Leveller Of Empires
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 16 2013 1:32pm
The elevator moved as elevators do; to the uninitiated, it moved with grace and precision, sliding upwards without drag or sound, simply making its way through the building without detraction or friction. But to those with more experience, the subtle sounds of gears turning, chains pulling, and tumblers sliding over lockers was more audible. One could tell when the anti-drop tumbler had locked into the latest floors tumbler if one were silent enough, and had enough experience differentiating the sounds that various elevators made.

Assassins spent a lot of time in elevators.

It was the least noteworthy way to scale a building; sneaking into a set of stairs seemed out of character for the galaxy at large, and the act of climbing the stairs took time and made noise. Scaling the building from the outside seemed like a cool idea in movies, but people hanging around on the outside of buildings tended to draw unwanted attention.

No, the elevator would do nicely. Quiet and quick, it made its way to the target. The way an assassin should work.

As the elevator began to slow, the man inside knew his floor was coming up. He reached under the suit jacket he wore and pulled from a side holster a long, thin metal tube. On either end were a series of sharp metal hooks, which glinted from the elevator’s overhead light on both sides. The tube itself was curved in the middle, and altogether, about a foot long from one sharp hook to the next.

The bald man looked down at it and smiled. The trademark weapon of the Sith Assassin.

He straightened his tie, unbuttoning his jacket, and folded his hands, and the lightsaber, behind his back as the door slid open.

Lianna had seen better days.

During the reign of The Golden Sith Empire, Lianna had been a factory world that Ahnk Rashanagok had used for production of TIE Fighters, TIE Bombers, and Prototype TIE Designs. He had kept the planet’s wealthy elite wealthy while stripping them of all their real power; any objections to Ahnk’s designs for the world were usually met by Ahnk personally executing the man making the most noise and allowing the others to see his share of the profits diverted to them. That served to settle most disputes.

When Ahnk’s Empire fell, Seth Vinda and the Vinda Corporation began doing a lot of dealings with the shipbuilders on the world. The money continued to flow and TIE Fighters continued to stream out of the Santhe/Sienar Shipyards for the benefit of the galaxy at large.

Then the Dragons arrived.

Ahnk didn’t know much about The Damuens; much of it was heresay and rumor. But from the looks of Lianna, much of the rumors were true.

The world had been left as little more than a ghost town.

Ahnk had gone here attempting to track down the homeworld of The Cree’Ar, but so far all he’d seen was a small fleet in orbit indicative more of a group waiting for something rather than defending something. When he made it to the surface, he understood why.

There was nothing here to defend.

The world had long ago lost its native population; rumor had it The Damuens sold their people on the dream of an “upgrade to humanity”, and that through that upgrade, they could eventually become a part of pure Damuen consciousness, leaving their physical bodies behind and ascending into energy. Judging by the small piles of dust left behind on the vacant streets, the rumor might have had an element of truth to it.

Even the city of Anxarta, which should have been full of people at this hour, drunk and celebrating the live music and atmosphere from the nearby clubs, was deserted. Ahnk had landed here because he knew, if you greased the right palms in these clubs, you could find anything. Right now, though, Ahnk was having trouble finding any palms at all.

“Empty,” a voice cried out, which echoed across the surface much louder than it should have. “I can’t find a single person inside either. It’s like something turned everything, and everyone, except the permacrete into dust.”

“It’s unnerving,” Ahnk replied back. “I think we have to classify this world as a dead end. Did you get what I asked?”

Bill nodded, holding up a small black cylinder. “What is it, anyway?”

“I had a spy remain here when I left control of the planet back to the natives. He fed me the latest classified documents he could get his hands on,” Ahnk said. “Shortly after The Damuens took the world, the messages stopped. I assumed they were either being intercepted, or my contact had been killed. If you found that tube than it likely means he was killed before he could deliver it to me.”

Bill nodded solemnly at that. “What’s on it?”

“Could be nothing; useless insider financial information four years stale,” Ahnk replied. “But it could be useful. The New Order generally didn’t trust their most sensitive technological advances to Sienar Fleet Systems anymore, but they still sometimes had them take orders on components. Might be something we can put onto another…”

Both of them instinctively hit the ground. The sound of a repulsor engine firing up broke the silence like a gunshot at the opera, and neither wanted to be the man who the revolver turned to next. They both made their way to cover in the form a statue set inside what used to be a park. Heavy knees rested on dead grass and both looked up to the sky.

A Sith Infiltrator streaked overhead.

“Yours?” Bill asked, much quieter than before.

Ahnk squinted, and watched as the vessel disappeared. “Stock cloaking device from the original production line,” he concluded, and removed his hand from the lightsaber at his hip. “Damned coincidence, though. I’ve seen the Cree’Ar use human ships before, but they have no need for a cloaking device.”

“Time to leave?” Bill asked, and Ahnk nodded in the affirmative.

The trek back to The Sihoyguwa was short, but tense. Both kept cover; afraid now that the vessel they’d spotted leaving orbit had either made their position, or had otherwise blown their cover. But the streets remained dead and, outside that one vessel, the skies had remained quiet. As Bill stepped from his cover to head towards the ship, he noticed that Ahnk had not followed.

“Something wrong?” Bill asked.

Ahnk slowly nodded. “In all the time you’ve known me, do I seem like the kind to leave the doors opened on my uncloaked ship?”

Bill turned back to the Sihoyguwa, then back to Ahnk.

Both drew weapons.

Bill ceded the way and let Ahnk lead. Ahnk led with a lightsaber; turned off for the moment, but held at the ready. Ahnk’s ship was programmed to kill trespassers, which meant that whoever had breached his security was either authorized to be there, had been killed inside, or was very, very good. Ahnk wouldn’t know until he stepped inside, and, finding no corpse, examined the ship.

He found the systems were all working as they should be, and Sihoyguwa had recorded no entrance, authorized or otherwise. Meaning whoever had come inside was very, very good.

Ahnk reached the cockpit after a short search of the small ship, and found everything in order, with the exception of the cockpit display. It was active, and showing a text only message.

It read, “I need an assassin, and I couldn’t think of better.”

A set of coordinates followed.

Then, “Come alone.”

The message was signed, “ARM”.

Ahnk shrugged in mild confusion, and turned to Bill. He offered no answers either. Ahnk set his lightsaber down on the cockpit dash and sat down in the seat, starting the preflight sequence and engaging the ship’s stealth package.

“Sihoyguwa,” Ahnk said, and then trailed a finger over the coordinates on the display. “Take us there.”

The coordinates had led to Kuat. Ahnk normally hated being in Imperial Space; he had a rather large list of criminal offenses, and there was also the whole Jedi thing. He didn’t like wandering around in places where he knew people would be looking out for him, so he tended not to hang around The Empire in general.

Kuat was a little different. It was mostly a self-contained world that occasionally was visited by The New Order personnel. Oh, they kept a tight leash, but they didn’t have a Stormtrooper on every corner. Once you got past the Imperial Blockade and the shipbuilding platforms in orbit, the New Order generally did not give a flying fuck what happened on Kuat.

And so the greed and the avarice, the gluttony and the lust, and the general bad behaviour that had become the hallmark of the ruling elite on Kuat continued unhindered. As such, Kuat really was Ahnk’s kind of place. This hotel was mostly not a den of sin; it was generally for foreign dignitaries with a lot of money to stay somewhere quiet while renegotiating a contract. That told Ahnk a few things about who he was visiting; they were rich enough to stay here and not break the bank, and they were rich enough to hire the best assassin in the galaxy.
Why they’d come for him, then, was a mystery.

Oh, Ahnk had been an excellent assassin in his day. His rise to the top of the Sith Empire had been a rise up a ladder of human body parts, removed with surgical precision from those who had stood in his way. But that was decades ago. When he reached the throne he had sought, he had largely left murder behind. He was still an accomplished swordsman, but an assassin? That was a different man. Literally, since that man had died and been cloned long ago.

And yet, here he was.

It could be a trap.

Ahnk knew that, but he walked into it anyway. It had always been said that the only way to get to the bottom of a trap was to walk into it like an idiot. Ahnk, if you had to use one word to describe him, was certainly reckless.

Besides, he wanted to know who this ARM was, and how they’d gotten aboard his ship.

So he walked, face first, into an obvious trap. It seemed the illogical thing to do.

His coordinates had been exact; locating not just the hotel, but the exact room and floor he wanted. As he approached the door, he slowed. He looked around and saw no one, so he crouched down beside the frame of the door and placed the emitter of his lightsaber against the handle of the door. He quickly thumbed the activator, long enough for the light to shoot out and burn through the door handle, locking mechanism and all, before thumbing it off. With the door now without a lock and a handle, he pushed it with his foot and the door slid softly, and almost noiselessly, across the carpet.

When no shot rang out, Ahnk charged into the room. He found no one.

“Room service?” he suggested, facetiously.

The move came so fast he couldn’t even detect it. That worried him. Before he had time to think about it, though, his saber was gone; his arm, holding it, was drawn up and another hand had lifted the weapon itself. Ahnk found a slender arm slip around his neck from the top to grip his elbow as the other arm of his attacker slid through his elbow and tucked a hand behind his head. With a firm grip, Ahnk found his head pushed forward and his arm pulled back, so that he had his own forearm buried in his own trachea.

Ahnk, himself, taught that move to his students. Someone who had never seen it would likely have passed out.

Having been in it before, however, Ahnk realized how useless it would be to resist. Effort would cause the veins in his arms to expand, thus making said arms thicker, thus putting more pressure on his throat. No, Ahnk had one option. Run.

So he did. He ran backwards, as hard as he could. The person choking him was carried by his momentum as both bodies slammed into the wall, Ahnk partially crushing the person behind and making a large dent in the wall. But the person did not relent; they, in fact, had focused, and as Ahnk drove himself backwards, had tightened the choke. Ahnk could begin to see red creeping into his peripheral vision…

He ran backwards again, this time, leaping before he hit the wall. The added force of his leap caused the attacker to momentarily loosen their grip as they absorbed the blow from the wall, and Ahnk took full advantage, ducking low and using his arms to whip them by their interlocked arm to the bed. Ahnk charged, but the attacker was faster, catching the edge of the bed with their hands and firing a kick into Ahnk’s midsection, with knocked him back.

Ahnk snarled in rage and grabbed his lightsaber, but as he raised it, it was kicked away, a hard foot sending the handle flying from Ahnk’s grip. Another boot followed, but Ahnk caught the second kick and simply hurled the attacker to the bed with brute force. He momentarily considered the saber, but decided instead for the more enjoyable route of simply punching the person into oblivion.

As Ahnk charged though, the other person in the room ducked low and used Ahnk’s momentum to throw him, via carelessly outstretched arm, onto the mattress of the bed. Before Ahnk could rise this time, he felt the heel of a boot dig sharply into his sternum, and knew that if he made any large motions, the other boot would be headed for his face. So he settled for reaching small, and simply turning on the light at the side of the bed.

He then let out a small gasp of surprise when he saw who had been lying in wait. “Riggs?”

The women, shaking her hair loose, smiled down at him. “Hello Shiver,” she said back with a smile, before her other foot slammed into his jaw, knocking Ahnk Rashanagok unconscious.
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 16 2013 1:34pm
The sea of blackness began to cede, and the world crept into the eyes of Andrew Micheal Rashanagok once again.

He attempted to open his jaw and, having stretched it open about a centimeter, instantly regretted the decision.

He apparently did it too verbally, for as he did so, his eyes wandered across the room, tracking laughter. “Morning, Shiver,” the voice said, in a slightly patronizing tone. “Sorry about the boot, but you know yourself how trustworthy you tend to be.”

“Oh, I know,” Ahnk said, familiar with attempts by his clones to kill him. “I guess I can’t blame you for knocking me out. I am curious as to why you felt the need for restraints. Surely, if I came here willingly, I would be willing to hear out what you had to say.”

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe I was just nostalgic for when you used to let me handcuff you in the good old days.”

Ahnk smirked at that. “As I remember, you did your fair share of wearing handcuffs too.”

She pulled her hand from behind her back, revealing that she had a handcuff locked around her arm… although hers was clasped twice around the same wrist. “Did you come alone?” she asked, as she looked over his lightsaber.

“Relatively,” he replied, and her eyebrow raised. “I have a former Imperial guardsman who happens to tag along on my adventures. His name is Bill. He’s watching the ship since I had no idea who you were and don’t like the idea of people just hopping aboard at their leisure.”

She nodded. “I’ve been trying to catch up to you, but you’re a hard man to find,” she said. “I couldn’t risk traversing through Coalition territory, so sightings of you on Sinsang had to be discarded. I knew when you were spotted in the Corporate Sector that you’d make your way here.”

“You’ve been talking to my spies, I see,” Ahnk said. The trouble with having spies across the galaxy was that anyone within your network could theoretically learn of those spies, and then use them to their own advantage.

“Didn’t used to be like this,” she said. “When I left home, I figured if I waited on Coruscant long enough, you’d show up there.”

Ahnk’s eyes widened slightly. “You were on Coruscant?”

“Not for long,” she said. “I landed long enough to pick up a few members of my family who hadn’t fled during the evacuation. Things are hell in the capital of the galaxy, Shiver. I figure you must be somehow responsible.”

Ahnk shrugged. “I’m trying to track down where they’re coming from,” Ahnk noted. “I am… pursuing what leads I can. I tried to track down Simon Kaine. Figured he might know something.” Her other eyebrow cocked this time. “Mixed results,” Ahnk admitted, summarizing the trip in the barest of fashions.

“No matter,” she said. “As much as I can agree your pursuits are worthwhile, I have… more pressing needs than a simple search of the galaxy,” she said. “But, I don’t know if I can trust you anymore. I’ve been told you’ve gone Jedi. Lost your edge.”

Ahnk smirked. “One of those things is true,” he admitted. “I would have killed you, last night.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” she said, patronizing tone returning. “You’d have hit me, realized who I was, and then not wanted to kill me. You’re soft.”

Ahnk glowered. “You asked for an assassin, I came as an assassin,” he said. “If you really want to test that…”

“In time,” she said, and then she cut the distance between herself, and Ahnk, stepping to the side of the bed. “For now, we should catch up. It’s been many years, Shiver. How have you been?”

Ahnk’s glare softened. “I’ve been hanging on,” he admitted. “Not a friendly galaxy right now for force users, Sith or Jedi. How have you been?”

“Oh, it’s an even less friendly galaxy for my family,” she admitted. “Things have been very bad for a very long time.”

“Tends to happen,” Ahnk noted, and her face darkened. “I mean that, when you go from a position of power to… well, something else, those who were previously beneath you demand comeuppance.”

“And how,” she remarked. “I admit, when I saw the list of bounties on your head, part of me assumed you’d already be dead. Half the galaxy must be coming after you.”

“Was coming after me,” Ahnk replied, with a soft smile. “I’ve been given an Imperial Pardon.”

“Not from everyone,” she said.

“Either way, I’ve run into assassins before,” Ahnk said, and his smile widened. “I’m here to talk about it, so that tells you all you need to know.”

