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Master of the Sword: Ch. 5-8

 
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Master of the Sword: Ch. 5-8
 PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:32 pm Reply with quote  
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  Darth Skuldren
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Master of the Sword Chapter 5

Lozon System: The Planet Liindzeck, beyond the upper ridges of Sith Space

Adina's crack shock troops, the Red Hand, were about to have a good day. While the main infantry assaulted the enemy's fortress from the high ground of the strung out, red-clay mesa, the Red Hand were to sweep around to the rear, crossing enemy lines in the pre-dawn light, and attacking the weakest perimeter of the fortress' guard.

Seeped in the morning mists, the troops suited up with light gear. Soldiers carefully selected their most valuable and essential equipment. For the coming battle they would need speed.

Swiftness would be the key to victory.

A Sith soldier oiled his blaster rifle in the dim, pre-dawn light. Oily fumes permeated the air as he worked. Yet his attention was focused on the person next to him. He was a Sith too, a pureblood. All of the Red Hand troops were. Only this one was stuffing his pockets with ammo and...

"Ixtren, what in the Adas' name are you doing?" Asked the Sith, still oiling his blaster.

Ixtren turned with a smile. "What's it look like, Bados? I'm packing my gear."

Bados stopped what he was doing in puzzlement. "You've got enough ammo to supply a platoon, that I can understand, but what's that other stuff your packing? That looks like a burnt up...lizard."

"It is." Replied Ixtren. "It's called f-o-o-d." He drew the word out like one would to an infant learning a new word.

"What are you planning on doing, taking a picnic during the battle. You're loosing it buddy." Bados jived.

Continuing to stuff the meter long blackened lizard into his backpack, Ixtren simply laughed. "You missed out on Ataron, you wouldn't know."

Now Bados was intrigued. He'd heard a few things about the Ataron campaign. None of it was very good.

"Alright, what happened on Ataron that would make this picture so much clearer? What would give cause to pack a barbequed lizard for battle?" Asked Bados in an exaggerated tone.

"Well there was one fight in particular. It was a fairly simple op. Go in, overrun the enemy positions, easy day. We had the element of surprise after all. The problem was they put up a fight that would've made a terentatek turn tail. So we dug in." Ixtren paused to finish buckling up his backpack. "As usual, I had plenty of ammo, but by the third day nobody had any food. The Attarons brought in reinforcements and surrounded us. We were cut off and the supply chains severed. Took four weeks for command to break through the encirclement."

Four weeks no food. Bados shuddered. Ixtren saw the comprehension on his friend's face.

"We drank out of mud puddles and tried to live off swamp rats and juno beetles. But there were too many of us and pretty soon those became scarce. Some men died of dehydration. A few sought other means to survive." He let the grim memories pass without further explanation.

He reached down and picked up his combat belt. He strapped it on. Bados noticed that four canteens were attached to it.

Bados put down the oil rag and set his rifle on a bucket. Ixtren watched his buddy disappear into a tent. When he came out, he was carrying three canteens. Wide smiles radiated across their crimson faces. Better to be prepared than empty handed.

* * * * * * * * * *

A half hour passed before the order came. Two hundred soldiers of the "Red Hand" were strewn out in a rough line, all of them on their bellies. Before them the thick morning mists poured out the earth. Beyond the fog was the faint black outline of their target, a heavily fortified city bastion.

The Red Hand's commander led his squad forward. The other companies followed suit.

Through the wisps of dew they stalked the battlefield like ghosts. Silence beat down like a drum. Then the artillery spoke.

The city's silhouette was illuminated by the bright flashes of incoming rounds. The entire ruckus was focused on the far side of the city, leaving the south in a false peace.

With the enemy distracted, the Red Hand troops charged the wall.

Ixtren and Bados followed their squad leader to the foot of the immense barrier. Quickly they took out their grappling hooks and heaved them to the top for purchase. It was a slow and difficult ascent but all of them were driven to succeed. The Red Hand never failed, never lost, and never ever accepted defeat. With single minded zeal, the troops made it over the wall.

Bados managed to get there before Ixtren. Extra ammo was nice, but it was also heavy. Bados found some humor in that thought. Yet the humor disappeared once he climbed over wall's upper railing.

Two defenders were watching the artillery barrage to the north. Both of their backs were facing him. All sound was drowned out in the barrage. They didn't hear Bados' feet hit the duraplex platform. Nor the sound of his blaster rifle's energy plant whining as it powered up for the kill. Two emerald beams of light shot through their chests and continued their flight over the city rooftops. The sentries’ mouths hung agape, but no screams could be heard. Only the continuous thunder of the artillery barrage.

All along the wall, the troops of the Red Hand took their positions and eliminated the enemy defenders. No alarm had been sounded. Surprise was still on their side.

* * * * * * * * * *

General Fral received the confirmation via short wave comm. The Sith now controlled the far wall. The high ground was theirs.

"Lord Adina, operation Shyrack is a success." Replied the General.

"Good. Give the orders to commence full assault." Commanded the Sith Lord.

Within moments Sith fighter bombers screamed over the city, emptying plasma charges and automatic blaster fire into the buildings below. On the ground, the infantry forces charged the crumbling wreckage of the city's defensive walls. From the high elevation of the south wall, the Red Hand poured down sniper fire into the enemy positions. Resistance died almost instantly.

A white flag was raised from the top of one the taller buildings. Blaster fire came to a stop. Only the moans of the wounded broke the silence of the aftermath.

"Victory." Replied Ixtren.

Bados slapped him on the back. "See, didn't need that lizard after all. Just needed a little faith in your commanders."

Both of them looked out into the smoldering rubble of the city, measuring the results of the battle.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord Adina made his way into the city, passing through the mangled streets. Wisps of smoke still poured from the craters and bathed the areas between buildings in an eerie blanket. Survivors still roamed through the rubble. Some looked for the living, others carted off the dead. Any of the enemy still alive was bound off in chains.

The surreal reality covered Adina in a comforting cloak. It brought joy to his strange, gray heart.

