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A Change in the Force

Chapter Text

One ship blinked out of hyperspace. Then another, then another. One by one, like sparks from a bonfire, vessels of life threw themselves into the unknown, the same unknown that looked like every other corner of the galaxy littered with planets and moons and stations. Endless, devastating, too crushed and too open at the same time, all while feeling the pull of the chasm. There was something intrinsically beautiful about the eternal blackness of space. Only a few ships sailed the abyss at that moment, dull grey and uniform as the personnel that resided within.

 

For a moment, it felt as if even the Force was holding its breath.

 

Marr stood at the bridge of the Terminus-class Destroyer, his arms tucked neatly behind his back, respectfully avoided by the officers that manned the station terminals. He could feel the Emperor through the Force, a twisted mass of lies and power, strength and an incapacity to care for his subjects and the Empire that stood strong for many a generation. The legacy of his people. Corruption in the Empire had its roots deep, born from a seed planted by the Emperor and festered until its vines choked any thoughts of true greatness and ambition from its people, instead leading them to petty squabbles and a failure to cooperate against a common enemy.

 

And now?

 

Marr allowed himself a brief moment to look around his ship. Most of the people there that avoided his gaze were Imperial, stoic and expressionless and yet resolute in their decisions, any concerns and uncertainty smothered by the work that needed to be done. The others were Republic personnel, more vocal and relaxed than their counterparts, though their concerns were less sheltered, especially when it concerned himself. Most were smart enough to hide their comments regarding his sudden enlisting of soldiers from both sides of the galaxy, though their expressions and emotions were far less guarded than they thought they were. Although, as much as this situation was not preferable- asking the Republic for assistance!- there was no better alternative at the moment. The Emperor was not a problem localised to the Empire, and the galaxy knew it.

 

Most of the Council were unaware of his location. Not that it mattered in the slightest- most would not have come willingly to his aid in favour of fruitless discussions and arguments about power structures and issues that did not require the entirety of the Council to be present. Darth Marr had sent messages to people that would be the most likely to act at a word: The Wrath was notified of his plans, as was Darth Nox (whom he asked to wait at a neutral location until coordinates were sent), Lana Beniko. The former Cipher 9 was sure to look at Marr’s personal alerts, especially with the sudden surge of emergency messages that he had sent within the last few days. The Bounty Hunter was unlikely to check any mail, or at least respond to it within a week, but fighting and credits would lure them towards the battle, eventually. And if the Emperor was amassing forces as he had initially done on Ziost before destroying it… well, it was always advantageous to have someone to clear up any retaliations.

 

The Emperor was left to fester for far too long, and he could feel it, a sickness in the pit of his gut.

 

“We grow closer every moment. Our former Emperor is out there.” He spoke, to no one of any particular importance.

An officer working on the computers near his side flinched at the sudden break of silence. “Yes, Dark Lord.”

“Send rendezvous coordinates to Darth Nox. Now.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Send the coordinates to the Wrath as well.” He would not hold his breath for any reply, especially for one so devoted to the lighter side of the force to counter the Emperor’s impact- but there was a steely resolution in the Wrath, and to waste a potential ally would be foolish.

 

The officer disappeared from his peripheral vision with haste, and Marr was left alone to contemplate the stars and his allies once more. When it came to situations like these, Nox was the first one to be notified, being the most competent and least likely to become blinded by petty  inner conflicts that the rest of the council were afflicted by, not to mention the first person to mind that he could trust. The Wrath, despite being a puppet for the Emperor, was insufferably insistent on mercy, even when acting in his former master’s name. Even so, the large-scale attack on Ziost was enough to shatter the Wrath’s trust in Vitiate, and so thus he became an ally. The former Cipher agent lived and struck from the shadows, and has a penchant for dying and reappearing a month later with a terminal’s worth of new information. The Bounty Hunter was reliable in causing havoc and merciless death, much as Darth Nox was, but in a manner that left no room for rebellion or questioning post-massacre, whilst still giving the foe a chance of surrender. The Republic’s associates were another matter, their help being reluctant, even though diplomats and Lana researching their weakest points to exploit, they still refused to send their Jedi or most of their troops to assist in the removal of the immortal Emperor. Even that of the Knight who killed Vitiate, which struck him as very peculiar. The Barsen’thor was the most receptive in discussions of a temporary truce, however was not the best candidate to appeal for assistance.

 

“My lord! Sensor contact, fifteen clicks. Small… no life form readings… some kind of probe?”

 

Marr’s reverie was broken as the shadow of the probe shot past the bridge’s window. The blue holoimage lit the room with the coldness of Ziost’s death, turning the recreated image of the probe for the personnel within. Another voice called out for his attention.

 

“Readings are identical to scans from the unknown force that attacked Korriban-”

“Raise shields. Pursue and destroy.”

 

Even as his voice echoed back to the officers, Marr knew that he reacted a second far too late, as the probe hurtled into the violent purple mass of space, a mocking black shape falling into the stars.

 

There were no stars.

