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Author Topic: Independence Now, Independence Forever: The Reydovan Secession Crisis  (Read 1115 times)

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Offline Joshmaul

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Darth Insomnius stood on the balcony of Whitesoul Spire, gazing over the assembled crowd numbering in the tens of thousands. She wore her finest robes of dark gray and blood red, and had donned her gold-trimmed veil. Holocam drones flittered around the balcony, transmitting her image to the entire planet, and from there to the entire sector...and beyond. Standing beside and slightly behind her was a thinly-built Sith Pureblood in an ornate robe of black and crimson.

"We have come to a crossroads," she said without preamble. "The Eternal Empire has begun to falter with the recent victory by the Outlander's Alliance at the Battle of Odessen. The mad tyrant Arcann is toppled." With that, the crowd began to cheer. She let it go on for a moment before raising her hands for silence. "Yet the news from Zakuul has indicated that a far greater threat has assumed the Eternal Throne, in the form of Arcann's psychotic younger sister, High Justice Vaylin. From what we have heard of her, she is even less inclined to restraint than Arcann, and will not be so inclined to sit idly and allow this Alliance to continue to challenge her."

The Miraluka paused to let that sink in. "There are many within both the Republic and the Empire who are content to disregard the commands of their apathetic leaders on Coruscant and Dromund Kaas, and have left to join the Alliance, who have proven to be the only successfully organized resistance movement against the Eternal Empire. The Empress is content to sit idly on her throne and revel in her self-declared power, while the Republic's Chancellor Madon only responds to commands from his puppet mistress Saresh. All the while, we here on Reydovan Prime are made to suffer. Our sector defense fleet taken from us. The bureaucrats in the War Ministry demanding that we also give up the soldiers needed for our defense, to be assimilated into the greater Imperial Military - and then forced to sit and watch as the galaxy tears itself apart. One would think that this would be an opportunity to formally declare ourselves for the Alliance."

Another pause, then a shake of her head. "I say no. The Alliance is a good idea from a diplomat's point of view, yes, but as a Sith, and as loyal citizens of an Empire that no longer exists, we will not allow ourselves to be subsumed by an organization tainted with Jedi ideals. I speak of such things from experience, for - as I am sure many of you know - I was once a Jedi myself, until I was shown how to break my chains, and gained my freedom." She indicated the man standing behind him. "This was once an acolyte of the late Darth Verulam - his head is the bald one there." She pointed into the plaza, where four heads were mounted at the corners of the central square. "Darth Verulam believed that the Empire was temporary, and that it would inevitably fail. He looked to the Order of Revan for deliverance, believing that the path of Revan would be a more palatable choice than the path of a failing Empire with an absentee Emperor. For that, all Sith, including the one standing behind me, turned on him, and he met his end in the cleansing of Nikaea."

The Pureblood did not so much as blink or move a muscle in his face as Insomnius spoke. He simply stared at her, listening.

"At the time, we declared him a traitor, a faithless coward. Yet look at what had occurred since. Darth Verulam's beliefs have all been vindicated! The Emperor has revealed himself as the architect of our galaxy's demise, and both of the empires he has created are tainted by his hunger. The Empire of the Sith is doomed to fail, and the Empire of Zakuul will soon follow suit. And we are being pulled into the maw of death right along with them." Insomnius' mouth - the only part of her face still visible - contorted into an enraged snarl as she shouted, "WILL WE ALLOW IT?!"

A resounding negative roared from the crowd.

"NO! We will not shackle ourselves to what is clearly destined to fail! We will find others who have rejected mutually-assured destruction! From this day henceforth, we are no longer slaves of the Sith Empire - we are free!" She raised her hands in a beseeching gesture. "Claim our freedom with me - together!"

The roar threatened to shake the transparisteel windows out of their frames. Satisfied, Insomnius turned to the Pureblood. "As we discussed," she said simply. He bowed his head, and departed.


----

Shadowgarde Palace, Nar Shaddaa
Two days later


"She is more ambitious than I realized. She did not take kindly to my withholding the RSDF...but this was a move I did not expect."

