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Before - Legends Sith Politics: Fun and Games

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by PlanetSmasher, Apr 15, 2017.

  1. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    This story takes place in The Old Republic Era. This is a very dark story.

    Title: Sith Politics: Fun and Games

    Author(s): PlanetSmasher

    Timeframe: The Old Republic Era, about 300 years after Revan

    Characters: The main character in this story is Darth Nox

    Genre: Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller,

    Keywords: Vengeance, Power Struggles, Betrayal, Political Intrigue

    Summary: Darth Nox finds that a plot has been in place to cause his fall from the Sith Empire's Dark Council. He needs to uncover the plot, discover who the enemies are and destroy them, to stay in power.

    Notes: Chapter one sets the mood, and gives you an idea of how evil and depraved Darth Nox is. I tried showing this, through the eyes of the side characters. At the end of the chapter, you get a sense of how depraved Sith are, by seeing what are the things that worry Darth Nox.

    There isn't a lot of dialog in chapter one, because there's a lot of chaos, and destruction, and the supporting characters are just trying to stay out of the way. You get a lot more dialog between the characters starting from Chapter two.

    Chapter one and two set's up the story. Chapter three is where it all starts.

    This story tries to imagine what Sith society is like.

    Feel free to comment on what I write. Thanks.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​


    Chaos, Tragedy, and A Darker Path Chosen
    Andronikos cursed under his breath, "Oh crap!"

    He locked the controls and quickly left his pilot's seat the moment Darth Nox and Lord Ashara began quarreling. A few years ago, he'd learned - the hard way - to get the hell out of their way whenever they began to argue. Because of his rage against Ashara, Nox had used The Force to throw Andronikos out of his pilot's seat, and then slammed him into the bulkhead.

    Andronikos didn't want to have to rebuild the ship droid - again - either. It was a lot of work reconstructing 2V-R8, after Nox had demolished it three years ago.

    _____________________________________________________________________​

    Three years ago, the droid had become one of the many victims of Nox's frustrations. Back then, Lord Ashara had refused a mission to assassinate a delegation of Jedi visiting Hutta. These Jedi were on an actual humanitarian mission.

    Five years earlier, millions of Republic settlers had escaped Taris on overcrowded starships, in the final weeks of the Empire's assault on Taris. During the assault on Olaris Spaceport, as the masses of Republic settlers evacuated the planet, the Galactic Republic government's resolve to rebuild and resettle the ruined world had been broken. They had abandoned Taris to the Sith Empire.

    Among the ten million evacuees fleeing to different worlds, a group of several thousand Cathar had fled to Hutta in desperation. On Hutta, the Cathar people had become virtual slaves. Five years later, Darth Nox had learned of a Jedi delegation that had gone to Hutta to negotiate with the Hutts on behalf of the Galactic Republic. They wanted to relocate the Cathar to Republic aligned worlds.

    It was then, in Darth Nox's office, Ashara had refused an order to interfere with their mission, and had also refused an order to assassinate the four member Jedi delegation.

    She spoke tactfully, but resolutely, "My lord, I have not shrunk from the task of killing Jedi, before. But in those instances, those Jedi were saboteurs, spies, and Jedi I felt that threatened my vision of bringing peace to the galaxy."

    Nox scoffed at her, "Peace? When will you ever acknowledge that peace is a lie, Ashara!"

    Ashara answered her husband, "My lord, I believe that after the Sith Empire has defeated and conquered the Galactic Republic, the galactic wars will come to an end. Then we shall be largely at peace in the galaxy."

    Nox, at the edge of his fury, told her, "Ashara. For the last time, obey me! Go, now!"

    Ashara answered resolutely, "My lord, I obey your will in many things. But in this, I will not. They seek only to ease the suffering of a few people. These Jedi pose no threat to the Empire with their mission."

    On hearing her defiance to him, Darth Nox had flown into a rage and instantly began attacking his ship droid as it happened to approach him to deliver a message. Nox tore the droid apart as Ashara fled from the Dark Lord's presence, and out of his offices at The Sphere of Ancient Knowledge, in Kaas City.

    _________________________________________________________________​

    Andronikos hadn't known any of the circumstances that had led to Nox wrecking his droid three years earlier, but he did know he didn't want to have to rebuild the droid a second time.

    He ordered the ship droid in a low but urgent tone, "2V-R8, stand by in the Engineering Department. Now! Quickly!"

    As Andronikos made his way out of the control bridge, 2V-R8 also rushed for the engineering department as ordered, replying, "Yes, Captain."

    Andronikos Revel, a Human, evacuated the bridge and escaped to the common crew section. There he took refuge from the coming storm in the control bridge. As he lounged in a chair, and with nothing better to do since he wasn't piloting the ship, he decided to watch Khem Val and Darth Xalek play a round of Pazaak. The two played as though nothing were amiss.

    Watching their Pazaak game was his way of weathering the storm of fury and rage brewing within the control bridge. He'd hoped for the quarrel to end soon, so that he could get back to work. Andronikos wasn't entirely sure the ship was on a course that led it safely out of its orbit over Oricon.

    He thought anxiously, "We shouldn't fly into anything. I hope." Then in frustration, he thought angrily, "Damn Ashara, just tell him you won't do whatever it was again, so that he'll shut up! I got to get back at the controls!"

    However, this quarrel had unexpectedly become violent. Andronikos turned in his seat and looked over his shoulder towards the control bridge. He was shocked at the sounds of clashing lightsabers exploding from within the bridge.

    He could hear Ashara's plaintive voice over the sounds of the angry lightsabers' own dispute, "My lord...!"

    A series of lightsaber clashes followed.

    "Do not turn your hatred towards me!"

    Another series of lightsaber clashes followed.

    "I'm doing my best to serve your will without compromising my teachings!"

    Andronikos winced as Darth Nox's rage filled voice returned with, "I will hear no more of your blasphemous Jedi teachings!"

    Another round of violent saber clashes exploded from within the bridge. The unmistakable sounds of lightsabers cutting into the metal cabinets, the bulkheads (the walls in a ship), and the ship's deck caused Andronikos to jump to his feet.

    He faced in the direction of the control bridge thinking in dismay, "What the hell are they doing to my ship?!"

    ________________________________________________________________​

    In the control bridge, Darth Nox, a Sith Pureblood in his mid thirties, with black hair done in a flamboyant top-knot which stuck out of the back of his partially shaved pate, battled his reluctant apprentice, former Jedi and wife of seven years, Ashara Zavros of the Togruta species. He battered her to the deck of his modified Fury class Interceptor spacecraft. His rage against her had never been as severe as this.

    His spies had discovered that rumors were spreading amongst his servants within his powerbase, and worse, among the other members of the Dark Council.

    He roared at her, spittle spraying from his mouth, as he brought down his sabrestaff repeatedly with all of his fury, "This has happened because you keep insisting you're a Jedi!" He suddenly paused his assault to drive home his point, "Get it through your thick skull! You are a Lord of The Sith!"

    He was determined to beat that lesson into her, as he renewed his attack.

    Ashara blocked, parried, deflected, and dodged four rapid and vicious attacks.

    She shouted pleadingly, "My Lord...!"

    Lightsaber clashes followed.

    "Do not believe the lies your enemies have invented!"

    Followed by more lightsaber clashes.

    It was rumored that Nox had not only failed to turn his captured Jedi to the Dark Side, but that Ashara had been leading him on with silly notions of changing the powerful Imperial government into a weakened egalitarian form of government, with rights and freedoms for the non-sith and the undeserving.

    Darth Nox was beside himself with humiliation and rage. Humiliation, because it was true that he'd failed to turn Ashara to the Dark Side of The Force, and rage because the rumors depicted him as having been dominated by Ashara's Jedi trickery.

    Nox raged at Ashara, pointing at her face with his finger, "These lies are true, so long as you call yourself Jedi!"

    He had backed Ashara into a corner of the control bridge. He executed a spinning attack with his sabrestaff.

    Ashara leapt over him, as his sabrestaff cut into the bulkheads, creating showers of sparks, but she kept low to avoid hitting the overhead (or ceiling). She rolled to the center of the control bridge deck, thus escaping his trap and regaining distance from Nox as she turned to face him with lightsabers ablaze in each hand.

    Ashara was unsettled. She'd never seen her husband and lord so unhinged before. Her visions of the future, which she'd been having for the last three years, were finally becoming reality, and her heart pounded with the realization that she knew what would follow.

    _____________________________________________________________________​

    Andronikos had been standing in front of his seat facing the hatchway to the ship's control bridge. He agonized over the havoc those two were creating on his ship.

    He thought to himself in disbelief, "Damn! They're really fighting in there! That argument got out of hand, fast!" Then in frustration, he exclaimed to Xalek and Khem, "They're gonna wreck the damned ship!"

    When he didn't get a reply from either of them, he turned to look back and was shocked to find that the two had already withdrawn from the game table and were rushing to their respective quarters.

    Andronikos thought to himself, "Damn! What the hell am I standing here for?!"

    He made a break for his own bunk. As he rushed to his own quarters, the fierce clashing of the sabers had suddenly ended. He felt a sickening feeling grow in his gut as he walked quickly to his quarters.

    He though to himself, "The fight's over?"

    In his gut, however, he felt something wasn't right. Andronikos faintly heard Darth Nox's worry filled voice coming from the control bridge as he came to a stop just outside of his quarters.

    "Ashara! Ashara?!" Then, "WHAT... HAVE... I... DOOOOOOOONE?!"

    A furious storm of lightning suddenly raged within the control bridge, which then spilled out into the common crew section.

    His heart racing, Andronikos watched as multiple bolts of Lightning arced from the overhead to the deck of the common crew space. His stomach lurched as he watched lightning blast the lounge seat he'd been sitting in not a moment before. He could barely hear Darth Nox's anguished cries over the sounds of arcing lightning and exploding control consoles in the control bridge and the common crew space.

    Andronikos shook his head in disbelief as he thought to himself, "He actually killed Ashara!"

    He also realized he was going to have a lot of repair work ahead of him, but he had no idea how bad the damage was about to get.

    _____________________________________________________________________​

    Standing just outside of his quarters, Andronikos shook his head in disgust as the fire alarms began to sound off and acrid black smoke began to pour from the control bridge. He felt some relief, however, when the fire suppression system kicked into action, nodding his satisfaction when 2V-R8, an integral part of the fire suppression system, rushed into the control bridge with fire fighting equipment to fight the electrical fire and to conduct damage control activities.

    The lightning arcs stopped long enough for Darth Nox to take in a deep breath. Then a new storm of lightning erupted in the control bridge as Nox screamed out his fury and his agonizing grief. The second Force Lightning storm was worse than the first one. The lightning arcs spilled all the way to the passage way on the far rear of the common crew section, almost to the ship's main air lock.

    Any relief Andronikos had felt over the situation was replaced with feelings of dread, as he watched the smoke suddenly begin to retrace its path back into the control bridge.

    Andronikos was drowned out by the cacaphony of alarms as he cursed aloud, "Oh crap!"

    He knew this could only mean one thing, as a new alarm added it's panicked noise to the cacophony of alarms sounding off throughout the ship. The main canopy had cracked and had sprung a big leak. Air was seeping out of the ship through the crack in the main canopy.

    Andronikos thought to himself, "Hell! I'd better do something!"

    The instant he thought that, however, the main canopy shattered explosively and the ship's atmosphere let out a terrifying howl as it escaped into space. The ship began to suffer explosive decompression.

    However, the terrifying howl of thousands of cubic feet per second of the ship's atmosphere vacuuming out through the shattered canopy, and into space, became less terrifying as the ship's automatic systems kicked in. Blast doors came down, separating sections of the ship, and barrier force shields went up where the shattered canopy used to be, preserving the remaining air.

    The very loud hissing sound of compressed auxiliary air, restoring air pressure in the crew spaces, was welcomed relief to Andronikos. In a short time, the air pressure returned to normal, and Andronikos' popped ears also returned to normal.

    Andronikos took note that the ship's fire suppression system and the environmental control system both worked flawlessly. The tension began to leave Andronikos' shoulders as the blast doors began to reopen, retreating into the overhead, and the alarms became silent, one by one.

    He thought to himself, "Well, now I don't have to run tests to see if those work. They just did."

    Andronikos turned his head at the movement at the corner of his eye. He'd found that Khem and Xalek had appeared once again, emerging from and standing just outside of their respective quarters. The three of them all returned their attention to the control bridge entryway as the Dark Lord of the Sith finally emerged.

    Andronikos wondered for the first time since the chaos began, "Are we next?"

    _____________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox emerged from the bridge filled with pure hatred, seething in unbridled rage, and drowning in crushing grief. Darth Nox made a low growling noise as he dragged Ashara's limp and partially severed body, leaving a heavy trail of her blood and other bodily fluids on the deck. His low growl was like the sound of a fierce predator that had suffered a terrible wound.

    Darth Nox, his shoulders stooped and his face twisted by his pitch black emotions, seemed to drag himself as well as his late wife to an airlock. He stood for a moment, staring at the controls, as though he'd briefly forgotten what it was that he'd intended.

    After a moment of staring absently, Nox finally used his free hand to manipulate the controls to open the inner hatch. His low wounded animal growl became a furiously anguished roar as he used The Force to assist in throwing his late wife's body into the airlock, but he did it with such power, that its impact against the outer hatch could be felt reverberating throughout the ship. It sounded as if an overgrown giant rancor had banged against the ship's outer hull with a huge boulder.

    Then, he stepped into the airlock himself and faced the airlock controls. After staring at the controls in contemplation, and hesitating for a good while, he stepped back out of the airlock, deciding to take the darker path. The power of the Dark Side flowed through him like it had never done before. He'd sought that power for many years. Now, here, he'd finally obtained it.

    Darth Nox shut the hatch, then activated the purge system. Ashara's lifeless corpse tumbled out into space. Nox leaned against the inner hatch, sobbing. After a few moments, he turned about slowly and made eye contact with Andronikos Revel.

    Andronikos had never felt fear of another man in his life, but right then, he felt that he was in the presence of a demon, not a man, and it gave him pause. He felt the crushing pressure of Nox's monstrous hate filled aura becoming worse with each step Nox took towards him. He'd felt this aura from Nox many times in the past, but it was never like this.

    Darth Nox, panting for air, stopped a few paces from where Andronikos struggled to remain standing, leaning back against the bulkhead for support. Nox's face had lost much of the darkness that had twisted it into a facade of hatred only a moment before. However, Andronikos could still feel the crush of his Dark Side aura. He felt cursed as Nox spoke his name.

    "Andronikos."

    Andronikos, sweat pouring inside his tunic and running down his temples, down his brow and into his eyes, fought to keep his cool and to keep breathing as he replied cautiously, "Yeah...?" He gulped, then added, "Boss?"

    Darth Nox spoke in a low, harsh breathy tone, still out of breath, "The control bridge needs repairs... The controls seem to be damaged... Find us...," He paused for a few breaths, and then continued, "... Find us an Imperial Navy space port..., a port with repair facilities to take care if it."

    Andronikos had somehow mustered the strength to reply, "Sure, Boss."

    Andronikos fought the fog of demonic hatred, emanating from Nox, which threatened to smother his mind as he surveyed the scorch marks on the overhead, the bulkheads, the deck, and the ruined furniture of the common crew space. Andronikos fought to keep his sense of humor, as he thought to himself, "Just the control bridge, eh?"

    Darth Nox, just starting to breath normally, addressed his only remaining apprentice, again in a low, winded tone, "Darth Xalek."

    Xalek could feel the crushing black darkness and hatred pouring from his master. He knelt before his lord and intoned ever so reverently, "Yes, Dark Master? How may I serve thee?"

    Darth Nox replied, as some strength returned to his voice, "I want you to contact whomever is in charge of Taris these days and start inquiring about captured Republic bases. Find out whether any ancient artifacts have been located in any of them."

    "Is there something in particular you are searching for, lord?" Xalek asked.

    Darth Nox replied, "For now, I will keep the particulars to myself. Just start inquiring."

    Xalek replied, "As you decree, my dark master."

    Xalek stood, turned, and walked to the conference room without another word to begin his task.

    Darth Xalek was Nox's apprentice whom Nox had obtained from the Sith Academy on Korriban. He was a Kaleesh male. He served and worshiped Nox as a living god. It was the way of his people's culture to worship the most powerful warriors.

    Xalek was, himself, worshiped as a living god among his Kaleesh peoples. His exploits in battle were all well known to them. Xalek however, knew that he was leagues below his master in terms of power and control of The Force, but he always gleaned new knowledge from his master every chance he got, and became stronger every time.

    Now his master required him to find an ancient relic. No doubt it was one of immense power or containing forgotten dark knowledge. He wanted to find it and use it himself before turning it over to his master. Xalek hoped to one day defeat his master and truly become a god among the living. He was deeply awed by Nox's great power and basked in Nox's crushing hate filled aura. He rejoiced inwardly, for Darth Nox, as he witnessed his master reach a new level of darkness and might in the Dark Side of The Force.

    ___________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox turned to make his way to his own quarters, but stopped in his tracks after only a few steps.

    He turned his head to face Khem Val and said, "I could feel your malevolence all the way from here, Khem Val." Then with irritation edging his tired low voice, he asked, "What do you want from me?"

    Khem Val scratched the back of his head as though he had second thoughts about what he'd wanted to ask.

    After a short but perceptible pause, Khem shrugged his massive shoulders as he thought to himself, "Why should I fear to ask?" Aloud, Khem Val said to his master, "Master, long have I wished to eat that one. Let me get her corps, so that I may feast on it."

    Andronikos took a big leaping step into his quarters and shut the hatch. He shook his head in disbelief as he allowed himself to sink to the deck in his quarters. He didn't have the strength to remain standing in the face of Nox's crushing dark aura. He rolled onto his back and held the palm of his hand firmly to his mouth to suppress his laughter.

    He was struck with great mirth as he thought to himself, "Khem, you insane monster, you!"

    Darth Nox now turned fully to face Khem Val and walked towards him.

    Khem thought to himself, "At last! The moment of my freedom has come!"

    He was about to reach for his weapon, but hesitated when Nox stopped in his own tracks. Nox had barely mastered his fury.

    In a low, shaky, rage-filled voice, he told Khem Val, "Go...! Go out the airlock..., to get her corps..., if you want it..., that badly!"

    Khem Val bowed respectfully as he replied in a tone that showed both his gratitude and his deep appreciation for what he believed was Nox's largess, "Thank you, my master. I shall relish this meal!"

    Andronikos had been waiting in his quarters for a new battle to erupt inside the ship, but it remained silent. After a while, when he found it easier to move, he'd gotten up and opened the hatch to his quarters and stuck his head out. Andronikos' jaw dropped in amazement as he watched Khem, in his spacesuit and compact jetpack, entering the airlock. Nox had apparently granted Khem's request, and had already gone into his own quarters and shut the hatch.

    Khem Val was a Dashade male with green skin adorned with tattoos, whose meaning was lost to all except other surviving Dashade. He was a hulking behemoth of a beast that subsisted on the flesh of those sensitive to The Force. In short, the Dashade hunted, killed and ate Jedi, Sith, and anyone else sensitive to The Force.

    Years before, when Darth Nox explored the tombs of Korriban as a mere acolyte, he'd come across this Dashade and fought it in a furious battle to keep from becoming its food. Since Nox had prevailed, the Dashade furiously relented and regretfully bound himself to Nox's service as was the custom of the Dashade species.

    Khem Val vowed to him then, "I serve you now, little sith, but one day I shall become strong. I shall break my bonds to you and shall feast on your delicious throat!"

    Sith powerful enough to subdue a Dashade were vanishingly rare, as were the Dashade themselves. When Nox returned to the Sith Academy from the tombs with Khem Val in tow, he was regarded with great awe by many of his peers. However, his rivals and enemies, who'd scoffed and mocked him before, began to fear and respect him instead.

    _____________________________________________________________________​

    Earlier, when Nox's and Ashara's quarrel started to get really bad, Talos' sixth sense told him to start saving whatever relics he could. He'd loaded some very old but very well preserved relics – possibly predating the Sith era – that he'd unearthed while on Oricon into an escape pod. Then he got into the pod himself to wait out their argument.

    When their argument turned into a lightsaber battle, Talos thought he'd have to launch the escape pod to save himself and the precious artifacts. As far as he knew, Nox and Ashara had never been violent with each other before.

    Talos wondered to himself, as he rested his hand on the launch button, "Will this be our end?"

    He could feel Nox's putrid dark aura all the way from where he sat in the escape pod.

    Talos Drellik was a Human who served as a captain in the Imperial Army. He served in the branch known as the Imperial Reclamation Service. In essence, Talos was a military archaeologist.

    Talos served Nox by conducting archaeological digs and studying ancient Sith and Jedi ruins, relics, artifacts, etc. Talos had a long and distinguished career before he'd met Darth Nox, but his reputation among his fellow archaeologists and academicians only grew under his direct service to Darth Nox.

    A long while later, in the escape pod, after the alarms had stopped sounding, Talos had gotten a call from Xalek to join him in the conference room.

    Talos said, "Darth Xalek, it sounded pretty bad for a while there." Then he asked, hesitantly, "Is it... done?"

    Xalek replied, "It is. Do not say anything to our lord, for now. It might re-ignite his rage. Now, hurry here. We have much work to do."

    Talos had yet to learn of Ashara's demise, but Xalek's failure to mention Ashara made him fear the worst for her. He genuinely liked her.

    ___________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox's vile, hate filled aura had receded, and Andronikos, sensing that the coast was clear, confirmed that Khem Val had returned to the ship before he made his way to the ship's Engineering Department. There, with the aid of the ship droid, Andronikos used the back up navigation systems to pilot the ship back to it's last port of call, an Imperial Navy orbital station with repair facilities in orbit over Ilum. The Imperial Naval station, orbiting the planet, boasted state of the art repair facilities. It was where the Imperial Fleet, operating in the region, made repairs for minor to moderate battle damage.

    After fierce fighting, some years before, the Republic finally acquiesced and largely conceded Ilum to the Empire – for the time being. The Jedi had vowed to, one day, return. The Sith Empire took that vow very seriously, and bulked up their forces on and around Ilum, in preparation for the Jedis' eventual return.

    ___________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox, alone in his stateroom, was reeling from his emotional imbalance. He was, at once, furious and in mourning. He was filled with hatred, at himself, and filled with fear of his enemies moving against him.

    He reveled in the power of the Dark Side, which flowed through him at that moment like it had never done before, but he was also filled with terrible regret for what he'd done. He had killed his wife! He loved, and he hated, Ashara.

    She was the mother of his children, and she was his first apprentice, albeit very stubborn and headstrong. Now she was dead, made into food for his Dashade servant, Khem Val. He reproached himself bitterly for allowing it, and it fueled his Dark Side power even more.

    Nox thought of his two small children, four and five years in age living in Kaas City, and wondered how he would break the news to them. Would they hate their father for killing their mother? Or would they instead be filled with crippling fear of him? Would it make them stronger in the Dark Side of The Force? Or would their spirit break, leaving them useless as heirs?

    He wanted them to become stronger in the Dark Side before sending them to Korriban for their trials in ten or twelve years. However, he anguished over whether this news would fill them with empowering hatred or destructive fear. Nox shook his head as he struggled with his doubts, his fears, and his self hatred.

    Thinking of Korriban reminded him that the Dark Council also resided on Korriban. Nox realized that for the first time in his career, as a member of the Dark Council, his position was threatened. He'd been blindsided by these rumors, and the derogatory whisperings within his own powerbase was becoming widespread.

    There was no doubt his rivals were already moving to discredit him and were already working to have him removed from the Dark Council. He would need a powerful new ally to help him beat back his enemies on the Dark Council, both through careful political maneuvering and, if need be, with his sabrestaff. For that reason, he ordered Xalek to start his search.
     
  2. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Ilum Orbital Space Station For Repairs​
    Ilum's orbital space station had grown into a massive structure that could easily be seen from Ilum's surface, brighter than any star in the night sky, when Ilum's star shown on it. It now regularly serviced battle damaged warships and had an impeccable reputation for efficiency, accurate estimates of costs for repairs, and excellent speed of service. Andronikos, however, was rather displeased with what he'd been told.

    As Ship's Captain, Andronikos ran Nox's ship and maintained all of its systems. So, this wouldn't be the first time he'd have to worry over extensive damage to Nox's ship. Although in times past, the damage had always been done to the outside of the ship, to the ship's hull, as it took turbo-laser blast damage. Andronikos had also overseen major repairs to other ships that he'd commanded in the past.

    Before Nox had found him, he was a notorious pirate with a vicious reputation and a vicious temper that justified his reputation. He had also gained extensive knowledge and experience in assessing the damage done to his ships and what it would take to make repairs to them after each raid he and his crew had executed.

    Now he served Darth Nox, not only as his ship's Captain, but as Nox's connection to the criminal underworld. Andronikos had retained some impressive connections there from his pirating days. All of this experience told him that he had nothing but bad news to break to Darth Nox, who'd been sitting on a couch in his guest suite aboard the space dock waiting for Andronikos' report.

    Andronikos started the dialog hesitantly, "Um... Boss?"

    Darth Nox knew, right off, from the way that Andronikos had approached him that he was about to get bad news, but he asked anyway, "What is it, Andronikos? Is it about the ship?"

    Andronikos replied, "Uh... Yeah, Boss. It is. The damage to the bridge is complete. You really did a real fine job of wrecking it pretty damned well. You hammered the crew deck pretty good, too. Not to mention all of the systems, wiring, and machinery in the bulkheads, overhead, and under the decks, too." He chuckled as though he'd told a joke. Then he went on, "The good news is, it can be fixed. The bad news is, it's all special order parts. Your ship is pretty rare, so they have to wait for parts."

    He could see in Nox's expression that he was about to say something along the lines of, "I am a Dark Lord on the Dark Council. Make them hurry and get the parts!"

    Andronikos headed him off at the pass by quickly adding, "I told them who's ship it is, and that you were in a tearing hurry to get going again. They said they could get you to anywhere in the galaxy that you need to be on one of the local fleets' transports, whenever you wanted to get going.

    "It's just that not only would they need to special order the equipment from Tandankin Shipyards, which builds your ship class, but Tandankin Shipyards has to actually fabricate the parts - it's all special ordered. Then they have to wait for the parts to be transported – to here, before they could even start the repairs. They say three months for all of that to happen."

    Darth Nox bolted to his feet, and pointing a very dangerous finger at Andronikos' face, was about to let him have a scathing earful of, "I can't wait that long!" However, he mastered his rage and paused as he lowered his hand.

    Andronikos flinched, thinking he was about to get a face full of lightning.

    After a time to recover his temper, Nox resumed his seat and finally spoke, saying, "The Fury Interceptor is as common a ship as the Imperial Navy has. How can they not have the parts I need, here?"

    Andronikos managed to keep his cool as he reminded Nox, "Boss, your ship is heavily modified. There's nothing standard about your Fury Interceptor. It's all special ordered stuff."

    Nox did not like that answer either, but killing Imperial officers wouldn't get his ship fixed any faster, he realized.

    Instead Nox said, "Make arrangements for me to travel to Taris on one of their transports. In the meantime, you stay here and see to the ship's repairs. When it's done, find me on Taris, or wherever I'll have gone to by then."

    Andronikos, having recovered his composure, replied, "Yes sir, Boss."

    Andronikos refused to call Darth Nox, Master. He felt that a master was someone you served until you were used up and discarded, and that a boss was someone you could quit working for and leave anytime you wanted to. He'd made that distinction very clear to Darth Nox years before when he'd first come into his service. Nox had said nothing at the time. He'd merely nodded his head at Andronikos' assertions, as though he'd understood where Andronikos was coming from.

    Andronikos could tell, right then, that leaving Nox's service would mean a life or death adventure of evading and escaping his employment to Darth Nox. It didn't bother Andronikos too much, however. A pirate's life was like that anyway. A pirate couldn't just quit his gang without a few issues popping up, either.

    He turned about and walked out of Nox's suite to see to the ship's repairs. He was glad for the excuse to get out of Nox's presence.

    He thought to himself, "Damn these Sith and their tempers!"

    He laughed at himself, when he remembered he had quite an anger management issue, himself.

    Earlier, when Andronikos had been told it would be three months for the repairs to get done, he quickly put a blaster barrel muzzle to the lips of the repair facilities chief and gave a solemn promise to deliver his postmortem apologies to Darth Nox for taking too long. That got the facilities chief to promise the work done in two months instead of three.

    However, even as Andronikos holstered his blaster, accepting the facilities chief's pledge to have it all done in two months, he knew it was an empty promise. There was no telling how long before Tandankin Shipyards would make the time to fabricate the parts and have them shipped to Ilum. Three months was already an optimistic estimate.

    Andronikos knew he'd only bought himself a few months to figure out how to get Nox's ship up and running again. He knew that waiting for Tandankin Shipyards was not the way to go. He started to think about what he'd need to get the heat under their asses as he returned to the hanger bay housing Nox's wrecked ship. He also began planning for his exodus from Nox's service, in case he couldn't get the ship up and running in time.
     
  3. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Imperial Settlement Number One​


    Darth Komo was re-reading a report from one of his subordinates. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the repeated setbacks he'd been suffering at the hands of the local rebels. They were supported by Republic Commandos operating behind the scenes. Yet the irony of his situation gave him a reason to laugh ruefully as he set the report down. He shook his head in disgust.

    Komo, a rotund Human in his mid fifties and greying hair and male pattern baldness, stood from his desk and walked to his holo-terminal. Dialing a comm frequency gave him the apprentice of one of his subordinate Sith Lords instead of his subordinate directly. That irked him greatly.

    Darth Komo said menacingly, "Vulgren, get your master on." Then he growled out, "This instant!"

    The apprentice, bowing deeply, nearly exclaimed in a startled voice, "At once, Darth Komo!"

    Then he vanished from view of the holo-projector.

    Lord Frennus, appearing shortly afterward asked his master, "My lord, how may I serve?"

    Darth Komo regarded his servant with eyes as cold, as empty, and as hollow as that of a dead and dried out fish. He kept silent for a time as he thought about what he might do to his servant for his latest failure.

    Lord Frennus sweated under his robes. He knew his days were coming to a close, but he kept silent. It was the single best tactic that he had ever exercised, because it saved his life - this time.

    Darth Komo said, "I have just finished reading your convoluted report on your failure to locate and eradicate the Republic Commandos operating illegally here. I was going to kill you, but I've thought of a better use for you."

    Frennus sighed, imperceptibly, his great relief. Frennus, a thinly built fastidious Human in his late thirties with light brown hair, wide sideburns, and bushy mustache, knew he had to use care with his next reply. Because, this time, he had to speak.

    He said, "My lord, Darth Komo, I'm chagrined that you found my report lacking. I assure you I am doing the very best I can with the fodder I've been provided to do the job. These troops are better fit for setting off mines and for digging their own graves rather than for searching out and destroying crack Republic Forces. I have stated this before. However, I understand your frustration. I know your patience is nearing its end, but I will redouble my efforts."

    Sweat rolled down his temples as he waited for what was next. It worried him greatly when Komo gave a mirthless chuckle in response to his excuses.

    However, to Frennus' astonishment and great relief, Darth Komo said, "I was once in a similar predicament as you are now. That is why I have sent you two teams of Imperial Black Ops to add to your arsenal of - grave diggers. I'll give you thirty days to get results. However, this will be your last opportunity to get those results." He concluded in a menacing tone, "Do you understand?"

    Lord Frennus replied in an upbeat tone, "With the addition of these Black Ops teams, I'll surely achieve favorable results, my lord."

    Then, remembering that Darth Komo had 'thought of a better use for him', asked, "My lord Darth Komo, you said you had something for me to do?" He wondered to himself, "Is it going to be another suicide mission?"

    Darth Komo said, "Yes. I do. This is another opportunity for you to get yourself killed if you should fail."

    Darth Komo kept silent for a moment to let that last statement sink in to his subordinate's head.

    Frennus thought, "I knew it! A suicidal mission. Heh! I'll just send my apprentice to do it."

    Komo was saying, "Darth Nox of the Dark Council is on Taris. He's on his way to my offices to ask me for resources to help him find something. I'm going to give you to him."

    Frennus was taken aback. His reaction showed his deep shock. Komo was amused by Frennus' facial expression. On the very, very rare occasions that Komo ever smiled, it was a very frightening thing to see, and Frennus felt himself unfortunate to be the one to see it, this time. The image that came to mind was that of the viciously wild predator, the Nexu.

    Komo's grin was all teeth and no mirth as he said, "Lord Frennus, don't disappoint Darth Nox. He is not as cheery nor as understanding as I am."

    Komo cut the transmission.

    No sooner had he cut the transmission than his personal droid reported, "My lord, Darth Nox is in the building and is being escorted to your office. Refreshments are already on their way here. Shall I open the door and greet him?"

    Darth Komo said, "Open the door, but I shall greet him. Be especially polite to him as you serve him the refreshments, should he ask for any."

    The droid replied, "Yes, Master."

    During his conversation with Frennus, Komo left out the fact that he'd himself feared that Nox had come for his own head. His idiot master, Darth Acina, also on the Dark Council, got it in her hair-brained head to clean Taris up and resettle it for the Empire.

    Now here he was suffering as the Republic sabotaged his efforts, even as his predecessor, Darth Gravus, ruined the Republic's campaign to clean Taris up for their own resettlement efforts. He hoped that this thing Darth Nox wanted was all that was on his mind, and that he would not be made to give Nox an accounting of the Empire's own languishing resettlement efforts.

    The droid walked to the door and opened it, then bowed deeply as Darth Nox walked passed it. The droid straitened up again as Khem Val walked in behind his master. Behind Khem Val, Darth Nox's ship droid, 2V-R8, entered silently and took up a station just inside and to one side of the door. 2V-R8 remained there, quietly recording the meeting. Darth Komo was on his feet in front of his desk.

    Bowing solemnly, he greeted the Dark Councilor, "Welcome to Taris, my dark lord, Darth Nox. It is a singular honor you pay me by visiting my offices here to speak to me in person. I am truly privileged. How may I serve you, Dark Lord?"

    He straightened up and then pointed to some comfortable looking chairs and a small table near a window that gave a nice view of a landscape that had been cleared of the wreckage of Taris. The wreckage of ruined buildings, warped streets, and twisted infrastructure beyond the settlement's low walls, had been replaced with a beautifully healthy forest. Faintly, low on the very distant horizon, like very distant mountains, was the wreckage of Taris' ruined cityscape that waited to be cleared.

    Nox walked to the chairs and sat in one. Darth Komo sat in the chair on the opposite side of the small table as a refreshment droid brought assorted fruits, cheeses, and various beverages imported from off-world, and waited to be ordered to serve something. Khem Val, having scanned the droid, and its tray of refreshments as it passed by him, stayed in front of Darth Komo's desk and remained vigilant. He kept a wary eye on Komo from there.

    Komo asked Nox, "Dark Lord, would you care for a libation? I have fresh fruits and various cheeses, pastries, and beverages. Hopefully we'll have something here to suit your tastes."