To some war is a glorious thing. People fight for their beliefs and die for their country. Things like honor, chivalry, and patriotism fill them with hope. But then the harsh realities of war hit them, and glory goes out the window.

Yet for Adina, it only swelled his thirsty heart. For unlike many, he loved it, truly.

Even now, as his cold brown eyes soaked in the battlefield, he relished it. The smell of blaster burns and concussive missile residue, mortified bodies juxtaposed in all manner of positions, severed limbs scattered like decorations among the bombed out hulls of wreckage and fresh scars of earth.

The eyes drank deep and savored it all.

He could still hear the thunderous echoes of the artillery, the sharp cries of heavy batteries, and whines of blaster fire. A symphony of sound, music to his ears.

There was a name for people like him, warmonger. It was a label he held with secret pleasure. To him, there was no aspect of war he did not enjoy.

Perhaps psychopath was a better description.

"My Lord, the enemy commander wishes to discuss terms of surrender." Reported a Sith field lieutenant.

"Tell them they will be treated fairly. All enemy combatants will stay in an internment camp until we can ship them off world. Civilians will be kept segregated and held in camp outside the city walls. Certain privileges and freedoms may be worked out to allow them to gather their belongings." Replied Lord Adina.

The lieutenant snapped a sharp salute, "Yes milord," turned and departed.

Their conquered foe was herded in long, shuffling lines. The defeated wore long faces, eyes staring off into the distance while their minds thought of fallen and injured comrades, the fate of imprisonment, and their families being left behind.

They say the hardest march a soldier ever makes is one of defeat. Such is made harder when walking toward captivity.

A pale, pink-hued humanoid turned to one of his comrades, "what do you think will happen to us now?"

His comrade, of a dark blue complexion, returned an empty stare. "Probably send us off world into a labor camp."

Pinky thought about that. Slave labor on a strange world, working to sustain his oppressors. It was a gloomy thought.

"Quiet there!" Snapped one of Sith soldiers, "Get back in line, you've got a long march ahead of you," a smile spread under his red tentacled mustache, "best conserve your energy."

* * * * * * * * * *

By midday the prisoners were finally gathered up in a temporary holding pin inside the Sith camp. Behind electrified security fences stood nearly 12,000 prisoners of war.

Lord Adina sat in his landspeeder. He gazed through the fence at the prisoners within. Spoils of war. And tools.

He turned to his field commander, General Fral. "General, I have a special task I want you to perform. Gather two companies and put them to work at severing the right arm off each prisoner we have assembled in the camp. Have the arms gathered and loaded on our assault shuttles. Then, when the task is completed, dump the contents on the enemy’s capital. Send whatever aerial escorts you'll need to protect the shuttles." Adina's cold brown eyes stared into his commander. "We will bombard their morale with the severed limbs of their comrades. Then they shall know the will of the Sith. Resistance is futile."

General Fral hesitated. "My Lord, won't that complicate matters? Might it serve to bolster the enemy's resolve?"

Adina listened to the General's plight with endeared patience. "Do not worry General, I have my purposes. All will be brought to light in time."

The General nodded his head, saluted, and left. Adina contemplated the General's slight glitch of faith. Surely he should recognize the advantages of manipulating your enemy to further your 'own' resolve. He would learn. Or else.

* * * * * * * * * *

On the peaceful capital of New Terrance, the citizens were granted a sight they had never before seen or imagined. In the true sense of the macabre, it was absolutely nightmarish.

People ran in terror as the city's air raid sirens screamed throughout the streets. A steady stream of Sith assault ships raced across the violet sky. Scrambling for shelter, the inhabitants pushed and shoved each other in mass hysteria. Yet, to their surprise, no bombs were dropped. No death rays blasting the helpless inhabitants. Instead bloodied disembodied limbs poured down from the ships and smashed into the chaotic scene below.

At first people were stunned. Then the wary suspected biological threat. But for the truly stunned or curious who dared to inspect the projectiles, the truth was far more horrifying. They were simple arms. Right arms. Arms of their countrymen.

The Sith shuttles continued to pour their payload onto the city until all 12,000 arms were delivered. The result was that every citizen could look out their windows and see at least a dozen red mashed arms lying in the street, smashed through speeder windows, and draped in trees and on signs.

The act swept through the capital and the news quickly reached the rest of the defenders on the planet. Revenge was in the air.

* * * * * * * * * *

Three weeks later...

"My Lord, I have troubling news." Replied a lieutenant.

Adina didn't bother to look at the subordinate. He was still rapt up in the pleasing aftermath of battle.

His forces had just captured a major supply and armaments depot. The enemy was defeated after a difficult and brutal close quarters engagement. They fought with more heart than the Sith invaders and for good reason.

The Sith were here to expand their 'glorious empire.' The defenders fought to protect their home, their families, and for survival. They had everything to loose and everything to gain.

General Fral interrupted Adina's sightseeing. "Milord, I think they would have put up less of a fight if we hadn't goaded them like so."

"You doddle too much where you know too little, General. Psychology is not your strong point. Stick to maneuver and logistics, that 'is' why I selected you after all." Snapped Adina, the General was trying his patience. "Besides, the lieutenant brings good news."

"My Lord, we found over a dozen or our men brutally butchered in one of their buildings." The lieutenant hesitated. "Some of them are still alive, but without arms or legs. The medics are tending to them as we speak."

Fral was the first to speak, "So that's what happened to our scout company. They must of been ambushed."

"You're dismissed lieutenant." Replied Adina.

As the lieutenant left, Adina spoke to Fral, "General, I want you to make sure a handful of men in camp personally see what the enemy has done here. Pick out some volunteers to help the medics."

General Fral looked up at his commander. "Is this part of your 'strategy', my lord?"

Adina's face was hard to read. A mixture of emotionless calm and far off thought.

"It's a matter of cause and effect, General." Adina began, "We mutilate a handful of them and, in turn, they mutilate a few of ours to an even greater degree. Now some of our men will see what the enemy has done and they will spread the word to others. Soon everyone in camp will know and hate will begin to boil. They'll be talk of revenge and payback. I will use that rage to motivate them to victory."

