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Beyond - Legends Star Wars: Paranormalities Trilogy (30 ABY AU, OCs)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Gahmah Raan, Feb 2, 2015.

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  1. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 8: The Enforcer

    One week has passed since the Battle of Kashyyyk….​

    At the Valkoran capital on Ockla Prime, Aiken Cremas, commonly known by his codename Arcidus, was practicing his marksmanship in his personal training grounds, firing at levitating targets with his blaster pistol. He did not miss a single shot.​

    As he was busy hitting his targets, a door opened behind him, revealing a slightly-hunched over humanoid figure wearing a black cloak and a cumbersome-looking mask with two blade-like fins on the edges. Arcidus impulsively turned around and shot him in his faceplate, but the figure barely reacted to the shot, only having a slight scorch mark on his mask.​

    “You have quite a lot of nerve to shoot at me,” the figure spoke to him.​

    Arcidus swiftly placed his pistol back in his holster. “You shouldn’t sneak up on me while I’m in the middle of target practice, Valkor, otherwise you wouldn’t have a blast scorch on your mask.”​

    “Cute, but you will either address me as 'Emperor Valkor', 'My Emperor', 'Master', or anything along those lines, and such behavior could be considered treasonous.” Valkor then walked into the training room and approached Arcidus. “And speaking of treason, I’ve come to inform you that one of our allies, the Kur’Ada Equalists, have turned on us.”​

    “I know. That news is one standard week old. Why are you telling me this now?”​

    “Oh come on, Arcy. Maesterus told me you were smart. I want you go over to their enclave on Alpheridies and kill them. Why haven’t you done that already?”​

    “I’ll do it whenever Maesterus tells me to.” Arcidus then fired at another target. “Now, go away.”​

    “Well, I’m ordering you to annihilate the Kur’Ada.”​

    “That’s too bad, ‘Emperor’, because your words mean nothing to me. I only serve Maesterus.”​

    “There’s something I don’t think you understand, Arcidus: Maesterus serves me, so since you serve him, you serve me by extension.”​

    “No… I don’t think you understand. I serve Maesterus and Maesterus only, even if he isn’t at the top of your pecking order.”​

    Two red expressionless crystal-like eyes suddenly illuminated in the two hollow slits on Valkor’s mask. Valkor then lifted his right arm from his cloak – revealing his armor-coated body and the metal claws on his fingers – and two thin oily black tendrils oozed out of the cracks in the plating near his elbow joint. The tendrils then lashed at Arcidus, grabbed him by the neck, lifted him off the floor and attempted to strangle him.​

    “Where’s your patriotism, Arcidus?” Valkor asked him in a seething but somewhat mocking tone.​

    “Who said… I was… a patriot?” Arcidus stoically responded while trying to gasp for breath.​

    “Oh please, I can still tell you’re afraid of me even with that mask on.” One of the tips of the tentacles tried to position itself to crawl through the filter on Arcidus’s mask. “It’s all about what Maesterus says.” Valkor told Arcidus mockingly. “Are you too stupid to stay alive? You couldn’t even save your own life without his say-so! Come on! Use that Force trick on me! The one where you can set things on fire! I dare you! Because…” A licking sound then echoed in the room from no physically determinable source. “I’m getting very hungry.”​

    Maesterus suddenly entered the room. “Emperor Valkor! What the hell are you doing to my apprentice?!”​

    Valkor then tilted his face towards Maesterus. “It seems your pet doesn’t grasp the concept of the chain of command, Maesterus.”​

    Maesterus commanded Arcidus. “Do as he says, Aiken. I don’t want you getting yourself killed.”​

    “As you wish, Master.” Arcidus’s red-tinted goggles flashed and Valkor’s cloak suddenly caught fire. The tendrils grasping Arcidus’s throat released him and retracted back into Valkor’s arm.​

    “Arcidus!” Maesterus exclaimed in shock.​

    “He told me to set him on fire, so I did as he told me.” Arcidus coolly replied.​

    Valkor promptly put out the fire on his cape. “I didn’t think your pet had a sense of humor, Maesterus. I like that.” Valkor’s eyes then dimmed out. “Anyway, he fails to understand that since I own you, I own him by proxy, so I order you to order him to exterminate the Kur’Ada Equalists. Are we clear on that?”​

    Maesterus then looked toward Arcidus. “Do did you get all that?”​

    “Yes, Master. I’ll inform Admiral Gravlek to get the fleet ready.” He then sarcastically addressed Valkor. “There, ‘Emperor’, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Arcidus then grabbed his gear and left the training room while Valkor sighed in annoyance.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Later, Arcidus was performing some pre-mission maintenance on his personal starfighter, the Phantom Razor. It was a stealth fighter with the typical Valkoran starfighter cockpit and two engine pods hooked to the rear, with a total of six folding blade-like wings. The fighter also came with a Valkoran-made astromech droid: V7-L20.​

    As Arcidus prepared his fighter, Maesterus entered the hangar and approached him. “Aiken.”​

    Arcidus stopped what he was doing and addressed him. “Yes, Master Seferin?”​

    “I want to let you know that you don’t need my authorization to defend yourself, even if your attacker is one of my superiors.”​

    “I know. I just didn’t feel like giving Valkor the satisfaction of doing what he wants me to do. I sense something nasty about him. If I’ve been taught that the Dark Side’s a terrible thing, what I sense from him is just as bad, if not worse.”​

    “I understand your feelings, Aiken. He’s done some things that I despise him for, almost as much as Masochus. But we don’t want to gain his ire yet. And that brings me to why I’ve come here: I have some extra objectives for you.”​

    “Bring me up to speed.”​

    “I know you’ve been ordered to eliminate the Kur’Ada Equalists, but before you kill their leader, Mursama Kur’Ada – and there’s really no way out of it without getting Valkor’s attention – I want to know why she and her party decided to betray our empire. You will land at their base first, sneaking past their fleet in orbit. After you land, our fleet will jump out of hyperspace and engage theirs while our ground forces land, and I will be part of that force so I can get some answers from Mursama.”​

    “Understood.” Arcidus hopped into the fighter’s cockpit and started to lift off the ground. “I look forward to working with you again, Master. Just like back when we were part of the Order.” The cockpit then closed and the Phantom Razor flew out of the hangar.​

    Regrouping with a part of the Valkoran fleet in Ockla Prime’s orbit, Arcidus went ahead of them into hyperspace, with them following seconds afterward.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    As the Phantom Razor journeyed through hyperspace to Alpheridies, V7-L20 questioned Arcidus in his droid language. “V7 = Query Arcidus?”​

    “Ask away, Veeseven.”​

    “Arcidus = Troubled about mission?”​

    Arcidus lightly chuckled. “I have never met an empathic droid before. I guess the stories about droids gaining personalities after not being memory-wiped for a long time are true after all. And to answer your question Veeseven, yes. I’ve been sent on assassination missions before, but I’m about to be involved in a massacre. I’ve killed people for military and strategic reasons, but genocide? I feel like an executioner ordered by a petty tyrant. In fact, Maesterus is pretty troubled about this too, hence why he gave me those extra orders.”​

    “V7 = Query Arcidus about relationship to Maesterus?”​

    “I’ve never had a droid ask me about my past either. Very well, I’ll humor you. Roughly four-thousand years ago…”​

    “Arcidus = 4000 years old? // Average human lifespan = 80 years.”​

    “I spent of most those years sleeping in a cryo-chamber. Biologically, I’m twenty-five.” Arcidus continued explaining his background. “Anyway, before I joined the Valkoran Empire, I was a part of the Jedi Order. Before that, I came from a farmland on Saleucami. At age 2, I became aware of my power to set things ablaze, but at the time, I had very little control of that ability and accidentally orphaned myself. When the Jedi came to Saleucami, they found me alone on the farmland, days after I killed my own parents and burned the homestead to the ground. They knew training me was risky, but they also knew they couldn’t risk letting my power go untamed or fall into the hands of those who’ve embraced the Dark Side.”​

    “Arcidus’s pre-Jedi life = Depressing”​

    “I still regret not being able to prevent it at the time, but I’ve learned to live with my mistakes and move on. Anyway, when I was training with the Order, the Jedi Council had some… difficulties. I had to be in an isolated training chamber, resulting in almost no social contact and me being constantly sprayed by automated fire extinguishers whenever I lost control of my powers. The only one who was able to properly train me to control my power was Seferin Vaelor, who you currently know as Maesterus. The years training under him were good for me, and I finally had someone to look up to. Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it to Knighthood when Seferin was exiled from the Order for his involvement in the Mandalorian War and being romantically involved with another Jedi.”​

    “Arcidus – Maesterus = Training go downhill?”​

    “Yes. I was suffering from some anxiety as a result of his exile, hindering my training and the effectiveness of my Force abilities. During my last training session, I got so frustrated that I accidentally incinerated one of my peers. This in turn led to my exile. But it wasn’t a total loss for me, as I now had more reason to search for Seferin. As I scoured the galaxy, I eventually found him and the Valkoran Empire on Ockla Prime and completed my training under him.” Arcidus then concluded his story. “And there you have it: some history from long before you were commissioned.”​

    “Maesterus = Arcidus’s surrogate father?”​

    “You could put it that way.” The Phantom Razor’s systems then alerted Arcidus that they were about to drop out of hyperspace. “Well Veeseven, looks like we’ve made it to Alpheridies while you were talking me up. Thank you for helping pass the time. Now it’s time to deal with the Kur’Ada.”​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    After a lengthy journey through hyperspace, the Phantom Razor entered the Alpheridies system, the homeworld of the Miraluka and the location of the Kur’Ada stronghold. Upon exiting hyperspace, Arcidus and Veeseven were greeted to the sight of the Kur’Ada fleet, consisting of many Katana-class battleships, Hatchet-class gunships and Glaive-class starfighters.​

    “Veeseven, activate cloaking device.” Arcidus commanded his astromech.​

    “Cloaking Device = Active.”​

    With the cloak active, the Razor turned invisible to both scanners and the naked eye. Usually, starships at freighter-class and below didn’t carry cloaking devices, giving Arcidus a bit of an advantage in sneaking past the fleet.​

    Arcidus stealthily flew past several of the battleships, seemingly not getting their attention. However, the Razor’s scanners indicated that there were six fighters tailing him after breaking up from different squadrons. Five of the fighters flanked him from the sides and front while the sixth fired on him, but before the laser fire could do any damage, the Razor rotated its wings to form a buzz-saw pattern. The ship spun sideways and deflected the shots back to sender, at the same slicing the flanking fighters in half; if the pilots weren’t sliced apart by the blades, they were either killed by exposure to vacuum or the ensuing explosions.​

    With this attack, Arcidus’s cover had been blown, alerting the Kur’Ada fleet to his presence, but were thankfully unfamiliar with his vessel. He evaded blaster fire from the fleet while fighting off other fighters and gunships before one of the gunships targeted him with some missiles. To throw off the missiles and the fleet, he ejected some scrap metal as a decoy for the missiles before reactivating the cloaking device, faking his death once more.​

    Entering Alpheridies’ atmosphere, this was a close call for Arcidus. He realized that the cloaking device was working at full functionality when those fighters blew his cover. From his experience, only Force-sensitives could detect cloaked ships that easily, and the Kur’Ada were normally blind to the Force, something that was atypical for the Miraluka species since they usually relied on it for sight.​

    Apparently, some of them are finally learning to connect with it, and he could already tell from just sensing the pilots.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    After evading some of the Kur’Ada’s anti-air defenses, Arcidus jumped out of his starfighter midflight – leaving the controls to Veeseven – and landed right within the enclave walls. After landing, he was quickly surrounded by a group of Kur’Ada warriors. Arcidus’s goggles flashed and all the warriors were quickly incinerated in a blaze of fire.​

    More warriors of various ranks tried to overwhelm the assassin, but he proceeded to gun them down with precise shots from both his blaster pistol and his sniper rifle.​

    Meanwhile, the Valkoran fleet entered the system, led by Maesterus’s colossal flagship Doomsayer, under the command of the cyborg Admiral Marx Gravlek – who now had severe burns near where his eyes once were and some ocular implants replacing those eyes after his previous encounter with Zolph Vaelor. Several Demolisher-class missile frigates fired a barrage of diamond-boron missiles at the Kur’Ada fleet from a distance while the Behemoth-class landing craft made their way toward the surface. As the fleets battled, most of the landing craft entered the atmosphere.​

    Some of the massive transports were taken out by the enclave’s turbolaser towers, but those were quickly eliminated by squadrons of Shyrack-class bombers. With the ground forces landed outside the enclave walls, the Valkoran deployed some Starmantis artillery droids to blow down the gate, allowing contingents of vehicles and troopers – including Sgt. Will Helms – to enter the enclave and assist Arcidus while several more landing craft deployed their forces within the enclave itself.​

    With the Kur’Ada forces preoccupied, Arcidus made his way towards the Kur’Ada palace and Mursama’s throne room.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    After fighting his way through the palace past many Kur’Ada elite warriors, Arcidus had reached the throne room. Sitting before him on the throne was Mistress Mursama Kur’Ada, a female Miraluka warrior with long blond hair and distinctive silver armor with gold in some places and a helmet with an unusual v-shaped crest sitting by her side. She also didn’t have her mouth covered like most of the warriors and she had a distinctive blue photoreceptor that was no longer functioning. Also standing before her were two elite warriors that were similarly blinded.​

    “Mistress, have you gone mad?!” One of the warriors questioned her. “We cannot see without our optics! We are not like the others of our race!”​

    “Focus, warriors. Feel the Force around you; it flows from life itself. We may not have been born as naturally attuned to it as the other members of our species, but in time, you will learn to understand just as an artist develops his skills.”​

    “What you ask is impossible, Mistress. Our midichlorian counts are just…”​

    Mursama ]interrupted him. “Those do not matter. Those blood tests aren’t always accurate and artificially increasing your count won’t make you any stronger in the Force, and artificially lowering it won’t make you any weaker either. Contrary to what some think, those little micro-organisms aren’t really the cause of the Force; they’re like moths attracted to a flame: the stronger a creature’s natural Force connection, the more of them there are per a cell. Now focus.”​

    The warriors had a realization. “Yes, Mistress. I can feel it now… and I can feel an assassin nearby.” The questioning warrior then alerted his ally. “Protect the mistress!” The two elite warriors charged at Arcidus, only for him to quickly cut them down with his black-bladed lightsaber before deactivating it again.​

    As Arcidus moved forward, he slowly clapped. “So, the great Mursama Kur’Ada is now training her warriors to use the Force… to kill other Force-sensitives.”​

    “And if it isn’t Maesterus’s lapdog. I’m aware of my hypocrisy, but times have changed, and so have our goals.” Mursama responded. “In fact, I have come to realize that hypocrisy is all too common in the history of the Kur’Ada Equalists. I thought that by purging the galaxy of all Force users after the Miraluka of old oppressed my ancestors, the galaxy by extension would be free of the dangers of Force users such as the Jedi and the Sith. Recently, I came in touch with the Force, and learned that all life was connected to it. With that, I realized that if we’re purging all Force-sensitives, we may as well purge ourselves since the Force comes from us too. Then there’s the fact that we have allied with you to achieve those goals, and there are plenty of Force users in the Valkoran leadership.”​

    “That definitely explains where the pilots who detected my ship came from. I may have a distaste for hypocrites, but I can admire those who own up to their faults. If you’re done with your ethnic cleansing, what do you plan to do now?”​

    “I don’t know yet, but right now, I’m more concerned about the survival of my people.” Mursama equipped her helmet, stood up and unsheathed two cortosis swords. “Anyway, I understand that you have come to assassinate me.”​

    Arcidus then drew his lightsaber. “I wish there was another way to do this without getting our Emperor’s attention, but I cannot spare your life. However, there’s hope that some of your people can be saved, and that you can get some retribution towards the one who ordered your death. What made you decide to betray the Valkoran Empire?”​

    “Does it matter? Let’s just say your goals are a threat to not just us or the galaxy, but to life itself.” Mursama then raised her blades. “If you’re going to kill me, I take it you’re just going to incinerate me?”​

    “I prefer to fight my opponents on equal terms and only use that when I’m heavily outnumbered. Besides, you still haven’t given me enough information.” Arcidus attempted to ignite Mursama, only for her to use the Force to protect against the blast. “Just as I predicted; any Force novice can protect against that. That was just a test to see if you were that skilled with it, and that blast wasn’t even at full power.”​

    “Don’t toy with me, assassin.” Mursama used the Force to throw Arcidus into a wall before lunging at him with both swords, but Arcidus was quick to dodge the blows.​

    As the two Force-sensitive warriors clashed blades, Arcidus refrained from using his blaster or his ignition ability again. What they didn’t refrain from doing was throwing each other around.​

    However, Arcidus was the superior swordsman despite having one less blade than Mursama, and ultimately cut off both of her arms and had her on her knees.​

    “What are you waiting for? Finish it!” Mursama demanded him.​

    “I’ll grant your wish once you give me your reasons for turning on us.”​

    “If I’m giving a confession, it’s more of an execution than an assassination.”​

    A different voice then addressed her. “Mursama.” Maesterus entered the throne room and approached her.​

    “Well, if it isn’t the dog’s master.” Mursama coldly addressed him.​

    “Don’t talk about my apprentice like that. Anyway, I want to know why you betrayed us, not Valkor. Just tell us, and we won’t cause you any more trouble than you’re going to get already.”​

    “Fine. I learned to use the Force sometime before the Battle of Onderon, and when that winged metal-coated beast – which you called Fafniros - landed on my command ship, it not only killed some of my warriors unprovoked, I could sense something else from it unlike any other creature I’ve encountered; something that wasn’t meant to exist, as if it came from death itself. And I can sense it from you too, Maesterus, but curiously, I also sense the Force and some good in you.”​

    “I know what you sensed. And admittedly, the Forceless have done some things I don’t like.”​

    Mursama suddenly panicked. “There’s one coming right now!” She could sense a Forceless presence approaching. However this one was different, as unlike the Archfiend she saw or Maesterus, she could sense no life-force from this one.​

    To everyone’s surprise, Valkor entered the room and approached them.​

    “Emperor Valkor! We weren’t expecting you.” Maesterus addressed him.​

    “And I didn’t tell you to come here.” Valkor responded back.​

    “Don’t you have better things to be doing, like sitting on your throne?” Maesterus asked him sarcastically.​

    “Oh, come, Maesty. I’ve got to keep my body in shape, and a good ruler doesn’t sit around doing nothing.” Valkor then looked towards the defeated Mursama. “Anyway, I ordered you people to execute her, not interrogate her.”​

    From what Mursama could sense, Valkor wasn’t exactly a living creature. He was just an indescribable abomination contained within a robotic humanoid shell. “You…” She spoke to him in a terrified tone. “What are you?! You shouldn’t even exist!”​

    “But here I am standing right in front of you.” Valkor’s eyes then glowed and some ooze-like Black Matter started to spread out from under his cloak like a shadow, even crawling up the walls of the throne room and moving around Mursama’s feet.​

    Suddenly, some chaotically-placed mouths and eyes similar to those in Valkor’s mask sprouted from the Matter, and an oily tentacle suddenly emerged from around Mursama’s feet, wrapped itself around her to bind her and then lifted her a few feet above the floor.​

    “What are you waiting for, monster?! Kill me!!” She demanded him.​

    “Kill you?” Valkor chuckled. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? But where’s the fun in that? Besides, I don’t want to make you a martyr, but with what I’m about to do to you, you’re going to wish you could die.” Valkor then made another echoing licking sound, and while a worm-like growth with several eyes and a creepy grin – somehow adding a sadistic expression to his face that he otherwise wouldn’t have - emerged from one of the eye-slits in his mask, a large mouth resembling a vixus emerged from below Mursama and moved toward her wide open. “I’m also very hungry right now."​

    “You… You monster!” She yelled at him as the maw enveloped her.​

    “Don’t give me that look, dear. It isn’t cannibalism if we’re not the same species.”​

    Maesterus and Arcidus could only watch helplessly as Valkor devoured her and the maw retreated back into the puddle before it and the rest of the black ooze retreated back into Valkor.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Mursama awoke in what seemed like darkness, but for the first time, knew what it was like to naturally see. Unfortunately, she did not become one with the Force, and she wasn’t really dead or alive.​

    She had sight and could hear, but she was without a body and unable to move. She was surrounded by an endless void of blackness and millions of glowing red crystal-like eyes while static-like sound echoed throughout the void. She didn’t have any eyelids to block the sight of them out and she had no way of blocking out the sound. She didn’t even have a mouth to speak with.​

    In fact, all those eyes were other people Valkor had devoured and that sound prevalent in the void was their attempt to communicate, and Mursama herself was one of them. None but her were even aware of this.​

    While these types of conditions would drive most beings to point of insanity or despair, Mursama refused to give in, as whatever this place was, she knew it was designed to torture her for who-knows-how-long, and she didn’t feel like giving Valkor the satisfaction of listening to her attempt to scream in horror.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Back in the Kur’Ada throne room, Valkor gave Maesterus some new orders.​

    “Oh, Maesty. Could you be a lamb and bring me the survivors? I’m still hungry, and I’d rather have them alive.”​

    Maesterus then questioned him. “And you’re telling me to do something you wouldn’t do yourself because…?”​

    “You seem to have a problem with me, and I wonder if you’re still actually loyal to me. So why don’t you be a good boy so I don’t eat you and your pet?”​

    Maesterus reluctantly complied. “As you wish.” He then ordered Arcidus to follow him and they left the throne room.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    After exiting the palace, Maesterus and Arcidus confronted a group of surviving Kur’Ada warriors. The two former Jedi were sickened by the orders they were given by Valkor, but they couldn’t really save the warriors either without getting his attention. What they had planned wasn’t really morally sound, but it was much better than feeding them to Valkor.​

    “What happened to Mistress Mursama, Valkoran scum?!” One of the warriors demandingly asked them.​

    “Your mistress isn’t dead.” Maesterus answered them as he and Arcidus ignited their lightsabers. “In fact, something far worse than death has happened to her. If you go into that palace, you will only meet the same fate as her.”​

    The warriors attempted to attack the two in retaliation, but they were all killed within seconds not just by them, but some of the other Valkoran forces under the command of Sergeant Will Helms, who surprisingly didn’t die for once.​

    “Sergeant Helms, what happened to Major Kago?”​

    “He’s dead, sir. He and his walker were destroyed by a Halberd tank. By the way, that was the last of the Kur’Ada forces.” Helms informed Maesterus.​

    “Thank the Force…” Maesterus sighed with relief. While he wouldn’t have liked feeding them to Valkor, he wouldn’t have liked murdering any of them in cold blood or getting them to commit suicide either.​

    “Is something wrong, My Lord?” Helms asked him.​

    “No, Sergeant. It’s just that Emperor Valkor showed up here unexpectedly.”​

    “I don’t blame ya. I’d be on edge too if the big guy himself showed up out of nowhere.”​

    “Order everybody to pull out. I’ll regroup with you after I talk with our Emperor.”​

    “Understood.” Helms then barked orders to his troops. “You heard him, boys and girls! Let’s load up! We’re about to go home!”​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Maesterus and Arcidus headed back into the palace throne room, where they met with Valkor once again.​

    “Where is my food?” Valkor questioned them.​

    “None of them were willing to be taken prisoner, so they all either died trying to fight us or committed suicide.” Maesterus answered him. “Tough luck, huh?”​

    Valkor then turned toward them and his eyes glowed. “Maybe for me, but what about for you?” A Black Matter serpent then emerged from one of his eye slits and moved towards the two Force users with its jaw wide open and drooling. But Maesterus and Arcidus didn’t even react.​

    Valkor retracted the serpent back into his mask and his eyes stopped glowing. “Now that I think about it, I’m not really hungry anymore.” Valkor then walked towards the entrance and headed for his personal shuttle. “I will see you back at the capital.”​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Moments later, after evacuating the enclave and boarding the Doomsayer, Maesterus, Arcidus, Sergeant Helms and Admiral Gravlek watched aboard the bridge as the ship and the accompanying Obliterator-class destroyers bombarded the enclave from orbit with their plasma cannons.​

    “Helms, did you do as I asked?” Maesterus asked the undying soldier.​

    “Yes, sir,” Helms answered. “All civilians and non-combatants were evacuated from the enclave before the bombardment.”​

    “Excellent. For your heroism and bravery in willing to go against Valkor's demands, you have been promoted, Lieutenant Helms.”​

    “Thank you, sir. That’s one hell of a jump in rank.”​

    Maesterus then queried Admiral Gravlek. “And Admiral, were there any surviving ships fleeing from the enclave?”​

    “Yes, My Lord. Some shuttles with the refugees boarded the remaining warships and retreated into hyperspace,” the cyborg admiral informed him. “And good call, My Lord. I’ve already got enough civilian blood on my hands from Ithor, and I would rather not get any more. In my Imperial days, I’ve been around Sith Lords and Dark Jedi, and while I may not sense the Force like you do, I always had a bad feeling being around them, and from my experiences with Valkor, it’s not any better.”​

    Helms then spoke to Gravlek. “I may not have met Valkor with my own eyes, but I know that bad feeling from Masochus, and he’s a former Sith Lord. That psycho one time kidnapped and killed me just so he could turn me into one of his bio-astromech droids. It’s a good thing I don’t reincarnate in the same body when I die.”​

    Maesterus then addressed everyone on the bridge. “Alright, crew. Where do your loyalties lie? To Valkor, or to me? And I want honest answers.”​

    To his surprise, the entirety of the Doomsayer’s crew pledged their loyalty ultimately to Maesterus. It wasn’t all that surprising with the Black Guard, as they had been hand-picked by Maesterus himself.​

    Will Helms made his confirmation of loyalty. “If Masochus is Valkor’s closest lackey, I’m sticking with you. He’s already caused me enough trouble. Besides, I’ve been serving under you and your supporters since I joined the Valkoran Army. I don’t even know the Emperor that well, and I don’t even want to.”​

    Marx Gravlek then made his. “If Valkor’s going to make us partake in more genocides, and if he’s responsible for what happened to Lady Manthis like you say, I’ll be fighting on your side when the time comes. I left the Imperial Remnant so I could find a functional government and so I wouldn’t be ordered about by would-be tyrants, and I’m not going to be ordered about by another one.”​

    Arcidus did the same. “Do I even need to say anything? I’ve known you since the Academy, and you already know what I think about Valkor.”​

    Maesterus then addressed them all. “You people. It’s nice to know I have some allies within the Valkoran Empire that are willing to oppose the man it’s named for. But until the time comes and we have gathered enough allies, we need to be discreet about this movement.”​
     
  2. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 9: Lab Rat

    One week has passed since the Battle of Kashyyyk. Taking a break from eliminating Archfiends, Zolph Vaelor has been called back to the Jedi Academy on Ossus following a recon mission on Orto Plutonia.

    In the war room, Zolph met up with Luke Skywalker and Grein.

    “So, how was Plutonia?” Grein asked him.

    Zolph sneezed before answering her. “If I wasn’t dressing warmly, I could’ve gotten frostbite from my own arm. Is that and the sneeze a good enough answer?”

    Luke then asked Zolph. “So, what do you have to report?”

    “There was indeed a Valkoran base on the planet, but the local Talz tribe already kicked them off.” Zolph then changed the subject. “So, what’s important enough to be calling me back here? Have either of the last two planets on that list become priority targets now?”

    “No. Do you remember Gestroma?”

    “You mean that psychotic Forceless-possessed bounty hunter I fought on Taris? Of course I remember him.”

    “After some trouble with him constantly checking his ship for homing beacons and getting him to lower his guard, I think we finally found what may be his base of operations.”

    “It’s about time. It’s almost been two months since the investigation started, so don’t keep me waiting. Where’s he hiding out?”

    “When I said ‘may’, we’re not absolutely sure, but he’s stopped on the planet Nelvaan for a prolonged period of time.”

    “What makes you think Gestroma’s hiding there and that this is not just another contract for him?”

    “Aside from the native Nelvaanian tribes, there’s not much worth of note on the planet, but curiously, winter is going on a lot longer than normal for the planet and he’s been spotted disembarking from his ship with one of his prisoners there.”

    “Great. Just when I thought I was done with cold weather.” Zolph responded sarcastically.

    Grein then added some more information to Luke’s intel. “However, I’ve done some research on the history of the planet, and I’ve learned that the last time Nelvaan had a near-perpetual winter, it was around the end of the Clone Wars. After sorting through some post-war anti-Jedi Imperial propaganda, I’ve also learned that the Techno Union established a CIS bio-weapon laboratory, where they mutated most of the adult Nelvaanian males into cyborg super-soldiers. When the lab was destroyed, the winter ended.”

    Zolph made a response to this history lesson. “Okay, so I take it this winter was connected to the lab itself, that Gestroma’s rebuilt and reactivated it and now probably using it to make more bio-weapons from the people he’s been taking hostage.”

    “It looks that way. But this was a large military-grade laboratory. I’m guessing he spent years trying to rebuild it and used his bounty money to fund it.”

    Luke then provided even more intel. “Also, there are scout reports saying there are some reactivated and reprogrammed Separatist battle droids that have attempted to attack them. According to some CIS military research on General Choi’s part, there are even some droid models that weren’t stationed on the planet during the war.”

    “I can see why this is a problem. If Gestroma’s an independent Forceless and he’s gained control of an abandoned military bio-lab and part of the Separatist Droid Army… well, looks like I’m off to Nelvaan.”

    Zolph then made his way to the hangar.

    “May the Force be with you, Zolph.” Luke said as Zolph left the war room.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    In the Jedi Academy’s hangar, Zolph prepared to board his modified X-Wing, which had been further modified – more specifically, it had the cockpit extended to include a second seat behind the pilot’s chair - since the Battle of Onderon. As Zolph climbed up the ladder to the pilot seat, he was interrupted by a voice.

    “Where are you off to now?”

    Zolph turned his head to see Hiriss Moraana standing next to the ladder.

    “You just got back from Orto Plutonia. You’re not taking missions as a form of anti-depressant again, are you?”

    Zolph answered her back. “No, I was just given some new intel to help tie up some loose ends. I’m headed for Nelvaan.”

    “What for?”

    “We believe that we know where Gestroma’s hiding and what he’s doing, and from what intel claims, it isn’t pretty.”

    “Can I come along?”

    “Any particular reason why?” Zolph asked her with curiosity.

    “I don’t really have anything better to do at the moment, and you haven’t made use of that second seat yet, so now’s probably a good time as any.”

    R9-C4, sitting in the fighter’s astromech socket, then beeped hostilely. “Second seat in fighter = no free riders. // Green-skinned lady = Free rider.”

    Zolph chastised his droid. “Shut it, Seefor. This is my ship. I decide who rides in it, not you.” Zolph then turned to Hiriss and answered her. “Why the hell not? I could use some more company… aside from one of the most sadistic droids to come off IA’s assembly line.”

    “Besides, I’ve lost several good men to that monster before your encounter with him on Taris, so I’d like to see him brought to justice.”

    “This isn’t about revenge, is it?”

    “I won’t lie, that’s a small part of my reason for coming. But more importantly, it’s about making sure he doesn’t harm anyone else.”

    “That’s good enough, and you should know this already, but don’t let the revenge part get to your head, because I already know what that’s like. Now pack up, climb aboard and I’ll give you more details about the mission during the flight.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Several hours later, Zolph and Hiriss had reached Nelvaan. During the flight, Zolph briefed Hiriss on some of the mission’s other details, particularly the threat of recycled CIS battle droids and the reactivation of the Techno Union bio-weapon lab. After entering the planet’s atmosphere, their fighter landed in a snowy forest clearing.

    After the two Jedi climbed out of the fighter, Zolph shivered in response to the temperature. “You know, it’s not as cold as Plutonia.”

    Hiriss then replied to his comment. “Probably has to do with the fact that, you know, Nelvaan’s not an actual ice planet.”

    Seefor, having recently ejected from the astromech socket, replied to both of them. “Organics + Reaction to Temperature = Organics inferior to R9-C4.”

    Zolph sarcastically responded to the droid. “Yes, Seefor. You certainly don’t have to worry about your joints and hardware freezing over.”

    “R9-C4 = Shutting up now.”

    Hiriss then spoke again. “If General Choi’s report on the build up of the Separatist Droid Army is correct, we shouldn’t have too much to worry about. The B1s and OOMs are notoriously stupid, and they were the most numerous units in the army.”

    “That’s a good start.” Zolph replied. However, his response was a case of tempting fate, as some dark gray-plated droids with glowing white photoreceptors and more human-like builds than the images of the B1s suggested emerged from the snow in a circle around them, armed with E-5 blaster rifles and vibroswords. “Tell me something, Hiriss: Do dumb droids know ambush tactics?”

    “I’ll assume these things aren’t B1s or OOMs.” Both Zolph and Hiriss activated their lightsabers and started deflecting blaster fire from the droids.

    Zolph and Hiriss tried to slash at the droids, but they dodged the blades with inhuman reflexes. These droids were quite a nuisance, but they were destroyed within a minute not just by the Jedi, but by Seefor as well, who snuck up on one of the droids and disconnected both of his legs before melting him down with her built-in flamethrower.

    After the fight, Zolph pulled out an encyclopedic datapad with a built-in camera and scanned one of the fallen droids with it. “According to the datapad, the things we just fought are BX Commando Droids. According to the history section, these were an elite unit used by the CIS during the Clone Wars, designed to be superior to the B1s in both combat ability and intelligence. What kept them from outright replacing the B1s were their production costs, and as such, only a small number of these things were ever produced.”

    “I’m guessing the CIS was incredibly cheap, because from what I understand, their leadership was compromised mostly of corporate armies.” Hiriss responded.

    “Gestroma may be crazy, but he’s definitely not an idiot if these are his main infantry units.” Zolph then turned his attention to Seefor. “Seefor, we need you to guard the ship from any more droids that come by while Hiriss and I look for the laboratory.”

    Seefor beeped back. “Guard duty = Boring + Necessary // R9-C4 = Guard ship + Exterminate // R9-C4 = Exterminate.” Seefor then chirped mischievously while Zolph and Hiriss headed further into the forest.

    “Zolph, did I ever tell you that your droid scares me?” Hiriss asked him.

    “You have, and don’t worry, she scares me too. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone aside from Juganak who isn’t afraid of Seefor.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    As they moved through Nelvaan’s snowy forests, Zolph and Hiriss sought a local Nelvaanian tribe for guidance, fighting through more reactivated Separatist droid forces - in addition to the Commando Droids and the slower but heavily-armored B2 Super Battle Droids - that were well-suited for ambush tactics, such as Dwarf Spider Droids, Chameleon Droids, LM-432 Crab Droids and Retail Caucus Droids, either buried in the snow or hiding in the trees.

    As fate would have it, the two Jedi investigators came across a hunting party of blue-furred lupine warriors – Nelvaanians, still in their primitive stage of civilization, using spears instead of blasters - fighting against a large three-legged droid with a bulb-like head, three sets of photoreceptors and three blaster cannons. This large Octuptarra Droid was a difficult opponent for them, as it could see from all sides of its body at once and could fire in multiple directions at once. However, the cannons were all connected to the same head, and while they could all swivel vertically, they all relied on the head to aim. As a result, it could only really focus on one set of targets at a time. Despite the technological disadvantage the Nelvaanians had against the remnants of the CIS droid army, they were able to disable the Octuptarra through teamwork, having one warrior to draw its attention while the others hurled large stones at its neck area until the head snapped off.

    Another Octuptarra then entered the scene. Zolph proceeded to draw its fire while Hiriss leaped onto it before slashing off one of its legs. After the droid fell down, she stabbed into its central processor, shutting it down for good.

    “If there’s a creature resembling these droids, I’ll bet it’s pretty ugly.” Zolph commented.

    “Believe it or not, there actually is a creature these droids were modeled after from Skako.” Hiriss responded.

    “You don’t say? I guess high-pressure atmospheres do wonders with biology. They’d fit in well with the Forceless Collective’s army.”

    The warriors of the Nelvaanian hunting party cautiously pointed their spears towards the Jedi, but their leader spoke to them and they lowered their weapons. Zolph and Hiriss weren’t overly familiar with the Nelvaanian language, but as they heard him speak, they picked up his language pretty quickly.

    “I take it you two are of these ‘Jedi’ our chieftain spoke of?” The pack leader then introduced himself. “I am Varzos. Forgive my brothers’ impulsiveness. Our people have developed an aversion to technology ever since an incident fifty of your standard years ago that brought about a never-ending winter to the Great Mother and altered most of our warriors.” According to what Zolph learned about Nelvaanian culture before the mission, “Great Mother” was what they referred to the planet as.

    Zolph then spoke to him. “I don’t blame you. We all develop biases towards things that have caused us pain in the past. Also, I assume your party is searching for the place that caused all this? Because it looks like your ‘Great Mother’ is going through that again.”

    “So you came here knowing of our plight?”

    “Actually, since your people cut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy, we weren’t even aware of it until recently, and only had history to look to to be aware of your troubles. We actually came here to hunt down a ruthless killer, and we believe there may be a correlation between him and the problems this world is going through right now.”

    “Are you sure? The mechanical monstrosities we’ve been dealing with for the past few years come from the same army that terrorized us back then.”

    “That army’s been dissolved for half-a-century now, and some of the remaining machines from that army are now in the hands of criminals and scavengers. Anyway, could you tell me and my friend where we could find the source of this winter? If you do, we can put an end to this once more.”

    “I’d like to, but we’re wary of outsiders at this point, including Jedi. Not too long after the first never-ending winter ended, another army – a corrupted shadow of the same army led by the Ghost Hand who saved our people before - came and rebuilt the place of dark science for their own uses before we fought back and forced them to retreat.”

    Zolph then thought to himself. “So it wasn’t Gestroma who rebuilt the laboratory. It was the Galactic Empire.” He then spoke to Varzos once more. “Why didn’t you destroy the lab again?”

    “We would have if we were familiar with the workings of the invaders’ technology, but they shut it down so we’d turn a blind eye to it eventually. Besides, it was the Ghost Hand who destroyed the place of dark science the first time.”

    “And who is this ‘Ghost Hand’ you speak of?”

    “A hero from our legends. As the name implies, he lost his right arm in battle, but it was replaced with a phantom limb and he was able to defeat his enemies without even laying a finger on them. A Jedi from outside with an artificial arm and similar powers named Anakin matched our myths and saved the Great Mother. But there’s more to the myth. The arm eventually corrupted the warrior and destroyed all those he held dear to him. Similarly, this Anakin came back here corrupted - not by the arm – and brought another terror. Even though he went by a new name and wore a concealing suit of black armor, our shaman still recognized him.”

    Intrigued by the description, Zolph took the glove off his right and pulled up his sleeve, revealing his prosthetic right arm to Varzos. “Are you sure you want to do this yourselves? How many of your warriors have already fallen trying to end this? We Jedi are just as capable of great things too.”

    “Another Ghost Hand? You may be able to save us like the previous one, but what’s not to say you will be corrupted just like the one in the myth and the one who came before?”

    Varzos’s comment struck a nerve in Zolph, as this reminded him of some recent events. Hiriss put her hand on Zolph’s shoulder to calm him down and he spoke back to the Nelvaanian warrior with a cautious answer. “The Ghost Hand who came before eventually redeemed himself and died a savior, even if both the goods and ills are remembered. But if it comes to that, I will make sure there is someone to save me… from myself.”

    Varzos complied. “Very well. If you wish to put an end to the winter, keep going north and look for a cave guarded by the machines in large numbers. There you will find the place of dark science.”

    Zolph pulled his sleeve back down and put his glove back on his right hand to further avoid the risk of frostbite. “Thank you, Varzos. And don’t worry; your people will be safe once more. And this time, the laboratory will be shut down permanently.” Zolph and Hiriss then headed in the direction Varzos had given them.

    Varzos then quietly gave a blessing to the Jedi as they walked off toward the cliffs. “May the Great Mother’s blessing be with you, Successor of Ghost Hand.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph and Hiriss made their way to the reactivated Techno Union bio-lab, Hiriss noticed that Zolph was a bit uneasy. “Still troubled by what Varzos said?”

    “Yeah, what if I do end up like the Ghost Hand in the myth. Similar things have happened before, and not just with Master Skywalker’s father. I already told you about what happened with Dynn and her replacement arm and you could easily find some parallels between that myth and what happened to her, but ever since that incident, I’ve been slipping dangerously close to the Dark Side. Let’s not also forget about the… thing I turned into on Kashyyyk.”

    “There are some disturbing parallels between the myth and what’s been happening with you within the last year, but that’s just it. Prophecies aren’t fact. Even if they are spot on at first, they still have the potential to deviate from what’s been written as it progresses. Like you told Varzos, Anakin Skywalker was eventually redeemed, and from what I heard, the older Jedi didn’t expect that to happen.”

    “You make a good point. To quote Master Yoda from those textbooks, ‘Always in motion, the future is.’ In other words, myths and legends are entertaining , but prophecies are nerfshavit.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After traveling a few more miles through Nelvaan’s forests and fighting through more Commando Droids as well as smaller Octuptarra Droids hanging from trees and Droidekas charging towards them, Zolph and Hiriss came across a cave entrance guarded by a larger group of reactivated droids, including more large Octuptarra Droids.

    “I gather from the large number of heavily armed droids that we’ve found the entrance to the laboratory.” Zolph commented as he as observed the defenses from out of the droids’ sight.

    Hiriss suggested a strategy. “Either the Techno Union, Empire or Gestroma may have placed some holocams outside to look out for intruders. On that note, we should find another way into the lab without picking another fight with the droids so we don’t alert Gestroma and prompt him to destroy it before fleeing.”

    “Good idea, Hiriss. Less aggressive negotiations and more subtlety for once, because I’d like to fully understand what that psycho’s doing with this lab.”

    Zolph and Hiriss split up and prepared to ambush the guards from both sides. They readied a few EMP grenades and used the Force to levitate them to the droid battalion and softly land them at their feet in the snow. After the grenades landed in the snow, they let out an electrostatic discharge that disabled the droids.

    “Hopefully, Gestroma didn’t notice or hear the discharge. Now let’s find out what sick use he has for this lab.” Zolph said to Hiriss before they headed into the cave.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After passing through some natural caves, the two Jedi came across what appeared to be a large generator and up above them, a spacious artificial environment. They had apparently found the bio-weapon laboratory.

    “So this lab runs off Nelvaan’s geothermal energy.” Hiriss pointed out her observation. “That would explain the long-lasting winter.”

    “But what exactly does Gestroma want with some bio-weapons?” Zolph asked.

    Zolph and Hiriss then Force jumped into the laboratory itself. As they looked around the facility and evaded the sight of patrolling Commando Droids, they went across walkways suspended over large open vats of indeterminable chemicals, possibly mutagens. This lab was definitely refashioned by the Empire.

    Eventually they came into a dark room, only lit by some glowing green fluid-filled test-tubes with some grotesque life-forms of various shapes inside them.

    “By the Force! What in space are these things?” Zolph said as he looked at the creatures inside with horror.

    “I think these may be some of the so-called bio-weapons Gestroma was creating.” Hiriss then made another observation on some of the creatures, which appeared as larger but barely more complex than a single-celled protoplasm. “But judging by their forms, they wouldn’t make very good killing machines and could be easily killed by most other creatures.”

    Suddenly, one of the creatures – which appeared simply as a large ball of flesh with a deformed face, several relatively tiny arms and connected to some life-support wires – weakly scratched against the walls of its tube, almost as if it was trying to reach for Hiriss. It then made some sounds in what seemed like a feeble attempt to speak. “Mor… Mor… aan… a… Moraana…?”

    “Hiriss, that thing just spoke your name.” Zolph pointed out. “Have you met it before?”

    This got Hiriss’s attention, as the big flesh ball seemed to know who she was, but she didn’t recognize it in turn. However, using her Force sense, she was able to discern the creature’s identity. “Her, not it. This is Captain Shiera Hond, and she used to be a human. She served under me during the Battle of Metalorn, but she was captured by Gestroma during the battle and I was unable to save her.”

    What Zolph just heard horrified him even more than what he just saw. If anything, this reminded him a lot of what the Forceless Collective did to Dynn Manthis. He then clenched his right fist in anger, causing the power gauge to barely glow through his glove. “That bastard…”

    “Com…mander… Mor…aana…” What was once Shiera struggled to speak in a voice that wasn’t recognizable as her own. “You… came… for me.”

    Hiriss then spoke to the creature while shedding a single tear. “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, Captain. I didn’t even know you were here.”

    “But… you came… event… ually…”

    Hiriss then pointed to Zolph. “You can thank Zolph for leading us here. It was his survived encounter with Gestroma that brought us here. But what exactly happened to you?”

    “Gest….stroma… he’s been…. capturing… humans… he claimed… to have… killed… on his… bounty… contracts… as test… subjects… for… his own… army…”

    Zolph then spoke. “I knew it! No offense to you or Hiriss, Shiera, but in that form, you’d make a lousy bio-weapon. What use do you have to Gestroma?”

    “I’m… one of… the failed… experiments… and now… a lab rat…”

    “But did he make any that were successfully made? At least for him.”

    “Yes… but not only… their bodies… were altered… so were their minds.”

    Hiriss then asked Shiera. “But how is your mind still intact?”

    “Every… one… else… in this… room… has their mind… intact… it may be… a side effect… of the failed… exper… iments…”

    The other failed test subjects in the room then started bashing against the glass of their own tubes, and those that were capable of speech begged the Jedi to kill them.

    “I have… a req…uest…Please… put… an end… to that… monster…but… before you do… put us… out of… our misery… Just living… is a death… in itself…”

    Hiriss answered Shiera. “We will, Shiera.” She then walked up to all the test tube terminals and shut off the life-support systems, as it was the only keeping these mutants alive. With that, all the test subjects in the room died.

    Zolph gave some orders to Hiriss. “Hiriss, start planting the charges on the siphon generator and other key areas in the complex and activate them when I give the word, because we’re shutting this place down permanently, so no one can repair it again. I’m going to investigate the lab and see if I can get some more information out of Gestroma.”

    “Got it.” Hiriss responded before heading back towards the generator.

    Zolph then contacted R9-C4 via comlink. “Seefor.”

    Seefor then responded. “R9-C4 = Eagerly awaiting orders.”

    “Fly the ship somewhere close to our coordinates and then come inside the lab. Once you're inside, I need you to… create some chaos.”

    “Orders = Happily accepted.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph looked around the rest of the complex and moved across another walkway suspended over more chemical vats, he was suddenly ambushed and surrounded by a squad of Commando Droids, SBDs and Droidekas from all sides of the walkway. He then heard an amplified laugh come from the crowd, and a large fully-armored humanoid with a face-wide visor emerged from it, armed with a concussion rifle and a chain-link grappling cable launcher on his left gauntlet.

    “We meet again, Vaelor. I thought it would take a year for this encounter to happen, but it happened sooner than I anticipated.” The figure addressed Zolph.

    “Hello, Gestroma.” He then looked at the bounty hunter’s left arm. “I see you got a new arm.”

    “Actually, it’s the very same arm you sliced off on Taris. I just reattached it.”

    “If you weren’t freaky enough already… I’ve seen what you’ve been doing in this laboratory, you psycho.”

    “I know. You met the rejects and killed them. I thought you Jedi said all life was sacred.”

    “We do, but when just being alive is torture for them, we Jedi have to draw the line somewhere. And for that…” Zolph then ignited his lightsaber, and the Commandos raised their blasters in response. “You will pay for your crimes against not just the Galactic Alliance and the Jedi Order, but life itself.”

    “Do you really think you can take us all on? Commandos and Destroyers were designed with fighting Jedi in mind.”

    “Oh please, I’ve been cutting these things down by the dozen all day. What’s a few more going to do to me?” Zolph used the Force to toss the droids off the walkway and into vats below, some which contained acidic chemicals.

    “True, and you’re the only Jedi that has survived me so far. Which is why I’ve decided not to kill you.” Gestroma raised his left arm and fired his grappling chain, wrapping it around Zolph’s legs.

    Zolph tried to slash at the chain, only for his lightsaber blade to bounce off of it. “I swear, the Alliance needs to put an embargo on cortosis. It’s becoming too common.”

    “Well, I don’t come from the Alliance.” Gestroma then sent an electric charge through the chain to incapacitate Zolph and send him into unconsciousness.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Moments later, Zolph awoke to find himself strapped to the inside of an open test tube in a room with several more of them. In the tube next to his, he saw a Galactic Alliance scout, one of the few who had been tracking Gestroma for the past two months.

    “Commander Vaelor.” The scout said to Zolph. “I’m glad you came, but I’m sorry I’m going out this way.”

    “What do you mean?” Zolph asked him.

    “You see those creatures in the test tubes?” Inside the test tubes were humanoid abominations that were no longer recognizable as humans if they were human, with sewage-brown skin and glowing sickly green eyes. “Well, I’m next in line to become one of them, and you may have to kill me.”

    Gestroma, who was waiting in the room the whole time, fired his concussion rifle – which emitted a shrieking sound effect - into the air on narrow-blast setting to get the prisoners’ attention. “Hey, don’t ruin the surprise.”

    Zolph questioned Gestroma. “I’ve got some questions for you, Gestroma. First off, why did you decide to spare me? Last time we fought, you said you’d mount my head on your wall.”

    “I was a bit angry when I made that claim, but then I realized I haven’t tested on a Force-sensitive subject before and that would make an excellent addition to my army, hence why you’re strapped in that tube right now.”

    “I can understand you’ve been using bounty hunting as a way to fund for the resources for your army.”

    “And as an excuse to blow off some steam while I prepare for my long-term plan. Besides, I also don’t have to pay rent for living in abandoned military complexes.”

    “And what exactly is this long-term plan that’s worth building an army of bio-weapons for? And come to think of it, why are you kidnapping and experimenting on humans specifically? Why not go after another species like Rodians for instance? Humans are pretty much everywhere anyway.”

    “Purging this galaxy of human filth. On the other hand, I want some of them to suffer as I have suffered.” Gestroma looked to the human Alliance scout. “As for you, it’s transformation time.” He then pressed a button on a terminal, and the casing on the scout’s test tube closed down.

    “Do your worst, bounty hunter scum! I’ll be dead before you can make much use of me!” The scout boasted to Gestroma as his test tube filled up with a transparent green fluid.

    “We’ll see about that.” Gestroma pressed another button and the tube filled up with a solution that turned the fluid opaque and the scout’s muffled screaming could be heard. Moments later, the fluid turned transparent again, and the Alliance scout had now been transformed to resemble some of the other mutants in the lab, but his eyeballs where still white and his skin still retaining its pink pigment. Gestroma then pressed another button to drain the fluids from the tube and open the mutation tube’s casing.

    With a now distorted voice coming from his larger mouth, the scout threatened Gestroma. “Once I’m out of these shackles, you’re dead, bounty hunter!”

    Gestroma countered the scout’s threats. “You haven’t forgotten the next part of the transformation process, have you?” Gestroma took off his left gauntlet and pulled up his sleeve to reveal a skin color similar to the other mutants in the lab. He then injected a syringe into his skin to extract some of his dark green blood, but Zolph also noticed some bright green eyes pop up in the blood after it was extracted into the syringe.

    Gestroma walked up to the shackled but berserk scout as he desperately attempted to bite him. “The next step is giving you a sample of Gestroma juice so you don’t kill anything without my say-so.” He then injected the syringe into the scout’s right arm, causing him to react in further pain as his body mutated even more and his skin and eye color matched those of all the mutants in the lab before the scout calmed down. “And now, you are officially part of Gestroma’s Anti-Humanist Army.”

    Zolph spoke to Gestroma. “Just as I suspected: you are a Forceless. But curiously, the possession victims usually have black skin and red eyes.”

    “You figured it out? Good for you. I assume it has something to do with the symbiote mixing with the mutagen. And with other species I’ve tested the symbiote on, they don’t always get the same skin color.”

    “So you’re a mutant too. That would explain your insanity. But why have you decided to Force me into your army? For all I know, the rest of your buddies in the Collective want me dead.”

    Gestroma laughed at Zolph’s suggestion. “Buddies? They and those Valkoran puppets are just clients. You think the mercenary profession’s just a cover-up for my true alliances? That’s too bad, because I actually am my own master. In other words, I am the Herald of my own Forceless Collective.”

    “Well, looks my theory about other Forceless Collectives has been confirmed.”

    “On another note, why would they want a specimen like you dead? You’d make a perfect soldier, and with your Force powers, I wouldn’t even need to mutate you to augment you.”

    “According to them, I’m immune to their possession, so if you try to put your own body fluids in me, you’re not getting the desired results. Besides, Forceless can’t access Force powers unless the host willingly complies.”

    Gestroma walked up to Zolph and readied a syringe despite what he said. “Immune, huh? Well, let’s test that claim. As for the other part, I can always mutate you after the possession.”

    “Actually, even if you’re trying to disprove it, I wouldn’t do that.”

    “And why is that?”

    “There was an incident on Kashyyyk where I actually got some Black Matter into my blood and my body somehow converted it into Force energy. However, I wasn’t in control of myself and turned really violent.”

    “So you’re not immune. You’re just trying to delay your mutation as long as you can.”

    “Took you long enough.” Zolph then shouted. “Hiriss! Hit the switch!”

    An explosion suddenly rocked the laboratory and alarms buzzed throughout the complex. “Reactor malfunction detected. Maintenance is required or implosion is imminent.”

    Gestroma ran to a communications terminal and contacted a Commando Droid officer. “OOX-708! We have another Jedi in our midst! Find him and eliminate him!”

    “We have another problem, sir.” The droid officer reported.

    “What ‘other problem’?!”

    “There is an astromech droid wreaking havoc around the base.”

    “You’re kidding me. You were designed to fight Jedi, and you can’t handle a kriffing astro-droid?! Now you shut up and destroy it.”

    “Roger, rog-” The droid’s response was interrupted by some hostile beeping that Zolph could understand as “R9-C4 = Exterminate” being repeated over and over before the commando turned to fire at the astromech before falling below the camera line and started begging for mercy. The monitor then switched to static.

    Zolph taunted Gestroma. “Congratulations. You’ve been foiled by my astromech, but no need to feel embarrassed. She’s killed a lot of people before.”

