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  1. Draygo glanced up from the datapad. A quick glance at the screen showed that she had left fairly sensitive information open to view from anyone who stopped by--for example, the Rebel who had abandoned a high-yield bomb in the briefing room--but she suddenly had much more important priorities than infosec and rose from her seat. The wear on her Padawan was obvious--heavy bags under the eyes, signs of dehydration and a strip of adhesive residue on the boy’s wrist. Either Genesis had been significantly injured at Corellia or he was having difficulty dealing with the aftermath of combat. “You look terrible,” Armiena said, offering a sad smile just as she drew him into a hug. She felt bones on his back. “You’re not weak for this. Weakness has nothing to do with it. It’s decency.” The veteran Jedi said in some attempt to reassure him as she allowed the half-Miraluka to draw away. “I killed for the first time when I was about your age. I felt sick for days. It wasn’t the smell. It was the thinking. He was a stormtrooper, masked--obviously--nothing to identify him except a yellow pauldron and the fact he was a few centimeters shorter than the rest of his column. I didn’t know him from Tarkin. He never saw it coming. I couldn’t stop thinking… what did that say about me?” Draygo didn’t know what had happened to her Padawan aboard Goliath. However, he was alive, and presumably whoever he had faced could not say the same.
  2. The cloning bays were a lonely sector of any Jedi facility. Aside from the fact that they tended to be several degrees colder than the rest of the structure, everything was made of sterile metal and plastoid and glass, and the staff consisted almost entirely of steely-eyed medicine men who spoke exclusively in many-syllabic terms and… many other aspects, the mere existence of the cloning vats raised uncomfortable questions about uncomfortable subjects like the disconnect between the hypothetical soul and the body, memory and existence, to say nothing of the handy workaround concerning death and its significant mention in the Jedi Code. That, and after perishing under violent circumstances, some Jedi awoke in their new bodies in a state of extreme disorientation--sometimes in a violent state of mind. Don’t flinch. Don’t flinch. Don’t beg. Don’t look away. Don’t ignite. This is that his choice. You’ll be back. You’ll be back. Don’t…. The last few seconds of that disastrous boarding action were something of a haze of red pain and black unconsciousness. If asked later, she would recall something about forcibly clenching every muscle in her body in an effort to not allow Ryu to distance himself from the fact that he was killing someone who had deliberately placed themselves at his mercy. But at the moment, that recollection was as dim as the lights aboard Goliath. What she knew now was cold air, flurry sheets, flimsy overalls on her body, and concerned murmuring about her. “Careful, Antilles, the notes say to keep your distance while--” “Shavit! Draygo! Draygo! You’re… hurting me!” For at that moment, Armiena had sprung from the cot in an avalanche of bedsheets, knocking over a tray of medical probes. The reborn Jedi clasped onto the medtech, squeezing onto his shoulder and arm with all the strength that her newly-formed hands could muster. It took a few seconds for the glare of dim lights to fade against her unused eyes, for the sensation of horrific agony to give way to the mild annoyance of a room that was three degrees colder than her preference, and for her hands--both flesh--to register that she was clasping onto skinny arms and bone, rather than the freakish strength of a berserking Sith Lord’s muscles. “Draygo?” The pale green eyes looked from side to side. “Where am I?” She sensed her Padawan nearby. Her son was nearby. “Nar Shaddaa, We’ve been--hurk!” At that moment, Draygo had drawn the thoroughly frightened medtech in for a painfully-tight hug. “Thank you.” ____________________ Several minutes and a few routine scans later, Armiena was allowed to change into her robes in the company of the other med tech, a female Mon Cal. “No, it’s alright. I need to know. What happened at Corellia?” “Not really my field of expertise, but… scuttlebutt is that the planet stands. The entire base was cheering only the other day--” “--oh, hey, you kept the scars!” Armiena glanced at her partially-naked torso, eyes tracing the fractal-like pattern of scars that followed a network of surface capillaries on her torso, neck, and right arm. That was a souvenir of absorbing a lightning strike on Coruscant just after its moon had grazed the planet. And then there were a number of less spectacular but more easily-displayed souvenirs from less memorable occasions--minor blaster grazes, a miniature notch on the left side of her jaw--the only remaining mark from her first appointment with Master Organa... “We debated that--but you always expressed pride in the scars you kept--but it’s simple enough to erase them if you prefer.” “No, I’ll keep them. I want people to know what I’m capable of. Anyway, back to…” “Right. Corellia. Sith fleet withdrew, apparently heavy casualties on both sides but much worse on their side--” “--The robes are tighter than I remember.” “They’re the same size, actually. We added about ten kilos of muscle. I hope you don’t mind our license, we were operating partly on scans from six years ago and right after Coruscant--” “I was training back up. Hmm. There’s probably going to be a quiet, lonely night where I’m going to be asking myself some uncomfortable questions, but…. Armiena watched the muscles in her shoulder and arm ripple as she flexed and smiled. “This will work. Good. We’ve earned ourselves some time. We need to move quickly, gotta get to the Grandmaster. We have a chance to finally turn this around, scatter the Sith fleet…” At this point the sudden silence of the Mirialan had become poignant enough that even Draygo, despite her preoccupation with her vat-fresh body, had taken notice. “What’s happened?” “Grandmaster Alluyen hasn’t yet, that is, we haven’t yet received instructions to begin… Would you like to view the body?” “Oh.” Draygo sat heavily on the cot. She felt the warm leather of a set of boots on her bare feet. Reinforced shafts, slightly tight around the ankles--just as she preferred. A belt with a standard-issue comlink and a datapad awaited her use. “No. Not necessary. I need a walk.” ________ Several minutes later, Draygo was pacing the ring of one of the military base’s briefing rooms. An enormous holoprojector occupied the majority of the room, the emptied seats taken up only by a tidy pile of small arms and what appeared to be a high-yield ion pulse bomb. What to do? Her Padawan was clearly distraught--her son was closed off--and the Jedi Grandmaster was dead. Only the fact that the Sith Empire wasn’t hanging over their heads like a broadsword from an ancient adage made this situation less dire than the month at Borleias. The advice she had been given was simple: Work the problem. Solve one problem at a time until you run out of problems…. or you run out of time. Armiena leaned on the holoprojector pit and stared into the glittering array of projectors and lights. For a moment, she thought she had felt the presence of one of her old friends, as reassuring as a hand on her shoulder. It was almost as though Darex was encouraging her to fight past the pain--that the sensation was only temporary, but purpose lasted forever and she would soon be past it. Were there even any Jedi still alive from that class of Hopefuls still alive? Or had they all spent their lives fighting the war? Why had The Force discriminated against her own existence, allowed her to claw her way back into the war to be ground up and spat out once again? Her right hand drifted to a plastoid mug of synth-caf. Pain jolted from contact the steaming beverage. Whatever the cause was, Armiena knew that she owed it to her friends to not wallow in loneliness. Her hand drifted to the datapad and comlink at her belt--worthy weapons even for a Jedi Master--and went to work. Four messages would suffice at the moment. The first message she sent went to her Padawan. “Genesis, it’s me. I’m sorry. Things didn’t go as I’d hoped. I need to know that you’re ok.” The second message that she sent went to her son. “Aidan, I’m sorry. Boarding action at Corellia went badly, I hope that you’re alright. I could do with a hug if you want to see me. I love you.” The third message went out as a general signal to any nearby Jedi. “This is Draygo. If you’re here on Nar Shaddaa, then you’ll know about the Grandmaster. We need to see to succession quickly and counterattack while the Sith are still recovering from Corellia. Briefing room…. one of the ones right off of the rotunda.” The last went to an encrypted channel to a disused base in the Mid Rim. “I need a favor. Aryian is dead. I need some serious firepower. Can I ask for your help in--Force!” At that moment, a deafening metallic roar emanated from the comlink and caused her to jerk the device away from her ear. It was always difficult to understand her Wolf Spiders when they were enthusiastic about a summons--but she had come to appreciate that a deafening roar was typically an answer in the affirmative. She continued sending messages and tapping away at the datapad, dispatching messenger droids when Holonet channels couldn’t be trusted. Draygo would continue working until someone finally snapped her out of the reverie.
