaze around the room. Medbay was filled to capacity; there were even injured lying on makeshift cots on the floor between the beds. Those in recovery had been relocated to some of the residences on the upper levels. Miraculously though, they'd managed to avoid direct attack by the enemy Jedicon. Kiz had breathed a sigh of relief when he'd heard that the fighting was over.
About an hour before, Xar’s voice had come over a system-wide comm message, announcing an end to the hostilities. Shortly after that everyone’s personal commlinks began working once more. Somehow, amazingly, the Altarin’Dakor Warlord attacking them had been defeated, and his forces had, apparently, actually surrendered to the NI, as impossible as that sounded.
But the injured had continued to stream in even after the cease-fire had been ordered. There had been one tense moment when the blast doors had opened via security override, and Kiz had rushed forward, lightsaber in hand, only to discover Attrid Xoan with the battered body of Ralagos Akala in his arms. Now Ralagos lay with the most seriously injured patients, in critical condition. There were all too many like him, their lives still hanging in precarious balance.
The mood in the room was somber. It seemed the reality of just how much they'd lost this day was finally settling in. Victory had come at a very high price. For some, the devastation seemed too much to bear. Among the moans and groans of the injured, quiet weeping could be heard.
As Vannik left him to attend to other patients, Kiz glanced back at the occupants lying inside the quarantine room. With all the injured coming in, they'd finally been forced to open the room and house other patients in there. Now Thrakus' comatose friend was but one of many filling the chamber. At least he's still alive, he thought. It was amazing any of them were, at this point.
Xar himself had come in a while ago, checking to see who was injured, who was okay, and who was no longer among the living. He’d explained – rather hastily – that the battle had been won, and that the AD were retreating. Most of the enemy Jedicon inside the palace had been eliminated, it seemed, and those few remaining had apparently fled. He said that he, Alyx, and Zalaria, of all people, were actually going through the palace floor by floor and making sure there weren't any Jedicon left in hiding.
Thrakus didn’t understand why the Jedicon would fight to the death while the rest of the AD retreated. But apparently a Jedicon’s life was so bound to his Warlord that there was simply nothing left to live for once they were gone. At any rate, they'd been ordered to stay locked inside until the all-clear was given.
Shortly after that, some soldiers had brought in a badly injured Kir Kanos. Rumor was he’d been at the main entrance for the entire duration of the battle, where virtually all the defenders at that position had been killed. Thrakus couldn’t imagine being there the whole time, where the fighting was thickest. It was a miracle that he'd survived. He was currently being treated for a broken leg, some broken ribs and a concussion, but that seemed to be the extent of his injuries.
Last but not least, Jinx had walked in and been treated for some minor injuries. His face was swollen and bruised, but otherwise he appeared to be okay. After the nurse had finished seeing him, he spotted Kiz and walked over.
"You look about as bad as I feel," he told Jinx as he settled down on the floor next to Thrakus.
"It's been a long day." Jinx shook his head, staring down at the floor. "So what happens now I wonder?"
"No idea," Kiz said. "Stang, I don't even know how we got to where we are. This doesn't seem real."
Suddenly his commlink beeped. Pulling the device off his belt, he saw that it was Xar calling him. "Go ahead," he said into the mic.
"Kiz, we've finished searching the palace. Looks like all the Jedicon have been eliminated and we can't sense any more in the vicinity. Any survivors appear to have fled back down through the catacombs. We're in the process of sealing it off right now. I want you to set up security with what personnel we still have, then when it's safe, go up to the Treasury and let everyone out. Just be careful; there could still potentially be AD forces in the area we missed. "
"Copy," Kiz said as the connection closed. He glanced over at his companion. "Business as usual, I guess."
"I'm coming with you," Jinx said. "Two people should be able to work twice as fast."
Thrakus nodded. He knew the other man was just as eager to open that vault door as he was. "Let's go," he said, standing.
* * *
About an hour later, they stood wearily in front of the sealed Treasury doors, as the occupants on the other side deactivated the locks and sent the hatchway doors splitting open finally. Packed inside, staring out at them nervously, were over a hundred faces - civilian men, women and children who had been unable to join the fight. Some were wives or husbands who may have lost loved ones this day. Others were Jedi Initiates, or Force-sensitive children, the future of the Order now that so many had been lost. Some were merely workers or other civilians At least everyone had been safe inside, Kiz realized.
When he saw his wife and daughter standing near the side wall, he breathed a long sigh of relief.
