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He should have killed him. That was the only conclusion that the twisted serpent could make as he watched the bloody mass of limbs and fear cackle and cough with his own blood coating the area.

 

Silently his massive coils parted the sea of grass that made up much of the rural areas of Kuat; following enough of a distance behind to be able to lash out or vanish in a flash of dark glistening scales if needed. Even blinded the poor green being seemed to be able to stumble abnormally well. There was something with this offworlder, something so many of those he had stalked on this world lacked.

 

Soon enough, they found themselves traversing through the smoky area of what Snake knew to be the estate of one of Kuat’s more powerful lordlings; one who thought that he could rule by means of his wealth. The smell of burnt flesh mingled with the auras of the recently dead and dying; their screams longing to be snuffed and devoured flesh and soul. Snake’s tongue flicked the air faster and faster. His desire to feast had not yet been satisfied; only the green two-legged’s connection to a greater power had saved him thus far. Perhaps, the Neimoidian would live to be devoured another day. There was plenty here to easily prey upon. As they moved onwards, Snake weaved between the torn up Burroughs of earth and fallen limbs and whole trees.

 

Slithering beneath a downed tree, his body parting the soft recently upheaved earth, Snake sensed the power he had felt when he had first encountered the green weakling. But something was amiss; something about the power had changed. Where before there had been a confidence that bordered on absolute assuredness, there was now a jagged edge of burning pain. Pain and rage, unfettered unbridled hatred; and it radiated forth from the pit that Nok had blindly discovered. A mangled mess was being hoisted up by two cowardly armored soldiers. The scene raised up hints of confusion and wonder in the massive serpent. In his wordless mind the thoughts that arose in him made him question his own judgment. This was the being of power? A bloody mess sporting fewer limbs asymmetrically. Why would I have desired this power? I already rule here. Whatever did this to him, I could assuredly best.

 

Snake’s tongue flicked the air. He could taste the fresh blood and burnt flesh of the armored being. Snake could feel the life force ebbing out of whatever this master of the green mottled fleshling was. Still the man clung to life, even though he should be falling from it something held him to this world. The burning rage. It was an emotion Snake had not experienced. Hunger? Yes. Fear? Yes. Anger? Yes. Rage? Never. Even if this being had been bested like his blind follower, he had something about him.

 

And Snake wanted that! He hungered for it, deep in his belly. He would find this powerful rage and harness it as his own.

 

Yours will be mine!

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(Sorry for the wait.)

 

"Took her long enough" Remo computed to himself as the third tread spun him around and he started making his way down the path he had mapped out earlier toward the civilian area of the drive yards. It wasn't far, a few corridors to the east. But by now, the Imperials were in full retreat. Cautiously, Remo made his way down a narrow path before turning down another one to his right, his head spinning about to ensure the woman was following.

 

Every now and then, Remo and the two tag alongs were forced to duck for cover as Imperial deserters attempted to flee came closing in. Had Remo been by himself, this task would have been an easier one as they would overlook a droid. But this woman and her captive, their Empress as the latter had proclaimed, would stick out like a sore thumb. And if he was going to get out of this blasted warzone, they would need to remain unseen.

 

Taking another turn, this time to the left, Remo was slightly surprised when the trio encountered a group of Imperials. As he rocked his form in surprise, the leader almost automatically recognizing the unconscious woman as his beloved Empress, Remo was left little choice. As his circular saw sprouted forth along with his electroshock probe, he made short work of the Imperialists, spinning on his axis, with both blood and lightning engrossing their feeble forms. "Fleshies... pathetic." His binary coding blurped out.

 

And finally they made it to the hanger where the Obsidian Phoenix was docked, Remo having to cut loose the clamp that anchored his repaired ship. It took a few minutes to do so, and in that time, more Imperials showed up, one of the previously encountered ones likely having survived and calling in their position. Lower his boarding ramp, Remo turned toward the two as if saying "let's get out of here" before boarding his own self. As he waited for the other two, Remo fired her up and patched into her mainframe, activating the turrets. Almost maniacally, he began blasting the hanger before turning the ship around and blasting into open space.

 

Now all that was left was for the woman to provide them clearance before her downside blasted them into oblivion.

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Chaos.... it erupted from within the confined room in fits of hysterical laughter as hopelessness and reality began to set in. He had lost utterly. And for his failure, death seemed a reasonable price to pay. If only he had discovered its secrets, then perhaps he would not fear it. But even in his laughter, the amount of fear he felt was spoken in volumes. How could he have failed his Master? How could he have lost to such a weaker being? It was unprecedented. Or was he the weaker being, having been sheltered most of his life, lifted into self belief of his own greatness by those in his family's servitude? So many questions crossed his mind.

 

"Milenko, you fool." He jested to himself, swiping his glove through his dark hair as he laid there, the pain of his mortality overbearing the pain of the burns and wounds inflicted upon his form. "There was never any greatness to begin with. You were made a fool of, jokes likely laughed behind your back by those whom filled your head with status quo."