  3. So, there was the cause for the nagging warning from The Force, despite the incapacitation of the masked Sith. Naturally. there was the predictable honor-guard of black-clad minions that rushed in to collect his ruined body--mooks that Draygo probably would have had to hack her way through had she chosen a more conventional means of boarding Goliath. Their life-expectancy under these conditions was measured in seconds; their weapons and armor would be cardboard if The Force still desired her survival. The true concern of the veteran Jedi was Kakuto Ryu--his flesh-made-metal body reeked of malice just as vividly as the hallway reeked of ozone, and more than his body was quivering with the strength of his rage. The confusion was instantly banished from Draygo’s face as the fallen Sith’s lightsaber rushed into his hand, and she stared almost unblinkingly at him, her expression not unlike the glare of an overgrown bird-of-prey. She merely turned to face him, widened her stance into a fighter’s crouch and allowed her turquoise blade to quietly boil a hole in Goliath’s deckplates. Armiena remembered Gala well enough. She certainly remembered the mockery of the Sith just before she killed him--adolescent taunts about sexual proclivities while he was attempting to penetrate her torso with a Sith-spawned blade--and she remembered very vividly the sensation of waking up several days later, with a garish scar over her breastbone and with a brand-new heart that had been freshly-cloned from the Praxeum’s surgical bays. That nearly-fatal wound had been courtesy of Kakuto Ryu. She snorted. That idealistic, angry young woman would have found the cynical, veteran Jedi unrecognizable. The older, steadier woman despised that stupid, self-destructive girl and the many costly mistakes that she had made. “That was war, Ryu!” She began shouting over his rant as his paranoia degenerated into hysterics. “He would have killed me--just like you were killing my friends. I chose to stop fighting that war--I chose to show you mercy when nobody would have batted an eye at me murdering you--you chose to come with me into this pit, when I gave you every opportunity to sit this one out in a bombardment bunker--and I don’t even know that man’s----schutta!” At that moment, lightning arced over the walls and bathed the hallway in a shower of white-hot sparks. The riven and uneven deckplates decided that clinging onto the bottom of the Jedi’s armored boots wasn’t much of a priority and her body floated a few millimeters into the air. Something shifted in her broken left arm and a fresh strain of agony reminded her of the injury. Not quite trusting herself to move without gravity, Draygo glanced about for weapons, any tools that she could use to fend off the former Dark Lord of the Sith. The black-clad minions had brought a small arsenal with them, mostly rifles of a design that the veteran Jedi couldn’t recognize, but she doubted their ability to stop the berserking man-machine. That was fine. The lightsaber would suffice for self-defense, but Draygo had one last weapon left. It was a dangerous weapon to use, potentially even more injurious to those who wielded it as it was to those that found it used against them. That said, if properly used, it could cut more deeply than a lightsaber, landed with a greater impact than a turbolaser blast, and was more volatile than a canister of unrefined coaxium. A Death Star or Sun Crusher would have blanched at the destructive power of that weapon; careful application could bring down an empire. Somewhere, she hoped that Darex Trevelian was smiling, because using it required her to get very close to Ryu and would probably get her killed in the process. Remaining perfectly still so as not to cause her body to drift away from the deckplates, Armiena waited for Kakuto Ryu’s assault and was not disappointed. The former Dark Lord was physically tearing debris from the walls, and throwing himself against the plating to impart rotational momentum to the slab of durasteel--then finally slicing it to ribbons with a wild series of zero gravity-assisted slashes from his crimson lightsaber--and then smashed them towards her with strokes of his stolen warhammer. The pieces of debris, jagged chunks of durasteel plating and kilometers of superconductive fiber, may have been massive, but their size mattered little to The Force. Armiena simply glanced at each chunk of debris as it approached and telekinetically redirected their path towards the sides of the chamber. They gouged ravines into both the innards of Goliath as well as the men that they collided with, and soon filled the air with chunks of shattered steel and plastoid--and the whimpers of the men that they had struck. However, Armiena held onto the last piece of rubble, suspending it merely a meter before her face. She launched it straight back at Kakuto Ryu’s right arm to interrupt the swing of the force hammer, and a spring off of her feet launched her directly at her old enemy. As the two met, there was a desperate tangle of Armiena’s turquoise blade against his crimson, the two hilts swirling about each other in an attempt to turn the other’s blade. With only a few millimeters left before the former Dark Lord’s weapon tore into her flesh, she gained the upper hand and forced it away from her heart. Just before the two collided and Armiena would have run him through, she extinguished her blade and the only weapon that met Ryu’s flesh was the steel of the dowsed hilt. The collision of limbs and blades painfully wrenched her left arm and darkness teased at the edges of her vision, but she wrapped her legs around Ryu’s, keeping the hilt of her lightsaber pressed just under the former Dark Lord’s heart. In microgravity, there was no opportunity to maneuver--the two Force-Sensitives would bob aimlessly in the bowels of the ravaged ship, with nothing to push off against save the chunks of debris that were floating by their faces--and each other. Neither of them were likely to be a willing platform to kick off from. Armiena had surrendered her defense and any ability to maneuver to deploy a final weapon: sincerity. “You want to kill me? Well, here I am. It’s the best shot you’ll ever get from me. But you know as well as I do that killing me won’t change a damn thing.” Unblinking, heart racing, Armiena just stared into Ryu’s eyes and spat out her words before the sheer lunacy of what she had just done registered and she was killed for it. “It won’t bring back your dead friend, it won’t make you feel any better, and you’ll go on to kill a bunch of poor sods in the future just because it’s what you’re supposed to do. And you will never get it out of your head that the queen bitch of the Jedi Order gave you a choice to do something different and you rejected it. So go ahead and fracking kill me or choose to do something else.” And with that said, Armiena waited to die--or for something else to happen.
