Legends of the Force
Four Jedi uncover a dark secret that threatens to destroy the Galaxy as they know it...
Picking up where Ganner Slarwalker left off, friends become enemies as Cade's mission continues.
When a Jedi strike team vanishes on Umbara, two Jedi begin to unearth a conspiracy deeper than the Shadow Assassins themselves.
Over five years after the events of Ganner Slarwalker, our heroes must unite once more to face a new enemy.
Three missions to the forest moon of Anarto II crash together, leading to a climactic event not everyone will walk away from...
Every villain is the hero of their own story.
During the darkest hour, destinies collide, gambits are executed and loyalties are revealed during the final battle, the tremors of which the Galaxy will feel forever...
LEGENDS OF THE FORCE
ACT TWO: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
"Data transfer complete in three minutes."
Asura cursed the robotic voice. She didn't have three minutes. Crouched down behind a small gray crate, she watched as red bolt streaked over her into the white walls behind her. Some of the shots also hit the small, black terminal she was guarding, and the screen suddenly turned black, now making visible the reflection of her panicked face looking back at her (a brown-skinned Zabrak, with three small horns on either side of her head, a lot of currently messy brown hair covering them, and hazel eyes) as well as Cade (human, tan, black-haired, dark blue eyes,) also pressed up against the cover; they were both wearing dark grey uniforms fitted with holsters, pockets, and a belt for ammunition and grenades. She looked at her data spike plugged into the side of the terminal to make sure it was still functioning; it was, and a small timer on the rectangular device showed the seconds counting down one by one. A red light blinked, showing that the transfer was still underway. The smell of smoke filled her longs as she took a deep breath, trying to keep her cool on the situation.
She looked around the large gray room in the reflection of the terminal. This room functioned as the server room for the Brotherhood's Manaan base, and was currently lined with computers upon computers burning or destroyed or moved aside to make cover. The terminal she was guarding contained information Antimatter Squadron had been seeking for more than five years, ever since the Brotherhood disappeared. Not long after she, Praxon, and DX-245 had joined the group, their entire operation had vanished almost overnight (aside, they suspected, from most of the Brotherhood's moles in the newly formed Empire, but even Taran Ragnan and Cyana Bastra were nowhere to be found.) Following the death of Ganner Slarwalker, the group had become mercenaries both out of necessity and as a way to get underworld contacts easily, but information was still scarce. Their mission was only further hampered by the abrupt exit of Ranulph Darkhitch, who had left quickly without explanation two years after reading the message left to him by Ganner.
Hans also had one of these messages, but hadn't even touched it since he had been given it on Dantooine six years ago. Asura didn't know why he hadn't, but she suspected that Hans believed the message had to do with his troubled past he preferred to forget. In her six years of partnership with him, the only time that she knew he had ever talked about it had been during the failed Operation Supernova, when Taran had taunted him about it in front of the others and forced him to reveal his past.
Tightly gripping her blaster, an pitch-black EE-4, Asura quickly stood up. Rapidly approaching her were several BX-series droid commandos, left hidden in the base by Lospeg. She opened fire, taking down two of them, and then hid under her cover again. The base, located in the ocean of Manaan, hadn't shown any signs of life as the team had approached it. "Asura, we don't have three minutes!" Cade yelled.
"You know what they say," Asura grimly responded. "Make time for what you love."
"I knew this mission was a bad idea," Cade muttered.
Cade quickly stood up, fired off a volley of shots from his two DC-17s, then suddenly sidestepped as a warm red shot streaked past his face. He quickly ducked down under cover again. "Asura," he said as he met his deep ocean blue eyes with hers, "It's been an honor working with you."
"Team 2, do you read me?" Hans' voice suddenly brought Asura's comlink to life. Over the comlink Asura could tell that things weren't going very smoothly for him either; blaster shots and explosions erupted in the background. "Yes, we do!" she responded. "They're getting too close. Fire on my mark," Cade whispered. Asura clenched her blaster again in preparation. "3...2...1...Now!"
She and Cade both stood up, quickly facing down the horde of droids yet again. They emerged two-by-two through a small doorway across the room, however, they approached quickly and were firing without any sign of stopping. A good dozen or so droids were now lying on the ground, but the rest merely walked over their fallen bodies and this number still paled in comparison to the horde that approached. The two quickly let loose a rapid volley of shots, then ducked down again before Asura could even see what had landed and what hadn't. "Data transfer complete in 30 seconds."
Cade and Asura glanced at each other again, each trying to confirm through the other that what they had just heard was what had really just been said. "The data terminals are wiping themselves-- another security measure," Hans informed them over the comlink. "Get as much as you can of what's left and bail."
"Preparing for extraction," DX-245's voice chimed in.
"Preparing for extraction," Cade announced. The light on the data spike suddenly turned green, and Asura grabbed it before it could even announce the transfer had finished. "Ready?" Cade asked. She nodded. He unclipped a cylindrical device-- a shock grenade-- before pushing the button and lobbing it over their cover. As soon as it detonated, sparks of lightning illuminated the room. Asura stood up, as did Cade, raising their weapons. Cade's aim had been true, and almost every droid was now shaking spasmodically. They quickly shot down the few droids that had escaped the shock and then quickly began to run. As they exited, Asura unclipped a thermal detonator, activated it, and dropped it in the middle of the group of droids as they ran.
They sprinted down the brightly lit hallways, shooting down more droids that turned the corner up ahead before they could attack. As she ran, Asura could see out the windows on either side of the hallway. They were very deep underwater, with only a few bright spotlights beaming from the base providing any illumination. In those lights, a few small fish swam quickly, unaware of the combat taking place inside. Further down to her left, she saw Hans fighting his way down a hallway perpendicular to theirs. Hans' prowess in combat had always awed Asura. Asura had improved over the years, but she didn't believe she would ever reach his level. Neither, it seemed, would Cade, and while Praxon and DX-245 were nigh unstoppable when paired together, only DX gave Hans any real competition.
Cade and Asura finally reached the end of the hallway, which gave way to a door leading into the next area. The two kept their weapons steady as it opened to reveal Hans entering through another door on the left in the same manner. They instinctively aimed at each other for the briefest of moments before realizing just who they were aiming at, and lowered their weapons. "I have a really, really bad feeling about this." Cade commented.
"Thank you, Cade," Hans scarcastically replied. "I'll bear that in mind."
DX-245 and Praxon quickly enetered through another door on the right, meeting the rest of the group. "Status report: Data acquired; hostiles eliminated." DX spoke. Praxon and DX were still mentally linked, and as time had gone on they had become closer. Praxon now barely spoke, allowing the droid to instead. "Good work," Hans responded. "Let's get out-"
Hans' voice was cut short by the shriek of a siren that screamed and echoed all down the base. All the lights in the base began to flash and turn red, leaving the team in a significantly darker room. "Data safeguards triggered. Self destruction sequence initializing in 60 seconds." A calm, female voice gave the condemning announcement over the intercom of the base. Without another word, the entire group took off towards the exit, going through another door opposite the one Asura and Cade had entered from.
The computer began counting down the seconds as the group frantically dashed to escape, with DX utilizing his thrusters to boost ahead of the others and eliminate as much droid resistance ahead as possible. They sprinted in the suddenly-heating base, stepping over fallen enemies and dodging blaster shots fired by the stragglers. Asura was running on pure adrenaline now; her heart pounded like it was going to burst at any moment. At last, the group reached their final destination: a large elevator. The elevator lead up to the hangar on top of the base, where the submarine the team had stolen to reach the base was waiting for them. "Twenty seconds remaining."
As the group all stood on the platform, Hans pushed the button on a terminal linked to the side of the elevator to begin their ascent. As he pressed it, the screen turned red.
ERROR, it read,
DATA SAFEGUARD TRIGGERED. "Get on!" Praxon suddenly yelled, grabbing on to DX-245. The others immediately followed suit, and he took off using his thrusters. Asura clung on near the main thruster on the droid's back, and looked back as they took off. As they neared the top, a single droid entered the room, spotted the group, and fired. Asura saw the bolt headed directly for her head, and with a speed only attainable in moments of pure instinct, quickly leaned out of the way. The shot flew directly into the main thruster, which began to sputter and fail as the group fell back to the ground.
They laid there, stunned from the shock of the fall as the countdown continued and the single droid walked up towards Asura to finish her off. With the breath knocked out of her and her weapon out of reach, Asura watched as Hans suddenly rose behind the droid. "Ten. Nine." He pulled a vibroblade from off his belt, and decapitated the droid. "Eight. Seven. Six." Asura now saw more droids entering the room, another horde even larger than the one Asura had faced before. She began dragging herself to her feet, but she knew this was the end. "Five. Four. Three." The droids raised their weapons, then, to Asura, time and space seemed to freeze.
"Paradus override accepted. Self destruct sequence aborted. Security measures deactivated."
The lights stopped flashing and returned to normal as the group rose to their feet as the droids stood watching them, unwavering. "The enemy units have been deactivated," DX reported. "No kidding," Cade replied, still taken aback by what had just occurred. Hans moved back towards the elevator controls. "Deactivated or not, I'm not taking any more chances. We're leaving."
"Just like that?" A new voice spoke over the intercom. It had been audibly modified to speak in a deep pitch, and without any of her technical equipment on her, Asura couldn't identify just whose voice it was. "You get your life saved, and you don't even to know why or by whom?"
Hans sighed, pausing with his hand just over the button. "I thought maybe we could avoid the conversation where you tell us what we owe you."
"Whoever it is did just save our lives, you know." Cade interjected. "I'm not saying we accept, but we should listen to this." Asura and Praxon nodded in agreement. Hans grimaced. "What?" He asked.
"It's simple. I need something recovered and brought to me. It has information that will be useful to the both of us."
A very vague answer. Did this contact want the details to remain secret, or was it unknown even to them? "And that information is?" Hans inquired.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Analysis of vocal patterns indicate no signs of deception," DX said.
"Team?" Hans asked.
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but let's do it." Asura answered.
"I'm in." Cade said.
"Analysis concludes that there is only a 10% chance of betrayal," DX-245 answered.
"Good. I will contact you at your ship with the details. Move quickly."
Just as suddenly as the voice had manifested, it disappeared, leaving the team to begin their new mission. They looked around for a second, then Hans pressed the button again and the team began to rise, leaving the base to begin their next mission.
Barak Dakens heard the footsteps approaching his cell long before they arrived. He'd sat in silence for months, save for when a guard would occasionally come by to bring him his daily meal. The meal was the only way Barak still had to keep track of time; his gray cell was completely empty save for a metal slab that took on the form of a bed without providing any of the comfort. This, from one prison to another, was the life Barak had been living for three years. Barak didn't even know where he was now; they kept him unconscious for the duration of the trip whenever he was moved.
It had all started six years ago when his wife, Cyana Bastra, got a priority call from the Chancellor. She was given almost no detail other than that it was important, and with that, she left. She never came back from that meeting, and no one could tell Barak where she'd gone. He spent the first year with his loyalty still intact, albeit shaken. He continued his operations for the Empire, infiltrating and assassinating where needed, all the while making his way into the Imperial database, looking for his wife. After that first year on the inside, he decided to recruit some help.
He began to form allies underground by "leaking" sensitive documents, giving many groups of dissidents times to prepare for otherwise unforeseen Imperial attacks. One he had the connections he needed, he began organizing attacks on classified Imperial bases. After two years, he only had one lead-- something called Operation Supernova, the majority of which had been erased from history. The only thing that remained was the manifest of an unnamed ship, and an audio log. The manifest contained only two names that mattered: Admiral Taran Ragnan and Captain Cyana Bastra. The audio log, while mostly corrupted, had one audible sentence, uttered by Taran Ragnan: ""Activate their implants, kill Novastar, set the ship to self-destruct, and ready the escape pods." Novastar meant Hans Novastar, formerly Hans Cerrano, a murderer whom Cyana had investigated who brought to light for the first time the threat of the Brotherhood. Barak suspected the lead had been meant for him.
He also had heard of the admiral before, from the Cerrano case. Ragnan had been the lead investigator of the homicide of a Senator's wife, which was revealed to be a ploy by the Senator's son to frame one of his father's associates. Despite this, Barak couldn't find anything anywhere about Ragnan. His entire trail had simply disappeared. The search had concluded when Imperial Intelligence finally caught him, locked him up, drugged and tortured the necessary info out of him, and killed all his allies. Barak didn't know why he was still alive.
