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Author
Topic:  Reborn
Raziel
ComNet Marshal
 
Raziel
 
[VE-ARMY] Lieutenant Colonel
[VE-DJO] Dark Jedi Knight
[VE-ICS] Privateer
 
Post Number:  1906
Total Posts:  2873
Joined:  Feb 2001
Status:  Offline
  Reborn
May 16, 2011 9:43:02 AM    View the profile of Raziel 
OOC:
So this is part I of a three part story I recently completed. The total story comes in at around 32,000 words, this chapter just short of 10,000. This part is actualy set after events in part II and III where the main story takes place. Described from the point of view of a Republic police officer interrogating a suspect in an increasingly bizarre murder case. Farras finds himself getting deeper and deeper into the case and through his time with the suspect gets himself tangled up in the situation. I'm afraid Parts II and III will remain away from public viewing.



    Farras paused before bringing his foot down. The sole of his boot felt like it was weighed down with lead as it came crashing down on the other side of the doorway. It always feels different, he considered, something about that first step as you cross the threshold . . . and it never changes. He couldn't consider the thought any further as a forensic droid was politely waiting, hovering ahead of him, to leave the room. Farras strode into the crime scene, trying to regain something of his normal gait. You always have to force your feet forward, as if they know you really want to head back.
    "I am now entering room 242 of the Tansley accommodation building - crime scene designation 12b-36. Seventeen confirmed human victims, their deaths caused by knife strike to the neck or blaster wounds to the head and chest"  Farras spoke into no obvious device, but everything a New Republic Police Inquisitor could hear or see was automatically recorded for reviewing.
    He let out a deep breath as he looked around the large apartment. Forensic droids of varying shapes and sizes, built for a variety of functions, went about their business. Standard protocol had been followed here, on discovery the room had been electromagnetically sealed and filled with gasses that would help preserve the bodies and maintain any evidence. Only now, after the droids were nearly done on their three day cycle of searching were life forms allowed to enter the room.
    Farras didn't really need to enter the scene, he could view a holo-projection of it and go over the evidence afterwards as much as required and his skill was really in interviewing live suspects. Analysing is droids work, feelings and motives are people work, he thought.
    Somehow though he felt that experiencing the scene first hand could give him a feel for a possible suspect. What he saw around him here chilled him.

    The bodies were still lying as they had been found and that was the first strange thing. They were crumpled neatly on the floor, exactly as would have been expected for a man dead before he hit the ground. None of the bodies were curled up or showed any signs of pain, as if they had simply dropped down dead and yet it was obvious that no nerve toxin or gas had been at work here. A circle had been cut from the apartment’s plastiglas viewscreen, large enough to fit a human through, precisely cut. Now the view of the city through the hole shimmered in gold, revealing the mag-field sealing the room.
    Farras had witnessed scenes of brutality before, bodies ripped limb from limb, victims of depraved sadism. This was different, it was neat and precise to an extent he had never before witnessed. It could be the work of a particular kind of mentally disordered individual, but the skill with which it had been done meant that either the murderer had practised this act before - or it was something entirely worse, something professionally done. Checks had already been run for similar murders and nothing had come up quite like this, but he couldn't rule out a killer than had moved on world recently.
    He cleared his throat before called out "Report, please" Immediately one of the forensic droids ceased scanning the surface of a desk and floated up towards him. He had read the forensic droid's reports, but he felt that asking was a politeness. Probably lost on droids, he mused.
    "Three humanoids killed by single blaster shot to head, one to heart. Firearm matched with 2XV palm gun. Five more were killed by a form of poisoned dart which dissolves within the body leaving no trace . . ."
    "How do you know that?" Farras interrupted.
    "Several were found embedded within the walls, we would not have a means of death for those victims otherwise. Eight more were killed by blade strike to the neck or chest. These wounds were precise enough to suggest the work of a droid. The last was killed by a heat wound."
    "Heat wound?"
    "Yes, a cauterised wound through the neck."
    "Cause?"
    "Unknown"
    "Interesting," Farras could think of one weapon from a long time ago which caused that type of wound. It wouldn't be impossible to find such an antique. "Other evidence?"
    "None, search is nearly complete. We have forensic DNA matches to thirty six individuals of seven different species, all confirmed as previous users of the apartment. Nothing that does not match previous users or the victims. One throwing knife and a 2XV palm gun were recovered - neither of which have any trace of new DNA."
    "Hmm, dismissed." Farras said, shaking his head. Trust a droid to spend hours determining the cause of a blaster wound when the blaster was left on the floor for all to see, but then there is a reason we don't give forensic droids personalities or much free will.

    Previous tenants of the apartment had already been called in for questioning - those within jurisdiction anyway. Still this apartment only had two sleeping rooms. "Why were so many people here? What were they doing?"
    He crouched down beside a formation of four victims in the centre of the room. Eight had died in the middle of this room. Three bodies were on the mezzanine floor above (The victims of the blaster) and six more in the adjoining room. He peered closely at the nearest victim. Congealed blood covered the victim’s neck, but he could only make out the faintest sliver of a wound.  "Their background checks revealed nothing outside of the ordinary with the exception of three members whose files are classified for unknown reasons." Why classified he thought. It suggests a higher body is involved with this, another part of his mind replied instantly. The second shiver ran down his spine for that day. He didn't like cases where higher bodies were involved, it always made things complicated.
    He spent the next hour walking through the rooms. The positions of the victims were virtually all he had to go on. "This was a massacre," he suddenly proclaimed. "The first victims, crowded in the centre of the room, were unarmed. Then there are armed victims, facing towards the centre of the room, yet only two blaster shots were fired. The rest were found facing the exit, some armed, some not, likely fleeing. My first guess is that this was the work of some kind of assassin droid," he paused for thought, looking around. Something was niggling him, but he couldn't pick out what. "Yet something doesn't match, assassin droids are normally large and cumbersome, the entrances show no sign of being forced and no traces of any have been discovered. But if a humanoid did this work, why are there no bloodied footprints or DNA traces? Also the room’s surveillance equipment is intact, and yet there is no surveillance record for the room’s current occupation. Why were there so many people meeting in one room? Why did they die?"
    Suddenly the niggling thought hit him. A blood splatter on the floor, there was something wrong. He approached it and looked at it carefully. "Droid, there was something lying here. Something the small and rectangular, it has been removed after the incident!" How was that not in the report? He held the datapad in his hand, currently displaying the report he thought of, over the gap in the blood splatter.
    "Negative" came a call from a droid across the room that did not even move from its work.
    "What do you mean . . . ." he was cut off by a sound in his ear.
    "Sir?" called one of the junior officers he had met on his way in, through his com.
    "Yes?"
    "Two men to see you sir, urgently."
    "Understood." he waited for the comm to click-off. "It appears to me that something was taken from the room after the murders," he mumbled as he walked towards the door, hoping that the droids wouldn't hear and contradict him. Damn things might need debugging
    He looked up, somehow he hadn't noticed that someone was framed in the door in front of him. Someone not in uniform. Shit
    "NRPI Farras, pleased to meet you." the man said as Farras stepped through the doorway. "We would like to speak to you now, your superiors have of course been informed." there was the barest hint of a smile.
    "Of course,"


~



    How did I end up in this mess? thought Farras, sitting across the desk from the two Republic intel officers, who had calmly introduced themselves and taken him swiftly to a waiting transport upon leaving the crime scene.
    "So Inquisitor Farras, you were brought in to our investigation because we know of your particular skills"
    "Your investigation? And which skills?" he asked curtly. He was in a foul mood now and didn't feel like wasting time being polite to his superiors.
    "The incident in that room is of governmental security and your people were only brought in to keep a public face on things"
    Explains the lack of news reporters, Farras thought. They'd have heard of the incident by now, but must have been called off.
    "You personal skills, shall we say, are what we need you for. Your record shows an excellent history of identifying suspects from interview alone, your profiles are highly accurate and you come with recommendations from several established psychologists."     "So what am I required for?"
    "The crime scene you have just been in, would you like to meet the man who did that?"
    "You already have him?" Farras asked.
    "Yes, he was caught at a private space terminal. Identifying him as the killer is merely a formality. He will be proven to have committed that crime. What we would like you to do is to tell us more about this person, our men are having little success and we thought you would be more appropriate than any civilian," the world rolled off the officers tongue like an insult.
    "I'll see what I can do,"
   
    A week later Farras found himself looking through a one-way window. The small figure within the room had dark rings around his eyes and sunken features. He was obviously malnourished and badly treated, possibly even tortured from the look of the bruising. Then the figure opened his eyes and looked up. Sharp, piercing green eyes seemed to stare directly at Farras through the glass and he felt yet another shiver run down his spine.
    "Are you ready NPI Farras?"


~



    Farras pulled out a chair for himself. It sounded impossibly loud against the silence in the room. He slowly lowered himself into the chair, never taking his eyes from the man opposite him, keeping one hand free - just in case. The killer sat opposite him never took his eyes away. Its like being watched from behind a shadow, Farras thought the eyes remain bright and inquisitive, despite the state of the body they reside in
    The table between them was wide, there was more than enough distance between them for Farras to reach for his blaster. Besides, he doesn't look like he’s in any shape for fighting he reassured himself.
    He cleared his throat, but was suddenly taken aback as the prisoner spoke out.
    "So what have they told you about me?" he asked in a smooth and eloquent manner, the faintest hint of a smile creeping in up one side of his mouth.
    "I was planning on asking the questions," Farras bristled, before remembering himself. This situation felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Compose yourself! "Why do you ask that though?" he continued.
    "Because you're dressed like a law enforcer, and you're obviously experiencing some trepidation right now," the reply came without hesitation. The prisoner sat forward, resting his elbows on the table and placing his chin in his hands. Farras carefully noted the shift in body expression with interest. The moment he realised that he had automatically started analysing the man opposite him he relaxed slightly. Carry on with your job, you're good at your job. You've done this hundreds of times.
    "Then, they haven't told me much, could I get you anything - a drink?"
    "I'm fine thank you, I've been treated well as you can see," the smile crept back in again. Jokes and sarcasm despite everything that they've done to him, he noted. Another hint, another piece of the puzzle that comes together to form the real person in front of you. "But you're quite clearly nervous, why is that, do you have a reason to fear me?"
    "I've seen the apartment," Farras replied. Then silently cursed himself, he'd replied without thinking and now the conversation would head down a different route to the one he'd intended. It was like sailing down a river, he reflected, the options branched out in front of you and you could only see so far ahead - so you had to be careful which route you took. Just then I paddled off down a tangent without even thinking about. That was another thing about rivers, you can try and work your way upstream and change the route but it was slow and difficult work. Let’s see where this path goes. "But in a different life I was part of the resistance against the Empire, make no mistake I have no reason to fear you." he added, showing the prisoner his blaster.
    "That’s interesting to know." The killer replied in such a genuine tone that Farras briefly felt like he'd missed something. The prisoner leant back from the table and opened his arms wide. Farras couldn't help but notice how thin the man was, intel never really followed the rules that applied to everyone else, and no one else knew enough to complain. Not when there's a war on anyway. "What did you think of my work?" the killer asked.
    "So you don't deny the crime?" Farras asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise.
    "I've never denied it! But I imagine you weren't asked to get a confession from me," the prisoner sat forwards again.
    Farras shrugged before continuing: "I'm more interested in the why than the what."
    "But aren't you interested in the how?"
    Farras was unsure how to answer the question so continued: "Why don't you tell me how you ended up here"
    "Misfortune, really, someone got lucky and flagged the ID papers I was using to get off world. Got cornered at a space port. Besides I'd made a mistake."
    "You feel you deserved to be caught for the mistake you made?"
    "That's not it at all,"
    "Then what?"
    "It will be interesting to see if you can work that one out!" The prisoner replied, smiling again.
    "Could I ask you for you name then?" Farras asked.
    "May I have yours?"
    "Farras"
    "Jarrick is mine," replied Jarrick.
    "Very good," He's determined to feel like he's in control. That's they key - I have to make him feel like he's in control before he'll give anything away. The faintest hint of a frown crossed Jarrick’s face, if only for an instant. Adept at seeing such things Farras noted it - but couldn't make anything of it yet. "Did you enjoy the killing?" he asked.
    "Now that is a difficult question to answer, I'm not entirely sure of the answer. Very good Farras, you're doing quite well," Jarrick replied.
    "I'll judge my own progress thank you, now if we can carry on . . ."

    "So, what can you tell us about him?" one of the intel officer asked as the door shut behind Farras.
    The policeman couldn't help but look over his shoulder through the one way plastiglas before replying.
    "Not much, I’ll need more time with him."
    "Why, surely you've learnt something by now, you've been in there for two hours?" a flash of impatience crossed his face.
    "Went down the wrong stream" before the confused officer could say anything there was a snort.
    All three people in the observation room turned. The noise had come from a speaker linked to the interrogation room. Jarrick was sat as he had been, but with a grin on his face.
    "Can he hear us?" Farras asked.
    "Not at all, he must have found something else amusing," there was a hint of anger in there. Farras decided he had to watch his step here. Whatever was going on was way above his head and there was no room for flippant answers to these people. "If you need more time we can arrange that. Though we'd rather you had no more contact than necessary." he paused to consider. Farras realised there was no need for him to fill the space with words of his own. "We'll send someone to your place tomorrow morning. All your other duties will be taken care of and you are to clear any personal engagements that are upcoming."
    "Understood"


~



    Farras took another sip of his drink. He'd been interviewing for so long now that the previously hot drink had formed a thin skin. He ignored the protest from his throat and took a swallow anyways, he needed the caffeine. Carefully placing the mug back down within the stained ring on the table he continued:
    "So, the officers found you unarmed. That means you've stored items somewhere, I wonder what we'll discover when we retrace your steps?" He asked. When no reply came he looked up at Jarrick to see him looking towards the door, a blank expression on his face.
    "Can you not hear them coming?" Jarrick asked.
    Farras looked towards the door and wondered if the other officers had decided to end the interview. Something's wrong. The hairs at the back of his neck stood up and he found himself reaching for his blaster.
    Then the alarm started; a loud thrum that offended the senses. He looked towards Jarrick, but the prisoner was as passive as ever.
    "I'd best find out what's going on," Farras said, with an unconvincing smile. Before he could even rise from his chair, the door slid open and two Stormtroopers stepped into the room. The sound of blaster fire filled the room - even over the alarms.
    Instincts honed in battle kicked in, Farras had drawn his pistol and opened fire. The two troopers fell back from the door, smoke rising from their chests. He quickly checked the prisoner. He still hadn't made move.
    "You're not getting out that easy," Farras stated and headed for the door. He stepped over the bodies of the troopers, opening fire as he went.

    Farras woke suddenly and instantly regretted it. His head and right shoulder were sore and as his vision focused he realised why. He tried to throw off the sheets that had wrapped around his body as he had fallen from his bed and staggered to his feet. Throwing the sheets back onto his bed, a quick check of the clock revealed that there was no point trying to catch further sleep.
    In the wash room he threw some cold water over his face and felt his mind begin to sharpen. When he looked at the mirror-screen to check the bruise he could feel swelling on his forehead, he noticed that he looked more tired than usual. This case really has got my nerves going, bad dreams, hands shaking. Farras yawned and tried to rub some life back into his eyes. My lift's probably on his way now, he thought.

    A well dressed man was waiting in the lobby of his apartment building. Farras fell into step behind him without a word of welcome. The vehicle outside was well maintained but nondescript. It was one of the company’s mid-range models and had probably been purchased because it wouldn't stand out anywhere.
    In a moment they were airborne and headed to the small underground building on the outskirts of the city which currently functioned as a small base of operations for at least five intel officers whom Farras had seen so far. He'd seen multiple interviewing rooms, but so far he'd seen no other prisoners there. It was probably arranged that way, but given that he'd only seen a handful of guards there couldn't be many others. Then again his current driver, like the others guards he'd seen, had the air of ex-special forces about them. He'd met enough of their kind during the war.
    He spent the ride looking through the reports that he'd been given so far. There were the files compiled by the droids at the crime scene, he'd already decided that there were holes in the report. Another advantage of droids is that they can be reprogrammed for your own convenience. That left the possibility that the video feed from the room still existed and had been confiscated. His fellow law enforcers had been at the scene three days after the incident and had started poking around. That left a big gap, enough for someone to come in and remove any evidence, before calling the cops in.     Perhaps intel had arrived at the same time and their activities simply hadn't been recorded by Farras's direct superiors. Both were equally plausible. Still he had nothing on the background of three of the individuals and it had been made clear that as things stood he wouldn't be getting any more information. Intel just wanted a psychological analysis of the prisoner, nothing more. Still if you know the right people and dig hard enough . . . he thought and I know the right people.
    Farras noted that there was nothing in the paragraph of information he'd obtained directly from intel mention anything about the prisoner being armed, or otherwise, during capture. He must have overheard that, funny what the subconscious can notice. He suddenly felt a brief pang of annoyance and didn't know why, the feeling seemed foreign, as if it was not his own
   

~



    He bit down through the crust of the “Shaz” bar, the rich, gooey insides spilling out into his mouth. The deliciously decadent snack was full of calories and very little else. Farras slowly and deliberately wiped the remains from his mouth and placed the rest of the snack, still in its wrapper, down on the table between them.
    The last conversation had not gone as well as Farras had planned. He was exceptionally gifted at passive interrogation techniques, but the captive in front of him was clearly more professional than he had expected. Perhaps, he mused, I have grown too accustomed to dealing with sociopathic murderers. If the crime scene was not evidence enough, his initial exchange with the suspect proved that the man in front if him was a calculating killer. It didn't rule out the possibility that the murders had been for personal reasons, rather than professional: Farras had met intelligent, eloquent serial killers before. This individual was particularly clever though, he had skilfully steered the conversation away from any train of thought that Farras could follow.
    This time he had come prepared. He had many tools in his arsenal. When he noticed the suspect break his stare, if only for a moment to look at the snack hungrily, he knew he was getting somewhere. Control, Farras had to maintain control. An act as simple as invoking the hunger in a starving prisoner by placing a delicious treat just out of reach, could be enough to throw them off guard.
    “So,” he began. “Our last meeting was unfortunately brief, however I have arranged it so that we can spend plenty of time together talking together over the next few days,” he leant forwards onto the table, casually resting his chin in his hands. “Would you like something to eat?” he asked, motioning to the remaining snack bar. Your move . . . he thought.
    There was a pause for a few seconds as the killer watched him carefully from across the table. Then he slowly moved forwards and took the snack. Farras looked closely at his face as his features were fully lit by the lamp hanging over the table. The man had fairly sharp features, though it could have been accentuated by his treatment. The Intel officers had clearly been starving the prisoner, his face was gaunt and his cheeks sunken.
    “Good, now we’ll continue. Last time I asked you if you enjoyed murdering those men,” he looked up and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t mind me talking so openly about the act?”
    “No,” Jarrick replied, before hastily swallowing a large mouthful of the bar. To Farras that was already interesting, some killers couldn’t stand to discuss what they had done. This led onto Farras’s next line of questioning.
    “Are you proud of what you did?”
    “The actual act? No it was just an event and flawed as well.”
    “If not the act itself, what are you proud of?”
    “Sometimes the means justify the end, policeman. I am proud of some of my accomplishments, in the end you will understand why.”
    “What was flawed about the act?”
    “I made a mistake.”
    “What mistake?” Farras asked. Immediately he was reminded of reports of serial killers plagued by OCD who had to enact their murders under precise conditions.
    “It’s not what you’re thinking,” Jarrick replied. Farras barely caught him glimpse at the unidirectional window at the side of the room, through which the intelligence officers would no doubt be watching. “As I said the actual act doesn’t matter. . .”
    “Was the snack nice?” Farras interrupted pointing to the wrapper on the table. He was determined to boss the conversation this time, to keep his own train of thought and keep the prisoner on edge. With some work he could get towards something of a profile on this man.
    “Yes, it was. Thank you.” Jarrick replied. He hunched back in his chair and watched Farras carefully.
    “Do you feel any remorse for what you did?”
    “No. None whatsoever.” Jarrick replied, leaning forwards as he enunciated each word clearly. The clarity of the sentiment actually shocked Farras, which given his career was quite a feat.
    “Not for the people you murdered?” Farras pulled a datapad from his jacket pocket and placed in on the table. “Not even for . . . Jerome Macnally, father of four and . . .”
    “Stop it,” Jarrick snapped. “No matter how much you try, even if you paraded the bereaving families out here, will you get me to admit regret for what I did. You might get an emotional reaction if you keep pushing, but those men had to die.”
    “Really?” Farras questioned further. He was starting to get some quick, honest responses out of the murderer now and was keen to press on.
    “Those men . . .” Jarrick started, but stopped. Again he eyes flicked to the window and door and Farras immediately theorised that he was being forced to withhold something. “I don’t feel like talking to you any more, go away.”


