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Tales of Darth Skuldren: Ch. 18 - Katari - One Last Dance

 
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Tales of Darth Skuldren: Ch. 18 - Katari - One Last Dance
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  Darth Skuldren
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TODS Chapter 18: Katari - One Last Dance

Shortly after the events of TODS Chapter 13: Date with the Overlord, and concurrent with Chapter 15: The Battle of Kajji

Katari was a peaceful planet devoted to science and discovery. The Katari people themselves were born adventurers. Instead of armies, they created expedition forces, small units equipped to explore the reaches of space. And the most well known of their organizations was the Katari monks, mystics who could control the Force, and were ultimately tasked with protecting the Krudesh Scrolls.

These small, black furred aliens lived on a rather typical terran planet with even mixes of oceans and land, mountains and deserts, forests and plains. The war in the Katari Sector was at its height, but the front was far from this serene world. In fact, Admiral Dokken and the WaKatA Fleet were attacking the Muulag’s homeworld of Vlakor at this very moment.

But beyond the pale blue skies, in the black sea of the stars, a fleet of ships was sailing toward Katari. An armada of large, hulking, rectangular masses armed with weapons and crewed by Muulag. Had the Katari seen the titanic vessels pouring toward their planet, they would have been shocked to see the pure number of their enemy.

Admiral Dokken had not left his allies without protection, however he had never considered the possibility that his enemy would abandon their homeworld and launch an offensive with all their fleets.

-

Khan Kazen looked out his viewport at the drifting wreckage of the Katari System’s pathetic defense fleet. Shards of Moldavian cruisers littered the blackness of space. A Wallonian battleship lingered in the distance like a mutant offspring. Its hull was twisted from the radiated explosion of its escorts. Kazen’s black eyes twinkled at the sight. He could picture the entire Katari race as that one, lone vessel, his hands gripping it like a god and choking the life out of every being in its dying durasteel carcass.

Yet his mind drifted back to reality. Here he was with an invincible fleet before a helpless planet. With his command, he could kill them all. The power of the moment was literally coursing through his webbed veins in a pulsing crescendo.

The words were almost anti-climatic. ”Open fire.”

The officer relayed the order. The other Kahns instructed their fleets. As one, the entire force unleashed an instantaneous hell on Katari.

Had Kazen been a Force user, he would have felt the overwhelming pain of a billion lives screaming out in agony. But such a vivid experience was not possible. Instead, he had to contend with the awesome show of destruction as brilliant beams of light rain down on the planet like a celestial monsoon. Turbolaser like weapons tore into the planet’s crust with the frenzy of a dinner knife plunging into a glutton’s last meal. Great clouds of debris quickly choked the sky, turning the entire world into a cloudy ball of brown smoke. And yet the lasers continued to pierce the churning cloud, ensuring that nothing was left alive on the hidden surface. For fifteen long, pitiless minutes, the barrage pelted Katari into oblivion.

There were no survivors.

”Cease fire.” Kazen commanded.

Within sixty seconds, the firing ceased. Kazen’s eyes stared at the gloomy cloud that covered Katari. Even if by some remote chance someone survived the barrage, they would surely die from the lack of oxygen caused by that choking veil of debris.

Satisfied, he turned to his comm. station. ”Khans of the Feet! Our enemy has been destroyed. But this is only one of but three villains who have dared to shed blood against our people. It is with a heavy heart that we have left Vlakor to suffer at the hands of the enemy, but how much more will that enemy suffer to know that their homeworlds have equally been destroyed! It is with that objective that we must head to the Wallonian System for the final battle. Wallonia and Moldavia will be brought to their knees and we will hold the ax.”

The faces of the other Khans appeared in various terminals. All of them bobbed their heads in agreement. This was the last stand. They would have vengeance or death, there would be no middle ground.

The elder Muulag Khan Shtohl replied in dead earnest, ”Our hands will not tremble in this task. Let the Moldavians taste the sweetness of their own blood, and the Wallonians see the glory of their own deaths.”

”Krin zah!” Tog cheered.

”Krin zah!”

Vlakor: Muulag Homeworld

True to his word, Mol Furthog had announced the surrender of the Muulag people and their homefleet stood down along with all their ground forces. Within hours the fighting stopped and the war appeared to be over.