The cell door opened, and two well-polished Stormtroopers entered. One wielded an E-11 blaster rifle; the other was carrying stun cuffs. "Turn around and face the wall with your hands on your head!" The first one ordered. Barak quickly analyzed the situation. Even if he were to catch the soldiers off guard with a sudden attack, they were armored, and additionally, he was almost certainly much physically weaker than he had been three years ago, even accounting for his attempts to exercise regularly. He complied with the order, and never even felt the stun blast that knocked him unconscious.
He woke in the copilot's seat of a shuttle, immediately gazing out the window. Ahead of the vessel was a space station, one of its hangars getting closer with every second that passed. "You're awake. Good." Someone said. He looked to his left to see that a bald, pale man was piloting the ship. He was wearing standard Stormtrooper armor, but had taken his helmet off and placed it next to his seat. "Another prison, huh?" Barak asked.
"Quiet." The pilot replied. Barak guessed he wasn't going to get any more out of him. The ship flew into one of the hangars, which had also been fitted with several TIE interceptors. The rest of the hangar was very plain, though polished. The shuttle landed, and Barak saw a dark-skinned officer wearing a naval uniform approaching them. The pilot put his helmet back on and grabbed Barak, dragging him down the shuttle's exit ramp and out into the hangar.
The officer, also flanked by two stormtroopers, stopped to meet Barak and his captor. "Hello, Sergeant," he said in a deep voice. "I trust the trip went well?"
"Yes, sir." The trooper replied.
"Good. You may leave us."
Without further ado, the trooper turned and headed back up the ramp, preparing for takeoff as the officer began to address Barak. "Barak Dakens," he started. "Welcome to Imperial Facility 406-P." He turned to the Stormtrooper on his right. "Undo his restraints." The Stormtrooper complied, and Barak immediately began rubbing his wrists; the stuncuffs had not been anything close to loose. "What is this?" Barak asked.
The officer smiled. "This is your new assignment. My name is Captain Sumad. I run most of the operations on this station, and I answer to our Commander, as you now do." He extended his hand, but Barak didn't shake it.
The commander. Whoever it was, Barak figured they had chosen him specifically because of his history, which meant two things: Firstly, this commander had some very high-level access to information, and secondly, he needed Barak's talents for something, which couldn't be good. "And what exactly are these operations, Captain?" Sumad turned back towards the entrance of the hangar. "The commander wants to show you himself. Come." He beckoned to Barak, who followed him out. A few minutes later, Barak stood in a lift alongside Sumad and the two Stormtroopers as they descended down to the level on which the commander currently presided. For the first time in a while, Barak gazed into his reflection, being met with his own light-brown eyes. His brown hair had grown to be quite messy, but he had a relatively small patch of hair under his lip, the beginnings of a goatee.
"I've seen some of your work, Dakens." Sumad informed him. "Impressive, to say the least. You could have spent the last three years serving us well. Why turn?"
"You took my wife. I want her back."
"Is that really all?"
Barak hesitated before he spoke again. "No. I've seen what happens out there. I've seen men, women, and children left to burn for the 'mission'. I thought I knew what I signed up for, but the Empire? It's evil, and it consumes everyone in it. It'll consume you one day."
"What exactly did you see?" Sumad asked.
Before Barak could speak, the lift stopped, and the door slid open to reveal a wide chamber. Illuminated in blue, the left and right walls of the room were lined with empty stasis tanks. On the other side of the room, there was a large amount of machinery, tubes and terminals Barak didn't recognize. The commander stood facing this machinery, his arms folded in front of him. He had messy red hair and wore a long set of red and while robes.There was a circular rune on his forehead and a similar runic line that stretched across his face, under his eyes and over his forehead, both of which appeared to have been branded onto his face, and a double-bladed lightsaber was clipped onto his belt. Barak realized at once why he had not known the nature of the commander- he was an Inquisitor. "Barak Dakens, you've arrived." His voice resonating with a deep Coruscanti accent. As he spoke, he turned to face Barak, revealing his pale tattooed face and glittering green eyes. "You must have many questions. Let me show you something."
Barak tried to step forwards and speak, but he felt himself being held back, unable to move in any way. "Oh come on. Do you know how rude that is?" The Inquisitor commented.
He turned around and begin pressing buttons on a console as the others came closer to see. In front of them, a screen activated, displaying an image of a black and red planet from orbit. "This," the Inquisitor stated, "is Umbara." The image changed to that of an airfield, filled with alien ships and tanks. "During the Clone Wars, there was a campaign here-- an incredible story, but not one the Republic would ever let the public hear about. It was all but forgotten, but then two years later, this happened." The next picture was taken from the same angle, but now showed a massive crater where the airfield had stood. "What happened, you ask?"
"The Emperor wanted to know the same thing. He sent teams in to analyze the area for as much information as they could, and they stumbled upon this." The screen showed what appeared to be the ruins of a large temple being overrun by plants. "A temple..." Sumad muttered in awe. Had he not been in on this? "Oh, it gets so much better," the Inquisitor replied. Barak immediately felt his heart sink, knowing that whatever he was about to get caught up in was likely infinitely worse than he could imagine.
Now, they were looking at two decomposing bodies, one of them headless, both of them clad in light black and white robes. "These are Varad and Arek. Varad's head, unfortunately, didn't make it into this picture. These two left journals of what had happened leading up to their deaths-- another fascinating story, and in it they mention a ritual called the Binding. Tell me," The Inquisitor asked as he turned again, gazing deeply and directly into Barak's eyes. "Have you ever wanted to live forever?". Barak couldn't reply. "I'll just presume the answer is yes, because it is for practically anyone-- including our Emperor. These journals could open the gates to a glorious, infinite reign unlike any ever seen before. And I know what you're thinking, probably trying to ask: 'What does all this Sith nonsense have to do with me?' Well, I'll explain." He walked closer to Barak.
"You see, these journals don't actually say how the ritual works. However, they talk about the person who more than likely killed these Sith, and I'm willing to bet he either knows or knows who does. There's just one problem: he's vanished. I know he's out there somewhere, and I've got some bait placed for him, but I can't find the man for the life of me." Now he stood directly in front of Barak as he paced.
"That's where you come in. You know how to search for someone better than anyone else in the Galaxy. I want you to command my forces and find him."
Barak tried to speak again, and this time succeeded. "You think I'll help you?"
The inquisitor chuckled a bit. "Tsk, tsk. You don't understand. All those years ago, Cyana agreed to her mission on one term- that you would be protected by the Empire, no matter what happened."
Barak became furious. "What do you know?"
The inquisitor drew a menacing smile from cheek to cheek. "Don't you want to find out?"
Barak felt an unnatural wave of fear wash over him. In his mind, he saw a city on fire, he saw a woman-- he saw Cyana burning as she was encased by shadows. "Well?"
Just until I find her, he told himself. Just until I find her.
"I'll do it."
The Inquisitor freed him from his Force grip, and Barak briefly fell to the floor before regaining control of his muscles and standing up. "Marvelous." the Inquisitor said brightly. He extended his hand towards Barak. "Welcome to the Inquisition, Barak."
Slowly, hesitantly, Barak reached out and shook it. "And you are?"
"It's not my name you need to worry about; it's his: Ganner Slarwalker."
A week later, Cade found himself preparing for a mission he still barely understood.
Antimatter Squadron's new mission took them to a long-abandoned planet known as Quesh. Generations ago, Quesh had been a major source of adrenals for the Republic, but the near-inhospitable state of the planet had only worsened. Quesh's very atmosphere was capable of killing an unprotected human in mere seconds, and much of the planet was now covered in an ocean of various toxic wastes. The descent of the planet had been all but forgotten by most of the Republic; while there was indeed a lesson to be learned from the collapse of the planet's ecosystems, it was also quite an unnecessary stain on their reputation. There were, in fact, some scientists who theorized that life forms on Quesh could have evolved to live in the toxic ocean, but no substantial evidence had ever been presented. If not for the task at hand, Cade could've easily believed no one had been to the planet in millennia.
Their intel was located in a hidden Separatist base on the planet, though the team had been assured there would not be a horde of droids waiting for them this time. They just needed to get in, find whatever this thing was, and get it to the person their contact had said would meet them there. Meanwhile, Asura had begun working on decrypting the Manaan files, but it seemed that the process would be long and tedious. It figured; six years had passed and the team still understood little about the Brotherhood.
Cade hated that the truth behind his entire life had been hidden so far from his reach, and it felt like even now Dylan was reaching out from regions unknown and dragging it just a little farther way with each step he took towards finding it. Even now, all he really knew was that Dylan had definitely wanted Cade neutralized as a threat, spending years bringing Cade into the Brotherhood, manipulating him at every turn, and trying to eliminate him when all else had failed. What he didn't know was why. Everyone else in Antimatter Squadron had a very specific talent. Ranulph and Asura had been the hackers, Praxon and Hans had been the experienced mercenaries, Kev and Blaze had been the gunslingers, and DX-245 and Siri (deception aside, and Cade still didn't understand just how the plan to get her into the group fit into the rest of the events occurring at the time) had been the crack shots. Where did Cade fit in?
Returning back to the matter at hand, Cade activated his enviro-suit. The yellow suit covered his full body, with a small closable visor for sight. Inside the suit, Cade could also see a heads-up display on the visor that displayed his vital signs and environmental status. "About time," Asura teased him over his suit's comlink, "What took you so long?"
"Nothing," he replied. "ETA?"
"30 seconds. Get out here." Hans told him. Cade walked out of his room into the main area of the ship where the rest of the team was gathered, save for DX-245, who was piloting the ship. As Cade entered, Hans began pacing as he laid out the plan for the team one more time. "All right, let's make this quick. Bioscans were interfered with by the atmosphere, so we don't know for sure that there's nothing waiting for us down there. Be ready for anything." The ship's doors opened to reveal the ramp that lead to the surface of Quesh, a bright yellow bog. The group stepped out into the waste, and the ship took off into the sky. DX would watch from orbit to make sure the team had a heads up on any activity that occurred while they were in the base. Even now, Cade felt like the group was being observed from the shadows, by a figure just out of reach. He wanted to dismiss the feeling as pure paranoia, but past experiences had taught him better.
The team trudged through the toxic muck, blasters at the ready, towards the Separatist base. Looking at it, it seemed more like a warehouse than an actual base, and really just a large cubic building with lights shining off the corners down onto the surface below. The refined metal and lights sharply contrasted the monotony of the rest of the planet that Cade had seen so far, and stood out tall from the flat landscape. "That really it?" Cade asked, more to end the silence than anything.
"Guess so." Hans tersely replied.
They continued quietly once more towards the base. At last, Cade and the others reached the entrance, a large blast door with the Separatist insignia painted on. "Praxon, you do the honors," Hans said. Praxon placed several charges on the door and primed them before stepping away with the rest of the group. "Ready?" Hans asked.
"Ready." Cade replied. The others quickly followed suit.
The doors exploded, leaving a ringing in Cade's ears as the area quickly filled with smoke. Immediately, a thick smoke that obstructed his view of the inside of the building formed. He, along with the rest of the group, raised his blasters at the door as it cleared. It gave way to what for the most part appeared to indeed be an abandoned warehouse, filled with rows of unmarked crates. An alarm had been set off after the breach, but it didn't seem that anything inside was going to act on it. In between all the rows was a path leading directly towards a glowing blue tube surrounded by dark screens. Something was in it, though from this distance he couldn't see what.
"Praxon," Hans asked, "What's in there?" Thanks to his cybernetic eye, he could zoom in to see much farther than an average Rodian.
"A person." Praxon hesitantly informed them. They began making their way down the aisles, taking aim down each one as they passed it in case something was waiting for them. Slowly but surely, they made their way to the being. He was a well-aged Arcona, decorated with many scars over his body. He was unconscious, with his eyes closed as he breathed very slowly. Additionally, he was wearing very tattered robes, definitely resembling those of a Jedi.
Cade hadn't seen a Jedi since Ganner's funeral on Carlac, where he was reunited with his father, Galen, and met Yula Ardinn. He wasn't sure what to make of the woman Ganner had sacrificed himself for; she seemed to be barely holding it together. After the funeral, she lived with Galen and Vara, Cade's mother, for a few months before she set off on a quest of introspection.
Cade saw a screen near the bottom left corner of the tube displaying the Arcona's vital signs. He was definitely alive for the time being, but he was weak. "Who did this to you?" Asura whispered.
Behind the man, the screens all activated, each one displaying a man from the shoulders up. He was wearing red and white robes, and his face was adorned with tattoos that appeared to have been burned onto him, and his emerald green eyes gazed intently into Cade's, even over the screen.
"Atmospheric entry detected. One life form, heading towards your position." DX-245 reported.
"What the-- who are you lot? Do you know what you're dealing with?" the man asked.