    “It’s best just to leave him to us when he isn’t in the mood to talk,” The nameless Republic Intelligence officer explained a few minutes later. Beyond the observation room and security this facility was more like an office, all desks and chairs and men in suits. “You’ve had some time with him now, what can you tell us?”
    “I’m getting somewhere, but I haven’t got to the heart of his motivations yet. I’m getting a picture of a driven, calculating individual. The initial cold and remorseless reaction to being presented with the murderers actually slightly shocked me, but there’s a motivation there. I think he’s keeping some strong emotions buried deep.”
    “Could you make any guesses about his background?”
    “He doesn’t strike me as military, probably well educated. I’d imagine something of an isolated background too. Actually . . .” Farras paused for a moment as he weighed up his options before continuing. “If you could possibly let me know more about what might have motivated these killing, some more information might . . .”
    “Look.” The agent said, holding up one hand to interrupt him. “Just keep out of the background and work on the suspect,” He visibly relaxed and half smiled before continuing. “We’re just normal people here you know, but there are rules to do with clearance here. Stick to your task and you’ll get a good consultancy fee.”
    “Clearance wouldn’t be an issue here, unless a classified operation has become mixed up in all this,”
    “Stick to your briefing Agent Farras. You’re not investigating the whole case, just doing a job for us.” The agent virtually growled. He got to his feet and left Farras to escort himself out of the premises. The warning had been clear.
    Perhaps it would be best to get yourself out of this, Farras thought. His initial reaction had been accurate; with intel involved this was going to be a much bigger mess. They didn’t want the prisoner to even hint at what was going on, that much was clear. Unfortunately it was just beyond his nature to let go, there was a reason for what had happened in apartment 242.
   

~



    Are you sure this line in clear? Farras asked.
    This communication is un-tappable and untraceable. The words on the screen popped up after a moments wait. This may have become an operation under the control of New Republic Intelligence services, but this was Farras’s city, his world and he had been here for a long time now. He had an extensive network of contacts and informants, many who could get information from across the expanse of the galactic plane – for a fee.
    Good, where do we stand?
    Those personnel files you sent me, I’ve dug up some interesting things. Data files appeared in the communication and Farras saved them. He was sat in the corner of his office with his back to the wall and his computer held close to his body. His room would almost certainly be bugged now, but from here he couldn’t imagine them getting a view of his computer screen.
    Mercenaries? he typed back to his contact as he perused the files.
    Two of those men definitely work as terrorists for hire, they’ve done some nasty stuff.
    This doesn’t surprise me.
    No? This will. Of those three classified personnel, I can be certain that one of them works for New Republic Intelligence.
    Undercover operations? That would tie the whole thing together neatly, Farras thought. A spook operation to blow open a terrorist cell getting ruined by another body. But who would that suspect be working for? Possibly another Republic agency had hired a specialist and wires had been crossed. Then again Farras was certain the man he had been interviewing had some vested interest in the case.
    No. Came a simple reply after a moment’s wait. Farras found himself leaning forward in his chair, impatient for more information. The Agent was involved in aggressive covert operations.
    Farras found himself slightly shocked at this. If the Intel officers weren’t working undercover to expose a group of terrorists for hire, what were they meeting for? The alternative – that they were hiring such unsavoury individuals – did not sit well with a man who spent years fighting for the Republic cause.
    There is something else.
    Go on, Farras replied.
    This information was hard to come by.
    You will be compensated. Farras typed rapidly, impatiently.
    Two months ago use of the same neurotoxin was reported in an altercation on Nar Shaddaa. Several casualties.
    How can you be so specific?
    The method of administration – coated metal shards – and virtually undetectable toxin are remarkably similar. The communication was cut suddenly and Farras was left pondering the personnel files in front of him. Some of these men had very, very dark pasts and he was beginning to understand the suspect’s motives slightly more. At the same time he was starting to regret getting involved in this. He drifted off to sleep in his arm chair, wondering if his inquisitive nature would end up dumping him in a real heap of trouble this time.

    "Can you not hear them coming?" Jarrick asked. Farras turned as the door was smashed open and a pair of white clad imperial troopers charged into the room.
    Farras woke suddenly to find himself still in the armchair, soaking in his own sweat. The recurring dream was beginning to upset him now. The imperial presence in the dream was strange too, though it was not the first time he had dreams of fighting their soldiers. Probably with current events putting him on edge his subconscious was just taking dark war time memories from his past and merging them with a recent situation. He peeled himself from the chair, pushed his computer to one side and made his way to his bed.


~



    “How many people have you killed?”
    “Many,” Jarrick replied confidently, though Farras noted something else in his demeanour. The skinny little man’s eyes had shifted for a fraction of a second, a micro expression. Had it been shame?
    “Why?”
    “Because that’s the way things have turned out.”
    “Are you glad that’s the way they have?” Farras asked, avoiding eye contact and pretending to take down notes. He knew instinctively when to appear interested and when to feign indifference. The suspect slumped back in his chair and his head dropped low. The hot drink and food Farras had brought for the prisoner sat on the table in front of him. The food had vanished quickly, but the mug remained half full. Just as Farras started to think the prisoner was going to choose silence again he replied.
    “That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I’m not sure.”
    “Do you regret things you’ve had to do?”
    “Of course,” he replied without hesitation.
    “Why have you had to do things?” Farras asked carefully. Every bit of wording was chosen carefully, every inflection precise. When he looked up he saw something approaching respect in the prisoner’s sunken eyes.
    “Choice is an interesting thing. Sometimes you feel you have a choice, but you really don’t and other times the opposite. Sometimes you don’t have a real choice because the truth hasn’t been laid out before you.” Jarrick replied. Farras got the feeling that the suspect had chosen his last words carefully.
    “If you could go back to decisions you made in the past, would you change things?”
    “I’ve thought about this a lot. You can’t regret decisions you weren’t allowed to make for yourself.”
    “You were forced into things?”
    “It’s not as simple as that Farras, it’s not always obvious you’re being made to do something. Not being given the knowledge to make the correct decision is just as bad as being directly coerced. Worse in fact, as you never know that you’re not being given a choice.”
    “Do you make your own choices now?”  Farras asked.
    “Of course. For a long time I’ve been...” Jarrick paused for a moment, considering his next words. “In a trench, unable to look over the sides and see what’s around me. Only given one option: to keep moving along my pre-determined path. I understand this now and I raise my head above the walls, I raise myself high above the billions of inhabitants of this galaxy. I look out and I see. I see more than anyone and I make my own choices and my choices are important because I am so … very … powerful.” Jarrick finished the sentence by enunciating each word clearly and slowly. Farras found that he was held in the prisoner’s gaze and had to force himself to look away. There was an intensity in this small dishevelled man that hadn’t been there before, a strength of will that lay just beneath the surface. Farras found himself suddenly on edge and for this first time in this encounter his constant analysis and logic had taken a back seat to a pure emotional response. He took a deep breath to steady himself and looked back across the table.
    The prisoner had returned to his usual self, the skinny malnourished man, slouched back in his chair. Withdrawn and introverted, the intimidating and forceful character had vanished back inside again. There was some depth to this individual, Farras decided, and possibly deception too. It was equally likely that this man was a sociopathic murderer who had lost control for a moment, but Farras was beginning to believe that it could just be that the other individual was an act or even that both were.     Academically of course the change from believing that he was on a set path, with no control over his action to one of being all powerful would suggest the progressing of a serial killer. Somehow Farras sensed that there was still more to this. Not least because of the report he had received the night before. Still he was getting the prisoner to open up, he was learning, doing his job. Some part of Farras desperately needed to understand this situation and he would risk a lot just to satisfy his curiosity.
    “There was an incident on Nar Shaddaa recently, there were similarities to the murders in room 242. Were you involved?”
    “Yes.” A simple reply, no reaction. There was a tap on the window. Whoever was watching the conversation wanted him to stop this. Jarrick’s eyes flicked towards the blacked out glass for a fraction of a second and Farras may have caught the hint of a smile.
    “Two men killed, I think. Out in the open in fact, sloppy work.” Farras spoke out. He was changing tact now, reacting to events and seeing if he could invoke the prisoner’s sense of pride. If he really believed he was so important he might just react. Deliberately understating the number of victims was a start.
    “There were more than two men in fact.” There was a pause as Jarrick leaned forwards, placing his elbows on the table and slowly resting his chin in his hands. “And it was not sloppy work, a situation was forced upon me and I excelled.”
    “You’re glad you killed those men too?” Again a louder tap on the window. Farras heard raised voices from outside.
    “Yes. They were planning to do some quite nasty things, killing me for a start.” The casual tone had returned now.
    “So, in the past you have regretting your murders, but no longer?”
    “Because I make the decisions now,”
    “Only a murderer with severe psychological issues could kill seventeen men in one apartment and feel no regret for his actions,” Farras replied, pushing to bring the killer out of his shell again.
    “Those men on Nar Shaddaa were going to do terrible things, but nothing as callous as the men in the apartment block. In the end you will see.”
    “The datapad stolen from the apartment block, was that important?”
    “Ah, now you’re getting somewhere!” Jarrick replied. Farras heard the door being unlocked from the outside.
    “Did someone pay you to do this? What was your mistake?” Farras rattled off the questions. The door slid open and two agents moved into the room. One laid his hand of Farras’ shoulder.
    “This interview is over now.” The agent stated.
    “I told you Farras, I make my own decisions. I deserve to be captured for my mistakes.”
    “Mr Farras, you must leave,” The agent reiterated.
    “What was your mistake?” Farras asked. But the agent grabbed him firmly by the arm and hoisted him to his feet.
    Jarrick stood up and looked straight as Farras as he was forcibly removed. “In the end you will understand!” He shouted. “With all your training and skills you will analyse and judge me and you will see! I did what needed to be done!”
    The other agent moved across the room, a stun baton revealed in his hand. He slammed it brutally into the prisoner’s head, knocking him down onto the table.
    “I’m more than just a killer, you will see.” He managed to speak, clearly straining. The agent brought down the baton one more time. Farras winced as the prisoner’s head was caught between baton and table and he was knocked cold. The last thing he saw before the Agent pulled him from the room was a splatter of the prisoner’s blood spreading across the table.


    “Consider yourself off of this case.” Farras was told a few minutes later. “We just asked for a personality profile.”
    “That’s all I was doing,” Farras replied. He had been escorted straight to an empty office from the interrogation room. Locked inside he had waited for a few minutes to hear of his fate. Obviously the man who had returned was a senior agent.
    “I believe you’ve been digging around on this case, we can’t have that.”
    “Why? What makes you say that?”
    “It doesn’t matter. Look I understand, you’re a good officer and we appreciate your help. This operation is above your clearance though.”
    Farras mentally let out a sigh of relief. The agent’s demeanour didn’t suggest repercussions were forthcoming. For a while he had worried that they would punish him in some way.
    “Just let me spend some more time with him, you must have learned something from these interviews. I was told he had barely spoken before.”
    “This is for your own safety as much as anything else Farras. Two men have spent time with that prisoner before, both are now on extenuating leave for personal reasons. He’s dangerous and he seems to have an effect on people.”
    “Look I’m coping just fine, stop me if I cross any lines, but let me finish my work. I’ve just scraped the surface here,”
    “Maybe,” The agent paused to consider for a moment. “But not for at least a week. I’ll arrange for you to have a week off, if we reconsider we’ll call you back. Don’t worry, that one isn’t going anywhere soon.”
    Not unless it’s in a body bag, Farras mentally added.


~



    Farras was woken from his slumber by a twittering from his computer. It took him a moment to realise he had been dreaming about the prisoner again. The same scene where imperial soldiers tried to rescue him and Farras had to fight them off. Perhaps the agents had been right, maybe a break would be good. He could clear his mind and come back fresh with new strategies.
    No, keep digging! A little voice in the back of his mind spoke up.
    As soon as he opened his portable computer a terminal popped open. There was a pause as a secure encrypted connection was established. Farras moved to his chair in the corner to assure privacy again - that was unless Republic Intelligence was looking through walls these days.
    I have some more information. The screen read out.
    I am here. Farras replied. After no reply came he typed further. Payment in advance?
    Not necessary, but this will cost double the rate. Came the reply.
    That is fine
    A ship has been identified as belonging to the group at the apartment. A data file popped up on Farras’s screen. You can understand that with the government restrictions in place this was hard to come by.
    This is just a ship, hardly worth the fee.
    No, but this is. Another file appeared. This time it was a more in depth report on the specifics of the interior of the vessel. The cargo bay was full of secure containers of “bio-matter”
    What does this mean?
    I didn’t know either, so I looked it up. These containers are used to cultivate viruses or bacteria. In this instance the model of container also doubles as a delivery system. In short it would seem the ship was set up to carry a biological weapon.
    What kind was on board? A weaponised virus?
    No the containers were not live, which is fortunate as a curious port worker forced one open. They were not cultivating anything at the time.
    Can you tell what they were planning to cultivate?
    No the containers were filled with a generic biomatter used to grow many kinds of bacterium and viruses. You may also find this interesting. Another data file appeared. On the ship they had found a curious datapad. It had a secret compartment to hide something within, not only that but the compartment was air tight with seals to contain hazardous material.
    It would seem your dead mercenaries were in the process of transporting some potent biological weapons. Farras’s anonymous slicer continued. Yet interestingly, no trace of the weapon itself!
    The datapad! Farras thought. He recalled the clean patch on the floor in the midst of blood stained tiles. It had been the size of a datapad. Where is that datapad now? he thought. He closed the computer and sat in silent contemplation for a few moments. He never needed to pay his slicing contact, the credits always seemed to make their own way out of his account.
    After coming to a conclusion and steeling his resolve he got up from the chair, dressed and headed out of his flat.