Then news came from Admiral Harvest, Best, and Kreen. The Muulag Fleets had pulled away. They had disappeared into hyperspace.

An hour later, Admiral Chorost, commander of the Katari Defense Fleet reported that a substantially large Muulag force had just appeared in Katari space. That transmission ended before any more details could be revealed.

Wallonian Captain Hal Szur was the first to speak. ”Sir, shall we plot a course for Katari?”

Admiral Dokken hesitated. Would they have sent all their fleets to Katari? Or would they have split off after both Katari and Wallonia?

Katari was a closer jump than the Wallonian System. He couldn’t afford to pull out all of his forces from Vlakor, but he wouldn’t need to leave behind more than a sizable task force.

”Tell the First Fleet to pick four battleships, ten cruisers, and the standard support to leave behind here at Vlakor. Inform the Third, Fifth, and the rest of the First Fleet to make course for Katari. We leave at once.”

”Yes sir.” Szur turned sharply with a salute and quickly oversaw the delivery of the orders.

Meanwhile Dokken gazed out a Vlakor with a tremble of fear. It had been a long time since he’d felt that old demon of despair. He’d thought the Sith had bred it out of him. But the hissing snake was back and its venomous cry was shaking his resolution.

Have I lost it all?

Katari:

The site of the Katari Defense Fleet was heart wrenching, but the sickening cloud of death that loomed over Katari was far worse. Amid the field of shattered ships was the looming brown stain of a once vibrant world. A planet that but hours ago was alive.

Now it was dead.

An entire world.

Dead. Admiral Dokken was shaken. These people had become his. He was their protector. And now they were gone. Is this why the Jedi avoid attachments? The thought felt sour and painful. There was no way for him to shrug off the attachment he formed with the Katari. The months he had spent with the monks studying the Krudesh Scrolls. He almost conjured the memory of the mists whisping through the quiet mountain tops, but now all he could envision was a suffocating cloud of dirt and rubble. I’ve killed them all.

Captain Szur broke his thoughts. ”Admiral…” there was genuine concern in the man’s blue eyes, ”…we must make all haste to Wallonia.”

Wallonia. Dokken shivered at the thought of seeing another death cloud over the shimmering blue world and its placid oceans. ”Inform the fleets. Make the jump.”

Szur ignored the haggard lifelessness of his commander and performed the tireless duty that he cherished with pride. He relayed the orders, maintaining perfect calm and confidence. It was his job to filter out any hesitation or defeat that the admiral might show. He would put on a strong face and convey it to the others. Only those present on the bridge would know the truth, which was bad enough. At a time this dire, there was no room for grief stricken leader.

Dokken tried to ponder the crippling desolation of his attachments. Never before had he felt such depths of darkness. It was a side of life he had yet to experience. Until now.

And then it clicked. Like a gear in an antique chrono shifting the hour hand forward. The despair was still there, but a veil of Force power was lofting above it. He felt it lifting his mind into a new realm of clarity. The anger, the hate, at both himself for his weakness, and at the loss of the Katari was swelling this new state of mind. He saw the Muulag Khans and their fleet leaving their homeworld to an outsider invader and pulverizing Katari into the grave. As one, the Khans turned their head toward Wallonia and Moldavia, sister planets. They would wipe them out as a matter of necessity.

I will stop them. The uncertainty was gone, replaced by the will of a Sith. As the commanding Admiral of the WaKatA Fleet, he would destroy these Khans in battle…no. He would murder them. He would let the Moldavians roat their flesh over burning coals and would have his commanders dine on their vanquished enemy. He himself would claim the head of Khan Kazen and would personally consume the thing’s soul.

No Muulag would be spared. Their existence would be outlawed.

”Captain Szur!” Authority echoed in his voice across the command deck.

Szur repressed the smile that bolted to his face. ”Yes sir?”

”Begin drawing up the defense plans for the assault scenarios we have for Wallonia. Upon seeing the formation of the Muulag fleets, we will adapt the best course of action. I want the other Admirals informed immediately when we drop out of hyper. Make sure all gun crews are prepared for instant firing solutions.”

”Right away sir.”

