Force Unbridled

Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 8
Chapter 7: Droidekas and Rumdrums

The group watched as Zikracicx worked out the last few computations. A bead of sweat formed on his brow as he worked the navicomputer and adjusted vectors here and there. Lil had, as an exercise, told him to calculate the jump to Cato Neimoidia. HK had previously calculated it, and she was interested in seeing how the young Devaronian stacked up to the droids jump time. For his part, Zikracicx (whom they had taken to calling ‘Zik’) never claimed to be the best, but he did say he was a pretty good pilot. Lil wanted to see how good he really was.

The group had sorted their cover story, and worked with V’Brel to set up an official incorporation record with BoSS (the Bureau of Ships and Services) to officially register the company. He then set about creating pamphlets and brochures to send to investors while we went to Cato Neimoidia to speak to the droid industry moguls about a partnership. The cover story was solid, and actually had the chance of being a legitimate side business to launder money through for the Dawn Temple, a side benefit to be sure.

As Zik finished his calculations, he sat up and looked at Lil, “Calculations are for a travel time of 471 hours.”

Lil regarded the data and compared it to HK’s. Zik had taken a route that was inferior by about 20 hours, but still, he had shaved over 12 off of the standard recommended travel time. “Good work, not perfect, but acceptable.” Kryze watched as Zik sunk into his chair, though he couldn’t tell if it was from relief or disappointment. He decided it was probably a little bit of both and left the cockpit to the smuggler and Devaronian.

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They had landed on Cato Neimoidia to little fanfare, having chosen a small spaceport in Jorra city and arranged for a speeder to their hotel. Kryze was nervous as they passed security, if his modifications to Bail and Lil’s lightsabers were off they were all in a lot of trouble, but everything had gone smoothly. The cab had dropped them off at a plush hotel that ascended farther into the sky than the clouds would allow them to see, and he was somewhat nervous to learn that their reservations were for the penthouse.

The room was a plush, extravagant affair, with gold silks covering everything and wine and snacks on every surface. Kryze had never personally seen so much finery, and it was a little intimidating. Bail looked right at home, moving about the suite as if he had always lived there, while the others wore expressions similar to his own. He wondered how the young Devaronian would react, he was still shutting down the ship and seeing to its repair and refueling before he would be joining the others.

The group relaxed and went over the last minute preparations for their meeting with the corporations. Valan, Tomo, and Kryze would act as security for Bail and D’Jrem, who were the executives of the company. Lil and Zikracicx were hired help – brought in to ferry them to and from their meeting with the three droid producers on Cato Neimoidia. The company name was decided by the duo, and much to the chagrin of everyone else was settled to be “Purt/Bail Joint Industries” or PBJ Industries for short. To make matters worse, when left to his own devices, V’Brel added his own touch to the promotional pamphlets to add the slogan “Sticky Sweet” to the corporate agenda, and agenda that Kryze had suggested as a joke but Bail and D’Jrem ran with. Kryze was convinced that they had doomed the venture, but somehow the pamphlets had investors pouring in.

The venture was so popular that all three of the droid manufacturers had responded to their meeting requests, and they had set up times on consecutive days with the groups. The first was Baktoid Industries, followed by Czerka Automaton the next day, and finally Cybot Galactica on the third. Lil would skip out on the Baktoid meeting and try and work her smuggling contacts to find out information regarding Suljo Warde with Tomo while the rest of them would work the distraction. On the following days, other people would hit locations relating to their specialties that might turn up leads, all while the rest focused on the cover story.

It was a good plan, one that impressed Kryze. Initially he was nervous working with the group, they seemed very rough around the edges, but after a choppy start on Arbooine, they seemed to be coming together and forming into a capable group. He almost regretted the fact he would have to leave them for the Containment Group when his assignment was done. He was a little relieved when they’d returned to the Dawn Temple after getting the first shard and found Val Isa’s holcron still compiling the data he needed. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was growing so attached to this crew, but despite himself, it was happening. He was snapped out of his fugue by Valan, “You ready, Kryze?” Nodding, he gathered his gear and moved to the exit. He gave Tomo and Lil a quick glance before leaving the room and moving to the lift down.

When they reached the bottom, Kryze moved from the lift and surveyed the parking deck before signaling the others to exit. He knew that the eyes and ears of either the corporations or the Empire, possibly both, would have them under surveillance, so it was imperative they behave according to their cover identities from the beginning. Waiting for them was the car they’d reserved – a large luxury airspeeder that probably cost more than Kryze’s entire arsenal. The money from the investors so far was significant, and more than enough to spend exorbitantly for a few days to prop up their cover. He found the chauffeur waiting by the airspeeder, and after a quick scan of his identity against a few databases, he cleared him to pilot and did a walk around with him to inspect the vehicle.

Everything checked out, and soon the group were on their way to Baktoid.

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The doors of the lift opened to the top floor meeting room of Baktoid Industries, and Kryze found himself staring at a large durasteel table and glass walls. Three men, all dressed in business attire of some expense, sat at the end of the table opposite the elevator. As Kryze walked out of the lift, their faces went pale, and a fine sweat appeared on their brow. Their mood abated only slightly when Bail and D’Jrem emerged behind him to take seats at the table with a smile. As Valan moved into the room and stood to the side of Bail and D’Jrem, Kryze stood menacingly by the lift door, his EE-3 blaster carbine unslung but at rest.

“Welcome to Baktoid Industries,” one of the representatives croaked. “My name is Aren Khand, Chief Executive Officer in charge of New Projects. To my right is Garen Tibius, Chief Engineer, and Thren Bartind, our Chief Financial Officer.” He gestured to the two men with him and they nodded to the group in turn. “We understand you have an interest in our Droids?”

Bail looked to D’Jrem quickly before turning his gaze on the others and smiling. Kryze’s Omni3 scanner detected a fluctuation in the atmosphere matching the release of Bail pheromones. As a Falleen, he was capable of manipulating the moods of others through his pheromones, and from the looks of it, he was already increasing the level of interest in the project from the Baktoid reps. Bail waited patiently as his pheromones did their work, like a maestro manipulating the audience’s anticipation of the first note, then, when the mood was right, he spoke in that slow, relaxing drawl he had.

“Gentlemen, I’m happy to be here in front of you today. I’m sure you’ve seen some of our press releases by now,” he paused to see their reaction only briefly, but in that moment he caught the nods from his audience and smiled, “but the brochures and pamphlets only paint the broad strokes of the venture. I’m here to bring it to life for you. My name is Bail Whill, Co-Chair and President of PBJ Industries. With me is D’Jrem Purt, my partner and health expert. What we’re going to tell you about today is nothing less than the future of the galaxy!”

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The driver pulled into the parking lot of the Dropview Catina and came to a stop. Shortly after the meeting concluded Lil had called and said she had made initial in-roads with the local underworld but a meeting wouldn’t occur until later. With the overwhelming success of their pitch to Baktoid still fresh, Bail insisted they all meet up at the catina Lil and Tomo were at for some celebrating, and so, after stopping by the ship to grab Zikracicx, they had made their way here.

As the group walked inside, Kryze immediately had a sinking feeling. The cantina was decked out in Clone Wars memorabilia, with old propaganda posters framed on the walls, and replicas of both CIS and Republic gear in display cases. An up-beat tune thrummed through the speakers in the walls, floor and ceiling, and the patrons chattered excitedly in a hundred voices about a hundred and one different topics.

The group found Lil and Tomo at a relatively private table at the back of the catina, sitting beneath a gaudy propaganda poster featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker leading a group of charging clones. Above them were the words, “We need you! Join the Grand Army of the Republic today and help us win the fight!” Lil was smiling brightly at Kryze, while Tomo wore the same stern scowl she adopted whenever Kryze did something to aggravate her.

As the group made it to the table, Valan stopped short. Zikracicx looked from Valan to the poster, and stopped as well, his mouth going wide. He turned from the poster and stared at Kryze, eyes wide and mouth agape, then back at the poster. Soon, the Devaronian’s head was on a swivel, moving from poster to Kryze, Kryze to poster and back. Shoulder slumping, Kryze took off his helmet. If he was going to have to deal with this now, he was sure as a Krayt’s bite going to have a stiff drink to help it along.

He brushed his neatly trimmed beard with his hand as he leaned back in the booth, blues eyes staring up to the poster that wore his own face, or at least one so close to his that it could have been his brother. Zikacricx finally couldn’t hold it in anymore and spoke, “Kryze, why are you on this poster from the Clone Wars?”

Valan titled his head, “You haven’t aged, if it is you, but I’m guessing there’s more to it than that?”

Kryze sighed as the waitress brought him his drink. He took as large a gulp of it as he was able, letting the acrid liquor burn its way down his gullet. When the waitress retreated far enough to not be in earshot, he sighed. “That is Obi-Wan Kenobi, not me. Obi-Wan is my father.”

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 7
Chapter 6: Zikracicx

“What in the thousand moons of Iego convinced you to think that you could train anyone?” Lil shouted. Tam stood motionless before her, a slight smile on his lips as the holographic form of the Gatekeepers stood alongside the group.

“Truthfully, my training as a Jedi was completed,” Tam began, “and since my return to the Dawn Temple, the rust of age has been falling quickly. While I’ve never had a padawan personally, I was a Jedi Knight. Moreover, I was my village’s elder for three decades. Teaching and advising others is something I’ve become quite adept at.”

“So you took it upon yourself to get a teenaged devaronian killed by an oppressive government that is hunting for anything even remotely glow-stick wizard like?” Lil retorted. “The second you deluded that boy to think of himself as a Jedi you slapped a giant bounty on his head and sent every blood thirsty killer like Kryze after him!”

Kryze tilted his head and looked at Lil, betrayed. “Hey, friendly fire! I’m on your side on this one.”

Lil threw a withering look to him, “Then play the murder hobo and execute this crazy old man,” pointing at Tam, “he’s obviously senile.”

Kryze held up his hands and sighed, “Look, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of Tam training anyone, but he is the only here aside from the holocrons who’s qualified.”

Tam nodded, “I have been relying heavily on the wisdom of the holocrons as well. They are quite versed in the teaching methodologies employed by the Temple on Coruscant.”

The Warden nodded, “The Dawn Temple was required to be fully capable of training Jedi for the purposes of mental and physical therapy. An added benefit of this was the fact that, in a worst case scenario, the Dawn Temple could act as a training Temple should something happen to the one on Coruscant.”

Tam placed a calming hand on Lil’s shoulder, “I’m not doing this for any reason other than the need to teach the boy to control his powers responsibly. He used the Force to find this place, and, given time and no supervision, he would surely become a powerful force for evil. I’m trying to show him a different way.”

Lil looked at him dubiously. “Fine, then I suggest we take him along with us, get an understanding of his training and powers ourselves.” She stepped forward and challenged Tam, “then we can decide as a group what we should do with him.” She looked at the Devaronian. While much younger, his coloring was the same as Malefax’s, and the memory of her fight with him came back abruptly. “How do we know this isn’t some trick of Malefax’s?”

Tomo looked at her confused, “Because HK put a blaster bolt into his forehead and killed him.”

Lil threw up her hands in frustration, looking at the ghostly Val Isa that still haunted her, “Like that ever stopped glow stick wizards before!”

Tomo regarded her friend with a mixture of confusion and worry, fearing that Lil had finally snapped. “Death usually stops anything.”

Lil laughed and decided it would be in her best interests if she let it go, “If you only knew.”

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It was mutually decided that Zikracicx accompanying the group on their quest for Suljo Warde would be a good idea. It would give Tam an opportunity to continue repairing the Temple in preparation for the next phase of training, it would give the group time to assess Zikracicx, and it would give Zikracicx a chance to put his training to practical use in the field away from his master, a test of his training.

Suljo Warde’s holocron, once the shard from Marcolf’s necklace had been added, revealed that Warde left Marcolf behind on Arbooine because he was called to the greater conflict in the Clone Wars. Leaving Arbooine for Cato Neimodia, a vital seat of power for the Trade Federation and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, he was joined by two other Jedi Knights to assist in the battle of the capital city of Jorra. Initially led by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the duo were forced to return to Coruscant after the initial battle in orbit was won. This left the actual siege and ground battle to the replacement Generals, Warde, an Ithorian named Kaddo Moll and a Twi’lek by the name of Jiv Durael. While they were successful in this endeavor, Warde’s holocron knew no more about what had transpired there than to know the next shard of the holocron was there.

“Cato Nemoidia isn’t like the other worlds we’ve been to,” Kryze sighed. “The Empire isn’t joking with security on the planet. It was homeworld to the Trade Federation, and one of the principle planets that seceded from the Republic to join the Confederacy of Independent Systems. It is home to Baktoid industries, the company that produced the droid armies of the CIS during the Clone Wars, and so the Imperial security and sanctions against the world are significant.”

Valan looked at the others, “We’re going to be under scrutiny every minute we’re there.”

Kryze nodded in agreement, “We can’t use the bounty hunting excuse on Cato Nemoidia, we’ll need a good alternative cover,” he stopped, then looked seriously to everyone, “And no lightsabers. Valan, Tomo and I are registered for them, but the rest of you will bring the Imperials on us within moments. The scanners planetside are highly sophisticated, so sneaking them in won’t work.”

Lil frowned and brought her hand to her chin, “how to the scanners work?”

“They monitor power signatures and use profiling to detect form and function, so they’ll find your lightsabers power cell and use it to track where you have it on your body,” Kryze replied.

Lil smiled, “What if we took the power cell out?”

Kryze shook his head, “Then you’d have to go through the lengthy process to rebuild it to get it working again. You might as well take the components with you and just make a new one planetside.”

Lil thought about it for a moment, then pulled out her lightsaber. “Not if we modified our lightsabers to disconnect them from the power supply. The power cell is housed in the lower part of the hilt, we could just make that section removable.” She looked at it one more time before holding it out to Kryze, “and by ‘we,’ of course, I mean ‘you’.”

Kryze shook his head. He didn’t like being cornered like this, but her reasoning was sound. He knew of at least one Jedi the Containment Group encountered that had made the same modification, he ran with the upstart Rebellion now under the name Kanan Jarus. He’d modified his lightsaber to allow for the detaching of the upper emitter housing. This severed the connection to the power cell, rendering it passive, and removed the crystal from the assembly. The net result was that the scanners wouldn’t detect anything amiss because the resulting hilt was little more than a tube with a battery in it. He took the lightsabers from those that were interested in having the modification done.

“That’s the lightsaber problem out of the way, but what about our cover story?” He said as he slid the small, cylindrical devices into his bag to work on later.

Lil shrugged, “We spent the money on the Bounty Hunting licenses, why can’t we pursue a bounty there?”

“Because Cato Nemoidia is a highly controlled planet. On a backwater, bounty hunters check in with the local governor’s office. Most of the time there’s nothing more than a garrison of troops there with at best a small time politician and at worst merely a commanding officer. In both cases, they typically are more frightened of the hunter than concerned with Imperial procedure.” Kryze explained, “They usually request you to keep the damage to a minimum and rush you out the door, thankful you didn’t disintegrate them.”

Lil raised an eyebrow, “Okay … and what’s different about Cato Neimodia?”

Kryze leveled his gaze on her, “on Cato Neimoidia, I’d be required to go to the Imperial Holding Facility,” he stopped and explained further, “that’s the polite name for an Imperial prison,” and then continued. “While I waited for an audience with the head of the Imperial Security Bureau on planet, Stormtroopers would go over every inch of my gear and my indenticard. They would trace my registrations back to check for outstanding warrants or infractions, then review the bounty case number I’m tracking. Once that was done, they would clear me to meet with the chief ISB agent on planet who would assess my reasons for being there and the intel I brought with me to determine the likelihood my quarry was there. If he was in agreement with my conclusions, he would then determine if the matter was better handled by Imperial forces or me. In the former case, I would be relegated to a “support capacity” while the ‘professionals’ took care of the target. In the case of the latter, I would be released with a certified warrant for the detainment and arrest of the target, with the expectation I would return him to the IHF for proper incarceration.”

Kryze let it all sink in, and when everyone (save for Valan’s) eyes had glazed over at the Imperial procedural red tape, he continued, “The situation is such a complete mess that most hunters don’t even bother declaring their purpose on those worlds and when hunting non-Imperial bounties you can’t even declare them legally. In either case, when you operate under the scanners, you are just as much an outlaw as your quarry. That’s why we’re considered scum by most Imperials to begin with.”

Lil shook her head to clear the fog, “Right, so bounty is a terrible idea. What else do we have?”

Bail thought for a moment, “I’m sure I could call some people and have a reason for being there.”

Lil typed into her datapad and brought up the holonet data log of the planet, “Its major exports are droids. In addition to Baktoid, Cybot Galactica and the automation division of Czerka are on the planet.”

Kryze found himself looking at the well-dressed falleen. He’d been complaining about the damage his lightsaber had endured on Arbooine the entire way home, and while his meeting with Lieutenant Devrays had put him in a good mood, it wasn’t so iron-clad as not have been brought down a peg by Bail. Of course, that may have been the pheromones manipulating him to fix it. Lil’s words, combined with unnecessarily extravagant robes he was wearing brought an idea to Kryze’s mind that just might work. “What about a startup?”

The others looked to him with equally quizzical expressions, but D’jrem was the first to speak up. “You mean a business? What kind of business would we be, Jedi Incorporated?”

Kryze frowned, it wasn’t that bad of an idea. “No, it would have to be something that would explain us coming to Cato Neimoidia, so something with Droids. Tomo, Valan and I can pass as the hired security detail, but it would need to be something the rest of you could carry off.”

Lil thought for a second, “well, the Corusca Gem is my ship, and since HK won’t be welcome there anymore, my cover can be I’m flying the VIP to the world with my Greenhorn.” She pointed at Zikracicx behind with her thumb.

Turning to D’Jrem and Bail, Kryze cringed as he as the only question he could, “So, what can the two of you consider being ‘experts’ in?”

In unison, they smiled inappropriately and responded, “Women.”

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 6
Chapter 5: Falling Stars

It was a matter of hours before they found themselves back in the meeting room with Pathran. Kryze had taken the time to head back to the Imperial barracks and speak with the lieutenant. He was concerned his initial impressions were off and that the Empire would quickly replace any provisional government the group might create in the absence of the Reeve, but the lieutenant was quick to confirm that the Empire didn’t care about the small world. So long as they obeyed Imperial doctrine, the Empire was content to pretend the backwater didn’t exist.

Armed with that, Kryze and the others were ready to deal with Pathran and his contemporary and create a stable, lasting government on Arbooine. The only hurdle was the people themselves. Pathran sat at the head of the table where he had previously sat, but now, opposite him, sat another Sathari. His plumage far more brown and dull than Pathran’s, this Sathari appeared to be far older, his clothing complicated and ostentatious. As the group arrived, Pathran and his counterpart stood and regarded the group.

“Welcome, my friends,” Pathran began, “this is Odir Tumris, he represents the other noble family of Quolas.” At this, Odir bowed, an action that appeared awkward due to his complicated clothing and robust plumage, but was accomplished with a grace that belied it to be a fluid and simple action.