“That, or you’ve gone through cloned bodies faster than ever before,” she said, taking a step back. She raised her lightsaber, directing it at his shoulder. “When did you get this?”

With the lit blade, she sliced open the sleeve of Ahnk’s robes, allowing the exposed metal beneath to glint from the light. “Some time ago,” Ahnk said, briefly closing his eyes and drawing back the memory. “Ran into an old enemy.”

“It must have been very painful,” she said, with her face looking serious in that sentiment.

“Oh, it was,” Ahnk said, “but when you’ve died as many times as I have, you lose a little bit of your taste for pain. Nowadays…” Ahnk said, trailing off as the pistons and levers cocked and slid inside the mechanism that was his artificial arm, “I am mostly numb.”

She put her saber away. “I know that feeling,” she said, and turned. She walked to the window, using The Force to slide it open and allow cold, fresh air to fill the room.

“Why am I here?” Ahnk asked. As much as he enjoyed catching up with an old friend, he had things he could be doing with his time that was more productive than being handcuffed to the headboard of a hotel room bed.

She turned back to him with only her head. “What do you know of The Leveller Of Empires?”

Ahnk closed his eyes, trying to remember where he’d heard the phrase. “I don’t know anything, off the top of my head,” he admitted. She frowned, but he didn’t. “If you allow me to access my communicator…”

She nodded. The restraints around his wrists snapped open. Ahnk nodded in appreciation, stretching, and then snapped the restraints closed again; this time, with both ends around one wrist. “It’s on the table, with your weapons,” she said, and gestured.

Ahnk nodded in return and then grabbed his communicator. “Sihoyguwa,” he said, opening the line of communications.

“Mr. Rashanagok,” the ship remarked back, “you should be aware there is a very agitated Imperial Guardsmen in your ship and he has thusfar refused to stop pacing.”

“Forget about him for a second,” Ahnk said with a smile, “do you have any information on The Leveller Of Empires?”

“Two files,” Sihoyguwa remarked. “Both are large in size and would take days to orate. Cliffnotes version?”

“That will be fine,” Ahnk said.

“First file: The Leveller Of Empires was a biogenic weapon utilized by The Yuuzhan Vong during their campaigns within this galaxy. Although first documented in The Mazullo Corridor, following the Corridors disappearance from Galactic Politics, it was rediscovered during the conflict between The Caprician Regency and The Yuuzhan Vong. It was a biologically created virus designed to cause massive, immediate, permanent damage to host organisms, allowing the Vong warriors to seize the effected worlds and colonize them. However, when deployed in The Caprician Campaign, the virus mutated to effect the Vong themselves. This caused the fighting to stalemate, and the Vong to withdraw.”

The woman Ahnk had called Riggs was nodding, her eyes shut. “What about the other file?” she asked, quietly.

“Sihoyguwa, what are the contents of the other file?”

“Within Yuuzhan Vong culture, The Leveller Of Empires doubles as a term used to describe the current Warmaster. A list of Warmasters known to embrace the title is contained within.”

Ahnk looked over at the woman and she shook her head. “Thank you Sihoyguwa, that will be all,” Ahnk said, and put the communicator down on the table. “Riggs… come here.”

The woman looked at him with some measure of hesitation, but then walked from her position by the window to come stand at the edge of the bed.

Ahnk wasn’t satisfied with that. “I’m not an assassin when my weapon is over there,” he told her, and he gestured with his hands that she should sit down on the bed. She nodded, and placed her own lightsaber on the table, and slowly, with a great degree of apprehension, sat down on the bed.

When she had settled in, she allowed her head to fall on Ahnk’s shoulder, her head touching his skin and her shoulder touching the metal that Ahnk called his arm.

Then, Ahnk put his hands on her shoulders, and asked her, “tell me everything.”
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 16 2013 1:36pm
“What do you know about Centerpoint?”

Ahnk stopped to ponder the question. “Not a great deal,” he said, still piecing it together. “It’s ancient; older than the divide between Jedi and Sith. Built by a species long since dead. Not unlike a lot of the Rakata technology that was left behind, whoever built it died before they could answer any of my technical questions.”

“But you know its function,” the woman asked.

“It’s capable of moving planets from system to system; if one had the desire, they could reseed the galaxy by cherry picking worlds they wanted and lining them all up together,” Ahnk replied. “What is the relevance of this discussion?”

“I’m getting to that,” she replied, somewhat annoyed at his impatience. “Have you ever heard of The Transitory Mists?”

“Indeed,” Ahnk said, “they’re a serious of dense gaseous nebulas that tend to separate outer rim star systems from the surrounding space. The Hapan Cluster was surrounded by such a phenomenon. Parts of Commonwealth space as well. Supposedly, the core worlds of the Azguard lie behind a nebulous formation at the edge of one of the galaxie’s spiral arms.”

“There is another set of nebulae at the edge of the galaxies spiral arms,” she said, and then took a deep breath. “What I’m telling you, no outsider has known in the entire history of our family.”

Ahnk straightened slightly, intrigued. “Go on.”

“There is an area of space that divides the outer rim and one of the spiral arms of the galaxy that we came to call The Marzullo Cloak. Behind it, in the arm, is seeded several dozen planets that we had set there, using the Centerpoint device, and habitated and operated through relocation, in order to expand our empire. We called the area… The Marzullo Corridor.”

Ahnk turned some more gears inside his head. “I wasn’t aware the Marzullos ever held Centerpoint,” he said.

“We never did,” she replied. “The Naboo Sith Order were our allies; we made a deal to be their muscle if they allowed us to use the device to move our original homeworld, Ziost, at our whim. Eventually, the deal expanded and the corridor was created. Then the Naboo Sith Order lost Corellia, and Centerpoint with it. Ziost was then left in an unrelated portion of the galaxy and, for all intents and purposes, the Corridor became isolated.”

“But your people continued on,” Ahnk said. “From the seizure of Corellia to the eventual perceived end of the Marzullo empire…”

“We retained control of all our other planets,” she continued. “The Corridor itself was also possible to reach by ship, though the path through any set of Transitory Mists is almost a suicidal endeavor. They were left with instructions on how to remain self sufficient and the promise that we would seize Corellia again someday and join our empire together again.”

“And then The Vong came,” Ahnk continued the story, pushing it to its eventual end.

“Much of our territory and holdings were destroyed,” she said, sadly. “Our family, however, survived. We continued on our original conquested planets; Ziost, Tattooine, and Coruscant. Each branch of the family became less a part of an Empire and more a self sufficient, underground movement. We kept in contact, until the holonet fell.”

“And The Corridor?”

She turned to him. “I want to know something first, Andrew Micheal Rashanagok,” she said. “I asked you here and you came because you felt you were obligated to help me. So I ask you now, how deep does that obligation run? What won’t you do? And how far will you go to see that commitment through?”

Ahnk turned his eyes down to hers, meeting them directly. “Our history is complex and complicated, as you well know. We’ve been though hell together and we’ve been hell to one another. We’ve fought, with fists and feet and sabers made of light itself, both against each other and side by side. Now, it’s been many years since I’ve seen that face of yours, the one that stuck with me all these years. But let it be known that there is nothing that I will not do; no person I will not kill, no action I will not perform, in an attempt to safeguard your life. If you need me to kill to protect you than I will do so, gladly, without reservation or hesitation. My obligation and commitment will see me follow you to the edge of the galaxy and beyond; there is no nebulae dense enough to stop me, and no enemy frightening enough to ever make me halt. So… Auriga Marzullo… who do you want me to kill?”

She looked up at him, and leaned up, touching her lips to his ear. “Everyone,” she told him simply.

When homicidal instincts softened and became premeditated, drinks were poured, and the discussion flowed as well...

“The problem is the Cree’Ar.”

“So, the Yuuzhan Vong are driven from this galaxy proper by the Capricians, and set up shop by seizing worlds in The Marzullo Corridor,” Ahnk narrated back what he’d been told. “But then the Cree’Ar arrive, and begin sending vessels into the Corridor as well. They are indifferent to your presence and fanatically opposed to the presence of the Vong, so they begin unilateral destruction of anything and everything.”

“Right,” she said. “With an exception; they aren’t killing Marzullos. Not family members proper or our Praetorian Guards.”

“Why wouldn’t they kill you?” Ahnk asked. “Would you not offer them more resistance than your civilians ever could?”

Auriga shivered, as if she was about to tell him something she didn’t even want to know. “They… there are fields, Ahnk. Endless fields. In the fields, they keep our people, like corpses, lined up and hooked up to machines. They are fed intravenously, drugged to keep them unconscious, and… drained. I don’t know how they do it, or for what reason, but they are draining the force out of the people there. All our collected Sith, both family blood and those we recruited to form our guard, are being… farmed.”

Ahnk felt the shiver travel up his spine as well. “That’s why they’re coming after force users. Not just because we’re a threat to them… they’ve found a way to use our powers for their own. That’s why they took Corellia…”

“The Cree’Ar hold Corellia?” Auriga asked.

Ahnk nodded. “And Centerpoint along with it. The Empire lost Corellia to independent minded terrorists who split off from the Empire proper. They responded by sending the Reavers after the Sons Of Corellia, expecting that the Reavers would destroy them and in the process, keep themselves from destroying the Empire. The Sons Of Corellia then signed a deal with the Cree’Ar. In it, the Corellians handed over captured Force Corps.”

“Whoa, slow down,” she responded. “Remember who you’re talking to. Reavers? Force Corps?”

“Right, well, the Force Corps were an attempt by the Imperials to end the tie in between Empire and Sith,” Ahnk said. “They wanted their own army of Force users without having to rely on them being trained by self-loyal Sith Lords. The Reavers are something else entirely. They… consume, like a scourge. People and raw materials are being devoured across the galaxy. They’ve moved like a plague and, so far, we haven’t been able to stop them.”

“Sounds terrible,” Auriga said. Ahnk noticed that she had wrapped her arm between the space between his arm and his ribs, hooking them together. “I don’t want to live in this galaxy anymore, Ahnk.”

“I know how you feel; these are dangerous times for Force users,” he said. “Let’s focus on one thing at a time. You want to free the Marzullo corridor.”

“Yes,” she said.

“And all we have to do that is to kill The Yuuzhan Vong warmaster, the leader of The Cree’Ar in the corridor, destroy their ships, and free your people,” he said.

“Pretty much,” she replied, finding it an accurate summary.

“Doesn’t sound impossible at all,” Ahnk said.

“Not even a little,” she replied back, slight hint of laughter on the edge of her voice. “Listen, Ahnk… I understand that you might not want to do this, so if you don’t…”

“If I don’t want to do it, you won’t find anyone else who is insane enough to do it either, but that won’t stop you from trying yourself,” Ahnk reasoned out. “No, your best chance of making it through your crazy plot is with me by your side. Let’s face it, that’s the only reason you’d get in contact with me after all this time, was me being your only hope.”

She shifted slightly; Ahnk couldn’t see it, but he could feel it. Not… physically, but something in her field shifted. “Ahnk…” she began, but then trailed off.

He turned to her. “What is it?” he said. “You should know you can tell me anything.”

“Not this,” she said. “No, it can wait. We need to go to Tattooine. There are people and supplies there. Once we get there, we can discuss things further.”

“Very well,” Ahnk said. “We can leave in the morning; should make it to Tattooine within a day once we get going.”

Auriga frowned. “Given the gravity of the situation, why would we wait until the morning? Why wait at all?”

Ahnk turned his back to her then, grinning slyly. “Oh, I was not proposing waiting at all; waiting drives me crazy,” Ahnk said, clarifying “we still have a half a bottle of wine, two pairs of handcuffs, and a hotel rented until the morning. I don’t see why we don’t just make the most of those resources.”

Auriga had no words in reply, but when Ahnk felt the chain of the handcuffs dig into his throat, he knew they’d be leaving in the morning.
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 16 2013 1:38pm
The shot was dangerously close; Ahnk almost felt the burn of the laser itself, but realized as he brushed himself off that it was a secondary impact from a chunk of smelted stone. The shot had missed, but only barely.

As the soldier came around the corner, he almost immediately fell. The hook kick had been timed perfectly; the soldier was good, but Ahnk was a Sith Lord, and that gave him the advantage of foresight.

When the soldier was down on the ground, Ahnk glared at him. “Praetorian,” he said, with a measure of disdain. Then he brought up his boot and drove it down, pushing the cartilage of the man’s nose into his brain, turning him into a six foot four, two hundred pound drool machine.

A pair of Praetorians stormed by on the other end of the hallway, but Ahnk ignored them. Grunts did not concern him. He needed someone with answers.

He turned a corner and saw a man in black robes pummeling a Praetorian against a wall. He marched in that direction, and when he reached the pair, he grabbed the Praetorian by the head and snapped his neck, causing the guard to drop dead.

The face of the robed man turned to him. “My lord,” he said, in a very familiar voice.

“What is the nature of this offensive?” Ahnk asked back, eyes darting to verify they were still alone in that section of hallway.

“They have made no declarations,” the warrior said. “I believe that, with recent reports of your death, they expected to find the temples undefended.”

“A bold move,” Ahnk denoted. “I did not think them capable of committing resources to such an offensive.”

“Perhaps, if we hold,” the warrior suggested, “they might abandon their assault.”

“I have another plan,” Ahnk told him, “but for now, I require no assistance. Rally what warriors you can and go to the Muul-il Al Tsatan. Under no circumstances must Marzullo soldiers step foot inside that temple.”

“I will defend it with my life, my lord. Do you not require assistance?”

Ahnk looked at his clone and softly shook his head. “I shall draft some on my way. Go now, your task has been told.”

“Yes lord,” the clone said, and pulled his lightsaber into his hand. He would make his way through the forest to the dark lake, and defend the temple with his life. If The Marzullos knew where they were going, they would already be there. But something told Ahnk they did not know where they were going.

The fact that he was alive was testimony to that assumption.

As he marched up the levels of the temple, the sounds of fighting grew more faint. The Marzullos had sent their Praetorian Guard in through the ground level entrances, which meant they were fighting a battle of attrition to gain ground as reinforcements from the upper levels of the temple made their way down. Ahnk, meanwhile, moved in the opposite direction.

About eight levels up, a man stepped in beside. “Lord Ahnk,” he said, matching the elder Sith’s step.

“Lord Nathos,” Ahnk returned, turning his head to meet the other Sith’s eyes. “Moving to get a better vantage point on the battle?”

“Actually, I was on my way down to find you,” Bane replied. “Skelosh and I had been watching the arrival from the atrium at the top of the temple, and I was hoping to find you and get further instructions.”

“Well, here I am,” Ahnk said. “Let’s continue this discussion at the atrium with Lord Delaroche.”

The two Sith marched up to the grand atrium at the top of the temple. This was the Grand Massassi Temple, and this was where the warriors trained. Ahnk had been doing supply inventory of the recent biohazardous material shipment when the invasion began. As Bane explained while the two walked, Skelosh and he had been dueling; a duel that had been going better for the Albino and one which Bane was happy to end prematurely. Bane was likely the more advanced of the two in terms of channeling the Force and becoming a more powerful Sith, but Skelosh was an animal, and the feral approach he took to personal combat was difficult to overcome. Even Ahnk was hesitant to spar with him, and Ahnk had been studying various forms of martial arts for decades.