  4. There was an almost innocent glee to Draygo’s smile, a crinkling at the side of her pale green eyes and an undisguisable gleam that betrayed her thrill at the fight. The Force was bearing down to take her; the fate of the duel was determined, and all that the veteran Jedi could do was to relish every precious second that remained. This close to her opponent, there was no room for subtlety or dash--it was strength against strength, speed against speed. The graceful whirling of her favored Ataru devolved into something resembling the brutish shoving matches of Djem So, but with more vicious, kinetic movements that continually attempted to penetrate the masked Sith's guard. Her arm, somewhere beyond conscious thought, seemed to have gained a volition of its own, her wrist subtly redirecting strikes by centimeters at the last millisecond before their landing, and allowing its owner to focus on her footwork and appreciate what seemed to be the last minutes of her life. It was a very different experience from the climaxes of terror and relief that Draygo was accustomed to in battle. The masked Sith, beyond all belief, matched the assault with a disciplined withdrawal, allowing his opponents to entangle themselves at his pleasure. Draygo continued to press her attack, for a perilous moment managing to pin his crimson blade mere centimeters from his face while Ryu was about to cleave through his neck. A consummate duelist, however, he slipped through by simultaneously angling his blade to intercept the slash behind his shoulder and delivering an elbow to Armiena’s chin with the same maneuver. The click of bone and teeth clashing resounded even over the howling of their blades--she recoiled and tasted blood--she had bitten through her tongue--but was back to assaulting the Sith without a moment of hesitation. But actually reaching the masked Sith proved impossible--Kakuto Ryu towered over the man, half-man, half-metal, and all murderous intent as the amalgam battered down the Sith’s defenses with a bladed arm and finally drew blood. A fleeting temptation to slash through Ryu’s midsection passed through her mind. That was different. For a fraction of a second, Armiena hesitated. That hesitation was nearly fatal. A Force-powered wind knocked the veteran Jedi over and sent her tumbling as a mass of oversized robes across the deck, stopping only when a gap between the plating opened and spilled her into a nest of wires and conduits. Those two plates came away with the shriek of tearing metals splintering away into a hundred fragments that ripped just over Draygo’s head. She glanced upward, eyes widening when she beheld a cloud of debris swirling about the masked Sith, breathing in and out as more power was funneled into its core. Flashes of lightning crackled within the dust, arcing from pieces of debris and onto Goliath’s innards. It was arrogant and menacing in its power; it demanded supplication--satiation--and threatened to smite any mortal that defied it, like the embodiment of a cruel god from ancient mythology. Like the maelstrom that the technique was named for, the coiled Force Storm of destructive energy threatened to take upon a life of its own. It would suck up the power of the three Force-Sensitives and translate it into kinetic force and unloosed energy, consuming everything within its path until it had nothing to vent its malice against. Given free reign and time to indulge its predilections, it would devour Goliath and her crew; the smaller ships of the Sith fleet would be mere flotsam against its fury. Would it even be content with smashing those playthings? It might even visit its wrath upon Centerpoint Station and darken the skies of Corellia. That would mean the deaths of billions, caused by another episode in the unending struggle between the Jedi and Sith. That wouldn’t merely be another atrocity in their war, but a further escalation and the beginning of a new struggle, one straight out of the Jedi Master's worst nightmares. It would be Force-Sensitives against everyone else. Draygo could not see an end to that conflict--only further escalation until it consumed every tradition that studied The Force, and perhaps even put an end to the life of The Force itself. Until the spawning of this nascent Force Storm, Draygo hadn’t desired the death of this Sith--taking a limb or stunning him with her blaster would have been sufficient for her aims. But his recklessness needed to die right here. As the veteran Jedi rose, her tattered robes spilling from her shoulders, an arc of lightning struck downward to destroy her. Armiena's flesh offered it no challenge; it coursed through her body as though she were a superconducting coil, entering her body at her shoulder and exiting at her left knee with barely more than a twitch. It exploded against the pipes that she stood on, soaking the Jedi Master in a geyser of tepid water in an instant. She stepped into the swirling cloud of dust on the next inhalation, allowing herself to be buffeted back and forth with each breath of the storm. Again and again Draygo was struck by lightning as she leaned into the whirlwind, but each strike had no more effect on her body than a painful twitch and grimace. She unclasped the weapons she had brought with her on the assault to allow them to be swept into the storm, adding a pair of vibrodaggers and a belt of blaster cells into the cloud. The next flash of lightning exited her body to direct itself against one of the loosed vibrodaggers, and it exploded into a miniature fireball and a puff of metal splinters as its power cell detonated. The storm exhaled again, this time pulverizing the ceiling and causing the contents of the deck immediately above them to swirl about its core. That plan was no good--Armiena realized that she would never be able to direct this energy. It might have no power against her, but she had no power over it. At the next heartbeat, the veteran Jedi caught a gleam of a silvery rod revolving in the Force Storm, a delicate wisp of liquid cable trailing from it. It was one of her lightsabers, miraculously intact despite having been swept up in the lightning and the fury. The very end of the frayed cable kept teasing against the ankle of the masked Sith. A touch of telekinesis caused it to coil around his ankle in a loose knot. The next gust of power from the storm planted it firmly in her metal palm. Another bolt of lightning came down from the shattered ceiling to strike her. She accepted it without complaint, allowing its foul energy to course through her body, through her lightsaber… and into the masked Sith. And with that, Armiena didn’t need to move a muscle to kill the Sith. All she needed to do was let go of her own lightsaber. Armiena was deafened by a great crash. She was blinded by a great flash. Her body was thrown off of its feet. There was a great impact, and