Joined: Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:25 pm
Location: East Coast, USA
"Peace is a lie..."
The Republic had promised them peace; the Jedi had vowed to bring them safety. As the first wave of fighters had strafed the city, razing the tallest buildings to the ground in the very first few stunning moments, they had all learned how empty those promises had truly been. The first alarms had taken another precious few seconds before they finally started to blare, and the city's defenders scrambled to prepare, too late, for an attack that had caught them completely off guard.
When the first drop ships lowered below the clouds, the defenders learned how doomed they truly were: none of the AA turrets would respond to any commands, and most of the Republic fighters that had made up the token air defense of the supposedly safe city had been sabotaged... they lay worse than useless in their hangars, their pilots helpless to do anything as the second strafing run began, timed perfectly to soften what remained of the defenses to clear the way for the dozens of drop ships. Within each ship stood, fully armed and prepared for an attack that not even the Jedi had foreseen, a dozen or so Sith soldiers, their masters fueling and then feeding off of their anger until each ship almost glowed with malevolence.
Rallying their own power, the defenders, led by the Jedi Knights, saw the futility of trying to fight the superior forces on such uneven ground, and began efforts to evacuate the civilians. As the first few Sith ships landed, ejecting their troopers and Sith warriors, the defenders were horrified to see the other half fly right over them, landing only when they were in position to cut off the carefully planned escape routes that the soldiers had marked off for the worst-case scenario, and had promptly left undefended. Someone had betrayed them.
The defeat was quick and total.
Nitokris opened his eyes with a start, and the air around him grew still while his chair and desk, two of the few pieces of furniture that populated his cramped chambers, fell to the floor with a metallic rattle that rang loudly in the silence. Frowning in frustration, Nitokris mentally scolded himself. He had to learn to control himself better, had to find a way to stay immersed in deep meditation.
Taking a deep breath, Nitokris closed his eyes and focused on his anger towards himself for having made such a stupid mistake. Using that anger, he reached out with his mind, and found the chair and desk, lying on their sides, and slowly, carefully, lifted them both up simultaneously, to float gently over to their corner. Breathing out slowly, Nitokris lowered them to the ground until they rested gently on the stone floor, the desk barely making a sound. The chair, on the other hand, was released while two of its legs were still several inches above the ground, and it slammed on the rock; a smaller disturbance that echoed the much noisier results of Nitokris' early lack of control.
Clenching his hands tightly, Nitokris frowned, fuming, and forced himself to resume his meditations, starting again from the very beginning.
"... there is only passion."
Nito and Ila crouched behind the crates as the trio of guards marched past, performing their usual sweep of this never-traveled part of the city's upper side.
"Right on schedule," Ila whispered as the guard rounded the corner. She had been resting her hand over her blaster in its holster on her left thigh, the only sign that she had been nervous.
Nito lifted the comlink to his mouth. "Team Cresh in position, awaiting the go-ahead."
Nito set the comlink on the ground, so that it remained in his peripheral vision while he did a quick sweep of the area. Ila was undoubtedly better at containing her anxiety, he thought while trying to resist the urge to stand and lean out for a better view of the now-empty alleyway. It's not like they were in the lower city anymore, but Nito still couldn't resist the feeling that something, or somebody, could sneak up on them from around any one of the corners of the various alleyways that intersected nearby. The only thing they had to worry about was the guard coming back... not likely, since out of the entire month that they had spent mapping the patrol route, they had not once varied, almost droid-like in their timing and precision. Ironic perhaps, that they were the only living patrol that had to be avoided that night.
"Would you just relax, Nito?" Ila laughed in a low voice, pulling on his right shoulder to keep his head from peaking out too high. "Cham and the other three probably aren't even in position yet, and we have almost an hour before the patrol comes back this way."
"I know, I know... I just don't like this waiting. Stay in one place for too long and..."
"And what? The guards will evict you? Relax."
Nito did his best, sitting back against the alley wall to give his cramped legs a break. He reached into his pack, made sure that the disruptor pistol (worth an instant execution, if he was caught with it still in his possession) was still there, and ignored the look that Ila gave him at his continued paranoia. Ila was from the upper city, had been trained and educated since childhood in the grand tradition of the Sith elite. Nito hadn't spent more than an hour in the upper city since he had been an infant, and the Sith had invaded the surface. For more than a decade of his life, he'd been eking out an existence amongst the slaves in the lower streets of the city; for less than even that, he'd been with Cham and his gang. If he hadn't learned to be a little paranoid, he'd probably be dead or re-enslaved by now.
Cham was one of the few humans to be found in the lower city. He had been many years Nito's senior when they'd first met, and had already formed a small following, a coming together of youths of all races and backgrounds. It hadn't been the first gang to form after the invasion, but it was one of the least violent, and was mostly overlooked by the Sith when they would do their yearly sweeps. Part of that was likely due to Cham's humanity (he'd been sure that he was always the first one the patrols would greet, if the group hadn't been able to go to ground quick enough), and the hefty bribes they'd collected hadn't hurt either.
Nito had been but a young adolescent when he'd been inducted into the gang, after running away from the orphanage where he'd been allowed to sleep between shifts in the mines, but his youth had proven to be of benefit. Life was hard in the lower streets, but only the most cynical would have expected a Zabrak of such helpless stature of being able to assist so ably in the cons and minor thefts that the gang would perform on a weekly basis. They'd kept on the move, never staying in the same area for more than a fortnight, always staying ahead of the more vicious gangs and anybody who'd decided to take the law into their own hands (out of necessity, for such was the only way to ever see real justice done; the saying went somewhat ironically that the justice of the Sith only extended to where the light of day was seen). A percentage of each job would go towards the pool they had to save up for bribes for the yearly sweeps, and the rest disappeared rapidly to purchase food and medicine. Life had still been rough, though; a gang of teenagers and children refusing to work as slaves, led by a human, was ill-suited to compete with some of the more extreme anti-Sith gangs that would spring up between sweeps, and death in its many forms had been no stranger to the group.
The annual guard sweeps had also been a double-edged sword. For the guards, Nito had learned, it was a bit of a celebration. They were set loose into the dark streets and alleys of the lower city and given free reign of the non-human slaves there. Arrests and captures were numerous, but not nearly as numerous as impromptu beatings and "mysterious" deaths. Nowhere was safe, but Cham's group usually had a bribe sizable enough to get the guards to "ignore" them; some years had been closer than others, and Nito himself had often received a few blows at the hands of some of the more implacable guards. It was, for weeks, a time of terror and uncertainty, and you could never tell if it was safe to sleep, and who would be missing when you woke up.
The weeks after the sweeps were, somewhat bitterly, usually the best time for the gang. Because most, if not all, of the other non-human gangs saw their numbers depleted and incapacitated, Cham's group was often given free-reign of whatever section of the sprawling understreets they desired. They often scattered, each following their own particular schemes and cons while the stronger gangs underwent civil strife and inter-gang wars to consolidate and reform. Nito often stuck with Cham, who immediately started saving up money for the leaner times to come, while many of the others donated sizable portions of their income to relatives or, more commonly, spent them on stims and dancers. Through the years, Nito had come to look up to Cham, who in turn often gave Nito greater responsibilities and shares of the rewards.
Sooner or later, though, the other gangs would recover, or new ones would form from rebellious slaves, and they would be forced to resume their constant migration. Despite the relative peace brought after the sweeps, everybody knew that it was a damn good thing that they only happened once a year. Until recently.
"Team Aurek in place," the comlink squawked, making Nito jump from his sitting position, heart pounding as he quickly grabbed it off the ground, spinning the volume knob until it was barely audible.
