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"Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley - Completed!

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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:30 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Palace Terrace
Royal Palace, Vectur
2045 Hours

The city lights shone brightly like stars as night settled over Vectur. The skyscrapers, the flashing, neon signs and towering spires all loomed far higher than the palace, like a massive wall jutting up from the south and east. Jinx glanced at it every few moments, admitting that he and Rynn had an incredible view as they sat in the terrace restaurant looking out on the city around them. Speeders flew around and between structures as late-workers made their way home, while others moved into the city depths to enjoy its celebrated nightlife.

The buildings varied in style as much as in height. Some ended in flat tops, while others sported tall spires and brilliant searchlights that shone up into the darkness. Down the center of the city itself ran a massive, brightly-lit broadway that joined a huge park at one end and the Royal Palace at the other. The palace itself was the centerpiece of all of Vectur.

This restaurant was one of the finest in the palace, and he’d had to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance to get them a seat here. They had their own private alcove, hedged by tropical plants and flowers, and a candlelit table upon which a sumptuous seven-course meal was being brought out. Rynn sat across from him, wearing a stylish dark green dress that matched well with her auburn hair, which fell in a thick braid down her back.

She was beautiful.

"The view is wonderful up here," she admitted, taking a sip of wine as she glanced out at the city. "And the food is delicious, too."

Jinx watched her as they sat, noticing how the light reflected into her eyes as she spoke. There was a spark in them, one of intelligence and compassion and all sorts of other things mixed in. In all, he had to admit; watching her speak like this to him was nothing short of… captivating.

Every once in a while he would carefully scoop up some of the thick curry smoking in its bowl in front of him, then meticulously spoon it onto a thin bread wafer and pop it into his mouth. It was spicy and flavorful - a fine example of the more exotic cuisine from Varnus' southern hemisphere. He was careful not to spill any on his clothing though - Jinx himself was wearing a crisp, dark military-style suit tonight, albeit without any markings or insignia.

Over the last couple of years, he had come to know more and more of Rynn’s personality and past, in bits and pieces. She had grown up in a fairly affluent family on a technologically advanced planet named Kryos. Her parents had been zoologists, and Rynn had always held a love of animals and wildlife since she was small. In school she studied biology and sociology, and had always had an affinity with wildlife due to her latent Force abilities, which her family kept a guarded secret from the Empire.

She’d helped in her parents’ scientific research until they were killed by the Imperials, due to their vocal protesting against the Empire. Her father arranged for Rynn and her brother Jen to escape, and for a year they’d lived on the run. Then the Imperials caught up to them and killed Jen, as well. Just before he died Rynn promised him she would use her powers and become a Jedi, a guardian and defender of the galaxy. That road eventually led her to the NI, which helped her fulfill the cause she believed in.

Unfortunately, recent events – especially the threat of the AD changing everything around them – had caused her to question that loyalty. He knew enough to keep quiet and let her speak, vetting all the tensions that had inevitably built up during the day.

"What did you think of the meeting?" he asked, knowing that something about it was irking her this evening.

She stirred her food a bit and shrugged. “I saw more of the same type of politicking that always goes on. Xar is very purposeful now, though." She paused to take another bite. "I suppose his orders make sense. But I couldn't help but wonder why none of the Council members were present."

Jinx nodded. He'd noticed that, himself. "Grand Master Misnera wasn't there, either."

"I know. I guess – and I'm just being honest, Jacob – I'm just worried about him doing things on his own like this. Almost like he doesn't have – or need – the Council's permission. And that's disturbing because I'm afraid he'll do anything to win, no matter who gets hurt in the process."

“That’s true. But he believes he’s doing the right thing,” Jinx pointed out. “I don’t think his motives are selfish.”

“No, I agree,” she nodded, then paused to take another bite before she continued, chewing thoughtfully. “I believe there is good in him, deep down. It just… doesn’t come out sometimes.”

Jinx nodded, content to let her simply voice her frustrations.

“I feel sometimes,” she continued, “Like there’s this bright spot inside him, but most of the time it’s obscured by a darker, outer shell or something. Not like the dark side, of course. Just… something different.”

“He does open up around Derek,” Jinx pointed out.

“I know, it’s amazing.” She smiled at the mention of the boy, which made her look all the lovelier. “He loves Derek like he’s his own son. He always brightens up around him.”

“Maybe Derek just has that kind of effect on people,” Jinx offered.

“It’s more than that – Xar is almost obsessed with the idea that Derek is some kind of… child of destiny, maybe.”

Jinx nodded. He had seen Derek effortlessly do things with the Force that no one else had been able to do, controlling and manipulating it what could only be latent talent. And his Force power level had continually been growing ever since arriving, and Jinx privately speculated that the boy may have surpassed everyone else in the Order, including Xar himself.

“Still, I’m sorry that he hasn’t had the chance to enjoy life as a normal boy,” Rynn said with a sigh. “It’s sad.”

“I guess not everyone has that luxury,” Jinx said thoughtfully. “I can empathize with being thrown into something much bigger than you think you can handle.”

“That’s right,” Rynn said, looking at him in wide-eyed interest. “You’ve been responsible for your people most all your life. I can’t imagine what it must be like.”

“Anything can come to feel normal after you do it long enough,” he said with a rueful smile.

“How many Renastatians are there, anyway?”

Jinx shrugged, considering. “Millions, at least. But we’re spread out all through the galaxy now; mostly it’s based on ancestry and family lineage,” he explained. “The core group is here with me, yes. But that doesn’t mean every Renastatian is under my jurisdiction.”

He paused and sighed. “At least if we’re wiped out, the Renastatians will live on,” he finished quietly.

“I’m sure it won’t come to that, Jacob,” she reassured him, reaching over to put her hand on his. “Everything will turn out fine for your people. I know it. They love you – and with good reason, too. You take good care of them. You’re an amazing leader.”

He studied her hand resting on his, then looked up into her eyes once more. “You believe that?” he asked.

“With all of my heart,” she answered with a smile.

Jinx smiled, too. If she believed in him, then he knew that he could, as well.

Half an hour later after the conclusion of dinner, topped off with a scrumptious dessert, they found themselves walking along the top of the Palace’s outer wall, the city lights rising even closer and higher above them, now. The sounds of the metropolis echoed through the air around them, though Jinx barely noticed as they walked together. Her hand had found his, and together they slowly made a circuit of the palace grounds, speaking softly to one another, sharing small personal details about their experiences.

“How is your son?” she asked, stepping along in stride beside him.

He smiled, thinking of Berefin, his first and only son. He’d shared with Rynn his own past, as well. “He’s wonderful. Very curious and energetic, now – a typical five-year-old. His grandparents say he’s getting a little mischievous lately. I guess he takes after his dad.”

She chuckled at his joke, then her voice grew more serious. “I know you miss him a lot. It must have been hard for you, to lose your wife, and then not be able to see your son, too.”

Jinx nodded, his mind flashing back to the days before the NI had moved into Epsilon Sector. Cayla had been the light of his life, before the Alliance attack had taken her life in front of his own eyes. It had taken time to get over that, and he knew that he would always love her, would always remain a part of him.

Still, that didn’t mean he could never move on. With the long lifespan of his family genus, it would be a lonely life indeed if he never remarried. And he knew that it was what Cayla would want for him, as well.

And now he had fallen in love with someone else.

“So, where do we go from here?” Rynn asked. They had come to a stop at one end of the wall, but he knew that she was referring to more than just their physical location, now.

Jinx had seen too many years to trip over himself trying to make a romantic confession. He knew now that things didn’t work out perfectly as they did in the holodramas. There was nervousness in him, but it was subdued. To have none would be unnatural; still, this was reality. There was a war going on, and the enemy was literally at their doorstep. He knew that Rynn wouldn’t want some vague or fantastical promises. Better to be upfront and honest with her. He knew she could sense his intentions, anyway.

“Look, Rynn... Life with a Renastatian… it’s not easy,” he said. “We have no home – not permanently anyway. We’re always on the run, always moving. I mean, look at Ravick. We thought we had a safe place there. The AD almost wiped us out this time. Now everyone’s fled here.” He turned to her then, so their bodies were facing each other.

“I don’t know if that’s the kind of life you might want, Rynn.”

His unspoken question hung in the air. She looked down, and for a while didn’t speak. He watched her to see what reaction she might have, looking for any sense of what she made of his words. He knew he’d spoken bluntly, and she might not be ready for such a strong statement. Had he assumed too much? She, of course, had the right to choose for herself. He didn’t know if she was willing to leave everything, just for him.

“I’m sorry if this is too sudden…” he began.

“No, it’s okay,” she interrupted. She shook her head slowly, thoughtfully. “I’ve been on the run for years, now. I’m pretty used to it by now.”

She looked up at him then, and her eyes met his. “I think I’d rather run with someone… than run alone.”

Jinx stood there for a second, staring at her face. He felt a smile begin to spread across his face, as he felt inside a growing sense of amazement and relief.

He looked at her for a moment, then laid it out plainly for her. “I am in love with you,” he said unashamedly. “And if the opportunity arises, I want to marry you.”

She glanced away again and took a deep breath before replying. He knew it was a huge decision for her. But at least now everything was clear.

Finally she looked back up at him. “I… feel the same way, Jacob. I think I do. When all this is over… Maybe then we can make that decision.”

“I understand. Take all the time you need,” he assured her.

“Thank you.”

Her eyes shone up into his, reflecting starlight. Then she raised her head, and her lips met his.

* * *

Private Library
Royal Palace, Vectur
2200 Hours

Xar pushed both doors open to the library and stormed in, seeing the subject of his search exactly where he’d expected to find him. “Why weren’t you at the meeting? And what’s this I hear about you not helping in the battle?” he demanded.

Bren looked up at him with a calm eye from the table he was sitting at. He wore simple Jedi robes, and his long hair fell down behind his head, stabilized by a thin headband running across his forehead.

“Xar. I am sorry, but I cannot participate in the battle. I cannot use the Force to kill another. Not anymore.”

Xar exhaled in frustration, and a blossom of anger rose up in him as he stopped in front of the man’s table. “Then what use are you here? You’re just cannon fodder like all the civilians crammed inside the palace! You’re a Jedi, for Varnus’ sake! Act like one!”

The other man pushed himself back from his chair and stood up, a look of hurt in his eyes.

“No! I told you, I cannot! You have to understand.”

Xar shook his head, exasperated with the man. What was there to understand? This was life or death – it was not the time for philosophical meanderings. The former Jedicon had completely changed. Before, he had been eager to learn, and had actually helped on the mission that had ended up recovering Derek and the Kaiburr Crystal. Now he more pacifist even than Rynn, and although he’d promised to help by learning Battle Meditation, the latest rumors had Bren swearing not to even use that against the enemy. Anything that would condone or lead to violence had to be completely avoided, or so he’d heard.

“But why, Bren? You fought with us before, against Turles on Kajarna…” He broke off as the other man looked away, and for a moment silence filled the room, full of dusty shelves lined with real printed books. He knew Bren was torn, struggling with the memory of who he had once been. But he couldn’t let that hold him back forever. Surely if an attack came here, a little bit of that Altarin’Dakor warrior drive would help them. What was wrong with that?

“That was… before.” Bren shook his head. “A few months ago, my memory was… unlocked. I know full well what I was, now. I know that I was a murderer. I’ve killed so many people I could not possibly count them all. Men, women, children. All of them.”

“So have I,” Xar countered pointedly. “So have we all, in this business.”

“I enjoyed it, Xar!” the man nearly shouted. He fixed Xar with a glare. “I am afraid that if I do fight, I will turn back into what I was before… The thing I hate worse than anything!”

“You won’t become who you were before, Bren,” Xar tried to reassure him. “You’ve changed. You’re different, now.”

“I can’t take that chance! Do you understand? I don’t know what is truly inside myself.”

“You’re not that man anymore. Get over it.”

“I’m telling you – I cannot take the risk that I would become that man again!”

“Then of what benefit are you to the Jedi, or the New Imperium?” Xar stared at him pointedly. “If you’re not helping us, you might as well be fighting for the enemy yourself.”

“I am doing what I can to help our cause,” Bren countered, conviction in his voice. “I do not want the Altarin’Dakor to win this war. I know what kind of a galaxy they will make if they do.” His eyes became hard. “I am trying to use the Force’s Living aspect to find us a way to win. Progress is slow, I admit, but that does not make it worthless. But no matter what, I know that in battle, I could not bring myself to slay another man, nor to help one kill another.”

So the rumors were true. “The Altarin’Dakor will have no such compunctions,” Xar reminded him. “They will kill you where you stand, whether you attempt to surrender or not.”

“I am well aware of that, Master Kerensky. But I cannot change who I am now. Please… Please understand that.”

Xar fought the surge of anger that wanted to well up inside him. Instead he shook his head and started to turn away. It was obvious the man wasn’t changing his mind. “First Rynn, now you,” he sighed. “Soon the whole Jedi Order will be going pacifist on me. Fine, so be it.” He glanced at the man once more, realizing he shouldn’t really let their exchange end on a note of enmity. He wasn’t an enemy, after all. Just a noncombatant, now.

“Take care of yourself, Bren. Stay in your quarters and out of the way, all right?”

Bren nodded, so he continued. “I’ve asked Rynn to watch out for Derek and some of the other kids. Likewise, I expect you to take care of things down here, make sure everything stays safe.”

“I will do my best,” Bren promised.

“Very well.” With effort he gave the man a small salute, then turned and strode from the library.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 02, 2008 5:10 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Desolation
1625 Hours

Their guide, Myrkos Rothran, continued to lead Alyx and the team deeper into the bowels of the Desolation. They were currently riding a transit car running down the length of the ship, carrying them several kilometers away from the hangar from which they'd entered. Alyx still could barely believe the size of these Titans. At such great lengths, walking from one section to another was simply not feasible, especially during a battle. They were literally on a floating city in space, and he'd learned that many Titans carried as many as a million beings or more onboard. It had been easier to imagine the plan in his head and think of things more abstractly. But actually being here was another thing entirely. How they could ever hope to gain control of a ship of this size? It felt more and more like an impossible task, but it was too late to back out, now.

Bars of light flashed by in the tunnel as they passed, illuminating their faces brightly every few seconds, along with the other passengers in the car - Altarin'Dakor soldiers and crew members. The NI team was still dressed in their AD scout uniforms, and so far they had apparently blended in well enough to avoid detection. Still, they were all careful not to speak to one another. They hadn't heard a word of Basic since coming onboard, and it would be impossible if someone called them out to explain why none of them could speak Altarin'Dakor.

The transit car came to a stop at the next area. Some of the passengers disembarked; others got on. No one seemed to so much as glance in their direction, which was good news. They traveled for another minute, passing through a couple more stops, then as the car slowed to a halt again, Rothran stood up. Alyx and the rest of the team followed suit, and as the doors slid open, they followed him into another brightly-lit corridor.

They walked for several more minutes, past doorway-lined passages wide enough for many being to walk abreast. Countless beings - mostly humans, to his surprise - passed by them in the corridor. Alyx was beginning to lose the sense that they were even on a ship. There was no sense of movement, no viewports, no dull roar from the ship's distant engines - nothing. They might not even be in the Pax system anymore. More and more he was coming to realize what a war machine this was - and why the AD had been able to subjugate an entire galaxy - at least according to what they'd heard.