    Darth Nox said, "Someone must have hated you very badly to have stuck you with this job."

    Komo was careful not to speak ill of his Dark Council master, Darth Acina. Instead he said, "Yet, with success will come great rewards."

    Nox replied deadpan, "And with failure comes death – more often than not."

    Komo felt the pressure of Nox's seemingly casual observation, but he maintained a calm facade and replied, "I find myself in an unenviable position today, but tomorrow, I hope to have turned it around for the glory of the Empire."

    Nox remained silent. Without meaning to, Komo had just revealed that he was having difficulties with his mission. The look that flashed on Komo's face, and was gone an instant later, told Nox that Komo had realized his mistake, too late.

    Nox didn't think the resettlement project would work out, not without serious considerable effort from the Empire. With its resources stretched thin from its expanding war with the Republic, he didn't see how the Empire could expend such an effort here.

    Breaking the silence, and wishing to deflect any inquiries into his revelation of difficulties, Komo said, "Dark Lord, you said you were in search of something here on Taris. How can I help you find it, aside from providing you with resources?"

    Nox wasted no time and got to the point.

    "I want access to every bit of data you have on anything and everything relating to Taris. Everything relating to the Republic on Taris, the Empire on Taris, any archaeological digs, artifacts, ancient legends, patrol reports, the security logs for every installation – past and present, every warehouse inventory log for every warehouse, Republic and Imperial – past and present. Anything and everything, if it's data, I want it."

    Never mind that what Nox had asked for was monumentally difficult, if not impossible, Komo realized it would also mean revealing the difficulties he was having on Taris to a Dark Councilor. He tried to prevent such a revelation by offering to help.

    "Perhaps if my dark lord could give an indication of what it is you seek, I can help narrow it down for you?"

    Nox looked thoughtful for a bit, then said, "If I need that, I'll ask for it later. For now, just give me what I asked for."

    Komo leaned back in his chair, and sighed. He said, "That will be a very great undertaking. It will take a lot of time and a lot of droids to get it done. This data is not all housed in one location. It's scattered at various data-centers throughout Taris and at the orbital space station. I'll have it all gathered, organized and uploaded to your ship's computer, but I don't know how long something like that will take, Dark Lord."

    Nox's facial expression darkened at the mention of his ship.

    He said with obvious annoyance, "Take your time, Lord Komo. My ship isn't here, yet. I arrived via military transport."

    Komo was curious, but he decided not to ask. Nox's deep irritation at discussing his ship made Komo realize it was a sore subject.

    Instead he said, "Very well, Dark Lord."

    Nox looked out the window. Looking at the very distant ruins of the Taris city-world beyond the forest reminded him of his time, years before, on Taris. Nox felt nostalgic.

    He asked Komo, "How much of the planet has been cleaned up like this?" Nox waved his hand at the window, through which he looked at the lush forests. Then he added, "From space it looks the same as it did a few years ago when I helped you with your power station problems."

    Komo winced at the comment. He'd hoped Nox would not remember that embarrassing time in his own career.

    To cover his embarrassment, he spoke in a proud tone, declaring to Nox, "Fifteen percent of the planet's surface has had the wreckage removed from it. The scrap has been recycled and sent off as raw materials for the war effort. One third of the cleared surface, where the wreckage has been removed, is now barren dirt.

    "That is because the toxins have yet to be removed completely from the soil, Dark Lord. However, the remaining two thirds of the cleared surface is wild green forests and grasslands - as you can see, outside the city walls. Finally, Dark Lord, we have built and populated six large settlements within the forested areas, this city being one of them."

    Nox, feigning surprise, replied, "That's all you've managed to get done?"

    Komo labored to maintain his composure as he reminded Nox, "Our roles have been reversed. It is we who are trying to clean up this dump, while the Republic plays the spoiler. They're using all of the same old tricks we used against them - but on us."

    Nox nodded, recalling his roll in playing some of those old tricks on the Republic, and observed, "Those tricks were quite effective, too. So, you are having trouble."

    Komo cursed himself. He hadn't realized how easy it was for him to be provoked into spilling his own guts. Then he remembered that before Nox was a Dark Lord on the Dark Council, he was an Inquisitor. Nox interrogated captives and prisoners for a living.

    He realized dissimulation here could be a fatal mistake. So, he decided to become bold instead and impulsively spoke.

    "Searching through all of that data is likely to take weeks, if not months. I suppose you'll get bored to tears during that time, Darth Nox. If you wish, please lend a hand with our efforts here."

    Khem Val shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His face twitched as irritation surged through his being, but he remained silent.

    Nox's weak smile did not reach his cold eyes as he replied, "I think your master will then owe me a favor. I'd like that very much, but perhaps before asking for my help, you should get permission from your master on the Dark Council. Don't you think so?"

    Komo, closing his eyes, bowed and shook his head side to side, slowly. He cursed himself as he realized his error - again too late!

    He thought to himself, "Clearly, I've been too far away from the center of Sith politics. I'm making too many clumsy mistakes!"

    He rested his face in the palm of his hand and said, "Forgive me, Dark Lord, I have stepped out of line. I will seek permission before asking your aid."

    However, Komo concluded that the Nexu was already out of the bag.

    "No sense in holding back now," Komo thought to himself.

    He persisted, proposing to Darth Nox, "But if permission is denied me, I hope that - if the mood strikes you, that you'll volunteer your strength of your own accord. It will be for the glory of the Empire."

    Khem Val was incensed at Komo's daring.

    He exploded, "I shall feast on your flesh and crunch your bones between my teeth if you do not remember your place!" Then turning to Nox, he begged, "Master, give the word, and I shall devour this fat one!"

    To Khem Val's great disappointment, Darth Nox waived him off.

    When Nox had returned his attention to Komo, Nox rolled his eyes and said, "If you're going to make me feel guilty, I'll do it."

    Komo was deeply relieved and promptly showed his gratitude, "My dark lord, I am in your debt. If anything ever comes to mind for anything that I can do for you, tell me and I'll do it."

    Nox said, "I'll remember you said that and hold you to it."

    Komo, speaking earnestly, replied, "I look forward to the day I can settle my debt to you, Dark Lord."

    Nox, smiling like an apparition about to possess a poor condemned soul, said, "It's just like old times. Isn't it, Darth Komo?"

    Komo only smiled back weakly, in return, finally recalling a debt he still owed the dark lord, when Nox had helped him with his 'embarrassing power station problem' a few years ago.

    Nox got back to business, saying, "You told me via holo that you would make someone available to me for my search."

    Komo, glad that the unpleasantness about his difficulties on Taris was behind him, said, "Yes, Darth Nox. I make available to you Lord Frennus. He's leading the charge against a rabble of local resistance groups and a few Republic Commandos operating behind the scenes in his sector of responsibility – and having trouble with them. I've just sent him two Imperial Black Ops teams to bolster his forces, but I think he's been having more trouble than he's reported to me..."

    Komo did not want to belabor the point of asking for Nox's assistance, so he left it at that.

    Nox, having told Komo what he'd wanted and getting it, or at least a pledge to have it delivered, was done speaking to Komo. He got up to leave.

    Komo would have liked to hear news from the Dark Council, but he dared not ask. In light of the fact that he had somehow managed to get Nox to look into his troubles, Komo considered himself fortunate to have scored such potent assistance. Komo decided he would worry about the final cost of Nox's assistance later.

    He walked Nox out of his offices and escorted him out of the facility's main entrance and to the speeder port. Nox, Khem Val, and 2V-R8 entered the waiting speeder. The speeder then whisked them away.

    Nox had been in and out of Komo's offices in less than ten minutes. However, if Komo played his cards right, this could elevate him in the eyes of his subordinates, and in the eyes of his rivals and enemies, as well.
     
  4. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Lord Frennus' Headquarters​


    Darth Komo had contacted Darth Nox, telling him via holo-transmitter, "Dark Lord, I've instructed my apprentice, Lord Frennus, to arrange for quarters for you and your servants. I hope you will find them adequate."

    The huge, luxurious condominium didn't have the splendor of his penthouse palace on Dromund Kaas.

    "It's barely adequate," Nox thought.

    Nox had wanted to see how well he was going to be treated before going to Frennus' headquarters. He took a detour to the luxury residence, before going to the headquarters. He had learned over the years that how lavishly he was showered with gifts, from his potential rivals and enemies, was a telling gauge for how much resistance he would have to deal with from the gift givers.

    Already, Darth Nox could tell he was going to have to be extra careful when dealing with these Sith. Darth Komo was one of Darth Acina's people, serving in her Sphere of Technology. Despite Komo's good manners in his office as he hosted Nox, he could see from this heavily veiled insult, that he was not especially welcome on Taris.

    Not only did Komo not give him accommodations worthy of his station, specifically a mansion of his own, but they moved him into a condominium. Nox, was terribly offended.

    He thought aloud, "I've been lumped together with commoners as my neighbors."

    To be sure, they were wealthy, powerful industrialists, merchants, shippers, and government officials, but they were commoners.

    This also left Nox to wonder, "He didn't expect me to bunk with my servants, too. Did he? Where will my servants stay?"

    Nox had dismissed the droids that were appointed to the third story condominium and told his ship droid, "Sweep this place for bugs, electronic and otherwise. Maintain the security here at all times, and see to my personal needs while I reside here."

    2V-R8 replied, "It will be my pleasure, Master. I shall begin immediately." Then, off he went.

    Khem Val, having returned from scouting the luxury condominium for assassins, traps, and spying devices, stood before his master and reported, "Master, this hovel is safe. I will scout the rest of this building and learn who lives below you."

    Nox, sensing Khem's irritation, replied, "Do not overly inconvenience the occupants. Keep a low profile, for now."

    Khem Val replied hotly, "That fat one with the dead eyes should have given you this whole building! You are a Dark Lord on the Dark Council!"

    Nox warned his servant, "Khem, don't eat anyone without asking me about it first, understand?"

    Resigning himself to postpone his next hunt, Khem Val spoke glumly to his master, "I hope I shall battle soon at your side, my master. I am famished."

    Nox, himself suddenly becoming irritated, replied impatiently, "Let us waste no more time here! Let us go to Frennus' offices. You can scout the building later."

    "As my master wishes," Khem Val replied, bowing his head.

    Nox had decided to make Komo pay for his insolence later, but he quickly put such thoughts on the back burner as he and Khem Val made their way to the condominium's exit.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    Frennus was most anxious. He most dreaded his coming encounter with the Dark Lord, now on his way to his offices. A signal chimed from his holo-projector. Lord Frennus got up from behind his desk and walked out of his office. He walked down the corridor to the lobby of his headquarters and found his military staff already gathered and in formation, as well as his apprentice.

    Just as he reached his place in front of his staff, the door slid open and in walked a hulking green beast in heavy armor. He looked the place over briefly, and then stepped to one side. Then, in walked the Dark Lord of The Sith, a member of the Dark Council, and overseer of the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge, Darth Nox.

    Lord Frennus stepped forward and bowing deeply, said, "I am deeply honored by your presence, my august Dark Lord. Command me, and I will serve! What is your will?"

    Darth Nox snapped testily, "Of course you will serve! What other choice have you? Take me to your office. We will speak there."

    Frennus was stung by Nox's brusqueness and stirred uneasily, shifting his weight back and forth slightly from foot to foot, but he replied with reverence in his tone, "This way, my Dark Lord."

    Nox effected not to notice Frennus' fidgeting, but instead looked at the Imperial officers in formation and asked, "Are you Black Ops or regular forces?"

    The commanding officer, a Human in his late fifties with greying hair, a well kept, bushy mustache, mutton chop sideburns, and clean shaven chin, answered, "My dark lord, Darth Nox, I am Colonel Igus Nann, commanding the 256th Imperial Infantry Brigade."

    Nox replied, "Then return to your duties."

    Nox quickly forgot the colonel, putting him out of his mind, as he proceeded to follow Frennus to his office.

    Colonel Nann replied to Nox's receding back, "As you command, Dark Lord."

    He returned to attention and waited for all of the Sith to exit the lobby before commanding his subordinate officers to return to their posts.

    Frennus opened the sliding door to his office and stood to one side, to let Nox pass, saying, "Please, enter, Dark Lord."

    Nox wasted no time, nor words, and walked straight to the back of Frennus' desk and sat in his chair. Nox, then, immediately began accessing Frennus' computer. Nox, shook his head in the negative, disgust showed on his face.

    He thought disapprovingly of Frennus' computer, "It's not even pass-phrase protected."

    Frennus labored to mask his outrage at Nox's audacity to sit at his desk and rifle through his computer. However, he labored even more to mask his growing fear at what Nox would find. Nox read Frennus' most recent reports and noticed there were several iterations of the same report, with each iteration white-washing the severity of the situation until the final version was so convoluted that, unless you'd read the original version, you'd miss the nuggets of truth buried in the sea of verbiage.

    Frennus, drenched in his own sweat, worked to keep his breathing under control. His apprentice was standing quite a ways away from his master, also apprehensive, but not to the extent of his master. Nox was about to speak, but stopped when he noticed that the author of the original report was not Frennus.

    Nox asked, "Who is Vulgren?"

    Now the apprentice stirred with anguish in his eyes.

    He said, "I am, Dark Lord."

    Frennus became annoyed that his apprentice answered before he did, but he kept silent.

    Nox nodded in realization, having gotten the gist of what was happening.

    Looking at Frennus, he asked to confirm his suspicions, "So, your apprentice submits a report to you. Then you rewrite it, and then submit the updated version to your master, Darth Komo. Is that about right?"

    Frennus replied, "My apprentice's writing style is too plain, Dark Lor..."

    A blinding flash of light accompanied by an ear splitting crack saw to it that Lord Frennus never got to finish what he'd intended to say. Darth Nox, sitting at the late Frennus' desk, lowered his finger and began to softly tap the desk top with it, as he shifted his eyes over to Vulgren.

    Nox challenged him, "Your master is dead, Vulgren. What are you going to do about it?"

    Vulgren, a Human in his early thirties with light brown hair, turned his eyes down toward the smoldering body of his dead master.

    He thought to himself in great awe and in growing fear, "Killed with a single bolt of Force Lightning from the Dark Lord's finger!"

    Then, returning his eyes to Nox, he said with a slightly quavering voice, "I am unworthy to even consider asking for a promotion, Dark Lord, but until my dead master's post is filled, I shall do what is required until his replacement arrives."

    He could see from Darth Nox's expression that the dark lord was dissatisfied with that answer.

    Hoping to evade what he felt was his own impending death, Vulgren added, "Unless my dark lord wishes me to return immediately to Darth Komo for reassignment..."

    His tone dripping with disdain, Darth Nox said, "For the time being, you are in charge until Darth Komo decides what to do about a replacement for that pile of filth staining the carpet."

    Vulgren, suppressing a sigh of relief, only replied, "As you say, Dark Lord." To himself, Vulgren thought, "I have escaped death."

    Nox, remembering that Khem Val was hungry, shifted his eyes towards him and asked, "Do you want it?"

    Khem Val looked at the master-less apprentice and said, "That little one smells tastier than his master." Then, pointing to the still smouldering corps of the late Lord Frennus, said, "This one will not do. It is overcooked."

    Nox replied with slight irritation in his tone, "Suit yourself." Then returning his attention to Vulgren, commanded, "Order this mess cleaned up, then take me to your office."

    Vulgren replied as he bowed, "As you wish Dark Lord."

    He hid his surprise that the Dashade had turned down a chance to eat a Force user. Then he began to worry, as he realized that the Dashade had said, that he smelled tastier than his late master. Vulgren took out his personal holo-transmitter and summoned a few droids to clean up the mess.

    Then, bowing deeply, he said, "Follow me, Dark Lord. This way to my office."

    Darth Nox got up from behind the deceased Sith lord's desk and followed Vulgren out the door and down the hallway to another suite of offices. There were military staffers inside pouring over reports and updating computer generated maps with known enemy locations, estimated enemy numbers, and suspected enemy activities. Vulgren led Nox past the busy hive of officers to an inner office. He then offered Nox his own seat behind his desk.

    Nox sat behind Vulgren's desk and immediately commanded, "Hold nothing back. Tell me the situation and what can be done about it, or what should have been done about it. Then tell me what is actually being done."

    Vulgren replied, "As you wish, Dark Lord. Permit me to summon the intelligence officer."

    Nox nodded his approval. Vulgren turned about and opened the door to his office.

    Then he called out, "Captain Mels, get in here! Now!"

    An Imperial military intelligence officer, a Human in his forties with black hair and mustache precisely trimmed to thin black angled lines above his lip, entered the office. He stood to attention before Vulgren's desk and stomped his boot.

    He reported crisply to Darth Nox, "Captain Rannesh Mels, Military Intelligence, reporting as ordered, Dark Lord. How may I serve?"

    Vulgren, standing at the side of his desk, told him, "Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith, has asked for a complete briefing. Tell him everything on enemy unit strengths, locations, and activities."

    Rannesh said, "As you wish, my lord." Then turning to Nox asked, "Dark Lord, do you wish a brief assessment, or do you wish a comprehensive report?"

    Nox replied, "Comprehensive."

    Rannesh replied, "We have a conference room, complete with maps and holo-projectors which is more suitable for that. If the dark lord wishes a comprehensive report, please follow me to it. Or I can do my best to give that report here, if it is the dark lord's desire."

    Darth Nox hid his growing frustration and said, "Give it to me here." Then, sensing a storm of nonsense coming, said with slight irritation in his tone, "I've changed my mind. Give me a summary."

    Rannesh sensed Nox's growing impatience and replied crisply, launching into his report, "As you say, Dark Lord. The enemy comprises of local militia, estimated at about twenty thousand rebels. They are supported by Republic Commandos behind the scenes. We do not have a firm fix on their numbers, Dark Lord. This is because there is increasing evidence that many of the militia are actually Republic Commandos disguised as locals.

    "If that is the case, then it would explain why the militia seemed so much better than our Imperial forces operating in the field. We estimated..."

    Nox interrupted the captain, incredulity in his voice, "Did I just hear you admit that Republic forces are superior to Imperial forces?"

    Vulgren winced, and Rannesh stammered, "Wha- what I-I me- meant was that we have co- common infantry f- forces in the field, which wo- would be adequate to put down an ordinary rebellion or regular Republic f- forces," Rannesh swallowed hard, then continued, "but we are facing a large number of elite Republic Commandos, Dark Lord."

    Nox let the silence that followed stretch a bit as he considered whether the Imperial officers stationed on Taris were cowed by the enemy.

    He said in a tone bordering on disgust, "Very well. Continue."

    Rannesh was greatly relieved to be allowed to remain among the living. A few moments before he was called into Vulgren's office, three droids had come out of Frennus' office with his corps on a hover gurney and cleaning equipment. Fear and dread that a purge had just commenced, had spread throughout the headquarters like a wildfire.

    Rannesh resumed his report. "Yes, Dark Lord. Our original estimate was for a few dozen Republic Commandos on the planet supporting up to twenty thousand local militia. We are starting to get evidence that suggest there are actually at least several hundred, perhaps up to a thousand commandos. We have come to believe that they are actually the ones conducting sabotage operations against our facilities throughout the Imperial Settlement Region, and not the local militia forces, as we had originally believed.

    "Meanwhile, the local militia carry out ordinary ambushes and combat patrols in the forests. They've been attacking our security patrols and stealing military weapons, supplies and munitions."

    Nox interrupted again, asking in disbelief, "How long have you had this information?"

    Rannesh, sweat running down his temples, answered, "Dark Lord, we began to suspect this was the case starting a few weeks ago, but this is the first hard evidence that we've obtained to substantiate our suspicions."

    Nox demanded, "What evidence?"

    Rannesh gulped, then answered, "Dark Lord, we were able to recover some of the corpses of the enemy that were killed in a few of the operations conducted against some of our bases, and we found that they were not locals. We were able to identify some of them as known Republic Commandos, and we found identifiers on the corpses that suggested they belonged to several different units."

    Rannesh's heart pounded in his chest as he worked to control his breathing.

    Nox, disbelief showing on his face and shaking his head, asked, "How long has this been going on, these commando attacks?"

    Rannesh answered, his right eye and cheek twitching, "For the last six months, Dark Lord."

    Nox turned his head to look at Vulgren, incredulity on his face, and asked, "And it's just now dawning on you that you've been facing strong Republic activity, here?"

    Vulgren was, himself, quite a bit nervous, but he replied coolly, "Dark Lord, this was the first evidence that we've been able to obtain to make the case for more substantive Imperial military support."

    Nox, shaking his head in the negative, said, "Then the two Imperial Black Ops teams sent here by Darth Komo are insufficient, and also not needed. What are needed are shock troops, but you have none on-world, nor are you likely to get any. The war is spreading throughout the galaxy, and Taris is just not important enough to warrant additional military assets."

    Rannesh won Darth Nox's grudging approval when he spoke up despite his great fear and said, "Forgive my impertinence, Dark Lord, but we could use those Black Ops teams to track the Commandos to their bases. If we knew where, then we could launch attacks on their own bases."

    Vulgren added, "It would also help us figure out which local settlements are supporting Republic operations. Not all of the locals are rebelling. If we could figure out which, we could punish the rebels without losing the support of those loyal to the Empire."

    Nox thought a moment before giving his approval, then said, "Very well. I'll let you keep the Black Ops teams. I don't know what Darth Komo had to do to get them to come to Taris, but at least it won't be a complete waste." Nox turned to Rannesh and said, "Dismissed, Captain."

    Rannesh, already at attention, stomped his boot again and shouted, almost joyously, "My life for yours, Dark Lord!"

    He turned about and marched out of the office. He was immensely relieved to have survived the purge.

    Nox turned to Vulgren and asked, "What have you been doing up until now," He effected forgetting his name, "uh..., what was your name?"

    Vulgren replied, careful to pin the blame for the failed policies to his dead master, "My name is Vulgren, Dark Lord. Lord Frennus' plan of action was to increase the military's presence at the settlements, and to conduct door to door searches for evidence of rebels, weapons, munitions, etc."

    Nox leaned back in Vulgren's chair and settled in to listen as Vulgren continued his report, "All that has managed to accomplish has been to stretch our forces very thinly and to earn the ire of the locals loyal to the Empire. The citizenry don't like our troops breaking their pottery and their windows."

    Vulgren meant the part about the broken pottery and windows as bit of humor. He wanted to lighten the mood a little. However, Vulgren's weak smile faded away entirely as Darth Nox's dour countenance told him that his humor was not very well received.

    Again, pretending having difficulty remembering his name, Nox asked, "What do you plan to do now, uh... Vulgeron, was it?"

    Vulgren replied, carefully ignoring Nox's attempts at provocation, "As Captain Mels suggested, I'd like to locate the commandos' hidden bases and conduct simultaneous attacks on all of them with our forces. Then I'll turn my attention to those settlements that have been supporting the commandos against the Empire. I'll smash their rebel militia, and conduct investigations to ferret out the agitators among the citizenry." Then he added, as politely as he could manage, "It is Vulgren, Dark Lord. Vul-gren."

    Vulgren tried to hide his growing fear. For the life of him, he could not fathom why the Dark Lord seemed to be taunting him.

    Then he wondered to himself, "Or is the dark lord really that bad at remembering names?"

    Vulgren didn't believe that for one instant.

    Nox thought to himself, "These men delude themselves! First they say there are up to a thousand Republic Commandos, and now they think that a couple of Black Ops teams could ferret them all out for a simultaneous attack. Will that not also stretch our forces thinly?" Aloud he said, "Notify me when you've found the commandos. Do not conduct any operations without consulting me, first."

    The fact that Darth Nox had given him orders meant that he would have to be alive to carry them out.

    A great wave of relief washed over Vulgren, as he replied, "Yes, Dark Lord."

    Nox thought, with slightly less disdain, "He fears me, but he is not afraid to correct me. At least he is no coward."

    Without preamble to indicate a change in the subject matter, Nox commanded, "Summon the local ranking officer of the Imperial Reclamation Service."

    Vulgren was taken off balance from the sudden change in the discussion. He also became dismayed, because he had nothing good to say about that either.

    Regretfully, he reported to Nox, "I'm deeply sorry, Dark Lord. Those fellows are deep in the ruins of Taris. They're very far from the reclaimed areas. It will be a few days before she could get here."

    His patience gone, and his irritation fully expressed, Nox snapped, "Even by shuttle?! Don't they have a local office nearby?!"

    Vulgren, a look of deep regret on his face, shook his head slowly in the negative and said, "No, Dark Lord. I'm very sorry that I cannot give a more satisfactory reply to that. Shuttles are in short supply and are primarily used to ferry equipment, supplies, and personnel down from the orbital station, and then back up again. Also, they don't have an office anywhere in any of the settlements. They just keep to the deep ruins doing what they do."

    Nox, shaking his head in disbelief and frustration, thought to himself, "Acina is too tightfisted with her support for this operation! Stupid wench!" Aloud, Nox ordered, "Tell the ranking officer to report to me at my quarters. Be sure she knows it is I who summons her."

    Vulgren replied with resolve in his tone, "As you wish, Dark Lord. I shall do what I can to get her here, to you, quickly."

    Nox didn't acknowledge Vulgren's pledge to accomplish his wish, but simply moved on to the next item on his agenda, saying, "There is another matter."

    Vulgren nodded his head, signifying he was ready for Nox's next commands, and asked, "Yes, Dark Lord?"

    Nox commanded, "I want you to make available an office for my servant, Darth Xalek. He will be conducting a search through a massive pile of data that will be made available to him from Darth Komo and needs someplace he can work."

    Glad that for the first time he had something positive to say, Vulgren suggested, "Dark Lord, if it pleases you, Darth Xalek can use Lord Frennus' office."

    Nox, nodding his approval, said, "That will do." Then he ordered brusquely, "Now, leave me. I must consult with Darth Komo."

    Vulgren bowed deeply and said, "As you wish, my lord. I am deeply honored to be of use to you."

    He then turned about and left his own office, letting the door slide shut behind him. He was just glad to have survived the purge, and didn't care about the indignity of being ejected from his own office.

    Nox contacted Komo. When Darth Komo replied to the holo-transmitter, he seemed deeply annoyed, thinking the call was from Vulgren.

    He fumed, "How dare you dial my frequency directly, you..."

    Komo, realizing in horror that it was Darth Nox on the holo, quickly changed his tone.

    Speaking quickly, he said, "Oh! Forgive me, Dark Lord! I thought it was the apprentice of that fool of a servant, Frennus."

    Then he quickly changed the subject so that Nox would have no chance to chastise him, adding, "Since you are calling from Vulgren's office. I take it the fools are dead, then?"

    Since Komo quickly corrected himself, Nox let Komo's initial disrespect towards him pass, and simply replied, "Frennus is out of the way. He'd been lying to you. The situation is a lot worse than you had understood.

    "The Republic has committed a strong commando presence on Taris, and has probably turned some of the settlements against the Empire." Nox concluded with disapproval in his tone, "You have a full rebellion about to explode from under your very feet, Komo."

    Darth Komo remained silent. He didn't know what to say to that. Darth Nox caught the surprised expression that briefly flashed on Komo's face when Nox told him the news.

    Nox spoke without waiting to see what Komo would say, telling him, "I've left Vulgren in charge until he proves himself, or until you find someone better suited to run this operation. His reports to his former master were succinct and accurate. He listens to his officers, and he has better sense and a better grasp of what needs to be done, than his dead master. It is why he still breaths."

    Komo, finally finding his voice, replied, "I'll leave him at his post until he's proven himself or until I see the situation is beyond his abilities."

    Nox nodded his approval, then asked, "What does that say about the rest of your operations on Taris?"

    Komo answered, "I'm going to go on a tour and have a personal look, for myself. If my apprentice has been lying to me, so may be my other servants."

    Again, Nox nodded his approval.

    Suddenly changing the subject, and speaking as though his feelings were hurt, Nox said to Komo, "As a Dark Lord on the Dark Council, I did not realize I only rated a single apartment in a tiny three story building..."

    Komo's face became a mask of stunned shock, and harrowing dismay. He was filled with a sense of sinking dread, and shook his head slowly as his mouth dropped open. Komo raised his hand to his face, and rested his face in its palm, his head still shaking slowly from side to side.

    Nox, not letting Komo speak, continued in that hurt feelings tone, saying, "Are the occupants living below my apartment so important, that I can't have the rest of the building for myself?" He didn't give Komo a chance to reply as he stated the obvious in a business-like tone, "I need more space for my staff. They'll need accommodations while I'm here on my own personal business."

    Komo, recovering his voice - again, said, "If Frennus had still lived, I would have tormented him for days on end until he finally succumbed to his wounds. I beg your forgiveness, Dark Lord. I will correct his blunder, personally."

    Nox added, "My servants shall work from Frennus' old office. Send the data I've asked for, there."

    Nox cut the transmission without giving Komo a chance to reply.

    Darth Nox thought for a bit, and speculated, "He is either a masterful liar, or Frennus completely mishandled the matter of my accommodations."

    Nox got up from behind Vulgren's desk and walked out of his office. Khem Val followed his master out, silently.

    Nox saw Vulgren in consultations with Colonel Igus Nann and said to him, "I'll see myself out. Get to work. You should start by bringing Darth Komo up to speed with what's really been happening around here."

    Vulgren bowed deeply, glad to have survived the inquiries of an angry Dark Lord of The Sith, and answered, "As you say, my dark lord, Darth Nox."

    Nox left the headquarters.

    "My headquarters!" Vulgren thought to himself.

    He was finally able to relax – a little bit, and revel in the fact that he now commanded in the stead of his failure of a master. He was under no illusions however that the situation would last, but he figured that if he showed some results, Darth Nox might not kill him and Darth Komo might keep him as commander.

    Komo complied with Nox's requirements for additional quarters by giving Nox the rest of the luxury condominium building he now occupied, in addition to the only other luxury condominium building in the cul-de-sac on the hill overlooking Imperial Settlement Number Three. Within the hour, the remaining occupants of both luxury condominium buildings were hurriedly evicted with all of their belongings. There was nothing they could do as Imperial soldiers, battle droids, and professional movers quickly and expertly packed the owners' belongings and hauled it all to storage – all at government expense.

    The previous condominium owners would have to look for new homes on their own. They didn't raise any objections, either. How could they? The Sith were behind the loss of their homes. At the very least, the Empire covered all of the expenses to have their things packed and moved to storage, and they were given fair market value, in Imperial credits, for their confiscated homes.

    Darth Xalek, Captain Talos Drellik, and Khem Val would soon occupy the condominiums in the second building, leaving Nox with a three story luxury condominium building to himself. All six condominiums in the two buildings were lavishly refurnished – all at government expense. Later that evening, Nox would charge 2V-R8 with managing both condominium complexes.
     
  5. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Perfect Match Is Found!​

    A few days had passed during which Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik had been making use of their new office. The two had made some progress in their research. They tracked down the locations of a few thousand warehouses previously owned by Republic government, military, and private interests.

    The records of the warehouses were from a time before the Republic military, the local Republic governing council, and much of the Republic civilian resettlement population were forcibly expelled from the planet by the Sith Empire. Talos marked their locations on two dimensional holo-maps with notations. These warehouses were used to store artifacts, relics, and other items from Taris' antiquities.

    Talos suggested, "Darth Xalek, may I recommend we expand our search to include museums and Jedi temples?"

    Xalek gave his approval adding a suggestion of his own.

    "That is a wise course of action, let us also include universities as well, especially those that focus on the study of the antiquities."

    Talos, arched his eyebrows as he thought to himself, "The libraries at those old ruined universities could be filled with datacrons!"

    Aloud he said enthusiastically, smiling at the prospect, "Excellent thinking, my lord! Think of all of the research we could find in those old forgotten libraries!"

    Xalek, knowing of Talos' love of the archaic and arcane, hid his grin at Talos' exuberance.

    He decreed soberly, "Then let us proceed. Just don't be disappointed if you find the libraries had already been looted or their contents vandalized."

    The possibilities of making major discoveries was balanced against the possibilities of finding the storehouses of knowledge ruined by gangs of pirates. They took what they could and ruined what they could not. Both Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik worked knowing how frustrating it was to finally find a lost temple or tomb, only to find it had been looted by thieves, ignorant of the true value of what they carelessly plundered. However, both Xalek and Talos were unaware of Nox's true goal, so they searched with an incredibly broad stroke.

    Talos Drellik wracked his brain trying to recall, "Were there any ancient Jedi temples on Taris?"

    Aside from the two Jedi Temples that had been bombed into ruin, three hundred years earlier by Darth Malik when Taris was reduced to a world of toxic rubble, Talos could not find any temples that were older than those. Records showed those temples were, at most, six hundred years old. Six hundred years was very old, historic even, but not 'ancient' by Sith nor even archaeological reckoning.

    There was something else, nagging in the back of Talos' mind. He knew something was off, but it was not important enough for him to consider, or so he thought.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Meanwhile, at Nox's residence, the intercom had chimed. 2V-R8 was directly linked to it. He stopped what he was doing and walked to the turbolift.

    He announced remotely over the intercom as he entered the turbolift, "Residence of Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith, seated on the Dark Council. Who calls?"

    An Imperial soldier attached to Nox's guard detail responded. "Lieutenant Shahn Lunn of the Imperial Reclamation Service is here to see the dark lord."

    2V-R8 replied, "A moment while I announce Lieutenant Shahn Lunn to Darth Nox." The transmission ended.

    Soon after, the main entrance opened and 2V-R8 stepped outside and said, "Lieutenant Shahn Lunn, please come with me. Darth Nox has been awaiting your arrival."

    Shahn Lunn followed the droid through the building entrance, down a small hallway, and into the turbolift, arriving to the top level of Darth Nox's apartments after a short ride up. The droid led Shahn Lunn through the huge and lavishly appointed condominium and to a very large patio.

    At the patio entrance, 2V-R8 said to Lieutenant Lunn, "Darth Nox is in conference, now. He's asked that you make yourself comfortable here and wait for him. Are you hungry, thirsty? Can I bring you anything to eat or to drink while you wait?"

    In truth, Nox had only told the droid, "Let her in and tell her to wait."

    Shahn Lunn said, "Bring me something I can eat quickly, and plain water to drink."

    2V-R8 said, "As you wish. I will return shortly with your refreshments."

    2V-R8 turned and left Shahn alone at the automatic sliding glass doors which led to the patio and it's view overlooking the settlement's huge central park, surrounded by residential and commercial districts. As Lieutenant Shahn Lunn stepped through the blue tinted permaglass doors and exited onto the patio deck, she took in the scene.

    The expansive patio deck was built using very smooth white resicrete, with aqua blue asymmetrically shaped tiles widely spaced and set flush into the resicrete. The tiles marked off paths from the sliding glass doors to an outdoor bar at one end of the patio, and a very large oval shaped sunken hot tub, made with the aqua blue tiles, on the opposite end of the patio.

    Shahn took the middle path of tiles leading to six white patio umbrellas that gave their shade to round white tables with curved white benches beneath them in the middle of the patio deck. But she walked past the patio furniture to the curved edge of the huge oval patio deck, which was walled in by a very high quality, high strength, non-reflective, transparent material. It was almost chest high to Shahn's petite frame. Shahn judged the material to be permaglass.

