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Master of the Sword: Ch. 1-4

 
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Master of the Sword: Ch. 1-4
 PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:28 pm Reply with quote  
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  Darth Skuldren
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Master of the Sword

"Dramatis Persona"

Leader of the Sith:
Tulak Hord - Dark Lord of the Sith, master of the sword and lightsaber

The Sith Council: formed by ten Sith Lords under command of the Dark Lord, each rules over a dozen inhabited worlds
Nasas Abim - a sound commander and leader, he is good friends with Sabah.
Husani Adina - one of Hord's generals, a thin and short tempered psychopath.
Sabah Daku - a tough and competent ruler of some of the unruliest Sith planets.
Gilga Erathipa - a large, indulgent man of many appetites, renowned for his good cheer.
Eees Illuka - one of Hord's nephews and husband to seven wives.
Benalla Luzige - one of Hord's cousins, a great thinker and inventor, a skilled Sith alchemist.
Khalos Nechos - ruler of the Sith's most significant industrial worlds, a staunch opponent of Hord.
Losi Pitaka - a Lady of the Sith known for her "Sith Giants" guard, she has a taste for precious stones and controls much of the Sith's mining worlds.
Daen Ottah - the beast master, he supplies the empire with their war beasts: the mighty behemoths, hydras, rhinos, and warbirds.
Mazul Serq - one of Hord's generals and Hord's right hand man, very capable and loyal, perhaps Hord's only true friend.

Part I
Chapter One

It is said that of all the masters of the lightsaber, there is but one who stands out above them all. One who mastered it in all its forms, perfecting its use into an art. One who achieved a level of skill and understanding of the blade such that no one could ever surpass him…
His name was Tulak Hord.

Ziost, Capital of the Sith Empire:

A cold wind blows over the vast evergreen forests of Ziost. Snow laden mountains stand in the distance, caped by low-lying clouds. The red skinned Sith go about their daily business among the vast city of stone and brick. At the heart of the capital lies a giant fortress dominated by its towering steeples. Within the inner sanctum of the palace, Tulak Hord sits in meditation upon his throne.

“Milord, one of your subjects wishes to speak with you. He has brought a gift.” Spoke the humble attendant as he knelt before the Dark Lord of the Sith.

The Dark Lord noted that his servant did not look at him while in his presence. This one knows his place.

“Very well, show him in.” Tulak Hord’s voice boomed in the massive chamber.

As was his right, he sat comfortably on a massive golden throne, high above the floor. Anyone who approached him was forced to look up. Those who dared saw not the face of a man but the black snarled image of a demon. It instilled fear into his subjects and even some of the Sith Lords. No one ever saw the face behind the mask, at least no one still alive.

In the distance, the large chamber doors opened. Walking past the griffon sentry statues flanking the door was the attendant and a small man. As they neared, Hord could see that the man was not a Sith, but an Arkanian. His long white hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Long, flowing orange robes dragged along the ground as he walked. Cradled in his arms was a narrow box.

The Arkanian was in awe of the throne room. Giant sculptured reliefs adorned the walls depicting battles between the Jedi and Sith. Great columns stretched up into the high ceiling. It was plastered with precious jewels. As he continued to gaze up he noticed that the stones were in the patterns of various star systems. But all the beautiful trappings of art failed to achieve the splendor of the sight before him. Even at a distance, you could feel the power emanating from that towering throne.

As he continued to walk closer, following the elaborately dressed attendant, he began to think to himself. If I had but a fraction of such riches, I could be a king. Perhaps the lord will be so pleased with my gift that he will reward me with a portion of his fortunes. I’ll be set for life. Spending nights with beautiful women, living in huge estates. I might even become the governor of some small province. From here on out I’ll never have another worry again.

Finally the two servants reached the base of the throne. Tulak Hord motioned his attendant to introduce the subject.

“Milord, this is Casigh Haltgarr, an inventor from Arkania. He wishes to present you with a gift in the hopes that it might please you, milord.” The attendant bowed and retreated several steps, thus leaving Haltgarr before the supremacy of the Dark Lord.

“You may speak servant. What is this gift you have brought?” The Dark Lord’s tone was deep and commanding.

Haltgarr placed the engraved metal box on the floor and knelt before the throne. He looked up and saw the figure sitting upon the golden chair, high above. The man wore thick, dark armor encrusted with shiny trim work and sparkling gemstones. A magical Sith sword rested in his lap, gleaming in the light. His sandaled feet revealed a set of red toes. It was the only part of his body that Haltgarr could see. And atop it all was a scowling black mask, devoid of life. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quite see the Dark Lord’s eyes.

“Your majesty, I have brought you a weapon crafted by mine own hands.” Gently he opened the box. Inside the padded lining, he revealed a strange device. “It is a lightsaber milord.” Haltgarr held the weapon out with both hands, letting in rest in his open palms.

“Your gift is worthless. I have several such laser swords. They are clumsy and ineffective. With but one stroke you can sever the power cord and the weapon becomes useless.” Tulak Hord’s tone was full of contempt. He made another gesture and the attendant stepped forward.