Ila scowled at him disapprovingly, and muttered, "Only two more teams to go... shouldn't be long now." She rechecked her blaster, her short black hair obscuring her eyes as her head tilted downwards.
"Are you ready?" Nito asked her, again suppressing the urge to stand up and pace, or walk down one of the alleys, or something.
"Of course, mine's the easy part. Are you ready?" she asked, not unkindly.
Two years previous, the Sith governor had passed away. This had seemed inconsequential, especially in the lower streets where the Empire was, at best, tangential to daily survival. The average alien worked his shifts in either the city or the mines before returning home in the evening, with nothing to do with any of the Sith humans, so the passing of one governor didn't seem like it would have that great an effect on their lives... droids would still need maintained, and minerals would still need mined, no matter who presided over the planet. That was until the new governor had arrived.
Rumors had abounded, even down into the darker underside of the city. Some said that he was descended from some sort of Sith hero from before the invasion; that he had gone through military training, failed miserably, but because of his family he had been spared execution. Instead, the most trusted stories went, he was shoveled off to the side, given the governor's post on this out-of-the-way rock... not quite an insult, as the mineral wealth was not exactly something to scoff at, but definitely a post that was expected to keep him nice and bored for the rest of his life. So it was that Moff Jordun Hryk III arrived, unheralded and unnoticed.
Nito reached into the satchel at his side, feeling the object within to steel his courage, and nodded. "I'm ready. I just hope the other two hurry. I can't stand all this waiting."
The comlink beeped twice.
"That'll be 'team Besh'. Erax's got the security down," Ila said to herself. "Time to start moving." She rose up from her crouch, her black jumpsuit emphasizing the subtle musculature that permitted such feline grace.
Nito also stood, much more clumsily than Ila. He messed with the satchel's strap until it rested more comfortably on his shoulder, the weight on his right side comforting and terrifying him simultaneously.
They squeezed between the crates, their footsteps ringing far too loudly on the steel walkway for Nito's comfort. He let Ila take the lead, and pulled the hood of his jacket over his head. From a distance, he could pass as human, but it wouldn't do to get spotted now and draw unwanted attention with his horns. Of course, they would have much bigger problems to deal with if they were spotted in the first place.
Ila led them through the narrow alleys, as the scenery gradually shifted from cold metal to warmer stone; they were crossing over into the manor district. Nito noted the frozen cameras perched irregularly throughout the backstreets, and was relieved to see that they gave no indication of their regular motion-tracking. Erax's team had done their job well, and in record speed. The Rodian knew his stuff.
Most of the district was comfortably dark. The upper city curfews extended even to the Sith elite, and few of them would remain awake until the early hours of the morning. The only sign of life came from the faint echoes that were gradually increasing in volume as they moved through the district. The sounds of marching feet, coming from boots and droids, seemed to chase them as Ila led them through her childhood neighborhood. They knew that the streets would soon be swarming with patrols making up for the temporary blind spot in security, and had carefully planned their route to hopefully squeeze them through the gaps before they were sealed.
As they neared the central square, Nito froze. He felt... something. His intuition was telling him that something terrible was about to happen, screaming silently at him that he had to do... something. Ila turned back to see why he was stopping, and he felt the ground drop out from him as time slowed to a crawl...
The whirring of a gigantic battle droid rotating its torso as it revealed its hiding place by sending half a dozen crates of food sprawling into the square ahead.
The echos of feet pounding against the stone as several guards appeared from the streets behind them.
The light plasteel-on-stone sound made by rifles being set atop the roofs lining the street, aimed at the two of them.
The flash of a single blaster going off.
The scream of superheated air as the bolt jumped through the darkness.
The smell of burning flesh.
The sudden cry of a human female in pain.
Time resumed with a roar, and Nito felt the ground swim beneath him. "Get down!" he screamed, putting all of his strength into the leap that closed the distance between him and Ila. He bowled her over as he connected with her back, and the two of them fell to the street as the soldiers caught up, the rifles targeted them, and the blaster discharged, leaving a scorch-mark in the stone where Ila had been mere moments ago.
Silence reigned for the space of a few breaths, until the light blue of a stunning laser flashed, accompanied by a faint hum and a strange metallic taste in his mouth, followed quickly by a comforting blackness that spread to fill his mind.
The Moff had come into office a mere month after the most recent sweep of the lower city. The first executive command he had made had turned the usual time of respite and recovery for the undersiders inside out.
Far from being the empty figurehead that he had been intended as, he made it clear that he meant to get things done. He used his authority to reform the guard into something resembling a regiment of the Sith armada, and quickly announced his overall agenda: To clear the streets of dangerous free non-human gangs, and to extend the rule of law into the seedy underbelly of the capital city. The first invasion of the lower streets had been a short week later.
Unlike previous sweeps, this one was organized, preplanned, and conducted like a war. Several of the gangs tried uniting, but inner conflict kept them from being able to put up any kind of real resistance, and they only delayed the inevitable. The following weeks had been bloodier than anything since the invasion... Cham's gang went to ground, and most of them went missing by the time Moff Hryk recalled his troops, celebrating a job well done in the beginning of what promised to be a very bloody struggle. Most of Nito's friends had gone missing or turned up dead in the days after the attack. It had taken him almost a week before he'd found Cham again.
Nitokris concentrated, and felt the Force open to him. It came to him faster this time... it usually took more effort to reach this level of concentration. He reached out with his mind, and felt his consciousness expand to encompass his room, and then--- with the slightest application of effort--- the entire wing in which his quarters rested.
The sensation was still a new one, but he knew enough to not be caught off-guard by the strangeness of it. That was an easy way to lose one's concentration, as he'd learned painfully earlier that day.
"No," he thought to himself, turning his focus back towards what he felt. He could see... no, not quite 'see', it was more than that, like touch, smell, taste, sight, sound all wrapped into one... the other apprentices in their sleep. Like a planet at a distance, he knew that if he could focus more, somehow get 'closer', he could gain a lot more detail than presented by the broad spectrum of raw 'information' that he felt starting to overwhelm his senses. And yet, he knew... no, 'felt', never 'know'... that it was all the same, and that he didn't really need to focus, anymore than he could actually see the dust swirling in the light breeze that echoed down the hallways from the cracks in the door. It was... alien, incomprehensible. And somehow, he felt, as alive as anything ever could be.
It wanted him to understand, to learn what it had to show him. It called out to him with a heavy, wordless call older than time, a sound that seemed to echo with whispered voices from the past and future; it was heat and cold, pressure and vacuum, fear and anger, piercing screams and terrifying silence.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he prepared to continue his meditations. While it took him considerable effort to reach out with any control to touch the Dark Side, more than most apprentices, once he felt it, he was more in tune, more capable with it than most of them were, too. He needed to be able to reach out to it faster, to find the right fuel that would allow him to grasp it whenever he desired.
He drew the power in with a breath, picturing himself grabbing a hold of all the different strands that he could almost-but-not-quite visualize pulsing through the room and, with a forceful yank, making them his. With the hot-cold flaring up inside his mind... a new sensation, like something was literally moving behind his eyes, inside his skull... he turned his focus back to that time, and his search for whatever would enable him to hold onto this power again.
"Through passion, I gain strength."
Although the hour was late, the streets were still full of sound. Weeping was masked only by the occasional sounds of a building giving out, scattering dust and rubble into the faint breeze. Most had cleared themselves from the streets, having given up on the day's seemingly hopeless efforts of cleaning up what remained from the attacks. Although it had been almost a month, so much work remained in piecing back together the shattered remains of what lives still remained in the dark understreets.