Dokken noticed the bright mood on the Captain’s face. It donned on him that his earlier remorse had effected more than himself. He let a moment of pride wash over him at his ability to bounce back so quickly.

This day is not over yet. Kazen’s head will be mine.

Wallonia:

The combined defense fleets of Wallonia and Moldavia put up more of a fight that Kazen was expecting. The overwhelming strength he had enjoyed at Katari was still apparent, but the this time there was a price. Massive spherical ships emblazoned with demonic faces blasted dozens of Muulag ships into decimated mists. Spearheaded formations of Wallonian battleships charged suicidally at his flagship, tearing off great chunks with their devastating fire.

But the Muulag warships were made obnoxiously large. Seventy percent of their mass was unused space, a simple tactic they had adhered to for centuries. To reach the vitals of any one ship, an attacker first had to chew threw hundreds of decks of useless vacuum synthetic metal.

Yet there were Muulag vessels dying in his fleets. And each shattering ship was flaming his fury.

”Khan Kazen, enemy contacts are appearing in the system!”

Kazen whirled on his subordinate and actually slapped the officer in his rage. The bridge commander quivered in fear at the glowing madness in the Khan’s eyes. Kazen did not speak. Slowly he composed himself and reigned in his anger. Shifting across the deck, he personally looked at the data displays. ”The other WaKatA fleets. Admiral Dokken has finally decided to protect his adopted homeworld.” A dangerous glare flicked over the bridge commander. ”Inform the rear units to engage these new contacts. We will press our assault on Wallonia. Let it be the first to die.”

”As you command, Khan Kazen.” In exaggerated subservience, the commander bowed and retreated back.

Khan pondered the unbridled hostility welling within him as Khan Tog’s face appeared on one of the monitors. ”Khan Kazen, the defense fleets our faltering. Allow me to concentrate my force in one final push and I’ll wipe them out before these new reinforcements can engage.”

Kazen was somewhat surprised that Tog even felt the necessity of asking for permission. ”Very well, Khan Tog. See that these fools are slayed unto the last.”

”You have my word, Khan Kazen.”

The screen blanked out.

Tog wanted permission so that if his move failed, the blame would not fall upon him. Kazen actually laughed. He actually thinks he’s going to survive this battle.

The crew was staring at Kazen. First he hit an officer, and now he was laughing. Kazen wouldn’t be surprised if they thought him mad. Maybe I am. I’ve committed all that remains of the Muulag navy to a battle to the death. He knew there was no walking away from this battle. The odds were too evenly matched. The only comfort he took was that he would die with his victim clenched in his jaws, ripping out its throat as he fell.

-

The two forces chewed away at each other like warring swarms of carnivorous bees. Armored leviathans fired salvos of turbolasers at gargantuan, angular constructs. The Muulag warships absorbed the fire like celestial sponges. Thousands of vessels belched varied arrays of death in endless posturing. Between them starfighters danced and weaved as they plunged into hopeless attack runs at Muulag super cruisers. Their tiny strafing runs churned open long, jagged scars across the enemy hulls but the great beasts yielded no pain. It was like flaying a Hutt.

Admiral Dokken watched the maelstrom from the safety of his command bridge viewport. His crew was diligently involved in their tasks, while he himself had little to do but watch. Pouring the anger and hatred into him, Dokken slipped into his old moniker. The Dark Side was trembling at his finger tips. His very thoughts coursed with its power.

Where are you Kazen. He searched among the monstrous Muulag ships. There you are.

It was polyhedron arrayed vessel with cube shaped blocks at the end of thick cylindrical joints. Kazen was in a command center somewhere on the central hub.

Dokken was drunk on power. He was gathering it into a great storm of energy. By squeezing that torrential power into a concentrated point, he could command it at will. Completely and utterly at peace, he blissfully willed that unspeakable power like a mighty hand.

He slapped Kazen’s ship.

-
Kazen’s flagship shuddered. The Khan flew from his chair and slammed painfully into a data terminal, black oozing blood seeped from a gouge in his upper lip. Shaking the stars out of his vision, he gazed at the viewport in stunned disbelief. There was a great, sprawling crack in the transparisteel.