 

Milenko cringed as his laughter and words made his muscles ache, the burns and wounds made evident only in times of movement. To think he was a prince of the House Shiro, to be laying in the filth of his enemies after such a loss. It was unthinkable. It was disgraceful. Even in the eyes of his Master, the great Sheog. And the persona he had acquired, Mammon. How could he carry such a title if he couldn't beat a lowly Imperial? He needed to grasp... wait, that was it. He needed to grasp at all, not just his own desires. Life, materials, the Force, titles, land, even his brother's crown. He needed to grasp it all.

 

Lifting himself up, and grabbing his vibrodagger, he finished off what the Imperial had started with his legs. The pain was almost unbearable, but he managed to free himself from their weakened state as blood poured from the wounds. Removing the vibroknucklers from his hands, he placed them over his stubs in makeshift silos, using them to cut off the circulation and blood flow. With the torn cloth that adorned his chest, he stuff portions into his opened wounds and wrapped what remained over them, tightening it and plugging them as best he could.And then he began to think.

 

Feeling the force flow back into him, he could feel the wake of the Sith's assault, feel the death and destruction that surrounded him. But most importantly, he could feel the last of his experiements, the brutish Two, on his way toward him. Milenko could only guess that the neural link remained, and having felt his Master in danger, came in search of him. Within moments the door of the shute opened and Two stood over Milenko, the syringe tossed aside while he gathered his creator.

 

It wouldnt be long before Milenko Shiro would be brought before his own Master, Sheog, after his devastating loss.

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The Templars and their imperial remnant had been sorely beat, though the battle was nearly won in the hanger in favour of the Empire, there was little hope of salvaging the station, the rings, or even the empress. Her comms had gone silent, and the last thing that had been heard was that assassins were striking at her position. Beth blinked back the tears that were blossoming at the corners of her eyes from the acrid smoke that had filled the hanger. She fluttered her eyelids to clear them and then swiped at her eyes with the back of her glove. The stinging didn’t depart her eyes so Beth just rolled her eyes and dumped the rest of her magazine at the last of the Sith in the hanger. Empty plastine carbide shells spat against the side of the supply crate that had been her cover from the ejector port of her rifle. The smell of cordite filled her mouth again as she checked her chest rig for extra magazines. There were none so her hand found her dump pouch and found it empty as well. She cursed and drew her E-11 carbine from its holster on her right thigh. With well practised, if tired hands, she flipped down the carbine’s folding stock and after locking it in place began to search for more targets.

 

Then her eyes caught sight of the Imperial Knight in his battered armour, signalling for her and her men to begin the retreat. Sadness splashed like a wave over Beth Andromina as she passed the signal on to her men and they formed a firing line and began to fall back alongside the Imperial Knight. Beth herself beside him in his red armour and she held her blaster at the ready in case more of the Sith began their assault. But for now they edged towards the Caridian Pride, a Lambda shuttle whose ramp was lowered for cargo that would never come.

 

More stormtroopers were following them, and Beth beckoned them onboard as she and her men began to fill the crew stations. She gestured to the Imperial knight and motioned him to sit on the jumpseat behind her. She began to flick ignition switches as she grabbed her water bottle from her backpack. She took a long drink and passed it to the dark haired knight.

 

“What’s your story ser knight?” It was absentminded conversation, but it was comforting as she hit the sensor relay switch and saw that there were no gravity wells outside of Kuat proper. It would be a burst of sublight until they could pull hyperspace.

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Borsk's head snapped back, his face a mask of pain and anger. A rogue bolt, fired by the wily girl he was attacking, had struck true, shattering the facemask of his gift-helmet. Blood dripped down his forehead, blocking any view from the left side of his face. He didn't know whether it was from his eye itself, whether he would ever be able to see from it again, all he knew was the blinding pain, pain like he had not felt in many years. Through the broken glass-like material, his good eye squinted forward, his target focused with a greater passion. She moved fast, with an agility he did not believe any human could possess, leaping between ornamental trees and expensive rocks. He noticed that she did not widely vary her angle, however, keeping herself between him and something hidden behind.

 

The bolts continued to fly, joined by the rolling form of a grenade. To the practised eye of the veteran warrior, it was a fragmentation grenade, preset with standard imperial codes. It was unlikely, particularly while carrying the body of the deceased mercenary, that he would be able to kick away or avoid the explosive range. Also, he had no idea of when the grenade might go off, trying to pick one up and having it blow up in his hands was not an enviable fate. Thinking quickly, Borsk threw the body of the mercenary down toward the grenade, his bolt ridden form hopefully enough to cover up the explosion. However, he was now devoid of any cover from the endless fire as he charged across the open ground towards his enemy.

 

The body blew up beside him, corpse launching up and to the side, only a few shreds of exploded metal impacting the armor of the Trandoshan. His success in protecting himself from the grenade was counterbalanced by the impacts of more rounds, several getting into the gaps of his heavy armor, leaving burning wounds and limiting his mobility. Taking the offensive again, Borsk charged into close range, only a dozen paces from his athletic opponent. He moved like a carrier, slow to start but difficult to stop once going. Dropping the concussion rifle, Borsk pulled the LS-150 Heavy Accelerated Charged Particle Repeater Gun from his back, spraying rounds as he pulled the machine gun toward his target. His aim on target, Borsk continued firing, trying to stop her rapid movements and get her into close range, a hundred tiny rounds ready to tear her to fleshy shreds with the traditional weapon of the Trandoshan Heavy Mercenary.