~



    The Intel facility was outside of the far side of the city and Farras’s vehicle arrived as the sun was rising. He hoped his visit would not cause too much concern, yet was early enough the facility would be under manned. He got out of his speeder and approached the door. As he did so it slid open and an agent stepped out.
    “Officer Farras,” he spoke, but waited for the response. Standing across the threshold and blocking the door.
    “Good morning,” Farras replied with a smile.
    “Why are you here?” The agent asked. Farras realised it was one of the drivers who had escorted him to the premises on his second visit.
    “I need to pick up some files of mine, I was ushered out quite quickly, but some of those are very important for other cases.”
    “I’m sorry but . . .”
    “I really do mean it, there are some important files in that folder. Law enforcement doesn’t stop because your lot move in, my department will need some of those files.”
    “You can come in, take your belongings and leave.” Was his final answer after a few seconds of thought. Farras followed him into the now familiar compound. Down the narrow staircase that took them several floors beneath the surface, past the security desk and into the wide office space. There were only two other agents in the room at that time, doing some analysis work on computers.
    “Did you leave your files outside the interrogation suite?” Farras’s guard asked.
    “Yes, I think so,” he replied. His ill conceived plan required the use of one of their terminals. He would go around as much of the compound as possible until an opportunity presented itself.
    The agent swiped his hand against a plate next to the door and there was a heavy clunk as the locking mechanism went into motion. Bio-Tags, Farras recalled. The extra thick durasteel door slid open and Farras was waved inside.
    “You keep him here?” Farras asked with some surprise. They were in the viewing room next to the holding cell now and Jarrick was asleep inside. The table and two chairs were still the only furniture in the room so the prisoner was curled up asleep on the hard metal floor.
    “You think he deserves comfort?” The guard asked with one eyebrow raised. Farras noted that there was a terminal in the room.
    “Look at him! You may think that keeping a prisoner exhausted is the best way to extract information but . . .” As the agent turned his head Farras closed the gap between them in a single stride and pressed the hyper spray into his neck. He caught the heavy agent under the arms as he slumped forwards and started dragging his unconscious body towards the terminal. Farras had no clear escape strategy in mind, he could probably walk out of the compound before this officer woke and whilst the drug he had administered caused short term memory loss it wouldn’t take them long to work out what he had done. As Farras turned to the terminal he couldn’t see the smile which spread across - the apparently slumbering - Jarrick’s face.
    Farras placed the agent’s hand on the terminal’s controls and as he had hoped the screen lit up, presenting a log in screen. He slid a data card into the terminal, bought at some expense from his slicing contact.
    After a few moments the login screen vanished and he was presented with a list of case files and analysis software options. As he started perusing the files he realised the data card had granted him the highest level of clearance. These terminals appeared to be on a closed system and he only had access to a few files. It became apparent that most of them were related to the case at hand. There were security feeds which showed the prisoner spotted at several locations across the city. Another piece of footage showed him walking across a busy street, the crowd moving quickly out of his way, the watermark identified the location as a district on Nar Shaddaa.
    Then he found what he was looking for and the full extent of the operation was revealed to him. On the screen a three dimensional rendering of “Virus YX-249-b-g” rotated. Underneath he scrolled through the text. A virus developed in independent laboratories, stolen by criminals, purchased on Nar Shaddaa by New Republic agents, then brought here to be handed over to paid terrorists. Operation “Hellfire” broke all the rules of military convention and went against everything the Republic stood for. Farras didn’t recognise the target world, Tadath, but the notes estimated casualties would total more than half of the standing population. Farras opened another file he found he was unable to decipher. The header explained that it was a description of the formula and manufacturing process for the virus.
    Farras returned to the operational notes. They confirmed that the hand over had been intercepted at the Tansley building, no survivors. The virus however had been recovered from the scene, safe in it’s datapad container. Farras sat back in the chair and took a deep breath. He now knew the full extent of the genocide Republic intelligence had been planning and why the killer had seemed so callous in his recollection of the murders.    
    What do i do now? he thought to himself. He could have this data published, possibly, but at the expense of his career. There was also the matter of stealing information from a Republic intelligence facility. In a few minutes at least another seven intel officers would be arriving at the station.
    Speak to the prisoner, The thought popped into his mind. Farras looked through the window into the holding cell. The prisoner was still asleep on the floor. He dragged the body across the floor and swiped his hand against the security plate and typed in the code he had noticed them using previously. The door slid open and he stepped inside, leaving the unconscious man in the opening. The door could only be opened from the outside, so he needed it to remain open.
    He looked up to find Jarrick sat in the chair opposite him, as he had been at the start of every one of their meetings.
    “That was quick,” Farras noted as he took his usual chair. He took out his blaster and placed it on the table deliberately. “Then again for an imperial assassin stealth and speed are probably quite common feats.”
    “I told you, I make my own decisions now, I don't take orders. I also told you that you would understand in the end.”
    “I do, but that doesn’t mean I can relate to a single minded killer, even if it is by profession,”
    “You say profession, but I take no payment for what I did. I acted as I wanted to. Quite selflessly in fact, to save the lives of a billion innocents. Those killings were an act of war. As an ex soldier I know you can appreciate this,”
    “Perhaps,” Farras said. He took the blaster in his hand again and raised it at Jarrick.
    “You’re going to execute me know?” he asked with a smile.
    “Perhaps,”
    “You’ve done good work Farras. You were everything I expected, but I’m afraid that unlike me, the time when you could choose your destiny has ended.”
    “Sorry?” The alarms sounded then and Farras looked to the door. Somehow he felt like he was watching events through a haze all of a sudden. He found it difficult to focus.
    "Can you not hear them coming?" Jarrick asked. There was an explosion outside, somewhere else in the facility. Farras thought for a moment that he heard blaster fire.
    Suddenly a Stormtrooper stepped into the doorway, clad in white and standing over the body of the prone agent. For a moment he thought he heard the trooper ask “Farras?”
          Instincts honed in battle kicked in, Farras brought the blaster pistol about and fired two quick shots into the trooper’s chest. He turned back to the prisoner.
    “You stay right there!” he shouted. He moved to the door, blaster at the ready. He strode out into the hall way, his route blocked by two more Stormtroopers. He gunned them down. Despite his discoveries he wouldn’t allow them to rescue their assassin. Another trooper stepped out from a side room and raised a blaster, a bolt came from behind Farras and dropped him.
    “I’ve got your back,” spoke a Republic agent behind Farras. They moved out into the compound shooting down the soldiers in their path. The experience was like a dream to Farras, he seemed to be observing his own actions more than taking part. As they reached the exit he felt himself go light headed. He felt his blaster slip from his grip, his vision faded to darkness..


~



    Farras awoke some time later, groggily forcing his eyes open. He tried to get up, but found his hands bound. He looked around to see the lifeless bodies of several Republic agents, but not a single white Stormtrooper.
    “Good morning Farras,” he instantly recognised the gentle, eloquent tone of the prisoner. He rolled over to find Jarrick sat at a terminal, tapping on the keys.
    “What happened?” He asked.
    “You have a strong will, I’ll admit that.” Jarrick spoke without taking his eyes from the screen. “But in each of our meetings I was able to break you down just a little bit more. Your irresistible urges to investigate this case stemmed from your own instincts, but also my instruction.”
    “What happened here?” Farras asked again, more forcefully.
    “You did a great thing Farras. I’m sorry that I can’t guarantee what will happen to you now, after all the security feed will show you murdering a compound full of Republic agents. There were never any Stormtroopers. I hope you can take some solace in what we achieved together.” The weight of the revelation hit Farras hard. Confusion and disbelief filled his mind in equal measure.
    “You see,” Jarrick continued. “I needed to get the virus itself, my mistake was that I failed to recover it. I was looking for a canister, not a datapad with a hidden compartment. The virus itself has been taken far away, but If I had known the agents were keeping all of the data on the virus on these computers all along I would have broken out a long time ago. But we’ve already established that I can make mistakes.” He seemed to be talking to himself as much as Farras. He pulled a data disk from the computer and moved away from the terminal. He waved the disk in Farras’s face.
    “After wiping all traces of myself of course, I have downloaded all the information my people will need to create an inoculation or cure. This disk will save billions and you were the one who pointed me in the right direction, with your skills and inquisitive nature you presented such an opportunity. Thank you for being yourself Farras, do not mourn for the men you killed, they were planning terrible things.”
    “How? . . . I . . .”
    “Don’t worry,” Jarrick replied leaning forwards, a knife had appeared in his hands and Farras tried to shuffle away. He grabbed Farras’s wrists and cut the bonds tying them. “There is one hope for you. A women called Anora will come to see you, she will come because I will tell her too. Tell her everything, tell her what I did. She will be the only one who may believe you and she will be the only one who could stay the executioner's hand. Make sure you tell her I risked everything to save these lives. Tell her that I am right and the ends can justify the means.” Jarrick reached out and placed his hand on Farras’s head, who found himself unable to move. “I am sorry for what may happen to you now, I really am.” Consciousness slipped away from Farras and he slumped to the floor.


~



    Two weeks previously Raziel waited in the wind and rain, his cloak wrapped tightly around his shoulders. He waited. Eventually his handlers stepped out into the courtyard and walked across to him.
    “It’s done?” one of them asked.
    “It is.”
    “The sample?”
    “It wasn’t there,” Raziel replied.
    “It had to have been!” The other Imperial intelligence officer spoke.
    “Possibly, it doesn’t matter now. You have to do something for me.” Raziel passed the man a locked case. “Have this sent to Lopen and then have my papers flagged up. Leave traces that can link me to the scene.”
    “Why?”
    “The sample has to be recovered. When they take me, eventually I will meet someone who knows where the sample has been taken.”
    “They will kill you,”
    “Possibly, but they will try and extract information from me first. If I can find out where the sample has been taken I will send word,”
    “Very well,” The agent took the locked case. “Give us a day, then use your papers, they’ll have been flagged by then.”
    No more words were exchanged. The intelligence officers left the courtyard by one route and after a moment Raziel left by the other.


Imperial Network Star Wars Image
LTC/Raziel/1PLT/1COMP/1BAT/1RGT/VEA/VE/(WoS1)(VP1)(VP2)[BoA][EW1][CDS][IH][GC][RoT][IG][SoS][GroM][PoC][CoH]
ARC Commander: Alpha, Beta Squads

"God does not play dice with the universe" - Albert Einstein
"Who are you to tell God what to do with his dice?" - Bohr
"God does not play dice with the universe. He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time." - Terry Pratchett
CM/DJK Raziel/lion 1-5/Krath/VEDJ/VE (WoS1) (VP1) (VP2)[/align]
[This message has been edited by Raziel (edited October 5, 2012 1:44:36 PM)]
Raziel
ComNet Marshal
 
Raziel
 
[VE-ARMY] Lieutenant Colonel
[VE-DJO] Dark Jedi Knight
[VE-ICS] Privateer
 
Post Number:  1909
Total Posts:  2873
Joined:  Feb 2001
Status:  Offline
  RE: Reborn I: Exchanges (Teaser)
May 17, 2011 3:37:14 AM    View the profile of Raziel 
-
Imperial Network Star Wars Image
LTC/Raziel/1PLT/1COMP/1BAT/1RGT/VEA/VE/(WoS1)(VP1)(VP2)[BoA][EW1][CDS][IH][GC][RoT][IG][SoS][GroM][PoC][CoH]
ARC Commander: Alpha, Beta Squads

"God does not play dice with the universe" - Albert Einstein
"Who are you to tell God what to do with his dice?" - Bohr
"God does not play dice with the universe. He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time." - Terry Pratchett
CM/DJK Raziel/lion 1-5/Krath/VEDJ/VE (WoS1) (VP1) (VP2)[/align]
[This message has been edited by Raziel (edited May 17, 2011 3:37:41 AM)]
[This message has been edited by Raziel (edited October 5, 2012 1:35:35 PM)]
Raziel
ComNet Marshal
 
Raziel
 
[VE-ARMY] Colonel
[VE-DJO] Dark Jedi Champion
[VE-ICS] Privateer
 
Post Number:  2281
Total Posts:  2873
Joined:  Feb 2001
Status:  Offline
  RE: Reborn I: Exchanges (Teaser)
October 5, 2012 1:34:58 PM    View the profile of Raziel 
OOC:
What the hell



    The Dark Lord Paan stepped out into the empty hangar bay, but he paused as his apprentice stopped on the threshold. For this to work there needed to be no barrier between the test subject and the source - and so the hangar was a vacuum. Paan turned and chastised his tutee for his apprehension.
    “Stay behind the magnetic shield if you wish. No coward deserves that which I would bestow,” After a moment Periadan stepped out into the hangar and into the bubble of air his master was maintaining, bowing his head in deference. Together they strode out to the edge of the bay and looked at the dark nebula. Paan had explained that the system had been tainted by an event long forgotten in history; a terrible event had happened within the Lotachs Nebula long ago, something powerful enough to permanently taint the gaseous expanse with dark side energy. It wasn’t enough energy - certainly not enough for the Jedi Master’s plans – but it would be enough to test the Eye of Abjaggon.
    Periadan was a fine student, and had earned the right to be the first. Someone with such control would be the most likely to survive the process. On the other hand he wouldn’t be too sorely missed if he died - Paan could always train another.
    Paan took a few steps ahead of his student and turned back to face him. From within his robes he withdrew the artefact. Made of a sleek black onyx it was formed of two openings which resembled the eyes of needles, one large and one small. Paan held it by a handle that connected the two eyes and lifed it above him; the wide opening facing the nebula and the narrow Periadan. The young student swallowed and forced back the fear that threatened to overcome him for a moment. Now he was trapped in the bubbled of air that Paan held around them he would be subject to his master’s experiment now, there was no turning back.
    “You will be to be reborn; the first of many to receive this gift.” Paan closed his eyes, dreamt of the revenge he would have on his old order and began the process. The thought of striking down those who had cast him out drowned out the screams of his apprentice.


~



    The atmosphere was hot and oppressive; as it always was at this time of the year. He always found it difficult to sleep through the summer months, breathing felt laborious and the hot air felt close about him. He tossed and turned on his sweat dampened sheets with the only comfort being a slight breeze through the window. As the net curtains lightly rustled in a breeze he rolled over and buried his head in the pillows.
    A moment later there was a larger rustle from the curtains and he waited for the soothing breeze, but nothing came. In his groggy half asleep state the panic took a moment to set in. Rolling from his bed he realised he was too slow as the assassin bore down on him, strong hands grasped his neck and forced him back down onto the bed.
    Desperately, he tried to pull at his attackers hands and arms, but his sweat lined palms found no purchase. His mind was reeling now, the clear possibility of his own demise drowning his thoughts. He reached for his attackers face and head and tried to push. The assassin was remarkably strong for his size and held firm; his actions only achieved pushing off his attacker's mask.
    If his trachea hadn't been collapsing beneath his killer's fingers he would have gasped. His attacker had no face at all, just a featureless pink smudge where his face should have been. Panic, fear overcame him and his arms slapped ineffectually against his attack's faceless head. He felt nothing but despair as darkness encroached on his vision and his existence faded to nothing.

    Raziel awoke with a start, flinging his blanket from him. His Kanalgor lifted one eyelid and hissed at the disturbance, but the cold blooded beast was too weary to move. Raziel shushed the beast and sat up on his bed roll, he surmised he would spend the rest of the early hours waiting for the Lopen sun to rise.
    Many of his dreams had been the same recently, in all of them he was attacked or chased by the faceless killer. He knew that  the faceless killer in his dreams represented some part of himself; he knew because in many of the dreams he played the part of one of his own victims. He recalled the moment when he had asphyxiated the businessman on Nal Hutta to death for backing out of a deal with a Hutt crime lord quite clearly. There was something deeply disturbing about reliving the death of his victims from their perspective, each time it happened it took his mental state off kilter for a few days.
    He preferred the isolation of the wilderness of Lopen with only his Kanalgor as a companion. With no other minds to disturb his thoughts he could try and become himself again. The process of unravelling all the strands of thoughts that existed in his consciousness and extracting his own defined self was an arduous task. Many of the thoughts and feelings that he kept buried down were not his own, many were from people he had killed. Their fears and dying thoughts were part of the reason he had been suppressing his emotions for so very long - long before his Force sensitivity had been explained, back when he had been an assassin on Nar Shadaa.
    Though he could move seamlessly into any role and fit in effortlessly with any group of individuals - subconsciously feeling out a place and mimicking ideas, thoughts and even speech patterns, when alone he found himself lost, with no definition of his own self or personality. Just a series of thoughts and actions following a path through the Universe.
    He only had a limited time out before he had to return to his responsibilities and the trainees with their individual attitudes, fears and neuroticisms. They clouded his thoughts and undid his hard fought gains. His hands reached under his bedrolls for his sabers on their own accord. His recent modifications had not quite gone to plan, but at the very least they hadn't detrimentally affected their function as far as he could tell.
    He wished he wasn't in the position he had been left in. He still had great doubts about his own abilities and knowledge and now he was left as Headmaster of the whole Order. Needs must, he supposed, but he still wished that his own mentors of years gone by were still available for advice. Talon had barely featured on Lopen recently and Kadann was away as usual at Lotaith. Japheth, Riel, Cosmic, Darkhawk . . . many great names were absent, names who he just couldn't place Raziel alongside in his own esteem. He sensed the Kanalgor stirring in the sky began to brighten, by displaying his pet openly he had at least shocked a few of his peers. In his own mind that was all he really had to an extent; a few tricks and a bit of skill with the blade.
    What worried him most was the impending strife he sensed in his own future. In a short time he would be sorely tested, he felt his path inexorably heading towards a major event. At that point his future path split down many possible routes, he could sense that many of them would end in his own death. “Shatterpoint” it was often called in texts, a moment when history would be changed forever. In this case Raziel sensed that he would either overcome the challenges and be forever change – or in what felt like the more likely case, he would perish.
    He watched the sun rise in quiet contemplation and waited for his companion to fully rouse before packing his belongings and heading for the Citadel.


~



    The Shaper of Interactions' envoy arrived at The Maw in the late morning. The great moon of Asbiss had just left it's position in low orbit directly over The Maw, which meant that the Ceremony of The Glutton would have ended. The Shaper led his group of support staff up the gigantic, ancient stairs to the entrance of The Maw. His left eye turned and regarded on of the ancient towers, he had always found the smooth black construction quite elegant in the morning sun. His right eye scanned his surroundings and as soon as he spotted more Cyleans at the summit of the stairs both eyes swivelled to focus on them. Their plumed headdresses signified their religious positions at The Maw and The Shaper quickly spotted his old friend.
    It took another minute or so to reach the entrance and the other party. These stairs had been built long before the Cyleans had evolved and whatever species had built them had clearly been much larger; that or the stairs had been built deliberately large for purely aesthetic reasons. Each stairs was more akin to a gigantic slab of rock, at least a forty centimetres high and twice as deep. At the bottom level the stairs were nearly fifty metres wide, but narrowed to The Maw's entrance which was only twenty across. Most Cyleans believed that the God-Species who had constructed The Maw must have taken giant forms and certainly their depiction in Cyleans religious texts reflected this. As possibly the most widely travelled of all his species The Shaper Of Interactions had some private and quite heretical views on the subject which he shared with no one other than his old brood-sibling The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts. In his travels he had seen many similar wonders and believed that much of The Maw had been constructed purely to make an aesthetic impression and not – as was widely believed on Cylea – as the God-Species “machine of life and death”
    With some effort The Shaper of Interactions reached the summit and greeted his old friend The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts by emitting a scent from one of his glands that conveyed joy, respect and a sense of regretting a long separation. He approached The Grand Caretaker with a respectful gesture and extended his left arm. The Caretaker made a similar gesture, but added a religious signal with his arms as befitting a Cylean of his stature. The Shaper of Interactions and The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts both extended the multi tentacled appendages at the end of their arms and linked up their feelers for conversation.
    “It has been too long, old friend! The Caretaker conveyed.    
    “I believe so too, my duty has kept me away from my home for too long. He replied.
    “Of course, let us take a walk and you can tell me all about the greater galaxy and you can ask your usual questions on the mood of your people.”

    The Cyleans were a curious species who had only recently joined the galactic community at large – and only tentatively. They were a species descended from prey and not predatory species and hence they had wide hammer shaped heads with an eye at each side. The widely separated eyes could function independently, with the Cylean brains evolved to process sensory input from both simultaneously. Their most interesting biological feature and one which had kept them relatively isolated from the galaxy as much as their world's isolated position was their complete lack of vocal communication.
    Instead they used both scents and touch to communicate. A Cylean's “hand” was a mesh of anywhere between ten and twenty sensitive, but robust tentacles and they had learned to use these in combination with an extremely sensitive olfactory system and scent glands to develop an entirely unique communication system. With a very limited aural range their initial contact with outsiders only fifty years ago had not gone well; it was only when written messages were exchanged a few years later and the Republic sent an envoy with translators that interactions really began. The Cyleans bred in great numbers and had never really used names, instead they just had elaborate job titles.