 

In perfect geometric lines were rows upon rows of ships, ugly, unfamiliar, more and more beasts appearing from the indigo unknown. The Empire was under attack.

 

“Evasive manoeuvres! Come about 180 degrees!” Marr barked out to the officers as they scrambled into position. Even as the ship spun to face its new enemy, he could feel shudders in the hull from battle droids boarding the Destroyer. His Destroyer. It was time to act.

 

“Set deflectors to double aft! Divert weapon power to the engines!”

A voice from the monitors was barely heard over the screaming of tortured metal. “My lord- the shields are under attack!”

He hissed in disgust. “Then defend until I dispatch the situation!”

 

Officers and soldiers alike jumped out of his path as Darth Marr, the stalwart defender of the Empire, the last resistance between them and the enemy, charged down the maintenance corridors, the steady hum of his modified lightsaber lighting his way. The enemy came sooner than he anticipated, white heavy-set droids blocking the corridors over the crushed bodies of engineers who could not run fast enough. He leapt forwards, skewering two droids in a move, before swinging the blade to intercept an attack from his left. The limbs of the attacker separated easily, as did the next one’s head, parrying a blow back to a couple on the right. Whatever that tried to flank him was smashed into the wall through the Force, or ripped apart into scrap parts. Each corridor was very much a repeat of this fight, dead crew, destroyed droids, force the doors open, fight another group, find more dead or dying, parry, strike, defend, next corridor.

 

His comlink buzzed into life, the voice of an accent far too casual for his liking. “Sith, the droids are targeting the primary engines. You might want to check that out.”

“We may be part of an alliance,” Marr spat, “but do not think you can refer to me merely as Sith.”

“Uh, right, sorry about that.” A pause. “Won’t happen again.”

“Be sure that it does not. Keep the bridge secure while I go to the engine room.” With that, he cut the transmission off, and headed into the elevator.

 

A group of droids, all armed with blasters as sterling white as their shells, opened fire on him when the elevator doors reopened in the engineering sector. Marr ducked to the side of the elevator, using the momentum to throw his lightsaber at the group, calling it back with the Force in a neat arc, executing a few of the droids. He slammed the nearest droid with an armoured elbow, stepping neatly into the gap he had made in their ranks. A slice. A wide arc. With each swing of his blade Marr used the momentum to position himself further behind enemy lines, crushing armoured limbs and shoulder blades under his boots. Here, height and strength gave him the advantage he needed over the droids, swatting their blasters away with one hand and impaling them with the other, a perfect harmony of a fatal dance.

 

Every step was the same tired rehearsal after that, more haphazard cutting and destruction of wardroids, transmissions from officers that should have known better than to pester him with assessments of the obvious, more droids, more unbearable explosions as the overhead sirens screamed out their final song. The engine controls hummed its dying heartbeat in the faint red glow of the room. His options were limited, given the damage the ship had already taken, fewer still for not knowing if the bridge was secure after his leave, and he was not sure of the status of the other ships in his convoy. Were the rest of the ship intact, then perhaps he could arrange a final affront against this sudden fleet, all guns and shields activated, perhaps buy time for the hyperdrive to be assessed.

 

A small buzz came from his adapted comlink. Frowning, Darth Marr took out the small device, a battered, old thing that it was, which was flashing a small yellow light at its corner. A written reply? The corners of his mouth tightened to match his scowl, as he moved to open the message. It was with a cold disquiet when he saw the sender, and an even colder dread when he regarded the note attached.

 

From: Darth Nox

Subject: Rendezvous

 

Dark Lord,

 

Just received your coordinates, on my way to the rendezvous point. I suppose it would be best to assume that the Emperor is nearby, so I’m bringing some extra precautions. Will signal you when about to leave hyperspace. Don’t get too bored waiting, save me something to do.

 

Darth Nox

 

The beginnings of a snarl twisted his face under the mask. He had sent his coordinates to Darth Nox and the Wrath just before the battle began, and they would be sure to arrive in the midst of a bloodbath, with no idea of an enemy before it would be too late. He would risk the Empire’s best chance of saving itself if he did not act soon.

 

A shrill, panicked voice came from the emergency transmitter on the console from one of the officers on the bridge, doubled over and dying, coughing out the last of her words.

 

“Enemies on the bridge! Repeat, enemies on-“

The transmission died, then, leaving a jarring emptiness.

 

The moment was gone- there was no time to write a final reply. Darth Marr shook his head sharply, dismissing the message with a wave of his hand.

 

It was decided, then.

 

He swiped at a switch on the control panel, and diverted all power to the engines, hearing the roar of burning fuel propelling the ship suddenly forward, stark explosions erupting from behind him, tearing his ship apart. He felt the vessel accelerating through the shaking of walls and flooring, debris tumbling from the ceiling like Dromund Kaas rain that never again he would feel. Darth Marr was never afraid of death. But there was no forgiveness for walking so blindly into an ambush, no forgiveness in failing the Empire. He closed his eyes to the flashing lights and screaming steam jets that exploded from the pipes nearby him. So be it.