Fral tried to follow along as Adina explained his strategy.

"The enemy was already significantly motivated to fight us from the beginning, they must defend their very homes. We, on the other hand, are simply following orders. The only motivation our men have is fear and ambition." Adina waved one of his arms in emphasis, "But now they have a purpose. They will see their fellow soldiers bloodied, dead, and crippled. They will want revenge and they will fight!"

The General contemplated the matter a little longer. It was a sound strategy, and it might work. Adina saw the recognition and nodded. Understanding had dawned.

* * * * * * * * * *

Two months of preparation had passed. The Sith forces had maneuvered the defenders into taking a final stand in the fortress walls of their capital. It was time for the end game.

On one side nearly a hundred thousand native troops rallied an equal number of the populace into a large, cohesive defensive force. Barricades and gun nests were set up throughout the city. Weapons and ammunition were handed out to anyone with the will to fight. Men, women, and children were preparing for a last stand.

Their counterparts awaited beyond the city walls, lying just 1000 meters out in the flat, sweeping plains. The Sith Army stood 10,000 strong. Sith warbeasts, armored siege vehicles, aerial bombers and fighters, three infantry regiments, and his elite Red Hand were set for the operation. The final battle of Liindzeck.

Amongst this vast camp of warriors stood two men, comrades in arms.

"So, whadaya think about this one?" Asked Bados.

Ixtren thought for a moment, then pulled out a long, vicious looking knife. The curved, serrated blade stretched a full 40cm in length. A dull, black finish coated the massive blade.

"I think were finally going to get a chance to settle the score with those ‘colorguards’." Snarled Ixtren.

By now the entire Sith Army had become imbued with a common hatred for the enemy. Since the natives came in a varied swath of complexions, they were nicknamed ‘colorguards’. It also made them a target for trophies. For over a month now, ears had become all the fashion. Soldiers made necklaces out of them and competed for numbers and colors.

Bados was angry at the ‘colorguards’ but he hadn't quite worked up the rage to start collecting ears. By the sound of his buddy though, it seemed Ixtren was eager to begin.

"Why the sudden change in heart? You've had plenty of chances to start a necklace in these last few weeks but I've never saw you take one. Even when we were the only ones who weren't." Replied Bados.

Ixtren returned a hollow gaze. "Loseph bought it two days ago. We found what was left of him-"

That was all Bados needed to hear. The war was getting more personal everyday. All of them were ready to make this battle the last. And the colorguards were going to pay very dearly for the effort.

* * * * * * * * * *

A massive salvo of energy beams sounded the beginning of the battle. The crimson beams crashed down into the city, smashing buildings into mounds of rubble.

Next came the Sith War Behemoths. The large tusked creatures carried heavy blaster cannons on their backs and served as mobile assault guns.

Ixtren and Bados watched as nearly 80 of the towering beasts trudged their way forward. Their guns rained an unrelenting bombardment on the enemy walls.

Then they felt the ground shake.

"They're sending out the bolsha." Cried Ixtren over the thundering barrages.

Bados nodded. The bolsha were giant worms the Sith altered with ancient alchemic rituals. Through training they had been bread to tunnel under ground and pop up right under the enemy's feet. They made a very potent weapon of surprise.

Then the screams of fighter bombers filled the air.

Bados also noticed a company of battle Hydras swooping in on the left flank. Sith warriors rode on their backs. They would fly over the enemy and strike from above, systematically picking off enemy officers and heavy weapons.

"Alright men! Let's show those ‘colorguards’ what the crimson red can do!" Yelled the squad leader.

The men cheered in return and charged forward into the maelstrom.

First into the fray were the warbirds.

As Ixtren ran towards the enemy, he watched them being torn to pieces by the ferocious beasts. Razor sharp talons and beaks ripped the enemy into shreds. Mounted riders fired dual auto-blasters into anyone the birds missed.

"Hurry boys! Before the warbirds take'em all!" Shouted Bados.

The Red Hand troops pushed forward even harder.

* * * * * * * * *

From a distance, Adina watched his forces unfurl upon the enemy. Bolsha towered over the walls devouring the sentries on top, behemoths tore holes into the city with their heavy cannons, and the hydras were already sweeping down on the enemy gun emplacements. Their commanders had become fodder.

"Look milord, the Red Hand has caught up with warbirds. They're making short work of the defenders now!" Replied General Fral enthusiastically.

Yes. The butchering had commenced. "Inform the fighter bombers to concentrate on the enemy's rearguard." Adina spoke to his comm officer.

He watched as the airborne forces moved their attacks farther back into the city.

"Do you think they will surrender, my lord?" Asked Fral.

Adina stood in a long black cape. A tall, peaked helmet crowned his head. His pale, white face stared into the crashing waves of the battle.

"No. Not yet. Though they may." He said, softly.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bados lied in a ditch, blaster fire grazing over his back. Ixtren poured laser fire into a group of colorguards as he sought cover behind the corner of a bombed out building.

Taking advantage of a pause in the oncoming fire, Bados pulled out a plasma charge and chucked it towards a group of defenders. An earsplitting blast pelted him with gravel and chunks of debris.

He snapped to his feet, firing as he charged. Bolts sprayed the enemy positions, forcing them to take cover.

He dropped into another ditch. This time closer, and with more protection.

A Sith sniper began picking off the enemy soldiers as they popped their heads above their cover.

One by one, Bados watched their colorful heads explode like overripe melons.

When no more heads popped up, Bados plowed forward and darted behind the enemy's cover. He put a couple bolts through anything that moved and double checked to make
sure they were dead. All clear.

Quickly he moved on, hugging a nearby corner. Peaking around, he saw a firefight being exchanged between two buildings. He turned around to find the rest of his squad.

"Bados, what's the situation?" Asked the squad leader.

"Enemy's holding out on the second floor, three buildings down sir. Another squad is trading fire from the ground floor across the street." Yelled Bados over the noise.

The squad leader looked over at Ixtren, three bloody ears dangled around his neck. "Ixtren, you and Bados sweep around to the rear of that building. Take the enemy out from the inside. We'll cover you."