    “So, how do galactic events fare?” The Caretaker asked as they walked together through the outer compound of The Maw. The floor beneath them was a smooth matte black. Even with the light pouring in through the open windows on their left, the interior of The Maw always seemed to absorb the ambient light. Technological devices were strictly prohibited from being used inside the great artefact of the God-Species, so disciples used candles only at night and in the day they accepted the unnatural darkness of the ancient buildings. The Shaper of Interactions took the role of chief diplomat for the whole species, in essence he was their sole voice on inter species affairs and so The Caretaker was always curious to find out about events.
    “Not well I am afraid, but I will elaborate more later. Tell me, how are you these days, do your responsibilities lighten yet?”
    “Try as I might none of the other disciples have passed the aptitude tests and so I am still over burdened. It seems the task of passing our ways to the new disciples will be all on myself for the foreseeable future.” He replied, emitted a few scents to get across his weariness. The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts was far more important than his title would suggest. The people of Cylea saw The Maw as the focal point of their religious beliefs and his role extended to much more than seeing it was kept fit for worship and the occasional passing tourist. It was down on all of the Caretaker's to teach new disciples and send them out into the world to speak of the God-Species and how they had used The Maw to expectorate all life out into the universe. Only the Grand Overseer who sat on his throne in silent contemplation ranked above him, but to all intents and purposes The Grand Caretaker exerted the most religious influence on the people of Cylea.
    “That is a shame, maybe you should lower the standards? The Grand Caretaker is supposed to overseer the other Caretakers, with no others too much weight falls on your shoulders!”
    “To suggest such is questionable as per the tenants of our faith!” The Caretaker replied, his scent glands emitting the equivalent of a chuckle. One advantage of Cylean communication was privacy; The Shaper knew he could voice opinions that would normally be punishable by religious law. The pair reached the end of the long corridor and stepped onto a wide balcony. They now stood at the inner walls of The Maw's outer structures, which formed a wide oval ring. between them and the actual artefact was just a few hundred metres of exposed earth. On the ground below many disciples kneeled in prayer in the shadow of The Maw proper.

    The actual structure was composed of a series of great black fins that extended into the sky. Made of the same virtually indestructible material as the rest of the compound the fins were split into two groups that slanted away from each other. The effect was that it appeared that a great beaked mouth was reaching out from the planet itself. The Shaper wasn't sure of the measurements, but if he had to guess he would say it extended nearly a kilometre skywards.
    “I have missed the sight of it,” he confided in his old brood friend. This was the closest he could ever be to the artefact proper. Only the fully ordained disciple could leave the outer structure and approach the centre of The Maw. He had once considered a religious career, but in the end the lucrative nature of trade had tempted him away. Then again his old brood brother was far more wealthy in his position, just reward for his pious devotion - perhaps. From this vantage point the layout of the facility was visible.
    “There is nothing to rival it out there?” The Grand Caretaker asked.
    “No,” The Shaper lied.
    “We have had many visitors in the last months, from many corners of the galaxy. All have spoken of it's great wonder. This pleases me.” The Grand Caretaker boasted. In truth the income he was making from quietly marketing The Maw as an exclusive tourist destination pleased him more.
    “Any humans?”
    “Several last month actually,”
    “Hmm.” The Shaper replied. After a few moments of staring at The Maw he felt the need to add: “It truly is a grand thing,”
    “Truly we are blessed to be it's guardians.”
    “Perhaps we should speak of greater events now,” The Shaper said suddenly, turning to his comrade.
    “Oh?”
    “I fear that all of our people are in danger, I have a great choice to make,”
    “I knew there would be something when you come straight here upon your return and not – as I had expected – to your own brood of spawn.”
    “Your counsel is always welcome. A great Empire of the humans wishes to bring us into their fold.”
    “Under what terms?”
    “They are in fact quite agreeable. We would come under their protection and analysis suggests we could make great trade gains. However we must contribute though to their cause both in manpower and in other resources.”
    “This does not sound like a negotiation I can help with, perhaps you wonder what popular opinion would be?”
    “Oh I know what that would be,” The Shaper replied. “Their terms suggest that we must operate within their own laws and they will appoint a regional governor to oversea our affairs.” This was the sticking point of any deal. Through centuries of enforced dogma the people of Cylea zealously believed in their religious scriptures. The central facet of their beliefs was that the God-Species had entrusted The Maw to the greatest of their creations and that the Cyleans occupied a pivotal role in the God-Species’ plans. That was as long as they followed The Grand Overseer's interpretations of the God-Species will.
    “That will cause outrage, you do not need my counsel to know this. Our laws must be set by the God-Species, who act through the Overseer.”
    “But The Overseer expresses little more than the mumblings of a half witted, old crone kept in a drug addled stupor to . . .”
    “Careful,” The Grand Caretaker warned, pointing out that even within their friendship he was close to crossing a line. “The Overseers and all of their words have forever been sacred. There is another reason for your visit, I can tell this. What is it that troubles you? What happens if we disagree?”
    “Ruin, all of our ruin. They have made it plain that if we do not submit voluntarily we will be forced to and the terms of our annexing will be significantly worse.”
    “We are the God-Species' chosen, we can fight them . . .” The Grand Caretaker began, but The Shaper emitted a strong whiff of disagreement.
    “I have seen their power, great starships beyond our capabilities to match.”
    “Hmm.” The Grand Caretaker looked at his old friend, disturbed by this turn of events. He saw something in The Shaper he had not seen in a long time, he was clearly distraught. “It would seem that you have two options on hand here. You can do what is right for the people and accept their terms - ”
    “The people would crucify my for denying our place, as you said yourself we are the chosen and . . .” The Shaper babbled, finally revealing his true concerns.
    “- or you can lead us to ruin. The people would love you for standing up to a great alien empire and that would be the religiously correct route. I do have some advice for you old friend. Above all other scriptures the God-Species leaves us one message, the greater good is all. You know that the people will be outraged if you sign over our freedom, but that is your decision to make. Your career, possibly your life will be forfeit for doing such a thing, but the decision cannot be undone. you are the chosen representative. If you defy this ‘Empire’, you will be a hero in the eyes of the people, but if what you say is true you will lead our people to destruction.”
    “You could speak to the people, you could interpret The Overseer's words such that this is an acceptable path.”
    “I will do no such thing!” The Grand Caretaker replied, the tight squeeze of his tentacles the equivalent of a raised voice. “You must make this decision. Your own glory, or the safety of our people.”
    There was no conversation between the two great Cyleans for a few minutes as they walked back to the great chambers for nourishment. The Shaper considered his future and the advice of The Caretaker. He had always come with the intention of getting his old friend to convince the people that submitting to this empire was the correct thing to do, but it had been folly. On top of that his old friend had laid bare the decision in all it's unpleasant truth -  for the good of his people he would have to forfeit his own well-being.
    The Caretaker however considered why his world would be worth the attention of such a glorious empire. For some reason he was reminded of a black and red cloaked human who had visited The Maw frequently over the last year, his last words had seemed odd at the time: “You will not be pleased to see me return.” Up until that point the individual had been very pleasant and The Grand Caretaker had decided the comment must have been a misinterpretation, possibly the human had been expressing regret at over staying his welcome. Perhaps not.


~



    Sparks bounced and rolled across the burnished black alabaster floor, the scattered colours all faded to a dim orange glow before dissolving. Raziel pressed forwards at Kami's defence, feinting to his right before thrusting his turquoise blade straight ahead. Kami brought her own green blade across, undeterred by the feint, and slashed with a powerful two handed strike. Raziel rolled his saber around the block with a flick of the wrist and sent Kami's saber out perilously wide.
    He sensed an outburst of her frustration as she once again fell into one of his deceptive routines. The feint within a feint had been a ploy and Raziel had expected Kami to over commit to the correct blocking strike. He took a half step forwards and aimed a deliberately short stab at Kami's head; forcing her backwards and keeping her off balance. There was something pure he had missed about single saber combat, the subtleties and delicate technique he used with his one handed sabers was often lost in the frantic two saber style.
    Kami whipped her saber around in a powerful block at his next strike that threatened to become a counter strike, but she knew her defensive position was untenable now and her remarkably fast opponent would find a way through. Raziel retracted his strike and ducked under Kami's blade in a slightly risky move. Again he brought his saber around quickly and forced Kami's saber wide, trying to deny her a stable defensive position in the centre.
    He sensed the power in the Force building; as he had so many times in these duels. Knowing he had no defence he simply braced and took the blow of her telekinetic strike. He was thrown from his feet and forced back in a long skid along the ground. Using the momentum of the push he rolled back up to his feet and reactivated his blade, but pointed the tip down. Kami accepted to sign which requested a break and deactivated her own weapon.
    Raziel holstered his saber and placed his hands behind his head, taking deep breaths of air. They duelled regularly down in these private halls, away from the great halls of the central spire where the trainees practised. Something of a pattern had emerged from their sparring sessions. Raziel's speed and skill meant he often found a path through Kami's defences, which annoyed her no end. In return however it was apparent that her connection to the Force had come on leaps and bounds in recent months and with Raziel's lack of telekinetic skill she would often overpower him through the Force before he could gain a victory. In fact whilst she had begun to learn his routines and had tightened up her defences greatly he was learning little more than to accept defeat graciously.
    “Oh very clever,” Raziel spoke all of a sudden. A smile crept across his face and he immediately stopped breathing so hard. Upon self reflection he had realised his perceptions had been altered by his opponent; that must have taken some skill.
    “I was hoping you would decide you were too tired to compete further before you got that close to a winner strike though.” she replied with a wry smile. “By the way I like the new colours, a change of taste?” She asked referring to his new saber blades.
    “As it happens it was entirely unintentional, I was in fact attempted to create a silent, dark blade.”
    “A very difficult task by all accounts,”
    “Too much for me, however I had some success, but it would seem I am not the experimentalist that Japheth was.” He reactivated his saber and Kami realised that it was emitting very little noise at all.
    “You doubt yourself too often,” Kami replied simply, her own blade coming into life with the usual “snap-hiss”

    At that moment someone pushed open the door whom neither had expected to see. Just as Raziel was about to chastise the individual for interrupting them he quickly switched to a low bow at the sight of the Grand Master – with Kami quickly following suit. A barely perceptible nod was his only reply before Talon waved for them both to continue.
    With some trepidation at the watching Jedi Master, Raziel started approaching Kami again. Taking up a fairly traditional fencing poise he started to circle, his opponent holding her ground and turning to face. He threw a few testing jabs in her direction, which she deflected easily. As he squatted ready the throw a powerful lunge she rushed forwards and scuppered his plans with a powerful overhead slash and powerful mental blast. Caught prone by both his vulnerable position and her mental attack he pushed himself into a roll to avoid the strike.
    As he came to his feet he had to throw a hasty block as Kami matched his footwork. She went through a slick offensive routine. Though these sessions had taught her to always prepare for one of his rapid counter strikes, she poured aggression into her attacks. With a rather mediocre defensive system and already thrown off balance by her counter attack Raziel found himself pressed and only his reactions and balance kept him in the battle. Rapidly retreating he opened himself fully to the Force, trying to sense Kami's plans or at least anticipate her actions. Hoping to end the duel swiftly and impress her former master Kami matched his retreat throwing wide arcing strikes to try and catch him out. He started to turn to flee but shifting his grip on his hilt started a reverse strike thrown under his left arm.
    Kami halted her momentum to avoid to strike, but Raziel ran directly away from her, putting some ground between them. Another double feint had caught her out. She held her ground and waited for his advance, accepting the loss of dominance and going through some ideas in her head.
    She was taken off guard as Raziel withdrew a slender throwing knife from his shirt, he turned it in his hand and threw it hilt first. Assuming that this was some form of test and that being hit by the hilt of the knife would count as a winning blow she deflected the missile with her mind. It skittered harmlessly across the floor, but he had already drawn another. Sidestepping to circle her he threw a series of black blades at her, which she deflected harmlessly with simple application of the Force. One of the blades shocked her by slipping through her defence, seemingly unaffected by her telekinetic powers. She moved her saber to deflect the missile, which vanished harmlessly in the air.
    Raziel quickly darted across the gap between them, the illusion having done its work he took the upper hand quickly. Just as it seemed that Kami was regaining her footing his second saber appeared in his offhand, a shortened purple blade springing to life. Keeping to a traditional style he used to short blade to try and deflect her saber whilst aiming strikes at her body with the long weapon.
    Once again she started to halt his offensive momentum, experience of his styles and her tight defensive patterns keeping him at bay. With no warning he shifted the second blade into it's longer, turquoise phase and moved into another entirely different style. With graceful acrobatic movements and a variety of intricate double strikes he forced her back further. He managed to roll her saber out wide with the left blade and went for a definitive strike with the right, hoping to finally achieve a victory over the Sect Lord. Instead his blade hit a solid telekinetic barrier and with a flick of her two handed saber and a mental push both of Raziel's sabers were sent flying from his grasp.
    Unarmed he rolled away from her, twisted in to a flip as her blade passed perilously close. She moved to finish him again, but neglected the daggers strewn across the floor. He came up from the flip with a dagger poised and launched it at her. He used the moments pause to dive to the side, skidding past one saber, which he scooped up.
    Kami hit him with another wave of force as he tried to regain his footing and raised her saber to launch another series of attacks.
    “Stop,” Talon's simple command, echoed in sentiment through the Force brought them both to a halt. For a few moments the only sounds were the buzzing of lightsabers and heavy breathing. “Kami, please leave us,”
    Without a pause she grabbed her robes and left. Raziel collected his other saber and turned to the Grand Master, sweat pouring down his face.

    “It is good to see you back on Lopen,”
    “It is not so good to see how vulnerable our Headmaster has become.” Talon stated flatly. “A quick wit and simple tricks will get you nowhere. Just look at how powerful Kami has grown, whilst you rely on your other skills just to keep pace. You have nothing of Japheth's ability to research and further our own knowledge.”
    “I would say that with the blade I . . .”
    “You know full well that skill with a saber is little compared to the raw power of the Force, you preach as much to the trainees. Still I didn't come here to give a hollow lecture, if you're going to insist on pretending you have no ability to manipulate the physical world with the Force we will work on something else.” His visage softened for a moment. “You were one of our most promising recruits and we have heavily invested in you. You know full well other factions are moving against us, I won't have the Headmaster of our order fall to something as simple as a Force push near a cliff by one of the Light siders.”
    “What do you think will work?” Raziel asked, his interest piqued at the notion. He tried to hide his bitter disappointment at Talon's words, he had always looked up to the Grand Master and to be put down so definitively in comparison to his peers stung deeply.
    “This will take a great deal of concentration, but if you have enough control you can create a discontinuity in the flow of the Force, in part shielding yourself from attacks.” Talon explained, Raziel sensed the Master concentrating and suddenly he felt Talon's presence shrink away. Reaching out as much as he could he sensed the barrier Talon had erected between them. It wasn't so much a barrier as an alteration in the flow of the Force, like a stream parted against an obstacle. Talon stopped concentrating and the Force immediately returned to it's original flow, accompanied by a small expulsion of energy. “To maintain the barrier and lessen an attack through the Force is much harder than simply defending in turn. It is fair easier to counter a mental strike, or simply push back against a telekinetic Force strike than it is to shield yourself from the attack in this manner. Go ahead and try yourself.”
    Raziel felt some mental guidance from Talon as he reached out and attempted to mimic the action. It was almost altering the Force itself, pushing it aside to create the barrier that would absorb a strike. He was reminded of reading Kadann through the Force and “seeing” the flow of the Force wrapped around the great master.
    “Indeed that is a similar thing, Master Kadann can manipulate the Force in ways that none of us can,” Talon interrupted sensing Raziel's thoughts. Distracted by the words the barrier collapsed, but determined Raziel tried again.
    “Is that sufficient?” he asked. Talon responded by raising one palm towards the Knight and pushing him from his feet. Raziel sighed with disappointment as he stood up. 
    “That wasn't bad, I aimed that strike to smash you into the wall.” Talon said. Raziel turned to look at the wall fifteen feet behind him and imagined how painful such a collision would have been.

    “Practise this technique, but we have other things to discuss. Pieces are being shifted on the board, our interesting machine friend has revealed itself and attacked us and you have already met one of the New Jedi Order's products, but there are others who pose an even greater threat. Do you remember Paan or Spartacus well?”
    “Only a little and the former hardly at all. I knew Spartacus as the Headmaster when I was ordained, but he left shortly after.”
    “Their leaving was not on good terms, they know much of our operation here and it would seem they are now moving against us.” Talon explained as they walked up a spiral staircase away from the private hall together.
    “What do you know?”
    “Kadann has been watching them and as much as they try and shield their operation for his gaze he has learned much. They are seeking something, some kind of weapon or device to use against us. They have allied themselves with Thrawn's Imperial faction and seek to use his resources against us.”
    “Do we know what?”
    “No and that is the real problem. That's what I need you for now, I am heading to one location and Kadann has dispatched some guardsmen to another, but I need you to head to the world of Cylea. You will need some diplomatic skill for this,”
    “Cylea? I haven't heard of it I must admit.” Raziel replied as they reached the top of the stairs. They crossed a dark hall way and opened the door out into the bright Lopen sunshine. They left the empty Tower of Solitude and headed for the main spire.
    “You wouldn't have, its a backwards world full of fanatics and zealots. Their species is relatively new on the galactic front. They have a great structure known as The Maw, it has been studied before, it was possibly built during the time of the great Sith Empire. All we know is that Kadann senses this could be a possible target for them. I need you to go and investigate it, work out if it has any relevance. You are Japheth's pupil, he would know how to do this.”
    “As you wish,” Raziel replied. Noting the wording of the last sentence which was a long way from an expression of confidence in Raziel's skill. “There is another task I need to work on though,”
    “Oh?”
    “I have been working with some Imperial agents to track down a virus being traded on the black market. They reckon on it being used against us and it has the potential to wipe out a whole system. They were hoping I could help them stop the transfer.” Talon paused at Raziel's words for a moment.
    “Go to Cylea,” he reiterated after coming to a decision. “I don't believe you will be needed urgently on your other task. Choose someone to mind the trainees and set out as soon as possible, tell your agents that you can be with them in a few days. I will need you back here by the end of the week though, there is much to be done.”
    “As you wish,” Raziel replied with a nod.
    “Be wary out there, our many enemies move against us and we need to keep a low profile until we know more,”
    “Of course,” Raziel thought for a moment before continuing. “I sense a great test ahead for me, something momentous is going to happen and I'm going to be challenged to the limit of my abilities,”
    “It is a possible course of events,” Talon spoke quietly. “Kadann sees much and so do I, but if we knew exactly what was going to happen we wouldn’t need to send you to see this 'Maw.' Be weary and watch your back. Avoid confrontation, you are definitely vulnerable to out enemies now.”
    “Of course,” Raziel bowed deeply as they reach an entrance to the central spire. “Otto will mind the trainees in my absence, I have had some thoughts on a 'Low profile'”

    He took his time gathering his belongings for the trip, pacing between the many rooms that made up the headmaster’s chambers. Behind the front rooms was a collection of tomes that had never been seen on the library shelves; collected by Raziel’s predecessors. On his desk he eventually laid out one book and a collection of hand written scriptures on ancient artefacts. Next to these he laid out a series of weapons, if the danger he sensed was coming he was going to face it armed. Next to his sabers sat a pair of elegant pistols. They looked relatively plain, with the exception of his sabers Raziel avoided customised grips believing it best to be prepared to use any weapon at hand. The first was of a very old design – a rail pistol – not many existed these days but they could launch rounds at a terrifying velocity. The second was a modified flechette launcher. The flechette it used was much more fine than usual, able to pierce virtually any armour, but on their own not capable of killing outright. The pistol also had an opening for another cartridge and this Raziel had filled with a deadly, Sith devised, neurotoxin. The slivers of metal were coated on launch and whilst the tiny shards may fail to cause serious damage they were an effective delivery system.
    The last object on the table was quite different. A small sphere of silver metal with a screaming face delicately etched across one side. Much of Talon’s concerns were valid, Raziel was a poor replacement for Japheth. He had studied the old headmaster’s notes thoroughly and had frankly found most of the research boring and theoretical. A few items from his extensive research had caught his eye though, the notes on Kanalgors and this particular device. A “Screamer” it had been known as, a Sith device from wars long ago. The sphere was built to contain a tortured soul, but the use of the device was that if anyone attempted to exert any influence over it with the Force the core would be shattered and all of the soul’s final agonies would be inflicted on that person. “Simple tricks” they would probably be considered, not the great powers most sought. A Kanalgor was an intimidating companion and the screamer an interesting weapon, but neither was really a remarkable achievement, Raziel supposed. He rolled the weapons in a sheet of cloth and packed them in a case along with his reading material. Lastly he packed his “low profile” costume for the journey.
   