He saw Rynn come running out first and embrace Jinx in a fierce hug. Behind her he noticed Bren, Derek, Icis Novitaar, Fenora and a slew of others. As people began to file out, Kiz pushed his way through the throng, heading for his wife and child.
"Why can I still sense Altarin'Dakor everywhere?" he heard Rynn ask behind him.
Jinx's voice answered her quickly. "They've disarmed, but haven't completely left. No, they haven't surrendered. I think they've defected somehow..."
He lost the rest of their conversation in the hubbub of conversation, then quickly forgot about it as he met Lorien and Seydinl and swept them both up in his arms. His daughter giggled in delight, and his wife put an arm around his neck, drawing him down to her.
"I was worried for you," she whispered into his ear.
Kiz felt the cold, distant shell in his mind, the only thing that had kept him sane during this day, finally melt away. Suddenly emotion burst forth inside him, filling him with a sense of relief, of worthiness, of compassion... and more than anything - of his humanity. "I know. I love you both so much. I missed you," he said, burying his face in her hair.
After everything that had happened this day, after struggling to simply make it through and survive, this moment made it all the effort worth it. It was good to be alive.
* * *
Skies above Vectur
Salle Darl guided her TIE Avatar through the canyon-like gap between the buildings, hovering on repulsorlifts and inching her way forward slowly. Keeping her eyes peeled on the streets below, she listened as the beacon signal in her headphones grew stronger and stronger.
"I think I'm getting close," she said into the comm. "The tone's better in this direction."
"Be right there," replied Gren.
Somehow she, Gren and Narm had all managed to avoid the Jedicon pilots and survive long enough to hear the cease-fire order. After that, the majority of the AD forces had retreated.
Still, the state of Vectur was worse than her most dire imaginations could have made it. Rubble and bodies filled the streets, shattered windows stared out like empty sockets, and even entire buildings had been toppled and collapsed. Fires still raged further south, consuming the lower-lying, lower income districts. Smoke still rose in massive columns all across the city, forming a dark cloud layer that hovered above and obscured the sky. The sun, slowly dipping its way towards the horizon, cast diffused light that painted everything in an orange glow.
She still couldn’t believe that Bast, Rann, and Tanya were gone. That left her, Gren and Narm, and Kikitik had apparently been picked up by a rescue transport. The question now was, whether or not their commander was still alive.
Salle turned a corner and emerged onto a broad thoroughfare devoid of any traffic or pedestrians. It was there that the signal's pace increased, and as she grew closer it continued to quicken. Gren Pabos' Avatar dropped into her twelve o'clock about half a klick away.
Salle scanned the street below with her eyes. Ahead on her right was a huge burned-out hole in one of the buildings lining the street. At its base lay a scattering of rubble - duracrete, transparisteel shards, and broken office furniture.
Not far from there, she saw a TIE Avatar's shattered solar panel lying on the street.
Her heart beginning to thump in her chest, she followed the trail of debris to another building that had been burned out. More wreckage littered the base of the structure.
The tone went solid as she came directly overhead.
"I don't understand this," she said, glancing at her scan display screen. "It says he's to my left."
"But that would mean he's inside that building," Gren said.
"Maybe he got out and took cover," Narm's voice broke in. His fighter appeared overhead, hovering perhaps thirty meters above her.
"I don't know..." Salle broke off. "How could he have taken his whole seat with him?"
Each fighter pilot's seat held a homing beacon that would activate when he or she ejected. It the beacon that enabled them to be found and rescued, whether in the depths of space or on the surface of a planet. They were ultra-reliable and very hard to destroy.
Not only was the beacon coming from her left, but it also appeared to be resting at altitude. She looked in that direction, becoming completely confused at the whole situation...
Then she saw the gaping hole in the building's exterior transparisteel viewports.
She looked down at her screen, switched the display over to check on the ejected pilot's vital signs. The seat also acted as a monitoring device.
The heartbeat was there, but so faint that she could barely even discern it.
Before she knew it she was pressing the comm button as hard as she could. "This is Salle Darl of Inferno Squadron!" she shouted. "I need an emergency pickup here, right now!"
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Jun 21, 2009 4:44 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Destiny" - by Joshua Ausley|
Grand Master’s Chambers
Royal Palace, Vectur
Icis Novitaar waited in the Grand Master’s chambers and took stock as the others entered the room. Interim Grand Master Alyx Misnera, Attrid Xoan, ‘Jinx’ Skipper, Vynd Archaron, and Kiz Thrakus all filed in one by one.