“But…but…milord, this is not like any other lightsaber. This one is cordless…look.” Carelessly Haltgarr ignited the lightsaber and its red-orange beam hummed in the silence.

Quickly the attendant drew a dagger and lunged toward the Arkanian but was stopped mid stride. Tulak Hord didn’t move, yet he held the attendant frozen in the Force. Haltgarr, still holding the glowing lightsaber, trembled in fear.

The Dark Lord’s voice echoed out into the chamber, “Let him be.”

Rising from his seat, Hord descended the steps of his throne. Sheathing his Sith sword, he approached the quivering Arkanian and held out his hand. “Give me this lightsaber.”

Without hesitation, Haltgarr handed the ignited lightsaber to Hord. A black gauntleted hand took the weapon. The Dark Lord studied the long metallic cylinder.

In his time, lightsabers consumed vast amounts of power. To keep the weapon energized, the user had to wear a separate power pack, usually worn on a belt. A power cord then connected the two. In close combat, against heavily armored foes, the weapon was very effective. It could cut clean through the opponent without resistance. Yet it was useless if the cord was severed and it was extremely difficult to guard against such an attack.

Suddenly the red-orange beam slashed through the air, splitting the attendant from left shoulder to right hip, cleaving him in two. He died without a scream. The cauterized halves smoldered on the polished floor. Curls of smoke rose into the air and mixed with the stench of charred flesh.

“Magnificent.” Spoke the Dark Lord, his black mask fixated on the glowing blade.

“You see milord, it is not restricted in…its freedom of movement, the power pack is all internal.” Fear filled his quivering white eyes. His face was pallid.

“Your gift pleases me servant.” Hord’s rich voice reverberated in his fearsome mask.

Haltgarr’s fear was again replaced with the visions of riches. His invention was a success. Now all his dreams could come true.

“You may go.” Spoke the Dark Lord.

You may go. No riches. No reward. Just his life. Completely shattered, the little Arkanian turned away defeated. All his work for nothing. Staring at the floor, he began to leave.

“A question before you go. Have you made any others?” Asked Hord, a curious hint in his voice.

With a small glimmer of hope, Haltgarr turned around and replied, “No milord, but I could make more…many more…enough to supply your Sith Lords and marauders.”

“And no one else knows of this weapon’s construction?” Asked Hord.

Haltgarr hesitated. “No milord, I built it myself.”

“You had no assistants, no helpers, you did not tell your wife, your children…” Inquired the Dark Lord.

“No one milord.” Haltgarr’s hands shook uncontrollably at his sides.

“Good.” And with one clean stroke, he lopped off the Arkanian’s head.

With a hollow smack it hit the floor. A burning ponytail followed it down. The body collapsed to the side.

Turning back towards his throne, the Dark Lord extinguished the humming blade. Slowly he ascended the steps and retook his seat. Oblivious to the carnage before him, he continued to marvel at the ingenious weapon. Thoughts spilled into his mind. What wondrous possibilities. An unstoppable sword. A symbol of my might and terror. All will tremble before me, even my Sith Lords. And I shall be the only one to possess its might.

Chapter 2

Ziost, Training Fields:

The Dark Lord of the Sith stood upon the cold surface of Ziost. In a barren field he wielded his lightsaber. Before him stood ten Sith battle droids, circling like wolves.

The droids’ servomotors whined as they moved. Slowly they closed in on the Dark Lord, inching their way closer. Tulak waited in anticipation.

Suddenly the first droid struck, leaping out as its actuators propelled into motion. A vibrosword hummed through the air as it swept over the Dark Lord’s head. Tulak simply ignited his lightsaber and split the droid in two. Sparking pieces of machinery fell to the frozen ground.

Two more droids lunged forward with force pikes at the ready. Deadly buzzing tips whizzed by Hord as he nimbly dodged the thrusts. A quick, circling sweep took both arms off one attacker. Followed by a graceful slash chopping the other in half. Without turning around, he simply jabbed his crimson blade behind him, finishing off the unarmed droid.

“Enough of this game…all droids engage.” Commanded Hord.

Acknowledging the command, all of the remaining droids attacked. In a frenzied rush, they charged. Hord savagely chopped them apart. Some were split in two, others severely sliced. Yet two stood unscathed.

Hord unleashed a portion of his vast fury upon the resilient droids. His red blade skimmed across their armor but didn’t pierce it. He extinguished his blade.

“End engagement.”

Dutifully the droids obeyed.

Mazul Serq approached the two droids left standing. He wore brown leather armor segmented with gold clasps and cords. Like Hord, he wore a grim helmet that hid his face.

“Interesting. This lightsaber seems to be more effective than normal.” Lord Serq examined the superficial damage caused by Hord’s blade.

Hord watched the man. Serq was a Sith Lord, a ruler of four systems and 18 inhabited planets. He commanded one of the largest fleets in the Sith armada. Of all the Sith Lords, he posed the largest threat to Hord’s rule. And yet he was the Dark Lord’s most trusted advisor. He was his only friend.

“The higher grade Mandalorian iron seems to have worked quite well…pity it was so difficult to procure.” Lord Serq looked over at Hord.