 

 

((2))

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Camik sat in the cockpit of his ship. It felt strange sitting in the armor, but he was determined to get used to it. HIs brain had not truely processed that his Master had been defeated. That would likely be saved for the deepness of space. For now he concentrated on his task. Oni bot had given him convoluted directions to a place he had never heard before, stressing secrecy.

 

He was unsure of why this planet was secret but his master was not there and getting an answer out of Oni Bot was likely to be an exercise in futility. For now he simply plotted his random courses and prepared for hyperspace.

 

Once that was done he went back to the cargo hold and looked for his rebreather. He was sure there was one on board it was just a question of where he had left it.

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Nok's lip curled in a sneer for only a second before he smoothed it away, his face relaxing into a practiced calm hiding his pain and disgust. His master had been beaten, and thoroughly. His master's rage still burned, the ripples the emotion made in the Force coating the landscape in sharp detail like a paper thin gauze. But his rage had not saved him. His power had not saved him. Was this what Nok wanted?

 

No. This warrior, this honor-bound fool was not what Nok sought to be. He was weak. Though, not powerless. Nok could still sense his immense power. He was weak because he let himself be controlled by his rage, by his warrior code, by his bull-headed honor and lust for battle. He was weak the way a rancor was weak. Fierce but unsubtle and unrefined.

 

...and unwitting.

 

Yes. He would still be useful. He could teach Nok how to control the Force, how to wield it and rule it as a tool. And through it he would rule everything connected to it. All life, all creation would dance at his hand. But Nok wouldn't be so foolish as to think he would do it Akheron's way. If one fact was clear from historical accounts of the Sith, it was that the direct approach never worked for them. Armies fell, dark masters were betrayed and slain, and through it all the Jedi weathered their precious rage.

 

Until a certain Sith named Palpatine came to power.

 

Palpatine hadn't let his rage control him. From what little Nok knew of the infamous emperor, he had been a man of composure and cunning. A trickster, a scholar, and a mystic all in one, the emperor who had ruled the galaxy did so subtly. His plans had not been from a man of wrath. They'd come from a man of thought. A man...like Nok.

 

Nok smiled. He couldn't help it. He'd just realized that he was the only player on a game board the size of the galaxy. This serpent was a simple creature, desiring only to satisfy his hunger. The right incentive would be all it took to keep it in line and directed at Nok's enemies. And Nok's so called master was little better. Warriors loved their own prowess most of all. All Nok had to do was play the dutiful student and his "teacher" would eat it up and give Nok his knowledge. He'd try to mold Nok into an idol, a miniature version of his own honorable idiocy. And when Nok had all he wanted from the man...well, that would be an interesting day.

 

Of course...it could be interesting right now.

 

Yes...he could use this situation to his advantage. If it worked the way he thought it might, the serpent would be cowed, or at least intrigued enough to behave. Perhaps the serpent might even learn to respect Nok's cunning and appreciate the importance of wit as well as strength.

 

And if it went the other way, well then Nok would be free to seek a master more to his disposition.

 

Serpent... Nok mentally called to the creature, pulling back the veil on his thoughts. Images and impressions formed his message better than words. My master is weak. We must protect him. He's vulnerable. Nok tinged his thoughts with fear, fear for his master and fear that Snake might attack. Fake fear yes, but Nok had been faking emotions for decades. That was just good business.

 

Now to see if the serpent took the bait. Would he attack a weakened creature, assured as he was by Nok that his master was no threat? Or would he hold? Nok didn't think it likely that the serpent would catch on to Nok's game until it was too late. After all, how could an language-less animal left alone it's whole life possibly pick up on the concept of lying?

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((Plenty of time given for people to interfere, assuming non interference and moving to hyperspace))

 

Aidan took a swig from the bottle as explosions kept rocking the ship, peppering fire from the Sith as they made their escape.

 

"My story? I'd rather not get into that right now. I just saw my Master die, there are reports the Queen has been captured, and I'm just not quite having a great day."

 

He sighed, handing back the water, cradling the items he'd taken in his lap. Three lightsabers in all, and the face mask of the Sith who had slain his Master.

 

"I've just...I've seen too much tragedy in my life. I'm not even that old...I'm just ready for something positive to come along, you know? An end to all this senseless killing. And I'm not strong enough to bring it to an end."

 

He held up the damaged tetrahedron in his hand, already noting how the internal chassis had begun repairing itself. It was strange, magnificent even, and Aidan knew it was his key to whatever he was destined to do. He could feel it, somewhere deep inside him, that this small object would help make everything right again.

 

"Not yet, anyways."

 

The shuttle lurched once more and then fell silent, and Aidan knew they'd made the jump to hyperspace safely. When this trip was done, he'd be able to tell if the rest of his order had made it out safely as well.

 

((Next post on Nar Shaddaa))

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Snake could taste the fear that radiated from his blind two-legged mottled green servant. Fear for the fallen supposed warrior, fear that the forces of this world would fall him yet. The viper’s tongue lashed in and out as he tasted the feat-tinged air. It was ripe and sweet to the taste, yet something, something seemed off in just the faintest of ways.

 

What fear does he not yield? Does he know that without his pitiful master he will draw his last breath before the sun sets?