He’d arrived to find that Jedicon had completely trashed the room. Icis sat in a chair that had been overturned and he’d righted. Beside him, the display shelves had been shattered and many of Xar’s personal antiques and collectables were scattered across the floor. The desk itself had been sliced in half with a lightsaber blade, and Xar’s personal computer had been completely obliterated.
Everyone got situated standing on the ornate Varnusian carpet across from the ruined desk. In front of it stood Xar and Zalaria, the former looking focused, the latter completely unreadable as always.
“All right, this is everyone I asked to come,” Xar spoke up finally as the last guest entered. “Honestly, we’re about all that’s left as far as leadership goes. We’ve lost Paan, Nico’s in a coma – well, this is just about it. I think we all need to be up to date with what’s going on, so that we can move forward.”
Icis watched the expressions on everyone’s faces as they waited to hear what Xar had to say. Alyx looked especially perturbed, and pointedly avoided looking at Zalaria. Atridd, Jinx and Thrakus looked more tired than anything else. It had been a very long day.
“First off, an update on the cease-fire. As you’ve heard, the Altarin’Dakor forces in service to Nimrod have all surrendered to us. They’ve pulled back into orbit and are awaiting orders from us as to what they should do next.”
Those words brought a series of skeptical glances from those gathered. Icis knew what they must be thinking – after all, they’d just spent the whole day fighting AD forces and killing as many of them that they could. “So what’s our status?” Alyx spoke up.
Xar crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Well, the entire First Fleet has been basically wiped out. Gaius ordered a full retreat just before the Nexus was destroyed. I managed to get hold of him and it appears he, Amason and most of the command staff managed to evacuate and are safely en route to Tralaria.
“Speaking of Tralaria, I just received word from the Diktat. The Second Fleet was heavily engaged with Nimrod’s other fleet by the time they received the cease-fire order. Our forces suffered at least twenty-five percent casualties by that time, though. The AD forces at Tralaria retreated, then they suddenly disappeared.”
“Where did they go?” Jinx asked. “What are we going to do about them?”
“They are deserters,” Zalaria spoke up. “They will be tracked down and pay the ultimate price for their betrayal.”
“Are you saying that all of Nimrod’s forces are now subject to you – to us?” Thrakus asked.
“That’s the idea, yes,” Xar nodded. “In fact, so are all of his territories.”
A murmur of surprise went softly through the room.
“Have you actually been onboard the Titans to assume command?” Xoan inquired.
“Not as yet. That is my next destination after the conclusion of this meeting,” Zalaria said. “I will be working to foster a smooth transition, and to ensure cooperation with our forces in the future.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Suddenly Alyx cleared his throat and raised a hand. “Wait a minute, Xar. You’re saying that the people I was fighting against just a few hours ago – now I have to turn around and be friends with them? I don’t buy that, and I can tell you our men won’t either. They nearly wiped out the whole Order, to say nothing of our military forces! There’s virtually no one left in the Division between Guardian and Adept.”
“Where we’re going from here on there won’t be much of a role for anyone below Adept,” Xar answered tersely. “And besides, I’m asking you to work with them, not befriend them. Hate them, for all I care.”
Icis arched an eyebrow at the man’s cryptic response. Where exactly was he expecting the NI to go from here, after being brought to the brink of destruction?
Xar continued speaking straight on. "Jinx, Thrakus, I'm promoting you both to Jedi Master effective immediately. You're both easily strong enough for the rank, and I’m sure you already have most of the knowledge you need. Without the both of you, we might have lost everything today. I want you to make sure there’s nothing you’re lacking in any knowledge or ability of the position. Use Alyx or me if you have any questions."
Misnera looked over at Xar and opened his mouth as if to speak, then simply closed it again.
"Jinx, with Nico out of commission, I'm installing you as Deputy Grand Master of the Order,” Xar continued. “We can't leave the position empty. Your role will be vital in the upcoming days." Jinx's eyes, already wide, went even wider.
"Also, Atridd – I'm making you Head of Special Ops in Paan's place."
“Who, me?” Xoan said, his eyebrows going up.
“We’ve got to keep the Council positions filled; we can’t just leave it half empty anymore.” Xar glanced at each of them in turn. “We’ve won a break here, and we’ve taken the enemy totally off guard. We have a limited time to press our advantage, so we need to figure out our next course of action right away.”
“Hold on,” Alyx cut in. “What do you mean, our next course of action?”
"Obviously, Alyx, retaking the systems we've lost and preparing a counterattack against Mizar. We have to drive them out."