Four more Sith formed up and prepared to provide cover fire. Ixtren and Bados bent their knees in sprinting stances. As soon as they began their run, their squad opened up.

Chaos and rubble blurred by as they hauled ass into the alley across the street. Breathing heavily, they worked their way down the back alleys, all the way to the building where the enemy was holding out in.

Bados kicked the door in with his armored boot, knocking it off its hinges.

They poured through, checking their blind spots and corners. No one in sight.

Looking around, they spotted some stairs and headed for the second floor. Ixtren took the lead.

As they reached the second floor, Ixtren cut around the corner into a hallway. A double barrel blast of energy slammed into his chest, knocking him off his feet. Bados screamed in rage, filling the hallway with green bolts of rapid fire energy. The enemy defender's body fell to the ground riddled with black, charred, smoking holes.

Ixtren groaned in pain.

"Hold on buddy!" Bados cried.

He knew he had to keep going. There was nothing he could do for Ixtren right now, and so he pressed on.

There was nobody else on the second floor, so he went up to the third. As he eased to the corner, he listened to the movement down the hall.

The tones of voices echoed in two or three different rooms. Blaster fire was still pounding into both sides.

Bados took out another plasma charge and tossed it down around the corner. The explosion ripped through the interior walls choking the hallway full of dust. Carefully he took the corner, rifle at hand. Four men were scattered on the floor. Two of them writhing in pain. Two quick, burning bolts put an end to their suffering.

He continued down the hall, approaching the first room. One man was sitting on the ground, his back propped against the wall, blood pouring out of his stomach. His eyes grew wide as he saw the intruder enter the doorway. A weak arm struggled to raise a blaster. Bados put a bolt into his head.

At the window was another gunner. Upon hearing the blaster shot, he turned around. It appeared in slow motion to Bados, he simply put a bolt into the man's chest, sending him backwards and out the window.

A sharp, red-hot sledge hammer ripped into his side.

Bados grabbed his left ribs in scorching pain. Turning around he ripped off a chain of blaster bolts behind him, spraying wildly. A few found their mark.

Looking now at the perpetrator, Bados saw a young woman with light green skin. The black wound in her chest was forcing her to cough up red blood onto her chin.

Feeling pity for the woman, Bados knelt down to her and grasped her shoulder. She looked at him with wide eyes. Those blue, passionate eyes burned into his memory. He would never forget them.

Life slipped out, leaving only a motionless shell. Bados moved on.

The next room housed three more defenders. He dispatched them with another plasma charge. The second floor was now secure.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Lord Adina! The enemy has surrendered!" Shouted General Fral as he ran up to the Sith Lord.

Adina kept his composure and took the news in stride. In honesty, he did not think the enemy would give up so soon. If it were him, he would have fought to the last man.
It was as his father had said, ‘compassion and sympathy make one weak, use it to defeat your foes but never let it enter your soul, for if it does, it will be the end of you.’

Harsh words, but true. Adina had made a point to live by them.

"Have the company commanders rally their troops and round up the enemy outside the city walls." Commanded Adina. "And General, forgive some acts of retribution but do not let it turn into a bloodbath. I want the bulk of those prisoners fit for labor and servitude, not hospital beds and graves."

"Yes my lord!" General Fral snapped a salute and went about passing the orders.

Adina simply continued watching the plumes of smoke rise over the city.

This battle was over. The third planet had been conquered. His campaign complete. Perhaps Hord would send him to help Serq in the southern reaches.

It was time to visit the Quasgoul.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bados stood over the body of his friend. Ixtren's eyes were shut but his pulse was strong. From behind approached a medic.

"He'll be fine trooper, nothing a little Sith healing can't fix. We'll need to take him in for operation, I'll let you know when we're done." Two medics lifted Ixtren on a stretcher and took him away.

The squad leader made his way toward Bados. "Excellent work today son. I'm recommending you for citation, and due to your status it's a sure thing. Keep it up soldier and you'll be Captain Hord in no time."

Captain Hord. Captain Bados Hord. Son of the Dark Lord of the Sith.

CHAPTER 6: “Slaughterhouse”

The planet Cusnac: Luzige's workshop

Working diligently under the lamp light, Tulak Hord assembled the intricate pieces laid before him. Focusing crystals, emitter matrixes, lenses, conduits, wires, and insulators were scattered amongst the debris. Yet the most precious element of all was the power cell. For centuries the lightsaber had been handicapped by this one crucial piece. But by fate an Arkanian brought Hord a technological wonder, a functioning internal power cell capable of extended life.

It had become Hord's greatest treasure.

Luckily Lord Luzige had been able to duplicate the Arkanian's unique internal power cell. Now Hord could build to his heart's content.

Deft hands moved swiftly over the parts. Slowly they came together, aided by the Force. A dark concentration. One that resided in the gloomy hollows of Hord's mind. An inner sanctum that brought refuge and power, limitless power.

It was here that all the powers of the dark side flowed, channeling energy throughout the Dark Lord's body. Reflexes were heightened, his focus sharpened, and an eerie guide led insights into dark knowledge.

One of the most closely guarded secrets of the Sith Lords was their attachment, their bond to another being, one shrouded in the Force. Just as the Jedi gained guidance from the Force, so did the Sith. But it wasn't the same source.

"It is far wiser." Hord uttered softly.

The words hovered in the silence. There was no one to hear them, only Hord.

If only the masses knew what dark wisdom resided in the Force. He mused to himself. The wisdom of countless eons, of time everlasting. He thought.

And it was true. Yet the dark side did not tell him how to heal the masses. Nor how to bring peace and harmony. Instead it revealed paths to power, instruments of untold glory. It longed for domination.

His hands stopped, the work complete.

In the passing of several hours, he managed to craft four exquisite lightsabers to go with his own, all with internal power cells.

"Magnificent." He replied in awe.

The majestic, gleaming handles glowed on the work table’s wooden surface. Gold, sliver, bronze, ebony, and pearl. Each crafted with contoured grips and archaic, symbolic imagery.