 

Snake’s eyes narrowed as he regarded his blood-splattered charge and his fallen master. The rage radiated off the de-limbed one, pure, simple, powerful. That rage that defied the call of defeat and death. Perhaps it was that when confronted with death, Snake simply survived. He was the king of his world, but he longed for more. Wherever it was that these offworlders continued to come from, Snake would rule them too.

 

But this fear; it radiated forth and was practically intoxicating. The only thing that gave the scaly beast pause was that while his defeated foe radiated fear, this so-called master did not. No. He would not strike yet. If this being was worthy of his wardship, he would prove it. If he died, than Snake would eat doubly well once the sun fell.

 

You are mine yet worm! He hissed across the mindwaves that bound he to the depths of Nok’s mind. Pray that your master lives, for your sake

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He didn't take the bait. More cautious than I thought. Dangerous...well, we've got a lot of time together serpent.

 

As the medics rushed to assist his master, Nok turned back.

 

"I'm afraid my defeat was not at the hands of the imperials, but at the...hands of this creature you see before me. This serpent is Force sensitive, and intelligent. He does not understand our language, but it seems we've formed a mental bond of sorts. I think he might be of use, and possibly a potential fellow." Nok grinned wickedly. "He certainly has the temperament for it."

 

As for what I learned...I learned much, but I understand little of it. I am blind, but I see your rage and pain, along with my own. I've seen the depths of the mind, the depths of hunger, the depths of...fear." He shook his head, gritting his teeth, his breathing turning rapid and shallow. "I am weak..." Images flashed through Nok's mind. Memories of slitting throats, bullying bankers, and turning landscapes into slagged wastelands under his credits. His wit. His plan. His will. The will of a lord.

 

"But I have seen my strength. Yes, that is what I've learned. I am weak and strong."

 

Nok cocked his head. Perhaps it was the searing pain creeping past his shock-fueled Force gates in his mind, or his master's bloodied form, but he felt insolent, and couldn't manage to think of a good reason to be cautious.

 

He looked Darth Akheron up and down.

 

"Master...what have-"

 

The next word learned cut off in a gargle as his throat seized. The pain he'd ignored made itself known forcefully. Nok's body clenched and wracked, and he dropped to his knees, his already muddied robe sloshing in the muck. Dimly he heard medics shouting, and his body being lifted.

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Zalis felt the thrill take over as she dragged the dead weight of the Empress across the floor to follow the green astromech droid through the hallways towards the hangar bay where it's ship was residing. She was very impressed with it's work in dispatching any opposition that they came across and yet very shocked. Little bastard is good in a firefight... Better then my XP droids... She quickly dragged the Empress upon the ship, and almost dropped her hard to the floor of the main hold so that she could help the droid in the cockpit of the ship.

 

Making a fast jump into the pilots seat, as the droid was unable to sit there regardless. Although she did not need to do much piloting as the droid did most of the work for her, she was quick to call up the navigational charts to make their jump. She quickly sent a private message to Delta to inform him of where she was taking the Empress on her jump, and upon sending the message, pulled to levers to make the jump towards Dark Sun Station.

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Nok's eyes opened, but only darkness greeted him.

 

...Still blind...

 

No...not entirely

 

Nok could not see, but he could sense the Force as it rippled across the ground around him, across the bodies writhing in cots, around the medics tending to the patients, through the crates of supplies emptied as fast as they could be replenished. Every soldier was a beacon, their pain and fear radiating ripples in the fabric of the Force for Nok to "see" by. An entire tent of lanterns only Nok could see. Their feelings were sharp and raw, but simple. The pain of injury. The fear of death. Beneath it for many of them, Nok could sense a deeper wound throbbing, a scar on their mind.

 

Some of them won't recover, at least not in their minds...

 

But...his pain was muted. Barely a tremor in the Force. Had he been alone, he'd have been utterly blind.

 

That is an interesting drawback. But why? I was poisoned and mauled. I should be screaming with the rest. The thought slid through his mind like oil, impossible to grasp. Nok opened his mouth, and worked his tongue. It felt like a lump of cotton.

 

Ah. Medication.

 

Heh, being a sith apprentice must warrant better care, even in a field hospital.

 

Like one string catching on another, that thought brought his master to his mind. He extended his senses, but the burning rage of Darth Akheron was nowhere near him, and none of the surrounding bodies matched his shape, and the last Nok had "seen" Akheron the warrior's shape had been...distinctive. Either his master was unconscious or so far away Nok couldn't sense even his powerful emotions.

 

Nok struggled to his feet, instinctively reaching for the Force to strengthen his noodle muscles. Even so, his body trembled as he stood. Touching his face, his fingers traced the edges of a bacta-patch.

 

That won't bring back my eyes...Not even sure if I had my eyes if I'd be able to see... The memory of what that serpent creature had done came flooding back in disjointed shards. Like bursting a boil, it had brought his inner fears out and scalded his psyche with them. He couldn't see, but not just because of his eyes. The deepest, nightmare choked corner of his mind didn't WANT to see anymore. Nok knew it instinctively. Barring some miracle, he'd never see again.

 

...Then I won't see with my eyes. With what I will have at my fingertips, that's a pittance to pay.

 

"My lord!" One of the medics had noticed him. "You shouldn't be up!"