”What-“

Then another quaking blast reverberated throughout the ship. This time Kazen fell back and slapped his head on the hard plate of the deck.

Somewhere a crewmen yelled out, ”We are losing cabin pressure! The viewport is going to crack!”

Fool. The viewport is already cracked. Kazen gingerly leaned up and saw that the massive viewport was now splintered like the branches of a great tree. ”Close the emergency shields!” He cried.

A young Muulag officer was struggling at his station. ”The emergency shields aren’t-“

The viewport’s obscenely thick transparisteel glass shattered into infinity. The shards did not blow inward as the mind would expect, but were instantly sucked out into the vacuum of space. The atmosphere inside the bridge whirled out in great gusting winds with a sinister, wailing scream, like a blind-mad banshee.

Kazen tried to plug his eardrums from the deafening wail but carelessly released his grip from the deck. He was sucked across the deck as his arms flailed in protest. His tail smashed into a terminal, shattering bone and mashing tissue. But the black void pulled without respite. His body slid off and over the terminal and tumbled madly through the open viewport. The unquenchable appetite of space swallowed him with abandon savoring every last pathetic cry.

-
Dokken opened his eyes and felt the intoxicating power leaving him. The intricate focus was lost with his fleeting expungence of anger. Outside the battle raged on.

”Admiral, one of the Muulag super cruisers is breaking up. It looks like a breach in their central node is tearing them apart from the inside.”

Dokken wished he could summon that power back and smite the other vessels, but he knew it was no longer possible. The fatigue was jarring him. He was barely able to stand.

”Admiral, are you alright?” Alarmed, Captain Szur ran over to the Admiral and helped him into his chair.

”I’m alright, Szur. Carry on the battle. I just…need to rest.”

Szur hesitated, but knew that Admiral was right. ”I’ll call a medic sir. Just hang in there.”

Dokken could hear him calling over a medic, but his vision was slipping. Drawing on so much power was like manipulating life itself. There were dangers to such displays. Great dangers…

-

The battle lingered on for four more hours. Even with the loss of Kazen, the Khans were unwilling to quit. The proud Khan Tog, befit in his glorious emerald green uniform laden with medals, each a memento of combat hard earned and hard won, stood defiantly on his bridge. Two thirds of his mighty ship was dead, and yet he ordered his gunners to continue firing. A blast shook the deck, knocking out his gunnery officer. Unperturbed, Tog wormed over and personally manned the station, adjusting firing solutions at the nearest target of opportunity. But that target was a Trollgan man-of-war. An ugly hybrid of various warships slapped together in one long ferocious broadside. The full torrent of fire relentless tore into Tog’s ship, concentrating know on the command node.

Tog saw the end coming and eerily rose from his terminal. ”Gentlemen, make your peace with your maker.”

A wall of fire engulfed the bridge as the Trollgan broadside pierced the hull.

The Moldavian’s beloved flagship, the Face of Death, glared malevolently at a pair of Muulag battlecruisers. The two rhomboid ships were pouring fire at the demon faced moon, but the Face of Death wouldn’t stop. Moldavian crewmen were vaporized by direct hits from the Muulag lasers, others were fried at their stations as power systems overloaded and backwashed over their terminals. Some died the horrid death of affixation as harsh vacuum stole the air out of their lungs. But the Moldavians fought on with zombie like determination.

First one of the Muulag battlecruisers split in half, the superstructure literally chewed in two from focused turbolaser fire. Then the hyperdrive on the other went ballistic. The massive ship lurched forward and smashed head on into a Muulag super cruiser. The two ships exploded in mutual blaze of gnashing metal and plasma fires.

Khan Shtohl knew that he would die this day. The Muulag fleets were losing. And through all the long, hard lived years of life, he knew he did not want to die on a ship. He was a warrior at heart. A ground thumper. So without a word to his crew, he slipped off the command bridge and into his private quarters. He fired up the flight sequence on his escape pod and set course for Moldavia. Before stepping into the cramped little box for his final ride, he picked up his blaster and warclub off the display on his wall. The old club still had dried crimson stains between the jagged teeth of its heavy ball hammer. The weight felt comfortable in his hands.