"The runes of our ancestors." He spoke reverently.

Ancestors. Only part of him was truly Sith. The other part was that of the exiles, the chosen ones.

Long ago rogue Jedi arrived on Zion and quickly subdued the native Sith. Due to the Sith's natural force-sensitivity, the exiled Jedi sought to merge with them. Together they mixed. The teachings of the Force blended with Sith alchemy and magic. However, the exiles blood proved dominant. It was stronger than the Sith's. Children born of mixed blood appeared pale or spotty. Eventually all traces of their Sith heritage were lost, even their tentacled facial hair.

One day the Sith race would cease to be.

But not yet. He assured himself.

Many Sith had banded together to ensure the purity of their bloodlines. Parents were often careful not to let too much exile blood enter into their family lines. Doctors had set up practices purely in the interest of maintaining and securing dominant Sith genes among families. Many prided themselves in their pureblood status.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time. Because though the Sith were naturally force-sensitive, the exiles were far more powerful. The Force flowed strongly in their veins and bloodlines. Among the Sith, only a few were so strong.

Hord himself was only a third pureblood, the rest was exile. And it showed.

A pale blemish splashed the upper part of his skull. It circled around his left eye and stretched back over his forehead, past the crown of his skull and back to the tape of his neck. Pale spots also speckled the upper regions of his back and numerous streaks adorned his legs.

Even the tips of his stunted, tentacled mustache were pale.

He knew that if he took a wife of mixed blood their child would be even paler than him. The signs of his inheritance would be more exile than Sith.

"But I stopped that, now didn't I?" A very slight smile crept into his cheeks.

Hord made sure that his wife was a pureblood. In fact his son was more Sith than he was.

As it should be. He thought.

An unrelenting maxim that was beat into the ideology of every Sith was that power passed on accumulates. Each generation should grow stronger than the next. All led to a purpose, a moment of accomplishment, of achievement. It was the way of the Sith.

A creaking noise broke the room's silence. Hord calmly looked over his shoulder.

Standing in the doorway was a muscular red Massassi warrior, covered in the long red quills fashionably favored by his species. Simple bronze plated armor covered his chest and thighs. A long pole staff stretched between his hulking arms.

The Massassi were an offshoot of the Sith race. They tended to have larger builds and more hair, which often grew in long quills. Naturally they made good fighters due to their strength and endurance.

Hord slowly pushed back his chair, rising to his feet, taking in his opponent. But he was not alone.

In the blink of an eye, Tulak Hord drew all five lightsabers to him, taking one in hand, he instantly ignited the crimson blade.

The Massassi warrior smiled then stepped back out of the doorway, disappearing from sight.

A deafening explosion followed.

The concussion wave knocked the wind out Hord's lungs, blasting his organs in a massive vice. Piles of debris assaulted him from all sides, forcing him to the ground.

As the dust and shrapnel settled to the floor, Hord pushed the rubble off of his body.

His surroundings had changed.

Instead of the quiet little work room, he was now standing in an open clearing of shattered ruins. A few walls still stood but the ceiling was completely gone.

At his feet, his lightsaber still hummed, burning through a piece of durasteel. The other four were still cradled in his left arm.

But where is the Massassi? He wondered.

His dark senses came to life. A sharp instance of warning.

Ten Massassi warriors popped up through the building's scattered remains. Each wielding a powerful cortosis alloy staff.

"Perfect." Hord whispered joyfully.

He stretched his arms out, holding the lightsabers in midair with the Force. In succession the red blades hummed to life. Using his mastery of the Force, he circled the lightsabers around him, each held vertically with the blade pointed in the air.

The Massassi warriors hesitated at the scene before them.

But one stepped forward, unafraid. His pole arm held at the ready. He charged forward. The others followed suit.

Hord could have simply shredded them to pieces but instead he savored the opportunity.

With each lightsaber, he parried the attacks of two foes, blocking the strikes of the cortosis alloy staffs and keeping them at a distance from himself.

Each time one of the Massassi warriors tried to run pass the floating blades, they quickly found themselves the victim of a ruthless onslaught. Blazingly fast strikes pummeled them from all angles of attack.

Somehow Hord wielded each blade with a master's skill without ever touching the hilt. It was if invisible phantoms were guarding the Dark Lord of the Sith with their very lives.

Yet the lust of battle became too great and Hord was compelled to satisfy it.

The gold hilted lightsaber parried the top of a pole axe, pushing the weapon’s tip down, exposing the opponent's upper right torso. With a rapid reverse swing, the lightsaber struck at the defenseless warrior. The searing blade tore through the Massassi's collarbone, down into his lungs, stopping halfway through the chest.

The warrior stopped dead in his tracks. His heavy body slumped to its knees, crumpling into the uneven piles of rubble.

Now there were nine.

One by one he cut them down with elegant swipes, stabs, and feints.

Each victim egged him on to an even greater degree.

With his final victim, his battle lust reached its apex. The lone Massassi warrior was run through by all five lightsabers. Simultaneous motions quickly dismembered the hapless creature.

Hord stood fuming from the fight. His dark hatred filling him with power. Swelling his adrenaline in a rush of ecstasy.

Slowly his breathing calmed, his blood cooled, and his vision returned.

The lightsabers floated to him and he hooked each one onto his belt.

In the distance, he sensed the presence of an approaching being.

Luzige. He realized.

Running at full speed, the Sith Lord rushed to his master's side. "Lord Tulak, are you alright?"

"Fine." He replied stoically.

Luzige looked at the bodies among the rubble. Massassi warriors.

"Massassi warriors...but only-"

Hord cut him off, "-but only Lord Daku has Massassi warriors at his aide."

"Then Nechos has found an ally." Luzige spoke in a dour tone. "What will you do now, milord?"

Hord paused in thought. He had put up with numerous attempts, by Nechos, on his life. After all, it was the way of the Sith. He who ruled could only continue if he was strong enough to maintain his power. To ensure his strength, he must constantly be tested, either by his apprentices or his peers. But Nechos was insistent. He fed off Hord like a parasite.