“I am pleased to meet those who stand for the people of Quolas. As the rightful heir to the throne, I would like to formally welcome you to Quolas.” Odir spread his feathered arms wide in welcome as Pathran seethed from the other side of the table. A deep sinking feeling spread in Kryze’s gut as a squabbling of chirps and caws in the Sathari native language broke out between Odir and Pathran. The warriors accompanying each fluffed their feathers and waved menacingly at each other, while Lil brought her palm to her forehead.

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The arguing had been going on for over an hour. Apparently, the two noble houses each had claim on the throne of Quolas, and each refuted the others claim as archaic and invalid. The noble family that previously occupied the throne was wiped out by the Reeve, and so no clear heir was actually apparent. This left the two remaining houses squabbling over ascendancy.

While the delegates were clucking and squawking, Lil and the others did their best to interject questions and request for clarification. In the end, the group resorted to speaking to each other over their sub-vocal mics. IT was then that an idea was hatched.

“Neither is ever going to accept the other’s rule,” Lil was lamenting. “Even if we could get one of them to agree to yield the throne to the other, the second a decree was made that struck the former the wrong way war would erupt.”

“I really don’t care as long as we get off this planet,” Valan sighed, “This cluster of rancors isn’t worth the headache.”

“You know, we could get both families to take the rulership,” Kryze interjected. “Odir Tumnas has a daughter, and marriage has always been a way to unite families in the interests of the throne.”

Lil looked to Kryze with a ray of hope, “You think it would work?”

“It’s the best alternative in the situation at hand,” he replied. The others nodded in agreement.

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Kryze adjusted the range-finder on his helmet once more. He stood staring intently at the mansion the Reeve used as his personal fortress. The suggestion of marriage was met with approval, though Pathran did his share of blushing at the idea, and once agreed the group had quickly moved to organize the Imperials and prep the assault. While Lieutenant Devrays’ Stormtroopers would face 7 to 1 odds, the training of the troops and the combat inexperience of the Reeve’s militia should see them through. The plan was for the troopers to set up their E-web and other assault gear at the front of the Reeve’s palace; a near kilometer long bridge that connected it to the main trunk of Quolas. Kryze and the others however, would use the jetpacks they had taken from the bounty hunters on the Silver Star to make their way to a rear atrium where they would breach and assault the Reeve in a flanking action.

It was this stretch that Kryze was now reviewing, the distance itself was significant, but not worrisome. The packs were capable of clearing the distance with little trouble, but he was concerned about the skill of the others to pilot them. While the travel was straight with no obstacles, the distance involved might give the Reeve’s forces time and opportunity to spot them, and if a firefight broke out mid-fight, he wasn’t sure the others would be capable of maneuvering safely through the blaster fire. It was an unlikely eventuality, even now he heard the blaster fire from the E-Web out front, and he hadn’t seen a spotter since the fighting started, but he warned the others of the possibility nonetheless.

They took flight as a group, Kryze in the lead and Valan in the rear, the duo being their most experienced pilots with jetpacks. The trails of flame shot out into the night as they arced from their landing towards the atrium of the Reeve’s estate. Kryze focused on his approach, and allowed the others to use the fires of his jetpacks thrusters to guide them in behind him. Over the comm, from somewhere behind him, he heard Bail curse.

“Pudu! I lost my lightsaber!” Bail cried, “It slipped from my belt and I couldn’t grab it!”

“We can pick it up after we assault the Reeve, use your blaster instead.” Kryze understood Bail’s nervousness fighting a Jedi without a lightsaber, but his reply to Bail was based on the simple fact that the weapon he dropped was probably in tiny little pieces on the forest floor. Even if they could find it, it was sure to be broken beyond any quick repairs even Kryze’s mechanical expertise could perform.

“Fine,” came the thick drawl that was the falleen’s accent, “but if anything grabs it in the meantime you owe me a replacement.”

Kryze landed pulled up his EE-3, sweeping the area for the Reeve’s men and securing the site until the others had finished their flight and landing. When Valan tapped him on the shoulder, the last to land, the pair moved into the hallway and began moving towards the interior of the mansion. The others followed suit, with Tomo as rearguard. Kryze caught the gleam of beskar iron and heard the sharp song of a blade being unsheathed as Tomo drew the Mandalorian warblade from its sheath. Tomo had taken to the weapon ever since finding it, and wore it alongside the honor blade of her people. The beskar iron would allow the blade to perform against a lightsaber, parrying without fear of being sundered, and Kryze found it satisfying that she would forsake her lightsaber for the ancient blade.

The plan was for them to move to the Reeve’s personal quarters and look for the holocron fragment they were here for, then once it was procured, move to the Reeve. This would allow them a mission success even if the Reeve managed to get away or force them to flee. To this end, the group moved quickly, the sounds of battle in the front echoing through the night. Kryze had the Imperial communications channel pulled up on his helmet, monitoring things as they worked. For all their training, the Stormtroopers appeared to be having trouble with the Reeve’s men. The tactics their opponents were using were extremely coordinated, as if they were some kind of hive-mind. Kryze immediately thought to the stories of the Jedi suing a battle meditation to allow their forces to coordinate at preternatural levels. He feared the Reeve was using them now, and voiced his concern to the others.

“There’s not a lot we can do about it now, Kryze,” Lil responded. “We have to trust the Stormtroopers to do their job.”

“If the Reeve is using a battle meditation, he’s probably doing it from a meeting room or his quarters,” Valan continued. “So our plan takes us right to one of those locations anyway.”

Kryze didn’t like it, the Stormtroopers were out there risking their lives because he asked them to be there. Their blood was on his hands, but he understood that greater things rested upon their success, and the lives of soldiers were committed to death in combat if necessary. The thing that bothered him about it the most, though, was that those soldiers were dying for a cause they didn’t believe in, or even know about.

As they reached the Reeve’s room, Lil and the others began searching for the kyber crystal shard. With each passing moment, another scream came over the comm as another Stormtrooper fell. Confused cries of battle erupted and with each voice cut from the communications net, Kryze’s sadness grew, until, as the number of places to search grew ever shorter with no sign of the shard, his guilt overwhelmed him.

“I can’t let another soul die while we do nothing,” he said. “I’m finding the Reeve, you keep looking.” He turned to go but found himself not alone, Tomo and Valan behind.

Valan turned over his shoulder and looked at Lil, Bail and D’Jrem. “You three keep looking, combat is what the three of us were trained for.”

Moving quickly down the hall, the trio came to a large, central chamber. In the middle of it stood Marcolf Reeve, monitoring a holographic display of the battle. He issued orders in a level, steely tone, and the native Sathari he commanded answered in frightening monotone acknowledgements. The confirmation of the Reeve’s use of the Force to command the troops seemed to make the loss of the Stormtroopers lives all the more tragic to Kryze. He couldn’t explain it, but it felt far more sinister, and dark, that the carnage was amplified by the use of the Force.

“Marcolf!” He shouted to the Mirialan, “Stand your forces down and surrender.”

The Reeve turned towards the voice, his expression one of thinly veiled contempt. “Who exactly do you think you are? I am Reeve of Quolas, and I’ll not suffer this attempt at a coup.”

Kryze leveled his gaze evenly, an effect only amplified by the Mandalorian battle armor’s T-visor. “We’re here to get the holocron of Suljo Warde. We don’t want trouble, but we’re not leaving without it.”

Rage washed over the Reeve’s face, “Suljo Warde? Suljo Warde left me here. He abandoned me! He was supposed to finish my training, but instead of mastery of the Force I inherited a pathetic race of birds!” He drew the weapon at his side and the blade erupted into a brilliant green light. “It was a mistake for you to come here. I alone am heir to Warde’s legacy, and it isn’t one I intend on yielding lightly!”

With that, he threw his hand out, sending Valan and Tomo flying from a push through the Force and lunged for Kryze, sword arcing up from his left hip. Kryze stepped quickly to the side and drew his lightsaber, feeling a calm overwhelm him as doubt to Warde’s complicity in the wrongdoing on Quolas finally washing clean from his spirits. The cyan blue hue of his lightsaber bathed the room in a soothing glow, as if washing it clean of the dark presence of Marcolf’s own saber. His father’s hilt rested comfortably in his hand once again, and Kryze could almost feel his father in moments like these, causing a wry smile to spread across his lips, hidden by his helmet.

Warde made a series of strikes at Kryze, but he calmly and easily parried each blow. He heard the ignition of a lightsaber, and the blue glow of the room went white as Valan’s yellow blade bathed the room in its light. Warde, now facing all three combatants, went on the defensive. As Valan struck surgically, Tomo unleashed a withering hail of attacks, and Kryze moved to defend the two from any counter assault the former padawan of Warde could muster.

Marcolf fought with a power that surged with Dark Side of the Force, enhancing his speed and agility to supernatural levels. Kryze could feel the Dark Side flowing off the Mirialan in waves of anger, confusion, rejection and hate. In his presence, one could almost feel the pain it caused him to be cast from Warde’s side, seemingly exiled to this distant, alien world. To have first been taken from his family to train as a Jedi, and then to be taken from his master to be abandoned and alone – the psychological damage the Reeve had endured could be felt so clearly that it seemed almost as Kryze’s own.

Despite the distraction of Marcolf’s anger, and his prowess with the blade he held, the Reeve was no match for the three warriors. As Lil and the others arrived at the door, blasters drawn, Kryze and his fellows had already backed the Reeve into a corner that he couldn’t escape from except through surrender. With a final roar of defiance, however, the Reeve showed his commitment to death as opposed to surrender, and struck a fierce blow at Tomo. Deftly stepping aside she delivered a riposte that first drove her own weapon deep into his abdomen, then quickly spun to bring the blade to the back of his neck, severing the head from the body.

“It’s his necklace,” Lil said. “We found a picture of him with Warde – Warde was wearing Marcolf’s amulet around his neck in it. That’s where he hid the kyber crystal.” She moved to the Reeve and clicked the amulet open, revealing a small crystal sliver inside. “There was never any option but to confront him.” Kryze’s heart fell as the sound of Devrays’ voice ordered a full retreat and wished him luck.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Kryze sat in Lieutenant Devrays’ office, his helmet on the table in front of him. “How many men did you lose?”

Devrays filled the glass in front of him before refilling her own. He had shown her the imagery of the combat with Reeve They’d been drinking in silence for over an hour now, and she was beginning to wonder if the handsome bounty hunter was going to speak to her at all or if he was just here for the liquor. “Most of them. Three manning the E-web were the only ones to survive. The other nine were all killed in action or have succumb to the poison in those damn diiro.”

Kryze lowered his head, “I’m truly sorry, Lieutenant. If we’d been faster we could have spared your men. We proved to be too cautious it seems.” He took the Corellian whiskey in one gulp, the acrid sting of it a mirror to the pain of his guilt.

Devrays looked up and smiled, “Are you kidding? I took a single squad of ten men against a Jedi and his militia! Not only am I and those three troopers getting promotions, but the soldiers who died have guaranteed their families will have pensions for the rest of their lives.” She reached out and took his hand, staring into his eyes and trying to forget how inappropriate consorting with bounty hunter scum would be perceived. “By all rights, none of us should have survived, and the only reason we did was because of you.”

A blush came over Kryze as he realized just how close the lieutenant had gotten. “Well, I did have help from my tea-“ his words were cut off by the sudden application of the lieutenants lips to his own, and Kryze wondered if he would be in this position if she knew he was, himself, a Force user.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil looked again at the bounty hunter. The trip back to Spintir had been a long one, and he hadn’t take off that helmet at all. Moreover, it was almost as if he was in a good mood for a change. It didn’t fit at all. They’d spent the night recovering in cantina while grumpy-gus went to check on the Imperials. When they called him to tell him that they were meeting with Pathran and the provisional government the next day, he said “No thanks,” and switched his comm off. Lil couldn’t blame him for that – the meeting was annoying as hell, but when he showed the next evening, he was all cheer and jokes.

As she set the automated landing sequence and brought the Crosuca Gem into the hangar, she could hear he was still cracking rude humor with Valan in the common area. Frustrated for reasons she didn’t quite understand, she powered the ship off and moved to the gang plank without a word to anyone.

When she finally stepped off of it at the bottom, she was met by a strange sight, causing her hand to reactively go to her blaster. There, waiting patiently in the hangar, was a devaronian youth, his black hair pulled back save for a single braid, the color in stark contrast to bright red skin. He smiled a sharp toothed grin and spoke, “Welcome to the Dawn Temple. I’m Zikracicx T’rimmok, padawan to Master Tam.”

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 5
Chapter 4: Battle Plans

Kryze sat down at the bar. The cantina wasn’t like the ones he was used to. It was clean, organized, and frequented by hat appeared to be the average members of the Arbooinian society. Even the drinks were strange, sweet-smelling affairs in clean glasses. He started at the drink for what seemed to be forever, uncomfortable enough in the strangely clean environment to not even remove his helmet. His gut was wrenching. He had played a gamble with the Lieutenant, but he now had to weigh the consequences. If the Reeve was a Jedi, and fallen, that was one thing – he’d never go down without a fight and the resulting death would remove a stain from the galaxy, but if was still true to the Code, then he had sold him to the Imperials, meaning he’d need Thrace, Kara, and the resources of the Containment Group to capture him and relocate him without the Imperials knowing. He couldn’t spend too much time thinking on it, however, as one by one, the others began filing in, first Valan and Bail, who shared a smug self-satisfaction, then later Lil and Tomo, freshly arrived from the Corusca Gem.

Valan recounted in some details the specifics of his encounter with the guards and the defamation of the temple. Apparently, the artisans were being forced to remove their own work, in order to make room to pay homage to the Reeve. It struck Kryze as the classic ploy of a tyrant – remove the true history of a people and insert your own version (conveniently making you a hero) for future generations to assume is fact. Within in a few generations, the true atrocities you committed are forgotten as history is rewritten. Valan and Bail took out the guards, freeing the artists and generally making the guards pay for their tyranny. Kryze wasn’t happy about it – getting involved in the affairs of the locals was a poor decision, and one he was certain would lead to more problems – but the worry in his gut lessened at hearing the Reeve wasn’t necessarily on the up and up. He couldn’t fault them for intervening, either. Ending any tyranny, even a small time despot like Marcolf, was worth the added headache and the natives didn’t seem very capable of defending themselves.

He excused himself from the story and moved to the bar, waving the female Arbooinian bartender over. “I’d like a round of drinks for the table over there,” he said, pointing to the group. The bartender nodded, and, after a brief look around, leaned in conspiratorially.

“Oh I know well who you are, hunter. Pathran wishes to meet with you. Wait for my signal, then follow me.” The avian looked into his visor, and nodded, as if looking for a confirmation Kryze understood the request. With a slight nod, he turned and went back to the table.

Sitting once more he shook his head and turned to the others, “Well, Valan, apparently your thrilling heroics have garnered some attention.” Kryze motioned to the bartender, who returned from the back room with a round of drinks. She moved gracefully over to their table and set the tray down.

“Pathran is ready to meet you. Follow me,” with that said, she turned and walked to a large sliding door at the edge of the room. A beautiful tapestry hung over it, depicting the tree of Quolas and winged warriors flying around the city, armed with the strange maces and fighting all manner of odd beasts. Sliding the door open slightly, she slipped inside and peeked back out, waving the group to follow. After a quick look to the others, Lil shrugged and moved to the still open doorway. Kryze and the others followed.

They proceeded into a passageway that seemed to descend deep into the tree itself. From the cobwebs and overgrowth, Kryze theorized it had been years since anyone came this way, maybe decades. The slope of the travel was decidedly down, indicating they were headed deep into the tree away from the canopy above. The trip seemed to take forever, though Kryze’s chronometer had only ticked off ten minutes of travel, most likely the spiraling route with no turns at all played a part in the deception.

When they ended their trip, they arrived in a large room that looked as though it was intended as a meeting hall, though it didn’t appear to have been used in the last hundred years or so. A large, wooden table dominated the center of the room, with a native Arbooinian sitting at the head of it. From the looks of him, Kryze guessed that he was still a youth, though to be honest, Kryze had trouble differentiating between the members of the avian species. He was far smaller than others he had seen, and his plumage looked to be brighter – it could be due to some hereditary trait, but Kryze suspected the plumage was representative of virility. He also noticed the presence of some down around the neck as well, and, when combined with the rest, led him to his opinion.

“Pathran, I assume,” Lil began, taking the seat across from the native, who nodded solemnly. Kryze stood behind her and slightly to the left, while Tomo and Valan sat on each side of her and the others filed in and found places around the table. The native that led them here moved to stand in the same orientation as Kryze, this time behind Pathran.

“We have seen and heard of your actions,” Pathran began, “and you have proved yourselves a friend of my people.”

Valan shook his head, “we only stopped some bullies, and we didn’t do it for your people. We did it because the action is a cowardly one.”

Pathran tilted his head, regarding the large human, “Whether you did it for my people or not, the act itself shows you to have a heroic heart. Quolas needs heroes, Arbooine needs heroes.”

Lil shifted uncomfortably, “I’m not sure that the term ‘hero’ suits us.”

Pathran held up a feathered hand, “It is the name of your true spirit. My people need your help. Reeve Marcolf exerts his will on us more and more every day, and we are quickly losing all that it means to be Arbooinian. The Reeve plans to make us his subjects, stripping us of our heritage and identity and replacing it with a history of his own choosing. Many amongst us have tried to stand against him, but have failed. The strongest among our warriors he lets live and turns them to serve him, the others, he makes examples of to frighten the rest of us. Our people need to be governed by ourselves, a Sathari people free and independent of outsiders.”

Valan coughed at the comment, shaking his head, “That isn’t going to happen. The Empire’s already here, and they don’t have a habit of allowing its charter worlds to do whatever they want. If the Reeve isn’t here, they’ll appoint a regional Governor who will be just as bad. I doubt they’ll let you govern yourselves.”

Lil thought about it a moment, “Well, Arbooine is really far out in the Rim, and there’s little actual military or industrial value. It’s not like the Empire makes Star Destroyers out of wood or anything. They might be too small to notice or care about.” She looked at Kryze, “You’ve met with them, how many Imperials are there here?”

“A squad, and they aren’t interested in the planet’s government,” Kryze replied, “they’re here looking for insurgents and Rebels. From the attitude of the commander, it’s a pudu assignment at that. She’ll be glad to be gone when it’s over.”

Lil thought for a moment, “Let’s say we do get rid of the Reeve, how are you going to govern yourselves? Who will rule? You?”

Pathran’s feathers ruffled at the statement, “I don’t want you to get rid of the Reeve! We just need to free ourselves! We need you to train our warriors, help in our strategies. Then, in a year or so, we will take our world for our own.”

Kryze felt his stomach knot at the idea of spending a year on this rock, then looked to the ‘bodyguard’ that stood by Pathran, “That’s one of your warriors?” Pathran nodded. Kryze regarded the warrior, who stood a little taller under his gaze. “What weapons do you plan on using against the Reeve?”

“Our Diiro will serve us in that capacity,” the warrior responded, drawing the strange mace-like wooden weapon Kryze had seen the natives carry.