Finally, after he was sure that he and everyone else was lost, Rothran turned a corner and stopped in front of a portal. Something on the guide's body or clothing must have automatically triggered an access code, because a beep sounded and the door slid open sideways as soon as he made as if to enter.

They emerged into a small room lined with a few counters and pieces of equipment, but otherwise empty. It looked like an unused storage room. Rothran waited until they had all entered and the door slid closed again before risking speaking to them.

"We are now located just behind the bridge area of the ship," he explained. "This room will be a safe place of operations for us. It does not currently serve any function."

Alyx nodded as everyone else seemed to relax. He hadn't noticed how tense he'd felt, either. "Good. I've been thinking, we may need to take this more slowly and carefully than I'd anticipated."

"What do you want to do, sir?" asked Moore.

Alyx studied his team members. They had been able to conceal their lightsabers by disassembling them and storing the pieces in their utility belts, but otherwise had nothing had no equipment but their datapad. They would have to find the resources they needed onboard, as well as plan their specific route to access the bridge. "I think we need to plan," he said.

"I will go and retrieve you schematics for the ship," Rothran said.

The guide started to leave when Domi interjected. "Wait! What if somebody else comes in here?"

Rothran glanced back at him. "That is not likely. I told you this room is not in use. But if you are worried, I will seal the door."

Alyx nodded toward the man. "Thanks."

Then, after he had gone, he turned back to the rest of his team. "First, let's get our lightsabers put back together. Then we'll think about tactics to neutralize the bridge."

As they worked, suggestions started coming forth. Alyx could tell they were nervous.

"Can we get some of their weapons?" Vykk asked.

"We'll have to ask Rothran," Alyx replied. "What are you thinking?"

"I don't know... Maybe we could gas the bridge, put them all to sleep..."

There were a few murmurs of assent at that, but Alyx felt skeptical. "Sounds tough," he said. "We'd need masks, and we'd have to hope their air scrubbers couldn't clean the air in time. What else?"

"Trick them into leaving?" Domi asked as he worked.

"What, like a diversion?" Alyx asked.

The man nodded, but then he paused and looked doubtful. "It would have to be something they couldn't just send troops to, though."

"At this point, we don't know what that is," Alyx said. It seemed a difficult task, no matter how they chose to handle it.

"Well, we could always rush in and try to take it by force," Moore added.

Alyx nodded inwardly. "That's what I'm afraid it may come to," he admitted.

A few minutes later they had gotten their weapons back in one piece again and settled down to wait for Rothran to return. Alyx had to admit that he felt better with his lightsaber in his hand. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d gotten them all into something that was far, far over their heads…

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
2330 Hours

Xar sat at his desk, mulling over the day’s accomplishments. It was late, and he and Icis were still there, trying to get as much accomplished as they could. Zalaria would be spending the night on the Nexus, and wasn't scheduled to return until sometime the next morning. That left Xar alone for the night, and he had a lot to consider. He was still frustrated with Bren for his refusal to fight, but not surprised. The man had virtually founded the 'pacifist' group in the Order. Xar was also frustrated that the Battle Meditation's reliability was spotty, at best. It wasn't something Altarin'Dakor deemed necessary in battle.

It was a shame; Bren had so much potential. His power and Force knowledge surpassed any other Jedicon he knew of. After all, he had fought in the Great War. Must be one of life's ironies that such a great general would eschew combat forever.

"We'll put Bren in the Treasury along with the young ones and women," Xar mused, flipping through the notes he'd made in his datapad. "It's the safest place in the palace. Maybe he and Rynn can do some good from there, plus defend it if attacked."

“Are you sure that’s wise?" Icis asked, pacing back and forth opposite the desk. "Entrusting him with the children's safety?”

"What makes you say that?" Xar asked quizzically.

"He has a history of instability, to say the least."

Xar shook his head. "I don't think we need to worry about that. He's over it."

“If you say so.” Icis didn’t look completely convinced.

"Now," Xar said, "We need to designate areas in front, around and inside the palace as bunker areas for our troops."

“Thrakus can handle that,” Icis suggested.

Xar nodded. “Agreed. I’ll tell him to get on it right away.”

He perused through the different planning schematics on his datapad. “Our first line of defense, of course, is the First Fleet and our fighter corps. If we’re fortunate we won’t even have to fight them on the ground. Too bad there are only a few of the refitted Avatars around; they’re almost ready. Another few weeks.” He sighed. “Anyway, we’ll throw everything we’ve got at them and try to keep drop-ships from landing. If they do get through, however, I want to be ready.” He paused, musing. “I wonder how big a fleet they’ll hit us with.”

The other man shook his head as he paced. “I don’t know, but we should expect the worst. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nimrod sends everything he has. This is pretty much the last step to finish off the NI completely.”

Xar nodded. “Like it or not, we’re in this all the way.”

“You sound like you’re running the whole NI again,” Icis pointed out.

“Just Varnus,” Xar corrected him. “This is my world, so while they’re here, they’ll do as I say. Anyway, logistics. Once we get the bunkers in place, I want to allocate our Jedi, spread them out so they can assist our squads and throw mayhem into enemy troops if they land.”

“What if they have Jedicon with them?” Icis asked.

"We’ll use our own. I'm thinking of placing our shock-troops down Star Way," Xar said, tapping the long road stretching from the palace entrance to the park. "Our Jedicon will act as the front line of defense, helping guard the palace from direct assault."

He waited for a response, but there was nothing but silence. Wondering if he'd been heard, Xar looked up at Icis, expecting the man to be lost in thought or some such.

Instead, Icis just stared at him, looking dumbfounded.

"What?" Xar asked.

"You're putting her forces in charge of the palace defense? That is not wise."

Xar arched an eyebrow at him. "Why not?"

"They're Altarin'Dakor soldiers!"

"So, what?"

"They're the same as Nimrod's forces!" Icis sputtered incredulously. "From the moment they're born they' are taught their destiny is to conquer our galaxy. You're going to trust them with Varnus? Tell me, in the heat of battle, who do you think they'll side with? Us, whom they obviously hate, or their own kind?!"

"Zalaria has more control over them than that," Xar assured him. "Her forces aren't ignorant of who they're really serving. They won't disobey her."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Icis countered. At Xar's curious look, he continued. "You're resting everything on Zalaria instead of the NI. This will be our most crucial moment, Xar - the most advantageous position for her. We can't take that risk."

Xar sighed in exasperation, shaking his head. "We've been through all this before, Icis. Hasn't she proved herself to you by now? Look at all she's done for us."

"There must be another motive," Icis countered adamantly. "There always is."

Xar looked at the man in disbelief. After all this time, he still didn't trust Xar's own wife. Ever since Xar had come back from his original meeting with her, Icis had tried to keep him away from her. He still insisted that she was evil, somehow. Xar knew that she'd had a dark past - all the Warlords did - but he was certain now that she had changed. She'd told him, in her own words. And Xar believed her.

"You still don't like her," he stated.

Icis shook his head. "You may trust her, but I never will," he said coldly.

"What do you have against her?" Xar demanded, anger creeping up in his stomach. This was his wife they were talking about. It was Xar's job to defend her and trust her - after all, he'd married her, and he was and had been closer to her than anyone.

"I told you before," Icis answered. "People don't change completely. I've seen what she's done."

"That was millennia ago. Times are different. Look at all the good she's done."

"You're only seeing what you want to see, Xar."

"Don't patronize me, Icis! There's no logical basis for your attitude towards her."

"She's a murderer!"

"So am I!" Xar shot back. "So are you! You've killed a lot of people too, Icis!"

"Not as many as her!"

"She's my wife!" Xar yelled, slamming a fist down onto the desk in front of him. He'd had enough of the man's childish rationalizations and his senseless hatred towards Zalaria. He'd never found any legitimate reason, only a vague-sounding mistrust. Icis of all people should be the last person to feel bigoted towards someone different. "Leave her alone," he warned, pointing at Icis. "At least you didn't have your whole race wiped out like she did. What kind of justification did you have?"

Icis opened his mouth to respond, but suddenly froze. He just stood there for a moment, looking confused.

"You mean... she didn’t tell you?" Icis finally whispered, a look of surprise on his face.

“Tell me what?” Xar asked warily. What was wrong with the man, today?

It took a moment for Icis to respond, during which Xar sat with a cold feeling settling over him.

“Xar…” Icis looked away, shaking his head slowly. “Her home planet, Merinama, wasn’t destroyed in the war." He shrugged helplessly. "She and Nimrod… They did it themselves.”

It took a moment for his words to register. “What did you say…?” Xar breathed.

“They wiped out every single living being on the whole planet. Ruthlessly. They spared no one. Not the women. Not the children. No one, Xar.”

"I don't believe you. I've seen no such record."

“It's in the Traveler's records! Believe it or not. It’s the truth.”

“That’s impossible.” Xar shook his head. It couldn't be true! “You’re lying,” he said flatly.

“Xar, look inside yourself. Use the Force,” Icis countered, staring at him. “You know it’s true.”

He stepped closer. Xar suddenly felt like the room was closing in around him. Icis had never lied to him before. But the man had this cold, irrational hatred towards her - could he be lying, this time?

And yet... He knew of her past, how she had done horrible things long with the other Warlords. Wiped out races. How easy would it have been for her to remove records of what happened a thousand generations ago? Who besides her would remember? All she had to do was conveniently neglect to mention it, and it was like it had never happened.

He dimly heard Icis speaking in the background, but within his thoughts the words barely registered. "I know it's hard," the man was saying. "I don't know why she didn't tell you. She probably wanted to shield you from knowing too much."

But she's my wife! countered an angry voice inside him. He knew that she had secrets she kept from him, always telling him it was better he didn't know. But conversely, he had kept nothing from her - he could keep nothing. Her Force abilities dwarfed his into insignificance, and the Bond they shared unveiled every emotion inside. He'd hoped that over time, things would change. Perhaps they would, eventually. How could he feel like a leader, the head of his family, otherwise?


Up until now he'd always trusted that she had a good reason to keep things from him. But this had been a lie - or at least a half-truth. Could he extend that trust here, too? There could be a viable reason for her not telling him. Didn't he owe her the chance to explain?

He felt like a fool. When he’d faced Nimrod for the first time, he’d used the slaughter of their people as an argument against what Nimrod was doing now. Ignorantly, he had used the example to try and draw Nimrod back from the path of destruction. What an idiot he’d been. No wonder Nimrod had so casually rejected him! The Warlord knew the truth; he’d caused it, himself!

"Xar?" Icis repeated.

He held up a hand to forestall further word. "I'm… all… right," he said, slowly and deliberately.

"It was not my intention to hurt you," Icis said. "Please understand that I'm here for your good."

Xar couldn't help but give a cynical grin at that. The man had always said that, swearing he was here to help, not harm him. And it was true; Xar owed him his life, now twice over. Even from the beginning, he'd gone on spouting crazy ideas about Xar being the one he'd been searching for, some prophesied hero destined to defeat the Altarin'Dakor. Telling Xar he had a destiny. Now Xar believed it; he did have a destiny. And that destiny had kept him alive through unbelievable situations to bring him where he was now.

"Even still..." he began, thinking quietly.

Still, this was between Zalaria and Xar, now. She'd said that she'd changed. And if he couldn't believe that, then all was lost. "Why do you hate her so much?" he wondered offhandedly, not really addressing the man.

To his surprise, Icis looked away abruptly. "I'd rather not talk about it now. One shock is enough for tonight."

Intrigued by his words, Xar put his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "What are you saying? You're not keeping something from me, too," he said darkly. “Not tonight.”


"Just tell me, Icis."

Finally the man sighed and settled himself into one of the chairs on the other side of the desk, facing Xar. "I was assigned to the Altarin'Dakor galaxy by the Travelers," he said, speaking slowly and deliberately. "Zalaria... eventually caught me."

He paused, and Xar watched expectantly, waiting for him to continue. "I was her prisoner. She… tortured me, trying to find out what I was. When she was finished, I became her slave."

Icis looked up at Xar, and there was an unmistakable haunted look in those eyes.

"I was her slave for three hundred and fifty years," he whispered.

* * *

Titan-class Battleship Desolation
1713 Hours

Something's wrong.

The thought popped into his head out of nowhere; he instantly recognized it as his Danger Sense flaring. He cut everyone's conversation off with a swipe of his hand, turning towards the entrance to the room. The room went silent as Alyx and the others turned to look at the door. The feeling was growing stronger; the others had picked up on it too, now. Alyx was almost sure what it was even before he saw it, he felt a feeling of dread claw its way into his stomach.

Then the portal hatchway opened and an Altarin’Dakor shocktrooper entered and slid to the side against the wall. Followed by another. And another.

There were too many. They filed into the room, along with lean, muscular fighters with black tattoos scrawling across their faces and lightsabers held de-ignited in their hands. Jedicon.

Alyx stood in shock, as the rest of the team waited behind him for some signal of what to do. Finally, after a dozen or more enemy units had entered, Rothran himself came, barring the entrance with his body and staring impassively at the dumbfounded Jedi gathered in the back of the room.

"They betrayed us!" Vykk exclaimed in anger and outrage. He reached for his lightsaber, but before he could produce it, Alyx lunged forward and arrested the man's hand with his own. Vykk looked back up at him, eyes wide.

"This isn't the time to die," Alyx warned.

Vykk was right; they had been betrayed. But not by these men. He shook his head in anger and denial. How had he been so foolish?

He looked at Rothran's face, one that showed no hint at all of remorse or guilt at what he’d done.

Yes, Alyx knew exactly who had betrayed them.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 5:19 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Vectur, Varnus
1020 Hours Local Time

“So this is Varnus,” Cindlin mused as she took in the tall skyline in front of them. “Much different from the rural farmlands in our historical archives.”

“Things change,” Kalaran said, his face twisting into a half-grin. He gripped the bridge’s parapets in front of him, gray eyes taking in the view of buildings filling the horizon. His hair was cut short and was completely white, and his age-lined face held a scar that traced from his forehead down across his right eye to his nose. Life as Nimrod’s premier hand-servant hadn’t been easy, but it had been rewarding beyond imagination. He sniffed at the air, breathing in the smell of the city and of the beings that lived there. He didn’t often get to visit a stable world. Unfortunate that it wouldn’t remain so for long.

Vectur was a city doomed to fall within a matter of days.

They were just on the city outskirts – the two of them, plus Nobien and a score of other Kodonn’Dakor Jedicon. Not all in one spot, of course – that would be too noticeable – but spread out here and there, in this shop or on that street corner. Cloaks with hoods up and faces disguised so as to hide their facial markings, they blended in with the rest of the refugees here in the city suburbs. Even Kalaran was surprised how easy it had been to infiltrate.

The three of them had all successfully completed the tasks their master had assigned. Nobien had successfully sabotaged the Moro System's shipyards, leading to its fall, and Cindlin had coerced the residents of the Pax System into defecting. But it was Kalaran who had delivered the Erebria System to Lord Nimrod when he'd instigated the failure of the planetary shields. He had been chosen to lead in the assault, and so they would do it his way, here.

“According to our contact’s map, the entrance should be close by,” Cindlin said, the ends of her golden hair spilling out from her hood. Extensive makeup covered the red lines that marked her face as one of Nimrod’s chosen.