When they approached the Albino Sith Warrior, he stood poised, arms straining against the stone retaining wall. Below, the battle raged, and Skelosh was fighting his instincts not to be a part of it. “Master Ahnk,” he said, bowing his head as he felt the presence of the two enter into his field of awareness. “This is unacceptable!”

“I agree,” Ahnk said. “But before we leap down to our deaths, let us make a tactical assessment of the situation. Bane.”

Bane had grabbed a pair of goggles, which were capable of marking and projecting a tactical map. He pressed a button to activate the projection system, casting a map onto the stone wall. Various red squares began to appear. “Two landers. One for Praetorians, and one for Marzullos themselves. The Praetorians seem to be forming groups of four, two ahead and two behind, each Marzullo that leaves the ship.”

Ahnk looked at the map and smiled as he watched the squares move. “Do you see what I see, Bane?”

Bane studied the map and then nodded. “They have unequal numbers of Praetorians to support indefinite groups of four. Either they will end up with a group of six…”

“Or a group of two,” Ahnk said. He turned from the wall and marched to the retaining wall, standing beside Skelosh. “I am beginning to formulate an idea.”

The three warriors waited at the edge of the platform as group after group of Praetorians left the shuttle, forming up with a Marzullo Sith Lord and marching into battle. Ahnk’s soldiers below were primarily Massassi, but some assembled student Sith and some mercenaries that had been hired to guard the equipment housed on the surface. The Praetorians alone could likely shred through most of Ahnk’s assembled defenses, but for the Sith Lords on the balcony.

At long last the question was answered as the last Marzullo strode from the shuttle, with only two Praetorians walking with her. Their miscalculation in numbers put her at a comparative disadvantage next to her fellow kin. Ahnk turned to Bane and held up two fingers, and Bane nodded in understanding. Then he turned to Skelosh, though he knew he barely needed to.

The Massassi Grand Temple was roughly one hundred and twenty meters high. Ahnk felt that distance close to nothing in the blink of an eye as he leapt from the balcony, driving himself downward faster and with more momentum than gravity alone would have provided. Ahnk had to force himself to brake his momentum; he was, afterall, not aiming for a killing blow.

Skelosh had no such limitation.

The cloaked Albino warrior slammed into the Praetorian guard with force enough to destroy a starship; against that, the helmet of the guard stood no chance. It shattered inwards, the force of the sharp metal bending and buckling, breaking in places to create sharp edges which pierced effortlessly through the human skull. Pieces of wet, formerly functional human tissue, poured over the clothed knee of Skelosh like a grand, opulent fountain, as much a grotesque display of violence as would a water fountain be of wealth and status. The Praetorian never knew what was coming; as soon as he felt the gust of wind generated by the driving downward warrior, he was already dead.

The second guard would not be so lucky.

But first thing was first. Ahnk had not introduced himself to the warrior he was on top of.

She had been quick to raise her arms in defense; the Force had alerted her of Ahnk’s impending landing well before he’d made it, but all the same, she hadn’t had enough time to stop him either. The force of his landing drove the air from her chest, which found itself buckled slightly inwards to allow for Ahnk’s leg, and Ahnk’s position and weight atop her body prevented her from drawing a full lungful to replace what was lost. Although her arms struggled Ahnk was more than capable of remaining in his current position indefinitely.

That wasn’t the plan, though.

Instead, he reached behind him with his off hand, and pulled out his lightsaber. He placed the emitter end (although, as it was a double bladed lightsaber, both ends were emitter ends) against her chin, and tapped softly. “Hello,” he said, “please stay calm. This will be over soon.”

The snap hiss of an activating lightsaber drew Ahnk’s attention as Skelosh began to deflect three sets of blaster fire from the remaining Praetorian guard. The two that stood at the shuttle were not his concern, though, and besides for their fire, Skelosh ignored them. His eyes burned, focused on the blood of the remaining escort.

The two guards both fell back against the shuttle, clutching at their chests. One moment they’d been firing on Skelosh and the next, they found themselves on fire; clothes and skin burning and twisting and molting from the flame. That was Bane; evening the odds, and ensuring that Skelosh could complete his work, unmolested.

And Skelosh relished that. The Praetorian threw his blaster aside and grabbed a lightsaber, provided by the Marzullos for hand to hand combat, but Skelosh kicked it out of his hand before he could even activate it. Then, the warrior went to work, making diagonal slices across the torso until the Praetorian was reduced to a head, arms, legs, and so many slices of steak.

Perhaps, when this invasion was ended, they would have a barbeque. Talk things out, and settle any mutual differences.

More than likely not.

With all the Praetorians disabled, Skelosh wasted no time in driving his lightsaber directly through the cockpit windscreen. The material did not immediately relent, but there weren’t many materials that could resist a lightsaber, and it began to slowly melt under the pressure and energy of the blade. Making a small hole would make leaving the atmosphere with these shuttles impossible; preventing an immediate escape. He knew the warrior would find explosives and destroy the shuttles properly, given enough time.

By now, Bane had joined them; the element of surprise would diminish when the Marzullos inside the temple noticed they had no support arriving from behind, and then this area would become a fresh battleground. Bane looked to Ahnk, and Ahnk nodded. “I will rally forces to guard this platform,” Bane said, “and slaughter any of their forces who attempt to leave the temple.”

“I want more blood,” Skelosh stated, to the surprise of no one. Ahnk didn’t think any commands would stop him, but even so, he felt disinclined to issue any, so he nodded his consent. With a leap, Skelosh was gone; he would fight his way back to Bane from the inside out, hunting, and killing, as many Sith as he could come across.

That only left Ahnk.

Ahnk, and the Marzullo he’d landed on.

“You and I,” he said, “are going to be going for a little stroll.”

Before she could react to that information, Ahnk had brought the saber back and driven it down into her forehead, causing a bright swell following by cold darkness.

Then, he stood up, dusted himself off, and began to drag her unconscious body across the stones.
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 16 2013 1:39pm
Every hill has a top.

Somewhere, beyond the crags you see, the broken and uneven rockface, mossed over in places and jagged in others, somewhere the incline came to an end, and everything evened out. All things being equal, the land was calm; dents in the surface allowed water to pool, and bending of the leaves allowed the rain to fall uninhibited by the cover of the trees. All things being equal, on most days, the rivers here were calm; the hills a gentle inclination, the winds soft and the waters brisk and crisp, but not unwelcomingly so.

But all things were not equal and this was not most days. Today, there was blood in the water.

All the same, it was the only fresh water for miles. Ahnk reached down, grabbing a piece of his pant leg and tearing it free. He wrapped the fabric around his hand and then dipped his hand into the water. Then, the more delicate maneuver.

Ahnk had to move fast, but that was something he was used to in most situations. Most situations, however, did not have him manhandling a woman, let alone an unconscious one. So he moved as swiftly as he could, wrapping both hands around her body and across her face. One hand, wrapped in the wet cloth, went over her mouth. The other went to the side of her head, holding it still.

The water caused her to wake. She almost immediately tried jerking herself free, and when she couldn’t, she opened her mouth, letting Ahnk’s hand slide inside, and bit down.

Ahnk leaned in closer so that he could speak in a whisper. “If you scream, I’ll be forced to kill you. Do you understand?”

In response, she bit down harder.

“I understand your desire to be unrestrained, but you need to understand, that will not happen. However, there are varying levels of confinement, and the current level of confinement, with you being held in my hands and prevented from moving, can easily be changed, if you cooperate with certain instructions. It is preferable to me that you be alive, but if you do not, then I will be forced to kill you. If you prefer that, than you can continue to bite down on my hand, and I will use the other hand to snap your neck. Or, I can remove the cloth, and we can talk. I leave the choice to you.”

Her teeth withdrew from the cloth. True to his word, Ahnk removed the cloth from her mouth. “Who are you?” she spat out, angrily.

“That’s a hilarious question, considering the current situation,” Ahnk commented. “I’m Ahnk Rashanagok, Dark Lord Of The Sith. This is my world you’re standing on.”

“Bullshit,” she shot back. “Ahnk Rashanagok is dead.”

“Was dead,” Ahnk corrected. “A temporary condition for someone with the resources I possess. Either way, here I am. Now, you promise not to scream? I will let you go,” Ahnk said, slightly tensing and untensing his grip on her head as a reminder that he was still in position to break her neck. She nodded against his grip, and Ahnk removed his hands, walking around her to sit down on a nearby rock.

Her gaze was one of curiosity mixed with her anger. “I’ve seen Ahnk Rashanagok,” she said, “on Ziost. I watched him duel Lucilla. You’re not him.”

“I miss the tattoos too,” Ahnk said, “but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to add the paint before you started breaking down my walls.”

She considered that for a second. “You’re a clone?”

“A reasonable and correct assumption,” he said. He dipped the cloth back in the water, then threw it to her. “Drink. I’m sorry I don’t have any cups but I didn’t have time to pack.”

“Why have you taken me prisoner?” she asked, not immediately taking a drink.

“Because blood is thicker than land,” Ahnk replied. “Your people have invaded my world. I intend to use you as a bargaining chip.”

“They’ll never trade this world for me,” she said, smirking. “They’ll simply kill you and take me back.”

“They’ll try,” Ahnk said. “But this world is over ten thousand kilometers in diameter, with a surface area of over 300 thousand kilometers. Trying to find one man in a world of trees would be impossible. No, by taking you captive, I ensured they wouldn’t simply glass this world on their retreat back to their own space. If they want you, they have to make a deal. And given who you are, I assume they will.”

“So you’re just going to drag me off into the woods, then?”

“If you’re smart, you’ll keep yourself moving. Drink when we stop to drink, eat when we have food, but if not, I’ll drag you and carry you through the woods, making you drink by putting that cloth in your mouth, until you die of malnutrition. But that’s months away, and I don’t think you have that kind of commitment,” Ahnk said, very matter of factly.

“You’re going to drag me through the woods, huh? You’re not even wearing any shoes,” she said.

“Shoes leave a more distinct impression. If you walk softly, in bare feet, it’s easier to make your footprints disappear. If I get the feeling someone is following our trail, then I’ll be able to stop them,” Ahnk said. “Plus, I know these woods, and nothing in them can harm me after a decade of prior exposure.”

“Your files talk about you as the leader of an Empire, so I never imagined you as the outdoorsy type,” she replied. Belatedly, she took a sip of her water. “What was that?”

“What?” Ahnk replied, looking around.

“No, you,” she said, and he stopped. “You got a look on your face, like… I dunno, like you were somewhere else.”

“Sometime,” Ahnk clarified. “I was remembering when I first arrived here. I was stripped of my weapons, clothes, and supplies, and sent into the jungle. I was told not to return until I was carrying my weight in meat on my shoulders.”

“Most of the animals I’ve seen around here are small game, rodents and birds,” she said. “How did you manage it?”

Ahnk grinned. “I waited for the next student.”

She nodded softly. “Smart,” she said. “So, establishing that I’m your prisoner and I’m not going to run off, can you remove these handcuffs?”

“No,” Ahnk said. “They’re so you don’t try and take my lightsaber.”

“I could do…”

“…that with The Force, you begin, but when you reach out with The Force you realize it’s nowhere to be found,” Ahnk replied. “Ysalamiri. They thrive in the jungle. So you can’t force choke me and I can’t force throw you. We’ll just have to assault each other the old fashioned way.”

“But how will you know if you’re being followed?”

“I have more senses than just my sensitivity to The Force,” Ahnk countered. “As I said, I know this world. I know what it looks like undisturbed.”

She nodded. “So, if you’re so sure you won’t be caught… why am I wearing this parka?”

Ahnk briefly looked her over, coated from knee to shoulder with the armor he’d outfitted his guards. “Until we have a chance to let your people know I’m holding you prisoner, you’re at risk. I’ve been watching your Praetorians move about the forest and they haven’t been taking prisoners of their own. They can shoot me all they like, for the consequences are negligible, but your death would likely lead to ongoing intergalactic hostilities. I don’t want that.”

“You don’t see my family as your enemy?”

“I see everyone as a potential enemy, but it’s better to keep them from becoming kinetic enemies,” Ahnk explained. He stood. “Stand up, we need to start walking.”

They walked for miles in silence. Her hands were cuffed and the cuffs had a chain. The chain led to Ahnk’s wrist, where he had a set of handcuffs on the other hand. Ahnk had slapped both cuffs on one wrist.

“So who are you?”

The question was the first one she had asked outside of practical demands. Ahnk had treated her well; they stopped when she wanted, allowed her to rest and relieve herself of the burdens of travel. She responded by not dawdling excessively and staying quiet. At least, she had until now.

“Your question requires contextualization,” Ahnk offered back in response. “Unless you just want the official biography, which I’m sure you already have.”

“I want you to fill in the blanks,” she said. “We know you’re a killer and a warrior, but we don’t know why. Your ultimatums are made in person and never become public. It makes tracing your motivations impossible. Tracing your origins proved to be equally difficult.”

“All roads,” Ahnk muttered in reply, and the expression he was met with caused him to lower his posture. "If everything is tied together in sine waves and vertices, if my magnetic fields are pulled and twisted by those of the people and places around me, it doesn't matter where I came from, and how long ago I left there. All roads carry me to the present destination; I was always here, always now, and nothing else is of consequence."

She scoffed. "So you're full of empty philosophy then," she said disdainfully.

"I apologize," Ahnk offered sarcastically, "if you prefer, I can give you the more standard deviation: fear led to anger, anger led to hate, hate led to suffering. I'll let you figure out where in the cycle the present day fits."

She didn’t seem amused. “Then just the mystery, then,” she concluded. “I suppose that works just as well. You never used to talk much.”

“I never used to have vocal chords,” Ahnk replied, involuntarily rolling his neck slightly to relax them. “Something I have death to thank for. I am a new and improved version of the old Ahnk Rashanagok. It’s a pleasure to meet you, again.”

She scoffed again. “As I said… I watched you duel Lucilla before. We never formally met.”

“No time like the present,” the Sith Warrior said, looking around to make sure the immediate area was still clear. “You have to start with your name.”

She, in an act taking some effort, looked somehow even less impressed than before. “What makes you think I’m going to tell you anything?”

Ahnk shrugged. “Conversation makes time pass easily, and given that I have you held hostage and am waiting to negotiate your release, this is a process that may take time,” he coldly answered back. “If you want the time to pass slowly, and silently, then I can simply drag you behind as I go for my afternoon stroll in peace. I leave the decision entirely up to you.”

Her surly expression didn’t brighten whatsoever until she blew out an exasperated sigh. “My name is Auriga Marzullo, “ she said, adding, “the family calls me Riggs, though.”