The group exchanged nervous glances, and Valan snickered. Kryze shook his helmeted head as he clicked the speaker on his helmet on, “That’s not going to last a Devaronian second against the Reeve. He and his men are skilled combatants, you said yourself he took the best warriors amongst you and turned them against you. Even if you weren’t facing your old warriors, the Reeve is a combatant beyond your wildest dreams, he is capable of employing a weapon that will renders your diiro useless, and using skills that your troops will find overwhelming.” He noticed the warrior scoff at the comment, and Pathran himself flushed with anger.

“Our weapons are strong, and our warriors fierce, the Reeve …” Pathran began, but Kryze cut him off.

“Don’t, just don’t. You have no idea what awaits you if you face Reeve Marcolf, but we can give you a taste.” He looked to the others, and Valan stood up, Kryze nodded, “Valan here is an apprentice, not even properly trained like Marcolf was. Prove you can handle it.” Pathran looked to the warrior and nodded, prompting him to draw his diiro.

In response, Valan drew his lightsaber from his belt and ignited it. The room was bathed in a soft yellow glow as the brilliant weapon of light hummed in grim anticipation. The native warrior leapt at Valan, his diiro dripping venom from a recessed hollow in the tip of the spike topping the haft. With a simple flick of the wrist, Valan countered the incoming strike and sundered the weapon with the lethal edge of the lightsaber. The pieces of the diiro fell to the floor, leaving only the handle still gripped in the Sathari warrior’s hands, his beak open in shock and despair.

“That was my father’s diiro, and his father’s before that. It had served in every battle my people have ever recorded, and was my birthright …” the Sathari warrior stood staring at the broken diiro.

Kryze placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I’ll repair it for you, but understand that what you face your people are not prepared to handle.”

Lil caught on his lead and continued, “We have the means to deal with Reeve, and the ability to do so quickly. We offer this, but only after we are sure you can establish a government once he’s gone. If you can’t then the Empire will surely sweep in and place another outsider in the Reeve’s place.”

Pathran looked to the humbled warrior and then to the outsiders, considering his options. A sour expression came over him as he continued, “I am not the only noble house in Quolas; there is another who need to be conferred with on this matter. We hadn’t yet begun conversations on what would be the new government as we had no immediate plans to depose the Reeve, but now … perhaps it is warranted.”

Lil smiled, “Great, you get a hold of the others and we’ll reconvene to discuss the plans for a transfer of power.” She stood and looked to the others before to gather their agreement before looking again the Pathran, “Until later then?”

Pathran stood and bowed, “Of course, I’ll signal you when things are ready.”

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 4
Chapter 3: Civil Disobedience

Kryze looked around the campsite. Bail and Valan were finishing off their breakfast in silence, while Bail was looking over his datapad. He brushed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. “Where are Lil and the others?”

Valan looked to him and tossed him a ration pack, “Good morning, sleepy head. They took Djrem’s new pet to the Crosuca Gem.”

“New pet,” Kryze asked, “I don’t recall passing a pet store on the way.”

“You don’t want to know,” Valan said, gathering his gear. “Anyway, we aren’t too far off now. Best we get moving.”

Kryze stared longingly at the ration pack, then nodded, taking the nutrient bar and putting the rest away for later. Within minutes, they were on their way through the thick forest again. It was only a few hours before the arrived at the foot of the massive tree city of Quolas. As they made their way along the spiraling bridge up into the limbs of the tree, Kryze noted the shadow of a creature the size of a man passing through the trees at regular intervals. Soon, it became clear there many of these creatures and not just one, the native inhabitants of Arbooine being native flyers.

When the ascension finally ended, the group found themselves in front of a large gate. Thick wooden columns were erected and bound to each other making an impressive barrier. While the structure wasn’t as solid as durasteel, it mattered little, as any materiel that an opponent could lug up into the tree wouldn’t pose significant risk to the sheer size of the wooden poles that formed the barrier even his lightsaber blade would only penetrate a third of the way into the smallest log at best. At almost a three kilometers into the air, and with more of the giant trees in every direction, the gates were outside the range of any close unit ground weaponry – no AT-AT barrage could target this height from angles afforded it to fire from, and an airstrike wasn’t possible due to the thick canopy protecting them from above. Kryze marveled at the defensibility, and wondered if the natives knew just how valuable their location was.

As they approached the gate, two natives appeared at the top, their plumage matching shades of white and rose. They called to the group to stop using a strangely accented basic, “Halt! What brings you to Quolas?”

Kryze raised his helmeted gaze to rest on the guard, allowing the light filtering through the canopy above to glint off it into the guard’s eyes before replying. The thick accented Mandalorian voice spoke out, “We’re serving an Imperial Bounty #75631. Stand aside or risk being charged with aiding and abetting.” It was a gamble, but the guards didn’t look like they were ready to tangle with bounty hunters.

The shocked look on their faces showed he had the desired effect. They quickly retreated into their post and soon the gates were being opened. Kryze looked to the others and nodded, and the three went inside.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As the group made their way through the wide, wooden streets of Quolas, Kryze noted the tendency for the inhabitants to fly more often than walk, making many routes through the city airborne ones. Homes build into the higher limbs provided protection from off-worlder attention, and added an aesthetic that Kryze had never seen before. His wonderings at the trees pulled his attention towards a towering mansion at the far end of the city. Attached to the main limbs of the city by an impossibly long bridge, the immense structure sat on a limb all of its own. The immediate thought Kryze had was how defensible the mansion was, unlike the rest of the homes and businesses in Quolas, this structure seemed designed around a strong perimeter and defense against outsiders. While the natives possessed their own ability to fly, outsiders would have limited options when assaulting the structure, and those limitations had visible counters worked into the design of the main structure itself.

As Kryze watched, a squad of Stormtroopers led by a young female officer made their way through the square heading away from the mansion and deeper into the tree. The officer in front had a look of apprehension to her, and if Kryze didn’t know better, he’d say almost fear. She looked cautiously around the square as she moved, noting Kryze and nodding curtly. Kryze scanned around himself – once again noting the benefits of his 360 degree heads up display. He saw Valan and Bail beside him, natives scurrying around on errands of unknown origins, but nothing that should have the officer nervous or apprehensive. The native Arbooinians certainly didn’t look like they were able to press together a competent military force, certainly nothing that would challenge Imperial troops, and there were no outsiders, so Kryze pegged the officer’s apprehension to be one of two sources; a fear of heights or the Reeve himself. Kryze shared his observations with Valan and Bail over the sub-coms, causing them to nod in agreement.

“I’m going to speak with the Imperials,” Kryze began, “After all, I’m operating under and Imperial Bounty. Protocol demands I check in, and it gives us the opportunity to find out a little more about what’s going on.”

Valan nodded as he spied something over Kryze’s shoulder, “Okay, then I’ll go and check out the local hall of records.” He pointed to a large structure that was worked into the main trunk of the tree they were in. It was labeled as such, and seemed to be a combination government office, library and museum all in one. “Maybe I can find something out about our dear Reeve.” Kryze nodded and headed off after the Imperials while Valan and Bail headed towards the Hall of Records.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Kryze stood outside the Imperial “Garrison.” It certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting. Located in what he could best determine to be the “slum” of Quolas, it was a series of poorly constructed shanties on the farthest branches of the trees that held the city. In fact, the only reason he even knew he had found the Imperials was the presence of a few Aratech speeder bikes a biker scout working on their drives. He shook his head at the scout, partly in disgust, partly in sympathy, and went inside the main door.

Inside, he found the spartan conditions he expected, little in the way of sofas, merely chairs around a table and a small desk. Troopers stood around, cleaning gear, eating, and standing guard as necessary, though none of them looked overly worried about an attack.

“Who are you? What’s your business here?” one of the troopers challenged.

“My name is Kryze, of the Containment Group.” A trooper at the table inspecting his helmet’s mic went pale, and Kryze knew the desired effect was made. “Imperial Hunter registry #AA-25923. I’m operating a bounty in the area and have come to declare myself and my crew to the commanding officer.”

The trooper nodded and waved him towards a door in the rear of the shanty, which was, in fact a different shanty altogether, attached by a crude hallway of hastily erected durasteel panels. Kryze rapped on the door at the end of the hall, and was answered with a curt reply to step inside. As he opened the door, he saw the officer, sitting behind a small desk, staring at a group of papers and maps of the surrounding area. Her brunette hair was pulled into a bun behind her head and her green uniform matched her eyes. The green uniform and four bar rank insignia marked her as a Lieutenant in the Imperial Army. She looked up from her paperwork and jumped slightly at the sight of the Mandalorian. She swallowed heavily and her hand disappeared under the desk, presumably to a blaster. A small, morbid part of Kryze’s mind wondered if she had reason to fear a bounty hunter coming after her, but the rational part of him fought it down. Any sapient would be nervous with a Mandalorian at their door.

“My name is Kryze. I’m here to report my team operating in the area on an Imperial Bounty.”

A look of relief came over the lieutenant. She visibly relaxed and her hand came up to rest upon the table, “Very well. I’m glad to have you on planet. I’m Lieutenant Devrays, is there something the Empire can assist you with today?”

Kryze was a little taken aback at the statement. He’d dealt with a lot of Imperials in his time, and none of them were ever ‘glad’ to have him around. In fact, most considered him and other bounty hunters scum only slightly better than the pirates, smugglers, and rebels that they hunted. Kryze made a point of looking around the quarters, he didn’t need to of course, but he wanted the lieutenant to understand he was considering her surroundings, and remaining motionless while using his 360 degree perspective wasn’t going to convey that.

“Not so sure you have anything to give. You seem pretty boot-strap here, worse than a lot of small time bounty hunters I’ve seen.” Kryze made the statement in such as a way as to ensure it would sting the Imperial pride. “Perhaps there’s something my team can help you with?”

A look of curiosity came over the lieutenant. It had the edge of a gleam, the same kind of gleam a gundark gets when it sees a tasty nerf. “Who all, exactly, is on this ‘team’?”

“Myself, two rookie hunters, a wilderness scout, our pilot, and an Imperial advisor sent to make sure there are no ‘accidents’ when we bring in our prey.” Kryze noted how the breakdown sounded even more official than he had anticipated.

“A wilderness scout?” Devrays responded. “I take it you aren’t expecting to find your quarry in the city?” It was a leading question, one designed to get more information than its face value. Kryze weighed the options, then chose to play a gamble, as it seemed like Devrays knew more than she was letting on.

“You know who I am. You know what the Containment Group hunts.” Her eyes widened momentarily, a hungry look, the same one aspiring power brokers get when they see someone they can ride to the top.

“I wasn’t always on this backwater planet, you know. I know who you are.” She leaned back. “So let’s stop playing games. Why are you on Arbooine?”

“I have reason to believe there’s a Jedi here. The bounty I have vocally claimed to be hunting is a good reason to be here, but the real prey is a Jedi. If my intel is wrong, I get the bounty, if it’s right, I get a Jedi and a huge payday, and the bounty is a bonus. Either way, my expenses are paid.” Kryze hoped the lieutenant took the bait. Power players always started salivating when they heard about a possible Jedi.

“A Jedi here? What makes you believe one would be here?”

Kryze leveled the t-shaped visor at her, “The current Reeve of this city shares the name with the padawan of a Jedi named Suljo Warde. The padawan was mentioned in records to be Mirialan. While Warde fought and died in the Clone Wars, no record of his Padawan being deceased exists. I have reason to believe that the Reeve is that Padawan.”

She looked dubious, “It could be a coincidence. There are a lot of Mirialans in the universe.”

“In my line of work, coincidences like that don’t exist. An off-worlder comes to backwater world like this for only two reasons – either to disappear, or to find someone who has disappeared. I traced records of Suljo Warde to this planet during the Clone Wars, which means his padawan had knowledge of this planet. That provides opportunity and motive to be here. I had arrived expecting a hunt in the woods, which is why I brought the scout, I never imagined he would be sloppy enough to set him up as a ruler.”

The lieutenant seemed to mull over his words for a moment, then she relaxed visibly. Whatever he said, she believed it, and her attitude had shifted to match. “That explains your entourage, I had wondered why an Imperial advisor would be sent along for such a low level bounty as #75631, a Jedi however…” She shifted in her seat. “I’ll be honest with you, as you have been forthright with me. I’m here looking for a Rebel base.” She shook her head, “It’s more of a punishment assignment, I … disagreed … with a superior officer and it landed me in this remote hell hole. I had been convinced up until this point that the Rebel cell was a wild goose chase, but being part of a manhunt for a Jedi is just the kind of thing to get me off this world.”

Kryze smiled inside his helmet – he had her. “If the Reeve is a Jedi, his brashness in taking a leadership role may stem from his plans to begin forming a rebellious power here on Arbooine. It wouldn’t be hard to convince your superiors that he was the center of this Rebel ‘cell’ and his arrest stopped the establishment of a base proper. You’re mission would be a success and you would be responsible for a Jedi being brought to Imperial justice.”

She smiled, “Very well, you get the bounty reward for the Jedi, I get credit for finding him and calling you to assist my forces.” She looked sternly at him, “It is imperative that I be the one to have uncovered this operation, you understand. The monetary reward should be more than enough for you, but I need the credibility.”

Kryze nodded grimly, “As you wish.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bail and Valan walked towards the cantina where they had planned to meet Kryze. They had found some disturbing information about the city, and Arbooine itself. Apparently an artistic species, the native Arbooinians had beautiful artwork, carvings of amazingly intricate designs, which told of their world’s history. It even covered the arrival of Suljo Warde and Marcolf to the world. With Warde’s leaving, and his appointment of Marcolf as Reeve, things began to change. Reeve quickly became a tyrant, and the beauty and poetry of the carvings turned to factual chronologies and uninspired data. It was as if the very life and love of the natives drained the longer Reeve Marcolf was in charge, their works of art and carvings of detail becoming instead words and dates.

The two made their way through the streets when they heard shouting coming from a side street. Ducking a low hanging branch, they made their way to a small temple of some type. Exposed and open, the temple looked to be a series of panels in the midst of a terrarium that showed significant events of the Arbooinian past. Rising hundreds of meters into the sky, the panels seemed to be a record dating back to the earliest tales of the natives. A host of the avian natives were gathered in the garden, ranging amongst all ages, flanked by a six larger Arbooinians guards wearing combat gear and holding strange maces ending in what appeared to be a small, needle-like tip. The natives were shouting at the guards, incited by dozens of artisans who were busy in act of carving away one of the images. One of the guards, who appeared to be in charge, was raising his hands to speak to the group.

“These images are being remove to make way for representations of the Reeve’s many great deeds. Reeve Marcolf has decreed it alright for the removal in order to properly pay respect to his greatness,” the captain explained. “We are here to ensure the work is done to the Reeve’s satisfaction.”

Strange lilting boos erupted from some of the crowd, but when the guards looked as if they were going to confront the naysayers, the crowd quieted, cowed to little more than watching mournfully at the destruction of their history.

Valan’s hands clenched. The bullying of the guards irritated him for reasons he wasn’t really sure of. Even Bail seemed uncharacteristically sympathetic to the frail birdlike Arbooinians. Moving towards the guards, he drew himself to his full height. “What’s so great about the Reeve that he merits the destruction of his city’s past?”

The guards looked to the armored human and blanched, but the captain strode forward, “This is no business of yours, outsider.” With a menacing wave of his bludgeon, he signaled for Valan to move along. For a moment, Valan considered it – this wasn’t really any matter of his, but as he looked around to the lost, and downtrodden faces around him, a great swell of injustice blossomed in his chest, and he found himself unholstering his blaster.

“I’m making it my business,” he said calmly, and fired a shot directly into the chest of the guard.

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 3
Chapter 2: Arbooine

Lil looked to the others impatiently. “Look, Kryze is finally here, it’s time to crack this glowie open and see what new form of Jedi hell we got ourselves into.”

Kryze looked disarmingly at the others. The Pathfinder starship that the Nova Suns had was a poor choice for a pursuit ship, having only a Class 2 hyperdrive, but it was an excellent hunting craft, possessing a sensor suite with such range that they could monitor ships long before they had a chance to notice the small craft themselves. “It isn’t a fast ship,” he said through a thick Coruscanti accent. The Mandalorian accent that most people associated with him was in fact an artificial product of his helmet, now, after a long trip in hyperspace, he wore simple civilian clothing instead of the cumbersome Mandalorian battle armor.

“Whatever, who’s got the holocron?” Lil continued, quite clearly ignoring the Mandalorian.

Valan produced the holocron from one of the many pouches on his military fatigues and held it out for the others to inspect. As he did so, the holocron began to hum, the soft aqua light brightening as it rose a few centimeters off of his palm. As Valan lowered his hand, invisible seams in the cube appeared, and the whole structure shifted itself, corners spinning and center adjusting to realign into an octahedron. Emanating from the sphere came a humanoid figure, bathed in the same aqua light as the holocron. As the image finished materializing, a young human man, no more than twenty standard years greeted them, his hair just a shade darker than the Jedi robes he wore. He looked to his audience and nodded, a sincere, yet reserved smile on his lips.

“Greetings, students,” the hologram began, “I am Suljo Warde – well, his memory at least. I am the gatekeeper of this holocron, which Suljo Warde created to store his knowledge of the Force and the ways of the Jedi.”

Lil shook her head, “Great, another one. Why don’t we ever find holocrons of non-Jedi?”
Kryze shrugged, “I don’t think non-Jedi made holocrons, Lil, sorry.” To this, Lil just huffed and leaned against one of the pillars in the hall.

“Alright, then,” Lil conceded, “I guess you have some quest for us then, that’s the schtick if I remember correctly.”

The holocron stopped, and if Kryze didn’t know better he’d say the holocron actually blushed, but it was probably just a trick of the light. Coughing politely into its holographic hand, it continued, “Well, actually, this holocron is currently incomplete. If you were to recover the other three kyber crystals that house Warde’s knowledge of the Force, I can fulfill my purpose and pass on his wisdom to you.”

Laughing, Lil threw up her hands, “I knew it! So where are these kyber thingies?”

The flickering hologram nodded, “Suljo Warde completed the construction of this holocron while on the planet Arbooine. He entrusted one of the crystals to a young Force-sensitive Mirialan named Gel Marcolf. He saw great potential in Marcolf, whom he hoped would become his Padawan. Warde kept the other crystals with him, and where they are now, I cannot say. If you hope to learn the techniques I can teach by unlocking the full potential of this holocron, you must travel to Arbooine and retrace Master Warde’s own steps.”

Lil raised an eyebrow, “And what, precisely, are these ‘techniques’ you can teach?”

The hologram leveled his gaze on her, seeming as if to age, not so much in a physical way, as instead in a spiritual one, “Suljo Warde was known for many accomplishments and feats, both before and during the Clone Wars. His greatest contribution to the Jedi Order, however, was his refinement of the ability to predict the future. Although many Jedi are capable of foreseeing future events, Warde’s ability was different. Rather than focusing on visions of events yet to come, Warde perceived the future decisions, actions and intentions of another sentient. Not only could Warde see beyond lies and deceptions, he could predict another’s decisions long before that person even contemplated the matter.”

