The rain fell from a dark sky onto the Scarlet Cage’s rooftops. The time crawled past midnight and the sound of sirens echoed in the distance as they approached. Overhead, a small holonews drone sped by.
The Elysium floated through the darkness, banking to land where Slave 1 attempted to land before; rain pouring from its edges like waterfalls.
The crew found their center; collecting their gear and Vextan’s lightsaber. Yeela and more unfinished business was still downstairs. They took cover from the rain and made their way down.
Rubble lined the edges of a stairwell blackened by the thermal detonator. They were wet and slippery not as a result of the rain, but because of the sprinklers that were functioning again to clear the fires. As their footsteps crunched, they heard a heavy accented voice belt through the doorway.
“Don’t take another motherfucking step. Weapons down and hands up when you walk through or I kill the Hutt. Do you understand?” Shouted a woman.
Yeela exclaimed in Huttese. Cassidus understood that he’s called the woman hysterical. She tells him to shut up in Huttese as well.
One by one, they made their way in slowly; Sy, Vai, and Revain. Only Sy recognized the woman. She was the same one from the night before at the hotel. The one he met again tonight. Except she looked different. After removing her wig, she was a Zabrak with minimal hair. She told Sy it was nothing personal.
They tried to keep her calm as Cassidus and Vince made their way into the room. As she pressed a blaster pistol to the Hutt’s head, she explained she was there to collect a bounty from Yrrgla – a rival Hutt on Nar Shaddaa.
Her nerves peaked when the Wookiee she just watched destroy the former champion walked in the room. It was a cacophony of monetary offers to kill and protect. The Shadow Cabinet decided the Hutt’s offer was sufficient. Yeela offered credits and influence in this sector of the planet. The crew fired upon the bounty hunter.
Sy’s first shot unfortunately landed on the Hutt’s belly, but the next knocked her back. They advanced on her and she could only slip on wet floors toward the elevator. As she ran inside, she looked back, frantically tapping the button to close the door. Cassidus stepped into view with a cold swagger.
He shot her between the eyes. She fell backwards and slowly slid down the wall as the doors finally closed.
After stabilizing the Hutt and finalizing their deal, the crew collected all of the data left behind in the suite by the Acolytes of the Beyond; datapads full of manifests, financial information, names, and locations. They rushed back up to the Elysium with Kyle as the sirens became louder and made their way into Nar Shaddaa space.
On their way out of the system, Vai received a holo-message from Ninzun, his fellow Duros from the planet below. Ninzun was overjoyed to see someone from his home and shared what he thought would cheer up a homesick compatriot; a copy of a Duros newsletter. Its cover was an immediate shock as it advertised an article on refugee life on the New Republic homeworld of Chandrila. The cover displayed a picture of Vai’s wife and child.
As they cleared into open space, the Empire hailed the ship, detecting its drastic change of position. Cassidus updated them on the successful termination of the second clone and handed over the information they had gathered, including manifests that reflected several weapons shipments to specific coordinates. According to the ship’s systems and the Empire’s, nothing was there.
They were to rendezvous with the Vigilance in 48 hours at the nearest system to the coordinates. Admiral Rae Sloane congratulated the team and called them heroes of the Empire before they adjourned.
Meanwhile, Kyle, Vai, and Revain were jerry-rigging the head of Yeela’s droid into the ship’s main terminal. 8t88’s head was old tech, but they were stumbling their way through. Flexing their technical muscles, they managed to get it interfaced, powered on, and displaying. Kyle finally slid the disk into the droid’s slot.
A bright swarm of data exploded into view. Pages and pages of words absolutely sped by as they loaded. All of it, Cassidus recognized, was in High Galactic. When it finished loading, he had the opportunity to read its main header: Library of the Jedi Temple of Coruscant
They poked around and discussed their findings. With Cassidus reading over their shoulders, the interface was intuitive enough to reveal a search function. Kyle and Vai made eye contact as they realized something at the same time.
Kyle punched in the coordinates and an article flew into view:
Ruusan was the site of seven battles between the Sith’s Brotherhood of Darkness and the Jedi’s Army of Light. During the last battle of Ruusan between the Jedi under Lord Hoth, and the Sith under Lord Skere Kaan, much of the planet’s surface, including vegetation and several cities, were destroyed.
This final battle of the New Sith Wars, hundreds of years ago, was at a site now called The Valley of the Jedi. There, Lord Kaan’s thought-bomb trapped the souls of over one-hundred Jedi and Sith.
The Valley of the Jedi became a concentrated area of Force energy called a Force nexus, and is believed to be the most powerful Force nexus in the entire galaxy.
Kyle and Vince could both feel the power from the text and the information they found. They both knew…they had to go there.
The crew healed and rested as they made the jump to the rendezvous point with the Vigilance. Vai and Vince worked on a new lighsaber design; combining Vince’s recovered sabers into an elegant double-bladed and detachable weapon. Vince could feel its strength and his connection to the Force intensified.