Standing behind them as they studied the datapad’s map, Nobien gave a snort of skepticism. His wild hair was hidden beneath his hood, as well. “If he hasn’t betrayed us,” he said.

“I am confident in him,” Kalaran said, cutting off any further comment. He glanced behind them and down at the river bank, covered by tall grasses and littered sporadically with garbage. A short distance away a sewer grate extended from the ground, leading towards the city proper. “Down there,” he said.

Moments later they had descended, making their way down to the bank of the small river and in front of the sewer entrance, just large enough to stand in without hunching.

“Tell Nilka that we are on the move,” he ordered. “We will meet him in the palace once the shields have fallen.”

With that, he reached out with his cutter and sliced the locks free from their housings, then pulled the grate open just enough for them to slide by in single file. He slipped in first and activated his torch, followed by the other two. His other Kodonn’Dakor would be following them down, one at a time.

Water splashed around their boots as they made their way down the tunnel, lights held in front of them. For a while it seemed just an ordinary sewer they were exploring, and the tunnel continued in a straight line for at least the first kilometer. But then it changed, and Kalaran became confident that their informant had been telling the truth. The normal sewer branched off to the right, light spilling down in some places from street level, but another passageway led down and was dry thanks to a ledge keeping the water out. Kalaran led the way, grinning at their fortune.

They had entered the catacombs, an extensive underground network of tunnels that lay beneath the entire city of Vectur and beyond, centralizing beneath the Royal Palace, in the center of the city. They had been constructed in ancient times, perhaps even before the city was built. Kalaran wasn’t sure, but he did know one thing: this was their access into the heart of the enemy’s territory.

They moved more quickly now, confident that the map was leading them in the right direction. Other passageways branched off at either side, but they kept on course, following the one tunnel the instructions provided for them.

A short while after they started, they heard a scurrying sound in front of them. Kalaran brought them to a halt, and just as they stopped a large rodent burst into the light before them, running towards them in a rabid frenzy. Before it could reach them, however, Nobien reached out with the Power and caught it. Then, as Kalaran and Cindlin watched, Nobien crushed the creature into a ball of fur and blood, tossing it aside with a derisive laugh.

Kalaran, however, turned towards the wild-haired man, unimpressed.

“Limit your use of the Power,” he reminded the man. “The closer we get, the more likely they will detect our presence.”

Without further word they continued, the passage gradually going deeper, until finally the tunnel widened into a veritable corridor. They passed columned atriums with ancient, non-working glowlamps set into the walls, and sometimes strange paintings or carvings adorned the walls and floor. Still, they pressed on.

Within a few hours, they had passed beneath the city center, and Kalaran knew they were close to the Palace. His suspicious were confirmed when the corridor became a dead end, obstructed by boulders and debris that had collapsed down from the ceiling and sealed off this tunnel from the catacombs beneath the palace. It may have been intentional, to keep out intruders. But any other would-be invaders from the past would pale in comparison to the resources of the Altarin’Dakor.

There was one small hole in the blockage, and walking up to it, Kalaran carefully held his lamp up to it, flashing it off and on in a simple yet deliberate pattern. Then he waited.

A few seconds later, a similar flashing pattern of light came out of the hole from the other side. Kalaran nodded. Content that they had arrived, he stood back to wait.

Then abruptly one of the boulders at the top shifted and moved, much more easily than a giant rock should. It was, of course, a fake, placed there to ward off intruders but to allow access to certain individuals with the right knowledge.

When the rock had been moved sufficiently aside, Kalaran led the way up the pile of debris and through the hole. He had to slide head-first through the last bit, then dropped through to his feet on the other side. His companions were close behind.

This side of the barrier, the glowlamps were still lit, revealing a large chamber built from regular blocks of stone, with columns joining in archways above their heads and regal-looking pictograms on the floor beneath them.

Standing there, waiting for them, was their contact.

“Welcome,” said Kurt, “To the Royal Palace of Varnus.”

* * *

Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
Mizar System

The stars spread out before him, a curtain of total blackness frosted with gems of solid light. Everything was in readiness, proceeding exactly according to his design. The loss of one command ship had been compensated with another. The enemy had been reduced to their last, most desperate worlds. The next phase of his plan would be two-pronged: bypassing the other, less important systems, he would crush both Varnus and Tralaria, simultaneously. And that would be the end of the pathetic New Imperium.

Even now they were in a chaotic scramble to prepare, but it wouldn’t be enough, nor in time. Leaving a few systems unconquered left them an escape route; a cornered enemy always fought the hardest, nut now their forces would be considering abandoning their posts, fleeing to safer worlds, or even mutiny to save their own lives. Their morale was at their lowest point, and they would easily break before his unstoppable onslaught.

Half his task force at Varnus, the other at Tralaria. The enemy would have to split theirs as well, to counter his. Outgunned and outmanned, they would be wiped out without mercy. His most powerful Kodonn’Dakor were almost in position on Varnus. He would not underestimate the enemy as others had. There would be no room left for error.

Up until now he had treated them relatively lightly, gradually increasing the strength and complexity of his attacks. This time he would hold nothing back.

Another command entered, and a new holographic window appeared before him, depicting a dark, crimson-lit ship’s bridge in the background, and standing before it a black-scaled creature with spiked projections protruding at various points on its body, with two massive sets of arms and a forward-set head set with dead-white eyes and razor-sharp fangs. This one had a crown of protruding spikes angled backwards from its cranium.

“Master…” the Crinn Supreme Commander spoke in its native tongue. “We await your orders…”

The Warlord spoke, intoning several commands in Crinn, himself. Their forces would act as forward scouts and later as assault troops. Though he was loathe releasing the Crinn onto the surface itself for fear of an uncontrolled slaughter, he intended to put them to full use in boarding enemy craft and rendering them helpless. Besides, he wouldn’t need them on the surface.

The Supreme Commander bowed low in acknowledgment, and Nimrod cut the connection. It had begun, then. Soon the rest of his forces would enter the Varnus System, and he would accompany them himself, this time. Some battles were glorious enough to witness personally.

There was another reason for his presence, the one questionable factor in the imminent conflict.

It was his sister.

How deeply would she involve herself in the battle? Would she take action directly? In the past she had always deferred to him, out of sheer necessity. Though she might surpass him in raw strength, his strategies had enabled him to take position as first among equals in the Shok’Thola. Had Kronos not won the right of Spearhead, the New Imperium and half the galaxy would already be his.

But that was irrelevant. Zalaria had everything to lose by fighting, herself. But her latest actions seemed to contradict everything she had once been. Was it genuine, or was this part of some new, elaborate strategy of hers? If it was, then he was impressed by how much she’d grown. Taking such a risk was more daring than he’d been willing to be in millennia. And as with any risk, the awards could potentially be great. Perhaps she sought to be First among the Shok’Thola, herself.

No matter. If Zalaria involved herself, then he would be there himself to counter her. He was absolutely confident he would be victorious – she lacked the true courage needed to face her brother.

Even with all the unknowns, this was only mildly interesting. He hadn’t had a true challenge in at least fifteen thousand years.

With a final set of commands, he set his fleets into motion.

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1130 Hours

Jedi Master Nico Flygras walked into the palace from the outside east gate. It was a bright, sunny day, albeit a little chilly, and he had taken it upon himself to assess the status of moving people and resources to the shelters. It was something like organized chaos out there, trying to steer a plethora of individuals from different species into an orderly line into the shelters in the East Quarter. Still, it was getting done, and their ground troops were doing an exemplary job. Meanwhile, he could see barricades and bunkers being set up in the broad square that lay in front of the palace's main gate. Traffic was waning, as well, as the bustle of commercial enterprise gave way to the imminent military threat hanging over them.

The corridors were bustling with people, some refugees heading for the shelters, novices running errands, troops and Jedi clearing out rooms and carrying supplies for the bunkers. Some even walked about as though nothing was wrong. Nico shook his head and trudged his way through the hallways as best he could. He was still getting used to being called back to Varnus after serving for months as its senator on Tralaria. Now he was Deputy Grand Master again, which technically put him second-in-command of the Order, except that there were two Grand Masters, now. But now Alyx had disappeared somewhere and Xar was running everything by himself. He hadn't given Nico anything to do except to assist him in whatever way necessary, but therein lay the problem: the Deputy Grand Master didn't really do anything.

His robes swooshed as he strode along the corridor, eventually emerging into the main entrance foyer, where different beings bustled in and out through the huge open double doors. The royal Varnusian insignia, a huge sunburst, lay inscribed into the floor. Nico took one of the two wide staircases at either side and ascended to the second floor. Then he entered one of the corridors heading further back, pausing at a military checkpoint at another set of stairs that would take him up to the private levels.

Once there, the traffic faded significantly, until there were only a few people he passed as he walked down the corridors toward his own quarters, lost in thought. The Altarin’Dakor threat was getting imminent indeed, and he had heard the news about the AD striking in Delta Sector as well as here in Epsilon. Truth be told, he was thinking about Nareni. He hoped Valtare hadn’t been hit, and he decided he should give her a call when he got to his rooms. They hadn’t spoken in quite some time, but he still had feelings for her. He hoped she was okay; he didn’t know what he would do if something bad had happened to her.

On the way down the hallways he passed by a large open doorway and caught himself as he heard the unmistakable sound of Altarin’Dakor being spoken inside. Pausing, he peeked through the doorway and was surprised to see Zalaria herself, surrounded by a group of her Jedicon, obviously in some kind of briefing. His knowledge of their language was still rudimentary, but he could tell they were talking about where their forces were to be placed in the city. There was a large holomap projected onto the wall behind her.

Unfortunately his little observation didn’t go unnoticed. Zalaria paused as he stuck his head into the room, and turned to him with a questioning look in her eyes.

“Deputy,” she said, as several Jedicon turned around to look at him too. “Can I help you?”

Nico suddenly felt very exposed. There were way too many unsupervised AD in that room for his tastes. “Um… No thank you,” he managed to stammer. “Just passing by.”

Unsure whether to bow and leave, or apologize, or something else, Nico decided to just back away out of sight once more. He quickly stepped from the doorway and began to make his way further down the hallway. He wondered why Xar hadn’t been in there with her.

He made it halfway to the next intersection before he was stopped.

“You,” a voice called out behind him. “Wait.”

He turned, and saw her standing there, waiting.

“Come here,” Zalaria commanded.

For a moment he considered defying her, turning the other way and leaving her standing in the doorway. But like it or not, he found himself walking over to stand in front of her.

“There’s something strange about you,” she said, looking him up and down. “I felt it the moment you entered the room.”

“Like what?” he asked, confused at her sudden attention. Was it the new perfume he had been trying lately?

But Zalaria looked dead serious. “Something is familiar,” she murmured, as though talking more to herself than to him. "I've felt this imprint before..."

He felt her push at him through the Force, reaching into his mind and his emotions. He opened his mouth to protest, put off by the rudeness of such an act. He almost reached out to forcibly push her away. She might be high ranking, but that didn’t give her the right to mind probe him without his permission.

“Excuse me,” he began. “I don’t like your doing…”

"That's it!” she cut him off suddenly. Her eyes went wide. “This can’t be. How did they do this to you?”

“How did they wha…”

His words cut off as she grabbed him by the front of his cloak and pushed him against the wall, holding him there bodily with one hand.

“What have you told them!?” she demanded angrily.

Nico stared into those unforgiving eyes, and fear shot through him like a bolt of lightning. “What do you mean?” he exclaimed.

“You are a spy for the enemy!”

“No!” he shouted as the pressure increased, pinning him against the wall. He held onto her arm, but her grip was like a steel vice. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Someone has used Compulsion on you, you fool!” she said, her words cold enough to freeze his insides. “You were captured before, weren’t you? They’ve taken control of you and you don’t even know it!”

“It can’t be!” He shook his head in fierce denial. That was impossible! “I… I don’t remember anything happening to me, I swear!”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, her voice full of disdain. “Aware of it or not, you have been compromised. All this time you may have been providing information to the enemy. You are a liability to us now.”

“Please let me go,” he begged. “We can talk about this. We’ll figure it out! I’m sure there’s been a mistake! And even if not, there must be a way to fix it.”

“I’m afraid not,” she said, her face twisting into a cruel grimace. “Not without serious repercussions to your mind. Let me show you what I saw.”

"No, wait!”

He felt her mind brush the edge of his consciousness, pressing on his mind like a weight, and he blinked. Images of himself lying on a table, strapped down, flashed through his head. There was the Jedicon’s face, the one who had kept him after he’d been captured at Mizar. She was extracting those memories from him! But that had been all, wasn’t it?

“There must have been someone else,” Zalaria said, concentrating. “Who was it? A skilled one; he’s covered his trail very well.”

The sense flared again, pressing harder against his mind. He saw himself in a room, talking to others, reciting words without even thinking about them. But he couldn’t identify anyone else in the room. What was he saying? It was crazy; he didn’t remember experiencing this at all! There were definitely two other people in the room that he was talking too, and panic shot through him as he realized what she was saying was true.

“Who was it? Tell me!” she demanded, pushing harder.

“I don’t know! I’m sorry, I didn’t know!”

Her grip was crushing; it was becoming hard to breath from the pressure against the wall. He drew on the Force as much as he could, trying to resist her probing, attempting to pull her hand back just a little. A useless gesture. He was totally helpless before her all-searching eyes. Panic gripped his heart. She’s going to kill me, he realized.

Then suddenly the pressure on his mind increased exponentially, as she reached up and placed a hand over his forehead.

“Let’s see how deep this really goes, my friend. I’m afraid I will have to purge your mind. I… don’t expect it to feel pleasant,” she said darkly.

“Please, no!” he cried.

Too late. Her consciousness exploded into his mind, burning into his thoughts like a supernova. Everything he knew, all he could see and all he was, flashed into nothingness before that horrible, blinding light. He wished he could have seen Nareni one more time...

He screamed like he’d never screamed before in his life.

* * *

Beneath the Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1145 Hours

Once everyone had gathered, Kalaran was ready to proceed with the plan. He turned to their guide, nodding toward another passage that broke off to their left. “This will lead me beneath the city shield generator?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Kurt replied in passable Altarin’Dakor. “About four kilometers’ walk will put you directly under it.”

“And there will be no traps set for invaders?”

“The catacombs are mostly unexplored and avoided,” the man explained. “Only the Wardens – myself and my successors – and perhaps a few others really even know how to get around down here.”

“Good.” Kalaran turned to the group of other Kodonn’Dakor waiting expectantly behind him. Surrounding him were Nimrod's finest Jedicon, those that had distinguished themselves through a lifetime of flawless service. It was a powerful force to be reckoned with, far more than would normally be sent to defeat an enemy. But this was no simple conflict against a rival Altarin'Dakor faction; they were finally going to face the so-called Jedi from this galaxy in combat. And, though Kalaran didn't expect to find much of a challenge in them, he found he was looking forward to it, after all these years.

“Come with me,” he ordered, choosing three other elite Kodonn’Dakor standing nearby. “Our mission is the generator. The rest of you: do not strike until I give the order. We wait on Lord Nimrod.”

The entire room voiced their assent, and Cindlin and Nobien rounded up the remaining Jedicon to lead them up into the passages beneath the palace. Cindlin took the time to withdraw a cloth from her pouch and remove the makeup obscuring her true self in all its glory.