Icis continued to watch things unfold with a growing sense of trepidation. Xar's eyes were wild-looking, intense. He looked like a man possessed. Alyx stared at him with an incredulous look on his face, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. “Wait a second. That just isn’t realistic, Xar. We’ve got to cope with what’s happened here. People have lost nearly everything. Thousands, tens of thousands may be dead. We’ve got to help people recuperate, help them rebuild. We’re in no position to launch any counterattacks.”
Icis watched Xar with growing concern. The man seemed to be swinging from one emotional state to another quite quickly, lately. It was a trend he’d begun to notice, and it seemed to be getting worse. Xar would be compassionate and reasonable one minute, cold and heartless the next. Now he spoke of moving on as if the NI had lost nothing significant at all.
“Don’t forget, we have all of Nimrod’s forces at our disposal,” Xar countered. “We’ve just become more powerful than we were even before this war began.”
“Are we going to trust them, just like that?” Jinx put in. “Sir, having AD forces make up the bulk of our fleet sounds like a sure recipe for disaster.”
“I don’t think you understand what we’re up against,” Xar declared, beginning to pace back and forth across the rug beneath his feet. “We’re not out of this yet, not by a long shot. Tell them,” he said, looking to his wife.
“We have defeated Nimrod’s forces,” Zalaria said, looking around the room at each of them, “but he was only one of the ten active Warlords out there, excluding myself. There is Kronos, who is still alive and sure to want revenge against us. Asellus, cold, vengeful and calculating. Akargan, a powerful fighter and master of war. Strife – whom we encountered on Mies – who is ruthlessly cunning and incredibly strong. Velius, the most powerful and also happens to be insane. Sado, the first of us to become a Shok’Thola, who is unpredictable and reclusive. Raftina, the Queen Mother of the Crinn race. Elidibsatianouka, who is a Star Dragon, one of the last of his kind.
“All of this precludes,” she continued, “Altima himself. He is directly connected to the Entity, our source of power – in fact, we all receive our power directly from Altima. He is not a Warlord, or Shok’Thola. He is… something else. Something that’s never been seen before. To win this war, it is him that we must defeat, and prevent the Entity from using other Shok’Thola to attack this galaxy.”
“But this… Altima... He’s supposed to be unbeatable, isn’t he?” Jinx broke in.
“How exactly do you expect to win a war against all of them?” Thrakus added.
“I don’t know how exactly, yet,” Xar admitted. “But I know that we will win. We have help that will virtually secure our victory.”
Icis had had enough of this; they were all ignoring the number one question on everyone’s mind. The two of them had been avoiding the subject with their cryptic, confident-sounding answers for long enough. It was time to get to the bottom of this. "Xar," he finally spoke up, standing to his feet. "What happened to Nimrod? How were you able to defeat him? You have to tell us eventually."
Xar glanced at him, then looked away, hesitating. "I've been meaning to get to that," he admitted. "That's why I called such a small, limited gathering. What I'm about to say doesn't leave this room under any circumstances. Don't ever tell this to anyone without my express permission, even to your spouses. Am I clear?"
He was met by a series of confused nods. Slowly, Xar grabbed an extra chair by the far wall and set it down in front of the desk, then settled into it. Then, with a sigh, Xar spilled out the whole story about his confrontation with Nimrod, the appearance of the mysterious visitor, and the message about the future that the visitor had foretold. Icis felt his eyes continue to widen the more Xar said. As he listened, the news of what had happened, and especially the future that Xar spoke of, hit him like a sledgehammer. It had been a long time since Icis had been surprised.
* * *
Royal Palace, Vectur
"Hurry up Derek, we're going to be late to the Grand Master's meeting," Bren called out as he waited in the doorway of the boy's dorm.
"I'll be right there!" the boy replied. Bren could hear him rummaging through his belongings in his room. Derek had been housed with some of the other Jedi in-training, mostly Guardians who were far below him in terms of Force skill, yet whom were all his elder by several years, at least. That was the problem with Derek; he was still a boy, yet his was stronger in the Force than just about anyone else in the Order.
Still, having his own bunk in a dorm with other students gave Derek some sense of autonomy and adulthood. Though the truth was, Bren wished he'd just take it slow and enjoy being his age. You can only be young once, he knew.
The room was currently empty except for the two of them; they'd all taken shelter in the Treasury during the battle, and most of the trainees were staying close to their elders now, both for protection as well as a sense of peace after all that had happened.