Lil’s eyes went wide. Kryze’s stomach dropped. Lil was the first to recover and put voice to the sense of dread they obviously both felt, “If the Emperor and his agents had access to such an ability …”

“An organized rebellion would be impossible,” Kryze finished.

“Should we destroy the holocron?” Valan asked. It was a fair question, after all, with the holocron destroyed no one could learn the power from anyone other than Warde. Though, that led to its own problem.

“What if Warde’s alive? We need to know where he went, and if he is still around, destroying the holocron wouldn’t stop the power from getting into the Emperor’s hands, only our own.” Lil had voiced the very thoughts that Kryze had, though there was the further problem of anyone (like Marcolf) that Warde may have taught the power to.

The hologram nodded, “He may still be alive, although it has been some time since I was created. The Clone Wars must surely have ended be now, correct?”

Lil did some quick math, “If he was in his early twenties during the Clone Wars, and they ended about fifteen years ago, then he’s barely forty now … he could easily have survived.”

“We have to follow Warde’s path to find out what happened to him,” Kryze responded, shaking his head. “If we’re lucky, we’ll find he passed away with the rest of the Order. If not, we need to ensure this power not fall into the hands of the Emperor.”

Lil snickered, “It was so great a power how come he didn’t see the Emperor screwing over the Republic to make his Empire to begin with?”

“He probably never used the power on the Supreme Chancellor, to be honest,” Kryze replied. “It’s not like he was a Jedi of great note. From the sounds of it his reputation was founded during the Clone Wars, when the Jedi were too busy to meet dignitaries and the Supreme Chancellor was busy with orchestrating the end of the Separatist threat. I get the feeling this is a ‘proactive’ power – it isn’t passive flashes of danger so much as a decision to chart the future of an individual. With the strain that foresight places on the user, I would imagine he only used it when he needed to – most likely in relation to the Separatist generals he faced on the field of battle.”

Lil nodded, “So where on Arbooine are we headed? A planet is pretty vague directions.”

The hologram of Warde flickered for a moment before replying, “Suljo Warde met Gel Marcolf when they were attacked by Separatist assassins on Eriadu, and he sensed that the young Mirialan was strong in the Force. He hoped to induct him into the Jedi Order and perhaps even take him on as a Padawan after the war. As of my creation, however, he had not yet explained this to Marcolf. He was not yet mature enough.” The hologram crossed his arms and gazed upwards, as if remembering, “Suljo Warde took Marcolf with him after Eriadu, when he was sent to Arbooine to set the groundwork for a Republic base. The area surrounding the town of Quolas was an ideal location. At the time, Republic intelligence indicated that Quolas was torn by a violent fued between two families, those of Helshar and Tumris. The Sathari of Quolas are fundamentally good people, but prone to long-held grudges. Warde brought Marcolf with him in the hopes that the young man might learn something about conflict resolution and the real responsibilities of a Jedi Knight.”

Lil looked to the others, “So the town of Quolas on Arbooine. Check. HK,” she looked to the droid, “can you plot us a quick jump to Arbooine? One that will put us on approach to Quolas?”

HK blinked his photo-receptors, “Affirmation; Of course I can, Master. May I assume this means I will not be left behind to protect the meatbags from the Basilisk?”

Lil smiled, “Sorry, murder-bot, no such luck. I need you here in case things go sideways with the pet of the ‘Lady Mandalore’ over there.” Lil caught Kryze blanch out of the corner of her eye and smiled deliciously.

HK noticeably slouched, “Acquiescence; Affirmative, Master. I will comply with your wishes, though my circuits and coils wear at the thought of my continued imprisonment in this Jedi infested structure.”

“We’ll need a reason to be there,” Kryze stated. “Imperials aren’t going to let us wander around armed, and we’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. I’m safe as a Bounty Hunter, my weapons are all registered through the Guild, but the rest of you will need a cover.”

Valan looked at Kryze and nodded, “He’s right. Kryze, can you get me registered with Guild?”

Kryze thought about it for a moment. “Well, if we sell the Pathfinder we recovered from the mercenaries, it could cover the cost of registration and weapon permits for you and Tomo. You both look like the type to try their hand at bounty hunting, and you can handle yourselves, but keep in mind that getting registered means yearly fees and the occasional string in the form of up and comers trying to prove themselves by using you as a stepping stone.”

Valan nodded, “Right. Gotcha.” Looking to Tomo, who nodded in agreement, he turned back to Kryze, “We’re in though.”

Kryze shrugged, his sandy blond hair falling into his blue eyes, “Okay, I’ll set it up. That does bring up a good cover story though.” Tapping his datapad, he looked through some strange profiles, flipping from one picture to the next before finally stopping on one in specific. “Ahhh, Mr. 75631, wanted for smuggling. He operates out of a system close to Arbooine, it would seem reasonable that he choose to hide on a backwater low tech world until the heat cooled off. Nobody would question the logic of bounty hunters following a lead to there.” He turned to Lil, “And, if those bounty hunters didn’t fly alone, they’d need a pilot. Lil, that’s your reason for being there.”

He looked next to D’Jrem, “It being a backwater, and one that is low-tech, we’d need a wilderness guide. Especially if we believed he took to the wilds. You can play that part easily.” Finally, he looked to Bail. “Being an Imperial Bounty, the local Governor’s office would demand that an advisor be sent, especially if he were a political risk, I’ve had to work with them before. Smiling used-speeder salesmen always trying to make sure that the image of the Imperial they represented wasn’t damaged by the target or the hunters. You’ll be perfect.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The trip to Arbooine took hardly any time at all – HK had utilized a fortuitous opening of a local galactic phenomenon to shave a significant portion of their time off the journey. When Lil released the hyperdrive and settled back into realspace, the blue and green orb of Arbooine settled into the front viewport. A temperate world, white clouds swirled around the upper atmosphere as Lil nosed the Corusca Gem towards the planet’s surface.

As Lil flew low over the forest, her frustration grew. The trees below formed a thick canopy, preventing any chance of landing the large craft without significant risk to it. Lil frowned at the display, “It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to land anywhere close to the city.”

Djrem nodded, “That’s okay, I should be able to guide us through the forest to where we’re going. Arbooine isn’t a significantly deadly planet, flora and fauna wise.”

Valan nodded, “I guess we’re hiking then.”

Lil looked over the scopes once more. “It seems like there’s a break in the canopy about 15 kilometers from the city. I can set up down, but we’re probably going to be camping out before we can get there.”

Djrem looked over her shoulder, “Well, I don’t see another option. We should be fine, though provided there is a trail we can find. With a little luck it should only be about 7 or 8 hours.”

Kryze looked over the distance on the scope and then looked at the forest that awaited them outside the canopy. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The hike was grueling. The uneven forest floor lacked any form of path or trail, so the group was forced to blaze a trail through the woods. The forest around them was ancient, with growth having accumulated unmolested for centuries. The flora surrounded them in hues of pink and purple, with a preponderance of flower species. The dirt was an odd color, being almost crimson in hue more than a brown. As they traveled, on many occasions their path became blocked by enormous trees, the base of which were often almost a kilometer in girth.

As Djrem led them ever onward, it was apparent that they weren’t going to make the city of Quolas by dark. Scouting a location to make camp, Djrem brought them into a natural shelter made by the roots of one the giant trees, which Djrem said the natives called ‘elrit.’ They assigned watches and settled in for the evening.

Djrem had offered to take last watch, and sat in front of the fire by himself. He had a full nights rest as he was asleep through the first two watches, and now sat having a small breakfast and a cup of caff. He wondered at the natural beauty of the planet, and was forced to admit that despite the difficulty of travel, he was a little taken with the world.
He had barely finished his caff when he noted that the forest had become uncomfortably quiet. Picking up his rifle, he scanned the outskirts of the forest around the camp looking for anything out of the ordinary. Though he couldn’t see anything, something definitely spooked the wildlife. He had just begun to scan up into the tree when the sound of leaves being smashed out of the way alerted him to a threat.

The large beast leapt down at him from the limbs above, its six legs launching it with frightening speed. As the beast leapt, Djrem saw that each of the limbs was equipped with fearsome claws, which had been sunken into the tree above, and now retracted into the toes of the limb as it leapt. Four eyes, shining blue from the reflected firelight in the camp, fixed on him as its mouth, filled with dagger like teeth, opened in anticipation of an easy meal. Four tusk-like protrusion radiated out from the things cheeks, and Djrem wasn’t sure if they were literal tusks or merely matted fur, as the beast had a great mane of crème fur that darkened to sienna the further from its face it grew. From snout to tail the beast was huge – the size of an airspeeder in length.

Djrem rolled back and, with only a moment to think, held out his hand. He reached out to the beast through the Force, reaching out through the mystical energy field to the beast. He felt the hunger of the animal, the excitement of its adrenaline fueled leap, the rush of air around it, lifting and moving its fur. The beast landed inches from him, but he held firm in his control, pushing into the creature’s mind, the confusion it possessed at being linked to him the curiosity of this prey’s strange reaction.

The bond created, Djrem thought to the beast, feeling his conversation more than thinking it. He communed with the thing, seeing its thoughts as well as feeling them. Through its eyes, he saw the avian natives of the planet, heard them shouting ‘bearsloth’ at it. He could feel the beast straining to leap forward, but he calmed his mind, and steeled himself, the effect on the bearsloth mimicking his own calm. Reaching slowly to the campfire, he lifted the rations he was eating for breakfast and offered them to the bearsloth, envisioning the taste and satisfaction of his earlier meal.

The bearsloth perked at the image and feelings. It move forward cautiously, sniffing at the rations. The smell matched Djrem’s memories of it, those memories themselves implanted in the bearsloth, making it more trusting of the offering. It tentatively opened its jaws to accept the food, which Djrem placed into its maw. It greedily devoured the food, which Djrem could tell through the link it enjoyed very much. AS the bearsloth finished the last of the food, Djrem could still feel the hunger in its belly, and through the link assured it that there was more back at the ship.

Now he just needed to figure out how to get it there.

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Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 2
Chapter 1: The Silver Star

Valan tapped the console, checking and then re-checking the instruments. Nodding to himself, he looked to the woman in the pilot’s chair next to him, “Lil, sensors are showing we’ve arrived at the coordinates in the distress beacon.”

The woman let out a huff of air, blowing a bright blue lock of hair from her face, “Great! I’m bringing her around now to get a visual.” She adjusted a toggle on the control panel and eased the controls to bring the old freighter into a tight turn. The Corsuca Gem followed her commands, arcing in a wide turn to face perpendicular to the direction it had when exiting hyperspace. As Lil watched out of the front viewport, a drifting freighter came into view, severely damaged, and trailing smoke from mangled thrusters in her stern. Lil looked over the hull, noting a series of smoking blaster burns along her flanks. Attached to the dorsal airlock, a second ship sat as if a lamprey on the larger craft. The smaller ship was long and thin, more of a Starfighter in shape than a freighter, but far too large to be a dogfighter.

Valan looked up in a mix of confusion and concern, “Transponder on the larger craft calls her the Silver Star. She’s the one that broadcast the distress signal. The transponder on the smaller craft is masked …”

Kryze shook his head, “A masked transponder means that ship is up to no good. Pirates, or scavengers picking the ship clean.”

Lil let out a sigh, “Either way, they’ll be armed.”

Bail’s smooth drawl chimed in from the back passenger’s seat, “Maybe they’re just concerned citizens looking to help. We can probably leave since they have things in hand … “

Lil turned around in the pilot’s chair to look at the Falleen. It was the most selfish and cowardly thing she’d ever heard, and was pleasantly surprised to see everyone else staring in shock at the Falleen as well. Shaking her head, she continued, “We’re committed.” Turning back to the controls, she throttled the old YT-1300 forward, “Docking now, get your blasters ready.”

Bail shook his reptilian head, his naturally green skin turning amber in irritation and worry, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The group moved through the hallways of the ship smoothly, which surprised Kryze, as he hadn’t expected the group to be so disciplined. He had been stuck with the group for over a month now – Thrace had assigned him to be the one to review the data in the holocron for evidence of hidden Jedi strongholds. When he had objected, Thrace had only responded that investigation was in his blood, though for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why he would be inclined to believe that. Over his time with the group, he found them to be more a dysfunctional family than skilled combatants. They fought, argued, and bickered over everything, and the wounded party got snarky at the end of it, every time. It was so bad the behavior threatened to infect him, and on multiple occasions he had to sequester himself in the holocron chamber to avoid them.

Now though, when they had something to focus on, a new group appeared. Lil monitored their progress from on board the Corusca Gem, using the ships sensors to keep them appraised of external threats. Tomo and Valan moved along the corridors like professionals, which Kryze supposed was the case. All info on Valan indicated he had previously been known as IC-1187, which was an Imperial Commando designation. That meant he was probably quite comfortable in operations like this. Tomo had been raised in a religious caste of warriors that were charged with the protection of her entire village. A quasi-mystical group called the “Sword Saints.” Part law-enforcement, part ninja, she reflected the role in her smooth movements and sure grip on her sword. For his part, Bail knew his role – that of face and negotiator – and stayed behind the group as they advanced. The surprising part to Kryze was that Bail knew how far to stay behind. Not so far as to be out of sight or reach of the others (in the case of a rear assault, this is vital for changing orientation of the firing line), but not so close as to hamper the movement of the group or clog lines to cover in the event of a firefight.

Kryze pulled to a stop as his OMNI3 scanner picked up motion and heat signatures around the bend up ahead. He signaled the rest of the group to halt and take cover moments before blaster fire erupted all around them. Four humanoids, dressed in the makeshift armor of novice bounty hunters, opened fire on them from a crossing intersection ahead of the group. Using the corner for cover and wielding blaster pistols, they pinned Kryze and the others momentarily, forcing them to take cover in the braces that extended from the freighters bulkheads.

Kryze returned fire with his EE-3, but with the cover they had, he could do little more than lay out suppressing fire to allow Tomo to move closer. To his surprise (and a little disdain) Valan wasn’t returning fire with him. Instead, he had drawn his lightsaber and rushed forward with Tomo. While Tomo still used her Mandalorian warblade, Valan ignited his citrine lightsaber blade, casting the hallway in a subtle yellow glow that overpowered the red emergency lighting along the ceiling. Bail moved to the bulkhead opposite Kryze and opened fire down the hallway with his blaster pistol.

Kryze nodded to Bail and kept firing, Tomo and Valan’s advance almost to the end of the hall. Kryze managed to drop one of the combatants, who took a moment too long to aim down the hallway. Upon reaching the end of the corridor, Valan and Tomo disappeared around the corner, and the screams of pain and surprise that heralded their arrival told Kryze all he needed to know. Within moments there was nothing but silence, and Kryze signaled to Bail to follow before moving up himself.

Turning the corner, Kryze found the remains of their five adversaries; limbs missing and mangled by blade or lightsaber, in one particular unfortunate’s case, both. Their groans of pain and agony gave proof that they were still alive, however. “We’ll need to bind them for transport,” Kryze noted.

“We don’t have anything to bind them with,” Valan replied, “Besides, they tried to kill us, and we don’t have the time to mess around with prisoners.”

Kryze felt his mouth gape open at Valan. He closed it quickly, thanking his helmet for covering his astonishment. He knew the ex-Imperial was hard, but to slaughter defenseless men went a little far. “We’re not killing helpless combatants here.”

Valan looked at him coolly, the emergency lighting glinting off the purple opalescent armor that he wore, “Like you didn’t do worse in your history as a bounty hunter.”

Kryze felt a surge of anger, fierce and hot. Closing his eyes, he calmed his heart and focused on the here and now. Speaking with a disciplined focus, he replied, “You don’t know the first thing about what I’ve done, Imperial. But fine, you want to kill them without finding out what they know, why don’t we just get back in the Corsuca Gem and blast the whole damn ship and save us some time?”

Tomo shook her head, “Kryze is right, we need information.” She looked over their fallen opponents and found something. “Bolas? That’s strange. At least we can tie them up with it.”

The comment about bolas struck Kryze as odd. Looking more closely at the symbol on their armor, the itch in the back of his mind was explained immediately. “Nova Suns,” he said.

“Who?” Valan asked.

Kryze shook his head, this was bad. “The Nova Suns are a group of Bounty Hunters, not scavengers. They’re less Bounty Hunter and more Contract Killers at that. They don’t take living prisoners.” He looked over the mercenaries until he spotted what he was looking for in the back, a bald human with a cybernetic eye. “This is Nex Pavros. He’s the leader of this group, and if he’s here and captured, we’ve either saved everyone or we’re already too late.”

The group finished tying up the mercenaries and then made their way to the bridge, leaving Tomo to get Lil and collect the unconscious killers. Kryze’s heart leapt to his throat as the door to bridge opened; for there was the crew of the Silver Star. One of the crew was lying in a heap on the floor of the bridge, another leaned over the controls in the cockpit, to his left, a third crewmember lay draped over a computer terminal, her eyes staring in shock as she had turned to look at her executioner. The first two had blaster burns in their backs, while the woman bore hers high on her forehead. The odd coloring around the wound left little doubt the blast came from Nex Pavros’ disrupter.

A great weight hit Kryze, as the last moments of the crew, their pain, fear, despair, washed over him through the Force. He closed his eyes and calmed his mind, letting the emotions go and finding a place of calm. Once again he felt a brief surge of resentment that he couldn’t go to his father for training. He let this, too, leave him, for he long ago came to the realization that even if he were to track Obi-Wan across the galaxy and find out where he is hidden, there was little for him to actually say to him.

What could he? What did he expect? His mother kept her pregnancy a secret, knowing full well that such relations are impossible. Were the Republic to have continued, and the Jedi Order not fallen, then perhaps it would have come out in time, for his aptitude with the Force would have assuredly seen him taken to the Temple for training. That isn’t what happened though – instead, his mother died to the machinations of the Clone Wars, and his aunt raised him as a Mandalorian warrior instead. The Jedi fell, and their order was scattered among the stars, to be hunted down one by one.

It’s why he began hunting Jedi in the first place – to help them remain hidden from the Empire in exchange for training, though if he were being honest with himself the true reason was in the hopes he would someday find his father. Now, however, he realized that his father was far cannier a prey than most, and hid his movements well. The more he focused on digging into his whereabouts, the more attention Kryze would bring to his father, and in the game of bounty hunting, that was a bad thing. Kryze knew that if he truly loved his father, and honored what he believed in, then he must let his father go.

It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. Luckily, his mother taught him what it was to Mandalorian, and above all, a Mandalorian does what is necessary. Like his ancestry, Kryze was pragmatic. Besides, if the Force saw it necessary for him to cross paths with his father, then that’s exactly what would happen.

His moment of reflection was interrupted by Valan, who was over at the computer terminal the woman was laying on. He had pried open a panel on the side of the terminal and was rooting around the interior, “Would you look at this?” he wondered aloud. As Kryze watched, he pulled from the hidden interior of the panel a small cube, glowing with a subtle aqua light.

“What’s a holocron doing on a light freighter?” Bail wondered aloud.