“You had better leave now,” Kalaran said, turning to their informant. “Soon things will not be good for Outlander Jedi on this world.”

“My work here is finished,” Kurt said, saluting and stepping back towards the barrier through which they’d entered.

Kalaran turned to the rest of the Jedicon, feeling the excitement of the coming battle fill his veins with fire and power. “Glaciek Altarin’Dakor. Undia Nimrod.”

The chorus was taken up and repeated for a long moment, then the two groups split up and were gone.

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1201 Hours

The sound drew him off at once; he could hear the yelling even from another section of the palace. Immediately Xar dropped his conversation with Thrakus and shot off down the hallway, using the Force to enhance his speed. Kiz’s questioning voice faded behind him as he left the man behind.
He slid around a corner and skid to a halt at the nightmarish scene in front of him.

Nico Flygras was there, lying at his wife’s feet, his body twitching, eyes rolled back and tears streaming down his face. Zalaria stood above him, whispering.

“Tell me…” he heard her say.

“Nico!” Xar yelled, running forward.

Nico’s body heaved and fell again as Zalaria turned away from him, holding a palm out towards Xar. “Wait.”

“What the kriff are you doing!?” Xar demanded.

“Extracting information from a spy,” she replied coldly, turning to look down at Nico again.

“What?! You’re killing him!” Xar yelled.

“He has betrayed us!” she glared back at him. “He’s working for the enemy.”

“Nico?!” Xar shook his head in disbelief. “That’s impossible!”

“He’s had Compulsion used on him, Xar. Say the right words and he’ll do anything you ask.”

The thought sent a jolt of fear into him. He knew Nico had been captured by the AD before. But could it really have happened to him? He’d been acting completely normal ever since returning; they had run very careful tests. “I can’t believe Nico would do that!” he said.

“He’s told them everything by now,” she continued, her fury unabated. “All our plans have been compromised. We have to start all over!”

“We don’t know that!” Xar countered. He looked down at Nico, lying helplessly on the floor, tears streaming down his cheeks and incoherent words streaming out of his mouth. “What did you do to him?”
“Their programming was very good,” she said. “I couldn’t find who was responsible, but I eliminated any trace of the Sleeper inside his mind. He has been purged.”

“What do you mean, purged?”

“Anything that his controller tampered with has been eliminated,” she said. “Wiped clean. Still, he was good; there could be something I haven’t found. We should probably make sure.” She turned and looked down at him again, moving as if to touch the writhing form below her again.

“I said leave him alone!” Xar yelled, running towards where Nico lay.

She snorted and turned away from him as he neared. “As you wish. But we need to talk about this, privately.”

At the moment, he didn’t really care what she said or where she went. He saw her walk away, then he dropped to his knees in front of his fallen comrade.

The man was barely moving, lying at an odd angle against the wall. Tentatively, Xar reached into the man’s mind with the Force. But instead of finding the reassuring presence of his friend, there was only a jumble of mixed emotional states, phasing from one to another in an animalistic fashion, a semi-consciousness cobbled together piecemeal without any sense of reason or order. It didn’t even feel like a man inside.

His friend was gone.

“NICO!” he screamed.

Desperately he reached for his commlink; with shaky fingers he typed the code to call Medical. He messed it up twice before he got it right.

“Medical, get Doctor Vannik now, this is a medical emergency!”

He heard the nurse reply, then there was a scuffling sound on the other line. They had to hurry!

“Vannik, get a team up here right now!”

* * *

Last edited by J.A. on Tue Jul 22, 2008 12:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 11, 2008 3:50 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Command Ship Ascendancy
Outside the Varnus System
1330 Hours Ship’s Time

Kamren Thansil sat in the briefing room along with all other commanding officers onboard the Ascendancy. Naguis'Vox'Donn Evan Reinal, commodore of the Ascendancy, was speaking at the podium, laying out the plan for the upcoming attack on Varnus, one of the New Imperium’s most prized worlds.

Kamren was looking forward to this. Finally, a full-scale battle between the two fleets. In the engagements they’d had until now, the enemy had fled time and again like the cowards they were. But there would be nowhere else to run, this time. Finally he would see the challenge that he’d been waiting for.

“We will be moving in with the other command ships in the fleet,” the Commodore said to the hundred or so high-ranking officers gathered. “The Ascendancy has been tasked with a vitally important role. We will spearhead the assault into the heart of the enemy formation and attack the planet’s capital city itself. We will combine orbital bombardment with ground and fighter assaults while the Ascendancy drives a wedge inside the enemy fleet and allows us to strike from both sides. There will be no holding back,” he said, looking with pride around the room. “This will be a glorious moment addition to our honored ship’s illustrious career. And our crew has the glory of playing such a part. Our own Naguis’Voxavit Gornen Siph will command the ground forces that will penetrate their city’s defenses. Naguis’Voxavit Kamren Thansil, you will command the fighter squadrons in the atmosphere. Your mission will be to destroy their defensive emplacements, eliminate their fighter cover, and escort our assault platforms. Naguis’Voxavit Xun Fiar, you will eliminate enemy fighters in orbit and protect the Ascendancy.”

“Naguis’Vox’Donn! I must protest!” interjected a livid Fiar, commander of Eclipse Wing and Thansil’s greatest rival onboard the Ascendancy. Kamren could have guess this was coming; Fiar had been going after Kamren’s favored position of top ace on the ship for years. His voice was raspy and full of hate as he pointed at Kamren. “With all respect, Voxavit Thansil is unfit to lead such a vital part of the assault. His supposedly ‘elite’ squadron had suffered heavy losses in the engagements already.”

“Silence!” Reinal’s voice boomed over the ensuing din. “He has also acquired more enemy kills than you. Our decision has been made. You overstep your place, Naguis’Voxavit!”

Kamren glanced at Fiar, who was chafing under the reprimand, obviously feeling the eyes of everyone present. He turned to his second, Misot’Voxavit Xinan Chorth, speaking a few words to the dark-purple-skinned Kurathian. Fiar had taken a huge step near insubordination by openly challenging the decision; that was how much he apparently hated Kamren. Now the Qwi’pthi had suffered a loss of face in front of everyone here; he was bound to seek revenge on Kamren at some point. He would have to be cautious. Kamren has promised to challenge him to an honor duel after the campaign was over; now he wondered if it might not come from Fiar, sooner.

“Naguis’Voxavit Thansil, you will be present at the tactical briefing in two hours, where you will brief all fighter wings on their roles in the operation.”

“Understood,” Kamren spoke up crisply.

“Very well. That is all. We will maintain a constant state of readiness until the final order to deploy is received. That is all.”

The meeting adjourned, officers began filing out. Kamren rose, as well, wishing that Vos were still here to share this honor and to plan tactics with. No one congratulated him as he followed the crowd out; any one of them would welcome the chance to take his place if he failed or died in combat. All the better; it was why they were superior to the outlanders of this galaxy. And it was why the Altarin’Dakor would wipe out the last remnants of the New Imperium at Varnus..

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1640 Hours

Xar finally returned to their quarters, knowing that was where Zalaria would be waiting for him. He’d spent the last few hours in Medlab with Doctor Vannik, watching over Nico’s condition. Unfortunately, the man was still in a coma-like state. Vannik didn’t know what else to do with him, except monitor his life signs and wait to see if he could pull himself back together. Nico’s wounds weren’t physical.

The Bond told him even before he entered that she was there. Sure enough, as soon as he entered, he saw Zalaria standing by the windows, watching the traffic outside and waiting. He closed the door behind him and then stopped on the plush rug several paces away from the window, watching warily.

“Nico’s in bad shape,” he said finally, staring at her.

She turned to face him, her expression neutral. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I want you to fix him,” he demanded.

She gave a small shrug and looked away. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I cannot reconstruct something I have no knowledge of. I don’t know what’s in his mind or his memories. They may be irrecoverable.”

“You healed me. I was virtually dead!”

“Restructuring the human body physically and restoring someone’s mind and memories are completely different things, Xar.”

“He was my friend! I want you to fix him!”

“He was a spy for the enemy!” she said derisively. Her eyes bored holes through him as she glared back at him. “You’ve grown soft, Xar. War requires us to do hard things when it affects those we care about. You know that to defeat Nimrod, we have to be as ruthless as he is.”

Xar froze. Those words, coming from her, reminded him of exactly the type of thing he’d been saying himself, lately. But was that really true? Not everyone believed so. And if they did exactly what Nimrod did, would they not in the end become just like Nimrod? It was something he’d never bothered thinking about before. Had that mindset come from within himself, or from the woman standing in front of him now?

“Maybe he’s right. You haven’t changed,” he thought to himself, his voice barely a whisper.

A pause. Then Zalaria blinked in surprise. “What did you say?”

Instead of answering, he locked eyes with hers. It was time. He had to know for sure.

“Did you really do it?” he asked quietly. “Did you… kill all your own people?”

Her eyes narrowed immediately. “Who told you that?”

“Just answer the question,” he said.

She hesitated for a moment. Then her mouth twisted. “Ah. It was him, wasn’t it? I told you, Xar, the times were different, then. I was different. I changed. You believed me.”

“I’m not sure what to believe anymore,” he replied softly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was for your own good.”

“How can I know that?”

For a moment, there was only silence. Xar stood in silent contemplation. There was much to think about, and for once, he wasn’t sure he could handle the information that he’d been faced with over the last couple of days. And the personal information Icis had shared later… It was probably best not to mention that at all.

“Xar, I have something else I’ve been meaning tell you,” she said finally.

“Save it,” he cut her off, turning away. “Not now. I need some time alone.”

He stared out the window for a moment, feeling like the whole world had suddenly changed on him. He needed to think, to come to grips with this. It was too much to try and sort out, right now. He had to work it out, get it clear so he could plan how to defend his city.

He turned and strode from the room. Zalaria didn’t try and stop him. He felt her gaze on his back all the way until he passed through the entrance and out into the hallway.

* * *

Zalaria watched him go. Strangely, she felt emotions conflicting within her, something she hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. There was frustration at him, but also sadness. And something else… it couldn’t be guilt, could it?

He was angry at her, now. Surely given time he would calm down, see things more rationally. Icis Novitaar had undoubtedly told him the truth. But had he said more? She couldn’t let Xar turn against him. Too much was riding on this, and now she had committed. Even though she knew he would eventually come around, an urgent sense within her wanted him back, now. Part of her didn’t want to wait. She had almost stopped him on the way out, to tell him. But she knew it wasn’t the right time. Not in his emotional state. How could she tell him, as long as he distanced himself from her? What would his reaction even be, if he knew the truth?

What would he say if she told him she was pregnant?

* * *

Torinn’Vinn Envirodeck
Titan-class Command Ship Ascendancy
Outside the Varnus System
1749 Hours Ship’s Time

Kamren Thansil relaxed again on the massage table, his muscles feeling refreshed after his latest session with the skilled Kurathian masseuse. She had left him now, to relax, and he planned to top it off with a soak in the artificial hot springs sheltered in the tropical foliage off to his left.

Few other beings populated the holo-deck at this time, just before the cusp of battle, but he preferred to do so. It helped him relax, focus his energy for the upcoming task.

He lay there for a moment, breathing in the herbal-infused, moist air around him, his eyes half-closed. That was what saved his life.

A shadow flashed across his field of vision. His mind barely had time to register it, but his body reacted instinctively. He rolled around, facing upwards and throwing up an arm, seeing a blur of motion as the knife flashed down at him.

His arm hit someone else's, enough to throw the blade hand off course. The dagger hit the table just beside his head with a thunk. He immediately rolled right, away from his attacker, but not quite fast enough. The blade pulled free, and he gasped as it slashed again, cutting into his left arm just below the shoulder. He spun to his feet and backed away, standing there naked, gripping his bleeding wound with his right hand and glaring at his assailant across the table. Xun Fiar stood there, ceremonial dagger in hand, glaring at him in hate.

Kamren hadn't expected this. Assassinations weren't uncommon among the Altarin'Dakor, but rarely would they happen on the eve of an important mission. It would mean a last-minute change of command. Superiors would strongly frown upon the chaos such an act would thrust upon the troops. But obviously, Xun Fiar didn't care.

"You always did have a weakness for such pleasures!" Fiar shouted. Then he lunged across the table again.

This time Kamren caught the blade hand in mid-air, but the Qwi'pthi's body rammed into his, pushing them both back. They stumbled across the stone floor for a moment, Fiar backing Kamren until they stood at the hot spring's edge. Kamren focused more of his strength on keeping the blade away from him, and not slipping on the wet stoned beneath him.

Then Fiar gave a high-pitched cry and rammed his head into Kamren's face. Thansil threw his head back as Fiar's head hit him, the alien's small beak slashing his cheek but doing little else. But the force of his opponent's weight threw him off balance, and just at that moment he slipped, falling backwards. As he fell back he continued to grip Fiar's arms with all his might, and a second later they both fell into the steaming waters with a splash.

The struggle continued underwater as they fought in the near-scalding waters. Kamren twisted back and forth violently, thrusting Fiar's arm out towards the rocks at the side. Fiar's hand hit, and he felt the alien's grip go slack as the dagger fell from his hand. However, his complete focus on the knife hand allowed Fiar to slide out of his grip. The Qwi'pthi spun around to Kamren's rear, and he felt a thin feathered arm slide around his neck, holding him down. With a panic Kamren realized he was being drowned, and he hadn't taken a breath since falling in. He kicked out at the rocks beneath him, but Fiar tangled his legs with his, keeping Kamren from getting a good stance. He thrashed back and forth, feeling his body using up the little remaining oxygen he still held. His lungs began to burn. Desperately he reached up and tried to scratch and pry Fiar's hands off him, but the Qwi'pthi's feathers were too oily and slick.

Kamren knew he didn't have much time left. He opened his eyes, the burning sensation from the hot water almost unbearable. All his air was gone, now, expelled in the struggle. He cast about on the bottom, searching desperately for the knife that had fallen just moments before. It felt like he'd been underwater for minutes, now. His eyes burned! He couldn't see anything!

He began to relax his struggles, knowing that he was weakening and that it wouldn't do any good. If he feigned death, perhaps Fiar would let him go. His lungs burned desperately for air, and resisted the urge to gasp desperately, knowing that if he did, he would drown. Darkness creeped in at the edges of his vision. He waved his free hand across the stones one more time, feeling his hope vanishing beneath the churning waters.

This his fingers touched a thin metal cylinder. The hilt.

Gripping the handle, he lurched forward and thrust the knife past his side. He felt resistance as the blade passed into Fiar's body behind him. The grip around his neck slackened.

Finding his footing, he pushed upwards with the last of his strength. Fiar fell away behind him as his head broke water, and he gasped for air, refilling his starving lungs.

He spun, splashing water, and saw Fiar gripping the handle of the blade in his side. Reacting quickly, Kamren clamped his hand down on Fiar's, holding the blade in place, then gripped the alien's head feathers with his other hand and slammed his forehead into Fiar's face.

The Qwi'pithi cried out, and the distraction was enough for Kamren to gain the edge. He kicked out with his left foot, catching Fiar at the knees, and with all his might thrust alien's head down into the water.