 

"Where is my ship? The Bleeding Edge?"

 

"I..."

 

It astounded Nok. He could sense all of the little doubts and fears playing through the medic's mind. He feared...reprisal? Yes. This was the timid undercurrent of the fear of the future, touched with the sharp edge of the primal fear for one's life. He feared reprisal, likely of what Darth Akheron might do to the lowly medic if anything happened to Nok.

 

"It is alright. My master wishes for me to return to my ship," Nok lied. The man's emotions began to wane and falter. Interesting that Nok couldn't sense the man's relief or puzzlement. Only the fear...

 

"Well, it's at the landing platform outside the base, that way." The man's fear spiked again as he no doubt realized Nok couldn't see him point. Or at least, Nok shouldn't have been able to see him point, but the pain of the soldiers and the man's own fear was more than enough to show Nok the entire tent and several of the structures outside.

 

"Thank you." Nok nodded and shuffled out of the tent, his body unable to manage more.

 

I will need to learn better how to draw on the Force to bolster my body if this is going to become a habit.

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Nok found the Bleeding Edge after a few wrong turns and a few face-plants. Once away from the tent of agonized soldiers, Nok's ability to see became more and more hampered. People rushing past him felt fear and pain and anger, but nothing as bright as the injured. The fear of punishment, the dull throbbing bruises of battle, and the brief flashes of irritation that came with daily life simply weren't enough to give Nok a clear picture of everything around him. The drugs in his system meant he couldn't use his own emotions. Even after face-planting for a third time, he couldn't muster more than mild annoyance.

 

As he finally boarded his ship, he was greeted by one of his security droids. He couldn't figure out which from the voice, and he realized that he'd need more than droids around him if he hoped to adapt to this new "sight" of his. Once inside his ship, the world went from obscured to completely hidden. He was forced to use his droid as a guide to his chamber, the shame ironically giving him the tiniest of ripples to see by, barely enough to keep him from putting his foot into a wall.

 

Once in his overstuffed chair, he sighed, and relaxed.

 

What now? I've been crippled. My master is in pieces. I've got a serpent with its fangs in my mind. I've...failed.

 

NO! Nok shook his head, clenching his teeth.

 

I am Nok Morliss! Feeling sorry for myself!? Nok spat, and barely registered the whir of the cleaning droid moving to wipe it away. I am no cripple. I am...I AM A SITH!

 

Nok's anger bubbled up, straining against the drugs suppressing his emotions. The room's shapes flickered into view for a moment, but Nok couldn't sustain it, and soon it all went dark again.

 

These drugs are depressing me. Best to wait them out.

 

Nok had almost sunk into a deep sleep, when the intercom chimed.

 

"'Master, you have an incoming call from BD" the pilot droid's obsequious voice rattled off in a monotone.

 

Nok was tempted to dismiss it, but leaned forward instead.

 

"Route it here."

 

The sound of the hologram projector was Nok's only indication that the droid had obeyed. He couldn't see, and even if he could he doubted his new sight would perceive holograms.

 

Nok knew what he should be seeing right now. The translucent image of a silver-plated and decidedly feminine droid.

 

"Master Morliss?" the personal assistant droid asked in a low voice. If Nok knew her (and he should considering he'd selected her programming package) she was cocking her head and swinging her hips. He had considered having that "social" aspect portion of her programming removed, but ultimately left it in when he saw how people underestimated her. An advantage was an advantage, no matter how unprofessional.

 

"Go ahead BD," he said, giving her the correct greeting. Even if someone were to mimic his calling ID and replicate his holographic image, BD would refuse to give out information without that sentence.

 

"Master Morliss, are you well?" Her tone was dripping with concern. Nok would have to dial back that aspect of her communicative programming. She was laying it on a little thick.

 

"I'm fine. Proceed as if nothing was different."

 

"Yes sir," she said, her tone immediately turning clinical. "I'm calling because you've been out of communication, and several items have come up that need your attention. First, Offworld started construction on their new facility in the Roche Asteroid Field."

 

"That was fast even for them."

 

"Our analysts suspect it's mostly prefab. The sturdier structures will be built over them later."

 

"Hmm...that's verpine home country. How'd Offworld convince the verpine to let prospectors in?"

 

"Offworld's news release states the facility will be entirely crewed by local verpine, with only a few subject matter experts brought in to manage and supervise. There's also a payment plan in place to sell the facility to the local hive in five to seven years, depending on variations in profits."

 

"That's generous of them." Nok's lip curled. Even with the drugs fouling his mind, he could smell Offworld's play.

 

Verpine were notorious tinkerers, compulsively taking things apart and putting them back together working better than before. The highly intelligent and innovative insect species improved technology as a hobby. And now Offworld would have their own R&D team working at miner's wages, all under the guise of empowering them. Those 'subject matter experts' would feed the verpine Offworld mining tech modifications back to the home office. And once they'd bled what they wanted from the bugs, the verpine would spend their hard earned money to buy the facility, giving Offworld one last windfall.

 

"Alright, I'm not losing the tech advantage to Offworld because some bugs didn't read the fine print. Let's give the verpine a bad taste for big companies.