He'd only allowed Derek to come up here provided he accompany the boy, and that Bren would go in front and make sure the corridors were cleared of anything the boy shouldn't see. He knew that Derek had grown up on the streets. He'd seen more than his share of violence. But Bren didn't want the blame for exposing him to any more.
"Okay, got it," Derek said as he emerged from his room. He took the small, crystalline object in his hands and stuffed it into the pouch dangling from his shoulder. Bren knew the object had some special significance to the boy, being the only thing he'd taken with him from his former life, but he hadn't directly asked what it was. Figuring Derek would reveal it when he was ready, he decided not to push the issue.
"Let's go," Bren said, leading the way out of the room and back through the corridors. They were supposed to be at the Grand Master's office to hear what had happened, and why the battle had just ended all of a sudden.
Unfortunately, going to Xar's office from here would require them to head straight through the heart of the palace, where the fighting had been thickest. There were still bodies littering the floors everywhere, down there. Those palace workers who had survived, most of them having hidden safely in the Treasury or other shelters, were now working to remove the bodies and the most obvious signs of violence. Uniformed and masked workers and medical personnel were rushing through the corridors, figures covered with white sheets laid out on stretchers as they ran. Even with the bodies gone, there was still blood all over the floors and the walls – even on the ceilings in some hallways – that had to be cleaned.
Wanting to avoid that as much as possible, Bren decided to take an alternative route. He led them north, heading down a couple of floors and across a path that would take them near the mess hall. However, he had to turn back when he found the hallway in front of them collapsed inward, debris filling the corridor halfway to the ceiling. It looked as though a blast had taken out the entire section.
He'd felt a tremor surge through the whole palace at one point. Maybe this had been the cause. Only Xar or a very powerful Jedicon should have been able to do something like this.
Turning away, they went further north and finally emerged out onto the balconies at the northern edge of the palace. The evening air met them, bringing with it the smell of smoke and a multitude of unknown, burned things. The sun had nearly set in the west, finally falling beneath the level of the dark smoke clouds overhead, and its setting beams shone through the columned walkway, making everything was bathed in an orange glow.
They turned west and walked in that direction, and were going to round another corner when a sudden premonition hit Bren. Something just didn’t feel right, that way.
Then a feeling came over him, a familiar presence. It can’t be… he thought.
“Bren… I feel something wrong,” Derek whispered. Bren glanced down at the boy. Derek’s face was dark, focused. He felt it, too. That was enough confirmation for Bren.
He turned them back, intending to head in the direction they’d come. They had to warn the palace as soon as possible. But as they neared that corner as well, the sense of danger came back, jolting through his entire body.
“Not this way, either!” he whispered to Derek.
Now in desperation. they headed back and turned along an walkway heading further north. The walkway stood between two separate courtyards, and was open on both right and left with a roof supported by columns along either side. An array of glowlamps and garden areas lined the railings on either side.
They’d made it halfway when a rough voice came from behind Bren in Altarin’Dakor.
“Stop right there!”
Bren didn’t turn back. He kept running forward, Derek matching his stride…
Then two other figures leapt up from either side of the walkway, coming out of both courtyards, and landed right in front of them, lightsabers igniting with a twin snap-hiss.
Bren and Derek skidded to a halt, as one of the Jedicon, a thin, heavily-tattooed man with red armor and wildly standing hair let out a harsh laugh.
“Look what we found!” shouted the Jedicon.
“We are not a threat!” Bren said, raising his hands. "We are noncombatants!"
He glanced backwards and saw four more Jedicon coming up behind them, closing off their last hope of escape. A cold feeling of dread shot through Bren.
One of the Jedicon behind him jerked Bren backwards by the robe and pressed his lightsaber handle against Bren's side, his thumb just over the weapon's activation stud. Another grabbed Derek by the arm and slipped his other arm around the boy's neck in a vicelike grip. Derek grunted in pain. "Let... me... go!"
"Let him go!" Bren shouted.
The wild-haired Jedicon gave a sneer and laughed again. Beside Bren, another Jedicon stepped forward, and this one was huge. Well over two meters in height, he wore a massive brown robe with its hood pulled up over his head, concealing most of his face in darkness. Still, his hands and forearms were exposed enough that Bren could see the man's thick muscles, far more than any normal human should have.
The first Jedicon stepped forward, taking Bren’s attention again. He peered at the two of them, bouncing his lightsaber handle off of his right leg idly as he smiled.