~



    “And you are?” asked The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts.
    “Jarrick O'Shea, Jedi Knight and guardian of the people,” Raziel replied. He bowed low and his brown robes swept across the floor. He stood on the great stairs to The Maw with a small group of “tourists.” The charge for any of them to see the great archaeological site was extortionately high, but many afforded the costs to be one of the few outsiders to see the sight. The notion of being among just a handful in the galaxy to have seen certain wonders was worth a lot apparently. Raziel let his mind touch those who had just arrived and assembled on the stairs He struggled to read some of them, but it would seem that most of the group of nine individuals were wealthy retirees.
    “We have heard of the Jedi, though I must confess we hear little out in this corner of the galaxy!” Hovering beside The Caretaker was a small droid, it had a series of mechanical tendrils similar to a Cylean and it spoke in basic as The Caretaker manipulated it's arms. For the rest of the non Cyleans a face mask was necessary, the air on this world was remarkably thin – if breathable.
    “We are nothing more than humble servants,” Raziel replied with a bow.
    “But learned ones I hear, I hope to hear of your views on the God-Species device,” The Caretaker's droid spoke on his behalf. “Now come inside and look around. You are all most distinguished guests.”
    I should hope so . . . Raziel thought. A hundred thousand credits should buy some hospitality. The group followed The Caretaker and a pair of his disciples into The Maw's outer structure. Their rank-signifying plumage glimmered brightly in the afternoon sun. Raziel noticed a tall red haired woman at the back of the group shoot him a concerned glance, but thought nothing of it. The Grand Caretaker began the tour of The Maw in earnest.


    “You are free to explore as you please, but do not pass the columns that mark the boundary of the outer sanctum. Non disciples cannot pass any closer to the sacred device,” The Caretaker replied to Raziel's question some minutes after the tour had begun.
    “Thank you, I may study this wall a while longer.”
    “As you please, if you require any assistance signal a disciple. There are several translators around the place, though some of the people here are forbidden from communication while they complete a certain ritual. So do not be offended if anyone refuses to communicate!” The Caretaker led the main group away whilst Raziel stayed in the room. Through the tour so far he had come to the conclusion that this whole thing really was some form of “device.” He still doubted the Cylean religious version of events which dictated that all the life in the Universe had essentially been spat out of The Maw. However many of the walls had what looks like archaic physical controls and thick cables seemed to run overhead. They looked like pipes, but were made of the same rock as the rest of the structure. This particular wall, however, was clearly covered in an ancient text. Perhaps he could discern some meaning from them, certainly Japheth would have been adept at such things.
    “You are no Jedi Knight,” came a voice from behind. Raziel turned to see the red haired woman from earlier facing him. He had not realised that she had remained behind with him.
    “And what leads you to such an idea?” He asked the young woman. She couldn’t have been older than twenty one, he noted.
    “Because,” she pulled a lighsaber from under her shirt. “I am a Jedi of the New Republic and I have never, ever seen you before.” she stated in complete confidence.
    “Ah.”   


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Raziel
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Raziel
 
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  RE: Reborn
October 5, 2012 2:08:39 PM    View the profile of Raziel 

    Captain Krayt had no taste for this kind of operation. The offensive weapon they would be using shortly would cause great loss of life on the nearby world. He considered it wasteful, barbarous and an action below the standards befitting an Imperial officer. Krayt was a tall, gaunt Captain who had served The Empire dutifully for most of his life. Unimpressive to behold, yet blessed with a keen mind he had quickly risen through the ranks of the military, gaining his first command at a very young age. He had witnessed the devastation at Endor, but would serve the remnant for the rest of his life. Even during periods where he was asked to commit atrocities such as these in the name of The Empire.
    The Planet of Cylea had not submitted to any pressure placed on it by the Remnant and so he was in charge of the military operation to pacify the government and force them to sign the treaties. By the Force, he thought if all goes to plan they'll damn well wish they'd signed in the first place.
    His task force was hidden amongst the system’s asteroid belt, preparing for a single offensive gesture that would end the engagement before it could properly start. He knew this was the correct course of action, he had done the calculations and approved the plans himself. It still didn't feel . . .  noble enough . . . for a military gesture.
    Planetary bombardment was a taxing operation. His ISD's weapons batteries were incredibly powerful, but not so much on a planetary scale. You had to factor in that the power produced by the generators would have to be stored in a bank of capacitors before being discharged by the forward batteries. You also had to account for attenuation as the barrage passed through a planet’s thick atmosphere. In the end maybe ten percent of the power produced by his ship would eventually go into causing devastation below during a planetary bombardment.

    No, the most efficient way to bombard a planet was to use the energy already available, in this case the gravitational potential of the planet. It was why they currently had teams drilling thrusters into a selection of rocks around them. When his fleet approached Cylea it would be accompanied by a swarm of asteroids. As they neared the “point of no return” he would contact the planetary government and issue one last warning.
    If they stubbornly refused his offer one final impulse of thruster fire would release one of the hundred metre wide ‘roids from orbit and it would be allowed to fall to the planet below. It would come crashing down with millions of millions of joules of energy and turn a whole city into a crater. That would probably be enough to end the conflict. The maths worked out, this energy was free and it would take his fleet weeks to cause an equivalent amount of devastation. Still, his neat little calculation represented mass genocide and it didn't sit particularly well on Captain Krayt's shoulders. He would do what he had always done - follow orders and live with it.
    “How are we shaping up?” An approaching figure asked.
    "On schedule, there are no signs we’ve been detected. We should be able to move within forty eight hours.”
    “Excellent, the fleet is in position?” The Dark Lord Paan moved up beside Captain Krayt and looked out at the asteroid field.
    “They hold in deep space and will jump right on top of Cylea as we bring the asteroids forward.” Krayt replied.
    “You think they will sign the treaty before we bombard their world?” Paan asked
    “Of course, once we’re in position and their defensive fleet is controlled we’ll make clear what will happen if they don’t submit.”
    “No, we won’t. Don’t be specific about the consequences, they will make their own decision.” Paan interrupted. Krayt turned to the Sith, a puzzled look crossed his face.
    “I don’t see why we . . .”
    “The Grand Admiral made it clear that I had overall control of this operation?”
    “Well yes, but the military organisation is under my remit and . . .”
    “If you would like a clarification I suggest you contact the Grand Admiral yourself, otherwise do as you’re told Captain.”
    Krayt nodded to the other man, cautious of his new commander. He didn’t know where this man had been dragged up from, but clearly he had some arrangement with Thrawn himself. He was a military man; he did his duty.
    “Good,” The Jedi Master added. “Inform me of any further developments but I must assist my students in some preparations.” His eyes glazed over as he starred out at the distant dot that represented Cylea. “There are some other complications I need to think about.”


~



    “I am terribly sorry,” Raziel began, his eyes focused on the inactive lightsaber in her hands. “Sometimes I pretend, with so few of you about it's always a good ruse and tends to . . .”
    “Save it,” she cut him off. “I can sense what you are, you have power. You're not one of us though so that makes you one of them.”
    “'One of them?'” Raziel replied. A great smile widening across his face. “What do you mean 'One of them' exactly?” Now that he scanned her he realised she had hidden herself well. Trying to keep his Force presence as limited as possible he hadn't sensed her before. She was definitely a recent graduate, whilst outwardly confident he sensed fear beginning just beneath the surface. He also sensed great potential and power in her, she was no Master, but he certainly didn't want a fight here. Not in the least because he would certainly be expelled from The Maw. He lightly fingered the screamer with one hand whilst the other remained near a hidden pistol.
    “A dark side user.” She replied. Raziel enjoyed watching her defiant glare. This was perhaps the test he had sensed in his future, maybe the duel was inevitable. No, that didn't quite feel right, the threat he would face was greater than this.
    “Dark side?” he laughed back. Very slowly he withdrew his empty hands from his robes. She visibly tensed, until she saw he appeared unarmed. “Really, what do they teach you at that academy?”
    “That the dark side is not to be underestimated,” she replied. “It corrupts, it stems from a lack of control and from your base emotions!” Raziel was glad she was willing to converse for now. At least she wasn’t completely set on conflict yet.
    “Ah I see. You do know that the Force has no dark side don't you? What do you think the other Force users do, strut around wearing black and sacrificing victims for their vile experiments?”
    “We know about your people, you fight for your Empire and . . .”
    “And yet you do not fight for your side!” Raziel curtly interrupted. “We fight for what we see is right – whether that is or not – and yet you stand on the sidelines putting all emotions, love and compassion, aside and watch your people fall in battle. Tell me, who is the dark side in all this?” He lent forwards ever so slightly and raised an eyebrow in anticipation of the answer. He sensed her turmoil as he directly questioned her beliefs. Such a young student was unprepared for such a debate, without thinking he had reacted to her mental state and plucked the argument from her mind.
    “Master Ackoam says we do not take political sides in war. It happened before and the Jedi were wiped out. We protect the people, all people.” She replied after a few moments.
    “Ah, I see now, but you are a Jedi of the Republic? What do you believe?”
    “That Master Ackoam is wise.” She retorted. He saw the grip on her lightsaber tighten, but he knew he had thoroughly rattled her resolve.
    “And of this Dark side?” he asked. This time he turned his back on her and started looking at the wall of text in a clear gesture of dismissal, confident that she wouldn’t strike his back.
    “I want nothing to do with it,” she replied. He sensed her start to lower her saber behind him.
    “Neither do I,” he replied. “It sounds dreadful. I'm afraid however, that we are nothing more than Force users with slightly different philosophies. We are very similar, but we embrace life and death in all its forms. The Universe will continue on its path through the natural order of things and sometimes that is chaotic. Your people would use the Force to maintain rigid order throughout the galaxy. Do you not know why the Jedi were wiped out before? You put compassion aside and enacted your justice and order with robotic autonomy. The people turned against you. By the Force at least we feel regret when we have to kill.”  There was a great deal of truth to his words, though he chose his words carefully, some terrible things did happened on Lopen and certainly the selfish grab for power was often placed above the needs of the organisation. He had seen little to convince him that his Jedi were inherently evil, there was just a lack of benevolence. As far as Raziel was concerned the New Jedi Order had exhibited just as much of a lack of compassion, but they took the opposing view that the needs of the many would always outweigh the individual.
    Just as he thought she had given up thoughts of a fight he sensed her tense again behind him and her saber came back up in a ready position. “I was told that the Sith might have plans to use this place as a weapon and then I find you investigating. You're going to have to leave,” she warned. His words had put her off balance, but with this revelation Raziel realised he may have made her more dangerous. Turning slowly to face her once again he chose his words wisely.
    “And that is exactly why I'm here. A renegade broke away from us some years ago and we know he's seeking something to use as a weapon as well,” he said, keeping his hands out wide and on show. Not that this meant anything, Raziel could be fully armed in the blink of an eye if necessary.
    He didn't seem to have dented her new-found stoic resolve and he was certain she was going to activate her blade, but they found themselves suddenly interrupted.
    “Is everything alright?” chirped the translating device held in the Grand Caretaker's left “hand.” He immediately slowed as he entered the room, clearly sensing something amiss. Raziel noted that the Jedi's saber had quickly vanished.
    “Not at all,” Raziel said, before an idea struck him. “In fact it turns out that the lady here is in fact a Jedi from another part of the galaxy!” He said with a beaming smile, hoping the tone and gestures could be understood by the Caretaker and his translator.
    “Really? How very exciting! Really you must take an evening meal with me tonight so we can have a talk about theological matters!”
    “I . . .“ The girl started to reply, her mind reeling.
    “Of course we will!” Raziel replied on their behalf.
    “In fact this is all quite interesting, do you know the man who visited just last month? Made several visits in fact and also claimed to be from the Jedi Order. Tall man, about this high” He gestured with his free arm. “Actually had robes very similar to your own, but in black and red.”
    The revelation hit Raziel hard, but he quickly thought to go against his nature and made his feelings fully detectable by the other Jedi. “No, actually I didn't. I think you might have met someone who I am quite interested in meeting.” He shot the Jedi a glance and scanned her again. The Grand Caretaker couldn't have returned at a more opportune time, revealing the fact first hand to both Jedi could well have stopped the conflict for good.
    “We will dine tonight then,” She replied. “And you must tell us all about our companion and what he got up to.”
    “Of course! Please feel free to look around more, though I must ask you to leave the site before sunset. I will have the directions to my apartments in the city sent to you both.” Raziel detected an idea forming in the Caretaker's mind. “Would you be interested in spending more time looking around, say tomorrow or for several more days?”
    “Indeed, we can discuss the arrangements this evening.” Raziel spoke quickly; keen to be rid of the religious leader. It seemed a universal truth that religious spokesmen often had finances at their heart as much as any theological concepts.
    “Such . . . financial matters are not to be done over a pleasant meal. I will forward you both an invoice with the details.” Having secured his deal The Caretaker turned and left the chamber.

    Raziel crossed the ground between himself and the Jedi in a heartbeat, she considered going for a weapon but he was only inches away from her.
    “We make a deal, here and now.” He whispered quietly, but sternly. “I have no fear of you, but I have no interest in a fight. It would seem that we have a common problem and I suggest we work towards it together.” He made the ultimatum quickly and his voice held just the slightest hint of impatience this time in contrast to his friendly, open manner before. All his words, his actions and gestures were carefully conceived and planned to achieve his goal. As she thought for a moment on his words memories of his personal struggle to identify his own self flooded back as he realised he couldn't remember when he had last “been himself.” Always a goal and a motive, never an experience.
    The Jedi, whose face was right in front of him – though she stood a few inches taller – suddenly changed expression and he realised he had allowed her some sense of his vulnerability. He didn't know what she had interpreted that sudden feeling of regret as but she replied with a much calmer tone.
    “Agreed, we need to find out if this place is a threat. If it took him several visits, it could be a large job.” she held out a hand. Raziel looked at it for a moment before realising what the gesture was and shook her hand. He turned back to the scriptures on the wall.
    “I will tell you something of the man we seek as well, I see no harm in it.” She moved up beside him and studied the wall.
    “Do you know the language?”
    “I'm afraid not, though some parts are familiar. I'm certain I've seen this character in something before?” He said pointing to one of the glyphs.
    “An ancient Sith text perhaps?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
    “Yes.” Raziel replied, seeing her loaded question for what it was and going straight through the issue. “Jedi Master Gui Sun Paan is very powerful and he has a very learned companion. I have a fraction of their knowledge.”
    “Well if you have experience of this text why don't you try and decipher something from it. I'll explore some more,” she said. Raziel sensed she was eager to be away from him to clear her thoughts.
    “Follow the overhead lines and see where they go, they must have a purpose.” She nodded at his suggestion. “Also . . . I suggest you contact your Order and inform them of events, I will need to do the same and confirm one of our adversaries has been here.”
    “Of course,” she was definitely confused at the suggestion, but Raziel hoped it would belay her fears. He sensed the great threat looming in his future and could waste no more time placating an edgy novice Jedi.
    He sat down on the floor after she had left and took a deep diaphragmatic breath. Japheth had once talked of a technique he used when studying artefacts. When information was stored the intentions of the inscriber left a residual energy and a trained Jedi could infer the meaning of a foreign script if given enough time. He doubted he could achieve such a task, but it was worth a try.
   

~



    “How are the preparations going?” Paan asked his students as he walked into the observation dome. Three figures in dark scarlet robes moved about the floor, where a great intricate symbol was being sketched out.
    The eldest of the three turned and bowed low to the Master. “We are almost complete, but you should check that . . . “
    “Yes, yes,” Paan replied with an impatient wave of the hand. “I would be foolish not to check your work for such an important task. Still it would seem that you have done a good job Periadan.”
    “Thank you master,” another low bow and his pupil returned to marking the wide open floor.
    “You will see a great beginning soon,” Paan spoke up, though it was not clear if he directly addressed the students. “At the time I was most upset when we realised we had drained the Lotachs Nebula of all its power on so few people, but now I see it was a blessing. We would never have found such a great source of power if we hadn't been forced to seek out new avenues.” If they acknowledged his words his pupils didn't show it, carrying on with their work diligently.
    The power of the Lotachs Nebula had been drained quickly. Despite the first two tests having been a great success - Periadan's powers had grown exponentially - further experiments had not gone so well. Using untrained individuals who displayed some Force sensitivity had gone badly. Unable to handle the streams of Dark side energy Spartacus had killed fourteen people before perfecting the technique. Once they had worked out the problems enough energy had remained to empower just four pupils. Paan and Spartacus had taken two each as pupils to go along with their more experienced apprentices and headed out into the galaxy to find an alternative.
    “Many, many brothers you will have soon,” Paan spoke again. “But there is a slight problem we may still have to deal with first.”