"I could ask you the same question." Hans replied.
"Oh, trust me, you don't even want to know."
"Just like I suppose we don't want to know why you've trapped this man here?"
"He's not meant for you. Go home."
"Subject has landed and is approaching." DX-245 informed the group.
"Oh? Cade asked. "And who is he meant for, exactly?"
"Someone much more important than..."
Behind Cade, a lightsaber activated. He turned, as did the others, to see a hooded figure standing there with a yellow lightsaber drawn. She wore dark brown robes, but had gloves concealing her hands from the toxins of the planet. Her masked face was barely visible, but Cade knew immediately who it was. She spoke at the same time as the man on the screen did, and uttered the same word.
The man disappeared as the screen cut off, leaving Antimatter Squadron alone with the Jedi, who deactivated her lightsaber and clipped it to her belt. She pulled back her hood to reveal that she, like Asura, was a Zabrak. However, her skin was yellow, and she had four horns all on the front of her head, and three long threads of hair that stretched down her head. Her eyes were a dark orange, but this was not due to an affiliation in the Force, it was merely genetics. This was the Jedi Ganner had died for, the last known survivor of the Binding, the only person left who'd known Ganner before the conflict with the Shadow Assassins. This was Yula Ardinn.
"Yula." Hans greeted her.
"Hans," she replied, nodding towards him in acknowledgement. "Cade. It's good to see you." She eyed the others, who she had met at Ganner's funeral. "As it is to see the rest of you."
She then turned and walked towards the man in the tube. "And you, old friend..." She placed her hand on the tube and closed her eyes solemnly. "How did you even get here? I... I can sense he's still alive, but the pain he's in, it's unimaginable."
She looked back up, to Hans. "We need to get him out of here."
"Who is he?" Hans asked.
"This is Ganner's Master. Sen Qorbin."
Not much later, Antimatter Squadron had returned to their ship with Yula and Qorbin in tow. Now, they were waiting for their contact to speak to them again. Hans didn't know who it was (Yula wouldn't say either), but he had a feeling that recent events were going to bring about the return of the Brotherhood. It all just seemed to make sense. Both Yula and Qorbin had both been connected to Ganner, who Dylan had tried to kill for some reason. Seeing as Qorbin was apparently bait for Yula, Hans suspected the man the team had spoken to was trying to cut loose ends from all those years ago.
The installations and the man weren't the only traces of the Brotherhood that were left. Hans' father, Berloc, was still a Senator living on Coruscant. Hans had long wanted to capture him and get information, but an operation like that was beyond even the capabilities of Antimatter Squadron at the moment-- at least if they wanted to get out of it alive. Hans was hoping, though not expecting, that these new developments could somehow further that goal.
The group was standing around the holoprojector in the middle of the ship's main hold. DX-245 was absent; the droid had been assigned the duty of nursing Qorbin back to health and doing his best to help him recuperate with what had happened. Hans, however, believed that whatever Qorbin knew was probably more important than whether or not he lived from now on, and had made sure DX-245 knew to get as much information as he could. Naturally, Praxon was in on this too, but did not object.
"Call's coming in." Asura reported.
"All right. Let's hear this."
The holoprojector activated, engulfing the room in a blue light, but did not actually display anything.
"Give me a moment. I've been hiding my identity forever." The contact spoke. In a flash of light, the holoprojector revealed a new image. The man was one familiar to Antimatter Squadron, though he had certainly aged since they had last met. His long, sandy hair had since been trimmed down, and his tan face was now clean shaven. He looked about the same age as he had the last time the team had seen him three years ago, though since he had always looked older than he was, he now genuinely looked his age. "Miss me?" Ranulph Darkhitch asked.
"It's been too long, brother," Cade warmly responded.
"Where have you been?" Asura asked.
Yula leaned onto the table as she spoke. "It started with Ganner's message, the one he gave Ranulph on Dantooine. In it, he described a vision he'd had. He saw a new evil rise, and two heroes rise to challenge it. Whether or not they would succeed was uncertain, but he knew that the mission would come at great cost to the heroes and those around them."
"It's for those reasons," Ranulph continued, "That I left you how I did. I knew Yula would be most likely alone, and we sought each other out. She'd seen things too."
Even before Yula continued, Hans already knew it was going to be bad. Visions were never good. What was more, this gave him the feeling that whatever they had just gotten into went beyond just the Brotherhood. Yula hadn't had too much interaction with them, save for when they captured her on Dantooine. To this day, no one knew why they had done it. Sure, it had been because of the battle in the ruins, but why was it being watched? There were too many unanswered questions.
"I saw someone," Yula carried on, her voice bringing Hans back to his senses, "The same man you spoke to in the facility. He's a Sith. In the vision, he sat on a throne as a servant kneeled before him."
"A Sith?" Cade questioned. "I thought Ganner killed all of the Shadow Assassins."
"So did I." Yula replied. "But there's more: The servant turned, and I saw his face. It was Ganner."
A silence fell around Antimatter Squadron as they each took in the implications of this vision. Hans had heard about what Ganner had done on Umbara and seen what he had done to the Death Watch on Carlac. That kind of power could not be allowed to fall into enemy hands. "And we know Ganner's dead?" Hans asked.
"I think we'd know if he wasn't." Cade answered.
"Still, none of us have been to Carlac in years. We should check and make sure nothing's happened." Yula stated.
Hans glanced around the table, everyone's eyes meeting his in anticipation of his orders. "She's right. We're going to Carlac."
Barak stood in the chamber where he had met the Inquisitor, working on a computer. On the screens that he had seen pictures of Umbara and the Temple, he now looked at profiles of each of the individuals that had been at the Quesh base. Each one of them was just another piece added onto the puzzle.
The one Barak had identified most easily was Hans Cerrano, a fugitive that had vanished for almost a decade. Barak knew his story, but why was he here? Next up was Asura Tyuki. She was a known terrorist conspirator, last seen on Bothawui two months ago. Then there was Praxon, the Rodian assassin of the Brotherhood. Barak had heard rumors about his existence. The final two names, however, were the most interesting. The first was a man that couldn't be identified, but had been seen with Asura Tyuki on Bothawui. The second (and Barak had to double check this) was Jedi Master Yula Ardinn.
He'd done his research on her using his newfound access to much higher levels of clearance to Imperial intelligence (which, unfortunately, still wasn't enough to learn anything about Cyana) and learned that Yula was one of four Jedi sent to Umbara on a mission to neutralize enemy forces occupying a vital airfield. Another one of those four Jedi was Ganner. None of the four Jedi's whereabouts after the mission had been known to the Order, so they had sent two of their masters to search for them: Sen Qorbin (Ganner's master) and Nyri Tacon (Yula's master).
Officially, no one knew what had happened to either of them. Unofficially, one of them was accounted for. The Inquisitor had told Barak about Qorbin and his use as bait for the survivors of Umbara. What he hadn't explained to Barak, and what Barak couldn't figure out, is how the Inquisitor had managed to capture Qorbin or how he had formed the plan that far ahead. Indeed, there was much about him Barak had yet to figure out. Barak didn't even know his name, or if he had one.
Behind Barak, the lift's door opened, its white interior lights now contrasting with the dark blue atmosphere of the rest of the room. As it opened, Barak felt a definite shift in the temperature of the room, suddenly becoming cold. "Sumad has been watching you." The Inquisitor stated from behind Barak. "He says good things about you thus far."
"It's nice to know I'm being spied on by someone who likes me," Barak retorted. The Inquisitor walked up next to Barak to observe his findings. He was silent for a moment as he scanned across the images before he turned to Barak to speak. "Who are they?"
"Criminals and fugitives, but not your average group." He pointed to Hans. "He's a Senator's kid. Committed murder but ran away and hasn't been seen in years. The Rodian used to work for the Brotherhood, and the other two have no prior records before a recent skirmish with Imperial forces on Bothawui."
The Inquisitor stood in silent contemplation for a long moment. Barak tracked his face, watching as he ventured from a concerned frown to a sudden widening of the eyes in realization, giving way to a dastardly smirk. "Of course," the Inquisitor muttered. His attention then returned to reality, and he looked back at Barak. "Let me take over."
Barak moved for the Inquisitor to use the terminal, and he quickly brought up a galactic map. In the Outer Rim, there was a bright, red, blinking dot. The Inquisitor zoomed in on this dot, tracking it to a snowy world. According to the computer, it was called Carlac.
"What are they hiding?" The Inquisitor asked himself leaning over on the terminal. After another brief silence, he stood up. "I'm going. Tell Sumad not to follow, and await for further orders from me."
"You're going alone?" Barak asked, as the Inquisitor walked away. What was even the point of having the fleet if they weren't going to use it?
"Oh, don't worry, Barak" The Inquisitor assured him. "This is merely the first step."
The white planet, covered in snow, did not seem to have changed much. Carlac was still marked by snowy hills as far as the eye could see, and its cold atmosphere still nipped at Yula's body in some relentless effort to drain the remaining heat from her body. The wind blew and howled as always, but not nearly as violently as the last time Yula had been here. She trudged through the deep snow, leaving a trail of footprints in her wake. She stopped briefly to turn back around and see the rest of the team; the same group that had been part of the meeting on Hans' ship, which Yula had learned was named the Fortune Destroyer.
"How much farther?" Hans called out.
Yula reached out into the Force, looking for Ganner's presence. He had been buried somewhere out here with his lightsaber, which had an unusually strong pull in the Force. She found it not too far ahead. Ganner's burial site had been unmarked for the very situation that now was occurring: Someone was looking for him. "Not much," she informed the group. She continued on slowly, until she was right on top of his presence, then stopped. She crouched down, pressing her hand to the ground, extending her senses to feel what had been buried. Her suspicious were washed away when she felt that Ganner's body and lightsaber were still there. "Right where I left you," she whispered.
Sitting in his customized shuttle, the Inquisitor watched the group from orbit. They had briefly stopped at a seemingly random location in the snow before moving towards the mountains. There was a village in the opposite direction, but the group seemed to ignore it, and thus, so did the Inquisitor. At the moment, he couldn't get a read in the Force of what exactly was occurring down there without revealing his presence to Yula and the man. However, he was no fool. This plain was nothing--practically barren. That meant they were looking for something under the ground, which, worst-case scenario, was Ganner. The Inquisitor hadn't until now considered the possibility that Ganner might not be alive, and this possibility caused him to have to run a thousand new plans through his head, a thorough consideration of each outcome that could result from the alteration of his next moves. There was one way he could attempt to get the information he needed without Ganner, but that plan would compromise his cover and remain an absolute last resort.
He pressed some buttons on his shuttle's console, and established a comm channel with Barak. "I'm going down to the surface," he said. "Await my orders." He fired up the engines. The ship plunged down towards Carlac, and towards the buried secrets of the Shadow Assassins.
The Inquisitor could feel Ganner's presence, or at least, what the journals had described it as (large, and intense, but seemingly unaligned, a focal point for either Dark and Light, or perhaps neither) in the Force long before he had arrived at the site. There was no doubt; he was here. The Inquisitor's worst fears were confirmed. He trudged through the snow, following the in the fading footsteps of the group that had come before him towards the source. Ganner Slarwalker. He felt a calling in the Force from the site, growing ever stronger with each step, urging him to break through the ice and the snow and pry out the secrets hidden from him. At last, he found himself standing directly over the center of the pull. He let go and dove into the Force, reaching out for the presence he now felt right beneath him. At last, he had it. He grabbed it as tight as he could with the Force and pulled upwards. It refused to move, pushing harder and harder against the ice under which it had been buried, until at last the ice on the surface cracked and he felt the ice under follow suit. He took a good few steps back and pulled harder.
The ice shattered, the noise coupling with a great outward explosion on the surface as an object burst forth from the ground. The Inquisitor maintained his grip on it until the dust had cleared and he could see more clearly what it was. It was a box, long and very plain, save for a removable, semi-circular top. It was made out of a metal, likely durasteel or another common element. Inside, the Inquisitor felt the calling. This was the coffin of Ganner Slarwalker.
He slowly dropped the coffin onto the snow in front of him. He could now see that the top was not entirely blank; directly over the center was a faded black handprint. The Inquisitor reached out in the Force again, extending his hands and raising the top of the coffin, then dropped it off to the side as he peered over into it.