Darth Malagant sat back in his throne as the recording faded. Standing before him were four of Insomnius' most trusted advisors, now having forsaken her due to the announcement Malagant had just watched. They were General Arik Daltyn, commander of the Imperial Reydovan Defense Force; Malagant's former apprentice, Lord Lazhna Dai'lo, the Minister of Planetary Security and Defense; Commander Menrim Tekan, successor to Varan as head of the IRDF's Special Forces Division; and lastly, Darth Metheius, who had offered aid after the destruction of the Star Fortress - and had helped oversee Malagant's "indoctrination" as Insomnius' robot-brained slave.

They had all sat idly while he suffered Insomnius' torments - even Lazhna. Now they came crawling to him because now, finally, the eyeless bitch had gone too far for them. The Force is whimsical, he mused.

"And what is it you expect of me, you dribbling pack of backstabbing traitors?" Malagant said with an amused sneer. "Besides having four more heads to put on pikes and place as decorations, that is."

"We cannot allow all the blood and treasure that has been expended in Reydovan Prime's reconstruction and defense to amount to nothing, my lord," General Daltyn said uneasily. "We suspect that she may be looking at aligning the sector with the Shadren Hegemony, another warlord in the service of the so-called King Dorian. Given your recent...dealings with the Imperial War Ministry, we would suspect that they, and you, would seek to prevent this."

Malagant was indeed aware of the possibility. Insomnius had said she supported them as an alternative to the Empire, which she declared a "failed state" and a "vassal of the Eternal Throne". While she may not have been far from the truth - Malagant himself confessed to wondering about the apparent apathy of the self-declared Empress Acina - the fact that she publicly declared her alignment with a nest of seditionists was not something that could be tolerated. He would have to speak with Heermann; the Under-Moff had already dispatched the Fourth Fleet against the Hegemony in the Belsmuth sector. "Thank you for this," he said finally, after a long silence. "That is all."

Daltyn was wrong-footed. "But...what do you intend to do, my lord?"

Malagant stared coldly at him. "That is for me to decide, General, not you. If I were you, I would be thankful I was alive and leaving of my own volition, rather than being hurled to my death from the balcony. Now get out." The others took the hint. "Lazhna, not you." The Togruta warrior stopped and turned to face him. Malagant stood from his throne and stepped down to the ground...then, with a lightning-fast movement, grasped her by the throat, lifting her off the ground with strength enhanced by both the Force and cybernetics. "You betrayed me."

"Master...I..."

"Oh, so it's 'Master' now? You think that will sway me?" Malagant let out a disgusted snarl, then released his grip. Lazhna crumpled to the ground, coughing and gasping. "Make no mistake: I will not forgive or forget this affront. But prove your loyalty to me, and to the Empire...and you may yet live to see the end of this war."

"I...thank you...Master," Lazhna gasped out.

"Now go. I must think." Malagant returned to his throne, and began to consult star charts. But it was not the Reydovan system he was looking at.

Lazhna did not remain in his presence long enough to find out.
Circled tomb of a different age
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Heroic kings laid down to rest
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Offline Joshmaul

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The Hamadrya - Fury-Class Interceptor
Belsmuth Sector - Imperial/Hegemony Border


The Pureblood stood on the bridge in silence, fingers tapping on the back of his captain's chair, staring out the viewport as his ship approached the border. Waiting. The Hegemony had ships along this border, as did the Empire...he hoped he would be spotted by the right people.

Sure enough, one of their vessels spotted him. "Imperial vessel, you have entered the sovereign territory of the Shadren Hegemony. State your intentions."

He stood still for a moment longer, then leaned forward and toggled the commlink. "This is Lord Destane, emissary for Her Excellency Darth Insomnius, ruler of Reydovan Prime. I am here at her behest to parley with your sovereign."

"Hold position for verification." Silence for a long moment, and the tapping on the chair continued. Destane stared out the viewport. Finally, the comlink came to life. "You are granted an audience with Their Majesties. We will escort you to the homeworld. Do not deviate from the course."

"Understood." Destane sat down, the finger-tapping now going to the arm of the chair, as the pilot droid set the ship in escort formation next to the Shadren capital ship...then jumped to hyperspace.

----

Zalfari Outpost, Shadren V
Several hours later


The Hamadrya had docked at the Victory Station in orbit, while Destane travelled by shuttle to the capital. As he stepped down the ramp in the spaceport, he was met by a young human woman name Tymeis, who had guided him through the city before escorting him out to the outpost in the planet's largest desert, where the Hegemony's sovereign and his servants met with emissaries. He hung back a bit while Tymeis stepped forward to announce him, before coming to a stop before the twin thrones.