 

Let them all burn.

Chapter Text

The surface was cold, and far too clinical to be comfortable.

 

As he lay on the medical bed, every inch of his height screamed in some sort of pain, whether it was the ache of bruises or the searing sting of wayward fire, or the discomfort of someone who had not rested in a great many years. Marr pulled himself upwards from his position, scowling at the cuffs that bound his wrists together in front of him.

 

Captured by the enemy.

 

He remembered little of what happened before, whether it was minutes, hours or days- only the falling of debris and lives in the Force being smothered out of existence like candles in a wind when the Destroyer- his ship- collided at full impact with the enemy. He remembered the dark of a death he should have succumbed to.

 

He allowed himself to snarl at the solid bonds that weighed on his hands, willing them to break with a thought, to no avail. The sacrifice he made was pointless, it seemed, thousands may have died on impact, a hundred corpses lost to the abyss, shrapnel scattering like knives ripped from his vessel, the shock waves created, ripping into the other ships belonging to the fleet, destroying them as well- all for nothing, as it barely made a dent to this unknown enemy, if the presentation of the medical bay was any indicator. If he had truly made an incredible impact on this fleet, they would have killed him outright, and they should. It was, after all, what any self-respecting Sith should do, to prove an example to all of their enemies. Marr frowned at the thought. How was Vitiate tied to this?

 

As if on cue, five figures appeared at the entryway of the room, tinted blue from the force field that separated the two groups. Four of the five were identical in armour, Marr noted, all expressionless in their gold plating, with lightsaber pikes powered by blue kyber, a slight fizzle to the light against the dark backdrop of the ship. Marr pursed his mouth as he regarded their posture and positioning- the best guess leading him to believe that they must hold the position of some sort of royal guard, or private bodyguards. The shape and elegance of the armour dismissed the latter option, if he was to presume using his knowledge of Sith society, although anything could be true here in the unknown regions of space, he supposed. The one that stood out from the rest of the group was dressed in the same stark white as the droids, with grey, gold and black accents, with a torn mask that covered all but a fraction of the man’s face, one eye visible, and seething with an unmistakable hatred. Darth Marr glared back, to no immediate result, with his mask still fixed on, and thankfully, still intact. For a moment, Marr and the unknown regarded each other with mutual distaste.

 

“I can see that you’re finally awake.” The masked figure said. “I expect that you will be able to stand?”

Marr ignored the question. “What ship is this?”

“Do you not even know which Empire you invaded?” The expression was the same, but the incredulous tone was unmistakable. “This is my flagship, and you,” the man flicked off the force fields at the door, “you are in the heart of the Eternal Empire.”

 

A silence hovered in the air between them.

 

Marr allowed himself to give a disbelieving snort, breaking the stoic expression of the man in front of him. “And is that supposed to threaten me? Supposed to mean anything? You call yourself an Empire and yet no one knows or fears the shadow that you cast?” Marr rose from the bed that he was sitting on, ignoring the gasps and erratic drawing of weapons that his action had elicited in the guards, keeping his attention only on the man in front of him. “Give the Sith Empire a reason to even look at your paltry excuse of a domain. Tell me why we should fear you.”

 

The man in white did not flinch, nor betray his thoughts, much to Marr’s annoyance. A man who does not fear easily is a man who does not fail in his threats. After a moment, the man gave a slight shrug of the shoulders, dismissive.

“You may not have heard of us, Sith Empire-” he spat, “-but here, no one has even heard that such a- a terrifying Empire like yours even exists. You are captured by a force that you cannot even comprehend, cannot understand- and understand this, you are well and truly alone in this part of the galaxy, and we all outnumber you. Now-“ the man turned on his heel sharply, beckoning for the guards to step into routine, “-you have been summoned by the Emperor of the Eternal Empire, and it’s incredibly rude to keep people waiting.”

 

Not many things annoyed Marr, not truly- but by the Force, he was prepared to choke the arrogance from this man.

 

When Marr made no effort to move, one of the guards waved their pikes in his peripheral vision, a voice lacking confidence following shortly thereafter.

“You’ll need to follow Prince Arcann.”

 

Arcann, Marr considered the name. He decided, given the circumstances that he found himself in, that he hated it.

 

Marr was deliberate in taking slow strides after this apparent prince, having the luxury to force the guards to awkwardly try and make themselves taller, more imposing with their lightsaber pikes, despite how much he towered over them. Arcann was talking, but Marr elected to ignore the noise and subtle threats in order to scan the building for weapons, walkways, anything that might help him get his bearings. All along, he felt the coldness of the Emperor, but he did not know where he was. Marr glanced over his shoulder, glaring at the shadows. The shadows did nothing in return.