    Gestroma walked over to the operating terminal and picked up his concussion rifle. “Your conversion has been postponed for the moment. I’ll get back to you when I’m done with your friends.” Gestroma then ran out one of the doors to the room.

    Just shortly after, Hiriss entered the room through one of the other doors and cut down the Commando Droids guarding the room.

    “Excellent response time, Hiriss.” Zolph commended her.

    Hiriss then used the Force to free Zolph from his bonds, who in return retrieved his blaster, lightsaber and comlink from the operation booth. “No problem, and I see you called Seefor over to put a wrench in the base without my notification.”

    “As dangerous as she is, Seefor is at her most effective when no one sees her coming. Anyway, did you hear all that?”

    “Yes. I was waiting right outside.” She then turned to see the mutated Alliance scout. “So Gestroma is a Forceless, but who is or was this guy?”

    “He was one of the scouts that tracked Gestroma here.” As the mutant attempted to bite at the Jedi, Zolph ignited his lightsaber. “The least we should do for him is spare him the horrors of being a Forceless possession host. It’s what he would have wanted.” Zolph then ran his lightsaber into the scout’s chest and ended his life. “We’ll be sure to report his fate to General Choi.”

    Some more alarms sounded in the room, and the other test tubes drained out and released the other mutants waiting dormant inside, ready to rip the Jedi to shreds. Gestroma’s voice then came up on the intercom.

    “Did you really think you were home free, Vaelor? Not yelling into a comlink obviously meant your friend was close by. You may not be my next test subject, but I’m not letting you and your friends leave this place alive knowing about my plans. As such, you get to be food for the successful ones.”

    The transmission ended.

    The lab mutants first response was to spit some digestive matter at the Jedi, who quickly dodged in response. Zolph tried to fire his blaster pistol at one of the mutants, but his shots bounced off his or her chest.

    The creatures then charged at the Jedi, who quickly cut them down in response.

    Hiriss gave Zolph a status update. “I destroyed the repair droids before I blew up the reactor. Since it’s not getting fixed before this whole place blows up, let’s get the hell out of here.”

    “I couldn’t agree more.” Zolph activated his comlink. “Seefor, that’s enough chaos for now. Get the ship ready for takeoff.”

    Zolph and Hiriss then rushed out of the mutation chamber.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph and Hiriss made their way to the exit through the siphon generator room and fought through more of Gestroma’s battle droids and mutant army, they were stopped by the shriek of a concussion rifle. They saw Gestroma, who was not intent on letting them leave.

    “Leaving so soon?” Gestroma introduced himself.

    “Your little operation here is finished, Gestroma. Surrender.” Zolph commanded him.

    “So they can execute me later for being a Forceless? I don’t think so.” Gestroma fired another concussion blast at the Jedi, who quickly dodged it. “If I’m going down, you, the Mirialan and the deranged astromech are going with me!”

    Gestroma fired another shot, but Zolph used the Force to redirect the shot back at him, much like he did during his first duel with Admiral Marx Gravlek at the beginning of the war. The resulting shot broke off Gestroma’s abdominal plating and half of his visor, revealing him to have three green almond-shaped eyes taking up almost his entire face and a large mouth on his stomach, which had several sharp teeth and an elongated tongue.

    “No wonder it sounded like your stomach was growling when you spoke. You actually do speak with it.” Zolph commented. “So what’s your story, ugly? Did you mutate yourself too?”

    “Actually, those Imperial mongrels that once operated here made me this way. Separated me from my family in the prisons of Despayre and made me a lab rat for a mutant super-soldier program: Project GESTROMA. Once they transformed me, they stuck that symbiote inside me. Their project was a success, but they succeeded too well considering what I did next.”

    “So, that explains your hatred for humans. The Galactic Empire was infamously humanocentric. What species were you before they mutated you? I’m going to go on a hunch and say you were a Gungan.”

    “No. In fact, I seem to have forgotten what species I was, but for all I know, your species must pay for destroying my home and family and then turning me into this.” Gestroma raised his concussion rifle again and fired a few more shots.

    Hiriss then lectured him. “Punishing an entire species, just for the actions of one group of them? That’s going way too far, because they’re not all like that and are just as likely to harm each other. Besides, my mother was human, so that doesn’t mean they’re all speciest.”

    “That just gives me more reason to cleanse you, you mutt! Even if you weren’t half-human, your species wouldn’t be safe from my wrath, either. You biologically have too much in common.”

    Hiriss then commented. “So you’ve got a grudge with near-human species by extension.” Zolph and Hiriss then activated their lightsabers. “On that note, you’ve become a threat to galactic society.”

    “If you wish to throw your lives away, then so be it!” Gestroma boasted before spitting a glob of highly caustic stomach acid from his belly-mouth and melting away some of the floor. He then shot a stream of high-pressure acid from one of his eyes, but the Jedi avoided both of those attacks.

    In the haste of the Jedi dodging Gestroma’s attacks – whether they be biological or artificial -, their fight eventually herded them back to one of the chemical vat rooms. Gestroma then lashed his incredibly long tongue at Zolph and wrapped it around his waist. He then pulled Zolph towards his gaping mouth in an attempt to skewer him with his really sharp teeth, but once Zolph was pulled in close enough, he sliced off the tongue with his lightsaber.

    “Please stop using your own body fluids to attack us. It’s disgusting! But thanks for bringing me closer to you.” Zolph mocked him. Gestroma then clubbed him with his concussion rifle a few times before knocking him to a safe distance for firing it.

    Gestroma prepared to fire another shot at Zolph while he was dazed, but Hiriss threw her double-bladed lightsaber at him and sliced the barrel off just as he pulled the trigger. This resulted in the rifle overloading and exploding.

    Hiriss then provided a final blow by using the Force to hurl him over a safety rail and into a vat of an indeterminable chemical.

    Zolph then asked her. “Is he dead?”

    “I don’t know if whatever that chemical is killed him, but if that didn’t, the imminent explosion will. Now let’s get out of here!”

    “I couldn’t agree even more, as funny enough, I sense something far worse than him approaching this place.”

    Zolph and Hiriss rushed out of the laboratory and found their ship waiting outside with the engines warmed up. They quickly hopped into the seats and flew away from the complex with R9-C4 just as it finished exploding.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Moments following the destruction of the Techno Union’s laboratory, Gestroma emerged from some of the rubble slightly scathed but still mostly intact. He then roared in anger as he bore witness to the loss of his work.

    “Thirty years worth of work as a bounty hunter and building an army, all undone by two meddling Jedi and an astromech droid!”

    However, a figure wearing a black cloak and a cumbersome mask with blade-like fins approached him through the wreckage and spoke. “Pretty humiliating, isn’t it, Gestroma?”

    “And what’s one of my most recent contractors doing all the way out here? Has your stupid war come to Nelvaan?”

    “No, I’m just stopping by after a little errand on Alpheridies before I go back to my palace.” Valkor took a look around the wreckage and saw the corpses of a few mutants and disabled battle droids. “By the looks of it, you were using our payments to you to make your own army. Your own Forceless Collective. I figured that if I give you a long leash, I would find out where you live.”

    “And now that another Collective Herald has arrived in my territory, I can assimilate you and make your army my own.”

    Valkor rushed up to Gestroma and suddenly stabbed one of his claws into his chest. “Actually, you’re mistaken. It’s the other way around, and there’s no room for third-sides in my grand plan.” Valkor’s eyes then illuminated in his mask and some Black Matter started crawling out of his wrist and into the wound in Gestroma’s chest.

    Gestroma screamed in agony as the Black Matter took over his body.

    “From now on, you will work for me for free….and forever.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After informing Varzos and the Nelvaanian tribe of the laboratory’s final destruction, Zolph and Hiriss returned to Ossus to report his findings and Gestroma’s defeat to Luke Skywalker and Grein. However, Zolph had some more findings to report.

    “As we discovered, Gestroma was a Forceless unaffiliated with the Collective led by Valkor. And judging by the appearance of his ‘Green Matter’, there are probably other Forceless Collectives out there.”

    Grein noted some more observations based on what they knew so far. “Emperor Valkor, Lord Azath and now Gestroma. We have three known leaders of their own Forceless Collectives, or ‘Heralds’ as the last of those three called them. And to add to what Azath claimed, Forceless are created through artificial means.”

    “And according to Gestroma, he started off as an inmate from Despayre and was mutated and infused with the Forceless symbiote after the Empire blew it up with the Death Star. But where did the Empire get the symbiote from and how did he become a Herald?”

    Hiriss chimed in on the conversation. “The Force flows from life itself, correct?”

    “Yeah?”

    Grein added on. “And from what we sensed, Forceless carry that same feeling as wounds in the Force. So I now theorize that Forceless are born when life is snuffed out on a large scale, and the Empire’s symbiote came from the destruction of Despayre. When someone dies, the Force dissipates from that being, but it’s only like the prick of a needle to the greater Force since new life is created almost every second. But when too many beings die in succession, too much of the Force is lost and it is wounded, and these Forceless - creatures that are a desperate attempt to patch up the wound - are created, but they can’t really substitute for what has been lost.”

    Zolph made a response. “If that’s the case, I shudder to think of how many Forceless Collectives there could be, because from what little I know of galactic history, it’s littered with genocidal idiots who could have inadvertently created them.”

    Grein tried to ease his worries. “Don’t worry. If there are other Forceless Collectives out there or Herald-less symbiotes, they are small time compared to the one we’re currently fighting against.”

    Hiriss then chimed in. “Besides, if any of them become threats like Gestroma or Valkor, we’ll deal with them as they come.”

    Luke changed the subject as he was listening to the discussion. “In other news while you and Hiriss were out, the Kur’Ada Equalists were defeated and their enclave was destroyed by the Valkoran. We’ve got plenty of Force-blind but non-Kur’Ada Miraluka refugees settling into Alliance space and some report the presence of a monster in a humanoid body devouring their leader alive.”

    Zolph responded. “Let me guess: Valkor?”

    Grein answered his guess. “I would assume that’s the case.”​
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  3. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 10: Defector
    It has been three galactic standard months since the Battle of Alpheridies, the elimination of the Kur’Ada Equalists, and the destruction of Gestroma’s bio-weapon laboratory on Nelvaan. Now, the Galactic Alliance only has two more planets on the list of Forceless Archfiend locations that Zolph Vaelor retrieved from the Obelisk data archive on Charros IV.

    In the operations room of the Jedi academy on Ossus, Zolph and Hiriss Moraana are receiving new objectives from Headmaster Luke Skywalker and Grein.

    “So, what’s new?” Zolph asked, ready for whatever was to come to next.

    Luke answered. “Our intel believes they have found out which Archfiend the Valkoran are prioritizing next.”

    “That’s wonderful, because we’re almost finished with that list. Well, don’t keep us waiting. Where are we going next?”

    “Guaymar.” Luke answered.

    Hiriss spoke up. “Never heard of that planet until now. What do you know about it?”

    “According to General Choi’s report, the sky’s always dark due to the many layers of clouds, has little vegetation and has a crashed colony ship as one of its landmarks. Also, the wildlife is hostile.”

    “In other words, it’s pretty drab.” Zolph responded. “So, any idea who’s leading the Valks down there?”

    “It’s Masochus.” Grein answered and this triggered a slight reaction in Zolph.

    Zolph spoke with a slight tint of anger in his voice. “So it’s him…”

    Troubled, Hiriss asked Zolph. “Is something wrong?”

    “I’ll explain more on the way to Guaymar.”

    Grein chimed in. “And we’re taking the Manta.”

    Knowing why she’d tag along, Zolph tried to question the purple-eyed Chiss. “You’re not coming just because of….?”

    “Not just that. I’m also coming along for… other reasons. Besides, unlike the other Valkoran leaders you’ve met so far, there’s no way Masochus is going to try to kill Stythanyx if he successfully summons him.”

    “Alright then. We’re off to Guaymar, ladies!” Zolph then rushed out of the ops room.

    Hiriss sighed in disbelief. “Can you please not do that? It makes you sound like a womanizer.”

    “You get used to it.” Grein commented to her.

    “How?”

    “I used to have a part-time job in a club on Sleheyron.” Grein casually answered Hiriss.

    Hiriss questioned her with surprise. “You?! I know you look very young for your age, but you’re forty-one!”

    “I had to make credits somehow when I was younger. And to my surprise, I made about as much money as the Twi’leks.”

    “It’s probably the eyes. And from my experience, males of any species seem to always have a thing for alien girls on the near-human spectrum, and it’s almost never the other way around.”

    “My only regret about that job is that some of the clients I worked for were species like Gamorreans and Hutts, and you don’t know how obnoxiously flamboyant Sleheyron Hutts are.”

    The two girls could then hear Zolph screaming from outside, clearly as disturbed as Hiriss. “Why did you tell me that when I just left the room?! Now I’m going to have to work to get that image out of my head! Can we please just go already and never talk about this again?!”

    Grein sighed. “Humans. But I can understand why he’d be disgusted.”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    Later, when the Blazing Manta was traveling through hyperspace, Zolph and Hiriss were entertaining themselves with a game of Dejarik holo-chess while Grein kept the ship on course. Right after Hiriss won the game by finishing off Zolph’s remaining Mantellian savrip with a k’lor’slug, she questioned him.

    “Okay, you said you’d tell me on the trip. So what’s your problem with this Masochus guy?”

    Zolph answered her somewhat reluctantly. “From what some of the Valks have told me, Masochus was the one who grafted that arm on Dynn’s stump. In short, he is one of those responsible for what happened to her.”

    “Really? You don’t think maybe Valkor just forced him into doing it?”

    “It’s possible, but I highly doubt he didn’t take pleasure in it. Judging from testimony from within the Valks, he’s very unpopular even within their ranks, and I have met sympathetic Valks before.”

    “Hmm. If we meet him, he’ll be getting his just desserts. Anyway, another game?”

    Grein yelled from the cockpit into the lounge room. “You’ll want to put that game on hold, you two, because we’re about to come out of hyperspace.”

    Just ten seconds later, the Manta dropped out of hyperspace into the Vakmin system, and Zolph and Hiriss rushed to the cockpit to witness a space battle between several Alliance Assault Frigates and Valkoran Judicator frigates. The Valkoran were also using Mailoc-class boarding craft along with escorts of Firaxa-class fighters.

    Realizing their objectives were on the ground and that the Alliance already had good support in space from the elite Rogue Squadron, Grein flew towards Guaymar’s surface while Zolph and Hiriss headed to the quad-laser turrets to provide cover fire.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    As the Manta passed through Guaymar’s grey-tinted clouds, her crew witnessed a firefight on the surface. They then received a communications transmission from the Alliance encampment.

    “This is General Ven Choi to the crew of the Blazing Manta. I would not recommend landing anywhere except for in our camp. This planet is not safe, right now.”

    Zolph then responded to Choi. “Well, the Alliance and Valks have brought the war to this planet. Of course it isn’t safe!”

    “It’s not just the Valkoran. I’ll explain more when you arrive. Or you may notice as you get closer to the ground.” The transmission ended.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    Not long after the transmission, the Manta landed at the Alliance encampment’s landing zone. As the boarding ramp opened up, the crew was surprise-greeted by what looked like a human Alliance trooper, but his armor was fractured and his flesh was pale and somewhat damaged, almost like a walking corpse.

    Hello!” Zolph greeted the trooper with a tone of shock.

    The trooper let out a feral shriek before charging up the ramp, but before he could get very far and try to tear the Jedi apart, a blaster bolt tore through his forehead – even with a helmet on - from behind and he fell down. Standing behind the deceased trooper was a Kel Dor general armed with a recently-fired blaster pistol.

    Zolph was still confused by what was going on. “WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT?!

    “And koh-toh-ya to you too, Masters Vaelor, Moraana and Grein.” General Choi greeted them. “There’s more where that one came from outside the camp, hence why I told you not to land out there.”

    Hiriss asked him. “General, why the hell did one of your own men try to kill us?”

    “Don’t be fooled. Sergeant Bac died fifteen minutes ago.”

    Zolph asked. “Hold on. So we’re dealing with the undead now?”

    “In addition to the Valkoran. On a side note, they aren’t having it any easier than we are.”

    “I don’t know if this would be helpful realistically, but from my experience watching horror films, the undead always have a source to their reanimation. Are they viral or supernatural?”

    “Come to the med lab. Let’s talk where we’re not out in the open. And you may want to secure the ship.”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    Inside the medical shelter, General Choi showed the Jedi the corpse of another recently undead trooper.

    “Our autopsies don’t show any signs of unusual bacteria; nothing out of the ordinary for dead bodies.”

    Zolph responded. “So they’re the supernatural type of undead.”

    “It’s not just here that the dead are rising back up. Reports say this is happening all over the planet. Anyone dies on this planet, they reanimate.”

    Grein then commented. “Shavit, we’re too late! Stythanyx was summoned long before we got here, and according to my sources, he was an old god of death in some religions.”

    “Fan-kriffing-tastic.” Zolph sarcastically responded. “This day keeps getting better. First the undead, and now a necromantic Archfiend that also happens to be a supposed god.”

    “Well, then that would explain the Forceless presence I felt. If you need any leads as to where your hideous friend may be, the Valkoran are operating near that wrecked colony ship. But we’ve got another problem as well…”

    “Surprise, surprise. What else is new?”

    “Even before the undeath outbreaks, our troops have come across some strange entities inside the ship, sometimes ambushing them and sucking out their blood, and local legends say that ghost-like creatures – possibly the ghosts of the original crew - haunt the wreckage, preying on the living. Some of those that escaped the ship mysteriously died four days later. We don’t know exactly what killed them, but autopsies show they experienced extreme fear at the time of death.”

    Grein further commented. “Judging by that description, those aren’t ghosts. Those are the Hands of Stythanyx.”

    Hiriss asked curiously. “The Hands? That sounds like the name of a cult, and considering that you mentioned him being an old god, that’s not very surprising.”

    “The Hands are Stythanyx’s four personal agents, even before he was an Archfiend, but they’re not a cult, Hiriss. They’re actually psychically linked extensions of him. However, if one of them were to see all four of them at least once, they would be marked for death. And you won’t know if you’ve seen them all since they all look exactly the same.”

    “Scary.”

    “As for what they were doing before their master was summoned, I would assume they were sent ahead thousands of years ago as scouts when the Rakata were still in power. So in a sense, Stythanyx was here even before he was summoned.”

    Zolph then looked at Grein suspiciously. “I’ve worked with you for over a year now and you know an awful lot about these freaks, Grein, but you’ve never told me where your sources come from.”

    Grein huffed. “Now you’re getting suspicious? You’ll find out in due time, but not right now.”

    General Choi further commented. “Some survivors also brought photographic data of these creatures. People who only saw images of them have died within a few days of seeing them too. We must have gotten images of each one of them by accident, and thankfully, I’ve only seen one of those images. In that case, it’s a good thing I’ve decided to bar access to the images and now I know they need to be destroyed so no one else dies from looking at them.”

    Zolph asked Grein another question. “Any way of breaking this four-day death curse?”

    Grein answered him. “My sources haven’t said anything about this, but I would assume killing Stythanyx could sever the will of the Hands.”

    “So if we were to somehow meet all four of the Hands, we would only have four days to kill Stythanyx before we die. That shouldn’t be much of a problem since we’re usually able to kill Archfiends in the course of one day.”

    Hiriss further commented. “Provided we don’t procrastinate or panic over our imminent deaths.”

    “Well, then what are we waiting for? Let’s get out there, get rid of the Archfiend, and end this undead apocalypse.”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph, Grein and Hiriss made their way to the wrecked ship across Guaymar’s dark landscape, they aided the Alliance forces in fighting off both Valkoran and undead forces, whether the latter come from the corpses of local species, Alliance or Valkoran. Some of the undead even learned to use blasters.

    As they got closer, they even made their way through a forest of Antirr trees – distinguished by their dark blue trunks, four big blue leaves diverging from each other like petals on a flower, and a bigger purple bulb between the leaves. In addition to dealing with some predators – undead or not -, disguised among the trees were Antirr Dragons – sedentary predators with heads resembling the plant bulbs and an eye on each hemispherical jaw. Despite their natural camouflage, they were actually animals and not carnivorous plants, as the undead Antirr Dragons – and thus undisguised – were shown to have skeletons.

    Eventually, they made it out of the Antirr forest and came across a large crater, and inside it was the wreckage of the colony ship, which was of a design that has never been seen in the galaxy before. Also surrounding the crater were several Valkoran landing barges, shuttles and camps.

    After a few minutes of inspecting around the outside of the crater, Grein made a report. “From the looks of things, I would assume Stythanyx’s temple is underground and connected to the ship via tunnel, or the temple is inside the ship itself.”

    “Kinda like Belluzub and the Death Star Forge. So we’re going into the ghost ship after all.” Zolph commented nervously. “If what we heard about the Hands is true, going through a forest of man-eating fake plants will be a walk through one of Coruscant’s parks compared to this.”

    Hiriss commented as well. “I won’t lie. I’m little scared of what’s inside too, but I’m more scared of what will happen if we don’t kill this Archfiend.”

    “I couldn’t agree more. Let’s just go in and be done.”

    The three Jedi made their way towards an entrance into the ship, making sure to avoid any falling pieces of loose debris.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    The inside of the alien colony ship was very dark, littered with corpses and only illuminated by the very little natural light from outside courtesy of Guaymar’s thick clouds and some flickering lights and other systems that still had some power left to them despite the ship being well over several thousand years old.

    “I sense both a Forceless presence and the Dark Side here.” Hiriss said as she and the rest of the team cautiously moved through the ship to prevent an ambush.

    “That would be the Archfiend and Masochus, respectively.” Grein told her.

    Zolph then tried to get Hiriss to lower her guard. “Isn’t it looking at the Hands that would get us killed? So don’t keep your eyes open for them.”

    “But if we’re not careful, they’ll kill us much faster than their curse.” Hiriss responded.

    “Then stay alert with another sense.”

    As they moved through dimly lit halls, Grein and Hiriss – just in front of Zolph – turned around to notice a light but large pale-skinned creature right behind him. It had one big milky white eye, a shelled body that seemingly floated, two long tentacle-like arms with hands on the tips that dragged along the floor, and a long trunk with a lamprey-like mouth on the tip – surrounded by four grasping mandibles - that also dragged along the ground like a snake’s body.

    “Zolph, whatever you do, do not turn around!” Hiriss warned him.

    As the creature lifted its arms off the floor and proceeded to wrap them around Zolph, he made an unsurprised comment and readied his lightsaber. “Don’t tell me: One of the Hands is right behind me.” Without turning his head around, he activated his lightsaber and slashed the creature in half before it could sink its teeth into his skull. With the creature dead, Zolph turned around to get one look at its corpse.

    “Dammit, Zolph! I told you not to turn around!”

    “Hey, it can’t curse me if it’s dead, right? But if it still can, we all just get one curse point.” He then made another observation on the creature’s corpse and asked Grein. “Are you sure this is a Hand? Judging by the skin coloration and the eye, it doesn’t look like a Forceless host.”

    Grein answered him. “I’m very sure. Like I told you, they’re psychically linked to Stythanyx, so there wouldn’t be any need to have them physically infected with Black Matter too. Besides, it’s possible the curse may work against the Collective too.”

    “But from what I just saw, it seems we can kill them. But if you’re that worried about them and we weren’t told we could kill them...” Zolph then contacted General Choi over comlink. “Zolph Vaelor to Ven Choi. I just ran into one of the Hands and killed it.”

    Choi responded. “Some of the scouts that went to the ship also reported killing some of them.”

    “Then are we clear?”

    “Six times. And according to what Grein just told us about them, there are supposed to be four of them.”

    “Just as I thought. That means they can’t die. But since I would assume your guys were putting blaster holes in them, is it safe to assume cutting them apart will keep them down?” Zolph then noticed the Hand’s corpse vanish while emitting a howling. “Oh blast.”

    “Now you know what to expect. Keep your guard up at all times.” The transmission then ended.

    As they moved through the ship and closer to the Archfiend’s presence, they were ambushed by more of the undead and the ghost-like Hands repeatedly – sometimes just disappearing into thin air before they could be cut down.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    By the time they made it near the Archfiend’s sanctum, the Jedi trio had already encountered the Hands no less than four times. They weren’t quite sure if they have met all four of them individually since they all looked exactly the same, but they could assume they were marked for death now.

    “Well, it looks like we’ve reached our Archfiend, and we’ve probably got four days until we die.” Zolph said.

    “I’m not completely sure if killing Stythanyx will save us and all the living currently affected by the curse, but at the very least, the curse won’t get to anyone else.” Hiriss said.

    The two of them and Grein then entered the room, which looked like a large Rakatan religious site with a big pit in the center, and littered on the floor of the room were corpses – some of them from Valkoran Trooper Lieutenant Will Helms, who was apparently killed over and over again – and suspended from the ceiling were more hung corpses. But the biggest attraction in the room - floating above the pit - was Stythanyx himself. He looked like a larger version of the Hands – about the same size as Mandoculus - except obviously Forceless-possessed, had four eyes, four arms and four mouths, all symmetrically placed.

    “So you made it past our Hands. That’s quite some determination. But you four now have our mark embedded inside. In four days time, you will join the dead and serve by our side.” Stythanyx told them with all four mouths.

    Zolph addressed the bizarre creature. “You must be Stythanyx. And yes, we are aware of your little curse. But answer me this? If you were to die, would your curse break?”

    “Ironically, we do not know the answer to that, for we have yet to die ourselves. But you three have proved to be the most courageous beings we have met, to stand up to oppose us. As a result of our abilities to control death, most beings feared us and revered us as a god, but those ones are misguided if they think of us as a god. This is a pleasing change of pace.”

    Hiriss questioned him too. “If you’re so bored with people fearing you, why have you sided with the Collective, because from what I’ve heard, Archfiends serve the Collective willingly?”

    Zolph joined in on her comment. “Yeah, you seem like a reasonable... whatever you are. Why serve these crazies?”

    Stythanyx answered him. “The Collective needs warriors, warriors bring death, and death is our only law.”

    “No other sane living being could comprehend your thought processes.”

    “They could not.”

    The Jedi activated their lightsabers and Grein commented. “But enough chat. We need to end you so the curse breaks.”

    “Why bother trying to erase the mark? Death is an inevitability.”

    “We know that.”

    Zolph then backed up her comment. “But we’d rather stay alive longer.”

    “We see.” Stythanyx commented. “More mortals that refuse to embrace the inevitable, but since you worked so hard to make it this far, we will give you a choice. You can attempt to destroy us. If you win, you possibly erase our mark and live a full life. If you lose however, you will expire much sooner. We also offer you the chance to leave and make the best of your remaining time.”

    “That last one’s not an option for us. Four days is way too short for us. Right, girls?” Zolph asked Grein and Hiris.

    “Of course.” Grein answered.

    “Do I even need to answer that one?” Hiriss responded.

    Zolph spoke to the Archfiend again. “And the troupe has spoken.”

    “So you’ve made your choice then. We admire your bravery.” Stythanyx commended them. “But do not think we will go easy on you.”

    Stythanyx lifted his arms and his four eyes flashed, and some of the corpses rose up from the floor while the hanging corpses dropped down like rotting fruit. The undead monstrosities’ eyes glowed and they let out feral shrieks. The undead that weren’t armed charged at the Jedi to tear them apart with their claws and fangs. However, the undead were no match for the Jedi.

    Stythanyx then made another summoning gesture, and this time, all four of the Hands showed up, trying to warp right behind the Jedi and lashing their tentacle-like arms towards them from a distance.

    However, the Hands just proved to be another nuisance to the Jedi, as even though they couldn’t die, cutting them down would keep them away for a while. Eventually, Stythanyx decided to attack them directly, trying to smash them with his tentacle-hands and his lamprey-like mouths.

    When the massive creature lunged one of his trunks at them in an attempt to devour one of the Jedi, Zolph jumped on top of it and then ran across it towards one of his eyes to stab into it with his lightsaber. Stythanyx reacted in pain and then grabbed Zolph before throwing him back onto the ring surrounding the pit.

    Grein and Hiriss proceeded to do the same with Stythanyx’s other three eyes and the creature to stop them in their tracks, but to no avail. After their strikes, he had only one functioning eye left.

    Seeing as the eyes were very sensitive, Zolph tried to simply shoot the last one with his blaster, but Stythanyx simply closed his last eye and blocked the bolt with his protective but transparent membrane, which took on the appearance of a torn-up eyelid. Stythanyx reacted by trying to smash the Jedi with the two arms the functioning eye was between, but the Jedi responded by slicing them off.

    He then lunged one of the trunks away from the functioning eye at them, but Zolph once again ran up it and climbed towards the functioning eye. Using his strength-enhanced mechanical arm, he forced his eyelid open and then stabbed into it.

    Now completely blinded, Stythanyx eratically tried to lunge all four of his trunks at the Jedi, but Zolph proceeded to finish off the massive Archfiend by tricking him into swallowing a thermal detonator.

    As he collapsed into the pit, Stythanyx weakly held onto the ring with his remaining two arms, but while he was dying, took the time to commend the Jedi. “So, this is what dying is like? And our eyes may not work anymore, but we can see that our mark on you is disappearing. So you win this struggle and have successfully defied death. But before we die, please answer us. What is the purpose of being alive when all life expires eventually?”

    Zolph answered him. “From what I believe, I don’t really think there’s a universal meaning to life. Every one of us individually makes it for ourselves and in turn, we help others to live and enjoy life to their fullest.”

    “We see. So it’s all really a matter of faith and conviction. Thank you for your answer, and continue to live on.” Stythanyx died and collapsed into the pit. The Hands also disappeared while any other reanimated corpses collapsed to the floor.

    “So everyone else is finally free of the death curse.” Hiriss commented.

    “But I can still sense Masochus here.” Zolph responded.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    The Jedi jumped into the hole where Stythanyx’s body fell.

    At the bottom of the pit where Stythanyx’s corpse lied were even more ruins, and even dozens more corpses from Lieutenant Helms. But what stood out even more was another corpse standing up, elaborately dressed in black and red robes, but underneath it was skinned down almost to the bone, but with some sensory organs such as the eyes – which were gold and red in color – and very few muscles still intact.

    “Nothing noteworthy down here except for that distinctively clothed and skinned corpse. He must have died in both a painful and humiliating way to still be standing up like that.” Zolph commented.

    The corpse suddenly jerked its head upward and spoke to the Jedi. “Are you insinuating that I’m another one of those corpses? I never died to begin with, you ignorant little shavits!”

    Zolph questioned the corpse. “You’re Masochus, I take it? By the way, if you haven’t noticed, your plans have been foiled… again.”

    “That would also be Darth Masochus, but I no longer carry that title ever since those fools in the Sith Empire exiled me!”

    “Let me guess: you were exiled because you were considered insane even by Sith standards.”

    “Yes. But what’s wrong with ordering people to come to my office, making them look like me and mounting them on my wall? Last I heard before they cast me out, the Lords of the Sith could do whatever they pleased!”

    “As much as they were known for killing minions for failure or each other for power positions, I highly doubt they were that wasteful!”

    Masochus halted his lecture. “Hold on one second.” He then yelled erratically enough to echo into the ship. “HELMS! HELMS! I ORDER YOU TO COME HERE RIGHT NOW!”

    Lieutenant Will Helms entered not long after he called, resurrected once more. Annoyed with the blatantly insane ex-Sith Lord, he sighed. “For the last kriffing time, My Lord, I’m not dying again just to provide you with another corpse!”

    “But I only need one more!” Masochus told him in a childish tone.

    “You said that the last time it happened!”

    Masochus jerked his right arm upward like a macabre marionette – apparently having to move his own body parts with the Force – and electrocuted Helms to death with Force lightning from his bony finger tips. “All done! THE ARMY OF HELMS!!!... is complete.” He then used the Force to reanimate all of Helms’ corpses. “Stythanyx wasn’t the only necromancer here.” He then commanded the army of corpses to attack the Jedi. “Dinner is served!”

    Some of the undead Helms tried to charge at the Jedi while others aimlessly tried to gun them down, but they were all easily taken down.

    Zolph sighed in annoyance. “You just reinforced my point.” He then changed subject. “On another note, how did you end up like that? Did the rest of the Sith have you skinned as an ironic punishment before exiling you? And how the hell are you still alive?”

    Masochus then scoffed. “For your information, Zolphy boy, I actually did this to myself. Some like myself actually derive pleasure from pain. As for your last question, the Dark Side of the Force.”

    “That’s a pretty vague answer.”

    Grein then backed up Masochus’s answer. “To put it more specifically, some Dark Jedi throughout history have survived injuries that would kill most people through intense hatred alone.”

    Hiriss questioned Masochus next. “But what could you possibly hate enough to survive having no skin? The skin is supposed to protect your internal organs from infection.”

    Masochus answered her. “Everyone… and everything, but no particular reason for it.”

    Zolph responded. “So, it’s compulsive hatred. The creature with a weird sense of morality we just killed was saner than you are.” He then changed the subject again, but his tone as well. “But enough talk about that. You will answer for your actions.”

    “My actions?”

    “Don’t play innocent with me, Sithspawn. You turned an innocent woman into a monster.”

    “Could you be more specific? I’ve turned a lot of people into so-called monsters.”

    Zolph, clearly angered, then gave Masochus a more intense glare. “Dynn. Manthis.”

    “Oh, her. So someone told you that I gave her that arm? Probably one of my finest creations in centuries. From I’ve seen, she was pretty ugly until that arm fixed her up.”

    Even more angered by his comment, Zolph proceeded to throttle Masochus with the Force. “How? By mutilating her body?! By robbing of her free will?! You are a sick man, Masochus!”

    Hiriss then attempted to calm Zolph down. “Zolph! This is exactly what he wants. Don’t kill him out of anger.”

    Zolph let go of Masochus and spoke to Hiriss. “You should have plenty of reason to be angry at him, too, Hiriss.”

    Masochus then tried speaking while he continued trying to gasp for breath. “Yes, rip out my windpipe, why don’t you? The Dark Side is amazing, isn’t it?”

    “I disagree, because the last few times I’ve tasted it, it was very bitter. And you Dark Siders would have more success making me fall if you’d stop reminding me that I’m slipping close to it.

    “Well, that’s disappointing.” Masochus then turned his attention towards Hiriss. “By the way, uh… Hiriss, right? You look almost just like Manthis. Only difference is that you’re a lesser alien species, green girl.”

    Slightly agitated by his blatantly specieist comment, Hiriss responded back. “I’m her cousin, you slimeball.”

    “Oh, you’re a half-breed, and the thought of humans or Sith breeding with lesser species is even more disgusting. But what difference does it make? I hate everyone equally.” Masochus then turned his attention to both Zolph and Grein. “By the way, blue girl there used to work for us.”

    This comment really got Zolph’s attention.

    “Oh, I’m sorry. Was that supposed to be a secret?” Masochus mockingly asked them.

    Grein then spoke up. “Actually, I was going to tell him that right after this mission. You just blew the lid open sooner, you butcher.”

    Zolph, somewhat confused by the revelation, questioned Grein. “Is this really true?”

    “Yes, but you shouldn’t be that surprised. How else do you think I would’ve gotten my information on the Forceless Collective?”

    “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

    “I couldn’t have told you the first time we met on Sleheyron. At that point in time, you already hated the Valkoran enough for their involvement in your parents’ deaths.”

    “You got a point there. I was kind of an impulsive idiot back then.”

    Masochus then tried to push Zolph’s buttons even further. “Now you know that this traitor has been keeping secrets from you. Do you still consider her an ally after that?”

    “This changes nothing, bone bag. She may have been cryptic as hell, but she’s proved her worth time and time again, and I trust that she had good reasons to keep that a secret from me until now.”

    Masochus then addressed Grein. “As for you, Ze’grein’aradi, how’s life away from the family of your time treating you?”

    To Zolph’s surprise, this triggered a furious but still tranquil reaction in Grein. “You shut your mouth or you lose your tongue too.”

    “Oh please, you should know by now that I would enjoy that. Your husband is still being a wrench in Emperor Valkor’s plans, and your little sister is still serving her time in the Collective, but after about 4,000 years, I think she’s given up on any hope that you would save her and believes you to have abandoned her.”

    Grein’s usual stoicism then broke and she liquefied her left arm to grapple Masochus and attempted to boil him alive in it. “You will not speak that way about Emilin, you scum! And you’re the one who sold her out!” She yelled at him with not just a less than subtle tone of anger in her voice, but a few tears building up in her purple eyes, even though they were mostly suppressed.

    Masochus proceeded to twist the knife further by questioning Zolph again. “By the way, Vaelor, did she ever tell you she had a sister and husband?”

    Zolph then answered him back. “She didn’t tell me about having a husband, but she did tell me about her sister. Now that I think about it, she may have kept plenty of big secrets, but she never really lied to me.”

    Zolph then tried to calm Grein down, much like she and Hiriss did for him.
    “Calm yourself, Grein. You don’t want the same thing you prevented happening to me to happen to you.”

    Seeing his point, Grein slammed Masochus onto the floor before letting him go and retracting her arm. “It’s funny, Zolph. I assaulted a Valkoran fortress tank just to prevent you from falling, but look what just happened with me. I guess we all need each other to keep us in check.”

    Masochus got up back on his feet by levitating his own body into place and proceeded to mock the Jedi. “Bah! You Jedi and your emotional baggage! You sound like you came out of a self-help book!”

    Hiriss then talked back to Masochus. “Oh shut up, ya talking corpse!”

    Masochus in turn childishly scoffed at them. “Oh, fine! If none of you are going to break in the head, I’ll break you literally!” He then levitated up into the air and jerked his arms to fire bolts of Force lightning at the Jedi.

    The Jedi were temporarily incapacitated by the first few bolts, but they proceeded to dodge the others or block them with their lightsabers.

    Zolph attempted to jump at Masochus, but the deranged ex-Sith Lord used the Force to levitate a red-bladed lightsaber to block the attack. Not having the muscle dexterity to physically wield it, Masochus telekinetically clashed swords with Zolph. While he was distracted, Masochus also used the Force to reanimate part of the recently-deceased Stythanyx’s corpse to attack the other Jedi, but he could only reanimate part of him – namely his two tentacle-arms - since some parts were no longer functional after the battle and the creature’s more supernatural abilities depended on his own willpower.

    Seeing through the distraction, Hiriss threw her double-bladed lightsaber at Masochus to break his concentration, causing the lightsaber to fall to the ground and the Archfiend corpse to collapse. Zolph then took this opportunity to lunge at Masochus and pin him to the ground with his left arm by the chest.

    After pinning him down, Zolph readied his mechanical fist to smash Masochus’s skull.

    “So are you ready to avenge Dynny’s death?” Masochus taunted him.

    “I’m not falling for that one again.” Zolph responded back.

    “But surely your anger is making you fail to realize I have another ace up my sleeve… literally.” A syringe filled with what was clearly Black Matter then flew out of Masochus’s right sleeve and swiftly injected it into Zolph's left arm, causing him to reel back in pain. “Morphing time!”

    Knowing and fearing what was about to happen to him, Zolph questioned Masochus. “How the hell did you know about that?”

    “Like the Chiss, Emperor Valkor has his sources.”

    Zolph then remembered something. Forceless are hive-minded and can see what other Forceless see, as was the case when Belluzub taunted him over Dynn’s death despite that happening just a day prior to their encounter during the Battle of Krantisi. In this case, Valkor must have learned about Zolph’s ability to absorb Forceless at the cost of going berserk through Harphscor and possibly Maesterus.

    Masochus proceeded to taunt both Grein and Hiriss. “Well, your friend’s about to go nuts again. Have fun being killed by one of your allies, because I don’t think he likes deceivers right now.” He then tried to levitate away from the scene just as Zolph transformed into the creature he transformed into on Kashyyyk, but he was immediately stopped in his tracks by a prompt Force grip from Zolph.

    Zolph spoke to Masochus with a tone of only slightly subdued rage. “That was a very bad idea, because right now, I’m more unhappy with you.” He then pulled Masochus over to him and prepared to skewer him with the blade-tipped tentacle coming out of the back of his head. “Your life ends now.”

    Before he could even stab his blade into Masochus, Zolph’s grip on him slipped and he immediately reverted back to his default human form.

    “Well, that didn’t last as long as last time.”

    “Disappointing, the dosage must have been too small. But I learned something new at least.” Masochus then counterattacked by hurling Force-lightning at the Jedi and quickly fled the scene while they were recovering from the shock. “I’ll play with you another time.”

    “Damn! He got away!” Zolph slammed his fist on the ground.

    Hiriss commented. “But at least the Archfiend’s dead.”

    “But we’ve got another problem. Forceless are hive-minded, and Valkor apparently learned about my transformation through at least Harphscor. Maesterus is also a Forceless host, but he’s plotting against Valkor, so he may know about that too.”
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    Much later, the Galactic Alliance military pulled out of the Vakmin system and left control of Guaymar to the Valkoran Empire now that Stythanyx was destroyed. They had no further reason to be there and the Guaymarans already favored the Valkoran to begin with.

    With no further orders currently, the Jedi trio flew back to the academy in the Blazing Manta. As they made the journey through hyperspace, Zolph questioned Grein over what he just learned about her from Masochus.

    “Ok, Grei, I’m not mad at you, but you have some explaining to do.”

    “Like I said, what Masochus said was true… this time. I really did work with the Valkoran around the time their empire was first formed. Other than that, he’s usually a consummate liar.” Grein answered him.

    “I’d like to know more about who you are, and where you really came from.”

    “You know how I said I’m forty-one years old? That’s only biologically speaking. Chronologically, I’m about four-thousand years old. From around the same time frame as all the other Valkoran Force-sensitive leadership except for Neur. She didn’t come in until millennia after I left.”

    “Hold on. From what I heard, the Chiss weren’t discovered in Old Republic space until the time of the Great Galactic War.”

    “You wonder why I’m the only purple-eyed Chiss you’ve ever seen? Aside from me and my sister, Ze’emilin’asana, purple-eyed Chiss are now endangered if not extinct.”

    “What happened to them?” Zolph asked.

    “Interracial cleansing. Red-eyed Chiss are not usually Force-sensitive, but Chiss with eye-colors other than red are more likely to be, as was the case with me and my sister. At around the time I was born, the dominant red-eyes decided to purge the other races out of envy for our so-called ‘witchcraft’. My father was executed while my mother – who was pregnant with Emilin at the time –, I and few other refugees fled from the Ascendancy.”

    Hiriss, who was listening in on the conversation too, facepalmed in annoyance. “It seems every planetary culture will have a bit of interspecies racism somewhere in their history.”

    Zolph tried to keep the story going. “Continue on.”

    “While what remained of my family traveled throughout the Outer Rim – our species still publicly unknown -, my sister and I were eventually discovered by the Jedi Order. And as we trained, we got to know people like Aiken Cremas, Master Argem Nylek, Cid Geero and of course, Seferin Vaelor.”

    “I’ve heard all the other names before, but who’s Aiken?”

    “Arcidus. Anyway, I don’t think I need to tell you about Seferin being exiled from the Order, because while I was out on my own at one point, Juganak told me that he informed you about Maesterus’s origins while you were on Dagobah. But what I should tell you is that I’m part of the reason he got exiled.”

    “Wait, you mean to tell me that you and Maesterus were….?”

    “Yes, but we didn’t really marry until we formed the Valkoran Empire.”

    “Then does that mean you’re my great times ‘x’ grandmother?”

    “Yes.”

    “But the last blood test I took said I was one-hundred percent human.”

    “The testing scanners usually round to the nearest whole number. The Chiss genes just got thinned out over the course of a few thousand years, so it’s more accurate to say you’re at least ninety-nine-point-six percent human. But for all intents and purposes, you’re human.”

    “Genetics is crazy.” Zolph then had an aneurysm and started screaming.

    “I wouldn’t think about one of the jobs I took on Sleheyron if I were you.”

    “Easy for you to say. My gray matter’s going to turn white if I keep being reminded of it!”

    “Moving on, when I and the others followed Maesterus to Ockla Prime – the planet that would become the capital of the Valkoran Empire – in the Unknown Regions, Emilin came along with me. At the time the Valkoran Empire was starting up with just a few hundred former Republic citizens, Emperor Valkor was a charismatic figure. We didn’t see him as the monster we know him as now.

    But things fell apart a few years later when Valkor invited Masochus and his harassed apprentice – who you may know as Armogeist – from the hidden Sith Empire. We could sympathize with Armogeist, as Masochus constantly abused him and he only came along with Masochus because he was exiled from the Sith too for being Masochus’s apprentice and was constantly intimidated by him into doing what he wants.

    However, it was at that time that Valkor’s true motives became apparent to me and Emilin. We learned of this when we weren’t supposed to and Masochus ratted Emilin out while I stayed hidden and escaped. I could only watch as she was forcefully possessed by Facadma, a high-ranking Archfiend that had been summoned secretly, Valkor’s right-hand lackey in the Collective and rival to Belluzub. Now, Emilin’s locked away while she’s officially listed as having been killed in an accident.

    Seeing Valkor for who he really was, I decided that I had to leave and plan a countermeasure against him. Seferin helped me – while I was still pregnant with his child - disappear in a way that would let Valkor turn a blind eye, because let’s be honest, you can’t leave the Valkoran that easily without becoming a target. And I spent almost the last few thousand years artificially extending my lifespan by sleeping in hidden cryotubes at different intervals of time, even changing and recycling identities every now and then, all just to make sure the Forceless Collective was destroyed eventually. And the last time I woke up from cryostasis was just in time for the Yuuzhan Vong to attack the galaxy.

    If there are any psychological hardships I can admit enduring, it was outliving the galaxy I grew up with and not seeing my son and other descendants grow up.”

    This was a lot for Zolph to absorb. “That’s very rough. Cheating death must really suck if you know a lot of people that won’t live as long as you. But how did you learn to liquefy your own body or parts of it with the Force?”

    “Truth is it’s actually a Force technique that Valkor picked up from another galaxy he conquered. He cannot use the Force, but he understands how it works.”

    “But why have you refused to teach me how to- ?”

    “Because I didn’t learn how to do it by choice. Valkor – at some point after having Emilin possessed and locked away, but before I left – forced me to learn it, and there’s no room for error with this ability. Either you master it or you cause permanent damage to yourself. When I was first learning how to master it, I was stuck as an immobile puddle for two weeks before reforming my body and the only reason I didn’t die from evaporation was because Valkor kept adding extra water to me every few hours. In short, I don’t want to put you through the same hell I went through learning it.”

    “I understand. It would not only be terrifying, but it would be a real inconvenience if I crippled or killed myself trying to learn an ability that involves deconstructing the body.”

    “And now you know just about everything there is to know about me. So, what will you do now?”

    Hiriss gave her an answer. “Are you kidding? Who you were doesn’t change anything.”

    Zolph backed up her answer. “What she said. You’ve been a wonderful ally since we first met, even if you were a bit of a pain sometimes. Besides, if it weren’t for you, I would have either fallen to the Dark Side completely or killed myself by now. I’d be lying to myself if I said you weren’t needed. In fact, you may have had a hand in planting the seeds of doubt within the Valkoran themselves.”

    Grein accepted their remarks with a genuine smile. “I’m glad we’re still on good terms after all that.”

    “Great! We’ve only got the Archfiend of Krishar left to deal with, and then we’ll be finished with that list. But first, let’s get back to Ossus, report to Luke and call it a day.”​
     
  4. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 11: Deranged

    One day has passed since the mission to Guaymar and the death of Stythanyx. Eager to eliminate the last of the Archfiends as soon as possible, Zolph Vaelor and Hiriss Moraana once again met up with their usual peers in the Jedi academy’s operations room.

    “Zolph, Hiriss? What are you doing in here?” Luke Skywalker asked them. “We haven’t called you up yet.”

    “We know.” Zolph responded. “We’ve decided that we are going to Krishar today.”

    “Already? But you just defeated an Archfiend yesterday, and the Alliance isn’t finished preparing to launch the campaign on that planet yet.”

    “We know.” Hiriss answered Luke similarly. “But given that Stythanyx was summoned long before we even landed on Guaymar and triggered a global zombie apocalypse, what’s not to say the Valkoran have already summoned the next one while we were preoccupied with the simultaneous strikes over the last three months and the planet’s suffering similar problems that, if left unchecked, could spread off-world?”

    “Besides, Krishar’s the last planet on that list. Through process of elimination, doesn’t that automatically make that planet highest priority?” Zolph asked Luke.

    Grein, who was also in the room, consulted Luke. “They have a point, Skywalker, and we discussed this on the way back.”

    “And no need to worry, I’m not taking this mission to distract myself from my mental issues again. That I took the rest of the day off after the last mission should make it clear enough.”

    “Very well, then.” Luke responded to all three of them. “I’ll let General Choi know you’ve gone ahead, but please know that you won’t be getting any aid until they arrive, and that could be a few more days.”

    “That’s nothing out of the ordinary for us.” Hiriss responded. “Besides, sending Jedi out as advance scouts is a good safety precaution for the troops.”

    Grein then spoke to Zolph and Hiriss. “I’ll go to Krishar first in the Manta to do some scouting while you two follow in…. what’s the name of your fighter, Zolph?”

    “You know, I haven’t bothered to come up with a cool name for it yet.” Zolph answered.

    “I’m sorry, but ‘Advanced prototype X-Wing’ is not a valid name for a personalized ship. When we’re finished with this mission, you are going to name your ship, and no excuses you can come up with will get you out of it.”

    Zolph then sarcastically responded. “Yes, mom.”

    “Nah ah ah! None of the sass. I may be your distant ancestor, but you are still an adult and you are not going to treat me like an old woman.”

    “At least it’s nice to know I can still just call you Grein. Few could account for meeting their own ancestor long after they would have died, and last I remember, Maesterus doesn’t like being called ‘Gramps’.” Zolph switched the subject back. “But getting back to the matter at hand, we’ve got one more Archfiend to kill.”

    “See you two on the planet’s surface.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    A few hours later, Zolph, Hiriss and R9-C4 entered the Krishar system and were greeted by a mostly green planet blockaded by several Valkoran warships.

    Zolph contacted Grein via comlink as they waited in orbit away from the fleet. “Let me guess: Another arboreal world?”

    “Actually, it’s mostly water with several jungle islands. I’ll give you my coordinates and we’ll start searching the islands for our extragalactic abomination. Careful on the way down, though. There are many anti-aircraft boats patrolling the seas.”

    “Well, our job can never be easy, otherwise we would just search by air.”

    Hiriss commented. “But first we need to find a way through the blockade, and we don’t have the Alliance fleet to distract them.”

    Seefor then offered a suggestion. “R9-C4 + Zolph + Hiriss = Terminate Hostilities?”

    “Too risky.” Zolph answered. “We’re heavily outnumbered and this is obviously an Alliance ship. Besides we won’t need to do that, because I’ve found our hole.”

    Going through the gap in the blockade, their fighter then entered Krishar’s atmosphere without trouble.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After entering Krishar’s green sky and avoiding missiles fired by Valkoran missile defense boats and turbolaser fire from Judicator-class space frigates docked in the water, Zolph and his crew landed on the island from which Grein’s coordinates originated, right next to the Blazing Manta in a jungle clearing so the ships wouldn’t be easy targets.

    After disembarking from the fighter, Zolph, Hiriss and Seefor met up with Grein right outside.

    “So, what’s there to report, Grei?” Zolph asked her.

    “For starters, the Archfiend Xixixix has indeed summoned. I can sense it.”

    “Shicksicksi… wait, what kind of name is that? And how is it spelled?”

    “Rough translations of the tomes I found spell its name as X-I-X-I-X-I-X. And seeing as I’ve only read the name and never heard it spoken by Valkor, I really don’t have any idea how it’s pronounced.”

    Hiriss then asked Grein. “Any idea what’s-it’s-name is capable of?”

    “It can drive those around it to madness if exposed to it for too long.”

    “Well, it’s a good thing we’ve decided to come first so our troops don’t go insane.”

    Zolph then commented. “But I can’t say the same for the Valkoran forces… or us.”

    Seefor commented as well. “Madness aura + R9-C4 = No effect on R9-C4.”

    “That’s because you’re a droid, and you’re already insane.”

    Grein then continued her report. “I’ve also found another ship in the jungle, but neither Valkoran nor Alliance. In fact, we’ve seen this ship before.”

    “Well, enough with the suspense. Tell us.” Zolph demanded.

    “Better yet, why don’t I show you?”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Minutes later, the Jedi trio and Seefor arrived at the ship Grein described, which was landed on its backside, similar to the vessel of the bounty hunter, Boba Fett, but of a different model with red decals and s-foil wings: the Vriknash.

    “Yeah, this ship does look familiar. Is this Slave I?” Zolph asked.

    He then heard a disappointed voice come out of nowhere. “Buddy, I am insulted that you’d mistake me for that show-off.”

    Zolph then turned around to see a familiar green scaly-skinned bounty hunter with very little armoring and a face-concealing helmet sitting on a tree branch in a reclined position.

    “Got out of a sarlacc? Puh-lease! I kriffing killed one! And do I look like a guy who demonizes Jedi and thinks pacifists should be impossible in a mostly-warrior society?” The mercenary then hopped down from the tree. “But enough of my ranting. Do you remember me?”

    “Uh…who are you again? I’m drawing a blank.”

    The bounty hunter shouted in annoyance. “WHAT?! You don’t remember me?! Hello?! Gahmah Raan?! Weird guy who hunted you about a year-and-a-half ago?!”

    “Oh yeah, and has it really been that long? Keeping up with the flow of time, I don’t think it’s been that long.”

    “I don’t know, weeks have been feeling like months recently. I think the god of time has been slacking off.”

    “But enough talk. Why are you here, Raan? Did the Valks hire you as muscle again?” Zolph ignited his lightsaber in defense.

    Gahmah then pulled out both of his blaster pistols in defense. “Stand down, Zolphy. I’m not working for the Valks… this time.”

    “Then who hired you? The Hutts?”

    Gahmah impulsively fired a blaster shot at Zolph, who quickly deflected it. “Hey! I don’t work for crime syndicates!”

    “Then why’d you try to shoot me?”

    Grein answered. “He’s clearly got a hair-trigger temper.”