    Nox's condominium buildings, with their curved exteriors, were built near the top of a large hill overlooking the settlement. Below, one could see that the park, several kilometers away, was an oasis surrounded by urban sprawl. Although not visible in the distance, there was a low wall (ten feet high) at the opposite end of the urban sprawl that kept the wild greenery of the forest out, along with the wildlife - and the rebels conducting ambushes on Imperial security patrols.

    Shahn could see that the city planners didn't do such a bad job of it. The huge central park was not the only greenery within the walls. There were plenty of trees and shrubbery lining the streets and walks in the built-up areas as well. It was actually quite beautiful here.

    2V-R8 interrupted her reverie with his announcement, "Here are your refreshments. I hope you'll enjoy them."

    The droid left the covered tray of light sandwiches, fruit salad, a pitcher of cool water, a small bucket of ice cubes, and a drinking glass on the umbrella covered table nearest to where she stood at the patio railing.

    Shahn did not notice her reflection approaching the patio furniture with the beautiful vista behind her reflected off of the blue tinted permaglass, which made up the exteriors of Nox's residential buildings, as she walked to the table and uncovered the tray. Both of Nox's luxury apartment buildings were made with the reflective blue tinted permaglass exteriors.

    She didn't sit as she wolfed down the sandwiches and didn't even give the fruit a second glance. She poured water into the glass, ignoring the ice, and drank the water in one go. Leaving the emptied glass and the forgotten fruit on the table, she returned to the rail at the patio's edge to admire the view again.

    She was brimming with anticipation and whispered to herself, "To think, Darth Nox – my lord and master, has summoned me personally!" She knew it could only mean one thing. She told herself, "There is something on Taris, and he wants it. He wants me to find it!"

    2V-R8 interrupted her thoughts again. Lieutenant Shahn turned around and looked up at the droid as it announced, "Darth Nox will see you now. Please, surrender your side arm to me and follow me to his study."

    Shahn unholstered her Army issued blaster pistol, and handed it over to the droid. She stopped in front of the blue tinted permaglass and checked that her uniform was on straight and that her uniform cap was on properly. Then she followed the droid to Darth Nox's study. She wondered if his appearance had changed since the first time she'd seen him when he was first announced to them as Darth Thanaton's successor by that beast of a monster – a Dashade.

    "Dashades are so rare", she thought to herself.

    As she followed 2V-R8 into Darth Nox's study, she saw it, the Dashade. It was a hulking green behemoth in heavy armor and armed with an oversized, savage looking vibrosword. It stood, leaning it's shoulder against a wall, in a far corner of the study, its huge arms folded across its massive chest. 2V-R8 wordlessly left the study and closed the door. The droid then stood outside of the door waiting for instructions.

    Shahn stopped in front of Nox's desk, snapped to attention, stomped her right boot, and reported crisply, "Lieutenant Shahn Lunn, reporting as ordered, Dark Lord!"

    Khem Val uncrossed his arms and straightening his gargantuan eight foot frame said, "This one is strong, Master! If she crosses you, I shall enjoy feasting on her flesh!"

    Darth Nox said to Shahn, "That's quite a compliment he's paid you." Then he corrected himself. "He really will eat you if you're not careful, but that he said so with such enthusiasm tells me you're strong in The Force."

    Shahn carefully regarded Nox without trying to stare, thinking to herself, "He hasn't changed, too much. Bright red skin, except for the darkened complexion around his eyes and mouth and purple veins showing all over his skin. The coldness of his eyes; he's suffering from Dark Side corruption! He's reckless with the Dark Side of The Force!"

    Then she noticed, "He's changed his hairstyle. Now it's a shaved pate with a top-knot sticking out from the back of his head. Perhaps he's showing off his battle scars on his scalp, face and neck?" Shahn marveled, "It's amazing he hasn't lost any of his pointy protrusions on the sides of his forehead and the sides of his chin from his battles."

    Nox pointed to a chair on the other side of his desk and said, "Sit."

    Shahn was admiring the deep black and bright yellow patterns on his vestments, which she was surprised to realize was actually his battle dress.

    Shahn sat, thinking, "Is he always ready to do battle?"

    Nox looked at Khem Val, and said, "Khem, I'm sorry, but this part I need to keep secret from you and the others. Please leave."

    Khem Val clearly did not like that and let Nox know it. "If she defeats you, I shall laugh at your corps!"
    Nox became furious. His face showed his displeasure.

    Trying to keep his tone conversational, and failing, he asked tightly, "Will you crunch my bones and eat my flesh as you laugh, Khem?"

    Khem Val was almost through the door but stopped to say, "Master, you I shall bury in a great tomb on Korriban. I shall inscribe a huge tablet, ′Here lies the descendant of mighty Lord Kallig, Darth Nox, Dark Lord of The Sith, conqueror of Balmora and Corelia, and the ravager of Taris and Belsavis. He fell to a little Sith with no name.′ She, I shall devour to sate my hunger!"

    Then he stomped out, with the door hissing shut behind him. Nox shook his head in frustration. He fumed at Khem's outburst, but said nothing.

    Nox thought to himself, "Khem Val is Khem Val."

    Shahn became filled with fear and apprehension because Nox's body guard had just suggested she would betray her master, and then left her alone with an enraged Dark Lord of The Sith!

    Nox studied her a bit. She was a human. She was small, but fit and trim. She wore her long dark hair, which was just starting to show signs of graying, in a braid that was wrapped into a tight bun and pinned neatly to the back of her head. If not for the hints of gray in her hair, her youthful features could have concealed her maturity.

    Nox judged her to be in her mid to late thirties, about the same age as he. She wore the military uniform of an Imperial Reclamation Service officer with the rank of lieutenant. A few military decorations adorned her uniform, but she was Sith.

    Nox said to her about Khem Val, "He's a bit of a free spirit. Likes to speak his mind."

    Shahn was no fool. Not for one second did she believe she could defeat Nox. In fact, she was terrified at the possibility that she was being set up on charges of betrayal.

    She said in her defense, "My dark lord, it has never crossed my mind to even think of betraying you. I am your humble obedient servant, always."

    Nox stunned her when he leaned back in his oversized office chair and said, "I don't know who you are. You are Sith, a member of the Imperial Reclamation Service, and a Sith. I did not know I had a Sith serving as a uniformed officer in the Imperial Reclamation Service. How did you sneak in?"

    Shahn, beginning to sweat under her uniform, answered earnestly, "Dark Lord, I have been in service since before you defeated Darth Thanaton and claimed your seat on the Dark Council. I have served you by finding relics of power and other bits of Sith history. Perhaps you've read some of my papers, I've always signed my work as 'Ensign S. Lunn', then later as 'Lieutenant S. Lunn'. Perhaps, you've heard of me as..."

    Suddenly leaning forward, Nox interjected, "Oh! Lieutenant S. Lunn! Yes! I've heard of Lieutenant S. Lunn." He paused a moment, as though thinking, before continuing, "However, I've never heard of Sith lord Shahn."

    Nox leaned back in his chair again and carefully regarded her. It bothered him greatly that all of this time, there was an invisible Sith serving within his powerbase.

    "A Sith, invisible to me," he thought to himself, and then, "I wonder if there are any others hiding like that from my sight?"

    Shahn sat quietly. She didn't like the way the meeting had been going.

    Nox spoke again. "Thanaton was a stickler for tradition and correctness. How did you slip past his notice? I can't see him permitting a Sith to be in military uniform."

    Before she could answer, Nox said, "Never mind that. You have done very good work for me. I'm a little more confident that I've got the right people where I need them. However, it bothers me that all of this time, I did not know 'Lieutenant S. Lunn' was Sith."

    Nox fell silent as he began thinking. Shahn had mixed feelings. On the one hand, she was pleased that Darth Nox was happy with her work. On the other hand, it worried her that Darth Nox seamed unhappy to learn she was Sith.

    Shahn began worrying, thinking to herself, "I have made a huge miscalculation! He didn't summon me to find something for him. He's summoned me here to investigate me for betrayal!"

    Nox's blank facade showed nothing of what he thought. Shahn Lunn felt as though his eyes bored into her very soul. She stormed through her memories trying to recall anything that she might have done or said that could have been used to ruin her. She could think of nothing. She had always been circumspect.

    In fact, Nox was marveling at how The Force had given him such a boon. He needed a powerful Sith for the next part of his plan, once he'd found the relic.

    Nox thought to himself, "This is perfect!"

    Suddenly breaking the silence, Nox spoke, startling Shahn as he asked her, "I have no doubt that you've made use of what you've discovered, but have you ever withheld any of your discoveries from me?"

    Shahn replied, again with such earnestness, "Everything I've studied has been carefully documented. I have made use of my discoveries, but I have held nothing back from the Imperial Reclamation Service. All artifacts, relics, and historic findings made by me and my team have been properly archived and stored in the Imperial Reclamation Service's vaults or recorded in its libraries. You have ownership of all I and my team have ever discovered, Dark Lord."

    Shahn's heart leapt when Nox suddenly stood from his seat. However, as he walked to the far end of his study to a tablet, on the opposite end of the study from where Khem Val had stood earlier, her leaping heart began to settle down again.

    The tablet hung in a suspension field on display. He waved her to him. Shahn got up and walked to where Nox stood, looking up at him with steady eyes. He stood a full head and shoulder taller than she.

    Nox, looking down at her diminutive form, could see that outside, Shahn was a sea of calm. The Force however, revealed to him that inside, Shahn was a storm of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

    He pointed to the tablet with his thumb and ordered, "Read that to me."

    Shahn looked at it carefully, and said, "It's Rakata. It says something about Belsavis..."

    Nox said, "Good. You can read the ancient dead language of the Rakata. There aren't many who can. This will be useful in your work for me."

    An enormous wave of relief washed over Shahn upon hearing that last phrase. She understood she would not die this day. Nox sensed that calm had returned to Shahn as he returned to his chair behind his desk. Shahn followed him back to the desk, returning to the chair he'd commanded her to sit in earlier.

    Nox said, "What I will tell you, you must keep to yourself. None of my personal staff know what I seek."

    Nox paused a moment to let her understand what he'd said.

    Shahn promised, "I will speak of this to no one, Dark Lord."

    Nox nodded his approval, and then told her, "I'm looking for a Rakata mind trap. Have you heard of those before?"

    Shahn replied, "You found one on Tatooine, Dark Lord. It had an entity's mind imprisoned within. I read the papers written about it. It was a fascinating discovery, Dark Lord."

    Nox nodded as he replied with annoyance in his tone, "Yes, quite fascinating. The stubborn old bantha won't play nice, and so we keep it locked away."

    Shahn didn't know what to say to that, so she simply nodded her head.

    Nox continued, "I'm looking for one that was being held in a warehouse here on Taris. I don't know if the Republic took it with them when they left the planet, or if it's still in the warehouse collecting dust, or if it's buried under tons of ruined twisted durasteel. For all I know, it may have been sold off as scrap and destroyed. I fervently hope that's not the case."

    Nox paused for a breath, and then continued, "I have two of my staff combing through thousands of trillions of bits of data about Taris in an attempt to find any clues as to its whereabouts. I want you to join the search, but out in the field."

    Nox paused again. This time he poured water from a pitcher into a glass and sipped from it. He did not offer any to Shahn. Shahn waited silently for her lord to continue speaking.

    When he did, he told her, "My apprentice, Darth Xalek, and my servant, Captain Talos Drellik, also of the Imperial Reclamation Service, will send you any data they find that will aid in your search. You will do the actual search in the field. If you find it, you will not touch it. You will notify me, and I will examine it. Do you understand?"

    Shahn replied, "Yes, Dark Lord. I understand. I am not to touch it."

    She had questions but was hesitant to ask. In the end, however, she realized it was important for her to know some specifics.

    Shahn asked Nox, "Dark Lord, what can you tell me about this particular mind trap that sets it apart from some of the others that have been found and documented?"

    Nox plainly told her, "This Rakata mind trap houses the mind of my former master, Darth Zash."

    Shahn's eyes grew wide as her mouth dropped open. She quickly recovered from the shock of that revelation and regained her composure.

    Nox, pleased and amused by her reaction, said, "There's a reason my staff do not know that I seek a Rakata mind trap. However, shortly I will tell Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik, and I will carefully instruct them not to tell any of the others what it is I seek."

    Shahn replied in confirmation, "So, only those two and I will know what you are after?"

    Nox confirmed and reemphasized, "And no one else, not even your own crew." After a short pause to be sure she did understand, Nox went on with his caution, "There is a reason I sent Khem Val, the Dashade, out of the room. It is because he is bitter enemies with Darth Zash. If he were to know that I sought her prison, he might become... disagreeable."

    Shahn, forgetting herself, asked what was none of her business, "What will you do if you find the artifact in question, Dark Lord?"

    Nox, laughed within himself at her excitement, as he lied, "I haven't decided that, yet. However, she has knowledge that I seek about certain rituals." That last part was meant as another lie, until he realized that he might, indeed, be interested in what Zash knew concerning ancient Sith rituals, in particular Tulak Hord's ritual for immortality.

    Shahn said dutifully, "I am deeply honored to be given a part in this project. I hope to succeed and bring you greater glory, Dark Lord."

    Nox nodded and abruptly changed the subject, "Good. Now let's talk about your uniform. I understand that you are an officer in the Reclamation Service, but you are Sith. You should dress in the robes of Sith and carry yourself as Sith, not as a lieutenant that takes orders from superior officers. You are a lord above the common Imperials and should act the part."

    Shahn was disappointed to hear this. She actually enjoyed her intellectual pursuits with the Imperial Reclamation Service and her role as an army officer. However, a Dark Lord on the Dark Council had just ordered her to end that.

    Shahn said to Nox, "I truly enjoy the role I play as an archaeologist. Discovering bits of Sith history and finding artifacts, especially artifacts of power, are thrilling to me."

    Nox said, "I, too, am an archaeologist..." Nox paused to think that over, then corrected himself, "Well, I dabble in archaeology. I'm more of a researcher of ancient and arcane Force rituals, but I don't wear an officer's uniform, nor hold officer's rank. I'm not asking you to give up your love of archaeology, nor am I asking that you end your association with the Imperial Reclamation Service. I'm asking you to assume your role as Sith."

    Shahn said, with some relief, "I understand, Dark Lord."

    Nox asked her, "Who and where is your master?"

    Shahn said, "My master died on Tatooine. He was killed by the Sand People. He was Darth Silthar."

    After a long silence, during which Nox's eyes bore into Shahn's, making it become increasingly uncomfortable for her, Nox finally spoke.

    "If you knew I recovered the Rakata mind trap on Tatooine, then you also knew that I worked with Darth Silthar..."

    Nox leaned back in his chair and added, "Something else I did not know about you." Shahn squirmed in her seat, while Nox thought to himself, "Where is The Force leading me with this? It is too convenient. It is too perfect!"

    Nox was satisfied with how the meeting had gone. He told Shahn, without irony, "Sometimes, it is a sad thing to lose one's master, but most times it leads to greater things." When Shahn said nothing to that, Nox concluded the meeting and told her, "Very well. I hope to see good things from you. You are dismissed."

    Thus dismissed, Shahn stood up. She bowed deeply and said, "It has been my singular honor to have been a guest in your house and to have spoken to you personally. I look forward to directly serving you, and I hope I will be useful to you in this matter, my dark lord, Darth Nox."

    Nox nodded and waved her away. Shahn Lunn turned about and marched to the door and then exited his study.

    As the door slid shut behind her, 2V-R8 said to her, "Lieutenant, please follow me, and I shall guide you to the exit." Then returning her blaster pistol, said, "Here is your sidearm."

    Shahn re-holstered her weapon as she followed the droid to the lift. 2V-R8 guided her until she was outside again. She walked past the saluting Imperial soldiers, absently returning their salutes, as she made her way to the cul-de-sac where her speeder was parked. She smiled as she entered her rental speeder and drove off.

    As Shahn made her way back to the inn where she'd booked a room, she'd decided to rest for the remainder of the day. She had planned to set out early the next morning to return to her dig site, an ancient museum of ancient Tarisian antiquities. It was rumored to house lost Sith artifacts. She'd found some ancient and unknown Jedi relics, but no Sith artifacts as yet. Shahn wanted to get back to work.

    On her drive back she began planning, and thought to herself, "I'll have to split my team into two. One part will stay at the current dig site, and the other part will go with me to my new assignment."

    Shahn remembered Nox's admonishment about her uniform, and determined to get new clothes. She became saddened when she realized she would have to resign her commission in the Imperial Army, but she needed to resign in order to assume her role as Sith and become more Sith like. Then she began to wonder if she could make an arrangement to work with the Imperial Reclamation Service the way her dead master, Darth Silthar, had.

    She asked herself, "How will I get paid for my work?" Then she thought, "I'll have to figure out some kind of arrangement with the Imperial Reclamation Service."

    Shahn shocked herself when she remembered a particularly explosive detail from her meeting, and exclaimed to herself, "He's had Darth Zash's consciousness trapped in a Rakata mind trap?! Extraordinary!"

    She couldn't believe it. Darth Thanaton and everyone else, herself included, thought that Nox had killed his old master.

    Even though Nox did not share this with her, Shahn made the assumption, "Now he seeks to bring her back out!" After a brief pause to think, she asked herself, "Back to life?! But how?!"

    Even as she asked herself that question, she started to understand what Nox had in mind. Shahn drove in silence as she pondered the implications.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Darth Nox, still sitting at his desk, thought about Shahn Lunn. She was strong in The Force, she was an intellectual as well as intelligent, and she had a strong love for the study of the arcane. To top it all off, she was Darth Silthar's apprentice!

    Nox thought to himself aloud. "She's a perfect match for Zash."

    At that moment, Nox realized that he liked Shahn and became conflicted about whether he'd actually sacrifice her to get Zash back.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2018
  6. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Muddled Mind and A Jedi​

    An hour after Shahn had left Nox's apartments, Darth Nox traveled to Vulgren's headquarters and made his way to Frennus' old office. There, he spoke to Xalek and Talos. Both had been working, almost without pause, on their own efforts to narrow down their search.

    Nox told Xalek and Talos, "I want you to concentrate your search for Rakata artifacts and relics."

    He'd told them only that. However, Xalek and Talos were no slouches. They immediately surmised what specific Rakata artifact he sought. The nagging question in the back of Talos Drellik's mind came back, and it hit him like the stone slabs of a collapsing Sith tomb.

    Talos let slip, "You're looking for Za-... her!"

    Xalek sternly cautioned Talos, "Mind your thoughts!"

    Xalek and Talos traded looks as the dire consequences of letting that information come before Khem Val solidified into a very real and present danger. Nox caught their exchange. He saw the worry on their faces, and how they'd traded shocked glances with one another.

    Nox sighed, thinking to himself, "Eventually, they would have figured it out without me telling them anything." Aloud, he cautioned, "Do I have to spell out to you the need to keep it quiet from the rest?"

    By "the rest," Xalek and Talos both knew he meant Khem Val.

    They both replied, nearly in unison, "No, my lord."

    Nox then gave them Shahn Lunn's holo-transmitter frequency, telling them, "This is the holo frequency for Shahn Lunn. She will do the work of digging in the field. She has a full archaeological crew. You will give her information as to where to dig."

    An hour later, after Darth Nox had left them to do their work and the excitement had worn off, both Xalek and Talos had come to an agreement to do all of the work at Lord Frennus' old office and to make all holo communications with Shahn from the office. This, to further reduce the possibility that Khem would find out.

    Talos said to Xalek, "To think he was after that all this time, my lord!"

    Xalek said nothing. He was disappointed to learn that it was not an artifact of power nor of dark knowledge, but merely a prison which they'd sought.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    A week had passed since then, during which time Darth Nox had been seeking a political advantage to use against one of his rivals during the up coming Dark Council meeting. He worked carefully in crafting his proposal, in addition to doing work on a few supporting documents, which he needed to present to the other Dark Councilors, to support his case. He wanted to leave nothing to chance when he made his case, making his subtle play for more power and increased influence.

    He had also been doing work on other proposals. There were a few other items that needed to be addressed for the betterment of the Empire. In Nox's view, there was a need for reforms in those areas.

    2V-R8 entered his study and announced, "A messenger has arrived from Lord Vulgren, Master."

    Nox saved his work and blanked the screen on his computer monitor.

    He said, "Bring him here."

    2V-R8 said, "Right away, Master."

    The droid was gone.

    A moment later, 2V-R8 returned with the messenger and Khem Val.

    Nox ordered, "R8, close the door."

    2V-R8 complied, exiting Nox's office, allowing the door to slide shut, and standing just to the side of it, waiting for more orders. Khem Val had already gone to a corner of Nox's office and crossed his arms. He remained silent as he kept vigilant watch of the female human army officer, even though the droid had taken her weapon.

    Nox ordered the messenger, "Report."

    The messenger, already at attention in front of Nox's desk, said in a surprisingly girly and decidedly un-military voice, "Lieutenant Millie Kine, reporting, Dark Lord! Lord Vulgren instructed me to report that Black Ops have succeeded in tracking the Republic Commandos back to their hidden bases and that discoveries have been made about the extent of rebel activities among the locals. Lord Vulgren stands ready to provide a complete briefing in the conference room at his headquarters, Sir!"

    Nox worked hard to keep from laughing at her, telling her, "Very well, Lieutenant. Message received. You may go."

    An hour later, Nox sat in the darkened conference room with Vulgren, Colonel Igus Nann, and two Imperial Black Ops Team leaders, Lieutenant Dains Miltner and Lieutenant Karch Thadt. Captain Rannesh Mels conducted the briefing with holographic images of the commando bases' key features, maps showing each base location, and holographic images of many of the commandos without their helmets on. The Black Ops teams were thorough.

    His briefing already in progress, Rannesh was speaking.

    "... Black Ops have also verified that it is Settlement Number Two that is supporting the Republic Commandos. The population has become largely anti-Imperial and has become openly rebellious. Their militia appears to be headquartered here, and not in the deep forest as we had previously believed."

    Rannesh fiddled with the controls of the holo-projector as he continued his briefing.

    "The militia high leadership have successfully been identified, but they only account for part of the resistance leadership. The rebellion has gone so far as to establish its own shadow government. The Taris Provisional Government. The shadow government is seated in Imperial Settlement Number Two. The political leaders have not all been ferreted out, but some of their important members have been identified."

    Holographic images of the militia and shadow government leaders flashed by as Rannesh spoke some of their names and titles. Rannesh shut the holo-projector off, and raised the lighting level in the conference room.

    He resumed his report, saying, "They have outreach programs that have been operating in the other settlements. They have had mixed success. They've succeeded when recruiting new members, who then move to Imperial Settlement Number Two to join the rebel militia or just to defect from the Sith Empire. They've failed when a loyal Imperial reported the subversive activities of the agitators, which then led to arrests. The resistance overall leader has yet to be identified."

    Motioning his hand towards the Black Ops officers, Rannesh said, "Black Ops had pulled back fearing discovery and blowing their operation, but they left a few stealth surveillance droids behind which continue to capture video and audio, which is then transmitted to us here."

    Nox interrupted the briefing and instructed, "Vulgren, contact Imperial Intelligence. They need to be here. I think SIS is in there organizing the whole thing. We'll need Imperial Intelligence to get in there and dig out the rest of those leaders."

    The Black Ops commanders exchanged glances and nodded in agreement with Darth Nox's assessment.

    Nox then turned to the Black Ops Team leaders and asked, "What isn't Captain Mels' briefing telling me? What's been left out?"

    Rannesh Mels winced. He'd wished Darth Nox hadn't asked that. Nox sensed sudden fear and anxiety emanating from Mels and shot him a surreptitious glance.

    Nox wondered to himself, "Then, is he hiding something?"

    The senior Black Ops lieutenant spoke, "Lieutenant Dains Miltner, Imperial Black Ops Team 584, Dark Lord. We've uncovered five bases from which the Republic Commandos operate. There's a team of commandos at each base. They total to approximately sixty team members."

    Nox, interrupting, asked incredulously, "Sixty? Sixty commandos? That's all?"

    Dains, not understanding why Nox was so surprised by the number, replied, "At least sixty in the Western Sector. We don't think there's more than a hundred, Dark Lord. This does not include the other sectors, Dark Lord. We have not conducted operations in those other sectors, and cannot offer any information pertaining to those areas."

    Nox turned to look at Rannesh with a dire look in his eyes. Rannesh was clearly uncomfortable about the faulty intelligence he'd given Darth Nox a little over a week before.

    Nox opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, Dains added, "Dark Lord, we don't have direct evidence, but we believe there is a Jedi operating with the Commandos."

    The officers at the conference table who'd been taking notes, and murmuring comments to each other about the data in Mels' briefing suddenly stopped and became still. Dead silence fell in the room. No one spoke for what seemed like eternity.

    Nox spoke into the dead silence, "Do you have indirect evidence, then?"

    Dains turned to his junior counterpart and said, "Lieutenant? Your show."

    The Junior lieutenant spoke.

    "Lieutenant Karch Thadt, Imperial Black Ops Team 311, Dark Lord. I sent one of my men to set up sensors in the trees near a path we believed was used to move equipment and ordnance to and from hidden caches. He hadn't returned on schedule. I sent two men to go after him. The three returned an hour later.

    "When I questioned him about why he didn't return on schedule, he said he'd gotten distracted by the interesting fauna. It was the strangest thing I'd ever heard him say. He's one of my best men and not the sort to goof off in the field.

    "Then I noticed that he still had some of the sensors he was suppose to set up. I asked him why that was. He repeated his excuse about getting sidetracked by the interesting fauna.

    "Then I ordered him to explain to me why he had failed his mission. He asked me, ′What mission, Lieutenant?′ At that point, I felt it was possible that his mind had been muddled by a Jedi. I contacted Lieutenant Miltner, and we agreed that we should pull back. That's all we've got, Dark Lord."

    Darth Nox turned to Igus Nann and said, "It speaks very poorly of your command, that you couldn't even get a tenth of all of this intel in all of the time you've been here, and yet these two and their men uncovered so much in only a week. They've even revealed the presence of a Jedi on this planet."

    Igus was deeply unsettled. Throughout the entire briefing, he'd been telling himself the very same thing, but it was a horror to have to hear it from a Dark Lord of The Sith.

    He said in a voice that betrayed his defeated frame of mind, "Dark Lord, I will report my failure to Imperial High Command. I will recommend replacements for me, my command staff, and all of my officers in the field. This failure goes up and down the chain of command. I will recommend retraining for the enlisted."

    Darth Nox nodded his head and said coldly, "I approve your plan to replace the command structure of this brigade." Then he said with a bit of anger in his voice, "It's hardly surprising. Taris is a backwater world with no importance whatsoever. It's only natural to send the undesirables and the failures to such unimportant outposts.

    "Yet, what this shows is that no matter how militarily insignificant an outpost may be, it can be made into a political firebomb with far reaching consequences. Can you imagine the humiliation to the Empire, if the Republic could do to us on Taris, the very same thing we did to them, right here on this very same world only a few years ago?!"

    Nox slammed his fist onto the conference table. He didn't use The Force, so the table didn't break.

    Darth Nox commanded Igus Nann, "Be sure to expedite the process, and be sure Imperial High Command understands that I'm demanding experienced, quality officers to replace you and your failures!"

    Igus Nann knew this was not only the end of his career, but that it very well could mean a firing squad for him, and possibly the senior officers under his command. The officers seated at the conference table all realized the same thing. A dark pall had descended over their heads.

    Igus, sensing his own imminent doom, said with defeat and gloom in his voice, "Yes, Dark Lord."

    Darth Nox turned to Vulgren, who'd been fearing his own fate, and said, "This failure is a military one. You're dead master failed when he lied to Darth Komo about the situation here. His lies denied Komo the chance to correct things.

    "The rest of this mess is the military's. Not just the ones here on Taris. This goes all the way to Dromund Kaas because of their practice of sending the undesirables to unimportant far flung places instead of removing them from service."

    Nox looked sharply at Vulgren, and with a warning in his tone, added, "You had better learn from this, Vulgren."

    Vulgren replied, "I have, Dark Lord."

    Vulgren had never been so relieved in his life. He thanked The Force for somehow escaping disaster a second time. However, he didn't believe his luck would hold any longer. He resolved to be more vigilant of his subordinate commanders' activities.

    Nox declared, "I've heard enough!" Then turning his sharply critical eyes toward Igus Naan, Nox commanded, "Colonel, I want your replacements here before the end of this week."

    He got up and started to leave the conference room without waiting for a reply.

    Yet, Igus replied, "Yes, Dark Lord," to Nox's back as he walked out the door and left the conference room.

    Igus Nann didn't even bother to try explaining the logistical impossibility of Nox's demands, and thought to himself, "A full command structure from Dromund Kaas by the end of the week? Of course, Dark Lord."

    Nox left the conference room behind and walked to Frennus' old office, now in use by Xalek and Talos, and entered. Xalek and Talos both stood.

    As Talos bowed deeply, Xalek greeted Nox, "You honor us with your presence, Dark Lord. How may we serve you?"

    Nox thought approvingly to himself of Xalek, "Xalek, you're always so formal, so correct. Don't think I'll ever take my eyes off of you. I know you're just waiting patiently for your chance..." Aloud, he said, "Contact Shahn Lunn. We need to talk."

    Talos answered, "Right away, Dark Lord."

    He then went about dialing her frequency. A moment later, Shahn answered the call. She wore her military uniform.

    Shahn asked, "What have you got for me Darth Xalek?" Then, noticing Darth Nox in the office with the others, exclaimed, "Oh! My dark lord! I beg your pardon. I did not..."

    Nox cut her off, nearly shouting, "Didn't I tell you to dress like a Sith and to carry yourself as a Sith?"

    Xalek and Talos exchanged surprised looks.

    Nox thought angrily to himself, "They didn't know?! She didn't tell them?!"

    Shahn replied defensively, "There aren't any Sith clothing boutiques on Taris, Dark Lord. I had my measurements sent to a Synthweaver on Dromund Kaas, and am waiting for whatever it is they're making for me to arrive in the next shipment."

    Nox threw his hands up in the air, clearly frustrated, and shouted, "I give up! Fine! Your custom Sith attire is being shipped! Next subject! What progress has been made with my search?!"

    Shahn was troubled by Nox's anger towards her. She said simply, "I'm still waiting for clues from Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik as to where I should dig, Dark Lord."

    Nox turned to Xalek and Talos, waiting for one of them to speak.

    Xalek answered Nox, "With what you have told us last week, we have been able to exclude many possibilities. We are attempting to locate the spaceport where you fought your final battle for control over Taris, Dark Lord. We know the warehouse that housed the relic is near there, because you and Khem Val spoke about it several times in the past."

    Talos added, "We are also combing through all of the manifests of Republic and Imperial ships that left Taris in the aftermath of the spaceport's destruction, to determine which ones carried Rakata artifacts off-world and to which destinations. After sifting through several hundred manifests, we have found information on four such ships, one Republic, and three Imperial, Dark Lord. There are still a few hundred ship manifests to go through, but we are progressing apace, my lord."

    Nox, his anger mostly dissipated, said calmly, "Very well." Then he shocked them all when he told them, "There may be a Jedi... No... There very well is a Jedi on Taris. Imperial Black Ops think they may have run into one of them. The mind of one of their men was altered with nonsense."

    Shahn asked, "Force Persuasion, Dark Lord?"

    Nox nodded, and said, "Be cautious, all of you. I don't want this Jedi learning what I'm truly after. I don't need the Jedi to steal my prize from under my nose."

    Talos reasoned, "My lord, You have been publicly active with the matter of the rebellion on Taris. As far as the Jedi knows, you are here for that reason alone."

    Nox, shaking his head in the negative, said, "No. He will not think that. What he'll be thinking is, ′A Dark Lord, seated on the Dark Council is on Taris, an unimportant backwater world. He's after something.' He'd be a fool to think otherwise."

    After a moment to reflect, Nox added, "In fact, he's probably been trying to figure that out for the past week already." Nox suddenly issued new orders, "Darth Xalek, Shahn, I want you to increase the security of all of your transmissions as well as site security. Increase the complexity of your encryption algorithms, anything to make it harder for them to snoop on us. I believe the SIS are on Taris as well."

    Xalek, Shahn, and Talos replied almost in unison, "Yes, my lord."

    Nox said, to Talos Drellik, "Get Khem Val on."

    Xalek hastily cautioned, "My lord, to keep our work secret from certain others, we have been using this holo-transmitter, with it's unique frequency, to contact Shahn. The others do not have this frequency. If we use it to contact Khem Val, then..."

    Nox said hotly, "Say no more! I'll use another device!"

    Nox stormed out of the office. Xalek and Talos only spared a moment to exchange looks then continued their conference with Shahn to coordinate their efforts.

    Xalek reflected appraisingly of Shahn, "So... You are Sith..."

    Shahn replied brusquely, "Yes, my lord. I am Sith. Now let us discuss our search."

    Xalek thought to himself of Shahn, "I will watch you closely, snake hidden in tall grass, and I will be the one to strike first."

    Nox found Vulgren in his office and said, "I need to use your holo-transmitter."

    Vulgren said, "Of course Dark Lord. Please, avail yourself of whatever you wish."

    He began to rise from his overstuffed office chair behind his desk to leave his office, but Nox told him, "Keep your seat." Nox dialed the frequency of his temporary residence and, upon reaching 2V-R8, immediately ordered, "Get Khem Val."

    2V-R8 replied, "Yes, master."

    The droid disappeared from view and, a moment later, Khem Val appeared.

    Nox told him, "Khem, get to the Headquarters right away. We've got work."

    Khem Val, hopeful, asked, "Will I feast?"

    Nox replied grimly, "As much as you'd like."

    Khem Val replied eagerly, "I shall be at your side to destroy your enemies, Master!"

    Nox cut the frequency, then turned to Vulgren and ordered him, "Tell your men they are to escort Khem Val to the conference room. I shall wait for him there. Also, be sure to get Nann's replacements. At this point, I don't trust that fool to wipe his own nose."

    Vulgren replied soberly, "I've already discussed this with Darth Komo, Dark Lord. Darth Komo is working on the matter."

    Nox nodded his approval, then added, "I don't want this broken brigade involved in any of the fighting until those failures, pretending to be Imperial officers, are replaced."

    Vulgren replied dutifully, "As you wish, Dark Lord," but Nox was already out the door.
     
  7. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Sithly machinations are interesting......
     
  8. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Hunt In The Deep Forest​

    Nox and Khem approached the first of the five hidden commando bases. Earlier, they had been dropped off by a small troop carrier that promptly left the scene. The two ran through the dense forest to arrive at their first target. The base looked like nothing more than a long abandoned storage shack.

    The bases were only a few kilometers apart, so they would certainly hear any sounds of battle at any of their neighboring bases. Even with communications silence, they'd know they'd been discovered. The other commando teams would then likely abandon their bases and disappear into the dense forest.