 

The convoy stopped for a moment whilst the prince was berated by one of his subjects- and old human man with white- perhaps blind- eyes, who spoke of prophecy and fate, and other such ridiculous notions. He let himself give an irritated sigh, closing his eyes momentarily as his head ached from the impact of the fight that he preferred being in. Arcann called the man Heskal, and defied his warnings, which sounded like most conversations he had heard of between the Sith and the Voss, with their Mystics and prophecies and rules that severely limited the chance of the Voss joining the Empire. Tradition was integral to a functioning society, that much Marr could understand and respect, however, there is a moment when one should recognise that persistent self-preservation, or the protection of their native stubbornness , will only lead to the destruction of their people- not that they need the Empire or Republic’s help with that, he thought bitterly- and thus, the extinction of their society and traditions. Yes, keep the civilisation- but why consciously destroy it?

 

It was on these thoughts that Marr ignored the spat between Arcann and Heskal, ignoring the two men inching closer to one another like beasts circling a cage, teeth bared, ready for the other to stumble, to have their throat torn out by their opponent. The guards moved unsurely, half trying to keep the prisoner guarded, half trying to prevent the altercation that was beginning to unfold in front of them. No resistance was met by the captive- Marr ignored it all as he thought of the Empire, as he thought of home.

 

The animals had stopped their dance, and backed off from one another, becoming the men they pretended to be once more. Arcann gave a click of his tongue, to no one in particular, and gestured his head to Marr.

 

“Come now.”

Marr tensed at the pointed interruption, giving only a mocking tone to the Prince. “You’re taking me to your Master.”

Arcann turned to face him, then, the scowl clearly visible in his eye, but not looking directly at Marr, but at the point past him, as if speaking to the void behind. “I’m taking you to my father, Valkorion. The Immortal Emperor of Zakuul.”

 

He’s angry at his parent. A rage that can be exploited, if necessary. He gave a slight lopsided grin then, buried under a mask of twisted metal and blood, forged with a Sith’s ambition in mind. Perhaps this Prince may prove himself an ally, if needed, if this Valkorion knows the whereabouts of Vitiate. The Emperor was close, he could feel it. He just could not piece why he hid in the shadow of a foreign Emperor.

 

The golden doors opened at the end of the corridor as the makeshift convoy made its way down the wall, revealing little but a walkway and an oversized throne at the end of the room. A small man sat on its seat, adorned in the same white and black as the vocal prince Arcann- old, grey haired, groomed far more immaculately than Vitiate could have managed, if the reports made by the Jedi were anything to go by- and yet there was a redness of the eyes, a smugness that born a chill in his bones, an uncertainty, a nervousness that he had not felt in decades. Arcann gave a mocking flourish towards the seated figure when they were close enough to address, far enough to not get backlash for an unforgiving comment.

 

“His glorious Majesty, Immortal Master and Protector of Zakuul: Emperor Valkorion.”

 

Marr turned to look properly at this Emperor, his gut wrenched with a familiar horror. He realised far too late the identity of this man.

 

Vitiate gave a smirk at Marr’s slow recognition, his mouth wide enough to show far too many teeth for a smile. “Welcome.”

“A new name, a new face…” He felt himself snarl at this, this tyrant, this mockery of a Sith Emperor as he spat out his words. “These are not enough to hide yourself- it was a mistake thinking you would escape us at all!”

“Oh,” the Emperor gave a sneer, reclining back in his throne, “I think a mistake has been made… but by whom?”

Marr felt anger brew in his ribs. “You have been silent across our history. This?” He swept an arm to the gilt guards that stood rigidly along the walkway. “This was your distraction?”

“This was my focus, Marr, everything else was merely a means to an end. You claim to have come all of this way to find me. Here I am. What do you want?”

Your death. I want you cold in a grave at my feet.

Vitiate’s eyes switched from a mocking glance to a glare, rising from his throne to scowl at Marr. “You know the depths of my power. Whatever you hoped to achieve here, you know- deep inside- that you cannot succeed. But,” here he reached out a hand towards his captive, breaking the bonds that held his wrists together, “you do not have to stand against me. I am, after all, a just and forgiving Emperor. Instead… you can kneel.”

“I will never again kneel to you.”

The smirk was gone, words still laced with false amusement. “You would sooner die than acknowledge my superiority?”

“It is you who fears death, “Valkorion”. I do not. I will not kneel.”

 

Before Vitiate could speak, Marr had ripped a saberpike from a guard that was thrown back- by him? He could not remember- and impaled another that appeared to his left- no, right- pushing a couple away, snapping the neck of another through the Force, through his rage- distinctly, he could hear the sickening voice of Vitiate telling Arcann, Vitiate’s son- to dispose of him as Marr threw a couple more of the guards off the walkway to their deaths. He cut through a guard that tried to sneak up on his right, ignoring the gasp of shock when Marr’s lightsaber tore cleanly into the guard’s ribs, before spinning on his back heel to intercept the Prince’s nauseatingly yellow lightsaber, the burning light the only thing illuminating their fatal dance.

 

For a moment, Arcann and Marr circled each other, both hyperaware of a threat that they did not stand in front of.  Neither of them made a move to strike, nor back off- neither knew their opponent enough to risk an attack. A low whisper, barely heard over the humming of their sabers, came from the prince’s mask. “You came here to defeat him- this is your only chance.”