    Gahmah fired a few more shots at Zolph while he charged at him. “If another guy brings up that stereotype…”

    Zolph then reacted by using the Force to hurl Gahmah against a tree. “Enough fooling around! Who sent you here?!”

    “Sent me? I live here!”

    Surprised by Gahmah’s answer, Zolph deactivated his lightsaber. “Wait, this is your homeworld? Where are the rest of your species?”

    “The Krishari live in settlements, and I’m actually the first of my kind to travel into space after another bounty hunter left this beauty of a ship when I killed him over some misunderstanding. Better yet, why don’t I introduce you to my settlement and my mate? Oh, and before I forget, no hard feelings about our last encounter.”

    “Can you please take off your helmet? I want a general idea of what your species looks like.”

    “Oh, why not?” Gahmah removed his helmet, revealing an almost human-like face but with reptilian eyes and teeth, long dark green tendril hair and what looked like scars on his face. “Here you go.” Zolph then proceeded to punch Gahmah in the face with his mechanical arm. “AUGH! YOU BROKE MY NOSE! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR?!”

    “I accept your apology, but I can’t let you not suffer some retribution for weakening me enough on Kratzar to lose my right arm. And stop being baby; your nose can grow back.”

    “Oh, right.” Gahmah readjusted his nose back into place to let it regenerate. “Good as new.”

    “But where’d the scars come from? Oh wait, let me guess: they’re fake.”

    “Can you blame me? Scars look cool on mercenaries.” Gahmah then put his helmet back on. “Anyway, why don’t you, your technicolor girlfriends and the R9 follow me?”

    “Actually, the Chiss is my distant grandmother.”

    “Nerfshavit. She’s too hot to be your grandmother.”

    Grein confirmed what Zolph was saying. “He’s actually telling the truth.”

    “You’re not kidding?” Gahmah asked Zolph. “Ew! Now I have some images that I don’t need.”

    “You have my sympathy. I had the same reaction when I learned that she was my ancestor and she worked in a certain type of club, and that just happened yesterday.”

    “As I was saying, why don’t you make yourselves at home for awhile?”

    “We’d love to, Gahmah, but we’re busy hunting for a powerful creature, and in case you hadn’t noticed, the Valkoran are here.”

    “Actually, that’s why I’m out here in this jungle in the first place. I’m curious about what the Valks are doing on my planet.”

    Hiriss then explained to the Krishari mercenary. “They recently summoned this creature we’re looking for.”

    “I didn’t hear any of the leadership talking about summoning some creatures since they landed, but they did speak of trying to kill one.”

    “Well, that sounds like our Archfiend, and at least it’s nice to know these aren’t the fanatical types we’re dealing with.” Zolph said. “But are you saying they didn’t summon it?”

    “You got that right. They seem interested in our local shrine and some have attempted to kill what my people consider one of our local deities – the mad god… in vain. Most of them got eaten afterwards. I should explain more about this at home.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Later, Gahmah had escorted the Jedi and Seefor to the Zhikpil settlement, where several other Krishari – who were apparently primitive compared to the rest of the galaxy and Gahmah - made residence. Seeing the newcomers, the Krishari – while not exactly primitive but haven’t gotten to their space age yet - were more intrigued than most non-space-faring-species would be at aliens.

    “Smooth Krishari.” One of them muttered.

    Gahmah explained in whispers. “The rest of my people are about as weird as I am, and most of them have only seen a human once before.” He then addressed the Krishari. “Everyone, I’ve brought guests from among the stars.” He then fired one of his blasters up into the air to give a warning shot. “And they are not to be burned at the stake or eaten! Are we clear?”

    Another Krishari – apparently female and with light gray scales – rushed up to Gahmah and gave him a hug as if he’d been away for a long time.

    “I’m going to be busy for a while, Nazeen, but I’ll be with you longer once I help our guests.”

    Zolph asked Gahmah. “You know this girl?”

    Gahmah then berated him. “Of course I know her, you dunce! She’s my mate!”

    “Hey, no need to snap again. I was just curious.”

    “Then you should have rephrased that as ‘Who is she?’.”

    Nazeen then greeted the Jedi. “Oh! Hello, offworlders.”

    Gahmah then escorted the Jedi over to his homestead. “Come to my place. We have much to discuss.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After preparing some tea made from local xik leaves, Gahmah started chatting up his guests again.

    “Relax and enjoy the tea.”

    Zolph was then ready to question Gahmah. “Thank you. I’d like to stay and chat, but this situation is…”

    Gahmah, without muttering a single word, flipped out one of his wrist blades and pointed it at Zolph.

    Zolph, Hiriss and Grein then nervously sat down at the lounge room table while Seefor waited at the door and giggled, seeing that she and the deranged Krishari mercenary had something in common.

    “Go ahead, and take a sip.”

    Zolph looked at the murky green and brown tea. “You sure it isn’t poisonous to us non-Krishari?”

    “Nope! Never tested it on other species before, but you’ll get to be my first test subjects.”

    “That’s not very reassuring.” Zolph then watched Grein take a sip and got an answer from her.

    “It’s safely consumable.”

    “I’m surprised you were willing to drink it considering the risks.”

    “If it were poisonous, I would’ve liquefied myself and filtered it out.”

    “Okay, so we know it’s safe for Chiss, but what about humans and Mirialans?”

    “Most near-human species have roughly the same internal anatomy.”

    Zolph then took a sip. It was very bitter at first, but after sitting in his mouth for a while, it got better.

    “So how’s the tea suit ya.” Gahmah asked him.

    “Well, all I can say is at least I’m not drinking gizka poison.”

    “Anyway, what were you here for again?”

    Zolph answered. “Now we’re making progress. One of your gods.”

    “Okay. And why does it concern you?”

    “I’d hate to soil on your people’s culture, Gahmah, but we may have to kill one of your gods.”

    “And which god is that?”

    “According to our sources, its name is…uh… Xix..ix..ix...” Zolph stuttered as he was still getting the grasp on saying the name.

    “Yup, that’s the mad god… and suspiciously, the only one of our gods our people have physically met.”

    “That thing isn’t a god. It’s a Forceless Archfiend from another galaxy.”

    “Forceless? Aren’t those the creatures I heard about you guys killing so often recently?”

    “That’s them.”

    Grein then questioned Gahmah. “Out of curiosity, Gahmah, how long has this ‘mad god’ been around?”

    “According to our historical texts, it’s been around for about 25,000 years.”

    Zolph questioned him next. “And do your historical texts make mention of some alien invaders that enslaved your people at the time?”

    “Yup.”

    Grein came to a conclusion. “Then that means Xixixix was summoned by the Rakata long before the Valkoran Empire was established. And this thing has been waiting on this planet for thousands of years.”

    Hiriss then asked. “This worries me. If what’s-it’s-name has been here for that long, how come it hasn’t negatively affected the planet so greatly?”

    Gahmah answered. “I don’t know. All it does is just sit there shouting the syllables of its name over and over again and eat people, including cultists.”

    Grein continued explaining. “This may explain yours and your people’s…. eccentricities, Gahmah. It’s driven your entire race slightly mad over the time it’s resided on Krishar. Those who are exposed to it at close proximity for too long are driven even more insane, and if its behavior is anything to go by, Xixixix has driven itself insane too.”

    “But that doesn’t explain why I feel like my life is scripted and why the time flow feels inconsistent for me.”

    Zolph commented. “So we’re not just dealing with a mad Archfiend. We’re dealing with a mad idiot Archfiend.” He then addressed Gahmah. “And until now, we thought you were just a spice addict. So, are you going to help us out?”

    “Of course I am. As weird as we are, most of us fear Xixixix despite the fanatics we have, and I’d like to help erase that fear. Besides, I’ve always wanted to kill that ugly thing just to say I killed a god.”

    “Let’s do it then, but let’s not tell the rest of your people about it until afterward. I don’t want to start a witch hunt.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Gahmah escorted his guests through the jungle, he warned them about another threat aside from the Valkoran.

    “By the way, careful around the trees.”

    “Why is that?” Hiriss asked.

    “Some of them can shoot Force lightning and there’s no telling which ones can do that.”

    “You’re kidding, right?” Zolph asked.

    “Remember, it’s a big universe.” Grein reminded him.

    Suddenly one of the trees fired a bolt of purple electricity from one of its branches towards Zolph, who quickly dodged in response. “Whoa! How has your species survived with these things around?”

    “Hello! The Force flows from life! You Jedi have said it yourselves.” Gahmah reminded him. “And last I checked, trees are lifeforms too.”

    “But I thought Force powers were dependent on willpower, and lightning’s usually powered by anger. Do the trees hate us or something?”

    “No, the trees are as non-sentient as those on other worlds. We dissected one and we didn’t find a brain or electricity-producing organs. These trees are just more Force-sensitive than most and shoot lightning at random. When they become problematic, we usually harvest them for lumber.”

    “Getting back to our mission, how close are we to Mister-Miss Unpronounceable’s temple?”

    “We’re so close in fact that I can actually sense him more clearly.”

    This brought to Zolph’s attention something he remembered from their duel on Kratzar. “That reminds me. Are you Force-sensitive?”

    “Yup. Never seen a Force-sensitive bounty hunter before?”

    “Then why didn’t you- ?”

    “I wanted to explore the galaxy for myself and open my people up to it, not join a religious order. Aside from being a warrior among them, that’s why I also became a bounty hunter.”

    “And you said you don’t like working for criminal organizations?”

    “Their bounties are more along the lines of leg-breaking. I prefer to hunt actual criminals and evil-doers. I don’t give a shavit about the shady businessmen.”

    “Then why were you working for the Valkoran at the time?”

    “Maesterus actually hired me for some of his own missions before the war, unsanctioned by Valkor. For missions Maesty wanted as little bloodshed as possible, I was his go-to guy, and I still am. Much more subtle compared to the loonies who hired Gestroma to muscle through everything, and that freak makes me look sane by comparison.”

    “No kidding. Hiriss, Seefor and I killed him just three months ago and learned that he was an Imperial lab mutant planning to kill about half the galactic population.”

    “Well, thanks for eliminating one of my rivals. So what species was he?”

    “We don’t know, and even he didn’t remember what species he was? All we know is that he had three eyes taking up his entire face and a stomach-mouth.”

    “Aw. I wish I had a stomach-mouth. On the other hand, I’d have to wonder where the digested food goes.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Sometime later after avoiding more lightning trees, the team had arrived at the Temple of Xixixix, which was guarded by a perimeter of Valkoran forces, which included Shadow Troopers, heavy gunners, and Rancor-class assault tanks.

    “We’re heeere!” Gahmah informed his guests.

    “Do you have to tell us like that?” Zolph asked him with a tone of annoyance. “That would get the Valks’ attention.”

    “Oh come on! They didn’t hear that!” Gahmah told him, just before a squad of troopers led by Lieutenant Will Helms pointed their guns at them. “I have got to learn to shut up.”

    As the Jedi team readied their weapons, Gahmah noticed that Seefor was missing.

    “Hey! Where’d the three-legged kettle go?!” Gahmah asked Zolph, before hearing some sounds of destruction and agonized screaming elsewhere around the perimeter and witnessing some of the tanks exploding, which alerted the other Valkoran forces too.

    “There’s your answer.” Zolph replied.

    Seefor then approached the trooper squad after emerging from behind the burning wreckage of a tank.

    “Keep your distance, men! That droid is a monster!” Helms warned his men, speaking from his experience on Dagobah.

    “What the hell are you worried about, Lieutenant?” One of the other troopers ignorantly asked him. “It’s an astromech droid.”

    Seefor then popped her flame projector out of her dome and scorched the trooper to death. After killing that trooper, she slowly rolled towards the squad, dodging each of their shots as they tried to retreat.

    “I’m not even going to ask.” Gahmah told Zolph as he watched the droid in horror.

    Hiriss commented on the chaos. “On another note, Seefor at least got rid of most of the defense force minus those two guards at the temple entrance.”

    Gahmah then offered a solution. “I’ll take care of them. Besides, I think I owe you guys one after blowing our cover.”

    “It’s all in the past, and your hamminess didn’t do any major damage to us.” Zolph told him. “But go ahead and do your thing.”

    “Alright, then!” Gahmah drew out both of his blasters and pre-charged them. “One big distraction coming right up!”

    Gahmah took a detour through the trees to get the drop on the two troopers from their flank, distracting them while the Jedi tried to sneak into the temple.

    “Okay, you two. The human or the Rodian? Who shot first?” Gahmah asked the troopers.

    The troopers, not hesistant to fire on anyone who tries to enter the temple, pointed their rifles at him. “Both.” They said in unison. Surprisingly, the two troopers were indeed a human and a Rodian underneath their face-concealing helmets.

    “Wrong!” Gahmah shouted cheerfully as he quickly drew both of his blasters and fired the pre-charged shots at their heads, causing their helmets to explode and leaving a line of smoke coming from each of their necks. “I did!”

    The Jedi, however, were around long enough and barely into the temple entrance to witness the troopers’ heads exploding.

    “Dammit, Gahmah! Can you not make people’s heads explode?!” Zolph chastised him.

    “For some reason, they only explode when they’re wearing closed helmets and they never splatter their brains and skull fragments all over the place. Just have to worry about the shrapnel.” Gahmah answered him.

    “That’s not what I…”

    Gahmah interrupted Zolph. “Anyway, we’re clear to go inside now, so let’s get down to the god-slaying.”

    Zolph sighed in annoyance at Gahmah’s twisted sense of humor as the team entered the temple. Seefor also rejoined them, covered in blood stains.

    “Why does she get to be covered in blood?” Gahmah asked.

    Zolph answered back rhetorically. “And why is an astromech droid capable of ripping a man’s spinal cord out through their armor and then letting the man still be alive afterward?”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    A few minutes later, the gang had progressed through Xixixix’s temple with little resistance, making it into an open barely-lit chamber with a few stone columns. However, they didn’t get very far when they came across a humanoid covered from head to toe in a bulky suit of archaic black armor, armed with a lightsaber-pike and a phrik shield.

    “You shouldn’t be here, Jedi.” The man addressed them. “There is a creature that can drive most beings mad from its presence alone.”

    “Then why hasn’t it driven you mad?” Zolph asked him.

    “I intend to destroy it before it should do so.”

    “That’s funny, because we came here to do the same thing.”

    “You must be Zolph Vaelor, the one our Emperor has been constantly trying to eliminate.”

    “You’d be right. And who are you supposed to be?”

    The armored man then turned around and introduced himself. “I am Armogeist.”

    “Wait. You’re Masochus’s apprentice?” Zolph asked him.

    “Correct.”

    “I am so sorry you got paired up with him back in Sith school and that you’re a victim of the ‘guilt by association’ principle.”

    “There’s no need to apologize. You had nothing to do with my predicament.” Armogeist then glanced at Grein. “I assume she told you about me?”

    “Yeah, and why didn’t Maesterus, Arcidus, Juganak or Machinus tell me about this earlier?” Zolph asked him.

    Grein then answered Zolph’s question. “That’s because I requested they pretend not to know me. The only time before yesterday that this rule was broken was when Belluzub was about to kill you. I gave Maesterus a telepathic wake-up call and the rest you should already know.”

    “I’m surprised they still remember that request after four-thousand years.”

    “A Jedi’s mind is an incredible thing. And so is the mind of a computer in Machinus’s case. I’m surprised you’d underestimate their memory capacity.”

    Armogeist continued on. “Anyway, I cannot let you pass knowing the threat Xixixix poses. And the longer we dawdle, the more likely its madness will corrupt us.”

    “Then let’s waste no time arguing and team up to kill it.” Hiriss suggested.

    “That would be an excellent solution, Mirialan, but I cannot risk the death of Vaelor.” Armogeist ignited his lightsaber pike and pointed it towards them. “But if I must fight to stop you, then I…”

    Gahmah then interrupted him and fired a blaster shot at his head, causing his head to fly off and the rest of his body to fall limp.

    “Gahmah!” Zolph scolded him.

    “There! I didn’t make his head explode this time! Why are you still mad at me?!” Gahmah asked.

    “Well, you can’t just go around killing every antagonistic person we meet!”

    “He was threatening us, so it pays to shoot first while he’s gloating. Besides, those two Valkoran troopers would’ve tried to kill you if they were secretly Valkor’s fanatics.”

    “Ahem. I’m not quite dead yet.” Armogeist’s voice said.

    The team then looked back at Armogeist’s body and noticed it still standing up, but looking where his head was, there was nothing inside the armor except for a blue ethereal mist that only Force-sensitives could see. Armogeist then used the Force to reach out for his knocked-away helmet and reattached it to his person.

    “I am no longer of flesh and blood like you are.”

    “A possessed suit of armor.” Gahmah commented. “I think I’ve heard of that somewhere before…”

    “Well, that explains your codename.” Zolph responded. “So you’re like Machinus without the circuitry.”

    Gahmah tried to shoot him again with multiple shots, but Armogeist blocked the shots with his shield this time – as the lightsaber pike isn’t an ideal weapon for deflecting blaster bolts.

    “As I was saying before that maniac shot my head off, I will see to it that Xixixix doesn’t do any permanent damage to you.” Armogeist then lunged his pike into Gahmah’s stomach.

    “Son of a…!” Gahmah cursed before Armogeist sliced him in half horizontally at the waist. Armogeist then used the Force to hurl both halves of him towards a wall.

    As Seefor backed out of the fight – knowing her previous experience with fighting Force users -, Hiriss tried to attack him next for his left just as he finished dealing with Gahmah, but he instinctively parried her blow with his shield before throwing her against a wall too.

    Grein then stabbed a hole in Armogeist’s back, liquefied herself and crawled into the hole, spreading herself through his limbs and freezing over in an attempt to immobilize him and buy Zolph time to get to Xixixix. However, Armogeist proved too strong to keep frozen and broke the ice inside him before using the Force to hurl the ice shards and unfrozen parts of her out of his body. Grein then reformed herself from the scattered ice shards

    “Nice try, Grein, but even after four-thousand years, I still remember you have that ability.”

    Zolph charged at Armogeist while firing his blaster left-handed, which was quite difficult for him since he wasn’t naturally left-handed even after losing his right arm. While Armogeist was busy blocking the shots, Zolph leaped over his shield and then powered up his prosthetic arm to put a dent in the former Sith apprentice’s body, but it did very little to him. Armogeist then responded by slashing his pike backwards towards Zolph, forcing him to dodge.

    Armogeist then attempted to charge at Zolph, but paused and panicked for what was no immediately obvious reason.

    “M-m-master! Why are you here?!” Armogeist backed away as if he was having a severe hallucination. “Leave me alone! You’ve already robbed me of my body and a dignified death! What more could you possibly wish to take from me?!”

    “What is going on?” Zolph asked.

    Grein answered him. “Xixixix’s power is getting to him. If we don’t hurry, the same thing will happen to us.”

    Seefor rejoined after watching from the sidelines, Hiriss after regaining consciousness and Gahmah after regenerating his lower half.

    “And don’t worry, I didn’t forget my pants this time.” Gahmah reassured them. “Unfortunately, I lost the rest of my first batch of seeds with that half and right now, I haven’t regenerated that part yet.”

    “I’m not quite sure I want you doing what that part’s for.” Zolph nervously commented.

    “Well, it’s too late to suggest that, because Nazeen is pregnant as we speak.”

    “Elaborate on Krishari biology. Reptile or mammal?”

    “Both. We’re repto-mammals. We look reptilian on the outside and have reptilian abilities, but we reproduce and give birth like mammals. And we’re warm-blooded.”

    Grein then interrupted their somewhat-interesting conversation. “Less talking, more walking.”

    The team then progressed through the temple while Armogeist continued screaming at his hallucinations.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    After moving through a few booby-trapped rooms, Zolph questioned Grein.

    “So what’re Armogeist’s issues?”

    “Masochus was his Sith master and you already know how insane he is. Sometime after they were exiled from their Empire, Masochus flayed Armogeist alive and then destroyed what was left of his body when there was no further way to ‘play’ with him. However, Masochus knew that he couldn’t continue torturing Armogeist for his amusement if he was dead, so he denied him death.”

    “Is there anything I can learn about that guy that doesn’t make me want to kill him? Then again, it’s hard to think of a proper karmic punishment for, well… a sadomasochist. But what’s stopped Armogeist from committing suicide before now?”

    “He wasn’t always bound to the armor. Before that, his life-force was bound to an immobile wooden figurine. Thankfully, that happened just before he and Masochus came to the Valkoran Empire, and it wasn’t until he met us that Armogeist got refuge from Masochus’s abuse and a more mobile body, but the mental scars are apparently still there.”

    “And why didn’t you just simply let him become one with the Force?”

    “Sadly, like I said, this was at the point our ‘friendship’ with Valkor went downhill. He still had some use for Armogeist, so we tried to make the best out of a bad situation and give him something close enough to living.”

    “Again, it doesn’t help that Masochus is still alive, and they’re two totally different spectrums of Sith. One who’s mynock-shavit insane even by their standards and one who doesn’t really have the ideals and mindset to be a Sith. If he’d been born in the Republic, Armogeist wouldn’t have had as lousy a lot in life.”

    Suddenly, a sing-songy voice echoed in the room. “Zooolph!”

    “Which one of you called me?” Zolph asked the rest of the team. “Because I’m standing where you won’t need to call out to get my attention.”

    “None of us did. And I didn’t hear anyone call your name.” Hiriss answered him.

    “If that’s the case, then…” Zolph came to a shocking realization. “Oh no, she’s back! And it’s not the Dark Side bringing her out this time!”

    A green-eyed, red-haired human female dressed in Jedi attire – as if she was actually trying harder to appeal to him after her hideous appearances in the previous encounters - dropped from the ceiling in front of the group’s path – or rather Zolph’s since he was the only one who could see her.

    “How could you leave me for three-and-a-half months?” She responded before looking towards Hiriss. “And you decided to substitute me with my cousin? That is just gross.”

    “This isn’t what it looks like, Dynn. I’d never replace you. Besides, you told me to move on and find other companionship.”

    “Well, I’m alive now, so your attention belongs to me.”

    The rest of the team – minus Gahmah and Seefor - however, knew Zolph was having another hallucination after so long, this time a result of Xixixix’s influence.

    “Zolph, you know she isn’t real.” Grein pointed out. “If we kill the Archfiend and you ignore her, we can end these hallucinations.”

    Dynn then attempted to interrupt Grein, but ended up actually overlapping with what she was saying. “Shut up, blue girl!”

    “You know as well as I do that only I can hear you.” Zolph told her.

    Gahmah interrupted. “Hey, don’t leave me out of this!”

    Zolph yelled at him. “Shut up, Gahmah!”

    Dynn continued on. “By the way, Zolphy, my cousin and your living fossil ancestor are having their own problems, right now.”

    Zolph then looked behind him to see Grein and Hiriss freaking out and having their own hallucinations.

    “Emilin, please! I would never willingly abandon you! I didn’t willingly abandon Seferin either! And why would I be cheating death if it wasn’t for you?!” cried Grein.

    “I didn’t know what had happened to you, Dynn! I didn’t know you were dead for six months! And I didn’t know Gestroma kidnapped and experimented on you! I’m sorry I wasn’t there for all of you when I could’ve been!” cried Hiriss.

    “Oh look, she cares about me!” Dynn commented with a bit of a condescending tone.

    “I may have never actually seen them interact, but I highly doubt the real you would be this condescending towards her cousin.”

    “Well, since they’re busy…” Dynn then ripped off her tunic, revealing the horrifically mutated body she had at the time of the genuine Dynn’s death and during the other hallucinations, complete with the grafted Forceless arm, tail-like left arm, breasts that had been turned into eyes and oval-shaped mouth on her stomach with hooked teeth protruding from it. The transformation then completed when the Forceless skin grew over her mouth and her eyes turned into the usual crystal ball eyes. “It’s just you and me now…” She said to him in a distorted voice.

    Zolph didn’t ignite his lightsaber like last time, but he was still a little unnerved. “Yeah, just me and an apparition of my dead girlfriend with a more disturbing twist on… typical male interests.”

    Gahmah then interrupted. “Woman! You put your clothes back on right now!” Zolph continued ignoring him, thinking he was having his own hallucinations.

    “Oh come on. You always imagined what I look like underneath, and now you’re seeing it.” The false Dynn continued.

    “Maybe once or twice, but that never mattered the most. But you don’t have what made her in the first place.” Zolph told her.

    “Fine. Let’s get back to our previous discussion. You know? The one we had on Dxun?” Dynn inched towards Zolph in a seductive-but-mostly-creepy manner. “Your body just consumes Forceless like batteries, but that doesn’t mean you to have to be alone.” She then pushed him down to the ground and leaned over him like she did on Dagobah. “If you just join us when the Collective brings order, Valkor won’t have to eliminate you and we can start over again.”

    “You know what I think?” Zolph asked her rhetorically. “I’d rather be kissed by a Karkarodon mouth to mouth!”

    R9-C4, who was not suffering any hallucinations not only due to being artificial intelligence but also from not having any personal issues to begin with, sounded a high-pitched horn that would normally annoy the hell out of Zolph to get everyone’s attention.

    “Thank you, psycho drum.” Gahmah commended the droid before turning his attention to Zolph. “And you have a lot of guts to say that, because I actually did kiss with a Karkaradon on Ord Mantell at one point. He tore my face off, but I bit his tongue off while I was in his mouth.”

    Zolph asked with a tone of puzzlement. “Gahmah, are you…?”

    “Then again, I was drunk when that incident happened, and thankfully, my brain cells can regenerate too…well, most of them.” He then commented towards something that only he could see – possibly one of his hallucinations. “Back off, you creepy old man!”

    “What are you hallucinating about?”

    “Oh, my father, who happened to be the head priest of the cult of Xixixix when I was a child. He was constantly trying to ‘enlighten’ me by exposing me to that ugly thing up close and personal. Eventually he was eaten.” Gahmah then directly spoke to everyone in the room. “But right now, I’m too distracted by every one of your hallucinations to even be bothered.”

    “Wait, you can see them?!”

    “Yeah, and I was watching the whole time. Don’t know why, though. May be related to my other quirks? Looking at your hallucinations, you Jedi really need psychiatrists.”

    “Ahem!” The false Dynn tried to regain Zolph’s attention by forcefully turning his face towards her. “Ignore the loony lizard and focus on me!”

    Zolph then punched her in the face and Force pushed her into the ceiling, causing her to disintegrate. “How about you shut up?!”

    Meanwhile, Grein and Hiriss had gotten over their hallucinations and personal doubts, however much more gracefully than Zolph.

    “How did you two do it?”

    Grein answered first. “I learned not to worry too much about how Emilin views my defection.”

    Then Hiriss. “And to accept the events of the past and learn from them to make a better future.”

    “And I haven’t properly resolved my own issues yet.” Zolph then spoke to Gahmah. “And thanks for the distraction. Sometimes it takes a lunatic to cure another lunatic.”

    “No problem at all.” Gahmah then drew a blaster and flipped out a wrist blade in preparation for the coming battle. “Now, let’s not wait for the end of the mad god’s reign.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    Progressing just a little further into the temple, the group began hearing some deranged laughter and repeated chattering of “Xixixixixixixixixixixix!”

    “Sounds like we’re getting close to our Archfiend.” Zolph commented.

    Sounds like?” Gahmah asked in a deadpan tone. “You might want to look.”

    He then pointed towards a grotesque creature that resembled a bloated plant with six elongated arms, several relatively tiny foot-flaps at its base, a face on its belly and a mouth on top that looked similar to the head of a flower except with teeth on the ‘petals’.

    “Meet the gibbering idiot god itself and this year’s choice for the Miss Coruscant award.”

    “And the creature that makes Hutts look attractive.” Zolph commented. “So what’s our attack plan?”

    Gahmah pulled out his other blaster and started firing at the Archfiend. “Suck laser, Miss Coruscant!” As the creature was hit over and over again, an airborne portal materialized beside it and Xixixix stuck one of its arms into it. Another portal then materialized beside Gahmah and Xixixix’s hand came out of it to grab Gahmah by the ankle and yanked him into it – with Gahmah losing his helmet in the process - and to Xixixix itself.

    “Oh gods!” Gahmah yelled.

    Xixixix then positioned Gahmah over its mouth, opened it up like a blooming flower and lowered Gahmah into it as he – and Zolph from a distance - continued shooting in vain.

    “Not the teeth, not the teeth, NOT THE TEETH!” Gahmah yelled just before he was eaten.

    Xixixix then giggled again before chattering. “Xixixixixixixixixixixix!”

    “Oh, will you please SHUT UP!” Zolph yelled at the creature.

    The creature then started chattering something else over again. “Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph Zolph!”

    “Yes, ugly, my name is Zolph. I wasn’t born yesterday.”

    “Don’t bother trying to argue with it.” Grein told him. “I don’t think it understands what you’re saying… or what it is saying. If it was sentient once, it’s now nothing more than a feral animal.”

    “And that may explain why - aside from affecting the native species and those in proximity- it hasn’t directly antagonized Krishar for the 25,000 years it’s been here. It was only stationed here prematurely because it’s too stupid to plan in advance, and it’s not really so much an Archfiend as a mindless Forceless bio-weapon.”

    The Jedi and Seefor then heard Gahmah’s muffled yelling coming from inside Xixixix’s stomach. “If you monks are done with the theoretical exposition, will you please hurry up and kill it already?! It’s dark in here and I think I’m being digested right now!”

    The Jedi then activated their lightsabers in preparation. “We’re getting right to it!” Zolph told Gahmah. “Just try to stay alive in there!”

    “Easy for you to say. You don’t how painful being digested alive is when you can regenerate!”

    Xixixix then opened up multiple portals to stick its arms through and try to grab at the Jedi, but in vain. Xixixix then started to mutter Zolph’s name over and over again.

    “Why is it saying my name? And how does it know my name if it’s supposed to be stupid?” Zolph asked.

    “I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Hiriss answered him.

    “COWARD! DESERTER! RUNAWAY! CHEATER! MUTT! MURDERER! FORCELESS! VALKOR! ARCHFIEND! JEDI! EMILIN! DYNN! MOM! DAD! MASOCHUS! SEFERIN! MAESTERUS!” Xixixix muttered among other random words.

    “It doesn’t.” Grein answered them both as she was observing. “It’s just making gibberish based on the thoughts of the people it’s passively reading, and it doesn’t even have a concept of language either.”

    One of Xixixix’s arms successfully grabbed Grein, but she immediately liquefied herself, causing Xixixix to break its focus and accidentally cut its own arm off by having the portal close on it.

    Xixixix screamed in pain before making more gibberish. “HURT! PAIN! PORTAL! ARM! HURT!” It then tried to grab at the others, but they simply performed actions to trick it into cutting its other arms off too. However, it wasn’t a total loss for the Archfiend, as it quickly regenerated its arms. “REGENERATE!” It yelled.

    “Well, it looks like we’re back where we started.” Zolph commented.

    Xixixix launched what looked like large seeds out of its mouth and onto the ground. The seeds then exploded as they released some Black Matter, much like Harphscor did on Kashyyyk. The Black Matter then formed into a mob of the vaguely humanoid creatures Grein has come to classify as Forceless Newborns.

    “For an almighty idiot, this thing sure knows how to be a pain in the arse!”

    The Newborns charged at the Jedi and Seefor and attempted to hack them apart with their claws, but they were all cut down within moments and the Jedi prepared for whatever unpredictable trick Xixixix had next.

    However, they heard Gahmah yell from inside the creature’s belly once more. “Ah, there it is! How could it take me this long to find it?! If you guys can still hear me, you might want to put up a Force barrier or something!”

    Xixixix’s belly then started to bloat up. “DET! EXPLODE! DIE!” Xixixix yelled just before a fiery blast blew it into many pieces across the room.

    “I’ve lost track.” Zolph said. “How many Archfiends have we killed by feeding them explosives?”

    “And I’m sorry for perpetuating the trend.” Gahmah said as he emerged from Xixixix’s blown-out base, with his skin, armor and clothing having teeth and burn marks and being partially dissolved by the stomach acid. Gahmah then used the Force to pull his helmet over to his hand and put it over his scarred face. “Now you know why I wear this thing most of the time. I get my face damaged a lot more than you’d think.”

    “You know, Gahmah, why didn’t you just use the Force to burst out of what’s-its-name’s stomach? It could have saved us a lot of time and trouble.”

    “And take the fun out of the fight? Hell no! Besides, I’m not that skilled with the Force.” Gahmah then pointed at Zolph accusingly. “And I’m not the only Force user who has forgotten about their powers once or twice.”

    “Fun?! We were fighting against an Archfiend that literally had the power to drive people mad!”

    Grein further commented. “Speaking of which, we shouldn’t be having any hallucinations from this point forward, Armogeist should be free and the Valkoran forces should be pulling out now. And future generations of Krishari should be saner since Xixixix is no longer stunting their mental growth.”

    “Provided the parents don’t try to preserve their Archfiend-induced insanity.”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________

    A few hours later, after returning to Zhikpil settlement, informing his people of Xixixix’s demise, regenerating his damaged body tissue and replacing his damaged armor and clothing, Gahmah followed the Jedi back to their ships out in the jungle.

    “So these are your ships?” Gahmah asked he was observing. “I already know about the Blazing Manta, but I’ve never gotten to see it up close before.” He then looked to Zolph’s modified X-Wing. “However, I’ve never even seen this one before.”

    “That’s because I got it after the Menbar Mun case.” Zolph answered him.

    “So, what did you name her?”

    “Cripes, not you too!”

    “You’ve had this ship for a long time now, and you still haven’t named it?!”

    “It’s just that I’ve been very busy…”

    “Well, you, sir, are going to give it a name. Right. Now. If you don’t, I will follow you even beyond the Outer Rim until you do. And consider this my payment for helping you guys today.”

    “Payment?”

    “I’m a mercenary, remember? However, what I ask for my reward varies, and since you guys didn’t come expecting my help, I’m not charging you in credits this time. So, consider this a mercy, Zolph.”

    “Actually, I wouldn’t mind paying in credits at this….”

    Gahmah then pointed one of his blasters at Zolph’s head. “Name the damn ship.”

    “Fine, but I can’t think of anything on the spot.”

    Gahmah then lowered his blaster. “If you want any suggestions, make sure the name has some meaning. For example, my ship, the Vriknash is derived from the Krishari word for ‘journey’, because I wanted to see what was beyond the stars.”

    Grein commented as well. “In the case of the Blazing Manta, it’s fast like most Corellian YT-series freighters and one of the first creatures I saw after fleeing the Chiss Ascendancy was a miniature neebray manta.”

    Hiriss then joined in the commenting as well. “I’m sorry, I’m not all that into ship stuff. That was kind of Dynn’s thing.”

    This sparked an idea in Zolph. “Manthis.”

    “Excuse me?” Hiriss asked Zolph.

    “It’s still a painful memory, but just forcing myself to forget won’t make it any better. Instead, I acknowledge what happened as truth and try to remember the good things we had. This ship will be her legacy. I christen this ship the Manthis.”

    “Hmmm… good choice.” Gahmah commended Zolph. “Well, you’ve paid your debt. See you whenever we bump into each other again!” He then retreated from the landing site and headed toward Zhikpil.

    “Congratulations, Zolph.” Grein told him. “You’ve killed two mynocks in one stone. Not only have you given your ship a name like I told you too, you’ve also made a significant amount of progress in coming to terms with your inner demons.”

    “I’ve made good progress, but I don’t think I’m quite done with the hallucinations yet.” Zolph responded. “On another note, we’ve finally killed every Archfiend on that list.”

    “So, what are we going to do next?” Hiriss asked.

    “Well, the only other Archfiend we know of is…” He looked to Grein. “What was his name?”

    “Facadma.”

    “Facadma, and he’s Valkor’s top dog. If we kill him, we not only free Grein’s sister, but we deal the next crippling blow to the Collective since Belluzub. However, unless something happens within the Valkoran Empire, it doesn’t look like this war’s going to end anytime soon.” Zolph then directly looked to Hiriss. “By the way, thanks for the name suggestion.”

    “But I didn’t even suggest the name.” Hiriss responded.​
     
  5. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 12: The Messenger

    All the Archfiends on the Obelisk list have been eliminated, and three weeks have passed since then. Now, Zolph Vaelor is back to more mundane duties, sometimes completely unrelated to the Valkoran War, while Grein pours her intellect into more research on the Forceless Collective.

    On Coruscant, the capital of the Galactic Alliance, Zolph, along with Besh Squad and Hiriss Moraana, has been assigned to bodyguard duty for Senator Bal Mophula, a corrupt politician who’s been taking bribes from the New Trade Federation in order to pass a bill that could give it and other major corporate groups some control of the HoloNet. Due to said bill’s controversial nature, Mophula’s bodyguards are preparing for any possible attempts on the corpulent Twi’lek senator’s life.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    In Senator Mophula’s office, Zolph slouched against a wall with a scowl on his face while Besh Squad patrolled the Senate building.

    “Of all the senators in the Alliance, why do I have to protect this sleaze ball?” Zolph muttered to himself.

    “Did you say something, Master Jedi?” Mophula asked Zolph from his work desk.

    “Nothing! Just talking to myself.” Zolph answered the fat green Twi’lek in denial. “By the way, what species are you really?” He then asked him taking notice of his four head-tails.

    “Why do you people accuse me of lying about my own species?! I just have a birth defect!” Morphula yelled.

    “Hey, don’t take it personally. Most Twi’leks have two head-tails.”

    “They’re lekku!”

    “Whatever.”

    “Anyway, the voting session is coming right up.”

    “If I may offer a suggestion, Senator, shouldn’t the public have a say on this bill? The Alliance is a democracy after all.”

    “Why should they? They’ll just have it shot down before it can even make it to the Chief of State.”

    “Well, the HoloNet does, and they’re less than happy with you.”

    Zolph’s comlink started to ring, prompting him to answer.

    “This is Xad. We’ve got the Convocation Chamber ready to go, and Spectre’s keeping a lookout for other snipers. Is Senator Mophula ready?”

    “Yeah, let’s get this over with and let democracy determine if this ‘bill’ is worthy.”

    “I know how you feel, Vaelor, but sadly, duty comes first. Varessi out.” The transmission ended.

    Zolph turned his attention back to the Twi’lek. “Well, Senator, don’t keep them waiting.”
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    Reaching the Grand Convocation Chamber, Mophula got into his hover booth and positioned it before the Head of State.

    Zolph and Xadisall, waiting at the booth’s dock, tried to keep their eyes out for any snipers in the vacant booths while the corrupt senator gave his introduction speech, despite Spectre already providing an eye in the sky.

    “At this rate, I would ask for anything to get out of this.” Zolph personally confided with Xad.

    “Like you said, we can only hope democracy prevails over corruption. And thankfully, we have some sane senators that understand how the HoloNet works.”

    Suddenly, a blaster shot fired from one of the booths, interrupted Mophula and barely grazed one of his fat head-tails, but didn’t hurt anyone else in the chamber.

    “I SURRENDER!” The senator shamelessly cried out.

    Zolph looked to the source booth and noticed a figure in black clothing fleeing the scene. “I could recognize the sound of that shot anywhere.” He then turned Xadisall. “Xad, keep guarding the politicians. I have a feeling our hit man has different reasons for being here.”

    Zolph then rushed out of the Chamber and ran for the would-be assassin’s location.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph rushed through the Senate halls, he came across many wounded but not dead Alliance guards. He also came across Bad Kitty, Boltz and Patcher.

    “You three alright?” Zolph asked with concern.

    “Besh Squad is unharmed, but that assassin has ruined Boltz’s toys.” The Gand engineer answered.

    “Oh, I will make that punk rue the day he crossed Besh Squad!” Bad Kitty responded with anger.

    Patcher made an observation. “Judging from the lack of casualties, I get the feeling our assassin is trying to minimize bloodshed.”

    Zolph then made a theory. “Or maybe he isn’t actually here for an assassination. His shot just barely hit the Senator’s head.”

    “You sure about that, wise guy?” The hulking Cathar asked him. “Maybe he’s just a lousy shot.”

    “Would an inept assassin be able to get past security, successfully incapacitate the guards and sabotage Boltz’s sentry guns?” Patcher answered Bad Kitty back.

    “Did I ask you, squiddy?” Bad Kitty backtalked the Nautolan medic.

    “I think I know who this assassin is.” Zolph questioned the squad further. “Tell me, if any of you noticed him, was he wearing a lot of black, a breath mask with red goggles and have a cloth draping from the back of his head?”

    Boltz answered him. “Now that you mention it, Boltz has seen the assassin and he matches your description.”

    “From my experience, the guy I’m suspecting is not what I’d call a lousy shot. I always had to either dodge or deflect them.”

    Spectre suddenly caught up with the rest of the squad. “Sorry, Vaelor. Even at the highest booths, this particular hit man was too quick with the strike for me to hit him beforehand.”

    Zolph complimented the Kyuzo markswoman. “There’s no need to apologize. This particular assassin is a Force user. If not for political reasons, why is he here in the Core Worlds?”

    A blaster bolt then zipped by Zolph’s head. He looked to notice Arcidus standing not too far away from them before fleeing again. “I think he wants me to follow him. Well, see you guys later.”

    Zolph then pursued Arcidus.

    Bad Kitty yelled at Zolph as he ran off. “Hey! Why do we have to get stuck guarding the slime ball?!”
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph chased after Arcidus, he was led outside the Senate building and followed him by airspeeder into the Coruscant Underworld.

    Arriving at a parking area on Level 1320 of the planet, Zolph came across Arcidus’s airspeeder and disembarked from his own speeder. Considering that Arcidus wasn’t trying to get far from Zolph, it was apparent he wanted to be followed.

    As Zolph moved into the slums, he then received a transmission on his comlink from Hiriss.

    “Zolph. Your transmitter indicates you’re now below the surface. What are you doing there?” Hiriss asked him.

    “Arcidus came to the capital and faked an assassination attempt on Senator Mophula, so I decided to follow him.”

    “Are you sure he was faking it?”

    “Positive. I know Arcidus. He’s the polar opposite of a stormtrooper. Besides, I doubt the Valkoran would have any interest in a bill that would give the Trade Federation policing power over the HoloNet, and he’s not even trying to get far from me.” Zolph then looked into an alleyway. “In fact, he’s watching me right now as we’re speaking.”

    “No interest? You don’t think the Valks would be using the HoloNet to…?”

    The conversation was abruptly ended when Arcidus shot the comlink out of Zolph’s right hand. He was lucky his hand was artificial, or that shot would have hurt a lot more. Zolph tried to chase after Arcidus, but the assassin used the Force to camouflage himself only enough for Zolph to sense him before running away.

    Zolph briefly turned back to retrieve his comlink, only to find it disabled.

    “And Hiriss is going to think I just turned it off to shut her up again.” Zolph told himself, fearing the inevitable lecture he’s going to get from Hiriss.

    Focusing on the matter at hand, Zolph followed Arcidus into the slums of Level 1320.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    Moving through the darkened streets of the Coruscant Underworld, Zolph bypassed several crowds of people and buildings as he followed the otherwise invisible Arcidus. Maesterus’s apprentice led Zolph into a back alley.

    As Zolph followed, he was suddenly ambushed by a hulking, brown-skinned Karkarodon – an aquatic species resembling bipedal sharks – and an Anacondan – a species that were essentially large sentient stalk-eyed snakes, not even humanoid.

    As the Karkarodon thug pulled out a knife, he taunted Zolph with a modulated voice. “Well well, what have we here? A young wannabe Jedi punk?” He glanced at the lightsaber hanging from Zolph’s belt. “You’ve just wandered into the territory of yours truly, Rakan the Devourer.”

    Zolph responded back in a deadpan tone. “I’d like to clarify three things. One, I actually am a Jedi; I just choose to dress like this. Two, I haven’t even heard of you. And three, I’m very busy right now and I don’t have time for two street thugs. So, please get out of my way.”

    “So, you claim to actually be a Jedi?” Rakan chuckled before commanding his Anacondan lackey. “Ratter, bind him!”

    Ratter tightly and quickly coiled his body around Zolph, and taunted him in a raspy voice. “Don’t try to move, tough guy. The boss needs his nourishment.”

    Rakan moved up close to Zolph and grabbed him by the chin. “I guess that means if I eat your midi-chlorians, I can be a Force user too.”

    Karkarodons were typically stereotyped as being cannibalistic towards other sentient species. Not up to societal standards, some Karkarodons only define cannibalism as “eating members of the same species as oneself”. Sadly, Rakan the Devourer only served to perpetuate this stereotype.

    Zolph was annoyed by the Karkarodon’s popular misconception. “Ugh. For the love of-! The Force does not work that way! And another thing I’d like to clarify: you’re an idiot. If I’m a Jedi, you shouldn’t be trying to pick a fight.”

    “I’ll test that theory for myself. Dinner time!” Rakan yelled. As he opened his gaping tooth-filled mouth, Zolph noticed a voice modulator in lieu of a tongue.

    “That reminds me of a story someone told me.” Zolph calmly told him.

    Rakan then stopped before he could take a bite out of Zolph’s head. “And what story would that be?”

    “An eccentric bounty hunter told me that he flirted with a Karkarodon on Ord Mantell after drinking too much, got kissed by him and then bit his tongue off while his face was in his mouth. Would that Karkarodon happen to be you?”

    “And who was this bounty hunter?”

    “Gahmah Raan. He’s the only known member of his species that’s been in space.”

    Rakan got agitated upon hearing that name. “Wait a second, he’s still alive?! I tore his face off! He should have bled to death!”

    “He grew it back. His species can regenerate lost tissue pretty quickly.”

    That son of a Hutt! I can’t let you live now that you know about this humiliation!”

    Zolph tauntingly asked him. “Aw, what’s the matter, ‘Devourer’? Are you embarrassed that another man tried to flirt with you? And should I also mention that he’s married to a woman?”

    “Oh, I will enjoy killing you very-!” Rakan was suddenly interrupted when his body flashed and disintegrated into a smoldering pile of ash. Zolph could see Arcidus not far away uncloaked with his hand raised before cloaking again.

    Ratter was shocked by his boss’s sudden death. “Well, since the boss is dead, does that mean I get to have all of the Jedi?”

    Zolph took the opportunity to unbind the Anacondan wrapping around him using his Force and cybernetic-enhanced strength and grabbed him by the neck with his cybernetic arm and lightly squeezed on it.

    “What do you think?” Zolph asked him.

    “Uh… on second thought, I’ll leave you alone now and just stick with nuna.” Zolph dropped Ratter on the ground, letting him slither away.

    “That’s what I thought.”

    Zolph continued following Arcidus while a few homeless Gotals gathered around the smoldering remains of Rakan the Devourer as if it were a campfire.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    As the pursuit continued and Zolph dealt with more violent street thugs trying to find an easy mark, he was led into a darkened and abandoned warehouse a few levels higher.

    “Okay, Arcidus. Enough fooling around. What are you really here for?” Zolph called out.

    “You.” Arcidus’s voice echoed in the room.

    The warehouse doors suddenly sealed themselves shut, making it even darker inside. After two adjacent red lights – specifically Arcidus’s goggles – flashed, the spot under Zolph’s feet glowed orange. Zolph quickly moved out of the spot, just before it erupted in a fiery column that burned a hole in the roof.

    “Okay, so you lured me here just so you could kill me in private.” Zolph then ignited his aqua-bladed lightsaber to illuminate the room.

    “Don’t be absurd, Vaelor. You should know by now that I knew you would dodge that.” Another blast was ready to erupt under Zolph’s feet, prompting him to dodge again. “And that one too.”

    Arcidus then emerged from behind a stack of metal crates with his black-bladed lightsaber ignited.

    “If I wanted to kill you, I would have tried to combust your body directly, or better yet, I would have let that cannibalistic serial killer and his lackey eat you. Besides, even if I did either of those things, you know how to resist my combustion ability after I burned away some of your duplicate jackets and you would have handled the cannibals just fine.”

    “Then what the hell is with the lightsaber?!” Zolph asked him.

    “Just trying to make a convincing scene of things” Arcidus then lunged at Zolph, attempting to slash him, shoot at him with his blaster pistol and make more fires.

    Zolph made efforts to dodge or deflect some of these attacks, making similar efforts to attack Arcidus, only for him to remain unharmed. Eventually, the whole warehouse was full of fires, lightsaber and blaster scorches.

    Arcidus then deactivated his lightsaber and stopped Zolph just as he was about to strike another blow. “Okay, we’re done. Now we can talk peacefully.”

    “Then what was the point of all this fighting?” Zolph asked.

    “In case you’ve forgotten, Valkor’s got some spies around, even here in the Alliance capital. So I need to make sure it looks like there was a struggle and that I came to kill you.” Arcidus suddenly sensed something approaching. “Get down!”

    Arcidus pushed Zolph down on the floor and used the Force to disguise him as a burned corpse. A Coruscant Security Force probe droid entered through the hole in the warehouse roof to get a good look at the scene before hovering away.

    “Okay, the probe’s gone now.”

    “But that was a CSF probe.” Zolph pointed out as the illusion faded away. “Now they’ll be sending a squad to arrest you for murder.”

    “Actually, some of the spies are in the CSF, and some of them are trained technicians and slicers. I also destroyed your comlink so this conversation we’re having doesn’t get leaked to any potential comlink channel slicers. Even if they do send a squad to the scene, I’ll be gone then.” Arcidus then removed his head cloth and his mask, revealing a short-haired, light brown-skinned human male with some burn scars on his face. “Anyway, perhaps you’d be more comfortable talking with someone whose face isn’t obscured.”

    “That’s not entirely necessary. Three of my compatriots are a Kel Dor, a Kyuzo and a Gand.”

    “I’m not counting species with biological handicaps that require masks to overcome. Besides, I thought you deserved to see my face for once.”

    “You’re Aiken Cremas? Grein told me some tidbits about your past, such as how you accidentally killed your own parents and were once trained as a Jedi. And the scars you got from learning how to control your power.”

    “We can talk about my past at another time. But for now, I have some reports for you.”

    “Did Maesterus send you here? Because after recently remembering that Forceless can recollect the memories of other Forceless, I’m worried that Valkor may know about your treachery if Maesterus sent you.”

    “That’s exactly why he didn’t send me and I came on my own volition. He heard about what Masochus did to you on Guaymar, and he’s worried that Valkor may be able to monitor him through his own symbiote despite his possession immunity.”

    “I know for certain they learned about my… special ability through Harphscor, but Maesterus is still the big enigma and he has the same eyes as every other Forceless host. You may want to ask him if he can access the thoughts of other Forceless, or better yet, Valkor’s thoughts.”

    “From what I heard from Valkor, Forceless may be hive-minded when acting in groups, but only Archfiends are given access to the memories and thoughts of other Forceless, and Master is not considered an Archfiend. Even further, not even Archfiends can access Valkor’s thoughts.”

    “If Maesterus knows, then Valkor may know that he knows.” Zolph then clutched at his cranium. “Oh great, this has gotten even more complicated.”

    “Yes, Maesterus’s master plan is in some jeopardy, and I get the feeling Valkor’s trying to let him know to keep him in line. As a result, he’s giving other supporters of his like me some free reign on planning since he trusts us enough.”

    “Still gotta watch out for traitors though.”

    “Indeed. As for the report, Valkor’s not very happy about your recent string of victories over his Archfiends. From what I hear, he’s planning on finally unleashing a secret weapon he’s had in storage for a long time that could drastically turn the tide of this war in the Valkoran’s, and by extension, the Forceless Collective’s favor.”

    “Can you tell me anything about this weapon?”

    “He didn’t give any specific details. That’s why I said it’s a secret weapon. He’s keeping even his followers in the dark about it.”

    “I have a bad feeling about this. If he’s being that secretive about it, it must be something truly terrible.”

    Suddenly, there was some banging on the warehouse door.

    “Well, that would be my cue to disappear.” Arcidus put his mask back on and Force cloaked himself just as Besh Squad blew down the door.

    “Commander Vaelor! You’re alive!” Patcher shouted with joy as Arcidus snuck out of the door. “Looking at that holo-recording, I thought the assassin killed you.”

    “Oh come on, Patcher!” Bad Kitty criticized him. “Do you really think Zolph would go down that easily?!”

    Boltz commented with some unusually curious enthusiasm. “Boltz is amazed! What kind of technology did you use to make yourself look like a charred corpse?”

    Zolph answered the Gand. “No technology involved, Boltz. Just the Force.”

    “Aw.” Boltz said with disappointment. “Why do you Jedi have to pull the fun out of science with the Force card? Not even your attempts at science can explain that!”

    Patcher joined in as well. “As a medicinal scientist, I also have to agree with Boltz.”

    Xadisall then interrupted. “If the professors are done complaining about the ‘unscientific-ness’ of the Force, I think Zolph has some intel he’d like to share.”

    “That’s correct, Xad.” Zolph responded. “But there aren’t any probes with you, are there? Because I’m led to believe there may be Valkoran spies in our ranks overhearing us as we speak.”

    Spectre chimed in. “I have to agree with Vaelor. It may be better if we discussed his discoveries where there are less prying ears.”

    Xad responded. “Very well, Spectre. We’ll discuss this with Master Skywalker and General Choi in person.”

    Zolph then questioned Xad on another topic. “Since you’re here, I take it the Senate votes are over?”

    “Yep. And the bill fell apart to a majority vote. You should’ve seen the look on the Neimoidians’ faces when they learned that they wasted millions of credits on trying to push an unconstitutional bill.”

    “I thought you military people weren’t allowed to voice your opinions on political issues.”

    “Not in public, at least, and the media isn’t around.”

    “Now we just need bills to eliminate corporate personhood and limit the amount of money that can be put into a vote.”​
     
  6. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    We're almost caught up...
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 13: The Weapon
    Several hours have passed since the vetoing of the HoloNet Security Act and the subsequent impeachment of Senator Bal Mophula over said bill. In a private chamber without security cameras inside the Galactic Alliance military base on Coruscant, Zolph Vaelor discussed what he learned from Arcidus with General Ven Choi, Luke Skywalker and Grein.

    "So what is it you wish to tell us that you wouldn't want being leaked out to any spies?" General Choi asked Vaelor.