~



    The Shaper of interactions communicated very little upon returning to his family. His own brood consisted of three partners and twenty four offspring, but he simply couldn't match their joy at their first meeting in nearly a year. Salient thoughts weighed down heavily on his shoulders. He truly wished that The Grand Caretaker had not outlined his decision so completely for him. He had gone to his old friend hoping for assistance and not clarity. If he had just agreed to stand beside him when he made his decision he could have chosen the path that would avoid bloodshed. With the religious leader's blessing he could have signed the treaty and brought Cylea into this Empire and the public would have accepted his decision.
    Now if he made such a statement to the people there would be uproar, such a move was against all their beliefs. What was most galling was that The Grand Caretaker had even had the prescience to suggest that route. The selfish old fool had refused to help, but still advised The Shaper to put the noose around his own neck for the good of the people. Of course he would, the “Guardian of the Faith” was entirely safe in his position, untouchable to all but the gibbering wreck that assumed the position Grand Overseer.
    Word of the God-Species, my ailing flatulence gland! he thought to himself. How could they expect him to sacrifice so much and benefit from his fall? At the least there would be a motion to have his assets stripped once his tenure as The Shaper was up, at the worst a braying mob would rip him and his brood to pieces in rage. His decision would be final, none but The Shaper of Interactions could make decisions when it came to the outer world, but that didn't mean they couldn’t take out their anger at him.
    He made the Cylean equivalent of a sigh, maybe a few drinks and some breeding with his females would make ease the burden.


~



    “So where do you both hail from?” The Grand Caretaker asked the pair. Much to Raziel's surprise the religious leader's home was a veritable complex located in the heart of the Cylean capital city. After seeing the inside of The Maw's outer buildings he had expected something more Spartan and less . . . lavish.
    “Originally Nar Shadaa,” Raziel replied. The female Jedi had a mouthful of food. The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts' servants had brought out tray after tray of local delicacies. Some of which were even edible by humans. It was slightly taxing having to remove the mask to eat and breathing the sparse air whilst chewing.
    “But I imagine somewhere closer to Tadath these days?” she added after swallowing with a wry smile. If the New Republic agents had found Lopen, even if they hadn't been able to return, the New Jedi Order would certainly have an idea where they resided.
    “Indeed and I assume you spend your time on Yavin four,” he replied and enjoyed seeing her smile melt. “Actually, I think I missed your name earlier?”
    “It's Jade actually,” she replied, but Raziel picked up the lie.
    “Sorry did you say Anora?” he asked, hoping that the Caretaker wouldn't pick up on the names through his machine.
    “Yes, sorry.” she replied with a grimace. “And what was yours again, Jarrick?” She looked right at him and fixed his gaze. There followed a few moments of silence as she attempted to glean his real name. A bead of sweat rolled down her forehead and dripped from the tip of her nose into her mask. With the slightest grunt she broke off mental contact, having been defeated by Raziel's considerable mental defences.
    “This may seem an odd question,” The Caretaker started again, having finished his mouthful. “But what do you both know of 'The Empire'?”
    Raziel tried hard to suppress a chuckle, Anora was less lucky and had to cough up a piece of food.
    “Did I miss a joke?” The Cylean asked?
    “You will find we are on very different sides of this debate, but it is a very, very old one.” Raziel replied.
    “The New Republic believes in representing all citizens, the Imperials would hand over control to one individual.” Anora added.
    “Whereas the Republic has no control over itself. I'm afraid I have to admit you will struggle to get an objective reply from either of us.” Raziel stated.
    “I see, I had heard the Jedi were protectors of all people, I didn't realise they took such strong political standings.”    
    “Some Jedi would pretend as such,” Raziel quipped before Anora could respond. “Is this edible?” he asked pointing a bowl of bright yellow flora.
    “Purely decorative, try the . . . food  . . . by your right hand.” The translating unit clearly encountering a name that had not yet been given a translation for, so used a generic term instead.
    “Why do you ask about the Empire?” Anora asked.
    “Oh we have apparently had some dealings with them, but I can't say any more.” Anora look pointedly at Raziel.
    Not my people he sent.
    Really?
    We're nearer Thrawn's space here. He seems tense about the subject
    I get that too, this must be linked.
    I fear that something is in motion. We must work fast Raziel added before breaking off mental communication.
    “Tell me, those scriptures, has anyone tried to translate them before?”
    “Oh yes, but no one has achieved it. Apparently there aren't enough common symbols to start to form a language base,” And then after seemingly considering his position he added: “Of course who are we to attempt to discern the machinery of the God-Species! In fact the red robed man spent some time looking at that same wall. This interest in our Maw pleases me greatly. Perhaps some will receive the word? You know several humans have joined us at The Maw, the first became a true disciple just last month! I will have to give you some information on our beliefs before you leave!”
    “That would be, erm, useful.” Raziel added. Perhaps there could be some clues in their texts, but he doubted it. The machine transcended the Cyleans themselves in age, but evidence suggested it was no older than The Republic. The Grand Caretaker had only moved the discussion onto theology a few times during the evening, apparently having the notion that Jedi were priests in their own right. Raziel was glad that the Cylean seemed more interested in idle chat, perhaps he was glad of the break from his duties, he certainly seemed at home entertaining guests.
    “I'm sorry but I'm afraid I may have to leave soon,” Anora spoke up after politely finishing off a bowl of what was apparently a form of pudding.
    “I have some tasks before sleep as well,” Raziel admitted. “I have a message to send and some texts to read.”
    “Of course, let me just get you something,” he said and left the room. The two Jedi sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments.

    “You stated I was of the dark side with such conviction earlier. Why?” Raziel asked, breaking the silence.
    “Your aura, it is corrupted.” She replied immediately.
    “And yours looks boring, but that doesn’t really tell me much It’s the interpretation that counts.”
    “Oh stop it,” Anora stated, stopping his smile before it could even begin to form. “I agreed to tolerate your presence, but not to have you insinuating your lies.”
    “You are so firm in your beliefs. Master Ackoam takes a hard line on temptation I believe.” Sensing her reaction he added: “Yes we know a little of your set up and of the two masters who came out of hiding to assist the boy Skywalker.”
    “The dark side corrupts, it cannot be allowed to exist in any form. The balance of the Force must be maintained,” she replied defensively.
    “And yet you have tolerated my presence, what would Master Ackoam make of that?” he asked. When she did not reply he decided to continue. “He would be deeply uncomfortable with it of course. I wonder if all the others at your praxium share his views?”
    “Philosophical discussion is common,” was all she would reply before pretending to be busy eating another dish.
    “But the old Jedi Order did not encourage eschewing such emotions as love and empathy? That is what he teaches isn’t it? That nothing else matters more than justice. That you must be detached from all your emotions to avoid temptation and that evil in all its forms must be quashed?”
    “How do you know so much about us?” she asked.
    “How did you know where I came from?” he countered. She stared him down for a few moments and then cleared her throat in determination.
    “I don’t know what kind of point you’re trying to make, but it’s entirely lost on me. I suggest you save further observations, I don’t find them interesting.” She spoke slowly and clearly to try and hammer home her point. He held his arms out wide in a disarming gesture of acceptance. Raziel sensed her great unease at having to try and deal with his words, but also something else …
    “There is something of a rift isn’t there? He returned from exile to teach you, but you don’t all accept his word, even Master Skywalker just tolerates him.” He probed. Panic swept across her face for an instant as she realised he had skimmed the information from her surface thoughts and he felt her shame. “Don’t worry. You’ve given nothing important away. I am glad that you question those views though. I am being totally honest when I suggest you always question what you are taught. How can you truly seek ‘balance in the Force’ with such intolerance . . . and you cannot extricate a part of yourself to avoid temptation. For your own sake don’t rely on logic alone, your emotions are a part of yourself without them you are not whole and you could do terrible, terrible things without feeling.”
    She just sat back and ignored him them, not even meeting his gaze. This New Jedi Order was taking a hard line against perceived evil through fear of what happened just a few years ago during the purge. At first he had simply been testing to see if he could shake the foundations of her faith, but it seemed the seeds of doubt had already been sown. If there was a split between the teachers at this new academy, perhaps it could be used in future, he mused.
    While he waited he started to ponder his own ideals. In his attempts to unravel his own thoughts and emotions the notion of identifying his core beliefs had seemed implausible. He knew had one hard line ideal; that hard line ideals were a bad idea. Better to take each decision as it came, gather the relevant information and make an informed choice. He supposed that was a trait that went towards identifying himself - he was careful, meticulous and thought himself above the fixed stand points that some people took. He knew that he found this new Jedi Master’s practise of stripping pupils of all emotional attachment to use them as weapons just as abhorrent as any practise he had seen on Lopen. At least reports suggested Skywalker and most Jedi were merely idealists who believed in peace and the Republic.
The Caretaker returned then with a pair of religious texts. “To be added to your 'donation'” he shrewdly added as he handed them over.
    Raziel bowed politely and left the building after Anora. He had to pause for a moment as he realised he was quite impolitely staring at her. Her clothes were quite a snug fit to her lean body. He simply hadn't realised he'd been looking at her departing figure quite like that. He tried to remember the last time he'd let such a base emotion of his own sneak up on him in such a way. For a man who carefully calculated every single action for the most gain he found it surprisingly refreshing to have some feelings of his own for once, even one as simple as lust.

    There was an important and highly encrypted message waiting for him. Fully expecting a reply from Lopen he was quite surprised to find a communiqué from the Imperial intelligence services. They were urgently requesting his assistance with a matter on Nar Shaddaa. The man they believed was in possession of the deadly virus was on world and preparing to make the trade with New Republic handlers. Raziel had almost forgotten about that mission. Apparently he had paid off the Hutt authorities – who were never fans of the Empire anyway – and was keeping to public locations. Essentially he was untouchable right now. Raziel deleted the message, choosing not to reply at all. He could sense the great storm looming on the horizon, dark times were coming to him now and he was certain he had a limited time to try and figure out what purpose The Maw could have in the Krath exiles’ plans.
   

~



    “So what did you do before this?” Raziel asked Anora the next morning. They were both investigating the room with the scriptures again.
    “Whilst I said we would work on this together, I have no interest in petty chat,” she replied. Feeling fully rebuffed and mildly embarrassed Raziel didn’t speak for a few minutes, trying to focus himself on the text.
    “So the ‘cables’ they all lead to the central structure?” Despite it being unnecessary he felt the need to try and start some more dialogue with the Jedi.
    “Yes, I followed all of the tubes and eventually they all reach one of four hubs in the outer ring. At that point they go into the ground and I sensed them connecting to the towers in the centre.”
    “I wonder what it does, perhaps we could sneak closer.”
    “Maybe, but if we can avoid offending the Cyleans I’d prefer not to,”
    “The offence would be great, but their religion is all nonsense anyway. The ends can justify the means,”
    “The end never justifies the means, have some respect for their views,” she rebuked.
    “Even if they are wrong?”
    “That doesn’t change how they feel about them.”
    “No, you’re right.” He lied. “We’ll avoid it if possible, but we may have no other choice. I sense our time is limited. There could be more scripture there, I’ll ask The Caretaker later. I still can’t fathom what it could be for. Those great black fins that make up the mouth are nearly a kilometer high and make of single pieces of this virtually indestructible rock. They must have been incredibly hard to create, whatever this thing does it must be important.”
    “I’m not ruling out the possibility that it does nothing, but the rumours are that it is a Sith construction so the purpose is probably nefarious.”
    “Again with the accusations,” Raziel replied with a half smile. Again having to shift his focus back to the scriptures realising he had been watching her. When she replied with a smile he found himself pleased.
    “Indeed, anyway if you think you can decipher the text I’ll leave you to that and see what I can get out of The Caretaker.” Raziel watched her leave and then returned, fully focused, to the wall in front of him. He had been up late into the night studying the Cylean religious texts, the most useful piece of information had been in a chapter on the God-Species’ Great Machine:
    “The Maw was the giver of all life. From it’s mouth the God-Species spat all life energy out into the world.” And then later in the text:
“But as The Maw was the giver, so it can be the receiver. When they return to find that we have maintained their machine The God-Species will recall all life back to its beginning. For our diligence as the chosen guardians we will not join with the others, but instead will ascend with the God-Species and join them in planning the next great cycle.”
    Just as Anora had sensed the underground connections Raziel had reached out with the Force and sensed a great chamber directly underneath the ‘mouth.’ It may be that the whole device was designed for storing energy. Perhaps the fins that made up The Maw itself had gathered some kind of energy in the past. Solar energy would be obvious, but the fins seemed to be made of the same rock as the outer structure and it had no photoelectric properties. Maybe it had in the past.
    Raziel sat in front of the wall of text and took a deep breath, falling into meditation easily. In this state perhaps he could understand its meaning. He could not shake the feeling that whatever peril he sensed in his future was very close at hand.


~



    The Shaper stood on the platform high above the Cylean military precession - his decision made. The marching soldiers came to a halt beneath him and The Guider of Blades (The Cylean military commander) stepped up next to him. With the Cyleans evolving with a communication method limited to touch their written language had evolved into something remarkably complicated. Their text could imply inflection, emotion and deeper meaning and the Cylean’s brains had changed over time just to decipher it rapidly. Behind The Shaper and The Guider was a great screen on which his words would be relayed to the people below.
    This was it, the defining moment The Caretaker had outlined before him so plainly. If he declared their stance as opposed to this Empire it would all be taken out of his control. Cylean organisation was clearly defined. When diplomacy was over he had no power, it all reverted to The Guider of Blades. He would just be the voice of the people to the outsiders. The Guider of Blades would never surrender, under any terms. His goals were clear; defend the world till the last Cylean fell.
    The Shaper held great regret for what he would do now. The people would love him for it, but they would die because of it. He could stop the bloodshed that would happen, but he simply could not forfeit his own life in exchange. The Empire may never attack, the war could never happen - they may have been idle threats. Once done here he would head to the Galactic Core and try and barter a deal with the Republic for his people’s safety. He would be the hero to them, but really, he should be their villain.
    “Greatest of warriors, the guardians of The God-Species most holy works and most treasured citizens of the Cylean society.” His speech began on the screen behind him for all to see.
    “We are threatened by a force of outsiders who wish us to join their society and leave behind out own.” The crowd stirred.
    “The scriptures are plain on this matter. We do not submit, we do not falter in our faith. When the God-Species entrusted us as their most loyal creations we agreed to put aside all other pursuits in doing their bidding. This world is ours and ours alone, control cannot be handed over. I ask much of all of you, but trust your spirits are pure and brave.
    “We are the God-Species chosen. Against all we shall prevail.” The act was done. The Guider of Blades stepped forward and began addressing the people. The soldiers below broke formation and shook their arms in the equivalent of a cheer. The Guider started a speech on how the Cylean military was unmatched. The Shaper knew that the battles they had won were against small and primitive civilisations in comparison to what they may face. He made a final bow and exited the stage, assailed by a powerful feeling of nausea.

    Hundreds of millions of kilometres away the imperial fleet began to move. With their thrusters barely active it would take several hours to reach Cylea, but they would maintain surprise. The work completed, the thrusters on the asteroids activated and they eventually started following the fleet. Krayt’s devastating weapons would force the Cyleans to surrender, but whilst the asteroids had a great deal of gravitational energy, unlocking it required slowing their orbital momentum and this required time.
    Paan watched it all from the observation deck with his pupils, his senses tingling in anticipation. The tome he had stolen from Lopen years ago had detailed the designs of a great device built by the ancient Sith Empire. It had taken him some time to understand it completely, but now he knew exactly what The Maw was capable of.


~



    “Did you get anywhere with that panel?” Raziel asked Anora. She had agreed to eat lunch with him in the expansive hall The Maw’s inhabitants used as a mess. She had even broken down and taken part in some small talk before the meal. He sensed the conflict within her, somehow she felt she was making a great betrayal by interacting with him. She didn’t feel threatened, but certainly she was still weary of deception.
    “I’m certain it’s some form of control panel. The glyphs near some of the depressions would suggest some kind of instructions. Its completely unresponsive and none of the ‘levers’ will move.” She replied.
    “And you’ve still just found the one?” Raziel asked. He found his interest in the young Jedi was waning somewhat. The sense of doom was looming and once again he was finding his own thoughts and emotions repressed. Fear was there still and increasing by the hour, he was constantly suppressing an urge to run away from everything. From who, or what, he still had no idea.
    “Yes, I’m sure that the lay out of the console is designed to control a flow of something through the structure. The diagrams mimic the layout of the underground tunnels we sensed. This is defiantly some kind of power storage machine. If I had to make a judgement call now, I’d say this wasn’t the weapon we’re looking for.” Raziel appreciated her calm and logical reasoning, she had a bright and inquisitive mind and it was being wasted by the strict Jedi Order.
    “Maybe, but if the descriptions of spitting life out into the universe are a reflection of reality, perhaps it can launch its power reserves offensively.”
    “Perhaps,” she mused and finished her food.
    “I’m going back to the scriptures, why don’t you see if you can get anything out of them?” Raziel said. He pulled a datapad from his picket surreptitiously and passed it over after checking they weren't being watched. “Information on our two renegades for your people,” he explained.
    “You’re really going to hand over information on two of your own?” She asked, as she hid the device.
    “I wasn’t lying to you, no.” was all he would reply.