“What about the other one. How much damage did the new substance withstand.”

The other droid had two shallow grooves burned across its chest plate. Small tendrils of smoke curled out from the jagged edges of the cut. Yet its internal circuitry remained untouched.

“Just grazing damage. It would take three or four precise cuts to get through the phrik armor plates.” Turning to gaze at the wreckage of the mutilated droids on the ground, he remarked, “I can’t believe that lightsaber cut through the cortosis and Sith alloys. We’ll need to try and increase the purification process. Lord Benalla is going to throw a fit when he hears 80 percent of his armor designs failed.”

“I’ll deal with Benalla.” Hord looked up at the sky, a shuttle was breaking through the atmosphere. “Nechos. I was not informed of his arrival, his boldness is getting worse by the day.”

At the edge of the field a scraggly courier raced across the clearing.

“You should really carry a comlink Tulak, your subjects will kill themselves just trying to deliver messages.”

“Haven’t you noticed Mazul, these servants are the ones Lord Nechos gave me as a gift when he conquered the Ralos System.” Hord looked at the courier struggling to run across the field. “I could care less whether they lived or died. They’re all spies anyway. The sooner I’m rid of them the better.”

Finally the heaving servant arrived with the message. Steam rolled at of his mouth as he tried to speak. In his quivering hand was a parchment with a scrawled message.

Lord Khalos Nechos requests the audience of the Dark Lord of the Sith Tulak Hord. His entourage shall be waiting in the palatial chambers when you are ready.
Signed Lord Nechos.

“Entourage!” Fumed Hord. “I don’t have time for his games.” He looked at the courier, fully entrapping the servant’s attention. “Run. Run until the life in your soulless body evaporates like the morning dew on Korriban. With your dying breath inform Lord Nechos that his audience has been refused.”

Every word from the Dark Lord’s mouth dripped with the bitter poison of the dark side. Mindlessly the servant accepted his orders and began sprinting back across the field. The unmerciful powers of anger and hatred swelled in the courier’s brain pushing him beyond the physical capabilities of his body.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ziost, Dark Lord's Palace, Waiting Chambers:

Lord Nechos turned away from his fellow guests when a loud thunder shattered through their conversations. The rooms heavy cast doors clanged against the durasteel walls. A courier stood in the doorway, his silhouette illuminated by the setting sun. Slowly the ragged messenger limped his way into the room. His hands were clasped to his sides in pain. His lungs grasped for air. As he approached Lord Nechos, he collapsed to the floor. With a wheezing grasp he spoke, “Lord Tulak Hord…declines…your…audience!”

And with that the poor servant died of exhaustion.

Stunned in disbelief, Nechos looked at the lifeless body before him. A member of his entourage stepped forward and quietly remarked, “Perhaps you should wait on presenting your demands, milord.”

Nechos turned to his assistant. His focus narrowed. A look of irritation crossed his face.

“Nonsense! Lord Hord may be the Dark Lord of the Sith now, but he still must listen to his people. I am in command of over a dozen worlds. He will listen to my council whether he likes it or not. His position requires more than playing with toys! All he does now is swing his electro thing through machines and…and…my servants! How dare he spend their lives like some commodity!”

Barlos, Lord Nechos’ assistant, spoke up once again. “I think your spies are no longer of need, milord. It seems the Dark Lord is in agreement.” A small grin dared to cross his face.

Nechos chose to ignore it.

“Well I’ll not be kept waiting. Let us see what Hord is cutting up today.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Ziost, Training Fields:

Lord Serq crooked his head around his shoulder to catch a glimpse of a figure crossing the field. The figure was followed by at least six others.

“Well Tulak, it looks like Nechos got your message. I’m surprised he came out. He must have something serious to discuss.”
Tulak looked at Mazul then back at the small figure approaching. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to his lightsaber drills.

“If he has something to say it is only fitting that he should come to me. The sooner he realizes the chain of command the better.”

Lord Nechos slowed his march as he neared, making as dignified an approach as possible, under the circumstances. He kept his distance from Hord as the Dark Lord’s crimson blade swept through the air.

“My Lord, may I have a moment of your time?” Nechos asked with a slight bow.

Tulak extinguished his lightsaber and turned toward the Sith Lord. Nechos was a pain in the Dark Lord’s side but no matter how unruly he was he maintained a position of importance. Lord Nechos commanded the manufacturing heart of the Sith Empire. Without his factories the Sith armadas would falter, the army would ground to a halt, and his subjects would starve. And yet after years of searching, he still couldn’t find a replacement for Nechos.

“Very well, make it quick.” Replied Tulak Hord.

“Between Lord Serq and Lord Adina the bulk of the Empire’s resources are being squandered on futile border skirmishes. If we are to create a lasting empire then we need to invest in infrastructure my lord.” Nechos swept a hand to his servant, Baralos, and received a piece of parchment. He handed it to Hord.

“Hmm…these figures are rather substantial Lord Nechos. Are you sure you need this much to simply industrialize your worlds or are you trying to build your own fleet?” Hord’s accusation hit home.