    "The information I got comes from Arcidus, and not only would word of secret meetings with the Valkoran cause some public panic, it would lead to the Valkoran altering their plans since they would know that we know about their secret weapon." Zolph explained.

    "Did he tell you anything about this secret weapon?"

    "Nothing except that it exists. He and the rest of the Valkoran are just as much in the dark as we are and only Valkor knows about it. That's why it's a secret, he says."

    Luke responded. "I've dealt with some superweapons before the Valkoran War, some of them less creative than others, but if there's anything they all have in common, they're usually built by a team of engineers, otherwise they'd take thousands of years to build. Surely, someone else in the Empire would know about it."

    Zolph then looked to Grein. "Do you know anything about secret Valkoran weapons from a thousand or so years back, Grei?"

    "No." She answered with a slight bit of hesitation in her voice.

    "I can sense your reluctance, Grein." Choi told her. "If you know anything, please tell us."

    "The only thing I know Valkor was keeping secret was my sister's fate. I don't know if she has the potential to be a weapon or if she's still alive."

    Zolph then came up with an idea. "If it's the conventional type of superweapon, I might want to talk with Machinus. He's the Valkoran's lead tech expert."

    "If that's the case, I've got a lead." Choi responded. "My agents report that Valkoran are amounting for an attack on Christophsis in a few days, and many of the Valkoran leaders will be present there, including Machinus."

    Luke then asked Zolph, "Anyone else you feel should know about this threat beforehand?"

    "Just Hiriss and Besh Squad. We should prepare a defense force that includes a planetary ion cannon, but we tell no one else about a secret weapon until we see it."

    "Very well. Commander Moraana and Besh Squad shall do some investigation in Valkoran space while we make preparations on Christophsis. Dismissed." Choi concluded the discussion and everyone left the chamber.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    One week later, the Alliance had fully prepared their defense force in the capital city of Chaleydonia – or Crystal City as it's known to others - on the crystalline world of Christophsis, where several similar cities were built into and around the large turquoise crystal formations. Meanwhile, the Valkoran attack force had stationed itself in another nearby city.

    On one of the roads suspended above the surface next to the Crystal City gate, General Choi briefed Zolph on what he needed to do.

    "I've received a report from Moraana. That weapon we're up against is a warship using a weaponized version of the artificial gravity generators usually found on starships."

    "Doesn't sound like a weapon of mass destruction." Zolph commented. "But I can give them points for originality."

    "They could potentially use it to immobilize our infantry, vehicles and missiles. Not to mention structures falling victim to gravitational collapse."

    "Oh right. Still, a weapon like that clearly would have had a team of engineers working on it, hence why I suggested talking with Machinus."

    An Alliance trooper then alerted Choi over comlink. "General! The Valks are marching towards us! They've got a few transports, walkers and tanks coming our way!"

    "Understood, Sergeant. Continue with the lookout." Choi ended the transmission before turning his attention back to Zolph. "I have a plan. You head into the Valkoran staging ground and find Machinus while the forward advance is preoccupied with my forces."

    "Got it, and be ready if that weapon shows up." Zolph replied.

    "Don't worry. Hiriss, Boltz and Spectre have performed a bit of sabotage on the weapon beforehand, so we shouldn't have much trouble. May the Force be with you, Vaelor."
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Fifteen minutes later, the Valkoran forces made it to the city gates. The Tuk'ata-class fighter tanks moved in first as Alliance soldiers and T4-B battle tanks fired rockets at them. Meanwhile, the Spearhead transports unloaded their infantry – including Valkoran leaders Juganak and Armogeist -, who marched alongside the Gundark walkers and Rancor tanks for cover.

    While the Alliance and Valkoran fought with each other, Zolph sped through the skirmish on a speeder bike and headed towards the smaller city of Agatanea.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Minutes later, Zolph had made it into the Valkoran staging area in Agatanea, where several Behemoth-class landing barges and Sigma-class shuttles were docked. There were very few Valkoran forces pointing their guns at him, as Maesterus was also waiting with his lightsaber ignited and wings spread out.

    Zolph received a telepathic message from Maesterus. "Well, what are you waiting for? Attack!"

    Zolph complied, got off his swoop bike and ignited his lightsaber, only for Maesterus to lift him up into the air with the Force and toss him towards the window of a nearby building's topmost floor before firing a few of his bone spikes along his path.

    As Zolph crashed through the window and watched the spikes pierce into the ceiling of the room he landed in, he saw someone standing in front of him he hadn't seen for a few months: a pale-skinned Human-Twi'lek hybrid of Dathomiri origin with cybernetic lekku.

    "Hi!" She said enthusiastically as she looked at him.

    "That's quite a greeting to someone just thrown up into a twenty-story high window, Neur." Zolph said as he got up on his feet. "You're not angry at me for accidentally breaking your head-tails like your surrogate father is, are you?"

    "Why would you think that? I never get angry."

    "Except when they do break, you can be pretty terrifying."

    Neur then gave a saddened look. "Really? Some of the other troops tell me that too. If so, I'm very sorry."

    "Hey, it's not your fault. Machinus told me about your past and how Masochus keeps sabotaging them. Speaking of Machinus, is he here with you?"

    "Well, duh! He's always with me when I leave home, and he's always making sure I have a babysitter when he goes out on his own. Of course he's here!"

    "I need to talk with him."

    "I figured as such." A mechanical voice echoed in the room and both Zolph and Neur looked to see Machinus at the top of a small stairwell. The mechanical former Nautolan spoke to Neur. "Neur, can you please give our guest some space?"

    "Aw! But he just got here!"

    "Yes, but through a window. He's not here to play with you."

    Neur sighed with disappointment. "Okay."

    "Anyway, I would assume you've come to ask me about something I've invented recently?" Machinus asked Zolph.

    "Yeah, did you invent an artificial gravity controller, except not for the inside of a ship?"

    "So you learned about that? Yes, I invented that."

    "Ah, so you did invent a superweapon!"

    "Superweapon?! Where did you get that idea?!"

    "It could be used to immobilize our ground forces and aircraft and collapse structures."

    "I invented that to aid our troops on planets with less favorable gravitational force. Besides, using at as a weapon would be foolhardy. I haven't even invented portable gravity control shields yet!"

    Zolph then received a transmission from Grein on his comlink. "Zolph, an unfamiliar warship has entered Christophsis's atmosphere. If you're inside a building, you might want to look outside."

    Zolph, Machinus and Neur rushed towards the window to see a new Valkoran warship design – about the size of a Fury-class corvette and equipped with a large wheel-like device – in the sky lower itself towards the planet's surface.

    "What's the gravity controller doing here?!" Machinus exclaimed. "I haven't even finished it yet!"

    The wheel – the gravity controller itself – started spinning, causing all troops and vehicles within a miles-wide radius to collapse on the ground and any nearby aircraft to violently plummet to the ground – both Alliance and Valkoran – while it bombarded them with turbolaser fire. Even rockets fired from shoulder-mounted launchers didn't fly very far before hitting the ground and killing their senders.

    Zolph, Machinus and Neur were also affected by the device, pulling them down to the floor while the building they were inside slowly collapsed around them.

    "Cid?! Why am I feeling heavy?!" Neur panicked to Machinus.

    "It's that ship with the spinning thing outside, Neur, and you're not the only one feeling it." Machinus told her. "Try not to struggle unless you want to get ripped apart by your own mass. Still, what the hell was Valkor thinking sending an incomplete invention here?!"

    "Perhaps he got really bitter and decided to unleash his secret weapon."

    "Oh, this is about that? Someone told you about that and how even the rest of the Empire's in the dark about it? I hate to break it to you, but the gravity controller's development has been public knowledge for months now. Whatever this secret weapon Valkor spoke of is, it's not the gravity controller. He's keeping it a secret even from me."

    "Then that means he sent this weapon as a decoy."

    Meanwhile outside, something unexpected happened. The gravity-controller ship started falling apart and compressing in on itself before the device stopped functioning. The ship then crashed onto the ground and gravity turned back to normal.

    "Is it over?" Neur asked.

    "Yes." Machinus answered her.

    "Thata girl, Hiriss." Zolph said to himself.

    "Vaelor, can you explain what happened to my ship? I remember completing its personal gravity shield." Machinus asked with a tone of puzzlement as he got back up on his clawed feet.

    "Another Jedi and an elite squad of troopers sabotaged it before it got here. And would you consider this the least climactic disposal of a superweapon in galactic history?" Zolph asked as he got back up.

    "Probably, but there may be less climactic examples out there. For future reference, I will not reinvent this thing, and I think artificial gravity technology should only be used for the interiors of starships and space stations." Machinus then clinched one of his mechanical fists in anger. "Still, what does Valkor seek to gain out of sacrificing some of my engineers?"

    Zolph objected. "But we're the ones who-!"

    "We're still at war, Vaelor. You thought it was the secret weapon and you took necessary actions to counteract it, so I can't blame you even if you were mistaken."

    Machinus's internal comlink then activated, receiving a message from Maesterus.

    "Mach, Valkor's shuttle is here."

    "Damn!" Machinus yelled before turning his attention to Zolph. "Vaelor, you and the Alliance have to get off this planet! Now!"

    "Why?"

    Neur, with an apparent look of terror on her face, warned Zolph. "That monster's coming!"

    "What monster?"

    Machinus answered him. "Emperor Valkor."

    Zolph then began to sense a Forceless presence approaching, one much more intense than any of the Archfiends he's fought. "Oh scrag. But if he's here like you say, this might finally be our chance to eliminate him."

    "Don't be a fool, Vaelor! He's not like any of the Archfiends you killed before! He'll make a meal out of you! Literally!"

    Zolph headed towards the turbolift. "I might not get another chance for a while." Zolph told him before entering the turbolift and taking it to the bottom floor.

    "Siiiiiigh." Machinus said with annoyance - since he no longer had lungs to make an actual sigh - before activating his internal comlink again to alert Maesterus. "Sef. Your descendant's being an idiot again. He's planning to engage Valkor."

    "Understood. Maesterus out." The transmission ended.

    "Cid, I'm scared." Neur told Machinus with a tone of worry.

    "It's okay, Neur. I'm scared too." He then hugged her in attempt to comfort her, even if he was no longer flesh and blood. "If Valkor's come all the way here from Ockla Prime, then something terrible is probably going to happen. The last time he left the capital was Alpheridies."
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Once Zolph exited the building, he noticed a previously-unseen model of shuttle touching down on the surface – a lot more sinister-looking than the Sigma-class shuttles he was used to seeing. As he approached the shuttle as it landed, the battle between the Alliance and the Valkoran briefly ceased before they started firing at each other again.

    A group of soldiers led by General Choi caught up to Zolph.

    "Well, it looks like our secret superweapon has been disabled, but what is with that shuttle?" Choi asked Zolph.

    "Bad news, General: the gravity controller was not the superweapon our contact told me about. And I have a bad feeling that something worse is coming our way, as that shuttle belongs to their Emperor."

    "I sense it too, Vaelor. We must be cautious."

    The shuttle's boarding ramp opened up and descending from the ramp were four strange-looking guards dressed in black robes and armor. Judging by their body proportions and the design of their masks, Zolph concluded they weren't human or near-human.

    Followed by the guards was another black-cloaked figure with a cumbersome mask.

    "We meet at last, Vaelor." The figure greeted Zolph.

    "Judging by the unique shuttle design and the really weird bodyguards, I take it you're Valkor?" Zolph asked him.

    "Yes."

    Zolph scoffed. "Looks like the Emperor got off his throne again and decided to do his own dirty work once more."

    "Sometimes, I just feel like exploring the greater universe."

    Zolph then ignited his lightsaber, prompting the nearby Valkoran forces to point their guns towards him and Valkor's bodyguards to unsheath their swords in their Emperor's defense.

    "Hold fire, my subjects." Valkor commanded them. "If he wants to challenge me, then by all means, let him do so." Valkor then revealed both of his clawed hands from under his cloak.

    "I've been dying to meet you ever since I heard your name." Zolph told him. "And now that I've killed most of your Archfiends, you're the only thing left standing between me and the end of this war."

    Valkor chuckled. "Quite an arrogant assumption, but I can sense fear and anger in your words. And are you sure killing me will end this war in your favor? I could become a martyr for my people, and your efforts will have been for nothing. But let's not waste time. Go ahead and make the first strike. I believe there are some people you wish to avenge that I can't seem to remember the names of…"

    Zolph then lunged at him in anger just to have his blade blocked by one of Valkor's open claws.

    "What?!" Zolph shouted.

    "I'm sorry. Were you expecting me to use a lightsaber or similar weapon? Besides, you just fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book." Valkor then quickly stabbed Zolph in the stomach with his other claw before pulling it back out.

    Valkor tried to slash at Zolph repeatedly while he tried to block his blows. However, Zolph was weakening thanks to the stab wound Valkor gave him earlier, and after enough rapid slashes, Zolph got his lightsaber knocked out of his hand and Valkor punched into his chest under his ribcage, grabbed around his heart and lightly squeezed it, causing Zolph to scream in agonizing pain.

    "What are you waiting for?! Kill me already!" Zolph screamed.

    "I could do that… but it wouldn't be as satisfying." Valkor then let go of Zolph's heart and pulled his claw out of Zolph's torso. "The presence of your bloodline has been such a thorn in my side for years now that just killing you wouldn't cut it. Instead, I have something special in store for you."

    Valkor's red eyes illuminated in the slits in his mask, and two thin trails of Black Matter crawled from the bottom of his feet towards Zolph. Once the trails stopped crawling, two tentacles covered in eyes wrapped themselves around Zolph's arms and hardened, shackling him in place. Not even Zolph's strength-enhanced prosthetic arm could break him free thanks to already being weakened from the initial fight.

    "Enough, Forceless scum!" General Choi suddenly demanded as he unsheathed his vibrosword and the rest of the Alliance soldiers raised their arms. "If you want to torture and kill Vaelor, you will go through us first."

    "And who might you be, Kel Dor?" Valkor asked condescendingly.

    "General Ven Choi, former Jedi initiate from the old Order."

    "Really? You're not wielding a lightsaber, and do you know why the old Order fell?"

    "I was only a youngling when it fell, so my experience is limited, and I know it fell because of influence from a Sith Lord rotting an already corrupt Republic from the inside. And I'd say you're rotting your own empire too."

    "Do you really think you can defeat me? I just defeated a Jedi with more training than you ever had, old man."

    "You're one to talk about my age considering you're millennia older than I am. And just because I'm mostly a tactician doesn't mean I haven't been training myself in other combat arts." Choi then drew his blaster pistol from its holster with his left hand and fired a direct hit into one of the slits on Valkor's mask, causing him to grunt in pain and causing what looked like visible damage inside it before it regenerated.

    Valkor roared in anger, disconnected the Black Matter from his person, and tried to slash at Choi, who quickly either dodged them or parried them with his vibrosword.

    "Come now, sweet emperor. Just because I've had very little training doesn't mean I can't fight like a Jedi." Choi slashed across Valkor's plated torso, causing him to bleed Black Matter.

    "You've got a lot of spark for a specimen of your age, I'll give you that. However…" Valkor suddenly grabbed Choi's breath mask and tore it off, revealing his face underneath and making him desperately gasp for air. "You're still at a disadvantage in a galaxy filled mostly with oxygen-breathers."

    In a high-pitched but inaudible voice, Choi tried to taunt Valkor back. "Yes, but we won't immediately explode in the vacuum of space."

    "I'm sorry, what was that? I can't hear you with all that helium coming out of your lungs. I forgot that you Kel Dors need your masks to even talk clearly when away from Dorin." After Valkor produced a small black tongue in one of his mask's eye slits to lick around the opening, a larger mass of Black Matter came out from under his cloak and crawled towards Choi, wrapping a tentacle-like tongue around his body and lifting him above the ground before forming a large toothy maw around the roots of the tongue.

    "Ven!" Zolph helplessly cried.

    "The General's in trouble! Concentrate fire on the ugly Sithspawn!" A Bothan Alliance sergeant ordered his men.

    They released a barrage of blaster fire towards Valkor and the large Black Matter maw, but they were quickly killed by the Valkoran troopers in the vicinity.

    "Any last words before you meet your fate, General?" Valkor taunted Choi. "By the way, you know how Jedi say you become one with the Force when you die? Well, I eat the living Force and it doesn't go anywhere else when I eat it."

    Suddenly, Choi's mouth started foaming and his body went limp and cold.

    "Suicide pill? A pity." The mouth and tongue then retracted back into the puddle, dropped General Choi's corpse and returned to Valkor. "They're not as delicious if they don't have any trace of the Force in them."

    "You cannibal!" Zolph yelled at him in anger.

    "Cannibal? Why do you people keep calling me that? It's not cannibalism if I'm eating someone of a different species." Valkor then looked back to Zolph, still restrained by the Forceless shackles. "Now where were we? And thank you for not bleeding to death."

    Whatever Valkor had planned for Zolph, it didn't sound promising.

    "So, Valk, how do you plan to torture me?" Zolph asked.

    Valkor grabbed Zolph by the chin and put a slight cut below his eye. "You came to this giant gemstone to get rid of that superweapon one of my subjects leaked out, correct?"

    Zolph was shocked, as apparently, he intended to let Arcidus leak the information of a secret weapon out. "Yeah, and I figured out that the gravity controller was only a decoy."

    Valkor chuckled. "You caught on pretty quickly, and I'll bet you, your Alliance peons and my subjects are dying to know what this secret weapon is. If so, I'll go ahead and let you all in on something: the weapon is very close by." Valkor then called into his shuttle as if he were calling out a pet. "Mortaqa, you can come out now! Don't be shy!"

    A thin humanoid figure emerged from the shuttle, hard to tell whether it was male or female. Assuming the figure was male, he wore black body armor with some red markings, a cloak with a hood over his head, five dark grey horns piercing through the hood in a fashion similar to a Zabrak's and an inhuman skull-like mask with four tusks protruding downward, one big eye socket centered between two smaller eye sockets and red lines coming down from them as if they were crying blood. In addition to carrying a pole mounted weapon that looked like a scythe with a compactable blade, he had very heavy raspy breathing and did not speak.

    "Wait, he's the secret weapon?!" Zolph asked with confusion.

    "If you really want to keep a weapon secret, you don't have a team of engineers build it." Valkor explained before directing Mortaqa. "Mortaqa, excluding me, my subjects and that crippled runt over there, I want you wipe this planet clean."

    "What?! But you won't have a planet to rule if you kill everyone!" Zolph objected.

    "And I mean everyone: the Alliance forces and the locals."

    "Don't do it!"

    Mortaqa then levitated a few inches off the ground and positioned his face up towards Christophsis's dark sky in a rather sudden puppet-like jerk. Zolph watched as several Alliance soldiers and Christophsian civilians nearby collapsed as if they were suffering cardiac arrest before a green essence – the living Force - was ripped from their bodies and they died. The separated living Force was then sucked into the central eye of Mortaqa's mask.

    However, this wasn't just happening in Agatanea. Zolph felt it happening all over Christophsis, witnessing several starships in the planet's atmosphere suddenly come crashing into the surface and hearing millions of people screaming as their lives were suddenly snuffed out.

    Everyone on Christophsis – except for Zolph and the Valkoran forces – was dead, and the planet had become a dead spot in the Force, much like the Forceless themselves. That Zolph was in the middle of it all just made it all the more painful for him.

    With some tears in his eyes, Zolph questioned Valkor. "Why? Why did you let me live?"

    "You're next, Vaelor."

    "Then what was the point of that?! What do you have to gain from killing an entire planet?!"

    "I wanted you to know how you were going to die first. It's not as fun when you don't see it coming."

    Mortaqa then approached Zolph. He could sense the Force from him, but also a Forceless presence. He was clearly alive, but it was also as if he was perpetually dying, and Zolph could also sense great pain and sorrow in him. However, he couldn't read his mind due to some telepathic interference. Meanwhile, all around him, a lot of the Valkoran troops were clearly horrified by what just happened.

    Mortaqa raised his right hand and Zolph suddenly felt as if something was trying to rip the Force from his body. However, Mortaqa failed and Zolph gasped for air.

    "How disappointing." Valkor commented. "It looks like the living Force is too tightly connected to you. Oh well! There's more than one way to flay a man alive." He gave Mortaqa another command. "Mortaqa, decapitate him…slowly. I want him to feel his head coming off. But first, close the wounds I gave him so he doesn't bleed to death."

    With a glimpse of fear in his eyes, Zolph watched as Mortaqa drew out her scythe-like weapon. The curved blade flipped forward and coated itself in purple laser energy. It was a lightsaber scythe.

    As Mortaqa cauterized his wounds and he screamed in pain, Zolph saw Maesterus, Juganak, Armogeist, Machinus and Neur rush to the scene.

    "Emperor Valkor! What is going on here?!" Maesterus objected before pointing at Mortaqa. "And who the hell is that?"

    "Maesterus, you came just in time to witness Zolph Vaelor's execution. Mortaqa just finished closing up some wounds I gave him earlier."

    "Mortaqa? Why do I sense that I know her?"

    Juganak then joined in. "She feels familiar to me too."

    "As well as I." Armogeist commented.

    "Who's the creepy flat-chested lady with the laser sickle?" Neur asked Machinus.

    "I honestly don't know, Neur." Machinus then asked the other three Valkoran leaders in an aside. "Seriously, can you three tell me who she is later? I haven't been able to sense things through the Force for three-thousand years now."

    Zolph objected. "Wait, that's a woman?!"

    "Yes, Vaelor. Mortaqa is a woman." Valkor answered him. "And it's the last thing you'll ever learn. Continue with the execution."

    Mortaqa lightly pushed her lightscythe's blade next to the left side of Zolph's neck, causing him to scream in more pain.

    Maesterus, realizing that Valkor's been aware of his treachery anyway, made a barely noticeable gesture that caused the Forceless tentacle shackle holding Zolph's right arm down to weaken, allowing Zolph to finally break free and Force push Mortaqa away from him.

    "WHAT?!" Valkor shouted.

    Zolph then broke the other bio-shackle to free his left arm and lunged at Valkor with a fully-charged punch from his mechanical arm, breaking off a piece of his mask.

    Revealed underneath Valkor's mask was a blank robotic head module while writhing blobs of Black Matter acted as his face. Right now, the Black Matter produced an expression of anger.

    "No wonder you have no empathy. You're not even an actual person." Zolph then used the Force to call his lightsaber back to his hand before fleeing from Agatanea on a swoop bike for Crystal City.

    "WHAT ARE YOU WORMS WAITING FOR?! I WANT HIM DEAD!" Valkor shouted to his men, who were still shaken by the recent genocide and somewhat hesitant to gun Zolph down. He then calmed down after his outburst and forcefully snatched a comlink from a nearby Valkoran trooper and activated it. "General Kosar! I want Vaelor eliminated, dead or alive! If you fail to comply, your wife and son will be my next meal!"

    "Understood, my lord. Kosar out." The transmission ended.

    Valkor then addressed his men before walking off somewhere. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some newborn competition to collect. The rest of you pull out."
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph drove along the Christophsian roads, he observed the carnage caused from both the battle and the planetary annihilation. Even though it looked like everyone was dead, he could sense some life coming from Crystal City, one of them being a Force user. He was hoping it was Grein and not Masochus.

    "Please don't be dead, please don't be dead…" Zolph repeated to himself.

    As he approached the city, his swoop bike was suddenly shot down by a platoon of Valkoran troopers and Gundark walkers.

    "Haven't you caused enough trouble for one day?!" Zolph asked them as he got up on his feet and activated his lightsaber.

    "Zolph Vaelor." A voice echoed from the back. In the rear of the platoon, Zolph saw a Zabrak Valkoran general. "I am General Ilen Kosar. Emperor Valkor has ordered that you be captured or killed. Stand down and I can at least guarantee you a quick and merciful death at our hands."

    "And why the hell would I just lie down to be slaughtered?!"

    "If you were to be captured, Valkor would torture you before he executes you or worse, and that is not a fate I would wish even on my enemies."

    "If you want to kill me, I'm not going down without a fight."

    "Very well, then. At least you will be spared from Valkor's wrath." Kosar then gave an order to his men. "Attack!"

    The troops tried to gun Zolph down as he cut them down one by one, but he was noticing that some of their shots were barely even hitting him, as if they were trying to miss on purpose. Even the mech drivers and gunners were missing their shots.

    Further back in the crowd next to General Kosar, a sniper was hardly trying to hit Zolph, only firing a shot every five seconds, not even trying to get a headshot. A fellow soldier then noticed his compatriot's behavior and slapped him.

    "Why the hell are you acting like a stormtrooper, Varson?! You're a better shot than that!" The soldier criticized the sniper.

    "I'm sorry, Sergeant! I don't see any justice in killing him!"

    "Then you are a traitor to the Valkoran Empire!" The sergeant raised his rifle, ready to gun Varson down, but Kosar quickly executed him with a blaster shot through his helmet.

    "As long as I'm in charge of this squad, infighting is punishable by death! Am I clear?!" Kosar told the rest of the men. He then looked to Varson. "I take it you're unsettled by the massacre and disgusted with Valkor? I am too."

    "Then why are you still fighting for him?"

    "He's threatened to eat my wife and child if I don't." He then announced to his men, "If any of you are unwilling to fight, I won't hold it against you and will take personal responsibility for it."

    "No, General! I won't abandon you when you have a family to attend to! Besides, I'd rather die fighting for you than live with the fact that I've been fighting in the name of a murderer."

    "Very well, Varson, but if we survive this, don't beat yourself over it."

    Eventually, Zolph cut his way through more of Kosar's forces and was face-to-face with the General himself. Kosar drew out his blaster pistol and fired a shot, but the shot just passed to the left of Zolph's head and the Jedi impaled the Zabrak through the chest.

    "Well, Vaelor, looks like you get to keep your life." Kosar told him as he gasped for breath

    "You didn't even try to hit me! Why?!" Zolph asked him.

    "There are others I'd rather die for than to live to serve the Emperor. I have one last request: Please spare the rest of my men. Most of them didn't want anything to do with this." Kosar said with his last breath before collapsing to the ground.

    Zolph looked to the remaining Valkoran soldiers and vehicles, including Private Varson. "You heard him. Get out of here." Most of the Valkoran soldiers and walkers retreated, but Varson was getting ready to fire a blaster pistol through his head before Zolph Force-pulled it out of his hands. "He told you to live, soldier, so don't waste this opportunity by taking your own life."

    "But I've been fighting for-!"

    "Then make up for it! Don't make the same mistake I almost made once." Zolph then handed Varson his blaster back and the soldier retreated as well.

    However, the remaining soldiers pointed their weapons at Zolph.

    "All right, boys, let's kill Vaelor, and then the deserters." One of the Valkor-fanatical soldiers ordered.

    Before they could open fire, Grein suddenly jumped into the scene and swiftly decapitated the ordering trooper with her cross-guarded lightsaber. The rest of the Valkor loyalists were promptly killed by both Zolph and Grein shortly after.

    Zolph was very relieved to see Grein. "You're…. you're alive!" Zolph then rushed over and hugged her while shedding some tears of joy.

    "And so are you." Grein said, also shedding some tears.

    Zolph suddenly collapsed on the ground, still weakened from the injuries Valkor gave him, but at least he wasn't bleeding to death anymore. Grein then noticed the recent lightsaber burn marks on his abdomen and on his neck.

    "What happened to you?" She asked him.

    "Valkor happened. The sadistic bastard punched through my chest and squeezed on my heart a little to torture me. He then tried to have this woman named Mortaqa slowly behead me with a lightsaber scythe after failing to rip the living Force out of me, and that was after making me experience Force backlash."

    "So it really was you, Em. You're the only reason I'm still alive." Grein told herself.

    "Wait. That was your sister?" Zolph asked as he lied down on the ground. "I didn't think she was so androgynous."

    "What do you mean? My sister clearly looked like a woman growing up."

    "It was hard to physically tell what gender she was. Aside from having her flesh completely obscured and wearing a mask that doesn't clearly suggest a human or near-human face underneath, she was both thin and flat-chested."

    "Emilin wasn't flat-chested the last time I remember seeing her. Then that means… oh no…"

    "I'm so sorry, Grein."

    Not long after, R9-C4 rolled onto the scene, emitting a somber whistle that was very uncharacteristic of her. She was still covered in blood like she usually was after being in direct combat, but wasn't carrying around any trophies such as the still beating heart of a Valkoran trooper she killed.

    "Master = Alive / Seefor = Relieved."

    "I'm not in the mood for any of your disgusting trophies, Seefor, and I'm very serious this time." Zolph told her.

    "Seefor + Trophy + Current Situation = Very poor taste. / Total Desolation = Not fun."

    Zolph barely got up and patted Seefor on the head. "Ah, I never would have thought in a million years that you would be horrified by mass slaughter."

    Moments a later, an Alliance shuttle touched down in Crystal City, and disembarking from it were Hiriss Moraana and Besh squad, who came to aid the campaign, but were too late. They noticed Zolph lying on the ground next to Grein and Seefor and rushed to them.

    "Zolph!" Hiriss cried before kneeling next to his body. "Thank the Force you're alive!"

    "You know I'm not that easy to get rid of, Hiriss." Zolph said with a weak smile on his face.

    "But you look like you're barely hanging on."

    "He's suffered some internal damage, including some to the heart and needs proper medical treatment." Grein told Patcher.

    "I'm amazed he's still alive after that." Patcher handed Grein a med-pack. "I'll go back to the shuttle and get the emergency stretcher ready." The Nautolan medic then rushed back to the shuttle.

    "Are there any other survivors?" Xadisall asked.

    "I'm afraid not. That also includes General Choi." Zolph answered him while Grein provided first aid.

    "No…" Spectre quietly uttered.

    "What could have done this?" Boltz asked. "No superweapon could cause so much death with such precision."

    "As hard-pressed as you may be to believe it, Boltz, the weapon in question is not something created by science."

    "In light of what just happened, Boltz is willing to accept it."

    "The weapon in question is a woman possessed by a Forceless Archfiend."

    "How did General Choi die?" Xadisall asked. "Was he killed in the devastation too?"

    "No." Zolph answered him. "Valkor killed him. He tore his mask off and then tried to eat him alive, but Ven took a cyanide pill before he could do so."

    "However the Valks killed Christophsis, they will pay for it and General Choi." Bad Kitty swore.

    "No. Not the Valkoran." Zolph told him.

    "Then who?" Hiriss asked.

    "Just Valkor himself. That thing shouldn't qualify as a sentient being."
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Hours later at the Valkoran capital of Ockla Prime, Valkor, sitting in his throne room flanked by his strange bodyguards, received his mask fully repaired from his personal repair droid and put it back on his face.

    As the droid headed for a nearby workshop for further duties, Maesterus entered the throne room.

    "Did General Kosar do as I ordered?" Valkor asked him.

    "He's dead sir." Maesterus answered him.

    "Then bring his family here."

    "Sir, in his defense, he died following your orders, and you only threatened his family to motivate him, and you can't further motivate or break a dead man. Besides, don't you think you've already hurt your public image enough today? Start executing civilians for personal pleasure and you'll start to look like Masochus."

    "Very well, then. They get to live. However…" Valkor then removed his mask again in an attempt to unsettle Maesterus with his Black Matter covered face. "You have a lot of nerve to come back here and question me after you clearly undermined my attempt to execute Vaelor. You've finally exposed your treachery."

    "Is there even any point in being subtle anymore? You already know that I know you know."

    "If you're trying to confuse me, you're failing.

    "I'm not trying to, and that clearly means you're confused."

    Valkor growled with anger. "I've had to put up with your treachery for six years now! I could-!"

    "Torture me? Kill me? I know you're not stupid enough to do either of those with the risk of turning me into a martyr. Add the fact that you've just committed the first planetary genocide in the history of the Valkoran Empire, you openly threatened to devour a man's family if he didn't follow orders, physically and psychologically tortured someone, and withheld the truth of Ze'emilin'asana's fate, you're already crossing a line, and that's a line you wouldn't want to go past any further."

    "You win this round, Maesterus. But know that your possession immunity, your charisma and your cleverness are the only things keeping you alive right now."
     
  7. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 14: Facade

    One month has passed since the devastation of Christophsis and Zolph Vaelor has recovered from the injuries Valkor inflicted upon him. Since then, both the Galactic Alliance and the Jedi Order have been forced to scatter across the galaxy due to the threat Mortaqa presents.

    In the war room of the Alliance base on Polis Massa, Zolph met up with Grein, Hiriss Moraana, Admiral Cephal and Luke Skywalker, the latter of whom was forced to keep moving from system to system due to his position as Grand Master of the Jedi Order.

    “Are you sure you’re ready to be back in action?” Hiriss asked Zolph.

    “Well, the doctors say I’m good to go, and my internal injuries are pretty much healed.” Zolph told her. He then looked to Cephal. “So what’s new, Admiral?”

    “We’ve lost even more planets. Qiluura: Crushing defeat. Kratzar: Crushing defeat. Ord Ibanna: Crushing defeat. Lola Sayu: Crushing defeat. All within five minutes of the battles starting.” The Mon Calamari admiral answered.

    “In other words, more bad news. Ever since Christophsis, we’ve been losing battle after battle. Unless we do something about Mortaqa, we’re like an army of neutered gizka. At the rate we’re going, the Valkoran are going to win this war, and all their Emperor had to do was unleash her on us. He was probably just using the Archfiends to toy with us.”

    Cephal continued. “Curiously, unlike Christophsis, only our military forces are being killed and not the civilians.”

    Zolph then scoffed. “Judging by the behavior of some of the Valkoran forces following the massacre, Valkor’s probably trying to avoid more bad publicity stunts.”

    Hiriss commented. “They’ve also refrained from taking Coruscant and the Core Worlds. If anything, he’s also probably trying to intimidate us into surrendering.”

    “He’s crazy if he thinks we’re just going to accept a future where we’re all possessed by Forceless.” Zolph then looked to Luke. “And I know you’re here for another reason aside from staying away from Mortaqa, Skywalker.”

    “I’ve had to deal with threats like her before, but even then I’m not willing to gamble on whether I’m immune to having the living Force ripped out of me like you are.” Luke told him.

    “I wouldn’t say I’m completely immune. Her attempt to rip mine out still felt painful.”

    “Anyway, I have another lead on an Archfiend. I got some intel leaks suggesting that the Valkoran are going to summon one named Facadma on Chilades.”

    “Chilades? That’s another planet I’ve never heard of until now.”

    Grein answered him. “It’s in the Unknown Regions, only a few systems away from Ockla Prime.”

    “But what’s the planet like?”

    “It’s under a perpetual nuclear winter, has lots of chemical-tainted water and is inhabited by mutants.”

    “So, it’s another one of those Unknown Region nightmare worlds.”

    Cephal then asked. “Should I prepare a fleet to attack Chilades?”

    “No, Admiral. This is clearly a trap. If Mortaqa’s the cause of our recent string of losses, she’s most likely going to be there and kill all of you as soon as you jump out of hyperspace.” Zolph then lowered his voice in case there were Valkoran spies eavesdropping on them. “Besides, Luke, Grein, Hiriss and I know the part about them trying to summon Facadma is a load of nerfshavit.”

    “So what are you suggesting?”

    “Since it’s established I’m the most likely to survive whatever that power is, I’ll go there and deal with Mortaqa myself, and I’ll only have Seefor to accompany me since she’s a droid. Perhaps, once Mortaqa’s dealt with, we can finally take the fight to Ockla Prime.”

    “Provided we don’t have to deal with the entire Valkoran Empire. Otherwise, it’s a good plan.” Luke responded.

    “Then it’s settled.” Cephal answered. “We will go with Vaelor’s plan.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Later inside a hangar in the Polis Massa base, Zolph prepared himself, R9-C4 and the Manthis for Chilades’ hostile climate. Grein and Hiriss came to him while he worked on his fighter.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to come along, but you should understand why I didn’t.”

    “We know, Zolph. Mortaqa would kill us if we came along too.” Hiriss answered.

    “I wish I could be there for Emilin, but I can’t.” Grein joined in. “I only survived the annihilation of Christophsis because she held… that thing back and I was far away from her. If I got any closer, she wouldn’t be as successful that time.”

    “Is there anything I can do for you, Grein?” Zolph asked her.

    “Aside from what needs to be done…” Grein handed Zolph a long-range holo-communicator. “Let her die as Emilin and not Mortaqa.”

    “I understand.”

    Hiriss spoke to Zolph again. “Just promise me you won’t die there.”

    “Hiriss, I’ve had several near-death experiences already, and one of them just a month ago. This isn’t anything new to me.”

    “Please don’t say that. If you keep saying that, your own cockiness may get you killed someday. Whenever you almost died, you’ve only survived on the virtue of someone else being there to bail you out.”

    He then put his left hand on her shoulder. “I know I’m not immortal, Hiriss. Like I said, I’ve had near-death experiences before, and I actually thought I was going to die during them.” He then pointed backwards to Seefor. “Besides, I’m not going entirely alone. She’ll be with me.”

    Seefor giggled mischievously while sitting in the Manthis’s astromech socket.

    “I know.” Hiriss responded. “It’s just that if you die, it’s all over for us.”

    “Don’t worry. I’m not going to let cold weather, toxic chemicals, mutants or a one-woman planet-killer armed with a weaponized crop-harvesting tool kill me. And I’m sure as hell not letting an Archfiend kill me either.”

    “That’s all I wanted to hear. May the Force be with you.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Several hours later, Zolph and Seefor entered the Chilades System and saw a planet with splotches of grey, white and toxic green guarded by a fleet of Valkoran warships. Apparently, this fleet was stationed there to alert Mortaqa if the Alliance fleet came.

    “Well, at least they’re trying to make it not look like an instant death trap. Or they predicted that I’d be coming.” Zolph said to Seefor.

    “Engage Valkoran fleet = Inadvisable.” Seefor responded.

    “You’re the last being in the galaxy I’d expect to back out of a fight, but I agree with you. Fleet or no fleet, engaging them would be suicide, and it would be even more catastrophic for us if we brought the fleet. Instead… we’re just going to fly right through them.”

    “Zolph Vaelor = Insane.”

    “Seefor, I’ve been insane since Krantisi, and this isn’t going to be any different from what we normally do. Besides, this isn’t a stealth fighter, so I don’t have any other options.”

    Zolph set power to the Manthis’s thrusters and zoomed right through the blockade, dodging laser fire and missiles from the capital ships and only shooting down any fighters that tried to attack from the front.

    With very little trouble, Zolph and Seefor made it into Chilades’ atmosphere.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

    After entering the atmosphere, they were greeted by a blizzard and noticed several mountaintops and green chemical-tainted lakes.

    “Remind me never to do that again, Seefor.” Zolph told his droid.

    Seefor giggled mischievously, having no intention of reminding Zolph not to perform any more bold fleet rushes.

    Zolph suddenly felt another wound in the Force nearby, but it was pretty small compared to Christophsis.

    “I felt a number of people dying simultaneously just now. I think Mortaqa just executed them for failing to kill me.” Zolph told Seefor somberly before his tone slightly lifted. “At least we won’t have as much trouble leaving this frozen hellhole.”

    Zolph then flew in the direction he sensed Mortaqa’s Forceless presence was coming from and once he sensed he was close, he landed the Manthis inside a cave on a mountain to protect it and Seefor from the harsh weather.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph climbed out of the fighter, injected himself with a body temperature increaser and put up his winter hood, he gave some orders to Seefor.

    “I’m sorry you won’t get to fight any mutated animals, Seefor, but I need you to stay with the ship in case something happens.”

    Seefor then turned her head towards the back of the cave. “Zolph = Incorrect. // Shelter = Inhabited.”

    Zolph turned around to see a pool of green water behind him with a tunnel in it, and emerging from the pool was a large mutated furless pinniped with four fins for limbs, an elongated neck and a dragon-like head with four eyes and really sharp teeth. From Zolph’s perspective, it was a more horrifying version of a similar but more adorable creature he’s seen before.

    “I am not going to be able to look at domesticated dracoseals the same way again.” Zolph said to himself as he ignited his lightsaber.

    Suddenly, Seefor launched out of the Manthis’s astromech socket and rolled towards the mutant dracoseal just as it moved toward Zolph and prepared to lunge its jaws at him. Once by the creature’s side, Seefor popped an arm out of her torso and electrocuted it. The fact that the dracoseal was still freshly wet made the electrocution fatal.

    “Cave – Mutant = Now uninhabited.” Seefor commented.

    “Thank you, Seefor. But I still need you to stay with the ship.” Zolph responded. “And be sure to protect it from any other mutated animals that try to destroy it.”

    Zolph then exited the cave and started his journey to find Mortaqa.
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph trekked his way across Chilades’ surface, he would find himself dealing with other mutated predators such as anoobas, nexu, acklays and rancors in addition to creatures exclusively native to Chilades. From what Zolph observed, there was no plant-life present on the planet and any herbivores were now extinct, either due to the bitter weather, environmental pollution or carnivore dominance.

    As far as ice planets went, Zolph had found one even colder than Polus and Orto Plutonia. He was very lucky to have brought the body temperature raisers.

    Eventually Zolph made it to an area known only as the Poison Well, a sinkhole in which an ancient tower – clearly of Rakata origin - sat in the middle of a chemical-tainted lake.

    “At least the Valkoran’s fake leak wasn’t lying about there being a temple.” Zolph looked down into the sinkhole at the base of the temple, noticing a few Valkoran MAAD pods down there. “Getting down there is no problem, but getting out’s the next question.” He then noticed some walkways connecting into the walls of the sinkhole. “Of course, I don’t think the Rakata would’ve built this temple down here if they didn’t have an emergency exit, but that doesn’t change the fact they built it in the middle of a toxic lake.”

    Zolph then jumped into the sinkhole, dived towards the temple plaza platform while dodging fire from the turrets below and landed safely. After eliminating the Valkoran troopers in the plaza, he dispatched the MAAD pods so he could have a quick getaway.

    After the plaza forces were dealt with, Zolph proceeded up the temple tower, hoping to finally a get a break from the cold and possibly exposure from toxic fumes. Either way, Zolph knew he would have to take a decontamination shower after he got off Chilades.
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    As Zolph ascended the tower’s interior and progressed towards Mortaqa, he sensed another disturbance in the Force approaching him.

    Midway through the temple tower, he came across what looked like a large egg chamber – with six eggs total, and the disturbance he sensed was coming from those eggs.

    The eggs suddenly hatched, and out of them came some pale semi-humanoid crab-like creatures. They had three pincer-tipped arms protruding from their upper bodies and two pincer-less legs on their lower halves, but their faces resembled the mask Mortaqa wore – a human-shaped head with no mouth and three holes revealing it to be completely hollow inside save for a single glowing Forceless eye crystal. The resemblance couldn’t be a coincidence.

    “Let me guess: Facadma’s children?” Zolph asked them.

    The creatures shambled towards Zolph before emitting a high-pitched shriek that reverberated in his brain.

    “Oh, that’s right, you were just born. You don’t even know how to talk yet, but how would you be able to do that when you don’t have mouths? Then again, how are you able to shriek?”

    And Zolph also wondered where in space those eggs came from. Facadma couldn’t possibly be using Mortaqa to make them. Chiss are mammals like humans and thus do not lay eggs, and even if they could, their eggs wouldn’t be that big.

    One of the children somersaulted at Zolph and knocked him down before pinning him down by both arms, allowing the creature to impale him with its middle claw. However, Zolph kicked it in its unarmored abdomen, breaking its grip and allowing him to free himself. Zolph slid his mechanical arm out of the left pincer’s grip, grabbed his lightsaber and bisected the Facadma child.

    The remaining five children tried to swarm Zolph as he got up, but he jumped out of the way before they could pounce on him. Zolph then realized it was safer to keep his distance from them and that they were trying to attack him in a group. He readied a thermal detonator and threw it into the swarm, killing them all in a fiery blast.

    “I am not looking forward to fighting their mother… or father?”

    Zolph continued progressing up the tower.
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Minutes later, Zolph made it to the top of the tower and came across a chamber with shallow green-lit water and a few slightly elevated platforms. To Zolph’s relief, there was no toxicity in the water.

    On the larger central platform, Zolph noticed Mortaqa on her knees and clutching at her skull as if she were having a headache. In contrast to what he saw of her on Christophsis, it sounded like she was crying in pain.

    “That’s enough, Facadma!” Zolph yelled at her.

    Mortaqa then got up on her feet, turned towards Zolph and drew out her lightscythe.

    “I know who you really are, Emilin. I’ve come to save you.”

    Mortaqa then spoke in a weak voice. “My name…. is not Emilin…. I am Mortaqa.”

    “Shut up, Facadma! Emilin, this isn’t you talking!”

    “Stop calling me that! I told you, my name is Mortaqa!” Mortaqa then teleported behind Zolph and tried to slice him in half with her scythe, but he quickly blocked it with his lightsaber before jumping backwards.

    Zolph began to worry. Has Facadma mentally broken Emilin through millennia of physical and psychological torture? Would this have eventually happened to Dynn had he not killed her? However, he was suspicious of the telepathic interference coming from her head.

    “Fight it, Emilin! Don’t let that monster control you! Your sister’s been worried sick about you! Mortaqa isn’t your real name!”

    Mortaqa Force-pushed Zolph away from her before releasing a stream of green superheated energy from the center eye on her mask and briefly pinning Zolph against a wall. “You don’t know me! You don’t know anything! I don’t have a sister! I’ve always been Mortaqa!”

    Considering she just used a Force power, something that only willing Forceless hosts could use, it seemed Zolph’s fears were confirmed. However, it wasn’t just a Forceless, but an Archfiend possessing Emilin, and as he learned from Belluzub, some willing Archfiends are Force users. By that logic, it’s possible that Facadma is a Dark Force user like Belluzub, which would make sense, as according to Grein, the two of them were Valkor’s right and left-hand Archfiends. And there was still the matter of the telepathic interference… and the horns. And some of the powers she demonstrated, he could sense were not Force powers.

    Mortaqa teleported over to Zolph’s location, telekinetically lifted him off the ground and prepared to finish him off with her scythe.

    “Time to test my theory on what those horns are for.” Zolph ignited his lightsaber and slashed off all five of Mortaqa’s horns and this caused her to drop him. As Zolph predicted, the telepathic interference stopped. Those horns were actually telepathic inhibitors.

    Suddenly, Zolph heard a voice in his head coming from Mortaqa. “Please… kill me! End it!”

    Zolph blocked another death blow from Mortaqa and spoke somberly to her. “Don’t worry, Emilin. It’ll be over soon.”

    “Stop calling me that!” Mortaqa yelled.

    “You can stop the charade, Facadma. I can read her thoughts now. Her real thoughts. You can’t deceive me anymore.”

    Mortaqa prepared to slash him again, only for Zolph to impale her through the chest with his lightsaber. Zolph then grabbed her mask, pulled it off her face, threw it aside and pulled her hood down, revealing a humanoid face contrary to the mask’s design underneath.

    Emilin’s skin tone changed from Forceless black to the usual Chiss blue, her eyeballs were purple like her sister’s, she had dark blue hair like her sister – except without teal highlights - pulled back in a ponytail and some scarring on her face, suggesting that the mask embedded itself in her face and released when she was impaled.

    “She’s… finally gone… and the screaming… is finally over.” Emilin weakly said to Zolph as she clutched at the wound in her chest. “I gladly… accept my death…”

    “Please, just hold on, Emilin.” Zolph told her.

    “Can’t you just let me die in peace?”

    Zolph pulled out the holo-communicator Grein gave him before he left. “Someone you know wants to talk to you. She’s missed you dearly.” He then signaled and activated the device, projecting a live hologram of Grein.

    “Emilin? It looks like Zolph has succeeded.” Grein said.

    “Sister? You’re still alive after all these years?” Emilin reacted with surprise and shed a tear. She didn’t initially recognize her with the dyed bangs, and she barely looked older than she last remembered her.

    “I prolonged my lifespan and watched some of those I knew die just to see that you were eventually free. I’m sorry I left you to get captured and subjected to many lifetimes of suffering, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be here to save you myself. If you’re angry with me for leaving you, I won’t hold it against you. Having to live with that knowledge for over three-thousand years was just as painful.”

    “I remember, I told you to run. You can’t blame yourself. As for not coming here, you knew very well that Facadma would kill you instantly if you came within this star system, and I just barely held her back to keep her from killing you on the crystal planet, so you sent this boy who managed to resist Facadma’s power as a proxy. You can’t do everything on your own.”

    “Thank you, Em. And that’s one time I was wrong about the gender of an Archfiend.” Grein’s holographic image then pointed towards Zolph. “Zolph Vaelor there is Seferin’s and my distant grandson. And before you ask, generations of my descendants breeding with humans have made the Chiss ancestry signs nearly invisible over time.”

    Emilin chuckled. “So I’m a great aunt, but that’s going to be past-tense soon.” She clutched at her chest again and grunted in pain. “Sorry, Grei, but I don’t think I’m going to last much longer.”

    “I’m glad to have seen you one last time, and as yourself. I love you, Emilin. May the Force embrace you.”

    “I love you too, Grein, and this was just what I needed before I die. And please, continue living your life normally after the Collective is finished, but no more cheating death.” Emilin then looked to Zolph. “And thank you, my nephew.”

    As Emilin breathed her last, Zolph laid her body down on one of the platforms.

    “Rest now, Emilin. Your suffering has ended.” Zolph said in his continued somber tone. He may not have known Emilin for long, but he knew he just lost another family member.

    Zolph then noticed Mortaqa’s mask on the floor a few feet away glowing.

    “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a score to settle with that schutta.” Zolph said to Grein before ending the transmission.

    Mortaqa’s mask transformed into what was essentially a larger version of the crab-like creatures he saw in the tower’s middle floor. She had pale white skin, a skinny build, three pincer-tipped arms, a human-like head with three eye-like holes revealing it to be hollow inside save for her Forceless eye crystal and facial makings similar to her mask form. Unlike her children, she had four thin tentacles coming from her head: two hanging from her "cheeks" and two drooping backwards over her cranium. The creature then let out a high-pitched shriek despite her not having a mouth.

    “Well, look at that. The ugly crab has decided to stop hiding inside a mask andshow what she looks like.” Zolph said to Facadma.

    Facadma responded back. “You… You just spoiled my plans to consume the blue one’s life-force once I got bored with her, but after three-thousand years, it’s hard to tell if I’d ever get bored of playing with her. And it’s a shame I’ll never get to taste yours either, because I’d really enjoy your screaming.”

    “So, you actually take pleasure in tormenting people? You know what, Facadma?” Zolph then ignited his lightsaber as he continued speaking in a tone of tranquil fury. “I hope the Nine Corellian Hells exist just so you can go there when you die, but even those would be too good for you, you disgusting, hollow-headed, five-legged, vampiric… crab thing!” However, being a Jedi, Zolph didn’t actually believe in the Nine Corellian Hells.

    Facadma sarcastically clicked her right pincer repeatedly as if she were trying to imitate a slow clap. “Are you finished? By the way, I’d like to thank you for your part in killing that idiot, Belluzub. Valkor wouldn’t let me do it myself.”

    Facadma pointed her pincer towards Zolph, opened it and fired a bolt of sickly green Force lightning from the claw tips at Zolph, throwing him against the wall again. As Zolph got up on his feet, he noted that he would have to be careful around the water in the chamber.

    Zolph spoke to Facadma. “I take it this room was your summoning chamber? Its size is way too convenient for you.”

    “You guessed correctly. Oh, and I’m guessing you’re curious as to how I laid eggs while I was possessing Mortaqa?”

    “You mutilated her body?”

    “Aside from making her grow telepathy inhibitor horns, no. Only the symbiotes can do that. I reproduce like this?” Facadma launched a tiny egg from her middle eye-socket into the water, and the egg then grew exponentially larger before hatching into one of the Facadma larvae he saw earlier, albeit less developed since its growth was rushed.

    “By the way, you’re a horrible mother, Facadma. Who abandons their own children before they’re born and makes them into soldiers?”

    “Oh come, they only have a one-hour lifespan. Besides, you Jedi weren’t above leading an army of slave soldiers and treating them as cannon fodder.”

    “You’re referring to the previous Jedi Order. And that part about them leading an army cultivated solely for combat is heavily exaggerated anti-Jedi propaganda from the Galactic Empire. From what General Choi told me at one point before he died, the Jedi leading that army was no doubt morally questionable, but the majority of them at least had the decency to treat them as people when compared to some of the politicians and the people who cultivated the army, and they had plans to fight for their civil rights after the war. Besides, that’s awfully hypocritical propaganda when you consider that the Empire practiced slavery on a more explicit level.”

    “Are you sure that’s the case? After all, history is written by the victors.”

    “My source was an undertrained old Order Jedi. And the victors of that war were the Empire, hence the propaganda, and it took the Rebel Alliance defeating the Empire to wipe away that propaganda.”

    “Anyway, it’s time to stop being side-tracked.” Facadma barked an order to her child. “Attack… but don’t kill him. I have plans for him that I don’t think Valkor would mind.”

    The child made a rolling charge at Zolph, but he simply Force pushed the creature across the room into a wall once it made it into striking distance, smashing it to death. Facadma made a few more eggs, but the next few children were decapitated when they charged at Zolph.

    “You intend to possess me like you did Emilin, correct? Newsflash: I’m immune to possession! That’s exactly why Valkor wants me dead!”

    “I know, but that’s Forceless symbiote possession.” Facadma then fired a green laser from her eye at Zolph, who quickly deflected it. “And I’m an Archfiend. So I believe you can be possessed by a proxy creature like me.”

    Facadma fired another bolt of green lightning at the water, forcing Zolph to jump onto one of the platforms before he got electrocuted. “And judging by the coloration of your attacks, I’m guessing you’re not a natural Force user?”

    “Of course I am.”

    “You’re lying again.”

    “Very well. I’m what other people call a Force Vampire, but I don’t only feed on the living Force. I also use it to fuel my own power. But if I can take control of a natural Force user like you, I can feed on a system-wide scale.”

    “If you want to possess a Jedi or Sith, why not choose someone more powerful?”

    “Oh, I’ve tried to go after Skywalker, but he’s proven too illusive and Valkor didn’t want me unveiling myself to the galaxy until the time came. So you’ll have to do.”