"Nechos' game has gone on long enough. His intentions have become a nuisance. It is time to put an end to it." He stated sternly.

Luzige nodded in approval. "Did your lightsabers survive the blast?"

Hord spread his cape revealing the five immaculate cylinders hanging from his belt.

"Splendid!" Luzige exlaimed, admiring the craftsmanship.

Walking off of the rubble, Hord's mind peered into the future. He looked through the dark swirls trying to pull out Nechos' face, to see his fate.

Alas there was nothing to be seen. His mind was still too flush from battle.

"What about Lord Daku? Will you seek him out as well?" Asked Luzige.

"No cousin, I think Daku will have a change of heart when he sees what happens to Nechos. It will be quite the surprise." He grinned malevolently, his mind already visualizing the battle.

Luzige mirrored his master’s response, sharing with a smile of his own.

Chapter 7 “Days and Prophecy”

Each of the Sith Lords were granted a handful of inhabited planets to control. Together these worlds formed the Empire of the Sith. Some contained valuable mines and raw materials. Others were well developed industrialized words. Yet one world in particular had a value all its own.

The planet Shalmol, within Adina’s sphere of Sith Space:

An elegant, black starship sliced through the atmosphere. Rays of light reflected off its glossy surface. The pointed hull was reminiscent of a beaked skull with round viewports as eyes.

Lord Adina’s ship glided gently to the surface of the planet. The coarse earth below had once been the bedrock of an ancient ocean. Now it was merely a landing pad amongst a great depression.

Two landing arms unfolded underneath the ship. Their talon like claws finding purchase in dirt hardpan. With a rasping of the air locks, the access hatch slid open, and the boarding ramp extended.

Tall rudimentary buildings stood in the distance, reflecting an architecture of more primitive civilizations long gone. Towering skyscrapers were carved out of natural rock spires. Below them numerous hovels were dug into the side of shallow bluffs. Even the vehicles were made of a light, porous rock.

Among these stone structures were the hulking frames of the Quasgoul.

Adina strolled down the boarding ramp laden in heavy, deep crimson robes. Immaculate black boots clunked on the durasteel plates as he walked. At the foot of the ramp were two Quasgoul waiting patiently.

“Greetings o’ great traveler! It has been many cycles since last we met.” The Quasgoul spoke in a cheerful, harmonious voice.

“Too long in deed, old friend.” Replied Adina. “Much has happened. Many worlds have fallen into my grasp, all for the glory of my people. But I have questions.”

The Quasgoul studied Adina for a moment. “Questions we have answered, more you bring. You will have to appease the camal if more you seek.”

Accepting the situation, Adina moved the conversation along. “So be it, it has been a long journey my friend. Let us find a place to rest first.”

And so the group, Adina and several adjutants plus the two Quasgoul, headed toward the city to find shelter for the night.

During the ride, Adina reflected on the peculiarity of the Quasgoul. They were an odd nonhuman species. Two muscular arms attached to a hulking, slunk over frame supported by two trunk-like legs. Their bulging faces sat on bald, wrinkled heads with little or no neck. But oddest of all were the little miniature cities they hauled on their backs, homes to another symbiotic species know as the Carloe.

A bump jolted Adina out of his thoughts. Unhindered, the rock carriage cruised on. Adina peered out the small viewport, surveying the rushing landscape. On the horizon sat a blazing gold sun. The end of a day was nearing.

Looking over to his right, Adina watched the tiny Carloe buzz about the Quasgoul.

The Carloe were tiny little moth-like creatures of full sentience. Their macroscopic seed pods floated along on the planet’s winds, attaching themselves to the Quasgouls’ newborns. The Carloe formed buildings out of the Quasgoul’s flesh. Over time they would erect scaled castles, temples, and towers on the backs of their host. In doing so they fed off the life energies of the Quasgoul. When the Quasgoul died, so did the Carloe that lived in the tiny cities on the Quasgoul’s back.

In return for the burden of carrying these tiny creatures’ homes, the Quasgoul received immense knowledge of past, present, and future. For the miniscule Carloe were very close to the midi-cholorians of the Force. The currents of the Force flowed freely through them, allowing them to pick out the makings of creation itself.

Quasgoul enjoyed this insight immensely.

“Master Adina, what came of your travels in the Liindzeck land?” Asked the Quasgoul.

“Ah Ja’na, it was an interesting affair. Much of the things your people saw came true.” Adina replied casually.

“Even what I saw?” Inquired Ja’na.

“Yes, it was just as you saw. Arms by the thousands rained from the sky and brought victory to my people.” Adina smiled as he remembered the Quasgoul’s prophetic words.

Ja’na grinned in return. “I’m glad your people were victorious. Great fortune will come in our favor with our people united.”

A frown crept across the Sith Lord’s face. “We must be careful, Ja’na. My people believe in constant change. We are forever fighting each other to strengthen ourselves as a whole. Only with a strong leader can there be hope for my people.”

With interest, Ja’na explored his friend’s discomfort. “Your leader, the great Tulak, is he not powerful and strong like you say?”

“Oh he is quite strong. The greatest swordsman my people have ever seen. But there are others who would put an end to his rule. Ones who hold a grievance.” Adina remarked.

Nodding, Ja’na replied, “this I understand. My people often quarrel in disagreement. Not long ago we warred ferociously to the death over trivial matters. Yet the Carloe came to our rescue and soothed us of our pain and ignorance. Now we live in peace, obsessing with the wisdom of the maker.”

The maker. Thought Adina.

The Sith, even the Jedi, did not believe in a maker. Each order was based on the belief in the Force. But what created the Force? It was hard to argue with the sage wisdom of the Quasgoul and their prophetic Carloe. So many things they had seen and all true. Never had they been wrong about anything.

On into the city the carriage zoomed, hovering over the surface as it raced across the landscape.

* * *

The next day Adina woke in the cool comforts of a typical Quasgoul hovel. There was no ownership, at least not any more, among these people. Travelers found shelter wherever there was room. Belongings were sparse and kept in wagons and carts so as to be mobile.