then there was nothing. _________ Some time later, Draygo coughed. Her ribs complained at the movement. There was a strange pressure on her cranium. A pair of breaths and a hacking cough later, the veteran Jedi realized that she was crumpled upside-down against one of the walls of this chamber--what was left of it, anyway--as a tangled heap of limbs. It was quiet. The maelstrom had died away--deprived of its fuel source, it allowed the debris field to slam against the deck and clouds of dust to settle in wafts. She knew she wasn’t dead. Armiena had experienced death before. She hadn’t coughed, nor had she rubbed dust out of her eyes, nor had she been shivering against the cold, for that matter. Groaning at the complaints from her ribs and broken arm, the veteran Jedi collected herself until the world righted itself and her boots were firmly planted of the riven deckplates. Her lightsabers, tidily gathered by some unseen hand, rested only a few meters away to be retrieved by their master. Draygo frowned in confusion. This wasn’t supposed to have happened--she had sensed the coming of her end. Why was she still alive, and the masked Sith dead? Nor was he dead, or at least not yet. Armiena sensed the flickering lamplight of his life fading, only a short distance away. The Jedi picked over the debris to find him, head swiveling for a sign of Kakuto Ryu. She called out for him, coughing and wincing as she inhaled the disturbed dust. Armiena found the body of the masked Sith a crumpled ruin, tossed by his cruel god as an expendable plaything against the bulkheads. His body emitted the foul odors of burned flesh and cloth. A faint gurgling sound rumbled in his throat. Draygo had been around enough death to understand his fate. His lungs and diaphragm were burned through and he was struggling to draw breath, fighting both against the torn tissue of his body and the fluids that were slowly smothering him. It was an unenviable way to die. It would be more merciful to end it herself--it would require nothing more than a slash of her lightsaber across the cranium, and then the pain would end. Her metal hand reached for her weapon, but the final gasp rattled from his throat before the hilt could even ignite. She reconsidered before reaching to open his mask. She would allow him to keep at least a modicum of dignity in his death. The debris shivered under her feet. It was possible that this deck was no longer stable, or secondary explosions were pounding the decks below them. "Ryu?" She tried to call out again despite her bleeding tongue, then began to hack against the settling clouds of dust. Her Padawan, at least, was still alive. Genesis was frightened out of his wits, but still among the living--and running for his life.
  5. Most Jedi would have hesitated, or paused to raise a barrier and attempt to ride out the coming storm under the shelter of the Force. Most Jedi, to their credit, were not Armiena Draygo, who merely tightened her lips in a grim smile, lowered her forehead in a predator’s charge, and ran directly at the confluence of dark energy that was growing before her. What she sensed was an opening… and pain, assuming that she lived long enough to exploit it. A streak of turquoise light raced towards the Sith assassin on either side, the one held by the veteran Jedi merely vandalizing the floors of his Star Dreadnaught--the other shredding through electrical conduits and for a moment bathing the Sith assassin in a current of white-hot sparks. Sensing that the moment of release was imminent, Draygo shut off her lightsaber and leapt past Ryu, nearly crossing over the head of her openent at the moment that the assassin relinquished his grip on the hoarded powers and allowed them to detonate. It was all that the veteran Jedi could do to release the telekinetic grip on her other lightsaber and attempt to formulate an attempt at a defensive barrier. The blast of Force energy scattered the turquoise blade away, bouncing off the bulkheads, tumbling in unpredictable directions and posing a risk to life and limb regardless of creed. The Jedi Master herself was punished for her recklessness by being catapulted into the rafters, turned into a projectile of oversized robes and plastoid plating that crashed into the ceiling and almost into the next deck. The unseen barrier protected her against the telekinetic blast, but it did almost nothing to prevent the harm of colliding into the rafters, where unaugmented muscle and bone pounded into armored girders, electrical wiring, and a terrified MSE mouse droid whose maintenance crawlspace had just been breached by the impact of a Jedi Master. The Jedi Master cannonballed back down to the deck, trailing threads of wiring and clouds of steam. When she hit, a sharp yelp of pain could be heard just under the crack of bone and the continuous screams of the mouse droid that had fallen to the deck. The grenades in her collar punched into her chest and one, one of the white-caps that signified a dud lacking an explosive charge, popped cleanly away to beep its warning tone of imminent detonation. The pain of impact was significant. And yet even with the pain of at least one broken rib and a left arm that was now hanging at an unnatural angle from her elbow, Draygo rose in an instant with a cartwheel of flailing legs and a whirling lightsaber blade that was straight out of an Ataru training holo. For the first time this entire confrontation, Draygo’s vision had cleared enough to see some semblance of their arena. Not even a meter away from her foe, she glared through an eye-full of blood and a few tangles of electrical wiring to see him, wearing a lupine mask and the blank photoreceptors that had protected his eyes despite the grenades--a combination of technology and theatrics. An MSE mouse droid was skittering between them, shrieking as it attempted to decide whether death by lightsaber or grenade suited it better. And behind both of them was the former Dark Lord, a man that she had previously thought of as a demon. What amalgam of steel and flesh he was becoming, Draygo couldn’t begin to identify. She immediately took the offensive and stepped into his guard, her blade moving with the swiftness that only Ataru training afforded. A blast of Force Lightning surged out--from Kakuto Ryu, despite his previous Force blindness--and necessity turned her blade to intersect the forks. She returned it to her foe in a series of unpredictable, seemingly random blows that were dictated by the need to deflect the Lightning. With every blow, she took a short step forward to assault the Sith’s position and force him against Kakuto Ryu, perpetually closing the distance until Draygo was most close enough to reach out and bite him. Something had just turned, and it wasn’t merely the fact that Draygo was within the Sith’s guard and every stroke of her blade passed within millimeters of filleting the man. Something of significance was about to happen--death, a climax, a turning of the tide--and her grin could be seen under the flurry of her blade and a bloodied mask of cuts and contusions. Whatever it was, she couldn’t wait to meet it. ((3))