The only people moving through the streets were a Zabrak and his Rodian companion. They both wore plain garments, as dusty and disheveled as the streets around them. The Zabrak's eyes darted back and forth as they walked through the open, staying as close to the center of the street as they could. The Rodian was visibly exhausted, and the Zabrak had to slow several times to keep the distance between them short.
"We'll check the one more, and then find somewhere safe to crash for the night," the Zabrak said, when the Rodian caught up for the sixth time, lowering the hood from his head, exposing his horns to the night air.
The Rodian lowered his hood, too, stopping to take another drink from the flask at his hip. His green skin showed his age; it was faded in patches, visible as mottled grey splotches around his eyes and sagging antennae.
"Do you still think there's any chance the others made it through this, Nito?" the Rodian inquired in broken Basic, offering the flask to the Zabrak.
The Zabrak sighed, accepting the offered flask. "Erax, I... I honestly don't know any more. Before I'd found you, I was almost ready to give up hope." He took a deep drought from the flask, returning it to Erax. "But, I can't give up just yet, not now. We'll check the sewers, at least the one hideout... even if nobody's there, there's still a chance that the rooms are still standing, right?"
Erax shrugged, slinging the strap back over his shoulder. "I guess it doesn't hurt to check. I still think you should go on alone... my leg's acting up again, it's getting harder and harder to keep up."
"No," Nito answered bluntly, turning to walk towards a small pile of rubble that had piled in the alleyway between two stumpy buildings to their left. He helped the Rodian over it, and visibly relaxed when he saw that the manhole cover hadn't been buried. "We're here, there's just a ladder and a short walk to go. Assuming..." he paused, sifting through some of the trash that rested just beyond the manhole, grabbing and pulling out a glowtorch, "Good."
He flipped the switch, and the light drove back the shadows, casting odd reflections against the metallic walls and walkway. Handing the glowtorch over to Erax, his hands dusted off the manhole cover, and his fingers sought the hidden switch. With a few presses of the proper buttons, the manhole cover slid out of the way, revealing a dark pit and a rusty ladder, coupled with the sickly sweet scent of industrial wastes.
"I'll go first," Nito said, accepting the glowtorch back and placing the handle between his teeth as he swung his feet out over the pit, his gloved hands grasping the top rung. Erax couldn't see it, but Nito was incredibly tense as he started to carefully lower himself down the ladder, making sure he didn't even try to look down. Just one rung at a time, Nito, one at a time, he mentally told himself. The rungs were sturdier than their rusted, time-worn appearance intimated, but his feet still occasionally threatened to lose traction on some of the less well-off rungs. When the walls around him changed from shiny metal to smooth stone, he started to relax, and looked down. The ground was less than 3 meters below him, and after a few more rungs, his view opened up into the bizarre semi-cavern that formed this portion of the sewer tunnels.
A narrow walkway under the ladder loped off to the left, extending along the wall and coming to a three-way intersection that was barely within the edge of the illumination provided by the glowtorch. To his right, the walkway abruptly ended, and the tunnel curved sharply; the only evidence of what lay beyond that curve came in the faint sound of rushing water, and Nitokris knew that the tunnels emptied into a large storage vat that connected to dozens of smaller tunnels and pipes, most of which emptied into a large pipe that in turn went on to empty over a small cliff-side into a lake of chemical wastes that marked the entrance to the newer portion of the mines.
"All clear," Nito shouted up the ladder to Erax before leaning back against the wall to wait for him to complete the lengthy descent.
When Erax finally reached the bottom, Nito motioned for him to follow as he led the way left, to the three-way intersection. Hopefully, he held his glowtorch aloft, looking for the markings on the wall that would indicate whether or not this had all been a waste of time. A smile broke across his face, and he let out an audible sigh of relief when the light fell upon a three-rayed sun with an inverted aurek carved in place of the southern ray.
"They're here!" he said, turning to Erax, beaming. "We've finally found them."
Erax looked visibly relieved, too. "How far?"
"Literally just around the corner," Nito said, leading Erax to the right, following the tunnel as it sharply curved to and fro before opening up onto an even larger tunnel. This tunnel served as a service hub of sorts; smaller tunnels opened up at infrequent intervals along both sides, and ladders clung to the walls here and there, leading up to other tunnels or service stations. A few droids lazily clattered across the walkways in the distance, on their way to or from maintenance duties.
Nito and Erax took a sharp left, into another off-shoot tunnel that slowly sloped upwards. Light came from the end of it, around yet another corner, and Nito started to hear the sound of faint music and voices echoing through the corridor. They rounded the final corner, and came to a door.
On the left of the door stood a dilapidated combat droid, half-leaning against the wall to remain upright, its arms holding an out-of-date military rifle that tracked the two as they approached. To the right stood a Quarren, shirtless except for an indigo cloth band slung from shoulder to hip, a couple frag grenades making visible lumps in the cloth. In his hand was a blaster pistol, which was also aimed at the two.
Nito and Erax held their hands up in front of them, palms forward to show they weren't armed, and waited.
"When can the children come out to play?" the Quarren demanded.
"When the Gundarks have had their fill," Nito recited, lowering his hands to his side as the Quarren lowered his blaster.
"Kriff, it's good to see you, Nito," he said, his tentacles moving in the Quarren version of a smile.
"And you, Trikkur," Nito answered, clasping the Quarren's clawed hand in greeting. "Who else is here?"
"That's right, you haven't heard!" Trikkur exclaimed. "Cham's back! All of the Gundarks we could find are here, too... and some new people. Humans! Nito, Cham's... well, this could be big. He'll want to see you, right away," he rambled, entering the code to open the door, spilling light and sound into the corridor.
Nito's smile faltered, replaced by cautious confusion. He deactivated the glowtorch, and helped Erax across the threshold as Trikkur shut the door behind them.
The room beyond had all the trappings of an old cantina: A bar sat square in the center, bright lights of innumerable shades and colors ran along the ceiling, and a soft, gentle music droned at the edge of hearing. From there, the similarities ended.
Spaced evenly on the floor to the far right were cots, almost three dozen crammed into the room. Milling about the room were all that was left of the Missing Gundark's, Cham's gang of escaped slaves and orphans. No humans were in sight; the roster ran the gamut from Twi'lek to Mon Calamari, the ages from young adolescent to Erax's upper two-digits.
Many turned from what they were doing to see the newcomers, and a small group detached themselves from their places at the bedsides of the injured (almost a third of the total count within the room) to Erax. Erax motioned for Nito to continue on without him, and he went with the medical staff for treatment and rest. Nito pressed through the crowd, exchanging greetings and sympathies with those who were still missing loved ones, who directed him back and through a set of double-doors, saying Cham and the new humans were "back there".
In what once were kitchens sat only a solitary table. Datapads and a few pages of durasheet took up all the free space atop it. Gathered around the table was a group of half a dozen humans, and Cham.
Cham stood out, even amongst his own kind. He had to be over two meters tall, dwarfing the rest of the humans in the room, and had a heavy, muscular build that made him appear only larger. His hair fell wildly down to his shoulders, and he had started to grow a straggly beard that made him appear even more feral. Despite his wild appearance, Nito knew that he could be incredibly well-spoken, and his green eyes darted around the room, taking everything in and filing it away for later. He wore his customary loose clothing, an indigo band tied around his left arm, marking him as one of the Gundarks. At his waist was slung a blaster he and Nito had stolen from a patrol years ago... Nito had its twin resting within his jacket.