Ahnk nodded. “Auriga it is, then,” he said. He pulled gently on the handcuffs. “We need to move deeper into the woods. Let’s walk.”
Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Sep 19 2013 11:59am
The two Sith marched through the woods of Yavin, mostly uninterrupted. Ahnk had stopped periodically and determined that the Praetorians hadn’t yet begun searching in grids; they were simply pushing out into the woods from the temples in the clearings. Thus, he could avoid them indefinitely by simply walking in a straight line; he needn’t even outpace them, as without a change of direction, their paths would simply never converge.

So they marched.

The going was slow; Auriga stalled, sometimes for time and sometimes for attention. Ahnk mostly ignored both attempts to slow the process but he wasn’t willing to knock her unconscious and carry her, so he occasionally indulged her a rest.

For the past hour or so, however, she had been silent. Ahnk was finding himself nearing the point where he wanted to stop, which was unusual. He looked at her with cocked eye, wondering what her game was, and saw her simply looking forward, steely and determined.

Ahnk raised a hand, and she stopped. He gestured to the left and she followed his gesticulation, moving towards deeper tree cover. He then turned himself and walked over to her, drawing his lightsaber.

“I won’t…” she began, but then he pushed his lightsaber into a stone instead. The blade cut a hole, about the width of the handle, into the rock. Ahnk reached down and unclipped the handcuff wrapped to his wrist and then clipped it into the rock instead.

“You’re thinking that you can simply lift the rock and walk away when I sleep,” Ahnk said, “and while that’s true, it should slow you down considerably.”

“And what would prevent me from lifting the rock over my head and killing you?” Auriga asked, staring at Ahnk intently.

“First, I still have a lightsaber,” he said, “and second, it’s a heavy rock.”

“You have to sleep sometime,” she noted.

“You might be surprised,” Ahnk said. “Anyway, it’s time to make camp for the night. We’re far enough away from any of your patrols that we can rest here for several hours. Tomorrow we need to begin doubling back.”

“Why?” Auriga asked, curious. “If we double back, are you not more likely to be found?”

“Perhaps, but we can’t walk the woods in a straight line indefinitely. We need supplies and you need something else to wear,” Ahnk said.

“Don’t like the bulky armor look?” Auriga mocked, as Ahnk had put it on her himself.

“It restricts your mobility. We need to be able to move faster for when their searches begin to get closer,” Ahnk clarified, before lowering himself to a seated position. “That can wait, for now. Are you hungry?”

“A little,” Auriga replied, and Ahnk responded by swinging his lightsaber handle into the ground. He reached down and grabbed a small lizard from the sharp hook on the end of the handle, before snapping it in half and throwing the tail and hindlegs to his Marzullo captive. “You aren’t going to cook it?”

Ahnk grabbed his half of the lizard and sunk his teeth into it. “Fresher this way,” he said, clawing chunks of lizard flesh into his mouth and crushing them into swallowable chunks.

His Marzullo captive set her piece of lizard aside, uncertain. “Raw meat tends to have more disease,” she said.

“True, but the average human’s digestive system isn’t actually capable of fully digesting meat, let alone digesting it all while it’s cooked,” Ahnk denoted. “By the time it reaches your lower digestive tract, it begins to rot. Whether you cook it or not, it’s generally not a good idea to eat something you can’t… finish, such as it were.”

“I suppose,” she said.

“Besides, no better way to celebrate a kill then to dine on the flesh,” Ahnk said, taking another bite, “when it’s at its most fresh.”

Auriga sat up a little. “That sounds almost… cannibalistic.”

Ahnk took another bite, then smirked. “I’ve heard Marzullo’s have held bonfires where they roasted infant Jedi,” he offered up in counterpoint.

Auriga visibly shivered and looked away. “Not all of us are like that,” she said.

Ahnk, growing bored with his food, discarded what was left into the brush nearby. “Either way, as long as you don’t eat from the spine or the brain, you’ll be fine,” Ahnk said, and Auriga gave him a look. “So I’ve heard,” he added, and then turned his back to her, beginning to break off small pieces of bark from a nearby tree.

Auriga, thoroughly uncomfortable, decided to change the subject. “So what’s your endgame here, Ahnk? You want to trade me for this planet?”

Ahnk grunted. “I’m just winging it at this point,” Ahnk said. “You keep me alive. And as someone who has died before, let me tell you, I don’t intend to do it again if I can avoid it. So far, so good.”

Auriga sighed. “So I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

“I didn’t come to your world and kidnap you, no,” Ahnk said. “You can blame your family for leaving you last. Why did they leave you in the shuttle until last, anyway?”

Auriga hesitated before answering. “I’m the youngest,” she said, then lowered her eyes.

Ahnk didn’t respond to that with anything more than a nod. He reached down and grabbed a handful of bark, then sat cross legged a few feet from Auriga. With his free hand, he started sorting stones out into a pile.

She recognized what he was doing. “Some outdoorsman you are,” she said. “First you eat uncooked meat, now you’re going to try and start a fire with wet bark.”

“I can start a fire in midair with my mind,” Ahnk said. Sure enough, when he lowered the bark to the rock, he had dried it out. With a wave of his hand, fire fell from the air across the scraps of wood; some of it took hold, and the wood cracked and popped as it began to burn. “It is wise not to doubt the Dark Lord.”

Auriga laughed. “You really consider yourself The Dark Lord Of The Sith? With a galaxy of Sith around you, you have the arrogance…”

“I have the lineage,” Ahnk said. “From Freedon Naad to Exar Kun, to Ahnk Rashanagok. The unbroken lineage of The Brotherhood Of The Sith makes me the sole legitimate claimant of the title.”

“If we ignore that Exar Kun’s Brotherhood Of The Sith was destroyed and then reformed as a shell of its former self after his death,” Auriga said. “I wonder, how many Sith have you killed that challenged that title?”

Ahnk frowned. He stood, then walked over to her and took his saber into his hands. As she made the most defensive posture possible given she was handcuffed to a rock, Ahnk ignored her, cutting the rock instead. With her hands free, Auriga was stunned to see Ahnk drop the lightsaber into her hands.

She sprung to her feet, turning it in his direction. “What are you doing?” she asked, curious, and before she could say anything else, Ahnk swung his open palm into her face.

The blow struck true, and Auriga felt her cheekbones crack subtly, skin tearing at the surface as his flesh met hers for a brief instant. “What the hell!” she loudly proclaimed, before Ahnk swung his opposite foot into her ribs, causing her to fall.

Winded, she still pointed the saber at him. “What are you doing!” she shouted angrily, “what makes you think I won’t kill you?”

Ahnk grabbed the lightsaber with his hand. He pulled it closer, then pushed it directly against his chest. “Instinct,” Ahnk said. He waited. She didn’t respond. He pulled the saber back into his hands and then used his leg to sweep her feet, causing her to fall to the ground. “You don’t have the eyes of a murderer. Even when I attacked you, you held the saber as a measure of threat, not force. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ve never even taken a life.”

“I have,” she said, barely audible, still regaining her wind.

“And yet, I give you free opportunity to kill me to earn your freedom, and you decline,” Ahnk said. “You say I have arrogance to call myself The Dark Lord, and yet you call yourself a Sith. A pacifist Sith I have never met.”

Auriga stared at him. Her face was stone; her eyes, though… there was something in her eyes that caused Ahnk to involuntarily flinch. There was something horrible there… and the fires of hatred and anger that swirled around it almost frightened him. “Don’t,” Auriga said, “make me prove you wrong.”

Ahnk looked into her eyes as long as he could stand, and then slowly nodded. He slid the saber back into the holster on his belt, and knealt down, grabbing her handcuff and securing it to the rock. "Then just the mystery, then," Ahnk said, not entirely sure he wanted to know the answer. With Auriga secured, Ahnk hunkered back down against the base of the tree and Auriga, with resignation, slumped back down to the ground.

"You hold me captive and then want to talk about my past like we're friends," Auriga said. "I hope The Praetorians catch you alive so that I can have the satisfaction of killing you myself."

Ahnk was unusually stoic. "I doubt they will," he remarked dryly, not wanting to antagonize her further. He knew, with the methods they were currently using, The Praetorians were days away at the very best. Ahnk was more concerned about her; she seemed to be shivering, as if the incident had left her shaken. He didn't want to ask; questioning her weakness would likely cause her to raise a further defensive guard. No, the right play now was to wait. She would either open up or not. Either way, there was no reason to prod her.

Auriga, for her part, kept her quiet for several more minutes. "You really think they'll trade this world for me?" she asked.

"If I know The Marzullos," Ahnk replied, "loyalty to the family supersedes everything else. They won't let you die if they can prevent it and if the only prevention is leaving... I believe they will take that option."

"The Marzullos don't tend to be the negotiating type," she contested.

Ahnk nodded. "As well I know," he said. "I remember when they captured Artimir and his Jedi Temple. The negotiations continually ended when The Marzullos executed a Jedi Trainee and only continued because the Jedi refused to authorize a military action."

"Such an action never would have succeeded," Auriga confirmed what Ahnk already knew. "The Jedi never had the power the Sith did, militarily. They still don't."

"Perhaps not," Ahnk said. "They also don't tend to try and prevent bloodshed by resorting to bloodshed. A hostage negotiation where they don't already have boots on the ground is a no win scenario."

Auriga narrowed her eyes, studying the other Sith. "You really feel like you're in control here, don't you?"

Ahnk, again, avoided any response that would rile her up. "I hold the cards," Ahnk said, "and I know the way the table bends. Just because I'm outnumbered doesn't mean I'm outgunned. I've got something they want and that means I am in control."

Auriga frowned, not sure how to argue that. If Ahnk, despite being one man against a forest full of soldiers hunting for him, truly believed that he had the advantage, she didn't know what she could offer to counter that opinion...

The silence continued as Ahnk reached a hand out to the warmth of the fire... then things began to darken...

Auriga awoke with a shot.

Not a shot, in the sense of something being shot, but rather the maneuver one makes when startled from a sleeping position; to bolt upright uncontrollably. There was a hand on her shoulder.

Before she could say anything, though, there was a hand on her mouth. It kept her quiet only as long as she couldn't open her mouth and sink her teeth into the hand, and once she did, she bit down, and hard.

Ahnk also shot up at that point, across the dwindling remnants of the fire, but he didn't make it far; once he was standing, three armored guards surrounded him and pointed blasters at him. He raised his hands, resigned to accept the current situation.

Auriga, somewhat embarrassed, turned to The Praetorian behind her. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Pay it no mind, Lordess," The Praetorian said.

Auriga stood now too, taking a more complete assessment of the situation. "How did you find us?"

"The smoke from the fire," the guard answered. "An amateurish move, leaving an open fire to burn all night. It was almost as if he wanted to be caught."

"What shall we do with him?" one of The Praetorians holding Ahnk shouted back to the one standing by Auriga.

"Kill him," he said. "Auriga's safe return is our only concern."

"Wait," Auriga said, stepping in front of the head guard. "He could have useful information."

"Itala gave us the order directly," the head guard said, putting a hand on her shoulder to reassure her. "Don't worry, whatever he did to you is in the past now. He can't hurt..."

And then the guard's jaw dropped as a massive beast came from the woods and tore one of his fellow Praetorians in half.

The man's torso landed at his feet, but his legs flopped down, resting roughly against Ahnk, who stood unmoving with his hands in a surrender position above his head. The beast turned with the first guard dead and stalked the other two. They both turned their guns from Ahnk to it, but blaster fire seemed to do little to it's massive bulk. The shots seared and singed the flesh of the creature, but it's sheer size seemed capable of absorbing the burns indefinitely. It reached the first of the two guards with claws first; dug deep through armor meant to deflect blasters, but cracking under the weight of the sharp claws. The guard was pushed to his knees and, once there, the creature opened it's jaws and slid the entire helmeted head inside.

At this range the remaining guard had a free shot at the creature's exposed eyes, but that was when Ahnk stepped in, grabbing the barrel of the weapon and jamming it into the ribs of the soldier. He then swiveled it up and rammed it into his face, knocking him backwards. The other soldier turned his weapon on Ahnk...

...but the beast was faster, tearing the soldier's arm, weapon and all, from his body. The man fell, screaming in agony, blood soaking the nearby grass...

...that was Ahnk turned to Auriga, and activated his lightsaber.

"I tried to save your life," she said, as he approached.

"I noticed," he said, and then swung the blade anyway. Her handcuff chain went limp; he'd cut it free from the rock again, freeing her from its weight. "Take off your armor, and put on the suit from that guard over there." Ahnk gestured at the one he had previously knocked unconscious.

"But... the beast..." Auriga said, uncomfortable with it looming about.

Ahnk turned to her and smirked. "It was almost as if he wanted to be caught," Ahnk repeated, almost in a mocking tone. The beast lowered its head to him and Ahnk began to scratch it behind the ear, drawing slurps of affection.

"That trick works once," the guard, with one arm, offered back from the ground. "Next time we kill on sight."

"There won't be a next time," Ahnk said. "You found me because I wanted to be found. I needed a set of your armor. Now I have it. I have no further need for The Praetorians save one; you will take a message to your Marzullo masters. I will trade Auriga for your evacuation of this world. If they accept, they need only take off. I will then allow Auriga safe passage back to Mazullo space. If they reject the offer, then she stays my captive, and I kill more of their guards until they do."

Auriga had replaced the heavy armor Ahnk had given her with the more lightweight reflective gauntlets and chestplate The Praetorians were given. She watched as the massive alien creature, whatever it was, slipped back between the leaves and the branches and disappeared into the forest. As much as such a large animal could ever disappear.

Ahnk, meanwhile, had taken the severed arm of the soldier and removed something from the armor plate beneath his wrist. "If you reject my offer, do be prepared for more bloodshed," Ahnk told the soldier bluntly.

He then grabbed the chain that had previously joined Auriga to the rock, and slapped the other handcuff around his own wrist.

The blood soaked ground where the remaining living Praetorians became only a memory as the two marched on…

“You didn’t kill those two guards,” Auriga commented as the two stopped, the sun once again nearing the point where it would disappear behind the horizon.

Ahnk stopped. He unclasped the handcuff from his wrist and locked it around a branch instead. When he was done, Auriga slumped down, making sure she was comfortable with her new prison. “I don’t understand the importance of that,” Ahnk said, unsure of how to answer her.

“You had the opportunity to kill the guard who you hit with the rifle, and the one who lost an arm,” she said, drawing his memory back to the situation, “but you let them live. Surely killing them would mean less men after you in the future?”

“I will never kill all of your Praetorians before one of them kills me,” Ahnk stated. “Simple mathematics.”

“But of the ones on the planet…”

Ahnk turned to her, kneeling down. “Here’s a better question. Why did you try and barter for my life?”

Auriga squirmed. She hadn’t wanted to answer that question. “I don’t know. I thought you were more valuable alive.”

“Maybe to them,” Ahnk said.

For several minutes, silence was the order of the day. Auriga made small adjustments to the straps built into her armor, drawing some tighter and loosening others, as much to adjust the fit as to pass the time. Ahnk was collecting and balancing rocks, making a pit and then building walls, almost as if he wanted to build his own miniature stadium of rocks. When he was done, he kicked off a large branch from the tree Auriga was resting against, startling her, and then grabbed the wood and began slowing breaking it into smaller pieces.