    Nox whispered to Khem, emphasizing, "Speed and silence."

    Khem replied to Nox, whispering, "Then I shall wait to feast, until we've destroyed the last base, my master."

    Nox was about to rush the final hundred meters to the shack's entrance, but Khem's huge hand held him back. He pointed to the left of where they hid behind ferns with his other hand. Nox looked in that direction and saw a single commando on patrol. Khem signaled that he would take the single patrolling commando, while Nox rushed the shack.

    Nox nodded agreement. Khem waited until the commando got out from behind a sapling and entered a small clearing. He uncoiled his enormous frame, leaping through the air while drawing and activating his over-sized vibrosword.

    Nox dashed for the shack a split second later, activating his sabrestaff as he ran. By the time he entered the shack, both ends of the dual bladed deep red lightsaber staff had fully activated.

    Nox entered the shack just as Khem's vibrosword drove into the commando's helmet with a loud popping noise, splitting the helm apart along with the poor commando's skull. Nox rushed the table nearest the doorway he'd entered, seating four commandos playing a game of pazaak. In an instant of flashing and twirling sabrestaff, he cut the four men down in their seats.

    He immediately Force Pushed the table, the chairs, and the bodies with such force, that when those smashed into the next table, with four others seated, the whole mass of furniture and bodies smashed, with a resounding crash, into the far wall. The wall partially collapsed from the tremendous impact of the mass of bodies and furniture. Nox then turned left and began to kill the commandos still trying to get out of their bunks.

    Khem entered the shack and turned to the right side of the shack. Finding none in any of the bunks, he went to the back of the shack to untangle the tables, chairs, and bodies. Khem made sure there were no survivors. He cut them all in half, whether they were alive or already dead. Khem cheated. Lopping off a dead commando's forearm, he began snacking on it.

    All was suddenly quiet again. Nox counted and inspected the bodies. Eleven bodies inside and one outside. All twelve had on them their identification tags. Nox noted that they were all equipped with high-grade but non-standard weapons and armor.

    Nox nodded his satisfaction after storing the recovered identification tags.

    He said to the Dashade, "Khem let's get to the next one before they figure out what's happening."

    Khem Val spat out the bones from his snack as he headed out the door without a word, Nox was right behind him.
     
  9. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Extraction​

    Talos Drellik gave out a triumphant, "Ha!"

    Xalek turned his head, away from his computer monitor and to the left side of the office, where Captain Drellik sat at a small desk. The desk had been moved into Frennus' office, so that Talos could get work done. Xalek quietly watched Talos read silently to himself, with an excited look on his face.

    Then Talos finally exclaimed, "Here it is, my lord!"

    Talos read to Xalek from an after action report written by Lord Shaythin, the Sith commander who oversaw Imperial troop movements during the final battle that broke the Republic on Taris and forced their withdrawal from the planet.

    Talos read aloud, "Lord Kallig, apprentice to Darth Zash, working along side Thana Vesh, apprentice to Darth Gravus, have succeeded in slaying Jedi Master Cerik, and have chosen to allow non-combatants to escape the destruction of Olaris Spaceport."

    Kallig was his name before he was conferred the title, Darth Nox, by the Dark Council.

    Talos continued reading, "Lord Kallig also destroyed Republic artillery which greatly eased the way for Imperial forces to advance and to capture the remnants of Olaris Spaceport and its surrounding light industrial, commercial, and residential districts."

    Talos stopped reading, and looked up to meet Xalek's eyes, to say, "There's more, Darth Xalek, but we've got what we need from the report - the name of the spaceport. Now all we need to do is find its coordinates on an old map, compare it to a current map, and we're set!"

    Xalek pumped his fist victoriously, and exclaimed with exultation in his tone, "Yes! Darth Nox will be pleased with us both!" After a slight pause, wherein he reined in his excitement, Xalek said more soberly, "Let us find the spaceport, but I will be the one to instruct Shahn Lunn as to where to look."

    Talos, smiling at what was a very rare display of emotions, from Xalek, said, "As you wish, my lord." Talos also realized Xalek would likely want to be the one to break the news to Darth Nox, so he resolved to let Xalek do it.

    "No sense unnecessarily getting on a Sith's bad side", Talos thought to himself.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Meanwhile, about ten meters down the hall in another office, Lieutenant Millie Kine had just completed filing the latest reports written by Vulgren after sending a digital copy to Darth Komo via Imperial courier. Darth Komo would read it first thing in the morning. She also saw to it that Vulgren was given Darth Komo's answer about replacements for Colonel Igus Nann and his command staff, not to mention all of the officers leading troops in the field.

    Darth Komo had decided to simply send an entire division of Infantry, from the Eastern Sector, to relieve his broken Imperial forces here in the Western Sector. Colonel Nann would then march his entire Brigade to a designated area outside of Imperial Settlement Number One, in the Southern Sector. There, the officers would be judged, case by case, and either be reassigned to other units or be sentenced and executed. The brigade colors would be retired, with all of it's troops getting scattered throughout the remaining divisions and brigades, stationed throughout Taris, to fill in vacancies as needed.

    Millie thought to herself, "Darth Komo must mean business if he's decided to replace a brigade with an entire division."

    She also made one additional set of copies of these reports and orders for her SIS handlers at Imperial Settlement Number Two. She kept a small chronometer in the pocket of her uniform tunic. It chimed a reminder tone. She took it out of her pocket. The chronometer reminded her to stop at the open air market to buy some fresh fruit before going home for the day.

    This was actually an alert notifying her that Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik had spoken to one another. They rarely spoke to one another while working, but when they did it was always about their search for a Rakata relic or something. Millie was shocked to learn earlier that a Sith wearing a military uniform was on Taris all of this time, unnoticed.

    Millie thought to herself, "Unnoticed, no more!"

    Each time Nox visited them, or those two spoke to each other, she'd learn something new. The chime from her chronometer told her there might be more to learn. Lieutenant Kine walked to her desk and sat down. She set her chronometer near a framed portrait of she and her friends at a picnic in Imperial Settlement Number Three's Central Park.

    Color portraits on photographic flimsiplast was a novel fad that was growing in popularity on Taris. She actually liked it better than holo-graphic portraits. The recorded conversation was uploaded to her chronometer from a tiny recorder embedded in the portrait frame. Millie replaced the chronometer in her tunic pocket and then walked to the lavatory to freshen up.

    In the fresher stall, she transcribed the conversation between Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik onto a very narrow strip of flimsy. Then she rolled it into a tiny cylinder. Millie then inserted the tiny cylinder into a tiny feeder that fed the rolled up flimsiplast through a miniature holo-transmitter. The mini-holo-transmitter then sent the images of the transcribed conversations, orders, and reports to a contact nearby.

    She didn't know who was receiving it, or where in town that person was. Later, as a back up, she planned to drop off the rolled up flimsiplast at the produce stand, along with the digital copies of the other reports and orders, for someone else to recover. She didn't know who that would be either.

    Millie was thrilled to learn earlier that a Jedi was on Taris, but chagrined that Darth Nox had discovered it. She was sure that the Jedi, whoever it was, would find this information useful. Millie regretted that news of Darth Nox's attack on the Republic Commandos would not reach them in time.

    She also regretted that the end of her assignment was nearing. It was a lot of fun for her. She was certain she would end up marching along with the rest of Colonel Nann's brigade to Imperial Settlement Number One. Therefore, Millie Kine decided it was time to work on her extraction from her SIS assignment.
     
  10. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017

    Thanks!

    It seems you are intrigued. I hope my story will keep your attention.
     
  11. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    It is indeed. And I am now further intrigued by the mysterious Miss Millie.
     
  12. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Hunt In The Deep Forest, Part 2​

    Nox and Khem had just left the fourth hidden commando base and made their way to the fifth and last of the known hidden commando bases in the Western Sector. They ran especially hard, because one of the commandos had gotten out a single worded warning over a short range audio communicator before Nox could cut him down.

    "SITH...!"

    Neither of them wanted the commandos to escape. Darth Nox did not want them to disappear into the deep forests to one day attack Imperial assets again, and Khem Val hadn't eaten more than a couple of bites. He was famished.

    Creeping silently, carefully, the last few hundred meters towards the Republic Commando base, Khem spotted a Republic model 23-B94 sensor probe, and signaled Nox to its presence. The tiny sensor probe looked like, and moved like, an arachnid. It used photo-flexing technology to blend in with it's surroundings.

    It camouflaged itself by using low level emissions force fields to bend light around itself, making it seem invisible. However, if it moved, it could be seen because of the lag photo-flexing technology suffered. It was unable to bend the light of it's immediate background quickly and smoothly enough as it changed locations.

    In effect, it seemed to shimmer as it moved. So, if it was on a large green leaf, and then moved onto a patch of brown soil, it seemed to flicker between green and brown until it came to a stop. Then it would seem to vanish from view again.

    Since the probe moved, it meant that its operator had not yet spotted Darth Nox and Khem Val. It also meant that the commando operating the probe droid was within two hundred meters, the maximum operator controlled range of this particular model.

    These droids also had a very short battery life, meaning it had just been deployed. Nox surmised that meant that the warning had been received and that the commandos were ready for him.

    "Good!" Nox thought savagely to himself, "The fools have decided to stay and fight me!"

    The shack used as the commando's base was less than two hundred meters ahead surrounded by thick forest foliage. Nox waited for the droid to move again, he'd lost sight of it. When it did, he used The Force to pull it into his hands. Then he used The Force to crush it between his hands, instantly destroying the probe.

    Khem Val broke his silence to say, "Now they know we are here. They are not in the hovel. I shall go right, you go left. We shall encircle the hovel, and crush them in the bush around it."

    Nox, nodding his agreement, said, "Shout for me if you see the Jedi."

    Khem, with a sudden craving for Jedi meat, said, "As you say, master, but I hope you shall grant him to me, and not attempt to bind him to your will."

    Khem Val immediately bolted to the right.

    Nox went left, thinking to himself, "Jedi are too stubborn to so easily bind to one's will."

    Again, a stubborn Ashara Zavros came to his thoughts. He smiled admiringly at her strong force of will. Again, he began to miss her terribly. Nox forcibly shoved her memory out of his thoughts, as the forest exploded in blaster fire.

    Blaster bolts seared the air as they broiled passed Nox's head. These blaster bolts exploded on the vegetation around him as he dodged the bolts. He immediately realized the bolts were much larger and much more powerful than any blaster rifle had any business producing.

    Nox thought in disgust, "Blast! They even have a portable blaster cannon among them!"

    The bolts led him right to the blaster cannon operator and three of his teammates. Nox’s sabrestaff became a blur of deep red light, as he darted from commando to commando in the thick brush cutting the four team members down, along with the surrounding vegetation. Quite suddenly, he felt himself flying end over end - with such force! His first thought was that he'd been caught in a bomb blast! However, he felt no heat from such a blast. It hurt an awful lot though.

    Nox used The Force to recover in mid air and, barely avoiding smashing into some of the tree trunks, landed on his hands and knees. Nox winced as he saw that he'd barely missed chopping his own fingers off. The beam of his own sabrestaff was a bare few centimeters from his free hand on the ground, which momentarily caught ablaze.

    He shouted as he scrambled back onto his feet, "Khem! There's a Jedi here, somewhere!"

    Khem's shout, muted by the forest foliage, and occluded by the sounds of blaster fire, came back, "Then... *... shall ...*east well!"

    The blaster fire suddenly ceased. Silence crashed onto Nox's ears.

    Nox shouted into the dead silence, "Khem, they're running! Don't let them escape!"

    Nox ran into the thick brush from where he'd last seen blaster bolts emanating. Suddenly, the loud explosive pop of a tree snapping in two filled his ears. His eyes immediately caught sight of the top part of a tree flying towards him.

    He leaped over its leafy branches and watched as the upper part of the trunk swept beneath him. As he landed, the lower part of the trunk, its roots clumped with clay dirt, slammed into him and sent him flying.

    Nox shook his head to clear the fog out of his mind, as he fought to recover his senses and regain his feet. He spat out a mouth full of clay dirt. His ears were ringing, and he hadn't fully recovered, but he countered with a massive Force Push. Anything that wasn't bolted, rooted, or otherwise firmly tethered to the ground was beaten back with a hammering force.

    The sound of thousands of tree branches snapping and dozens of small to medium sized tree trunks breaking in two, and getting blown back, was unlike anything he'd heard before. However, he didn't dwell on that. Instead, he waited for the Jedi's counter.

    A scream, and a few voices moaning in pain told Nox he'd hurt some of the fleeing commandos. A brief moment later, he heard them scream again as Khem Val found them and finished them off.

    Nox expected the Jedi to go after Khem Val, to save his comrades. However, when Nox moved to join him, the Jedi leaped at him from behind a felled tree, acrobatically flipping through the air and twirling his deep-red, two-bladed light saber. Nox leapt sideways, avoiding the attack, and used force lighting to counter attack the Jedi Shadow, a Jedi trained in the arts of stealth and assassination.

    The masked Jedi, wearing subdued colored armor under his dark robes, deflected the lightning barrage with his saber staff, plunging one end of his staff into the ground to direct the lightning into the ground. Then he lunged forward in the attack.

    Nox used a spinning move with his saber staff which forced the Jedi to halt his charging attack. Then Nox countered with another Force Push, sending the Jedi flying back, and immediately followed that up with another lighting attack. This time he had connected. She screamed from the searing agony of the lightning attack.

    Nox thought, "A woman?! So strong!"

    An image of Ashara, battling fiercely, flashed through his mind. Her image returned and would not leave his thoughts. He began to miss her, terribly. Nox found that he had trouble getting her image from his mind. Instead, he waxed nostalgic for her embrace.

    Then Nox howled out a furiously anguished shout, as the realization came to him that the Jedi was using force persuasion to cloud his mind using the memory of his late wife. He shook off the Jedi's mind trick and then scanned his surroundings with The Force, to search for her in the thick trees and brush.

    Nox expected her to attack again, but it remained quiet. Khem Val, stepping over broken tree boughs, felled trees, and avoiding ragged tree stumps sticking up from the ground, had joined Nox in the clearing that had been created earlier by Nox's explosive Force Push attack. Nox, now joined by Khem Val, waited a moment before realizing that she may have left the battle. He and Khem Val moved to where Nox had last seen her and searched.

    After a thorough search, the two concluded that she had indeed gone, or had hid very well. Nox asked Khem, "How many commandos did we get?"

    Khem Val answered, "I slew three, and the three that you wounded with the trees."

    Nox, doing the math, concluded, "With the four I killed at the start of this mess, it means we got ten of them." Nox, shaking his head in disappointment, concluded, "Then, two escaped with the Jedi assassin."

    Jedi rarely used assassination to solve problems, but those trained in the arts were referred by the Jedi as Shadows. However, the Sith only viewed that as Jedi hypocrisy and called them as they saw them, assassins.

    Nox signaled Khem, indicating that he suspected the Jedi was still in the area. Khem signaled that he agreed.

    Aloud, Nox said to Khem, "Well, grab whichever of these dead commandos seem tasty to you. You can eat him when we get back to base."

    Khem Val, pointing at a felled commando and relishing his coming meal said, "This one here smells the best!"

    From the markings on the armor, Nox concluded that it had to be the lieutenant leading the commando team. As Khem bent to pick up the body, the lieutenant groaned.

    Khem said excitedly to Nox, "Ha! He yet lives! Then he shall remain fresh until I begin to feast on his flesh!"

    Apparently, that was more than the Jedi could take. She came out from hiding and attacked Khem. Khem Val threw the lieutenant at her, but instead of dodging, she caught him, then fled. Weighed down by his body, she could not move as quickly, nor as stealthily.

    Nox pursued her, but after a short chase that lasted all of ten paces, he stopped suddenly as the realization came to him that he was following a phantom. Somehow, she had used Force Persuasion again to trick him into following shadows. Nox cleared his mind and focused as he tried to sense the fleeing Jedi, but to no avail. She hid her presence with such expertise.

    Khem, laughing at Nox, commented, "I wondered when my master would wake from his dreaming and cease to chase ghosts!"

    Nox retorted lamely, "Yes, but you've lost your dinner."

    Khem Val, realizing the truth of Nox's lame retort, said grimly, "We shall hunt her, and she shall become my food."

    Nox and Khem collected the identity tags from the dead around them.

    As they did, Nox observed, "You know, Khem. You could just pick any one of these other commandos up for your dinner."

    Khem Val turned his nose up at the notion, saying, "They smell terrible! Their meat is not worth considering."

    Shrugging his shoulders, which hurt, and which reminded him of what the Jedi had done to him, Nox said, "Let us return."

    Nox and Khem wasted no more time. It was late in the afternoon when the two began to run, not so hard this time, to the East and South until they came across a dirt road. It was later in the afternoon, when the two searched the area thoroughly, before Nox called for a shuttle to extract them from the forest.

    As they sat, waiting for the shuttle's arrival, Khem Val observed, "My master, three commandos have escaped with their lives, and the Jedi Master."

    Nox nodded his head, repeating, "And the Jedi Master."

    Nox got out a kolto injector from his utility belt. He jabbed it into his bicep, through his flexible armor, to numb the pain that was starting to become quite a nuisance to him as the adrenaline in his bloodstream diminished.

    Some time had passed as they sat waiting for the shuttle to arrive. Darth Nox had gotten in contact with Vulgren and gave new orders.

    "There is no choice," he said. And then, "You'll need to send some of those broken troops to the commando bases that I trashed. I want them to collect any intel that may be found in them. Hurry."

    He cut off his portable holo-transmitter before Vulgren could reply. A few hours after that, a shuttle finally arrived. It was dusk when Nox and Khem boarded and found a Black Ops team already on board. Nox was greeted by Lieutenant Dains Miltner.

    "We are deeply honored to ride a shuttle back to base with our Dark Lord of The Sith fresh from battle! We've just completed our mission to recover intel from the devastation that you've left behind."

    Miltner shook his head and smiled in deep admiration and awe.

    Nox thought to himself, "No wonder the shuttle took so damned long getting to me." Then he asked the Black Ops team leader, "Did you find anything useful?"

    Dains Miltner answered, "Lots of data pads, unit insignias, body counts, the usual stuff, Dark Lord. It still needs to be analyzed to determine what it all means, Dark Lord."

    Nox nodded his understanding as he handed the identification tags, he'd collected from the dead commandos, over to the Black Ops team leader.

    Miltner exclaimed, as he accepted the tags from Darth Nox, "Ah! There they are!"

    Once strapped into his seat, Nox leaned back and closed his eyes to take a brief nap for the short flight back to the settlement. Khem Val, however, remained awake and kept his eyes on the Black Ops team sitting dangerously close to his master.
     
  13. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Disaster and Opportunity, Together​

    ( It seems that somehow I posted the same chapter twice.... [face_thinking] Sorry [face_blush] )
     
  14. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Disaster and Opportunity, Together​

    At the shuttle port, Nox had been getting strange looks from the military personnel there. No one said anything. They just kept sneaking surreptitious glances at him as he strode past them.

    Nox strode out of the brightly lit landing pad, then into and across the much darker grounds. Its well manicured lawns and precisely trimmed hedges were not easy to see in the late evening, especially after having his eyes blasted by the powerfully brilliant lights illuminating the landing pad.

    Finally, Nox entered the headquarters building, with Khem Val trailing behind him. Again, the personnel began giving him those strange looks. The soldiers tried not to stare, but they kept sneaking looks at him.

    He wondered, "Why isn't Khem saying anything to these worms for looking at me the way they are?"

    In fact, Nox could swear, "Khem's smirking at me!"

    He thought the troops were resenting him for sacking all of their officers, but he didn't see resentment in their eyes and instead felt shock, and even some awe, in their emotions. It was most puzzling to him.

    He wondered again, "If not resentment, then what?"

    On reaching Vulgren's offices, the first thing Nox noticed was that the officers present were all new to him. He spoke to one of them, a young female Human Ensign.

    Nox called to her and demanded, "You! Ensign! Where's Vulgren?"

    She snapped to attention, replying crisply, "He's in conference with Darth Komo in his office, Dark Lord!"

    A Chiss officer with cobalt blue skin, bright red eyes (no whites, just red), and a full head of white hair, cut military short, approached Nox. He snapped to attention, saluted Nox sharply, then relaxed his stance after ending his salute.

    He said to Nox, "My lord Darth Nox, I am General Riiy'enni'sansa. My core name is Yennis. I command the 897th Infantry Division. You deeply honor us with your heroic presence, for you've come straight from the battlefield!"

    Annoyance starting to edge his tone, Nox asked, "What of it?"

    The General replied as though he hadn't noticed Nox's growing irritation, "Well, it's just that you're covered in cuts, bruises, dried blood, and are still bleeding, Dark Lord." The general waived a hand at one of his subordinates and ordered, "Summon a medical droid here, immediately."

    Nox found a reflective surface, to inspect his wounds. He found that, not only was he badly cut and bleeding, but his hair was a mess! His face was smeared with blood soaked dirt, and looking down onto his vestments, he realized they were also filthy, smeared with clay dirt and dried blood.

    Nox thought to himself, "This explains the funny looks I've been getting since I've returned." Aloud he said, "This is nothing. I was merely struck with a tree."
    Yennis asked with mild incredulity in his tone and in his eyes, "You were struck with a... a tree, Dark Lord?"

    Nox hid his amusement at the general's reaction as he replied, "Yes, with a tree. A Jedi Master threw it at me."

    Yennis' eyes changed from expressing mild incredulity to showing realization, as he replied, "A Jedi Master did this to you." Then with great concern for what that implied, added, "A Jedi Master is on this planet..."

    Nox, pleased that the general quickly understood the emergent nature of that bit of information, ordered him, "Summon your staff officers for a briefing in the conference room."

    General Yennis, stomping his boot and coming to attention, replied crisply, "As you say, Dark Lord!" General Yennis then turned to his adjutant and ordered, "Major Geld, summon my command staff to the conference room for a debriefing. They are to report immediately."

    Major Geld, a Human with dark tanned skin, also stomped his boot and also came to attention as he replied, "Yes, General!"

    As he set about to carry out his orders, Nox thought to himself with some amazement, and with some approval, "The officers have already been replaced? That's fast! And these soldiers are better disciplined than that last bunch. Good."

    Yennis returned his attention to the Dark Councilor and said, "I beg your pardon, Dark Lord. Is there anything else you need of me? If not, then I shall see to it my intelligence section goes through the items collected by the Black Ops team in time for the debriefing."

    Unreasonably, knowing they wouldn't be done in time, Nox ordered, "Get to it, but don't be late. I shall begin as soon as I'm done speaking with Vulgren and Darth Komo."

    Nox turned and walked to Vulgren's office without waiting for the general's acknowledgement.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    Nox entered the office without announcing himself, and interrupted the meeting between Vulgren and Komo.

    He accused Vulgren, "You did not greet me when I returned, Vulgren. Has my presence here lost its novelty for you?"

    Khem Val, suppressing a snicker, entered behind Nox and took up a position in the far corner of Vulgren's office.

    Vulgren bent to his knees and pleaded, "Forgive me, Dark Lord. I..., I have very bad news to report."

    Nox turned to Komo's image above the holo-projector. Komo shook his head, looking terribly displeased.

    Nox returned his darkening gaze to Vulgren and snapped, "What bad news? Spill it!"

    Vulgren, still kneeling before Nox, kept his eyes averted at Nox's dirt smeared, armored-booted feet, and reported, "Darth Komo – in response to your orders to replace Igus Nann and his failed officers, has sent General Yennis and his command staff to immediately take over command of the Western Sector. They arrived by shuttle less than thirty minutes after you departed with your servant to destroy the commando bases.

    "Yennis' security team ejected everyone, from Nann's command, out of their offices and desks and immediately began scanning for spying devices. They found many of them planted throughout the headquarters, Dark Lord."

    Nox's anger began to build as he realized what this implied for him and his secret search, but he continued to listen quietly as Vulgren continued his report. Vulgren could feel the heat of Nox's building rage, and could feel the increasingly oppressive power of the Dark Side flowing from Nox the longer he spoke.

    He felt suffocated as he labored to speak, "They arrested Lieutenant Millie Kine for espionage. They found... recorded conversations... on Lieutenant Kine's desk, Dark Lord,..." Vulgren paused for breath and gulped down his fear before resuming. "... including conversations held... by your subordinates... in Lord Frennus' office."

    Nox shouted, "Enough!"

    Vulgren was startled, at Nox's shout, but became silent. The oppressive weight of Nox's Dark Side aura pouring from him pressed down on Vulgren's body, pushing down on him. He ended up on his hands and knees before Nox, working hard to hold up his weighted down body, but somehow, he kept his head up enough to look at Nox's feet. Vulgren waited for his end to come. The pressure of Nox's fury and Dark Side power continued to increase until Vulgren started to gasp for breath.

    Vulgren felt death caress his soul. He closed his eyes, thinking, "My luck has abandoned me."

    After a moment to rein in his wrath, Nox asked, "Who is your security manager? Why didn't he detect these breeches in security?"

    Vulgren, surprised that he hadn't yet been killed, answered, "The security manager... was Lieutenant Millie Kine. She..."

    Nox cut him off, "Get out, Vulgren. I need to speak to your master, and I don't want you here for that."

    The oppressive Dark Side energy was suddenly gone.

    Vulgren, suddenly able to breath again, simply replied, "Yes, Dark Lord."

    He scrambled quickly to his feet and fled from his own office. As the door slid closed behind him, he ran towards the exit of his headquarters. His officers in the outer office, also recovering from Nox's toxic aura, watched him flee. Vulgren didn't notice his officers' panicked stares, as he gave serious thought to flee from the planet as well.

    Nox took a moment to collect his thoughts. Then he walked to the back of Vulgren's desk and sat in his chair. After several moments to think about what damage may have been done to his secret search, Nox finally looked up at Darth Komo's image above the holo-projector. Komo had been shaking his head slowly, his face cast down with a look of disgust on it.

    When he realized Nox was looking at him, he looked up to face Nox and asked, "What is your will, Dark Lord?"

    Nox said, "There have been way too many mistakes committed here, Darth Komo, serious mistakes."

    He paused for a moment to see if Komo would say anything to that. Komo remained silent.

    Nox continued, "One or two errors committed by subordinates is one thing, but this level of security breech should have been detected at all levels, not just at the local command."

    Nox paused again to see what he would say. Komo said nothing.

    Nox concluded, "This is something that I have no choice except to report to your master, Darth Acina."

    Komo closed his eyes and bowed his head in resignation.

    When he opened his eyes and looked up again, he spoke.

    "I propose a trade, Dark Lord."

    Nox, instantly incensed, rose slowly to his feet.

    He growled out, "You dare think to bribe me?! You dare take me for some cheap politician that..."

    Darth Komo raised his hands placatingly, pleading, "No! Dark Lord! Not a bribe! I pray you! Hear me out, Dark Lord! I offer you crucial information in exchange for clemency!"

    Nox's fury was tempered by his confusion, prompting him to ask incredulously, "Huh?!" Then he demanded, "What in damnation are you babbling about?!"

    Komo, seeing a chance for negotiations, answered straightforwardly, "Darth Acina has learned something scandalous about you and intends to use it against you at the up coming Dark Council meeting to discredit you. She intends to bring you down by planting rumors about this scandal among your power base and to chip away at your support. In fact, she has already begun."

    Nox sat down again, falling silent while taking his eyes off of Komo, he became introspective as he began thinking to himself, "So, she is my enemy! Why has The Force brought me into her domain?! Then has Komo been plotting against me, as well?!"

    He returned his furious gaze to Komo, and said in a low voice that told Komo he had only one shot.

    "I'll listen, for now."

    Nox did not notice Komo breathe a silent sigh of relief, as he prepared to gamble and make his play, knowing his life was in the balance. What he said next would save him, or kill him.

    He told Darth Nox, "Darth Acina told me that you hold captive, and in your service, a Jedi who has resisted all of your efforts to turn her to the Dark Side of The Force. Darth Acina also told me, that not only has your captive failed to come over to the Dark Side of The Force, but that she has succeeded in influencing your policies and decisions. This Jedi has thus made you an unwitting pawn of her Light Sided objectives."

    Nox remained silent, thinking to himself, "He speaks of her in the present tense. Then they still haven't learned of her death."

    This told Nox he had no traitors among his closest servants. No one, outside of his immediate circle, knew of Ashara's death at his hands.

    Komo continued speaking, "I know it is a lie, Dark Lord. Your actions, and the actions of your power base, your policies, all show the truth of your Dark Side passions! But, since when has that ever stopped anyone from planting the seeds of falsehood within a garden of truth? Since when has that stopped jealous rivals from seizing the opportunity to play along, knowing that it was all lies, simply to bring you down?"

    Komo paused for breath. He had been looking at Nox, carefully. He'd been looking for any signs that he might have made an impression on the dark lord, but Nox showed him nothing, except fury and blood lust.

    Komo quickly continued speaking, "Of course, I had to report your presence here on Taris. I had to ask her permission before asking for your aid. She knows you are here, my dark lord, Darth Nox. This is when she told me of these scandalous lies."

    Nox nodded once, conceding the point. He clearly did tell Komo to ask Acina for her permission to ask for his aid. Komo, seeing this, realized he'd bought a little more time, and continued speaking, but this time he made his play to begin the negotiations.

    He said to Nox, "In truth, you hold the key to undo her attempts at scandal and to turn the tables against her. I could play a role in making that happen, Dark Lord."

    Nox, his tone dripping with suspicion, asked, "How? What are you thinking?"

    Komo dared to hope and answered, "In truth, you have done much more to bring into realization the Empire's goal of resettling Taris. The Empire has given the Republic a black eye when it caused the Republic to abandon its resettlement efforts almost ten years ago. Your actions, under Darth Gravus, made it happen.

    "Now, here we are again! Only this time it's the Republic that threatens to black the Empire's eye! And again it is you who is seeing to it, personally, that the Empire overcomes this threat while Darth Acina sits on Dromund Kaas, not even looking into why there has been so much trouble here." After a pause for breath, Komo added, "Unlike Frennus, I send properly accurate reports."

    Nox was skeptical.

    Komo persisted, driving his selling point home, "Her failure to see to the troubles herself, has forced you to take action, Dark Lord! You have every right to take control of Taris and all of its operations. You have demonstrated the will to see, to the end, the successful resettlement of Taris! It is you who deserves to reap the wealth that Taris will bring when the resettlement project goes into full swing, Dark Lord!"

    Then he added the trade he wanted to make, "This will also place me under your direct service, and I'll be able to testify to the Dark Council, for instance, that Darth Acina has asked me to lie about you to the Dark Council."

    Nox didn't trust Komo. He didn't believe him, but he didn't want to give Komo anything to use against him.
    He lied, badly, saying, "I'll think about it."

    Darth Komo wasn't blind. He could plainly see that he'd failed to sell Nox on his proposal. He pushed, and risked a bit of blackmail.

    He spoke apologetically, "Forgive my forwardness here, Dark Lord. Darth Acina has required that I discover the purpose of your research here on Taris. Because of Lieutenant Kine's spy recordings of your subordinates, among other recordings, I have discovered an important clue to give to her."

    Khem Val made note that this was the second time those recordings were mentioned and decided to give these recordings a listen.

    Meanwhile, Komo continued speaking, "However, I've told you before that I was indebted to you. As such, I thought it best not to report what I've learned. In this way, my earlier debt to you for your earlier assistance has been repaid, but it seems that I'll be indebted to you for the rest of my days if you... bring me into your service, Dark Lord."

    Nox remained silent. He thought about the Jedi Master who surely knew by now of his objectives on Taris. However, to also have Darth Acina's servants digging around on Taris as well...

    He also considered that Acina's ploy to discredit him before the Dark Council had real teeth in it. It was true what was said about Ashara Zavros, his late wife. She was willful, refusing to convert to the Dark Side, and she had modified many of his policies.

    "But it was a matter of efficiency, not a matter of egalitarian concerns!" Nox had told himself.

    Nox felt cornered. His first impulse was to lash out and to kill Komo, a servant of Acina. However, something in the back of his consciousness, (his instincts?), made him pause. He understood Komo was asking for protection from Darth Acina in exchange for his testimony to discredit her before the Dark Council, but he didn't know if he could trust Komo.

    Deciding to follow his instincts and not his impulses, Nox spoke carefully, "It seems Darth Acina has mismanaged Taris to such a degree that it has threatened to make the Empire seem weak to its friends and allies, and to its enemies as well. I'll have to manage the resettlement effort myself. Are you averse to working for me, Darth Komo?"

    Nox's facial expression, the coldness of his eyes, and the fury tinting his words over the holo-projector, told Komo that Nox would rather just kill him. Komo realized that he'd probably bought just enough time to produce some results to show Nox his usefulness to him, but he was grateful for the chance.

    Nox watched as Komo's holographic image bent to its knees, and listened as Komo intoned reverently to him, "You have proven more worthy of ruling over Taris than she has. You have proven your resolve to make Taris into an example of Imperial might, and to demonstrate the Empire's strength of will to undertake a ruined world, and to make it into a world of prosperity, glory, and great promise! The Empire, as conqueror and as builder, under your wise rule over Taris! It would be my privilege to serve under you, my dark lord. My life for yours, Darth Nox!"

    Nox replied, vile disgust and deep anger still tinging his tone, "In that case, your first order of business is to conduct a thorough audit of your security throughout your entire command over all of Taris, including the orbital station. If the SIS has so thoroughly compromised your command at Imperial Settlement Number Three, there's no telling what other damage has been done elsewhere."

    Komo, still kneeling, said, "As you will, Dark Lord."

    Nox pushed, testing Komo's allegiance to him, "My enemies and my rivals may have spies watching things here as well. Find them and destroy them!"

    Komo knew Nox was referring to Darth Acina's loyal servants, and spies, still serving under Komo's command.

    His Nexu smile returned as he promised, "It shall be an easy matter, my dark lord."

    Nox asked Komo, threateningly, "Do I have to tell you what will happen to you if you betray me?"

    Komo assured Nox by pointing out, "Darth Acina would kill me whether I betray her or not. I've embarrassed her with my request to ask for your aid. I've embarrassed her with the need to remove an entire command structure, because of incompetence that you've uncovered and corrected instead of her. The discovery of this security breech will further embarrass her. I at least have a small chance of surviving this while serving you, my dark lord, Darth Nox."

    Nox replied, with a warning in his tone, "I hope you don't end up embarrassing me in the future, Komo."

    Nox cut the transmission, and wondered to himself, "What has stayed my hand against Vulgren and Komo? Ordinarily, I would have killed them both."
    He decided that somehow The Force was guiding him, but to what end he could not divine. The Force's guidance or not, Nox felt disgusted for allowing himself to get to a point where he felt the need to bend to blackmail.

    He remained silent for a long while, wherein he meditated on how he would carry out his hostile take over of Taris from Acina. He also pondered what he would need to tell the Dark Council at the next Council meeting to justify his takeover of Taris.

    Nox said aloud to himself, "Well, at least I get a planet out of this mess."

    He got up from behind Vulgren's desk and left the office. Khem Val silently followed Nox out.
     