The other humans in the group were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Evenly divided between male and female, they all wore the crisp, precisely pressed uniforms of the Sith upper-class, all somehow clean despite the fact they were all in an abandoned cantina from when the sewers served as mining shafts, decades ago. The males all had nearly-shaved heads, the females with shoulder-length hair tied into buns. They were all armed with duplicate side-arms.
As the double-doors swung shut behind Nito, all the humans turned to him.
"Nito!" Cham exclaimed, moving forward to greet him. "I'd feared the worst, my friend," he confided, his booming voice ringing clearly in the empty room.
"As did I, Cham," Nito replied. "I've spent weeks looking for you, or one of the Gundarks. Erax was the only one I'd found... Cham, they took his family."
A frown flashed across Cham's face. "You'll hear the same story everywhere, I fear. This new governor's determined to pick up the slack left by the old one, it seems. Nito, the things I've seen..."
"What? I haven't found anybody willing to speak about it, Cham, what is happening to our home?"
"The new Moff is "relocating" the slaves. No longer will the non-humans be allowed to return to the lower city from the mines. What little they did have has been taken from them... he intends to move everybody into the new mines."
"Yes. Camps, located within the mines themselves. Twenty-hour shifts, families separated... Nito, I know you've had it relatively good, but many of the Gundarks have family that they did their best to support. Those who resisted capture... well, I'm sure you've seen plenty of what the new Moff does to those who say "no"."
Nito nodded, flashes of blaster fire and the smell of burning carcasses filling his memory. "I understand, Cham. What are we going to do, though? We can't beat the Moff... we're lucky to have managed to survive as it is."
Cham tilted his head towards the humans standing around the table, all of whom were watching the exchange with great interest. One of them, a female with dark skin, stepped forward.
"My name is Ila, and these are my friends." She introduced each of the humans, but Nito felt his eyes drawn back to her. The way she stood, the way her clothing seeming to accentuate the toned curves of her body, the way her eyes met his confidently, the way she seemed to be able to tell what he was thinking...
Nitokris twirled his lightsaber over his head, and brought it down in a vertical swipe that would slice an opponent in half. He held the pose for a few moments, before deactivating the blades, giving it one last twirl, and using the Force to guide it to its clasp on his belt. Sweat ran down his back, and he was breathing heavily. He had heard of performing combat routines as a form of meditation, and had been giving it a try, with surprising results... although where his mind kept taking him was sometimes proving to be an annoyance. To purge himself of his old life, he knew though, he had to truly understand what it was he was burning away, but it was not always easy.
That first night with Ila had been nothing short of amazing. She and her friends were pro-alien students whose families had relocated their estates to Eliad, and disagreed with the philosophy so forcefully enforced by the Moff. Cham had found them during the weeks after the second sweep, and they had formed a plan. A plan to resist, to fight, and, in the future, to attack.
Nito and Ila had become lovers and partners in many of their clandestine operations over the next couple years... she would help him and others escape from the mines when they were caught (or went in willingly, to sabotage or rescue others), and Cham and Nito would work to stock supplies and credits while her friends would set up safehouses throughout the lower city and sewers, waystations on escape routes that eventually led out of the city entirely, and into the mountainous wilds, where even more places to hide were available.
It had been a hard, bloody time... they'd lost as many skirmishes as they won, and it remained an uphill battle the entire way, but their shared passion, their desire to see things return, at the least, to the way things had been before the new Moff, drove them through it. Nitokris had come to truly understand the strength provided by being driven, had seen in Ila the power derived from passion.
"Through strength, I gain power."
Nitokris slowly opened his eyes. His whole body ached, and the act of lifting his head sent fresh throbs of pain down his spine. He took a deep breath, and surveyed his cell.
He hung from a wall, suspended by his wrists... a uniquely cruel punishment that seemed to have been reserved for him and a few others, fellow conspirators. Since they had taken five of the others away for execution, there had been free space in the force cages, but the guards had been told to leave Nito and the other ringleaders as they were. The only light in the cell came from the tiny window on the door, and the light in the hallway beyond was always on, so Nito had no way to tell how long ago the last executions had been.
They had been betrayed. There was no other way for the Moff's guard to know about the attack, to know who the leaders of the Missing Gundarks were, or who was supposed to be where. Nito suspected it had been one of the humans that betrayed them... they kept the aliens together, and he hadn't seen any of them since he and Ila had been ambushed. Even Cham, the orchestrator of the entire plot, was kept away, and if any of them tried communicating in anything above a hushed whisper, the guards would send in the "interrogation" droids to silence them... after making them scream for a few minutes.
Erax stirred to Nito's left. He too hung suspended from the wall, but had fallen unconscious the last time the guards "visited", and had yet to awaken. Nito himself slept and awoken twice since then, despite his uncomfortable position, and was starting to worry for his friend. Erax was already old for a Rodian, and the harsh treatment seemed to be hitting him harder than it was Nito. In fact, Nito was surprised at how good he felt, despite the muscle cramps and physical soreness. Mentally, he was aware of his situation, and knew that he shouldn't be so aware after almost two weeks with little food or water, not even counting the sporadic tortures that had left their marks all over his body. None of the other prisoners seemed as awake as he was, even the ones in the force cages who faced only hunger.
"Erax?" Nito whispered, careful to avoid letting his voice carry. "Erax, can you hear me?" The Rodian gave no response, but a Twi'lek in a force cage three prisoners left and towards the door turned to look at Nito.
"Keep it down, Zabrak," he snapped, his voice rising above a whisper, fear visibly marring his ugly bruised face. Nito did not know him, but had heard from the guards that he was caught leaving the mines without permission... a crime now punishable by death, under the new Moff.
Suddenly, the door slid open, and three guards, flanked by two heavy battle droids, marched in. As the room lit up, they looked over the near-two-dozen prisoners packed into the cell. Several of the prisoners stirred, covering their eyes from the sudden brightness, but those nearest Nito hardly gave any indication of life at all.
"Let's see, who are the lucky ones today..." the center human, the prison warden, announced in his canine-like bark. He looked down at his datapad, and smiled. "Do we have a Twi'lek slave, shirking his rightful duty?" he mockingly asked, pointing to the Twi'lek, sending a guard to deactivate the force cage.
The Twi'lek rose shakily to his feet, and the guard slammed the butt of the rifle into his back, knocking him onto his face in front of the warden.
"Get up, scum," the guard grunted, kicking the Twi'lek's side as he forced himself to stand. The Twi'lek cast an angry glance back towards Nito, as though blaming him for his fate.
"And, let's see... the one with the tentacles for a face, the female there, and..." the warden read off, pointing at each of the inmates in turn. The droids and other guard rounded them up from their places in the force cages, and one from the wall immediately to Nito's right. The one from the wall fell limply to the ground, and only groaned under the hail of kicks from the guard.
The warden shook his head, and motioned for the guard to lift the prisoner up. The guards and droids escorted the prisoners out, but as the warden turned to leave, his eyes finally rose up from his datapad and fell on Erax.
"Kristov, wait a moment," he called back, one of the guards returning to his side. Looking something up on his datapad, he led to the guard to Erax, stopping in front of him. "It looks like our slicer friend here isn't agreeing with the luxurious accommodations. Cut him down."
Nito strained helplessly against his restraints. He could tell what was coming next.
As the restraints came undone, Erax fell limply to the floor. The guard jabbed him with his electro-jabber, and Erax twitched under the force of the shock, but gave no signs of consciousness.
The warden turned to Nito. "Hmmm... why is it, alien, that all of the prisoners near you have been checking out prematurely, but you still seem ripe and ready?" he mockingly asked.