“You’ve killed a lot of people,” Auriga said, not as a question.

Ahnk nodded. “There’s a difference between killing and murder,” he said. “The guard who died was killed. If I’d ended the life of a one armed man, felled by pain against a tree, that would have been murder.”

“You’ve murdered men before,” Auriga countered.

“And always at a price,” Ahnk said. “Every life you take takes a part of you with it. Every time you kill someone, something inside you is gone and can never come back. Do it enough times and when you reach inside to find out who you are, all you can find is darkness and death, swirling in pools of hatred within your soul. You lose the essence of what was once yourself and become only the killer.”

Auriga said nothing, but nodded in return.

“It’s what separates me from you,” Ahnk said. “There’s a point of no return where you cease to feel after every death. I get the feeling every kill still resonates within you.”

Auriga nodded again. “I killed an entire city once,” she said, softly. “Women and children too. Just indiscriminately murdered an entire city.”

Ahnk narrowed his eyes. The darkness he had felt… that must be what it surrounded. “And when they were dead… when the dust of what you had done settled…”

Auriga looked up at him, and he saw a single tear well in her eye. “I was elated,” she said, and the tear broke across her cheek. “I had never felt such joy.”
Posts: 6
  • Posted On: Nov 16 2021 10:36am

Spitting on hot sand is more or less pointless; it won’t leave a mark. It’s going to be just sand again in an instant, leaving no trace you were ever there.

Spitting blood, though. Spitting blood would leave a mark. It would redden the sand; turn it the color of copper. The wetness would soak into the soil and disappear as if it weren’t even created but, the color, the taste of hemoglobin? No, that would stay.

“I like a little… resistance,” the man said, in the doorway. His large frame almost blocked out the sun but, on a world like this, there was always more sun than you wanted. As it was, his shadow still loomed large, but beyond, the burning brightness still. He spat as well, only his spit was tainted with alcohol and the ash of smokable narcotics.

She burned those words into her mind…

“It is tradition.”

The man said the words with no malice, but she took them bitterly anyway.

“Traditions are meant to be broken,” was her retort. Short and curt.

“Not in this family,” the man replied with a laugh. “Look, you’re eighteen. This is worth celebrating. And it is worth celebrating in the traditional way. Trust me, from here on out, things get serious.”

“I’m not a kid,” the woman shot back. “I’ve been ready to start training seriously for a long time.”

“I know,” the man said, his tone becoming more supportive. “Everyone is proud of you, Auriga. You know that. But you have a problem, and it is that you never let your guard down. Every once in a while, you have to… do something spontaneous. Something stupid. Something you will regret for the rest of the day. Today is one of those days.”

“You’re not going to let this drop?” the woman asked, resigned to it already.

“Not me, nor Midas, nor Fiera,” the man said. “This is a family tradition; you turn eighteen, you take a final conquest before you head off to training. I know you’ve skipped the conquesting beforehand but we don’t need to tell your cousins that. Just pick someone, get them drunk, get them naked, and you can probably handle the rest from there. And don’t worry, Midas will be your wingman, and we’ll be right here to make sure he doesn’t overstay his welcome. I have word that Fiera is already having the slaves whip you up a fantastic breakfast and are pouring the finest spiced oils into the spa. This is your day; don’t let the night pass alone. Make the most of it.”

She looked up, and saw that he was being supportive. He genuinely wanted her to go out and have a good time. “Alright, Kannon, you wore me down,” she said, and stood. “I trust you and Midas staked out an appropriate venue for me to find this poor, hapless victim?”

“We did, but…”

Auriga stopped, half off the chair she had been sitting on and half planted to it. “But what, Kannon?”

“Well… you can’t go out wearing that,” he said. He saw her glare and then raised his hands. “One of those tradition things. Don’t worry, Fiera picked you out something… something in leather, I believe.”

Her glare got even fiercer as her second foot hit the floor…

It was strange, growing up on Tattooine.

Her family had not originally been from here… centuries ago, war had broken out amongst her ancestors on the planet Ziost. The war was one of internal strife between members of the family, and outside antagonists brought from both an interest in seizing the power the family held, and in snuffing it out altogether.

So, her ancestors had decided to split the genetic tree. Take children to four planets throughout the galaxy and begin the family branches anew. The temples of Ziost burned in the chaos of the wars that followed… but the family would live on, with four new generations growing together and apart on the worlds they had seeded.

Itala, the conquering one, had led the family back to Ziost. The ashes of the old wars had barely stopped smoking, but he refused to let the ancestral home of his family remain a graveyard old of ancient conflict. He drove what squatters remained from the world and began, brick to brick, to rebuild what once had been lost…

That was life for some Marzullos… the glory path…

Auriga had dreamed of such a life since she had been born. The path of the warriors, of the most powerful Sith alive… able to kill some merely by mention of their name. She was part of a family capable of anything, with no limitations to their ambition… oh, to be born on Corellia, or Coruscant! To be conscripted to fight in the great battles against The Jedi Order…

But she had been born on Tattooine. She was struck growing up on Tattooine.

Oh, the promise had been made. “Follow the rules of the family,” Itala had said, “and you can take your place amongst the students at the Ziost temple. Once there, the galaxy will be yours, with patience, and practice.” Auriga did not want to wait, however, until she turned eighteen. She had wanted to leave this dust bowl for a decade.

“Patience,” had been the credo.

Fuck patience.

She was still angry, as she walked into the bar.

The idea was, that once you went to the temples, you needed to exhibit discipline and focus. Interludes of intoxication and fornication were unneeded distractions; plus, most of the people there would be relatives, and it was strictly forbidden for obvious reasons to interact that way with blood relatives. There were always slaves and guards, but many in the family refused to lower themselves to such common folk.

That left only the spoils of war. A prospect that didn’t appeal to her either.

In truth, Auriga had never had much interest in the vices that some of her family seemed to enjoy so much. Most of them didn’t indulge beyond their control but Auriga chose to refrain entirely; she looked at Itala, who occasionally celebrated a great victory with a goblet of wine, as her ideal; the strident warrior, always prepared to go to war for his ideals, never one to bemoan the curse of too much liquor or too full a belly to do what needed to be done.

She admired that of him… his ruthlessness. She wished she could be like him.

She nodded over at her cousin, Midas. He was a bit of an oaf; a perfect example of someone who took their youth too casually. He wasn’t a diligent student of martial arts, but instead a practical joker who drank too much and chased too much tail. She wouldn’t normally have time for him but for the fact that they were relatives and even then, she mostly joined in with her older siblings to scorn his recklessness.

Tonight, he was her backup. Not exactly comforting.

Nevertheless, tonight was to be the night… her last night of immature pursuits before the shuttle arrived to take her to the rest of her life. Tonight, all her sins forgotten.

Assuming she chose to indulge in any…

Her knees hit the sand with the impact velocity of a shuttle crash. Her body followed, upended roughly by the shove from behind.

“Get up,” said the voice of the man who had shoved her.

Her only answer was a glare full of scorn and hatred.

He didn’t appreciate that as an answer, and his boot, driven into her ribs, told her so. “You’re a feisty one,” he said, “but you will soon learn some respect.”

She looked up at him, and wondered internally, before asking, “Do you even know who I am?”

The man smirked. “You are tonight’s,” he began, and then reached down and adjusted the buckle on his belt, “entertainment.”

She frowned. It appeared they both had some learning to do, then…

“You were supposed to be her backup,” Kannon reprimanded.

“I know,” Midas responded.

“You were supposed to keep her safe,” Kannon added.

“Look, we know,” Cassino offered back. “You lecturing us isn’t going to bring her back.”

“She shouldn’t have to be brought back!” Kannon ranted, clearly pissed off. “You never should have let her out of your sight.”

“You know what she’s like,” Midas said. “She doesn’t follow the rules…”

“Neither, apparently, do you,” Kannon said. He stepped close enough that his angry breathes burned on Midas’ skin. “Bring Auriga back, or don’t come back at all.”

Midas looked at Cassino, and then both men cocked their weapons.

The Dry Martini was like many nightclubs on Tattooine. You could pay as much for the water as the booze, the air smelled chemically clean, the lights pulsated with an annoying neon persistency, and it was full of people who were spying on everyone else.

A hush fell over the club as Midas and Cassino Marzullo walked into The Dry Martini. They made no effort to conceal either their slugthrowers or their lightsabers. “Excuse me,” the bartender said, audible on slightly over the background hum of some awful song. “You aren’t allowed weapons in here.”

Midas raised his hands, showing he meant no ill intent. “We will be… happy to leave peacefully,” he said, loud enough for all to hear. “But there was a young woman here earlier tonight… about my height, leather toe to shoulder… we’ll be taking her home with us.”

The bartender looked to them, then surveyed the room. “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” the man said.

Midas stepped closer to the bar. “Do you know why I like slugthrowers?” He pulled his from the holster. “With a blaster, the killing effect is from the kinetic impact and the burning of the effected flesh. Hit a heart, hit a lung, kill shot. Slugthrowers though… you hit a human being, and it makes a hole, a big, nasty, bleeding hole. And they fall, and they sit there, and they bleed, and they cough, and they choke, and they suffer, and then, only then, do they die. See, a blaster is too fast, too immediate. You don’t have time, as a victim of a gunshot from a blaster, to think about things… where you went wrong, what you could have done differently… different answers to different questions…”

The bartender snarled. “There’s more of us than there are of you,” he said. “I’d suggest you come pick her up tomorrow… when we’re done with her.”

“The hard way then,” Midas said, and jammed his gun under the chin of the bartender. He depressed the trigger and the bartender became part of the décor as his grey matter airbrushed over the ceiling tiles.

The thugs in the club moved but Cassino was faster. He hit two of the thugs with a shot each and then a second, one in each lung, as he stepped away from the door. Another door to the bar was suddenly filled with commotion; innocent bystanders rushing for the exit, and more heavies. The bystanders they let go. But Midas and Cassino were ruthless and efficient in their kill shots. When the entry level thugs were dispatched with, the pair began kicking down doors looking for the middle management types...

Auriga shot up, and took a deep gasp of air.

She’d been being strangled, no, no she’d been being drowned. Her head plunged into a metal bucket of water. It had been, in a way, almost refreshing. Tattooine was so warm, and the water was so cold…
But that was then. It wasn’t now.

Now it was cold, and only the slightest bit wet. It was a cold night on Yavin, the sun long ago having dipped beneath the horizon. In the distance, she could hear men shouting at each other.

When she looked over, she expected to see Ahnk watching her. Instead, she saw that he had lowered his head. She watched him for a few moments, and realized he had let his guard down, and fallen asleep.

Then she grabbed the rock.

As she raised it above her head, he still made no movements. He was asleep, completely unconscious. All she had to do was drop the rock, and kill him.

So why hadn’t she?

She’d killed a man with a rock before. So why hesitate?

She felt her hand shaking, and before she accidentally killed him, she set the rock down. When she did, his head turned, and his eyes opened. “You were…?”

“Awake? Yes,” Ahnk asked. He twisted his neck, stretching it. “I’d never be so careless as to fall asleep without knowing whether I was safe. Now I know.”

Auriga sat down and sighed loudly. “How nice for you,” she said. She was very angry, mostly at herself.

For several moments, the two of them sat in silence. Yavin is never quiet; even when the sun goes down and the giant swirling redness fades, the jungle never slept. But it was especially loud on a night like tonight, when armed and angry men marched through the woods. Even so, the silence was palpable. Even painful.

“You didn’t kill me,” Ahnk finally said.

“I wanted to,” Auriga told him.

“Oh, I am acutely aware,” he said. “I felt… a smoldering rage inside you. An intensity you keep hidden, even from yourself. I learned a lot from that feeling, even though you only felt it for a moment. And I learned even more afterwards.”

“I don’t really want to kill you, I just want to go… free. I was going to say home, but…” The two looked at each other, and Auriga felt something strange. A sensation she wasn’t used to. He was listening to her. He may have been the first person she ever met who had actually done that. “I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go to Temple. I don’t want to train to be a Sith. I just want to be free. Family be damned. Ziost isn’t what I thought it would be.”

Ahnk was intrigued; she was opening up to him, and he could use that to his advantage. “Where would you go? Back to Tatooine?”

Then, she became cold again. The openness was gone. Hatred filled her again. “I will never go to Tatooine again.”

Auriga had been silent for some time.

There wasn’t much to do. She heard the fighting outside, and was grateful that it had broken up the violence she had been made to endure. But she couldn’t act in any way, restrained as she was.

Finally, Midas kicked open the door. “Riggs!” he shouted, relieved to see her. “Are you alright? Can you stand?”

She raised her arms, which were bound. He grabbed her and lifted her up, then slid a blade between her wrists, moving it so as to slice the bonds that kept her hands trapped together.

“Can you walk? We need to get out of here…” Midas said.

There was a chair nearby, that one of her torturers had sat in while waiting his turn. She took a few unsteady steps towards it, and then sat down. “No, I can’t leave yet,” she said, resting her aches.

“Okay, if you need a few minutes…” Midas said, as he took position to cover the door.

“No, you don’t understand,” she said. “I won’t leave yet. Not until morning.”

“Morning?” Midas exclaimed. “It could be hours until sunrise…”

“You’re free to leave if you like,” Auriga said, a cold hatred laced through her voice. “I can handle it from here.”

Midas looked at her, uncertainly, but then took a position to wait it out alongside her.

As the first of Tattooine’s suns rose, the bustle of a normal morning was disrupted by the damage that Cassino and Midas had brought to the town. Tattooine knew about The Marzullo family but for the most part, they did their business in their own town and left other cities alone. Don’t bother the tourists and the law usually looked the other way.

There would be no overlooking this.

The entire town seemed to be watching them; Cassino, gun at the ready but aimed at the ground, and Midas, with Auriga leaning into his shoulder. When she stepped out into the sun, though, she pushed Midas away and began walking independently. Then, she stopped.

She looked around. At all the florists. Farmers and bakers. Everyone in this town who knew that there was a bar here, that had been filled with thugs, who kidnapped and tortured people for their amusement. Midas and Cassino had eliminated the thugs. But so far, those who sheltered them, those who enabled them, those who fed them, cut their hair, washed their clothes… they hadn’t suffered yet.

That was about to change.

The cold hatred swirled around Auriga again. Midas could feel it, like a dark aura, and it made the hairs on his arm stand up. He didn’t like it, and he found himself taking another step backward.

Auriga went stiff, and her body levitated off the sand. One of her hands left her side and pointed skyward, then her fingers extended. Slowly, they tightened against unseen resistance.

Unseen. But not for long. First it was heard. Then, it was seen.

Tattooine had had fifteen moons.

Above their heads, they watched one of them shatter like it had been crushed. The pressure caused the moon to explode into cones of debris, in multiple directions, it erupted. Then, people began to notice the rocks weren’t staying in orbit. They were falling. And fast.

The first of them were like bullets; light, but impossibly fast, tearing through thatched roof and limestone wall alike. But the more dangerous pieces were those that took a little longer. They caught fire and began to burn up in the atmosphere, losing mass but gaining velocity. When those pieces came down, entire buildings were levelled. Entire blocks. Entire families.