Call up my personal renovators and send them to one of the abandoned mining facilities on Peragus II. Have them do the place up like a functioning Offworld mining camp, then remove the safety covers from the fuel coils. Take some footage and release it to that independent news outlet we picked up. Umm..."

 

"Free Stars Reporting."

 

"Right. Once that's done and the footage is on the holonet, send a saboteur to cause an 'accident' at the Roche facility. Contact the usual scumbags and see who's interested, and promise them a hefty bonus if they manage to kill any verpine with the sabotage."

 

"Yes master. Anything else?"

 

"Have our legal team draw up a deal. Same as Offworld's contract, but give the verpine a bigger pay cut. Nova Acquisitions will move in once Offworld moves out."

 

"Master? You intend to use your decoy company?"

 

"They're a small player and barely scraping by, so Offworld won't suspect them of this kind of action. And they've won awards for safe work environments, so the verpine will be more open to them."

 

"Understood master. And the saboteur, should I hire them under your usual moniker?"

 

"Yes, with the standard spoofed IDs and encryptions."

 

"Of course. I'll handle it immediately master. There's one other item. One of our contacts discovered historical data in an old archive on Carida, indicating a possible Force related presence on Garn."

 

Nok leaned forward, pulse quickened.

 

"Artifacts?"

 

"Potentially yes."

 

"Send me the relevant data immediately."

 

"Of course master. Anything else?"

 

Nok's mind whirled. "...Send a shuttle to Garn. Droid pilots and crew only. Load the cargo with slaves. Five should do, with shock collars."

 

If BD was confused by the request, it didn't show in her relaxed, confident tone. "Of course master. I'll see to it."

 

The faint buzz of the projector disappeared, the call over.

 

Oh this could be interesting. It had been ages since Nok had gotten a lead on any Force-related history, and most of what he did find turned out to just be ruins. But if this wasn't...

 

Nok would need backup.

 

...The serpent. Yes. The serpent might serve.

 

Snake? Nok sent his thoughts echoing down the connection to the serpent's mind. Snake? Would you care to join me on a hunt of sorts?

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While the green two-legged pawn and his supposed master were carted off by cow-towing servants, Snake made himself scarce. He was used to his visage inspiring fear and panic and there was enough of that in the air that the very taste of it on his tongue was sickening it was so potent. Still . . . this was not an opportunity to pass up. Never in all his years of life had such a buffet ever presented itself before. Up until now, Snake had to exercise extreme caution as he took down the occasional farm animal to sate his ever growing appetite; only stalking, and very rarely enjoying, sentient prey. To those that he did allow to see him, he was just a wraith in the night, a story told to frighten children at bedtime, or a second glance at the shadows of nothingness.

 

With a flick of his tail, all almost 15 feet of it that entailed his body, he slipped off through the tall grass and into the shadows of the setting sun; the gentle parting of the tall grassy waves the only sign of his passing in the din that was the aftermath of the Siege of Kuat.

 

Slithering along, just off the now heavily trodden path, Snake followed along as his new-found minion was carted away along with the rage-induced survivor until the group came upon a hodgepodge of floodlights, speeders, scurrying two-leggeds, tents and prefabricate buildings.

 

Joy flooded Snake’s mind, and not the happy joy of a child on Huttmas Day, but the joy of Demagol having found a new test subject compatible with his latest tests. This would be a day that he would never forget! From a coiled position around an aged pine, his candy red eyes reflecting the occasional passing flood light as it rotated through the air illuminating the world, lighting the way for incoming medevac vehicles. Both Sith were quickly ushered into tents and out of sight. Watching for a few moments more, Snake decided that there was no sense in waiting any more of this glorious day.

 

Uncoiling himself back into the grass, the leviathan serpent slithered towards the M*A*S*H Unit. Slowly, closer and closer, Snake moved like a glacier of destruction; unobserved, unnoted, and uninteresting – or was he.

 

From the edges of the tall grass, Snake’s nose edged out, until his huge triangular head rested just above the trampled grass, watching, tasting, and waiting. He timed the swirl of the floodlights, the running back and forth of hurried feet, and much much more. Nothing seemed to escape his lidless eyes, wandering tongue, and searching mind. There was so much death and dying in this place. All Snake had to do was make his choice. Succulent, juicy, and filling, with just enough bad cholesterol to be tasty, while still allowing him to maintain his lithe form. It was possible that he could gorge himself here to the point of rotundness; but Snake knew that for every body here there was another lying yet undiscovered elsewhere amongst the grass and trees of this terraformed world. No, he would have to remain vigilante yet. Besides, he could not leave himself in such a way that the green slime would try to escape him.

 

Waiting.

 

Watching.

 

Waiting.

 

Watching.

 

Waiting.

 

Moving. In that moment, just after the search light had passed over his location once again and the well-worn path was momentarily vacant as countless feet rushed to offload a recently landed medevac, the colossal viper moved. In a flash of navy blue scales, Snake leapt forward from the grass, his body winding and curving like a lightning bolt from cover to cover.

 

In no more than an instant, Snake had transitioned his lengthy being from the grass under the edge of a tent wall and into the blackened shadows alongside the edge of a smaller triage tent where 2 medics were busy trying to stop the bleeding of a half-dozen bleeding soldiers. The edges of Snake’s lipless mouth twisted into a smile as his flickering tongue caught the fine spray of blood that wafted downwards towards the floor. The trampled grass and dirt was already slick with it.