“I am Kodonn'Dakor Fiaros, and this is Kodonn'Dakor Dhuladan.” He nodded towards the giant, robed man standing just behind Bren.
“What do you want with us?” Bren asked them in Altarin’Dakor.
Fiaros’ eyes widened as he heard his own native language spoken back to him.
“So, you are one of the traitors,” the Jedicon leader said derisively. “Well, we need hostages to help us get off this rock. You two should do nicely.”
“Please, reconsider. The battle is over,” Bren countered. “There is no more need for hostilities. The Shok’Thola Zalaria has taken command of all Altarin’Dakor forces in this system.”
Fiaros shook his head, waving his blade back and forth at his side. “That may be, but we serve the Shok’Thola Nimrod. You know as well as I that no Jedicon will betray his master for another.” The man’s eyes narrowed in obvious anger.
“Listen to me!” Bren pleaded. “I was once an honored Kodonn’Dakor as well, loyally serving my Shok’Thola during the Great War, but I was eventually defeated. I once thought as you do, but I found another way. I found another way to live, and continued to fight as an honorable Altarin’Dakor warrior. We can choose our own way, to live with new purpose.”
“Then you’re a coward, in addition to a traitor!” the Jedicon snarled. “You should have died honorably with your Shok’Thola. Even if what you said was possible, which it is not. The Great War has been over for a thousand generations. This is our time.” He glanced at his companions.
“Fiaros,” the Jedicon behind Bren spoke up. “I think we should not bother with these as hostages… We should rather kill them now and be done with it.”
Fiaros licked his lips, seeming to consider the other’s opinion. A stab of fear shot through Bren, and he glanced down at Derek. The boy didn’t know what any of them were saying. His eyes were narrowed as he glared at the lead Jedicon. He didn’t seem frightened at all.
Bren decided to play his last card. "You call me a coward? Then consider this: take me in exchange for the boy. Do as you will with me, just let the young one go. He cannot keep up with us."
"An interesting prospect," Fiaros said, sneering. "But I have another idea. The boy will be far more useful as a hostage.” He turned to his colleague, then nodded towards Bren. “Fight him. Give him a dishonorable death.”
“Wait!” Bren pleaded as the Jedicon stepped forward. “I have sworn not to fight!”
“Then you will die!” the Jedicon snarled.
The Jedicon raised his hand, lightsaber flashing overhead in a blue arc. Bren tensed himself; he had to make sure Derek made it out of this, no matter what the cost.
Suddenly he felt a massive surge in the Force. In an instant the Jedicon holding Derek launched backwards, flying through the air to slam into one of the side columns. His head slammed against the stone and he collapsed to the ground.
“No!” Derek’s hand shot forward, and a wide-eyed Fiaros and his companion flew backwards, slamming against the railing and falling to their knees.
“Derek, stop!” Bren shouted. The Jedicon at his side was watching the scene in shock. Bren drew on the Force and pushed the man away behind him, then ran forward to grab Derek.
Bren was already several steps behind. “I won’t let you!!” the boy shouted, his voice full of rage. He launched himself toward the lead Jedicon, flying through the air, his fists raised. Bren had seen him like this before, when he’d been training intensely. He’d lost it – he was in complete battle mindset, unable to snap out of it until his energies were expended completely.
But Derek had never fought in a real battle against at Jedicon before. He didn’t know what he was getting into. Bren ran forward, yelling for him to stop…
Fiaros spun on his knees just as Derek came within range, his lightsaber a blur of light as it slashed horizontally. It swept across in front of Derek. There was the horrible sound of searing flesh, and clothing and blood vapor flew into the air.
Derek stumbled back and half turned, looking back towards Bren, his face a mask of surprise.
The boy’s lips moved, and they formed a single word – Bren – even as he fell to the ground.
“Derek!” Bren shouted. He was over the boy in an instant, crouching down, rolling the young boy’s body over to stare at his face. His eyes were closed, his expression one of tranquility.
He was dead.
Bren stared down at the boy’s face in shock and confusion. This couldn’t be right. Why weren’t his eyes opening? Why wasn’t he speaking? He cradled the Derek’s head in one hand, touched his torso with the other. His hand came away red and sticky. He shook his head, unable to comprehend how this had happened. It just wasn’t possible…
It wasn’t possible!
A sob burst out of his lips, and his body heaved. He blinked, sudden wetness in his eyes. His breath came in gasps; he just didn’t seem able to take a breath correctly. He looked away, closed his eyes.
The scream that emanated from his throat seemed to come from another man.