Rising slowly from the hard, cloth mattress that lied on the earthen floor, Adina stretched his aching muscles.

Another day. He thought.

He looked over into the next room and saw Ja’na and his assistant sitting around a thick, stone slab table, drinking a strong scented tea. Walking over to the table, he took a seat and poured himself a cup of the steaming liquid.

“Good beginnings far traveler!” Greeted Ja’na. “So, friend Adina, shall we be off to see the camal?”

Adina looked around, peering through the open doorways and into the numerous rooms circling around them. All of his aides were still fast asleep.

“Yes, too much time has passed already.” He replied.

Ja’na and his companion smiled, knowing that the Sith Lord was embarrassed with how he and his company and slept in so late.

Thus the trio headed outside to the rock speeder and onwards toward the center of the city.

* * *

Through narrow streets and wide open markets, they made their way towards the inner sa, the dwelling of the cabal.

It was a modest building that looked like a rough hemisphere. Along its surface were numerous windows that gleamed in the yellow beams of the system’s sun.

At the entrance, which was no more than a simple hole in the rock wall, were two Quasgoul sentries, each adorned in elaborate outfits and antiquidated, ornamental weapons.

Adina marched through, Ja’na in the lead, and the other Quasgoul bringing up the rear.

Inside the building was a spider web of low ceiling tunnels. Rooms branched off here and there, occasionally connecting to more passage ways. Simple chemical lanterns lit the interior in a dim glow. It was like a giant honeycomb.

Finally the trio made their way into the inner most chamber of the sa. The chamber was a wide opened hemisphere, about 10 meters in diameter. Around the edges of the room were decorative archways with dark, cave like entrances. In the middle of the room was a circular burn pit, a place for ritualistic bon fires. Above the pit was a chimney leading up through the building’s roof.

Ja’na went to the pit and placed a handful of herbs into the circle. He then took one of the torches placed around the circle, lit it, and used the torch to burn the herbs.

A very powerful aroma filled the chamber as smoke rolled off the herbs.

Lord Adina’s nostrils flared as the scent crept up into his face. He almost gagged as the potent smoke rolled into his lungs. But then something caught his eye. Motion. Beings were moving about the elaborate arches, cautiously drifting out of their caves. The camal were coming out.

Eight elderly Quasgoul shifted their way towards the burn pit. On their backs were extremely magnificent palaces in miniature, each of them housing a small swarm of the Carloe.

The oldest of the council was the first to speak. “So the dark traveler has more questions? Answers you may find, but what do you bring in return?” Asked the elder in a rasping voice.

Adina remembered the elder’s name, Pos’nalla, and bowed slightly in reverence. “I offer details on the last calling’s prophecies.”

All of the elders stirred in anticipation, eager to hear the telling.

The Carloe had turned the Quasgoul into a knowledge crazed species. All of their passions were devoted to spinnings of prophecy. Far into the past, future, and present the Carloe could see, but seldom did the Quasgoul ever get to actual see the events that unfolded. They were forced to accept only what they knew and rely on the assumption that the Carloe were never wrong.

But here was a chance to get reaffirmation of the prophecies, a reaffirmation of faith.

Pos’nalla stepped forward and greeted Adina. “This is most agreeable. First we will seek your answers, then you will tell us all that transpired on your journey, leaving nothing out.” The old being smiled wryly as he gazed at the dark lord.

“So it shall be.” Replied Adina.

The camal circled the pit, inhaling the strong fumes from the burning herbs. Carefully they knelt to the floor, bowing their heads toward the center of the room. In the dim light you could barely make out the tiny Carloe that were swarming about their backs. A faint buzz could be heard in the silence. A rhythmic chanting followed.

A half hour passed as Adina posed his questions to the camal and the ancient beings convened with the Carloe.

Patiently Adina waited.

Finally the chanting ended, the ceremony complete. Pos’nalla was, again, the first to speak. “Many things have yet to transpire, and much has already passed, but the happening is what should concern you dark traveler.”

Another elder, one of long red facial hair and a wizened beard spoke next. “Your Lord holds an empire by the throat. With him it will grow only to an early grave. But if he passes much does the future hold for your people. Wealth, strength, and power beyond measure.”

Across the circle boomed another. “But the passing must be soon. It will be soon. And there is nothing you can do. Your hand will not hold the blade.”

“Another of you kind will lay the stroke.” Continued the red beard. “And with one stroke, five swords will fall.”

Five swords. One stroke. Adina struggled to put the thoughts together.

“There is more, dark traveler. The passing of a red lord will bring prosperity to your people. Your kingdom will be united in purpose. Your lord will grow strong, far more powerful than he is today. With the sword he will be without equal, even with the passing of eons, none shall ever reach his skill.”

In a grim tone Ja’na spoke, “and still by the blade he shall fall.”

Pos’nalla nodded in agreement with the younger Quasgoul.

Waiting for further comment, Adina stood silently, but none came.

Delicately, the Sith Lord inquired about his own destiny. “What of I?”

Pos’nalla turned to one of the stoutest elders of the camal. The tank like being shifted as he considered the images that he saw. “You must seek the past. In it lies the future.”

“And what must I seek from the past?” Adina asked curiously.

The burly Quasgoul raised his massive head. His gaze peered into Adina’s black eyes. “Ancient knowledge that the Architects passed to the Builders. Tomes on the creation of life. In this you must play your part.”

Pos’nalla concluded the ceremony, “no more can we speak. All your answers have been given.” The elder inclined his head to Adina and waited.

As promised, Adina recounted the events of his campaign in the Lozon System. By the time he was finished, the setting sun had come and gone. Two cycles had passed, one day in standard time, but the beginning of something new for Adina.

The beginning of a quest.

Chapter 8: “Carrion for the worms”

Ziost

Eternal twilight hovered over the frozen skies of the Sith capital. Red skinned Sith were going about their business, huddled in thick fur cloaks. Their minds were about their daily lives: going to work, feeding their families, and how best to spend their evenings when alone with their loved ones. Even though they were a piece of a grander scheme, an empire, their thoughts only wandered there in passing. To them it was part of something of which they played only an insignificant role. How could their lives really affect those of the Sith Lords?