Ganner was dressed in long white robes, giving way to polished armor in the chest and covering his eyes. His bearded face was relaxed, as if his death had been entirely peaceful. The Inquisitor doubted it had been. Ganner's arms were folded at roughly sixty-degree, with his left hand converging over his right, which held his lightsaber. Ganner's body itself seemed to be well preserved, and this gave the Inquisitor renewed hope, for this meant his plans would certainly succeed. Without thinking, the Inquisitor slowly used the Force to slide the lightsaber out from between Ganner's hands, and it landed squarely in his right palm. He activated it, and the silver blade quickly snapped to life, letting out the traditional hiss as though it had only been moments since it was last used. Holding it now, the Inquisitor could sense that the lightsaber, not Ganner's body, had been the source of the presence. Fascinating. He waved the lightsaber around a bit, getting a feel for the weapon. He felt the heat of the weapon on his skin as he tested it, then, as he deactivated it, the sudden return to coldness. Decien clipped the lightsaber to his belt next to his own.
Behind the Inquisitor, a small child's voice asked, "Are you Roh putih?"
The Inquisitor quickly spun and extended his hand to freeze the child as he raised his lightsaber before his rationale caught up with his instincts once more. He examined the child, a Pantoran boy around the age of nine or ten outfitted in a heavy white jacket with fur on the hood. The blue child had white streaks like lightning bolts on both his cheeks, and fear in his orange eyes. He looked closer, and he saw a trace of something else: courage. Deciding the boy was ultimately not a threat, the Inquisitor let him go and deactivated Ganner's lightsaber.
"Roh putih?" He asked the child.
"The-the white spirit. He protects us."
The Inquisitor dropped down to one knee, bringing his face on level with the child's. "No, I am not. But he is here."
"Where?" The boy quizzically responded. He seemed somewhat less afraid now, and more curious.
The Inquisitor pointed back towards the coffin. "In there, if you dare to look for him."
The boy unsurely and cautiously approached the coffin until he was just above it. The Inquisitor watched as he leaned over the edge and witnessed Ganner's body. The boy was silent as he took in the reality of Ganner's death. After a moment, he turned back to the Inquisitor, his eyes tearing up, and, sniffling, asked, "Is he....?"
"Yes. Roh putih was never a spirit. He was a man, like you and I." The Inquisitor met the boy's eyes, now widened with shock and sadness. "He was very powerful, yes, but there was a time where he was once in the same place as you, child. Remember that the next time anything stands in your way-- remember that you have that same power within you if you are willing to find it. Your passions will guide you."
"And his passions guided him?" The boy slowly questioned.
"Yes, they did."
The Inquisitor further evaluated the boy as he sat in silence for a minute in contemplation. It was unusual that the boy had been able to sneak up on him without altering him, and even now he felt nothing in the Force. However, he had already taken a bit of a liking to the child, and the child certainly wasn't going to be a threat. Perhaps, given time, he could even be an asset. Decien made a mental note to find a way to monitor the child.
He place his hand on the child's shoulder, watching the tears that had been built disappear. "What is your name?" He asked.
"Calland," the boy answered.
"I am Decien." the Inquisitor responded. "It's been an honor, Calland, but it's time for you to go now."
With the Force, Decien pushed the thought of leaving into Calland's mind. The child was surprisingly and seemingly unknowingly resistant, but he slowly turned and began trudging back in the snow the way he had come from.
"Inquisitor, this is Barak, do you copy?" Barak's voice suddenly rang out over Decien's comlink, returning his mind to the activities he had come here to carry out in the first place. "Yes, go ahead." He answered.
"The rebels have left the system. Their trajectories are currently plotted for Dathomir.'"
"Understood. I'll be done here shortly. In the meantime, prepare your forces."
Decien deactivated his comlink and returned his attention to Ganner's body. He didn't need it, but at the same time, he couldn't just leave it out there. After short deliberation, he decided he would take the body with him. After replacing the lid on Ganner's coffin, he picked it up with the Force and carried it alongside him down the path the rebels had taken, searching for more answers hidden on the frozen world.
Yula Ardinn looked out the window of the Fortune Destroyer's cockpit, gazing at the reddish-pinkish planet of Dathomir below. Yula had hoped she would never need to come to Dathomir. She'd had more than enough trouble with the Nightsisters already, and it was really Mother Talzin's fault that everything since Umbara had taken place. Yula felt the darkness of the planet already creeping towards her, whispering to her from far away, doing its best to bring back pains and fears Yula had buried long ago. Ganner had wrote about this place in his journals, his own wariness of the place mirroring what she felt now. However, Ganner had also written that the Nightsisters who served Talzin recognized him as a survivor of the Binding through some sort of imprint in the Force. He had gone to Talzin in a time of need to find an enemy, and now Yula's needs were the same. Still, she didn't like it.
Yula hadn't been surprised either to learn that Ganner's journals had been left untouched on Carlac since his burial. From what she'd been told and what she'd seen of the Death Watch that had attacked his village, Ganner had fallen far since his times as a Jedi. He wasn't quite as stable as he seemed. Though he had always fought for good, he had less resistance to the sway of the Dark Side than he was willing to admit. Galen had been concerned that the contents of his journal might hide dark secrets the group was better off not knowing, and they ultimately decided to leave it alone in the now-hidden cave Ganner and Galen had lived in. Upon returning they hadn't read the whole thing, just what Ganner had experienced on Dathomir, which had been the beginning of the journal. The journal carried on with warnings and visions for some time (premonitions of the duels with Xux and Massikus, of a sun being eclipsed, and a man cloaked in shadow sitting on a throne), but Ganner had mentioned something different of great importance- he had learned the Binding from Talzin.
"We're just about ready," Cade spoke in the pilot's seat beside Yula, breaking her off from her train of thought. He turned to her. "Do you sense something wrong? I can't shake this notion that I'm not meant to be here."
"Yes, I do." She responded. "The Nightsisters are among the most corrupt forces that exist in our Galaxy. You must be careful not to give into their influence. It will cloud your judgment, and destroy that which you love."
"The dark side..." He thought for a moment. "Is that what I feel?"
The possibility intrigued Yula. Could Cade be Force Sensitive?
"It is. Fight it."
He met her eyes with his own, the light of the ship reflecting on the blue in his irises. "I will," he vowed.
Yula felt the bump of the ship landing on the ground, and got up from her seat. She quickly double checked that she had her lightsaber on her, and that the comlink she had hid under her ear was there and active. As she walked out towards the exit ramp, she whispered. "Ranulph, I'm going."
She walked past Hans, Praxon, and Asura, who were all looking at her nervously. Yula suspected the darkness of the planet was also affecting them slightly. She looked through a doorway at Qorbin; DX-245 was still monitoring him, and he was recovering, but he had not regained consciousness yet. "Yula, are you sure about this?" Hans asked.
"What other choice do we have?"
The ramp opened and she descended it, pulling the hood of her brown robe over her head. As Yula's feet touched the ground of Dathomir, the ramp immediately raised back up behind her, leaving her alone to find Talzin. She walked forward into the deep fog, which glowed with the red ambiance of the planet's sky. Immediately she felt herself overtaken by a chilly wind, the breeze of which reverberated in the silent mists.
She reached out in the Force, but the dark side clouded everything here; she could barely make out the direction in which a familiar presence called to her: Talzin. Yula drew her lightsaber but did not ignite it as she made her way into the dark red fog, silhouettes of vines and rocks cropping up every so often to remind her that she was indeed still on Dathomir and not lost in an infinite void.
Yula felt herself getting lost in time as she approached closer to Talzin's looming presence, until suddenly she felt the ripple of an oncoming danger. Instinctively, she ducked, and a pink Nightsister's arrow flew over her head. Yula activated her bright yellow lightsaber and continued to dive deeper into her connection to the Force, preparing for the battle ahead. She sensed two more arrows coming from her behind, which she jumped over as a figure dashed out towards her. Pale and dressed in dark red robes, a Nightsister lunged towards Yula with a gleaming scimitar drawn. Their blades clashed and, surprisingly, the Nightsister's sword stayed intact. The Nightsister continued to press the attack as more opened fire with their arrows, putting Yula on the defensive. Their eyes met, and Yula saw nothing but hatred in them.
They danced this dance for a good while, her dodging attacks and avoiding death with every single movement of her body while the Nightsister unleashed a seemingly unending barrage. The Nightsisters only increased in intensity; when Yula finally had killed her first assailant, three more took her place. Time pressed on, and she felt herself slowing down, felt more of the impact from blocked strikes. At last, her defense was broken. She fell to the ground as a dozen arrows and Nightsisters all converged on her. A fraction of a second before impact, everything stopped. Yula felt a wave of dread pass over her.
In front of her, she saw arrows and witches slowly drift out of the way weightlessly, hanging in the air as though gravity itself had been removed from the planet. Pushing them out of the way was an elder Nightsister dressed in more grandiose and ceremonial robes, much like Talzin, but this was one Yula had never met before. Her pale face had dark gray tattoos in the forms of large ovals over her yellow eyes, which were connected by two thick, straight lines shooting out of the bottom corner of each and converging on the center of her nose, and four more thin, edged lines resembling blades running down each cheek, leaving eight in total. She brushed the final Nightsister out of her way, looming over Yula and gazing down at her, her intentions imperceptible. Yula, stunned, did not react, and simply watched the Nightsister for a moment before she stood up again and thrust her hands out to her sides. The floating Nightsisters fell to the ground; the arrows that had been interfered with veered off in random directions; those that had not been touched merely dissipated before they could reach Yula. The woman opened her mouth to speak in a slow, raspy voice. "You bear the mark."
Yula quickly jumped to her feet and raised her lightsaber, pointing it at the witch's neck. "The mark?" She asked.
"I see it in your eyes. In your heart. In your soul. Not long ago, it would have been generations since one has borne the mark of the Binding and lived to tell of it."
Yula felt the witch's presence encasing hers, preventing her from seeing anything outside herself, leaving her blind. "You're not Talzin. Who are you?"
At the mention of Talzin, the witch's face saddened a bit, her eyes widening as she looked downwards. Yula instinctively didn't trust the witch, but couldn't tell whether or not the emotion was real. "The Separatists came for us in the war," she started. "It was a slaughter. They killed every last one of hers, but that meant no one was there to restrain us anymore. But Talzin's presence still lingered, waiting. She appeared for the man, too-- the one who was marked."
"I need to speak to her."
The witch chuckled. "Don't we all?" She extended her hand towards Yula to shake, but Yula kept her blade steady.
"Come with me, Jedi." The Nightsister offered. "I am Ghenste. I will bring you to Talzin."
Yula deactivated her lightsaber. "I am Yula."
Ghenste lead Yula through the mists until they finally reached the Temple, ancient and imposing, with Nightsisters scattered about watching the two. Yula could feel Talzin reaching out toward her, but she could also feel a much greater darkness here, a concentration unlike anything she'd experienced, coming in part from Ghenste. As they walked into the rustic, orange building, Yula regarded the witch again. What was she? Yula had assumed Talzin was the only one in charge.
"A good question, Yula." Talzin's voice suddenly whispered, coming from nowhere but yet everywhere at the same time. Yula turned around to find the source of the sound, but behind her there was nothing but pitch black darkness. She turned again to see that the rest of the temple had also transformed, leaving Yula with no clue where she was. She reached for her lightsaber, only to feel nothing but her robes.
"You could ask that of many, many people, could you not? You think you have accomplished so much, but you see so little. The Shadow Assassins- do you even know who they were? Why they were there?"
"They had to be stopped, no matter the reason," Yula replied. She spoke loudly into the void as she walked along; her voice seemed to extend on into the nothingness forever, a stark contrast to the reverberation of Talzin's.
Talzin laughed, her mockery echoing indefinitely around Yula. "Ganner would be proud to hear that. He saw more than you have, but even he never came close to the truth."
Yula stopped. "And what is that truth?"
The shadows folded on themselves in front of Yula, giving way to a brick enclave, somewhere deep inside the Temple. Orange cauldrons of fire provided illumination from behind Yula, her shadow stretching across the room until it reached the body of Talzin. Talzin was facing the other way, but there was no doubt. Her robes were the same, and Yula could tell it was her in the Force. "I know why you've come here." Talzin told her. "You will find your answers, but there are other things you must see. The Prophecy of Three must come to pass."
The ground suddenly began to crack, then split itself apart beneath Yula, and she fell, fell, fell, until she finally landed on her feet, at the bridge of a space station. At the helm stood Hans, looking down onto a white planet covered by the station's shadow; an artificial eclipse. "Hans?" Yula called out to him. He didn't respond, and Yula ran towards him, reaching out her arm to grab him by his left shoulder. She felt it and pulled, but when Hans turned around, he was someone else.