Now it was Kamren's turn. Fiar flailed and splashed beneath him, but Kamren held him down with powerful arm muscles, despite the slash on his left arm that trailed blood into the water. A Qwi'pthi was lithe and fast, but no match for a human's strength and the dagger in his side, which Kamren kept him from removing, sapped his strength more quickly. Fiar's struggles continued for another half minute, gradually weakening and slowing. Blood from his wound poured into the water, turning it a milky red all around them. Kamren kept him down mercilessly, waiting patiently until Fiar's struggles finally ceased entirely, then waiting another full minute. He wasn't taking any chances; Fiar may have initiated this, eschewing the traditional honor duel, but it was Kamren's right to defend himself, now. He waited until there was no chance his enemy could be faking, standing there naked in the bloody water. Finally he let go, letting Fiar's body bob up face-down on the surface.

He moved to the spring's edge and lifted himself out of the water, his legs nearly shaking from fatigue. He stood there a moment, dripping onto the stones, looking around the holodeck for any sign of further threat. There was no one around, not even servants or his former masseuse. Their duel had been given a wide berth, but apparently Fiar had come alone.

His arm ached, still bleeding profusely due to immersion in the hot water. It might affect his performance in the upcoming battle. The thought angered him, filling him with hate for the jealous Qwi'pthi now lying dead in the water behind him. His foolishness had nearly ended Kamren Thansil's illustrious career. But in the end, the superior officer had been victorious.

Kamren strode from the room, heading to the showers to wash his enemy's blood off. After that he would have to visit sickbay. Then, once that was taken care of, he had a briefing to make.

* * *

ISD Stormwatch
Outskirts, Varnus System
2010 Hours

If Mathis had been too bored within the walls of the palace, looking for something to do, then being cooped up in a starship on patrol wasn't all that much better, he reflected. Granted, it was a starship eighteen hundred meters long, but there was still only so much one could do. And it wasn't like he had any specific duties to perform. He tried to keep his senses attuned around the ship, which would hopefully help them detect enemies entering the system, but he didn't know. Besides, it was monotonous work.

At least the Stormwatch - flagship of the Jedi Division - was outfitted quite differently from other Mark-II Imperator-class Star Destroyers. First Mathis had enjoyed the Stormwatch's leisure deck, which essentially held a full-sized shopping mall that had once been a big tourist attraction for Varnusians to visit. Even with many of the stores temporarily closed due to the war, he'd found a few things to do. He'd taken in a few holo-vids at the theater to pass the time, and watched the fighter squadrons coming and going on their daily patrols. Now he was back in his room, and found himself bloody bored once more.

So he sat in his plush VIP quarters, hands folded on top of his desk, upon which sat his convenient little wooden box. Despite his best intentions to the contrary, he had brought the flaming thing along. Now it sat there, just calling to him. It was the same bloody thing over and over again. He shook his head in utter disgust.

His comm beeped, and the screen over the desk indicated that he had an incoming call from the bridge. Admiral Aaron Melvar was the commodore of the Stormwatch, and he had been more than hospitable and careful to include Mathis on any command-level decisions taking place on the ship. Currently the Stormwatch was skirting the outer edges of the Varnus System, on the lookout for any sign of the enemy. At this point they all knew it wasn't a matter of if the AD struck, but when.

He hit the button to open the channel, and saw Melvar's dark-skinned, bald head appear on the screen.

"Master Organa," the Admiral said with a respectful nod. "I just wanted to inform you that we've emerged from hyperspace at the aleph-zero point and are holding here. Patrol craft will be launching shortly should you wish to oversee the operation."

"Thank you for the update, Admiral," Mathis replied, "But I think I'll sit this one out."

"Not a problem. Enjoy your evening," Melvar said, then reached down and ended the transmission.

Sliding the box to the side and trying to put it out of his mind, he changed the display screen over to the local holovids. The news was, at this point, just a reiteration of the day's events, which he'd already seen twice today. Instead he flipped it over to some Coruscanti series he remembered growing up with, a noir-esque drama about a street detective trying to stamp out crime in the galaxy’s most famous ecumenopolis.

He'd gotten engrossed and was about an hour into it when his comm beeped again. No, wait. It wasn't his comm; it was the ship-wide warning system. A claxon sounded twice, then, and a female announcer's voice came over the speakers.

"Attention. Patrols have encountered unidentified enemy forces. The Stormwatch will move to intercept. All crews to action stations. Civilians are advised to relocate to emergency shelters until further notice is given. This is not a drill."

The message repeated, then went silent. A knot of fear clenched in Mathis' stomach. This sounded like the real thing. He quickly changed his display back to comm mode and called the bridge. He stared at the 'waiting' screen for what felt like an eternity before Admiral Melvar returned.

"Master Organa, sorry for the delay," a disheveled-looking Melvar said, turning towards the Mathis.

"What's going on, Admiral? Is it the AD?"

"It looks like it," Melvin said, his voice grave. "We've lost our whole forward patrol already. All fighters are launching and we're moving to intercept." Behind him, Mathis could see the bridge's blast doors closing over the forward viewports, to protect the bridge from direct hits.

Melvar continued, looking grim. "We haven't encountered ships like this before. They barely show up on our screens at all; they're small, black, and whatever they're hitting us with, it's going right through our shields."

The man's words sent another shiver down Mathis' spine. "Sounds like you're describing Crinn ships with their mass drivers," he said.

"I don't know. Brace yourself; I'll patch you through to the main holocams. I've got to go."

At that Melvin reached down again, and the display switched to the starfield resting out in front of the Star Destroyer. The camera angle zoomed and shifted, as Mathis watched whatever the bridge crew were looking at. Before long he could see light barely reflecting off a dark, rocklike shape. But it was contoured and aerodynamic, definitely a starship. They were Crinn, all right. This wasn’t good.

Mathis sat back and waited, watching as much as he could the battle unfold. The lights dimmed slightly, and he thought he heard the muffled sounds of the Stormwatch's turbolasers opening up.

Moments later, he heard another sound - a metallic clang, and the thump that resulted when decks suffered decompression as they were exposed to vacuum. The ship began to shake, slightly.

The screen's display revealed little; what it did wasn't good news. Explosions flared briefly, and black ships flashed across the field of view and were gone again. The battle was getting intense.

He suddenly felt fear, worse than he'd remembered feeling in previous battles. At first it bewildered him; after all, he'd served in the Imperial Remnant for years before joining the NI, and then he'd always fought with intensity and anticipation - almost joy. His ubiquitous grin would grow wider than ever when he was in personal combat. Maybe his unease was because he was trapped inside, with nothing to do. He couldn't sense anything through the Force but a jumbled sense of emotions, and people dying.

But this was real fear, and not just because they were Crinn. Lately, even the thought of life and death combat was enough to give him the shivers. Deep down in his gut, he had to admit he knew what was causing this.

It was ever since he'd encountered Velius. Then he’d learned what trued terror was.

Bloody stang. The spice was calling him, now, at the worst time possible. He glanced at his wooden box. It was just sitting there, waiting for him. The urge grew stronger with each passing second. What could it hurt? He was useless cooped up in here, anyway. And it was the only sure-fire way to escape from the fear that tried to engulf him.

That was it, wasn’t it? The spice was freedom, a release from whatever emotional state he was trapped inside. Why not use it? It gave him mastery over his emotions. Then he would feel invincible.

The muffled explosions continued. Mathis knew that the Stormwatch probably wasn’t a match for a concerted Crinn attack. How many ships were out there?

The ship’s claxon sounded again, then the comm system kicked in.

“Attention. Hull breaches in sectors twenty-five through thirty-eight, Alpha. Shields at forty-seven percent. All personnel, please advance to emergency shelters.”

Mathis glanced at the screen again. There were flashes where a few enemy ships were destroyed; the Stormwatch was a formidable ship, tougher than most ISDs. She had heavy turbolasers and flak turrets set up along her port and starboard sides, plus another pair to either side of the bridge to pick off approaching fighters. She could last a long time, but it was just a matter of time.

The ship shuddered again, and the lights flickered off and on again, briefly. Another jolt of panic tried to slide up his spine. I didn’t come out here to die! his emotional mind yelled.

The comm system came on again. This time it was Admiral Varrel’s strained voice.

“Red alert! The main hangar bay has been breached by enemy forces! Repeat: enemy forces are onboard and in the main hangar bay! I need all military personnel down there immediately; get them out of there!”

Now full-blown panic shot through him. This is it. We’re dead, Mathis thought. If there were Crinn on the ship, then most likely they were going to try and capture her instead of blowing her out of the sky. Instead of being vaporized or exposed to vacuum, they would be taken apart one by one, as the Crinn came through in a merciless bloodbath.

Even now soldiers would be flooding into the hangar, but Mathis knew their odds were slim; the Crinn were bred to be killers, with natural body armor that let them shrug off most blaster bolts. Plus, they carried handheld versions of their mass drivers. If Mathis went down there, he would only get himself killed.

The box full of Ryll called out to him again, too strongly to resist anymore. Whether or not he went down to the hangar to help, this would probably be his last day alive.

Well, if I’m going to die today… might as well go out high, he thought.

He reached over and opened the box, quickly withdrawing the smaller metal container within. He opened it and produced the bag of Ryll, along with the other equipment he used to consume it. He needn’t bother being careful this time. He quickly dumped most of the brown powder onto the table, catching its flavorful scent as it settled onto the surface in front of him.

He reached for his pipe tube, but before he could lean over and begin, he felt as if someone just reached out and slapped him in the face.

What in the name of Alderaan’s grave am I doing? He stood there, stupefied, staring down at the spice, the substance that symbolized everything he hated about himself. What did he think he was doing? People were dying down there, and all he could do was sit here feeling sorry for himself!

Anger began to well up in him. This wasn’t what Bobarus and Billaries would have done! You coward! he could almost hear them yelling. How could he dishonor their memory, and the fact that he had survived when everyone on Alderaan had died, by facing death in such a pathetic way? No! This wasn’t him at all! And it was all because of this in front of him! He hated it! That’s enough, he thought. That was bloody enough!

Growling in outrage, he pushed himself away from the table and ran over to the closet where he kept his bags. Fishing around inside, he found what he was looking for. He quickly unfolded his Jedi robe and threw it around his shoulders, then gripped his lightsaber handle in one hand. Anger at how he’d been living all these months and years grew to overwhelming rage. Enough!

Walking over to the table, he ignited his lightsaber, its red blade flashing to life in his hands, and he struck. He hit the pile of spice dead on, igniting it in a puff of smoke, then slicing straight through the table beneath it. Far from satiated, he chopped again and again, slicing the wooden box and metal container into pieces, cutting chunks into the floor, even. Then in a rage, he flew over to the door, punching it open. Opening himself to the Force as strongly as he could, he ran for the turbolift as fast as his enhanced legs would carry him.


There were Crinn everywhere.

The black-armored creatures were all over the hangar, as the doors opened, spilling Mathis into the fray. There were half a dozen between him and the main hangar opening, which fell away into open space. Other teams were making their way up on either side. Each carried those shiny mass drivers they loved to use – some holding massive cannon-like guns that they carried with three or four arms, others holding more compact guns that fired smaller automatic rounds.

There were bodies, too. Probably over a hundred stormtroopers, techs and other personnel lay lifeless on the floor, their blood slicking across the polished metal deck. The main battle was already over; he’d been too late to save them.

Guilt tried to fill him, but he grabbed hold of it, turning into further rage. It was just him, now. Only enemies filled the massive hangar bay around him. The Crinn had slaughtered everyone, leaving no prisoners. His anger boiled beyond his ability to contain it. They didn’t deserve to live! These… creatures… had been created for one reason – to kill. They took pleasure in it! Their very existence was a perversion of nature! Well, he would see how they liked the same kind of justice applied to them!

Mathis Organa would go out in a blaze of glory, fighting to his dying breath. It was as it should be.

His smile returned.

The closest Crinn warrior wasn’t looking towards him when he leapt out of the turbolift. Mathis flew over in a Force-enhanced blur, moving into range before his enemy could even complete his turn. In one motion he slid underneath the black creature and swung his saber with all his might. The blade sliced deep through the warrior’s body, dropping him in a spray of blood vapor.

The creature fell, but halfway on top of Mathis. In reality though, it helped shield him from view of the other Crinn in the hangar, which just began to notice the commotion and run towards him. Deactivating his lightsaber, Mathis instead reached for the massive rail cannon the Crinn had been holding. It was almost half as big as he was, and shone like chrome, centered around a massive barrel over ten centimeters wide. The rear of the weapon was huge and complex, with two massive magazines that held its ammunition. It was far too heavy for a normal man to lift unaided.

With Force enhanced strength, Mathis hefted the weapon in his hands, pushing the dead Crinn’s body off of him. He rose to his feet and spun towards the enemy, advancing upon him now that they saw it was one lone man they faced.

Screaming, Mathis unleashed all his fury on the advancing enemies. His finger tightened on the trigger, and death spat from his barrel.

His shots were unfocused at first, eliciting small sonic booms as the projectiles launched out on streams of air. They hit crates, exploding them into pieces, and resting containers holding fuel and other flammables, sending them up in explosions that blew nearby warriors off their feet.

Then he gained control of his weapon, raining death upon them. To his left, warriors were hit in the chest and abdomen, blowing holes through them that sent black blood flying out to splatter the walls behind them. Their bodies followed, propelled into the air by the hypersonic force of the projectiles.

His enemies returned fire. Shots flashed out at him as he spun towards the next group of enemies, and he heard the sound as shots the size of his face flashed past him and hit the walls with a deafening roar. Another shot hit the deck beside him, exploding fragments of metal into the air behind him. Smaller projectiles whipped past his face and legs, ripping holes in his cloak. Somehow, he went unscathed.

His kept pouring shots out. A bolt hit an opponent’s weapon, sending shattered fragments bursting through his armored carapace. Another had a leg blown off, pitching it forward only to take a second shot in the head, blowing a clean hole all the way through its body. Another lost two arms to a single shot, sending them careening away, then another punched through his midsection, throwing him backwards.

Crinn warriors fell in bloody heaps, sliding across the floor. Some were blown over the edge of the hangar and into the yawning chasm of space below, their weapons following them down. Then, in their place, something came up into the hangar.

Mathis immediately saw the Crinn fighter as it rose into the air parallel to the deck. It was facing him, and inside he could see dark bodies moving, coming to inspect the disruption in the hangar. He gave them no time to react.

Trigger still depressed all the way, he turned his spinning barrel towards the fighter. His shots tore through armor that wasn’t designed to stop its own mass projectiles, chewing their way over to the cockpit, where they punched straight through the craft’s viewports. The pilots inside were blown apart by the hypersonic blasts, and the craft pitched violently downwards, flame spilling out of it.

It dropped at just the right moment. The fighter plunged as a second Crinn troop transport tried to rise into the hangar, and plowed straight into the transport amidships. The force tore into the interior of the larger ship, then the fighter exploded. The blast ripped through the transport, sending Crinn body parts flying everywhere, and caught both vessels in an explosion that ripped them apart and sent flames roaring up into the hangar.

Bathed in yellow light from the flames, Mathis crouched on the deck, watching as the debris from the collision fell out into space below. The last of the enemy invaders fell to the floor nearby and stopped twitching. No more projectiles shot from his weapon; the gun’s barrel spun pointlessly, ammunition expended. Smoke poured from the device from where it had been overheating. With a final burst of effort Mathis threw the thing away, and it crashed to the deck with a deafening crunch. Then he looked all around him, surveying the carnage. The hangar was empty, now. There were no more crew alive. There were no more Crinn alive. There was only him. Mathis Organa.