    The Cylean ships swarmed out to meet his small fleet. There was nothing in their navy more equivalently powerful than a CR90, but they had large numbers and were apparently quite talented pilots.
    “Target the lead ships, smash their spearhead and show them we mean business!” Krayt shouted out the orders. There was always some excitement as battle was joined and he never fully contained it. His men appreciated it. They found it infectious and worked with more enthusiasm. He looked around the bridge and surveyed his staff. He had confidence in his crew and ship. The Star Destroyer had survived countless battle, though having been recommissioned three times. The big ships always survived the longest, in various guises. The behemoths were costly to completely destroy so when they were rendered inoperable in battle they were normally ignored as weapons were retrained on active targets. At the end whichever side won would claim the repairable ships as the spoils of victory. The crew would either be rescued or if their side had lost: surrender or face being ejected into the vacuum of space.
    Krayt’s ship may have required hefty repairs on several occasions, but it had never suffered the indignity of falling into enemy hands. The sound of her weapon batteries sounded on the bridge and the darkness of space was suddenly awash with a blaze of light. The Captain turned to his console and watched as the Cylean ships were hit hard. He was all too aware of the Jedi Master strolling across the bridge towards him.
    They swarmed forwards still and aimed for his biggest vessels. The Cyleans were an isolated civilisation, and inexperienced in battle. A more astute force would have seen the asteroids for what they were and targeted them immediately before they were close enough to threaten the home world.
    “Signal the fleet to move in now,” Krayt said.
    “Aye,” Came the reply. Barely a second later the main Imperial force consisting of a battle group headed by two VSD's erupted back into realspace and assaulted the Cyleans.
    “Very good Captain,” Paan congratulated. “You will be highly commended for your victory today.”
    A few minutes later and the Cylean fleet had scattered and fled back to Cylea. Krayt moved his fleet closer to the planet, but kept well out of range of their planetary defences and orbital stations. He had the fire-power to overcome them eventually, but that wasn't his strategy.
    “Signal their command: 'This is Captain Krayt of the Imperial Navy. You will send a diplomat to negotiate your surrender.’”
    “There will be no surrender,” A holo-image of a The Shaper of Interactions came into life in front of the command chair. “The Military have their final orders and there can be no change. We will not give up our world.”
    “I must warn you the consequences will be dire. You cannot match us, surrender now or we will use extreme force.”
    “There will be no surrender,” The communication was cut off abruptly.
    “Well . . . “ Paan spoke up. “Time to launch the asteroids.”
    “No, we'll give them time to . . .” Krayt stopped talking as the Dark Jedi bore down on him. Paan placed his hands on the arms of his chairs and lent in close.
    “Launch the asteroids.” He warned for a final time. Krayt looked over the Jedi's shoulder and nodded to his subordinate.
    “They know they cannot fight,” Krayt said as Paan stepped away from him. He recalled the Cylean ambassador meeting with their own envoy a few weeks previously for the final time. The Dark Jedi Master had been present. “Did you manipulate him to make this decision?”
    "No Captain, I'm afraid what you're seeing here is the nature of life itself. I played no part in his decision, he is doing this purely so he can protect his own reputation. That's the way of things you see, the natural order; the strong look out for themselves and -" he paused poignantly as the first of the asteroids accelerated away from the fleet. "The weak perish if they cannot protect themselves." Paan smirked as he watched the first asteroid streak into the distance. Captain Krayt had to use some willpower to repress a look of disgust at the man's words. “I have things to attend to now, destroy the population centre around the artefact and then hold position. If they don't surrender, destroy them all.”


~



    “I see it now!” Raziel suddenly admitted. Anora jumped at his sudden outburst and stepped back from the wall.
    “What?” she asked.
    “The intention of the inscriber, it isn't in the words, it's in the stone itself.” he tried to explain. Suddenly he understood why Japheth had always scorned the use of datapads and holocrons in favour of hand written tomes. “When the inscriber put his words in the stone, he left just a trace of their meaning in the rock itself! I was paying too much attention to the words and not their physical nature.”
    “That makes no sense . . . does it?” she asked. She stepped further from the wall as he approached it. He closed his eyes and ran his hands over the glyphs on the wall. When he opened his eyes she recoiled from the look of horror etched on his face.
    “A million . . . a million . . . “ he whispered.
    “What?” she asked, snapping him back to reality.
    “This whole thing is built to contain the energy of tortured souls. The Maw itself will open and become active upon receiving the gift of a million souls.” He spoke hurried, but as he finished he looked up at the ceiling as if he had just noticed something.
    “A sacrifice? But . . . how? We must destroy it or dismantle it somehow,”
    “Don't you sense it?” he asked. For a moment he pondered his next words. There was an opportunity to rid himself of an enemy in Anora, he sensed her potential and she could be a real problem for The Order in the future. “We're too late, events are already under way. We have to get out of here, now!” he said, having made his decision. It probably wasn't the correct one, but he convinced himself he was doing it to turn the New Jedi Order against Paan and Spartacus and not out of any fondness for the young Jedi.
    She shook her head firmly, red locks flowing over her shoulders. Raziel grabbed her by the arm and pulled her after him forcibly . She resisted for a moment and then followed. He rushed to the entrance and bounded down the great stairs that led out of the compound.
    “Look!” he shouted. She followed his pointing arm into the sky. The triangular outlines of Imperial cruisers were visible in the dusk sky. A point of light was started to grow in the sky near the fleet.
    “What is that?”
    “Reach out with your senses.” he instructed and reached out through the Force, touching her mind and guiding her. She too now felt it, the sense of impending destruction, the plummeting rock and the feeling of death that was coming. She dropped to her knees as it overwhelmed her.
    “Your ship is across the city too?” he asked and she nodded. He looked around, they had precious few minutes left. He rushed forwards into the path of an oncoming car, the driver slowed to a halt. Raziel pulled out his flechette pistol and fired into the vehicle. Thousands of tiny shards filled the cabin, their poison dropping the Cylean onto his control console. He sensed Anora prepare a protest, but he wrenched the body out of the car and shouted at her to get in. The poison coating the flechette was rendered inert after just a few seconds in the atmosphere so could do no more harm.
    In a minute they were across the city and at the port. He rushed out of the vehicle towards the ships. He stopped for a moment to  look over his shoulder. From their vantage point the gigantic Maw was easily visible. He found himself unable to look away as it started to move. The giant fins that made up the mouth started to fold outwards as if it was opening. A faint glow turned into a bright emerald light that erupted from the centre of The Maw.
    “Either it senses the impending sacrifice, or it is being controlled by the people we seek,” Raziel said looking towards the Imperial ships in the sky. “Go to your people and tell them what happened here, we're no longer your biggest threat.”
    She nodded to him, paused for a moment and headed to her shuttle. He wondered if she had been considering thanking him. His ship was airborne in a moment. The consoles came to life in a cacophony of noise and light as its sensors picked up the threat. His ship exited the atmosphere at way beyond recommended velocity as a million billion joules of energy were released in the collision behind him. The impact with the half-kilometre long asteroid was more powerful than virtually any weapon in existence and the explosion would leave the climate of Cylea forever altered.
    He chose not to return to Lopen as he accelerated his ship out of the system. A squadron of Tie Fighters had moved to block his exit, but he had already picked up too much speed for them to intercept. He quickly composed an urgent message to Talon that he would drop off at the nearest hyperspace beacon; the Imperials had probably destroyed Cylea's. Whilst he knew that going back to Lopen to plot The Order's next move was the sensible option he knew his path went elsewhere. His trials were not yet up. He plotted a course for the nearest friendly refuelling station; the full burn to escape Cylea's gravity had drained his ship. He looked back over his shoulder to see ripples of fire spreading across its surface and felt the shock of so many lives extinguished through the Force. As the stars stretched out to infinity upon entering hyperspace he picked an appropriate set of credentials and started plotting the next course for Nar Shaddaa.


    Paan watched the two ships streak off in opposite directions from the observation tower, but carried on chanting. The runes around him glowed with an unnatural green light. A few moments later he got to his feet.
    “It would seem our 'problems' escaped. I have to finish the ritual on world, get after one of them!”
    “We could split up and . . .” Periadan started to offer.
    “No, go after the Dark Jedi, all of you. They know far more than the fledgling Yavin academy. Bring me back his head! It's time to send a message to them.” Periadan bowed low and led the other two out of the observation tower.


    The Grand Caretaker of Artefacts tried to pull himself along the floor. Its surface was coated in dust now, the same dust that hung in the air and choked his lungs. The bleeding from his legs had slowed now, but he still couldn't stand. Perhaps if he found a disciple or could get out of The Maw he could get help or at least find out what was happening. He had been filled with such wonder a short time ago. The Maw had come to life, the light had been so beautiful. Truly believing for perhaps the first time in his life that the God Species was returning he had called for his best vestments to be prepared.
    Then the fire in the sky had descended and the sound of the explosion had reverberated throughout the building. He had looked out at the city and seen it vanish under a great black wave. Everything turned to ash. Somehow The Maw still stood.
    He heard clear and loud footsteps behind him and rolled onto his back to look. He slammed his arm against the ground hoping to draw the attention of the disciple. He made out the shadow of the figure in the haze and felt relief as it turned towards him. That feeling vanished as he saw the red and black robed man emerge from the dust. The Caretaker tried to pull himself backwards, but the Jedi Master was upon him. One black boot fell upon his chest and pinned him down.
    The man looked about for a moment and then reached out with one hand. A translator flew to his grasp and he pushed it into The Grand Caretaker's hand.
    “Are you not happy to have witnessed the return of your Gods? It was my predecessors, though separated by millennia, who built this and only I had the wisdom to discern its true purpose.” Paan spoke through the breathing mask.
    “Infidel,”
    “No, it is the truth. If you cannot accept this before your end it would be a shame. Your soul will be united with your peoples as the Gods recall you to The Maw forever!”
    “What . . . what happened?”
    “Your Shaper of Interactions led your people to their demise. It will be over soon, even now your remaining warriors resist, but it is in vain. Those that do not die will enjoy a life of servitude.” He stopped for a moment and looked up, a vacant expression briefly crossed his face before returning his attention to the old Cylean. “Ah, I'm afraid I must go. Work to be done.”
    As the black boot was pushed down onto his skull The Caretaker could only feel disappointment that his old friend had failed to put his people above his own needs. There was a crack as the boot crushed the life out of him.
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Raziel
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Raziel
 
[VE-ARMY] Colonel
[VE-DJO] Dark Jedi Champion
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Post Number:  2284
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  RE: Reborn
October 5, 2012 2:09:03 PM    View the profile of Raziel 


Part b
    The unremarkable courier ship dropped out of hyperspace on the border of Nar Shaddaa space. With a minor course adjustment it moved into an approved approach vector and signalled its arrival to the spaceport authorities on approved channels. It was scanned autonomously by a controlling AI system; the information was saved with a low threat rating tag attached and filed under “low priority response” A standard welcome message was transmitter in the general direction of the craft. Several minutes later the file reached the top of a virtual queue and a disinterested and overworked employee of the docking corporation contacted the approaching vessel as per the instructions on his holo screen. Making a rudimentary check of the ships identification he cleared the vessel for docking and issued the company standard welcome message. This was done within the company’s targeted time-scale and the employee then moved onto the next waiting vessel in the virtual queue . . .
    These events were incredibly mundane. But to the three observing occupants of the corona class shuttle they were of great interest. The shuttle powered up its systems and began its own approach of the Nar Shaddaa system. Perdiadan grinned as they followed their prey. Today he would finally get to prove his worth to the Jedi Masters.


    “What's the deal?” Raziel asked as he reached the Imperial base of operations. An apartment block had been accosted by intel and Raziel found the interior filled with computer screens and agents. One of the agents turned to look at him and considered a reply for a moment.
    “You're the consultant?” he asked. He looked around and noticed that none of his colleagues were paying any attention to new arrival.
    “Yes, what's the situation? Why was I needed?”
    “Did you receive our briefing?” He asked. Raziel nodded. “We can't touch the seller, we think he has a sample of the weaponised virus on his person, but he's being closely guarded by Hutt authorities. He's always got two shadows and stays out in the open.”
    “When is the trade being made?”
    “We have no idea. Our Republic sources haven’t picked up on anything. They're keeping this one close to the chest but a Republic agent will make the trade soon.”
    “Just how bad is this thing?” Raziel asked. He had defied an instruction sent to his ship in coming here, so his work needed to be worthwhile. In grovelling to Talon later – if he survived what was to come – he would need a good excuse.
    “It's a completely new mutagen, best case it could damage the infrastructure on a whole world, worst case it could decimate the population of an entire system.”
    “Ok, where is the seller?” Raziel asked. He moved forwards to the bank of monitors and directly addressed the agent watching them. The young man turned in surprise and looked Raziel up and down before the Jedi mentally prompted him further.
    “This Rodian, here,” he said pointing to a figure on the screen.
    “That’s the south market district?” Raziel asked. He knew this region of Nar Shaddaa intimately from his youth.
    “Yes it's particularly busy so he's been spending time . . .”
    “Alright, keep out of the way, I'll be back soon.” He turned to leave the room. Several more of the agents appeared to have noticed him now and were looking at their superior in confusion.
    “Where are you going?”
    “To go and ask our Rodian friend to hand over the goods nicely.”


~



    Raziel felt a great sense of calm as he walked through the busy market square. He was dressed in simple local clothes; trousers, a loose tunic and a short leather jacket. As he walked through the busy crowd it parted before him. Everyone else bumped and pushed their way forwards, but for him everyone just calmly moved out of the way, paying him no heed. He felt calm because he knew he had accepted the fate that awaited him. To this day he had survived through careful planning and quick wits and he figured they would see him through anything. With a renewed determination and sense of confidence he stalked towards his target. His fate was in his hands now; if the Force was on his side nothing could stop him.
    With no pause he walked right up to the Rodian. The creature turned to face Raziel, finding himself isolated with the man in a gap in the crowd.
    “The virus, hand it over,” Raziel demanded plainly. The Rodian looked towards one of his guards on the side streets. Raziel felt the Rodian’s confidence melt away as he realised the guard was paying him no attention, in fact no one was.
    “The virus, please?” Raziel asked.
    “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” The Rodian trader lied.
    “If you’re not going to do as you’re told, I suggest you run now. If not, I’ll shoot you where you stand.” Raziel bluffed. His rail pistol was in his hand before the Rodian could make a move for his own. In reality there was no way Raziel could gun the creature down without drawing attention to himself. He needed the Rodian to flee. He needed to finish the trader off in a location of his choosing.
    Without missing a beat, the Rodian turned and skittered away, shoving a bystander into Raziel’s path. The assassin smiled and gave chase. The Rodian scrambled through the crowd, forcing his way to a side street that led away from the busy market. He rushed to the end of the street and launched himself forwards.
    Nar Shaddaa was a fully three dimensional world and many walk ways and streets were next to drops that went down many stories. It was only in the more exclusive regions that low power deflector shields as barriers to stop accidents.
    Raziel launched himself after his prey, rolling as he hit the ground several metres below. He raised his rail pistol and looked down the sights. Never having been a great shot, he allowed the Force to guide his aim and gently squeezed off a couple of shots. The magnetically accelerated rounds embedded loudly in the walls next to the fleeing trader. He ducked and changed direction. Again, Raziel gave chase.
    He followed the Rodian through an empty warehouse district. He often let the trader get out of his sights, tracking him purely through the Force. Occasionally coming at the trader from different directions and firing his pistols to keep herding him towards his goal.
    The Rodian tired long before Raziel, but he kept his distance. He needed a wide open expanse to finish his work and more importantly, somewhere quiet. At the top of a winding staircase the trader rushed out onto a wide platform. On the other side a narrow walkway led across a great expanse to the neighbouring tower. The faintest glimmer of safety shields was visible at the edges of the platform. Deciding the location was right, Raziel raised his flechette pistol and fired. This time his aim was true and the shards ripped through his target’s flesh. Raziel paused for a moment, swapping the canister of toxin on the weapon.
    He approached the prone form of his victim. Blood welled in numerous lacerations across his skin, but the Rodian was still breathing.
    “You will find yourself paralysed almost completely, but you can still talk.” Raziel squatted down beside the Rodian. He still held the pistol, but in a relaxed manner.
    “The virus - where is it?” Raziel started rummaging through the Rodian’s clothes.
    “You’re too late,” The trader gasped between rapid breaths. “It’s already been sold,” Raziel searched his mind and found the statement to be true. He had missed the trade by just a few hours.
    “You’re going to tell me everything. I want to know exactly where that canister has gone.” Raziel reached out through the Force and pushed the pathetic creature for answers - his time was limited now. The Rodian started gibbering out his final confession.


~



    The three men stepped out onto the platform, scarlet robes flowing around their legs. They walked out just a few metres before halting in place, waiting to see what would happen next.
    “I’ve been waiting for you,” Raziel shouted as he stood up and turned to face them. In a completely casual gesture he fired a round from his rail pistol into the Rodian, ending its existence.
    “Really?” Periadan spoke for the group, taking a few steps closer. In the dim lighting the scarlet robes shimmered, the material having an almost translucent effect. The delicate garments gave the Jedi an almost ethereal presence.
    “Of course, any Jedi with a hint of training could sense you three coming from the next system.”
    “And yet you wait to face us?” Periadan asked. He sneered with contempt, but inside his confidence was slightly shaken.
    “I wanted to see what exactly you were,” Raziel replied. Reaching out with his senses he scanned the three men. This was the real peril he had sensed in his future. They oozed with power; the Force coalesced about them frantically. It was unnatural, uncontrolled. “What exactly are you?”
    “We are the Reborn.” He replied. In one smooth motion he revealed his lightsaber. The handle was enormous, over two feet in length. The hilt was decorated in small runes and the engraving of a great serpent wrapped around the handle. The other two waited motionlessly behind their senior.
    “Somehow the three of you have been infused with dark side energy. You two,” he said pointing to the two subordinates. “Seem virtually untrained and yet radiate power, completely incapable of controlling it,” Raziel made no overt moves. His pistol had been unholstered and he kept his hands on show. He was hoping to delay the inevitable confrontation as long as possible. If he survived this he needed to know more to report the Talon.
    “Are you done with your observations?” Periadan asked.
    “Maybe, why don’t you tell me what The Maw is for?”
    “It doesn’t matter, you won’t survive to tell anyone. We will send your body back in bits to Lopen as a warning,”
    “I see. You’ve created a new energy source to empower more trainees!” Raziel exclaimed. “Millions of lives snuffed just out to create more abominations like yourselves.”
    Confusion crossed Periadan’s face, believing his mental barriers to be strong. Then he turned to look at the other two and realised his error. Neither would match his gaze as he looked at them accusingly.
    “As I said, what you know will never matter,” Periadan retorted.
    “You’ve been trained, I can tell. You could be capable of so much more than these,” Raziel said, waving at the others. “Your masters will neglect your training whilst they build an army of Jedi on Cylea. Yet you’re more worthy than any of them. Join us instead Periadan and . . .”
    “Stop! Stop your insinuations!” Periadan shouted. He concentrated harder on his mental barriers and - in a moment of wisdom - tried to shield the other two as well. “Your methods will get you nowhere, I’ve had enough of your games,” Periadan stated flatly.
    “Fair enough,” Raziel whispered to himself. His left hand moved close to his jacket pocket.