 

If only this day could last forever!

 

Winding and swaying from side to side, like a sapling waving in the wind that was not actually there, Snake slowly raised his head up over the edge of the table to take in the glorious view of bleeding soldiers, the backs of the medics to him in that moment. There were so many choices to choose from, all he had to do is decide.

 

Just then, one of the wounded on the tables, raised a shaking hand, pointing a single quivering finger in the direction of Snake, spittle and bubbles spluttering as he tried to form words as his remaining eye bulged from its socket at the horrifying presence before him.

 

Just as the medics turned, Snake lunged, his yawning triangular head and fangs followed by massive coils launching from their hiding place into the bloodied chaos. A single partial yelp is all that escaped the downed soldier’s mouth as Snake’s weighty coils crushed flesh and bone beneath them; snapping the necks of both medics as his maw snapped and slashed downwards onto the bloodied mass of soldiers. Venom, blood and bodily fluids flew into the air as his jaws snapped open and closed, driving forth paralytic poisons with each bone-crunching blow.

 

When all that was left moving in the tent was the blood slicked coils and face of Snake, he finally paused, his head swiveling about surveying the carnage within the silence that was the tent, obscured from the outside world in that moment. In the stillness, Snake’s disappointment grew. In his fervor, he had seemingly crushed the life out of the sick and dying and snapped the necks of the medics beneath his mass. This feast was so plentiful that he could have whatever it was that he desired. What he desired was still living flesh.

 

From amongst the bodies and splinters of what were just duraplast tables, Snake slithered forward. The carnage had been enjoyable. He had not been able to utterly destroy in quite some time. So often he had to strike like a precision surgeon. This time, he had been able to simply unleash his hunger and passion in one swirling whirlwind of death.

 

Poking his head out from beneath the opposite side of the tent, Snake was pleased to see the long shadows and scurrying stretcher bearing slaves, all too busy to pay any mind to him. Just as silently as he had entered, Snake slithered from beneath the tent, the edge of the flap tapping along his scales as they skimmed the sheen of blood from them, soaking up into the once-white walls of cloth. Into the shadows, he slithered, back and forth his body working slowly and carefully across the trampled grass and weeds, until he came upon a single stretcher illuminated on one side by a buzzing fusion lantern. The body upon it was trembling. Snake’s flicking tongue could taste the dying being’s fear, his life seeping from his body with each short breath.

 

Yes. A fresh meal and no one else around.

 

As his head rose up, his fangs glistening in blood, Snake began to unhinge his jaw, preparing to take in the still living, if for now, form of the injured Sith soldier before him. Only one thing gave him pause. Somewhere in his mind, he could hear the call of Nok Morliss. What did that weakling want now?

 

A hunt? What sort of hunt could that frail fool possibly go on. Still, the two-legged had presented a surprisingly stalwart defense when they had engaged in a battle of the minds. If he was seeking Snake’s assistance, perhaps he was finally seeing the truth.

 

Looking down at the soon-to-be-corpse, a twinge of sadness etched across Snake’s mind as a single serpent’s tear rolled down his face and splashed into the wound of the cot-bound man with a sickening sizzle as a puff of steam rose into the warm night air.

 

Nok Morliss would more likely take Snake unto an even greater feast and he could still hold off eating for more than a month. As great as this blessed feast was, the temptation of something more was hard to resist. The descension of mana from heaven proved that there was more to be found. If the blind green one needed him on a hunt, perhaps they would be leaving this world. New worlds to torment and rule; new beings to rule over from the shadows; new flesh to eat; Snake would find and rule it all.

 

Projecting his mind into the ether that was The Force and the air around him, he sought Nok Morliss’ mind.

 

This hunt shall result in much feasting and torment. If not, you shall fill my belly instead.

 

Carefully, Snake lowered himself back to the blackened grasses of the night and cautiously wound himself from shadow to shadow towards the edge of the camp. Once a pair of fleet running feet collided with his midsection stretched across a dark path, resulting in a cry of shock and fear and a splatter as face and hands met the mud, followed by grumbling and cursing at unlabeled power cables. As he reached the edge of the camp, cries of fear began to erupt about the camp as a single blaring klaxon began to wail somewhere in the camp. They had discovered his carnage.

 

It was no matter. Snake did not even look back once he reached the edge of the camp. Instead he followed the dull calling of the Neimoidian’s mind until he was able to find a gleaming ship. Pausing, Snake stared up at the vessel. Was he a fool to enter it? Was this simply a trick the two-legged was using to ensnare him? No. The request tasted of sincerity. If it was not, so be it. He had bested the being once. He could and would do it again.

 

Still he had not risen to be the shadowy ruler of Kuat’s plains by being stupid. Avoiding the yawning gangplank, Snake coiled along the edge of the ship until he found an exhaust port that was less-than tactfully secured. With the twist of a fang, the cover popped off and Snake was able to squeeze his form through the small opening. Massive as he was, snakes always seemed to be able to find their way into the most unusual places. In, past the drop plate that sealed the vents from the void of space, through the smooth cool darkness . Into the ventilation system, Snake slowly squirmed until he decided that he was by now somewhere within the bowels of the ship. Passing by a grate, Snake was able to glance what appeared to be a vacant room filled with machinery and piping. With his thick skulled head and muscled neck, Snake began to push on the grate until it creaked and ground, echoing about the unoccupied room, until the panel popped off clattering down to the durasteel floor below.