  6. So the gambit had failed and Draygo and the two Sith were exactly where they had started, with the Sith assassin neatly leaping over Ryu to avoid engaging in a melee with the veteran Jedi. All that had changed was the density of the black smoke that continued to seep into the hall and the force of the damnable chanting that continued to pound in her skull. Rather than tangling up the assassin’s legs, the hilt of her double-bladed lightsaber bounced harmlessly along the deck until it reached the extremity of its reservoir, rolling soundlessly from side to side. Draygo detected a buildup of tension within the Force that suggested an imminent attack. A wisp of stinging smoke was the only visible sign of her maneuver as the veteran Jedi stepped to Ryu’s back, left hand lifted to receive whatever was coming. The sickly blue-white glare of Force Lightning illuminated the haze, for the first time making the grim smile and the lightning-scars on the veteran Jedi’s face visible. She sucked up every erg of energy that was channeled her direction, lips twitching from the delicate paroxysms of pain that accompanied the occasional tendril of Lightning that escaped her grasp. And then she held onto it, even though fusillade of malice threatened to burn its way out of her fingers. Draygo held onto the energy even as she stepped over Ryu’s unconscious body, flicking her lightsaber upinto a conservative guard. She held onto it even as she ignited the turquoise blade and made a delicate vertical swipe that threatened to bisect the Sith Assassin from groin to neck--but it was at the very tip of the blade and could have been evaded by taking a single step backwards. She held onto the energy even Ryu unexpectedly rose from his stupor, growled an unheard phrase and let loose with another set of projectile’s. The first must have been another flashbang, judging from the crush of pressure in her deafened ears… but there were still two more projectile’s that the Force warned were still in motion. He didn’t. To loose two fragmentation grenades into an enclosed space that he was within was so reckless that it bordered on suicidal disregard for his own life. But Ryu did just loose two fragmentation grenades within an enclosed space. No cover was to be found. Ryu had to know that he was within the kill radius of his own grenades. Taking a short leap backwards to avoid any counterattack, Draygo gripped the two grenades with the Force and deployed a barrier to flatten the arc of fragmentation. The concussive wave dispersed the foul smoke and vapors that permeated the hall, as well as casting a storm of hundreds of slender steel and plastoid shards that bounced all over the walls, ceiling, and deck, shredding exposed pipes and wiring, the delicate cable that connected the two halves of her lightsaber, the few remaining glowpanels that attempted to penetrate the gloom… as well as the sleeve and muscle on Armiena’s left arm. A searing bolt of pain coursed up the arm and then was silenced, only partly by the intervention of the Force. The lack of sensation was worse than pain--she had just lost use of the arm. There was no time to test what little control she had of the limb. Ryu was up and running, roaring something apparently significant--an oath or a hated name--straight past her to engage the Sith assassin with another crashing blow. Reaching out with the last erg of power that the Sith had gifted her and then some, Draygo ignited the lightsaber hilt that lay abandoned behind him. It levitated at waist-height from the deck and raced through the corridor, blazing a molten line along the wall to perfectly silhouette the Sith assassin. Its owner advanced at a steady stride to meet it, her lightsaber tracing a similar line of superheated durasteel from the other direction. ((2))
  7. ((Accepted for KR / OK v Exodus)) As the whisper of Goliath’s mechanical air filtration died, the smoke moved in and stung at Draygo’s eyes. Even the amber and crimson glow from the emergency lamps was soon swallowed by shadow. Those glowlamps were to provide damage control crews with some degree of illumination for many hours without an additional power supply. At seeing them extinguished, Armiena instantly understood that the darkness encroaching upon them was not the natural product of a ship that had lost power, but the arcane manipulations of a Sith, sitting in their lair like some great malevolent spider from old fairy tales, belching out shadows and swallowing up adventurers that had stumbled into her web. Unfortunately for this Sith, it had been decades since Draygo was last frightened by the dark--and even longer since she was afraid of Spiders. Before she could shout out a warning to her Padawan and to Kakuto Ryu, the erstwhile Dark Lord had thrown out something ahead of her and charged. A dazzling flash and a crash of thunder emitted, illuminating the Sith for only an instant before Armiena’s vision was darkened by the flash blindness caused by the grenade. Only a heartbeat behind the berserker, Draygo sprinted to match his advance. Unlike the erstwhile Dark Lord, the veteran Jedi understood that she would have no use for her physical senses and extinguished the turquoise glow of her lightsaber. The rhythmic pounding of her boots against the durasteel deck would be the only warning of her advance--and in a moment, there would not even be that to alert the Spider. Draygo skidded to an almost-halt just as Ryu made a vicious swipe with his lightsaber blade and crouched to all fours on the armored deck. Calling to the Force, she pounced like an overgrown cat to fly past the wake of the viridian slash as well as its intended target. Much like the panthera that her charge emulated, the veteran Jedi hit the deck hands-first and she rolled to absorb the momentum of her advance. Upon stopping, she wheeled about and let slip the top half of her lightsaber. With a crack of escaping gas like a gunshot, the top half of the hilt launched itself towards the Spider on a wave of compressed gas, connected by the other half only by a delicate strand of liquid cable. It would pass unseen in the gloom to wrap itself around the Spider’s ankles and legs, potentially pitching him to the deck unless evaded. ((1))