“I assure you my lord that these figures are appropriate. Machines are not cheap and neither is labor. Prosperity comes at a price-”

“-and yours shall be denied. Lord Serq and Lord Adina’s fleets are expanding the Sith Empire and its greatness. The more worlds they capture, the more resources we gain. You would do well to support their efforts and maybe you would reap the fruits of their labor.” Hord turned his back on Nechos, the conversation was at an end.

Nechos and his followers turned and began their way back but were stopped by one last comment.

“And Lord Nechos, regardless of today’s events, I expect to see your manufacturies to increase their yields by the end of the month. Put your efforts to good use.”

The gall! Good efforts! Hmpf! Nechos stomped away infuriated. Hord was intolerable.

* * * * * * * * * *

Galduron System, fringes of Sith Space:

At the helm of a Sith battleship, Lord Husani Adina stood at attention among his command crew. Out beyond the transparsteel viewport was a large green planet. Its forrested suface was broken by vast rivers and low level mountain ranges. Breaking out of its atmosphere were twenty various sized defense vessels. It was all the planet could muster.

“Milord, the planet’s defense fleet is on an intercept course. Orders sir?” Asked the helmsman.

Lord Adina, hands clasped behind his back, stood quietly. His eyes closed half shut. “Do not open fire. Hold positions. Maintain full shields, keep weapons at the ready but do not target the approaching vessels.”

The helmsman relayed the orders to the fleet. Three Sith battleships sat patiently in the black void of space as the enemy ships approached.

“Open a comm with the enemy defense fleet.” Ordered Lord Adina. A ping issued notifying that the comm was open. “Galduron defense forces this is Lord Husani Adina of the Sith Empire. I have come to gain the mutual cooperation of your people as part of a greater society, one of progress and stability. Give us your allegiance now or suffer the consequences.”

Adina signaled to end the transmission. Without pause he ordered, “helmsman have all gunners target the enemy flagship and fire without haste.”

“Right away milord!” Rapidly the helmsman relayed the order and the three Sith battleships opened fire.

Eighteen ruby red beams of light soared through space. In brilliant explosions of white, they erupted upon the hull on the Galduron flagship. The vessel's shields were overwhelmed and the ship's armored hide splintered under the relentless attack. Debris scattered as the ship was engulfed by a flowering blue fireball.

Adina nodded to the communications officer. The comm pinged. “Galduron defense forces I repeat, give your allegiance now or pay the consequences.”

This time he waited for a reply.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ziost, Palace Command Center:

“My Lord, the Galduron system has been conquered. Their forces have sworn allegiance to our empire. Lord Nechos will be pleased with the new source of raw materials to fuel his factories.” Came Adina’s voice over the holocom feed.

“Do not worry about Nechos, his demands will not interfere with your supplies and reinforcements.” Replied Tulak Hord. “You did well Lord Adina, the Empire will be well served by your work. I will be sending troops for the occupation of our new allies. Lord Ottah has promised me some of his finest war beasts for the job. Put them to good use.”

“Most certainly my lord, I’ll look forward to the integration of Galduron’s population. I think there opposition will be kept to a minimum. I shall report back when things are under way. Until then Dark Lord.”

Tulak Hord stood in shinning black armor decorated with gold trim. His black helmet hid the smile on his face. His empire was growing. Soon the Sith would have a force to be reckoned with. One the galaxy would do well to stay clear of.

He looked down at his right hand. His ebony gauntlet clutched his lightsaber. It was such a fine weapon. Too fine a weapon to be without. Just holding it in his hand made him want to ignite it. To feel the thrum as the energy blade crackled through the air and resonated with its power. It was pure.

In the silence of the chamber Tulak Hord swore that he could hear the weapon calling his name in a seductive whisper. It was a command he could not refuse.

Chapter Three

Once a year the Sith people leave Ziost to journey to their homeworld of Korriban. Ever since the death of their first and only king, King Ajax, the Sith race have resided on Ziost. In turn they made Korriban a graveyard world. And so they bury shallow graves on Ziost, then, during the Week of Tidings, they return to Korriban to bury the dead. For it is written that “all Sith should find eternal slumber in the shifting sands of Korriban, and until then, their spirits will wander the astral realms of chaos for eternity.”

Now that the early summer winds of died down, the Week of Tidings has begun…

Korriban: Valley of the Sith Lords

The sun was high and the heat shimmered on the desert sands. It was the summer months and the winds had calmed. Today nearly two thirds of the tombs were visible. Shifting sands were in their favor.

“Lord Tulak, your people are ready.” Replied one of the head priests.

The Dark Lord of the Sith turned his gaze toward the crowd before him. They all stood in the desert before the gentle slope that led into the vallley of tombs. Some hid under impromptu pavillions, others under umbrellas of varying sizes and colors. Those worthy of being Sith braved the midday heat without such comforts. Tulak himself was laden in roughly 25 kilos of black and gold armor. Rather than shielding himself from the heat with the Force, he embraced it. The discomfort seemed to give hims strength. It emboldened him.