The florist. The farmer. The baker.

Their children. Their pets. Their neighbours and their neighbours friends.

Auriga simply floated silently, eyes closed, her hand squeezing so tight, blood ran down her wrist. Cassino and Midas stood close, as the town around them became an inferno.

When it was over, it was all sand and rocks. The only way you would know there had been a town here was the crushed bones and blood stains. And in time, the wind would wash those away. It would be like this town, and all the people who had lived in it, were never there.

Auriga lowered down to the ground, took a look around at what was left, and spat loudly and angrily on the hot sand. “Now,” she said, “we can go.”

When she awoke, Ahnk was gone.

She didn’t wake naturally; she was startled by the sound of approaching footsteps. The guards sent to look for her. None of them had seen Ahnk, and when they got to the shuttle to take them off the planet, they all confirmed that. No one had seen him. No one claimed to have killed him.

A few days later, and Auriga was still troubled by how the situation had resolved. When Itala arrived on Ziost he asked if he could see her, and while she was angry with him, she allowed it anyway, hoping to get some answers.

“Auriga,” he said, embracing her and squeezing tightly. “I was so glad when I was told that they had found you alive and well.”

She didn’t return his embrace, simply allowing it and then moving on. “I am not sure I understand how it happened,” she said, absent mindedly. “One minute I was his prisoner…”

Itala frowned and stepped back. “You’re not a child anymore, and I will be honest with you if you refrain from acting childishly,” he said. “You have a question.”

She did. She looked at him directly. “You made a deal for my life,” she said. That wasn’t the question.

“In a… manner of speaking,” Itala said. “It is not often that I find myself outmaneuvered. But that Rashanagok… he exploited my one weakness… I cannot rule over people and blindly discard them as if they do not matter. Attack one of the family, and you can effectively kill it all.”

“So you capitulated,” Auriga said. She had surmised as much. This wasn’t in question either.

“I had to,” he said. “I couldn’t let a member of the family die. A general, a senator, anyone but the blood… fortunately, while Ahnk was devious, he wasn’t evil. He knew the strength of his bargaining position. But he also knew I was in a difficult position. For if this were to be perceived as a loss for me… well, the family would still support me, but I couldn’t be perceived to lose face, or my position among the Sith Lords would be made tenuous. Much of what keeps our family in power is the fear of our power, not our power itself.”

Now she was intrigued. “Even in the face of a member of your own family being held hostage, you asked him for something…”

“He was amenable to what was suggested; in fact, it was his suggestion,” Itala gestured with his head. “Pull back the curtain, see the machine in action.”

Auriga went to the window of her room. She threw back the curtain, letting in the sunlight, and giving her a view of the huge, open arena that was set in what had once been the senate hall on Ziost. At some point when the building had outlived its usefulness, and began to decay, the Ziostians had torn out the roof and created instead a massive, open air arena, which served as host to games, sports, and notable speeches over the years.

Today, it would bear witness to an execution.

Like she had thrown off the curtain to reveal the scene, so did the jailers cast off the hooded robe of their prisoner. What she saw raised more questions than answers. Because even from so far away, she recognized the black and green face beneath the robes.

“You can’t,” she said.

“I have no choice,” Itala said, sternly. “As I said, I could not be perceived to lose face. I couldn’t leave that planet empty handed. Besides, this is the solution Ahnk himself proposed.”

Auriga was about to protest further, but instead felt her jaw gape open, as she watched Lucilla Marzullo raise a lightsaber and decapitate Ahnk Rashanagok before her very eyes. “He was... “ she trailed off. She didn’t even know how to answer that. Only that she felt sad. As if a part of herself had just died.

“I hope in time, you will forgive me,” Itala said. Auriga turned her shoulders to him, indicating that she wasn’t ready to even entertain that idea. “Take solace, that you will see him again.”

Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Nov 29 2021 2:19pm
You can’t tell where you are in hyperspace by looking at the stars.

They move too fast. They say of quantum measurements you can either tell where a particle is, or where it is going, but not both. Observing one means you have to let go of the other. If you could observe both, at the same time, you could see the future.

But the future existed, just beyond perception, a fleeting glimpse of something on the horizon…

And to live in the now, meant letting it go.

So you watched it, blurring past you, lines and streaks of white and blue, knowing if you could slow it down, it would all be there. Only that to see it, was to change it. You couldn’t live it, not the way you’d seen it. You had to live it blind.

There was something both comforting and deeply disconcerting about the quantum nature of the universe.

Still, the blue waves were soothing.

“Can’t sleep?”

Ahnk didn’t bother turning around. There were only three people on this ship and so it made identifying the voice a simple matter.

“I’d been watching her sleep,” Ahnk admitted. “When I realized how long it had been since she’d fallen asleep and how long I’d been watching her, I knew I needed to watch something else.”

Bill sat down on a crate at the edge of the bay. “Ahnk Rashanagok, I do believe you are in love,” the former Imperial guardsman said.

Ahnk shrugged. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. “I’ve never known love. Rage, and grief. But never love.”

“The closest I’ve ever seen from you to human affection is the way you banter with your starship,” Bill retorted. “You two must go way back.”

“We’ve met twice,” Ahnk told him.

“So fast friends then,” Bill surmised.

“I gave her a concussion and put her in handcuffs,” Ahnk recalled.

“I don’t think you can do that nowadays,” Bill ruminated. “Used to be easy, meet a girl you liked, slip something in her drink, or just give her a concussion… nowadays you have to talk to her, get to know her feelings, her goals and aspirations… can’t even use handcuffs until the third date.”

“She needs to me to kill several thousand people,” Ahnk continued.

“Well at least she came to the right man,” Bill chuckled. “Dinner, a holo, genocide. She’s got the right man for the last bit anyway.” Bill stretched out a bit. This ship was pretty cramped and they’d been in hyperspace for a few days. “You have an idea of what we want to do and how we want to do it?”

“We’re going to need to put together a leadership team,” Ahnk said. “I assume I can count you in.”

“I can do you one better; I set a brother up when he was in a spot between a rock and a hard place. I know if I call, he’ll answer,” Bill said. “His names Mayfeld, Migs Mayfeld. His personality is a bit grating; asshole considers himself a standup comedian but there’s no one I’d rather have in a firefight.”

“So, myself, Auriga, and Chang are a given,” Ahnk said. “I will need someone who can coordinate with us on a tactical level. Trouble is, most of my military is either long dead or betrayed me years ago. There was one Admiral… Lord Gue. He said he just wanted to take a ship and start a family. Hopefully I can still remember how to get ahold of him.”

“There was a conman I used to know… infiltration and exfiltration…” Bill remembered. “Griffin Kahane, was his name. He was a sadsack of shit but he’d hustle his ass off if you flashed him a nice pair of legs. I think Auriga could probably flirt her way into recruiting him.”

“I ran into The Family Horn recently,” Ahnk shared. “Corran is always good in a fight, and I am sure that Vonta and Auriga will get along swimmingly.” Ahnk frowned. “I heard reports about a couple of my favourite Jedi being held captive by the Cree’Ar. If I can track down Ganner Rhysode and Kyle Katarn, that would go a long way to making me think we can pull this off.”

Bill nodded. “So, we try and find them, and spring them,” Bill posited but Ahnk shook his head. “Something else you need?”

“We need ships, we need an army, and if I’m going to march into the jaws of death and take on an entire race of religious zealots intent on my death so that I can court a woman, I think I have to at least introduce her to the closest thing I have to a mother,” Ahnk said.

“Ah yes, traditional Jedi courtship,” Bill said. “Meet, kiss, fuck, then get mom’s permission before going to war.”

“Something like that,” Ahnk said. “Besides, I can get the ships and the army in the same place and, it’s entirely possible the woman I need to talk to can help me get a line on Ganner and Katarn. We can sew up five leads in one place.”

Bill chuckled. “So what is this all encompassing magical world where we can make all of dreams come true happen to be called?”

Ahnk smirked back at him. “Sihoyguwa, alter our course to take us to Bonadan.”

When they all got tired of staring at the same field of stars, Sihoyguwa set down down on Lothal so that they could all get out and stretch their legs. A few minutes of walking and smelling the spaceport smells was more than enough convincing that when they were done stretching their legs, they’d need to start exercising their mouths.

“What did you call this?” Bill asked.

“Not sure what they call it, but it’s Corsecuan, it’s called Lo Mein,” Ahnk said, as he twirled another forkful of noodles around his fork.

“And how did you know, in this cafe, on a planet you’ve never been to, to order this?” Bill said.

“The force works in mysterious ways,” Ahnk said, and Auriga scoffed.

Bill turned to her and she set down her fork. “It’s pretty simple,” she said. “You imagine something you’ve eaten, how it tastes, how it smells, and you project that image into the mind of another, and if they know how to make something similar, your memory and their memory merge and they know what you want. And if not, you move to a different stand.”

“Being a Jedi is like living the game in easy mode, huh,” Bill said, but when Auriga glared at him and Ahnk rapped a few mechnical fingers on the table, he ate in silence for a minute or two. “How did you two meet anyway?”

“She invaded Yavin,” Ahnk began, but Auriga made a noise to interject in protest.

“Actually, it goes back further than that,” she said, and with both men turned their eyes to her she set down her fork and leaned back. “I was an ambitious child, and not always well behaved. I’d had an argument with Itala about a birthday, a really ugly scene. One day, I broke into his office. I found two lists. “LIst of Potential Targets”, and “Most Wanted Enemies”. Being mischievous, I switched the names, not knowing the implications of so doing.”

Ahnk raised an eyebrow. “Which were?”

“Well, enemies are self explanatory, but what I didn’t know was that potential targets were a list of force users allied with our family who Itala would go to with proposals of marriage,” she said, “to make sure our strongest force users married other strong force users and keep the bloodline strong.”

Bill chuckled when he understood the implication. “So instead of coming to Ahnk with a proposal of marriage…”

“...a full invasion army landed on the surface of Yavin before Itala realized the mistake,” Ahnk said. It was cold, and dry. The last words he would speak during their meal.

When the sun set on Lothal, it didn’t get any darker. Just more neon.

The spaceport remained just as lively, as aliens of all kinds on all kinds of timezones went about their business. And a few minutes outside of the spaceport, Ahnk sat, looking out at the sky above.

Even when frozen in space, he couldn’t read the stars any clearer.

He heard footsteps behind him but that noise had long ago stopped causing him to turn. Instead, he reached out and confirmed who it was, and took off his cloak. “You’ll be cold,” he said.

“So will you,” Auriga replied, but knew better than to argue with him. “You never told me why you don’t do so well in the cold. I know why I do; take the girl away from Tatooine but you’ll never take the Dune Sea out of the girl. What’s your story?”

“When I first came to Yavin, I had to prove myself in a duel with Avery, an acolyte of the Sith Brotherhood,” Ahnk began.

“As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been an expert with the blade,” she said.

“This was long before we met,” Ahnk said. “Avery defeated me easily, and then to drive home the point of how much better he was then me, he held me fast in place and then burnt me alive.”

“Gods,” Auriga sighed softly. She pulled his cloak tighter around herself, feeling her skin crawl in sympathy.

“I felt every follicle, every wrinkle sizzle and burn to a crisp,” Ahnk recalled. “Exar Kun kept me alive, but he let me feel the pain. To have that memory, for the rest of my life, and beyond. Always being able to close my eyes, smell the burnt flesh, the evaporated blood, to feel my flesh turning to ash.” Auriga didn’t say anything, so Ahnk, having been forced to recall it again, felt a shiver run down his spine. “So sometimes I feel the cold more acutely then other humans.”

“You look different,” she said, but didn’t look at him.

“I am different,” he began and then she turned and stared at him.

“Why do you look different? I’m twenty years older, so why do you look even younger now than you were then? Why are your tattoos just gone? Where did your arm go? Where did you go, Ahnk?”

“You didn’t,” Ahnk began but couldn’t say anything else.

“You left me, never to return, never to inquire, never to explain. Why? They made me watch you die, watch them tear your head from your body, and then told me I’d see you again,” she said. That caused Ahnk to flinch. “And I did see you again. For one day, and one night. And then you were gone again. And for the second time, I cried losing you.”

“I should have stayed away,” Ahnk confessed.

“But you didn’t,” she said. “You couldn’t!” She spat out, angrily. “You used me, just like Itala did. The worst part was, he did it to keep his family together. A pretty white lie, knowing I’d hate him if he didn’t tell me the truth. So what motivated you?”

“I don’t have an answer,” Ahnk told her. “I wasn’t the same person then. Not… in any measure of the word. I was a hateful, spiteful creature, driven by lust for revenge.”

“Was that all you lusted for?” she asked him, and Ahnk had to turn away. “Well, thank you for that one glorious afternoon. I am glad to have been one of the conquests of the leveller of empires, Ahnk Rashanagok.”

Ahnk didn’t say anything. He kept his back to her, until he felt her stir to leave, then half turned. “Riggs,” he said, causing her to stop.

She stood frozen on the edge of the roof. “What do you have to say for yourself, Andrew?”

He turned to face her. “I can’t ask you to forget what I did or didn’t do, nor could I ever ask your forgiveness, but maybe I can slowly start to tip the scales towards even,” he said.

She crossed her arms. “And how to do you expect to do that?”

Ahnk twisted his thumb, causing the red blade to extend from his lightsabre handle. “Point me at your enemies,” he said, “and I won’t stop until you tell me to. If you ever tell me to.”

Even illuminated in the red glow of the sabre, her expression was a mystery to him. “Well, you are much more famous for your skills as a fighter than as a lover,” she said, and then turned on her heel. “Maybe the fault in all of this is not in the stars, but in my heart. Maybe I’m just an idiot for ever expecting more. Goodnight, Ahnk Rashanagok. I’ll be locked in a cargo bay in the bow of your ship.”

As her presence faded, only emptiness remained, and Ahnk shivered, again feeling the cold. The sabre in his hand was no comfort; no warmth, and needless light. So he extinguished it, and just looked at the stars again.

They said if you could see both the position of a quantum particle, and where it was going, you could see the future. So what did it take, to travel backwards?

Was it even possible?

Or would you have to, again, let it go?

If you even could.
Posts: 3
  • Posted On: Dec 7 2021 1:55pm


“So what is our next move?”


Ahnk barely heard the question; he was lost so deep in his own head. “I’ve never done this before… I’m angry at her, she’s angry at me, I suppose one of us apologizes to the other and then we work out our issues.”


Bill sat down in the copilots seat and kicked his feet up. “I have no desire to interject myself into the mess you have created,” he said, “I meant our next move with regards to this suicide squad we are assembling.”


“Oh,” Ahnk said, leaning back in his chair. “That next step.”


Ahnk moved his fingers and brought up a starchart. “Short hop from here to Mon Calamari,” Ahnk explained. “Mon Calamari is a Coalition capital since the end of the last Dragon war. Seems a good place to check in on the Horns, and try and find a lead for this Kahane person. You said you had a line on Mayfeld?”