  8. Just behind them, there was a roar as the sublights of Armiena’s ship blazed to life and propelled it from the Goliath. Its departure drew fire from a pair of TIE Fighters, but only for them to peel away once it was observed that the ship was not taking evasive maneuvers, returning their fire--or indeed behaving in any manner other than that of a freighter on autopilot. For the Jedi that it left behind, it was left to them to conquer or die. That wasn’t unfamiliar territory for the veteran Jedi--but the last time that she had led a boarding party, it wasn’t a former Dark Lord of the Sith that she was expecting to watch her back. While Ryu hoisted the body of a fallen Sith trooper as a human shield, Draygo coolly stepped out from behind his advance, swiping away blaster bolts from the remaining two stormtroopers with almost contemptuous ease. There was a brief lull in the blaster fire just as the lights of the service corridor shut off with a metallic clang. The veteran Jedi danced to one side, knowing what was coming next. The next volley of fire was a wave of azure stun blasts that left her left arm tingling in their wake. Draygo drew her blaster pistol and spat a pair of stun blasts into the floor, causing the two Sith troopers to tumble to the ground amid a battery of silent curses. Draygo strode over to the fallen Sith troopers, calmly trading fire until the resistance was finally silenced by a pair of stun blasts to one’s neck and the other’s wrists. “Ryu, Genesis,” Draygo turned to face her companions, her face illuminated only by a meager beam of turquoise. “This is a smash and run. Guessing there’s a turbolift shaft about four hundred meters up. We hit the bridge and start breaking things. Priority is comms and helm. Ryu--Ryu!” The Dark Lord was staring down the corridor as though attempting to discern a vague shadow a hundred meters away. She should have known. He had only just escaped five years of imprisonment in the dark, with nothing but his own tormented thoughts to keep him company. It should have been perfectly predictable that he would be erratic in the pitch darkness of a starship. Draygo marched several meters up the corridor, scanning the walls in the trembling light of her weapon. Finally--she located the local power distribution module, a little box of circuit breakers, fuses, capacitors, and transformers. “Should be on a separate circuit…. schutta!” Armiena yelped as she slashed through the circuit panel. A shower of sparks and burning metal burst from the wall, bathing her in blinding light. As the murmur of ventilation shafts died and the glare of the electrical fire died, she was illuminated in the combating shades of crimson and amber from the local emergency glowlamps. Draygo gestured with her lightsaber and set off on a jog. Midstep she was muttering into a comlink, “Draygo--requesting reinforcements aboard Goliath. Will need extraction--repeat, will need extraction from Goliath…”
  9. Seconds of frantic, thoughtless activity ensued. Draygo only had time to toss one of those cheap, plastic respirator masks onto Ryu’s lap. Her hand tapped frantically at one of McShipface’s control boards, setting the autopilot to retreat to a set of coordinates somewhere between Corellia and Duros. Then, rushing down the ship’s interior towards the airlock, Armiena attempted to place one of the masks over her face and toss the remaining mask towards her Padawan. At the airlock, the veteran Jedi only had a second to throw open a maintenance cabinet and grab a single item. And then the airlock opened to vacuum. Atmosphere whipped around her oversized robe and threatened to drag her into space. Items from that maintenance cabinet, left carelessly opened, spilled out and bombarded the hull of Goliath with a collection of hydrospanners, glow panels, and coils of wire and solder. The trio leapt over the chasm between the research vessel and Sith flagship--no significant feat, considering that two meters of null-gravity separated the two ships. Nonetheless, she stumbled and pitched forward, overcompensating for what she anticipated to be a rushing headwind. Instead she was met with nothing--just a cold hallway, lit dimly by crimson emergency panels and filled with only gasping vacuum. Exposure to vacuum was a nightmarish sensation. Contrary to what the holoflicks liked to portray, bodies didn’t simply explode in the void. The reality was worse. Every drop of liquid on the body--blood, sweat, and began to boil. The side of the body that was exposed to the nearest star was instantly racked by intense heat; the other side by cold that approached absolute zero. While the torso didn’t grossly rupture like a bag of rotten melons, microcapillaries and blood vessels close to the surface of the skin would begin to burst. A brief exposure would leave bruises all over the body. More than a few seconds would cause migraine headaches and severe gastrointestinal distress. Minutes, even with assistance of a portable air supply, invariably resulted in excruciating death, whether from progressive decompression or hypothermia or the blind panic that tended to ensue from being exposed to an environment that was as thoroughly hostile to life as the vacuum of space. Armiena kept her eyes half-lidded and deliberately kept her motions slow. Slow is smooth--smooth is fast, the veteran Jedi repeated to herself. In the absence of atmosphere, her footfalls were silent--as was the probable screaming of a Sith trooper who sailed by, attempted to latch onto one of McShipface’s antennae, then lose his grip and drift into space. The loudest sound was the racing beat of her own heart, racing despite her will to not panic. Only at this moment did she glance at the objects in her hand--a roll of duct tape and a high-yield glop grenade. She moved with efficient slowness, wadding up a mass of the tape and fixing the glop grenade to the ceiling--then she armed the grenade and jogged to join Ryu and her Padawan. In the vacuum, there was no telltale chime to alert of an imminent detonation, just Armiena’s internal countdown. At four seconds, Draygo took shelter behind the same support girder as Ryu--just in time for the grenade to “detonate” and spray adhesive foam all over the corridor. An imperfect plug of adhesive foam having formed in the airlock, the shriek of wind began to return along with the atmosphere, but the trio were still trapped within the voided compartment. Making a hand gesture, the veteran Jedi led them to a vacuum-proof portal--a simple and effective armored door that sealed the rest of the ship against the breach in its hull. Far from an automated blast door that would open to allow the passage of entire squads of infantry, it was a one-man passageway that screwed shut with a mechanical lock. Not daring to shout orders with atmosphere at such a premium, Armiena made simply hand gestures, pointing towards herself and ticking down numbers on her hand. Herself--one. Ryu--two. Genesis--three. Matching action to words, the Jedi stood two meters from the door and drew her lightsaber. She stood in a runner’s crouch, prepared to first fight the buffet of wind once the portal was thrown open… and then whoever was stationed on the other side.