  15. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Way to have a positive attitude, Darth Nox. [face_laugh]
     
  16. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Debrief​

    Nox entered Lord Frennus' old office and found that Xalek and Talos were not present. Then he remembered the hour. It was already night time.

    He thought to himself, "Perhaps they've already left for the day, or they've moved their operations to the apartments..." Aloud, to himself, he said, "What a mess."

    As he left the office, he failed to realize that Khem Val did not follow him out.

    Khem Val asked himself, "Will I find his plot to betray me in this place?"

    Nox walked to the conference room and found everyone in attendance waiting for him including, to Nox's amazement, Vulgren. He sat at the side of the conference room with the junior officers. His eyes were cast to the floor, not meeting Nox's. Nox wondered why he hadn't run. He spared a quick glance at Vulgren as he took his place at the head of the conference table.

    Wanting to get to business, Nox announced, "Let us begin."

    Nox started to give an account of his operations against the Republic Commandos and his encounter with the Jedi Master. Sometime during his brief, he noticed that Khem Val was absent from the conference room. Something didn't feel right to him, but he decided to deal with it later.

    Yennis, noting Nox's very foul mood, thought to improve Nox's mood, saying, "Forgive my forwardness if I observe that it is a very rare privilege to see a ruler of the Sith Empire return fresh from battle. We hear of the many exploits of our rulers on the Dark Council from others, but only a very precious few of us are fortunate enough to see it for ourselves."

    Nox's foul mood, from what had just occurred in Vulgren's office, had not improved at all as evidenced by his rather snappish reply, "Let's keep to the subject here. There is too much work that needs to be done."

    If General Riiy'enni'sansa at all felt slighted by Nox's brusqueness he hid it rather well, as he replied in an upbeat and positive manner, "Of course, Dark Lord. We are ready to get the job done. How do you wish to proceed?"

    Nox, for the first time since meeting him, carefully regarded Yennis, and thought, "A Chiss general? An alien commanding human Imperial troops? He must be quite accomplished to have been elevated to such a high grade in rank, even if this is a backwater post." He resolved to watch him carefully, thinking, "If he's any good, I'll recommend him to Moff Pyron."

    Nox's tone was still brusque, however, as he asked the general, "Did your people find anything of use from what was recovered at the commando bases?"

    A medical droid approached Nox and speaking quietly, announced to the dark lord while seeking permission, "Dark Lord, I shall attend to your injuries while the briefing is in progress. Do you approve?"

    Nox approved, ordering, "Yes, but keep quiet."

    The droid began to treat Nox's injuries without another word, keeping quiet as ordered.

    Yennis commanded his intelligence officer, "Major, begin the briefing."

    The major, a human, introduced herself and began her briefing.

    "Major Nordath Fey, intelligence officer for the 897th Infantry Division, Dark Lord."

    Nodding towards the two Black Ops team leaders seated at the far end of the conference table, she reported, "Black Ops recovered communications equipment along with data pads containing contact information with encryption keys for several entities operating on Taris on the Republic's behalf. In addition, several decrypted messages have been recovered. Most were after action reports of operations conducted by the commandos against Imperial assets. Black Ops also recovered orders to take out top Imperial leaders stationed here on Taris, and orders to sabotage several targets."

    Nox, having heard nothing except for a list of things Black Ops had recovered, interrupted saying, "Tell me something actionable. I don't want to hear about a list of what was recovered. Tell me where they will strike, when they'll attack, etc."

    Nox found her no-nonsense style of speaking, with a strong and professional military sounding voice a stark contrast to that airy messenger from before.

    The mere thought of her caused fury to take his mind from the conference for a moment as he raged at himself, "That blasted spy, Millie Kine! She deceived me!"

    Khem Val spoke out loud, breaking him from his scorching rage, telling Nox, "My master, your weak minions cower before your fury! Ha!"

    Nox, noticing Khem Val had decided to show up to the conference room, recovered his composure. His oppressive pall of darkness and demon-like rage abated. The officers, gathered for the conference, began recovering from their maddening terror. This was the second time they had been overcome with such awful terror because of Nox's putrid aura. The first time was earlier, when he was in Vulgren's office.

    Nordath Fey resumed her report with difficulty. Her strong confident voice was gone. She spoke with a shaky voice, barely holding back her fright.

    "These commando units, - which my dark lord a-annihilated, w-were to carry out ass-ssassinations of t-top Imperial leaders, - including D-Darth Komo, Lord Vulgren, and top - army officers."

    She used her sleeve to wipe tears from her eyes. General Yennis had been fighting off his own crippling fear while rubbing his temples and his face.

    Nordath said to the troubled Chiss officer, "General, - y-you're - you're on this list, t-too."

    Major Nordath Fey returned her eyes to the notes she held in both of her trembling hands. She did not wish to look at Darth Nox. She feared what she might see sitting there.

    She said in her still shaking voice, "Th-There are two-oo - other sets of o-orders that were t-to be carried out at the s-same t-time. - Acts of sabotage aa-and vandalism, and a hijacking o-of Imperial broad - c-cast channels in order to broadcast their p-propa - propaganda when a - all of their operations were completed."

    Nordath had trouble with the controls at first, but as she finally began to overcome her terror, she willed herself to concentrate and finally managed to bring up an image of a two dimensional topographical map and pointed out the target locations. As she continued speaking, a little bit of her strength returned. Her voice was still weak, but her stammering had ceased as she continued her briefing, tears still streaming down her cheeks.

    She reported, "These acts of sabotage were to be committed simultaneously in the Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern sectors. It would not be possible for the slaughtered commandos to carry out the assassinations and the acts of sabotage spread throughout the region by themselves. This can only mean that other commando units would have to carry out the other assignments in order to satisfy their operational timetables, my dark lord."

    Having fully recovered from the effects of Nox's noxious aura, Yennis interjected adding a comment clarifying that he believed there were others operating besides commandos.

    He said in a clear and confident tone, "Other commando units, Dark Lord, or well trained militia operatives."

    Nox was well aware of the effect his Dark Side aura had on non-force sensitives. He merely sat silently through their torment, waiting for them to recover as though nothing had been amiss. He wasn't inclined to do anything more than wait for the officers present to recover on their own.

    Nox only nodded his agreement with the general's belief of the possibility that the commandos could train the militia to conduct sabotage on Imperial targets.

    However, he asked the Chiss officer, "Have there been ambushes, acts of terrorism, or sabotage in the other sectors by Republic Commandos before, or just in the Western Sector?"

    General Yennis replied, "Only in the Western Sector, Dark Lord, but this report indicates that they have intentions of spreading their activities to the other sectors."

    Nox turned to Nordath, ordering her, "Major Fey, continue your report."

    Nordath took strength from her commanding general's confidence, and spoke more calmly, "As you wish my dark lord."

    She changed the image of the map to include symbols denoting the exact locations of planned attacks. Strength returned to her voice, and her military professionalism began to assert itself again as she continued her briefing.

    "These acts of sabotage and murders are scheduled to be carried out twelve hours from now, Galactic Standard Time. The orders had an attachment that listed nine targets, not including the targets for assassination."

    General Yennis nodded proudly as he listened to his intelligence officer regain her strength. Nordath read the list of targets as she pointed them out on the map image.

    Then she concluded her report, saying, "The orders were issued by one code named, Light Bringer. We do not know who Light Bringer is. That is, we don't have information on that, yet, Dark Lord. This concludes my briefing. Have you any questions for me, Dark Lord?" She turned to Yennis, "General Yennis?"

    General Riiy'enni'sansa turned to Darth Nox and pointed out, "Light Bringer might be your Jedi Master, but we'll get more evidence to learn who it actually is, Dark Lord."

    Nox nodded, then suggested, "I doubt commandos could kill Darth Komo. His likely assassin may be that Jedi."

    General Yennis nodded and said, "I'll take precautions against that possibility, my dark lord."

    Nox surmised that Darth Acina would likely order Darth Komo's execution, if Komo kept his word and slaughtered her spies. Thinking of this, Darth Nox told the general, "No. I'll send one of my own to protect him."

    Riiy'enni'sansa nodded and replied, "As you say, Dark Lord."

    Yennis, continuing his analysis, said, "Dark Lord, these rebels have likely spread the word amongst themselves of the slaughter of 57 of their commandos at your hands. My guess is that they will have assumed that their security has been compromised and their orders intercepted. My intentions are to increase surveillance of the targeted areas, and increase personal protection for the targeted individuals, as a precaution."

    Nox nodded to show he agreed with the general's assessment and plan of action.

    General Yennis continued his analysis, saying, "The likeliest scenario is that they will think themselves compromised and will abandon their orders. If there are more commando units present, they may opt to relocate to new bases in case you go after them at their current locations.

    "Therefore, we should increase patrols in all sectors to increase our chances of detecting their movements. We can start now by deploying hunter killer droids, surveillance droids, and sentry droids to the aforementioned target locations to show we're on to them. If they opt to move to their new bases, our sensor droids should catch any movements they might make as they relocate."

    Nox asked, doubt clouding his face and tone of voice, "You don't want to send troops out now?"

    Yennis told Nox, "My Division is packing up now. They'll hit the road and be on the march to the Western Sector by early tomorrow morning, but they will not actually arrive here until late morning the day after tomorrow. However, I can send out warnings to the other Imperial forces posted in the other sectors to get things rolling in those areas. Also, we have plenty of droids here in the Western Sector. Those can be programmed and deployed withing a couple of hours, my dark lord."

    The medical droid finished treating Nox's injuries and said quietly, "Treatment is completed, Dark Lord. Here is a supply of Kolto injectors if you need them for pain. Please follow up with your primary doctor for a check up."

    The droid placed the cartridge of injectors onto the conference table in front of Nox, then walked out of the conference room. Nox absently secured the cartridge of injectors in the supply compartment of his utility belt.

    As he returned his hands to the table, he pointed out, "There is still the matter of the rebel militia. They could conceivably mobilize now to launch retaliatory strikes against Imperial assets. Don't you think, General?"

    Yennis pointed out to Nox, "Colonel Nann had no other assets assigned to him because no one had any idea how bad things really were in the Western Sector. His brigade was eviscerated when it lost all of its command elements. They are demoralized and useless as they are. I can't use them. We'll have to depend on the droids until my own troops get here, Dark Lord."

    Darth Nox countered, "Even if they are useless in tactical operations, they could at the very least be used to post as guards and sentries to protect critical areas in this sector, at least until your division arrives.

    General Yennis nodded his understanding and replied, "As static security forces, they can still serve a need. I'll see to it, Dark Lord."

    Nox stood and said, "Inform me as the situation develops. I have other matters to attend."

    Yennis, and everyone else in the briefing room, stood as the general replied, "Yes, Dark Lord."

    Nox was about to pass through the doorway to exit, but stopped.

    He turned around and asked, "What's been done about Lieutenant Millie Kine?"

    Yennis looked at his security manager and said, "Major?"

    The security manager, a human, introduced himself, "Major Riv Danthk, security manager for the 897th Infantry Division, Dark Lord. She has been questioned. We have discovered that she is actually an infiltrated SIS agent. She is being held in custody pending arrival of Imperial Intelligence agents to retrieve her."

    Nox said, "I'm glad I asked." He turned to face Yennis and said, "I don't want her leaving Taris. I will personally deal with her. Escort her to my apartments, immediately. Also, make arrangements for a carbonite freezing apparatus to be sent to my apartments.

    "When those Imperial Intelligence agents arrive, bring them up to speed with what's been happening, then task them to investigate Imperial Settlement Number Two. I want them to identify the SIS agents operating there. If they are identified, use Black Ops to capture them."

    Yennis replied, "As you wish, Dark Lord."

    Darth Nox added, "Give the agents whatever support they ask for to accomplish their tasks."

    Then he turned and left the conference room. Khem Val had already gone on ahead of Nox, who had started to realize that Khem Val was up to something. Outside of the headquarters, Nox was about to board a speeder whose driver, an Imperial soldier of the disgraced infantry battalion, was tasked to take him back to the apartments. Khem Val finally arrived outside and joined his master, just in time to board the military staff speeder.

    On the way back, Khem Val spoke, asking. "My master, why do you seek her prison?"

    Nox was shocked into surprise. His eyes opened wide and his mouth opened a little, as he wondered to himself, "Where had I blundered to let Khem discover my true purpose?!"

    However, Nox quickly recovered. He shook his head slowly as he said aloud to himself, "Truly, everything is coming undone. What a rotten mess this is."

    Khem Val said, making an assumption of what he believed Nox had intended, "Then it is as I have suspected. You will bring that witch back out."

    Nox spoke calmly, quietly, "We'll not speak of it here, Khem. Wait until we're back at the apartments."

    Nox eyed Khem Val, fury in his eyes. Fury, not at Khem Val, but at how The Force seemed to be betraying him at every turn.

    Khem Val remained silent the remainder of the trip, but his eyes bore fearlessly, defiantly into his master's eyes.
     
  17. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    One has to keep a stiff upper lip about these things. You know? ;)
     
  18. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A Discussion In Nox's Foyer​

    Darth Nox and Khem Val, entering the vestibule of the condominiums, were greeted by 2V-R8.

    "Good evening, Master. Darth Xalek and Captain Drellik have been awaiting your arrival. They are in the foyer of your residential suite on the third level."

    Nox spoke wearily, "Very well. Fix me something to eat. I'm hungry. I'm sure Khem Val wants something too. I'm certain he's famished."

    Khem Val said, regretfully, "I should not have thrown my food at that Jedi."

    2V-R8 said to Nox, "I will prepare a wonderfully nutritious and satisfying dinner for you, Master."

    Darth Nox, Khem Val, and 2V-R8 entered the turbo lift.

    In the lift, the Dashade growled at the droid, "What dinner will you prepare for me, or do you wish to become a twisted pile of scrap and smoking circuits?"

    2V-R8 merely replied, "I have your favorite food on hand, Master Khem. Shall I prepare that for you, or did you want something different?"

    Khem Val kept his eyes forward as the doors to the lift opened to Nox's apartment, replying, "No, that will do."

    As the three exited the lift, 2V-R8 replied, "As you wish, Master Khem."

    To Darth Nox, it was normal for 2V-R8 to fix dinner for everyone of his servants in his most inner circle. It never occurred to him to ask 2V-R8 whose corps was being made into Khem Val's dinner, nor from where the droid had acquired it.

    Later that night, as Khem feasted on the beautiful cuts of meat, he would think to himself, "This meat is overcooked..."

    Nox was greeted by Xalek as he stepped off the lift and entered the foyer.

    "My Master, I have wonderful news, and I have terrible news."

    Talos opened his eyes wide in shock at Nox's disheveled appearance. He would have asked Nox what had happened, if Xalek hadn't spoken first.

    Nox replied quickly, before Xalek could say more, "Not here. As you may be aware, Lieutenant Millie Kine was arrested on charges of espionage. She's been here to deliver a report to me."

    Xalek sensed Nox's anger as he spoke about the spy and basked in Nox's hate infused fury as it washed over him. Talos wore several Sith artifacts under his uniform tunic that allowed him to endure Nox's oppressive malevolence, which radiated from him from time to time. Talos remained silent, fighting to keep his composure. Nox's malign aura had grown more powerful since that terrible day on the ship, and his dark aura had begun to overcome Talos' Sith talismans.

    Xalek, addressing Nox's concern, said, "My master, I ordered Major Riv Danthk to sweep your two apartment buildings for spy devices. As you have suspected, two were found and removed from your personal quarters."

    Nox, having been stung hard by the knowledge that his secret search was no longer secret, persisted, "But can we even talk here?"

    Khem Val, looking at Xalek, said, "It was wise to choose to wait here. This place is away from windows and is closed off from other rooms with all of the doors shut." He turned to look at Nox and said, "We can talk here, my master."

    Xalek nodded agreement.

    Darth Nox, satisfied with Khem Val's and Xalek's assessment, said, "Very well. Give me an update. What have you learned so far."

    Xalek got strait to the point, "Since you know about Lieutenant Kine, my lord, then you already know the terrible news."

    Nox expressed his dissatisfaction with that answer, and demanded, "Don't leave it at that. Tell me what you know about how bad things are."

    Xalek said simply, "They know everything we've discussed in that office."

    Nox said grimly, shaking his head in disgust, "Which means they know it all."

    Xalek shifted his eyes quickly between Khem Val and Nox. He hesitated before saying, "We should discuss the rest privately, my master."

    Nox got to the point as he revealed, "Khem figured it out. He's too good at sniffing out secrets to keep them from him for too long. Go ahead, speak."

    Talos looked stunned at hearing that revelation, but he kept silent as his eyes shifted to Khem Val.

    Xalek pointedly kept his eyes on Nox as he spoke, "They do not know the nature of what it is you seek, only that it is an ancient Rakata artifact."

    He hesitated to say more as his eyes shifted to Khem Val and then back to Nox again.

    Nox ordered Xalek, "Continue your report, Darth Xalek."

    Xalek obeyed, saying, "We have discovered the name of the spaceport. It is Olaris Spaceport, and we've found it's location. That much we spoke of in the office. We have also located several warehouses in the vicinity, and have isolated the likeliest one based on your recollections. This we also discussed in the office, but not precisely which warehouse. However, a little searching along the street may be all they need to find it before us, Dark Lord."

    Nox, glad for a little good news, said, "That you've found its location is some good news, but that they too will know where to search means that we must act quickly."

    Nox's fury waned as he looked forward to searching for the relic at the ruins. Talos Drellik sweated under his military uniform, but with Nox's receding dark aura, combined with the barely adequate help of the Sith made amulets he wore under his uniform, he was able to breath again.

    Talos took this window of opportunity to speak, advising Nox, "Dark Lord, I caution against assuming the relic is still there. We may have discovered the location in question, but it is still possible that what we seek has been shipped off-world."

    Nox, conceded the point, and asked, "Are you still sifting through the shipping manifests to determine that?"

    Talos nodded and said, "Yes, my lord. We still are."

    Nox simply acknowledged, "Good."

    Talos decided he needed to do more research on other amulets and talismans that could better guard against Nox's oppressively malign aura.

    He thought to himself, "Obviously, the ones I have on now are not doing the job!" He asked himself, "I wonder if the Jedi have anything that can protect against Dark Side energy?"

    He decided to look into the matter at his first opportunity.

    Thinking of the massive security failure at Vulgren's headquarters, Nox asked Xalek and Talos, "Can you convert your apartments into your work center, or are the facilities here inadequate?"

    Talos answered first, "We can get work done, but security will be a major problem. These buildings are a sieve when it comes to computer data coming and going. They'll be able to read whatever comes and goes from here. It's all wireless, my lord."

    Xalek hid his annoyance at Talos for answering before he could, adding, "It is so, my master. The computer networks in these buildings only have civilian grade security hardware and protocols implemented."

    Nox turned to look at Khem Val, but before Nox could ask him, Khem Val announced, "I will set the security at the office at the headquarters."

    Nox, nodding his satisfaction, said, "Good."

    Xalek said to his master, "On your order, we are ready to go search. Shall I inform Shahn Lunn, my lord?"

    Nox, already forming a plan, said, "No. Tell her to come to the Settlement. I will meet with her and the rest of you at the office tomorrow. We will discuss it then."

    Xalek then announced his intentions to Nox, "Then I will need to commandeer a shuttle to fetch her tonight, my lord."

    Nox, nodding his approval, said, "Then do it."

    Xalek bowed his head and said, "I will go now, Dark Lord."

    Xalek lifted his head and walked past Darth Nox to the turbolift and left the apartment.

    Nox turned to Talos and demanded, "Tell me the truth. Did you do all of the work and discover the information, or did Darth Xalek do any of the work himself?"

    Talos, bowing from the waist and becoming disappointed that Nox doubted his apprentice, Xalek, answered, "My lord, Darth Nox, Darth Xalek split the work load evenly between the two of us. I was the lucky one to find the relevant data."

    Nox, sensing and ignoring Talos' feelings, said, "Good. Then I shall reward both of you appropriately for your hard work. Go now to your apartment and rest. I shall give new orders at the office in the morning."

    Talos asked with doubt in his voice, "My lord, do you still intend to use that office? The SIS...,"

    Nox interrupted, saying, "I think the new security manager has been thorough. I believe he will be vigilant, and Khem Val will increase security as well."

    Talos replied, "As you say, Dark Lord." As Talos walked past Nox on his way to the turbo lift, he said, "I shall sleep like a stone tablet in a tomb, my lord."

    The lift doors closed, and Talos was gone.

    Nox immediately turned to face Khem Val and said, "I want Zash as my apprentice. I have found a candidate body for this purpose. I don't want you and Zash fighting anymore."

    Khem Val was silent for a long time. He determined to discover if his master intended to betray him. If he was not satisfied with Nox's answer, he was prepared to kill him.

    Then he finally spoke, expressing his fears, saying, "When that witch returns to my body, I know we shall always fight, Master."

    Nox told Khem Val, "No, Khem. You are not the candidate. I have found someone else more appropriate. That is why I don't want you fighting. I don't want you to kill Zash, Khem. Do you understand me?"

    Khem asked, "And what if she attacks me, Master?"

    Nox replied, "Then knock sense into her. Break her arms. I don't care, but do not kill her – and do not render her a mindless vegetable."

    Nox's answer was enough for him to determine that Nox had no intention of giving his body back to his hated enemy. Yet, it vexed him greatly that Nox would not allow him to kill her.

    Khem Val exclaimed angrily, "Cruel fate laughs at me again! The day of my vengeance nears, but you have forbidden it, Master! Even if I do not like this, it is your will, my master. I will obey, but if I find myself betrayed..." Khem leaned forward slightly and continued, "I will kill you, my master."

    Nox, not backing down, answered, "I am strong. My power is unmatched. I don't need to betray to get what I want or what I need." Nox lied, and he knew Khem Val knew it was a lie, but he continued speaking, "However, I must always be ready for betrayal, even from those loyal to me." Nox looked pointedly into Khem's eyes and said, "You will die before you ever taste a drop of my blood."

    Khem stood back and laughed, "Ha! It may be true that I will never eat your flesh, but before I die, I will have tasted your blood - again."

    Nox, remembering their first and only battle, recalled that Khem Val had indeed licked his blood from his weapon when Nox had fought for his life in the tombs of Korriban.

    Nox laughed mirthlessly, then said, "You are right, Khem Val. You have already tasted my blood," His false smile degraded into a fierce sneer as he spoke with a warning in his tone, "but even so, I will be sure it is your last taste of anything if you betray me now."

    The two stood, silently taking the measure of the other. Each trying to decide whether he should attack the other. Both regretted that their comradeship seemed to be at an end. Khem Val's face twitched. Nox knew that signaled Khem Val's irritation at the impasse that had seemed to develop.

    Nox spoke into the tense silence, "I know who my enemies are, and I know who my friends are, my old friend. How can you doubt me?"

    Khem Val's answer stung him, but Darth Nox had to concede the truth in his words.

    "Because you are a Dark Lord of The Sith, my master. I know you have no friends. Your only companions are servants and enemies. I serve you willingly, faithfully, proudly. I watch for all of your enemies, yet I have never forgotten to watch my own back. You are my greatest danger, my master, even as you are my greatest benefactor."

    Nox smiled warmly. The warmth of that smile had reached his eyes, which was very, very rare for him to do. He reserved that smile for his dead wife Ashara and for his children whenever he was with them. It was the first time he'd shared that smile with Khem Val, and it gave him pause.

    Nox said, "I need your strength, old friend. I find myself the target of a powerful rival, now become my greatest enemy. It is why I seek the strength of my former master. Trust me, Khem."

    Khem Val, realizing that a battle had been avoided, changed the subject, "Then I do not need to warn you not to trust that fat snake with the dead eyes."

    Nox laughed, saying, "Darth Komo? If he's wise, he will heed his own advice. I don't fear Komo, but I am wary of Acina. Be alert for her servants, Khem. They are likely on their way here, too."

    Khem Val nodded his acknowledgment. Nox, sensed that a battle had been averted.

    To end the confrontation, he said to Khem Val, "Go to the office and work on the security there. Then, in the morning, report to the office for your orders."

    Khem Val replied, "I will go to increase the security at the office now, Master, but..." Khem leaned forward a little and pointed an impudent finger at Nox's chest, and said with a warning, "Know that I shall watch you closely. If you betray me, I shall sever my bonds to you and shall kill you, my master."

    Khem Val didn't wait for Darth Nox's reply. He simply took the lift down and left Nox's apartment building.

    Nox thought to himself. "That was entirely too easy, Khem. I've got both of my eyes on you, my morose monster."

    2V-R8 returned to the foyer and announced, "Master, your dinner is ready. Shall I serve it in the dining room, or will you dine in the study?"

    Nox replied tiredly, "I'll eat in the dining room."

    Nox left the foyer and entered his dining room as 2V-R8 followed its master, prattling on, "An excellent choice, Master! I've heard it said that food tastes much better when eaten without distractions, such as studying..."

    Nox paid no attention. He didn't hear a thing. He was lost in his own thoughts as he sat at the dining room table. He'd been considering that Khem Val's reluctance to attack him, upon discovering that he sought to free Zash, might have been a sign of his affection for Nox.

    Almost amused by something that he'd never considered before, Nox thought, "Khem is a real friend to me."

    Nox was about to put the first bite of food into his mouth, when 2V-R8 announced, "Master, Imperial soldiers have brought a prisoner, Millie Kine, here. Shall I let them enter?"

    Nox's fury rose to a terrible crescendo as he put down the fork, the morsel of food uneaten at the end of the fork. The entire area became enveloped in his Dark Side energy. His withering wrath could be felt all the way down to the apartment building's door step outside.

    The malign aura was unbearable. The troops, three flights below, backed well away from the turbolift doors, and Millie began to weep. 2V-R8 was oblivious to any of that. He was fortunate to be only a machine.

    Nox rose to his feet as he left the dinner table, saying, "Send her in."

    The droid replied, "Yes, Master."

    Then it left Nox's side to open the door for Millie Kine.
     
  19. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Final Instructions​

    The following day, Nox had spent most of the morning in the conference room with General Yennis. Vulgren was there, too. However, he stayed out of Nox's way, performing his tasks and issuing instructions quietly to his staff as he listened in to Nox's and Yennis' conference. Nox had been consulting with the general about what to do next.

    Nox spared a moment to regard Vulgren and asked himself in mild surprise, "Why am I permitting him to remain?"

    General Yennis reported, "Our droids have detected nothing the entire night. It's as if the Republic and the rebellion leadership are all in a state of shock and are unable to formulate a response. I think it would be best to keep the droids deployed until my units arrive, Dark Lord. The droids will already be in place, in case the rebels finally decide to counter.

    "Dark Lord, for your information, my division has already been on the march. They became ready, and hit the road well ahead of schedule. Based on their progress, I believe they will arrive in the early morning the day after tomorrow, instead of the late morning."

    Nox was pleased by this bit of news, but cautioned the Chiss general, "Very good. However, be certain your forces are especially alert for ambush while on the march. If the rebels have been readying themselves for sabotage operations throughout the other sectors, as Major Nordath's report suggested, then they may have forces in the other sectors that can be diverted to ambush your division while on the road."

    Yennis had already done this, and replied, "Be assured, Dark Lord, that I have seen to this."
    Nox gave his approval, "Good," then added, "As soon as they arrive, deploy them immediately to deal with the rebels at the settlement. We must crush them utterly and quickly before they can spread their poisonously filthy rebellion to the other settlements."

    Yennis replied neutrally, "Yes, Dark Lord."

    The general, withheld his council. He understood that it was not his place to discuss policy. It was not his place to tell Darth Nox what he thought about the dark lord's solution for dealing with the rebels.
    Yennis kept his thoughts to himself, "Slaughtering the citizenry as well as the combatants will not win them over after the fighting is done, Dark Lord."

    It wasn't until mid morning that Darth Nox had finally entered the office to meet with his staff.
    He said as he entered, "Good. You're all here. I was tied up in discussions with the General regarding the rebellion here."

    Nox noted that Shahn Lunn was properly attired, although the fit of her garb was a bit too loose. She chafed against her ill fitting garb. He was pleased to see that she did not simply get the latest Sith fashion, but got functional armor. However, the black on mostly white color scheme did not suite his tastes. It reminded him too much of the bitter cold world of Hoth. However, Nox decided to say something positive about it.

    "Now you look Sith. Take pride in your status and flaunt it." Nox nodded approvingly as he took note of her sabrestaff, but then he wondered, "Can she really handle a sabrestaff?"

    Shahn seemed uncomfortable about the praise.

    She said, "I had to borrow this. My outfit has yet to arrive from Dromund Kaas."

    Nox replied noncommittally, "Oh..." Then after a brief moment to think, he asked, "Have you spoken to Vulgren, or Darth Komo about where they get their attire and armor? Perhaps they have a synthweaver here on Taris that they rely on."

    Nox watched Shahn's face redden and felt her embarrassment through The Force. It became apparent to Nox, that she had not thought of this. Nox put Shahn's clothing issues out of his mind and got the meeting in order.

    "Let's get to business," he said as he took a seat at Xalek's desk. Nox decided the first order of business, saying, "Let's start with a complete briefing on what's been learned about the security breech and what's been done to fix it."

    Khem Val spoke without Nox's invitation and without preamble, "I searched, but I found no spy tech. The office is clean." Khem pointed to the office window, which stretched from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, and said, "I installed micro/macro oscillating vibrators to prevent our voices from being heard from the outside.

    "I checked and found that sound does not leak out through the doors and walls. I checked the computer, and holo-terminal and found they are secure and use proper encryption protocols. From outside, it is possible to see into all of the offices. I told the security manager to change this, and to add micro/macro oscillating vibrators to all of the windows. He will do this."

    Khem Val's sudden quiet plunged the office into a silence that stretched for some seconds and that started to become awkward. Nox realized Khem's very brief report was done.

    He broke the inordinate silence, saying a bit awkwardly, "Well..., good, Khem. Now we can talk." Turning to face Xalek, Nox instructed his apprentice, "Darth Xalek, please brief everyone on what's been learned."

    Xalek, also wasting no time with introductions, went right to the point.

    "We have located the area where the relic was last seen by our master. It is outside Olaris Spaceport, which was destroyed at the hands of our dark lord in the final days before the Republic abandoned Taris. There is an area near the spaceport with several warehouses."

    Turning to look at Darth Nox and Khem Val in turn, Darth Xalek continued, saying, "My master, and Khem Val, if you go personally to the location, then perhaps you'll recognize which building it was. Otherwise we'll need to search each warehouse on that street, but we think we know which building it is based on what you've told us in the past."

    Then returning his attention to the rest of the group, he concluded, "Orbital observation shows the area is in considerable ruin and over run with Rakghouls. We will all need to ensure inoculation against the Rakghoul Virus before going. That is all."

    Captain Drellik spoke without being bidden to. This annoyed Xalek, greatly, but he remained silent about Captain Drellik's lack of decorum.

    Talos Drellik cautioned, "My lord, allow me to add that we have not yet verified if the item in question is still there or if it is still intact."

    Xalek's annoyance stemmed from his belief that Talos Drellik should have waited for Darth Nox to call on him to speak. However, Xalek recognized that Nox seemed to prefer that Talos have free rein, thus permitting Talos to speak freely without reservations.

    Xalek reflected, "If you were Sith, Talos, I would have ended you long ago."

    Nox answered Captain Talos Drellik's concerns, replying, "It's a Rakata artifact. Those are remarkably durable, but I'll concede the possibility that it may no longer be on world. You'll remain here to continue searching along those lines until we've verified, one way or the other, whether the artifact is there."

    Talos replied simply, "Yes, Lord."

    Turning to Shahn, Nox asked, "What assets can you provide for this mission?"

    Shahn Lunn spoke, "Dark Lord, of course, I shall go. I will take with me a small team of five archaeologists, and bring five excavation droids."

    Talos nodded approval of her plan, however, Xalek eying her, thought to himself, "She seeks to enter into my lord's inner circle. I'll be sure to end her life when we are finished there."

    Shahn continued her report, "I also have two heavy lift droids that I can spare from my other dig site for this mission. If the buildings are as deteriorated as Darth Xalek suggests, then they will be necessary for lifting out large sections of broken structure." She then made a request from Nox, "Dark Lord, I'll need military transportation to move the assets in question, and I request a detachment of troops for security, not only against Rakghouls, but against pirates. Pirates are just as much a problem as Rakghouls are."

    Nox reflected, remembering his time on that inhospitably frozen world, and said, "Hoth, all over again, but without the all the ice, cold, and frozen equipment."

    He waited for Shahn to say more, but she remained silent.

    Nox, satisfied with his servants' reports, and deciding he had enough information to proceed, decreed, "Very well, I will now give your assignments. Darth Xalek, you shall accompany me to the dig sight along with Shahn Lunn. Captain Drellik, you'll stay for your search, and Khem Val, you'll go to Imperial Settlement Number One."

    Khem Val's body twitched on hearing his orders, but he remained silent as Nox continued issuing his instructions.

    "You will provide Darth Komo with personal security. I suspect that in a short time, assassins will come for his life. Stay there to maintain security wherever he goes."

    Khem Val thought angrily to himself, "Does he not trust me and wishes to send me away?! What of his own security? Does he think I am not needed?!"

    Nox cautioned everyone, "Darth Acina is my enemy, now. I have begun to move against her, even as she's already struck against me. Be wary of Acina's servants. Darth Komo serves me now. Taris is my world now." Looking at each of his servants, Nox asked, "Are there any questions about your assignments or anything I've said?"

    They all remained silent. They were all in shock, with the exception of Khem Val. He was in Vulgren's office when the bargain was struck.

    Nox added, reminding his servants, "I caution all of you to remain on your highest alert. We still have that Jedi Master to worry about, she and however many of her Jedi subordinates she's brought with her. She is strong in The Force. Khem, Talos, be on your best alert footing."

    Captain Drellik replied, "Of course, my lord. If any of their ilk shall cross my path, he shall learn that not all academicians are toothless."

    Khem Val, resigned to his orders, answered, "I hope to get something to eat. Let them come to me."

    Nox reminded Khem, "Recall that Darth Komo was on the Commandos' assassinate target list."

    Khem nodded and said, "I have not forgotten, my master."

    Nox stood and said, "Very well. Everyone, prepare to move out. We will leave late this afternoon or early this evening. Darth Xalek, arrange for everyone to get a Rakghoul vaccine shot at the shuttle pad, including the soldiers I shall requisition. Shahn Lunn, contact your people and tell them to ready themselves to be picked up by military shuttle craft. In the mean time, I shall go to General Yennis and procure the required assets from him."

    He looked at each of his staff briefly. None of them seemed to have anything to say.
    Nox ordered, "Get moving."

    His servants replied as he walked to the office door, "Yes, Dark Lord," or "Yes, Master."

    But Nox had already walked out of the office, on his way to speak to the general.
     
  20. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    The Jedi, The Relic, and The Lie​

    The four troop transport craft lifted off late that afternoon, leaving Nox and his archaeological expeditionary force in a particularly wrecked part of Taris several thousand kilometers from the reclaimed areas. Aside from Xalek, Shahn, and her archaeological team, Nox arrived with one hundred and six Imperial troops. They were divided into five understrength platoons called sections.