Nitokris had noticed a similar pattern, but had no reply for the mockery.
"No matter," the warden continued without pause, drawing his blaster, and firing it at Erax's head. With one final twitch, the Rodian expired.
Nito felt blind, impotent fury rage up within him. He struggled helplessly against his restraints, and a bestial roar escaped his lips. The warden took a step back, confidence momentarily shattered... before pulling an electro-jabber from his side and thrusting it into Nito's stomach.
Pain blossomed across his body, but Nito felt a distant part of him, isolated from the pain and helplessness, awaken.
Nitokris' comlink beeped, breaking his concentration.
"We are approaching low-orbit, master," his companion informed him.
Suppressing his anger at the interruption, Nitokris stood and smoothed his robes. He still found some enjoyment in space flight, having set foot on his first ship less than a year ago, and the sight of a planet's surface drawing closer and closer through the viewscreen gave him some odd sense of pleasure; his companions knew this, and would usually alert him before landing.
Pleasure was not his purpose on this mission, though.
"Through power, I gain victory."
Nitokris lifted his head as the cell door slid opened, admitting two guards. He recognized them both from the Warden's visit... Kristov, the short, stocky human with an ugly scar running diagonally across his forehead, and the other, whom Nito did not know by name, tall and wide. Both had uniformly shaved heads, and both headed directly for him... one of the last prisoners in the cell, and the last one from the conspiracy who had not yet been dragged out, never to return.
They deactivated the shackles holding him to the wall, and let him fall to the ground. He managed to save some dignity by landing on his hands and knees, but had to fight to keep his arms from giving out; his entire body ached from his time against the wall.
"Get up," Kristov grunted, kicking Nito in the side and almost knocking him over.
Nito struggled to his feet, and barely had enough time to stretch his arms before they shackled his wrists and shoved him towards the door.
"Move," the tall guard snarled, threatening Nito with his electro-jabber.
Nito shuffled through the cell door, into the dimly lit hallway. The guards directed him to the right, and he did his best to keep up with the uncomfortably quick pace they set for him. The hallway gradually sloped downwards, before ending at the top of a narrow staircase that curved sharply down to the left and out of sight. So, they were in a tower of some sort... Nito knew that the Moff's new mansion had eight or nine towers, and that three of them were used to hold dangerous prisoners... leaders of minor uprisings, treason, and the crimes that would all earn somebody an execution, usually performed within the square in front of the palace, recorded to be broadcast later to the slaves in the mines and lower streets.
Knowing his location and fate did little to ease his nerves. He knew that this time, nobody was coming to help him. Somebody had betrayed the Gundarks... never before had all of them been captured, caught off guard. There was no late-night rescue, no money to bribe the guards to look the other way as the Gundarks took as many slaves with them as they could.
The identity of the spy remained an enigma to Nito, although he'd done his best to think back and figure out who it could have been. One of the humans, without a doubt... the only ones free from blame in Nito's mind were Ila, and Cham. Ila had been with him almost the entire time while plotting, and her passion for alien rights was too intense, too powerful to have been a ruse. And Cham... Cham had been Nito's best friend, since Nito had first escaped his role as a slave as a young adolescent. He had been like a brother to the young, frightened Zabrak, and his selflessness had been a constant boon, an inspiration to the young slave.
That left one of the other humans, none of whom Nito had seen since the night of the failed attack. Nito still had a hard time picturing any of them as traitors to the group... while they may not have been as engrossed in the cause as Ila, they all seemed just as committed.
With one guard before and one behind, Nito stumbled down the stairway, until it ended, somewhat ironically, at an elevator shaft. The elevator stood open, a guard droid waiting within. All three of them squeezed in, Nito trapped in the center between two guards who looked like they'd love nothing more than to carry out his sentence then and there, and a dispassionate droid that would shoot him without giving it a second's pause if the order was given.
The elevator ride lasted less than the space of five pained breaths before they slowed to a stop, and the door slid open to reveal an open courtyard. The center of the Moff's estate was about as extravagant as physically possible: plant life from dozens of worlds lined the polished metallic walkways, all of it meticulously kept by an army of grounds-keeping droids. Instead of droids, though, the walkways and balconies were lined with humans. Young and old, they all had one thing in common: they were members of the Sith elite, and had turned out for the climax to the drama that had been unfolding over the previous years.
They watched Nito as he was led from the elevator, out into the central pathway. Some jeered, but for the most part they remained silent, nameless observers to the culmination of the Moff's justice. Nito was escorted through their midst, and out the main gates into the central square in front of the Moff's mansion. Recording droids hovered, capturing the scene from different angles to be broadcast via hologram later.
The walkway widened, melding into the large square. A platform, slightly higher than ground level, had been set up. Nito looked over the figures standing atop it, as the guards pushed him to the steps. As he walked onto the platform, he froze.
The Moff himself looked like what would happen if a Hutt and a human had a child- he was a large, bloated man with greasy hair, his mockery of a military uniform tailored to stretch over his frame. His entire face wiggled as he turned his gaze to the prisoner; he'd apparently just finished giving a speech, as the crowd in front of the stand was cheering him at the podium. Behind him stood a small cabal of aides and assistants, mostly young and old men who'd had the misfortune to serve under the Moff's command, all of whom were politely clapping.
On the opposite end of the stage from Nito, just on the other side of the Moff, stood a giant... or so he seemed to Nito. The red-skinned man was almost as large as the Moff, mass-wise, but where the Moff was a quivering mass of flesh built like a dish of gelatin, this man was built like a battle-tank. He towered over everybody else, and his robes only partially obscured the lightsaber at his side. Just behind him were a pair of Sith troopers, standing at attention.
A Sith, Nito marveled, temporarily distracted from his dire situation. Despite having essentially grown up in the Empire (albeit, technically within its slave caste, if even as a rebellious one), Nito had never seen one of the Sith in person. They rarely ever visited this world, leaving it for rejects like Moff Hryk and mineral prospectors, and Nito had heard only stories, mixed with both hero worship and fear. Why would one of the Sith be here now, Nito couldn't help but wonder as his eyes continued their survey of the platform... coming to rest on the comparatively smaller figure of Cham, standing immediately next to the Sith.
The Moff noticed his sudden hesitation, and his face peeled apart to reveal large, blocky teeth in a horrible grimace of a smile. "Hm, yes... alien, I suppose you are familiar with young Cham? Remarkable man, he is... Force Sensitive, didn't you know?" he mocked, his voice no longer being carried by the amplifier on the podium.
"And you see, my people!" he proclaimed, turning to face the gathered crowd. "The last of the rebellious slaves, exposed to us by one of our own, in exchange for the grand opportunity to be trained as a Sith!"
The audience cheered, and Nitokris felt... nothing. This couldn't be right... Cham, his closest friend, betrayed them all? And, to top it all of, was Force Sensitive? He'd always been a powerful, charismatic leader, but... Nito just couldn't comprehend what was happening any more.
"Let this show all non-humans that the justice of the Sith is inescapable! They will no longer be able to deny their rightful place beneath us, working for the glory of the Sith Empire!"
More cheers, as the Moff stepped back, and motioned Cham over to his side. Cham obeyed, his eyes meeting Nito's as he approached, a mixture of stubbornness and anger barely masking what Nito thought might have been regret.
"Tell him, Cham. Tell him everything," the Moff commanded, obviously enjoying the moment.
Cham nodded, and faced Nito squarely in the eyes.
"Why?" Nito felt the word pull itself from his mouth.