Bill stretched a bit and cracked his knuckles. “Give me that keyboard,” he said. Bill was old school and preferred to make connections via manual input. The screen in front of them hissed with static as the connection was made. “ISB Thirteen Thirty Eight Sixty Four, comm check on former enlisted man Mayfeld, ICC 34667.”


For a few seconds, only silence, and then a face appeared on the screen. “34667, that’s funny,” the man said chuckling. “That you Bill, you old piece of shit?”


“It is indeed,” Bill replied. “So I guess rumors of your death on Morak are somewhat exaggerated.”


“I guess that depends on if you are still commissioned or not,” Mayfeld replied.


“Not to Palpatine, Hyfe, or whatever dipshit is on the throne now,” Bill clarified. “This is an independent op. High risk, high stakes.”


“Deep pockets? Who is the client, ex warlord?” Mayfeld queried.


“Doesn’t really matter, does it, as long as it pays, right?” Bill countered.


“I’m a bit more discriminating these days,” Mayfeld said, “and my price is higher than what it once was. Former warlord, skimming from the sector might not budget for me anymore.”


Ahnk pulled the microphone closer to him. “How about ex intergalactic despot, skimming from most of the outer rim?”


Mayfeld sat back and thought about it. “There’s something familiar about you.”


“We’ve met before,” Ahnk said. “About seventeen years ago, Ord Trasai.”


“Son of Skywalker that was you?” Mayfeld’s brow furrowed. “Orders came down to hit a renegade Sith assassin. Twelve men went in, eleven died, two walked away.”


“And you told them not to come after me again,” Ahnk said. “I trust there are no hard feelings.”


“Yeah, sure. Didn’t really like any of those guys anyway, but my fee just doubled,” Mayfeld said.


“Migs you’re a sharpshooter, you’re not a pirate,” Bill interjected. “Do the job. Ahnk is good for the money.”


“Gimme the sitrep,” Mayfeld said, “brass tacks, and what I need to bring with me.”


“Ground exfiltration of occupied Cree’Ar territory, may have Yuuzhan Vong presence,” Bill laid out. “We haven’t kitted up yet so you can be ground floor for that.”


“Well, it works out for you, I am setting something up here with a couple of local boys, and their modus operandi is smash and grabs on Cree’Ar targets. I’ll have them taxi me to you. We’re on Almania. Can probably be there in six days?”


“We’ll be in Spacedock Forty Five,” Ahnk told him. Bill cut the line and Ahnk nodded. “Well, that went uncharacteristically well. I’m going to connect to the Coalition central registry, see if I can leave a forwarding call for Corran Horn.”


Bill smirked and leaned back in his chair. “You have dinner plans?”


Ahnk sighed. “Maybe a nice dinner can help go someway towards settling the mood between Auriga and I. You know a place?”


“I’ve never been here, but one name jumped out while searching the registry for this spacedock,” Bill said, and handed Ahnk a datapad.


Ahnk looked at it and frowned. “The Ocean Club, featuring the finest in Calamari, Quarren, and Galactic Food and Beverages. Featuring live music six days a week. Don’t forget to stop by in one rotation, when former holo actor Griffin Kahane will be here taking questions about his career and his autobiography “My Triumphs, My Mistakes”.”


“Should I make us a reservation?” Bill asked.

Auriga didn’t even want to talk to Ahnk.


Bill had explained the plan to her, but until she walked up onto the lowering landing ramp, no one was sure whether she’d do it or not. And so the three of them stood awkwardly, an Imperial guardsman standing between the tension of scorned lovers capable of tearing each other apart with their minds. Waiting on a washed up actor to help them as part of their army. On every face of it, it was absurd.


What made it even more laughable was the state of Kahane. When the ramp lowered, and the trio of pairs of eyes fell upon him, it was obvious to each he had seen better days. He was unshaven, and his hair was unkempt, and though it was hard to tell against the background toxicity, it was very possible he was also unwashed. His clothes are ragged, rip in places, dusty in others and smelling of stale cigarras and alcohol.


But even through it all, when he smiled at them, some of that world weariness parted, and his natural charisma shone through, it was obvious this was their man.


Obvious to Ahnk. But even more obvious to Auriga. She stepped past them, sized him up, including a close visual inspection from forehead to navel, and then she grabbed him by the scruff of his coat. “He’ll do,” she announced, then began dragging him back into the ship.


“What do you mean, he’ll do?” Bill asked, as Auriga dragged their actor, against his modest protests, past the two men and back towards the cargo hold she’d been living in. She locked the door behind her, then there was a sound of a brief struggle, and then cargo hold was filled with an entirely different kind of sound. Bill, locked out, could do nothing, and Ahnk simply looked on, forlorn, at the sealed hatch door.


They wouldn’t see Auriga again for days.






A Santhe/Sienar Star Courier was not a large ship.


It was really only intended for a crew of two. There were quarters for pilot and copilot, on opposite sides of the central galley, then a cockpit fore, and two cargo holds aft. Technically the ship had three levels, but they were more levels in size for Ugnaughts or Ewoks; it was a tight fit for humans.


And while the craft had advantages in terms of stealth, inside of it’s hull, with such cramped quarters, it was hard to keep secrets.


That sometimes meant learning more than you wanted to know about the people aboard ship.


That sound, that was a perfect example. It didn’t have as much depth and reverb as it would if it were a hand striking a bodypart with more flesh behind it, such as a breast or a butt check. Which probably meant it was a hand against a thigh. It had a bit too much punch to be a hand against something thinner, like a face; besides, that was usually followed by an admonishment, or a laugh, and since this was just followed by a moan, it was probably not a sensitive area.


It had been like this for days.


Bill had become almost desensitised to it; sometimes he could even sleep through it. Not Ahnk, though. Bill looked over in his direction, and he seemed the same as before. He simply looked at his computer screen, scrolling through it, and occasionally making an adjustment or correction to what he saw.


“Do you ever sleep?” Bill had asked, when he noticed Ahnk’s eye was twitching.


“When I can,” Ahnk said. The unstated addendum to that was that he couldn’t, at the moment, for reasons he didn’t want to elaborate on.


“Doesn’t this bother you?” Bill followed up, figuring maybe if directly pressed, he might address it.


Ahnk merely shrugged. “The universe is full of agitation,” he said, “and I learned long ago I needed to make peace with that eventually, unless I wanted to live with hands soaked in blood.”


That phrase tweaked something in Bill’s mind. He learned forward. “What are you looking at, anyway?”


Ahnk leaned back. “Financial accounts,” he said. “When I was a Sith, I couldn’t exactly walk down to the local bank and store the proceeds of my conquests and wars. So I did everything through back channels and through various fronts. I’m trying to untangle enough that I can make sure we have what we need without needing to bank anymore credit.”


“How expensive is an army?” Bill asked.


“Depends on how large your army is,” Ahnk retorted and then there was a beep. “Sihoyguwa,” Ahnk answered.


“I have a pizza delivery for a Hank Ragnarok,” a voice answered, “two meat lovers and a veggie special.”


“Alright Mayfeld, we’ll meet at the designated coordinates,” Ahnk said, and thumbed the line off. “You want to come?”


Bill looked at Ahnk. “I was about to ask you the same thing,” Bill said. “Last time you met this guy was in battle.”


“Which is why I need to size him up and make sure we’re all on the same side now,” Ahnk countered back. “But up to you if you want to be there.”


Bill considered for a few seconds. “You know, I think I might hang back,” he replied, “I can only take so much Migs Mayfeld before it starts to wear thin.”


“As you please,” Ahnk said. He reached over into the galley and grabbed his lightsaber and his robe, then headed for the landing ramp, hitting a button on the way to lower it and ducking out of view.


Bill immediately switched seats. When he went to use Ahnk’s terminal, though, it didn’t respond. “Sihoyguwa, please unlock this terminal,” Bill asked, politely.


“That would be contrary to protocols,” the computer replied.


“Analyze your internal surveillance, and perform an emotional assessment on Ahnk Rashanagok,” he said. “Consider; access to this terminal can allow me to normalize his emotional state.”


Sihoyguwa didn’t answer right away, instead calculating it. It then beeped in the affirmative, and Bill started scrolling. He heard another slap, another moan, and then he tuned it out. He had here what he needed to put a stop to this absurdity, all he had to do was interpret the data…






Mayfeld was good.


He’d picked a spot in the docking port where he had easy access to cover. He had a wall behind him, crowds around to get lost in, and easy ways to disappear if things went sour.


Of course, as good as Migs was, Ahnk was better. “You don’t trust easy,” Ahnk said, as he leaned against the wall beside Mayfeld.


“Okay, how the fuck did you get beside me without me seeing you coming?” Migs said. “I’ve had two eyes open for you since I entered this plaza,” he explained.


“Sure, but you put your back to a wall, and that wall has a door in it,” Ahnk said. “It’s an advantage for me, that I don’t need to see you, to know where you are.”


“Fucking force users…” Mayfeld said. “You know what, you force users, and the Mandolorians, you’re perfectly suited for each other. Should have hunted each other to extinction and left the rest of us alone.”


Ahnk smiled. “I need to know that you and I aren’t going to have issues, given our past history,” Ahnk said. “I already have one person on my ship who wants to kill me, I don’t want to let that number get any larger.”


Mayfeld chuckled. “Yeah, why don’t I find that surprising, you’re such a likeable guy,” Migs said. “You should have been there, when I told my crew we’d be meeting up with you,” he said, amused.


“It’s a small universe,” a voice said from a little past Ahnk. “But, somehow, if you look for the center of all it’s chaos and violence, it will swirl around Ahnk Rashanagok, a quantum singularity of suffering and despair.”


Ahnk turned his entire body to square up with the interloper. “It’s good to see you too, Corran,” Ahnk said, sticking out his hand.


Corran Horn took the accepted arm and pulled Ahnk in for a big hug. “It’s been too long, old friend,” he said, as the two Jedi embraced.


“Not long enough for my taste,” came a third voice.


Corran turned disapprovingly. “Vonta…”


“Look, I said I’d do it, let’s just get on with this,” she said.


Mayfeld chuckled again. “You just seem to have that effect on people, don’t you baldy?” he said, and then started walking out of the plaza. “Hey, why are you just a bald white guy anyway. Where are your tattoos? Where are your fangs? You used to seem a lot scarier. You trying to rebrand? Huh? Now that Star Wars is owned by Disney, want to be more palatable to a family audience?”


“Bill was right about you; a regular stand up comedian,” Ahnk said. “I’m just up ahead. There’s a spare cargo bay, you and Vonta can take that, Mayfeld, you can bunk with Bill in the copilots suite. It might get a bit cramped and we’ll need to figure out a schedule for showering, but we can make it work until we get to Bonadon.”


“Speaking of showers,” Vonta said.


“Vonta,” Corran began but she continued anyway.


“You look like shit, Ahnk,” she said. “What, you couldn’t be bothered throwing on a fresh robe?”


“Sorry, I missed the laundromat at the last hyperlane,” he said. “That’s me, up there.”


Ahnk was worried that as they walked up, they’d heard the normal cacophony of mating noises, but he was pleased that for the moment, things seemed to have quieted down. Ahnk was even more surprised to see that, on the other side of the ship, Griffin Kahane was standing on the docking port, having a cigarra. He didn’t appear to have pants on.


Vonta got halfway up the ramp and then turned and walked back down. “I don’t think this is going to work,” she said, and then added, “you ship stinks of sex.”


As she started walking off, Corran shrugged. “I think I’m going to corral her into a bar and we can discuss this over drinks,” he said. “Come meet us when your house is in order, Ahnk,” Corran said and then turned to follow his brash younger relative.


Mayfeld laughed again. “Well, this little adventure is off to a magical start, huh,” he said. He didn’t mind the smell, and charged inside without hesitation.


Leaving Ahnk to look around, alone, and unsure of his next move.


Well, mostly alone. “Man,” Kahane said, “Auriga really hates you, huh. We never got formally introduced before. Griffin Kahane.”


Ahnk looked at his offered hand, and instead stepped past it and punched him in the ribs, which caused the actor to collapse to the ground, bleeding internally.


“Yeah, I tend to have that effect on people,” Ahnk informed him. “Not sure why.”


Then Ahnk walked up the ramp and left Kahane to spew blood and smoke from his mouth as he writhed in agony on the floor.






Several hours passed. The sun cycled in the sky and for the first time in a while, she felt acutely alone.


There were lots of things you can do to pretend you’re not alone. Hate someone. Fuck someone. Miss someone. But none of those things ever makes you feel less alone; sometimes you can forget for a time. But time is fleeting. The loneliness remains.


Her philosophical musing was interrupted by a knock at the bulkhead just inside her door. She turned, and only when she saw his face and the look of surprise did she remember she was naked. “Don’t bother, I can’t still have modesty at this point,” she said. “What is it?”


Bill was still avoiding looking directly at her. She was sitting on the edge of the cargo bay, bay door open to the outside space, a blanket between her and the cold steel of the ship, a cigara rested on the edge of the bay floor. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt you,” he said. He did not, however, explain why he had.


“Have you seen that actor?” She asked. She reached down and pulled the cigara to up to her lips. “He told me he was going to try and source some food. Something about needing more energy to keep up with a younger woman.”


“Ah,” Bill said, eyes rolling. “Well, he said the wrong thing to Ahnk and Ahnk broke several of his ribs and collapsed a lung,” Bill recalled.


“Why the hell did he do that?” Auriga asked, tossing her cigara in anger.


“Because Ahnk Rashanagok is not good at being a human being,” Bill noted, matter of factly. “His natural instinct to respond to provocation is with violence, and he’s had five days of provocation echoing through the bulkheads of his ship. Now maybe you have gained some sort of moral victory by behaving as you have, but it’s not won you any ground, and given you staring longingly out into the cold of the night, you don’t feel any better for all that fucking you’ve done.”


She didn’t want to answer any of his charges, but felt cold for having heard them. She grabbed the blanket from beneath her arse and wrapped it around her torso instead. “How is Griff?” she asked.


“He’ll be fine,” Bill told her, able to look at her now that he could focus on her face. “Vonta healed the damage and Corran is healing his spirits. I had Mayfeld stand guard outside incase Kahane wants to go a second round with an angry Sith, and also because I wanted to talk to you.”


She smirked. “You don’t even know me. What could we possibly have to talk about?”


“Perception,” Bill said. He pulled a hand from behind his back. “I have a datapad here,” he said, and then produced a second in the same fashion in his other hand, “actually, I have two. I want to give you one now, and let you look over it.”


He threw the pad her way and it took some measure of coordination to keep herself covered with one hand and catch it with the other. “What’s on it?”


“Numbers, at the moment,” he said. “Take a look.”


She did. “Looks like a bank statement,” she said. “Dates, amounts.”


“Yeah, that’s the source data,” he said. “Tap the screen.”


She did. Each line disappeared, and the numbers were replaced with different numbers. “These look like spacial coordinates,” she reasoned.


“Right again,” Bill said. “Each coordinate is a link. Click one.”


She did and almost dropped the pad. “What the hell is that?”


“It’s exactly what you think it is,” Bill said. “Click the screen again to make it disappear.”