“I just checked out the cargo hold, there’s another body there. Killed like these,” Tomo said, pointing to the crewmen. “The whole hold is wrecked – crates smashed open, contents spilled out. Nothing’s been taken though.”

Kryze turned it over for a moment, “Nex wasn’t here for cargo. He was here for the holocron. Where was the ship coming from?”

Valan shrugged, “I couldn’t get anything off of the computer – it seemed out of sorts. That’s what led me to check the panel out.” Looking down at the ruins of the computer, he sighed, “I doubt we’ll get anything at all out of it now though.”

Kryze shook his head, “Not good. Lil,” he called over the comlink, “what is the nearest system to us. Could you check it using out navi-computer?”

Lil’s voice chimed over the comlink, “Sure, no problem! Lemme see … Cato Nemoidia is closest.”

Kryze blanched, “Cato Nemoidia?” He had no interest in going there. One of the primary worlds of the Separatists during the Clone Wars, Cato Nemoidia was under one of the strictest Imperial controls of any planet in the galaxy. “Well that doesn’t help us much. Most likely they were a legitimate freighter, though based on the cargo of foodstuffs and medical supplies. Cato Nemoidia is still a trade center with powerful merchants. I say we leave the distress running, clear out any signs of the Nova Suns remains and leave a torn patch in one of the crew’s possession. When the corporate authorities or Empire come looking, the patch will lead them to the Nova Suns, who we’ve conveniently captured, so it will appear they’ve gone into hiding. Hopefully, that will allow the crew’s bodies to be returned to their families and the damaged cargo to be replaced through insurance claims.”

Valan nodded, “I’ll go and catalog their gear. What about their ship outside?”

Kryze thought for a moment, “That ship is a Pathfinder-class scout ship. It only needs a single pilot, you all take the Corusca Gem back to the Temple, I’ll fly the other one back, and we’ll meet on Spintir.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Valan agreed. With a final look to the crew, they left the bridge and headed for home.

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The Gatekeeper's Legacy
The Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 1

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Hidden Depths Part 3
Chapter 2: Revelations

D’Jrem led the group through the many twists and turns of the cavern. He had been tracking the route of the prospector for over an hour, and though their pace was fast, he was constantly wondering when they’d finally reach the end of their journey. That probe droid had to have alerted the Star Destroyer above to its destruction, and that meant that at any moment Imperial troops could arrive at the cavern to investigate. He pushed the bewildering prospect out of his as something he could really do nothing about anyways.

The group entered a large chamber, oddly shaped in the form of a bowled floor, descending into the center of the room and then ascending out towards the other end of the triangular space. Shaped like a womb, they had entered into the space from one of the top entrances, and, along a short wall to their left, another tunnel ran on into the darkness. That wasn’t the direction of the prospectors route, however, as it went further into the room, exiting at the tunnel the formed the ‘base’ of the womb on the far end from the two exits where they were.

D’Jrem was oddly nervous at having to cross the entire room, though he couldn’t pinpoint why. He searched in the dim lighting their glowrods provided for some evidence to support his apprehension, but could find none. Finally, with nothing to hold him back and everything to push him forward, he tentatively crept into the room. His first footfall found no trap awaiting him, and so he continued on, with each step easing a little. Soon, he found himself a third of the way into the room, and he motioned the others to follow.

As he crossed the halfway point, he was more than at ease, in fact, he found himself feeling almost, happy. In fact, were he forced to describe the emotion he was feeling, he would say he was giddy. Emotion, though, wasn’t quite the right word. He felt as though his giddiness and happiness were a sensation and not necessarily an emotion. He looked to the others, and realized with a start that they had caught up to him, and were themselves seemingly adrift. The wandered behind him as if in a daze, and as the edges of his sight began to fuzz, he looked around to realize with startling acuity that there was something wrong with the room. “Is anyone else feeling lightheaded?”

Lil nodded, “Yea, and it’s hard to breathe.”

It hit him like a shot. The bowled floor, the presence of rubat crystal, the lightheadedness – they were in a gas pocket! Rubat gas is a byproduct of the pressures needed to produce the crystal. It’s odorless, colorless, and heavier than air! The low point in the room must be collecting it, preventing it from reaching the other areas of the cave! He had no chance to notice it because until they had descended into it, the air was perfectly normal, floating on top of the gas. Now that they floor had lowered them below the threshold, they were in serious danger.

“Everyone,” he coughed, “don’t breathe in any more, and don’t take a deep breath!”

“What in the blazes are you talking about?” Valan’s confusion made his injuries even more nightmarish to D’Jrem, or maybe it was just the gas.

“It’s an invisible gas we’re in,” he explained, “it will slowly starve your cells for oxygen unless we get out of here. Stop breathing and run to higher ground!” He began moving as quickly as he could towards the tunnel exit, the ground rising below him. His legs felt like rubber as the gas began affecting his motor skills, but he kept moving, determined to continue on.

The others fell in behind, the realization of what they were feeling spurring a survival instinct that kept them pushing hard. He knew that most of them had been practicing bolstering their bodies with power of the Force, something he had begun to do himself out of instinct, and saw the same in the others eyes. He feared it wouldn’t be enough, but before the fear could overtake him he found himself at the tunnel. He hesitantly took a breath, and found it to be sweet and restorative. He began breathing easy and motioned to the others the all clear. A string of gasps followed, as each took a gulp of oxygen after their trial.

Smiling and nodding to the others, he went into the tunnel beyond. The tunnel seemed like the others, though it ran far straighter then the twisting labyrinth they had experienced before. It led straight to an antechamber of medium size, perfectly round and domed, as if it were some kind of audience chamber. A chill overtook him as he entered, as if the temperature dropped below freezing, though his breath was as invisible as ever. He chalked it up to an after-effect of the gas combined with a coincidental breeze and looked around.

Spreading out at even distances, were five exits of identical nature. He took a moment to pick up the prospector’s trail and saw it lead into the tunnel furthest to the left, so looking to the others behind him, he nodded and moved on. As he crept down the hallway, a glimmer of light appeared ahead, a faintly orange glow, one that ebbed and brightened as he walked.

He turned to the others to see if they saw the same, but found the hallway behind empty.

Confused, he looked ahead and found not a hallway, but a campfire! He stood looking out on a platform that overlooked a vast crater. The stone that made up the platform was a brown sandstone that was very different from the red stone that made up the tunnel. He looked around to see where the rock changed, but quickly realized he was no longer in a tunnel at all!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Valan followed D’Jrem through the second tunnel from the left out of the antechamber. His lungs were burning from hold his breath for so long, but D’Jrem seemed intent on pressing forward. It made a certain amount of sense to him; the Imperials surely knew about the probe droid, so time was an issue. He made sure that the others behind could match their pace, then pressed forward behind the Sakiyan. He noted the smooth movements of the Sakiyan, and wondered how he didn’t know about the treasure hunter. D’Jrem had always struck him as a meek and awkward one; his lisp making him almost comedic, but in the cave, searching for these crystals, the dark-skinned humanoid looked like a predator scouring his territory.

He threw a glance over his should to make sure the others weren’t falling behind, and was startled to find only a blank wall. Abandoning his crouch and standing straight, he looked at the cool gunmetal colored wall, rounded and stretching out to both sides of him. He spun on his heel, and found himself not in the tunnel where he was, but instead a turbolift. He exhaled, calmed his heightened nerves, and whispered aloud, “D’Jrem? Lil? Tomo?” A squelch before each statement surprised him, he hadn’t heard its type since he wore his old Shadow Trooper armor. The realization brought with the notice of a heads-up display (which they called a HUD in the Empire) which was overlaid on his vision.

He brought his hand up to his face to realize he wore a helmet. Looking down, he found himself in white and blue plastoid armor, not entirely unlike that of a Stormtrooper. A shoulder pauldron, black with blue accents, sat upon his left shoulder, and a kama like ones worn by ARC troopers back in the Clone Wars circled his waist. The Advanced Reconnaissance Clones had a unique DC-15c sidearm, too, which he found firmly in his hand where his Blastech DH-17 was moments ago. The soft bell of the turbolift let him know he arrived at whatever destination he was headed towards, and the doors opened a moment later.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tomo slid along the wall of the tunnel. She didn’t like traps she could not fight her way free from, and that is all this accursed cave seemed to possess. Keeping her back to the wall, she was relieved the see D’Jrem and Valan take the passage furthest to the right, allowing her to keep her back to stone and face down any threats that may come. She continued to slide along the wall, throwing her gaze from the group, always keeping her eyes moving, to minimize any chance for ambush. It was during one of these swivels or her head that she was met with a most unwelcome surprise.

Turning back to keep her eyes on ahead, she instead found a broad plain in front of her and no sign of the others. She looked down on the plain from her vantage point on a high ledge, below her, at the base of the rock wall that formed the ledge, she could see a vast river of molten lava, and across the plain on the far side she could another, matching river of the red superheated stone, at the base of a matching ridgeline. To her left, boxing one end of the canyon below, stood an immense fortress, and before it and army of battle droids stood in companies. At their rear, standing before the gates of the fortress, sat a huge droid, a mix of tank and humanoid. From the waist down, giant treads held it aloft, attached to an armored chassis that sported cannons with barrels as large as Tomo herself. From the waist up, it was humanoid, with two powerful arms, one that ended in a battery of weapons ranging from rocket launchers to blaster cannons, and in the other it held an immense axe, whose blade was easily as long as Tomo was tall.

Across from the droids, engaging the front lines of the droid army, were hundreds of thousands of gleaming white Stormtroopers. At least, they looked like Stormtroopers to Tomo’s eyes. Strange ships flew above the battle towards the giant droid/tank in the back, and as Tomo watched, one of the craft was shot from the skies, crash landing amongst the droids near the rear lines. It was then she noticed hundreds of lightsabers, jutting from odd locations amongst the droids, some near more of the crashed ships, others having advanced towards the rear from other crash sites. Tomo jumped as her comlink came to life, and a confident, baritone voice spoke, “Tomo, bring your ARCs to the crash site, we’re assaulting the Command Droid from here.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil watched as D’Jrem, Valan, and Tomo advanced in front of her through the middle tunnel in the antechamber. Lil looked around nervously, half expecting a Rubat Spinner to leap out from the shadows and devour her face. She felt exposed and alone, and only the warmth of the necklace Val Isa crafted so long ago seemed to provide and ease to nerves. It was then that Lil realized the root of the problem may lie not in her surroundings, but the Force. The cold around her suddenly had context, it had the same penetrating cold that the nexus on Spintir had. The facts started to fall into place, and Lil was only mildly surprised when she turned to face forward but found herself stepping instead into a long hallway of metal walls interlaced with stone, far below the surface of what she was sure was no longer Phemis.

“Great, another vision.” Lil was almost getting blasé towards the experience. She stepped forward, and turned the corner to see a row of prison cells. Orange fields of energy formed the 4th wall of the cell, barring the prisoners interred inside from escaping. A gunmetal grey combat droid stood guard in front of the cells, which looked to be holding dignitaries of some kind. They all wore fine clothing save one; who had the unmistakable gear of a freighter captain. The only thing missing from the spacedog was the normally ever-present blaster at his side, but that was understandable considering his position.

Lil crept along the corridor, looking to get some clue as to her current predicament, but the droid, probably on high alert, turned and stared at her. The shock of this surprise was total, as it was an HK unit! The droid flickered his photo-receptors and spoke, “Query; Master, what am I doing in this corridor?”

Lil felt her mouth gape open in surprise despite her best intentions, “HK?”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bail followed in behind Lil through the second tunnel from the right out the antechamber. He tried not get too close to her, since she seemed more than willing to physically assault him, but still close enough that he wouldn’t get left behind in the dimly illuminated caves. He kept an eye out for any signs of those disgusting spiders from before, but thankfully he didn’t see any trace of them or their webs. His head still buzzed from the effects of the gas, and he was beginning to suspect it was going to have lingering effects, as for some peculiar reason, he was smelling Corsuca Ice Wine, taken from fruit grown in the polar water caps of Coruscant. It was a delectable brew, sweet, and potent. Why it should come to his nose now he only assumed was a byproduct of some damage that miserable gas had done to his brain.

He closed his eyes for a moment and reveled in its scent. He had only once been fortunate enough to have the wonderful concoction. He was attending a party on Imperial Center to celebrate the coronation of Grand Moff Tarkin, and the Emperor himself had gifted the celebration with some. Rumor stated it was a fondness of the Sovereign’s, something he had enjoyed ever since he first arrived on Coruscant. Bail often wondered what the young Sheev Palpatine might have been like, before the many years of ruling the Empire twisted his face with age and stress. He caught himself wondering if he was ever young at all, or if he had always been the robed visage he now was.

Catching himself as lingering too long in his whimsy, Bail quickly opened his eyes, hoping he hadn’t fallen too far behind Lil. He was met with an unexpected brilliance, as his eyes had become so accustomed to darkness that the lights of the room he found himself in temporarily blinded him. Blinking the light away, his eyes slowly adjusted to reveal he was standing on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, an older model, probably a Victory-class. He looked around to see the crew all oddly similar in height and build, in fact, the longer he looked the more it became apparent the entire ship was crewed by identical siblings. An inappropriate thought towards the stamina and virility of their mother crossed Bail’s mind, but was quickly trumped by the soft caress of finery he felt against his body. He had spent so long in the rough clothing of an adventurer that he had almost forgotten the feel of fine vicuna, a fabric so soft that as a boy he had believed it magical. He felt it now, and as he looked down, he saw he wore the purple and crimson robes he had once seen on the advisors to the Emperor himself!

“Ah, Minister Whill, excellent you arrived when you did, may I speak with you?” The voice was unmistakable, but the face that it issued from was not the one he expected. No rolls of flesh, weighed down by age and worry, sat on the eyebrows of this man. No wrinkles of over a century of life ebbed the vitality from his face. This was the voice of Palpatine, but the face of an elderly, though still vital Supreme Chancellor.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

D’Jrem looked around at the platform he was standing and shook his head. It made no sense, but the vertigo from looking over the edge of the platform was quite real. He even felt the slight change in gravity that told him he was on a different planet. Looking down, he found himself in the Jedi armor he was wearing, but it was covered in an orange banding pattern that he wasn’t familiar with, and hadn’t had before. Moreover, he felt the strange weight of a lightsaber at his hip.

Shrugging, he walked forward to the camp fire he spotted before. The light carried him to small room off the main platform overlooking the crater. Inside, sat four humans, three men and a woman. Two of them wore the same kind of Jedi armor that he himself wore, the shorter of the two having the same orange banding that he had, while the taller of the two had blue striping on his. All three (counting himself) had the wings and saber symbol of the Galactic Republic on their shoulder pauldron. The woman wore a white jumpsuit with a tan half cloak draped about her shoulders, and carried a sleek silver blaster pistol in a holster on her hip. The final man wore the telltale gear of a freighter captain, a combination of civilian clothing and flightsuit, with a heavy blaster pistol slung low in gunslinger’s holster at this side. Aviator goggles sat ready on top of his mop of sandy blond hair, and an ever-present beard shadow covered his cheeks and chin. They all sat laughing and talking, and D’Jrem felt strange intruding on what appeared to be a close knit group.

“I can’t believe it’s almost over. Utapau was critical to the Separatists front. With it gone, Mustafar is their final holdout,” the woman said, smiling and taking a sip of caff.

The freighter captain chuckled, “We have them on the run, alright. I can almost smell the Coruscanti bisque now!”

The others laughed, and the blue jedi, a human youth with sandy blond hair who looked barely old enough to legally purchase rotgut, spoke up, “Owen, what in the twin suns are you talking about?”

The freighter captain, Owen, smiled, “Well, after the war I plan on opening a restaurant on Coruscant! A nice little diner – I love to fly, but I’ve had my fill for a while. If I get the hankering to do some flying, I can always pick up the supplies myself!”

The blue jedi had an astonished look to his face, “But what about your dad’s moisture farm on Tatooine?

Owen shook his head and held up his hands, “Tatooine? Oh, no, I’m never going back to that dustball again! Damn sand gets everywhere!

The other Jedi, the shorter one, had dirty blond hair, almost dark brown in the firelight, but his eyes were a brilliant blue. A full beard offset him from his clean-shaven fellow Jedi, and he spoke with a rich Coruscanti accent, “What about you, Padme? Without your skilled pilot what are you planning?”

D’Jrem took note of her name, and the fact that the Jedi’s question caused her to throw a look not him, but to his younger compatriot, “I’m sure I’ll be able to scrounge up someone to get from planet to planet.” She dropped her gaze and smiled, then looked to the older Jedi, “I’m actually going to be on Coruscant far more often, however. I’m looking at learning more of Senatorial procedures.”

The bearded Jedi looked genuinely surprised, “The Senate?”

Padme continued, nodding, “There’s far too much discrepancy between the Noble practices of the member worlds of the Republic and the Senate. It’s what enable the Separatists to gain such power – they exploited the misunderstandings between planetary politics and Senatorial procedure. If we can close that gap, then we can stop it from being exploited in the future and strengthen the Republic overall.”

Nodding, the bearded Jedi smiled, “A noble goal.”

The woman smiled brightly, “What about you Obi-Wan?” So he finally had a name, D’Jrem looked to the bearded Jedi while the woman, Padme, continued, “Now that you’ve declared Anakin a Knight and no longer your Padawan, and without a war to fight as an excuse for taking another, what will you do?” So the other Jedi was named Anakin. D’jrem reasoned that this must be Anakin Skywalker, before his appointment as the last Defense Councilor of the Republic.

Obi-Wan raised his hands and smile, “Guilty as charged, I suppose. I suppose I will take a new Padawan,” he chuckled, “No, I’m actually quite excited about teaching the next generation of Padawan. With so many Jedi lost in the fighting we number less than two hundred Knights and Masters now.”

Anakin nodded and continued, “With so few of us left, many Padawan have become Knights long before they would traditionally do so. Myself included. I feel as though the Council wouldn’t have let me be knighted without the need for it.”

Obi-Wan shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous, Anakin, you’re every bit the Knight I was when I was your age. What will you do, Anakin?”

“I’m going to be sitting next to you, Master. To your left, you’ll have Master Windu, to your right will be me. With all the studying I’ve done, this time I know I’ll pass their tests.”

Padme looked confused at Anakin, “’This time’? What do you mean, Anakin?”

Obi-Wan appeared overcome with a sadness, “Anakin has appealed to the Council for a place before. He hasn’t yet passed their tests for nomination. Though I don’t understand why not.”

Anakin spoke with a deep conviction that D’Jrem noted typically came from naivety, “I’ll make it this time, Master. I’ve studied the rarest lore in the archives, and I’ve focused on the subtle nuances of my force skills. I’ve mastered all of the disciplines now.”

Obi-Wan chuckled through his beard, “To distraction, I’ve noticed. Why is it so vital though that you sit on the Council. It’s terribly boring.”

A darkness seemed to swallow Anakin before he replied, “Because I was born a slave.”

Obi-Wan seemed to have been caught off guard, and for his part, D’Jrem couldn’t quite follow the logic either, which Obi-Wan seemed to voice for him, “I don’t follow – you aren’t a slave anymore.”