"It was the only way. Nito, during the second raid... they captured me, brought me here. 'A human living amongst the aliens,'" Cham began. "The tortures... Nito, you can't imagine. I... I've known for some time now, what I can do. I've never been able to control it, but we suspect that it's what made me the leader of the Gundarks. It was my destiny, I see now, to lead... it has always been. During one of the tortures, I finally... I finally learned to control my ability."
Cham reached into a pocket, and pulled out a credit chip. He held it in his open palm, and narrowed his eyes slightly as he lowered his hand, the chip remaining in the air, supported without his hand touching it. After a moment, he reached out and pocketed the chip, his demonstration complete.
"This changes everything, you see... I'm not just some casteless orphan anymore, Nito. I can do things... I get to be trained on Korriban, in the Academy. Before the Moff would let me, he told me that I had to finish things here. I worked with him- he's the one who would see me safely to the Academy, off this rock, after all. During those weeks, when it seemed like I was missing... I befriended Ila and her friends, came to them as the leader of the Gundarks, spoke of "alien rights" and fighting to "free the slaves", or at least ease their burden, if only on this single world. From there, it was only a matter of time... It had to be believable, of course. I had to fight with you, I had to suffer alongside all of you. But I knew what lay on the other end."
Cham looked over his shoulder at the Sith, who was watching the proceedings the way a predator makes sure its prey does not go too far. "And now, finally, after all these years, it is time. The Moff knew of 'our' plot, of course... he captured all of you, and is using you as an example, to the rest."
Nito stood mutely, trying to wrap his mind around the sheer magnitude of how doomed he was, how doomed they had always been, without his awareness.
"Now, now, Cham. That's not even the best part yet!" the Moff urged gleefully.
"I... Nito, for this I am truly sorry... the Moff said that I had to show my commitment, prove myself one degree further, before he pardoned me and let the Sith take me to Korriban. The first ones executed were the alien sympathizers... the humans. I... I had to kill them. All of them."
"Ila...?" Nito gasped, a sick feeling pooling in his stomach.
"Dead. I... I killed her myself," Cham confessed, guilt and sorrow momentarily replacing pride. "But it was worth it, Nito!" he continued. "What kind of life would I have had, would we all have had, if things continued the way they were? Now, there's a chance for at least one of us to actually do something, leave our mark on the galaxy!"
Nitokris felt something inside of him break, then. His imagination played the scene for his mind's eye to see: Ila, kneeling on her feet on the stage, the audience booing her and cheering the Moff as he listed her "crimes". Cham, coming onto the stage, Ila realizing what had happened, who had betrayed them, just in time for Cham to remove her head from her shoulders with a vibroblade.
Nitokris' pain reached out... and felt something answer. Strength surged into his limbs and it seemed like a haze was lifted from his thoughts. Everything suddenly felt so much clearer so much more real, and he was at the center of all of it. Raw, unfiltered hatred poured into his mind and soul.
Acting purely on instinct, Nitokris held his hands out in front of him, palms facing Cham, fingers arched into a claw shape.
"NO!" he screamed, the single syllable ringing with an almost tangible power. The guards to either side of him backed away a step, suddenly unwilling to be near what only moments before appeared to be a broken Zabrak prisoner.
Still following the new impulse, Nitokris snarled and focused all of his loss, all of his pain, all of his hate onto Cham... and felt the new pseudo-presence answer his call. Bolts of lightning flew from his curled fingers, hitting Cham squarely in the chest. The power behind them was so much that Cham, his face permanently fixed in an expression of shock, was lifted up into the air, and pushed until he came to rest at the feet of the large Sith, who was now watching the scene with much more interest. Cham's body smoked; where the lightning had hit him, his clothes had burnt, and ashy holes were scattered all over his shirt.
Nitokris stood dumbly, his gaze fixed on his former friend. The world slowed around him... in slow-motion, the Moff's face drained of blood, the audience fell completely silent, the Moff's staff all started pushing each other out of the way, some reaching for sidearms, others trying to clear the stage, and the guards positioned around all started reaching for their weapons. Kristov and the other prison guard were still closest, but Kristov made no move towards Nitokris. Without turning his head, Nitokris somehow knew that the other guard was reaching for his electro-jabber, could somehow feel the sudden fear that radiated from most of the crowd.
Their fear only augmented his own, giving him more energy, more strength. He turned to face the guard reaching for the electro-jabber, and thrust his hands out in front of him, willing him away. The guard was lifted from his feet, flung off the stage and out into the crowd, and Nitokris turned on instinct, preparing to take off running in what he somehow knew was the path of least resistance, disregarding the shackles still binding his wrists together.
"Execute him!" the Moff shrieked, his high-pitched panic cutting through the silence, and returning the world to its normal speed with a rush.
The large Sith took a few steps forward, his deep voice clear over the sounds of the guards all readying their weapons, training them on the Zabrak. "Stand down," he commanded.
Nitokris paused as the gap between the guards closed, cutting off his escape. Head still ringing with a crystalline clarity, he gave up the thought of escape, and felt himself turning all of his fear towards one, final goal. His head snapped to the side, his eyes fell upon the Moff, and he gave a bestial snarl as he closed the distance between them, hands reaching for the Moff's face.
I'll kill him! Nitokris thought. His fate was sealed, but he was determined to take the Moff down with him, to finish his task, with his bare hands if need be.
"Quick, kill him now!" the Moff's high-pitched voice implored as he fumbled with his own side-arm, a dainty little blaster that served better as ornamentation than an actual weapon. Nitokris rapidly closed the distance, shoving aside one of the guards that tried interposing himself between the rampaging slave and the Moff, using his tethered hands as a club.
"I said, stand down." The Sith strode forward, flanked by his personal soldiers. His left hand made a casual gesture towards the Moff on his left, and the Moff fell to his feet, hands clawing his throat, his face turning a deep crimson that slowly shifted to an ugly purple as no air managed to either escape or enter his lungs. The baritone shout had startled the rest of the guards into compliance, and had snapped Nitokris from his fervor.
Nitokris faltered mid-step, his mind spiraling back down from its rage-filled high. He looked contemptuously down at the Moff, a mere two meters away, and then made the potentially foolish decision to land a swift kick to the dying human's face, knocking him backwards and temporarily appeasing Nitokris' own anger.
He lifted his gaze up from the Moff, and had to fight the urge to take a step back as the Sith stopped a few meters away.
"Take him," the Sith motioned to his troopers, who quickly marched forward and grabbed Nitokris' arms, one on each side.
"Muh... my lord?" one of the late Moff's aides inquired, stepping forward and dropping to one knee, as the troopers led a confused but suddenly drained and compliant Nitokris back down off the stage, towards the landing pad.
"Congratulations, Lieutenant. You've just been promoted. Now clean up this mess."
The newly appointed Moff instructed his men to see to the body of his predecessor, and he strode forward to address the crowd. The Sith didn't wait to see how the new governor would handle the situation; he too descended from the stage, and began making his own way back to his transport ship, where the Zabrak would be kept waiting in the cargo hold as he made the trip to Korriban.
Nitokris lowered the rocks he'd been holding in the air down to the ground, maintaining control the entire way. His meditations completed, he rose smoothly to his feet and dusted off his robes. Any minute now, he expected his companion to contact him with a progress report on how his diplomatic mission had went. Then, he would finish his hike, and see what he could dig up inside the caves that supposedly dotted this near-asteroid. With any luck, he would find something that time and looters had missed; if he had none, then he'd only lost a day, and could continue on his way back to Dromund Kaas, with nobody the wiser.