He sank to his knees, exhausted, and felt tears pour down his cheeks.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2008 4:06 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Varnus System
0410 Hours

The ISD-II Stormwatch popped out of hyperspace practically at Varnus’ doorstep, appearing suddenly in the space just outside of the NI First Fleet’s perimeter. Her hull was blackened in multiple places, with a few gaping holes in the front and sides, but she was in one piece. The NI fleet immediately responded, sending out ships to intercept. A full wing of Altarin'Dakor fighters from the Nexus flew into escort position, on alert just in case the enemy followed her in for a full-scale attack. But no pursuers appeared, and for the moment it seemed that the Stormwatch was safe.

During the Stormwatch’s absence the entire First Fleet had arrived at Varnus and was waiting in orbit in anticipation of attack. Numerous Star Destroyers, Mon Calamari cruisers, and other capital ships and support craft now hovered in a geostationary orbit over the capital of Vectur, covering the region like a blanket. Leading them were the Super Star Destroyer Independence, the Allegiance-class Star Destroyer Defiant, and the Titan-class battleship Nexus, belonging to Zalaria's forces. There were six other ISDs, four VSDs, three Mon Cals, four remaining Majestic cruisers, and a host of other support craft. It wasn’t a large fleet. Recent battles at Moro and Sigma had whittled it down. The Second Fleet was much larger, but for the time being had been relocated to Tralaria, to guard the capital. For now, this was all that they had.

As the Stormwatch moved into formation, medical transports and personnel shuttles began running back and forth, ferrying beings and crew to and fro. Slowly they made sense of the chaos, as what had happened to the ship became clear.

Apparently the Crinn had arrived in advance of Nimrod’s main force, intending to scout and possibly lead the forward assault onto Varnus. But on the way in they’d run into the Stormwatch, which by a lucky break had been scouting directly in the enemy's path. The ensuing scuffle had effectively revealed the enemy's plan and knocked them a serious setback. Local rumors said that Jedi Master Mathis Organa himself had stood against nearly a hundred Crinn warriors and had driven them out of the ship’s hangar. Now the Stormwatch was moved to a safer location and commanders both in the fleet and on the surface were abuzz about what had happened, holding last-minute meetings and briefings to prepare everyone for the impending attack.

The fleet was abuzz with speculation over what would happen next, but overall there was a growing sense of dread and worry. Everyone knew that this was their last chance; if Varnus and Tralaria fell, the New Imperium would be finished.

As frantic preparations were taking place in orbit and on the planet, final briefings were just about to begin. And in the distance, the first Altarin’Dakor command ships began to exit hyperspace, not bothering to hide their arrival, marching with impunity towards their ultimate target…

* * *

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
1440 Hours

Maarek had finally been able to snatch enough time to meet with Jac Railler, the impromptu trainer and commander of the Royal Palace Guard. He hadn’t had much time with the man since they’d gone back to Haven to rescue refugees. Jac had done well since then, living on a small plot of land outside Vectur where he enjoyed farming. But with the invasion, he’d been called in again. Now Jac was dressed in a military officer’s uniform, and had just finished a round of inspections in preparation for the major briefing by Grand Master Xar Kerensky.

Maarek found Jac up on the main wall surrounding one of the largest courtyards on the south side, near the primary entrance. A wall of skyscrapers made a backdrop behind him as Maarek caught up to him and gave a relaxed salute.

“How are things?” he asked as he slowed to a halt. Railler, a few years Maarek’s senior, held a scraggly beard that was showing its first signs of gray. His prominent scar ran down from his eyebrow and across his nose to his cheek. Maarek still wondered where he’d gotten it from.

“Commander Stele,” Jac greeted him warmly, exchanging handshakes. “I’m glad we could catch up before the action starts.”

“Looks like you’ve done a good job with the men,” Maarek said.

“Thanks,” Jac said. “And you, with your fighter squadron.”

“Wish I could say the same,” Maarek said. “I’ve lost a lot of pilots.”

“It’s not your fault. We see a lot of dead in our positions. We can’t let it affect us.”

“I know,” Maarek said. “I just need time. Dealing with a few things right now.”

The loss of Petur still panged inside, fostering Maarek’s insecurities about being able to protect the squadron in the future. And of course, Rynn’s rejection of him hadn’t done much anything to help lighten his mood, lately.

“How are the Haveners?” he asked, changing the subject.

Jac paused before replying, then sighed. “Some have left, Maarek. Others are still here, but it’s hard to reintegrate in a new society. Everything’s on hold until as long as the AD are here.” Railler shook his head, glancing toward the city with a faraway look in his eyes.

“It’s an unfair galaxy, Maarek. Ironic that when you try to avoid what you always were, fate has a way of dragging you right back into it and laying it all bare again. I wonder if we’ll ever stop knowing war.”

Inwardly, Maarek felt the same way. He’d always been a pilot, and years in the military had trained him to think that it was all that life had to offer. Still, he knew the vast majority of beings in the galaxy were civilians, just trying to live their lives as best they could. It was their job to protect them. “If war ever dies out, we’ll be out of a job,” he said, trying to make a light comment.

Jac was too introspective for that today, though. “I just want it to be over, Maarek,” he said, a sincere look in his eyes. “There’s more to life than war. I’m ready to find out what that means for my own life.”

“I’m sure you’ll stick around to find out,” Maarek said, trying to encourage him.

Jac didn’t reply. Instead he glanced back out at the city, where speeders zoomed back and forth in their skylanes. Maarek let the silence play out for a moment, the decided to change the subject. There was more he wanted to know about Jac, anyway.

"So what role are you playing in this, Jac?" he asked.

"I'm with the troops in front of the palace main entrance," Jac said, inclining his head in that direction. "Front line of defense. Xar... He asked me to."

"And you're just going to do it because he asked you?" Maarek countered. These days he couldn't imagine himself just blindly doing whatever the man said. Xar was just too unpredictable.

"It has nothing to do with my opinion of the Grand Master," Jac said, breaking through Maarek's thoughts. "I trained those men and I can fight, so that's where I'll be. Besides, Haven was my home, and it was taken from me. Now Varnus is my home, and I don't want to lose it, too."

Maarek nodded, conceding the argument.

After a moment had passed, Maarek broke in with another question that had been eating him ever since he’d met the man. “By the way, Jac. You never told me how you came to Epsilon Sector. Didn’t you say you’ve lived here for only a few years?”

Jac was silent for a moment. Then he smiled slightly.

"I might as well tell you," he said, scratching at his half-grown beard. "The name Jac Railler is just an alias. My real name is Kir Kanos."

At Maarek's curious expression, he added, "You may not have heard of me as well as I've heard of you. I was one of the Emperor's elite Crimson Guard, called Sovereign Protectors. After his death I helped bring down Carnor Jax and his so-called 'Crimson Empire'."

"I heard about that," Maarek nodded. "You slaughtered the whole Imperial Ruling Council."

"Most of them," Kanos said matter-of-factly.

"Anyway, Maarek," Kanos said, suddenly growing serious. "I have a favor to ask of you."

"Anything. What is it?"

"If I don't make it out of this alive, there's someone I want you to contact."

"What makes you think I'll live through this, either?" Maarek said with a mock-grin.

"Call it insurance if you want. The more people that know - people I trust, at least - the more chance it'll get out. Hopefully you won't have to concern yourself with it."

"Who do you want me to contact?"

"Her name is Mirith Sinn."

"A romantic interest?"

"Something like that."

"Well..." Maarek hesitated; he wasn't used to being a courier of personal information. "What should I say?"

Kanos glanced down at the floor before continuing. "Just... Tell her I am sorry. She was right; I shouldn't have left. My... obsessive quest wasn't worth what it cost me. I should have stayed with her."

Maarek just stood there, listening quietly, seeing this was obviously an emotional subject for Kanos. He waited for him to continue.

"Also... Tell her thank you for me. Thank you for helping me to change, for showing me I could change. I love her, and if I could not be there for her when this is all over... I wish the best for her life."

He broke off then, nodding softly to himself. Maarek could feel that he was torn by grief. He didn't know the details, but he knew regret when he saw it.

"Go back to her," he said.

"I don't know. Maybe when this is all over."

They stood there then, sharing a moment of silence, as they watched the buildings of Vectur rise into the sky in front of them. After just a moment, Kanos pulled his chrono out of his pocket and gestured with it to Maarek.

“The briefing is about to begin. We should get going.”

Maarek nodded, and soon found himself following the other man through the crowded corridors once more.

* * *

The main palace conference room was packed. Not only were all the Jedi in the Division present, but so were most commanding officers of the First Fleet, as well as planetary defense. It struck Maarek that this would be a horrible moment for the enemy to strike, with everyone gathered in one place.

Xar stood at the podium behind the tables set up at the back of the room. To his right and left were the other members of the Jedi Council. Spread out among the rows of seats in the room were the Jedi, and even Maarek knew enough to see that the same people always sat near each other. There were the Jedi Houses - Ar'Kell, Vortigern, Aurora, and Castellan - then there was Xar's 'cadre', and a large group that represented the younger upstarts that didn't fit in with anyone but themselves. The Jedi might be united in purpose, but there were major differences within them.

He looked around the room for Rynn, and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw her sitting next to Jinx Skipper. So that was how it was. He'd heard rumors.

Maarek himself stood with Jac Railler - no, Kir Kanos now - near the back of the room. They hadn't been the last to arrive, but Maarek still felt a little aloof from the Jedi. They used powers he didn't understand, though for him it was lack of interest - he had come to accept he was Force-Sensitive, though he had turned down Xar's offer to teach him how to use it. He'd always assumed that once he started down that path, the Jedi would never leave him alone until he had robes around his shoulders and a lightsaber in his hand. Maarek preferred fighter combat. But there were times, he had to admit, that he wished he had that edge in a dogfight, to know what his opponent was going to do before he did it. He hadn't used to think that way, but that was before he flew against a Jedicon. That feeling of helplessness... It sent cold fear into his gut. But it was too late to do anything about it now. Xar had begun to speak, and he turned his attention to the Grand Master of the Jedi Division and regent of the planet they were defending.

Xar looked out on everyone and took a deep breath, a grave look on his face. Even from this distance Maarek could see that the man was undergoing some kind of extreme stress. He looked so very tired and on edge. The pressure of leading in the face of this attack must be affecting him more than he'd thought.

"First of all I wanted to inform everyone that our long-range scanners have spotted a Titan-class battleship on the fringes of the system, moving our way."

A ripple of surprise-laden comments spread throughout the crowd, and Maarek swallowed, steeling his nerves. So it had begun.

"I've just returned from the command briefing on the Nexus with Sector Admiral Gaius, Fleet Admiral Percy, and Zalaria's forces," Xar continued. "The First Fleet is in orbit and we have detailed our strategy for the upcoming attack.

"The planetary shields here should hold against any bombardment, as well as prevent a ground landing. Our strategy, then, is for the First Fleet and its squadrons to hit the enemy as hard as we can to try and deter them from pressing on with the attack. We'll punch through their fighter screen and hit their main Titans with everything we've got. Our planetary forces will stand by to prevent anything from attacking our shield generators. Should the shields fall, our forces will fall back to stop a troop landing and to engage any forces on the ground."

He nodded toward a dark-haired, straight-backed man in the front row dressed in a crisp ceremonial uniform. "Colonel Rivian Donitz has been selected to lead the First Fleet's fighter squadrons in orbit, in the attack."

Maarek felt his jaw drop in shock. Donitz had been chosen? What was the man thinking...?

His thoughts were interrupted as Xar looked up over the crowd and locked eyes with him, continuing. "Commander Maarek Stele, you are in charge of planetary fighter defense; your task is to protect the capital at all costs."

"Understood, sir," Maarek heard himself say, though it was just an automatic reaction. He felt like he'd been punched in the gut, and his face flushed warm with the anger of betrayal. So Xar wanted him to babysit, did he? Planetary shields were strong - Xar was effectively keeping Maarek out of the fight. Things had changed; gradually a wall had grown up between him and his former friend. Now a line had been crossed. In his gut he felt it - Xar didn't trust him anymore.

"Our Jedi will provide the palace and surrounding city with its last line of defense. However, if the opportunity arises, I intend to use our most elite forces in an attempt to infiltrate enemy command ships."

“Sir, does that mean that none of our Jedi will be piloting fighters in the battle?” asked one member of the Jedi group. Maarek recognized the Duros as Val Ricaud.

“That is correct,” Xar replied curtly. “Our top priority is to defend the Palace District against assault, and to face any enemy Jedicon.”

Maarek heard a murmur pass through the crowd at that. The Jedi were, quite understandably, worried about facing actual Jedicon in combat, just as much as Maarek was afraid to face them in a dogfight. After all, the Altarin’Dakor version of the Jedi – Jedicon meant ‘True Jedi’ – had consistently and thoroughly defeated the Division’s own members in combat practice. If they could face them two or more at a time, then they could gain the upper hand. Unfortunately, Maarek didn’t think that the NI Jedi would be having the advantage of numbers in this particular engagement.

He glanced around the room one more time, wondering if this would be the last time any of them saw one another. The odds were stacked against them. No matter how well they had prepared, if Nimrod threw the bulk of his forces against them – and it seemed he had plenty to spare – then it was only a matter of time. He hoped that they could find some way to win; maybe some weakness could still be found.

If not, then this would be the final conference ever held in this room.

* * *

"From this point on," Xar continued on once the noise had died down, "The Palace District and Greater Vectur are under a state of martial law. Since we do not know when the enemy will attack, and there has been no contact with them, we must be in a constant state of readiness."

Jinx watched Xar speak from the third row of seats. Rynn sat beside him on his right, and Atridd Xoan was seated on her other side, all three of them watching Xar speak.

"Curfews will be in place until further notice, which means no one goes out on the streets at night without authorization. Beginning tonight we will begin landing walkers and hovertanks, and also troops transports. New Imperium Army brigades will be moving in to supplement our defenses. Be in a state of alert. Individual orders will be passed down through the chain of command."

“Sir, will our ally Jedicon be assisting us in the defense here?” asked a tentative Amleth Uiara off to Jinx’s left.

“Negative,” the Grand Master replied. “The current plan is that they will remain on the Nexus and participate in the orbital engagement.”

That was news to Jinx. Only a day or so before he’d heard Xar mention bringing the Jedicon down to help guard the palace. What had changed his mind?

“Listen everyone,” Xar said then, his voice turning grave. “This is a pivotal moment in history. The future of the New Imperium and all the lives within it are hinging on what happens here. I sense that this will be the direst fight we’ve had yet. Some of us – perhaps many of us – are not going to make it through to the end. There will be casualties; we need to face that fact. I suggest each of you take this evening and tonight and get your affairs in order.”

Jinx took a deep breath and felt the rest of the room collectively do the same. It was as close to a prediction of doom as he’d ever heard Xar say. Indeed, they all knew that this could be their last stand, a suicide mission. But this was their job, their lives. They had nothing else to live for, right? For Jinx it certainly was. His people were all here, now.

“That said,” Xar said, straightening, “I want you to know that I have the utmost pride in each and every one of you. Each of us has come out different situations, leaving our old lives behind to unite here behind one purpose. I am thankful to all of you for being a part of this. No matter what has happened or will happen, you are all my family. It is my greatest honor to have built this thing with you all.