“Very well head priest, let us begin the ceremony.” Tulak stepped on to a platform that was hoisted up upon the shoulders of half a dozen servants.
Standing above the crowd, he began his address. “Fellow Sith, we are gathered here today to bring our dead home, to celebrate their lives and carry on our traditions.”

He paused to gauge their attentions then continued, “As our empire expands many new peoples are brought under our fold, but we must not forget our past.”

Raising his massive sculpted red arm, he reached out and pointed toward the farthest end of the valley. “This year we have been mightily blessed, for the tomb of our greatest ancestor has been uncovered fo the first time in over 500 years. Today I will pay my respects to King Ajax and the Dark Lords who followed him. Let us not forget what has happened, what might happen again. It is a lesson we should not forget. In times of peace on must secure it by preparing for war. The Rakata came and our ancestors triumphed. When the time comes for antorher foe, we shall do the same.” Hord’s thunderous voice echoed long after his words stopped.

His people looked at him with awe and respect.

Tulak reached into a large satchel that was slinged around his neck and unsheathed a gleaming oynx battle axe forged by the best Sith alchemists of a long dead era. He heaved the hefty axe above his head and shouted, “Let us return to our ancestors what is rightfully theirs!”

The people cheered.

The mighty axe of the Sith’s only king would be finally brought back to its resting place after a hundred millenia. It was truly a great day for the Sith.

Lords Adina and Serq beamed with pride at their master. Being warriors, they greatly admired what Tulak was doing. All warriors deserved to be buried with their weapons. It was a matter of honor. The past was being set right. King Ajax’s weapon would be returned.

Meanwhile, Lord Nechos looked on in disgust. He saw a great emblem of the Sith being buried away under an ocean of sand. Sch items possessed great symbolic power and the mere sight of them could stir a peopl into a frenzy. With that axe he could have challenged Hord’s title as Dark Lord of the Sith.

Behind Nechos stood another of the ten Lords of the Sith. Sabah Daku wore a full length, violet, armor-mail coat. An elaborate headress crowned his bald, red skinned scalp. Beneath the ornate hat was a pair of piercing almond eyes. Those eyes looked at Nechos and saw a tuk’ata, a hound native to Korriban. True to form, Nechos was circling his prey. Yet when Sabah gazed at Hord, he did not see a great Lord of the Sith unifying his people. Instead he saw the bloody face oof his dying friend, gasping sickly for air. Those gray eyes staring intently, then slipping away into the void. And ten steps away, the new Dark Lord of the Sith was triumphantly cherishing his victory.

Even after all these years, Lord Daku had never forgiven Hord. He vosed to himself that he never would.

Spilling his cup as he cheered, Lord Erathipa congratulated his master. “Lord Tulak! Let us decorate King Ajax’s tombe and toast to his glory!”

Erathipa’s big smile brought cheer to Tulak’s heart. Before him stood a very large man of great girth and yet he was the happiest man Tulak had ever met. He was sure that never was their a Sith with more cheer.

“Yes, let us drink to the greatest Sith there ever was!”

All those around rose cups and wineskins to their mouths in honor or their king.

As the sun set, the Sith put their dead to rest and held feasts before the tombs. All throughout the valley people gathered around fires and shared stories of those now set into the desert hard pan. They drank and ate and were happy.

Befor the jade palatial tomb of King Ajax, stood a massive tent. Gathered beneath it was Hord and his Sith Lords, along with their families and servants. Goblets were raised in numerous toasts and their were plenty of roasted beasts to be eaten by all. At this celebration no one would go of thirst or hunger. Much of the casks of wine and tables of meat were passed outside so that all the Sith could enjoy. It was a time of celebration.

As the night wore on, even Lord Nechos and Lord Tulak were laughing and jesting with eachother. All animosity had been evaporated by drink and good spirits.

All except Sabah Daku.

Each drink went down harder and faster than the last. The more Tulak smiled, the more Sbah’s hatred burned. Blood shot eyes glared at Tulak with anger. Vengeance begged to be had. Tradition demanded it. So did the dead.

A cold, rasping voice whispered in Sabah’s ear. “Look at him Sabah. He took my title, my life, and now he gloats for all to see, even the dead.”

Murderer.

“They worship him like a king, all because he returned Ajax’s battle axe. If I’d lived, I could’ve done that…and you would have been there at my side…to share the glory.”
Murderer.

“Friends live on…even in death Sabah. Remember me…” The voice disappeared into the desert night, perhaps slipping back into its tomb. But inside of Sabah, the dark side swelled-

“MURDERER!” Sabah screamed.

He threw his drink to the ground and drew his sword. The mingling crowd before him quickly parted. Tulak Hord stood defiantly, studying his opponent.

Sabah charged, his sword held high over his head, screaming curses as he ran. As he approached Hord, Sabah’s sword swung in an exaggerated arc, flying over his shoulder and coming down hard on Tulak’s armored pauldron. The blow dropped Tualk to his knee. He looked up at Sabah and grunted as he returned to his feet.

Undetered, Sabah brought the sword back up for another swing. Wild rage filled his burning red eyes.

Calmly Tulak spoke. “That was it Sabah. You only get one strike, no more.”