As they popped in to the very dead system, Revain detected an anomaly. A Corellian Corvette floating lifeless. Vincenzo immediately felt its pull. The holocron reacted as well, warming to the touch. He could hear it speaking to him. Whispering in a strained, crackling voice. It cut in and out.
“…true Emperor…embrace…anger…my side…complete…false Sith…” it whispered, trying to influence and tempt the Jedi. Vince resisted, feeling the Force course through his form. The holocron subsided.
The team agreed to investigate since it would be hours before the Vigilance arrived. Revain pulled in and docked with the derelict ship. They suited up and made their way to the airlock. As it opened, it revealed a dark hallway ahead of M4-R1 and Revain. The scout flipped on his suit’s headlamp and a disfigured, humanoid creature shone into view. Its roar echoed through the hall and their comms. Two other roars followed.
The strong creatures bit and slashed at the crew as they rushed in. Blaster fire filled the hallway between the Corvette’s two airlocks. Grifflar took one on hand-to-hand and was the first and only crew member to be bit. He immediately fell ill and backed off for medical attention. Cassidus and M4-R1 brought him to the med-bay and tried to understand what was happening. The doctor had to dig deep into his knowledge of medical history, but it all came together: this was the Rakghoul plague.
The rest of the crew cleared the hall and Vai made his way past the malfunctioning engineering bay door to a terminal within. There, he restored power to the systems, including the door leading into the next area. Now that systems were up, he was able to observe the hangar cameras that lay on the other side. There were more Rakghouls.
So, he decided to disable the gravity control.
M4-R1 and Cassidus stabilized the Wookiee and began processing his blood sample. Grifflar rushed back in as they opened the door to the hangar. It housed huge metallic crates; similar to one they had seen in the hall that was full of explosives. Between the crates, the creatures began to float.
The fight was chaotic. Some took to the air and others fired at their raising targets. A couple of the Rakghouls propelled off of the walls and ceiling, but were dead before they reached their targets. Grifflar tossed one up with such force that its head splattered on impact. Another Rakghoul was thrown at another. Two others were pinned to a wall. One was carved by Vince’s lightsaber. They cleared the room and safely restored the simulated gravity.
Cassidus and Marie completed their processing and put together what resembled a vaccine. The Wookiee made his way back and heard the news along the way: something just jumped out of hyperspace…and it wasn’t the Vigilance. It was two other ships.
They administered the vaccine as the team attempted to push forward on the Corvette. Vai detected that the cockpit was inhabited; someone was still there. Vince pushed aside the crates blocking the doorway and opened the door. Sy slipped in and cleared the room. He found a body of a young man, maybe 16. His head was cut clean off and immediately cauterized. The body was no more than a day old. And from what he had seen since this all started…that was definitely the work of a lightsaber.
Revain made his way to support the Elysium and passed Grifflar as he returned to the Corvette. He found Vai working on the door into the cockpit. He knew it wasn’t going well when the door panel groaned an error. They were locked out unless they could find a card.
The body didn’t house one, so Vai stepped into the Captain’s Quarters. He searched every nook, but his search was fruitless until he tapped a key on the personal terminal upon the desk.
A bulky figure glowed blue and flashing on the display. With a white beard and bald head, he pleaded his message and stared at seemingly nothing in particular. He shifted to look back behind him every few words. The message started in the middle:
“My wife, my daughter, my son. Our crew. They are dead or worse now. Only a door stands between me and those…men. Those monsters! If you receive this, do not come to the Vespira’s aid. Destroy it! And give my family peace. I repeat, this is Captain Loran of the New Republic Ship, Vespira. Please…” the message cut off.
The projection brightened as he became illuminated. He cowered and screamed for mercy as a black-cloaked figure stepped toward him with calm. Behind him was another dark silhouette, thin and armored.
The cloaked figure reached out with something shining in its hand. It was connected by a chain to its neck beneath the cloak. It glowed and Captain Loran began to convulse; his bones cracking with his violent, unnatural spasms. He began to transform into a Rakghoul.
As the captain gurgled through his struggle, the cloaked man spoke to his counterpart:
“Stay here and wait for them. It may be days, but the Force tells me they will come.”
“I feel it as well, Master.” The modulated voice beneath the mask responded.
“Bring me the Jedi, my apprentice. This is your trial.”
“Yes, Master. I will not fail as the others did.”
As if they noticed Vai, the men turned to look upon where Loran was speaking before. One pulled back his cloak to reveal his face. He slightly raised a hand and the feed froze on the final frame. That was Vextan Karr’s face, but the man in armor was like nothing they had seen before.
The crew watched and listened through their comms. They felt they knew what to expect. Vex’s apprentice was here and in that cockpit area.