 

With a solid *WHUMP* and *THUMP* Snake’s coils cascaded from the venting to the floor below.

 

I am in your ship snack. Let us be off to this glorious hunt.

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He's on the ship? But how...

 

Best not to think about it.

 

"Pilot, plot a course for Garn. Take off immediately."

 

"Yes master," the droid's tinny voice crackled over the intercom.

 

Nok leaned back in his chair, letting himself feel a twinge of pride as he could only barely perceive the ship's motion as it took off. The inertial dampeners on the Bleeding Edge had cost him four times more than the next leading brand. In a way, the waste of money was more important than any tangible benefit. It was a display of power. He could afford to spend frivolously with sums that would feed mining colonies for a month. A careless purchase decision of his had more weight than every agonizing choice in a year of a working man's life.

 

The step of a giant compared to the life of an ant...

 

"Bring up the data on Garn. Read aloud."

 

The onboard computer beeped in response. Voice commands. Another purchase, though this one turned out to not be so frivolous.

 

As the computer read off the articles and reports on the planet, Nok considered his immediate future. Darth Akheron...he thought so differently from Nok.

 

Am I meant to be a warrior? Is that where the strength to take what I want lies?

 

A chuckle escaped his lips immediately.

 

No. Let those fools swing their sabers around and make targets of themselves. A fool who seeks a fight for the sake of one will die like every other gladiator and mercenary in history. Alone and forgotten.

 

Perhaps the way of the assassin is more suited to my talents?

 

Yes, that appealed to him. He remembered the feeling of striking down a helpless competitor with his knives. The pride in outwitting an unsuspecting enemy, concealed and waiting for just the right moment to end them. To take someone's life in a way they couldn't hope to stop or even see coming, that was power.

 

"...Settling on Garn after splintering from the Jedi Order, the Order of the Terrible Glare pursued new applications of Force manipulation. Records indicate the majority of these were illusory techniques, though several mentions of research into the binding of souls have been found, and..."

 

What? Binding of souls...

 

Nok shuddered. Not out of fear or disgust, but out of something else. The idea of binding a person's essence touched something deep inside.

 

To take someone like that...to take everything they are and hold them. To own someone like that. That is more than killing.

 

THAT is power.

 

Yes, this trip is what I need. This will be illuminating.

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This time, the reaction speed of the fast-moving Imperial assassin failed her, and the rain of bullets from the heavy machine gun cut through her outer limbs as she reached for another tree. Her balance gone and her legs bleeding their fake blood, she hit the ground hard, collapsing near the spot where she had begun. Weakly, she reached for her weapon, only for her hand to be shot through by a burst of fire from the machine gun. As Borsk approached, he put away that weapon, drawing his long curved sword from it's resting place on his back. With deft strokes, he removed any belts and weapons she had on here, then readied himself to deliver the final blow. Before he could swing down, a weak kick interrupted his focused mindset.

 

Borsk paused, looking down at the inhuman girl for a long moment, before sheathing his blade upon his back. The Trandoshan leaned down, crouching awkwardly next to her as blood dripped down his ruined helmet. "Ye fought well, an honorable opponent. I bear no hate for your kind, far better than the spineless cowards that consist of your allies. Perhaps, one day, we shall meet again on the field of battle, and there decide our fates."

 

With one hand, Borsk reached up, drawing his long fingers through the mess of blood on his face and helmet. Having accumulated a good amount of it, he gently touched the forehead of the girl, wiping a streak of his blood on her, and taking a bit of her imitation blood for himself. He then left her, and quickly found the Moff she had been protecting. He didn't know which one it was, and frankly didn't much care. A single heavy punch knocked out the older moff, and lifing his unconscious body onto his shoulder, Borsk limped away toward the dropship he had arrived on. No doubt there would be others looking to return, and woe be to any who would try and stop his progress. All he wanted to do was get the moff dropped off, get paid, and get some food.

 

(Three day posted by permission. Hopefully we get to duel again some time)

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The Armada had served its purpose. Though there were many casualties, the battle of Kuat was at its end. Many Sith, Imperial Knights, troops, and black sun mercenaries had fallen in the battle, but the Axis had succeeded in holding the field. They had even captured the Empress, and now as salvage tugs began to pull in ruined starships to the orbital rings, and shuttles picked up EV pilots Kuat returned to work.

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For what felt like the longest time, Aidan studied. His progress under the tutelage of the holocron was spotty at best, but when he finally managed to get the shaky hang of controlling how he tapped into the Force, he finally felt he was ready to go back out into the world. He'd even grown a bit of a beard, ragamuffin as it looked. He took a couple hours to clean himself up and shave, donning a fresh uniform and tying Kyrie's lightsaber to his back while clipping the Sith lightsabers to either side of his belt.

He left his room, making his way to the command center...only to find that everyone had left him behind. Which, given his obsession over the holocron, made sense.

Aidan commandeered a shuttle to include a pilot, and set out for his last standing orders. Chandrila awaited.

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