Anakin looked up at Obi-Wan, and though he wasn’t sure the others saw it, D’Jrem saw a haunted, hollow look in his eyes, “But I’m not free, either.”

Obi-Wan seemed totally flat-footed to the response, “You aren’t?”

A deep pain seemed to build in Anakin at this, an inner turmoil that had its root somewhere in his core, “Well, I am, but yet I’m not. You see, being a Jedi Knight I’m still doing the bidding of the Jedi Council. Yes, I can go where I want and sort things out how I choose, but I’m beholden to uphold the decisions of the Council. If I were on the Council, then I could participate in deciding the future of that criteria – I would be totally free to make choices that matter. That make the galaxy a better place. Until then, I’m still a servant.

Obi-Wan looked to his friend and former student, “Well then, I suspect you won’t have long to wait – liberating Utapau was a major accomplishment, and you were pivotal in its strategic planning. This victory is largely yours, Anakin. The Council will certainly see that.” Obi-Wan’s blue eyes then fell on D’Jrem, and suddenly he felt very out of place, “What about you, Master D’Jrem, what are your plans with the war behind us?”

D’Jrem thought about the possible answers, and merely shrugged, “I suppose I haven’t thought about it before. I’ll probably head back out to the Rim, do more exploring and recover lost lore.”

Obi-Wan nodded, “I really hadn’t entertained the thought either before today, the end of the War always seemed so far away. Truthfully“ Master Obi-Wan was cut off as a huge explosion up-ended the crate he was sitting on. A plume of fire erupted from the floor as a second shell landed in the camp. The sounds outside of clones screaming under the bombardment filled the night.

D’Jrem had never encountered shelling like this before. He looked around the campsite, walls of the fab shelters lay broken, revealing the carnage outside. Clones, or pieces of them, lay about the large platform the campsite rested upon as fires burned out of control from the incendiary shelling. A deep fear rooted itself in his gut, and as the Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, and Owen lay unconscious in the rubble of the fire, D’Jrem felt the icy cold of fear in his blood, but he resisted it, knowing that he was the only one who protect them now.

Scrambling free of the fab shelter’s walls, D’Jrem saw a clone sergeant firing into the distance. Making his way towards the trooper, he noted the Jaig eyes on the forehead. If he remembered correctly, those were a marking only given to clones who showed unmatched courage under fire and perform acts of valor in defense of his comrades. If anyone, that was clone that could help D’Jrem ensure they all survived this madness.

As he got closer, he saw numerous tick marks on the clone’s forearm pieces. The most recent of which looked to have been done just this eve, clean and without wear. It occurred to D’Jrem that if each of those were representative of a separate battle, this clone must have been in the fighting from the beginning. He paused to wonder at how many of his brothers he saw die, how many Jedi fell in battle around him while he endured. As D’Jrem watched, this valiant warrior fired round after round into the night, smoke rising about his from the gas discharge of his blaster. D’Jrem looked out into the night to see what it was he was firing at, but was met with only blackness and smoke.

He looked back to the clone, and found the Jaig eyes on the trooper’s helmet staring right back as the clone regarded him, still firing into the night. Time slowed for a moment, and the trooper spoke, the heavy Man’doa accent rolling out of the speakers of his helmet, “Find me.” D’Jrem had barely an instant to ponder the statement when a brilliant blade of purple light flashed from the smoke and took the helmet from the soldier’s shoulders.

D’Jrem staggered back, unsure of what to make of this new turn of events. He pulled the lightsaber off of his belt, hoping beyond hope that the beginner lessons in lightsaber combat he had been taking at the Temple would pay off when he needed it now. As the smoke cleared, he saw a woman in a black bodysuit step from her obfuscation. A utility belt hung around her waist, complete with light blaster pistol, and her gloved hands held the amethyst blade menacingly before her. A tan head wrap, the same color as the walls of stone around them, concealed her face, but her locks of red hair, the same crackling red as the fire pit behind him, clearly hung in loose curls down her chest and back.

D’Jrem with a strange glee he hadn’t expected, and that was completely inappropriate to the situation, looked excitedly at the color of his lightsaber blade as he turned it on. He was met with the green brilliance of an emerald beam, and while he was slightly saddened it wasn’t as unique as the purple blade he faced, it seemed in his mind to be fitting. He brought the Jedi’s weapon up and took a guard stance.

His opponent dashed forward with all the speed and agility of a cat. He was hard-pressed to knock the blade aside, but managed to do so at the last moment. He countered her strike with a novice strike, one that she ducked with little effort. He did, at least, manage to catch the trailing edge of the cowl she wore, stripping it from her head. With a flip of her hair as she came up, she threw the fiery locks from her face to reveal … Lil!

D’Jrem’s blade dropped as he saw the face of his friend staring back at him. Taking the opportunity, Lil lunged and drove her amethyst blade deep into D’Jrem’s stomach. Pain overwhelmed him, cutting through the shock but only adding to the confusion. He reached out towards Lil, keenly aware that he had dropped his lightsaber. He couldn’t decide if he was reaching to her in an effort to elicit a plea for her to help him, or if he reached out to her to choke the life from her as she had taken it from him.

In either case, darkness consumed him as his vision went to black.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The doors opened and Valan looked out into the hallway that met him. Running off to both his left and right, dull grey walls lined a floor that had both gunmetal and light grey panels. The wall accents were a dark blue, almost navy blue in color. Valan went over the coloring in his mind, definitely not the flat grey of the Empire, and certainly not Republic crimson. That left the colors of the Trade Federation, and later, the Separatist Regime.

“Okay,” Valan said to himself inside the helmet, “So I’m on a Separatist ship. That’s the where, but it leads to a question of when?”

He looked to the HUD inside his helmet, and pulled up the chronometer. It read GR1958:5:20. As it was 18:2:15 when he woke up this morning, and the epoch dating system of GR ended with the birth of the Empire, it was safe to say he was having a vision of the past. He tried to recall the important dates of the Galactic Republic era; “the Empire was founded in the same year, GR1958, on Kata 25, shortly after the battle of Mustafar in the closing moments of the Clone Wars. That puts this date 5 days prior,” he whispered to himself.

It struck him then like a flash. Just days before the Battle of Mustafar was the Battle of Coruscant! It was a huge space battle above the planet – Separatist forces had stormed the planet led by General Grievous and kidnapped the Chancellor and a large contingent of the Senate. Jedi Generals Kenobi and Skywalker stormed their flagship, the Invisible Hand along with some Advanced Reconnaissance Clones from the 501st and rescued the Chancellor. They killed Count Dooku in the process, but Grievous escaped with the Senators to Mustafar.

It was after this battle that Skywalker left the Jedi Order and became the Defense Councilor of the Republic, the first since Palpatine himself. Grievous’ escape directly led to the Battle of Mustafar and the betrayal of the Jedi. This was the precipice after which everything changed. Looking through his HUD’s data files, he found the basic deck plans for a Providence-class destroyer. The Invisible Hand would have differences to the baseline model, but it wouldn’t have many structural changes so the deck plans should get him pretty far. From the readout, it looks like the bridge was to the left.

Valan cautiously moved to the edge of the turbolift and looked out. He could hear the metallic sounds of boots in the distance, but they were down the right hallway, and heading away from him. Exhaling with relief, he cautiously moved down the left hallway, his blaster at the ready. He followed his HUD as he maneuvered the corridors, evading droids as they clanked around, and made his way to the central turbolift shaft. He pressed the call switch and waited for the lift to arrive.

After only a few seconds, the lift descended and stopped with a ding. The doors opened and Valan was greeted with the snap-hiss of a lightsaber. Pulling his blaster up to fire, he was shocked to see a bearded, dirty blond Jedi with eyes of brilliant blue. He spoke with a rich Coruscanti accent, “Commander Valan, nice to see you could join us!”

Shock set in as Valan realized who he was speaking to. General Kenobi was a hero to every kid who was ever told a story about the Clone Wars. ‘Kenobi and Skywalker’ stories were the stuff of legends. His father used to say that there were nothing a platoon welcomed hearing more than Kenobi and Skywalker were on route. The duo’s actions were near miraculous, and eclipsed even the feats of General Windu in their grandiosity.

Gathering his wits, he nodded and stepped into the lift, “Glad to be here, General.” As he moved to take place next to Obi-Wan, he noticed a hole cut into the ceiling above him. Upon his noticing, Obi-Wan chuckled.

“Anakin,” the Jedi explained. The lift started moving up at that point, to which Obi-Wan and Valan both had to brace themselves with a steadying hand. “Now, that’s better…”

At precisely that moment, a figure shot down through the hole in the ceiling and landed between Obi-Wan and Valan. Caught flat footed, Valan looked around in surprise while Obi-Wan, preternatural in his alacrity, drew and ignited his lightsaber before realizing the figure was Anakin.

“Oh, it’s you … “he said sheepishly.

“What was that all about?” Anakin replied.

“Well, Artoo has been …” Obi-Wan began.

Anakin cut him off, “No loose wire jokes. He’s doing the best he can.”

Obi-Wan adopted a look of mock insult, “Did I say anything?”

Anakin looked away, irritated, “He’s trying.”

Obi-Wan threw his hands up, “I didn’t say anything!” Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and stood quietly in the turbolift. Anakin on the other hand, looked to Valan.

“Hello, Valan. I was hoping some the ARC troopers got on board.”

Valan fished around for a reasonable explanation, and realized quickly there wasn’t going to be any. “I’m glad I could support, Sir.” He nodded and stared ahead, hoping that he wouldn’t get asked too many more questions.

Thankfully, the lift ride went forward in silence from there. While he was thankful for the lack of questioning, it wasn’t quite what he expected from the pair. His father had the pleasure of serving with them on a few occasions, and from what he described, the banter between the two Jedi was constant. To see them standing in awkward silence was unsettling, and he wondered if his father hadn’t embellished the stories to make them more epic.

Before he consider it for too long, the elevator doors opened and the three of them made their way into a large main room. They walked out onto a mezzanine made of the same gunmetal and light gray panels that rest of the hallways possessed, an open railing made of the same metal in front of them. Down each side of the mezzanine was an open staircase, leading to the floor below where two large control consoles framed a central throne looking out the forward observation bay. The front wall of the observation bay was entirely transparasteel, allowing a breathtaking view of the space battle outside. In the center of this grand view, the throne spun around from the outside, revealing the Supreme Chancellor, bound to the throne and helplessly watching the Republic Navy engage the Separatists.

The three of them moved to the Supreme Chancellor and as they neared him, the Chancellor’s gaze went from smiling to distress. Obi-Wan bowed and smiled, trying to comfort him, “Chancellor.”

Anakin on the other hand looked concerned, “Are you all right?”

Palpatine tried his best not to stare at something over their shoulders, but he failed, quietly warning them, “Count Dooku.”

Valan turned with the others to see the turbolift doors again open and close. There, on the mezzanine that they themselves entered from, appeared Count Dooku and his bodyguard of B-2 super battle droids. With a flap of his cape, Dooku leapt over the railing and flipped down to the main floor, landing with the enhanced grace of the Force. “Get help! He’s a Sith Lord,” Palpatine warned.

Obi-Wan smiled and turned to the Chancellor, drawing his lightsaber from his belt, “Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our speciality.” He and Anakin removed their cloaks and ignited their lightsabers.

“Your swords, please, Master Jedi. We don’t want to make a mess of things in front of the Chancellor.” Dooku’s baritone voice, confident and honeyed, belied a menace that struck Valan to the core. As the Sith Lord drew his own blade, Valan raised his blaster to take aim at the battle droids, who themselves were moving to fire on the Jedi.

Obi-Wan and Anakin charged the count as a great sword fight began, and Valan opened fire on the droids, drawing their blasters away from the Jedi. The flashes and clash of lightsabers battled to outdo the explosions of blaster bolts, and in the large room, the echoes of the battle would surely have taken Valan’s hearing had it not been for his helmet’s sound suppressors.

Though he couldn’t devote too much attention away from the droids, it struck Valan that Obi-Wan and Anakin weren’t fighting as a unit. As he tried to keep his awareness omnipresent, he saw Anakin pressing the assault alone to kill Dooku while it appeared Obi-Wan was fighting to capture Dooku. The end result caused Obi-Wan to get in the way of Anakin’s killing strikes.

Seeming to notice and looking to capitalize on it, Dooku sneered. “Even now Kenobi considers you the novice, Skywalker, he seeks to claim your prize and maintain his superiority.” He struck confidently between the two, as his words seemed to drive the intended wedge.

Anakin threw a frustrated look to Obi-Wan as the Jedi interrupted another of Anakin’s strikes. In response, Obi-Wan merely averted his gaze, avoiding eye contact. Valan saw Anakin look to Dooku in realization his eyes going wide, though Valan didn’t follow what he suspected.

“Your moves are clumsy, Kenobi,” Dooku continued, “too predictable. You’ll have to do better.” With this, Dooku pressed the attack, lunging at the Jedi, and forcing them to fall back. Valan for his part dropped one the battle droids, and focused his fire on the other.

Dooku sneered at Skywalker, “I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.” At this, Valan noticed Skywalker adopt a severe look, and seemed to act even more recklessly. He struck heavier, faster, seeming to feed on the words that Dooku was spitting at him. It appeared to Valan that Dooku had awoken a raging bearsloth, and it forced the Sith to split his opponents to keep up. With an elegant parry and the press of an outstretched palm, Dooku lifting Obi-wan skyward with the force.

Anakin, believing to have Dooku distracted, charged anew at his opponent, a tactic that revealed Dooku’s trap. Now free to expose his flank to Obi-Wan, who was choking helplessly in the air, Dooku spun and delivered a devastating kick to Anakin, sending him into the control module to the side of the room. With a disgusted laugh, Dooku moved his other arm and sent Obi-Wan flying through the air to crash into Anakin’s crumpled form.

“You’re fools to believe that even were my arm to shorn from my shoulder I would ever be taken prisoner by the likes of you. I could beat you both one handed!” The sneer of the Count seemed somehow off to Valan, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. It wasn’t until he looked to Obi-Wan that he noted a shared sentiment between he and the Sith, as if a code of some form was passed. It struck him then that Obi-Wan and Dooku had some connection, perhaps a plan that they were about to enact.

Obi-Wan stood, even as Anakin had regained his composure and looks to him. Obi-Wan placed a calming hand on Skywalker’s shoulder and they shared an unspoken word and nod to each other. With frightening coordination and speed, they leapt in unison and attacked Dooku. Simultaneously, Valan distraction cost him, and the battle droid opened fire with complete abandon, pinning Valan behind the console he was using as cover.

“Trifle not with the affairs of Jedi,” he scolded to himself. His father warned him how distracting it can be, and how quickly it got undisciplined clones killed. Focusing on the immediate danger, and his part in this battle, targeting what he remembered his father saying the weak points on the old droids were. Shot after shot hit the mark, but true to his father’s words, the beastly droid refused to go down. He lost track of what the Jedi were doing, instead taking aim as best he could on the battle droid.

Without cover, and under Valan’s trained fire, the super battle droid faltered. Pressing his advantage, Valan aimed for the base of the head, hoping to get the neck. It was a tough shot, as the super battle droid typically tucked its head into the chest cavity during fights, but the purpose of the strikes his father taught his was to get the droid to falter and raise so it could look to the side. It was doing so now, and that was the opportunity he needed. He squeezed the trigger lightly, and the bolt struck true, launching the head into the air as the body stumbled and dropped to the ground.

With a whoop he stood triumphant, feeling pride and wishing his father could have seen it. Reality struck fast however, as he heard the hiss of a lightsaber and the pained cry of Dooku behind him. Spinning, he found Dooku dropping to his knees, holding the stump of his main hand. Kenobi stood defiantly over the severed digit, still holding Dooku’s lightsaber, as Anakin lowered his blade to Dooku’s throat.

Palpatine smiled from his bondage, “Good, Anakin, good. I knew you could do it.” His gaze lowered to the Sith, “Kill him. Kill him now!”

Obi-Wan shook his head and looked to Palpatine, “Chancellor, Jedi are not executioners.”

Mouth agape, Palpatine looked shocked at Obi-Wan’s refusal of his order. Looking to Skywalker, he again gave the order. “Anakin, you must … kill … him,” he emphasized.
Valan could see the conflict in the General. It appeared the young Jedi was fighting with the decision, and it appeared as if it was killing him. “I … can’t …”

Obi-Wan as well appeared to notice the conflict in his friend, and tried to defuse the situation. “He must stand trial for his actions, and he will reveal the identity of the other Sith Lord.”

Shaking his head, the Chancellor made his decision, “He’s too dangerous to be kept alive. The Chancellor’s guard isn’t prepared or capable of handling a Sith. The bureaucracy of the Courts are corrupt and far too slow in processes before he would inevitably escape.” He turned his gaze from Kenobi to Skywalker, “Imagine the danger he would present if he were to escape! The damage one like he could do on Coruscant! The deaths of countless innocents amongst the populace and the Senators. Anakin, consider the danger he would pose to your wife, Padme.”

Valan joined Obi-Wan in a moment of shock. His father had always told him Jedi were forbidden from having relationships, much less marrying, and the stories never talked about Skywalker having a wife. Obi-Wan looked to Anakin, and Valan followed his gaze. Anakin, looking hard at Dooku, appeared to have steeled himself, swayed by Palpatine’s words. Valan knew the look of a man determined, and Skywalker wore it in spades.

Obi-Wan reached a hand to his friend, and it was obvious that he was more pleading than asking, “Anakin, I feel the conflict within you, but Jedi do not kill the defenseless. Does that sound like the actions of the Jedi Master you wish to be?”

Whatever the two had in the past, the words must have struck a deep resonation within Anakin, but Valan suspected not in the way that Kenobi wanted. Anakin’s head lowered in sadness, eyes closed, and a moment passed while all the General’s emotion slowly drained from his face. After a moment, his eyes opened and he raised his head to stare cruelly into Dooku’s eyes, “But I’ll never be a Jedi Master, will I Obi-Wan?”

Valan knew what was going to happen next, and he saw Obi-Wan’s eyes widen as he too realized what Anakin intended. It felt wrong to Valan, but the Chancellor’s orders were clear, and he felt more an observer than someone who should be violently disobeying an order from the Commander in Chief. Make no mistake either, he thought, violence will be the only thing that stops this. In a flash, Obi-Wan made up his mind and his outstretched hand used the Force to yank Anakin’s lightsaber from his grip.

Rage filled Anakin’s face. Betrayed by his friend, and to save a grave threat to the Republic on top of it, Valan could see that reason had left Anakin for the moment. Using the Force, Anakin flung Obi-Wan against the wall, knocking him out, and angry and weaponless, reached out with his other hand to Dooku. With the Force, he lifted the Count into the air, Dooku’s eyes growing wider the higher he was lifted, choking and staring in betrayal at Palpatine.