    The men were divided into twenty one man sections, twenty soldiers for each section led by a sergeant. The five sections were all led by a senior sergeant. There were no officers with them. These soldiers were from the now defunct 256th Infantry Brigade. Nox was also given twenty heavy cannon war droids and two heavy guided missile droids to reinforce his troops.

    Nox felt nostalgia overcome him, as his eyes swept across the ruined structures of Taris' ancient city-world. It was amongst these ruins, that he'd met and subdued his first apprentice, Ashara Zavros, a brash and headstrong Jedi. Nox felt a moment of remorse and self condemnation for his crime against his late wife, but the moment passed when he remembered that he was within striking distance of the relic.

    Captain Drellik's caution echoed in Nox's mind, "Recall, my lord, the artifact may no longer be on world."

    Nox answered the echo a little exasperatedly, thinking, "Alright already, Talos! I know it might not be here at all. It's why I told you to keep searching the damned manifests..."

    Nox snapped his mind clear and got to the business at hand, issuing his first orders to his apprentice, who'd just come to a stop beside him.

    "Darth Xalek, find Shahn. Take her with you and find someplace to make our base of operations."
    Xalek replied, "Yes, lord."

    Xalek departed, walking in the direction Shahn Lunn's archaeological team had been dropped off. Meanwhile, Nox turned to face the soldiers, all in precise ranks and files and formed into their five sections.

    The sections were aligned in a row with a small space between each section. A section leader stood before each section. Nox deigned to speak to them, and began walking towards their ranks.

    A sergeant, standing in front of the formation was receiving the role call reports from his subordinate sergeants. One of his men signaled to him. The sergeant looked over his shoulder and saw Nox walking towards him.

    Facing his troops, he called out, "Company! Attention!" Then he did an about face, and called out, "Company! Present - Arms!"

    The sergeant, and his company of soldiers rendered Nox a salute.

    Just as Nox had come to a stop, standing before him, the sergeant called out, "Order - Arms!"

    The company of soldiers, and the senior sergeant, ended their salute.

    Nox told the sergeant, "I will speak to your men."

    The sergeant stomped his boot, turned smartly to his right, and marched to the right end of the company formation. As the sergeant marched off to his left, Nox looked carefully at the faces of the men and women arrayed before him. The precise ranks of each of the five sections were arrayed, from his left to right, tallest to shortest.

    Their dark grey uniforms were immaculate. Their dark grey helmets, with their snugly cinched chinstraps almost robbed the men and women of their individuality. They almost looked alike. Their blaster rifles, and their boots all shined. Their faces were all impassive stone masks.

    And while the Imperial soldiers appeared immaculate, calm, and resolute, The Force revealed their disordered and jumbled fears and doubts, which seemed to Nox like a pot of water in a roiling boil.
    Nox thought of the troops, "They're a mess."

    He raised his voice and began, "You have felt bitter humiliation when you discovered the rank negligence of your superior officers. They have all been arrested and are undergoing questioning. Some will be returned to duty, while others will face incarceration. Those few most culpable for your brigade's failures will face execution."

    He swept his eyes across their ranks, and observed that while their faces remained unchanged stone-carved masks, their abject shame had mixed into the cauldron of roiling fear and doubt.

    Nox continued his speech, "You soldiers followed your orders faithfully, and you trusted your officers to do their duty. It is you who have been betrayed by their incompetence. It is you who were made to look the fools! But here, you will have a chance to prove yourselves. Here, you will have a chance to show me, Darth Nox, a Dark Lord seated on the Dark Council, that you are worthy to be called Imperial Soldiers!"

    Nox felt a surge of hope and deep encouragement well up from the troops. Their fears and doubts evaporated, and was instantly replaced with a rabid determination that was almost fanatical, and although their faces remained impassive masks of stone, their eyes had changed, gaining a keen sharpness to them. Through The Force, he felt their thirst to prove themselves flash brilliantly. Their roiling doubts, fears, and shame seemed to flash into a roaring fire of fierce determination, as he spoke.

    "This is your chance to show me that you are not the failures your former leaders were!"

    Nox couldn't know if his words would inspire them to perform well, but he could feel that their morale had improved considerably, as he concluded his speech.

    "Show me what you're made of! Show me what you've got! Prove to the Sith Empire that you are Imperial Soldiers worthy of the name! That is all."

    The senior sergeant, standing at attention at the right end of the formation, shouted, "RUUUUUUUH!"

    He was immediately answered by his men, "HUUAAAAAH!"

    Nox thought, "That must be their battle shout." Then, even as he doubted it, he thought, "I hope it means their improved spirits will lead to improved performances as well."

    He waited for them to start marching off, but instead they remained in formation while the senior sergeant marched directly to him.

    The sergeant snapped to attention before Nox. Stomping his boot, he saluted smartly and reported, "Senior Sergeant Mordant Hurst, reporting, Dark Lord. What are your orders, sir?"

    Nox thought a moment, then said, "Find Darth Xalek and determine where he has decided to locate our base of operations. Then set up defenses and security patrols. The enemy here are Rakghouls and pirates, and probably a couple of Jedi. Be on your highest alert footing."

    Nox could feel the sergeant's slight disappointment at his mundane orders, but the sergeant acknowledged crisply, "Yes, sir!" Then he said, "Dark Lord, we can deal with Rakghouls and pirates quite handily, but we may run into problems with the Jedi."

    Nox ordered, "Report any Jedi sighted to either Darth Xalek, Shahn Lunn, or to me."

    Senior Sergeant Hurst stomped his boot and again acknowledged, "Yes, sir!"

    He saluted Nox, and waited for Nox to walk away before turning about to face his men. Nox had walked to the nearest of the ruins and began to inspect them as the sergeant issued orders to his men.

    Nox's mind flooded with the bittersweet nostalgic memories of he and Ashara slaying Republic Soldiers, here in this very area. He thought back on their sabotage of the Republic's efforts to resettle this planet, as they fought to capture Olaris Space Port.

    Those days were rife with doubt and uncertainty about their union as master and apprentice. Even as they battled side by side against the Empire's foes, they fought a war of words and ideals against one another. He labored to teach her about the Sith Code and the philosophy behind each tenet of the code, and she endeavored to convert him into following the teachings of the Jedi Order.

    Nox was brought sharply out of his reverie, when he noticed the fresh carcasses of Rakghouls inside some of the ruined structures. They had blaster bolt burns on their dead bodies.

    He turned to face Mordant Hurst and raising his voice so that he could be heard, called out, "Senior Sergeant Hurst!" When he had the sergeant's attention, he asked, "When we arrived, did your men engage in killing any of the Rakghouls in the ruins?"

    Senior Sergeant Mordant Hurst replied, "No, Dark Lord. Nor did the shuttle crews report any hostiles at the insertion point."

    Nox, dreading the worst, again raised his voice, ordering, "Be on alert, Senior Sergeant Hurst. Someone's been here killing Rakghouls."

    Mordant replied, "Yes, Sir!" He then turned about and recalled his subordinate sergeants, "Section leaders! To me!"

    As Sergeant Hurst alerted his subordinate sergeants to the possibility of hostiles in the area, Nox called his apprentice over the audio communicator, "Darth Xalek, have you seen signs of pirate or Republic activity in the area?"

    Xalek's voice came back over the communicator simply answering, "Many dead Rakghouls."

    Nox looked up at the late afternoon sky and thought furiously to himself, "What was I thinking?! As soon as I had learned the enemy had spies in our midst, I should have moved out!"

    He looked down at his feet and shook his head in disgust and self reproach. Returning his gaze to the carcasses of the Rakghoul within the ruined structure, he noticed one of them had the unmistakable burns of a lightsaber strike across its chest. He spoke again into his audio communicator.

    "Darth Xalek, Shahn. Return to me, I think the situation has changed." He then called to Mordant, "Sergeant Hurst! Come to me!"

    Mordant replied, "Yes, Dark Lord!" He ran to Nox, stopped in front of him, and snapping to attention, asked crisply, "What are your orders, Dark Lord?"

    Nox got to the point, "I think there is a strong enemy operating near hear. Prepare your men for combat patrols. I want you to send your sections out to find them, learn who they are, and report their location to everyone else. I think it will probably be Republic Commandos. Be especially alert. If the commandos are here, so are the Jedi. I give you command of the war droids. Deploy them as you see fit."

    Mordant Hurst said with feeling, "We'll show you what we can do, Dark Lord!"

    Mordant stomped his boot, turned about and ran back to his waiting subordinate sergeants and immediately began issuing new orders to them.

    Xalek and Shahn came running. Nox watched Shahn's tiny 145 centimeter frame running next to Xalek's imposing 194 centimeters, as they approached him. As he marveled at her small stature, he realized that Shahn had changed her attire.

    He though, "She probably changed her robes sometime before we left the settlement."

    He hadn't seen her before then, because she had boarded a different shuttle with her archaeological team.

    "That's a splendid suit of armor, and it fits her perfectly," Nox thought.

    She wore a solid black hooded robe of a heavy material, open at the front, revealing her armor underneath. Underneath the robe, her flexible armor was black with bright red markings, and Nox could see that she preferred armored leggings over armored kilts, such as he wore. He nodded his approval of her tastes in Sith fashion, and armor.

    He said to the two as they came to a stop before him, "The Rakghoul eradication in this area is too thorough, too precise to have been carried out by ordinary pirates. I found no other bodies except those of the Rakghoul. How about you two?"

    As he made no mention of the evidence of a Jedi's presence to the senior sergeant, he had also decided not tell Darth Xalek and Shahn Lunn of the Rakghoul with the lightsaber burns on its chest.

    Xalek shook his head in the negative, in answer to Nox's inquiry.

    Shahn answered, "I saw only the Rakghoul, Dark Lord."

    Nox briefly turned his attention to the five sections of troops, from the 256th Infantry Brigade, as they double-timed off in different directions in search of the enemy. Each section had been reinforced with some of the war droids.

    Nox returned his attention to quickly finding the warehouse wherein his mind trap had last been seen. He set a portable holo-projector down onto the rusted out metal plate on which he stood, the remains of an ancient road, and activated it.

    A real time three dimensional map appeared above it, with symbols showing his location and that of all of his forces moving out in the area. He found the main thoroughfare leading to Olaris Spaceport's main entrance. It was two streets over.

    He said to Xalek and Shahn, "Let's go. We'll search the ruins until our forces contact the enemy."

    A few moments later, the three had reached the thoroughfare. And as soon as they did, a huge eruption of blaster fire sounds emanated from the direction of the spaceport. Nox wasn't certain, but looking in that direction, he could barely recall whether the spaceport was just under a kilometer from where he and his servants now walked.

    He thought, "If I have to run there, it shouldn't take me too long."

    Soon after, the audio communicator sounded with Senior Sergeant Hurst's voice, "Contact made at Olaris Spaceport! Republic Commandos in force! All units converge here!"

    Nox told Xalek and Shahn, "We will search the warehouses, starting with that one."

    He pointed, indicating which dilapidated structure he had in mind.

    Nox took his first steps towards the dilapidated husk, as the audio communicator came on again with Mordant's voice, "There is a Jedi, here!"

    Nox shouted, "To the spaceport!"

    Nox took a few steps running towards the spaceport, when he caught sight of a blue flash of light in the corner of his left eye. He drew his sabrestaff, activating it as he turned towards the blue light. He was already swinging diagonally downwards when he caught full sight of the lightsaber twirling towards him.

    Nox struck it down to the ground. The lightsaber deactivated upon impact with the rusted metal plated roadway. Using The Force, Nox immediately reached for it and pulled it into his free hand. When the saber hilt reached his hand, he immediately crushed and destroyed it, again using The Force. Nox threw the wreckage of it to the ground.

    When he returned his gaze to his assailant, he saw a second Jedi emerging from the ruins of the warehouse, which Nox had pointed out earlier. The Jedi came to a stop, standing alongside the one who'd thrown his saber at him. Nox could feel it. They were strong in The Force.

    Xalek shouted to Nox, "Master! Go on! We'll take on these two! We will not shame you!"

    Nox, knew that Xalek had to have felt how strong those two were, but he decided to trust Xalek's judgment on the matter. He turned and ran to the spaceport. The two Jedi attempted to intercept him, but Xalek and Shahn had both leapt to the attack against the pair. The Jedi were forced to defend themselves. Nox left his servants behind and ran for all he was worth, using The Force to speed him, to the spaceport.

    Just as Nox reached the spaceport and turned towards the sounds of battle, Senior Sergeant Hurst called out over the audio communicator, "There are three Republic shuttles here. They're trying to load one of them with a crate."

    Nox ordered, "Destroy the shuttles! Damage the shuttles, whatever it takes so that they cannot fly!"

    Nox had entered the spaceport from a different entrance than did his troops. As a result, he ran into a team of six Republic Commandos and immediately began cutting them down. After a few seconds, during which his sabrestaff twirled, spun, buzzed and chopped, Nox had cut the last one down. He wasted no time, and was already on his way, even before the last commando collapsed to the floor already dead.

    As he ran down the concourse, towards the sounds of battle, he saw the tips of the vertically folded wings of one of the shuttles at the far end of it. His mind was filled with memories of fighting his final battle on Taris alongside Ashara, as they slew a Jedi Master together, right in this very spaceport.

    He remembered goading Ashara towards anger, "Do not grieve! Instead, become angry! Fuel your anger for what you've done! You've killed one of your old Masters! You traitorous murderer!"

    Ashara had succumbed to the crushing guilt of what she'd done, weeping for her crime, and taking a step closer to the Dark Side of The Force, but that's where she stopped. It infuriated Nox, because Thana Vesh, who'd also fought alongside them, had mocked them both.

    She taunted Nox, telling him, "You're both so emotionally mushy! How do you expect to be taken seriously, or to defeat your enemies if you're so soft!" Then she laughed, as she added, "You don't have a Jedi turned Sith apprentice. You have a crybaby that you have to look after!" She laughed again in Nox's face.

    He wondered why he hadn't killed Thana Vesh right then, but Nox had to work to clear his mind of the flood of nostalgia inundating his thoughts. He knew, that with this Jedi, if he did not mind his thoughts, it could be used against him again, as had occurred in the forests in their earlier encounter.

    As Nox neared the end of the concourse, he thought savagely, "How much fun will the Jedi give me before I'll have to kill her?"

    Nox leapt over the railing at the end of the concourse, and down thirty meters onto the landing pad. He quickly scanned the scene, looking around until he found the crate and the shuttle being loaded with it. Nox leapt to the area behind that shuttle.

    He used The Force to push the crate well away from the shuttle. It was still sliding across the launch pad when he began to kill the shuttle crew around him. Assured that his crate was safely away from any of the shuttles, and with at least one shuttle crew dead, he turned to face the other end of the launch pad, towards the sounds of combat.

    The Jedi Master, using The Force to shroud herself from perception, watched as Darth Nox, turned to face the sounds of battle. She watched as he used Force Lighting against two commandos armed with portable blaster cannons, taking them both down.

    She thought, with some fear, "A Force Lightning attack nearly two hundred meters from where he's standing?! He is much stronger than I gave him credit for!" She wondered, "Then was he holding back when we fought the last time in the forest?"

    Realizing that Nox's attack would greatly ease the approach of the Imperial Soldiers to the launch pad proper, she thought to herself, "Damn! I better do something or they're gonna destroy our rides back home!"

    She approached Nox's unguarded back, as he casually strode towards the commandos that were still out of his view around a corner, at the far end of the launch pad, over two hundred meters away.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    Xalek threw his sabrestaff forward, using The Force to cause it to spin horizontally like a giant circular saw. His attack spoiled his enemy's next series of attacks before she could begin. She was forced to leap backwards instead.

    Xalek immediately shot his offhand forward and blasted her with a bolt of Force Lighting, instantly stunning her. As his sabrestaff returned to him, he stopped it's spin right before he caught it again in his main hand. Xalek then rushed forward again, thrusting his sabrestaff at the Jedi, to impale her through her armored chest.

    Instead, he ended up rolling to one side to avoid a piece of debris that was hurled at him by the other Jedi, Shahn's opponent. Xalek got out of the roll and, standing again, swung down with his sabrestaff. His opponent, having recovered from the electric shock, blocked with both of her lightsabers crossed together, stopping Xalek's vicious attack. She then executed a vicious forward kick, amplified with The Force, knocking Xalek back.

    The Jedi tossed one of her activated sabers to her partner, who'd become unarmed after Nox had destroyed his lightsaber. Xalek, had guarded against her Force powered kick, but he still had to shake his head to clear the daze from his eyes, after he'd gotten back onto his feet.

    He shouted in disgust at Shahn, "What!? Are you sleeping, midget?!"

    He looked over to where she was and saw her tumbling and spinning helplessly in midair in front of her opponent. Xalek immediately Force Pushed her and sent her flying, knocking her out of her opponent's grasp before he could use his partner's lightsaber against her.

    Xalek's opponent attacked. He had to jump sideways, away from Shahn, to escape the attack.

    He thought angrily to himself, "Curse Shahn! She's as weak as she is short!" Xalek shouted at her, "If you are a servant of Darth Nox, then do not bring him shame! FIGHT!"

    Shahn felt great humiliation at the rebuke, and her fury rose. She cursed herself for letting herself think that her unarmed opponent was helpless. She had entered into a false sense of assurance, believing that she had an absolute advantage over her unarmed enemy. In fact she did, but had squandered it when she attacked with her own sabrestaff.

    Shahn furiously criticized herself, thinking, "I should have attacked with Force Lighting!" Now that her opponent was armed again, her advantage was lost. She cursed her own stupidity again, "Blast!" Then she shouted, angrily, "I am not a midget! I am petite!"

    The Jedi attacked. He leapt through the air swinging down with his borrowed lightsaber. Shahn blocked his attack with her sabrestaff. She thought to counter strike with the other end of her staff, but his attack was so powerful that it sent her light frame falling backwards. Shahn Lunn attempted to get back up, but he rushed her and struck down repeatedly, as she lay on her back, scooting away from him, and repeatedly blocking his powerful strikes.

    She thought to herself, "He's using the Juyo combat form!"

    Shahn used The Force to push him back and to launch herself away from him, thus gaining distance from him. She converted her mid air uncontrolled tumbling into backwards mid-air flips, then landed on her feet.

    Her opponent had already recovered and was already coming after her. She blasted him with a very powerful storm of lightning, knocking him off of his feet and leaving him writhing on the ground. Then she used all of her concentration as she drained his life-force from him. It quickly weakened him as it regenerated her own injuries.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    Instinct, more than anything else, made Nox jump onto one of the shuttles. He narrowly missed getting skewered in the back with a bright red sabrestaff. The Jedi used the crate, Nox had pushed aside earlier, as a projectile against him.

    Nox, alarmed that the Rakata mind trap inside could be damaged or even destroyed, did not dodge it. Instead, he used The Force to capture it, and was subsequently knocked off the shuttle. Despite using The Force to control his fall, Nox landed on his feet - hard, but the crate hit the launch pad relatively gently. Nox's Force Push sent the crate sliding to the far edge of the launch pad, away from the Jedi. Then he turned around just in time to block a furious sabrestaff assault by the Jedi Master.

    Nox quickly turned the tables on the Jedi, turning his blocks into attacks. Each time he blocked an attack with one end of his sabrestaff, he countered with the other end of his staff.

    The armored-masked Jedi Master, unable to keep up with Nox's furious sabrestaff counter strikes, jumped back. Then, thinking she'd distract Nox again, tried Force Lifting the crate to send it flying again. It was a good idea, but it was poorly executed. Even though she had jumped back to gain distance from him, she was still too close to Nox.

    Nox sped forward, using The Force, and lunged for her outstretched arm. Grabbing the Jedi's elbow, he used The Force again, crushing it in his hand. She screamed in shear agony, as she hopped up and kicked Nox in his chest with both feet, while Force Leaping backwards, sending both Nox and her flying backwards away from each other. Thus, she had escaped Nox's follow up sabrestaff strike.

    Nox slammed the spaceport deck on his back and skidded a ways before he jumped back up onto his feet again. Although he'd used The Force to guard against her attack, his chest hurt mightily from her Force powered kick, and his back was also in bad shape from slamming onto the deck, but he used The Force to block out the worst of the pain, and then used the remaining pain to infuriate himself. His rage fueled his Dark Side power.

    With only one arm working, the masked Jedi Master could not use her sabrestaff. She deactivated one end of her staff making it into a single bladed lightsaber with a very long hilt. Nox, fueled by his rage, and his Dark Side power continuing to grow, struck the wounded Jedi Master with a storm of Force Lighting just as the Shuttle next to him reverberated, shook, and skidded sideways towards him. From that Force Lightning attack, the Jedi knew immediately that Nox was deliberately holding back.

    A heavy war droid had launched a missile barrage that had struck the ship on the opposite side of where he stood. The missile barrage caused the heavy shuttle to skid sideways, towards Nox, more than just a few centimeters. It was a testament to the power of the missile blasts on the opposite side of the shuttle from where Nox stood, which also caused it to rain smoking shuttle debris all around him.

    Despite Nox's storm of Force Lighting, the Jedi Master had managed to send some of the debris, raining down onto the launch pad, hurtling at Nox. Nox was forced to stop his lighting attack to dodge the flying wreckage.

    Then, without warning, the Jedi was struck by a terrible onslaught of blaster fire as a second shuttle exploded. Nox rolled under the third shuttle to escape the falling debris, but he knew it was next to be destroyed. It was the same shuttle onto which the crate was to be loaded.

    Nox dashed to where he'd pushed the crate, avoiding the superheated gases and the burning liquids that poured from the third shuttle's systems when it exploded from another missile barrage. He reached the crate in an instant. A quick inspection told him that the crate seemed unharmed.

    Satisfied that the crate seemed undamaged, Nox rushed to where he'd last seen the Jedi fall under the storm of blaster bolts. The sounds of battle had diminished somewhat, as his troops pushed the surviving retreating commandos to another part of the spaceport.

    The Jedi lay still. Nox, however, not trusting in convenient deaths, inspected her body. He prodded it with his activated sabrestaff, and it became a piece of shuttle debris, which had partially melted from the high energy blaster rifle bolts and Force Lightning current.

    Nox became disgusted at himself as he thought, "How does she bypass my defense and manipulate what I see?!"

    Nox ran back to the crate and knelt before it as he opened it. He found it had been empty. He cleared his mind to make sure it was actually empty, and not just another illusion.

    Nox, becoming frustrated, asked himself, "Was it already loaded onto one of the shuttles? Why was an empty crate being loaded onto a shuttle?!" After a small pause, he asked himself, "Or was an empty crate getting unloaded?"

    Standing again, Nox got out his personal holo-transmitter and dialed up Talos Drellik. As he thought back to the partially melted shuttle debris, he realized he'd been shooting Force Lightning at a piece of junk.

    It gave him cause him think, "Did I actually crush her arm, or was that just another illusion?"

    Talos answered, saying, "My lord, how may I be of ser... You're bleeding!"

    Nox quickly explained, and then ordered, "We're fighting commandos and Jedi here! Waste no time! Get immediate access to orbital observation and look for ground convoys leaving my vicinity. Look anywhere within five hundred kilometers. Report anything you find as soon as you find anything. You have my authority to commandeer any assets you need to get it done. That is all."

    Nox cut the transmission and thought to himself, "Maybe they haven't put it in a crate yet. Maybe they have it with them."

    Just as he thought to go join his soldiers in the fight, his instincts, again, filled him with an overwhelming need to take action. Nox spun quickly, facing away from the crate, and Force Pushed with everything he had. This time he'd decided not to hold back anymore.

    The Jedi appeared in front of him, tumbling in the air away from him. She slammed onto the launch pad on her back, then skidded and tumbled across the debris littered launch pad.

    Nox thought to himself, "This Jedi is too strong for me to keep holding back. I had better end this, now. I am waisting too much time on her."

    He walked briskly to where she lay, his deep red sabrestaff reactivated. She was hurt terribly, but she wouldn't die anytime soon.

    Nox thought admiringly to himself of her, "She is strong!" And he told her so. "You are strong! I would have enjoyed having you as an apprentice, but I know how stubborn you Jedi can be..."

    Nox thought of Ashara again as he remembered her strength and her stubbornness, but he immediately pushed her memory from his mind, and lifted his sabrestaff vertically, as he prepared to skewer the Jedi with his weapon.

    Unexpectedly, she asked him, "Would you?"

    After a coughing spell, she asked again, "Would you take me on as an apprentice?"

    Nox was deeply surprised by this. He expected her to say, what the Jedi usually said just before he'd kill them.

    "There is no death, only The Force."

    Staying his hand to answer her, he told her, "I'd only teach you about the power of the Dark Side of The Force. It's nothing you'd be interested in."

    The Jedi pleaded, "Teach me, Master." Then she added as though it hurt to say it, "Teach me... the Dark Side." She coughed again.

    Nox, still in shocked surprise by the randomness of the moment, acted impulsively and took an extraordinary gamble.

    He told her, "Convince me. Give me what I seek. Kill the rebellion leadership. Then report to me at Imperial Settlement Number Three with everything my people will need to arrest or kill all of the rebel militia members."

    Nox waited to see what the Jedi would say to that. He figured what he'd asked was too high a price, and that she would not be willing to pay it. He fully expected her to reconsider. But to his amazement, she actually told him what he wanted.

    The Jedi told Nox, "What you're looking for hasn't been moved, yet. The Rakata device is still in the warehouse. We'd only managed to kill all of the Rakghouls in the area and chased off the pirates, before you showed up..." She coughed a bit, then added, "Master, my subordinate Jedi found the device and were guarding it. They are fighting with your servants, now."

    Nox remained silent, ready to impale her with his weapon. He was trying to decide if he should risk believing her. He could not sense her emotions.

    "She masks her feelings too well," he thought.

    Lying on her back and looking up at Nox with his weapon poised to strike, she could see the doubt in his eyes.

    The Jedi Master promised him, "Once I've caught my breath, I'll do the rest, Master."

    Nox, felt great trepidation at what he had decided to do. He enjoyed a renewed rush of adrenaline course through his entire being, as he deactivated his sabrestaff. He waited, fully expecting her to attack. After a moment, when he realized she was not going to fight, he secured his weapon onto his utility belt.

    Nox ordered, "Remove your mask so that I may see your face, Jedi. If you betray me, I want to remember your face so that I can hunt you down."

    The Jedi obeyed and removed her armored mask with her left hand. She was human, Nox saw. Her face was covered in sweat, and though he couldn't feel it, the fear smeared across her face was quite real.

    Nox thought, "I've never seen her before." He studied her intently before finally telling her, "We'll see. We will see where The Force shall guide us from here, Jedi." Then he demanded, "What is your name, Jedi?"

    She answered without delay, "My name is Juuldis Vannithana Resh."

    He nodded, telling her, "I'll be waiting for you, apprentice candidate Juuldis."

    Nox left her where she lay. He walked a ways away before looking over his shoulder. She remained laying on her back. Her face, looking up at the launch pad ceiling, glistened with sweat and tears, and was contorted by pain and sorrow. Her left hand favored her limp right arm. Nox could see her body heaving as she sobbed silently.

    He thought, "So, I did cripple her arm..." Then, laughing inwardly at the Jedi, he asked himself, "What is it about Taris that makes it simple to turn Jedi?"

    Nox felt a pang of regret, and guilt, when he thought of Ashara, reminding himself that he'd killed her. He used his regret and guilt to fuel his anger. This, in turn, fueled his Dark Side power, as he walked towards the battle, and his troops. Nox despised himself, for using his late wife's memory for such a dark purpose. He felt it was an insult to her memory, and those feelings too, fueled his power in the Dark Side.

    Looking around the spaceport as he walked, Nox felt a bit of nostalgia, when he remembered that it was in this spaceport, after they'd parted ways with Thana Vesh, that he'd succeeded in forcing Ashara to acknowledge the validity of the Sith Code, though he'd again failed to convince her to embrace the power of the Dark Side of The Force.

    At the time, Ashara had defiantly declared to Nox, "Just because I can see that there is validity in the Sith Code does not mean that I will abandon my Jedi teachings. They are just as valid."

    Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, he got back to the business at hand and called Mordant on the short range audio communicator.

    "Senior Sergeant Hurst, report."

    Nox walked briskly, following the echoing booming sounds of the battle that had moved to another concourse in the spaceport.

    Mordant's voice came back, reporting, "Dark Lord, original enemy strength was estimated at about sixty. Enemy strength is now estimated at about forty. Our losses are nineteen, with ten wounded and sent back to the insertion point, five confirmed dead, and four war droids damaged and rendered unusable. The enemy..."

    Senior Sergeant Hurst cut out. Nox waited a few seconds, and just as he was about to call Hurst again, the Senior Sergeant came back on.

    "I beg your pardon, Dark Lord. I had to issue orders to my men. The enemy is conducting a fighting withdrawal to the southeast, away from the spaceport. I have been attempting to surround the enemy, but they have evaded my attempts so far."

    Realizing, from Mordant's report, that the battle had already moved out of the spaceport, Nox asked the senior sergeant, "Are they carrying anything with them. Are they moving anything large and bulky?"

    Mordant immediately answered, "Negative, Dark Lord. They carry only their wounded, estimated at about ten."

    Nox immediately ordered, using the Sergeant's terminology, "Break contact and return to the insertion point." Nox added, "They don't have what I seek. Recover our dead, our weapons, our equipment and droids, and any intel on the enemy that you can, before returning."

    Senior Sergeant Hurst acknowledged, "Yes sir, my dark lord!"

    Nox cut the connection and used The Force to dash back to where he'd left Xalek and Shahn.

    _________________________________________________________________________________​

    Xalek, wounded and bleeding, parried an attack by his opponent, also wounded and bleeding. He immediately countered, striking the Jedi twice in very quick succession, once with each end of his sabrestaff. He immediately followed that up with a blast of lighting from his offhand. The Jedi failed to deflect it. Xalek's opponent stood, shaking and trembling from the electric shock and in searing pain from the lightsaber burns.

    Darth Xalek thrust his sabrestaff, piercing his foe's heart through her heavy armor, thus ending her life. But he failed to perceive the rubble that was hurled at him. It struck him in the back and sent him flying into a section of broken wall. He tried to get back up, but his body would not obey him. Xalek had suffered massive internal injuries and several crushed ribs.

    Shahn became furious after watching Xalek fall, and went berserk. Abandoning all defense, she went on a rabid attack against her opponent, striking repeatedly and viciously with each end of her sabrestaff, almost faster than he could counter. Then, forcing an opening in her opponent's defenses, she Force Pushed her Jedi opponent high up into the air, and then used The Force to pull him back down again, accelerating him onto the surface of the rusted out roadway.

    His body smacked the ancient, rusted out, dirt covered road, face down - very hard. He tried to rise, but she - again, used the Dark Force ritual from before, to pull his life force from his body. He couldn't even get to his knees. Instead he collapsed, bloodied face down, onto the ancient rusted road, and becoming weaker by the moment. He finally fell unconscious, and shortly thereafter, he died.

    Shahn let her arms drop to her sides. Deactivating her sabrestaff and securing it to her utility belt, she turned to where she'd last seen Xalek fall. There, she saw Darth Nox conducting a Dark Force healing ritual.

    She limped towards them, dragging her right foot, because her knee was badly hurt. She watched as Nox ended his ritual. A sinking feeling began to envelop her, as she began to dread the dark lord's anger towards her for her failure. She came to a stop a few meters from where Nox knelt beside Xalek's broken body.

    Xalek spoke weakly, just above a whisper, "It is enough, my lord. At least, I killed my foe and she did not kill me."

    Nox said nothing.

    Xalek's weak voice was failing him, but he nevertheless mustered the power to say passionately, "I go to my fathers. I go to become a god with my fathers!"

    Xalek shifted his fading eyes to Nox and asked for Nox's assessment, "I hope my service to you was satisfactory." With apprehension, Xalek implored his master, "My lord?"

    Nox, his voice choking, replied, "Your service - was exemplary. I will sorely miss your capabilities. You will be able to hold your head up when you go to your fathers and take your rightful place as a god among them."

    Xalek closed his eyes and said with the last of his strength, "I will... tell them... your... name." His body went limp, and he breathed his last.

    Nox closed his eyes and shook his head slowly.

    After a moment, he stood, turned to face Shahn and said, "We'll search that structure." He pointed and added, "I think it's in there."

    Shahn, fearful that Xalek's death would be held against her, begged forgiveness, "Forgive me, Dark Lord. I did not fight well enough to prevent this."

    Nox said in a neutral tone, "You fought well enough. You killed the killer of my most able apprentice, and you've shown some skill with the use of the darker arts."

    He turned and walked to the derelict warehouse. Shahn quickly fetched a kolto injector from her utility belt. She administered a dose to her right thigh. Then she limped after her lord to the broken structure.

    Remarkably, it had suffered the least damage of all of the buildings in the area, which wasn't saying much. It was partially collapsed. Shahn, still fearing Nox's wrath would awaken at any moment, followed him with great trepidation to the ruined structure.

    As they walked, Nox wondered to himself, "Is the reason Xalek died because I took on a new apprentice? Ashara dies, and I seek to bring Zash back as my apprentice, but not before Ashara's death. I take on the Jedi as my new apprentice, and Xalek dies. Why is that?"

    Nox had entered the dark interior of the building. Without any memory of when he'd entered it, he found himself at the foot of the stairs in the back of the warehouse. The stairs were dimly lit with the waning afternoon light entering the warehouse through the door far behind him at the front of the building. He stopped and turned to look behind himself.

    Shahn was standing a few paces back waiting for him to go up the dilapidated stairs. He sensed fear suddenly pour out from her small hooded frame. She stood, silhouetted against the afternoon light entering the warehouse' doorway far behind her. He chastised himself angrily for letting his guard down so completely.

    Nox thought, "It is dangerous to get so lost in meaningless thought with an unknown Sith behind me!"

    Nox turned and walked up the stairs and entered the room at the top of the stairs. There it was, illuminated on one side by a small battery powered table lamp that the Jedi had set up for it. Shahn had taken out a portable light, and shined it on the Rakata mind trap, to get a better look.

    She had got close to it and, for a moment forgetting her fears, laughed delightedly saying, "My dark lord, Darth Nox, there is a malevolent presence within this device!"

    Nox, feeling the repulsive aura pouring from the mind trap, said, "Zash is angry. Can you imagine her hatred and rage for me after I trapped her inside? Do you now understand what it is I wish to do with this malevolent presence?"

    Shahn's mirth, and her smirking grin, dimly illuminated by the weak table lamp, quickly disintegrated into a fearful expression as she replied, shouting with sudden anguished fear, "You expect me to confront Darth Zash, and then to let her take over my being!"

    Nox, forgetting himself, asked, "Will you do it, Shahn?"

    Shahn, taking a couple of steps back, activated her sabrestaff, and bracing herself for battle, shouted at her lord, "No, Dark Lord! I will not!"