Jinx watched the man step back from the podium as not a few members gathered in the room wiped moist eyes. They’d all sensed sincere emotion in Xar’s words, and Jinx had no doubt they were real. Despite how hard he could be a times, Xar truly did love them all. And if he didn’t always show it – well, it was a father’s job to discipline his children as he saw fit.

The meeting quickly concluded, and everyone stood up and began to mingle. There was a sense of vital importance to their conversations, now. It felt as if they knew each conversation with a particular person could be their last. Jinx stood as well, exchanging a glance with Rynn.

They followed the crowd out of the conference room and into one of the side corridors. Jinx strode alongside Rynn, glancing at her every few moments. She wasn't acting like her normal, focused self. In fact, she looked ill.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her.

She shook her head in dismissal.

Jinx went out on a limb. "It's your ability, isn't it?" he asked.

Finally, she nodded slightly. "I can sense their power level constantly," she said. "It spiked about a day ago and it hasn't stopped since. It's... overwhelming..."

She put a hand to her forehead, and suddenly she stopped and slumped over against the wall. Jinx moved closer and put an arm around her to steady her, his concern rising. "Hey, take it easy," he said.

"It's crazy. I don't understand it. This is different from anything I've felt before," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"I can feel them all around us," she said, her voice sounding more troubled by the minute. "It's like they're not only above us, up there... It feels like they're beneath us, too!"

"What do you mean? As in, underneath our feet? Right now?"

"Yes! I know, it sounds crazy. I can't even think straight; the feeling is so strong."

Jinx was immediately concerned. Rynn had never mentioned anything directional before in her senses. He firmly believed that she was starting to understand and even control her power a little more, but if that was true, then she certainly shouldn't be feeling anything below them. Maybe she was sensing the whole planet in danger. After all, the Altarin'Dakor had obliterated every standing structure on Moro and poisoned the waters on Danube. The whole world was in jeopardy when the AD attacked. Still, he should get the guard to double-check security on the lower levels, just in case.

Still, Rynn was obviously in pain from the exertion of using her powers. "Maybe you should relax," he offered. "Don't keep trying to sense them all the time. You did a great job, Rynn." He stood with his arm around her, oblivious to the traffic passing by them in the hallway. "Come on, we should probably go ahead and take the children to the Treasury now. I'll help you. Let's go find Bren."

She nodded, and a moment later removed her hand from her forehead, and with his help, she straightened.

Then someone bumped Jinx's shoulder on his way past.

Jinx turned to see who it was. He found Maarek Stele turning back and staring at him.

"Commander," he said with a slight nod.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to disrupt you two." Stele's tone was dark. Jinx could sense the sarcasm in his words and perhaps... was there jealously there, too?

But of course. Rynn had told him about Maarek's confession. Apparently the man hadn't taken her response well. Jinx could understand his position, but there was nothing to be done about it.

"I guess Jedi take after their own, don't they?"

"That has nothing to do with it," Jinx countered, annoyed that Stele would be childish enough to bring this up. He was a professional; he should know enough to look at the situation analytically and move on. "I'm sorry," he said. "But things like this happen. Feelings don't always run mutual. I'm sure you understand."

"Easy enough for you to say."

"I hope there won't be any hard feelings," Jinx said.

Stele gave a smirk. "I don't have time for hard feelings. I was just passing through." He gave a slight nod toward each of them. "Skipper. Mariel." Then he turned and strode quickly away. Jinx watched him pick up his pace as Xar appeared out of a doorway down the hall.

"Sorry about that," Jinx said, glancing at Rynn.

"It's okay," she said. "You handled it... nobly. He's a good man; he's just... going through a lot, lately."

"Tell me about it," Jinx said. "Shall we go down to see Bren now?"

She nodded, falling into step beside him as they headed for the nearest stairway.

* * *

Maarek had forced his way through the crowd, desperate to catch Xar on his way out, when he’d run into Jinx by accident. The rejection by Rynn, and then seeing her with Jinx’s arm around her, had been too much. He'd acted like an idiot. His stress and dissatisfaction at everything had flown out, childishly trying to get back at Jinx and Rynn for something that wasn't their fault. Jinx didn't deserve that, and Rynn was the last person he wanted to insult. He blew out a deep breath in frustration.

Xar was already walking away ahead of him, and Maarek had to run to catch up. It might be his last chance to talk. Pushing through a last group of conversing Jedi Knights, Maarek jogged up behind him, catching him in a relatively non-crowded spot just before the man disappeared around a corner.

“Xar, wait!” he called out.

Kerensky paused, turning back to look at him questioningly.

“Why did you choose Donitz to lead the wing?” Maarek blurted. It wasn’t that he hated the man, but he needed to know, stang it! “Wasn’t that what you originally recruited me for?”

Xar arched an eyebrow at the question. "That was a long time ago. You have your own squadron now, don't you?"

"Yeah, but I live here too; I have for several years, now. I want to defend it too."

“You will be. I thought you’d be happy, Maarek. Donitz has to worry about hundreds or thousands of fighters out there. You don’t want that much responsibility on your head, do you?”

Xar's words were right; deep down, Maarek had to admit that he much preferred leading a small group rather than coordinating on a large scale. But anger and frustration still boiled within him. What was it that made him feel like this? It had to be Donitz. Despite everything, the man had always kept one step ahead. In his whole career, Maarek had never been in this kind of position. He'd always been the one on top, but now their positions were reversed.

“But why him?" he demanded finally.

“Why Donitz? He’s more than qualified, Maarek. He has more AD kills than anyone in the fleet.”

Maarek nodded slowly, but he still didn’t buy it. It just felt like there was something else there, between he and Xar that hadn't been worked out. He had to ask the question at the forefront of his thoughts. “Haven't I proved myself? Do you think I'll do something stupid?” he said. "We're friends. I thought you trusted me."

Xar sighed, raising his hands in exasperation. “You’re a loose cannon, Maarek.”

At Maarek’s disbelieving expression, he continued.

“Look, you’re an incredible pilot; no one can deny that. But there are other issues here, some of them political, and you’ve done a few crazy things since you’ve been here. Look at some of the incidents that have happened. You’ve changed since you first came here. Before, you were reliable and always by the book. Now, no one’s so sure about that anymore.”

He gave Maarek one last apologetic look. “I’m sorry. But you’ll make a greater impact down here, in the atmosphere. You don’t need to be distracted worrying about everything else going on. I promise you'll get your chance. You'll do fine.” At that he turned and began striding away.

“Guess I’m not the only one who’s changed,” Maarek said at the man’s back as he walked away down the corridor.

* * *
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Offline J.A.


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:33 am   Post subject: Re: "Fading Glory" - by Joshua Ausley   

Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
2020 Hours

Evening settled slowly over Vectur, covering the tall spires of the city with shadows that worked their way inexorably upwards. Lights shown out from windows in the dimness, though not as many as there would usually be. Speeder traffic fell off, dwindling to a trickle. It was as if the city was shutting down, going into hibernation in anticipation for winter. There was a sense of anticipation, and foreboding. Everyone knew what was coming.

Varnus’ early warning system had picked up another Titan-class Battleship entering the system only a few hours before. It was compelling evidence that an attack would come soon.

Grand Master Xar Kerensky had followed the general briefing by making a public, citywide announcement: all civilians were to make their way to shelters in preparation for attack. All businesses would be closed the next day and would remain so indefinitely until the conflict was resolved. With martial law in place, the buildings and city streets were to be cleared – safety was now the top priority.

There were no night parties, and most bars and clubs didn't even bother opening for the night. It was as though everyone knew this was the time to focus on what was truly important. It might be the last night they ever spent with their friends, their family and their loved ones.

In the Royal Palace, beings clustered together in quiet groups, enjoying the simple pleasure of one another's company. Spouses spent time together privately, while others spent time with squadron mates, House members or other friends. The atmosphere was different, subdued, with a sense of change permeating the air. Things would soon be different.

Sturm Brightblade stood on watch in the Palace Control Room, watching the reports stream in while keeping an eye on the nightly news. Most citizens had been successfully moved to safe zones. It was especially important to keep the downtown area clear, as any sort of disturbance - energy or projectile weapons or even debris - could send those skyscrapers tumbling down.

During the night, more defense forces would be making their landings in the city streets, setting up guard posts and defensive positions. A series of heavy barricades was being built in front of the palace's main entrance, as well. Overall, the preparations were going as planned, but he wondered if it would be enough to stop the Altarin'Dakor.

What disturbed him more at the moment was in the missing members of his House tally. When the Ar'Kell members had gathered in their House wing, there had been several notable absences, including his own second-in-command, Aedile Vykk Olyronn. Also missing were several of the other commanding staff, including Crusaders Domi and Moore. It was unlike them, especially Vykk, to vanish without telling anyone. He had a hunch that they might be on a mission somewhere, but there were no missions going on that he knew of. Besides, how could there be, with Varnus itself about to be attacked? Their disappearance was most disturbing. He wondered if it was related to the absence of Grand Master Misnera, as well. It could explain a lot. He just hoped that they had a good reason to be gone at a time like this.

Things had happened at a breakneck pace the last few days. He had only just gotten back from a last-minute mission, taking a team of Jedi back to Jengar to rescue its would-be mayor, a technician named Thad Balfin. That mission certainly hadn't gone quite as expected. He was sure that Neres, Draken, Varanus, and Yarna had needed just as much rest as he had, coming back.At least everyone had gotten out of it alive, and the discovery they'd made just might hold enough importance to make an effect on this war. Assuming, of course, they all survived the next few days.

He turned slightly as the doors opened, admitting a lithe woman with curled hair that fell down almost to her shoulders. Melia Tai had foregone her Dathomiri attire in favor of a form-fitting combat uniform, her lightsaber dangling from a utility belt at her waist. Sturm ran a hand through his wispy, snow-white hair, attempting to bring it under control as she came to a stop in front of him.

"Crusader Tai, what can I do for you?" he asked.

Melia's tone was formal - she hadn't quite adjusted to the more laid-back style that predominated within the Jedi Division.

“Quaestor Brightblade, the Grand Master has tasked me with guarding the main city shield generator. Others are helping me on rotation. Today Quaestor Neres gave me his assistance, and I was wondering if you might know someone interested in volunteering for tomorrow's watch."

Sturm grinned. He knew a challenge when he heard one, veiled though it might be. He let her stand there for a moment, all prim and proper, then he grinned again. “Well, we can’t let old Neres outdo us Ar’Kellians, can we?”

"Sir?" she asked, looking perplexed.

"It's all right, lass," he assured her. "I'll help you guard the shield generator tomorrow."

"Quaestor, I did not mean to offend. I am not implying that you should go yourself..."

"No offense taken," he said, waving the comment away. "It would be my honor to volunteer. What time does the shift begin?"

"Templar Rocanon is doing the night shift, which will end tomorrow at 0800 hours."

"0800 it is, then," Sturm said with a curt nod. "I finish here at 2200, so that'll give me just enough sleep to start fresh."

"I am honored, Quaestor. Thank you," Melia said, and actually smiled. She glanced at the holoscreens spaced around the command center, then back at Sturm. “Well, I’m sure you have a lot to attend to. I’ll see if I can find a few other volunteers to help tomorrow. Command seems to think an attack is likely.”

“Then we’ll have to be ready,” Sturm said.

He gave her a nod, and then she turned and left, leaving Sturm to continue his nightly vigil and ensure that all the transports made it down successfully…

* * *

Gui Sun Paan held his wife, Oriana, as they shared a seat on the couch in his quarters. She leaned against him, resplendent in a white gown, and he was reminded again just how much he loved her – and why he married her.

She was worried tonight, but so were they all. Word was, the Altarin’Dakor were in orbit, and the attack could come at any moment. In the face of that, he knew where his priorities lay. The most important thing he could do to prepare was to spend time with his wife.

“Do you think the kids will be safe in the Treasury?” she asked, quietly.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” he reassured her.

“I don’t know, Gui Sun. I have a bad feeling about this one.”

“It’s the safest place in the palace.”

She shook her head softly. “I’m not talking about just them. It’s you and the others. There’s really no way out, this time. We could all die here on Varnus.”

He pulled her a little closer, leaning his head against hers as they stared at the window, watching the blinking city lights as they reached up towards the stars above. “Don’t say things like that,” he whispered. “What must happen… will happen. It’s not our place to worry. We’ll just do our best.” He smiled slightly. “It’s a better place to spend your last days than Tatooine.”

“I’d rather have years, Gui Sun.”

“If the Force wills it.”

She glanced over at him with a wry expression. “You’ve always been like that, Gui Sun. Always trusting the Force. Everything finds its purpose within its bounds, doesn’t it?”

“That’s what we’re taught,” he said. He smiled down at her. “It’s comforting to know that even if our bodies perish, there’s something else to look forward to. There’s more to life than just our physical bodies.”

“You… aren’t afraid, are you?” She studied his face for a moment, then finally smiled softly. “You’re the bravest man I’ve ever met, Gui Sun. That’s why I love you and that’s why I married you.”

“I’m not so brave,” he replied gently, leaning close to kiss her on the lips. “Not so much as my wife.”

They held one another for a long moment, finally leaning back to lay there together, intertwined, simply enjoying one another’s presence, wishing the moment would last forever.

* * *

Amleth Uiara sat in the sofa in his office, a holoscreen with the volume turned down showing the nightly news brief. As Quaestor of Vortigern, he’d been appropriated enough room for any senator or ambassador might have been.

At this hour he would normally be alone in the office, but tonight his best friend, Knight Varnanus Templar of House Ar’Kell, had come to spend time with him. They both knew an attack was imminent, and it had been some time since they’d been able to simply chat together. Amleth’s trusty R2 unit, Ozie, sat over in the corner, as well, soaking in their conversation. Maybe at least that information would be left to posterity.

Amleth had originally recruited Varanus into the Jedi Division. Though they had served in different houses - Ar'Kell and Vortigern - the two had always remained close.

Varanus sat on the plush rug covering most of the floor, leaning back against the wall and toying with his lightsaber handle in his hand. He’d come to see Amleth when even the rest of Vortigern was either hanging out with other friends or already sleeping. They had spent a good deal of time catching up with each other’s latest happenings, but the conversation was becoming more and more subdued as time progressed. The seriousness of the situation eventually won out, creating a mood of… sadness, and perhaps even finality.

"You ever think about going back home?” Varanus asked suddenly. “To Sinorel? I mean, the New Republic gave your people their freedom, right? Drove that guy, Tains, out of power for good. We saw them the last time we were there."

Amleth thought back to that particular mission, when he’d been younger, and much more foolish. He’d disobeyed orders and put him, Varanus, and two other Jedi in danger. Grand Master Xar had been lenient on him. He sighed. "Yeah, he's gone. But I don't know if he's still alive or not. Still, why would I want to go back? What's there for me? This is my home now." Even Sheona had betrayed him. The only thing his world reminded him of was betrayal and loss.

“I suppose you’re right,” Varanus said. “Still, you wouldn’t be here right now, sitting right in the path of destruction.”

Amleth shook his head, resolutely. “There’s no other place I’d rather be than here. How about you, Varanus? Not having second thoughts?”

“Never,” Varanus said. “I’m with you all the way.”