Out in space, two ships made their way toward the Elysium. Cassidus and Revain hailed them and warned them. The Elysium was on official Imperial business. They received no response. Revain intercepted their communications and found they were speaking to someone on the Vespira. Whoever these guys were, they were here for him.
Back on the Vespira, Vince tried the unthinkable…he knocked on the door to the cockpit. In just seconds, the doors flew open, revealing the armored man from the footage.
In his synthetically deep voice he said, “I’ve been waiting, Jedi,” and activated his crackling red lightsaber.
Surely, he didn’t expect what was on the other side. Grifflar, Vince, and Vai rushed in as Sy pressed his back to the door’s edge and fired within. The dark Jedi took a slice, a heavy shot, and was thrown to the ground. He could only cry out in pain what sounded like a name: “KIRRAK!”
A giant knobby white spider crawled out from around the corner. It tried to poison the Wookiee, but could only reach with its claws to slice him. Vai slid by, taking a slice himself, but getting to the Vespira’s controls. He prepped the ship against whoever was approaching from space.
Cassidus thought fast and forwarded their comm footage through Revain’s controls and to the approaching ships. High definition footage displayed the crew’s brutal and effective attack on the Sith. One of the approaching ship’s banked on an escape course in fear. The other continued and ignored Cassidus’s threat.
“You will be slaves to Darth Vex,” the unknown pilot yelled.
Cassidus bared his teeth. “Come get some.”
Revain undocked and flew toward the oncoming ship. As it came around an asteroid, he fired on it and made exceptional contact. Its shields came down and the ship seemed to change course. It returned fire, but not on the Elysium…but on the Vespira.
The unknown pilot shouted into the open comms again, “You’ve failed Gildron! It’s over! We’re getting out of here!”
His shots missed and Vai fired back from the Corvette’s turbolasers. His direct hit was all it took to blast the ship into dust, rocking the Elysium that flew nearby.
Vince finished off the spider and Grifflar went 3 for 3 on his Sith-killing spree. The Elysium docked again with the Vespira and the crew tried to come down from the adrenaline.
Moments later, two Imperial Star Destroyers boomed into view from hyperspace followed by a hail from Admiral Sloane. She welcomed them onto the Vigilance and introduced her counterpart capital ship, the Chimera.
The Vespira proved its damage made it more difficult to land in the bay as Vai overshot and scraped the landing. Revain brought the Elysium in comfortably. The crew stepped out from both ships and were escorted out of the hangar by stormtroopers and into a conference room with the Admiral herself.
They exchanged information. Rae informed the team of the reconnaissance mission they completed on their way to the rendezvous point. A recon droid ship discovered a small fleet of ships surrounding an unknown planet at the coordinates the team had provided. And some sort of very strong power source that was most certainly not Imperial technology.
She had some other news as well…she was no longer going to the run the operation as Grand Admiral. The Empire had made contact with another imperial remnant that was scattered to the Unknown Regions.
She pressed a communication button on the tablet and said, “Send him in.”
The doorway whooshed open for a tall, thin figure. A man stepped in, his hands folded behind his back. He wore a pristine white Grand Admiral’s uniform with gold accents. His badge on his chest displayed his accolades. The blue of his skin and red of his eyes became apparent as he stepped into the light.
“Good day, gentlemen,” he said in a cool, calm voice.
The crew were all shocked to recognize Grand Admiral Thrawn. Revain and Sy had only heard stories about the legendary Imperial officer who had gone missing since a conflict on Lothal. The others had even heard of his exploits across the galaxy.
“I thought you were missing…” Revain said.
“We are lost no longer, Scout.” Thrawn responded with a hand on his shoulder.
He explained that an assault on the unknown system was to be prioritized by the Imperial Remnant. If there is a chance that the final clone of the Emperor was operating from the planet, he had to be taken out. And whatever this army of cultists was trying to inflict upon the galaxy had to be stopped. As a result, he was enacting emergency field commissions for the crew, restoring some of them to their previous ranks and others to Cadets.
Thrawn regretfully explained that this would not be a joint effort with the New Republic. Chancellor Mon Mothma has continued her demilitarization of the Republic and refuses to enter a conflict alongside the former Empire. Despite that however, the crew would have a representative join them unofficially.
He pressed another button on the desk to project the bust of a man. He was in a small cockpit and had a clean, strong jaw and medium-length dirty-blond hair.
Thrawn introduced him. “The General will be joining us on our mission. It seems your dealings with dark Force users has piqued his interest.” He shifted to speak to the projection. “General Skywalker, can we prepare anything for you?”
“No need,” Skywalker responded. “I’ll be there in about another day. And please…it’s just Luke. I’m not here on Republic business.”
“Understood,” Thrawn said. “We shall see you then.”
He closed the communication channel and looked upon the crew.
“As for all of you…I suggest you get some rest.”