    Nox smiled, realizing his error. He cursed his lapse in judgment, then began to cover up his mistake. He could see the fear on Shahn's face. Everything in the small room, the two stood in, was now bathed in the bright red light of her sabrestaff.

    He told her, "You are strong enough in The Force. You can resist her attempts to commandeer your body. You'll have to live with her insensate prattling for a while, and she can be trying. Just ask Khem Val about that.

    "As angry as she is, she has been greatly weakened. It should not be too daunting a task for you to keep her in check. And if you can preserve your sanity long enough, I'll take you to Voss for a healing ritual that will fuse Zash's consciousness with yours, making you whole again. You will have her knowledge and her power, but you may not be totally yourself afterwards."

    The technicalities of what Nox had told her was true. It was, in essence, what he'd gone through. He had subdued four force ghosts, and bound them to his will, gaining their dark knowledge in the process. However, his mind had become fragmented. The minds of five individuals vied for control of his body.

    His body was tearing itself apart as well. The power of The Force, from the four force ghosts, added to his own power, coursed through him like too much current in a circuit unable to handle it.

    He'd gone to Belsavis to remake his body, so that it could tolerate all of that power. Then later, he'd gone to Voss, where he'd had his fragmented mind unified. However, Nox had no intention of doing any of that for Shahn.

    Shahn, not knowing any of the technicalities, wasn't sure if she could believe him. Thus, she'd decided she needed to flee from his presence, and hide somewhere in the galaxy.

    Hoping it would buy her enough time to plan her escape, she answered carefully, "I need time to think on this, Dark Lord."

    Nox, sensing the lie in her feelings, sighed as his smile faded.

    He explained to her, "I have the ghosts of four powerful Sith bound to me. If you're strong enough, you can bind Zash's ghost to you as well."

    Again, he had told her a technical truth. However, he had absolutely no intention of teaching her the binding ritual he'd learned from the ghost of Ergast.

    After a pause to let her think about it, he told her, "I picked up a new apprentice. It's the Jedi I fought at the spaceport. I intend to make the same offer to her. Don't take too long to decide."

    Shahn deactivated her sabrestaff, plunging the room into a darkness barely mitigated by the table lamp. She bowed deeply, and then knelt onto one knee, saying, "I understand, my dark lord, Darth Nox."

    Shahn had become hopeful when she saw an opportunity to escape Nox's designs without the need to flee and hide. She had decided, instead, to entrap Nox's new Jedi apprentice in his dark plot. Nox misinterpreted her feelings of hope as a sign that she had believed him.

    He ordered her, "Get a packing crate and a droid to pack this thing up. We're taking it back with us."

    Shahn, still kneeling, thanks to the kolto injection earlier, was greatly relieved that Nox had seemed to have looked passed her brief rebellion against him.

    She bowed her head, and replied dutifully, "As you say, Dark Lord."

    Nox turned to leave Shahn to her task. However, Shahn became suspicious and decided to test the truth of Nox's claims of acquiring a new apprentice.

    She called to him, risking much by asking, "Dark Lord, how did you turn the Jedi?"

    Nox, sensing her doubt, turned around to face her and answered, "I defeated her. Then, after complimenting her strength, I offered to make her my apprentice. She accepted. She may have already been skirting the edge of the Dark Side, and I just happened to nudge her across." After a very short pause to reflect, he added, "Or she could have been lying to me, to escape death."

    He turned again and walked down the stairs.

    Shahn resigned herself to accept Nox's word that he had picked up a new apprentice, maybe. She turned to her task and used her audio communicator to contact her archaeological team.

    Shahn Lunn resolved to herself, as she stood again, "I will most definitely research this artifact, but I'll have to, especially, look into the dark lord's claims of a ritual to subdue imprisoned Force Ghosts."
     
  21. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    (I'm posting two chapters at once, because "A Council Paralyzed" is such a short chapter.)​
    A Council Paralyzed​

    In Imperial Settlement Number Two, on an ordinary street, in an unassuming building, on the second floor, at the second door down the hall, the Taris Provisional Government held an emergency council meeting. The council had come to order some time ago. The meeting was already in progress.

    First Minister Hadrek Parth was an alien of the Anomid species. His silver blue eyes seemed to pierce the Zabrak, another alien species, he addressed.

    In reply to a comment the Zabrak had made, First Minister Parth said, "General Renningk, I know you are quite confident that we can still fight, but before we talk about an all out attack on Imperial Settlement Number Three, we need to know what happened out in the ruins late yesterday afternoon. Our remaining Commandos have been nearly decimated, and the device has, in fact, fallen into Sith hands. Worse of all, we've lost two of the three Jedi that came to help. The one remaining Jedi, Master Juuldis, is out of the fight for now. How long before she recovers? A week? A month?"

    A human, Jeld Fann, an elected council member was worked up over the disaster, much more so than his fellow council members.

    Speaking angrily and out of turn, he demanded, "What could have been so damned important about that dusty relic to have been worth the loss of so many of our remaining commandos, and TWO JEDI! Eh?!"

    Another council member chimed in, pointing out, "And three shuttle craft."

    As though being reminded, Jeld Fann repeated, "Yes! And three shuttle craft!" Councilor Fann smacked his opened hand on the table and added with a snarl, "Tell me that much, First Minister!"

    First Minister Hadrek Parth worked to keep his temper in check as he replied, "I understand your anger, Councilor Fann, but do remember that we have a process for being heard. We must wait to be recognized before speaking." Before Jeld Fann could protest Hadrek Parth added, in answer to Jeld Fann's question, "Do recall, Councilor Fann, Jedi Master Juuldis had said that it was an ancient Rakata repository of knowledge that could give the Empire an even greater technological advantage over the Republic in the war. It had to be denied to the Empire and go to the Republic, instead."

    Councilor Gradden Talsk, a male of the Bith species, knew that it would rile the first minister, but he too spoke out of turn just to yank on Hadrek Parth's chain.

    He interjected, "Instead, it fell to the Sith Empire anyway, add to that the evisceration of our remaining Republic Commando forces and the loss of two Jedi, and fifty percent of our shuttle fleet. What are we suppose to do now for our coming battle here on Taris? Never mind the Republic's big war with the Empire, but our own little war against the Empire will not go so well now. Do you think the Republic will send any more commandos or Jedi our way? I happen to think not."

    General Vilk Renningk, a male of the Zabrak species, and Commanding General of The Free Tarisians' Army tried to bring calm to the excited and angry councilors. Unlike the two angry councilors who'd spoken before him, he followed protocol and asked to be recognized to speak.

    "First Minister, I'd like the floor, for a moment."

    Hadrek Parth, barely holding on to his own temper, spoke tersely, "The Council recognizes General Renningk."

    Vilk Renningk spoke reasonably, saying, "Gentle beings, arguing a matter that is best left to after action analysis is meaningless here. We must concentrate our thoughts and efforts for what we will do next. The Imperial 256th Infantry Brigade is in disarray. We must not waste this opportunity.

    "Also, I think the Republic can and will send reinforcements. Especially when they learn how seriously the Empire is taking things here. A dark councilor is on this world personally working to put down our rebellion. They'll start to understand that Taris really is important to the Sith Empire, and thus should be important to them as well."

    The part about Taris becoming important to the Galactic Republic, in response to the Sith Empire's seeming interest, seemed to quiet the councilors a little, as they tried to digest what that actually meant.

    General Renningk assured them, saying, "I'll speak to Jedi Master Juuldis and convince her to request more Jedi aid. I don't think the Galactic Republic nor, especially the Jedi Order, will wish to miss an opportunity to take out a dark councilor."

    The debate went on like this for hours. The Taris Provisional Government was momentarily paralyzed with fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    A Jedi's Debriefing​

    The Republic supplied medical droids looked after the wounded Republic Commandos which had survived their battle against Imperial forces the previous day. One medical droid, MD73-RN97 monitored the recovery of one such survivor in a Kolto tank. The medical droid noted that all healing had completed several days ahead of the projected nominal recovery rate, and that the patient's body, as expected, had not rejected the artificial elbow joint implant.

    The medical droid, according to its sophisticatedly dynamic medical algorithms, judged it was efficacious to end treatment at that point and to allow the patient to conduct physical therapy to round out her complete recovery. MD73-RN97 reported its findings with the medical doctor overseeing the patient's recovery.

    The doctor, shocked at the almost instantaneous recovery overnight, went over the droid's findings, double checking for errors. She even examined the patient herself, before finally agreeing with the droid's prognosis. She signed off on the droid's recommendations to remove the patient from the kolto tank and to proceed with the next phase of treatments.

    Meanwhile, the doctor returned her attention to four of her other medical droids' troubling reports of unexpectedly slow recoveries for several of her other patients. Some of her patients had even gotten worse. It worried her, greatly.

    There was no explanation for any of it. She worried greatly that the droids were malfunctioning and committing errors. She took one of the medical droids off-line and had it begin a very lengthy self diagnostics procedure, to see what that might reveal.

    Meanwhile, MD73-RN97 returned to its patient and, following established kolto recovery procedures, drained the patient's kolto tank into a kolto recovery barrel for recycling. As soon as the kolto tank had reached below five percent total capacity of kolto fluid remaining, the droid opened the tank and removed the patient to a treatment table for resuscitation.

    The medical droid, however, found that the patient was already conscious and breathing normally, and thus proceeded with the post resuscitation exam to ensure that the patient's vital signs were at nominal levels. Following the examination, MD73-RN97 presented to the patient a regimen of exercises that would allow her time to adjust to her new prosthetic elbow joint and strengthen the natural bone, muscle, and tendons attached to it.

    Juuldis finished getting dressed and donned her equipment. Her armored mask hung, attached to her belt over her left hip under her outer robe. Her sabrestaff, also under her outer robe on her opposite hip, was also attached to the belt. Her robes and armor had been cleaned and repaired, but they still showed signs of damage from her battles with Nox.

    She flexed her arm. It didn't hurt anymore, but it didn't feel quite right either. Juuldis decided she'd have to get used to it, and follow the droid's advice for reconditioning her arm.

    She wore a long coat over all of her Jedi attire and armor to disguise her Jedi garb from prying Imperial eyes. The hood of her outer robe was pulled back and was also hidden beneath her coat.

    She left the hospital receiving the well wishes of the medical staff that oversaw the medical droids' activities, except for her own doctor who remained silent. She regarded Juuldis with suspicion. Her patients had begun to recover normally, precisely after Juuldis' treatment had ended.

    Juuldis walked to the council building, a two story business office building a block away, and entered. Her hair, just long enough to cover her ears and cover the back of her neck, was jet black. It was brushed straight back and slicked down the back of her neck, exposing her ears, and all held stiffly in place with styling gel.

    The guards at the council chamber doors, on the second level, stopped her. They knew who she was, but the Council was already in session. The emergency session had started at the eighth hour of the morning, but now it was a quarter hour past the Noon hour.

    One of the guards told her, "Wait a moment, Master Jedi. I'll announce you."

    She bowed her head and did as she was told. A moment later, a smiling council guardsman opened the council chamber door for her and bade her enter.

    Juuldis entered the council chamber, a medium sized conference room, and approached the circular table. The five meter diameter table was open in the middle, shaped like a circular letter 'C', to allow a speaker to stand in the center and address the Council members around him. The full Council was in session including the First Minister and the Vice Minister. General Renningk, attending the emergency session, was accompanied by two of his top staff officers.

    The table was full. So she sat on a chair at the side of the council chamber to listen as they spoke. No one else was seated at any of the chairs at the sides of the council chamber. General Renningk nodded her way, by way of greeting. Juuldis nodded, returning his greetings.

    Council Member Jeld Fann said, "Jedi Master Juuldis is here. Let's ask for her assessment of what happened and what, if anything, we should change about our up coming operations."

    Council Member Vennes Truk, a Human female, said, "Seconded."

    First Minister Hadrek took votes. The motion passed unanimously.

    The First Minister called to Juuldis, "Master Jedi, if you'll please, stand before the council to testify."

    Juuldis stood and walked to the center of the circular table.

    Jeld Fann spoke to Juuldis, asking her, "How are your injuries, Master Jedi? I understand you were terribly injured in your battles. Are you well? Should you be out of the hospital?"

    Juuldis replied, "Through The Force, I was able to accelerate my healing. I am well. Thank you for asking."

    First Minister Hadrek Parth asked her, "Are you able to answer questions of the Taris Provisional Governing Council? We have some questions regarding yesterday's operations in the deep ruins."

    Juuldis nodded her head and said, "I am ready for your inquiries."

    First Minister Parth said, "Councilor Fann, you may ask the first question."

    The councilor answered, "Thank you, First Minister."

    Then turning to Juuldis, standing in the middle of the circular "C" table, said, "Master Jedi, please give us your considered assessment of what went wrong at yesterday's operations."

    Juuldis repeated the question, "My assessment of what went wrong...?"

    She paused to think. When she'd gathered her thoughts, she started her report.

    "Firstly, We didn't think they would use soldiers from the 256th Imperial Infantry Brigade, because all of the officers had been recalled. The Brigade was presumably taken out of service and the soldiers were to be reassigned to other units. However, there they were, nearly one hundred of them."

    Juuldis took note that the meeting was being recorded, as any such meeting would be.

    She continued speaking without pause, "Secondly, when they engaged us in battle, our commandos greatly underestimated them. They were without officers, therefore essentially leaderless. It turned out their sergeants were highly competent leaders and their troops highly disciplined. Plus they were reinforced with heavy war droids."

    Juuldis eyed the General, whose staff provided the faulty analysis of the 256th's Brigade's condition to fight. She continued speaking without pausing, as General Renningk compressed his lips and cast his gaze downward. He was unable to keep eye contact with the Jedi, feeling the weight of responsibility for the disastrous failure of the mission and the loss of so many lives. Some of the councilors 'tisked', or shook their heads in disgust on hearing this news.

    Juuldis shocked herself when she realized how much she hated him for getting her Jedi killed with that faulty intelligence. Juuldis immediately suppressed her hatred, and restored calm to her mind, but she continued speaking without pause.

    She said, "Thirdly, We took too long moving the artifact from where it was discovered to the spaceport."

    Showing frustration at her next point, she said with some exasperation in her tone, "Fourthly, why did we even use the spaceport? We should have landed in the streets next to the location where the artifact was found. It's not like we would have violated any city ordinances for doing so..."

    Juuldis looked around at the Council Members and watched the disgust building in their faces as she outlined all of the miscalculations she and her commandos had committed.

    She concluded her report, saying, "Finally, the Sith proved too strong for us. The two Jedi that I trained up from Padawans, were masters in everything but title. However, they were both defeated and killed by two Sith. I myself was defeated by their master, Darth Nox who sits on the Sith Empire's Dark Council, as you already know. It was my greatest trial, and I failed it miserably."

    Juuldis shook her head as she tried to come to terms with just how weak she and her deceased Jedi subordinates were in comparison to the Sith they had fought. It shamed her greatly, and forced her to come to terms with a realization, as she thought to herself.

    "The Sith truly are strong!"

    The council members shook their heads in disappointment and expressed their dissatisfaction with the terrible mishandling of such an important operation. They angrily shouted their questions at General Renningk as well as at Juuldis. First Minister Hadrek Parth tapped his gavel on the conference table and called for order.

    Juuldis thought derisively of their attitude, "My sacrifice! My subordinates' sacrifice! The sacrifices of so many Republic Commandos! All for their insignificant rebellion! And all they can do is complain and point fingers?! The ingrates!"

    When order was restored, he said, "This is terrible news, Master Jedi. It must be difficult to have lost your two precious colleagues. However, how did you and your remaining commandos manage to escape? You said Darth Nox defeated you."

    Juuldis let out a sigh. She bowed her head and closed her eyes to think. She sounded and looked so very tired and defeated to the council members scowling at her. Juuldis took a moment to clear her jumbled thoughts. She didn't want them to know that, as she lay on the launch pad, she'd told Nox where to find the artifact because she had been overcome with fear of her own death at his hands.

    So, she lied, "The commandos escaped because the Sith discovered that the artifact was still in the old warehouse. They ordered their troops to break contact." She paused for breath before continuing.

    At that moment, she thought of her former padawans, and realized that when Nox had left her on the landing pad, that he had gone to kill her two former pupils.

    She thought to herself, "Was obtaining the dark knowledge in that relic really worth it? Do I really want it that badly?"

    Aloud, Juuldis said, "As for me? Darth Nox utterly crushed me. I was laid out on the floor of the Spaceport."

    Juuldis angrily asked herself, "How can I, a Jedi Master be so damned weak against that twisted travesty of nature?!"

    She recalled looking at all of his old scars on his scalp, face and neck, as well as his blood from his new injuries. She remembered the Dark Side corruption darkening the areas around his eyes and mouth. He exuded a crushingly vile aura, and he looked and felt like a monster to her. He was evil, incarnate.

    Aloud, she continued her report, "He approached me and said that I had potential and that he'd take me on as his apprentice."

    Juuldis looked around at the unsympathetic eyes around the table, and told them the truth, "I accepted."

    She had finally made up her mind, and at that moment felt liberated. She had felt as though a weight, that had held her down her entire life in the Jedi Order, had suddenly fallen off of her shoulders.

    The shocked expressions of the men and women at the table was so amusing to her, but she didn't understand what was so funny about it. Her face cracked into a grim sneer at the terror she saw in their eyes as she drew and activated her sabrestaff. She had finally decided to carry out her first act of treason, not only against the Galactic Republic, but against the Jedi Order.

    Juuldis proceeded to kill the leadership of the rebellion, starting with General Vilk Renningk and his staff officers, because they were armed. It was over so fast. In just under two seconds after igniting her weapon, she had killed eight men and women of the Taris Provisional Governing Council and three top ranking militia officers. Shock, terror, and disbelief prevented any of them from thinking to sound the alarm before it was too late.

    Juuldis looked at the blood bath she'd created, and was immediately repulsed by it. She was devastated by crushing guilt for what she'd done. For an instant, she'd thought to turn herself in.

    Then she reminded herself, "I have always been looking for more power. I found a possible source of power and knowledge, and I want it. I will not stop, now!" She told herself, "I cannot remain weak! I must become stronger! I must learn their secrets for power!"

    When Juuldis had learned, through their spy, that a dark councilor had landed on the planet, and had begun a massive search for an ancient Rakata artifact, she knew that it would be an immensely valuable repository of dark knowledge. Dark knowledge always meant techniques for more power, and she wanted that power for herself.

    Juuldis had lied to General Renningk and to the Taris Provisional Governing Council about what that artifact contained, telling them it was Rakata technologies that would help the Sith Empire's war effort. That's how she was able to get the assets she'd been given to attempt to get it herself.

    For many years, she'd hidden the darkness within herself, even suppressing it as she tried to keep to her Jedi teachings. However, even then, she had always sought greater power. Her assignment on Taris had changed her for the worst.

    The Dark Side was considerable on Taris. It pulled on her resolve, allowing her to gradually give in to the darkness that had always dwelled within her. Discovery of a Rakata artifact on Taris, which a dark councilor had craved, made her covet it for herself, and caused her slide to the Dark Side to accelerate.

    Juuldis deactivated her sabrestaff as she walked to another, much smaller table with pitchers of water and cloth napkins at the side of the council chamber. As she cleaned the blood from the slaughter from her hands, face, and hair, she realized a dark truth.

    Tears wet her face, as Juuldis thought with a pang of guilt, because she still loved them both as though they were her younger siblings, "I would have had to kill my own Padawans when they learned the truth of that Rakata artifact."

    Juuldis felt conflicted when she realized she was glad the Sith had killed them both, because it had saved her of having to do it herself. When she'd finished cleaning the signs of murder from her face, hair and hands, and had wiped down her sabrestaff hilt, she removed her long blood covered coat and let it fall where she stood. She stepped over her blood soaked coat and walked to the sound proofed door and, cracking it open a little, slipped out, then closed it behind her again.

    She whispered, "They're pretty busy in there. You'd better not bother them at all."

    The two guards repeated in unison, "They're pretty busy in there. I'd better not bother them at all."

    She walked passed them a few paces, turned about and said to the guards, "Good job, soldiers. Keep a sharp eye open, and remain at your posts."

    The soldiers both thanked the Jedi Master as she turned about and walked away.

    After leaving the building, she walked across the road to another business office building and entered it. It was the Free Tarisian's Army headquarters. There, she Force Persuaded her way into the personnel office, and obtained the roster of all militia members, past and present, dead and living. She came across a couple of other files, and something told her she should copy those as well. So, she did.

    Juuldis walked out of the building and made her way to the parking structure next door. There, she stole a speeder bike and rode it out of the parking structure. She rode down the main thoroughfare and exited the gate of the settlement past nervous Imperial guards, who'd long ago learned to look at a wall, and not see anything suspicious.

    Their officers kept getting murdered, and any of their fellow soldiers who looked too closely at anything tended to disappear. So, they didn't see the Jedi ride out of the settlement's gates, nor did they take note that it was one in the afternoon.
     
  22. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    In a rather macabre way, this reminds me of Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes. "I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing."
     
  23. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Darth Nox's Debriefing​
    It was two in the afternoon, the following day after Nox's archaeological expedition at Olaris Spaceport.

    Shahn Lunn had spent the previous night, all morning, and a couple of hours into the afternoon submerged in a sealed kolto tank, as had a few dozen soldiers of the 256th Imperial Infantry Brigade. They were attached to the archaeological expeditionary operation the previous day.

    Shahn's doctor, smiling, had told her, "My lord, you're healing quite well! You only need a few more days of kolto tank immersion to make a full recovery."

    However, Shahn wasn't having any of that.

    The cheap tiny speaker, attached to Shahn's kolto tank, projected her voice, adding a tinny quality to it as she ranted angrily through the microphone in her respirator.

    "I can't spend even another few minutes in this tank! I have a meeting to attend!"

    Shahn had misunderstood. The doctor hadn't meant that Shahn had to stay in the tank the entire time, but that's how she'd understood it. The result of that misunderstanding was tragic.

    The medical doctor, who also oversaw the treatment of several Imperial soldiers wounded in battle the previous day, watched quietly in abject horror as Shahn drained the life force of two of her patients. They were Imperial soldiers who'd also been receiving medical care and healing in kolto tanks nearby to Shahn's tank. Thus, using a Dark Force healing ritual, Shahn sped up her own recovery, while sacrificing the lives of two Imperial soldiers.

    Sometime later, the Imperial Army medical doctor recorded this information in Shahn's medical records. It was a horrific moment in her life. As she typed in the information in Shahn's medical records, it occurred to the doctor that Shahn could have easily took her life. With that thought, medical care of Sith patients suddenly took on a whole new level of danger for the doctor. She recorded her thoughts on the matter in Shahn's medical history.

    An hour later, Shahn rushed into the conference room at Vulgren's headquarters and quickly found a place to sit at the conference table. Of course, Darth Nox was present. He was seated at the head of the table opposite from the conference room entrance, five seats up from where Shahn had sat.

    Thanks to General Yennis' forward thinking, Darth Nox was able to get the medical attention he needed after his battle. As the general had predicted, Darth Nox did not check in to the Imperial Army Hospital of Imperial Settlement Number Three, and instead went straight to his residence.

    There, 2V-R8, recognizing that Nox was severely wounded, directed its master to the first level of his apartments, where the kolto tank had been set up. 2V-R8, together with the medical droid assigned to serve Darth Nox, assisted him to undress. The medical droid then proceeded to spray wash Nox with an antibacterial solution.

    The medical droid and 2V-R8 helped Nox into the tank. The medical droid attached a respirator to Nox's face, ensuring a proper seal, before finally filling the tank with kolto solution. The droid administered a sedative to help Nox relax into sleep, and then sealed the tank to protect against contaminants.

    Despite his delirious condition (Nox had administered two other doses of kolto injections before returning to his apartments), as he was being undressed, he had enough presence of mind to instruct his ship droid, "2V-R8, start recording everything, the entire process. Remain by my side until I'm removed from this tank and revived. Ensure no wrong is done to me."

    It was the following day at the Noon hour that he was removed from the tank. Darth Nox took his time bathing and then getting dressed. He ate a wonderfully nutritious, and delicious, meal prepared by 2V-R8. Finally, he was driven by an Imperial soldier to the headquarters. He'd arrived just a few minutes ahead of Shahn Lunn.

    Shahn apologized to Nox, "Forgive my tardiness, Dark Lord. I got here as fast as the medical droids could get me out of that tank."

    Nox ignored her. He seemed to be preoccupied with Vulgren, sitting at a corner among the junior officers who also sat or stood along the walls of the conference room.

    Shahn immediately noticed that Senior Sergeant Mordant Hurst was also in attendance. He stood to her right, at the side of the conference room, near a wall among some of the junior officers. Although he gave her a neutral look, as she entered the room, she could clearly sense his hatred of her.

    She decided to let it go. He wasn't being openly disrespectful towards her. It bothered her very little that she had her back to him, when she sat at the table.

    Shahn thought contemptuously of Hurst to herself, "Hmph! Let him try shooting me in the back!" Then, feeling just a tiny bit contrite, she thought, "Well, I did kill two of his men, after all. How can I blame him for hating me?"

    General Riiy'enni'sansa announced, "These proceedings are now in session." Then turning his head to look at Darth Nox, he asked, "My dark lord, how do you wish to proceed?"

    Nox had been pointedly looking at Vulgren who'd been seated in the corner, on Nox's left, furthest from the conference room entrance. Vulgren, sitting among the junior officers, and not at the table, avoided Nox's eyes, staring at the floor in front of him, instead.

    Darth Nox turned to face the vacant chair at the opposite end of the conference table with the conference room door behind it. He saw that it was left vacant, as none of the officers present dared sit in it. It was Vulgren's seat, but he was too ashamed to sit in it.

    Nox thought to himself, "He knows I could destroy him at any instant. Yet, he remains." Looking around at the officers standing against the walls around the table, Nox thought to himself, "His officers still respect him." Then he asked himself, "Is his thirst for power that much greater than his fear of death?" Nox told himself, "He is no coward." Thus, he grudgingly decided, "I suppose I'll make use of him."

    Nox thought he'd heard Shahn's voice, but didn't hear what she'd said. At that instant, he felt Hurst's sudden surge of hatred and anger, but he decided to ignore it. Hurst's hatred was not aimed at him.

    Instead he replied to the general's question, "Let's start by giving an account of the battle yesterday. Let's start with Senior Sergeant Hurst."

    Mordant was quite a bit nervous surrounded by so many brass and three powerful Sith, one of which may have killed two of his men. He had no evidence. He knew he couldn't do anything about it even if he did. So, he pushed that matter aside and let it go, so that he could clear his thoughts.

    Stepping forward, away from the wall, and snapping to attention, he exclaimed, "Senior Sergeant Mordant Hurst, reporting!" Relaxing his stance to ′parade rest,′ he began his report, "Per Darth Nox's orders, Special Infantry Detachment One, S.I.D.O., split up into sections and searched for the enemy. Section Three, which I accompanied, made contact with Republic forces at Olaris Spaceport.

    "All other sections converged at the spaceport on my orders. Using model PLVD-627-K2 portable levitating scout droids, S.I.D.O. plotted the enemy's deployments and formations and spotted space shuttles at the scene before the droids were ultimately destroyed by the enemy. I reported the shuttles to Darth Nox who ordered them destroyed.

    "S.I.D.O. pushed the commando forces to secure a position from which to engage the shuttles. At that point, a Jedi was spotted at the scene. I reported this information to Darth Nox, who then responded to the scene. Although we attempted to take out the Jedi, we were unsuccessful and largely ignored."

    Darth Nox had noticed that the Senior Sergeant had gotten the order of events a little mixed up. The Jedi had actually been reported first, and afterward the shuttles, but he decided it didn't really make a big difference, so Nox kept silent.

    With all of the senior imperial officers, a general, and three Sith giving him blank expressions, Mordant didn't know if his report was being well received, but he pressed on.

    "Upon Darth Nox's arrival, he destroyed two well placed commando heavy weapons operators, which allowed S.I.D.O. to approach the launch pad with much less resistance. Darth Nox then engaged the Jedi in battle.

    "Upon arrival to the launch pad, we attacked and successfully destroyed three Republic shuttle craft with the heavy war droids attached to S.I.D.O. We also forced Republic Commando forces to withdraw from the spaceport. Unfortunately, S.I.D.O. was unable to destroy the enemy completely. However, we managed to inflict heavy losses on their part, while sustaining relatively light losses on our part.

    "Per Darth Nox's order, S.I.D.O. broke contact with the enemy and withdrew to the insertion point with recovered weapons, equipment, our dead and wounded, damaged war droids, and intel on the enemy. End of report."

    Mordant Hurst returned to attention and then stepped back to the wall. Waiting for what came next, he relaxed his stance from 'attention' to 'at ease.'

    General Yennis said in a dry voice, "Very well Senior Sergeant." Then turning to Nox, Yennis asked, "Does my dark lord wish to add to the report?"

    Nox said without any hesitation, "These soldiers performed well, especially considering that they faced Republic Commandos. Be sure they are properly rewarded. Also, you might consider retaining the 256th Infantry Brigade and adding it to your Division instead of disbanding them. If S.I.D.O.'s performance is any indication, then I'm sure the rest of the brigade will do well. Only, be sure to get competent officers to lead them this time."

    Turning to look at the senior sergeant, Nox continued, "Also, Senior Sergeant Hurst exhibited great intelligence, and extraordinary aptitude in leading his S.I.D.O. unit in combat. He should be considered for battlefield promotion to Lieutenant."

    Senior Sergeant Hurst was deeply moved by Nox's overflowing praise.

    He said, "Dark Lord, you are most gracious! Thank you!"

    Nox replied flatly, "I give nothing because of graciousness! I only give what is deserved, because it furthers the goals of the Empire."

    Snapping to attention, Mordant bowed his head towards Nox, in deep respect and appreciation to Darth Nox. General Yennis was also deeply surprised by Nox's assessment of the soldiers' performance in the field, but especially of his assessment of Senior Sergeant Hurst.

    His tone reflected his surprise as he replied, "If that is your will, Dark Lord, it shall be done."

    Yennis, again, turned his head to look at the senior sergeant, regarding him with some interest. Before too much time had passed, Yennis got the debriefing moving again. He sat at the side of the table, next to Darth Nox, on the dark lord's right side.

    Looking down the length of the conference table at the opposite side of it, his bright red eyes rested on Shahn Lunn as he asked, "Then, my lord Shahn, may we hear your account of things as they occurred in your sector of responsibility?"

    Shahn became nervous. Darth Nox's number one apprentice had been killed in this action because of her short comings. She feared Nox would continue to hold it against her, and that he would eventually take his anger out on her. She remembered watching his very brief emotional display as Xalek died, and realized then how important Xalek had been to him.

    Shahn gave her account of the battle between herself, Xalek, and the two Jedi. Although she felt shame, the officers had nothing but words of praise for her conduct in battle when she'd concluded her report. Shahn took some comfort from the praise, but Nox remained mute, and unreadable.

    Shahn didn't realize that it was the norm for military officers to fawn over their Sith overlords, simply to avoid trouble for themselves. Her archaeologists always behaved professionally around her, and never wasted time on superfluous platitudes, which was not the norm and which is how she preferred it. It was actually quite rare when military officers became truly impressed by the actions of any Sith. Nox had seen through it, however, and simply let them play their part.

    It wasn't until Darth Nox spoke that she started to feel some increased anxiety. However, her feelings of shame became greater than her feelings of fear. Nox had spoken of her as though she were a mere novice.

    He said, "Given the skill and cunning of their master, I can only surmise that Darth Xalek and Shahn had met with a great challenge, and in the end prevailed. Darth Xalek vanquished his foe before succumbing to a sneak attack by the other Jedi."

    Nox had been looking at Shahn, his facade was a stone mask, when he'd said that last part.
    She felt her time had ended, believing, "And now, I die."

    However, to her surprise, Nox turned his gaze away from her and resumed his assessment, saying, "Shahn, herself, exhibited great potential in her battle with her opponent, despite the difference in skill."

    Shahn's humiliation was only compounded at Nox's characterization of her skills. She imagined that he had spoken of her as though she was greatly outclassed by her Jedi opponent, and had made it seem as though she were a promising young acolyte fresh from the Sith Academy.

    Shahn told herself, "I'm not that unskilled. And it's been some years since I passed my trials at the Sith Academy!" Chiding herself, she told herself, "And yet I had so much trouble dealing with that Jedi! I made too many clumsy mistakes!"

    Yet Shahn, hiding her shame from everyone but the dark lord, who could sense her doubts and fears, said to Nox, "You honor me greatly, Dark Lord."

    Darth Nox had chosen not reply to Shahn. This made her dread that perhaps she'd spoken out of turn. Shahn greatly feared Darth Nox, and rightly so. Shahn was not far off the mark with her fears that the dark lord suspected that she'd let her opponent kill Darth Xalek before she had finally defeated him.

    When Nox spoke again, it was to go over his own encounter with the Jedi Master. Nox skipped many details of the battle, and did not mention the crate nor its contents. He mainly concentrated on the discussion he had with her after he'd defeated her. Even as he spoke, an officer entered the conference room and rushed over to General Yennis to whisper into his ear.

    Nox ended his report, saying, "I'll know that I've completely subdued her, if she reports to me with news of her success, and if she brings to me the required information I told her to obtain."

    Yennis' voice was shaky with excitement as he reported, "My dark lord, Darth Nox! It has been reported to me that a Jedi has surrendered herself at the gate! I've been told that she has asked to be brought before you. It has happened as you have said!"

    Shahn became excited, as she realized that Nox had not lied to her about the Jedi becoming his apprentice.

    She asked herself, "Then perhaps, did he not lie about a ritual to subdue Zash to gain her knowledge?"
    However, even as Shahn had thought it, she doubted it.

    It finally hit her, as she thought, "Darth Nox will gain much more if he were to recover Zash from the mind trap. But how will he accomplish this?" She asked herself.

    Suddenly, as the realization came to her, she became even more fearful of him, as she considered that his power in The Force was several magnitudes greater than she had ever imagined.

    Shahn thought, "If he could will a Jedi Master to submit to him, then he could simply will me to submit to Zash!" Shahn finally understood why it was that Nox had not killed her for her failure in contributing to Xalek's death, as she concluded, "He needs me, for Zash!"

    Shahn watched in great fear as Nox smiled and, in a rare moment of levity, boasted, "I'm just that good. Aren't I?"

    Yennis informed Darth Nox, "Based on what you have said, I gave orders to have her brought here. Do you object, Dark Lord?"

    Nox decreed with determination in his tone, "The time for doubt is behind us. Let us see what will transpire. Let her come."

    ___________________________________________________________________________________​

    Twenty minutes had passed, during which reports were made and strategies were planned for the upcoming operation to search for, and to destroy the rebel militia. General Riiy'enni'sansa also wanted to learn what Nox was after in the deep ruins.

    The senior sergeant had been fully debriefed by the junior officers for details on how the commandos had conducted themselves in battle, their tactics, their equipment, what tactics worked against them, what didn't work, etc. As the senior sergeant was dismissed, General Yennis rose from his seat and followed Mordant Hurst out of the conference room.