 

“Is that so?” Marr’s voice matches Arcann’s.

“You will not get another.” With that, Arcann broke the contact between their weapons, and sprinted towards Vitiate’s exposed back as Marr beheaded a few more unfortunates, littering the floor with corpses. As Vitiate deflected each strike with a short burst of lightning, Marr slowly paced around the walkway until he was hidden far behind Vitiate, in the shadows of the Eternal throne. From here he could hear Vitiates drawled tone, mocking still, almost unsurprised at this turn of events.

 

“First your brother, now your father?”

“Does my ambition truly surprise you?” Arcann struck in anger at his father, to no avail.

“You do not have ambition, only jealousy.” Vitiate tolerated this game for a short while longer before pushing Arcann backwards, calling forth a storm of brilliant purple lightning from the other hand, allowing his son to tumble down the stairs lifelessly as a doll whilst stray sparks danced across the floor, lighting only the bodies left to rot. “That is why you fail.”

 

There was no other chance.

 

There was no resistance from Vitiate’s armour as Marr’s lightsaber went cleanly through it, as air rushed out from the wound, a gasp, a death rattle the only melody in the galaxy that sounded so sweet. Vitiate stumbled backwards against Marr, the feebleness of a dying body finally taking its toll on the Emperor.

 

Old red eyes stared up through the expressionless mask to meet Marr’s own, challenging, definitive. “So be it.” The man who called himself Valkorion gurgled, before he gave a drowned laugh laced with blood from his wound.

 

Phantom pain akin to a lightsaber’s burn clawed at his face, his head, suddenly, as Vitiate’s body crumpled to the floor, his mouth and eyes agape with an unpredicted shock, the hue of his eyes already dimming to the original host’s colour. Vitiate gave a twisted, weakened smile, as crooked as his code, and the throne room was filled with a sudden electrical light, brighter than a holocron’s core, and as the light of life left his features, the room exploded with a power Marr had once made himself forget. The Force pulsed, wave after wave scattering dropped lightsaber pikes and broken armour off the edge of the walkway like leaves, pushing at Arcann’s fallen form, but only just.

 

Darth Marr, the stalwart defender of the Empire, the last resistance between them and the enemy, fell to his knees, and remembered nothing, nothing at all.

 

Far above, the stars still shone, as if nothing had changed.

Chapter Text

The Jedi Barsen’thor, a small coral skinned Twi’lek who wore an expression that betrayed none of her emotions, stared across the table at Satele Shan. Both stared tight-lipped at one another, daring their opponent to make an error. Felix sat to the side, trying to mimic their expressions and stance, with whatever fight he had left, and Zenith leant against a convenient wall, scowling at the ones who kept persevering in this task, having long lost.

 

Playing Pazaak with two esteemed Jedi was proving itself to be incredibly taxing, and Felix was beginning to falter.

 

“It is not too late to surrender, Felix. Nobody will think less of you.” The Barsen’thor gave a slight smile at her companion, almost gentle- though her blue eyes had an odd glint to them.

“What makes you think that I want to surrender?” Felix tried to imitate a surprised tone, giving the Twi’lek a lopsided grin of his own. “For all I know, you could have a terrible deck, and are just trying to eliminate any competition.”

“What makes me think that?” Her eyes focused only on him. “You, my dear Felix Iresso, have what may be the worst Pazaak face that exists in the galaxy.”

His eyebrows shot up. “I do not-“

“I would not say that, esteemed Basen’thor.” Satele Shan spoke for the first time in a long while, her face stoic.

“You’re right.” The Twi’lek offered only a small smile, before continuing. “Perhaps he does not have the worst Pazaak face, I should be truthful. But he is rather terrible at the game.” When Felix offered no comment, she continued. “Your brows have been furrowed for the good part of a quarter of an hour, and the cards you’ve played have been terrible. You also stopped smiling about five minutes ago, which only confirmed my suspicions-“

“Oh yes, so I’ve frowned, and I’ve stopped smiling. Why does that mean anything?”

She was glad that he did not claim that she was reading his mind with the Force. She would not have, in any case- Neyhara prided herself in staying honest and trustworthy, however there were those who would not have taken her words to heart. She gave herself a slight pause, still smiling at Felix, who had returned the gesture, before she tilted her head towards his dominant hand. “Your thumb has been rubbing against your index finger. That’s your nervous tic.”

His eyes widened. “I don’t have a nervous tic, I think I would-“

“You have other tics as well, but I don’t play all of my cards at once.” She winked.

 

A pressure like a rope around her neck was suddenly lifted, and the Jedi struggled not to gasp for air that came so freely now. A careful eye noted that Nadia, who has been passing, and Satele had similar reactions, the former clasping at her abdomen with the sudden change and coughing with reckless abandon, the latter had stood up with haste and charged out of the room, her cards scattering behind her like ashes. For a few short moments there was a relief, the ability to breathe freely again, before a sharp chill stabbed into her bones, her lekku shivering and numb. Felix had appeared by her side- how did she not notice that?- and she could hear him saying something, but everything was muffled, as if hearing through cotton- she looked around blearily, noting Zenith still standing, his hidden knife in one hand, searching, to no avail.