* * *

Away from the public eye, gathered in one of the nine Great Fortresses, the Sith Lords were seated. A special meeting had been called for by the Dark Lord himself. At present, Tulak Hord remained calmly seated at his place of honor. His black and gold armor sat ominously at the head of the grand table before them. The other lords, adorned in various fine cloths and rare jewels, waited patiently for the evening’s announcement.

Slowly, with animated showmanship, Lord Tulak rose to address those present. “I have called this meeting today in the interest of the Sith Empire. It has come to my attention that there is a threat among us, an impediment to our progress that I can no longer ignore.”

Hord paused, letting the silence stab through the air like an assassin’s blade. With an aura of dominance and power, he walked over to Lord Nechos.

“Lord Nechos, rise before your brethren.”

Nechos did as he was commanded. His body trembled in fear and stumbled as he managed to get to his feet.

“It is no secret that you covet my power. For years you have set yourself against me. Yet I have let the game go on in the interest of preserving my focus. You have kept me sharp, Lord Nechos, and ever watchful.” A coy smile crossed the Dark Lord’s reddish face.

“But recent events have gone too far. There is an old saying that it is unwise to toy with deadly game.” Tulak looked Nechos fully in the eyes. “You are too dangerous to play with anymore. I challenge you, Lord Nechos, to the death. Victor receives the title of Dark Lord of the Sith.”

He looked over at the lords seated around the table. “This order I command all of you to obey.”

“You can’t be serious…you are!” Nechos was aghast, his mouth hung slacken beneath his crimson face. “You’re mad! You’ve taken this lightsaber obsession all too far. Now you just what to test your mettle against a Sith Lord!”

Tulak Hord stood like a devilish ghoul, a sinister smile plastered across his cheeks. His eyes dug deep into Nechos’ flimsy shell of confidence. The predator had become shaken.

Lord Nechos was a politician by heart, a warrior when it suited his purposes. Logistics, organization, and manipulation were his strengths. Combat was…distasteful. Yet a Sith Lord did not shy away from killing. There are ways to get things done without ever getting your hands dirty. For one thing there was the Force.

“Fine. Have your way, an end to the games, an open duel for all to see. Maybe then they’ll see just how mad you’ve become.” Nechos swirled off his fur cloak.

“Not here, like animals. We should honor the traditions of our predecessors. In the old days lords fought for supremacy in the pit.” The pit was an icy sunken square in the middle of capital’s public forums, a gladiatorial arena for disputes.

“To the pit then.”

Nechos’ voice was hollow, his strength on a bare thread.

The lords rose and followed, everyone going to their ships. It would be a short ride to the forums, no one wanted to miss out.

* * *

At first the passing crowd merely looked on with mild interest. It was not everyday you got to see a Sith Lord. Yet as they continued to watch, they saw more and more. All of them in fact.

“Do you see that, the entire council is there.” Remarked a Sith laborer.

“I wonder what they’re up to?” Asked another.

The laborer pointed his finger toward the pit. “I bet they’re going to duke it out, just like the old days. My grandfather once told a tale of seeing the Dark Lords fight for the title.”

“Quick, lets go get a good spot before they’re all taken.”

And with that, the crowd became a mob. Soon a quarter of the city was gathered in attendance, peering over heads, gawking from nearby windows, and perched on the roof tops. Everyone wanted to see the show.

There, at the bottom of the pit, were two Sith Lords, each adorned in hulking armor. Lord Nechos wore green jaded mail, a tall narrow helmet crowning the attire. In his quaking hands was a massive great sword imbued with Sith alchemy. The dark tendrils swirled around it.

Before him was Tulak Hord. His tall stature was emblazoned in black and gold armor. Ragged spikes jutted out in odd angles from his pauldrons and gauntlets. A deadly spike protruded from each armored boot. Yet no swords were in his hands. There was no sheath hanging from his belt.

Instead there were six ornate cylinders dangling in their elegance.

Each instrument of destruction called out to Hord. With great envy, he chose the one with the most kills. This one was lighter than the rest. Its handle was made of a light-density ore dug from the depths Koldar VII. Small groves were etched into its surface, crisscrossing as they reached toward the emitter. A lone blue button served as the igniter. The switch yearned for his touch.

“Tulak Hord, Dark Lord of the Sith, let it be known that I did not seek this fight but I will not hesitate to finish it.” Nechos put on a good show for the people, he did not want to be seen a coward in front of his subjects.

Tulak nodded in approval. “And let it be known that there can be only one Dark Lord. Today one leaves the pit either as ruler of our people or food for the worms.”

Hord ignited the fiery red blade, a wild glow in his eyes. Without haste, the two charged forward, joining in a clash of steel as their armor clanged against one another. Shoulder to shoulder they pushed to dislodge their opponent’s footing. Both blades remained back and at the ready. Neither one gave ground.

Nechos sensed that Tulak was getting the upper hand, thus he whipped his blade forward, a clean swipe to the hip. The blade hit between the joints of the armor, its tortured blade searing into Hord’s flesh.

Tulak’s face showed no pain, in fact, he smiled.

“Pain shall be your undoing.” Hord taunted, bringing his lightsaber up above his head. The weightless beam zipped through the air, all the way to the ground without resistance. He pulled the blade back to his side, extinguishing the blood colored beam.

Nechos stood dumbfounded, his shock frozen on his face as the color rapidly vanished from his rosy cheeks. A sickly pale hue embraced him like a blanket. Its cold warmth slipped him casually through the planes of existence. Numbness carried him away.

His body slumped to the earthen floor. The onlookers gasped in shock. It had ended so quickly, they didn’t even see the lords use their dark powers.

Several of the Sith Lords turned away in disgust or dismay. Adina and Serq looked on calmly, merely waiting for their lord’s orders.

Tulak approached them. “Come, we have work to do.” The Dark Lord of the Sith left the battlefield.

No one dared to touch Nechos’ body, instead it was left to rot. Carrion for the worms.
_________________

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