    The general called to him, "Senior Sergeant Hurst, walk with me."

    Mordant Hurst snapped to attention and replied, "Yes, General!"

    He fell to the general's left, and walked in step with Yennis, as though marching, but at a slow pace.

    As they walked down the corridor towards the building's exit, Yennis said to him, "As the dark lord pointed out, you've got the knack to lead men in battle. I was listening in on your debrief. You really paid attention to the important details during that fight, and acted quickly to adjust your tactics. Good work, Senior Sergent!"

    Mordant, gratitude evident in his tone, replied, "Thank you, General."

    General Yennis said with feeling, "I liked what the dark lord said to you, ′I give not because of graciousness, but because it is deserved and it serves the needs of the Sith Empire.′ You really made an impression on him."

    Mordant Hurst said, "It really meant a lot to me, that he said that, General."

    General Yennis nodded, smiling proudly at his soldier's success.

    Then he said, "After your promotion, I'll see to it you're sent to the Imperial Officers' Academy on Ziost, for your formal training."

    However, what the general was really after was information. Now that he had the sergeant out of Nox's hearing, he had his chance to get it.

    Yennis said, "There's no doubt that that traitorous spy had given the enemy information about what Darth Nox was after in the deep ruins." Then he asked, "Did you see or hear anything that would compel the Jedi and Republic Commandos to go after it?"

    Senior Sergeant Hurst replied crisply, but in a low tone, "General Yennis, the only thing I saw was a small detachment from the Imperial Reclamation Service with excavation droids. They ended up not doing a single thing, but a crate had been recovered from the ruins. It seems the Republic hadn't gotten to it, yet."

    General Yennis nodded his head, accepting the senior sergeant's answer, then stopping at the sliding glass doors inside the entrance to the headquarters, he shook the sergeant's hand, wished him luck with his military career, and dismissed him.

    As he returned to the conference room, General Yennis wondered to himself, "What was so blasted important that the Jedi and the Commandos would risk everything to intercept, before the dark lord had retrieved it?!"

    General Riiy'enni'sansa thought to himself as he sat at the conference table, "Darth Nox and lord Shahn said nothing about what his objectives in the deep ruins were during their debriefing." Yennis concluded to himself, "It's probably just stuff related to the Sith religion. A Sith weapon of some sort? It very likely has nothing to do with our overall mission. Whatever the reason, it has worked out quite well for us in the end. That's all that matters."

    With that, he put the matter out of his mind.

    Just then, a Jedi, in Force suppressing manacles, was ushered into the conference room under heavy guard. One of the guards in the escort detail handed Darth Nox her sabrestaff.

    The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as Yennis thought, "The anti-sith is here!"

    Yennis turned his head to look at Nox, as the dark lord commanded, "Apprentice Candidate, sit there."

    Nox pointed to the chair he wanted Juuldis to sit in. Shahn looked over her shoulder at the tall and beautiful Amazon of a woman, as she walked behind her, past where Shahn sat, five seats down the table from her dark lord. Shahn watched as the Amazonian beauty sat in the chair, which had been hastily vacated by an Army officer, only three seats down the table from where Nox sat.

    The Amazonian sat there, obediently, wordlessly, resting her manacled hands on the table.

    Nox ordered her, flatly, "Give me your report."

    Juuldis reported as ordered.

    "Master, I did what you said. The elected leaders of the Taris Provisional Government are all dead. I also killed the commanding general of the Free Tarisians' Army and two of his senior staff officers.

    "I got the names of all recruits that have ever joined the Free Tarisians' Army, past and present. And as unexpected bonuses, I also found a list of registered voters who voted in the elections of the governing council and their First Minister. And I also found a list of the places they're hiding their weapons and munitions caches all over the forests. What else can I do for you, Master?"

    General Yennis felt chills run up and down his spine as he listened to her heavily accented Basic. It just made it so much more real to him that Darth Nox conquered, subdued, and turned a Jedi Master to his service! He shook his head slowly, in deep admiration and awe of Nox's heroism. Yennis looked forward to reporting this to his superiors. He wanted Darth Nox to receive a commendation for his outstandingly heroic achievement and conquest.

    He wanted Nox to receive recognition from the Dark Council as well. Several years ago, Nox was one of the very few Dark Councilors who pressed the others to agree to give the Alien races and species full Imperial status as citizens and to be given the right to serve in the Imperial military.

    In fact, it was Nox who had risked much in spearheading the push for 'Alien Inclusion' directly after his battles on Ilum to crush Darth Malgus' attempt to usurp the Sith Empire's Imperial throne. Nox's actions, and the policies he championed, was why Yennis had been able to rise within the Imperial Army to hold general's rank and to command a division. His status was a result of his own hard work, to be sure, but Yennis felt he owed Nox a great deal.

    Darth Nox had got his proposal adopted by the Dark Council, but it was rumored that he'd spent a lot of political capital to make it happen. Nox had gained powerful enemies within the Dark Council, who sought to bring him down for effectively ending the Sith's institutional hatred and oppression of the alien races. With a personal achievement, such as subduing a Jedi Master, Darth Nox was sure to gain greater respect from his fellow Dark Councilors, both allied and enemy alike.

    Darth Nox studied Juuldis carefully, trying to sense all of the emotions that poured from her. This time, she did not bother hiding her feelings. When Juuldis had finally taken the deep and irreversible plunge into the Dark Side of The Force, she decided to do away with her Jedi teachings, which taught her to carefully guard her thoughts.

    As she rode her stolen speeder bike down the highway towards Imperial Settlement Number Three, she embraced her emotions and had gone through a sea change in her attitudes, ideals, and philosophies. These un-jedi like thoughts were always hidden deep within her subconsciousness, percolating up into her conscious mind from time to time.

    Juuldis had learned to repress these dark thoughts to keep true to her Jedi teachings. However, over the years, her Dark Side leanings began to challenge her Jedi teachings.

    Despite her every attempt to deny, repress, and even lie to herself, deep down inside, she had never given up on those Dark Side ideals. It was why her slide to the Dark Side of The Force took many years to finally manifest as it had, and why it was never detected by her Jedi peers.

    Nox did not sense deceit from her. Then he remembered he'd been fooled by Millie Kine. This time, however, he did not fly into a rage. He'd had his vengeance on her, already.

    Nox told the guard standing behind Juuldis, "Remove her manacles."

    The guard had his blaster rifle pointed, bare centimeters, from the back of Juuldis' head. He obeyed without question, but started to become nervous as he slung his blaster rifle to the weapons rack on the back of his body armor. He used an electronic key to deactivate her Force suppressing manacles. Then, using the same key, he unlocked the physical locking mechanisms, and opened the manacles.

    Juuldis removed her wrists from the manacles and rubbed them with her hands as the guard took the heavy manacles away. Nox had been watching her and waiting to see what she might do next. Juuldis sat quietly, looking around the conference room at all of the Imperial Army officers staring at her.

    She took note that there were two other Sith with Darth Nox in the conference room. They eyed her, warily. She knew they would attack her, instantly, if she so much as twitched. Finally, her eyes swept over her sabrestaff, sitting on the table in front of the dark lord. If she wanted to, she could use The Force to reclaim her weapon, but she resisted the urge to do so.

    She sat, apprehensively waiting for what would come next. She found herself hungering for Nox's teachings, even though that wasn't her original intent. What she hungered for, even more, was for the power she believed was locked away in that Rakata relic, but which she'd failed to obtain in her disaster riddled operation in the deep ruins.

    Nox, noting that nothing had happened, said, "Apprentice Candidate, you said you had a data pad with incriminating evidence of subversion and rebellion? Where is it?"

    As Juuldis took the data pad from her utility belt and placed it on the table, she said with great relish, and through her thick Republic accent, "Here it is, Master!"

    She smiled nervously, as she wondered if Nox would betray her. She knew Sith were known for that sort of thing. She was taking a huge risk. In essence, she had bet her life that she'd get what she'd craved.

    A guard picked it up and began to walk towards Nox with it. Nox pointed to Yennis, sitting next to him, on the opposite side of the table from where Juuldis and Shahn sat, and said, "Give it to him." Then he ordered, "General Yennis, have it processed."

    Yennis answered, "As you wish, Dark Lord."

    However, before the guard could bring it to him, Yennis pointed to his Intelligence Officer, standing at the side of the conference room, near to where Senior Sergeant Hurst had stood, behind Shahn Lunn, ordering, "Give it to her." Then turning his face towards her, he ordered, "Major Nordath Fey, process this datapad."

    Nordath snapped, "Yes, General!" She took the data pad from the guard. Then, handing it to one of her subordinates, commanded, "Take this to quarantine! Now! Prepare it for analysis!"

    The subordinate rushed off with the data pad, worry smeared across his face. Juuldis tried to stifle a smirk, but she couldn't. She couldn't help but chortle.

    In her thick Republic accent, she said, "It's not a bomb!"

    Nox was struck with great mirth.

    He laughed as he asked Juuldis, "How does it feel to be free of the cumbersome rules and obligations of the Jedi Order?"

    Juuldis said, "It was like a great weight was taken off of my shoulders! It feels wonderful! I used to let myself enjoy the satisfaction of killing my enemies, but then I had to deal with my terrible guilt afterward. No more! I will enjoy everything I do! I want more power. I want more joy. I want more excitement! I feel free!"

    Nox nodded, smiling outwardly, but thinking to himself, "She's strong enough to be freed by The Force. But I will, none the less, bend her to my will!"

    Juuldis paused, and becoming sober, looked steadily into Nox's eyes and said, "I want your teachings." She paused briefly, casting her eyes to the table before her, to reflect that she'd really meant that. Then returning her gaze to Nox, she asked, "You will teach me, right Master?"

    Nox's smile broadened as he announced, "Everyone, meet my newest apprentice, after Shahn Lunn."

    He looked at Shahn Lunn when he'd said that last part. His smile seemed forced to her.

    The guards which had escorted Juuldis in, immediately holstered their pistols and slung their rifles to their weapons racks on their back armor, and immediately stepped well away from the conference table. They desperately wanted orders to be dismissed. The Jedi had just become a Sith, and they wanted to get as far away as possible from her, lest she decided that she wanted them dead for their rough treatment of her as they escorted her to the headquarters.

    Shahn Lunn, hearing what Nox had just said, was struck with shock that quickly became excitement when she realized what that meant for her status among ordinary Sith. She bowed her head reverently, gratefully to Nox, as she acknowledged her new role. She had just become an apprentice to Darth Nox, a dark lord seated on the Dark Council, and she was senior to the turned Jedi Master – now, her rival.

    Shahn's excitement grew as she realized she'd found a way out of Nox's designs for her. Shahn realized that she could save herself, if she could get the Jedi to confront Zash in her stead.

    Shahn thought of Juuldis, "My rival and, hopefully, my pawn."

    However, Shahn could see from Nox's less than pleased expression, that her future was still uncertain. She knew that she had her work cut out for her. Shahn was under no illusions. She knew this Jedi was strong in The Force. She had battled Darth Nox, and had survived.

    Nox continued speaking about his newest, and most junior apprentice, "Her name is Juuldis Vannithana Resh."

    Nox beckoned with a motion of his hand for one of the nervous guards to approach. Nox then gave the guard her sabrestaff.

    He ordered, "Give this to her," indicating Juuldis with a wave of his hand.

    Silence followed. No one was really sure how to react to such an announcement. Finally, as Juuldis accepted the return of her weapon, Yennis began to applaud.

    Yennis declared, "I welcome you to the Sith Empire, my lord Juuldis. May your exploits bring greater glory, for you, for Darth Nox, and for the Sith Empire!"

    The other imperial officers joined in the applause. Following their commander's example, they too, showered Juuldis with their well wishes. The guards that had brought her, also shouted cheers and clapped their hands in hopes it would deflect any animosity she might have for them, if she still held any resentment towards them.

    When the brief, impromptu celebration had ended, and the guards, to their great relief, had been dismissed, General Yennis conducted Juuldis' debriefing. He asked her about the rebel militia, the remaining commandos, their rebel government, etc. With all business attended to, the meeting was adjourned.

    Nox looked at Yennis and said, "When the intel on that data pad has been processed, apprise me of the information gleaned from it."

    Yennis bowed his head and said, "As you command, Dark Lord."

    Out of the blue, Nox turned to Vulgren and spoke to him, "This is your final opportunity to show me that you are worth keeping alive. Do not waste it."

    Vulgren was too much in shock to respond as Nox stood from the conference table and made his way to the conference room door. His two apprentices stood to leave with him. All of the officers, seated at the table, immediately stood as well. They watched silently as Nox left the conference room, with the petite Shahn and the Amazonian Juuldis on either side of and slightly behind the dark lord.
     
  24. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    I never thought of it that way, but you are absolutely right. [face_laugh]
     
  25. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Redemption For Vulgren​

    The following morning, Shahn made arrangements for her picked team of archaeologists to return to their original dig site and to return to work there. In the end, they were not needed for Nox's archaeological expedition. Her team had hid, with their excavation droids, within some of the ruined structures, and waited for the battle's outcome.

    Her team of Imperial archaeologists were ecstatic at the Empire's victory over the villainous Republic scum, even offering praise and adulation to Shahn for her own personal victory against a terrible Jedi foe. Shahn, however, remained thoroughly irritated.

    She complained to herself, "We didn't even need any of them! What an utter waste! They could have been doing work at the main dig site! How much more work could have been done, at that Jedi museum, if I hadn't needlessly brought them to this heap of ruins, I wonder?!"

    Nox had told her their services would not be needed to study the artifact, which she already thought went without saying, but that did not take away from the fact that their time could have better been used at her excavation site. Shahn hated wasting time, wasting resources, wasting opportunities, but she certainly was not going to tell Darth Nox any of that.

    Her mood had improved greatly, however, when Nox had not only not cut her off from study of the artifact, but had in fact granted her unfettered and unsupervised access to the Rakata artifact.

    Nox had Juuldis with him when he'd told Shahn, "You and Captain Talos Drellik shall work together on the study of the artifact. Learn what you can of it, and then report your findings to me."

    Darth Nox had, unknowingly, committed another error. He underestimated Shahn's abilities to learn the dangers of the Rakata artifact. He was sure Shahn would foolishly attempt to use The Force to directly peer into the device. Despite the fact that he headed The Sphere of Ancient Knowledge and, by extension, the Imperial Reclamation Service, he'd forgotten that the military archaeologists used many safeguards when studying ancient Sith relics, and other unknown ancient alien technologies.

    Nox fully expected to find a freed but weakened Zash, when next he laid eyes on Shahn's body. Weak, because although Nox thought of Shahn as talented, he did not believe she was very strong in The Force. Again, Nox's hubris allowed him to blind himself to the truth. He had underestimated her power.

    It was, however, partly Shahn's fault, too, that Nox saw her as weak. She underestimated her own strength, as well, and she behaved mildly obsequiously when around Nox.

    Without another word, and without waiting for a proper response from Shahn, he turned about and walked away, Juuldis trailed silently behind him.

    Nox thought, "Soon that worthless worm will be nothing but an irritating memory, and I shall have Zash as my servant."

    Shahn felt greatly relieved, thinking to herself, "Now is my chance to learn how this thing works! Perhaps I'll figure out a way to sacrifice Juuldis to it!"

    Shahn thanked Nox's retreating back, "You honor me greatly, Dark Lord! Thank you!"

    _____________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Nox returned to the headquarters with Juuldis, to see what progress had been made with the data pad she had brought. Nox was mildly surprised to find Vulgren waiting for him in the main lobby of the headquarters. He was equally surprised to hear him speak, as Vulgren greeted the dark lord. Darth Nox was sure Vulgren would never muster the courage to face him again.

    Vulgren approached Nox and bowing deeply said, "My dark lord, Darth Nox, I am deeply honored by your presence. I have news, if you wish for me to report it."

    Nox, hiding his surprise, merely replied, "Good. Then let's go to your office."

    Darth Nox fully expected Vulgren to finally flee Taris, and go into hiding. The afternoon before, Nox had pretty much told Vulgren he would die at his very next failure. Vulgren, working to keep his voice from tremoring and his hands from trembling, replied with feeling in his tone, "My dark lord honors me greatly! Please, follow me."

    Vulgren straightened from bowing and turned to proceed to his office with Darth Nox and his newest apprentice, Juuldis, following. Nox marveled that Vulgren had not only not fled the planet, but that he'd actually mustered the strength and courage to face him again. As Vulgren led him to his office, Nox could not help but be impressed with Vulgren's courage.

    He thought to himself of Vulgren, "He is a fool! Or, he is tenacious!"

    In Vulgren's office, Nox chose to sit behind Vulgren's desk. Juuldis stood to one side of the desk facing Vulgren, to Nox's left. Vulgren stood before his own desk and did not even dare to think of sitting in his own office.

    Nox's eyes bore into Vulgren as he studied his falsely calm facade. Vulgren's fragile calm was on the brink of crumbling. It was in danger of exposing the dread and regret that flowed turbulently beneath.

    Nox ordered in a cold curt tone, "Report."

    Vulgren bowed his head deeply, and replied, "As my dark lord desires!" Then obsequiously, "I obey!"

    Vulgren immediately regretted saying that last phrase. He felt ashamed for being so thoroughly cowed.

    Nox's hands rested, lightly clasped together, on Vulgren's desk. Vulgren found himself looking at the finger Nox had used to end his master's life.

    He thought to himself, "If the dark lord wants to end me, at least it will be quick and painless."

    This thought did nothing to settle his nerves. Vulgren ended his bow, lifting his head to look Nox in the eyes. He saw nothing but hatred and disdain in them.

    Then he began his report, telling Nox, "The data pad proved to be a treasure. Not only did we get the names and addresses of their entire rebel army, but the locations of all of their weapons and munitions caches, their weaponized heavy duty work droids, all of it. The voter registration roster was also of immense value. With it, we are able to separate the dissidents from the loyal citizens."

    Juuldis had not realized she was speaking out of turn, as she observed, "A loyal citizen would have reported the dissidents."

    Vulgren, suddenly becoming silent, shifted his eyes back and forth between Nox and Juuldis, waiting for Nox to speak to Juuldis' unsolicited observation. However, since Nox said nothing of Juuldis' breach of decorum, and since Nox had not deigned to give an answer to her observation, Vulgren took it upon himself to reply to her remarks.

    After a time, when he was sure Nox would remain silent, he said to Juuldis, "The loyal citizens were in the minority, and in fear for their safety. Thus, their silence."

    Juuldis turned to look at Nox, expecting him to reply to Vulgren's excuses for the silent loyalists. There she saw, in Nox's eyes, his deep anger turned towards her. Realizing then that she should not have spoken, Juuldis determined to remain silent for the remainder of the briefing. She returned her passive gaze towards Vulgren, avoiding Nox's eyes, and remaining silent thereafter.

    Nox returned his hate filled gaze towards Vulgren.

    Nox's scowl towards him, however, told Vulgren nothing of what Nox was thinking. Nox had always scowled at him since arriving to Imperial Settlement Number Three, and it made him dread that perhaps he should have fled the planet after all.

    Despite Nox's declaration the afternoon before, giving Vulgren a final chance to prove himself, he wondered to himself for the hundredth time, "Why am I still here?! I could have started over somewhere else!"

    Sweat beaded on Vulgren's brow as he gulped to swallow back his fear. He took in a deep breath before continuing his report. His eyes had returned to Nox's deadly finger.

    "General Yennis' 897th Infantry Division arrived several hours sooner than expected. They started to arrive beginning on the second hour of the morning."

    And now Vulgren was at the part he knew would either elevate him in Nox's eyes, or get him instantly killed like his old master.

    He said to Nox, "I took it upon myself, Dark Lord, to take advantage of their early arrival, and ordered General Yennis to deploy them to swiftly seize control of Settlement Number Two and to cut the rebels off from their weapons and munitions caches."

    Nox had stirred on hearing that, leaning forward in Vulgren's chair. His face showed his shocked surprise, with anger increasingly clouding over his features as the surprise wore off.

    Nox thought angrily, "This is not the plan that I had worked out with General Yennis!"

    Darth Nox had put together a plan for a daylight attack that would punish the citizenry, as well as destroy the rebel army. He remained silent, however, and continued to listen to Vulgren's report.

    Nox, thoroughly exasperated, thought to himself, "Let me see how much damage this fool has done!"

    Nox's reaction caused him to think that Nox was about to attack him. Vulgren had flinched, and his stomach convulsed into knots, but he continued to speak. His voice cracked and began to quaver. However, despite his growing fear, he continued to tell Nox what he'd done.

    "I allowed General Yennis to deploy the 256th Infantry Brigade, reinforced with a battalion of heavy war droids and a company of sensor droids, to seize control of the caches of weapons, munitions, and weaponized droids hidden throughout the forest. This, to prevent the rebels from arming themselves. The 256th, reinforced, were airlifted with all of our shuttles to speed them to the caches as quickly as possible.

    "As such, General Yennis deployed his 897th Infantry Division to surround and capture Imperial Settlement Number Two. He split his division into its four brigades to move them rapidly into and around the town."

    Vulgren quickly broke down how each brigade had been utilized, as Nox compressed his lips into an even angrier scowl and ever so slightly shook his head in the negative. He was deeply displeased at how thoroughly his battle plan had been cast aside. But he continued to listen to Vulgren's report.

    "One brigade has moved directly into Imperial Settlement Number Two. They have established check points on every street intersection and are conducting numerous heavy patrols in every sector of town. Yennis also established a perimeter to surround the settlement with two other brigades. This, to prevent any from exiting or entering the town without permission.

    "Thus, he is left with one brigade in reserve to respond where needed. These brigades moved directly to their positions without stopping here." Vulgren exaggerated a little, saying, "Their deployments were carried out flawlessly, Dark Lord."

    Although, the brigades moved to their target locations with the utmost of efficiency, the officers still needed time to orient themselves and to familiarize themselves with their surroundings to ensure proper deployment of their troops to their positions, and that took a lot of time. Plus, the troops were exhausted. It took a lot of sharp tongued haranguing, and oath filled threats, from their sergeants, to get the troops to move smartly.

    Vulgren continued his report with actual facts, telling Nox, "Martial law has been declared with a curfew put into effect."

    Nox huffed angrily as he leaned back in Vulgren's chair, crossing his arms, and tossing his head to one side with a look of sheer disgust on his face. Yet, Nox kept silent, saying nothing to Vulgren.

    At that moment, Vulgren decided that it didn't matter anymore.

    He told himself, "I've done what I've done and said what I've said! If Darth Nox doesn't approve, then I'll die as quickly as my incompetent fool master had!"

    Thus, steeling himself with resolve, most of his fear left him. Vulgren regained sharpness in his eyes, and his back became rigid with determination. He prepared himself to die without fear.

    He continued his report to Darth Nox, saying, "Several hundred unarmed rebels have been arrested as they attempted to access the weapons caches in the forest. There were very few casualties among the rebels, and none among the 256th Infantry Brigade."

    What Vulgren had left out from his report was that these 'several hundred rebels' had rushed to their munitions and weapons cashes in the confusion of the first hours of the raid. After the arrival of Yennis' troops in and around Imperial Settlement Number Two, while the brigades of the 897th arranged their perimeters and established their check points and patrols. Some of the rebels had gotten out of the settlement, and vanished into the forests.

    Thus demonstrating that their deployment was not as flawlessly carried out as he'd suggested earlier. It was fortunate for him, and General Yennis, that the 256th Infantry Brigade had successfully blocked off access to the rebels' weaponry, beforehand.

    Vulgren, speaking without pause, had been telling Darth Nox, "Inside the settlement, the rebel militia officers and many shadow government officials have been arrested. The bulk of the rebel fighters have, thus far, remained in their homes as ordered by General Yennis – in accordance to his curfew order for Imperial Settlement Number Two."

    Nox had shaken his head again in the negative, but the fury in his eyes had softened a little, and his scowl diminished somewhat. That, and that Vulgren continued to breath, gave him a little hope that he might survive this day.

    He continued his report, telling Darth Nox, "I've sent Combat Engineers to construct a hasty field prison to take in the prisoners for processing. Meanwhile, the leadership are all being held in a makeshift prison camp outside of the settlement, guarded by elements of one of the brigades which had established the perimeter."

    Nox finally spoke, cutting into Vulgren's report and startling Vulgren into silence.

    He said disgustedly, "So, you have largely quashed their rebellion in a rather bloodless fashion. Is that what you are telling me?!"

    Vulgren was heartened to hear Nox phrase his question in such positive terms, but Nox's seeming dissatisfaction with the result confused him, until Nox spoke his mind again.

    He told Vulgren rather forcefully, "I wanted them to pay bloodily for their treason! I wanted to make an example of them all!"

    Vulgren tried to offer Nox options, telling him, "Once all rebel fighters and dissident citizens, those on the voter registration list, have been rounded up, we'll have a choice to reprimand them and issue appropriate punishment for letting themselves be led astray, or we can make examples of them all and hold mass executions."

    Juuldis stirred on hearing this, but kept silent. Nox's eyes shifted towards her. He sensed her doubt.

    He shifted his eyes back towards Vulgren, and asked, "What do you think?"

    Realizing that his answer might kill him, Vulgren immediately replied anyway, "The Emperor's wrath should be felt for their rebellion, but then we'd end up making martyrs of them, and we'll end up giving the Republic political ammunition to use to foment more rebellion against us. Not only here, but elsewhere in the galaxy."

    It was a very mild critique of Nox's original plan, and both he and Nox knew it was. Vulgren's heart began pounding, then. He could feel its beating throughout his being. He knew he'd crossed a line that could not be uncrossed, but Vulgren didn't care anymore.

    Nox, incredulity edging his tone, shouted his questions at Vulgren, "So, a stern lecture and punitive fines and civic duties to pay for their crimes?! Is that it, Vulgren?!"

    The dark lord definitely hated the idea, Vulgren could see, but he stuck to his convictions, and readied himself to die.

    He said with finality in his tone, "Yes, Dark Lord. That is it."

    After a long silence, during which Nox thought to himself, "This man is absolutely fearless! I like him! But the rebellion leadership, at the very least, must pay with their lives. We must round them up for trials and executions, as examples to the rest, and to ensure they are not around to start trouble again."

    Nox uncrossed his arms, letting them settle gently onto the armrests of Vulgren's chair, and nodding his head slowly, he looked up at Vulgren.

    Nox said, "Very well. Then I'll let you handle the rest. You've proven to have more brains and intestinal fortitude than your dead master. I'll tell Darth Komo. However, do not relax. The situation can still go out of control.

    "Also, do not forget that there are those who will choose rebellion, no matter how mercifully the Empire treats the rebels and dissidents that return to obedience. However, the rebellion leadership must all answer with their lives. They fomented rebellion against the Emperor, and the Sith Empire!"

    Vulgren bowed at the waist, saying, "I am deeply honored by your words my dark lord! I will not fail you! I will crush those who choose rebellion over obedience. But those most culpable shall pay in blood for their crimes!"

    Nox nodded, glad that Vulgren finally understood that Darth Nox wanted a bloodbath. Vulgren, having denied Nox that bath, was determined to make rebel leader's heads roll, as appeasement to the dark lord.

    Vulgren battled to control the trembling of his body as the tension he had suffered throughout his report before Nox, shed and dropped from his shoulders and his back. His stomach settled down as well, though he felt faintly nauseous. Vulgren's heart raced, not from fear, but from the thrill of victory over his dead master's monumental failures which had cast it's putrid pall over him.

    Vulgren's eyes turned briefly, once again, to look at the finger which Nox had so very casually pointed at Lord Frennus, and from which a white hot bolt of Force Lightning had issued, instantly killing his master. A wave of relief washed over him, as he realized that he had survived Nox's wrath, and that he'd succeeded in proving himself to the dark lord.

    Seeing all that had just transpired before her, Juuldis' eyes became introspective as she considered what she'd just witnessed in Vulgren's office.

    She asked herself, "Mercy. But from the Sith?"

    She questioned everything she'd ever heard and learned about the Sith Empire from Republic propaganda, and from her Jedi teachers.

    As she watched a tiny rivulet of sweat trace down Vulgren's temple, Juuldis asked herself, "Then is everything I've learned about the Sith a lie?"

    After recalling what Nox had said, ′I wanted them to pay bloodily...

    She answered herself, "No. Not everything was a lie."

    Nox got up to leave. As he walked around the desk, he asked for confirmation.

    "Was there news about the deaths of the rebel governing council?"

    Juuldis was brought to the here and now by Nox's inquiry.

    She turned her head to find Nox's penetrating gaze on her as Vulgren replied, "The reports we are getting are preliminary, but it has been confirmed that the rebellion governing body are all dead. What is still being sorted out is that their deaths may be what has played a part in nerfing the citizenry. There are still questions as to why it has resulted in their docile and cooperative status thus far, Dark Lord."

    Nox, looking pleased upon hearing this news, said to Juuldis, "You have carried out your first task completely. Well done, Apprentice."

    Juuldis nodding her head gravely, replied, "Thank you, Master."

    Nox said to Juuldis, forgetting for a moment that he wanted to keep it secret, "For now, I want you to assist in the study of the artifact before it's packed for shipment. Do not interact with it. You may lose your mind if you are not properly prepared. There is a ritual for that."

    Nox's lie about a ritual brought Juuldis great excitement. All she cared about was that she'd just been given the chance to get close to the artifact and to study it. She craved the power and knowledge she believed were hidden within it.

    Vulgren remained silent, but he too became excited on hearing that Nox had found a rare and potentially powerful artifact on Taris. Nox, sensing Vulgren's excitement, cursed himself for speaking of it in his presence. He eyed Vulgren menacingly. Vulgren subdued his excitement and bent his head, casting his eyes to the floor at his feet.

    Juuldis found herself a step closer to capturing her prize. She became even more excited, as she watched Vulgren's own excitement get crushed under Nox's baleful glare. It was why she had been willing to sacrifice so many Republic Commandos, and even her own Jedi subordinates, her pupils, her friends.

    When she'd learned about it from the spy's reports, she found herself unable, or unwilling, to resist the Dark Side's allure any longer. She found herself wanting to take it for herself, before Nox could get his hands on it, so that she could learn its secrets.

    Juuldis had thought to herself, back then, "If that dark lord wants it, then it's worth having."

    However, Juuldis had failed to secure the artifact.

    As she lay on her back in the ruins of the spaceport, she felt that Nox had opened a path for her to follow when he'd told her, "I would have enjoyed having you as an apprentice..."

    She knew right then, her only remaining chance to obtain the relic was to submit herself to him, to become his apprentice, and then wait for a chance to steal it from him.

    Bowing her head, Juuldis thanked Nox in her thick Republic accent, "As you say, master. Thank you for allowing me to learn some of your secrets." As she lifted her head, she asked, "Master, may I ask, what is that thing?"

    Nox was pleased that Juuldis seemed so ready to be baited. He asked her, "What do you think it is?"

    She replied, "I've thought it to be a repository of Dark knowledge."

    Nox, nodding false confirmation, replied with a half-truth, "That is precisely what it is, but it is not in a form that is easy, nor safe, to extract."

    Juuldis looked puzzled, but kept silent as she waited for Nox to explain.

    Nox told her, "There is an intelligence trapped within that must be... subdued, first, before knowledge can be extracted from it. You will learn a great deal if you observe Captain Drellik and Shahn Lunn as they study the artifact. Go now, my apprentice."

    Juuldis' heart raced with anticipation, as she obeyed, leaving Vulgren's office without another word. Nox was pleased with himself. He believed he had successfully set the bait for both Shahn, and now Juuldis. Now all that he needed to do was to wait for one of them to try to interact with the mind trap.

    He knew there was no way either one of them could overpower Zash. He would lose one of these two, but then he would have his old master back as his apprentice.

    Nox turned to face Vulgren, and with menace in his tone, ordered him, "Speak to no one of what you've heard, here."

    Vulgren, just having survived the danger of losing his life for his dead master's failures, bowed deeply, answering, "I will not court death. I will forget what I've heard here, Dark Lord."

    Nox then commanded, "Call up your master. I will have words with him."

    Vulgren did as he was told. Darth Komo's holographic image appeared, but this time he waited to see who was calling him before deciding whether he could vent at the caller.

    Seeing it was Nox who'd called, Komo said, "My dark lord, how may I serve you?"

    Nox told Komo, "Vulgren has redeemed himself. His conduct of the recapture and subjugation of Imperial Settlement Number Two has started out well. I'm comfortable with leaving the details to him, but I still want you to oversee things. I'll leave it to you."

    Komo's expression showed, for the first time that Vulgren had ever seen, genuine relief. His words expressing his thanks even sounded heart-felt.

    Vulgren was flummoxed at hearing Nox's over generous words of praise of him, he was convinced Nox hated him through and through. And although he knew Darth Komo hated him, too, he knew renewed relief when Komo's reply showed a similar change in attitude towards him.

    Komo said, "Then perhaps I will not mind taking Vulgren on as my apprentice after all."

    Vulgren was still trying to wrap his head around the sea change in attitudes towards him, and barely heard Komo continue speaking.

    Komo said warmly, to the dark lord, "I am deeply grateful for what you've done, Dark Lord. Please be assured that my gratitude does not end at the mere mention of it, but in active, concrete acts to show my sincerity."

    A file had been sent to the holo-terminal addressed to Nox. Nox downloaded it to his data pad, erasing the copy on Vulgren's terminal. Then he reviewed the newly downloaded document on his datapad.

    It was Darth Acina's itinerary for the rest of the year. It included the names of persons she was to meet with. There were two names on it that were very familiar to him. Those two names had come up in reports before, from his spies. Those names were attached to suspicions of treachery, but there was no proof to substantiate those suspicions.

    Nox said to Komo, a dark scowl clouding his already dour countenance, "This is a very nice gift. It gives me a bit of confidence in your capabilities beyond the administration of world building. If this keeps up, you may be promoted to governor of a growing and prosperous world someday."

    Those were precisely the words Komo craved to hear from Nox. Vulgren hid his shock at seeing a sincere smile that warmed Komo's eyes. Vulgren maintained his impassive facade, unsuccessfully hiding his shock from Nox. Nox could feel his deep surprise, as Vulgren listened to Darth Komo speak.

    Komo said warmly to Darth Nox, "Dark Lord, may success follow in all you do. May victory over all your foes be yours, and may the glory that comes from it all shine down on your rivals, so that they may writhe in envy."

    Nox said simply, "There is much work left to do. Let us get to it."

    Komo bowed and said, "As my dark lord desires."

    Darth Nox cut the call. Then without further word, walked out of Vulgren's office. The door slid shut, leaving Vulgren alone in his office.

    Vulgren waited a few seconds, standing in front of his desk. When he was sure no one would be near his door, he jumped up and down, pumping his fists and shouting in jubilation. However, somewhere in the back of his mind he began to think something was not quite right.

    Even as he celebrated, Vulgren wondered to himself, "What is Darth Nox's and Komo's relationship? What gift did Komo give the dark lord?"