Amleth smiled, thanking his friend for his sense of loyalty. They had both grown a lot since that foolhardy return to Sinorel, and now he could look back on that mission with a sense of closure, despite what that had happened there

Suddenly Varanus spoke up again, his voice growing soft, distant. “This… It’s all about to change, isn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” Amleth asked.

“Think about it. In another month or year – or maybe even a day – Varnus and maybe the whole NI won’t be the same. I can’t believe it. Already we’ve lost so much. Jengar, Moro, Sigma… Pretty soon… We won’t all be here, together. All the Houses are here under one roof. We’ve done so much training together to prepare for this thing. Exploring the palace, hanging out with my close friends like Vynd, you and Brightblade.” He paused, staring at his lightsaber hilt as he slowly twisted it in his hands. “I… I like the way things are, Amleth. I don’t want them to change.”

“I… know how you feel,” Amleth admitted. It was true; the sense of camaraderie, of family, had been strong in the Division, despite the factions that had sprung up in recent months.

“Sometimes I think our best days have already passed. There were so many good memories here. I don’t want things to change for the worse.”

“They might change for the better,” Amleth offered. “You have to have a little faith.”

“But what if some of us don’t make it through this?” Varanus asked. “I mean, some people are going to die.”

“We’ve all taken that risk,” Amleth said. “It’s part of what we do. We don’t run from it. It just… is.”

“I know.”

“Are you all right?” Amleth asked his friend.

Varanus looked up at him again, and this time there was something else in his eyes… determination. “Like I said, I’m in this all the way with you. Let’s give the AD a little payback, okay?”

Amleth smiled, reaching over to turn off the holoscreen. “Sounds good to me. We’d better get some rest. It may be a very busy day tomorrow.”

* * *

Kiz Thrakus sat in his private quarters, dressed down to his undergarments, relaxing on the bed beside his beautiful wife Lorien Kal, of the Singing Mountain Clan. Their daughter, Seydinl, lay between them, nearly a year and a half old now, playing between the two of them.

Kiz watched with a sense of wonder as his daughter happily sat there, oblivious to what was happening in the world around her. Thrakus and Lorien were always careful to repress any negative emotions around Seydinl – the daughter of two Force-Sensitives, she was highly attuned to the Force. He knew that one day she would become a powerful Jedi – one that he hoped would surpass him in every way.

“I don’t have to tell you to be careful out there tomorrow,” Lorien spoke up, her tone of voice light. But Kiz caught the meaning in her words. She would be worried, but not overly so. Danger was something that Dathomiri were used to, and they had been through a lot together, as well.

“Nothing to worry about, my love,” he said, matching her positive tone. Thrakus knew how to take care of himself. The worst was still a possibility – but it wasn’t something you thought about. There was a job to be done, plain and simple. And when it was over, he would return home to his wife and daughter, and the simple, unconditional love that they would always hold for him, no matter what.

The next morning he would have to escort the two of them down to the Treasury, where they would stay with Rynn until the resolution of the conflict. He knew they would be safest there, and their safety would free him up to do what was necessary in the upcoming battle. Thrakus reflected on all the things he had learned since coming to Varnus and joining the Jedi Division, and how much he had grown. He was older, wiser, stronger. He had a wonderful wife and daughter. Everything was going right. It was the perfect time.

Kiz leaned over to his wife, her beauty still as captivating as it had been the first time he’d met her. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too, Kiz.”

For a moment, he looked down at Seydinl. She was asleep, peacefully resting between her two loving parents, and time suddenly seemed to slow to a stop. At that moment Thrakus felt happiness and peace more than he’d ever felt in his life. Looking at his daughter’s face, all his worries melted away.

“Sing me a song again?” he asked his wife suddenly.

“Certainly, my love.” She smiled then, glancing up at him. “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asked.

“For never letting me forget who I am.”

Then she leaned over and put her head on his shoulder, and began to sing.

* * *

Xar slept fitfully, wracked by haunted dreams, or perhaps visions, of Altarin'Dakor. Turles beat him into a bloody pulp all over again. He relived his torture under Kronos, where for day after day he'd been brought to within an inch of his life, then healed, only to repeat the process over and over again. He heard Kronos' whispered promises of immortality and power beyond his dreams, and he felt the undeniable, inexorable power of the Altarin'Dakor sweeping over him. He relived the moment when Kronos had burst his heart open, making his legally dead before Zalaria revived him. He remembered facing Nimrod for the first time, and feeling the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that the Warlord exuded. Nimrod's fist crashed across his face again, and the sense of the Warlord chasing him through a maze of tunnels, finally catching him and sending pure terror into his heart. He saw Velius again, mercilessly assaulting his wife, and he could do nothing but stand by and watch it happen.

Yet somehow, he'd survived it all. Icis had always told him he had a destiny. Surely his survival was compelling evidence that those prophetic statements were true. Xar was the Chosen One, destined to bring down the Altarin'Dakor. He was sure of it. Somehow, he would weather this latest assault by Nimrod's overwhelming forces. They would find some way to emerge victorious, he was sure. His destiny was always there, lying just beyond his field of vision, just beyond reach. Someday, he would grasp it. Then, finally, the galaxy would return to normal. Sometimes, in the dead of night, that was the only thing he had left to hold on to.

As he tossed and turned, the holoscreen in his adjoining office flashed new messages as they arrived into Xar's mail box. A whole group of them were stacked there, unread. Xar hadn't had time to bother with such trivialities in the last few days, and he probably wouldn't until this was all over.

Suddenly, a priority message appeared among the group. In its subject was a note, reading, Time-delayed message: the following message was delayed due to re-routing through a secondary server. We apologize for the delay.

The sender was marked as Ken Brucmack. The body contained incriminating evidence that the Diktat of the New Imperium was an Altarin'Dakor agent.

The message joined a hundred others grouped there on the screen, waiting inconspicuously, unread.

* * *

Jinx could hardly sleep all night. Rynn's words kept coming back to him, about how she'd felt the Altarin'Dakor all around them, and especially beneath them. He caught sleep in spurts of an hour or less at a time. How could it be? Something was bothering him, eating at his nerves, but he couldn't figure out what it was. He had checked; security had found everything normal in the lower levels, where much of the Jedi training had been done. Still, worry nagged at him.

Slowly, dawn came, and daylight broke its way through the shaded windows of his room. Jinx rose early, knowing that everyone else would, too. He doubted anyone had gotten much sleep during the night. He quickly showered and dressed, then went down to the Veranda Tapcafe on the upper floors of the East Wing in search of some protein and caf.

The feeling was still there as he ate breakfast, waiting in the back of his mind like a mystery to be solved. He watched the tapcafe's other patrons come and go, many of whom he knew and recognized. He'd been right; virtually everyone was about at this early hour, and the tapcafe was packed with representatives of a dozen different races. He saw Quaestor Amleth Uiara having breakfast with Sian Rocanon and Vern 'Merlin' Mavrik. He noticed Quaestor Neres Warjan sipping caf with Varanus Templar and Lyn Cousto. He watched Vynd Archaron, the Warden, walk in, grab a caf to take away, and walk back out.

The answer hit him in a full-blown rush of horror.

He was on his feet in an instant, pushing his way through the other patrons and eliciting cries of protest, but he ignored them and was out the door in a second.

"Deewun!" he called out to the retreating form, passing through rays of sunlight that lit the hallway orange.

Vynd turned around in mid-sip, looking back at Jinx as he skidded to a stop in front of him.

The Warden swallowed, then asked, "Good morning to you. And what can I do for you, my good man?"

Jinx had no time for pleasantries. "Deewun, do the catacombs underneath the palace still connect to the basement, like they used to?"

Vynd took another sip and looked at him thoughtfully. "As far as I know. I haven't checked in a while. Why, did someone move them without telling me?"

Jinx blinked in confusion for a moment. Then he shook his head. "Do the catacombs have exits in other parts of the city? Would it be possible for someone to enter the palace by using them?"

"We never found any other entrances," Vynd said. "The tunnels go on forever. It's dark and dangerous down there, so we never fully explored it. I don't know if there's any way out or not."

"Would you be willing to stake your life on it?"

Vynd frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I think the Altarin'Dakor are using the tunnels to infiltrate the Royal Palace!"

"I don't think that's possible," Vynd mused, though he didn't sound convinced. "How would they know their way around? It's easy to get lost. Besides, there's a security door leading from the basement to the catacombs."

"You think that would stop them from getting in? I need to check. How do I get through that door?" Jinx asked.

"I set a password on it, so that no one will accidentally wander around down there."

"What's the code?"

Vynd sighed. "Well, that's the thing. I deliberately forgot it. You see, I got lost down there a couple of years ago and didn't find my way back out for three days."

Jinx's jaw dropped. "So... nobody can get down there?"

"Now hold on, I didn't say that," Vynd said, raising a hand. "I wrote it down somewhere. Here, hold this."

Jinx found himself with Vynd's cup of caf in his hand, watching as the man searched through his robes for his pouch. He finally procured it, then took out his wallet and began flipping through the business cards inside.

"Hmm, let's see here. I wrote it on the back of one of these. Mer-Sonn Industries - nope. Arakyd Missiles - not there. The Daystar Casino on Ahakista - nothing. Kitharik's Fun-filled World of Sigman Comedies, Live - negative." A pause. "Ah, here it is, on the back of Fenora's brother-in-law's Rancor Ride Rampage. Hey, what do you know? It's the same as all my other passwords. One, two, three, four, five. That's funny."

He reached back for his cup of caf, but Jinx had already taken off down the corridor the other way.

* * *

Titan-class Battleship Desolation
System, Time Unknown

Alyx sat in the dark, knowing the other members of his team were there, but not seeing them. Vykk, Moore, Domi, Satai and Darcunter - the whole team - had been thrown in here with him all at once.

He was hungry - they hadn't been fed for more than a day, he figured - but he ignored the pangs. Worse by far was not being able to sense the Force. It just simply wasn't there. He'd experienced what it felt like to be around a Null Sphere before, using one of the few artifacts they had stored in the Varnusian Palace treasury. Then he had been able to turn the device back off at will, restoring the refreshing, life-giving sense of the Force around him. Now, he understood just how hopeless it felt to be an unwilling prisoner of the device's power.

"What do you think they'll do to us?" Vykk asked from somewhere in the distance. The room was unpadded metal bulkhead, so voices echoed around. He couldn't sense Vykk; he could only guess the man was somewhere to his right.

"They might use us as bargaining chips," Colin Moore's voice came from behind him.

"Or worse, as human shields," Rilke Darcunter added.

"Maybe they're just waiting to execute us," Domi said hopelessly.

"Calm down," Alyx ordered. He tried to suit actions to words, using a Jedi meditation technique even though he had no Force to draw on. It was like near-total sensory depravation in here - only touch and sound prevailed.

"We have to be ready for whatever it is," Alyx continued. He paused, again pushing back the sense of guilt that wanted to overwhelm him. "Guys," he said quietly. "I'm sorry..."

"No need for that, Grand Master," Domi's voice cut in, only to be joined by agreement from the other four people present.

Alyx accepted their forgiveness, but he still struggled to forgive himself. How could have rushed in so blindly, so rashly? He had condemned them all. Varnus itself might be under attack by now, and they were sitting here, uselessly.

How had he been foolish enough to trust her?

Suddenly the door slid open, spilling blinding light into the room. Two shadowed figures were shoved into the room, where they collapsed in the pool of light. Then the door closed again just as quickly as it had opened.

Alyx heard groans coming from where the men lay. He sat there quietly, wondering if they had something to be worried about from the newcomers. Their silhouettes had looked human.

"Who's there?" one of the newcomers called out. Alyx's interest perked up; the man spoke Basic too fluently to be an Altarin'Dakor. He had to be a prisoner from this galaxy.

"There are six of us in here," Alyx said, speaking softly so as not to alarm them. "Please tell us your names."

"Glad to hear an accent I can understand," a second, familiar voice spoke up. "I am Roger Macreed, and this is Brajo..."

"Roger?" Alyx immediately found himself scrambling toward the sound of the voice. "Is it really you? It's Alyx!"

"I... Master Misnera?"

His hand touched an arm, and Alyx embraced the man in a fierce hug. Then another body was there - Brajo's - and Alyx was able to put an arm on each man's shoulders. "Roger, Brajo... I can't believe it," he breathed.

The room erupted into a cacophony of elated voices as everyone moved closer together.

"We thought you were dead!" Vykk's voice came from somewhere behind. Then suddenly he was there, too, embracing them.

"Sir..." Macreed's voice seemed on the verge of breaking. "You've been captured? This is terrible..."

"Nevermind that," Alyx said. Both men's bodies felt almost sickeningly thin beneath his hands. "What happened to you? Where are the others?"

"They're... They're dead," Brajo whispered.

"We were ambushed by Jedicon on Pax," Macreed explained gravely. "They cut us down, took three of us prisoner. NiksaVel was the last one to go. He was injured... They didn't even treat his wounds."

"Murderers..." Moore whispered in the darkness.

Alyx hung his head at the news of his men's death. It had been his team; he was responsible for them. He had failed them. He would not fail again.

"They don't feed us much," Brajo said. "Just enough to keep us alive."

"Why did they throw you both in here with us?" Mrax Satai asked from somewhere in the back.

For a moment they all sat in silence and blackness. Then Macreed spoke up.

"I... think they're making room for more prisoners," he said. "We saw them moving others around while we were out."

Alyx looked around the room, but in the pitch-blackness he couldn't make out anyone else's face. "It must be Varnus," he said finally. "They're getting ready to attack."

* * *

Catacombs beneath the Royal Palace
Vectur, Varnus
0945 Hours

Jinx stepped down into the darkness.

He emerged into low-ceiling passageways of the Catacombs, deep below the Royal Palace. Vynd’s code had worked, and from the old archives he’d traced the steps down into the abandoned underground tunnel network, whose purpose had been forgotten by its creators long ago.

It was pitch black; for some reason the lights were not on. Jinx had only been down here once before, and wasn’t very confident he knew his way around. He felt around through the Force for any sign of activity, and found none. But that didn’t really mean anything.

He knew enough of the general layout that there should be an access power switch somewhere nearby. At some point in the past electricity had been installed down here, and it would make it easier to take a look around than having to use a glowrod. He didn’t want to be down here for any longer than necessary.

He felt along the right-hand wall for the switch, sweeping his hand up and down. There it was. He flipped the switch, and a faint hum sounded in the tunnel. Then the lights came to life, and he could finally see down the tunnel ahead of him. He looked in that direction, and knew everything was about to change.

Jedicon filled the corridor, less than ten meters in front of him.

It was on.


The End of
Fading Glory

Written by Joshua Ausley
Copyright 2008
New Imperium

Next: Destiny

The Warlord Nimrod's plan of conquest is nearing completion, and the NI retains only a fraction of its former territory. The Warlord's forces have surrounded Varnus and are poised to attack Tralaria, the NI Capital. With Varnus flooded with refugees and the Jedi and NI forces hunkered down, the stage is set for a showdown on Varnus, a battle the likes of which haven't been seen since ancient times. If the NI loses, then Nimrod's forces will march straight on to an unsuspecting galaxy ripe for the taking. This is the critical hour, where heroes are made, lives are ended, and futures decided. And in the end, an unexpected revelation that may change everything...
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