    Facadma then jumped into the air and tried to land on Zolph. When she missed, she tried to grab at him with two electrified pincers while balancing her upper body on her middle claw. Zolph then Force-pushed her middle claw to throw her off balance, causing her to slip, land her electrified claws in the water and electrocute herself. She let out another high-pitched shriek as she was being electrocuted, but the shock wasn’t fatal.

    She got up and grabbed Zolph with her middle pincer and slammed him against the floor a few times before letting out a high-pitched laugh that could only be heard in someone’s mind.

    “You know, that laugh of yours is really annoying!” Zolph told Facadma. She then tried to squeeze on him a little more.

    “But I’m not even making any sounds.” Facadma taunted Zolph. She continued laughing telepathically while trying to slowly snap Zolph in half.

    Suddenly, Zolph felt a familiar presence in the room. Facadma’s grip on Zolph loosened and she was telekinetically thrown against the wall. Zolph then noticed Maesterus approaching him.

    “What are you doing here?” Zolph asked Maesterus.

    “I had some suspicions about Mortaqa.” Maesterus then took a quick glance at Emilin’s corpse. “And it turns out my suspicions were correct.”

    Facadma then got up and tried to taunt Maesterus. “Well, well, if it isn’t Belluzub’s real killer.”

    “You flatter me, Facadma.” Maesterus told her. “But flattery won’t save you from my wrath, and I think my wife would like some justice for what you did to my sister-in-law. And I thought you Forceless would have learned by now what happens when you threaten my kin.” Maesterus then ignited his lightsaber and drew out a palm spike.

    “You speak of justice, and your kin just killed her!”

    Maesterus then tried to Force choke her, but with no effect on her other than immobilizing her and squeezing on her neck.

    “Emilin was already dead the moment you possessed her and mutilated her. Zolph just granted her mercy.”

    “You know choking me isn’t really going to work since I don’t have any lungs, right?”

    “Ah, but you do have a neck.”

    “You’ve just signed your own death warrant by coming here!” Facadma tried to fire some Force lightning at Maesterus from her left claw, but he flew up into the air before it could hit him. He responded by firing his palm spike into Facadma’s scalp and severing one of her head tentacles.

    “You were saying?”

    “I may not be as strong as I was when I was Mortaqa, but I can still feed on the living Force within you… right now.”

    Facadma attempted to rip Maesterus’s life-force out of his body, but Zolph interrupted her by severing her left and right pincers, leaving her to only balance on her middle claw.

    “You little brat!” Facadma yelled at Zolph.

    “That would be the thirtieth time recorded that I’ve heard that phrase.” Zolph mocked her.

    Facadma then attempted to fire an eye laser at Zolph, but Maesterus swooped at her and lobotomized the top-half of her head with his lightsaber, further exposing the eye crystal that also served as her brain and making the remains of her head look like a hatched egg shell. At the same time, Zolph severed her middle claw, causing her to fall down on her upper body and completely immobilizing her.

    Zolph then walked up to her mutilated head and she looked at him as the glassy surface of her eye crystal started to crack, and green mist seeped from those cracks.

    As Zolph pointed his lightsaber at her face, Facadma pleaded for her life. “Please…h-help me!”

    “Why should I?”

    “I don’t want to die!”

    “I’m sorry, Facadma, but we all have to die eventually, and you’ve taken millions of lives in the time you’ve been around. And from the looks of it, those millions aren’t very happy with you eating them.”

    “I can’t help it! I have to feed on them to stay alive! I can’t even eat physical food!”

    “So you’re going to justify mass murder with survival? And how have you managed to live long enough to learn how to do that? I can understand your children only live short lives because they have no means to nourish themselves. You brought this predicament on yourself by deciding to become an Archfiend and allowing your mouth to atrophy, and as a result, your children take on your current anatomy.”

    “But you’re a Jedi! Isn’t life supposed to be sacred to you?! I won’t try to kill you again!”

    “Hmm… I dunno… From my experience with Mandoculus and Fafniros, Forceless symbiotes don’t like it when their hosts don’t do what they want, and when they don’t do what they want, they get fully taken over.” Zolph then raised his lightsaber for a death blow.

    “What are you doing?!” Facadma asked before more cracks showed up all over her eye and she started screaming in agony as green mist started seeping out from other parts of her body.

    “I’m sorry, Facadma, but I couldn’t save you even if I wanted to, and I don’t trust you to keep your word after what I saw happened to the Archfiends I mentioned. However, since I’m not as cruel as you are, I will grant you a more merciful death than being slowly torn apart from the inside by the living Force of those you’ve devoured.”

    Zolph then struck his blade against Facadma’s eye crystal, shattering it to pieces and killing her for good while all the living Force she had absorbed escaped from body into thin air, becoming one with the cosmic Force.

    “It’s done.” Zolph then deactivated his lightsaber.

    Maesterus then approached Zolph. “And another of one of the Collective’s top generals is down.”

    “Looks like Valkor’s going to have to go back to fighting with conventional methods, but how much longer is this stupid war going to last?” Zolph asked Maesterus.

    “If you want some good news, Valkor’s show on Christophsis has divided his empire.” Maesterus answered.

    “How divided are you talking?”

    “Nearly half of the Valkoran army has defected, and the Empire’s civilian population is fleeing from Ockla Prime. There’s also a resistance movement building in orbit over Lehon, the original homeworld of the Rakata.”

    “Are you sure you should be telling me this? Valkor can see everything you do.”

    “I know, and he’ll know everything that happens regardless of what I do. Now it’s up to you for how you’ll use this information. And if you’re curious, I’ve already been informed that you know the truth about Grein.”
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Much later, Zolph and Seefor regrouped with Admiral Cephal, Captain Xadisall Varessi, Colonel Birik G’jan, Luke Skywalker, Grein and Hiriss aboard the Mon Calamari star cruiser Harmony in orbit over Coruscant. The fleet was also regrouped now that the threat of Mortaqa, or rather Facadma, was now over.

    “Good news everyone: a little birdie has told me that the Valkoran Empire is only half its original size and Ockla Prime is less secure.” Zolph announced to everyone.

    Luke responded to the news. “Then that means we can prepare a fleet big enough to strike the Valkoran capital without wasting time arguing with the Senate.”

    Admiral Cephal interrupted. “But aside from being in the Unknown Regions, we don’t exactly know where Ockla Prime is.”

    Hiriss interrupted him in turn. “Buuuuuut….” She then pointed to Grein. “We have someone who used to be with the Valkoran a few thousand years ago.”

    “I may not have come back for a long time, but I still know the hyperspace coordinates.” Grein answered in response.

    “Then it’s settled.” Cephal announced. “We will prepare the fleet and attack Ockla Prime a week from now.”

    “Then the Valkoran War is finally coming to an end.” Xadisall commented. “My squad’s itching for some payback against that emblem-faced Huttspawn after what he did to General Choi.”

    Zolph made another announcement. “In the meantime, I’m taking a trip to Lehon to meet with the Valkoran defectors, and if I don’t come back before then, launch the attack anyway. I’ll make it to Ockla regardless.” He then looked to Hiriss. “And Hiriss, you’ll get to be in command of the Manthis, so practice up on your flying lessons.” He then glanced to Seefor. “And that means she’s in charge of you, too.”

    “Will do, and may the Force be with you.” Hiriss responded back.​
     
  8. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 15: Ancestor

    After a few hours of hyperspace travel in a Z-95 Headhunter, Zolph entered the Lehon system and was introduced to the sight of the largest Valkoran fleet he has ever seen, all ships repainted to have the Valkoran flag symbol blotted out to separate them from those still loyal to Valkor. This fleet included the Doomsayer, Maesterus’s personal flagship and the largest ship in the fleet. Thankfully, this also meant that the Alliance wouldn’t have to be fighting this Whaladon-of-a-ship in the battle ahead.​

    Not long after getting a good view of the fleet, a squadron of Firaxa fighters prowled around him like the sharks they were named after before sending him a communications transmission.​

    “You have entered Valkoran Separatist space. Identify yourself or we will open fire.”​

    The Z-95 he was flying was a massive downgrade from the Manthis and wouldn’t survive in a fight against Firaxas, but he didn’t come here to pick a fight with them anyway, so he complied and responded back.​

    “This is Zolph Vaelor of the Jedi Order and Galactic Alliance. Maesterus told me about the fleet gathering in this system.”​

    “Commander Vaelor, you have been cleared for entry. Please proceed to Hangar 6 on the command ship, Doomsayer. We look forward to working with you.”​

    This was an unusual turn of events for Zolph. The last time he was on the Doomsayer, he and Besh Squad were infiltrators stealing intelligence. Now, almost a year later, he’s a guest.​
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________​

    After setting down in Hangar 6, Zolph was greeted by a contingent of Valkoran troopers and Skakoan commandos led by Lieutenant Will Helms. He was initially put on guard by the Skakoans because of his past experiences fighting with them.​

    “Calm down, Vaelor. They’re not here to blow you or me up this time. If their history is anything to go by, what Valkor did on Christophsis reminded them too much of that other Empire that enslaved their people back then.” Helms said to Vaelor.​

    One of the Skakoans spoke to Zolph as well. “Actually, only a minority of us are mad suicide bombers. Besides, we’re mercenaries. We are paid to fight, not kill ourselves.”​

    “Touché.” Zolph responded before turning his attention back to Helms. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re on our side, Helms, and not just because of your quirk.”​

    “Same here. Anyway, Admiral Gravlek is waiting for you.” Helms then gave an order to one of the soldiers accompanying him. “Varson. Please escort our guest to the command bridge.”​

    “That won’t be necessary. I’ve been here before.” Zolph answered nervously.​

    “I insist. This is only the second time you’ve been here, and this is a really big ship.”​

    “Very well, then.” Zolph complied reluctantly before following Private Varson.​
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________​

    As Zolph followed Varson to the bridge tram, Zolph noticed a few familiar faces along the way. One of them was General Colm Varek, the Fortress Tank commander he almost killed during his psychotic episode on Krantisi, and Zolph gave him an apologetic glance for that incident as he passed by. Another face was Doctor Cham Beneska, the Twi’lek medic who helped him recover after almost being killed by his first hallucination of Dynn on Dagobah.​

    Once they made it to the tram and took off, Varson briefly took off his helmet - revealing himself to be a bald human male with a thin mustache – and spoke to Zolph.​

    “So what has you worried about the Admiral?”​

    “You know what happened to his eyes? I kinda did that.” Zolph answered.​

    “And you think he wants to kill you for that? He doesn’t hold grudges for injuries.”​

    “Oh yeah.” Zolph remembered that Gravlek didn’t give any fuss for being left to die during the Battle of Ithor.​

    “Also, I’d like to say thanks for what you did on Christophsis. If you hadn’t talked me out of pulling the trigger on myself, I wouldn’t even be helping this movement.”​

    “It’s no problem at all. I just don’t like people going through the same despair I may still be going through after being forced to kill Dynn.”​

    “Wait, were you and Commander Manthis…?”​

    “Yep.” Zolph answered Varson before he could finish asking. “And we might still be even after her death if the last few months are anything to go by.”​

    “I think you should see a therapist.”​

    “I already have, and believe me, I’ve met far more messed up people.”​
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Later, Zolph and Varson made it to the spacious crate-filled sections of the bridge module, a part of the ship he remembered all too well.​

    “Oh, I remember this place. Fun times.” Zolph said sarcastically before asking Varson. “So, what’s in these crates anyway?”​

    “Absolutely nothing.” An energetic, high-pitched female voice said to him from inside one of the crates. “These sections are actually a makeshift training course.”​

    “Well, that would explain why it is big enough to be chased by a rancor through.” Zolph then came to a realization before looking at Varson. “Wait a sec. If that wasn’t your voice, then…. Oh no. Sweet Force, no!”​

    One of the crates next to Zolph suddenly busted open and he was tackled and pinned down by Neur.​

    “Hiya, Zolph.” Neur greeted Zolph.​

    “Why were you in that crate?” Zolph asked with a confused and annoyed tone.​

    “I was… playing hide-and-seek with Machinus.”​

    Zolph wasn’t convinced. “You’re actually stalking me, aren’t you?” For him, it was the early days with Maesterus all over again, except the stalker in question was clinically insane and apparently had a bit of an unhealthy crush on him.​

    “No, really. I actually am playing hide-and-seek. And that reminds me, I need to get moving before…” Neur heard the sound of Machinus’s mechanical joints sneaking up on her from behind. "Machinus figures out where I am.” She then glanced over her shoulder. “Okay, you got me, Cid.”​

    “I told you that I could find you even without my x-ray scanners. Anyway, Neur, would you please get off of Zolph and let him up? You’re making him feel uncomfortable and he needs to see the Admiral.”​

    “Okay!” Neur then got up on her feet and apologized to Zolph as he did the same. “Sorry about that. You should have said something.”​

    Zolph then spoke Machinus. “Thanks. Anyway, nice you two are our side as well. Valkor’s not only lost half his army, but also one of his best scientists.”​

    “After he set up some of my colleagues deaths in his decoy superweapon scheme, there’s no way in hell I’d be inventing any more stuff for him, and I don’t want him or Masochus laying any of their ugly fingers on Neur. Even droids with artificial consciousness can have more empathy than those two. Was there really any doubt I’d join this rebellion? Unfortunately, Valkor’s loyalists still have access to some of the factories.”​

    “What about Neur? Did she join by choice? I wouldn’t want to think you just dragged her along with you out of some obsessive paternal instinct or that she only joined because you joined.”​

    Neur answered Zolph in a tone that was uncharacteristically serious for her. “You’re right. I’d follow Cid no matter where he went, but that’s not the only reason. I’d never side with a man who kills planets to torture people, and Masochus reminds me too much of my so-called ‘sisters’. Real family wouldn’t forcefully cut parts of your head off just because they look out of place, constantly practice hexes on you and treat you like dirt.”​

    “You sound serious for once.” Zolph responded.​

    “Do you really think I’m cheerful and innocently clueless all the time? You’ve seen what I’m like when my lekku stop working. These things were designed to restore my higher thought processes, but all I did was act like a child in a grown-up body. When you’ve been denied a proper childhood, you sometimes try really hard to reclaim it.”​

    “I knew your personality had something to do with your childhood lobotomy, but I didn’t realize…”​

    “In short, it was all just an act, and I’m sorry if I came off as an insensitive stalker. I’ve had all the days before the war to be something I was denied from being, and I never really got a full picture of this galaxy and this war’s true nature until Christophsis. And now, you’ve given me a wake-up call.”​

    “You’re welcome.”​

    Neur then pointed Zolph towards the door leading to the bridge.​

    “You shouldn’t keep Gravlek waiting.”​
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Varson and Zolph eventually made it to the bridge. With his back turned towards them and looking out the viewport, the cyborg Admiral Marx Gravlek turned around and looked at them with his somewhat-menacing glowing red mechanical eyes, surrounded by some burned skin tissue.​

    “Welcome back to the Doomsayer, Zolph Vaelor.” Gravlek greeted Zolph.​

    Zolph nervously replied back. “Uh…long time no see, Admiral Gravlek. Nice eyes you got there.”​

    The admiral sighed with annoyance before pressing a tiny switch on the side of his head casing that changed the glow from his eye implants to yellow instead of red. “Is this better?”​

    “It’s passable.” Zolph answered. “And no hard feelings about the last time we met, right?”​

    “My eyes glitch sometimes, but other than that, none. Besides, if we fought a third time, I’d probably be more machine than man than I am already.” He then looked to Varson. “Private, you may report back to your squad.”​

    “Yes sir.” Varson responded before leaving the bridge.​

    Gravlek then turned his attention back to Zolph. “Anyway, you seem a bit disappointed.”​

    Zolph answered honestly. “Yeah, I was hoping to meet with Seferin again.”​

    Zolph also thought about the irony of his statement. Before he knew who Maesterus was under the helmet, he was not only trying to avoid him like the plague, he also hated him. Now, he wished to know him more.​

    “Maesterus is away and making preparations for the battle ahead at the moment. He also has to worry about Valkor knowing everything he sees.”​

    “Right.” Zolph acknowledged. “Wouldn’t want to give that freak any ideas on how to further sabotage us, and he more than likely already knows about this gathering here.”​

    “We don’t need to worry about him sending his supporters to destroy us right away. It would take all of them to evenly match us, and that would leave Ockla Prime an even easier target for the Alliance than it is already. But if you do want to meet with Maesterus, he should be returning soon.”​

    “Good. I have a lot of questions for him. Any other supporters I should know about? I already know Neur and Machinus are with us.”​

    “Arcidus is with us, and so are Juganak and Armogeist. Masochus is still on Valkor’s side, and we wouldn’t let him join us even if he begged on his knees. Gestroma is also part of the ground force.”​

    Zolph was surprised when he heard that name. “Wait a second. Hiriss and I threw him into a chemical vat and blew him up on Nelvaan. Are you saying he’s still alive?”​

    “Obviously. The only difference is that he’s now working for free.”​

    “I’m guessing Valkor assimilated him, because last time we met, he was a Forceless Herald trying to create his own army.”​

    “You don’t say? Then don’t be surprised he survived the things that happened to him. You already know how resilient Maesterus is, after all.”​

    “Yeah, but not all of them are that resilient.” Zolph then changed the subject. “So, what do you plan to do once Valkor’s finished?”​

    “I haven’t really thought that far ahead.” Gravlek answered. “We’re already war criminals, so I don’t see a bright future for this Valkoran splinter faction. We’ve been involved in piracy, terrorism and genocide among other things before and during the war. We’ll most likely be tried and imprisoned, or worse.”​

    “But wasn’t Valkor the one ordering you to do all that?”​

    “You don’t get the full picture. Yes, he did order the attack that killed your parents six years ago, but we could have chosen to defy him.”​

    “But that wouldn’t have done you any good seeing as what he’s capable of.”​

    “However, Valkor wasn’t planning to carry out a galactic scale war so soon, so it actually was Maesterus who started the Valkoran War by carrying out the attacks on Ithor and the Jedi academy. And he’s aware of the damage he’s caused in the process of alerting the galaxy to the threat Valkor poses, even if he’s tried to minimize it in the process.”​

    “But why wait five years?”​

    “The Yuuzhan Vong invasion happened not long after the attack over Yavin IV, and that war was already catastrophic enough as it was, though not as catastrophic as legends make it out to be. We kept the Vong out of most of our territory, but we didn’t want to get caught in a three-way war with the Republic and the Vong. And we needed a credible excuse for going to war with the Alliance that wasn’t galactic conquest.”​

    “And what excuse was that?”​

    “The New Republic was economically efficient, but lacking in military strength. The Galactic Alliance had the manpower to fight the Yuuzhan Vong without relying on impractical superweapons, but they weren’t really in the position to be rebuilding planets so soon after the war without starting an economic crisis. After all, the Vong did destroy some of the Banking Clan’s power bases – including the one on Muunilinst - and they only have a few bases left such as the Vault on Scipio.”​

    “I’m not an expert on galactic economics, but I see one problem with that excuse. Sabotaging a planetary restoration project when it’s already started only ensures that the money was spent on it for nothing.”​

    “But it would have wasted more money had it continued and succeeded, and even more planets would have followed suit.”​

    “And where do you get the resources for your army if you claim our galaxy is a state of economic collapse?”​

    “The worlds the Valkoran Empire controlled were rich with resources and didn’t already have claims on them by other entrepreneurs. We thought the Alliance was a corrupt and broken system and we could have done a better job at rebuilding the galaxy. That was partially true, but you then learned we were primarily a cult that worshipped another would-be galactic conqueror, and now, we want to get out of that cult.”​

    Zolph reassured the Admiral. “I wouldn’t worry too much about your fate. If you help us out in the attack on Ockla Prime, you’ll most likely get a lighter sentence than imprisonment, or better yet, receive amnesty for your actions under Valkor’s service.”​

    “That would be pretty nice. When does the Alliance plan to attack?”​

    “In about a week. But I have a suggestion: Don’t tell Maesterus about the attack until then, and don’t even let him know you’re withholding that information.”​

    “I understand.”​

    The door to the command bridge suddenly opened and Maesterus walked in with his wings folded down.​

    “Welcome back, my lord.” Gravlek greeted Maesterus. “The guest you admitted came while you were out.”​

    “Thank you for keeping him company, Admiral Gravlek. You may continue overseeing fleet preparations in my stead.” He then addressed Zolph. “Come with me, Zolph. We have much to discuss and our own non-military preparations to make.”​

    Zolph then followed Maesterus off of the bridge.​
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________​

    As Zolph and Maesterus made their way back to the rest of the Doomsayer, Zolph skimmed over what he just discussed with Admiral Gravlek before Maesterus showed up. Once they boarded one of the trams, Maesterus removed his helmet and revealed his face to Zolph for the first time since Krantisi. Seferin’s appearance was still somewhat unsettling due to the glowing red Forceless eyes and unnaturally blackened skin for humans of any anthropology, but unlike most Forceless hosts, his face at least still translated as being human and a relative of Zolph’s. Zolph then took the opportunity to ask his ancestor some more personal questions.​

    “When did Valkor give you your symbiote? Before or after Mr. and Mrs. Sarlacc fused together?”​

    “Stop.” Seferin answered not wanting to go into too much detail or even think about it.​

    “Judging by Belluzub and Facadma’s kids, Forceless symbiosis seems to be inheritable. I’m just wondering if the gradually strengthening immunity in our bloodline is a result of…”​

    “Okay, I got it after Grein left. Valkor ‘rewarded’ me with it in exchange for selling my life to him. And unlike some of my longtime acquaintances, I didn’t get the luxury of sleeping through millennia of isolation from the rest of the galaxy, and I had to live with the regret of never meeting my first child. Juganak and Arcidus were people I could count upon and teach, and they were of sound mind, but still as mortal as other members of their respective species. The only consistent companions I had were Machinus and Armogeist since their conscious lives were preserved at the cost of their original bodies, but it also took a toll on their mental health. Machinus was well-meaning, but he had a slight disdain for most organics due to common Plaristean ideology from our day. I could sympathize with Armogeist and the abuse he suffered from Masochus, but he was still influenced by the teachings of the Sith, just to a lesser extent.”​

    "That in addition to Xixixix's aura may explain why he threatened to stop us from progressing into the temple on Krishar with violence when we could have just teamed up to take down Xixixix. Well-intentioned, but not exactly rational. People who aren’t Force sensitive sometimes like to romanticize Dark Force users, but really, all it does is make them broody, insane, stupid or any combination of those." Zolph thought to himself.​

    Seferin continued. “It wasn’t until Valkor sent me to kill you and your parents that I was reminded of who I really was. And you know the rest from there. Again, I am sorry for some of the pain I put you through.”​

    “Again, it’s not really your fault. The immunity wasn’t as strong as it is now.” Zolph then prepared to ask another question just as the tram made it to its destination and Seferin put his helmet back on to hide his face from the lower-ranking Valkoran soldiers, even though most of them already knew he was a Forceless due to the wings coming out of his back and the abilities he’s displayed on the battlefield. “I don’t really have a defined homeworld or nationality, seeing as my mom and dad were always going from place to place after the Galactic Civil War, and we humans have multiple homeworlds. I currently live on Ossus, but that’s where most Jedi live and that doesn’t count for much.”​

    “What planet were you born on?” Maesterus asked as they disembarked.​

    “My birth certificate said I was born on Coruscant, and my family did live there for some time before we started living on other planets for only a few months at a time. My mother was of Alderaanian descent, but I want to know what planet your side of the family tree originated from.”​

    “My birth family was from Corellia if that helps.”​

    Zolph then thought about the irony of his lineage. One of his ancestors was a Corellian, but he was inept at flying their freighters, or at least the ones with asymmetrically-placed cockpits. It was an interesting design aesthetic, but it was impractical to him.​

    “I heard you were worried about letting Valkor know of our plan by openly speaking with me, yet why are you doing it now?”​

    “I never got the chance to be a good father, and right now, you’re the closest thing I’ve got to a son aside from Aiken.”​

    “But why now of all times?”​

    “I’m not quite certain if I’ll survive the battle ahead, and like the Admiral said, even if I do, I don’t think I’d be able to get that second chance.”​

    “Even at the risk of giving Valkor more ammunition against us. But like I told the Admiral, I think we can work out an amnesty plan.”​

    “Even if the Valkoran Separatist movement in general is given amnesty, I doubt that I will get off as easy seeing how I started this war and was the public face of the Empire during the first year of the war.”​
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________​

    A few minutes later, Zolph and Maesterus arrived in what was officially designated as a training ground. They witnessed Juganak and Armogeist – or if they’re being called by their real names, Argem Nylek and Balos Oiren respectively - sparring, both large men clashing suitably large lightsabers and the Force. They were using almost everything at their disposal. Juganak used his superhuman strength and Armogeist used his large, lightsaber-resistant shield.​

    Armogeist repeatedly jabbed his cyan-bladed lightpike at Juga, but the dark-skinned Miraluka dodged or blocked every blow from the animated suit of armor. Juga then gave Armogeist some advice as he played defensively.​

    “Remember, Balos. There is no pecking order of weapons, and even the so-called ‘ultimate warriors’ have a fatal weakness. What is the best weapon depends on the situation. For example, modern-day Mandalorians love to boast about having armor that resists lightsabers, but it isn’t as protective as they think. Not only can the alloy be worn down with enough force, there are still weakpoints in the armor so as to allow the wearer movement. A few even make the decision to not be fully armored so as to allow better freedom of movement.”​

    “That and a lot of them think too highly of themselves. They even act like they can kill Jedi by the dozen in a minute when they’re really just as mortal as any other soldier.” Armogeist answered as he blocked a few blows from Juganak’s lightsaber ‘club’ with his shield. “But don’t the Mandos have a rule saying they’re all required to wear full body armor?”​

    “They actually do not. Whichever one of them said that, I can only describe with one word: pretentious. For all their talk of individualism, that’s pretty hypocritical. If they really did want to be individualized, they wouldn’t act like it’s the end of the galaxy every time one of them goes against their social norms. That’s asking to be stereotyped as trigger-happy religious crusaders, in case going to war with the entire galaxy just because they want to fight wasn’t enough of a stereotype.” While Juga was answering, he Force-pulled a large training box towards Armogeist’s back. Armogeist quickly turned his left arm backward to block the box with his shield, but while he was distracted, Juga batted Armogeist’s lightpike out of his right hand.​

    “You must be alert to everything around you.” Juga told him.​

    Armogeist suddenly snapped and fired a stream of Force lightning from his right hand, but Juga effortlessly blocked it with his lightsaber before Armogeist stopped and realized what he did.​

    “My apologies, Master Nylek. It appears that I let my anger get the better of me again.”​

    “I understand your frustration, Balos. Now that we’re enemies of Emperor Valkor, you now have the opportunity for revenge against Masochus, and you have the longest history with him out of all of us.”​

    “I won’t lie, Master. I despise Masochus more than the Sith tried to get me to despise the Jedi. He not only robbed me of my flesh and blood and denied me death, he also forced me to skin my own parents alive among other things. And that’s just getting into the things he’s done while he was a Sith Lord. He got away with things just as horrific while under Valkor’s claws. For instance - and this happened while you were in cryostasis - he had a pregnant woman slowly melted down in a vat of acid just because she called the ancient Sith homeworld by a new name.”​

    “You have a lot of right to want him dead, but if you wish to overcome the Dark Side, you must learn not to revel in his death if you are the one to kill him.”​

    “That’s easy for you to say. You are a Jedi, and I am a Sith. The way we control our emotions was drilled into us at early ages.”​

    “Past tense, Balos. I left the Jedi Order because I didn’t entirely agree with it. The Council members could make wise decisions independently, but they were at their least efficient when deciding collectively. And you are no longer a Sith, even if the taint of the Dark Side is still within you. Not every person who was raised as a Jedi stays with the light, and not every Sith stays consumed by darkness.”​

    “I think Masochus has been a lost cause since the day he was born. I don’t just want him to die. I need him to die. Not just out of a desire for justice, but so he doesn’t inflict any more suffering.”​

    “You’re on the right track, and you’re doing a much better job of it than a long time ago, but you still need to keep your lust for vengeance in control. Then again, I didn’t necessarily think of myself as a model Jedi despite sitting on the Council. And like the rest of us, I found myself in the employ of another petty tyrant when it seemed we were in the process of creating the perfect society. As we all learned, a perfect society is unrealistic, and there will always be a few bad eggs in there.”​

    “For all your self-deprecation, I will say that you are the least messed up out of all the Valkoran leadership. You’re the only one of us without a traumatic past and keeps their emotions in check. I was apprenticed to the most monstrous Sith Lord of my time and lost my body, Maesterus got banished from the Jedi Order for being romantically involved with Grein and fighting in the Mandalorian Wars, Grein was a victim of racial persecution and forced to abandon her sister for thousands of years, Machinus lost his body and was subject to anti-droid discrimination, Arcidus accidentally killed his own parents when he was young and had a very sheltered life in the Jedi Order, Neur was brain-damaged and spat upon by her own people, and Emilin was possessed by an Archfiend for thousands of years. I can’t see anything having gone wrong with your life.”​

    “If you can call slightly regretting being Maesterus’s master and serving an abomination in the Force non-traumatic, then yes. And no, being blind since birth doesn’t count since it is normal for my species and I have the Force to see for me.”​

    Maesterus then interrupted and addressed Juganak. “All you did was teach me the good parts about being a Jedi, Argem. You can’t take the blame for everything Valkor’s done. And don’t even say that last part to the Kur’Ada remnants.”​

    “Welcome back, Seferin. And I sense that you brought Zolph as well.”​

    Zolph responded in turn. “Hello again, Juganak and Armogeist. Thank you for noticing us and greeting us. And the Kur’Ada are on your side again?”​

    Maesterus answered Zolph. “We secretly helped what’s left of them escape total annihilation after Valkor ate their leader and ordered the destruction of their enclave on Alpheridies. And don’t worry, they’ve given up their crusade against Force sensitives.”​

    “Since when?”​

    “Since they’ve learned to reconnect with the Force despite their impairment and that all life is connected to it regardless of whether they can call upon it or not.”​

    “So they’ve acknowledged their hypocrisy and quit. And now, we have some more Force sensitive allies.”​

    “One of the only ways that could go wrong is that they’ve been learning to use the Force for only a few months now, and considering most of them have a vendetta against Valkor, they could potentially tap into the Dark Side.”​

    “Well, we can’t have an army of brooding psychopaths.” Zolph then looked at Armogeist. “No offense. I’m just saying that based on my personal experience with it.”​

    “None taken.” Armogeist answered.​

    Juganak then got them back on track. “So what brings you two down here?”​

    Maesterus answered. “We’re here for… a different type of training. I would recommend that you and Balos leave this area for an hour or two. Things could get pretty rough.”​

    Juganak complied. “As you wish, my lord.” Juganak and Armogeist then exited the training ground.​

    Zolph questioned Maesterus. “If this is combat training, I don’t think that’s entirely necessary. After all, I just recently killed one of Valkor’s most powerful Archfiends.”​

    “But we don’t know how much more powerful Valkor is compared to them. And this isn’t combat training, by the way.”​

    Maesterus then pulled out a syringe from under his cape, and this syringe had some Black Matter inside it.​

    Zolph asked him with concern. “Why do you even bother wearing cape anymore? Wouldn’t that get in the way of the wings? But more importantly, where did you get that Black Matter from?”​

    “Myself, of course.”​

    “So you’re going to inject me with your own blood?” Zolph then got defensive seeing as he knew what was coming up. “No! No way! That’s way too dangerous! The last two times that happened, I became a homicidal lunatic!”​

    “Zolph, if things get really serious in the upcoming battle, this may be our only way to defeat Valkor. What I need you to do is control your emotions. Those last two times you were injected with it, you were in an intense state of emotion, and said emotions only got amplified by the Force-channeling.”​

    Zolph reluctantly complied. “Okay, then. I’ll try to do better this time. It’s not like there’s anyone around to tick me off this time.” Zolph then took the syringe from Maesterus and injected the Black Matter into his left arm.​

    Like the last two times he got Black Matter into his blood, he transformed, but unfortunately, the results were the same. He still resembled a Forceless-like abomination and his rage was still amplified. At least there was no one to enact his bloodlust on this time.​

    “What the hell are we waiting around here for?!” Zolph yelled at Maesterus in a distorted voice. “Every minute we waste, that metal faced bastard continues to taint this galaxy with his existence!”​

    “We don’t want to attack Ockla Prime unprepared. Even after the Great Split, the Valkoran Empire still has enough forces to put up a fight. It also wouldn’t look good to have one of our champions be a rage-induced psychopath. Besides, I only gave you enough Black Matter to stay in that form for about a minute. And that minute’s almost up.”​

    Zolph then formed an aqua energy blade around his right arm and prepared to strike Maesterus. “You useless, treacherous mynock!”​

    Maesterus prepared to defend against the strike, but the minute promptly expired and Zolph reverted back to his human form.​

    Zolph apologized for his outbursts. “Sorry about that, Seferin. Looks like I’ve still got a long ways to go.”​

    “Similar to Armogeist, you still desire revenge on Valkor, and I do, too. I know you already heard this lecture a hundred times, but if you want to tame this power of yours, you must not let your emotions control you.”​

    “Yeah, but the problem is every living thing has emotions. It’s impossible even for Jedi to be completely emotionless.”​

    “I’m not saying that you should completely purge yourself of all emotions, as that would make you only human in biology. If the Jedi didn’t have emotions, they wouldn’t even be able to show compassion or make wise decisions.”​

    “That’s true, and sometimes we make questionable decisions because we put our emotions behind us. But it isn’t easy to not hate Valkor after all he’s done. Not only did he try to kill me, he ordered the deaths of mom and dad, he forced me to kill Dynn, he had an entire planet annihilated while I was helpless to watch, and he tormented some other family members I barely knew until recently.”​

    “You’re not the first person he’s repeatedly tormented just to defeat them. And if we win, hopefully you’ll be the last. Until we’re ready to attack, we shall continue trying to tame this power.”​

    The door to the training grounds suddenly opened up, and Arcidus entered.​

    “I have returned, Master.” Arcidus then looked to Zolph. “And hello again, Vaelor.”​

    “Nice to see you too, Arc.” Zolph responded. “But this wouldn’t have been a good time to come in here.”​

    Arcidus then took off his mask. “And why wouldn’t that be?”​

    “We were experimenting with your surrogate father’s blood, which happens to be infected with the same stuff our enemy is made out of. Aside from it being a body-possessing parasite, it can turn me into a temperamental idiot that may shout ‘UNLIMITED POWAAAH!’ at the top of my lungs.”​

    “Riiiight.”​

    “So where were you anyway?”​

    “I’m getting to that.”​

    Maesterus then addressed Aiken. “So, what’s the situation on Ockla Prime?”​

    “They definitely know we and the Alliance are coming, and they most likely know I was spying on them.”​

    “And as usual, Valkor knows that I know that he knows.”​

    Zolph then asked Arcidus. “Why have they not killed you?”​

    “They’re probably setting up a trap.”​

    Maesterus then asked Zolph. “So when and how does the Alliance plan on attacking Ockla Prime?”​

    Zolph answered. “That’s easy. I’m not telling you anything yet.”​

    “I see where you’re going.”​

    At this point, it was a game of who could out-predict the other.​
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________​

    Meanwhile at the Valkoran capital on Ockla Prime, Masochus was summoned by Emperor Valkor to his throne room sitting atop the tallest building in the citadel.​

    “My Emperor,” Masochus addressed Valkor. “Maesterus’s pet has escaped and knows we’re preparing for them. Why didn’t you have him captured and devoured?”​

    “You don’t comprehend mercy? That hardly surprises me, Sith. I don’t carry out executions unless there’s a purpose behind it. And it’s a waste of resources.”​

    “But you’re the leader of the greatest army in the universe! You have the power to do anything you want! Why would you just wait?!”​

    “But it’s important that you not misuse this power. Where I come from, Masochus, there are Force cults similar to yours. The Dark Force cults wielded a lot of power, but they didn’t learn to control it properly. And some of their members are like you: ambitious and stupid. And some of the Sith-ruled Empires had this problem as well.”​

    Masochus got nervous. “Whatever do you mean?”​

    Valkor then lashed a Black Matter tentacle out of one on the slits on his mask and lifted Masochus by the throat. “I know your kind, Sith. I know about your ‘insert lightsaber in back to advance’ policy. And if there’s anything I don’t tolerate in my Empire, they are power-squabbling, loose cannons and sycophants.”​

    “But….but…!” Masochus stuttered as he gasped for air.​

    “I had a few followers who were like that before, and there are ways to keep them in check without having them completely possessed.” Valkor placed a few inches of Black Matter onto one of Masochus’s perpetually unprotected eyeballs before it soaked into his body tissue. Valkor then dropped Masochus to the floor.​

    “What did you do?!” Masochus asked as he used the Force to levitate his skinless body back into position.​

    “You now have what I call a sleeper agent inside you. It doesn’t possess you immediately, but it won’t grant you any alterations immediately like it did for my other lieutenants. Do you remember that arm I had you graft onto Dynn Manthis? That was one of them. Attempt to betray me or usurp me, and I will make cessation of existence your second-most feared fate.”​

    Valkor pointed Masochus towards the turbolift.​

    “Now, resume the military preparations, but we cannot afford to waste any more subjects on your petty experiments. You can continue your experiments, but conserve the resources.”​