The strenght of command in that voice was untouched by the poisoning fingers of alcohol. It quickly sobered Sabah to his senses.

“You murdered my friend Hord. For that I can never forgive you.” Replied Sabah.

Hord’s cold black eyes studied him for a moment, peering into the man’s soul. “I don’t ask for your forgiveness, Lord Daku, only your service to your people. Only the strong may rule. You know our ways. Things our as they must be. The dead die so that the strong may live. They are the foundation of our people.”

Sabah looked into Hord’s eyes and listened to his words. He dropped his sword and turned his back. No more celebrations tonight. Sabah was done remembering the dead. It brought only pain.

In a distant corner of the the tent, surrounded by his entourage, Lord Nechos watched with a magnificent, radiating smile. His eyes saw a Sith Lord skulking away in defeat. However, his mind saw an ally.

Chapter 4: "Expanding the Empire"

Uncharted System just Outside current Sith Space:

A small Sith Battle Group lies in the black, star speckled blanket of galaxy. At 215 meters, a lone Sith Battleship waits to be unleashed. Seven gunships, a respectable 75 meters each, wait along with it, and so do a couple dozen pickets. Beyond their sensors is an inhabited system. In time, it will be just another colony of the Sith Empire.

Lord Serq stands ominously on the battleship's bridge. Seven feet of dark- clad, heavy armor.

"Father, why do we strike in such small numbers? There are dozens of battleships in your fleet, why send only one?" Asked Raza.

The Sith Lord looked down at his son. He was twelve today. Small, red, fleshy tendrils were beginning to sprout underneath his nose. He was a pure blood Sith, like him. Red-skinned, left-handed, and force-sensitive.

Raza was skilled in the Force and learned quickly. And like his father, he had a knack for Sith magic.

Serq answered his son's question. "When a task is easy, you learn nothing. When it is difficult, you learn much."

Raza paused to consider this.

"Lord Serq." Spoke the comm officer, "our reconnaissance ship reports the enemy fleet has finished assembling."

"Good. Everyone knows their orders." Serq nodded to the ship's captain. "Vend, you'll take command. Wait for my signal."

* * * * * * * * * *

The native inhabitants of the system called themselves the Paal'suul. Several weeks ago they had the good fortune of coming across a spy within government. By sheer chance his disguise got caught in a transit door and his true identity was revealed. After an in depth interrogation, the red-skinned spy spoke of a vast empire led by supernatural beings. With a bit more effort, he talked about his mission. Just before he died, the poor soul broke completely.

The Paal'suul learned of the Sith fleet planning to invade their system. They had two weeks to prepare. All was ready.

One hundred and seventeen vessels of war were assembled.

They were light cruisers by galactic standards. The Paal'suul classified them as destroyers or Sen'kan. Each was forty meters long and armed with two energy cannons or two missile launchers. Through numbers, they sought strength.

"Admiral, are sensors have detected distant ships outside the system." Replied the Chief Navigator.

Admiral Gran'dul, commander of the Paal'suul Defense Fleet, beamed in anticipation. "We will crush these invaders yet! Signal all ships, full speed,
we will meet these devil's head-on before they are ready."

And so the Paal'suul fleet rushed out to engage the Sith.

Gran'dul's ships, holding the numerical advantage, swept out and surrounded the small Sith fleet.

The Officer of the Deck approached Gran'dul. "Admiral, the Sith have established communications, they wish to speak with you."

"Fools." Replied Gran'dul sharply. "They think there dark powers can defeat us. We will wipe them out before they get a chance!"

The Admiral turned to the Chief Weapons Officer. "Have all ships open fire on the large vessel, will send their commander to the depths first."

Instantly, the entire Paal'suul fleet opened fire. Over a hundred and fifty purple beams of plasma and nearly a hundred ionized missiles streaked out across space, slamming into the lone Sith Battleship. Its heavy armor withstood half a volley before being breached. In the dead silence of space, the glowing explosions engulfed the ship like a plague of fiery blossoms. Eerily the giant vessel began to bend at the center, then it separated into two.

The crew, on Admiral Gran'dul's Sen'kan destroyer, erupted in cheers. Before them was the crippled remains of the Sith's flagship.

"Sir, Sir...ADMIRAL!" Shouted the Officer of the Deck.

Gran'dul shifted his attention. The stern face of his deck officer brought him back to reality. "What is it?"

"Sir, we have multiple ships appearing behind us at two separate approach vectors." The deck officer spoke calmly.

* * * * * * * * * *

Serq could see his battleship erupting in flames, splitting in two. Hundreds of energy beams and projectiles tearing it to pieces. Trembling, the image
in his mind's eye began to flicker.

"Now!" Commanded Serq.

The mass illusion had taken its toll on his body, but it worked. Now, as he regained his senses, he saw the current overhead display of his forces.

Four gunships attacked from one vector, three gunships and his battleship attacked from an opposite one. Both groups were now poised to attack
the Paal'suul from behind, their attention still focused on the vanishing illusion. Their forces were spread thin.