 

Nadia trembled like a leaf, staring up to the ceiling, as if answers could be found there. “What was that? What’s going on?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

 

Neyhara Barsen’thor took shuddering breaths until her senses came back to her, carefully placed her cards onto the table, face down, and took Nadia’s hands into her own, careful to keep her voice level.  “That was the death of the Empire.”

 

Zenith huffed from his vantage point. “Cryptic. Again. Make your point.”

 

The Jedi huffed at the fellow Twi’lek’s stark statement, narrowing her eyes at him for ruining her profound statement. “We all felt a life cut from the Force, Zenith. It would be best to assume, since we were not at the location itself, that Darth Marr is dead.”

 

Felix frowned, his hands on Neyhara’s shoulders, warm, grounding, an anchor for her to focus on. “Dead? Are you sure?”

Neyhara nodded. “I’m positive of this. We all- that is to say, all of the Force users here recognised the loss.”

“But to say that the Empire is dead is a bit of a stretch, wouldn’t you say?”

“No. Marr is- was- the sort of Sith who chases after anything that isn’t beneficial to his Empire or follows it, and then destroys it. I’d say that he found something at long last that he could not defeat.”

“So you’re saying that something- or someone- killed him?” Felix raised his eyebrows. “That’s a worrying thought.”

“Yes. It is.”

 

It could have meant that Marr found the Emperor, who had proven himself to be stronger than most, if not all of his opponents. It could mean that he found something else entirely, and the Republic would have to work on its diplomacy to persuade or investigate this thing before it focused on them. It could have just meant that Marr was overconfident in his skills, or his health was not reflective of his attitude. She could not say that she would miss the bastard. A Jedi does not lie, after all. She reached out across the table and gathered Satele’s scattered cards, turning them over as she cleared the game.

 

None of the Basen’thor’s cards would have saved her, Neyhara noted.

 


 

 

A Chiss sat in the private lounge of a Tatooine cantina, wearing a crimson dress that sat too high on her legs than what she was normally used to, angling a handheld mirror as if to reapply her lipstick, keeping her red eyes subtly pointed towards a small group of humans and Twi’leks that chose to mingle in the booths nearest to her. She avoided looking at one of them, whose eyes lingered on her dress for too long, making itself not obvious that she was aware of their attention. They were a group that Lokin had mentioned to her, who often frequented the most backwater of cantinas, offering jobs and opportunities to desperate, and most particularly, attractive citizens looking for jobs and some way of living, before those people disappeared from all record. For years the group had mostly evaded attention by staging a warehouse fire or ship malfunction that would eradicate the crew and destroy any evidence of potential kidnappings or documents being found. She and Lokin had compiled a list of theories as to the motives of these mass murders, and the reason why they chose their victims, and the best way to approach this group depending on which was the true reason.

 

If she caught their attention as a vulnerable, attractive female, with no weapon in sight, then she would have succeeded in the first part of the mission. She allowed herself a moment to congratulate herself mentally as the member who initially noticed her elbowed one of his companions, giving a slight nod towards where the agent sat- after all, it was no small feat to look as defenceless as she did when normally she towered over people with her impressive height of 6’1, with her rifle weighing heavy under the thick folds of her evening cloak, the knife cold under the ruffles of her dress.

 

Her commlink crackled into life, the voice of Holiday breaking into her ear.

“Agent? Agent! I’ve come across some incredibly distressing news while I was going through the Holonet, and SCORPIO can confirm that the messages say the same thing when she looked into it, and it’s oh so terrible!”

 

The agent said nothing, only lifted her mirror up to her face whilst the other hand went to tuck a few loose strands into place, inconspicuously pressing a thumb on a button on the commlink, saying nothing.

“Oh, thank goodness you’ve picked up! I know you’re on a mission, and it’s oh so terribly important and dangerous and exciting, but there’s been a sudden influx of messages between Sith and the Ministry, and they’re all saying that Darth Marr’s dead! No one has mentioned how, but there are some theories, and- oh, the scoundrels you’re tracking have just sent word to an unknown, I will need to hunt those down… I just thought you’d need to know, I’ll just find where the messages have been received-“

 

As Holiday disappeared, Cipher 9 remained staring at her reflection, trying to determine if her smile looked too obviously fake, or genuinely nervous. The rest of the crew would need to know, if SCORPIO had not already relayed the information whilst Holiday was chattering. The final decision still fell on her, however, whether to abandon the mission to pursue the truth, or to continue, with reluctance, with a weight on her mind.

 

She allowed herself a moment to give a discreet wink at a disguised Vector and Raina from across the bar, ever the picture of confidence, before turning to face her targets, who were making their way towards her.

 

She, after all, was on a mission.

 


 

 

 “I don’t understand. The coordinates led here.” A masked Sith stared out into the abyss, as if the emptiness there was at fault. It likely was. “Check them again. We did something wrong.”