    “A-as you wish, my lord!”​
     
  9. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 16: War's End
    One week has passed since the death of Facadma, and Zolph has requested Maesterus to take him directly to Emperor Valkor on Ockla Prime without warning.​
    Arriving in the Ockla System via Sigma-class shuttle, they bypassed the massive Valkoran fleet in orbit and entered Ockla Prime’s atmosphere. After getting through the layers of thick clouds, Zolph was greeted to the sight of a large city surrounded by a wall and an energy shield. There were a lot of tall buildings – some big enough to qualify as districts and have other buildings inside them. To him, it was like a smaller scale, but somewhat gloomier version of Coruscant. However, out of the all the buildings, one stood out in the center and extended past the shield dome.​
    The shuttle’s pilot commented to Zolph. “Welcome to the Imperial Palace. I wouldn’t tell any of your senators about the size if I were you.”​
    Zolph responded with a question. “I know distinction’s important in this society, but wouldn’t a building that big just be an easy target for long-range artillery strikes? Especially since part of it is poking out of the shield?”​
    Maesterus answered him. “We didn’t build this city. The Rakata did that. We just added to it after we settled here. Besides, the palace has its own ray shield as a back-up.”​
    As they approached the palace’s shuttle hangar several floors above ground level, the pilot prepared to fire some concussion missiles to blow open the entry hatch, seeing as they’re now enemies. However, the hangar opened without warning and let them in to dock.​
    “That was unexpected.” The pilot commented. “Then again, they didn’t fire on us as we entered the system.”​
    Maesterus answered his speculation. “Valkor already knew we were coming, and he probably ordered them not to attack us so he can fight us himself.”​
    Maesterus then peeked further back into the palace hangar to see two of his Black Guards operating the hangar controls: Ascana Vaso, a female Togruta with every part of her body obscured except for her head-tails and montrals, and Yanto Eko, a male Ithorian with armor designed specifically for him and translators built into his helmet’s two vocalizers – though granted, the Black Guard was an elite unit and each member recruited had their armor tailored specifically for them regardless of anatomy, even Ithorians, who are often stereotyped as a species of non-violent pacifists.​
    “I thought the Black Guard was loyal only to you.” Zolph told Maesterus.​
    “They are. Those two were assigned as inside men after the Great Split. Unfortunately, Valkor knows all too well about where their loyalties lie.”​
    As Ascana and Yanto approached the shuttle with their plasma staves activated, Zolph could not only sense that the two were possessed by Forceless, he also noticed that they exhibited mutations atypical for their species. Ascana’s head-tails were slightly moving on their own like prehensile tentacles and her montrals not only had eyes on the outside and spikes growing between them, they moved like an insect’s mandibles. Yanto’s limbs were noticeably longer and bulkier than usual, having torn apart his armor in the process.​
    Suddenly, one of Ascana’s lekku lifted up and swiftly stretched forward, penetrating the shuttle’s cockpit, wrapping around the pilot’s neck and suffocating him to death.​
    Zolph and Maesterus then descended from the shuttle’s boarding ramp and approached the possessed guards.​
    Zolph promptly made a deadpan but very bitter comment not to Ascana and Yanto, but to Valkor, who could see and hear everything some lesser Forceless could sense. “Force anyone else to kill their friends or family?”​
    None of the two answered, until Yanto let out a loud roar that broke away the mouthpieces on his helmet.​
    Maesterus somberly responded to his former allies. “Ascana. Yanto. I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have let you be assigned here.” He and Zolph then activated their lightsabers. “Don’t worry, my friends. It will be over soon.”​
    Ascana used her extended lekku to throw herself up in the air and perform a jump strike on Zolph with her plasma staff, but he blocked in response. While their weapons were locked, Ascana grappled Zolph with her back head-tail, lifted him off the floor and tried to pull him toward her horn-mandibles to skewer him while searing him with her staff.​
    “Ow! Really!? Do you have to give me more flesh burns before you kill me?!” Zolph yelled at the Forceless before slicing off the rear head-tail holding him.​
    Ascana tried to stab with her staff, but Zolph dodged and sliced the staff in half. The possessed Togruta then retaliated by whipping him in the face with her front lekku – causing him to flinch and trying to bite him with her montral-mandibles. As Zolph held them back with his prosthetic arm, he used his left hand to grab for his blaster pistol and shot through her chest.​
    Meanwhile, Maesterus flew around the hangar dodging sonic blasts – no doubt amplified by the Forceless possession – let out by Yanto Eko in an attempt to disorient him. The hulking Ithorian then landed a hit on him and grounded him, followed by throwing his plasma staff at him like a spear.​
    Before it could impale him, Maesterus – too disoriented to use the Force - stopped the staff’s momentum by positioning both of his primary wings in front of him like a shield and letting it pierce through the flaps. He then casually separated his wings and let the stuck staff tear his flaps. He followed this up by firing a few palm spikes into Yanto’s chest.​
    The Ithorian let out another powerful roar that shook the hangar as he charged at Maesterus to either smash him with his oversized limbs or make his brain explode from sound overload. Neither happened, as Yanto was promptly impaled by Maesterus’s lightsaber once he got close enough.​
    As the two Black Guards lay dying, Ascana spoke to Maesterus after he came to her and removed her helmet.​
    “I knew you’d come back to free us. Our term… has come to an end.”​
    Yanto echoed what his partner said in Ithorianese.​
    “But I’m kinda scared that the thing Valkor put inside us is going to eat us when we die, and considering what he said about those he’s eaten alive…”​
    This then triggered a worry in Zolph in regards to the possession victims he has killed over the last year. Are they truly free when they die? It is said that it takes a while for an individual to fully become one with the Force, and anyone consumed by the Forceless is prevented from joining the Force.​
    Suddenly, the Black Matter that was inside Ascana and Yanto started to crawl out of their wounds and envelope their bodies like pools of acid.​
    Even in the one week he spent training with Maesterus, Zolph had not properly mastered his Forceless channeling ability without letting his negative emotions control him. But if it meant saving these two from a fate worse than death…​
    “Just this once, I’m willing to use this power at the cost of my sanity.” Zolph put his left hand into Ascana’s Black Matter puddle and used the Force to pull all of it into his skin pores, completely purging Ascana of the symbiote and leaving her body intact. He then rushed over to Yanto’s body to repeat the process.​
    Yanto let a weak, but satisfied bellow before he succumbed to his injuries.​
    Ascana then translated his last words. “He said that he is grateful for your sacrifice, and so am I. Now give our former Emperor what’s coming to him.” Ascana Vaso had breathed her last.​
    With the Black Matter absorbed from the two Black Guards, Zolph Force-channeled once again and transformed into an anger-induced creature.​
    Suddenly, a platoon of Valkoran troopers entered the hangar – having been alerted to Zolph’s and Maesterus’s presence - but were shocked to see both Maesterus and another freakish, black-skinned monster.​
    Zolph used his amplified Force power to effortlessly throw the entire platoon backward out of the hangar door and hundreds of feet to their dooms.​
    As Zolph and Maesterus progressed through the palace tower, even more waves of troops came in an attempt to overwhelm them, but they were all quickly cut down in groups by Zolph’s arm blades while Maesterus watched from the sidelines before they reached a turbolift. This was promptly followed up by a rage-filled boast.​
    “Anyone else want to die for their Emperor!?”​
    Just a second after, Zolph reverted back to his human form and looked at Maesterus.​
    “Sorry about that, pops.”​
    “How many more times are you going to apologize whenever you lose your temper?” Maesterus asked him. “Anyway, this turbolift should take us directly to the throne room.”​
    Maesterus attempted to access the controls, but the door wouldn’t open up.​
    “Damn!”​
    “What’s wrong?”​
    “They locked this turbolift down, and this is one of the only lifts in the entire palace that can take us there. Apparently, Valkor wants me to take the stairs for the first time in four-thousand years.”​
    “How many floors until we get to him?”​
    “About a dozen or so.” Maesterus answered.​
    Suddenly, an alarm sounded throughout the palace and across the city.​
    “All forces, report to your stations. An enemy fleet has dropped out of hyperspace.”​
    Zolph explained the situation. “Now you know why I didn’t give you a specific time frame for the attack and got you to bring me here without warning. It wouldn’t give Valkor enough time to fully prepare.” He then changed the subject. “And I’m sorry to embarrass you even further.”​
    “What are you doing?” Maesterus asked​
    “Dear Great God Emperor Valkor, I know you can see and hear me, and I know you think you have a major advantage by seeing what Maesterus can see and hear. I don’t know if you understand what this means, but I think you’ll get the context of it.” Zolph then made an obscene gesture with his hands. Maesterus sighed in disbelief. “See you in an hour or two. Signed, Zolph Vaelor.”​
    “That was it?” Seferin asked with annoyance. “You took advantage of Valkor’s disturbing surveillance method just so you could mock him?”​
    “It took a while for me to get the idea, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do so. Besides, I’m nineteen, so I’m not that far above it.”​
    “Well, we better get going if we want to be seeing him soon, and my wings are still healing, so no asking if I can just fly you there.”​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Meanwhile, a large Alliance fleet under the command of Admiral Cephal – in fact, the largest ever assembled for the war - has arrived in the Ockla System, greeted by the largest Valkoran fleet they had ever seen, although a lot smaller than it would have been if not for the Great Split.​
    The Battle of Ockla Prime had begun.​
    The Alliance fleet’s buildup included Mon Calamari star cruisers, torpedo frigates, Nebulon-B frigates, Corellian corvettes and gunships and other ship types. The Valkoran fleet, likewise, consisted of Obliterator cruisers, Dread destroyers, Judicator frigates, Demolisher missile frigates, Fury corvettes, and others that have been seen throughout the war.​
    Hiriss – piloting the Manthis - led Guardian Squadron – a contingent of X-Wing and A-Wing fighters along with some B-Wing and K-Wing bombers as part of the first attack against somewhat larger squadrons of Valkoran Firaxa fighters, Shyrack bombers and Nexu gunships as well as some Mailoc boarding craft backing up the rear.​
    “Alright, boys and girls. The Valkoran War ends today, but we need to give Valkor everything we’ve got if we want it to end in our favor.” Hiriss motivated her squadron. “I may not be one of the most seasoned pilots in the Order, and I may have only been brushing up on my skills for a week, but we’re all in this together.”​
    R9-C4 then gave her some advice in her own language. “Seefor = Fly Manthis and eliminate targets. // Commander Moraana = Strategize and give orders. // Commander Moraana + Seefor + Manthis = Lethal fighting force.”​
    “Glad you’ve got my back, Seefor.”​
    “Master Zolph’s friends = Seefor’s friends. // Moraana + Seefor + Squadron = Destroy Valkoran fleet?”​
    “Sure, why not.”​
    Hiriss then got a transmission from one of the more experienced squadron leaders. “Don’t worry, Commander Moraana. If you need any suggestions, we’re here for you.”​
    “Thanks, Hammer Leader.” She then addressed the rest of Guardian Squadron. “Alright, Guardians. Let the Valks know we don’t take kindly to peace and order through oppression!”​
    The squadron then split into small groups to take on the Valkoran fighters. While most of the X-Wings and A-Wings dealt with the Firaxas, Hiriss focused on the Mailocs charging at the Harmony with their boarding stingers prepared for injection.​
    While a few Corellian corvettes and Nebulon frigates were boarded and destroyed from the inside, only a few Mailocs managed to connect with the Harmony and the few troops that boarded it were quickly eliminated by the Alliance marines.​
    Suddenly, Hiriss spotted a hypervelocity shot coming from the planet’s surface, tearing apart one of the Mon Calamari cruisers and some smaller ships flying close to it.​
    Admiral Cephal made an announcement on the comm. channels. “All capital ships, break formation! There’s a Fortress Tank down on the surface!”​
    Suddenly, a second shot came from the surface, destroying only a frigate this time.​
    Two Fortress Tanks!” The Admiral corrected himself. He knew this from experience, as the hypervelocity cannons on Fortress Tanks have a significant cooldown time between shots.​
    “Perfect.” Hiriss responded sarcastically. “Is it possible there’s more than that?”​
    “It’s possible, but there can’t be too many down there, even if this is the Valkoran capital. Not only do they take an exorbitant amount of time and resources to build given their scope, they’re almost impossible to transfer from planet to planet without being disassembled. I hear only less than ten of them were ever constructed; disassembling, transporting and rebuilding them can take a lot of time. It hasn’t been long enough since their Empire divided to bring all of the remaining ones to Ockla, and some of those may be in the hands of the separatist faction.”​
    “So, what’s the plan, Admiral?”​
    “We send our special unit to take care of them before we send the rest of the army to attack the citadel. I’m sure they’d be happy to take down one of those monstrosities or two.”​
    As the space battle raged in Ockla’s orbit, the Alliance started sending their ground forces down to the planet’s surface via GR-75 transports, although some were being prematurely shot down either by the Valkoran fleet or the Fortress Tanks, but an MAAT flew ahead of the rest of the landing force in advance.​
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    The MAAT, carrying Besh Squad, entered Ockla Prime’s atmosphere. As the gunship approached one of the Fortress Tanks, Captain Xadisall Varessi and his men were briefed via holocommunicator by Colonel Birik G’Jan.​
    “Are you sure you and your men are up to this task, Captain?” The Bith colonel asked the Mirialan squad captain.​
    Boltz commented. “General Choi gave Besh Squad a training tour of a disabled Fortress Tank on Krantisi. Boltz and the Squad have the layout memorized.”​
    “But are you up to taking two down live fire?”​
    Bad Kitty then retorted. “Colonel, we infiltrated the Doomsayer in enemy territory. You think we can’t take on the largest tank in the army?”​
    “But you’re not posing as new recruits this time, Banir. The crew will know you as an enemy.”​
    Xadisall replied. “What my boys are saying is that we’re up to the task. And we’ll gladly take on two Fortress Tanks in the name of the late General.”​
    “That’s all I wanted to hear. No rationalizations. May the Force be with you.” The hologram of Colonel G’Jan disappeared as the transmission ended.​
    Suddenly, the gunship rocked as it was grazed by a shot from the Fortress Tank Vakaziz, named after one of the Forceless Archfiends defeated in the war.​
    “We’ve found one of the tanks, Captain, but we’re going down!” The gunship pilot yelled back to the squad.​
    “Well, sirs and madam. You said you wanted to fight a Fortress Tank.” Xadisall then loaded up his blaster rifle.​
    Patcher addressed a slight concern. “With all due respect, Captain, we’ve been in several rough spots throughout this war and the last, but I don’t think there’s any guarantee we’ll survive this.”​
    Spectre then answered the Nautolan medic. “There’s never been a guarantee for survival in the jobs we’ve taken, Patcher, and this won’t be any different.”​
    “And this is what, the tenth time you’ve said that?” Bad Kitty added. “Besides, if we do succeed and survive, we’ll have something to brag to Commander Vaelor about.”​
    “Brace for impact!” The gunship pilot yelled to the back.​
    The gunship then collided with the ground below, throwing the squad off their feet. All five of them survived, but the pilot did not. As they got up, Bad Kitty pushed open the gunship hatch, revealing Ockla’s dark gray sky.​
    They had landed in a gray dirt-patched field with a few massive footprints scattered on the outskirts of the capital city, just outside the energy shield. Bad Kitty also noticed two Fortress Tanks – turtle-like walkers that were roughly the size of a frigate – positioned outside the city walls and firing their back-mounted hypervelocity cannons into space. And conveniently, they were not far from the Vakaziz.​
    Bad Kitty yelled into the crashed gunship. “Unless you feel like decorating the bottom of a giant foot, everyone out!”​
    All of Besh Squad’s members gathered their equipment from the wreckage and hustled out before – instead of being squished by one of the walker’s massive feet – they were blown up by the blaster cannons decorating its underside. There were also some snipers firing from underneath.​
    After adjusting her maroon-colored, metal-plated hat, Spectre raised her sniper rifle and shot down the Vakaziz’s snipers, some of their bodies tumbling meters to the ground below. She also picked off some of the underbelly cannons.​
    However, they weren’t quite done with the tank’s outer defenses yet, as plasma cannon fire rained down on them from near one of the walker’s leg joints. Xadisall pulled out his macrobinoculars and noticed some Starmantis artillery droids magnetically attached to the behemoth’s carapace and thighs.​
    Xadisall gave an order to Spectre. “Spec, we have a few giant, three-legged flightless droid fleas with plasma cannons strapped to their backs. Would you kindly take them out so we can begin our climb?”​
    The Kyuzo markswoman then reloaded her rifle. “Flea treatment coming up.” She proceeded to shoot at the artillery droids near the walker’s left legs, sometimes at their heads and sometimes at their cannons, even causing some of them to magnetically detach. “Treatment complete.”​
    Xadisall then gave out another order. “Ready the ascension cables.”​
    All of the squad members fired their ascension guns into the knee of the walker’s left hindleg, but Patcher fired an extra ascension cable and hooked it up to Bad Kitty’s waist.​
    “Hey, Patch! Are you tellin’ me I’m fat!?” The large Cathar criticized the Nautolan medic.​
    “No, but you have been gaining weight recently, and that would be from muscle mass. Not to mention that heavy repeater you carry around all the time.”​
    Bad Kitty then gave Patcher a sarcastic reply. “Ah ha ha. Just shut up and climb.”​
    Besh Squad ascended the Vakaziz’s calf, and fired another round of cables into the thigh joint. The position of the thigh may been slanted enough for them not to need the cables, but they didn’t want to risk it moving to shake them off.​
    Once they got near the body, Xad spoke to Boltz.​
    “Boltz, you didn’t forget your toolkit, did you?”​
    The Gand engineer replied. “Boltz already has the fusion cutter out.” He then used the fusion cutter to cut a hole for them to enter. Unlike the other tools in his kit, he had the fusion cutter strapped to his belt from the start, as he didn’t want to bother struggling to get it out of the kit at a great height. “After you.”​
    The squad then entered the Vakaziz.​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Thankfully, traversing the inside of a Fortress Tank was surprisingly safe, as it had inertial dampeners and artificial gravity generators in specific sections to keep the crew from being thrown around by the walker’s movement and the inevitable tremors created from its stomping.​
    After getting in, Xadisall outlined the attack plan.​
    “Alright, we’ll split into two groups: one to take the command bridge and the other to take the cannon. Bad Kitty, Patcher and I will be part of the first group while Boltz and Spectre comprise the second group.”​
    “What made you decide on that group setup, Captain?” Patcher asked.​
    “You and I aren’t as specifically combat trained as the rest of us, but you can keep us alive and I can take over this monster while Banir provides the firepower to take the bridge.”​
    Bad Kitty responded with annoyance. “For the last kriffing time, Xad, don’t call me Banir. Nobody in this squad except for you even uses their real name. And Boltz since that became part of his actual name.”​
    “Continuing on, Boltz and Spectre’s roles in the squad aren’t those that necessarily pertain to personal combat, but they were both trained warriors in their cultures before they joined. And Boltz, you can sabotage some of the internal security systems along the way. Understood?”​
    “Yes sir!” All the other squad members responded.​
    “Move out!”​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    As Xadisall’s team progressed to the bridge, he and Patcher provided cover fire for Bad Kitty with their blaster rifles while the Cathar mowed down everything in their path with his repeating blaster cannon, sometimes accidentally hitting a few cloaked Shadow Troopers.​
    Once they made it to the bridge, the command crew frantically fired their weapons at the squad, but they too were mowed down by Bad Kitty within seconds.​
    “Surrender, General, and no one else has to taste this cat’s gun.” Xadisall demanded the commanding officer on the bridge.​
    However, the officer in question, a masked Force acolyte, activated his orange lightsaber. “Fool! You dare make demands of a master of the Force? You shall know your place, worms!”​
    Bad Kitty sarcastically responded. “Oh look. A drama queen.” He then revved up his blaster cannon. “Well, time to shut him up.”​
    He let out another flurry of blaster fire, but the acolyte managed to deflect some of them, and a few were sent back and wounded Bad Kitty.​
    “Patcher.” Xadisall barked. “Take care of his wounds. I’ll end this Sith wannabe’s acting career.”​
    The acolyte laughed back at Xad. “Do you still want to die, Mirialan?”​
    “Not in the near future.”​
    “Then you are an idiot for coming here!”​
    The acolyte threw his lightsaber at Xad, but the captain quickly dropped to the floor before the blade could cut him in half and shot the acolyte through the chest.​
    “Im-Impossible! I can’t lose to an ungifted soldier!”​
    Bad Kitty then boasted to the acolyte while Patcher treated him. “Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it?”​
    “When Emperor Valkor rules this galaxy, you’ll all be begging for death!” The acolyte then succumbed to his injury and fell to the floor.​
    Patcher commented on their situation. “The bridge is now ours, but no word from Boltz and Spectre.”​
    Xad followed up on that. “I’ll contact them.”​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Elsewhere aboard the Vakaziz, Boltz and Spectre had made it to the hypervelocity cannon. There, they encountered the gunnery crew and two troopers wearing Minotaur-class exoskeletons.​
    They quickly eliminated the gunners, but the Exo-Troopers weren’t that easily eliminated.​
    “Shall we split our targets?” Spectre asked Boltz.​
    “Yes.” Boltz then drew out a retractable Gand shockstaff.​
    After blocking some blaster fire with her hat, Spectre retaliated by shooting off her trooper’s shoulder-mounted visual scanner, limiting his vision greatly. He in turn retaliated by firing a concussion blast from his right arm, forcing her to leap into the air and land on his shoulders.​
    He tried to grab at her with his claw, but she simply responded to that by jamming her hat into it, and the general composition of the hat made it difficult to break in half. She followed that up by drawing her vibro-knife, stabbed into his audio sensor to deafen him and then stabbed in through the faceplate’s eyes, killing the trooper. Afterward, she retrieved her hat from the claw of his still-standing corpse.​
    Meanwhile, after prodding him a few times with his shockstaff and dodging blows, Boltz stuck an EMP device to his respective Exo-Trooper’s armor, temporarily immobilizing him and allowing Boltz to rewire some systems in the armor. He then waited for the EMP to wear off.​
    “I don’t know what you just did, but you’ll pay for it, you ammonia-breathing gnat!” The trooper yelled at Boltz as he attempted to fire his concussion blaster. This only resulted in his armor – and himself inside – exploding into many pieces of metal.​
    Following the deaths of the cannon defense crew, Boltz and Spectre were greeted with Xadisall’s voice over their comlinks.​
    “Boltz. Spectre. Status report.”​
    Spectre responded. “We have control of the cannon. I take it you have the bridge?”​
    “Affirmative.”​
    “So what’s the next step, Captain?”​
    “Position the cannon as low as you can towards the other Fortress Tank.”​
    “Got it.”​
    Boltz and Spectre manned the controls for the hypervelocity cannon and aimed it at the other tank’s cannon. Meanwhile, Xadisall’s team already positioned the Vakaziz to have it facing in the same direction.​
    “Open fire!” Xadisall yelled.​
    The cannon opened fire and promptly destroyed the other tank’s cannon. This was followed up by Xad’s team firing the Vakaziz’s frontal laser cannons at the rest of the walker and destroying it.​
    “Aw yeah!” Bad Kitty yelled over the comlink. “That’s two points for Besh Squad!”​
    Boltz then commented over comlink. “Should Besh Squad go ahead and take out that tower poking out of the shield?”​
    “I think Valkor knows we’d try to do that and has a much stronger shield in case, so no. Besides, the rest of the Valks are most likely going to try to reclaim this beast, and the five of us aren’t really enough to keep control of it. Everyone, start planting the charges and get out.”​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    After the destruction of the Vakaziz, the Galactic Alliance’s ground forces deployed at the capital, finally leading to the ground battle of Ockla Prime while the space battle still raged in orbit.​
    Meanwhile, the Blazing Manta, with both Grein and Luke Skywalker on board, flew to a specific section of the capital.​
    After clearing a landing pad of some resistance via the Manta’s own guns, they docked and disembarked.​
    Luke spoke to Grein. “So what’s the plan?”​
    “Skywalker, I need you to cause them as much trouble as you can from within the walls while the rest of the Alliance pushes through.”​
    “But what are you going to do?”​
    Grein muttered only one word. “Masochus.”​
    Luke then addressed her with concern. “Grein, I know you used to be a Jedi and still follow their values to an extent, but you must still control your feelings. I’ve known the desire for revenge before.”​
    “It’s not just personal, Skywalker. Masochus isn’t like most other Sith Lords throughout history. Even some of the ones from his time considered him a monster. He was exiled for a very good reason, and not just pragmatism on their part.”​
    “I won’t stop you, Grein, but mind my warning.”​
    After getting to a junction, she and Luke parted ways.​
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Moments later, Grein had found herself in a macabre laboratory of some sort crossed with a morgue. As far as she saw and remembered, this was Masochus’s personal laboratory.​
    Aside from some mutilated corpses, there were some experiments shown to be on hold, whether it be playing with diseases, randomly mixing body parts of other creatures, or Black Matter-based experiments as sanctioned by Valkor.​
    As she progressed further through the chop shop of horrors, she came across what looked like a grotesque imitation of an astromech droid made from human body parts.​
    “K…k….kill….me…..KILL ME!” The ‘droid’ begged Grein in an impaired tone.​
    Another angry voice echoed into the room: Masochus’s. “No!”​
    The puppet-like ex-Sith Lord approached his creation to torture it with barely enough Force lightning to kill it.​
    “V2-S7! You are not a person! You are an astromech droid! You don’t speak Basic! You speak only in beeps!”​
    He zapped ‘Veetoo’ some more before asking him a taunting question.​
    “What is your name?”​
    Irritated with the psychopath, Grein impaled his creation and granted the death he desired.​
    Grein then followed that with some bitter snark. “Kill any tookas today?”​
    “What makes you think I’d kill a tooka?”​
    Grein didn’t answer.​
    “Fine! So, how does it feel to not see your sister before she died?”​
    “I did see her.”​
    “Don’t give me that ‘I saw her again through a holo-transmission’ shavit! She would have killed you had you even got within eyesight of her! Admit it: You’re a terrible sibling.”​
    “Shut up!” Grein activated her cross-guarded lightsaber.​
    “And now, you’ve come here to make amends for not being able to save her yourself by killing me. Not very Jedi-like, isn’t it? May I also remind you that it was your fault and her own that Emilin got possessed by Facadma?”​
    “Don’t you dare try to shift responsibility for that? You’re the one who sold her out to Valkor! Why did you do it?”​
    “I always wanted to make a Jedi suffer for once in my life. I just needed a valid reason as far as Valkor was concerned.”​
    “That is so typical of you, Masochus.”​
    “Of course, I also suggested to Valkor that he prioritize planets with Dark Force presences when it came to summoning Archfiends after Dagobah. Oh, how Korriban is the ultimate weapon for breaking Jedi.”​
    Another voice then came from somewhere else in the room. “Don’t ya mean Moraband?”​
    Suddenly, Masochus’s smug demeanor broke and his tone changed to that of a child throwing a temper tantrum. “I WILL FLAY YOU ALIVE AND FEED YOU TO A SARLACC!!”​
    To Grein’s surprise, Gahmah Raan – who she hadn’t seen since Krishar – suddenly dropped out from a ventilation shaft that collapsed from his own weight.​
    “Lovely. Both of those things have been done to me before.” Gahmah replied back as he got up on his feet.​
    With no straight-faced way to make a comeback, Masochus simply resorted to blasting Gahmah with Force lightning.​
    “Ow.” Gahmah responded dully.​
    Masochus got angrier and zapped him with a slightly more powerful surge.​
    “Ow.”​
    He increased the voltage and shouted at the top of his lungs, “SCREAM! WHY WON’T YOU KRIFFING SCREAM IN AGONY!?”​
    “Buddy, I live on a planet where getting zapped by Force lightning is an everyday occurrence.”​
    “Preposterous! The Sith wouldn’t accept an alien degenerate like you!”​
    “I didn’t say there were Sith on my planet.”​
    “But then…?”​
    “The trees do the zapping.”​
    Masochus flew into another fit of rage. “WHAT THE KRIFF IS WRONG WITH THIS GALAXY!? THE FORCE SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY SENTIENT BEINGS!”​
    “The Force flows from life.”​
    “THAT! IS! IT! ONCE I CONTROL THE GALAXY, I WILL DESTROY YOUR PLANET, ERASE IT FROM THE RECORDS, AND EXECUTE ANYONE WHO TRIES TO BRING IT UP!”​
    Masochus activated a device on his wrist that opened a door to a cryogenic storage chamber, releasing another mix-and-matched monster created primarily from the corpse of an adolescent rancor.​
    “Rancen, you have two new playmates. As for the green idiot with the helmet, I WANT YOU TO SWALLOW HIM WHOLE AND DIGEST HIM ALIVE FOR HIS BLASPHEMY! Have fun!” Masochus then levitated and exited the laboratory.​
    Gahmah sarcastically shouted. “Oh, sure! Just because you’re a sourpuss that can’t get his way, you try to pull the ‘kill him’ card and run away!”​
    Meanwhile, Grein had calmed down from just Masochus getting sidetracked from taunting her.​
    “That wasn’t very smart, Gahmah. If you weren’t you, he would have killed you. And you let him escape from me.”​
    “He would have killed you if I didn’t drop in. Being almost as old as him, you should know that taunting an enemy to unbalance them is a classic Sith combat tactic. So, I gave him a taste of his own medicine.”​
    “And how would you know that considering the Sith are all but extinct in your time?”​
    “On a contract prior to this war, Maesterus schooled me on some Jedi and Sith combat tactics in the event that I’d fight one of them. And I lost some limbs due to my temper a few times.” Gahmah then flipped out his gauntlet. “Anyway, we should talk after we kill this thing. Or re-kill it because… you know.”​
    The monster tried to swing at Grein with its claws, but she proved too evasive for it. It eventually grabbed her, but she simply liquefied herself to escape its grasp.​
    With Rancen distracted, Gahmah jumped onto his back and started pulling out the stitches in his neck with one of his blades. Once enough of the stitches came out, the head separated from the body and the creature died.​
    “And I’ll bet Masochus will be even more ticked with me once he learns I didn’t die, as is the case with a few other enemies I’ve made over the years. If he still had skin, I think he’d be redder than a Zeltron on fire.”​
    Grein responded. “It’s possible he may be of the Sith species, and they naturally have red skin too.”​
    “Okay, so he’d be redder than a Sith on fire.”​
    “What are you doing here anyway, Gahmah?”​
    “Arcidus hired me as an inside man because he said I’m too unpredictable to be entirely trustworthy. Also something about Maesterus worrying that Valkor sees and hears everything he does and his previous inside men going missing.”​
    “Then that means…”​
    “The Alliance is getting some backup. Anyway, let’s leave this slaughterhouse and get some fresh air.”​
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Meanwhile in Ockla’s orbit, another Valkoran fleet – accompanied by some Kur’Ada and mercenary vessels - dropped out of hyperspace, led by the Doomsayer. The massive vessel introduced itself by firing five plasma shots in succession at an enemy Obliterator destroyer, quickly destroying it.​
    Admiral Gravlek then gave an order to the rest of the ships under his command. “All forces focus on the Valkoran vessels marked as red on your scopes so as to differentiate friend from foe. And provide aid to the Alliance fleet as needed.”​
    Afterward, squadrons of Valkoran fighters and boarding craft, led by Arcidus in the Phantom Razor, charged into the battle. As they joined the skirmish, Arcidus took out three enemy Firaxa fighters pursuing Hiriss’s fighter. He then tried to contact the ship.​
    “This is Arcidus from the Valkoran Separatist movement. Who are you and why are you piloting Zolph Vaelor’s starfighter?”​
    Hiriss responded back. “This is Jedi Knight Hiriss Moraana. Zolph requested that I fly his ship in the battle while he met with your people. Seeing as your Maesterus’s top agent, do you know where he is right now?”​
    “He’s already in the Imperial Palace with my master, and he got here before you did.”​
    “So he was ahead of us. And thank you for the save. But now that you’re here, let’s finish these guys.”​
    At the same time, some Behemoth-class landing barges and Sigma-class shuttles were making their way down to the planet’s surface.​
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Back on the lower levels of the capital, Luke Skywalker aided the Alliance forces as they battled Valkor’s supporters. While the Alliance soldiers had some trouble fighting with the Exo-troopers – which could move surprisingly fast when given a lot of open space, but took a while to slow down their dash jets -, Luke had almost no problems at all given his previous experiences.​
    Just as another trooper has ready to fire his concussion blaster on Luke, another Exo-trooper charged at the firing trooper from behind and ran his claw through his back. However, the rogue Exo-trooper had the flag symbol on his suit blotted out.​
    Some other rogue Valkoran forces along with some Kur’Ada warriors and Skakoan commandos came in as well, led by Juganak and Machinus.​
    “Maesterus’s forces are with you, Skywalker.” Juganak told Luke.​
    “Glad to hear that.” Luke replied.​
    One of the Alliance troopers then alerted both parties. “More armored units incoming!”​
    As described, two more enemy Exo-troopers, along with a Rancor assault tank and a Nexu gunship arrived on the scene.​
    Machinus rhetorically asked Juganak. “Juga, how far can you throw one of those suits with a person inside them?”​
    “Allow me to demonstrate, Professor.” Juganak rushed at one of the Exo-troopers. The trooper fired a concussive blast at Juga, but the muscular Miraluka simply shrugged it off before effortlessly hoisting him over his head and then hurling him at the gunship, destroying both in the process.​
    The other trooper tried to fire on Juganak while he was focused, but Machinus drew his attention by firing a few relatively harmless blaster shots from his wrists.​
    “Hey, laserbrain.” Machinus taunted the trooper. “I invented that suit.”​
    “Then you’ll die by it!” The trooper yelled before firing a concussive blast. Machinus simply repelled it back with his repulsor generators.​
    While the trooper reeled from the blast, Machinus jumped behind him and quickly sliced his dash jets. After the trooper recovered from the shock, Machinus lured the trooper into facing the tank before he suddenly dashed into the tank at high-speed, destroying it and himself.​
    “Arrogant little punks like you stealing my tech is exactly why I don’t correct every weakness, and one of the few people who knew how to work around them was a naval officer, and he used the prototype.” Machinus retorted.​
    Some of the Alliance troopers watched in awe. “Well, I’ll be damned.” One of them said. “It’s a good thing they’re on our side.”​
    One of the rogue Valkoran troopers responded to him in turn. “I can say the same in regards to Master Skywalker, and Vaelor, and every other Jedi.”​
    With the enemy Valkoran forces in the area cleared, Luke addressed Juganak and Machinus. “So, what’s the plan, right now?”​
    Machinus gave the details. “Admiral Gravlek and Arcidus are helping your forces in orbit. Neur, Armogeist and Lieutenant Helms have the upper city. We hired Gahmah Raan as a scout before the battle, and Maesterus and Zolph Vaelor got here before we all did and are inside the palace as we speak. Meanwhile, I’m trying to get to a security station so I can rewire the enemy’s automated defense systems to work for us.”​
    “So Zolph’s already going for Valkor? That worries me, but we really don’t have much of a choice in this matter.”​
    Juga responded. “You’re not the only one. Maesterus is also worried about Zolph’s personal problems, and I’m worried about Armogeist, as he may have to fight Masochus, and he’s more tainted than Zolph.”​
    Machinus also addressed his concerns. “And Neur’s… other half may pop up again, and I won’t be around to repair her lekku for some time if it malfunctions, but she made her choice to go alone.”​
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Back in the upper levels of the city, Grein and Gahmah continued their hunt for Masochus, assisting the Alliance invasion force and Maesterus’s supporters along the way.​
    One of these groups that they came across was led by Neur and Lieutenant Helms. After helping them take down a Manticore droid on a bridge suspended between two buildings, Neur addressed the purple-eyed Chiss and the Krishari bounty hunter.​
    “Hey, I remember you. You came to Moraband with Zolph when he killed Cinydra.”​
    “I… remember you too.” Grein responded nervously, still recounting the time she went insane and tried to kill her out of misguided jealousy for Zolph. “And I see you’re one of those people that use one of the modern names for that planet without being executed by Masochus.”​
    “The only reason he didn’t was that Valkor wouldn’t let him when we were still on the same side. And don’t worry, my interest in Zolph is purely platonic, and I know about your real connections to him; if the… other me crops during the battle, you’re safe from my wrath.”​
    Lieutenant Helms followed up on the comment. “She speaks truly; she’s been taking some psychotherapy sessions, so she’s a little less unhinged.”​
    Gahmah then interrupted. “Getting back on topic, have you people seen the infertile pseudo-zombie passing by recently? And yes, I know because I have seen him…” Gahmah briefly shuddered in horror, “in his lack of a birthday suit.”​
    “Yeah.” Helms answered him and pointed towards an adjacent building, which looked like a cathedral of some sort. “We saw him over at that shrine, and General Armogeist decided to go after him.”​
    Grein then thought to herself. “Typical, Balos.”​
    “If you’re after him, make him answer for experimenting on me and all those who aren’t cursed like I am.”​
    Neur added to that. “And for all the times he sabotaged my head-tails and tortured me to blackmail Cid.”​
    Grein complimented her. “Thank you, Neur. It seems most of us have a grudge against Masochus, but you clearly have your own priorities. May the Force be with you for whatever you’re doing on this level.”​
    “And with you as well.”​
    Both groups then parted ways.​
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Following Lieutenant Helms’ directions, Grein and Gahmah fought their way to the shrine, specifically one for training people in the ways of the Force and Forceless worship if the abundance of Force acolytes coming their way was an indicator.​
    Gahmah then asked Grein a question as they fought their way across a bridge leading directly into the cathedral. “Do you know which Archfiend this is the church of?”​
    Grein answered him. “I haven’t been here for a very long time, Gahmah, and last I remember, this building was abandoned, but a lot can change in the course of thousands of years.”​
    “Then why haven’t we started developing travel between different galaxies yet? It’s like we’re stuck in some sort of technological stasis no matter how much time passes.”​
    As Gahmah got ready to open the door to the cathedral, Grein stopped him.​
    “Careful. I sense a disturbance in the Force behind those doors, and it’s not Masochus.”​
    “Now that you mentioned it, I sense it too – my senses kicking in a little too late again –,” Gahmah angrily muttered to himself before getting back on topic, “and I think I know who it is.”​
    Gahmah opened the door and they both entered the catheral’s main hall. After cautiously moving past a few seats in the darkened hall, Gahmah and Grein sensed a shot of compressed air coming their way. They dodged just as the shot exploded into a concussive blast.​
    Looking to see where the blast came from, they saw a large humanoid figure armored from head-to-toe with a face-wide visor and armed with not only a concussion rifle, but a repeating blaster and some other equipment characteristic of a bounty hunter.​
    The monster of a man replied with an inhuman growl reverberating from his abdomen.​
    “Hello, Gestroma.” Gahmah greeted him as he drew out his blaster pistols. “Nice new set of armor you got there.”​
    “So he survived the destruction of his lab. Be cautious, Gahmah.” Grein warned him. “There’s something wrong here. Last I heard from Zolph and Hiriss, Gestroma was an independent Forceless Herald building his own collective. If that’s the case, I find it strange that he’d be wearing armor of Valkoran design after his life’s work was destroyed. Unless, Valkor had him possessed by one of his symbiotes and assimilated him into his collective.”​
    Gestroma then switched his concussion rifle for his repeater and tried to gun down Gahmah since he didn’t have a lightsaber to deflect the shots with.​
    “This bastard’s just here to stall us. You continue after Masochus.” Gahmah ordered Grein.​
    “But what if…?​
    “Masochus may be one of the absolute worst people in the galaxy, but he hasn’t personally hurt me as he’s hurt you. This is your fight.” After firing a few shots at Gestroma, Gahmah continued. “And if he tries to push your buttons again, remember that his are far more trivial than yours, so you have an advantage over him. He’s just one of the worst of a culture of sociopathic spoiled brats, after all.”​
    “Very well, Gahmah. And thank you for your help. May the Force be with you.”​
    Grein then made her way deeper into the cathedral while the two bounty hunters dueled.​
    “Good luck, Grein.” Gahmah then turned his attention back to Gestroma. “As for you, you’re stuck with me, and I’m going to finish what Zolph and Hiriss started.”​
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Meanwhile in the Imperial Palace, Zolph and Maesterus – the latter now having his wing flaps regenerated - had finally made it near the top of the tower and an active turbolift connecting to the throne room.​
    “Well, the throne room is just ahead.” Maesterus told Zolph.​
    “It’s about time. I was beginning to think this tower extended all the way up into the stratosphere.”​
    “So now you can stop asking me if we’re there yet.”​
    However, they had one last obstacle before coming face-to-face with the Emperor himself: two of the strange guards Zolph saw on Christophsis, who quickly unsheathed their swords as soon they noticed the intruders.​
    “What are these guys, anyway?” Zolph asked Maesterus.​
    “Aside from Valkor’s equivalent of the Black Guard, they’re not a species from this galaxy.”​
    The two Force-users clashed swords with the Forceless guards, who put up slightly more of a challenge than the Black Guard did with Zolph. After a minute of traditional sword-fighting, they shifted their sword arms into whip-like tentacles to flail their blades and emitted a blinding flash from their x-shaped visors. However, the temporary blindness was only a minor nuisance, as Zolph and Maesterus could still sense them and quickly cut them down.​
    After recovering their eyesight, Zolph and Maesterus entered the turbolift to the throne room.​
    “No more obstacles.” Zolph said as the lift began its ascent.​
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________​
    Arriving in the throne room, Zolph and Maesterus were greeted to the sight of Valkor sitting on his throne with his clawed fingers crossed.​
    “So, did you enjoy the tour of palace?” Valkor asked Zolph chummily. “Although, I’m a bit disappointed that you skipped the base levels.” Valkor then extended a gray tongue out of one of his mask’s eyesockets to lick around the opening before retracting it back in.​
    “It was okay, if not a little tiring. Why did the architects have to make this place so damn big?” Zolph answered. “And can you please keep your tongue or tongues inside your mask? I’ve met depraved Chagrians who are more subtle than you.”​
    Valkor then turned to Maesterus. “As for you, Maesterus, how did you enjoy taking the stairs for the first time in nearly four-thousand years? I’m sure you noticed a few things have changed since the first time you scaled this tower.”​
    “Why are you so amiable all of a sudden, Valkor?” Maesterus asked suspiciously.​
    “You must be a bit exhausted after the tour, so why don’t you take a moment to rest. While you were busy killing my staff, both the Galactic Alliance and your little band of mutineers caught my other loyal subjects off guard.”​
    Valkor then stood up from his throne and redirected his attention back to Zolph.​
    “I would like to ask you a question, Vaelor. Why aren’t you dead yet?”​
    Zolph responded with a bit of snark. “I’ll give you the same answer as everyone else who has asked me that: I’m just hard to kill.”​
    “No, Vaelor. I’m asking how after all I’ve put you through, you still haven’t lost the will to keep living.”​
    Zolph then clenched his fists in anger. “What!”​
    “First, I order the death of you and your parents, but you survived that attempt on your life thanks to a miracle on Maesterus’s part and went on to become a Jedi anyway. Then, I ordered Masochus to have Dynn Manthis given an arm created from my blood, ultimately forcing you into a situation where either you’d kill her or let her kill you. Even in the aftermath of that traumatic experience and constantly being led into scenarios that made you relive that moment, you still didn’t give up. And even after I rendered you completely helpless while I tried to kill another one of your closest allies and ordered the destruction of an entire planet around you, you persevered.”​
    “So you did all that… just so you could break me and have me commit suicide!?”​
    “It’s worked before in my earlier galactic conquests, and you’re one of the few who have managed to resist it. You should be proud of yourself for lasting this long.”​
    “You tried to destroy my life… just because you saw me as one of the biggest threats to your plans for universal conquest!”​
    Maesterus tried to calm Zolph down. “Do not give into his taunts, Zolph. Not only do you risk fueling the Dark Side, you will become unbalanced in the fight ahead. He might not be a Force user, but he knows about our combat tactics and weaknesses.”​
    “Yes, Maesty.” Valkor sarcastically responded. “Lecture him on the dangers of the Dark Side of the Force. Surely he hasn’t gotten tired of hearing about it from Skywalker, your wife and the rest of the Order.”​
    Zolph calmed down only slightly. “Admittedly, it does get a little tiring, but I keep getting reminded for good reasons, and it’s kept me from falling so far. And some of your more idiotic lackeys like Belluzub made the mistake of trying to tell me to give in. You may be attempting to unbalance me, but at least you don’t try to make promises about the lure of the Dark Side. But what led you to consider me a threat in the first place?”​
    “Some years before your war with the Yuuzhan Vong, a prophet told me that one of Maesterus’s descendants would pose a threat on the merits of being immune to possession by what you and Ze’grein’aradi call Forceless. Truth is, I knew Maesterus allowed her to desert from the Valkoran Empire in secret even before I gave him some of my blood, but I just let him and the rest of the Empire believe I didn’t know. And knowing my previous cult in this galaxy, I couldn’t even trust a compulsive backstabber like Masochus with this information. I just didn’t realize my appointed cult leader was already developing a weaker form of that immunity until it was too late.”​
    Maesterus came to conclusion. “So that’s why I found you sealed in this throne room. The Rakata predicted that – following some incidents with the Archfiends that they were able to summon - you would try to dispose of them once you and the rest of them were summoned over here. Yet, your emptiness in the Force still called out to me like a homing beacon when I first came to this system by chance.”​
    “Admittedly, a few stupid decisions in my time guiding the Infinite Empire have led me to be more careful with this Empire.” Valkor then looked to Zolph. “But since you’ve been such a pain to deal with, I couldn’t resist the urge to… give into some of my more personal pleasures. Even after I tried to minimize the amount of damage I did following Christophsis, I still lost half of my cult.”​
    “It can take one bad decision to shake one’s faith. But I think we’ve rested enough.” Zolph responded before he and Maesterus drew their lightsabers. “You know why we’ve come here, Valkor.”​
    “Are you sure you want to do this?” Valkor asked. “Last time, I squeezed on your heart, put you on the brink of death and had you hospitalized.”​
    “I made the mistake of underestimating you last time. And now, I know what you’re capable of.”​
    Maesterus commented as well. “And he’s got my support this time.”​
    “Very well.” Valkor then readied his claws. “If you two are eager to throw your lives away, so be it.”​
    Zolph proceeded to fake Valkor out by quickly taking his right hand off of his lightsaber, drawing his blaster pistol and firing into one of the Emperor’s eye sockets, leaving a temporary burn inside that regenerated shortly.​
    Valkor then leaped surprisingly high into the air and lunged at Zolph, quickly swiping the blaster away from his hand and tearing up some of the sleeve on his right arm. Zolph was lucky to have that arm be mechanical in this situation, as he would have lost his original arm a lot later and at a more inconvenient time.​
    Maesterus tried to attack Valkor from behind, but he quickly turned around and grabbed the lightsaber blade with his right claw. Zolph tried to get the drop on him too, but Valkor grabbed his blade with his left claw. While locking blades, Valkor had two puddles of Black Matter slither over from under his feet to his foes.​
    Knowing what was about to happen, Zolph and Maesterus jumped and flew away from Valkor respectively just as two spike traps emerged from the puddles.​
    Maesterus retaliated by firing four palm spikes from above, but Valkor simply erected a Black Matter barrier from one of the spike traps to absorb them and then fire them back at Maesterus, who simply deflected them. While he was preoccupied with his own spikes, Valkor turned the other spike trap into a tentacle, lashed at Maesterus’s leg and slammed him into the throne room walls, knocking him out.​
    Zolph tried to get the drop on Valkor again, but he saw another Black Matter puddle beneath his feet, this time turning into a giant tooth-filled mouth similar to the one Valkor tried to eat General Choi with. As Zolph jumped up into the air to barely avoid being eaten, he looked down to notice that the inside of the mouth looked incredibly deep despite the fact there is a solid floor beneath the puddle it generated from. Zolph readied a thermal detonator and threw it into the mouth at just the right time so it would explode in the mouth itself and not whatever physically improbable stomach it had in its much larger interior. To his surprise, the detonation destroyed the entirety of the puddle while still revealing a solid floor beneath it.​
    “And I thought I had seen everything…” Zolph told himself just after landing on the floor.​
    “And you never will have…” Valkor said to him just before lashing a small Black Matter eel from one of his eye sockets. The serpent’s head grew a bit larger and bit around Zolph’s body, binding him in a way that would keep even his mechanical arm from getting him free.​
    “Did you really think I had shown off everything I was capable of? Even what I just showed you now is a small sample.” Valkor taunted Zolph while sinking his teeth into his arm. “If it’s any consolation, I’m not going to bother torturing you this time and kill you right now, and that traitor will soon follow, as well as the rest of your allies should they not be possessed.”​
    While Valkor was taunting and gripping him, Zolph watched Maesterus – who had just recovered from his earlier knock-out - sneak up on Valkor from behind. Valkor realized the ambush too late just as he was bisected down from his left shoulder to his waist, causing the Black Matter serpent gripping Zolph to dematerialize.​
    “Thank you, Sef.” Zolph complimented Maesterus.​
    “We’re not finished yet.” Maesterus said as he pointed to Valkor’s upper half lying on the floor, which was still moving.​
    Valkor let out a slightly angered grunt. “He’s right. It’s not over yet.”​
    “Give it up, Valkor.” Zolph told the Emperor. “You’re on the brink of death and you’re outnumbered. You’re empire has come to an end. You’ve lost.”​
    Valkor then let out a slight chuckle that gradually turned into deranged laughter.​
    “What’s so funny?”​
    “On the brink of death? Surely you've concluded that this body is only a shell by which I can present a more comfortable image to influence my followers by.”​
    Suddenly, several gallons of Black Matter flooded out of both halves of Valkor’s robotic body – more than what that body could possibly hold - creating a hideous blob-like monster covered in multiple Forceless eyes, limbs and mouths that didn’t consistently lead anywhere in his body, with the upper half of the shell still attached and active.​
    “Shavit.” Zolph uttered.​
    “And you say I’m outnumbered? The Valkoran Empire may be half as big as it used to, but I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about the rest of my army?!”​
    Zolph then activated his comlink to Admiral Cephal while Maesterus contacted Gravlek.​
    “Vaelor to Admiral Cephal.”​
    “Commander Vaelor.” Cephal replied. “It’s good to hear your voice and to know that you’re still alive. Whatever you have to say, I’m patching it through to everyone else.”​
    “Be on the lookout for anything coming out of hyperspace. We’ve got enemy reinforcements coming, and they’re not a part of the Valkoran military.”​
    “We’re not picking up anything ready to drop out of hyper-…. Wait a second! We’re picking up… some wormholes… and some creatures that vaguely resemble starships are coming out of them!”​
    “That’s the same group I encountered on Sleheyron. We’re now up against the Forceless Collective army. The Valkoran were just a proxy cult. But don’t let your guard down. Even their space combat tactics involve possession.”​
     
  10. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    And now, we're all caught up to the most recently written chapter. It'll be some time until the epilogue of Episode II is finished.

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    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Chapter 17: The Forceless

    In Ockla Prime’s orbit, Admiral Marx Gravlek watched from the Doomsayer’s command bridge as the Valkoran Empire fleet was diminished by the combined efforts of both the Galactic Alliance and the Valkoran Separatists.

    “They’re running out of ships. Keep pressuring them. We’ve almost won this battle.”

    Suddenly, the cyborg’s implanted comlink started ringing, prompting him to activate it and receive a transmission from Maesterus down on the planet’s surface.

    “Admiral Gravlek.”

    “Good news, Lord Maesterus. Most of Valkor’s ships have either been destroyed or forced to retreat. It looks like we’ve got him cornered.”

    “I wouldn’t celebrate yet if I were you, Admiral. We’ve got another problem coming this way.”

    Gravlek patched the transmission so it could be heard by the rest of the forces under his command. “May I assume that Valkor’s calling in some reinforcements?”

    “Yes, and not the type we’re used to fighting.”

    Gravlek then gave an order to the scanner operator with a worried tone. “Ensign, be on the lookout for any hyperspace activity.”

    “But we’re not picking up any…” the young ensign said before being interrupted by another bridge operator.

    “Admiral! We’re picking up multiple wormholes!”

    “Wormholes?” Gravlek looked out the viewport to see the spacial rifts and some Levioths - massive dark-skinned beasts that slightly resembled starships except with a face for a bow and another growth for a command bridge – along with some juvenile specimens serving as frigates emerging from the rifts.

    “By the Force! We were working for these things?” The Admiral asked himself in astonishment. He then made sure to contact Admiral Cephal.

    “Cephal.”

    “We know, Gravlek. Commander Vaelor just told us about the Forceless fleet. I’m assuming Maesterus told you the same thing?”

    “Yes. For future convenience, let’s go ahead and link our comm. channels so the rest of our forces can communicate better.”

    “Link established.” The communications operator reported.

    As the Levioths advanced towards the fleets, a set of their “cannons” fired some blobs of purple goop at some of the Valkoran and Alliance frigates, sometimes dissolving away their hulls and exposing the crews to the vacuum of space.

    Among the fighter squadrons, Hiriss Moraana readdressed the warning Zolph gave her to Arcidus and the Valkoran ships.

    “In case you weren’t already told about this, beware of any possession attempts. They probably can do that in space too.”

    R9-C4 emoted a bit of enthusiasm. “Forceless ships = What Seefor was waiting for.”

    “Says the little droid who’s most likely immune to possession.” Hiriss then turned her attention back to the squadrons. “For now, let’s take out those acid cannons.”

    As Guardian, Hammer and Shade Squadrons charged towards the Levioths, swarms of Eyewings - bat-like creatures with a single eye taking up most of their body that served the same purpose as a starfighter albeit unmanned - poured out of the massive beasts’ bellies and retaliated against the fighter squadrons with the laser cannons grafted into their shoulder blades.

    Meanwhile, the Levioths also deployed squads of Demolusks – freighter-sized cyclopean squid-like creatures with shells made from asteroid. They slowly moved towards some of the Valkoran and Alliance ships. Suspicious of what they could do, some of Hammer Squadron pursued them in defense, but soaked up a lot of blaster fire without fighting back before just one Demolusk was killed. Any fighters that flew too close to the creatures were swatted into pieces by their tentacles. Reaching one of the Mon Cal cruisers, a trio of Demolusks quickly destroyed it with a payload of energy bombs larger than most bomber craft could carry.

    In response, Admiral Cephal desperately issued an order. “All corvette and gunship-class vessels concentrate fire on those… asteroid squids!”

    Arcidus turned the Phantom Razor to assist in the defense of the capital ships. “If I can offer a suggestion, their weak spots are most likely around their mouths, but keep clear of those tentacles.”

    Arcidus charged towards the Demolusks to slice off the creatures’ tentacles with his fighter’s bladed wings and allow the other fighters to attack it safely. As per orders, several of the Alliance and Valkoran’s corvettes and the Kur’Ada’s Hatchet-class gunships destroyed the Demolusks by exploiting their weak points, all while losing only a few more capital ships in the process.

    While Hiriss’s squad dealt with the Levioths and Eyewings, some Valkoran Obliterator-class destroyers, Demolisher-class missile frigates and the Doomsayer fired their plasma cannons and diamond-boron missiles at the Forceless fleet in support. Meanwhile, the remains of the enemy Valkoran fleet either fled into hyperspace, sided with the Alliance out of fear of this new group or sided with the Collective due to their loyalty to Valkor.

    As some of the Levioths were killed by the barrage – either via excess damage or the destruction of the heads on the bow and the bridge – some more wormholes were created, with even more Levioths as well as some obviously artificial starships – most likely other cultists and possession victims – coming out of them. The Levioths then let out – in addition to more Eyewings – some insect-like creatures slightly bigger than mynocks with elongated stinger tails, which charged for both starfighters and capital ships alike.

    With some of the capital ships, they simply injected their stingers wherever they could, but for the fighter craft, they injected them directly into the cockpits, sending some Black Matter into the ships to possess their crews and then excreting another substance to plug up the injection point and prevent depressurization as it removed the stinger. This resulted in them being named Matterbugs.

    The capital ships were more difficult to possess – and not always successfully – as they had defense crews to deal with the boarding parties, but the fighter pilots were at the Black Matter’s mercy, with some of them committing suicide to prevent possession either by shooting themselves with a blaster pistol or – as the more defiant of that group would do - by ramming their craft into other Forceless ships. Other pilots killed themselves accidentally.

    One of the Matterbugs climbed onto the Manthis’s canopy, attempting to possess Hiriss, but before it could inject its stinger or Hiriss could use the Force to throw it off, Seefor popped her flamethrower from her dome and set the creature ablaze, causing its grip on the ship’s nose to loosen as it burned to death. Afterward, Hiriss made a quick spin to fan out any remaining flames on her ship.

    “Seefor. Please zap before you roast them next time. This isn’t my ship I’m flying.” Hiriss told the droid.

    “Ship fire = No problem. // Seefor + flame projector = Does it all the time with mynocks.”

    “Fine, only if the zapping doesn’t kill them at first.”

    Meanwhile, Arcidus was also experiencing similar troubles with the Phantom Razor, but V7-L20 took the more practical approach of electrocuting any Matterbugs that tried to possess his master from behind, though it took multiple shocks just to kill one. Arcidus himself just used the Force to incinerate any that tried to get him while V7 was preoccupied, and others were just sliced apart by the Razor’s wings whenever it spun.

    Afterward, as Hiriss and Arcidus eliminated every Matterbug they could, some bulkier insect-like creatures and cultist transport ships started making their way to Ockla’s surface.

    Admiral Cephal then made an announcement to the ground forces. “They’re coming down to the surface! Brace yourselves!”
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    On the upper levels of Ockla City, Neur’s squad caught sight of the bug-like transports – known to them as Loderoaches – setting down either on top of buildings or landing pads accompanied by escorts of Eyewings and bombing runs from Demolusks. As the Loderoaches dispensed various Forceless infantry units, some other large creatures with three long claw-tipped legs and a giant red crystalline cranium – Silicths, also known as Cthulopods and genetic relatives of the Demolusks - either dropped down from the sky or climbed up from the lower levels.

    “Whoa!” Lieutenant Will Helms yelled in astonishment. “Those things are Forceless? I’ve seen Maesterus, but I wasn’t expecting the rest of them to be this weird.”

    Suddenly, a platoon of masked, four-eyed Forceless warriors armed with rifle-pikes – similar to the ones Zolph encountered on Sleheyron over one year ago – came pouring out of the building Neur’s party was heading towards.

    With the warriors opening fire on her platoon, Neur deflected as many shots as she could to protect them while they fired back. However, some puddles of Black Matter slithered out from under the warriors and towards her squad.

    Some of the troopers fired on the Black Matter and vaporized them, but others found themselves possessed and killed by their own allies.

    Terrified, Private Varson addressed Neur. “Mistress Neur, this isn’t like anything we’ve fought before! What are we going to do?!”

    “Calm yourself, Varson.” Neur responded. “I’m scared too, but I’m more terrified of what will happen if we don’t win this battle.” She then addressed the rest of her squad as she continued fending off the Forceless warriors. “Alright everyone, listen up! We opposed Valkor to prevent something like this from happening, but now that it’s happening right before our eyes, we’re going to undo it! Are you with me?!”

    “YES, MA’AM!” All the troops replied.

    “Then we’ll win or die trying!” As more warriors poured out from their destination, Neur used the Force to toss the entire Forceless platoon over the walkway. “Forward! We continue to the Industrial Sector!”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Meanwhile in the lower levels of the Valkoran capital, Juganak, Machinus and Luke Skywalker’s team have almost made it to the security station, a building that stood out from the majority of the capital’s structures by being pretty small in comparison.

    “Okay, so the building that holds a key system is smaller than the rest.” Luke commented.

    “Well, we wouldn’t want it standing out for enemy bombers, now would we?” Machinus answered.

    “Cut the chatter.” Juganak interrupted. “As our fleet admirals just told us, we’ve got some Forceless on our hands. In fact, I can sense some inside the station right now.”

    Luke immediately sensed another disturbance. “And I sense some around us right now.”

    Some of the allied Valkoran troops fell on their knees and screamed in pain, with some black growths suddenly piercing out of their armor. The possessed troops then got up – and one of the allied Gundark-class walkers turned towards the team - and opened fire on their allies.

    After some of the less armored troopers were gunned down, the Forceless troopers were immediately cut down by the Kur’Ada warriors while the walker was toppled by Juganak. A possessed driver then climbed out, only to be quickly shot by Machinus.

    “What the hell just happened?!” One of the Alliance soldiers asked with shock.

    “I suspect these soldiers were Forceless sleeper agents.” Juganak answered. “From what I understand, Valkor placed a special type of symbiote inside them that goes dormant and remains undetectable until it awakens and possesses them. He must have placed them in their sleep sometime before we defected.”

    “Is there anyone else you may suspect of being a sleeper agent?” Luke asked.

    “Like I said, we can’t tell who’s been infected ahead of time. But I think we can rule out the Force-sensitives and Machinus since they would have been able to detect a Forceless sneaking up on them, Machinus is a droid and Armogeist is a living suit of armor.”

    “So you’re saying any of us normal people could potential have some freaky alien parasite inside us?” The same terrified Alliance trooper asked.

    “Just the Valkoran troopers. The Kur’Ada, Skakoan Commandos and any other third-party mercenary groups have never even set foot on Ockla Prime until today, and the Alliance doesn’t need to worry about having any sleeper agents.”

    The trooper then raised his blaster pistol. “Then how do I know the rest of your men aren’t going to suddenly turn on us?!”

    Luke promptly took the blaster out of his hands. “Stand down. We are not going to kill anyone just because they may be a sleeper agent. And you don’t point a blaster unless you intend to shoot.”

    “Yes, Master Skywalker. Sorry about that.” Luke then handed the trooper his blaster back.

    Machinus then interrupted. “I’m picking up some seismic activity right beneath us!”

    Suddenly, four massive Forceless worms with hand-like heads – with a single eye in the “palm” and two thumbs and three fingers for mandibles – erupted from the ground, and one of them quickly grabbed an exo-trooper. The trooper cried for help, but in vain as he was promptly crushed to death in his own suit and then dropped like a wadded up piece of paper.

    “Terraris? I thought Vaelor killed him!” Another Valkoran trooper – this one a veteran of the Tatooine expedition – asked. “And why is there four of him?”

    “No.” Juganak answered. “If I perceived the ink patterns in Valkor’s tomes on the Archfiends correctly, these are less powerful members of Terraris’s species, the Planara Manos.”

    One of the walker drivers then barked a directive to the rest of the team. “Everyone, get inside and get that security system sliced! We’ll hold these worms off!”

    The walkers fired on the Planara Manos while the rest of the team rushed into the security station. Three of the Planara Manos were killed, but they proved to be too fast for the Gundark walkers individually, most of which were easily toppled by the creatures. With only two walkers remaining, the surviving Planara Manos turned its attention to the security station and went back underground.

    The walker battalion officer immediately contacted Juganak and Machinus. “Juga. Mach. The last one’s coming right for you. You’ll have to deal with the worm on your own, but if any more glowing-eyed freaks even think of trying to get in from this level, they’ll be painting our Gundarks with an even darker shade of black.”
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Meanwhile in the cathedral, Grein had fought her way through a few Valkoran soldiers and acolytes – and a few Forceless-possessed ones once the Collective made their presence – to get to Masochus. She eventually found herself at the cathedral’s rooftop and face-to-face with Masochus, who had nowhere else to run.

    “I see you survived my pet, but that idiot lizard didn’t.” Masochus attempted to taunt Grein.

    Grein rebuked his taunt with a smug smile on her face. “Actually, ‘that idiot lizard’ survived and killed your patchwork rancor. It didn’t even get to swallow him like some other creatures have.”

    Masochus shouted, “Blast it!” He then shifted back to his usually smug tone. “Then that means Gestroma killed him.”

    Grein countered him again. “Wrong again. He’s still alive and fighting Gestroma as we speak.”

    “So you left him to die like your sister.”

    “Nice try, Masochus. I’m not falling for that one again. Besides, he volunteered to hold off Gestroma so I wouldn’t waste my time with him.”

    Masochus snarled before Grein continued taunting him.

    “If one so powerful in the ways of the Dark Side like you can’t kill him, what makes you think a Forceless-possessed mercenary will?”

    “Because he’s a lucky idiot, and his luck has just run out!” Masochus then jerked his arms forward and tried to shock Grein with Force lightning, only for her to quickly ignite her lightsaber’s main blade and block it.

    “Come now, Masochus. You should know there is no such thing as luck. It would seem the Force is capable of favoring fools like Gahmah Raan, but is he really a fool, or does he just act like one so his foes will underestimate him?”

    Masochus then levitated his lightsaber from his belt and activated it. “Then I’ll just have to ensure that his sacrifice was meaningless!
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    In the cathedral’s main hall, Gahmah Raan and Gestroma were still trading blaster fire and both on equal ground, despite a few of Gahmah’s severed hands littering the floor.

    “Sweet Cardosh! How long have we been fighting?” Gahmah panted.

    “Long enough, lizard.” Gestroma fired another volley of blaster fire from his repeater, shooting off a piece of Gahmah’s left hand again as the Krishari charged at Gestroma. Once Gahmah was close enough, he dodged a punch before using his left gauntlet blade to cut off Gestroma’s right arm and kicking him in the chin, putting a small crack in his visor.

    “Now I know it’s the symbiote that’s in control of your body, because Gestroma is one of the only people in the galaxy who hasn’t insulted me with that term.”

    From the bleeding stump, Gestroma suddenly sprouted another black-skinned arm.

    “Oh, that’s just cheap!” Gahmah complained before regenerating the lost half of his hand and calling his blaster pistols back to his hands. “Okay, now we’re even.”

    Gestroma suddenly hoisted Gahmah up and threw him into an altar. As Gahmah recovered, Gestroma drew his concussion rifle again and fired a powerful blast at Gahmah. However, the Krishari suddenly used the Force to repel it back at Gestroma, knocking off some of his body armor and exposing the tooth-filled mouth on his belly.

    “Thank you for working, Force powers.” Gahmah told himself before looking back at the mutant. “And what big, ugly teeth you’ve got there, pal.”

    “Enough of your games, Krishari! You’re way too predictable!” Gestroma yelled at Gahmah.

    “Me? Predictable?” Gahmah then pointed at Gestroma. “Then why haven’t you noticed that time bomb that’s just about to go off?”

    Gestroma then turned back to look for the bomb, unaware that there was indeed a timed explosive attached to his back. While his back was turned, Gahmah tried to fire two charged shots at Gestroma, only for him to dodge and fire another concussive blast at Gahmah that knocked off his helmet.

    “Like I said: predictable.”

    “You still haven’t found the bomb.”

    Gestroma then heard a series of beeps and tilted his head backward, realizing too late where the bomb was. As the bomb exploded, his helmet was blown away and his three now-red face-encompassing eyes were exposed.

    Gestroma roared and tried to fire another concussive blast, only for Gahmah to shoot at his rifle just before he pulled the trigger, causing the weapon to overload. The mutated bounty hunter then threw it towards Gahmah before it could explode.

    With no other weapons left, Gestroma tried to spit a purple corrosive acid at Gahmah, but the Krishari barely dodged it and watched as it dissolved the flooring near his feet. Gestroma then followed this up by spitting out two globs of Black Matter, which slithered towards Gahmah before forming into Forceless Newborns.

    “Hello!” Gahmah exclaimed with shock. As the vaguely humanoid blobs prepared to swipe their elongated arms at him, he killed both Newborns at once with a shot to their central eye, causing them to collapse and evaporate. “And goodbye!”

    Just after killing the Newborns, Gestroma lunged his elongated tongue at Gahmah, scaring him into dropping his blasters again. However, he grabbed Gestroma’s tongue rather than let it grab him and allowed him to pull Gahmah towards his tooth-filled stomach. Once Gahmah was pulled in close enough, he flipped out the gauntlet blade on his free arm and thrust it into Gestroma’s chest, theoretically where his heart would be. After Gahmah pulled the blade out, he flicked off any Black Matter blood that got on it.

    Luckily enough, Gahmah had guessed correctly where Gestroma’s heart was, as Gestroma fell down to the floor on his back. He found himself in a puddle of Black Matter and his skin was changing from Forceless black to his natural pale-blue skin tone with black eyes.

    Gestroma then gave a cough, indicating that he was still alive, but near death. This prompted Gahmah to pull one of his blasters towards him and aim at Gestroma in case he had a trick up his sleeve.

    “Well played, Raan. You’re much more intelligent than I thought you were. Now I can see why Maesterus favored you and why that pink-armored Mando partnered with you.”

    Gahmah then clicked his blaster in agitation. “He had a name, you know. Violo Jod.”

    “I know. I just didn’t remember it. So, are you going to blow my brains out and avenge his death?”

    “Not yet. As a fellow bounty hunter, I know you were just doing your job as a hired gun, even if you did take some perverse pleasure in it. If there’s anyone I should be seeking revenge against, it’s whoever hired you to kill Violo. Now talk, and I will let you die a quick and dignified death.”

    “Take a wild guess.”

    “Well, it’s been my suspicion that the other Mandalorians ordered the hit since some of his philosophies on warfare were against the standard for that culture.”

    “Is that what you really thought? You’re still a fool, Raan, but a clever one nonetheless. A lot of Mandalorians may be pretentious when it comes to glorifying warfare, but most of them aren’t that petty. Try harder.”

    “Stupid, stupid me. I forgot that despite their disagreements with him, they still respected him as a warrior, but my judgment of other Mandalorians was clouded as a result of the circumstances of his death and my own experiences with religious fanatics back home. Then that means…” Gahmah then put his palm against his face. “Son of a Hutt! Masochus isn’t even a Mandalorian; he’s just a sadistic manchild that throws violent fits over anything he perceives to be wrong with the galaxy! I am going to shove my wrist blade up that schutta’s-!

    “You guessed correctly.” Gestroma interrupted him. “Now aren’t you going to kill me as you said?”

    “You’ve earned it.” Gahmah shot Gestroma though his head before the Black Matter broke down what was left of his body. Gahmah then collected his other blaster and helmet. He quickly put the latter of the two back on, wary of any head injuries he usually gets from not having it on. “Now, to find the hands with my gloves on them…”

    Suddenly, a large laser was shot through two of the cathedral walls, greeting Gahmah to the sight of several colossal Forceless attacking the capital and groups of Nidracha spider people coming through the gaping holes created from the laser.

    “If we survive this battle, Arcidus better be paying me enough for this.” Gahmah then made his way upstairs as he gunned down any Nidracha and other Forceless that tried to approach him.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Meanwhile in the palace throne room, Zolph and Maesterus were reeling in shock from the turn of events as they gazed upon the nightmarish blob holding Valkor’s upper half on a tentacle like a puppet.