Volleys from the Sith ships evaporated the enemy's Sen'kan destroyers. Blazing white fireballs opened holes in the Paal'suul encirclement. Debris choked up space like a clouded asteroid field.

"We have them now, Lord Serq!" Replied the battleship's commander, Captain Vend, enthusiastically.

Serq looked at his son. "You see, the art of war is deception. We took away the enemy's numerical superiority, ensured the element of surprise, and divided their forces by attacking from two directions."

Raza stared up at his father in awe. Serq smiled back.

Outside the Paal'suul ships continued to be vaporized while they struggled to turn their vessels about.

* * * * * * * * * *

Admiral Gran'dul stood still aboard the bridge. The exploding ships presented a surreal mosaic. Silent death. His body felt numb with shock.

"It's over." He muttered under his breath. "We've lost."

The deck officer turned to his commander. "Admiral, should we offer terms of surrender?"

Gran'dul looked hard at his second in command. If he surrendered, the rest of his men might be spared.

He looked at the situation map. Green patchworks of lines tried to establish imaginary quadrants of space. Blue dots, representing his fleet, were steadily winking out. The yellow dots were stationary. They held two opposing positions that were tearing the Paal'suul fleet to shreds. Of a hundred and seventeen vessels, he had already lost thirty-eight.

Gran'dul's voice was haggard and subdued. "Command all ships to hold fire, open me a channel with the Sith commander."

As the Paal'suul ships ceased firing, the Sith forces followed suit. The comm display on Gran'dul's bridge opened with a burst of static. Out of the
white and black speckles, an image appeared. A red-skinned being clad in dark, savage armor. His voice was deep and resonate.

"I am Lord Mazul Serq, commander of this fleet. Am I speaking with the being in charge of the "Paal'suul" forces before us?" Asked the booming warlord.

Gran'dul took a moment to gather himself. "Yes, I am Admiral Fann Gran'dul, Commander of the Paal'suul Defense Fleet. We wish to offer a surrender."

The Sith commander measured the man before him with reservation. "Under what terms?"

"Under the circumstances, I'd say that depends on what you want." It was a smooth reply.

Lord Serq stood silently on the display screen. "Pledge allegiance to the Sith Empire. Your people will go on as they have before but a portion of your systems wealth, materials, and manpower will be given to us. Your military vessels will be handed over. Your military forces will be inspected
and some will be integrated with ours. Occupation forces will be placed in your system. In return we will not wipe your civilization from existence."

A hard lump went down Gran'dul's throat. All the rights of his people would be thrown away with such ease. But they would live.

* * * * * * * * * *

Serq signaled for the comm to be silenced, the feed continued but the sound was cut off. He turned to his ship's captain and his son.

"He's not going for it." He replied.

"But Lord, how can you tell? Why would he throw his life away, there is no way his forces can triumph." Captain Vend replied.

"I've asked him to give up everything. Any less of a man would accept as long as his people's lives were spared. But this one...he has pride. Rather
than lowering himself and his people to servitude, he would fight to the death. I would do no less. For that I admire him." Spoke Serq coolly.

He looked back at his son, gaining his attention. "You see, it had to happen this way. We sent spies to make sure of it. They made sure the Paal'suul
would muster their forces in retaliation, thus allowing us to eliminate any threat they might pose in one fowl swoop. It quickened the process. Now we will destroy their entire fleet, sparing none." He paused in thought.

"It's a shame to have to destroy the vessels, for we could use them. But there is more to gain from their destruction. It will be symbolic of our power. When the inhabitants of their world look up to see the victorious return of their massive fleet, they will see but a handful of our ships. They will see what one Sith Battleship can do. In the future we could quell any threat or rebellion by sending five or six battleships. For if one could destroy their fleet, half a dozen could surely destroy their world. They will be under our complete control." As the words rolled out of his mouth, a sinister smile crept across his face.

Raza smiled too.

* * * * * * * * * *

"What's going on? Why did we loose sound?" Asked Gran'dul.

The comm officer checked his equipment readings. "Everything appears to be fine sir, they must have cut sound on their end."

"Bloody devils." Muttered the admiral. "Probably gloating over their victory."

He turned to his crew. "Men, the situation is dire. Out fleet holds no chance of defeating these savages. I ask you now where you stand. Shall we
give in and hand our people over into subjugation with some alien hierarchy or should we stand where we are and make them pay a price for their victory."

The crew looked around at each other. Familiar faces, drawn but not yet defeated, gazed at the eyes of their comrades, gathering their courage.

The Chief Gunner was the first to speak out, "Sir, I'd like a shot at em' before we turn over our families into their hands!"

"I'm for making a stand as well, Admiral!" Shouted the navigator.

Soon everyone was voicing their agreement.

Admiral Gran'dul nodded his head in approval. "Then let us make them pay a cost they'll not soon forget! Let us spill their blood into the void!"

Triumphant cheers rang out on the deck.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord Serq noted the commotion on the comm screen. "It seems they've made their decision. Reopen the comm."

The Paal'suul's cheers began to calm down as the comm's ping interrupted their celebration.