He could still remember that day, the day that he'd been taken by the Sith, by Darth Kraze, and sent to Korriban. The death of Cham, his best friend and most bitter enemy, had been a rebirth, of sorts. When he had felt the Dark Side well up, roaring in his thoughts, he had ceased to be "Nito" forever. Isolated in the cargo hold of the ship, fighting the fear and confusion, doubt and anger, he had tried to recapture the feeling that he'd had, tried to reawaken his mind to the diamond-sharp clarity, with no success. Moving by the dim light of the hold, he'd forced open one of the crates that shared his new prison, out of a sense of strangely potent curiosity and a desire to find something to occupy his tempestuous thoughts.
Inside the crate had been old stone and metal slabs, some as small as his palm, others as large as his torso. Along with the slabs were several small bags, but touching them made his hair stand on end, so he tried to ignore them. The one thing that caught his eye, that he actually lifted out of the crate for a better look, had been a piece of metal, crooked and sharp edges indicating it had been broken off of something larger. Engraved on the surface were several lines, glyphs written in a tongue that he had not yet known. More crudely carved in the margins, linked by proximity to each of the foreign runes, somebody had translated the words into Basic:
"Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me."
"The ending of these words is ALMSIVI."
Last edited by LoremasterMarik on Mon Jul 25, 2011 8:42 pm, edited 27 times in total.
Joined: Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:25 pm
Location: East Coast, USA
Re: Meditations (of Nitokris Varick) [CLOSED- In Progress]
"Through victory, my chains are broken."
Nitokris paused, searching with his senses for the source of the sudden chill he felt creeping over him. He'd been navigating the ruins, the low humming of his enviro-suit the only sound, it's cranial lamp the only source of light, for over an hour, searching for something to make this trip worth the time the detour was taking him. The ruins had once been part of some kind of Sith Academy, but the world had been destroyed in some kind of cataclysm many centuries ago, and most records of it had been lost or destroyed. His companions hadn't even been able to find mention of it in Republic records, which he'd had them slice into while undertaking a "diplomatic" mission. The shattered world had next to no atmosphere, so he'd had to don the space suit for safety's sake... he disliked the caged-in feeling he got from wearing it, but he did suppose it was better than the painful death depressurization or exposure would have given him.
This particular section of the ancient academy was in fairly decent shape; the walls still stood, and there had been no significantly large cave-ins blocking his progress, so he had managed to progress deeper and deeper, towards what he assumed must once have been one of the main centers of the academy. The Dark Side permeated the entire complex... he'd felt even that much before coming to land in the impromptu landing zone created by a caved-in section of roofing. He was hopeful that something might have been left behind by the old occupants, but had found absolutely nothing so far, even after combing through the wreckage of what once may have been personal living quarters.
Nitokris shrugged, deciding to ignore the feeling of trepidation, and continued pressing forward before coming to stop in front of a sealed doorway. The keypad to the right, amazingly, somehow still had a power supply to it, as revealed by the faint orange light given off by the keys. He worked it for a moment, and the door slid shakily open, surprising him again with the woosh of pressurized atmosphere pouring out into the opening, stirring the dust and debris around him, and...
Setting off a small avalanche of debris, coming straight down on top of him. One fist-sized chunk of rock fell atop the clear face-mask, sending a spiderweb of cracks running along it and tearing off one of the hoses connecting from the power-pack attached to his back. His suit started leaking gas, misty droplets condensing as they drifted away. He suddenly found breathing to be incredibly difficult, and his heart pounded quickly as he tried to assess the situation.
Following his instinct, he pushed off the ground, leaping through the open doorway just before it slid shut behind him, pitching the room into blackness.
He no longer found breathing to be a struggle, and did his best to peel himself out of his now-worthless suit. The room's air was musty, but somehow air pressure and an artificial atmosphere had survived in this sealed-off portion of the academy.
Once free from his suit, he grasped his lightsaber in-hand, and froze. The chill that he'd felt earlier, the sense that something was nearby, watching him, was stronger than ever.
"Who's there?" he demanded, reaching out with his senses, but he could feel nothing.
Lights flickered to life along the ceiling, revealing a hallway that very likely looked exactly as it had the day the planet had been torn to pieces. A thin layer of dust coated the metallic ground, but other than that the hallway gave no indication of the amount of time that had gone by since it had been sealed off from the rest of the destroyed academy. Nitokris walked along the hallway cautiously... something still felt off, but he couldn't place what, couldn't feel anything specific over the all-pervasive Dark Side energy. This place was a monument to loathing, he could feel... this had once been a place of great hatred, and it had soaked into the ground, staining the very air with the anger of those long since deceased. He came to another doorway; its power supply, too, was somehow still intact. As he reached to open the door, he hesitated... he sensed that whatever had happened here, whoever had brought such anger to this world, had left a mark. And, just on the other side of the door in front of him, the stain it had left behind was at its strongest, its most powerful. If he was going to find anything on this lifeless rock, it would be probably be in here.
The door slid open before him. There were no walls on either side of the walkway beyond; instead, a sheer drop fell down into pitch black depths, and Nitokris had no way of telling how far it went. Lights ran along the walkway, some flickering, others out completely, and guided the way to a central platform, covered in debris collected around what once might have been a system of pillars or columns. The ceiling was too far above him to see, but Nitokris could feel that he was in some sort of large cavern. Loosening his lightsaber at his side, he strode forward, paying attention to feel for any sign of the walkway about to collapse. As he drew closer to the center, he was surprised to see a humanoid figure, kneeling in the exact center of the platform. A hood obscured its face, and brown robes draped over its shoulders. It was facing away, but stood when Nitokris finally made it to the platform.
"Nito... it's been too long, old friend," the figure spoke, turning. Nitokris finally recognized the shape... the large human looked as wild and untamed as he had the night they had begun planning their revolt, but his eyes looked far older, and far sadder. Cham stepped over a small boulder, coming to a stop when he stood three meters away.
Nitokris felt a sudden spike of anger well up deep inside of him, and the Dark Side urged him to answer its call.
"You," he spat, falling into a crouch, lightsaber in hand, but not yet activated.
"Me," Cham agreed, his deep voice bringing back a lifetime of memories. "And yet... I am not as you remember me."
"What kind of trick is this?" Nitokris continued, pacing to the side, keeping a wary eye on his old friend.
"Trick? This is no trick, Nito... I am what I could have been."
"You're dead... I killed you myself," Nitokris insisted.
"You killed a man," Cham readily agreed. "And so it was you, Nito, whom the Sith sent to Korriban. It was you who went on to know the Force, to come into your own, and not I. And yet... you are not the Nito I knew, the Zabrak slave I saw grow up on the streets. You have changed, my old friend... And not for the better."
"What do you know?" Nitokris snarled. "You betrayed us, your friends and allies. It's because of you that... that she's dead!" he screamed, igniting his lightsaber, and finally answering the call of the Dark Side within his blood. To his shock, Cham drew a lightsaber from his own robes, and activated the vibrant cyan blade, interposing it between himself and the furious Sith.
"I... I did. Words cannot express how sorry I am, Nito," Cham calmly apologized, sincerity evident on his face. "I was a fool, Nito... the Sith would have been no place for me. I had no idea what their training would involve. The tortures I had endured up to that point were as nothing compared to what they would have done to me on Korriban... what they did to you."
Nitokris snapped his blade back, and took a few quick steps back to the left. Cham followed his every movement, his lightsaber held diagonally across his body in a defensive stance.
"You have no idea what you're talking about!" Nitokris insisted angrily. "I found myself on Korriban! All those years, all that time, and I had no idea what I was capable of."