Yula remembered this woman. Her medium-length, red hair was neatly parted down the middle of her forehead and brushed back. Her face bore two scars, perpendicular lines that intersected along the woman's right eye, which seemed to still be intact. Fear reflected off the woman's light blue eyes as she drew a blaster pistol from the depths of the black coat she wore and aimed it past Yula. Yula followed the weapon towards its target, someone she didn't recognize at all. He was dressed in an Imperial officer's uniform, but had messy brown hair and a goatee to match. He raised a rifle at the woman with the same fear reflecting off of his light-brown eyes. Looking around, Yula now found herself in a ship's inner workings; the woman stood at the end of a balcony in front of a glowing purple reactor core, while the man stood on the other end of the balcony, a closed blast door behind him.
"A war is coming," Talzin's voice interjected once more. "You cannot avert it or outrun it. A great evil will rise. This I have foreseen. And I have seen more."
The world swirled, all colors becoming one, and then adjusted itself into clarity once more. Yula was again somewhere new, a large room lit by purple flames, a throne on the end. A shadowy man sat in it, his hands folded in front of him as he watched another figure, bent over, picking something up off the ground.
"Destiny runs in his blood. He must defeat an ancient evil and save the galaxy from destruction."
The figure stood up as they activated a deep blue lightsaber. Its illumination revealed its wielder to be none other than Cade, breathing heavily and injured from battle, gripping the weapon with both hands in front of him as he prepared to attack.
"But he is note alone. Another must complete the trio, complete the Prophecy."
Talzin suddenly manifested herself from shadows alongside Yula, watching the now-frozen scene in the throne room.
"You want me to bring Ganner back." Yula stated. It was only really a half-surprise; of course Talzin would want her great weapon back.
"This is beyond a mere desire. You, must succeed me as a Keeper of the Binding. You must learn it to save the Galaxy."
"A Keeper of the Binding?"
"The Keepers of the Binding bear the curse of knowing the ritual. It inevitably corrupts and consumes even the purest souls who discover it. Should you live long enough, it will consume you."
She weighed her options, then turned to face Talzin squarely, meeting the witch in her silver eyes. "Show me."
Talzin laughed as the world warped itself again, twisting and turning until it finally Yula found herself standing with Talzin in the same enclave as before, but changed. There was another pale Nightsister with short white hair now bound to a slab in front of Yula. Her mask had been removed, and she looked at Yula with fear in her yellow eyes.
"Talzin, what is this?" She yelled.
"To transfer life is one task. It is so much simpler of a process and a less strenuous one. When you learn to return life, you will understand how to transfer it too, for it is in truth an expedited version of the same process." Talzin suddenly reached into her robe and pulled out a small, gleaming dagger. In her right hand, Yula could feel the cold metal of a blade's handle.
"The Binding requires the victim to be close to death itself, to present an entry point for those on the other side." Talzin approached the Nightsister. Yula tried to move towards her to stop her, but found herself frozen. She spoke, screamed at Talzin to stop, but she was now powerless, nothing more than an observer to the horror. Talzin readied the blade, then plunged it into the Nightsister's chest. The Nightsister gasped for air, spitting blood onto Talzin. Yula was washed with dread as her hand run warm with the blood of the Nightsister, even though she couldn't have been the one who stabbed her. Yula understood now what was happening-- she was being possessed, and was at Talzin's mercy.
"Of course, one must also create their own connection to death, to let the spirit through." Talzin turned around to face Yula again and for the briefest moment Yula found herself looking at into her own eyes, at her own self raising the blade to her left palm as her heart froze. Then, once more, it was Talzin calmly, almost smugly carrying out the ritual. And yet, when the blade first touched her palm, it was Yula that felt the poke while Talzin smiled. The poke become more than that as Talzin drove the blade deeper, drawing blood, and dragged it slowly across her hand. Yula felt every ounce of pain, felt the wet blood coming out of her hand and the cold steel inside her hand where it shouldn't have been. Yula struggled as hard as she could but it made no difference.
"Once the connection is open, you must open yourself up to the dead as you search for the one you seek to return to life. Fortunately for you, you have no need to search for me, but you should know what the search entails regardless."
Yula felt herself pushed into the Force, and at the same time, felt the Force push back at her. Her mind was suddenly crammed by a mass infinitely larger, barraged by the voices of the dead. She heard the callings of lords and emperors, the lamentations of servants and felt the pain of each times a thousand; as they were all dead, she now felt every death. The souls of the dead assaulted Yula, each one trying to use her link to their advantage, trying to get into the body of the Nightsister, but Yula felt Talzin's presence driving them off, and she then felt Talzin enter her spiritual link. For the first time, Yula felt what Talzin really was, saw her soul through a clear lens, and she felt the purest link to the Dark Side she had ever known. Talzin was sinful beyond sin, corrupt in a manner the Jedi Code had once taught Yula was impossible-- beyond any hope of redemption. And to her horror, Yula felt Talzin looking back, observing her.
She felt Talzin carry on through her into the Nightsister, and then Yula felt the soul of the Nightsister-- her name was Rheni-- pass through into the other side, corrupt but afraid. She felt the Rheni's screams and felt the agonizing pain of the death her spirit embraced as she slowly faded away beyond contact. Slowly, all the spirits faded away, as did the external pain Yula felt, though what she had just experienced left her with more than enough to herself. Able to see once more, Yula saw herself floating in the air, connected with the body of the Nightsister by chains of purple lightning. She watched the blood of the Nightsister slowly return to her, feeling it leave her skin and enter her body again.
"Once and once only may a soul take another body, for the healing process leaves it damaged forever. Try a second time, and the soul will be unsustainable, falling into a condition worse than death."
The lightning stopped, and Yula fell to the ground, in control of her body once more but feeling significantly weakened and wounded in her left hand.
It didn't matter. Talzin was too dangerous. Too evil. She had to die. Had to. Desperate, she felt the full extent of the pain, using it to drive her to her feet, grabbing, activating, and raising her lightsaber as she quickly attacked Rheni's body, now possessed by Talzin. However, before she could destroy the Nightsister once and for all, she felt herself frozen once more by Ghenste's power.
"There is no need for such mercy," Ghenste told her calmly from behind. "This is her second return."
Talzin let out her final laugh, a demented cackle reverberating through Rheni's body as it suddenly accelerated through time, growing and wearing out lines on the body within an instant before she let out one final pained gasp and fell apart, dissolving into little more than dust on the floor, which itself quickly disappeared.
Ghenste let Yula go, and she fell to the ground again, her mind finally catching up to everything that had just happened. What had she done? She looked at her hands for the blood she knew should be on them but wasn't. The mere thought of the murder disgusted her, but she couldn't escape herself, and she remained there looking in shock, not understanding what to do. Suddenly, a cold hand placed itself upon her shoulder. She turned to see Ghenste, appearing somber.
"She... she made me break the Code," she whispered.
"This is the nature of becoming a Keeper," Ghenste told her. "None of us choose our fate."
"What about Ganner?" Yula asked. She suddenly realized that he must have gone through the same thing-- how could he take that?
"I don't know," Ghenste admitted. "No one would have wanted to get close enough to spy on him."
Of course. But Yula was different. Her they could manipulate. That's all the Talzin, Massikus, and Ghenste had ever done. Yula was nothing more than the means to an end- to bringing back Massikus, to forcing Ganner to die, to becoming another Keeper of the Binding, and almost certainly to another goal of Ghenste's or Talzin's. No more, she decided.
Suddenly, the entire temple began to rumble. "What was that?" Yula asked. But even as she asked the question, she reached out into the Force and found her answer. The Inquisitor had found her.
"That is destiny approaching." Ghenste replied.
Decien watched from the helm of a Star Destroyer as he emerged from hyperspace over the red planet of Dathomir, quickly followed by several other Star Destroyers and an Interdictor cruiser. "The fleet is ready, sir." Sumad's voice informed Decien.
"Good. Begin the assault."
As Decien made his way to his ship, his plan went into motion. The Interdictor raised its field, preventing any ships from making hyperspace jumps. Three dozen TIE Fighters were also launched to capture Qorbin and the rebels. The rest of Decien's fleet, mostly Star Destroyers filled with TIE Bombers, would lie in wait to destroy the temple of the Nightsisters after he was finished with it.
As for Decien, he had a simple plan to get the information he needed, via a technique he had in fact developed during his time with Qorbin. He was able to extract information from a victim's mind as they approached the brink of death, and, in theory, he could get everything they knew when they died. Decien knew he was powerful and he had been trained well; the Nightsisters would not pose a threat to him.
Decien walked into his small, private hangar where his polished, black TIE Advanced awaited him. This was his fighter of choice, and he had named it the Phantom Stride, due to its nearly unmatchable speed and advanced cloaking system. The hatch on top opened, and he leapt up into it, landing swiftly into the pilot's seat inside. He closed the hatch and then began to ready the fighter for takeoff, before he lifted off the deck of the hangar and exited, heading for the surface below.
The Star Destroyers came out of nowhere, with almost no warning. One second, Ranulph had been simply cruising the skies, monitoring Yula and Ghenste's conversation, and the next, he'd had to quickly take the reins of the Fortune Destroyer to engage the groups of fighters pursuing him. Praxon and Asura were manning turrets, but the TIE Fighters' pilots were clearly good, and they had a significant numbers advantage.
He careened through the sky, performing all sorts of dodges and spins and turns at angles he would never have even conceived performing such maneuvers at while green and red lasers danced around him. In the cockpit, at the co-pilot's seat, was Hans, who was now using the comlink. "Yula," he shouted, "We need to get you now!"
"I'm hurrying!" Yula responded.
A bolt hit the ship from the right side, sending the Fortune Destroyer briefly spinning off to the left before Ranulph regained control, miraculously not taking any additional fire. The shields were still up, for now, but there was no way he could make it. Ahead of him, he saw one of the gunners score a direct hit on a TIE, only for another to immediately swoop in, firing as though nothing had happened. "I'm really open to suggestions right now!" Hans yelled to Ranulph, panicked.
"Hang on!" Ranulph responded, albeit somewhat redundantly by this point. He brought the ship to a straight vertical climb, spinning horizontally as Cade and Asura picked off TIEs on either side. "I'm in position!" Yula told him. Ranulph tightened his grip on the throttle, then pushed it all the way forwards. Diverting as much power as possible to shields and letting gravity accelerate his fall, Ranulph steeled himself for the stunt he was about to pull off. The ground approached closer and closer until finally Ranulph leveled the ship up and opened the bottom ramp. Hans opened a small camera feed zoomed in on the Temple, where Yula stood waiting with her lightsaber drawn. "What the..?" Hans gasped. He zoomed out the camera to reveal the Inquisitor, clad in full red and white robes, approaching Yula with his crimson double-bladed lightsaber drawn.
"Yula-- what's going on down there?" Ranulph frantically called her.
"Abort! Abort! Get out while you still can!" Yula demanded. Ranulph closed the ramp and flew past the duo as shots flew past once more. However, he wasn't giving up that easily. He turned the ship again and took aim at the Inquisitor as he fired, coming within range. "Three...two...one..." Ranulph launched a proton torpedo.
The man turned towards the ship and raised both of his hands, and Ranulph actually saw a kinetic wave approach the ship and torpedo and suddenly freeze in the air, shoving Hans and Ranulph hard against their harnesses, as well and causing several loud crashes and bangs in the back of the ship. "This isn't working, Ranulph!" Hans exclaimed. Ranulph quickly pressed his thrusters to full power and pulled on his throttle, but the ship refused to budge as the man slowly turned the proton torpedo with the Force. Shots poured in left and right, and the shields went down almost immediately; the shots then stopped, and a swarm of TIE fighters flew around the Fortune Destroyer. Suddenly, the Inquisitor was cut off by Yula rushing towards him to engage in a lightsaber duel, and he let the ship go, sparing it from the torpedo but sending it into the horde of TIEs.
On the surface, Decien quickly parried a series of swift strikes from Yula. His stunt on the rebel ship had left him somewhat drained for energy, but he couldn't let up now. He retaliated with blows of his own, sending Yula on the defensive, looking for any weakness in her defenses he could exploit. Before he could find it, a wave of hooded women-- Nightsisters-- ran out of the temple's entrance and attacked with bows and scimitars, providing Yula an opportunity to escape. This attack, however, presented Decien with an equally, if not more important opportunity. Two Nightsisters charged at him and Decien shocked one with lightning, paralyzing her as he decapitated the other swiftly. He raced towards the other one, quickly putting up a weak barrier in the Force to prevent any interruptions, and choked the life out of the Nightsister as he probed her mind for information. However, instead of anything inside her mind, Decien instead felt another entity curiously watching him back, then nothing as the Nightsister passed on. He let the body go and again immersed himself in combat, deciding to find the source. At last, Decien stood in front of a field of corpses, at the threshold of the Dathomir Temple.