Admiral Gran'dul straightened his uniform and stood dignified before the comm screen projector. "Lord Serq, I'm sorry to say we decline your gracious offer, but my people's freedom is worth far more than that. Please send my regards to the maker."

Static filled the screen as the comm transmission cut off. It was followed by a simultaneous volley of energy blasts.

The bridge shuddered from the incoming fire.

Serq looked at the captain. "Well...return fire. Now we end this."

Sith blaster cannons and auto-lasers sprayed out into the Paal'suul fleet. Ships on both sides took fire. The heaviest barrages fell upon the Sith
Battleship. Yet even the concentrated volleys from half the enemy fleet was not enough to pierce the monstrous hull of the Sith ship. Sith metallurgy was far more advanced than the primitive plasma weapons these beings possessed.

Thoughtfully Serq spoke to his son. "You see, they have missed their opportunity. If they had concentrated on the gunships instead of the battleship, they might have inflicted some damage upon us. Instead they vent their anger on the largest thing in view. And thus their fury burns itself out like a harmless glowfly."

Raza looked at his father, then out the viewport. His face seemed troubled.

"Do you worry for them Raza?" Asked Serq warmly.

He hesitated. "It feels like, like...like slaughtering the renshams for the annual harvest."

Ah yes, the renshams.

That had been a hard time for Raza. Renshams were kept as livestock on Ziost. Their thick coats of fur made them favorite pets with the children. They would pet them and often cuddle with them in the cold winds when they played outside. Such innocent creatures, they would eat right out of your hand. Most would follow you around. Yet when the brief summers came, the renshams were gathered up and slaughtered for meat. Raza had grown close with them, and each year it filled his heart with sorrow to see them butchered.

And now these foreigners, the Paal'suul, were being cut down without being able to strike back. And even though they tried, it still amounted to nothing.

"Son do not feel pain for these people. They stand before us today as warriors." Counceled Serq.

Raza straightened up a bit at hearing this. The way of the warrior was firmly drilled into his being. One never diminished another's honor. It was
sacrilege.

"To shed tears or sorrow for them would stain their honor. We must greet them with open arms and give them a warrior's death, for they have earned it." Serq meant every word, it was a philosophy he held as pure religion.

And their was no one more religious in war than he.

* * * * * * * * *

Dim red lights blinked on the bridge. Hissing sounds screamed through the vents. Sparks and smoke popped out every terminal and station.

Gran'dul shifted on the floor, laying in a puddle of warm liquid.

He could see bodies everywhere. Some twitched, while others were motionless. Yet the world still spun in the Admiral's vision.

A throbbing pulsed in his head. Knowledge pierced his brain like a sharp spear point.

The warm goo I'm slipping in is my blood. It's only a matter of time. He thought.

Klaxons still rang in the ship's corridors. Barely through the smoke, he could still see laser bolts screeching past the bridge viewport, slamming
into some unseen vessel.

It was a good death. One to be proud of. My boy would be proud. But Treesh wouldn't. That thought hurt, as if his real wounds weren't bad enough. She'll understand...I hope.

Blackness began to creep into his eyes. The world before him slipped away, drowning out all sound, all pain, all.

They say, in many cultures, that a warrior never dies, he merely fades into the ether.

That's exactly how it felt.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ziost, The Dark Lord's Palace:

Thousands of light years away, the Dark Lord, Tulak Hord, exercised in his training room. Sweat coated his body's red skin. His muscles throbbed from effort. A red blade hummed in his hands.

Power coursed through his veins as he swung the sword effortlessly. Each swing filled his mind with an intoxicating venom.

He couldn't explain it, but just holding the weapon somehow brought happiness to his inner being. Pleasure. Glee.

Another weightless stroke swept through the air, battering away yet another probe.

How dull and simple these droids are. Without thrill. He thought to himself.

He turned his attention to the barley living creature ten steps away. It was a Korriban Zombie, at least that's what they were called. In reality this one was from Ziost. No matter.

The arts of Sith alchemy and magic had many advantages. For one, they could bring the dead back to life.

Of course they couldn't think, nor remember what their decaying brains once held. But they could fight. And they were amazingly strong and persistent.

This time their was effort with the swing. The lighter than air blade cruised forward and slowed with resistance. Slowed by the flesh.

Ah, yes. This is more like it! Thought Hord. Not like the robots. Metal doesn't cut the same, doesn't feel the same.

Oh yes, the cutting of flesh gave Tulak an odd rush, one that made him slightly light headed. It was as much a drug as pure spice. And it was addictive. If Tulak was not careful, he might become addicted to his new found hobby.

No. It's not like that. He assured himself. I am in control. Nothing forces my hand but my own will.

Yet somehow the words ran hollow in his head. They were overwhelmed by tiny, tulmultuous screams. Again. Again. Again.

And the crimson bladed lightsaber continued to cut.
_________________

"I believe toys resonate with us as humans, we can hold them them, it's tactile, real! They are totems for our extended beliefs and imaginations. A fetish for ideas that hold as much interest and passion as old religious relics for some. We display them in our homes. They show who we are. They are signals for similar thinking people. A way we connect with each other...and I guess thats why I do toys. That connection." -Ashley Wood


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