“Fools!” Fiaros yelled, scrambling halfway to his feet. “You should have held onto him! Now what are we going to…”
“NO!!” Bren screamed, launching himself at the Kodonn’Dakor in front of him. He managed to bat away the man’s saber hand with his own, landing directly on top of him.
Straddling the man, Bren raised a fist over his head, his mouth wide open, a wordless roar emanating at the top of his lungs. His hair flew wildly over his head, and the Force raged through him as it never had before. He dimly remembered having this much power, in another life, in another time. Suddenly something snapped in his mind, and he remembered who he was. It was like breathing air again finally, after what seemed like an eternity. Everything went red in front of him, and the man who had been Bren was overwhelmed with the all-consuming sweetness and power that raged within his veins.
His fist fell.
A moment of stark silence filled the corridor; not even breathing could be detected in that moment. Lasitus knelt, staring downwards. The other Jedicon stood frozen in shock, their eyes and mouths open wide.
The Jedicon’s head lay half a meter away, severed from its body by the force of the blow. A trail of blood connected the two, staining the stones below in deep red, a pool of dark blood forming above the headless corpse as arteries continued to spurt the liquid onto the floor.
Bren spun as he heard a low growl emanate from behind him and a power spike rise through the Force.
"How dare you to that to Fiaros!" Dhuladan, the massive Kodonn'Dakor, roared. He grit his teeth together, his fists clenched, every muscle contracting on his face, neck and arms. Then he threw his arms back and his cloak ripped itself off of him, revealing a massive array of rippling muscles across his bear torso and arms.
Dhuladan screamed as he came in, arms raised to smash Lasitus to pieces.
But all his fury was like nothing compared to the boiling inside of Lasitus. He ducked the Jedicon's wild swing as he passed, letting his opponent's momentum carry him several steps past him on the balcony.
Then, spotting a four-meter-tall lamppost that had just turned itself on next to the railing as the sun finally descended below the horizon, Lasitus leapt over to it, gripped it by the metal post with both hands, and heaved.
The entire lamp ripped free from the stonework, the glowlamp going out with a flash as it was disconnected.
Dhuladan had arrested his forward momentum and spun around. Still emitting a guttural roar, he came rushing back in, straight towards his target.
Screaming, Lasitus raised the massive post overhead and swung it downwards with all his Force-enhanced might in a blur of speed.
The post hit the Jedicon and split him in half from shoulder to groin in one powerful stroke. Blood, gore and entrails sprayed everywhere across the floor.
The hum of a lightsaber blade sounded in his ears. Turning to his left, Lasitus saw the Jedicon that had been with Fiaros swinging his blade down towards him. To Lasitus’ eyes, it seemed like he was moving in slow-motion.
Standing, he caught the man’s handle with one hand, then reached back and threw his fist into the side of the side of the Jedicon’s cheek.
The man’s face exploded. He fell to the ground dead, his lightsaber now in Lasitus’ hand.
The remaining two Jedicon turned around and began running away on Force-enhanced legs. Lasitus stepped towards them, glanced at the other, unconscious Jedicon slumped against he railing, and swung his blade, slicing the man’s head off.
Then, dropping the lightsaber, he raised both hands and sent out an invisible blast of force into the retreating men. The fleeing Jedicon burst into flame even as Lasitus knelt once more beside the boy’s unmoving form.
The screams of the dying Jedicon were like a dull thing to his ears. Their armor and skin burned away, followed by muscles, sinews and joints.
Their blackened skeletons collapsed in two piles to the floor as Lasitus scooped the boy’s body up in his arms.
Turning, he walked back into the palace, oblivious to the darkening sky behind him, the colors fading to gray, the shadows falling as dusk settled in, promising the nightfall to come.
* * *
Grand Master’s Chambers
Royal Palace, Vectur
When Xar was finished, he stared at each face in turn. Everyone’s face held different amounts of shock, doubt and even outright disbelief. Icis watched them in silence, his mind racing.
Time Travel. It seemed impossible. Yet there was no other was Xar could know the things he was saying. He had effectively described a threat that the Travelers had been fearing for years.
“So what do you think?” Xar asked finally. “Do you believe me?”
No one replied immediately. The room still hadn’t recovered from the shock of Xar’s words – his claims. What would they all think? That he was crazy?
"What are the Ones?" Thrakus spoke up, looking confused. "I've never heard of them."
“I can’t tell you any more information than I have,” Xar admitted. “Even Zalaria knows nothing about them.”