    “Did you really think you could catch me unprepared by not telling Maesterus in advance when your forces planned to attack?” Valkor taunted Zolph. “As soon as this galaxy’s branch of my empire split apart, I knew one of the traitors would get the word out, even if it wasn’t Maesterus, and that was all I needed to confirm that an alliance and an attack was imminent. Besides, you should’ve already known about the Collective army, and some of them were laying dormant beneath the planet’s surface long before you attacked.”

    Zolph followed up on that. “I never forgot about them. I just didn’t think it was actually big enough to challenge the combined forces of the Galactic Alliance and the Valkoran Separatists without leaving its territory unguarded. And you did a very good job convincing us that the war had turned in our favor.”

    “But surely you could have deducted that it got exponentially bigger with every galaxy I conquered, and I’ve already conquered a few before this one.” Valkor then tilted his container’s head towards Maesterus. “And since you would be one of my champions had you not been immune to my influence, you definitely should have seen this coming.”

    “Of course I factored them into this.” Maesterus said back.

    “Wait! You thought about them and you didn’t bother to tell me?!” Zolph exclaimed before Maesterus continued.

    “I just decided to ignore the odds, and because you allowed me to live so long without going into deep sleep, changing bodies or being consumed by the Dark Side, I was able to study what allowed ragtag freedom fighter groups to overthrow an exponentially bigger force. In fact, the Galactic Alliance traces its origins back to one such group, and it can take one well-placed shot from a single man or woman to take down a colossus.” Maesterus then looked to Zolph condescendingly. “You haven’t been forgetting to study your own government’s history, have you?”

    “That was before I was even born; before it started taking superweapons and Super Star Destroyers for granted. So I can’t really relate all that much.” Zolph turned his attention back to Valkor. “That reminds me, Valkor. I don’t understand you. Why are you so intent on creating an empire where everyone is possessed and thinks almost alike? I don’t think any sane man would stand for the idea of a government where everyone was forced to think alike, not to mention it sounds unrealistic.”

    “Every government has proven somewhat inefficient by allowing too much deviation. Even Palpatine’s empire suffered because of some squabbling, ambitious warlords. Because I have the means to create it, I desire to create a universal empire unified under one singular, collective vision: mine.”

    “From what I understand, nearly every would-be galactic conqueror before you had that same desire. What makes you so much better?”

    “Like I said, I actually have the means to enforce that instead of just merely motivating them by fear of death, and creating too much destruction only causes problems in the long run. Under my rule, there wouldn’t be any more pointless conflict over resources or ideals.”

    “Then why do you allow some of your Archfiends to retain their free will?”

    “I like to think of it as a reward for loyalty. For example, Belluzub and Facadma may have hated each other, but they never tried to kill each other despite desiring to, and everything they’ve done was in my name at the very least. And those who lose their freedom of will can eventually gain it back should they fully convert. As far as potential converts go, you’re an uncontrollable element, Vaelor, and that is why you and your bloodline need to die.”

    A blade-tipped arm suddenly ruptured out of the bulk of Valkor’s body towards Zolph, but he slashed it off with his lightsaber before it could skewer his chest.

    Maesterus flew behind Valkor in an attempt to flank him, but the number of eyes decorating his body made it impossible to perform any further sneak attacks. Valkor then positioned a Black Matter arm towards each of his enemies and fired a red-sparked imitation of Force lightning that sent them both flying into the throne room walls.

    “What the…?!” Zolph exclaimed as he reeled from the shock. “Was that…?”

    “No, that was just another form of magic.” Valkor answered Zolph. “You know I can’t use the Force, but I can still find ways to fight you on your level. I can’t possess you, but I can always eat you.”

    Valkor then transformed his arms into jaws and tried to bite at his crippled prey, but both Zolph and Maesterus retaliated by stabbing into their throats. Afterward, Valkor tossed a few blobs of Black Matter off of himself and created some Newborns, whether they took on a somewhat humanoid form or a more bestial one.

    “Looks like he’s decided to stop holding back.” Maesterus observed.

    “By the way,” Valkor continued. “Your forces up in space are about to deal with a new toy I’ve secretly been working on; a backup weapon in case Mortaqa died. You know how Forceless are created, correct?”

    Zolph answered him. “Grein and I theorized that they are created as a result of simultaneous mass casualties in a concentrated area, such as the destruction of an entire planet. What does that have to do with this weapon?”

    “You two theorized correctly. This Collective was created as a result of a similar circumstance, but on a smaller scale. Other collectives are rivals to be devoured and assimilated, and I’ve been using them both to increase my army’s size quickly and provide resources for the weapon. The Sith and their followers as well as the Yuuzhan Vong unwittingly did most of the sweaty labor for me by creating those resources, and I made the finishing touches on the weapon recently.”

    “So, there was more to destroying Christophsis than just trying to torment me. So what is this weapon?”

    “The Ragnirathan. Not that any of you will live to tell the tale should you refuse to surrender.”
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Back in space, the Alliance-Valkoran forces, against all odds, were able to eliminate a large portion of the Forceless fleet due to the quick thinking of Admiral Cephal, Gravlek, Hiriss, Arcidus and the more-experienced fighter squadrons. Even a seemingly endless wave of reinforcements proved ineffective once they knew the tricks to fighting this unusual enemy.

    “I don’t know how we did it, but it looks we’ve got them on the ropes.” Hiriss commented.

    Hammer leader elaborated to her over comlink. “It’s how the Rebellion persevered against the Empire. We mostly relied on starfighters to take down their larger war machines. In other words, we dance like flies, and bite like skettos.”

    Cephal further elaborated. “Said larger war machines also included superweapons.”

    Admiral Gravlek then gave a warning. “Don’t get too excited. We’re not finished yet, and the Collective may have another nasty surprise waiting for us.”

    The space forces suddenly received a transmission from Zolph.

    “Vaelor to the guys in the sky.”

    “Aren’t you too busy fighting Valkor to be talking to us right now?” Arcidus asked.

    “Admittedly, yes.” Zolph answered, with the sounds of battle also displaying over the transmission. “Whoa! And he almost cut my head off just now!”

    Hiriss chimed in. “Then I take it you’re calling us for a very good reason.”

    “He hasn’t told me much about it, but there’s a Forceless superweapon called the Ragnirathan coming your way.”

    Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to a massive, purple-glowing tear in the fabric of space. What first looked like a crack expanded into a portal. A black long-necked beast partially emerged from the portal with four hooked-claws clinging to the edges of the portal, and the portion of the beast that made it out of the portal was even bigger than the Doomsayer.

    “By the Force! That thing is HUGE!” Hiriss exclaimed.

    Seefor nervously whimpered at the sight of the beast. “R9-C4 = Very scared now.”

    “Let me guess: the Ragnirathan?” Zolph asked.

    “I believe so.” Hiriss answered. “Any tips?”

    “I don’t know what it’s capable of or how we can kill it, but I’ve talked long enough.” Zolph’s transmission ended.

    The Ragnirathan turned its serpentine neck towards Ockla Prime’s moon. The inside of its throat glowed purple before it roared and launched a fiery beam that destroyed several ships in addition to the moon.

    “We can’t handle that much firepower!” Admiral Cephal yelled. “We need to retreat!”

    Hiriss replied. “That’s tempting, Admiral, but we can’t turn back now. We can’t keep this thing and Valkor unchecked.”

    “Besides,” Arcidus chimed in. “If we do retreat, the Ragnirathan will just hunt us down and kill us anyway, so better we do something about it now.”

    Admiral Gravlek directed an order to his ships. “All Valkoran ships, concentrate all firepower on the Ragnirathan. We need to destroy this thing before Zolph kills Valkor, or else it won’t have reason to not destroy the planet itself.”

    The Doomsayer, Obliterators and Dread frigates fired their plasma cannons at the beast while the Demolisher and Judicator frigates fired their missiles, but it only served to slightly agitate it despite being entirely organic matter. The Ragnirathan simply fired another blast at a portion of the fleet.

    “It looks like we’ll have to kill it the old-fashioned way.” Hammer leader commented. “Hammer Squadron, let’s scout for a weak point like usual.”

    Arcidus and Hiriss echoed the same order to their squadrons and followed the Hammers.

    Cephal provided another order to the other fighter squadrons. “All other squadrons, cover the capital ships while we continue wearing away its armor.”
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    In the lower levels of the capital, Luke’s team continued fighting their way towards the security station’s control center, dealing with automated turrets loyal to Valkor’s half of the empire.

    “How did those worms get to the lower levels so quickly?” Machinus asked.

    Luke answered him. “Perhaps they were waiting here since before the invasion.”

    “I would have detected their underground movements.”

    “And I would have sensed them,” Juganak followed up. “Unless they were dormant, similar to those sleeper symbiotes.”

    Suddenly, the last Planara Manos emerged from the floor several levels into the building.

    Machinus shot at the worm’s eye, prompting it to strike at the droid-Nautolan, but Juganak jumped on top of its head to bind its mandibles open. While the Planara Manos was preoccupied, Luke used the Force to crush its crystalline eyeball into several shards and easily kill the creature.

    “At least we don’t have to deal with this guy anymore.” One of the Alliance soldiers sighed.

    Suddenly, a swarm of Forceless warriors and Rapthounds – quadruped reptiles with hook-tipped forelimbs and an eyeball inside a throat protected by several razor sharp teeth – came pouring out of several doors, overwhelming some of the troops.

    “Mach, we could really use those turrets right now!” One of the Valkoran soldiers yelled before getting pounced by a Rapthound. Machinus immediately shot the creature just after it killed the soldier.

    By some miracle, the sentry guns stopped firing on their team and started shooting at the Forceless. Some of the other Forceless were suddenly gunned down from behind with a barrage of blaster fire, revealing Bad Kitty with his repeating blaster. Spectre then leaped over him, throwing her metal-plated hat at an approaching Rapthound and breaking its neck. The rest of Besh Squad followed to eliminate the remaining Forceless in a less flashy manner.

    “Captain Varessi?” Luke asked Xadisall. “What are you doing here?”

    “Colonel G’Jan ordered us to eliminate the security systems after we took out the Fortress Tanks.” Xadisall informed Luke. “So everything on this planet with artificial intelligence works for us now thanks to our favorite Gand engineer.”

    “It’s just too bad we had to destroy those giants, or else we’d have an advantage against those ugly blobs.” Bad Kitty lamented.

    “Having those still around would actually make things worse.” Xad responded back. “We wouldn’t want the Collective using those things against us, now would we, Banir.”

    The heavily-built Cathar made an annoyed growl at the Mirialan.

    “What about the other security stations in the capital? This isn’t the only one.” Machinus asked.

    “Boltz already took care of them.” Boltz answered him. “Boltz has dealt with more complex systems before.”

    “If we survive this battle, you and I should talk some more.”

    Spectre chimed in. “I hate to interrupt, but we should keep going upward and try to seize some of the other key sectors. The lower levels aren’t quite as safe as before the invasion.”
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Back at the cathedral’s roof, Grein and Masochus were still engaged in a duel that already lasted half-an-hour. While she was locking blades with the floating lightsaber, Masochus prepared to hit Grein with some more Force lightning. Foreseeing the attack, Grein liquefied a part of her left hand before throwing it at Masochus, causing him to electrocute himself instead and drop the lightsaber.

    While he was struggling to lift himself off the ground, Grein casually kicked his lightsaber off the roof, walked over towards Masochus with her blade still ignited and reclaimed the excess water to reform her hand.

    “It’s over, Masochus. But before I finish you, I would like to know something else: Why haven’t you tried to backstab Valkor yet?” Grein asked. “I thought you Sith were all about being ambitious.”

    Masochus suddenly lifted himself up and Force-choked Grein.

    “My current position is enough because Valkor gives me the power to do as I please. I never cared about the Sith’s ages-long vendetta against the Jedi nor their desire to rule the galaxy. I just like to see things suffer as I see fit.” Masochus elaborated as he got up uncomfortably close to her and pulled out a knife before squeezing on one of her breasts with his bony left hand. “In exchange for you removing my pleasure part, let’s make you even more like Emilin. The only difference is I get to hear you scream.”

    “I still don’t regret that. You got what you deserved.”

    “Now scream, you little c-!” Before he could even cut into her breast, a cyan-bladed lightsaber pike pierced through his right shoulder from behind, cutting it off and causing Masochus to scream as he was interrupted. The pike then returned to its sender: Armogeist.

    “If you’re going to talk that way to her, it would be most appropriate that I cut your tongue out next.” Armogeist commented to Masochus as he approached.

    “Oiren?! I thought you would have just given up and died once you ran to Maesterus!” Masochus yelled back at him. “Valkor isn’t even restricting you from dying anymore!’

    “As empty as this existence may be, I have decided that I will not rest until both you and the Forceless Collective are dead. And because Valkor is no longer holding me back, nothing’s stopping me from killing you right now.”

    “If you want revenge, you’ll be competing with the Chiss right behind me.”

    “Ahem.” Grein coughed to get Masochus’s attention, alerting him to the fact that his grip on her had broken. “I’m insulted that one of the people who had a hand in torturing Emilin – namely the snitch and the butcher - is a smug idiot. You’re just begging to be killed.”

    Armogeist continued. “I’m perfectly fine with sharing, as I know everyone in the galaxy who’s met you wants you dead. Besides, this isn’t only for revenge. Your very existence is as much of a threat as the Collective.”

    “Insolent fools!” Masochus yelled at both Grein and Armogeist. “You think you can kill me? I have the advantage!”

    “What advantage?” Grein dryly asked. “You lost your lightsaber, you only have one arm and you don’t have any regenerative abilities.”

    Masochus then chuckled. “Valkor gave me some of his blood before the invasion.” Masochus tried to make a pose as if he was being empowered, but nothing was happening to him. Masochus’s eyes then dilated and his previously smug tone turned into one of dread. “Why isn’t the blood rebuilding me?!”

    “You may have one of those sleeper symbiotes inside you, which only become active when Valkor wants them to.” Grein answered him. “If that’s the case, apparently even the man you supposedly worship doesn’t trust you enough and placed that thing inside you to keep you in check.”

    Masochus instinctively tried to fire some Force lighting at both Grein and Armogeist simultaneously, forgetting that he only had enough arms to hit one of them. Unfortunately for him, he hit Armogeist, and the animated suit of Ancient Ocklanite battle armor simply blocked the electricity with his shield, while any that conducted through him didn’t affect him in the slightest. This allowed Grein and Armogeist to impale him from both sides and scissor him in half.

    As Masochus lied on the roof bleeding out Black Matter, Armogeist pointed out the irony of his predicament. “That’s funny, my old master. If you hadn’t tormented me, robbed me of my body and come to this planet, you would still be alive. But alas, your time has finally come.”

    Masochus then laughed maniacally as the Black Matter slowly dissolved his remains. “You kriffing idiots! You may have killed me, but because of Valkor’s gift, I still get to live on as part of him! It may seem a fate worse than death for all of you, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve attained what other Sith can only dream of!” Masochus continued laughing until the puddle completely consumed his remains and evaporated.

    “DAMMIT!” Armogeist yelled as he threw his shield against the ground. “We served him justice, and he still got off easy!”

    “Let it go, Balos.” Grein told him. “I didn’t find the circumstances of his death satisfying either, but at the very least, he’s gone now. Even if he got what he wanted from his point of view, he cannot harm anyone else.”

    “You Jedi are better at controlling your anger than I am, but you speak truly. The galaxy no longer needs to fear him if that’s the case.”

    Suddenly, Gahmah Raan came up from one of the stairways with his blasters drawn. “Alright, you depraved, skinless freak! I am going to tear you a new…!” Gahmah then lowered his guns as he noticed both Grein and Armogeist, but Masochus nowhere to be found. “Kriff, you already killed him, didn’t you? You didn’t even leave a corpse for me to shoot at?”

    “You told me that you didn’t have a grudge against him, Gahmah.” Grein dryly reminded him.

    “Not until recently. Gestroma made me realize that Masochus hired him to kill one of the only hunting partners I ever had away from home. But I guess I shouldn’t complain since I learned too late, and that guy was giving damn near everyone a reason to hate him. And there wouldn’t be enough pieces of him for everyone.” Gahmah reholstered his blasters.

    Grein addressed both him and Armogeist. “I may have had my share of this too, but seeking to inflict pain on someone can make you more susceptible to the lure of the Dark Side as was the case with Masochus. You may be barely Force sensitive, but this applies even to you, Gahmah. However, both of you seem to have either strayed significantly from it or haven’t even fallen into its grasp. That is not to be taken lightly.” She then turned her attention back to Armogeist. “Now that Masochus is dead, what will you do now, Balos?”

    Armogeist answered. “The Forceless Collective still lives and Masochus may still be able to live through it. However, I only seek to save this galaxy from the Collective now, so I can bear to stay bound to this body until then.”

    “Then let’s waste no more time. Zolph and Seferin are dealing with Valkor as we speak.”
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Meanwhile, Neur’s team had reached the Industrial Sector – a series of factories clustered together under one spacious dome – and already seized control of a large fraction of the factories from the Forceless Collective and their supporters. With only a few more relevant checkpoints to claim, Neur’s comlink rang to give her a message from Machinus.

    “Neur. This is Machinus. Report.”

    “Hi, Cid. We have almost the entire Industrial Sector under our complete control, but not only are we running into creatures we haven’t seen before, the Forceless have been finding ways to make our more biologically-disadvantaged allies into dangerous enemies. They can force the Kur’Ada to grow eyeballs or keep the Skakoans from immediately exploding if their suits get breached.”

    “That’s horrible! Anyway, there’s one particular target I need you to keep out of the Collective’s hands. It’s the HyVel cannon for an incomplete Fortress Tank.”

    “I need you to explain two things, Cid: Why a Fortress Tank is incomplete and why we need to claim the cannon.”

    “For the first one, this planet’s third Fortress Tank was still in early development around the time the Empire split. Second, that cannon is still an operable and potent weapon even though it doesn’t have a clear view of the sky from its position, and our fleets are already having enough trouble with the Ragnirathan as it is.”

    Lieutenant Will Helms interrupted the conversation. “If I can make a suggestion, Machinus, instead of destroying it, could’t we take control of the cannon and kill the Ragnirathan with it?”

    “You’d be firing blind for the first shot, Lieutenant, not to mention maybe accidentally hitting our own ships.” Machinus answered him. “And I don’t think it would be enough to kill that monstrosity either. Are my orders clear?”

    “Yes, sir.” Neur answered him “Neur out.”
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    A few moments later, Neur’s party had made it into hypervelocity cannon’s control room, but it had already been taken over by a platoon of Forceless and possessed Alliance and Valkoran troopers as well as a few Skakoan Commandos who were swelling up and ready to burst any minute. To everyone in Neur’s party, especially fellow Commando Captain Tey Hasha, they could tell the possessed Commandos were in agonizing pain in this state.

    “We’re too late. They beat us to it.” Neur dreadfully commented. “Everyone, get ready!”

    As soon as Neur activated her lightsaber, Captain Hasha stopped Neur and the rest from going forward while returning fire to the Forceless. “We don’t have time for this. If we fight them directly, more of those black beasts will come in to overwhelm us.” The rest of the Skakoans accompanied her. “Everyone else, get out of here. We’ll handle this.”

    However, before she and any of the other Skakoans could breach their own pressure suits, Lieutenant Helms interrupted them and stepped forward as he gunned a few Forceless down. “Stop, Hasha! Enough Skakoans in other parts of the city have already given their lives for us today. And we humans are already pretty damn numerous.” He then barked an order to his squad. “Everyone, give me any explosives you’ve got and get out of here!”

    “Don’t be a fool, Helms!” Neur yelled to him. “You’ll die!”

    “Thanks for stating the obvious, now get out!”

    “We better do as he says.” Medical Officer Cham Beneska advised Neur. “I know Lieutenant Helms a lot better than you do.”

    “Everyone, give any thermal detonators you have to Lieutenant Helms and run.” Neur reluctantly ordered her squad. Everyone then tossed belts of thermal detonators to the Lieutenant.

    While Helms gunned down any Forceless or slashed them with his wrist bayonet, Neur’s team fled the turret. Once they were clear of the vicinity, Helms activated a timed detonator, threw it into a key location and repeated until he was out of detonators.

    Just as a blob of Black Matter was ready to force itself into the filter on his helmet, Helms defiantly yelled “BOOM!” All the detonators went off and engulfed everyone in the cannon, and the possessed Skakoans only added to the effect of the explosion. As a result, the cannon was completely destroyed.
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Outside, Neur’s party watched outside as the HyVel cannon collapsed. Neur was saddened by Helms’ sacrifice, but the rest of the team knew better.

    “Don’t worry, Commander.” Private Varson assured her. “Helms will be back before you know it.”

    “Don’t lie to me, Private! He’s dead!” She yelled back at him.

    “I’m being serious, Commander. Why do you think his codename is ‘Phoenix’? This isn’t the-!”

    Private Varson was interrupted by Tey Hasha. “Heads up! More Forceless!”

    A trio of Forceless Kur’Ada warriors armed with vibroswords charged towards the team. While everyone else tried to gun them down to little avail, Neur charged right at them so they wouldn’t get near the Skakoans, as low-rank Forceless had no problems with killing themselves to advance their cause.

    After killing two of them, the last warrior slashed off both of Neur’s cybernetic head-tails before he himself was slain. As some Rapthounds and Nidracha climbed over a ledge to attack, Neur’s personality went from sorrowful to bombastically aggressive.

    “I’ll get the repair kit ready…” Beneska dryly commented as he listened to Neur shout at the Forceless.

    “Insolent beasts!” Neur yelled. “You have the audacity to lay claim to my people?! Well, I, Princess Neur, say to you, THUD AND BLUNDER, MAGGOTS!

    Neur unleashed a wave of Force lightning from her fingertips that caused all the Forceless to disintegrate all the while laughing maniacally as they combusted. Everyone else was disturbed to say the least.

    “And that was for Lieutenant Will Helms!”

    A voice then tried to get her attention. “Neur?”

    “WHAT?!” She angrily yelled back, before noticing Lieutenant Helms – distinguished by his armor decorated with a few phoenix symbols – alive and well, and with a slightly dirty suit of armor.

    “I’m back and ready for duty once the Doc gets your lekku reattached.” Helms responded.

    “Impudent worm! How dare you fake your own death and make me despair!”

    Helms then got defensive with her. “Seriously? I’ve been part of this army since before the war, and you didn’t know?! I sacrificed myself so the rest of the squad could live!”

    “And lekku reattached? Are you implying that I have brain damage?!”

    “To be honest at the risk of you killing me again, yes, ma’am.” Helms answered bluntly.

    “THUD AND BLUNDER!”

    “Don’t you mean blood and...?” Helms tried to retort before Neur interrupted by pointing her lightsaber at his face.

    “SILENCE!”

    While Neur and Helms were having their verbal duel, Doctor Beneska had just finished welding the lekku back on and reactivated them before she could suffer the pain backlash that would result from not having the implants for too long.

    “Okay, the Neur we all know and love is back to normal.” The red-skinned Twi’lek doctor assured Helms. “I might not be as much of a technical genius as Machinus, but I know lekku on half-breeds aren’t all that different from those on pure Twi’leks.”

    As Neur regained her senses, her temperamental demeanor dropped. “Helms? You’re alive? I’m sorry about those nasty things I said to you.”

    “It’s no problem, Commander.” Helms responded back. “If you want to know why I did what I did, you people only get one life. I have plenty to waste, but don’t get any ideas.”

    Neur then pulled out her comlink. “Cid, this is Neur. The HyVel cannon has been destroyed.”
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Up in space, the fleets were still struggling with the Ragnirathan. A few dozen capital ships had been destroyed in addition to at least one-hundred starfighters while scouting the beast’s exterior. They couldn’t go inside the dimensional portal without imploding and any proton torpedoes were more likely to be destroyed before hitting anything if fired directly into the mouth.

    “It’s no use! We can’t find any other logical weak points!” Hammer Leader panicked over comlink.

    “Then we’ll just have to make one.” Admiral Gravlek announced. “All fighters, pull back and regroup with the Doomsayer. We’re going to blow that monster’s head off.” He then made an order to the rest of the ship’s crew. “Set all plasma cannons to overload and divert power to the engines. All non-essential personnel, get to the ships or escape pods. All essential personnel, do the same once your part is finished. I’ll stay aboard to ensure the Doomsayer’s safe passage.”

    Despite Gravlek’s orders, a select few volunteered to stay onboard to ensure that the Admiral’s plan happened without fail.

    Hiriss protested the Admiral’s decision. “You can’t be serious, Admiral! You’ll kill yourself!”

    “We don’t have any other options, Moraana. I need you and the rest of the squadrons to cover me while I prepare my attack.”

    Hiriss reluctantly complied. “Understood. All craft, protect the Doomsayer.”

    As the rest of the Doomsayer’s crew evacuated, Gravlek made a point to contact Maesterus and leave a quick message. “Gravlek to Maesterus. I don’t wish to hold you for too long, but I regret to inform you that I have to sacrifice your favorite ship.”

    Before Maesterus could protest, Gravlek cut the transmission.

    As the plasma cannons charged up and the Doomsayer turned its dagger-shaped bow towards the Ragnirathan’s body, Hiriss, Arcidus and the fighter squadrons defended it from any attacking Eyewings, Demolusks and Matterbugs while the capital ships and bombers defended it from the Levioths.

    Once the plasma cannons were almost fully charged and the Doomsayer in position, Admiral Marx Gravlek gave one more message to his allies.

    “Everyone, it has been an honor fighting alongside you for this cause. May my sacrifice carry you to victory.”

    Moving at full sub-light speed with some fighter craft escorting it, the Doomsayer pierced through the roots of the Ragnirathan’s neck. With the mighty vessel now embedded in the creature, the plasma cannons overloaded, obliterating the Doomsayer and decapitating the Ragnirathan with the explosion.

    While the head was sent flying towards Ockla’s atmosphere and landed at the base level of the Imperial Palace, the tear in space closed down on the Ragnirathan’s remains, cutting off what little came out of the portal.

    The Ragnirathan’s death seemed like cause for celebration, but the rest of the fleet knew there was no time to do that or mourn Admiral Gravlek’s death now. The rest of the Forceless fleet remained and the Collective was still at large on the surface.
    ________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Back at the throne room, Zolph and Maesterus were beginning to tire from their battle with Emperor Valkor that had already lasted at least an hour.

    “I could do this all day. Just give up and I’ll let you die quickly.” Valkor taunted them.

    After slashing off a few more arms and dodging more jaws and sorcery, Zolph and Maesterus were able to land a several slashes on the bulk of Valkor’s body and do enough damage to actually cause him pain and make the mass of the Black Matter shrink down.

    “Okay, you were actually able to hurt me, I’ll give you that. However, even if you defeat me here, you’ll only have destroyed an avatar, as I actually exist away from this galaxy. You’ll have a hopeless battle ahead of you.”

    “Then we’ll just keep fighting to our last breath.” Maesterus retorted before stabbing Valkor again.

    “And defy all odds like we usually do.” Zolph added.

    “It’s getting awfully cramped in here.” Valkor said. “Let’s take this outside, shall we?”

    Valkor suddenly sprang through one of the windows and fell down to the base level of the palace and the capital where the severed, slowly-decomposing head of the Ragnirathan lied. Valkor extended his mass to the head to assimilate it, and many lesser Forceless gathered around him to be assimilated as well.

    As more and more Forceless became one with him, Valkor transformed into a Black Matter colossus that dwarfed most of the capital’s buildings. While he had a somewhat skinny body with elongated arms and clawed hands, his head was mostly a giant glowing mouth with an eye in the back of it. Instead of having legs, he created a sea of Black Matter that devoured every living being on the surface level of the capital.

    With his newly-created body, Valkor swatted at the turret the throne room was situated on, forcing Maesterus to carry Zolph and fly away to the roof of another building. He then devoured what was left of the palace and all the occupants inside it.

    All the while, the rest of the Alliance and Valkoran forces gazed in awe upon this massive abomination.

    “Shavit!” Zolph cursed in awe. “How many tricks does this freak of nature have?!”

    “I never actually thought my old Emperor could get this big.” Maesterus added.

    The mighty creature that Valkor had turned into boasted at his enemies. “Now you know the power of the Forceless Collective! Do you still wish to oppose me, mortals?! Or will you bow to the only god this universe needs?!”

    Zolph didn’t hesistate to backtalk Valkor as he and Maesterus drew their lightsabers. “Jedi don’t believe in gods. We only believe in the Force.”

    “Then, like all the others who reject my right, you shall suffer!” Valkor raised his right arm towards the two of them and a dozen scythe-tipped tentacles jetted out of his palm and slashed at the duo. This was more than the number of blades they had to deal with at once before in his previous form.

    As they parried the blades, Zolph tried to jump out of the flurry of slashes and jumped onto Valkor’s wrist in an attempt to get close to him, but the titan simply grabbed him with his other arm, slammed him back on the roof and tried to press him death.

    Noticing the fighting from a distance, some Alliance and Valkoran troopers fired some rockets at Valkor, but that only scratched him very little and he retaliated by having a giant maw emerge around the building they were standing on and consume them.

    Other groups tried to similarly retaliate with artillery strikes from tanks and walkers or bombing runs, but those attacks were similarly countered with attacks from razor-tipped tentacles or energy projectiles coming out of other parts of Valkor’s body. Meanwhile, the other Jedi-led parties were rushing to get to Zolph and Maesterus’s aid.

    With no other options, Maesterus flew away from the blade storm and slashed off Valkor’s left hand to free Zolph. He was successful in doing so, but this also allowed Valkor to skewer him from behind through his shoulders and palms, making him drop his lightsaber in the process.

    “SEFERIN!” Zolph cried out.

    Valkor then chuckled as he lifted Maesterus into the air and held him out for all in the capital to see.

    “Well, Maesterus, you were always one of my favorite servants,” Valkor said as he callously sawed off one of Maesterus’s primary wings, causing him to scream in agonizing pain. “But I don’t take treason too well.” He then cut off the other wing.

    Not far away, a distraught Grein attempted to throw her lightsaber to cut off the tentacles, but Armogeist and Gahmah restrained her before she could so.

    “LET GO OF ME!” Grein cried. “CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S GOING TO DIE!!?”

    “Don’t be a fool, Grein!” Gahmah retorted. “We’re too far out of range!” Inside, Gahmah also hated himself for losing his sniper rifle beforehand, or he would have been able to help Maesterus.

    “We want to help him too, but there’s nothing we can do from here.” Armogeist added.

    As Maesterus’s allies watched helplessly, Valkor positioned three more blades towards his chest. “Since those who admire you are no longer on my side, I no longer have to worry about turning you into a martyr to rally behind. There are only a few proper punishments for treason, and I have decided: Public execution!”

    Valkor then thrust the blades into Maesterus’s heart, and let them stay in for a few seconds before pulling them out and then dropping his body.

    However, Zolph used the Force to catch and bring him over to him rather than let him be eaten by the black sea that made up Valkor’s base.
     
  11. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    [​IMG]
    EPISODE II
    Epilogue: Compromise
    In Ockla Prime’s orbit, the Valkoran-Alliance forces – the former of the two factions now headed by the just-promoted Admiral Sonia Morda in the wake of Admiral Marx Gravlek’s death – were clearing up any more Forceless that came into the system with fewer casualties from their side. The chances of a second Ragnirathan cropping up at this point were very slim.

    As Arcidus gunned down a few more Eyewings, he suddenly sensed a disturbance in the Force and had a panic attack. “No!”

    This disturbance kept him from realizing that a Matterbug was climbing up the Phantom Razor from behind, only prevented from possessing Arcidus by V7-L20 shocking it to death. A flock of Eyewings was also flanking him from the sides and behind, but they were eliminated by Hiriss.

    “Arcidus, I can sense that you’re troubled. What’s wrong?” She asked.

    “It’s nothing.” He dishonestly answered.

    “Be honest with me, Arcidus. Zolph tried to deny to his own personal issues for six months, and it almost got him killed. If something’s wrong, tell me.”

    “It’s my master! He’s dying!”

    “Do you want to go to him?”

    “Of course I want to, but I have a duty up here!”

    Admiral Morda chimed into the conversation. “If Maesterus is in danger, you should go down there. Don’t worry about us. We can handle the Collective up here.”

    “Thank you, Admiral Morda.”

    Admiral Cephal also gave an order to Hiriss. “Commander Moraana, you should go with him too. If there’s something powerful enough to kill Maesterus down there, Commander Vaelor and the ground forces could be in serious trouble. Don’t worry about us either. We’ve got some other Jedi pilots on the way to help.”

    The Phantom Razor and the Manthis headed into Ockla’s atmosphere while the rest of the fleet continued to fight off the Collective.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Down in the capital, Zolph had just finished levitating Maesterus’s injured form over to his position and laid him down on the roof.

    The colossal Valkor promptly taunted Zolph. “Is there even a point to doing that? He’s already doomed, and he’ll be spending some time in the Pool of Souls regardless of where he dies.”

    Zolph was very much tempted to shoot at Valkor to shut him up, but he had lost his blaster in the throne room and even if he still had it, it wouldn’t have even scratched him.

    “Are you curious about what the Pool of Souls is? It’s where those with my blood go when they die and remain until I have more use for them. Your girlfriend was in there too.”

    “Shut your face!” Zolph yelled at him.

    “What was that? I can’t hear you, maggot!”

    Valkor then made an announcement to everyone else in the capital.

    “Alright, you treacherous worms! I’m offering you a choice. Either you pledge your loyalty to me or you spend some rehabilitation time in a place where you’ll wish you could die! Choose wisely.”

    Everyone else in the city that could see him – both Alliance and Valkoran - remained defiant.

    “Still rallying behind the fly whose wings I just clipped? Fine, you’ll suffer the same as the other heathens once I’m finished with Vaelor.” Valkor turned back to Zolph. “As for you, it’s now your turn to die!”

    Just as Valkor got ready to smash Zolph with his fists, his arms suddenly combusted into flames and burst, and both the Phantom Razor and the Manthis flew right by him.

    “What the-?! Well, if it isn’t Maesterus’s pet!” Valkor then regenerated his arms before attempting to swat Arcidus, only for Hiriss to bombard him in the mouth-eye from the side with a volley of proton torpedoes.

    While the fighters buzzed around him like flies and dodged his attacks, Grein’s party arrived at the rooftop where Zolph and Maesterus. Grein could barely hold back her tears at the sight of her husband bleeding to death. She rushed over to him and removed his helmet, revealing him to no longer be possessed by the Black Matter, his skin tone and eyes back to normal.

    “Grein?” Maesterus weakly addressed her as she cradled him. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. However, I’m glad to see you again one more time.”

    “Don’t say that, Seferin! I thought we were going be together again after four-thousand years! I don’t want to lose you too!” She then tried to yell desperately. “Someone, get a medic! A Jedi healer! Anyone!”

    Seferin put his hand against her cheek. “It’s no use, Grein. I’m going to die, either way. But don’t cry. Death is a natural thing. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”

    Meanwhile, Armogeist and Gahmah stood speechless, the latter pondering how heartbroken he or Nazeen would be if they were to lose each other.

    As Hiriss continued distracting Valkor, Arcidus briefly docked at the same building to check on his master. As he rushed over, he removed his mask.

    “Master!” Arcidus yelled.

    “Aiken?” Seferin addressed him. “You abandoned your priorities just so you could see me? Don’t bother asking for medical assistance. I just told Grein the same thing.”

    “What will we do without you, Master?”

    “After this, I will no longer be your master. You will lead my people as my successor. But before my reign ends, I have one last order: Help Zolph defeat Valkor. Get back in the Razor and help whoever’s flying Zolph’s fighter.”

    “As you wish, Seferin.” Aiken put his mask back on, returned to his fighter and flew back into action.

    Valkor proceeded to taunt the people on the roof further. “Oh, what a touching reunion! But we’ve wasted enough time!” Valkor prepared to fire an energy blast at them, only for him to be held back by Luke and Juganak a few levels lower through the Force. “And now, a Council member from the original Jedi Order and the current Grandmaster have decided to step up!”

    Valkor tried to fire an energy blast at them, but Luke simply dissipated it with a wave of green Force lightning, harming Valkor more than most previous attacks against this form have.

    “Well-played, Skywalker! You truly are the most powerful in the Order, but ironically enough, you’re not as much of a threat as Vaelor even though he’s weaker than you! Unlike him, I could give you a place in the Collective!”

    Luke snarked back at him. “That’s a very tempting offer, Valkor, but sadly for you, I’ve already had a megalomaniacal Sith Lord offer me power in exchange for loyalty a few decades earlier, and even though you’re not a Sith, you’re not really that much different.”

    “Oh, I wasn’t offering to have you join. I was merely making an observation. Besides, the chances of you willingly joining after everything you’ve been through are very slim, and you most likely could resist Forceless possession despite not having Vaelor’s natural immunity to it.”

    As Valkor continued clashing with Luke, Maesterus addressed Zolph. “Zolph, I offer you the Black Matter in my body to take down Valkor.”

    “But I haven’t learned to properly control Force-channeling. And as I am now, I’ll do more harm than good.”

    “We don’t have any other options. Besides, you were willing to risk it to save Ascana Vaso and Yanto Eko from being imprisoned in the Pool of Souls, and I wouldn’t want to suffer that fate either.”

    “Very well, I’ll try.”

    “Don’t try.”

    “Even making it to knighthood, I still don’t know what that means.”

    “Trying implies the possibility of failure. Tame this power. Be confident.”

    “Ah, so that’s what Master Skywalker meant.”

    Maesterus then addressed Grein, Gahmah and Armogeist. “Raan, Grein. I need you to get to your ships and provide Zolph some air-support. Balos, I need you to stay alive and order everyone else on the surface to evacuate. There’s not much else they can do.”

    “Understood, Seferin.” Grein answered, having regained her composure. “And I’m glad to have seen you again one more time.”

    Gahmah answered him in turn with a more serious tone than he usually had. “Since you were always one of my favorite clients and you have nothing left to give, I’ll do this one for free, for you, my family, and as Violo used to say, a better galaxy. It’s been a pleasure working with you, Maesty, and I’m gonna miss you.”

    While Gahmah fled the vicinity to get to the Vriknash, Zolph contacted Admiral Cephal. “Admiral, order everyone to get off the surface. The planet’s surface is no longer safe and things are about to get very messy.”

    “Understood. I’m guessing that’s why the capital looks darker from up here.” The transmission ended.

    Zolph then put his hands up against Maesterus’s body and absorbed all of the Black Matter inside of it into his body. However, instead of being reluctant to use this, he was determined.

    Valkor suddenly caught notice of this and tried to smash Zolph before he could transform, but to no avail, as his fist was blocked and disintegrated by a massive Force shield.

    “No.” Valkor uttered with a slight tone of horror.

    Instead of turning into a Forceless-like being, Zolph had turned into a gray-skinned humanoid creature with a featureless face with the exception of the two glowing blue eyes and four wings coming out of his back.

    “Valkor!” Zolph addressed him with a distorted voice. “For your crimes against sentience, you will answer to me! Prepare yourself!”

    Zolph levitated from the roof, formed an energy blade from his right arm, and flew towards Valkor.

    “You have done well, Zolph. The Force is on your side.” Seferin said before expiring. Grein then silently ordered Armogeist to pick up Seferin’s body, followed her and carry him to the Blazing Manta.

    Valkor fired another energy blast from his main mouth at Zolph, only for him to block it with another Force shield.

    Realizing what he was up against, Valkor silently ordered a squadron of Eyewings to attack Zolph, only for a few of them to be sliced apart by his energy blade and the rest to be shot down by the Manthis. Meanwhile, the Vriknash, Blazing Manta - with Grein as the pilot and Armogeist as the gunner - and Phantom Razor flanked Valkor from all sides, and many Valkoran and Alliance dropships were evacuating the planet, even though a few were devoured before they could take off.

    Some parts of Hammer, Shade and Guardian Squadrons also came down into the atmosphere to assist, but several fighters were destroyed or devoured by Valkor.

    Zolph then threw a massive energy blast at Valkor to get his attention. “Focus. On. Me!” He demanded the colossus.

    “Very well, then!” Valkor suddenly tore a stories-tall building off its supports and threw it at Zolph, only for him to slash it in half.

    Zolph then charged towards Valkor’s head, noticing the upper-half of his smaller humanoid shell still attached to it as if were some pilot. Valkor grabbed Zolph, only for him to be set free when the Manta fired some concussion missiles to sever Valkor’s hand. He attempted to launch some tentacle blades in retaliation, only for them to be decapitated by the Razor’s wings.

    Once Zolph landed on top of the head, Valkor tried to smash him with the colossus’s oversized arm, only for the Vriknash to drop a seismic charge into it and tear it to shreds.

    Valkor’s puppet-body suddenly created a smaller substitute humanoid body to go along with its lost half and separated itself from the colossus.

    “I guess your friends don’t want me to kill you the easy way. Very well. If you want to destroy me, you’ll need to be fast, because if I remember, that power of yours has a time limit, and I’m not going to provide you the benefit of fueling off my body.”

    “Then I have plenty of time to shove this energy blade up your exhaust port.”

    Valkor slashed his claws at Zolph, but it only scratched his flesh, as it was far too thick to be punctured through. Zolph then cut off his metallic right arm, only for him to replace it with a Black Matter arm. As the two clashed blades and Force powers with pseudo-Force powers, Zolph also had to contend with the colossus attacking him with jaws, spikes or Forceless Newborns created from its body.

    Eventually, with a well-placed slash, Zolph decapitated Valkor’s avatar and the colossus started to fall apart.

    The avatar’s severed head lightly chuckled. “You’ve done well, Vaelor. You and this galaxy just might be the most thrilling adversary I ever had. However, as I told you earlier, you’ve only killed one of my avatars, and you’ll be fighting a hopeless battle with rest of the Collective. But since you’ve been so much fun, I’ll give you a consolation prize.”

    “What are you up to?” Zolph asked suspiciously.

    “Dynn Manthis is alive.”

    “Liar! I saw her die!” Suddenly, Zolph’s power was starting to wear off.

    “Remember what I told you about the Pool of Souls. I resurrected her, hence why I said she was in there. However, she’s in a galaxy far, far away right now, so unless you invent a means for quick extragalactic travel sometime within your lifespan, you’ll never find her.”

    The glowing eyes in the avatar’s mask then faded.

    With the last of Maesterus’s symbiote exhumed, Zolph’s body turned back to normal. He suddenly leaped off the colossus’s head as it broke off and landed right on top of the Blazing Manta before entering the ship’s emergency repair hatch.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    As the rest of the ships fled from Ockla Prime’s surface – whether they be part of the Galactic Alliance, Maesterus’s supporters or Valkor’s surviving supporters fleeing from the battle – the Valkoran Separatists and the Alliance performed a full-scale orbital bombardment of the capital to annihilate all the remaining Forceless on the planet’s surface. Once the bombardment was complete, all the surviving Valkoran-Alliance ships retreated into hyperspace.

    As far as statistics were concerned, hundreds of men and women from both parties were either killed or sent to the ‘Pool of Souls’, and some of the surviving soldiers would no doubt be traumatized by that day’s events.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Back on the Manta, Zolph reunited with Grein and Armogeist. They then received a transmission from Admiral Cephal.

    “Grein, this is Admiral Cephal. Is Zolph okay?”

    “I’m still alive, Admiral.” Zolph answered.

    “You did it! Thanks to you, we pulled through this mess! The Valkoran War is finally over!”

    This seemed like a cause for celebration, but for Zolph, Grein and those who knew more about the Forceless, this was a bittersweet victory.

    “But unfortunately, another war has begun in its place.” Zolph replied. “We only defeated an avatar, so the real Valkor’s still alive in another galaxy. And since we were able to defeat him and destroy the Ragnirathan, the Forceless Collective is going to take us more seriously and overwhelm us until we are defeated.”

    “That’s unfortunately true. We may be dealing with an enemy worse than the Yuuzhan Vong in the days to come, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t relish this victory. Besides, several of our surviving men are getting awards for their roles in this battle, including Besh Squad. And G’Jan’s getting promoted to General.”

    Hiriss, R9-C4 and a few others were also listening in on the conversation.

    “Is there anything good for you that came out of this, Zolph?” Hiriss asked.

    Zolph answered. “Unfortunately, we lost many good people, including Admiral Gravlek and Maesterus. However, we are no longer fighting against the majority of the Valkoran, and we have some allies to fight against the Collective with. And I have fulfilled Dynn’s last wish to some extent. Valkor may have told me we’d be fighting a losing battle against what may be one of the largest armies in the universe, but if we hold onto hope and look for solutions like we did against the Galactic Empire and the Yuuzhan Vong, we may pull through against this seemingly-endless force too. We already proved it on Ockla Prime.”

    “Now we’re on the right track.”

    Seefor chimed in as well. “Seemingly-infinite force of Forceless < Seefor and cohorts.”

    “But you still seem troubled.” Hiriss continued.

    “Before his avatar died, Valkor told me that Dynn was somehow alive in another galaxy.” Zolph answered back.

    “Do you believe him?”

    “I don’t know what to believe. Valkor is most likely giving me false hope just to have it crushed later, regardless of whether he’s lying or not.”

    Grein chimed in. “You’re wise to suspect that, Zolph. Even if he is telling the truth, it’s best not to get your hopes too high. But even then, having a little hope is not a bad thing, especially in a situation like this.”

    Hiriss continued. “You can hold on to some hope, but for the most part, it would be for the best to just move on. You don’t want to burden yourself with the thought of it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m hoping she’s still alive and that we see her again too.”

    “Thanks for the advice.” Zolph told them both before ending the transmission and specifically addressing Grein. “And how you are you handling Seferin’s fate?”

    “I’m still getting over it.” Grein answered. “I’ve spent four-thousand years separated from him and the only times we met again until today, we only met indirectly, and one of those times was as enemies.”

    “After everything you’ve been through your whole life, I don’t blame you for breaking into tears.” Zolph then hugged the purple-eyed Chiss from her side, provoking a rare, warm smile from her.

    “Thank you, Zolph, but can you please not do that while I’m flying the ship?”

    “Of course. Sorry.” Zolph then retracted. “Maybe after we stop?”

    “Sure.”

    Another transmission came to the Manta, this time from Arcidus.

    “Arcidus to Grein. Status report.”

    “We’re almost to the rendezvous point.”

    “Good. You’ll be delivering Maesterus’s body and Armogeist to Admiral Morda on the Liberator. She’ll handle the rest.”

    Zolph then questioned Arcidus. “So, Aiken, now that you’re the new chief, what are you going to do?”

    “First, my group is going to set up a new center of operations now that Ockla Prime’s been devastated and the Doomsayer destroyed. Then, we’re going to make reparations to the Galactic Alliance for the crimes we committed under Valkor’s supervision. Thankfully, Master Skywalker and Admiral Cephal have decided to vouch for us so we aren’t sentenced too inconveniently. Also, we set up a credit account with the Banking Clan on Scipio during the war in case we lost some of our privately-owned resources, and I’ll still have enough to pay Gahmah Raan for his aid during the battle.”

    “That’s good to hear. With the Forceless Collective an even bigger threat than before, we can’t afford to have you punished in a way that renders your group helpless. This whole galaxy will need to stand united if we want to survive the Collective.”

    “Also, to better dissociate our group from Valkor’s loyalists, I’ve decided to rename ourselves the Knights of Maesterus.”
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    A few days later, Zolph took the Manthis to Mount Yoda on Dagobah. As he made his way to the turbolift to take him to the swamp below, he noticed the base was not quite as busy as the last time he was there. In fact, it was very quiet without General Ven Choi around.

    After arriving in the swamp, he headed into the corrupted cave under the gnarltree he was once led into.

    Once far enough into the cave, he was once again confronted with an apparition of a Forceless-possessed Dynn, but this time, Zolph was not afraid.

    “So you came back.” The apparition mockingly commented.

    “Obviously.” Zolph replied.

    “Have you finally decided to accept the truth?”

    “Yes. I have come to realize that you are a manifestation of my own self-loathing and denial, and that you’ll probably never go away as long as I live. However, that isn’t why I’m here.”

    “Then why have you come back to this deadly place?”

    “I’d like to tell you that I fulfilled your final wish to some extent. A good chunk of the Valkoran Empire led by Maesterus realized the error of their ways and decided to aid us in our fight against the Collective. Also, I have some slight hope that you’re not dead in some place I’m currently unable to reach. However, I’m not going to get my hopes too high and deliberately search for you. You may actually be dead, you may actually not, but either way, I promise I won’t forget about you and I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for you.”

    Suddenly, the apparition’s Forceless-possession symptoms started to deteriorate and she turned back to her fully-clothed un-possessed form, revealing a genuine smile on her face. “You finally passed.” She then put her hand on Zolph’s shoulder as her body slowly faded into light particles. “If you do run into the real me again, do whatever you feel needs to be done.” She then finished fading.

    “I will, Dynn. I will.” Zolph said to himself as he exited the cave.
     
  12. Admiral Volshe

    Admiral Volshe Force Ghost star 10

    Registered:
    Sep 2, 2012
    Prologue

    TECHNICAL -
    Watch the use of commas vs periods in dialogue, use of the word “then” (there is a lot of it), watch use of commas in sentences (comma splices especially), try to avoid using the same word multiple times (explosion/exploded, armoured/armed), watch tenses.

    SETTING

    Angelion above Yavin IV, Yavin IV.

    CHARACTERS

    Alec Vaelor – High ranking of some sort, has a wife and son. Has a lightsaber, so he’s evidently a Jedi. Seems very no-nonsense, but quick to judge/act.
    Veene – Wife of Alec. Able to somewhat hold her own. Is wounded.
    Zolph - Jedi in training, son of Alec. He seems to be very smart and quick thinking. Maybe a bit overconfident. Doesn’t seem very emotional.
    Captain – Seems to know the Galaxy pretty well, experienced. Loyal.
    Rodian officer – Not sure about him yet.
    Commander Maesterus - Interesting. Possessed by something? Living with a curse? And not Sith, but red lightsaber…still, he seems to be someone who kills only in necessity.
    And Luke Skywalker.


    PLOT/STORY

    First, they are on board the Angelion. It’s revealed that Zolph is to become a Jedi. The ship receives a transmission.
    The transmission turns out to be a war ship. Presumably pirates(?). They are going to raid the Angelion.
    The bad guys capture the ship and board it. They injure Veene, who tries to fight them off.
    His father is killed by Maesterus, his mother dies on Yavin IV’s surface.
    Zolph faces some baddies on the surface and meets a lake crustacean. He then gets to the Jedi Temple, where he meets Luke.

    MISC. THOUGHTS

    I’d really like to see more feeling and description of the world around them. The dialogue is good, though. Utilizes SW terminology pretty well. Dialogue tags are well balanced. I’d also like to see the ideas more fleshed out. I am intrigued by what’s going on, it’s interesting and different, but it’s also confusing. I know some of what is going on, but giving some omniscience will probably help with bringing the reader along. The action is good and to the point.
    Nice bad feeling reference, also.
    How do Zolph and Veene know not to mess with them? Instinct?
    The death scenes fell a little flat for me.
    Yavin IV I feel needed to be mentioned a bit earlier.

    So overall, I really do like the ideas. The dialogue is also very good. I think it would help to practice writing more descriptively and with more emotion. Describe characters. Add more prose to your stories, along with the dialogue. Think about what your character would feel and try to incorporate that. Describe the setting, the who, what, where, when, why. Have them think about their pasts and future steps too. It’s not easy but I think you can get the hang of that. Mess around with it to find your rhythm, too.





    Chapter 1

    TECHNICAL -
    A couple run on sentences here, comma splices, and missing punctuation. Some redundant words (not too alike can become not unlike), “told to himself” should be something like “muttered to himself”. It may make it easier to follow if you format thoughts differently than spoken word. Be sure you are consistent with your capitalizations. Still watch the use of “then”.

    SETTING

    Acropolis Station, baddies’ ship. Above Ithor (?)

    CHARACTERS -

    Zolph – Seems to be a bit snippier this time around. Determined. Not sure if he’s cold or just naïve.
    Dynn Manthis – Red haired, green eyed.
    The Administrator – Serious, good planner.
    Luke Skywalker – Much more in character this chapter.
    Private Helms – Oooh, spooky. I like him. Too bad he had to die again.
    Admiral Gravlek – Such a jerk. Ha. But serious. Love his suit of armour.


    PLOT/STORY

    The baddies are back, 5 years later. They are attacking Acropolis station. Zolph has to face various obstacles - disabled ships, walkers, and the henchmen. He manages to disable the plasma cannon that’s firing on Acropolis. He also meets Gravlek. After defeating Gravlek, the ship is set on a collision course with the station – but they direct the ship somehow to the surface of Ithor.

    MISC. THOUGHTS

    Dialogue is a lot stronger in this chapter, though it was good before. The same tips apply though with the descriptions. It was better this chapter, but it could still be improved upon. Think of the five senses and the 5 w’s I listed before.
    Description of some people, objects, and sound is present, so I see improvement.


    The overall comment I have is that I don’t really know much about the past of the main characters. I don’t know where Zolph is from, where his father is from, where Veene is from. I also don’t know much about what’s going on – the basic plot is there, the dialogue is strong, but the description is not as strong. But I give a kudos to you for creating something that is interesting and original! And for the good dialogue! :)
     
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  13. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Admiral Volshe

    Thank you for the input. Yes, I agree that the character background was not one of the strong suits of the early chapters (though we do get more background on them later, and reveals bits and pieces as it goes by). Others, I keep mysterious on purpose to reveal background info on later. However, I do want to make sure I don't spend too much time detailing a character.

    Also, I noticed you lurking around on my DeviantArt page, and you most undoubtedly know that I draw concept art for the story, and some of it I was already drawing even before I decided to make a Paranormalities a written fanfic. I'm beginning to think, going into Episode III (which wasn't as heavily planned in advance compared to the first two Episodes, though I do have a general plot progression and character ideas in mind) that I should doing concept art again to help set up my descriptions, especially since we're going to be dealing with elements even more unfamiliar to the Star Wars lore this Episode.

    And I will admit, some side characters do start as placeholders that originated in the writing process, but I decide to develop them later as the story progresses and give them more appearances. And sometimes, I think about doing side fics for these characters.