The pod lurched through the escape chute and slipped easily into space. Tiny thrusters propelled him toward the planet. Inside he was bounced and jostled as the small pod broke through the layers of atmosphere. The whole craft bucked wildly as the retro thrusters kicked in. Then there was the bone startling impact as he crashed into the surface.

Warily he crawled out of the pod to a reddish landscape and looming orange sky. He could see the twinkling ships as they battled in space, the sun glaring off their metallic hides. There were no explosions are laser beams to be seen at this distance. Only the sparkling of false stars.

He breathed in a haggard breath. The air was thin but crisp. Like cool winter air seeping in under the crack of the front door.

A noise startled him.

Spinning around, he saw three starfighters easing down for a landing not twenty meters away. The spindly Moldavian designed spacecraft set down on pointed wings, their triangular hatches popping open with a hiss.

Shtohl studied the Moldavian pilots. He had never seen one before in person. They looked like all the other humans. These three wore pilot suits, blood red, and covered with pockets and fasteners and hoses. They had already chucked off their helmets and were drawing weapons. Each seemed to favor a long, wicked looking blade.

”Krin zah!” Shtohl yelled with vengeance. He lifted his warclub high and slid across the rough, rocky ground.

The center Moldavian raised his dagger to block the warclub, but it was a futile gesture. The club came down, overpower the Moldavian’s arm, and slammed down into the thick of his skull with an echoing crack.

Shtohl continued yelling in wild, screeching tones. He whirled the warclub around and smacked the second Moldavian with utter surprise. The man’s head spilled open, its wet contents splashing onto the dry ground.

Whipping around in a full frenzy, Shtohl swung wildly at the third. But this one was ready. He bent his knees and dropped low, using one hand to catch himself on the ground, his other still clutching the knife. The momentum of the swing carried Shtohl too far, and the Moldavian jumped in under his guard. The knife slid into his lower ribs until the hilt jammed into his flesh.

The club came back around and smacked the Moldavian. Shtohl used the pommel to slam into the man’s exposed temple. The Moldavian took the blow and his whole body went limp, slumping to the ground.

The club fell slack in his arm as labored breathing heaved in Shtohl’s lung. He’d forgotten what the old sting of battle felt like. For a minute, he just stood and relished the feeling of being alive. The exquisite pain that was life. Slowly he rolled his head up to the orange hued sky and the false stars above. They winked at him. He couldn’t tell which was Muulag or Wallonian or Moldavian or something else.

I’ll die here on this planet, unbeaten and unbroken. He looked around at the distant landscape. Not a building or structure in sight. No life whatsoever. A finer death I couldn’t ask for.

Shtohl looked at the bodies on the ground. One of them had a canteen. I’ll sit and wait for more. He reached down and undid the cap. I’ll kill all that they send. The water was delicious.

The taste of victory.

-

Dokken watched as the last Muulag super cruiser was brought down. Its dying shots ramming harmlessly into a Katari picket ship.

”It’s over, Admiral.” Said Captain Szur.

”Yes, I believe it is.” Dokken turned away from the veiwscreen.

Captain Szur smiled. ”Will we be dining on the Muulag tonight, sir? I hear the Moldavians say they’re quite sweet. Like honeyed roba steaks.”

Dokken laughed. It felt tired and heavy and stiff. ”I think we’ll all be dining on Muulag tonight, Captain. The Moldavian’s fanaticism is infectious.”

They both laughed heartily at that, the tired tension washing away just a fraction. Outside the long, costly battle was at an end. The war was really over. The Wallonian-Katari alliance would face a new task tomorrow: settling the few remaining Katari on a new homeworld. Dokken didn’t know if they’d want to stay on Wallonia, or move to one of their small settlements in their home system. It would be months, maybe even a year before the debris storms settled on Katari. Even then, he wasn’t sure if they’d want to go back. It would be a dire wasteland devoid of all they knew, and of anything that would sustain life.

No. There wasn’t any going back for them.

Dokken took a long, deep breath, then fell to his knees with a stabbing pain.

”Admiral!” Captain Szur rushed over. ”Medic! Medic!”

Dokken rolled on the deck in agony. A wrenching sob blurted from his foaming mouth. ”Noooo! Nooo!”

But he’d felt it. His apprentice was dead.
_________________

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