"We've captured the rebels, sir." Sumad's voice chimed in.
"Good. Bring them home. I'm almost done here." Decien ordered.
He proceeded forward into the temple, down dark orange hallways while Nightsisters attacked from the shadows but never managed to so much as touch him. Along the way he tried to tap into the minds of a few more, only to feel that same presence blocking him out, and now that he was in the Temple, he felt it at the same time luring him in. At last he found himself in the flame-lit enclave where Yula kneeled in the middle of the room, facing him as she meditated. Watching from afar behind him was a Nightsister, but Decien could feel this one was the one whose presence he had been following. She was an unforeseen factor in his plans, but she didn't seem to be interfering in this fight.
"Greetings," Yula welcomed calmly him. "I am Yula Ardinn, Jedi Master and Keeper of the Binding."
Yula continued. "I don't know who you are or who you serve. I don't know why you tortured Sen Qorbin or why you've hunted me down here, but I will promise you this: I will not allow you to succeed." She stood, activating her lightsaber and preparing for her final battle. "Destiny is on my side. What chance do you have?"
Decien chuckled as he drew his lightsaber and ignited it, casting a crimson glow across his body. "My name is Decien, and I serve the Emperor. I know of the Shadow Assassins and the Binding, and I know this, Yula Ardinn: Destiny is not on your side. It is on mine."
Decien glanced back at the Nightsister, who continued to watch silently. However, he felt no threat from her now merely curiosity. Both he and Yula entered combat stances and tensed up, gathering energy for the fight ahead. Decien already knew what the outcome of this fight would be; Yula had been on the retreat since he had arrived, but she would not go easy.
He attacked violently from the very beginning of the fight, attacking Yula with a flurry of spinning strikes that she could barely defend against. Sparks from deflected strikes quickly flew left and right as the clashes of the lightsabers echoed in the chamber. Eventually their sabers locked, Decien's pushing straight down on Yula's, the yellow glow covering part of her face. "Ghenste!" She yelled. "Help me!" Ghenste merely laughed, but Yula gave a powerful shove that sent Decien stumbling back. Yula moved in to attack, but Decien quickly fired off lightning she was forced to absorb with her lightsaber, leaving them again in a moment not peaceful but without an attack.
Decien pieced together an idea of Yula's weakness, not one of physique, but mentality. "Why do you think she laughs, Yula?" he asked. Yula refused to reply, instead gripping her saber harder and rushing Decien with attacks. Her attacks were rushed and sloppy, and easily parried, but they came in such rapid speed that he was unable to do anything but retreat until at last Yula had backed him up against a wall. She quickly raised her saber and lowered it incredibly fast, almost catching Decien off guard. He quickly rolled out of the way and Force pushed Yula hard, sending her careening across the room past Ghenste into the opposite wall. She took the impact with full force, her lightsaber deactivating and falling out of her hand, and didn't rise up again.
Decien cautiously approached her, holding his lightsaber to her neck as he waited for any sign of consciousness. Finding none, he deactivated his weapon, clipping it onto his belt, and took hers. He turned to Ghenste with Yula's lightsaber still drawn and approached her. "She's not important to you, is she?" His question was met with no answer, which was exactly what he had been expecting. "Who are you?" he asked.
She chuckled. "It matters little. Through you the prophecy will come to pass."
Decien walked closer. "What prophecy?"
She gestured to Yula's body. "You'll know."
Decien activated the lightsaber, now merely a foot away from her. "I won't play your games. Tell me or I'll find out the hard way, witch."
Ghenste smiled emptily, a hideous act that extended the drawings across her face. Enough was enough. Decien stabbed her through the gut, reaching for her temple with his left hand to take her memories. However, instead, he only felt her mocking presence echoing at him from afar once more as it blocked him from her mind. Confused, he retracted himself and discovered in the Force that Ghenste, though her body was still dying, was no longer there. "What?" He muttered to himself. After a brief moment, he opened another comm channel with Sumad.
"Sumad, we're through with this place. I'll be returning shortly."
"Copy that, Decien. We'll be waiting."
The captain had heard his name. Interesting that he would be listening, moreso that he would reveal it. Contemplating this along with other things, Decien picked up Yula's body and began to carry her back to his ship.
Yula woke up with a massive headache, slowly opening her eyes to discover herself in a dimly lit room, with Decien studying her curiously. She struggled to move, but her arms and legs were bound to the tilted metal table on which she laid, mostly upright. She was still in her robes, but her comlink and lightsaber had been confiscated. She scanned the rest of the room, finding nothing other than a small table to the right of Decien where her possessions had been placed, along with Ganner's journal and lightsaber. Seeing that she was now awake, Decien walked over to Yula, bringing them face to face. She saw herself reflected off of his peering eyes, beaten and tired, but inwardly Yula still felt the same determination she had from the beginning.
Decien began. "I've already pieced together your story from what your friends have told me. You lot have led very interesting lives." He turned away again to pick up Ganner's book from the table and flip through some of the pages. "You could have controlled the Galaxy, and yet you turned it down. Why?" Decien watched Yula, expecting an answer, but she remained silent.
"Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful, all of you. Why doesn't Antimatter Squadron do something about the Empire? Why didn't Ganner? How can you wield such power and skill, and yet, believe yourself not to be in control?" Decien threw down the journal. "You're all fools, blindly following prophecies, what the people above you tell you what will happen, and then you set out to make sure it happens, exactly how they want, no matter what. Why not twist fate? Did you not tell me destiny was on your side?"
"I know that Ganner will come back. I know that he will defeat you." Yula defiantly responded.
Decien chuckled. "Will he defeat me? And if you are trapped here for the rest of eternity, and there is no one else to bring him back, how do you plan on carrying out that vision?"
"I will break free. The Force will guide me." Yula refused to surrender. Decien leaned in towards her and whispered into her ear. "Yula Ardinn, you don't have to break free. Join me." He stepped back to observe her reaction.
Yula was caught off guard by the offer. He wanted her to help him? She did, however, entertain the thought of working with him to understand his motives and plans, if only ever so briefly. In the end, her resolve did not break.
"You think I would ever join the Empire after everything they've done?!"
"You don't even have to help them, just me," Decien countered. "You know the Galaxy is in peril. You know what it will take to stop it. I can help you."
"Never. Never again will I be manipulated for some evil cause, not by you nor by anyone else. You shall not break me." She declared.
"Very well, Yula." He turned away from her again, disappointed. "You are so blind. You interpret the future and you see it as the only interpretation; you are offered freedom yet choose confinement. Such is the Jedi way, I suppose."
He unclipped his lightsaber from his belt and partially activated it, a single red blade flashing to life as Decien turned his head to look at Yula. "The Jedi teach that there is no death, only the Force. We both know it's not true." He turned the rest of his body and approached her, his saber poised to strike her chest.
"I'm sorry, but this is the fate you chose."
The blade surged forward. Decien impaled Yula, and she looked down in shock to see the mortal wound which her body couldn't even process. He swiftly pulled the blade out, and she saw the world begin to quickly fade, being overcome by blackness as death reached out to her. She tried to move her lips to form words, but she lacked the strength, and found herself gasping for air.
I had a destiny, she tried to tell him. I was going to save everyone.
She looked up again in time to see Decien press his left hand to her temple, and the last thing Yula Ardinn ever felt was the unspeakable torture of him ripping her mind away from her. At last, it was over, and she drifted outwards forever into the Force.
"Neural link reestablished. Praxon, wake up."
Praxon opened his eyes, his head pounding, finding himself lying on a bed in a compact, empty cell with a solid metal door. His mind quickly reconnected with DX-245, and he began observing the droid's surroundings as the droid did the same. DX-245 was stowed away in the smuggling compartments of the Fortune Destroyer, unbelievably cramped. It was fortunate DX didn't feel discomfort.
It was about six years now since the two had first been linked together in an experiment in neurological control by Taran Ragnan and Cyana Bastra before escaping and joining Antimatter Squadron. In their time together, they had become practically one entity, operating together with unmatched efficiency, such that Praxon had now reached the conclusion that DX-245 was essentially now, if he had not already been, a sentient being. Praxon had become more withdrawn from the others over the years, barely speaking, but he didn't mind.
"Where am I?" Praxon inquired.
"I'm not sure," DX admitted. "Since this compartment is scanner-proof, I have been unable to observe my surroundings since we were downed."
They quickly mulled over their options, but their conclusion was obvious: DX would have to break his cover and mount a rescue. The droid pushed with his legs, removing the compartment cover more forcefully than intended and sending it crashing into the ceiling. "Great," Praxon sarcastically thought. DX then sat up and immediately activated his scanners, detecting no life forms in the ship or immediate area of it. Qorbin must have been moved. He made his way to the cockpit and looked out. The Fortune Destroyer was currently docked in a hangar, sharing space with a few TIE Interceptors. Using the controls of the ship, he determined that the ship was indeed operable, and had likely been repaired. "Why?" Praxon wondered. "Your analysis is as good as mine." The droid responded. He had a habit of responding to Praxon's thoughts, however private they were meant to be. It wasn't intentional, of course, but merely a side effect of their link.
Suddenly, Praxon had an idea. DX-245 felt it, analyzed it, and put it into action. He activated the ship's holoprojector and opened a line with Ranulph Darkhitch, who immediately responded. "DX, where are you?" he asked.
"I am unsure. An Imperial hangar of some sort. I have linked up again with Praxon, who is watching. He is detained, likely somewhere here."
Ranulph's image began typing on an unseen console. "Tracing your signal now... Looks like you're out somewhere near Kamino. If you can get me hooked into a computer, I can be of more assistance."
"Understood. I'll patch you into my systems, and proceed through the area."
DX turned off the holoprojector, but established a direct comm link with Ranulph. After doing so, he turned and opened the Fortune Destroyer's ramp, and went down it. The hangar contained not much else other than what DX had already seen in the way of decoration. There were more TIEs loaded up, and two Stormtroopers guarded the entrance to an elevator. To the right of the hangar was another entrance, guarded by a lone soldier, which likely lead to the hangar controls. Scanning the room, DX-245 identified 3 holocameras, one above each entrance and one behind the Fortune Destroyer, on top of the magnetic shield separating the hangar from space. Processing the appropriate response quickly, DX-245 sprung into action.
His left arm switched to rotary mode, and DX quickly fired off a volley of shots towards the two Stormtroopers, quickly eliminating both them and the camera above. Simultaneously, with his right arm, the sniper arm, he fired off two precise shots at the camera's lens and the soldier's head. Both shots rang true, and DX was already moving for the last shot before the last soldier had even hit the ground. Activating his back-mounted thrusters, DX quickly took off into the air and fired the last sniper shot at the third camera, hitting it squarely and disabling it before he landed again on his mechanical feet.
"Umm... That was a lot of blaster fire. Everything okay out there?"
"Affirmative," the droid responded. He proceeded into the control room, where there was an unmanned console that controlled the hangar shields and doors. "Patching you into hangar controls," DX said. Within a few moments, Ranulph was able to remotely access the controls, and then, most of whatever other systems were linked into it.
Ranulph's voice began to speak over an intercom in Praxon's cell. "All right. This is a lot. You are all currently the guests of Imperial Facility 406-P, a research station, but the research files here are blocked off to me. I can't get a view on you either, but I see the schematics for the station here. You're all in the detention level, and the hangars are three levels above. There's an armory one level below you, but you'll need to get past any guards in the cell block first. Doors up in ten seconds. Good luck." Praxon quickly made sure his right eye was functioning properly and ready for combat. "I will remain and secure our extraction," DX informed him. The cell doors opened.
There was already a Stormtrooper in front of Praxon's door, and his right eye quickly assessed his next moves. Praxon tackled the soldier as soon as the door slid up, and his hands reached for the trooper's blaster, which Praxon managed to wrestle away from him. He fired two quick shots into the Stormtrooper's head, then looked up to another Stormtrooper standing in front of Asura, preparing to take her down. Praxon shot him down too, and turned the other way towards the end of the hallway to see a brown-haired, goateed man Praxon had never seen before thrown out of the cell, hitting the wall on the other side. Hans walked out of the cell from which the man had come, and Cade followed suit in the next cell over.
"Who's that?" Cade asked.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Hans replied. Suddenly, an alarm siren blared as red lights flashed up and down the cell block.
"Blast!" Ranulph exclaimed. "You've got more troopers inbound." Praxon turned back towards the other side where the large blast door opened to reveal a second squadron of five stormtroopers. Asura grabbed the other fallen stormtrooper's blaster and opened fire, as did Praxon, nailing two of the troopers and engaging in a heated firefight as shots flew past him and Cade and Hans ran for cover. "Ranulph!" Hans yelled from behind Praxon, "Shut down that lift! Praxon- toss your blaster!"