    On another note, I'm now recruiting beta readers for Episode III (it would help with some grammar and typing hiccups and I have some people to privately discuss story elements with before releasing it out in public, as there are some things I'm arguing with myself about and even I can make mistakes sometimes). If anyone's interested, PM me.
     
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  14. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    I've decided to do something while I'm working on Episode III. Namely, do a chapter by chapter documentary of the story so far, and what was going on when I wrote those chapters. Spoilers from later chapters (and chapters that haven't even been published yet) may be present.


    Original Publication Date: February 24, 2012

    This chapter was me getting my feet wet with fanfiction, hence some of the writing weaknesses compared to later chapters. Before I even intended to write Paranormalities as a fanfic, I released a series of concept art online and explained the context behind each piece for what was a theoretical Star Wars video game that took place in the New Jedi Order era, which explains some of the later chapter structure and some of the by-Star-Wars-standards absurdities. Some parts of my story plan eventually changed as I progressed through the fic.

    My earliest ideas for this story came back in 2004 (I was younger and stupider at the time), and it was a lot more simplistically straightforward, but as I got older, I made things more complex, such as changing the Valkoran from another Sith cult to just a theocracy that doesn't really follow just one aspect of the Force, and in the process, made them less of card-carrying villains.

    Now for the prologue itself. Some of the relative sloppiness can be attributed to me trying to make a deadline for my 21st birthday.

    The reason why Alec and Veene were barely developed? They weren't supposed to be the main characters of this story. It's not that complicated. If I ever intend to develop Zolph's parents and their early adventures, that's going to be a separate story from this one.

    The idea with Maesterus is that his personality contrasts with his appearance, but unfortunately, looking like a stereotypical Sith Lord (whether you think they look cool or not) despite your intentions is going to inevitably make it hard for people to trust you. And I had to keep Maesterus somewhat sympathetic, but not completely sugar-coat his actions either, for what I was eventually planning to reveal about his character.

    Yes, that trooper that got pushed into the lake was indeed Private Helms, as is referenced in the next chapter.

    The Lobranha is a completely original creature I came up with. Here is an early concept design for the creature that I drew up back in 2008-2009 for those who want an idea of what it looks like.

    If I didn't name a character in some chapter, it's probably because I found them expendable and didn't intend to use them again beyond that chapter. Those that did got really lucky (and eventually earned names).

    Originally Publication Date: February 24, 2012

    The idea for Acropolis Station was indeed inspired by Citadel Station from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. So in a bit of irony, the Ithorians are now attempting to have their homeworld restored with the same idea they worked with to restore Telos IV millennia earlier. However, since I was doing a lot of Wookieepedia bingeing to keep my ideas consistent with what was considered canon at the time, Acropolis was doomed to fail or be delayed for a very long time, and I decided to make the attack the explanation for why.

    I decided to very carefully keep the Galactic Alliance from being fully prepared for the Valkoran attack and come up with some reasoning for why Zolph would infiltrate the attacking ship. Again, this can be attributed to the video game plan. Same goes I assigned Dynn to protecting the station's shield generator.

    Speaking further of Dynn, I needed to establish a relationship (not explicitly romantic, but midway between that and platonic) as early as possible (they've had five years to build up a genuine friendship, so it happened sometime during the Vong invasion) before she eventually went MIA (and eventually siding with the Valkoran Empire) in the next chapter. Then again, I didn't intend for this to mainly be a love story. In hindsight, if I applied the mission-partner dynamic I applied in later chapters and Episode II, I would have had her and Zolph infiltrating the Conqueror together.

    As for the Galactic Alliance as a whole, my intention was to have it portrayed in a relatively positive light when compared to novels that came chronologically after it (as to my disappoint, I learned later). Cal Omas would be the Chief of State at this time, and if I were to ever have him appear in Episode III, I would have him in his NJO personality and not be an obstructive bureaucrat like he was in the Dark Nest Trilogy.

    The corridor's leading into firing tunnels was originally an idea parodying the Galactic Empire's lack of OSHA compliance in their facilities. Later, I came to the reasoning that they're supposed to be cannon maintenance corridors for outside of battle and that this incident would give them incentive to put warning signs. So in a way, Paranormalities is also a black comedy.

    I came up with Private Will Helms as a character that was mix of Kenny McCormick from South Park and Johnny Sasaki from the Metal Gear series. My idea for him was that he started off a punching bag for most of Episode I, but by the time of Episode II, he'd not only not only die less (while still being a butt monkey), he'd gradually become more badass and eventually get some character development.

    Zolph's use of blasters, smoke bombs and such was inspired by Kyle Katarn.

    Admiral Marx Gravlek's power suit is inspired by Admiral Galak Fyyar's power suit from Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. The sound effect I described for his concussion rifle is supposed to be the sound effect for the same rifle in the first two games of the Dark Forces saga. And yes, I always intended for him to survive and be turned into a cyborg later.

    My reasoning that I didn't intend to share until later for the Valkoran attacking Ithor? Maesterus ordered it to get the Galactic Alliance's and Jedi Order's attention to an upcoming threat from his boss under the false pretense of the Valkoran (who weren't yet proven to have their own empire) being an anti-Alliance terrorist group, thus forcing Emperor Valkor to start playing his hand after working under the galactic radar for centuries. However, attacking during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion would have been counter-productive, and even trying to negotiate with them wouldn't have worked considering what he looks without his armor. So his strategy was to start a soft war with as little civilian casualties as possible (especially in the wake of the shenanigans of the Imperial warlords and the Vong).
     
  15. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Chapter-by-chapter documentaries continued.

    Original Publication Date: March 4, 2012

    Much earlier plans of the Paranormalities story had the Battle of Ossus take place on Yavin IV instead, under the assumption that they resettled there after the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Once I learned where the Jedi put their new academy, it was Ossus, which would ultimately become home base for Zolph throughout the series.

    At this point in time, Ossus would still be pretty desolate, so no Vongforming-added vegetation yet.

    Gavin Darklighter and Rogue Squadron's one-shot involvement was indeed a sign of the time Episode I was written. When I started writing Episode II (which happened after the Disney buyout), I became a little more reserved with the use of pre-existing characters aside from Luke Skywalker. And no, Dynn Manthis was never really part of Rogue Squadron even in this story's canon.

    I had Zolph mention Dynn being a pilot back in the previous chapter as a slight foreshadowing to her involvement in the space battle over Ossus.

    Private Helms' death scream is indeed supposed to be the Wilhelm scream. I wanted to play with the idea of how the people of the Star Wars universe would interpret that sound effect since it's heard pretty much everywhere (similar to the Wilhelm scream joke that was done in Dragon Ball Abridged).

    The various Valkoran weapon descriptions came from me drawing them long before I decided to write. I also planned to slowly introduce each weapon as the story progressed.

    Here are a few old concept drawings of those weapons that were introduced this chapter to give some more mental image fuel.
    Fury-class Corvette
    Spearhead-class Troop Transport
    Starmantis-class Artillery Droid
    Gutkurr-class prototype assault vehicle
    Scavenger Probe Droid
    Valkoran Military Speeder Bike

    While we're at it, here are concept sketches for the tech that was introduced in the last few chapters as well.
    Behemoth-class Landing Barge
    Firaxa-class Starfighter
    Gundark-class Combat Walker
    Obliterator-class Star Destroyer
    Sigma-class Shuttle

    I wanted to build Maesterus up in an intimidating fashion (hence the bit of horror atmosphere when he's inside the academy), but at the same time, I wanted to keep Luke Skywalker as badass as he should be during this time (he's the Grandmaster of the New Jedi Order after all) and keep Maesterus from being a Villain Sue. So I had him cut off Luke's cybernetic hand, have Zolph stop him from killing Luke, have Maesterus utterly defeat Zolph and try to imprison Zolph, then have Luke beat Maesterus back while handicapped.

    And yes, this whole attack on the Jedi academy was an elaborate ruse just so Maesterus could try to recruit Zolph. While Maesterus truly isn't entirely at fault for killing Alec, you can't really blame Zolph for hating him considering he doesn't know everything yet.

    Going by the video game plan, the Gutkurr Tank would have been the mid-boss for this chapter and Maesterus the climax boss. I have a slight pet peeve with hopeless fights, so my idea for the fight would be you have to do a significant amount of damage before you're allowed to lose, but you get rewarded if you beat him from a gameplay standpoint (it should be the most difficult fight at that point in the game).
     
  16. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Tatooine arc documentaries

    Original Publication Date: March 11, 2012

    This is by far, the shortest chapter in the series.

    I chose to have this arc happen one month after Ossus not only to set up the idea of a long-range conflict with the Valks, but to give Zolph enough time to fully recover from his injuries in previous chapter and give a reasonable amount of time for Dynn's defection to take place.

    Luke's line of "every galactic hero has been to Tatooine at least once in their life" is indeed me poking fun at Tatooine showing up in every other wide-scale Star Wars story (or series) at one point or another.

    Mara's little cameo was supposed to give an idea of why she's absent for pretty much the rest of the story despite being the headmaster's wife. You'd think she'd spend at least a good chunk of the five years between NJO and Dark Nest actually being a parent. Ben's still very young at this point. In hindsight, I probably would omit her cameo if I were to rewrite this story in a different medium.

    Yes, Va'Za's mustache is indeed supposed to be a Hitler mustache. And also yes, Hutts are capable of swallowing humanoids whole (Jabba did that to someone in a Legends comic). I just chose to play with that idea by turning it into a pseudo-cannibalistic habit of his.

    Original Publication Date: March 18, 2012

    One of my earliest ideas had Zolph fight a Krayt Dragon, but then I realized it created a plot hole in that Dynn's squad wouldn't be in the Rakata ruins if the Dragon was still alive and Terraris wouldn't have been summoned yet. So, the Valkoran Army killed it offscreen (but not without difficulties).

    Helms' death here was done to demonstrate what would happen if you tried to "kill" a "Kenny" character in a way that keeps them from dying at all (and taking advantage of resurrective immortality for a long time, and I'm sure the sarlacc would keep it's food from committing suicide). So, I just had it kill him by rejecting him. So, either A) Valkoran armor alloy is indigestible to sarlacci like the other troopers think or B) it just doesn't like Private Helms.

    As for how the sarlacc is still alive after being under a trap door for thousands of years (I really didn't think this part through when I was writing this). Either sarlacci can survive off just one victim for a thousand years or this one was born from another sarlacc on the planet and the spore found its way to the temple underground. Food source isn't too difficult, as some unlucky non-Force Sensitive tomb robbers probably stumbled into it.

    Zolph talking to himself might be a sign of high-functioning autism, but untlike other fictional autistic characters, it doesn't give him any special abilities and he's clearly not a super genius if he sometimes forgets he can use the Force (admit it, we all forget to do the obvious solution for a situation at some point). In other words, he's a little more grounded in reality. In the very early days, Zolph was kind of pseudo-self-insert. Now, he's an entirely different character with only a few personality traits carried over from me (other personality traits found their way into other characters). He's more talkative than I am in real life, that's for sure.

    I really didn't think these ones through either. For the door, it's probably a case of the lock resetting after a while. As for the Valkoran bypassing the flamethrower droid, either they had ion blasters to temporarily disable it, the Valks reprogrammed the droid before Zolph got there or the droid is so old and glitchy that it reactivated on Zolph out of bad luck.

    Yeah, in hindsight, I really didn't do a good job of setting up the temple traps while thinking about how Dynn and a few others got past them in the first place until now. This can be partially blamed on the video game layout.

    For the encounter with Terraris, I made sure that Zolph wasn't aware of what it was (not even its name) until long after it is killed and why the Valkoran consider it important. Meanwhile, I set up the idea of Maesterus being a Forceless host since before writing the prologue. Zolph and the other Jedi surely would have sensed this abnormality, and the former would have certainly drawn a connection immediately once he encountered Terraris.

    Looking at it again, I really wish I made Zolph appear more shocked at Dynn's defection (well, he did figure out she was Dynn as soon as he got a good look at the lightsaber hilt). But then again, I revealed later that Zolph doesn't usually try to let his feelings show. On the other hand, I did have him react to cutting off his friend's arm the way I wanted to.

    So for the most part, Zolph's snarky attitude is actually him trying to cope with difficult situations to varying degrees of success. When he's just in dangerous situations, it works well for him (then again, that's probably what it's like for a lot of Star Wars protagonists). But if things get bad enough for him, his facade will break. He's just trying to live up to the reputation of Jedi keeping their negative emotions in check.

    The Tatooine temple leak chain can get very confusing considering the Valkoran should have already known about the temple in the first place since their cult is trying to summon the Archfiends. Of course they knew about the temple. Both Va'Za and Girdretto were just pawns in both Maesterus's and Grein's gambits to ultimately undermine Valkor's goals. Va'Za's already stated to be small-time and proven to be rather incompetent (he did get the Jedi Order's attention) by acting like a used car salesman with the information. Dynn just decided to humor him by buying that information and then bribing him to cause more chaos than is normal for Tatooine. After all, Maesterus is the one who really started the war. I'll admit, I'm making all this up right now, but it ultimately does come full circle after the reveal of her being a double agent in Episode II.

    Sleheyron arc documentary's next.
     
  17. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Sleheyron Documentaries

    Original Publication Date: April 1, 2012

    No, this chapter wasn't an April Fools' Prank.

    I chose Sleheyron because I wanted it set on an urban world with a high criminal element and was very ripe for invasion from the Forceless Collective early on. Hutt Space was a perfect choice, especially Nar Shaddaa, but the Vong invasion kinda limited my options, and the Essential Atlas left Sleheyron's fate ambiguous. Even though it hasn't officially appeared in any works ever, I based it being an urban world on the cut content for Knights of the Old Republic.

    Grein's conceptualization was a bit of an interesting story. She wasn't originally a Chiss, but rather another blue-skinned humanoid species with monochrome eyes, but chose to make her one since they were similar enough. The decision to give her purple eyes came from the realization that vanilla Chiss eyes and Forceless eyes are only slightly different in appearance, so the creation of the purple-eyed breed came as a result of color-coding and desire to make her standout from Chiss OCs. I also eventually decided to give her partially-dyed hair.

    I hadn't decided that Grein be Maesterus's wife (that didn't happen until I started writing for Episode II) at the point I was writing this chapter, but I had been planning on her being a former Valkoran agent.

    Here's the funny thing about Grein's cross-saber: the inspiration came from Henry Cooldown's beam katana from No More Heroes, a black comedy hack-n-slash video game series originally released on the Wii by Suda51 (who you may know for Killer7 and Lollipop Chainsaw). I would describe at as what would happen if Quentin Tarantino were a game developer instead of a film director.

    And yeah, the whole infiltration of Girdretto's hideout happened because Zolph was an idiot and too stubborn to listen to Grein.

    That last line is indeed the very first line of the next chapter.

    I played with Girdretto a bit. He wasn't always a Toydarian, but made him one because not only did I want a crime boss that wasn't a Hutt, I needed an excuse for Zolph to not be able to just Mind Trick his way into his hideout. But Girdo's not really that intelligent, so is he only immune to Jedi Mind Tricks because of biology and not strength of mind?

    Girdretto's shortened name, Girdo, is a production gag to his name before I settled on making him a Toydarian: Girdo Rett. One of these original species choices was a Noghri, but I passed on that since most of the Noghri would be under Leia's command at the time.

    I wanted to establish the Forceless Warriors from the cantina as creatures that are essentially organic robots and coldly pragmatic. They would bait Zolph out, and try to kill him as soon as they saw him. Also, the design for the rifle pikes is another reference to the No More Heroes series, namely Margaret Moonlight's scythe rifles from the second game. I'm thinking of redesigning it a bit so they are less likely to stab themselves with the stock, but with arms as long as theirs, I don't think they need to worry about it too much (and they aren't really meant to be wielded by ordinary humanoids). As for them being immune to crotch attacks, I wouldn't call them eunuchs if they're genderless.

    Original Publication Date: April 8, 2012

    This chapter is noticeably darker than the chapters that came before it. If the mass-shooting in the cantina didn't establish it enough, I wanted to establish the Forceless Collective as one of the most horrifying villains in the Star Wars universe, so I had them invade a planet and either possess or kill its people and go further into the horror of being possessed by another creature. Targeting women and children and using them as meat-shields might seem pretty cliche, but again, I needed to establish that they aren't so picky about it. In my opinion, this kind of horror is most effective when it isn't too heavily present in the rest of the story (though Episode III will definitely be darker). However, I didn't want to make it too bleak and make Grein come off as too heartless when it came to either helping people escape or mercy-killing them (after all, according to my notes, she was an Old Order Jedi) despite her cynicism.

    What makes the Forceless scary in my opinion is that they can make death preferable, and when they make people suffer by possessing them, mutilating them and keeping them conscious (and no other known methods of having them un-possessed at the time), it challenges a Jedi's philosophy on the sacredness of life in a very twisted way.

    The alternate name for the Cthulopods, Silicths was conceived of when I was nearing the end of Episode II (when the Collective Army would make its return). This came as a result of some constructive criticism from one of the few reviewers I had on fanfiction.net (for whatever reason, he stopped reviewing my works after Episode II - Chapter 3) for being rather blatant in reference. However, the damage was already done by this point, so I just gave an extra name instead of just changing the name altogether. The Cthulopod name came from the early concept art phase.

    On another note, having the Cthulopods/Silicths eat people was actually my earliest set up for a story element that happens in Episode III. They're actually taking prisoners by eating them (definitely a War of the Worlds reference) and the people will be sent back to the Collective's capital outside the galaxy to remold them into brainwashed cultists or use as slave labor.

    Here are a few other pieces of early Forceless concept art. I'd say most of these are due for redesigns.
    Eyewing (I hadn't planned on making them cyborgs yet)
    Nidracha (I need to give them thumbs on their forelimbs and their fangs more consistent with actual spiders, not to mention current method I use for making Forceless eyes)
    Levioth (And yes, Metroid fans, the bridge design was inspired by the Emperor Ing)
    Juggernaut Beetle (I'm planning a redesign for this one to make it more physically imposing)
     
  18. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Vjun and Polus Documentaries

    Original Publication Date: May 7, 2012

    Most of the descriptions of Vjun's and Bast Castle's scenery was based on my experiences with the place in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. However, the waterworks section with the garbage worm were a re-imagination of the castle.

    The rail-less walkways are not only me picking on Imperial safety regulations again, but how frequently it shows up in the Dark Forces Saga's level designs.

    Early garbage worm concept art

    Early Black Guard concept art.

    Early concept art for Maesterus's and Alec Vaelor's (Zolph's first) lightsabers

    In early planning phases, I had Maesterus have various mutations throughout Episode I. Eventually, I decided to have the mutations be a permanent part of him and just stick with him having wings. But if there's any thing I could have gone back on and only could on a rewrite, it's that he ditch the cape altogether after he grows the wings.

    As would later be revealed, Maesterus was getting Vader's holocron for personal reasons, and not very Sithy reasons as befitting his claims.

    Original Publication Date: May 26, 2012

    Original choice worlds included Ilum and Rhen Var. I settled on Polus from Empire at War because it hadn't been used from a narrative standpoint yet.

    General Ven Choi was originally a placeholder character, but with him reappearing again a few chapters later, I eventually decided to develop him a bit more and give him bigger parts in Episode II.

    Polus wasn't always meant to be an Archfiend temple, but was turned into one when I needed an excuse for Dynn and the Valkoran to be inside a temple. It also gave an opportunity to have Zolph successfully prevent an Archfiend from being summoned for once.

    Early Rancor-class Assault Tank concept art

    The Valkoran trooper that got blown up by a defective mine was indeed Private Helms.

    As I mentioned at the end, the original ending to the Zolph-Dynn duel wasn't really done in a logical manner for the characters and(that reviewer I mentioned earlier pointed this out to me, and I was inclined to agree with him). Thus resulted in the most significant post-publication edit I've ever done for this story. Yeah, it's kinda Special Edition-ish, but I would wholeheartedly say this one was for the better and was more of an expansion to the resolution. I've made a note to myself that this would be the only time it happens. The change in question was to not only have Zolph try to do something about the Forceless arm and try to get Dynn back on his side again, but provide a more believable reason for Zolph to fail and the arm to stay on Dynn.
     
  19. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Bounty hunter arc documentaries.

    Original Publication Date: June 17, 2012

    Contrary to what it looks, Gahmah Raan is not a self-insert. My online alias was actually taken from the character itself. However, him becoming a semi-fourth wall-aware lunatic did come as a result of that. The decision to make Gahmah the way he is came me asking myself, "How would a fourth wall-breaking character work in the universe?" The solution? He doesn't break the fourth wall so much as see what's behind the fourth wall, but not really understand the context behind it. So theoretically, if someone were to complain to him about him fourth wall-aware character in his universe, he would just troll them for them close-minded. In other words, he's essentially the Star Wars equivalent of Deadpool, except not as medium aware and not quite as insane.

    Originally, my plan was indeed to have Gahmah be a spice addict. But I eventually decided to take advantage of that being an informed trait and Gahmah not making it clear that he is on spice and his relative functionality.

    I always intended to use Muunilinst for this chapter, but again, the Yuuzhan Vong invasion added some complications with the destruction of Harnaidan. So, then the concept of New Harnaidan was born (I would imagine it not being as being as greatly developed at this point in time), and I decided to make the wreckage of the old Harnaidan a set piece. I didn't pick Muunlinst because it was a Banking Clan world; I picked it for its scenery. In my head-canon, there's still some vegetation left.

    Zolph's bad experience with bodyguard duty is indeed me riffing on the dumb AI in most escort missions in video games. So, if this were to become a video game, Menbar would know to stay out of more chaotic situations. Military scouts shouldn't be that bad at staying alive.

    When I conceived Bom Pintor, I hadn't conceived the Skakoan Commandos as a whole yet (or them having robotic legs for that matter; I was only able to give them robotic legs because I never described their lower bodies in-story aside from pointing that they had increased suit mobility). I just wanted to have a Skakoan bounty hunter that would try to weaponize his explosive biology in a sensible manner and a first on-screen victim for Gahmah.

    Maushh, on the other hand, while far more laconic than the other two named hunters, was the one that came the closest to killing Zolph. His death by non-gory head-explosion with a smoke trail from his neck came from me thinking of how you make a PG/PG-13-rated version of a living person's head exploding. Or course, from Zolph's perspective, he just witnessed something nauseating.

    Original Publication Date: July 10, 2012

    Kratzar was originally just another volcanic planet, with the Valkoran base being set inside a volcano. I eventually decided to play with the formula and turn it into a lava-covered planet that's merely in early development mode. I also thought it would be an interesting to have a planet be kinda new in-universe.

    This chapter also allowed me to explore Maesterus's personality a bit more. For instance, he's not really that infallible considering that he failed to clarify to the other bounty hunters that he wanted Zolph alive. He's also about as much of a dork as Zolph when off the battlefield, kind of like real world military people. And even though this isn't the first time Gahmah and Maesterus have met (initially was intended to be so, but the way it was worded actually allowed me to work some things out later), Maesterus is still thrown off guard by Gahmah's random behavior, but not surprised by it. And Gahmah's slight fourth-wall break here was one of the more blatant hints at Maesterus's relationship to Zolph. He's also pretty fair to the people working with him as long as they aren't dangerous to everyone else.

    From my experience, whenever I've shown people concept art for the pyrons, they almost always ask where its eyes are or why it doesn't have eyes. Of course they don't have eyes. They use sonar and can smell and hear their prey. As for what they eat when there's people around, they sometimes engage in cannibalism. And don't worry, they reproduce about as quickly as gizka. The inspiration for the pyrons came from the Magmoors in Metroid Prime, except pyrons don't breathe fire.

    When it comes to Private Helms' many deaths, my idea is that anyone that doesn't know him well is shocked by them, but people who know about his ability to resurrect and have seen him die are somewhat desensitized by his deaths.

    The lightsaber is a very blatant giveaway on the disguise, but Zolph would need it anyway if he ran into Maesterus, who would simply sense who he was.

    Doctor Thilid was created as a one-scene placeholder character, but since she was an interrogator, I decided to have some fun with writing her personality for the very short scene she had, making her one of the more explicitly unsympathetic Valkoran characters (as I had planned to show them in a more sympathetic light later). The idea of a Quarren eating people's brains was indeed inspired by the Illithids/Mind Flayers from Dungeons and Dragons (the name should have made that pretty obvious). At also gave me an opportunity to finally showcase racial diversity in the Valkoran Empire.

    The person who recruited Thilid as suggested by Maesterus? It's Masochus.

    Gahmah's claim of it taking three weeks for Zolph to get to him despite it taking five hours in-universe is a nod to the amount of time between the publication of this chapter and the previous one. And his parting line was indeed foreshadowing his appearance in Episode II. So in a way, I sometimes use Gahmah as an instrument for self-deprecation in regards to how long it takes me to work on this story.

    I'll admit, I rewrote Zolph's reaction to getting his arm cut off and losing his lightsaber for this forum's version of the story, but only by a small bit when compared to the Dynn duel resolution edit a few chapters back. Namely, I made it more apparent that Zolph's faking his determination in light of losing his arm and that Zolph knows he's really screwed after losing the saber. In other words, how people would react to such things happening to them in reality.

    Grein's ship attack on Maesterus was indeed the very first hint drop to her having connections with the Valks. Considering what I revealed later about the connections, it must have been hard for her to shoot at her own husband, even though he's proven to withstand a lot of punishment and he can survive being thrown in lava.
     
  20. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Documentaries (cont'd)

    Original Publication Date: July 27, 2012

    Concept art for Zolph's new lightsaber.

    Ven Choi returns this chapter. I also decided to arm with a vibroblade this chapter in reference to ceremonial sabres, except here, he actually uses it as a weapon (whereas in real life, guns have made swords obsolete in military engagements). This element was another factor that led me into eventually making him a barely-trained Old Order Jedi.

    When it came to drafting out the Valkoran infiltration strategy on Ahto City, I used Knights of the Old Republic's depiction of the city for the layout, having the Valks infiltrate through the big hole in the middle of the city.

    Valkoran SCUBA Trooper concept art - pictured here is a concept not demonstrated in the story itself: the SCUBA troopers have retractable energy flippers built into their boots.

    As you might have guessed already, the trooper who got his cable snapped by accident was Private Helms. And once again, I decided to play with how people perceive Wilhelm screams in-universe when it came to describing them in literary form.

    The idea of Hydrojus being able to kill people with their own insides was inspired by both bloodbending from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Isaac McDougal from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. As for the scene of Hydrojus killing that one Alliance trooper, I not only wanted to demonstrate how exactly he/she/it could be deadly, but how non-Force sensitives would initially respond to threats such as this and how Jedi are able to cope with such freak shows.

    Concept art for Hydrojus itself in case he wasn't visible enough in the cover art.

    The idea for Hydrojus and his fight was indeed inspired by Morpha from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. However, I decided to make the fight much more intense than Morpha's by emphasizing Hydrojus's aquamancy to the extreme.

    Hydrojus temporarily hijacking Grein's body was done to not demonstrate some more downsides to her hydromorphism, her improvised test to see what Zolph would do if his friends got possessed was done to foreshadow what would happen to Dynn two chapters later.

    I gave Hydrojus the ability to laugh and kept it from just drowning everyone immediately not only as obvious plot armor, but demonstrate a degree of playfulness in some of these Archfiends (whether it's sadism, chivalry or just being plain stupid depends on the Archfiend). Aside from the two alpha Archfiends (Belluzub and Facadma) showing some personality, this also led to me giving the Archfiends in Episode II on-screen personalities.

    Similar to "In the name of Kyle's beard" earlier in the chapter, the phrase "By Chewie's ghost" is also a sign of this being written before Disney bought the franchise. Once I started writing Episode II, I decided to avoid making any references to Chewbacca's death even in the Kashyyyk chapter, as while I was expecting the post-ROTJ canon to be rebooted, I had no exact idea how. If how the events of NJO are depicted in this story's canon are different from those depicted them, it's possible Chewbacca could still be alive but off the historical radar and the Chewie mentioned could be an entirely different Chewie.

    Original Publication Date: August 9, 2012

    This chapter introduced Besh Squad (well, most of it, as Episode II later revealed a fifth member). The racial diversity in the squad was based on what very little I knew about the Republic Trooper's storyline in The Old Republic MMO at the time (the only class story I had finished at the time was the smuggler's and I was nearing the end of the bounty hunter's storyline). Xadisall Varessi was named after my Mirialan smuggler (the surname came from the Legacy name I had before the servers were merged; the first name came from the random name generator; similarly, Dynn Manthis's name came from KOTOR II's random name generator with a few alterations). Now that I'm partially in the Trooper's storyline (been procrastinating due to other games), I can tell Bad Kitty's far more boisterous than Aric Jorgan. And yes, I made it a last-minute reveal that Xad was the squad captain, and not Bad Kitty, on purpose.

    As for other members, writing Boltz's dialogue was also a bit tricky, mainly when it came to first-person plurals (I know Gands refer to themselves in third-person before earning the right to use first-person pronouns, but I don't really know the canon rule for first-person plurals, so I just play it safe by saying "Besh Squad" instead of "we" or "us").

    Early Judicator-class frigate concept art - It was inspired by the Pirate Interceptor Frigates from Empire at War, but it ended up looking more phallic than I intended. May be due for a redesign.

    What's happened to Dynn is indeed foreshadowing her full mutation in the next chapter. And that lens over right her breast? That is indeed a sign that said breast has already turned into an eye.

    Gravlek is now what can essentially be described as a Metal Gear-type cyborg since his head and a few organs are the only things left of his original body. Similar to his situation back in Chapter 1, I had him blinded to make it possible for him to return in Episode II while still having Zolph plausibly escape from the Doomsayer.

    The scene with Pipsqueak the cyborg rancor was inspired by the Tanaab mission with a mutant rancor in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, while Pipsqueak's name was inspired by Silri's rancor, Cuddles, in Empire at War: Forces of Corruption. However, as the Valkoran forces under Maesterus's command are under orders to not kill Zolph unless necessary, I had to put a little more logic into having them sic a rancor on him. So, I had Pipsqueak turned into a cyborg with brain modifications to make it more intelligent and cooperative. The other cybernetics are just a sign of what the Valkoran had to do before taming him in the first place.

    I didn't learn that lungless Gands sometimes still wear gas masks until long after learning about the lungless species. This is what eventually led me to come up with the improvised ammonia bomb.

    When it came to explaining the intel theft, I also had to come up with an explanation for why Zolph couldn't get all the Archfiend locations from the Doomsayer and have the Valkoran War be over with. I also had to make a point of Belluzub being a relatively important figure in the Forceless Collective hierarchy and not just any ordinary Archfiend since he was set to be the final antagonist for Episode I.

    Having Zolph ask what Luke was doing for the last six months was in response to a constructive criticism in regards to acknowledging canon/EU characters' existences without them doing much. In response, I made it clear that yes, since the Valkoran War is galactic scale, Luke most certainly is helping out with the war. But when it came to the Forceless, I took it even further to heart and had Luke have at least one moment of direct involvement in Archfiend activity in Episode II (however, I always intending to have him involved in the Battle of Ockla Prime).
     
  21. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Krantisi arc documentaries.

    Original Publication Date: August 26, 2012

    When I was introducing the "Death Star Forge", I had to make sure to clarify that wasn't it's actual name in-universe (I would imagine the Rakata being more original), but I still referred to it as such in my notes. Since I needed label for the station anyway, I had Grein outright nickname it the Death Star Forge a few chapters later.

    I have yet to post concept drawings for some of the creatures native to Krantisi, and most of these creatures, particularly the blood cacti and dune sharks, were based on sketches from when I wasn't as good an artist as I am now.

    Yes, the Star Forge act in Knights of the Old Republic did serve as part of the basis for the Krantisi arc (especially the part with the planetary disruptor field).

    When it came to some of those tidbits of galactic history Zolph knew about without knowing everything, I had to establish some things like the destruction of the Death Stars and the fall of the Galactic Empire being common knowledge and justify why Zolph knew about some of these things. This was also a chance for me to post-humously expand on Alec and Veene's backstories (if only a little).

    I also brought in the suggestion of the Rakata having a begrudging relationship when it came to their alliance with the Forceless Collective

    When it came to the Forceless arm's dialogue, I decided to play with the idea of what kind of profanity it would use. So, yes, having the arm call Dynn a bitch instead of a schutta was a conscious decision. Since the lead symbiote is from another galaxy, I would imagine their would be more Earth-synonymous expletives in the other places the Collective has conquered.

    I'll admit, the decision to make Dynn a deep-cover double agent didn't come until Episode II, so in hindsight, her not revealing her true allegiances under pain of physical and psychological torture ends up making her look tougher. However, I can imagine both the arm and Valkor figured out she was a double agent anyway.

    The specific types of pain Zolph was feeling as he was moving through the temple correspond to the exact mutations Dynn suffered. For example, the whole in his stomach was the mouth forming, and his upper body (specifically his left breast) being ripped open was indeed the other torso eye opening. You're welcome.

    While I was planning on Dynn being drastically mutated by a Forceless symbiote, I initially had a vague idea of what she'd look like, but was kinda ignoring the fact that she'd technically be naked. After a few other experiences in my freshman year of college (nothing personally traumatic in case you're concerned), the fan disservice elements were conceptualized. The face chest was inspired by Jenova from Final Fantasy VII. If it's not because of lack of popularity, it's probably because she looks like an inhuman monster (and lack of visible genitalia) that I was able to get away with having drawings of her displayed without mature content filters (or getting them taken down by moderators on relatively PG/PG-13 rated message boards) despite her technically being a nude human (albeit heavily mutated). Even if I wanted to keep it PG-13, I still wanted to make it disturbing enough, and that wasn't just limited to her physical appearance.

    An earlier draft had Dynn immediately die as soon as the arm was cut off. However, I felt the need to have what seemed like a proper resolution to her, so I held her death off until after the events on the Fortress Tank.

    Original Publication Date: September 3, 2012

    Considering what happened in the previous chapter, I don't think it's hard to imagine why I got it out not so long after when compared to other Episode I second-half chapters. If not, I'll put it this way: I didn't want to risk procrastinating after a potentially manically-depressing cliffhangar.

    The bulk of this chapter being from Grein's POV allowed me to further expand on her background. And yes, Dynn knowing about Grein from Maesterus is pretty much tells us that if Grein isn't a former Valkoran agent, she and Maesterus definitely know each other personally. This eventually led me to set up the two of them being married.

    Funny enough, Grein sympathizing with Dynn's plight was one of those exact elements elements that allowed me to set up the Emilin subplot in Episode II

    From what has been described of the Valkoran Fortress Tank, it is clearly much bigger than an AT-AT and another early concept element. However, I had to note that such a large land vehicle would not only take a lot of time and resources build, there shouldn't be that many of them in existence. I didn't elaborate on the technical aspects and why they'd be overall impractical until later.

    Yes, featured in the coverart is the most recent design for a basic Valkoran trooper helmet. And I was giving an idea of just how gruesome Zolph's rampage against the Valks could get.

    One of the points I wanted to make with Zolph's rampage was that the Valkoran troops that have been killed throughout the story were still people, and that they're just as capable of being horrified as anyone else. While Zolph has killed plenty of Valkoran before this, it was in defense of himself or others (or some of them may be defensive-offensives in the case of the Archfiend hunts, but his plan was to only kill them if they've been summoned). Also, the Valkoran Empire as a whole isn't responsible for making Zolph's life hell. In short, going with the Star Wars theme of vengeance's self-destructive nature, Episode I is essentially a deconstruction of the hero-seeking-revenge plot. However, unlike Anakin Skywalker, the idea was to have Zolph not only reject the Dark Side, but realize how much embracing the Dark Side would suck on a personal level.
     
  22. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Episode I finale documentaries.

    Original Publication Date: September 15, 2012

    This is the chapter I decided to just throw out the nickname for the space station. And to make it feel like a final level, I decided to throw in every specialized type of Valkoran trooper introduced up to this point.

    The security droid speaking broken basic is a reference to Randam Bandam from Mega Man Zero 4. In a series where all the voice-acted boss-intro dialogue is in Japanese (even in the localizations), Randam Bandam stands out for being the only one to speak English, albeit very broken English. The droid's intro line is the exact same line as Randam Bandam's. The droid's death quote, I completely made up.

    The Force-sensitive acolytes are basically the closest the Valkoran Empire has to straight-up cultists. As for Valkor not being known by everyone in his empire (despite the irony of his empire being named after him), Valkor is essentially a shadow dictator to keep the more naive followers in the dark, and others consider Maesterus the leader of the Valkoran Empire since he's the PR guy. It wasn't until Episode II that Valkor started making himself better known and he was losing even more of his marbles. And this is also me picking on "don't ask"-type religious followers.

    Belluzub was one of the Archfiends I've always intended to be talkative because of his rank. To further justify his rank (and how much of a threat he poses), I decided to make him a Dark-Sided Force-sensitive, but not in the traditional sense due to him being foreign to this galaxy, so no lightsabers for him (however, back in the planning days of the Forceless being Sith demons, Belluzub's predecessor design did have lightsabers). Making him able to use Force powers when Forceless symbiotes can't make their hosts use Force powers was also done to demonstrate that not every living creature that joins the Collective is a victim forced into it. This in turn, set me up to play with the morality and motivations of the later Archfiends.

    Making Belluzub a somewhat-abusive parent (in that he finds his asexually-produced children expendable) was intended be a deconstruction of bosses that give birth to smaller versions of itself to attack (as well as some insects in real life) and what they would be like if the parent and flunkies in question were intelligent creatures. This wasn't the intent when I first wrote this, but I'd say this now has a bit of resonance in regards to movements such as Quiverfull and the pro-birther movements, namely the aspect of eschewing birth control solely to increase their numbers against perceived threats to their institutions/organizations and not because they are interested in having children with regard to said children's well-being. The same thing went for Facadma later.

    When I had Belluzub taunt Zolph about Dynn, I deliberately avoided having Zolph ask how he knew Dynn died since Belluzub already explained how he knew what Zolph looked like and both questions share the same answer. In other words, I avoided redundancy.

    As for that conveniently-placed force cage, this was my very first hint that the Rakata themselves had a hand in delaying the Forceless invasion by thousands of years and that they were very wary of the Collective, especially as I pointed out in character drawing profiles, that some of the Rakata-summoned Archfiends caused trouble for the priests that summoned them (namely Facadma was crazy and Xixixix made people insane).

    Original Publication Date: September 29, 2012

    I don't know happened with the formatting when I copied-and-pasted it, why some paragraphs aren't spaced out or why some sentences have random line-breaks. If I try to edit the post, it'll just remove all space between paragraphs.

    When it came to the final duel between Zolph and Maesterus, I had to make it somewhat meaningful and have higher stakes than before while keeping Maesterus in character. This meant Zolph absolutely had to win this time.

    Another reason I slightly delayed Dynn's death: to make sure Zolph's loss of interest in revenge against Maesterus didn't completely come out of nowhere.

    Much of the dialogue in response to Zolph learning Maesterus's identity was inspired by the true ending of No More Heroes (warning, video contains some strong language), except with far less fourth-wall breaking.

    Having Grein call Maesterus by his real name was actually a slight continuity edit that came later, as I hadn't fully decided what his real name would be until I started working on Episode II. I also hadn't fully decided that the two be in a relationship yet either (However, him calling her by her full name was a factor in setting that idea up). Yes, I admit it: one half of the writing process is planning in advance and the other half is making it up as I go.

    Funny thing about Grein's full name: For a while, I thought it was only the male Chiss that have the last letter or two of their family names be the first letters of the simplified name, but then I learned some female Chiss have the same naming structure as the males. I was initially a bit worried about consistency with what's been established, but I was on track with Grein. Then again, she's a different type of Chiss, and the purple-eyed might have slightly different naming conventions.

    The way I planned for Maesterus to kill Belluzub (and the pre-mortem one-liner) was one of those things I specifically planned before I started writing the fic. Seeing as Belluzub can both survive in space and regenerate, being roasted alive by a star would be a much more painful death for him than for any other creature.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2018
  23. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Now we begin the Episode II documentaries, starting with the prologue and first chapter.

    Original Publication Date: December 25, 2012

    When I was writing the "opening crawl", I wanted to establish that a lot of things have changed with the Valkoran War within the time gap between episodes. In addition, Zolph got his own ship and a droid, and Will Helms has moved up in rank. Going along with Helms' advancement, I planned to not only not have him die every time he appears this Episode, but show a bit more character as part of the theme of the Valkoran Empire getting more development.

    For this opening arc, I wanted to establish Zolph as a hero who can easily be relied upon before delving into his buried psychological trauma. Considering he's defeated Valkor's left-hand Archfiend (technically speaking, Maesterus killed Belluzub, but Zolph did defeat Belluzub once), he'd consider lower-ranking Archfiends relatively un-challenging.

    I chose Charros IV for the setting of the prologue because not only I did I want an excuse to include one of the stranger sentient races, I wanted to set up the idea of worlds joining the Valkoran Empire for protection in the wake of Yuuzhan Vong oppression, but not necessarily being fanatical about it. Considering the Xi Charrians' major contribution to the galaxy is technology and the Vong hate technology, I could imagine that they are falling on hard times.

    Yes, Sergeant Helms did indeed reincarnate from abortion, but at the same time, I wanted to avoid the implication of either of his parents hating him or abusing him; but then I suggested he still got into several fatal accidents growing up. If I do a side fanfic for Will Helms' backstory, it's going to be a very black comedy, but it's also going to have a bit of tragedy to it as well (I'll just say both him and his mother are victims).

    Masochus doesn't appear until later in the story, but ever since I mentioned his existence in Episode I, I wanted to gradually give the idea that a lot of people in the Valkoran Empire view him as a monster.

    When it came to the mind trick scene, I wanted delve into the idea of how exactly mind tricks work and what they are like for the tricked. Instead of it being mere control, I wanted it to be feeding subliminal messages instead of flat-out brainwashing. I also deliberately avoided having Will repeat everything Zolph tells him as a twist on the concept.

    Going with the idea of their being several Force-sensitive leaders, I wanted to give Zolph an established recurring nemesis and a counterpart to him in Arcidus, who's not so much a leader figure as a personally-trained agent of Maesterus, similar to Dynn Manthis before her death.

    In the days when the Valkoran were originally just a Sith cult, all the Force-sensitive had red lightsabers. When I decided to not make most of them Dark Jedi (with the obvious exception of Masochus), I decided to give more variety to their choice of blade colors. Seeing as Arcidus is a stealth master, I thought giving him a darksaber would fit him for attacking in the dark (with the only light given by the blade being the outline). The inspiration for his outfit design came from Sith assassins in KOTOR II.

    R9-C4's faux mathematical equation dialogue was based on the droid language from The Old Republic. Originally, Seefor didn't have much character at all, but I decided to make her stand out by not only making her snippy with her master, but also turning her into the astromech equivalent of HK-47.

    Admittedly, Zolph's X-Wing not being named at the time was a result of me struggling to give it an appropriate name at the time as well, so I decided to give Zolph the same reason in-universe.

    If there's any change I would have made with the Seefor conversation, I would have had Seefor complain about Zolph's desire to "call it a day" being hollow since he keeps taking another mission immediately after checking in to immediately to hint at Zolph using the missions as a coping mechanism for his own stress.

    Original Publication Date: January 19, 2013

    I introduced several ships this chapter. First, the Dread-class frigate, which I already did a design for once (but a little different from what's described; inspiration is the Vengeance frigate from Forces of Corruption). The Mailoc-class boarding craft is based on an early fighter design I did (not posted online) that had a tail-mounted cockpit. As for land vehicles, I introduced the Tuk'ata-class hover tank and the MAAD pods.

    I threw in MAAD pods solely as an excuse for why Zolph can't just fly to his objectives when they're out in broad daylight and plenty of space to jump out of the fighter.

    Originally, Gestroma wasn't a Forceless host, but he was still an Imperial lab mutant turned bounty hunter. I added in the idea of him being the leader of his own Forceless Collective as a way to keep him from just being a filler villain, and add some early development to the idea of where Forceless in general come from. On a side-note, Gestroma was partially inspired by Durge from the Legends continuity and Kanden from the video game, Metroid Prime: Hunters (there's that Metroid influence again).

    The Skakoan Commandos concept were indeed conceived by the time I was writing this chapter, inspired by the Legends story of Skakoans deliberately blowing themselves up to free Wat Tambor from prison. However, I needed to clarify that the Commandos aren't a cultiure of suicide bombers, especially since they're mercenaries.

    The mocksabers were created as a plausible melee weapon to use against lightsabers without overusing cortosis or phrik. I took inspiration from No More Heroes' first-stage beam katanas to suggest an easy-to-make mimicry of lightsabers for non-Force sensitives bound to the laws of physics. However, since they exist in the same setting as lightsabers, they're outclassed in every way and very impractical since lightsabers are only good in the hands of Force users (they can't deflect blaster bolts without the Force).

    Looking back, I would have taken the collateral damage that could have come from Gestroma's bombings into consideration and have Zolph explain why he let Gestroma go and not take him prisoner.
     
  24. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    Dagobah arc documentaries. For a first not-so-spoilery tidbit, these two chapters were originally going to be one chapter, but got split when I realized how long this arc would get. This really should have been a sign to me that many of Episode II's planetary storylines would be longer than Episode I's.

    Original Publication Date: February 11, 2013

    Admittedly, Hiriss was conceived as I was writing the two chapters of this arc. However, by eventually revealing her to be Dynn's cousin, there was no simply no excuse for me to just have her disappear from the plot. One of my reviewers speculated that Hiriss might be Zolph's new love interest. I had no intention of ending the trilogy with them being an item, but it did give me some other ideas when it came to using her in later chapters.

    Zolph's X-Wing being a test model at the time was meant to suggest it was one for the StealthX fighters. However, with the modifications Zolph made, it's not really a stealth fighter, ultimately making it much different from the final model

    Similar to Hiriss' conception, I only came up with Seefor being a girl as I was writing this chapter because a question cropped up in my head: What exactly defines a droid as male or female? However, since I didn't have Zolph refer to Seefor as a "he" in the droid's presence beforehand, I decided to take advantage of the situation. Besides, I just thought be a funny twist to have a not-so-femininely-painted or shaped droid turn out to be a girl.

    I added Mount Yoda after hearing about the place on Wookieepedia. Since I didn't actually read the source material, my version of Mount Yoda may be quite different. Namely, it's mostly the name of the base and not so much the mountain it's placed on.

    The idea of turning General Choi into a barely-trained Jedi came as a result of him not having much characterization in the two chapters he appeared in Episode I as well as well being able to effectively fight with a vibroblade against armed soldiers with blasters. That, and another a bit of foreshadowing to Zolph suppressing his stress by deliberately trying to keep his distance from other Jedi.

    Considering that Seefor proved herself dangerous while in a fighter, I decided to play up her psychopathy by making her dangerous without a ship to exaggerated levels, no matter how illogical it would be. In other words, she's basically what the internet portrays Chopper as before Chopper was even introduced, but a lot more explicit about it.

    Juganak was originally kind of a berserker type (this was back in the Sith cult phase of the Valkoran Empire's conceptualization), but then I decided to make him an old master type that also happens to be outlandishly strong. He also wasn't always black (and no, I didn't do so simply out of a sense of political correctness; I simply wanted an excuse to clarify the presence of more non-white humans or near-humans).

    As I'm sure you have guessed, the abandoned home Zolph comes across is indeed Yoda's hut.

    When I realized the chapter was getting longer than I was used to, I decided the cave scene would be a perfect place for a cliffhangar (I know; I'm quite sadistic).

    Speaking of the cave, I wanted to show how bad Force hallucinations can get, and I chose Dagobah specifically for the first of the Archfiend planets this episode for this exact reason in light of the trauma Zolph has suffered.

    Original Publication Date: February 25, 2013

    Just one day off Paranormalities' one-year anniversary.

    This was my beginning to a formal set up for some of the Valkoran Empire to turn against their Emperor, and introduce more of the friendlier Valkoran characters. However, I also needed to set up the notion of the dissidents trying to keep a low profile when Valkor or his fanatics are watching by continuing to fight against the Alliance regardless of incurring casualties on both sides. In other words, they've made it clear that they're not all evil, but they're not exactly the most morally-upstanding people either.

    I also thought this would be the perfect opportunity to come up with Maesterus's real name and his backstory. When I mentioned Maesterus's wife, I had already planned for Grein to be the wife at the time. As would be revealed later, Grein requested Juganak and other friendly exposition Valks to feign ignorance of her until after Zolph learns. And apparently, Argem's not a good liar, as Zolph points out.

    When it came to Argem's backstory, I thought it would be fun to introduce an old Jedi Master who achieved a high rank (and as later mentioned, a Council member), but is a bit more secular and constructively critical of some of the Old Order's rules. Continuing with the idea of the Valkoran dissidents being anti-heroes of sorts, they're willing to summon Archfiends so they can kill them, a contrast against the Jedi Order refusing to attack unless in defense despite some of these Valkoran leaders not being too corrupted by the Dark Side. In hindsight, I wish I brought up this idea beforehand (but then again, I can always do it in Episode III through some other means).

    This is what Mandoculus looks like.

    When I decided to give the other Archfiends personalities starting with Mandoculus, I made a point to keep them from all being too similar to Belluzub. With Mandoculus, this led to the idea of an Archfiend serving through what is essentially Stockholme Syndrome, and not psychopathy or fanaticism. The idea of in-name-only Archfiends would also be carried over to Xixixix.
     
  25. Gahmah Raan

    Gahmah Raan Jedi Knight star 2

    Registered:
    Feb 2, 2015
    The Korriban chapter documentary.

    Original Publication Date: March 30, 2013

    As indicated by the publication date, this chapter was written almost an entire year before the new name for the planet, "Moraband" was introduced. If this chapter were written after the name's introduction date, I probably would have had Zolph call it Moraband but hear it called Korriban from Lord Azath. Zolph would be confused from hearing that name and Azath would be under the impression he came to the planet without knowing its name. Once Zolph explains that the planet got a new name at some point in time, Azath would have temper tantrum because so much changed while he was dead. However, I did find a way to include Moraband later in the story (and have a similar reaction from another millennia-old Sith Lord).

    Even before I was planning out the character development for the trilogy, the planet order was always intended to be Dagobah (initially Yavin IV until later), Korriban, Onderon/Dxun, Kashyyyk, Guaymar and Krishar. But when I started taking Zolph's psychological issues into account, I had to make a point that Dagobah and Korriban would be the worst experiences with Force hallucinations (Dagobah, because it's the first he has a near-fatal hallucination, and Korriban, because it's the Sith homeworld, strong in the Dark Side and thus, should not be good for Force-sensitives with severe stress). By getting the tough stuff out of the way first (and establish that he's going through therapy), this allowed me to keep Episode II from becoming "Zolph whines about his PTSD all the time" and reasonably overcome the stress with time, but not completely get over it. Korriban would just be the point where the hallucinations were at their absolute worst and Zolph understands why halluci-Dynn keeps trying to kill him.

    Anakin's ghost not being amused by Zolph's sand line is meant to be interpreted as him being a little embarrassed with his younger self.

    The presence of Lord Azath was done not only as an excuse to have Sith ghosts, but also do some more foreshadowing (in combination with Gestroma's plot) that there are other Forceless Collectives and that they are born from Force wounds. As for how Azath got his symbiote, he performed a ritualistic mass murder to create his symbiote (presumably on other Sith, slaves or just some of Korriban's fauna). I didn't say anything about that in the chapter proper because I wanted to wait until Gestroma's backstory was revealed in Chapter 9 as part of the "origins of Forceless in general" sub-plot.

    As for Azath's personality, I wanted to deconstruct Sith philosophy, and have Zolph - who has already tasted the Dark Side once and not like it very much - casually shrug him off (well, at least until he starts the hallucinations) and bluntly point out how the Sith's own ideals have been their undoing and that it makes them stupid. And yes, he is a Sith Pureblood.

    Zolph claiming he feels Dynn is still alive somewhere? That actually was foreshadowing for Dynn being back from the dead as will be shown in the prologue for said episode. It's a vague feeling because A) he clearly saw her die and B) she's been resurrected far away from his galaxy, and since the dead don't normally come back in this universe, it isn't unreasonable for him and everyone else to believe she's staying dead.

    With Grein being on this mission (and being vulnerable to the same as Zolph), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to start the Emilin subplot. Initially, Mortaqa had very little background beyond being an emotionally-tormented woman that's being used as a weapon against her will. But by the time I started writing this chapter, I had planned out that Emilin would be Mortaqa. And this was also done to give her more motivation to wanting to stop Valkor's Forceless Collective and why she's become cynical when it comes to saving possession victims.

    Originally, the character that became Neur wasn't always a Twi'lek Nightsister outcast. She was originally a human with a scarred face and metal skeleton underneath (this was back in the Valkoran-as-a-Sith-cult days). Once I decided to make her one of the anti-villain Valks, I decided to aim for more racial diversity (most of the leaders were human, altered or otherwise) and variety in backgrounds. And with Neur, I wanted an excuse to not only have a way to give her pain resistance that the original character had with the metal skeleton, I wanted a bit of age diversity, as the rest of the leadership joined the Valkoran Empire at roughly the same era. And thus, the brain-damaged cyborg with a drastic case of split-personality disorder was born. The idea of her childlike behavior being a way for her to make up for her abysmal childhood (which is brought up later in the story) came from a friend in college when I discussed the character concept with him and showed him the character sheet.

    When it came to the fighting-styles of the Valkoran leaders, I wanted to make sure they were all distinctive, even if they were using single-saber fighting styles. For Neur, I decided to have a left-handed fighter that uses a curved hilt saber.

    Machinus was originally intended to be introduced in the Onderon arc, but I decided to introduce him one arc early to establish a character connection with Neur. This was also done to have Zolph know ahead of time that Machinus is a droid and have a plausible reason for having an EMP grenade on hand in the Onderon arc (and thus demonstrating he's not as vulnerable as the average droid).

    Concept art for Cinydra. The red skin may seem odd, but he isn't the only Archfiend in Valkor's Forceless Collective to not have black skin (Harphscor, Stythanyx and Facadma have mostly pale skin; Fafniros has no skin at all).