To this, the Supreme Chancellor only laughed, and Valan felt the unmistakable call to move to him and free him as the events played out. Unbinding him, Valan’s vision blurred as the sound of Palpatine’s laughter, Dooku’s gasping, and the crunch of Dooku’s throat became a deafening roar in his ears. As he lost consciousness, Valan had the feeling of falling before he became keenly aware of pain lancing through him, as if a thousand needles had pierced his flesh.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tomo looked around her, trying to align the voice on the comlink with what she knew to be the world. She noticed that she was no longer in the armor of the Lady Mandalore, but instead wore no helmet, and Jedi battle armor. The coloring on the armor white, but bands of purple covered her shoulders and elbows. Attached to her back, a jetpack hung heavy above a cloak of brown.

Behind her stood what appeared to be 10 stormtroopers, though they wore odd skirts that Tomo was unfamiliar with, and their helmets were different than a stormtroopers would be. Their coloring was the same as hers, and instinctively she knew she was their commander, though she couldn’t rationalize why she knew it.

“General,” the trooper to her right spoke with the same clicking at the start and end as she heard from stormtroopers. “I believe we have a straight shot at that Command Droid.” He motioned over her shoulder at the fortress, and the huge droid tank that stood before it. “If we can get there and cripple it, the entire army shuts down and we win the day.”

“Don’t listen to Sevens, General,” the trooper on her left said. “General Windu ordered us to the front to defend him. He needs us down there,” he pointed to a crashed transport towards the front lines. The glow of lightsabers surrounded it, defending the crash site from the endless tide of droids that assaulted them.

Tomo looked from one to the other. If she could end this now, and save all the Jedi down there, she should do it. After all, she knew she was in charge of these troops, what good was being in charge if she couldn’t make decisions and had to follow the orders of others? She looked again to the droid tank thing, it was enormous, but she held a lightsaber. She knew they could cut through almost anything, and there were the troops behind her. The ridge was clear, and they had jump pack units that would let them fly from the ridge to the droid without having to fight any of the others.

Tomo knew she could do it. It was alone and exposed. She was more than capable with the others of taking it out and ending this. Turning to the troopers behind her, she ignited her lightsaber and nodded to the one called Sevens. “We fight. Follow me.”

With a burst of speed that required the others to use their jump packs to keep up, Tomo rushed along the ridgeline above the battlefield. Tomo felt the Force leap to her side, cold, calculating and exact, filling her muscles with energy and her mind with lethal precision. As she approached the ridgeline that was nearest to the Command Droid, she adjusted her wrist so that the jet pack activator was depressed and vaulted off the edge of the ridge. With a belch of fire, the jump pack jets ignited, launching her into the sky and controlling her descent towards the Command Droid.

The sounds of her jet pack were met with the replies of the troopers own. From the battlefield below, General’s Windu and Kenobi saw eleven shooting stars hurtle from the ridgeline down towards the Command Droid.

Tomo landed with a downward strike of her blade to what appeared to be the Command Droids shield generator. She felt the Force flow into her arms and legs, adrenaline fueled strength coursing through her limbs. Her strike landed true, and in a shower of sparks and rampant ion energy the unit exploded. The energy field that had provided it protection from the stray shots of the battle before it burst like a soap bubble, and Tomo’s ARC troopers let loose a torrent of fire as Tomo back-flipped from the droid and landed amongst her squad, deflecting any shots the droid launched their way.

“Press the attack!” she shouted to her troops, her head swimming from the battle stimulus and the Force’s razor-sharp focus, and moved a step forward to better protect them with her lightsaber. The ARC troopers dug in, blasting the Droid while she deflected its return fire, striking with her blade when there was a lull in the giant blaster cannons fire. The Force surged in her, allowing her limbs to flash with blurring speed, moving her from place to place in a blink and counter the Droid’s every move.

Little by little, the droid retreated towards the doors of the fortress, armored pieces falling from its torso as the withering hail of fire from the ARCs took its toll. Aided by strikes from her lightsaber, the droid began to falter, after repeated hits from the ARCs weapons, a giant gaping hole opened in its chest. Tomo heard one of the ARCs shout for a launcher, and within seconds a rocket struck the newly opened wound with a thunderous explosion.

The Command Droid, hopelessly crippled by the blast, ground to a halt, its weapon arms dropping limply at its sides. All around them the sounds of blaster fire began to slowly cease, first from the battle droids on the field, then from the troopers in the canyon that no longer needed to return fire. As the droids fell silent, the troops and Jedi alike cheered. She had done it!

As the realization dawned on her and lifted her spirits in triumph, she heard the doors to the fortress open. She smiled, her victory led them here, and now the gates opened to accept the victorious army. As she watched, the fortress slowly opened to Tomo’s army, but on the interior was not victory. Instead, waiting on the other side of the doors were two of the behemoth Command Droids! As she watched in horror, the droids on the battlefields snapped back to life, resuming their fire on the troopers.

Summoning the Force to her side, she felt a sickness take her as the mystical energy slip away, abandoning her. The ice cold energy that had made her such a weapon before evaporated as she reached for it, replaced by a dark, malevolent emptiness. She finally understood that the power she had summoned was not the life-giving wellspring of the Light, but instead the violent chaos of the Dark. Looking in defiance at the towering droids, she summoned her courage, something that she knew would never abandon her, and ignited her lightsaber to once again face her foes.

The hail of blaster fire was all-encompassing. Around her, despite her best efforts, Seven and the other troopers fell in a torrent of explosions and super-heated plasma. Desperately trying to deflect the shots and save her troopers, Tomo felt the burning pain of the heavy blaster fire tearing at her flesh. As realization of her overconfidence and arrogance overtook her, she saw the last of her troopers fall, and with a final cry of rage, the world exploded into a ball of light and then all went black.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Query; Were it not me, who would I be, Master?” The photo receptors on the droid flickered, clearly blinking in confusion.

Lil shook her head, “Hell, if I’m having a vision, why not bring an imaginary murder-bot with me?”

“Excuse me,” one of the dignitaries behind the energy field asked, “but exactly who are you, why are you dressed as a Jedi, and what is your droid doing guarding our prison cell?”

Lil raised a finger and was about to shoot a flippant remark about not being a Jedi when it suddenly occurred to her that she was wearing what looked to be a tan cloth tunic. The problem with this is that Lil hated tan, didn’t wear common cloth (it itched terribly) and preferred blouses and corsets to tunics. With a horrid, sinking feeling, she looked down at herself, and true to her pessimism, she was donned in Jedi armor. “Motherf-“ she stopped herself, realizing that she was stuck.

“Val Isa, is this your trick?” She looked around the room, ignoring the looks of insanity she was receiving from both the prisoners and HK. When the dead Jedi Master failed to respond, she looked at the young dignitary, “See? That’s why Jedi suck, they’re always messing with you and then going AWOL.”

“Can you get us out of here or not?” The dignitary asked again.

She looked to HK, “Can you deactivate this energy shield, HK?”

The droid looked around the hallway, and spotted a control bank before moving over to it. He had just begun to work at the controls when the sounds of boots on the hallway caused him to spin and raise his blaster towards the approaching figure. To Lil’s surprise, she recognized the approaching Jedi – sort of. Dressed in white plastoid and brown robes common to Jedi battle armor, Kryze descended the stairs at the end of the hall. At least, it looked like Kryze. She had only seen him without his helmet on once or twice, in downtime moments around the Temple. The man in front of her had the same neatly trimmed beard, and the same face. He also had the same brilliant blue eyes, though his hair was darker, more a sandy blond than a light gold like Kryze. It was also much shorter than Kryze’s, being neatly trimmed where Kryze wore his hair down to his shoulders and parted in the middle.

As he neared the group, the subtle differences in their nose and cheeks became clearer, and though the man was nearly identical, there was enough differences to prove to Lil that this couldn’t have been Kryze. This was confirmed as he finished his approach, and it became telling that he was too old to be the bounty hunter being closer to thirty than he was a teenager. Kryze had barely left his teens, so there was no way he could be the man before her now. “Hello, there,” he said in a rich Corsucanti accent eerily similar to Kryze’s.

“Obi-Wan, thank goodness you’re here!” the young dignitary shouted.

“Huh,” Lil replied. The new arrival looked confused.

“Commander Lillandria,” he remarked, “I’m glad another Jedi made it through the droids outside.

“I’m not a Je-“ Lil started, then remembered her robes and the fact she was in some stupid vision, “-pudu.” Putting her hands on her temples she closed her eyes and tried very hard to remain composed. Lil liked things her way. She did things her way. She knew though, that doing things her way didn’t always work to her benefit, and if she became too focused on herself things would only get worse. Resigning herself to riding this out as the Force intended, she looked to HK, “HK, can you get that force field down?”

“Affirmation; Of course, Master.” With a few button presses, the orange energy field flickered and dropped.

Nodding, Obi-Wan looked to Lil and the others, “We have very little time, they are going to bombard the fortress from orbit. The hangar is that way,” he pointed off in the direction that he came from. “Take the first shuttle you find and get out of here.”

The young dignitary looked at him with concern, “Where are you going?”

Obi-Wan smiled briefly, but then his look turned serious, “I’m going to make sure Grievous pays for this day.” He nodded and turned to go.

“Wait,” Lil shouted, “if we’re going to get shelled from orbit, then Grievous is going to get hit harder than anyone. You going off to settle some debt won’t help anyone but yourself. We need to get these people to safety.”

Obi-Wan turned, “I have to do this, Lil. I’ll be alright.”

Lil nodded, “Damn stubborn Jedi. You’re being arrogant, finishing a war that isn’t serving anyone. No wonder the Jedi die out.”

Obi-Wan stopped, turning, her words seemed to have hit a chord within the Jedi that she hadn’t expected. “You’re right. Let’s get to the shuttle. This way,” he smiled as he turned to leave.

Lil looked back to HK to make sure he was with them, but a cold wind on the back of her neck sent shivers down her spine. Dreading turning around, Lil slowly turned to face front again only to find a bleak corridor in front of her. Densely packed snow formed the floor, walls and ceiling of the corridor, the occasional irregularly placed white rubber mat breaking the snowy ground. White power coils ran the length of the walls at irregular heights, seemingly haphazardly placed on the walls.

The cold was noticeable, and she wrapped her arms around her to warm herself. To not much surprise, she was no longer in the armor and robes of a Jedi, but instead wore a strange a beige thermal bodysuit with a tan cold weather vest over it. Crème colored gloves completed the outfit, and to her relief a blaster pistol again hung in her gunslinger’s holster at her side. Behind her, HK stood staring at his surroundings.

“Query; Master, I believe the illness that has caused your delusions has found a way to replicate the effects in code.”

Lil laughed softly, “It’ll be okay, HK. We just need to figure out what the trick to this vision is and it’ll stop.” She started down the hallway, figuring the way she facing was as good as the way back. As she went, an explosion rocked the hallway, causing puffs of snow to cover her as chunks of the packed material fell from the ceiling, shattering nearby on the floor.
A male voice came over the loudspeakers, “Imperial troops have entered the base! Imperial troops have entered …” blaster fire, followed by static ended the transmission with an ominous finality.

Lil looked to HK, “We’d better move.” She began running through the corridors, hoping that the choice she was making would lead her in the direction of escape, or at least a hangar where she could get a ship. As she turned the corner, she nearly careened into a soldier, clad in similar colored cold weather gear.

“Have you seen Commander Skywalker?” He asked. “His snowspeeder crashed, but he should be here by now!”

Lil shook her head, confused, “You’re the first person I’ve seen.”

Panicked the soldier shook his head, “Vader’s here. Luke is the only chance we have of getting out of here alive.” Terrified, the soldier took off down the corridor.

Behind her, a strange sound caught Lil’s attention. A rasping sound, deep, ominous, and mechanical, echoed though the corridor. A coldness came over Lil, worse than anything the snowy corridor could produce, chilling not just her bones but her very soul. Without a doubt, she knew she was in the presence of the Dark side.

Turning, she saw a figure looming behind HK. It was a tall humanoid thing, clad from head to toe in pitch black armor. Black robes, not unlike those the Jedi used to wear hung from the armor and a black cloak clasped with silver chain draped the figures shoulders. A control box of some type was affixed to the armor’s chest and two smaller control boxes sat on each side of its belt.

“Points for the ominous wardrobe,” she muttered. As she watched, the snap-hiss of a lightsaber heralded the appearance of a crimson blade that extended from the black and silver lightsaber in the figure’s hand.

“Okay, I got nothin’. HK, run!” Lil turned without a second thought and rushed around the corner in front of her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bail smiled at the sight of the powerful figure. “Sheev, my good friend, of course you may. How can I help you?” Bail moved to take the Chancellor’s hand in a friendly handshake, as Palpatine placed his other hand on Bail’s shoulder.

“I’m afraid it’s Defense Councillor Skywalker,” the Chancellor began. “I have a great many duties to attend to, but I also need to speak with the Defense Councilor about going planet side. I was wondering, while I attend to the other matter, can you speak with Skywalker for me?”

Bail nodded with excitement, to be the personal assistant of the future Emperor of the galaxy? Hell yes, he could! He imagined the wealth and power that would come along with the position. There were definitely worse fates! “Of course, Sheev! What do you need me to tell him?”

The friendly smile of the elderly politician seemed at once to both brighten the room and lengthen its shadows, “Excellent! With the Separatists in retreat, I just was thinking that were he to go planet side, he could be there to personally free his wife, Padme from her incarceration. It would be heartwarming to have the couple there together at the end of the War.”

It seemed reasonable – the publicity opportunity was undeniable, who wouldn’t love to have a vidshow of the hero of the Republic saving his beloved from the evil clutches of the Separatist stronghold and ending the Clone Wars? Such a fairy tale ending would make the Republic seem as though it were divine in origin, and that would enable the government to make whatever policy it desired. Bail smiled, “I’ll go tell him right now!”

“Excellent!” The Supreme Chancellor of the Republic turned to leave, as did Bail. When he was almost out of the room, he stopped, turning and raising a finger as if he suddenly remembered something. “Oh, and Bail,” he started.

“Yes, Sheev?”

The smiling old man suddenly took on a much more sinister disposition, “I need you to impress upon Anakin the need to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi. He abandoned his troops planet side, and cannot be allowed to survive. Moreover, I believe he has feelings towards Padme, and may be seeking to keep her from Anakin.”

Still high on his future as a rich and powerful socialite, Bail merely smiled, “Of course, Sheev, anything for a friend.”

As Palpatine retreated to a side corridor, Bail turned and looked to the crew again. Standing around a large holographic display of a space battle, which Bail presumed was the one raging outside the viewports, was a trio of men. Two wore the sharp uniforms that Bail recognized as Republic navy. It looked very similar to the ones worn by Imperial naval officers, save for the coloring. It took a brief moment, but with shock came the realization that one of the two men was none other than Wilhuff Tarkin!

The third man must have been Anakin Skywalker as he was wearing the garb of the Defense Councilor, and Bail walked confidently to him. As he approached, a coordinator looked up to them from the control pit, “Separatist fleet in full retreat, Defense Councilor.”

Anakin nodded as the other officers smiled and congratulated their crews. “Excellent, I’ll go and inform the Supreme Chancellor.”

Bail held up a cautionary hand to the young man, “No need, Defense Councilor.” Anakin looked confused, but stood his ground, “I have spoken with the Chancellor and he wished me to extend his wishes.”

Nodding Anakin replied, “Of course, Minister Whill.”

“The Supreme Chancellor believes it would be a great opportunity for you to go down to the planet and be there when Padme and the Senators are freed. He offered you his shuttle to do so.”

Anakin looked conflicted, “I really shouldn’t, we’re not done with the fighting here, and I’m needed at my post.”

Bail chuckled, releasing his pheromones subtly into the air to make Skywalker more amicable. “You’re needed with the woman you love, Anakin. Besides, my good friend Wilhuff here can handle the stragglers here. You have the opportunity to be there when your wife is freed. Don’t pass that up.”

Anakin smiled, “You’re right of course, Minister. Captain Tarkin, you have the ship.”

Tarkin and the other man quickly stood to attention as Tarkin replied, “Yes, Defense Councilor.” Almost immediately, the strategist began organizing the fleet. Anakin moved towards the hangars, and Bail quickly fell in step.

“My boy, there’s something else that the Supreme Chancellor related to me,” he started, “a problem of sorts.”

Skywalker’s expression grew concerned, “What is it, Minister?”

Bail again let his pheromones waft towards Skywalker, and took a worried expression that he hoped would sell what he had to say next. “There’s a rogue Jedi planet side. He left his comrades to die and took off alone, I think he may be trying to get to the Senators and your wife.”

Skywalker stopped, “What?”

Bail nodded gravely, “the Supreme Chancellor said he believed he was dangerous. He wanted you to kill him, his name was Kenobi.”

The Defense Councilor lowered his head, and for a moment, a chill came over Bail. Moments later, Skywalker raised his head again, emotion drained from his face and a grave expression in its place. “I understand.” He turned to go.

Bail watched him recede down the hallway, and, despite having accomplished all he needed to, he felt cold and empty. He turned and went to his quarters, the chill in his bones and the solitude he felt pressing in on him like a great weight. As he opened the door to his room, the opulence of the place overcame him. Rare fruits sat in a basket on the serving table, Corusca Ice Wine on a plate, uncorked with a chalice waiting. Plush chairs covered in fine fabrics littered the room, and a grand canopied bed dominated the center of the room. Rare fabrics covered it, and draped it in finery. Bail moved to it immediately, and slid under the heavy covers, keenly aware of the chill in his bones. The touch of many fine fabrics and gentle plush pillows consumed him, but despite the heavy comforter and many layers of sheet, the cold still reached him.

As he pulled the covers higher, and drifted into a sleep, he couldn’t stop shivering, as if a draft was omnipresent and pressing. As he the darkness took him, he pulled the covers over his head, hoping beyond hope that warmth would reach him soon.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil rounded the corner and came to a stop. No snow met her gaze, no irregular floormats or power cables, no track lighting or omnious Sith monsters either. Ahead of her was only a small cavern lit by hundreds of faintly glowing crystal formations. As she looked around, she found herself in the center of a chamber full of what could only be Rubat crystals. Amazingly, she traced her steps back and found that somehow she had maneuvered around hundreds of sharp points of crystal to this spot.

She also saw that not everyone was so lucky. D’Jrem stood impaled on a large outcropping, having somehow walked right into one. Valan lay on the floor of the chamber, blood rushing from dozens of tiny cuts caused by small points on the ground. Tomo had walked into a walk of the razor like crystals, and Bail had somehow worked his way into a cage of the crystals, unable to move without cutting an artery.

HK was nowhere to be seen, which probably was for the best, but she still wondered why he was in her visions. She hoped it wasn’t because he had grown attached to him, even though she knew she had. Over her comm, she heard a familiar voice. “I don’t know if you can hear me in there, but you need to move!”

It was Kryze! Making sure her subvocal was still active, she replied quickly, “Kryze! What are you doing here?”

“HK and I spotted Imperial activity shortly after you headed out, we figured you might need back up. I’m with Thrace and Kara – we’re engaging the Imperial forces on the way to the caves, but we won’t be able to hold them long. Get the crystals and get out of there!”