 

“Sithy, the coordinates are exact.” A pirate by the name of Andronikos gestured to the star map. “This is where he said he would be.”

 

“Then try the coordinates in a different order. Ships don’t just disappear.” Not in the Empire. “I’m going back to check the message; I must have missed something.”

 

The Sith felt the lurch of her ship as it leapt into hyperspace when she ducked into the main room. She pushed some of the stacked artefacts aside to make room for herself on a bench, trying to discern this puzzle. The truth was simple: Marr left her coordinates, and she followed them. Nothing was there, so the coordinates were wrong, or that Marr was in danger and could not send her the real location in fear- Sith do not fear, she reminded herself, of being monitored. She frowned at the thought as she scrolled through her ‘pad, her eyes narrowing as she opened up previous messages. It was standard protocol to delete mail after they were read, to lessen the risk of an unwanted eye scanning them. Nox was good at doing that, she just was not so good when it came to deleting Marr’s words- though now that initial reluctance may have served her well.

 

However, if Marr was merely testing to see if she saved messages, or wanted her to train her paltry slicing skills under the guise of a threat, then she would be pressed to yell at him. If he wasn’t, then danger was imminent- and she could not afford to take risks with a fellow council member’s life.

 

“Send out another encrypted message. Scan for ships in the area- if we have to shut down ship functions to create a wider search radius, then so be it.” The Sith called back to the pirate, not caring for a response back, before moving to stand in front of the holoterminal, her hand hovering above the dials. Her allies were few and far in between, most of them on her ship already. Moff Pyron, by her request, had a fleet- their newest fleet- stationed in Wild Space between Ilum and Csilla, ready to jump into Hyperspace at a whim. There were fleets scattered about in various, smaller spaces, one near Hoth, another closer towards the Rim worlds- but those were secret, and manned by living personnel, and did not all have the clearance to know about the mission that lay at hand. If their help was needed, an automatic briefing would ensue whilst they were pulled into Hyperspace at Moff Pyron’s command, and they would have to adapt.

 

Darth Nox had always found herself rather good at adapting to unexpected situations. It was, after all, how she had made it as the head of the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge.

 

Something was immediately wrong.

 

It was like her ribs, her lungs, her heart, were all ripped out at once, and an empty chasm of cold which choked the hope from within her until it was dead replaced it, until there was nothing but an ache of hurting which left her no blood or wound to show of this moment, which made it all the worse. Because then, and only then, did she know what that pain meant.

 

Beasts born deep in the trees of Dromund Kaas were known for their primal howls, echoes of a pain ripped from the gaping lesions in their ribs, organs scattered by their captors and equals and packmates, each bellowing screech leaving nothing but the memories of goosebumps on the arms of those unfortunate to hear it. Darth Nox, feared Dark Council member, terror of Makeb and devourer of ghosts, crumpled to her knees and howled out her pain until her throat rasped, letting tears fall for the first time in her memory, reduced to nothing but a wounded beast in the heart of the Empire.

  


 

 

“Major.”

“Jorgan.”

The Cathar gave a slight flinch at the tone, trying to smother it with a frown. “I have a rank.” He retorted; his voice equally clipped.

“On my ship, we all scrub the floors clean. You best remember that.” The Mirialan did not look up from the table of guns and assault cannons, one of which was disassembled for maintenance, its metal organs scattered like fallen feathers, the black residue of oil leaving smudged and indelicate lines across the leader of Havoc Squad’s project. Even now, with her somewhat ashy blonde hair recently cropped close to her hard jawline, her fringe covering her eyes as she stared upon her broken prize, Aric knew that she glared, a seething hatred burning from within her like a forest fire, consuming, unstoppable.

 

Jorgan could not quite place on whether he admired his superior, or if he feared her.

 

He realised a second too late that he was too preoccupied with his musings to realise that he had kept her waiting- now her head had lifted, a permanent scowl written on her face, accentuated by the bold black tattoos that spread under her red eyes, red as a Sith’s, or so he had been told. He cleared his throat.

“Your sister’s sent another message.”

Her expression did not change. “Half sister- and she’s no real blood of mine. Delete it.”

“Affirmitive- howe-“

Her head snapped up. “I don’t like your tone, Jorgan.”

“Your half sister sent a message regarding the death of one of the Empire’s Dark Council members.”

The Major furrowed her brows. “And how do we know this information is legitimate? And I,” she waved a multitool at Aric, “do not recall giving you permission to read my messages.”

“The information is legitimate, that’s for sure, sir.”

“How. Do. You. Know.” Each word was spat out like venom, burning a snarl on the Mirialan’s face. “Has she called? Has the Holonet confirmed anything? Or are you a secret Jedi and it’s only now you’re telling me this?” She gave a slight huff at her remark, before resuming her scowl.