Praxon turned and threw it, and Hans quickly caught it, shooting down two more Stormtroopers with ease. The last one stopped firing, and after a moment, all four mercenaries walked out of their cells towards him. He dropped his blaster to the ground, putting his hands on his head as Hans fired off a single shot to the skull, sending him straight back onto the floor, lifeless. Cade and Asura glanced at each other as if to object, but no one spoke; instead, Praxon and Cade silently looted two more E-11s and got onto the lift, illuminated in a contrasting blue and flashing red.
"We're skipping the armory, Ranulph. Get us out of here." Hans ordered.
The door closed, and the lift slowly rose, the alarms still blaring. For a moment, Praxon questioned his success. Had it really been so simple? They reached the next level and continued forth, unhampered, in silence. At the next level, Cade finally spoke up. "Something's not right," he declared, but their ascent continued to the last floor eventlessly. Finally, they reached the hangar level, and the doors opened. DX-245 stood before them, ready to escort them. The team, who had all been tense, at last relaxed and each took their first step towards the door when it suddenly slammed shut. "What the--"
As Ranulph's communication was shut out, so was Praxon's link to DX-245, leaving him suddenly blinded. The Inquisitor's voice now mocked them over the intercom.
"Really? You thought it would be that easy? I'm hurt."
"What do you want from us!?!?" Asura questioned.
"I want you to witness the most important moment in galactic history. Won't you come see it?"
Antimatter Squadron prepared to face their destiny as the lift slowly began to reverse its course, descending into the depths of Imperial Facility 406-P.
As the lift made its way to the lowest level of the facility, the alarms stopped, leaving the team in the dark blue light of the lift. Hans tried to use the lift's controls to change its course to no avail; the lift was being pulled down with the Force. Stepping back from the controls, Hans looked at each of the others, who all exchanged knowing glances and raised their weapons at the lift's door, expecting the worst. At long last, they felt the soft thud of the lift reaching the bottom floor, and the door quickly slid open.
As it opened, Decien quickly let out a burst in the Force, knocking the group off their feet and their weapons out of their hands. He entered the lift, raised his arms, and pulled Hans, Cade, Asura, and Praxon off the ground with the Force. They were unable to move from his grip as he carried them behind him into a new room. The room was wide, and like the lift, mostly dark but illuminated by deep blue lights. Empty stasis tubes (five for each side) and computer consoles lined the left and right walls of the room, where several Stormtroopers and Sumad stood silently at attention, as well as Qorbin, chained up with multiple soldiers guarding him. Qorbin was silent, though awake. The computers all hummed in sync, their sound constantly audible under Decien's footsteps towards the end of the room. At the end was another terminal with multiple large screens above and a large, cylindrical black machine with tubes circling around it. As Decien reached it, Sumad barked out an order to the troopers to restrain the four prisoners, and Stormtroopers approached them, two of them for each prisoner, and grabbed them as Decien dropped them to their feet. After pressing a few buttons, the machine began to whirr and spin actively, and Decien stepped away from the controls to speak to the prisoners face-to-face. First, he approached Hans.
"I've heard a thing or two about you. Hans Cerrano, the politician's son turned insurgent. Tell me, when did you last see Berloc?"
Hans pushed against his captors, but to no avail. "I'll take you down," he vowed, "No matter what it takes."
Decien's smug grin increased ever so slightly. "Me?" He inquired. "You haven't even finished off the first person you swore to kill." He moved on to Praxon. "And you, what even are you now? Man? Machine? I've done you a favor, jamming that droid's transmissions. You've lost yourself. Don't you remember the times before, where you didn't have a little voice in there telling you what to do? Or do you not even care?"
Praxon didn't speak, his robotic eye coldly observing Decien. They stood there for a brief moment, and Decien let out an exasperated sigh, moving on to Asura. "Asura Tyuki. How much death have you seen in the last six years? Don't you wish you could go back to the simplicity of before? Do you even still believe in your cause, your leader? I feel the doubt within you."
Asura defiantly gazed back into his prying green eyes. "If it meant men like you roamed this galaxy unchecked, I would never go back. That's our mission, you scum. To protect the innocent from you."
"How's that working out for you?" Decien countered. He proceeded to move on to Cade. "And you... You could be so much more. Did you know Yula had a vision about you?"
Cade didn't even raise his head to give his eerily calm reply. "Where is she?"
"You already know-- I can feel it. That's right, Cade: I killed her." Decien bragged.
Cade raised his head, with rage in his eyes, and violently threw his captors against the wall behind him. He then struck at Decien with his right fist, but the Inquisitor caught his hand in an impact that shook the room. Cade stood here a moment in shock, then Decien punched him squarely across the face with his other hand, sending Cade to the ground, still conscious. The guards picked him up again. At last, Qorbin weakly spoke. "You will never break them, Decien."
Decien turned to face him. "Need I even list your failures? Perhaps if you'd been a better Master, you would never have been captured."
"Tell me, child, do you even remember why I was captured?"
He frowned. "I wasn't part of it."
Qorbin laughed. "Perhaps if you had a better Master, you wouldn't need your memory wiped."
"What? What are you talking about?" Decien could sense the truth in Qorbin's words, but not their meaning. "Should I remember you?"
Qorbin refused to speak, instead merely smugly grinning at the sudden exposure of a weakness in Decien's other flawless persona. Decien quickly tried to regain control of the situation.
"Disregarding this senile Master's foolish attempts of mockery, I'm sure you're all wondering, why are we all here?" Decien began to make his way back to the machine's terminal. The terminal's screens now activated, displaying images of the destroyed temple on Umbara, the Carlac village, and the Dathomirian temple. "It was much simpler at first. You see, I didn't understand what the Binding was yet. I just wanted the key to eternal life, and all I needed was Ganner Slarwalker to find it."
The screens displayed burnt journals, with the name "Ganner Slarwalker" highlighted while the rest of the writings were darkened out. "Did you know Arek Saris kept notes? So, naturally, after reading this and seeing his body (rather impressive, really), I figured, 'I have to meet this Jedi.' Spent ages digging until I realized we'd captured his Master already, and from there it was really only a matter of time until you came."
He showed the security footage of Quesh, of the group's reaction to his first meeting with them. "But then you didn't bring him along. Why not? I had to know, so I followed you." He showed them Carlac, Ganner's coffin, his body. "You led me right to truth. He had died. At the time, I wasn't sure how, but Darth Massikus hadn't made himself known either, so I had to assume there was a draw."
"Enough," Praxon interrupted. "Why do all this?"
"Relax, relax," Decien assured him. "I understand your impatience, but I'm getting there. Where was I? Oh, right-- Carlac. I found his journals, too. I learned just what he had done on Umbara and what he'd seen on Korriban and Dathomir. Trust me," he warned, "We're all in for a lot."
He deactivated the screens as the machine continued on, beeping and spinning and flashing, increasing in the intensity of its distractions.
"It was easy from there," he said. "I went to Dathomir. You went to Dathomir. I wasn't even planning on that bit, I was just going to get the answers on my own, but then Yula Ardinn did something quite unexpected, something of which the concept I doubt even you understand: She became a Keeper of the Binding. A protector of the knowledge, cursed with the secret to immortality."
"No..." Qorbin whispered. "You monster!" Cade yelled, pushing again to no avail against the Stormtroopers holding him back.
Decien, chuckling, continued, his voice dripping with confident arrogance more and more. As he spoke, he left the terminal for the final time. "Oh, yes! I tortured her, made her wish for death, and I'll admit, she never broke. But in the end, when death consumed her, I stole everything from her mind. I heard the unspoken secrets of your little conspiracies. I saw Yula Ardinn reunited with Ganner in a cave on Carlac. I smelt the ashes of the village burning. I felt the impact of his's death. And I inherited the title that was given to Yula. I am Decien, the last Keeper of the Binding."
"We will destroy you," Asura promised. "No matter how long it takes."
"Perhaps," Decien agreed, "But it won't be me you'll need to destroy."
"Sequencing complete. Ready for genetic compilation."
"What is that, Decien?" Hans angrily inquired.
"Ganner Slarwalker was the greatest weapon to be forged by this generation. There is no doubt. He was flawless in all aspects as a warrior but one-- the Jedi teachings. Even in the most desolate of times, he allowed himself to be restrained by the teachings of an obsolete group. It's why he died. But, as you all very well know, death is not the end for us."
Suddenly, one by one, each of the ten activated, being quickly filled with an intense light, making the internal workings impossible to discern, and lighting Decien from behind.
"The Empire has done research into the cloning of Jedi. At this moment, every subject we've tested has had a defect of some sort. But hidden in the Dark Side of the Force is the perfect counter to this-- a method through which the bodies could be merged, rooting out the weaknesses and leaving only the strengths."
In sync, each of the stasis tubes suddenly darkened again, leaving everyone in the room blinded by a moment by the darkness, their eyes needing to adjust to the sudden shift in light. Everyone in the room gazed at the creations within the tubes, eyes closed, breathing in sync with each other. "You're insane," Cade whispered. In each tube was a clone of Ganner Slarwalker, aged around twenty-five. They each had his same short, brown hair, and pale skin, and, most likely, the deep blue eyes he'd inherited from his mother. They were all dressed in synthetic robes, decorated in gray and white all the way from head to toe.
Decien looked around at each clone, and spread his arms out, gathering power. "Insane?" He retorted. "I'm the only person in this room with any idea of what's going on."
Decien reached out in the Force, feeling the imperfections and weaknesses of each of the clones. Their minds were all in shambles, but their physical defects, the most important aspect (for their minds were not the ones that mattered anyways), would easily be rooted out. Mentally, Decien prepared himself for an undertaking of greater power than he had ever experienced, and began to create the perfect clone of Ganner Slarwalker. As he worked in the realm of the mind and the Force, the physical world entered a similar state of havoc. The glass on each tube shattered as Decien let forth bursts of lightning connecting them all. The clones, floating towards Decien, began to slowly spin around Decien, then faster, then faster, becoming distortions. Decien opened his eyes.
Silence fell, as did he to the floor, and raising his head, he found his eyes meeting with those of the perfect clone of Ganner Slarwalker. The clone, bearing no memories, then stood up and looked around him, taking in every detail but not understanding any of it. His lips moved in the faintest resemblances of speech, though he knew no words. He slowly began to walk towards the prisoners, reaching out to them. "Ganner! Stop him!" Cade begged.
Levitating them with the Force, Decien quickly threw multiple shards of the broken glass of the stasis tubes at the clone, impaling him repeatedly with the fragments as he fell to the ground. Now it was Qorbin who broke free and tried to attack Decien, but was still too overcome by his own injuries, and collapsed at his feet. He was promptly swept up again. "Stop me?" Decien mocked Cade. "Nothing can stop me now." He reached down and pulled a long shard of glass from the ground, studied his own reflection in it curiously, and plunged it into is chest. He coughed up blood and quickly removed the glass. Decien wasn't certain how close to death he would need to be to return a spirit of Ganner's caliber, so he had decided to go farther than Yula had with Talzin's resurrection (Talzin had been assisting her anyways, whereas Decien was alone in seeking out Ganner's spirit among the dead). Thus began the Binding.
Through the clone, Decien opened the link between himself and the dead, pushing against the Force as he rose into the air. For a brief moment, like the calm before a hurricane, he felt nothing. Then, all at once, he was assailed by innumerable spirits. Infinite voices, screaming out in unending pain, grabbing him and trying to pull him in as he waded through the sea of the dead. The onslaught was much more than Yula had faced, and Decien found himself barely holding on to his sanity. The ritual was not to be performed by the weak, but Decien was not weak. After what felt like an eternity, he felt something familiar, a presence he'd become acquainted with as of late within the crystal of a lightsaber. Ganner. He pulled, grasping his spirit little by little and dragging him in and slowly the other voices were drained out until at last, Ganner's soul was within him.
He saw Ganner, and he saw for the first time the true untapped power within him. He knew with certainty that Ganner could be so much more to the Empire. However, at the same time, he felt Ganner looking back. His spirit assailed Decien, threatening to take over Decien's body instead of the one meant for him. Ganner pushed with all his might, but Decien would not give in. He was the last Keeper of the Binding, and he would not fail here. He threw Ganner out of his body as powerfully as he possibly could, sending his consciousness into the clone. The impact of the Binding was such that a bright burst of pure energy was shot forth from Decien and Ganner, knocking everyone else on the room off their feet and sending them hurtling into the walls. At last, when it was possible to see within the chamber again, Ganner Slarwalker, now healed by the Binding, knelt in front of Decien. He took a breath in, and opened his eyes. He stared directly forward through Decien's chest, unmoving.