Lil quickly gathered the others and freed them from their respective predicaments. After seeing to his own wounds, D’Jrem used the healing techniques he learned from Rav to start healing the others. Soon, they were all healthy enough to start moving, though none save Bail and Lil were happy about having to do it. Each had taken the crystals near them when they came out of their visions, as well as a few more for Kryze, Tam and V’brel.

Rushing through the chambers, they came across the remains of the Rubat Spinners, apparently they had killed each other in their conflict. Rappelling down into the canyon again, they boarded the ship and rushed the startup. The imperial troop carriers were just coming in as they lifted off, and though the Gem was an older ship, it was still faster than a troop transport. Breaking the gravity well under the cover provided by the Containment Group, it wasn’t hard to make it to hyperspace.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil dropped the crystal in place using the Force and clicked the housing cover shut. With baited breath, she held her finished lightsaber in front of her and thumbed on the activator switch. With a snap-hiss, the lightsaber sprung to life, its emerald blade casting the room in a strange green glow.

“Well done, Lillandria,” the Warden said, her stern expression softening into a smile. “The last of your skills are now complete.”

Lil looked up at the golden hologram, “I’m not a damned Jedi.”

The Warden smiled, “No, for that you must pass the Trials. But ask yourself this, how different from the Jedi do you believe yourself to be?”

Lil hit her saturation point, “The Jedi turned their back on the galaxy. When the chips needed to hit the table, they came up short. They forgot what they were and failed the whole damn galaxy.”

The Warden nodded, “Then perhaps it falls to you to fix their errors and remind the galaxy what a Jedi is supposed to be.” The glow faded before Lil could reply, which in the end, was both more frustrating, and totally expected.

She stood up and left her chamber. The others had made a deal that when they were done with their lightsabers they would meet in the main hall and show them off to each other. She walked to the main chamber, and found herself next to last. Bail, the last member to arrive followed her in and she stood in the circle with the others. To her left was Tomo, followed clockwise by Valan, D’rem ending with Bail to her right.

“Ready?” Valan asked. The others all nodded. He flipped the activator on his blade and a brilliant yellow light sprang from the hilt.

“Nice!” D’Jrem admired before igniting his own. Like Lil’s his blade was a brilliant emerald. Bail was next, igniting a citrine blade the same as Valan, bringing it to Lil. She noticed D’Jrem looking at her, almost as if he was specifically interested in what her lightsaber would look like, and it made her nervous.

“Okay, here we go,” she said, hitting the activation button. As her own green blade added it’s illumination to the others, D’Jrem almost as if he was relieved, but the look of comfort evaporated slightly as Tomo produced her lightsaber.

“Check this out!” she said, igniting a blade of purple, unique among the group. D’Jrem looked from Tomo to Lil, and for a moment she thought he was going to say something, but instead he just quietly nodded.

As the hum of the lightsabers filled the hall, Kryze arrived, as the lightsaber he had at his side, it turned out, he had built many years ago.

“Nice everyone,” he said, “So what’s next?”

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Hidden Depths Part 2
Chapter 1: Imperial Entanglements

The Corsuca Gem came out of hyperspace above the planet Phemis with the thrum of disengaging hyperspace engines. At the helm, sat Lillandria Joutael, foster daughter of Laird Joutael and his wife, Attie. She never thought about them much anymore, nor their son, Mino, it was times like this that she missed them most. Sitting behind the controls of a starship, hurtling through space. She felt bad for abandoning them, but the feelings that Lil and Mino started sharing were a bit much for her, while he wasn’t even remotely related to her, he was technically her foster brother, and that was one step removed from creepy. Taking up the mantle of running their spice supplies to the cartels seemed like the easiest route out of an uncomfortable situation. Laird wasn’t up to the dangers of smuggling, nor was his wife Attie, they were getting older, and spending less and less time in the operation. As such, Mino was being groomed to replace Laird as the boss of the mines, and so he had to stop making the runs to learn the production business. That left Lil, and she was more than happy to get away from the spice mine to do it, but it was under the light of the stars in the deep black that she most missed Mino’s smile and her foster parent’s wry humor.

She looked at the co-pilot’s chair next to her. Valan sat reviewing instruments, his brown hair falling over the metal that framed his cybernetic eye. He wasn’t ugly, the life of a soldier certainly kept him in shape, and his build was certainly more muscular than Mino’s lean spacer build, but where Mino had shining eyes that betrayed his mischievous nature, Valan had that glowing red light in his head. His other eye was brown, matching his dark hair, but it was even more frightening than the red one. It stared through you instead of at you, like it was always searching for something hidden out in the darkness. She caught herself wishing that it was Mino in that co-pilot chair, and quickly dismissed the thought. That was the past. It’s over now. Mino’s future is on that blasted rock making an illicit living through selling a controlled substance. Her future was raiding ancient tombs for lost lure and fixing the mess the Jedi left the galaxy in. Nothing was going to change that.

Valan’s faced soured, and for a second Lil feared he might have learned how to read her thoughts, but his attention to the instrument panel led him to look out the canopy windows above them. “Lil, sensors are showing we have an ImpStar Duece in orbit!”

Lil raised an eyebrow and leveled an irritated look at Valan. He had a tendency to assume everyone around him was a good little soldier, and most of the time he opened his mouth it required Lil to take a half hour to figure out what the stupid abbreviations he used meant. “A what?”

Valan shook his head, “Sorry, military cantor again. Imperial-Class Star Destroyer, Model 2. Imp, Star, Duece. It’s parked in planetary orbit, but our approach makes it hard to spot visually.”

Tomo sat up in the passenger’s seat behind Valan, “This planet was supposed to be unknown to the Empire.”

Lil held up her hands defensively, “It was supposed to be – that’s the whole reason why I was alright with leaving HK back at the Temple and flying the Gem myself!”

Valan took some more readings and sighed in relief, “It looks like it’s surveying the planet – she just shot down a group of probe droids. I doubt there are many troops ground side and certainly no permanent garrisons.”

Bail chimed in from the comm station behind Lil, making her jump in surprise, “We’re being hailed, I’m giving them the story that we’re delivering supplies to the local miners.”

Lil brought the ship around and heading towards the planet, there, floating above the copper ball of Phemis, was a single, wedge-shaped starship. Lil mused at how small the thing looked. She knew it measured over 1600 meters from bow to stern, but it seemed more like a child’s toy at this distance. She flipped the toggle on the transponder and adjusted their heading to point them towards one of the mining facilities on the planet. “Here’s hoping I don’t need to test my piloting ability …”

The sakiyan, D’Jrem had entered the cockpit module to see what was going on when they’d dropped from hyperspace. He now braced himself precariously in the doorway, “Why don’t we have HK with us, exactly?”

Lil rolled her eyes, they’re making a bigger deal out of this than it needed to be, “Because I don’t trust the Mandalorian we left back at the Dawn Temple as far as I can throw him – even with that jetpack of his, and Tomo and Valan have stakes in finding these crystals.” Of all of them, Lil figured only Tomo, Valan or HK had any real chance of stopping Kryze from doing whatever the hell he wanted, and out of those three, only HK didn’t need a crystal to build a lightsaber. It didn’t make her happy, but neither did leaving Tam and V’brel as the only barriers between Kryze and Val Isa’s holocron. D’Jrem looked as if he was about to make another comment, but Bail interrupted the attempt.

“Alright, we’re clear to approach the planet. That Imperial comms officer was a real hoot, she’s apparently from Tatooine, quite exotic sounding too.” A broad smile spread across the falleen’s lips and Lil shivered at the flash of memory it pulled. Despite Bail being true to his word and replacing her bed (with one Lil herself could never afford to boot) she still felt dirty just going into her quarters after catching him with those sorority girls.

“Ew,” she voiced, “Let’s just hope that the canyon Hethan and Kryze researched really yields the crystals we need. I don’t think we’ll have a lot of time down there. She angled the Gem planet side and hit the accelerator. The old freighter leapt forward and within moments they had passed the Imperial war ship and found themselves amongst the white clouds of Phemis’ atmosphere.

It took only minutes for the powerful ship to fly into sight of the valley that they were looking for. Valan sighed and shook his head, “Sensors are picking up where those probe droids went to …”

A sinking feeling overtook Lil, “Let me guess …”

Nodding, Valan leaned back in the chair and switched off the sensor suite with a frustrated clack, “Yep, they’re all over the valley below, only reason we caught them is that they’re running constant active sensor sweeps.”

D’jrem shook his head, “It’ll take some fancy flying to get in around them and set down in the valley.” He moved behind Valan and looked at the charts of Phemis’ surface, “We could always land here,” he said, pointing to a section at the head of the valley, “and try to sneak our way in on foot …”

Lil shook her head, the sinking feeling tightening, “I have a bad feeling about this.” She looked at the map with Valan and D’jrem, “How long would it take to hike in from there?”

D’jrem shrugged, “Four or five hours if we want to play it safe. The trick is maintaining our pace and heading in these cliffs. No telling how bad the canyon will be, and if we get caught without equipment, or worse, Imperials come after us, we’ll be out in the wind without the ship to use for an escape plan.”

Lil didn’t like it, walking in meant they still needed to face the probe droids eventually, and having the ship a five hour hike away meant that if Imperials showed up they wouldn’t be making any quick escapes. “I think I can get us in there. Worst case, we get spotted and we turn tail and run. I won’t have us caught out there without an escape.”

Valan nodded, but D’jrem looked unhappy. Lil jumped as Bail placed a hand on her shoulder and, in what was possibly the one instance where he wasn’t being creepy, nodded with a confident smile, “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. I measured the scan patterns on the droids based off their sensor emissions to the Star Destroyer, and I think I figured out a pattern, fly where I tell you, and as long as you can keep us off the cliffs I can keep us away from the droids.” Lil absently touched her neck, where Val Isa’s necklace hung loosely, and nodded.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As the Corsuca Gem set down in the bottom of the valley, Lil let out a heavy sigh. The course through the valley wasn’t easy, but it was a lot easier than she had expected. The Gem handled like a dream, and the valley had stayed open for the most part. They’d found a recessed part of the canyon wall, and with a few baited breaths, had landed safely, sheltered by the outcropping above. Lil hoped it was enough to shield them from any probe droids passing above, but she readied herself for a lightning raid on the mines anyway.

“It looks like the entrance to the tunnels is above us on the ridgeline,” D’Jrem was staring at the maps with a troubled expression, “but there are not paths up. It’ll be a straight climb.”

“We have some rope in the hold,” Valan mused, “but no climbing gear to speak of. Those rock walls look tough, too.”

Lil looked out the canopy. The walls of the canyon were rugged and bare. She couldn’t see any vegetation, but there was a texture to the walls that would account for handholds. It would be a hard climb, but not impossible. “We’ll have to chance it.”

Grouping up outside, Valan and Tomo took point. The most athletic of them, and far more skilled at free climbing, the duo took the rope and scaled the rock wall to the ledge with the cavern entrance. While Valan progressed on with a measured pace, hand over hand, picking the next move carefully, Tomo was far more primal in her ascent. With a preternatural grace, she leapt from one hand hold to the next, scaling the wall as if she was running along its face. While she moved far faster than Valan, she did so in a circuitous route, and when she finally landed on the ledge, Valan pulled himself up behind her moments later.

They affixed the rope to a secure location on the wall and uncoiled it down the wall to the others at the bottom. Lil was first to grab the cord, and with some maneuvering, made her way to the top without issue, followed closely by Bail. D’Jrem, waiting with his medical supplies to make sure that everyone had cleared the climb, ascended last. Though Lil couldn’t see what caused the accident, midway up the climb part of the wall gave way, causing D’Jrem to plummet to the hard canyon floor. Worse still, while the avalanche of rock and debris that came free when the wall gave way missed him, the thunderous sound echoed throughout the valley.

As the last bits of dust were still clearing, Lil could make out D’Jrem down below, waving to signal he was okay. Her relief at his health was quickly replaced with dread as the sound of repulsorlifts broke the silence. Around the corner to their left, a probe droid floated into the valley with them, its bulbous multi-eyed head turning to switch sensors repeatedly. D’Jrem took cover in the debris while the rest retreated into the cavern entrance, but it slowed to a stop not far from where D’Jrem was hidden, if well above him in height.

Lil knew it was only a matter of time that the droid spotted them, either via the clearing dust and their own flimsy cover or the droid switching to a thermal sensor and registering their body heat. Setting her jaw and throwing caution to the wind, she steeled her nerves and stepped out onto the ledge. She reached out her hands to the droid and retreated her senses into the Force, summoning it from deep within. She opened herself to the flow of it, and felt Val Isa’s presence fill her, emanating from her necklace like a guiding hand. She could feel the Force around her, inside her, surround the droid and the space the between. Summoning all of her strength, she willed a piece of the rock wall to detach from its moorings. She watching in amazement as a section of wall half again as large as the probe droid shatter and split from wall. Focusing her will, she envisioned the path the wall needed to take, and hurled the sheet of rock at the droid. The stone heeded her command, and flew into the droid with such weight and impact that the slab and droid both slammed into the wall on the opposite side of the canyon with a tremendous crash. A spark of electricity was all that could be seen of the droids fate for a moment until a shuddering explosion shattered the rock slab into fragments, revealing a deep score in the wall and the utter disintegration of the probe droid.

The others looked at Lil in a combination of appreciation and disbelief. Though she could feel their stares, she tried not to think about them, instead reaching out with the Force once again to envelop D’Jrem in its flow. She pictured him rising to the ledge, and the Force followed her wishes, fulfilling her will. D’Jrem looked panicked for a moment, but it quickly subsided when he settled softly on the ledge. “That was a much easier option than rock climbing,” he jested. The mood broken, they all shared a laugh before heading into the cavern.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They had been wandering the dark, rocky caverns for an hour when disaster struck. While wandering what seemed to be a perfectly average passageway, one of several such passageways they had been through already, an ominous crack could be heard above them. Flashing his glowrod up to the ceiling, D’Jrem spotted a glittering of something purple just moments before the ceiling splintered and fell, showering the group in jagged rock shards and choking clouds of dust.

Covering themselves as best they could, D’Jrem heard Tomo scream out as he saw a sharp spike of rock pierce her side. To his left, he saw Valan take a slab of rock to the face, the force of which send the big soldier to his back before he flipped onto his stomach to better protect his vitals. Lil and Bail seemed to be safe from the collapse, having taken cover against the walls of the passageway.

D’Jrem quickly moved to Tomo to check her injuries as Lil and Bail checked on Valan. Her injuries weren’t crippling, but would be painful and distracting until she healed. Turning, he saw Lil and Bail take a cautionary step back from Valan as he stood. The stone slab, while not damaging the cybernetic plate protecting his eye, had sheared the synthskin coverings from around it. Now flaps of artificial flesh hung off of his cheek, revealing cold, gleaming metal beneath. The extensiveness of the injuries that resulted in the need for his prosthetics was finally revealed, as the false enamel was shorn from the teeth, now appearing the same cold metal as the rest of his cybernetics. The look was frightening, and even though he didn’t have an aggressive demeanor, he looked monstrously destructive. He spoke in an even voice, “What the hell was that?”

D’Jrem took a moment to scour his surroundings for evidence of what he already suspected. He found it in small, purple resin-like shards amidst the debris proved his suspicions. “Rubat Spinners.”

Valan and the others looked at him with a confused expression, “What are Rubat Spinners?”

D’Jrem looked to the ceiling and found the tell-tale veins of webbing. He held the shard up to the light and shook his head, “Rubat Spinners are a race of large arachnid that feed off of Rubat crystals. They absorb the minerals and nutrients in the crystal, and permeates everything they produce, including their webs,” he shone his glowrod to the veins of webbing above him. “They make traps using their webbing. The stuff is as strong as a metal, so they imbed it in the rocks like a climber’s piton. Then they run it to their nest and when invaders enter the cavern they use it to trigger a cave in, crushing their would-be predators.”

Lil nodded her head, “So if they run these webs to their nest, and they feed off of Rubat, it’s likely they’ll be pretty close to their food source, right?”

D’Jrem shrugged, “It’s a sound theory, though I’ve never encountered them in person before. I can track them back and see for sure.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The group made their way along the corridors, following D’Jrem as he traced the webs back to their origin point. They had all began creeping along in stealth, as they were keenly aware that the webs of the Rubat Spinners would betray their presence even if they weren’t being actively looked for.

Their path had led them into a large chamber, not terribly deep but very squat. On the far side of the chamber, three tunnels continued on from the opposite wall, and on each end of their own wall a tunnel sat as well – the left of which they were standing in. D’Jrem confirmed that the webs ran directly into this chamber, and looking up, they could see hundreds of strands of the Spinner’s webbing covering the ceiling. Layered upon itself, the webbing formed a canopy that obscured the natural ceiling, giving the chamber a strange, bohemian look as the purple resin of the webbing glimmered against the light of their glowrods.

Laying midway through the chamber, near the entrance most directly opposite of theirs on the other side of the chamber, was the remains of some long dead miner or prospector. His grey and orange uniform rotted and frayed from its time in the cave, D’Jrem could see a satchel sitting at his side. Looking closely, the unmistakable form of rubat crystals spilled from the old satchel and were scattered about the corpse. Turning to the others he saw they, too, noticed.

It was beyond reasonable that the prospector may have a map of the caverns on him, or at the very least may have tracks leading to the main crystal chamber. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, and so, one by one, the group crept into the chamber, D’Jrem in the lead, and Bail bringing up the rear.

As Bail crept into the room behind the others, he noticed an odd gleam towards the center of the room. A stalactite descended from the ceiling, and in the dark of the cave, it appeared to have a dark purple hue in the gloom. As he watched, the gleam he spotted moved along the stalactite and was joined by another! He realize then that the gleam was not the play of light off of stone, but rather a sinister set of eyes! With the body of the prospector at his feet, and his friends around him, he realized the stalactite nearby was full of Rubat Spinners happily feeding off of the crystals in the prospectors pack! The spinner that spotted him turned to the others to raise the alert.

Bail looked around quickly and hatched a plan. Seeing the spider munching away on the crystals, he quickly pocketed the remaining and slid the empty bag to rest underneath the Rubat Spinner that followed him. The dust from the bag covered the arachnid in crystal residue, and as it chittered an alert to the others its mandibles became covered in the stuff. Two more of the large, shelled arachnids descended from the stalactite and looked to their broodmate. Seeing the empty bag of crystals, and seemingly remains of the crystal covering their brethren, the other Rubat Spinners hissed in anger at the first.

Caught with surprise, the first Spinner looked about, but by that time Bail had receded into the shadows with the others. Turning back to his angry broodmates it began chittering and descending the stalactite to get distance from them. Aggressively they advanced on their brother until, with a frightening swiftness, they leapt, attacking who they perceived to have taken their food. The three Rubat Spinners rolled in a ball, intent on killing each other.

In all the distraction, D’Jrem had noticed a trail from the prospector leading down one of the hallways. Apparently the prospector had grabbed more than his pack could hold, and fragments of shattered crystals that fell from his overfull rucksack littered the way deeper into the caves. Signaling the others, he slipped into the passageway and the group made good their escape.

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