She did. Then she clicked again, a different link this time. Then off again. Then another link. “What the hell is this you’ve created?”


“It’s a catalogue of a decade of contract work,” Bill explained. “For the Outer Rim Sovereignty, against Imperial Officers. And for The ISB, against Sovereign Operatives. For IDTech against rival corporations. For The Vinda Corporation. Oh, that one, five down from the top. Gavin. A fellow Sith. There’s also a few of those. Of course, this is just a list of contract murders. That doesn’t count ones he did for personal reasons, just the ones he got paid for.”


Auriga looked at him, coldly. “I don’t understand.”


“Not yet, but we’re closer,” Bill said. “You’re part of a family who murder as a matter of course. I won’t argue your justifications, or pretend to moralize as if I’d never killed anyone, just making a point. Someone gives you a list of corpses, and after you get over your initial shock, it’s just a list of names. Go ahead, toss the pad. Ready for pad two?”


Auriga dropped the first pad and caught the second one. She raised it up and examined it. “It’s blank,” she said.


Bill nodded. “I didn’t know how to spell your name. Would you mind?”


Auriga looked down at the blank pad. She spelt her name and it appeared as the only entry on that pad.


“Ahnk Rashanagok is a monster. There’s no changing that, prettying it up or downplaying it. He’s emotionally detached, casually violent, and without moral limitations on his actions. That pad,” Bill said, pointing at the pad on the ground, “is full of hundreds of reasons to hate him, reasons to wish him dead, to curse his name, to wish he never existed. It’s the reason thousands of people wouldn’t hesitate to see him dead. It’s full of plenty of valid reasons to want nothing to do with the man. It’s a list of everytime for the course of over a decade, where Ahnk visited a person. Except for one time.”


Bill stopped and she looked down at that pad, then up at the second one in her hand.


“That second pad is the one time he visited someone out of compassion,” Bill said. “Whatever else happened, he came to you, not because someone paid him to kill you, but because he felt something stir in his otherwise cold, dead heart. He didn’t want you to live with the memory of his head rolling on the sand. And yes, things went badly from there on out. I don’t know the details like you. But I know, if I had a choice which of those pads my name was on? Not a hard choice in my opinion.”


Auriga considered her words, looking down at the second pad. Her hand started to shake a little.

“You want to hate Ahnk Rashanagok, go ahead. You’ll be in good company,” Bill told her. “But hate him for the monster he is. Not the one day he tried to be a good person.”


Bill left and the hatch door closed behind her. And no blanket in the world would keep her warm against the wave of cold she felt surround her.


Gods damn him.

Posts: 5387
  • Posted On: Dec 26 2021 1:37pm
“You are a cagey old fuck, I will give you that.”

The gaze that stared back at him remained as emotionless as it usually was. No head tilts or neck cocking to tell what was under that shiny green helmet.

“Listen, I know your recent moves have been uncharacteristically opportunistic, and I know that staring your own mortality in the face can lead you to more impulsive courses of action, but I also know, that you know, preparedness makes you powerful my old friend. A throne is just a chair, unless you have something backing it. You have your name. But you need resources to reinforce that name, lest someone challenge that name. And you know, from my name, and the people I represent, that I can give you that reinforcement.”

Once again, there was no immediate answer. And when there was, it was a soft chuckle. “You have a lot of nerve, cracking wise about me being old. Weren’t you a hatchet man for Palpatine on his way up to his throne? And you lecture me on what it takes to hold mine?”

“No lectures, old friend,” the man said, sitting back in his chair. “Kion mi povas omnia possum al vi, estas la vero; kion vi faras id agitis peragai, dependas ad vos de vi.”

Another few moments of silence followed. “Pike’s word was enough; your track record and longevity reinforced initially held beliefs. Very well, I’ll make the first deposit later today.”

“There is one other matter I wanted to address. I take it that with your taking over all associated businesses that the palace will be reopening to the general public?”

The slight incline of the helmet was like raucous laughter compared to his normal stoicism. “Need a place to lay low?”

“The opposite, actually. I owe someone a favour and I thought a month or so, all expenses covered by me, would be a suitable method of repayment.”

“Then let me reassure you, when Jabba’s Hotel, Casino, and Palace Of Pleasure reopens, there will be a suite for Ahnk Rashanagok, or whatever scoundrel does business with him,” the man behind the helmet said with a nod.

“Dankauru, malnova amtawhito; waimarie pai,” then the helmetted head nodded even deeper before the hologram of it disappeared into thin air.

Then Ahnk was left alone with his silence. A silence he broke. “Thank you for waiting until I was done,” he told the woman at the door. “Most people wouldn’t be so polite.”

“Let’s begin our introductions by confirming that neither of us are most people; most people wouldn’t let themselves into a locked office and begin using it as their own.” For a few moments, both simply looked at the other. “We did wonder, for a long time, whose office this was. Tried to assign it several times to various people. It always ended up back where it started.”

“Sometimes I need a place to go where I can work on my spreadsheets,” Ahnk replied dryly. He went as far as to lean even further back in his chair, reclining it, and kicking his feet up on the desk.

The woman in the doorway crossed her arms. “Would you like a meiloorun?” she asked. Ahnk gave no indication, so she continued her thought, “If you really want to make yourself look like an indifferent asshole, you should be casually nibbling on a piece of fruit.”

Ahnk smiled at that. “I feel hungrier than just a piece of fruit,” he said, and placed his feet back on the floor. “Care for lunch?”

“Actually, I came to see what you were doing here,” she said, and then rewound a little in her head, “of course, I know what you’re doing here in terms of the transfer of assets, and after that stunt with Amalia we knew you entered the office before you even sat down. What is it with you and losing your clothes anyway? First Amalia drags you in handcuffs and no pants into our custody then she tells me about a duel between Organa and you where you were likewise deprived of your clothing.”

“I suppose when you have been in several duels where you lost your life, losing your clothes doesn’t seem so bad,” Ahnk said. He took her point, though, and sat his feet back down on the ground. “How is Amalia anyway?”

The woman narrowed her eyes at him. “Why is it always women with you, Ahnk? How many of them are there now, that you feel inclined to check in on, obligated to look after, to atone for your various sins? Does it help you sleep at night?”

Ahnk leaned forward into the desk a little bit. “Alright then, tell me, how is Achinta?”

That caught her off guard and she leaned back. “Amalia is fine,” she said. “You know Ahnk, we’ve been processing a lot of asset management, transportation of equipment lately, beyond the scope of what you normally ask us for. And I understand that your father and I had certain arrangements, and that he never specifically told me details of what they were, but he told me if I was uncomfortable with anything…”

“You’re worried that my business is going to reflect badly on yours,” Ahnk said, plainly. He’d heard that concern before. It wasn’t unjustified.

But she shook her head. “I’ve done enough to isolate the financial affairs from the political wheelings and dealings. I don’t think anything you do is going to sully my reputation, but I am concerned with what I see. I follow the money and… it doesn’t look like it’s coming back.”

Ahnk stood up. He looked down at the ground, very tense and serious, as he closed the distance between them, setting his hand on her shoulders. “Well, then you’ll be getting your office back,” he said, a hint of dry sarcasm on his voice. There was, though, an unmistakable amount of fear as well.

The woman sighed. “Ahnk, you are such an asshole,” she said, and then turned and walked away from him to the side door of the room. “At least I don’t have to be alone with that opinion.”

She pushed the door open before Ahnk could offer objection or question, and immediately the hot air rushed out of the room. Ahnk had chosen an empty office in an empty wing of an otherwise quiet processing center on Bonadan, on the top floor of a not particularly tall tower in the downport district. It did have two advantages, in that it was an office, with exterior access, to a small exterior landing pad. Large enough for a Sith Infiltrator to land, and large enough for someone inside to wander outside that ship and look out at the city below.

Natalya Vinda, for her part, had seen this city many times. What interested her was the stranger. “I don’t believe that we’ve been introduced,” she said. She realized she hadn’t drawn the woman’s attention in the slightest so she loudly cleared her throat, which also did nothing.

“Auriga,” Ahnk said, having drawn the hood of his robe over his head and stepped behind Vinda.

“Shi…” she began, and then as if she was awakened from a dream, realized there were other people present. “Oh, I’m sorry, I must look like an idiot, wandering around and staring off into space. I’m Auriga Marzullo. Ahnk is helping me with a matter of personal importance.”

“He does that,” Vinda said, part confirmation she knew that was true and part critique that she probably knew there were more details left unspoken. “I’m Natalya Vinda. I’m the administrator of this planet.”

Auriga turned to her and offered her hand. “Then I owe you my thanks,” she said.

Vinda was, uncharacteristically, caught off guard. “Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely helping you out of the goodness of my heart. Moreso… indirectly. Ahnk has a way of using people to get what he needs whether they feel like helping him or not.”

Auriga’s expression soured, and she turned to Ahnk. “He does that too, don’t you Shiver,” she said and then turned back to Vinda. “Let me assure you that I will use what resources I have available to make sure that you and compensated for your troubles.”

That was twice now. “Oh, you don’t… it’s not a matter of compensation, more…”

“...the fact that my lover is a selfish and self centered asshole? Consider yourself fortunate, once we take off he’ll be out of your hair, maybe for good,” Auriga continued.

“Auriga…” Ahnk began but he knew she was in a mood and there’d be no stopping her.

“Stingy with the details? That’s not a surprise either,” she continued as if Ahnk didn’t exist. “My people… my family… we’re trapped in a spiral arm of the galaxy, with nothing between us and the core but a war between the Cree’Ar and the Yuuzhan Vong. We can’t fight one. We need to fight two. And Ahnk has graciously agreed to lead an expedition to try and see what can be done of the matter.”

Natalya nodded now. She’d thought it was something like that. “That explains a lot,” Natalya said. “I was curious about one more thing. You seemed… distracted, when I walked out there and said hello to you. What had you so fascinated?”

Auriga turned to her with a smile. She wrapped her hand around Vinda’s and then spread their arms, out to their sides…

…over the covering of the docking bay, over the open air, where a second of exposure meant they were covered by the falling snow. That caused Vinda to smile too. “Not unusual, this time of year, this part of the planet…”

“I’ve lived most of my life on Tattooine,” Auriga said in return. The two stood there, almost like they were dancing, both experiencing something new, one directly, one vicariously, until Ahnk started laughing. “Naturally, you’d be the one to ruin such a moment…” Auriga said, and turned to him.

Only to not find him there. Ahnk had stepped past both of them, taken off his hood, and was letting the snow fall onto his bald head. “I spend so much time in space, even something as simple as falling water can remind you what’s really important,” Ahnk said. “I was reviewing the shipping manifests of the equipment I had sent. Happened upon the date.”

Vinda nodded in understanding. Auriga, meanwhile, wasn’t sure what he was referring to. “What is important about today’s date?”

“Well, not today, but yesterday,” Ahnk said.

“It’s Life Day,” Vinda said. “It’s a… celebration, of… the things that bring us together. The ones we care about and our shared bonds,” she said, and then gears began to turn behind her eyes. “Why don’t you spend the night on planet? We can arrange a small spread, comfortable beds, let the other mercenaries in your company get out and stretch their legs…”

Auriga smiled but softly shook her head. “We wouldn’t want to inconvenience you…”

Vinda smirked. “I’m rich, bitch,” she said and gestured around her. “I won’t have to do shit, I’ll just pay someone else to do it.”

That caused Auriga to smile even wider. “I’d love to spend Life Day with you… and even Ahnk,” she said. The two women then became aware of a new presence, a male aide who had entered the docking bay with a datapad of some sort.

“Excuse me, Lady Vinda, but I…” the man said but then stopped abruptly as his face exploded in ice and snow.

Both Auriga and Vinda turned to Ahnk, who had balled up the snow and thrown it at the aide. “We were having a moment, good sir,” Ahnk said in protest.

Then everyone but the aide started laughing.

Some hours later, at a different balcony much higher above the city, Ahnk took a sip of a Tionese Wine as he watched Auriga and Mayfeld share a laugh inside.

“So this is goodbye,” Vinda’s voice caused him to turn slightly.

“I don’t know for sure,” Ahnk said, “but I thought it prudent to put precautions in place.”

Vinda nodded. “She seems nice,” Vinda said, taking a sip of her own wine. “You’re going to destroy her, aren’t you?”

Ahnk grinned at her. “Did that already, years ago,” then he turned out towards the lights below. “Now to help build her back up.”

Vinda reached into her pocket, producing a pack of cigarras. “Try and leave a little bit of her intact,” she said, lighting the cigarra. “Enough Ahnk Rashanagok clones running around.”

He turned, and snarled at her. He grabbed the ciggara from her mouth and put it between his own lips. “Shit way to go, this is,” he said, taking a drag, and then throwing it into the city below.

Vinda turned to him in kind and frowned. “What isn’t a shit way to go?”

“I’ve tried a couple if you want recommendations,” Ahnk retorted, standing his ground.

She didn’t say anything, looking past Ahnk to the laughter inside. “Let’s be honest with each other, Ahnk,” she said. “I’m not my father. And, thank the force, you’re not my father either.”

Ahnk wasn’t sure how to respond to either of those statements, so he said nothing.

“You’re not here to say goodbye to me,” Vinda said, “you’re here to say goodbye to her.”

Ahnk shrugged. “Would be rude not to,” he said, just shy of confirming it.

Vinda sighed. She reached for another ciggara, hesitated, and then tossed the container off into the city instead. “I’ll make some calls. But if you ever set foot on this planet again, Auriga better follow, and she better be smiling,” Vinda said. “You’ve left enough death in your wake. I hold you personally responsible for that woman’s safety, security, and comfort. Or you can consider all your accounts forfeit.”

Ahnk turned and looked back over the city, taking another deep sip of wine. “I’ll do what I can,” he said, not willing to commit to anything.

Natalya Vinda turned to leave but then stopped at the entrance to the dining hall ahead. “Before you go, there’s one thing here that may be of some help to you. It was something my father left me. I could barely stand to look at it, but maybe you might be able to put it to good use. It’s in a cargo locker, in the commercial docking bay at the base of this tower. Locker 84.”

Ahnk had slinked away from the dinner before dessert arrived.

He was a fan of mysteries but sometimes someone gave you a clue that would drive you mad if you just let it linger. Ahnk had to know.

So he took an elevator to ground level. This wasn’t Coruscant, so that wasn’t as dangerous as it otherwise might be. Then, he pulled the hood over his cloak again, and snuck to the locker in question.

It had been locked with a complex electronic locking mechanism, but didn’t seem to be alarmed, and the silver shaft clipped to his belt was pretty handy at disabling locks and doors.

As the broken lock smoked on the floor, Ahnk reached up, and pressed the button to open the cargo locker.

And he nodded in appreciation.

“Funny, I didn’t ask for anything, and yet she knew exactly what to get me,” Ahnk said. He started thinking of how to get this into his ship. “What a Life Day. And I’ve never even really cared for this holiday.”

Ahnk couldn’t stop grinning. What a perfect gift. This had turned out to be a wonderful stop.

“Ah… hello again, old friend…”