"Rise," Decien commanded.
His eyes unshifting, Ganner Slarwalker stood up. Behind him, Asura grabbed a fallen Stormtrooper's blaster and quickly fired off three shows. Without so much as flinching, Ganner extended his right arm, palm facing backwards, and each shot vanished as though impacting an invisible shield. Asura fired until the blaster was empty to no avail; when she ran out she charged straight at Decien only for Ganner to swiftly spin and strike her in the gut, sending her to the ground. "Did I forget to mention that all the clones were fitted with cerebral chips programmed to obey my every command?"
"It's not enough," Cade muttered defiantly as he slowly stood up again, propped up against the wall. "He's still in there."
"Is that so?" Decien replied, inspecting Ganner, who unwaveringly looked down at Asura. Decien unclipped Yula's lightsaber from his belt, activated it, and handed it to Ganner. He studied it, looking into its yellow light and getting a feel for the weapon. Decien lightly probed Ganner's mind to make sure nothing was wrong, and, finding no proof, gave another order.
"Kill everyone else in this room," he ordered. Everyone else in the room immediately panicked, scrambling to get up and grab blasters. Sumad began firing on Ganner, who deflected the shots back into his chest. Sumad gasped as the light in his dark eyes faded, but was dead before he hit the floor. He paused. "Good," Decien praised him. "Now kill your friends."
Ganner's grip tightened on his saber as though to move it, but he stood frozen again by an unseen and unfelt force.
"Kill them!" Decien commanded.
However, instead, Ganner quickly spun around and Decien felt the danger in the Force just in time to activate his own lightsaber and deflect a gray barrage of lightning that shot out of Ganner's hand. As Ganner ceased that attack, he swifty moved forward, slashing at Decien with Yula's lightsaber. Decien blocked that, too, with his own lightsaber and the two blades clashed against each other as each man stared into the other's eyes. In Decien's there was surprise; in Ganner's, determination.
"You studied the Shadow Assassins, did you not?" Ganner asked. Decien pushed him back, and the two began a furious dance of blades, neither gaining a definite edge over the other, as Antimatter Squadron quickly began to make their way to the lift.
"You should've known they can hide their presence in the Force." Decien internally chastised himself for having not prepared for that, but dismissed it; he needed to stay focused. Even now, Ganner was unreadable, as if his mind was absolutely blank. Their duel continued as deflected blades destroyed countless pieces of machinery and cloning tubes. At one point, Ganner tore the console off the main terminal and threw it at Decien, who sliced it in half. As the two pieces parted in front of him, Decien suddenly found himself facing no one, then was thrown against the cloning machine with immense strength. Had he not shielded his body with the Force, the impact could have very easily killed him. Instead, it left him dazed and unable to balance. Ganner quickly grabbed him by the throat and pinned him to the cloning machine. Decien tried to speak, but his air was blocked off.
"And, if you'd studied me, you would know I can't be controlled." Ganner pulled his saber back, preparing to stab Decien in the heart, as in the corner of his eye, Decien's hands touched the cloning machine and a purple spark flew between them. Instantly, the machine exploded in a bright red flash, the heat throwing Ganner across the room and into the lift where Antimatter Squadron and Qorbin were waiting. Hans and Asura grabbed him as Cade quickly closed the door. As it slid shut, Ganner glimpsed Decien lying on the ground, severely burnt across the back of his body, but still looking up, focused on Ganner.
Not one for wasting time, Hans began planning as soon as the door closed. "All right, Ganner, can you cover our escape?"
"Yes," he replied, surprised by how unfazed Hans was. At the same time, Praxon's link with DX-245 was reestablished. DX-245 was currently waiting at the controls of the hangar, which was now littered with a large number of dead Stormtroopers. Praxon, as fast as he could think, relayed the situation to DX-245, receiving his status update in turn. The hangar was secure, and the Fortune Destroyer was ready to go. "Praxon, status?" Hans asked. "We're clear," he responded.
They made it to the hangar, where DX-245 met the rest of the group and Ganner stayed back as the rest of the group made their way onto the Destroyer. "Get going with out me," He told Hans, looking at the numerous TIE Interceptors lining the hangar. "I'll take one of these and catch up." He watched as Praxon helped Qorbin onto the ship, and finally the ship's ramp began to raise itself.
Behind him, he heard the loud groans of metal tearing apart. He turned to see Decien, lightsaber drawn, blood dripping down his body as he panted heavily but refused to back down. Suddenly, the Fortune Destroyer's lower cannons turned and began to fire on Decien. As he deflected the shots, Ganner took advantage of the momentary opening to raise the hatch of the nearest Interceptor with the Force and jump in, closing the hatch as he buckled in and flipped switches as fast as he could (fortunately the TIE Interceptor's controls were somewhat similar to the Delta-7's he'd learned to fly as a Jedi.)
As Ganner and Antimatter Squadron began to lift off the ground, Ranulph spoke to Ganner, communicating directly to his ship. "Ganner, it's Ranulph. This is risky, but you're going to need to jump to hyperspace as soon as we get out of the hangar or we'll never clear this station's defenses. Lock in a route to Dantooine and get ready..."
The Destroyer began moving forward out of the hangar, with the Interceptor close behind as the mounted cannon still fired on Decien, keeping him at bay until at last, the Destroyer had penetrated the shield and quickly blasted off into space. The rapid output from the ship's engines impacted the shield, sending a strong seismic wave through the facility. Ganner quickly accelerated and behind him, Decien leapt towards the ship, building his power for his final, desperate move.
Decien reached out at the ship but grasped nothing as Ganner passed through the force field and immediately initiated his hyperdrive. With the last of his energy, Decien discharged a furious burst at the Interceptor as he fell, which immediately struck the ship before it launched off in a random direction nowhere close to that which the Destroyer had taken. Landing on the ground of the hangar, Decien finally let unconsciousness take him.
Galen Slarwalker and Hans Novastar walked slowly through the grassy plains towards the spot where the Fortune Destroyer had landed. Above them the skies were beginning to darken; rain would soon arrive. Across the plain, there was no sound but the scuffling of their feet against the grass and the cool winds beginning to make their way towards the Slarwalker residence. It was getting cooler by the minute.
"You're certain she'll be safe?" Galen asked, concerned.
"Trust me. These guys are good, and they've owed me for a long time. No one will touch her." Hans assured him.
"And how exactly did you meet them again?"
"Let's just say I had a rough childhood."
As they approached the Destroyer, Galen stopped for a moment, confused. He looked at the ship, trying to understand the presence he felt.
"Who's in there?" He asked.
The ramp fell and the door opened, and out walked Sen Qorbin dressed in his full robes. He used a cane in his left hand as he slowly walked down the stairs, and Galen saw how he had changed. His skin was now wrinkly, his body smaller and more frail, and his eyes had dimmed in brightness, but all the same, it was him. Meeting his gaze, Qorbin smiled.
"Hello, old friend." He happily greeted him.
Somewhere far, far away, a young woman gazed into a starry night sky. She could see all three moons and more stars than she would ever be able to count, scattered with nebulae around her. The sky shined bright against the endless rolling dunes of Tatooine. The light reflected in her bright green eyes and illuminated her long, black hair. Her gray wraps weren't meant for winds of a desert at night, and as a sandy breeze began to blow, she turned away and began to return to her small homestead when a single peculiar star caught her eye. Dim at first, it slowly grew in size and brightness until she realized it was not a star--it was headed towards her.
She began to run, but as she watched the object she realized it would not hit her, and began to chase it instead. The fiery object landed over the dunes, and smoke began to rise into the sky as she raced towards it. Making her way to the top of the dune, she saw not far from her the burning remains of a starship, now a scrambled mess of metals. She stopped, hesitant to risk approaching it with its stability in question until she saw an arm reach through the window of the circular cockpit, clawing at the sand. Without further hesitation, she ran towards the wreck.
She reached the cockpit, and found in it a barely conscious man, bleeding from his head, reaching out. He was still strapped in to his chair, but the chair had been knocked off the bottom of the cockpit. She pulled and pulled on the window, and due to its weakened state from the crash, succeeded in pulling it off. She quickly crawled in, unstrapped the chair, and dragged the man out by both of his arms. She took him to the top of the dune and stopped for a moment, applying pressure to his forehead to stop the bleeding as she worked out what to do next. The man gasped and opened his eyes widely, looking at her and at the sky. He turned his head towards the crash, then back to her in confusion.
"Who am I?" He asked.
TO BE CONTINUED IN COLLISION.
Legends of the Force
Four Jedi uncover a dark secret that threatens to destroy the Galaxy as they know it...
Picking up where Ganner Slarwalker left off, friends become enemies as Cade's mission continues.
When a Jedi strike team vanishes on Umbara, two Jedi begin to unearth a conspiracy deeper than the Shadow Assassins themselves.
Over five years after the events of Ganner Slarwalker, our heroes must unite once more to face a new enemy.
Three missions to the forest moon of Anarto II crash together, leading to a climactic event not everyone will walk away from...
Every villain is the hero of their own story.
During the darkest hour, destinies collide, gambits are executed and loyalties are revealed during the final battle, the tremors of which the Galaxy will feel forever...
ACCESSING IMPERIAL FACILITY 406-P AUDIO FILE P-4R-4DU-5...
IDENTIFYING BACKGROUND AUDIO
IMPERIAL FACILITY 406-P AUDIO FILE P-4R-4DU-5
The cell door opens. SUBJECT S-001 (BARAK DAKENS, formerly Special Operative #███- see file on ███ █████ terror group) enters, and the door closes behind him.
IMPERIAL FACILITY 406-P PRISONER 003 (HANS CERRANO, alias "HANS NOVASTAR"- see file on the Cerrano case): Who the ████ are you?
BARAK DAKENS: That depends on what you can tell me, Hans.
HANS: You think you scare me? I've killed worse than you.
BARAK: I don't think I scare you, because we're on the same side. The Empire and the Brotherhood have taken both our lives away.
HANS: (momentary pause) You've got my attention.
BARAK: I used to work for Republic Intelligence. So did my wife. Then one day, they took her. She disappeared without a trace.
HANS: That's what happens to spies.
BARAK: I know that now. I've seen how corrupt it gets, how they throw lives away for flawed causes. I want to end it.
HANS: So where do I fit in?
BARAK: I know you were on the Reverence with █████ ██████ and █████ ██████. I need to know everything you know about them.
AUDIO CORRUPTION DETECTED
RESUMING PLAYBACK FROM NEXT READABLE POINT...
A small amount of scuffling is heard, likely Subject S-001 producing a serum from one of his pockets.
HANS: You're crazy.
BARAK: I'm determined. And this serum right here will make sure you are too.
HANS: I'll never--Agh!
Subject S-001 forces Prisoner 003 to ingest the serum. The prisoner resists but fails due to his restraints.
BARAK: Good. When you're ready, tell me.
The prisoner does not speak for approximately 30 seconds.
HANS: Ready for mission assignment.
BARAK: Good. You will have several goals. Firstly, you need to find █████ ██████ and learn what her mission is. If her goals do not conflict with any of yours, work with her as necessary. You'll use my old credentials, [REDACTED]. You will not remember this goal until given the keyword "Magnanimous", or when your second goal is completed. Speaking of it, you will do all in your power to destroy the criminal organization known as the Brotherhood and all its leaders. You will eliminate anyone necessary other than yourself to achieve this goal. Lastly, when you have completed both preceding goals, you will proceed onwards to..
AUDIO CORRUPTION DETECTED
RESUMING PLAYBACK FROM NEXT READABLE POINT...
BARAK: A second keyword, "███ █████", will activate you and return you to your current state for reassignment. Oh-- and, additionally, you will obey any other orders I personally give you, and you will not consciously remember this assignment.
An alarm blares.
BARAK: Blast. Sooner than I anticipated.
Subject S-001 deactivates the prisoner's restraints, which fall to the ground.
BARAK: Keyword: ███ █████.
HANS: How did I... What did you-
BARAK: Forget what happened in here. Believe you were never restrained and that I tried and failed to interrogate you on the whereabouts of █████ █████. Then, knock me out.
HANS: You're going down!
The prisoner punches Subject S-001 out the door. Prisoner 002 (no existing records) has also left his cell and sees the attack.
PRISONER 002: Who's that?
HANS: You wouldn't believe me if I told you.
END IMPERIAL FACILITY 406-P AUDIO FILE P-4R-4DU-5.