    It began with a blast of mental energy through the Force. Raziel winced as it hit him. Whatever method Pann had used, the three had access to a huge reservoir of power. His skill was too much for them though, it would take more than a brute force attack to get through his mental shields.
    Periadan activated his saber, the blade as over-sized as the hilt. With one arm he reached out for Raziel and lightening crackled about his palm. In one swift motion Raziel extracted and flung the screamer at him.
    Believing the small silver sphere to be a grenade of some kind, Periadan tried to push it away through the Force and inadvertently activated it. He screamed in agony as the device reacted to his action.
    Rushing forward to shield Periadan, the other two Reborn came forwards. Each activated a simple lightsaber with a scarlet blade. Probably fabricated by one of the Jedi Masters as the technique would be beyond them.
    Weighing up his options for a moment, Raziel activated both turquoise sabers and rushed to meet both Jedi. With a mirrored strike both blades lashed out in quick curved paths, forcing the Reborn to change footwork and opening a space between them. Raziel stepped forward into the gap and slashed forward at the closest with both blades, forcing him back. With a fraction of a second of space he turned his attention to the Reborn on his left - sensing he was the weakest. Raziel knew he had to have some effect before Periadan recovered his wits.
    He pressed forwards against this Jedi, both sabers working in unison to force the scarlet blade out wide. A flurry of strikes launched within a second had the Reborn hard pressed, but then the other returned. Raziel turned round and lunged forward with incredible speed. The strike knocked the more accomplished Jedi off balance and gained him another moment.
    The other came at Raziel with a powerful overhead strike, thinking Raziel vulnerable in a lunge position with his back turned. Without looking Raziel’s second blade whipped up over his head and blocked the strike. He turned, bringing the other saber around and again worked on the weaker Jedi’s defence.
    The Reborn Jedi then hit him with a powerful telekinetic blast, beyond anything Raziel had thought him capable of. He was flung across the platform before skidding to a halt. The two standing Reborn Jedi exchanged glances.

    Hit him more, Raziel easily picked up their mental communication. In equivalent terms the pair were screaming at each other through the Force.
    Try and surround him. He’s fast The other replied.
         Raziel stood to face them. He flipped his left saber around to a reverse hand grip and switched its phase. The blade halved in length and turned to a deep violet hue. Recalling the technique Talon had shown him back on Lopen he reached out with the Force. It was like stretching the Force thin, pulling it out and forming a barrier. It was draining to create and required intense concentration to hold, but there was no other option.
    As he rushed forwards they both launched powerful attacks through the Force. Both lacking in technique the blasts were inefficient, but the Reborn had both been empowered with such reserves of energy that they were still dangerous.
    The blasts dissipated as they crossed the barrier, but Raziel felt a great strain as they did. Deciding that a long protracted battle was certainly not going to work in his favour he decided to up the ante. Risking being caught he charged the nearest Reborn and launched himself into a flying kick.
He pulled the strike off, narrowly avoiding both red blades. As the more talented Reborn was knocked away Raziel used to blow to halt his own momentum. Twisting in mid air he brought his long blade down in a powerful blow aimed at his other opponent.
Startled by the speed of the move and with both comrades temporarily out of the action panic crept into the Reborn trainee’s thoughts. Raziel pressed forwards, deflecting with the shorter saber and putting the longer teal blade through an intricate routine that dazzled his opponent.
    Raziel chose to work his way inside the other man’s defences. His longer right blade whipping across his body to the left, pushing the scarlet blade high. He stepped forward and pivoted on one heel turning a full one-eighty. His long blade stayed locked with the Reborn’s saber, holding it high and Raziel brought his whole body forwards with his back now turned to his opponent.
    His left arm came around with the twist, now striking from the Reborn’s exposed left side. Raziel found himself too close for a killing strike but his elbow connected heavily with his opponents face, crushing his nose.
    The Reborn reeled away, trying to put some distance between them. It was a bad move. He should have stayed pressed against Raziel where he could not be struck by the lightsabers and attempted to wrestle the smaller man. With his vision blurred from the blow he didn’t even see the turquoise blade coming from his left as Raziel completed the spin to face his opponent once more.

    The saber dropped from his grip and the Reborn apprentice had just a moment of life left to bring one hand up and feel the precise cut across his neck. He dropped to his knees before crumpling to the floor in a heap.
    Raziel had never expected what happened next. As the apprentice’s life faded away the Force energy he had been empowered with escaped in an electrical blast. Blue lightening arced out from the body in all directions, the tendrils reaching out and lashing Raziel. He was thrown across the floor once again, his muscled involuntarily convulsing.

    “Very good, very clever” He heard a voice from behind him as he righted himself and reactivated his lightsabers. Wisps of smoke rose from his singed clothing. Periadan was on his feet once again and the remaining trainee stood at his side. “Time to die now,” he stated simply.
    Raziel sensed the build up of energy and again brought up a discontinuity in the Force to shield himself. He had witnessed Force lightening before, but Talon’s strikes were direct and accurate. Periadan launched a wave of electrical energy that was only negligibly focused in Raziel’s direction. The arcs that reached his barrier faded out as they crossed, but he was still subject to a mild electrical shock. Holding the barrier was too taxing for the strategy to be effective. Raziel held some hope that however they had been empowered, they would eventually discharge all that energy and become vulnerable once more. It was a slim hope, every strike he deflected with the barrier tired him more than the Reborn and his stamina was already waning.
    As the two Reborn slowly approached him he reflected that killing just one apprentice whilst Periadan was immobilised had perhaps not been enough. He sensed little chance of victory now. His peril was truly upon him. His knuckles whitened, his grip tightening on his sabers and he steeled his resolve. His mind raced, considering strategies, counter attacks and routines, but at the same time he opened himself to the Force accepting its wisdom.
    He returned both blades to long phase, but kept the left in a reverse hand grip. Bringing that blade across his front, parallel to the ground, whilst his right went up behind his head ready to strike. Periadan approached him directly from the front, the other moving to attack Raziel from the side. He would have to try and keep them far apart or on one side of him, if they surrounded him the duel would be over.
    His senses working on overdrive as the adrenaline coursed through his veins, Raziel predicted the next move well in advance. He had dived into the roll before Periadan’s lightening blast had even begun.
    The blast arced over his head as he rolled. Raziel came to his feet upon the other Reborn apprentice. His left blade slashed high and in the same move Raziel’s right arm whipped back around his body and came at the Reborn from below. The apprentice back pedalled rapidly, unable to deflect both strikes.
    Raziel turned quickly, switching both sabers back to a standard grip. Crossing both blades in front of him he caught the powerful blow coming from Periadan. The six foot long blade came to a halt over Raziel’s head, but the power of the impact reverberated up his arms, straining his joints. The three sabers crackled against each other, but Raziel had to move again as the other apprentice rushed at him.
    Raziel stepped to the left and pushed Periadan’s long scarlet blade out to the right, blocking the other Reborn’s approach. He rushed away throwing up another barrier as his opponents tried to pull him back with the Force.
    Raziel turned and rushed back in, a myriad of blows testing both Reborn at the same time. Keeping on the offensive he found that Periadan’s great saber was ineffective in defence. It didn’t take long for the pair to gain the upper hand again. The junior Reborn managed to turn one of his strikes and pushed the turquoise blade dangerously low. Periadan pushed forward, reigning down a pair of powerful blows. The Headmaster was barely able to parry both, choosing to deflect the strikes rather than risking a full block.
    Raziel darted away, Periadan flinging another opportunistic lightening blast. This time Raziel turned and crossed both Sabers, the blades absorbing the blue arcs.

    The battle carried on for a few more minutes like this, Raziel expending lots of energy with quick footwork and Force barriers. The Reborn pair worked in concert, both maintaining patience after the loss of their comrade. They moved slowly and presented no openings for their rapid opponent to exploit, slowly forcing him back towards the edge of the platform. Rather than allowing Raziel to test his defences further Periadan used his huge blade in wide sweeping strikes. He kept the experienced duellist at bay and Raziel was unable to utilise one of his many elaborate routines.
    Still, he had the presence of mind to manipulate proceedings such that he kept the walkway to his rear. As they tried to surround him once more he flung a double strike at the apprentice that forced him to retreat. Periadan took advantage and put all his weight into a powerful diagonal slash. Raziel took a great risk in attempting to dodge the blow. He ducked and twisted his body, narrowly avoiding the blade that sizzled just past his ear. With Periadan off balance Raziel managed to bring one blade around and flung a desperate slash. His blade grazed across Periadan’s arm, burning the skin all down his right arm.
    Rather than pressing the opportunity Raziel fell back to the walkway, the enraged Periadan chasing. Raziel turned as he stepped over the body of the fallen Rodian and made a stand. The body formed a minor obstacle and on the narrow walkway only one of the Reborn could face him. Seeing the move for what it was Periadan cautiously approached, the apprentice close behind.
    Carefully stepping across the corpse he recommenced the duel with a short stab, which Raziel deflected with one blade. Periadan soon found himself pressed. On the narrow walkway and with the shields on both sides he didn’t have the room to use his great saber effectively and found himself desperately defending.
    Then they turned the battle once more and removed the advantage. Periadan brought his saber down in a powerful overhead strike. With no room the manoeuvre Raziel was forced to use a double block again. With The Headmaster pinned in place the other Reborn took a run up and used the Force to launch himself high over the combatant’s heads, landing on the walkway behind Raziel.

    His slim chance of steering events towards a victory had all but vanished. The walkway was remarkably narrow and with the fields that kept users from falling there was virtually no room to manoeuvre. With the apprentice now on one side of him and the master on the other there was no escape for Raziel. Periadan took a few steps closer, he shifted his grip on his long saber handle and raised it high.
    “Your death will send a message to the old order. The message that your time is up and the galaxy belongs to us now. The first of the Reborn Order's triumphs!” Periadan spoke the words through a widening grin. Raziel fixed him with a stare and sensed the apprentice encroach further on him from behind.
    He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of the victory, nor would his body be used to send any kind of message back to Lopen. They had attacked him on his own world, Nar Shaddaa, and he wasn't in the mood to let them have their way. Periadan shifted his grip on his two foot long saber hilt once again, preparing for one decisive blow. Raziel could sense the thoughts seeping from the powerful, but hastily trained Reborn Jedi. They anticipated that Periadan would strike the killing blow, or Raziel would parry and be finished by the apprentice. He keenly felt their exuberance in anticipation of the kill, the first victory of many to come and he couldn't hold back his own smirk. Periadan paused momentarily at the expression before launching himself forwards.           
    In one smooth motion Raziel cut through the generators of the walkway's minor shields with one saber and rolled off the walkway. His body quickly picked up momentum as it plummeted toward the floor many miles below.


~



    He rolled in the air as he plummeted. First holstering his sabers and then discarding his jacket which fluttered into the air above him. On either side the windows of the tower buildings flickered past at increasing speed. For a fraction of a second he hoped his opponents would be deceived, but they leapt after him. Foolishly they kept their scarlet robes on as they fell through the air after him, the fluttering garments adding hugely to their drag. With his jacket removed Raziel reached out and streamlined his whole body, putting more distance between them. Raziel knew the fall was several kilometres, but that would take just a minute.
    He rolled in the air once again, now falling feet first. His pistols were now in his hands. With around a hundred metres between them Raziel opened fire. A cloud of flechette rushed up to meet the oncoming Jedi from one hand and blaster bolts from his other. Each of the Reborn Jedi extended a telekenetic field forwards, pushing the metal shards aside. The apprentice worked his saber back and forth deflecting the blaster bolts aimed his way.
    As they fell deeper and deeper into the depths of Nar Shaddaa Raziel kept his fingers on the triggers. Too late Periadan sensed his comrade’s concentration falter. His telekinetic barrier collapsed as he worked too hard to deflect the blast bolts. The cloud of poisoned flechette shards ripped through his body, the neurotoxin killing him in a fraction of a second. His ammunition spent, Raziel discarded his pistols and assumed a more streamlined position again. The red form of Periadan streaking after him.
    The repulsor field hit him hard. The imperceptible field slowing his velocity to almost nothing in just a few seconds. The safety field was designed to save lives, not necessary to be comfortable.

    Raziel hit the ground rolling, both sabers in his hands and blades snapping into life. The bulky and less agile of Periadan hit the ground just a few moments behind him. The Reborn Jedi stood and held his ground, lightsaber held before him.
    Only twenty metres separated them, but it may as well have been inches as they both starred across the gap. They held each other’s gaze until a saber hilt clattered to the ground, its owner’s lifeless body landed a second later.
    “Two down, just the one to go,” Raziel taunted. His confidence little more than an act. He was spent, his stamina drained and his ideas exhausted. If Periadan had exhausted a fraction of his power reserves Raziel couldn’t detect the change.
    “They never mattered,” Periadan shouted. “They were expendable, we will create more,”
    “My offer still stands,” Raziel tested. “You don’t deserve to be in such company. Pann trained you well, but you will be neglected in favour of more of . . . these,” he said, gesturing to the body with one saber.
    “Master Paan will care. When I return with every piece of you in a separate bag he will see how useful I am. The Reborn Jedi Order will need me! I will lead an army in red against your failing, crumbling Order. You will be the first to fall, but my blade will strike again and again!”
    “We’ll see,” Raziel muttered to himself and raced across the gap. Periadan prepared to launch another bolt of energy, but Raziel flicked one saber to dagger phase and launched it across the gap.
    Periadan deflected the blade before swinging at his approaching enemy. Raziel rolled under the blow coming up on the other side and catching his second saber. The incredible display of agility gave Periadan reason to pause. Raziel turned and threw everything he had at Periadan, switching styles and blade lengths to try and throw off the Reborn Jedi. He pushed Periadan back, whose bulky saber struggled to keep up.
    Switching both blades to short phase Raziel jumped at his larger opponent. He bypassed the scarlet blade and stabbed at his body. The strike was true. Periadan managed to slam his shoulder into Raziel and sent the small man sprawling.
   
    Raziel was back to his feet in an instant and watched as Periadan stumbled away. The Reborn grunted and then straightened. Raziel’s last throw of the dice had not paid off. Periadan turned back to face Raziel, the violet blade having sliced through his robes, but had barely burned the skin.
    He reached out and launched a wave of telekinetic blasts at Raziel. His barrier held for a moment and then collapsed. Raziel was thrown through the air and then slammed into the ground. He lost his grip on one saber and it was torn away from him.
    “I will admit, you have been a worthy opponent.” Periadan taunted as he pressed down on Raziel’s prone form with wave upon wave of force. “I have learnt greatly from your substantial skills, but in the end it was always going to end this way,”
    Raziel grimaced in pain as the air was forced from his lungs. It was all over now, he could feel that Periadan’s power was slowly waning now, but it was nothing compared to his own exhaustion.
    “I see,” Periadan stated, a smile spreading across his face. “You even knew this was coming and you stood your ground and faced your death. Commendable!”
    “Pain!” Raziel grunted. The waves of energy holding him down stopped as the Reborn reeled in agony for just a moment. Raziel slowly picked himself up and reactivated his saber.
    “For your bravery, perhaps dying on your feet would be apt!” Periadan exclaimed, recovering quickly from the simple illusion. He brought his saber high as he faced off against his opponent.
    A few slow steps forward and Raziel exploded into motion, rushing the Reborn Jedi who screamed a great battle cry. Periadan feinted a strike and whipped his saber around, slashing from the side. Raziel parried the blow, barely keeping his grasp on the remaining saber and countered. Periadan blocked and attacked once more. As Raziel slowed his powerful strikes became more dangerous and the Headmaster slowly stepped back away from the strikes.
    With one smooth motion Periadan forced Raziel’s saber out wide and instead of using the opening to attack the body struck the blade again. Raziel’s saber was launched from his grasp, the turquoise blade spinning across the floor. He lost balance as he tried to back pedal and tripped. The end was here - he had lost.
   
    Periadan shouted in exuberance as he raised his saber high above his head. As his opponent fell he brought the blade down to finish the battle. An instant later he realised the strike had not gone as expected. The change of direction had been so fast it hadn’t even registered. All he knew was that a moment ago he had been administering the finishing blow and now his saber was rolling away on the floor ahead of him.
    The assassin was right up against his body, almost hugging him. It took a moment more for the pain to hit him. Raziel stepped back and Periadan looked down to see the knife embedded in his chest. On his scarlet robes the spreading blood appeared as nothing more than a wet stain. Piecing events together he realised the trip had been nothing more than a ruse.
    “The simplest of tricks . . . “ he gasped. “You lost, but you defeated me . . . with the simplest of tricks,” he brought one hand up to his eyes. Staring at the dark, slick blood between his fingers. He watched it drip down his hands and wrists as he collapsed and died.






~







Epilogue: Two Months Later
    Raziel walked through the halls of the citadel. On his left his Kanalgor kept pace a few strides behind and on the other side Talon walked beside him.
    “It had to be done, that virus could have killed billions,”
    “I know,” was all Talon replied.
    “I should have returned as instructed, but I felt I had to act,”
    “I know” he reiterated. They carried on walking, heading towards the training halls. The two council members clad in their official black robes.
    “What is to be done?” Raziel eventually ventured, fearing reprisal for being away from the order for so long on his own accord.
    “Done?” Talon asked, raising an eyebrow. “What is to be done is that you will continue training the new recruits. Look.” Talon said, passing him a datapad.
    “What is this?”
    “This is an image captured by a recon ship that passed Cylea a few days back,” Talon said. The image was blurred, but Raziel realised he was looking at The Maw from above. The structure itself still glowed with an eerie green light and on the ground in front of it was a sea of red.
    “There must be . . . a hundred of them?” Raziel asked.
    “Not quite, but close.” Talon replied. “You should have been here to make preparations earlier. Your failings . . .”
    “I killed three of them.” Raziel stated angrily. “Along with stopping a biological weapon en route to . . .”
    “Yes, yes” Talon tried to interrupt. Raziel stopped and turned to face the Grand Master. Sensing the tension the Kanalgor hissed quietly.
    “They wanted my death to be a message to us you know? By personally killing Paan’s apprentice and the other two I must have at least set their plans back,” Raziel ranted, having lost patience. “You have constantly chastised me for my failings and yet I revealed their plans and killed the first of them single handed. Simple tricks? Too fast and too clever for them to touch me for all their power!” he paused as his sensibilities caught up to him. He could well have just crossed a line. Instead the Grand Master just laughed.
    “Do you think you would have stood your ground on Nar Shaddaa if you felt you had nothing to prove?” he asked. “Ever since joining us I have been impressed with your speed, skill and wits. They make you dangerous and it’s also why I appointed you as the headmaster in spite of your weaknesses. If I chastise you it’s because you need to realise what you’re capable of on your own, not to be told.” Raziel bowed his head low at the Grand Master’s words, feeling thoroughly foolish.
    “We’re going to need you now more than ever,” Talon continued. “Paan and Spartacus are going to churn these abominations out! What we need are Jedi who can think. We need to be able to out manoeuvre and out fight them. You’ve proved yourself that anyone can be undone by the simplest of tricks if they don’t see it coming.”
    “As you wish,” Raziel replied. A renewed sense of purpose was growing within him now. Talon had manipulated him in part, that was true. The Grand Master had been honest though and he appreciated it. There were challenges to be faced and he would rise to them, but because he wanted to. Nothing controlled his destiny except for himself and he would prove to himself just what he was capable of. For now the next generation of the Order’s warriors needed training, a responsibility he would now throw himself at. The pieces were on the board now; their many enemies lined up against them. It was time to take the offensive and Raziel would make sure that they didn’t see the next move coming.
   
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