 

Aric did not reply for a long time, struggling to keep his face impassive, emotionless. He would not fail, not now, not again, not in front of his superior, with a desk of assault weapons separating them. He admired her, feared her, and there was dislike that curdled in his gut, from the decisions, right decisions, that he saw her made, declare, but with sadistic methods, choices that kept him awake when he was in his bunk, carnage that left him uneasy to return to combat. She made deals, too, secretly at first, and then with less discretion as time went on, dismissing both him and Elara’s feelings about the subject, to get funds and weapons for the squad. Corrupt as a senator and yet- and yet she was effective. The Major bought results with her, and lay Imperial corpses before her like flower beds.

 

When Aric betrayed nothing of his thoughts, The Mirialan sat back in her chair, tapping her black stained fingers on the table, a metronome to their shared stubbornness.

 

At long last she spoke. “Notify Forex. If this is true, then the Empire may yet be at its weakest point- and we may not get another opportunity like this.”

“Sir?”

“Everyone knows that Darth Marr was the unofficial leader of the Dark Council, I’m putting my credits on everything going to druk, politically and otherwise. Dromund Kaas is going to be pulling all of its prominent Sith Lords to the city, or Korriban will- either way, there will be a sudden swarm of those murderous skugs thinking they’re eligible to take his place. Empire’s likely going to pull some of its resources from planets they think they can’t lose, especially since there are going to be some incredible power plays. Oh,” she gave a wide grin at Aric, somewhat lopsided, her eyes not changing at all, “Sith are going to be murdering one another just to sit on that sculag’s chair. They’re not expecting us to know that.”

“I detect a flaw in your plan, sir. The Empire is likely going to anticipate this.”

Marr would have anticipated this. But guess what, Jorgan? He’s dead, and we have an opportunity to target some figures before they realise what has hit them.”

“Who’s our target?”

“We’re looking at Governors and Lords on Taris, Balmorra, and we’re going to want to hit Hoth and Tatooine while we can. If a whole city gets destroyed, they probably won’t even notice. Come now, Jorgan. We’re moving out.”

 


 

 

The Emperor’s Wrath took special care tending to the potted flowers on his ship. When one was without missions, or under urgent orders, and owned no property, there was plenty of time to consider hobbies, and interests that a spell of boredom would permit. Datapads of Imperial poetry were stacked in a locked box in his cabin, along with attempts of his own, and information on horticulture replaced reports of war and research on allies. It was, without a doubt, a welcome change of pace.

 

A message on his personal commlink betrayed nothing but a set of coordinates that marked a location in unknown territory. The man known as the Wrath hummed a low tune as he disposed of any fallen leaves and dried roots, before turning to the companion that sat in the pilot’s seat.

 

“I’m transferring a location to you, Vette. Can I trust you to get us there?”

“Sure! Dare I ask where and why’re we going, nerfhead?”

The Wrath ignored the bait. “Marr sent a message, and we’re already on the border of Empire territory and the unknown, so we may as well.”

“Cool! We expecting danger?”

“Likely.”

“Less so cool! Jumping into hyperspace!”

 

The Wrath closed his eyes as the stars merged into white lines racing past him, willing his stomach to settle for even a brief moment. A Sith who felt space-sick was one that would surely be mocked, no matter how great his family line or destiny was. In moments like this, the man was grateful for the disguise of a mask, especially one that imitated a cross between a Dread Master’s visage and a horned Sithspawn, full of fury and deserving of the title that he wore. Despite his dedication to mercy and diplomacy, he still believed that he was a fearsome Sith, and should be respected as thus. He felt as if the Dark Lords in charge of Defence and Ancient Knowledge did not do that, no matter how respectful their conversations and collaborations were in months past. It probably did not help his feeling that he had to crane his neck back like a child when addressing both of them, as if he was an impudent youngster, scolded by his parents.

 

“Bit short for a Sith, aren’t ya?”

“I’m the same height as you, slave.” Was all he said before pushing the button on Vette’s shock collar. He could never forgive himself for the screams that followed.

 

A sharp pain burnt his skin under his cybernetic implants, spreading to the back of his head, stinging his eyes like erratic smoke. He let out a gasp of shock, eyes welling and stomach writhing. He must have said something in his state, as Vette had halted the ship from its destination, and they remained, floating in the recesses of space.

 

The human closed his eyes, biting back the reborn nausea. “Marr of the Dark Council is dead.”

“Wait, what?”

“I will not repeat myself.”

“Fuck, what do we do?”

 

He had no duty to the Dark Council. He had a duty to the Empire. The Wrath worked only for the Emperor. The man under that same mask worked against him. The Sith did not like him. The people needed him.

 

Rothlinn shook his head. “My mind is made up. Vette, continue to the rendezvous point immediately.”

Vette raised an eyebrow. “If your Sith is deader than a roasted burra fish, no offence, then why’re we heading over there? Sounds pointless.”

“Marr wouldn’t have gone alone, and he wouldn’t have operated a ghost ship. We need to find any survivors and bring them to safety.”

The Twi’lek’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Whatever killed him is still out there, we might die.”

“I stand resolute. If we stop to mourn everyone who has died, we’ll never have time for the living, who need us more.”