"You are powerful, Nito... there is no denying that. But so was I, in my way. You say you 'found' yourself on Korriban... and yet the man who stands before me now is not you, not the Nito I knew so well. Tell me truly, Nito... was it worth the price?"
"Quit calling me that!" Nitokris roared, lunging forward only to be blocked again.
"Nito? That is who you are, who I know you as. But it is not who you will remain, if you continue down your current path. Listen to me, friend... for old time's sake, if nothing else. There lies nothing but pain, darkness, and death for you down the road you take so carelessly. It is not too late for you, Nito, not yet. You see me now, before you... do I look like a Sith, to you? Do I look like how I envisioned myself, all that time ago, when I confessed my crimes to you?"
Cham held his lightsaber out to his side, presenting himself before Nitokris. His brown robes parted, revealing a suit of light armor, the insignia of the Republic clearly pressed over the breastplate.
"Jedi scum!" Nitokris sneered, trying once again to find an opening in Cham's defense, but once again turned away. Cham's back was now to the walkway that Nitokris had come on.
"You've felt the power of the Dark Side, Nito... as I once did. You can hear its siren song, pulling you further and further into its black embrace... but you knew the light once, friend. You remember it, as well as I do: compassion, sympathy, mercy... love."
Nitokris held his hand in front of him, and sent a storm of lightning flying at Cham. Cham held his saber in front of him, and deflected Nitokris' rage away, cutting a smoldering path harmlessly through a pile of rubble.
"Don't you dare," Nitokris commanded. "Don't you dare even talk about her, traitor."
"I can sense it in you, Nito... we knew each other too well for us to lie to each other, here, now. I can feel the spark of goodness you've tried to bury deep underneath the walls you've built inside. I doubt even you truly know how much is still there... but I can feel it. Come back, Nito... return to the light. Give up your anger, your fear, your sorrow... turn away from your pain. Know peace, at last, as I do." Cham deactivated his lightsaber, and threw it to the side. "I will not defend myself, if you choose to strike me now. Just know that it is not the me who faced you from the side of Darth Kraze that you will be cutting down, but who I was before that. Who I would have become, if destiny had chosen for me the path it set for you. Turn from the Dark Side, Nito."
Nitokris stood before his friend, here somehow, even after his defeat at Nitokris' hands, when he was first truly discovering his power. He tried to think back to his childhood, to the human who'd offered a young Zabrak a place outside of his dead-end fate. All that came to him was that day, on the platform, before the Moff and the jeering crowd, as Cham admitted the depth of his betrayal, boldly confessed to having slain the woman that Nito had developed feelings for... the words Cham had said then echoed in his mind.
"You were weak and blind, but right about one thing, even then: 'Now, there's a chance for at least one of us to actually do something, leave our mark on the galaxy'..." Nitokris muttered, and Cham's expression fell. "I am 'Nito' no longer."
Nitokris thrust his saber, impaling Cham with the blade, a feral pleasure welling up within him at the sight of the sublime expression of pain masking his friend's face.
"You are wrong, Nito.... there is hope for you, yet," Cham whispered, before he fell face-forward, still on the ground. As he landed, the lights on the walkway behind Nitokris flickered and died, plunging the entire room into shadow. Deactivating his lightsaber, Nitokris faced the light that shown through the still-open doorway that he had come through.
The sound of a lightsaber activating cut through the heavy silence. Twin red blades sprung to life not 5 meters ahead of him, illuminating the shadows in a red haze, and revealing a robed figure standing in a corner by one of the crumbled pillars; how long he had been there, Nitokris had no way of knowing. The figure was within centimeters of Nitokris' height, but the dark robes seemed to drink in the light, making it difficult to perceive anything else about the shape of the form. The figure wore a mask that completely hid his face, giving him an alien, inhuman look, with slits for the eyes and no opening for the mouth.
Hatred radiated off from the figure as he began inching towards Nitokris, who activated his own twin blades with a twirl, falling into a defensive stance. No sooner had he done so that the figure charged, covering the distance in an instant, driving a diagonal slash towards Nitokris' face. Nitokris deflected it down and to the side, but the slash he followed through with his lower blade was deflected in turn. He thrust his left hand forward in an attempt to Force push the figure back, but the figure somehow deflected the shove with his own, before sending sparks leaping from his own hand towards Nitokris.
Nitokris dove, dodging the lightning and coming to his feet in time to fend off another attack from the figure, but only barely. Whoever he was, Nitokris' foe was far more skilled than he; he was living off borrowed time. His opponent continued to rain blow after blow on Nitokris, effortlessly twirling the awkward twin blades up and over, around and behind, a physical body united completely in form with the blades of the lightsaber.
Exhaustion finally started to sneak in through the cracks in his fear and anger; seeking to find a moment to size up his opponent without the constant threat of decapitation, Nitokris took advantage of a brief pause in the figure's barrage to leap backwards into a tumble, rising quickly to his feet to block the figure's attacks if he had followed.
Instead of following, the figure's masked face led Nitokris' roll as he raised his lightsaber horizontally before him. His left hand hovered over the front blade, and Force lightning flew from his fingertips, encircling the blade, spreading down to charge the bottom blade, as well. Somehow keeping the lightning crackling on the blade itself, the figure took a step back, and vanished in the shadows, lightsaber and all.
Nitokris felt around with his will, but the hatred from the figure seemed to seep from the very cracks in the floor, an ambient energy that fed the Dark Side that flowed on the still-born breezes of the world.
"Who are you?" Nitokris asked while slowly rotating, trying to leave his back exposed as little as possible, while at the same time trying to catch sight of the somehow-invisible figure.
With a hiss, the air behind Nitokris suddenly stirred, and he spun, just barely catching his foe's lightsaber with his own, turning aside what very easily could have been a fatal stab. Instead, the lightning jumped off of the blade, painful sparks wrapping themselves around Nitokris' arms, triggering muscle spasms that dropped him to his knees.
"Darth Phobeton," the air seemed to whisper as the figure kicked Nitokris' upraised lightsaber into the air, away and out of sight, into one of the many dark corners of the room.
Nitokris lowered his hands to his side, and met the heavy stare of the masked figure.
"Why?" he could only ask, feeling the Dark Side abandon him as hopelessness consumed his thoughts and stole his strength.
As the figure twirled its blade, readying it for the killing stroke, it spoke.
"The only thing holding me back... is you," Nitokris heard his own voice answer from behind the mask as the blade swung down.
Nitokris opened his eyes with a start. He lay on his back, a layer of rubble covering his body. The cracks on the top portion of his visor made it difficult to see in half of his field of vision, but as he sat up, he found he could see well enough straight ahead. Looking to his side, he saw the air nozzle that had come undone flopping worthlessly over his shoulder. His suit's emergency backup had taken a moment to kick in, but now that it was working, he found he could breathe well enough. Pushing himself awkwardly to his feet, he gazed through the still-open doorway. It went in a few meters, before it was completely blocked off by a massive pile of debris. Simply looking at it was enough for Nitokris to be able to tell that there was no way he was getting past it. His mind still swimming from the vision he'd experienced between blackout and recovery, he turned away from the doorway, and started making his way back to his ship.
He would have a hard time explaining his absence to the Masters, but he knew he was not leaving entirely empty-handed; the Dark Side had given him a powerful gift here, amongst the ghosts of the long-dead Sith.
"The Force shall free me."
"The ending of these words is ALMSIVI."
Last edited by LoremasterMarik on Mon Jul 25, 2011 10:11 pm, edited 7 times in total.