Icis considered hard. He knew of a threat out there, one that was far greater than the Altarin’Dakor could ever be. He also knew that the Travelers were preparing for something, something big. Could he assume that this threat and the Ones were, in fact, one and the same? Could he make that connection without further evidence?
Seeing silence consume the room once more, Xar let out a sigh. “Does anybody believe me at all? Am I wasting my time?”
“How do you know it was really your son?” Vynd Archaron spoke up. “It could have been another Warlord, claiming to be him, could it not? Did he tell you his name?”
“No he didn’t. But he was far too powerful to just be another Warlord. Besides, I know my own son when I see him. Look, do I seem like an unreliable witness? Do you think I was dreaming?”
Finally, Alyx threw up his hands. “What do you expect us to believe, Xar? That despite no evidence throughout history to support it, time travel is somehow actually possible? That your son happens to be the only one who can use it, and that he came back in time just to save you? What’s the most likely explanation?”
“Blast it Alyx, I’m telling you that it happened. Do you think I’m crazy?”
It’s entirely possible that you are, Icis thought. He supposed that only time would tell.
“You were beaten almost to the point of death, Xar,” Alyx said, keeping his voice level. “People can hallucinate things when they get to that point. Something happened, that much is certain. But oftentimes the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true. And frankly, it’s hard to believe that someone time traveled here to save you.”
“What about you, Icis?” Xar asked, turning towards him. “Do you believe me?”
“I believe you saw something,” Icis admitted. “And there is circumstantial evidence to suggest your story is accurate. But…”
“There’s just no precedent,” Vynd spoke up, finishing for him.
Zalaria cleared her throat, getting everyone’s attention. “Regardless of what you believe, my brother is dead,” she said. “All of his forces and territories are now legally under my – our – command.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something though?” Icis added, daring to interrupt her speech. “Nimrod will eventually come back.” At the others’ confused looks, he turned to them to explain. “The Altarin’Dakor Warlords are Immortal. They have a limitless source of life energy. Remember Kronos and Velius? They may have been defeated, but they are still alive. They are able to transfer their essenses to another body like Emperor Palpatine did.”
Zalaria fixed him with a level stare. “When I said that he’s dead," she said, her voice cold as ice, "I meant that he is dead. I felt him die. He is no more.”
Xar nodded, his gaze intense. “Whatever my son did, it completely erased his presence from the Force.”
“How can that be possible?” Icis asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers,” Xar said. “I’m just telling you what I saw. You can take it or leave it, but as long as we’re working together, I’m going to ask you to take it as fact, unless proven otherwise. If you don’t believe me, then ask Zalaria. She’s seen our son before too. There’s more evidence for you.”
There was no response. No one seemed particularly fond of the idea of asking Zalaria for proof. In fact, none of them looked comfortable to even be in the same room with the woman. Icis had gotten somewhat accustomed to it, awkward as it was, though it still took a large amount of self control.
Xar obviously picked up on everyone’s mood. “None of you really trust her, do you?” he asked. He looked around the room, his eyes resting on Alyx – who sighed and looked away – and finally to Icis, who kept his expression carefully guarded. Of course he didn’t trust her – that was well documented. He had reasons of his own, and by now he was sure Alyx did, as well.
“Since when do you, Xar?” Alyx asked, his voice blunt. “So frankly, why should we? Now we’ve gone from one AD Titan supplementing our forces to a whole fleet of them totally supplanting our military. You’re giving them control over the whole NI!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Xar countered back sharply. “I can’t believe this!”
Zalaria opened her mouth to say something when the door to the room burst open. All
eyes turned to the figure who stumbled in, and the small form he carried aloft in both arms. A collective gasp went up among everyone gathered.
Bren’s face was soaked with the tears that were streaming down his face. “Je… Je… Jedicon…” he sobbed. “I… tried to… stop…”
Xar leapt out of his chair and was on the floor next to him in an instant. “Derek!” he screamed, cradling the young boy’s lifeless body in his arms.
Icis stared in horror at the bloody pair that had entered. Derek was gone. It was… It was unbelievable. Even with everything else that had happened this day, even with all that the Scepter had shown him and what it had not… he had never expected something like this. Even Zalaria was watching the scene, speechless. She seemed completely in shock. A chill silence had taken over the whole room.
The anguished sobs brought his gaze back to the man on the floor. And as Xar’s screams echoed off the walls of the room, Icis knew he was looking at a broken man.
* * *
The End of
Written by Joshua Ausley
Copyright New Imperium 2009
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