  10. Draygo growled as hundreds of icons began to appear on the sensor boards, all of them marked with red pips to indicate that landing craft and starfighters were descending into Corellia’s atmosphere. For a few seconds, the veteran Jedi just lowered her head and considered the tactical options. An invasion force of this size was likely to require coordination from a central command center, almost certainly the largest of the Sith Star Destroyers in the vicinity of Centerpoint Station. Only… no comm chatter was being picked up within the vicinity of Coronet City. Then it would be local command only--or even coordination the old-fashioned way, with each unit of troopers memorizing their objectives as well as their adjacent units. She sank into the Force and began to probe the area around Centerpoint Station. The aerospace was rife with the inimitable static and chatter of dozens of dogfights: bomber wings and gunners calmly reporting impacts and secondary explosions, starfighter pilots pleading for help or shouting in triumph, and the death screams of dozens of sapients in a dozen tongues every second. The Force roiled with emotion--Armiena pushed past the static and reached deeper into the capital ships of the Imperial fleet. Something there was bubbling grotesquely, like a turbid, viscous liquid that was boiling over. Draygo contacted the presence for the briefest of moments--she did not dare plumb its depths--and found that it hadn’t extended unctuous tentacles around the maelstrom in a Sith simulacrum of battle meditation. All coordination of the battle was being handled through local initiative, then. That was unusually decentralized for Imperial ground forces--more typical for Rebel commandos… or first-wave marines establishing a beachhead. Draygo pulled away from the Force and opened her eyes. Pale-green eyes flickered towards Kakuto Ryu. “Let’s make some friends, then. Genesis, on the guns and try to keep them off our engines. Ryu, have… fun with the arms and wait for my signal. I’ll look for a point of entry.” Into that chaos McShipface plunged, a hulking amalgam of civilian and scientific equipment amidst the swarms of sleek and swift starfighters. Laser fire was spitting from the freighter’s keel, but Draygo had no time to coordinate fire. Draygo dipped the freighter into the shadow of turbolaser blasts in a set of evasive maneuvers that caused girders to groan. As an emerald barrage grazed the shields and caused the lights to dim, unsecured equipment leaped off the walls and crashed into expensive piles of wreckage. An alarm howled for attention as the ship closed the distance to the Sith fleet, indicating that they had just been targeted by one of Goliath’s point-defense batteries. A flip of a switch focused the freighter’s powerful sensor arrays on that emplacement, blasting it with so much energy that it overloaded the fire-control systems. Blaster bolts bounced off of McShipface’s shields as it raced to the flagship’s hull--but then they were through the defenses, racing along the lines of the ship’s surface. Armiena’s eyes darted from point to point, searching for a specific location on the ship’s superstructure. The ship darted along its lateral trench, racing past gun emplacements and hangars, then up its command superstructure. Finally, she located a singular point that would allow them to make ingress without getting bogged down in the hangar. The Jedi Ace slewed the ship violently to port, bringing the engines to a halt and filling the viewport with the sight of a personnel airlock. “Ryu! The airlock! Open it up open it up now-now-now!” Armiena shouted, unbuckling from the pilot’s seat and leaping across the cockpit. She tore open a cabinet, revealing four emergency respirators. They were sitting ducks for Goliath’s combat air patrol and point defenses in these critical seconds.
  11. Draygo had significant difficulty accepting praise from anyone, and noticeably paused while inspecting an armored vest. “I’m a fool. It’s a requirement for any half-decent revolutionary,” Armiena responded as she donned the armor and stretched her shoulders to test the range of motion. The veteran Jedi retrieved a small vibrodagger and made a delicate cut at the seams on the sides, just enough for her to worm her fingers into the fabric and remove the encumbering weight of the a set of small plastoid plates. The armor would still provide some protection to the vitals, but the absence of the side plates would afford her a nearly full range of motion. She then retrieved an additional pair of short-bladed vibrodaggers, tucked one of them into her right boot and the other into a scabbard on her right shoulder. A slight adjustment of the clips on her gunbelt brought her lightsaber and blaster pistol closer to the sides of her hips. Closing up the lockers and securing the armory, Draygo sighted a fixed point on the far side of the ship’s miniature hangar and drew her blaster pistol in a single-handed grip. She rested the barrel of the weapon on wrist, clutching her lightsaber in her left hand. Armiena just gazed over the sights of the blaster for a handful of seconds, observing the natural bob of the sights with her breath. It was certainly an unconventional fighting stance for a Jedi--it was more reminiscent of the close-quarters combat techniques that some commando units practiced--but it would allow her to transition from her pistol to her lightsaber in an instant. “Rule number one of combat as a Jedi--keep yourself alive.” Draygo patted her Padawan on the shoulder as she followed Ryu to the cockpit. “Your lightsaber will give you plenty of options. No need to take a life when you can take a limb… and a few kilos of high-grade steel makes for a wonderful cudgel. Ryu,” Armiena tried to smile as she collapsed into the pilot’s seat and began to prime the ship’s powerful active sensors. Instead, she only managed a sort of pained grimace that twisted her mouth and didn’t quite reach her eyes. “If we both live through this day, we will have a long talk about why I’m so terrified of you. It will be a difficult conversation, but you won’t be facing the Jedi Grandmaster completely unprepared. Now.” Her metal hand racing over the controls of McShipface’s astrometrics suite as though it were a rehearsed motion, Draygo focused the vessel’s powerful sensor dish into the void. To anyone directly targeted by the sensors, the surface of the hull would begin to vibrate and emanate at a keening, ultrasonic frequency as it was buffeted by a wave of energy that was outright unhealthy for an unprotected organic to absorb. To the veteran Jedi, however, all she observed was that the overhead lights dimmed noticeably as the sensor arrays spooled up and probed deeply into the deep space surrounding Centerpoint Station. Draygo’s lips thinned as she observed the report and transmitted it to the Rebel fleet--a sizeable fleet consisting of several Star Destroyer-sized vessels, numerous frigates and cruisers, and a Star Dreadnought of an unknown design had been mustering in-system. She just let out a little sigh and gunned the engines.
  12. Draygo said nothing, her pale-green eyes shifting between her Padawan and Kakuto Ryu. Once again, her expression remained carefully and stoically neutral, even if the seizure of emotion that rattled through the Force suggested that the veteran Jedi was experiencing some strange combination of profound stress, existential terror, and hopeful calculation. Her left eye, however, twitched. But that was easily explained by the lack of sleep over the last week and the acrid scent of cold caf that lingered in the cockpit. “Shippy has a state-of-the-art sensor array and the best comms suite this side of the Force. Her engines…” It went unspoken that McShipface was a research ship and her engines weren’t suited to outrun anything faster than a flock of mynocks. “We’re going out there to see what the Sith are mustering at Centerpoint, relay to the fleet, and try to not die in the process.” She got up and led the two to the ship’s armory. It was a small room, barely larger than a Coruscanti closet, but the lockers had enough blasters, breastplates, and vibrodaggers to outfit a squad of commandos. Draygo’s mouth formed words as she punched in the access code--the motion of her fingers clearly indicated that guessing a string of six consecutive numbers was the only barrier between an intruder and access to enough explosives to level a city block. “Help yourselves, the white-caps are duds,” Armiena offered as she tucked one of the aforementioned dud grenades and a concussive flashbang into her belt. “Ryu,” Armiena added, placing her left palm on an armored casket. The little box opened, revealing a pair of lightsabers. The hilt of one was scarred and corroded by a mixture of fire and a battery explosion, but the other was a nearly pristine hilt with hand-carved wooden and leather inlays. She pressed it to Ryu’s breastbone. “This lightsaber was loaned to me during a desperate moment by Roene Givrah. He’s been missing in action ever since Coruscant fell.”
  13. As Draygo had said, there was no time to lose. There was only time to run through additional lightsaber drills with Genesis, and try to steal a few hours of sleep despite the imminent threat of battle. An alarm klaxon jolted the veteran Jedi from her sleep. She pushed herself off of the command consoles and rubbed at the indentations that the freighter’s controls had left on her cheek. Only a few seconds later, the haze of hyperspace receded to reveal a star system in chaos--Sith and Rebel fleets were arrayed in the vicinity of Corellia, and McShipface’s advanced sensors were picking up energy surges that were indicative of ongoing dogfights between the fleets’ pickets. And there was something big out there. Draygo’s senses couldn’t quite pick out the presence, but the Force and her ship’s sensors were warning her that horrible danger was lurking many kilometers out into the void. She keyed the ship’s comm systems and hailed the Rebel fleet, her fingers skidding on an unidentified moisture on the controls.. “This is Master Darkfire. Standing by to support. Awaiting tactical data.” She terminated the signal and grimaced; she had been drooling in her sleep. “Ryu!” The veteran Jedi called into the rear of the ship. “I’m sorry. I said that I would petition the Grandmaster regarding your case, try to get the Jedi off your back while you picked through your memories. I…” Draygo ran her hands through her hair, feeling as though the vacuum was trying to reach through the hull to grab her. “I can record a message for you, just in case I don’t… but if I do, I’ll come get you. Bag--has a comlink, a few days of rations, and some credits if you make it to a city. Now, please, take the easy way out of this one and ride an escape pod down to Corellia.”
  14. "You're probably right. But as far as hills to die on go, this one looks pretty good." Armiena admitted with a shrug. Though not prepared to admit her apprehension to the former Dark Lord of the Sith, even temporarily amnesiac, Draygo sensed a strain of... viciousness that was beginning to creep into the Jedi Order's strategies. It needed to die a messy, public death before it had the opportunity to twist the Order into something cruel and pragmatic that would kill billions in unrestrained warfare. Draygo continued to pick at the nerf rib, alternating between nibbling off bits of meat from the bone and sucking grease from her metal fingers. It was just as well that the hand lacked nociceptors, she decided--handling the bone likely would have left her with a terrible burn. Regardless of the result of her confrontation with Alluyen, she would need to have a difficult conversation with Ryu, hopefully before the botched job of wiping his memory began to fade away. But how to tell a man that he had been Asshole Number One of the galaxy, responsible for the deaths of billions indirectly and hundreds of thousands directly? And that had Draygo been the one to determine his fate, she almost certainly would have killed him in an instant? But that was only a threat to her own life, and she was prepared to lose it in an attempt to prevent a former Dark Lord from being unleashed on the galaxy. Genesis, on the other hand… no amount of training or lightsaber instruction would prepare Armiena to let go of another Padawan. “No one is really ready, Genesis. But you’re better off than most,” Armiena said with a forced smile, reaching over to squeeze his knee. “You’re a compassionate and courageous young man, and you’ll make for a great Jedi Knight. We’ll be spending some more time training. There won’t be a moment to lose until I see the right opportunity to--hold on.” At that moment, a comlink began chirping at her belt. Draygo got up to fish it and her belt from the marching formations of ants, who at this point had developed an intricate system of supply dumps, presumably in preparation for a war against a neighboring ant hill. She listened--and then spat out a venomous curse. “Changed my mind, we’re going now. At least we have some stars, moon… first light in a couple hours.” She glanced up and decided that they at least would not be stumbling aimlessly in the dark. “Destination will be Corellia. Sith invasion--all hell is breaking loose.” The return journey was slow going, each step placed carefully in the tall grasses to avoid a stumble. It wasn’t until dawn that the outline of the Jedi conclave rose over the horizon and the three made their way aboard Draygo’s Barloz-class freighter. “Feel free to clean up, get a meal--just stick clear of the yellow tape or you’ll lose artificial gravity or power or… something,” Armiena mumbled sleepily on her way to the cockpit. Several minutes later, McShipface alighted from the Jedi outpost and fled into hyperspace.
  15. The veteran Jedi finally succeeded in mastering her instincts and relaxed from her poorly-disguised fighting stance. “The former. Genesis is my Padawan. There are all manner of things that I can be counted on to disagree vociferously with the rest of the Order, but they consistently tolerate me. I intend to be perfectly honest with the Grandmaster. I’ll request a new assignment, ask for permission to put you through your trials,” Armiena smirked at her Padawan, imagining what his reaction to the nonchalant announcement of the end of his training could be. “And I’ll make a status report and politely request that she not assign any Jedi to your case. Very politely.” Draygo approached the dead nerf and plunged her right hand into the writhing mass of ants that was her gunbelt. At this point, any exposed edible matter had been devoured and the insects had formed a simple convoy system to and from the carcass of the nerf. Not even bothering to shake away the few insects that gave ineffectual bites at her prosthetic, she retrieved her lightsaber and ignited it with a snap-hiss that was startlingly crisp against the ambient buzz of the night. However, there was no malicious intent in the retrieval of her weapon, as she immediately turned the turquoise blade on the carcase of the nerf by dissecting away one of its ribs with four careful slashes. Extinguishing the blade, Armiena placed a foot on the carcass of the pack animal and ripped away the bone with a powerful tug. “Hopefully we’ll be assigned to a Core world, a place where you can try and put together your memories in peace. Certainly get a better prosthetic arm than something from a protocol droid. My ship doesn’t have a slave circuit, so we’ll wait until dawn before heading out. I’ll take the first watch.” The veteran Jedi sat by the fire and began to methodically cut away pieces of fur and hide and fat with a small vibroknife. It would only be a few hours until the first light of dawn, and Armiena would remain awake throughout the remainder of the night, slowly roasting the nerf rib over the flame. But she only occasionally nibbled at the rib, instead staring simultaneously at the lightsaber hilt in her lap and at a fixed point a lifetime away. She was concerned, but not for herself, nor the former Dark Lord of the Sith. Her concern was reserved for her apprentice.
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