Tymeis stood unobtrusively a few feet from the right throne, where a female wearing an ivory mask gazed at their guest. "Your Majesties," she said, "I present to you Lord Destane of Reydovan Prime. Lord Destane, His Majesty King Dorian and Her Royal Highness Queen Vedriat." Destane was as silent and still as a ghost as Tymeis spoke; after the human went silent, he bowed respectfully to the two monarchs.

"Lord Destane," Vedriat said, her voice cool but not impolite. "We welcome you to Shadren. We hope your journey was pleasant."

"Your Majesties," Destane replied, inclining his head. "I am most appreciative that you have granted this audience. Her Excellency Darth Insomnius is aware of the demands on your time endemic to your station, and wishes not to take any more than necessary."

Vedriat dipped her head in gracious acknowledgement. Dorian remained motionless and silent, merely listening and watching the exchange...until such a time he deemed it important to speak.

"I understand that the announcement of our...separation from the Empire, and the planning of this meeting, was very short notice," Destane continued, "but Her Excellency feels that this was the best outcome for her world, and the sector it controls."

"What does Her Excellency wish from us?" the Queen asked.

"As you may be aware, if you have heard her public declaraions, she believes the Sith Empire as it stands now to be a failed state, a dying power kept on life support beyond the time it should have been disconnected." He could hear his father, Darth Verulam, in his head as he spoke. "It is ironic, given that five years ago, most Sith would have beheaded anyone who said so in public; now more and more are starting to see it so. She believes this Hegemony you have built stands a greater chance of surviving the storm to come than the decaying structure of the Empire. And from what I have seen thus far...a part of me is inclined to agree."

"We are flattered," Vedriat replied, sounding only vaguely so - though rather that was her cool, controlled tone, or otherwise, he could not be sure. "But Her Excellency is aware that the Hegemony is an ally of the Empire, yes? We are our on state, but we are not so foolish as to overlook the power of an empire - failing or not." Destane's expression did nto change, but inwardly, he began to wonder. That was not the impression he had, and he was sure it wasn't the impression Insomnius had, either. "There are already rumors of Lord Malagant planning his revenge upon Her Excellency. I am not opposed to fighting her enemies, but I require sufficient motivation."

"Malagant is a broken relic of a bygone time, powerless and alone," Destane replied dismissively. "He sits and broods in his house of hedonism on Nar Shaddaa, content to let everything collapse around him. He is no threat. We have access to his archives, and to the archives of the planet's armaments factories - before they were forced to go underground because of the Zakuulan limitation treaty. We have much more at our disposal than he."

"Your factories are still in production, then?"

Destane nodded. "Much more now, with the rebellion against Zakuul being more open than previously. The news from Odessen travelled quickly."

"Yes...yes, it has." Before Vedriat could speak further, Dorian finally moved, raising his left hand to gesture for silence. She looked at her husband for a moment, then turned her gaze back to Destane - who also looked in his direction, given that he had not moved until now.

"You speak of blockades," he said in a cold, monotone voice, and Destane tried not to shudder. "Yet. The only Imperial forces nearby are within the New Bornalex system. A system that is not a part of my kingdom. Your lady asks us to undermine any deals we have with the Sith Empire. And for what? How many systems are within your sector? How many ships and men at arms are under her command? What does she have to offer us that we do not already have?"

Destane was momentarily wrong-footed. However, he maintained his composure as he replied, "Let me answer those questions with further questions, sire: What do you gain from being aligned with a collapsing regime? How much does the so-called Empress demand of you? How much more does the Empire need you, than you need it?"

The temperature in the room seemed to drop in the room, even with all the torches burning, as Dorian's head tilted. "The Empress makes no demands, and whatever gains my people get from remaining in contact with the Empire is none of your concern. Now. Your turn to answer questions."

Destane stared balefully at him. He was suddenly less impressed than he had previously said; Dorian reminded him very strongly of Malagant. The arrogance, the hubris. "I begin to wonder if this is a mistake," he said bluntly.

"What does Her Excellency offer us?" Vedriat said, quietly urging the conversation back to its original tack. "Surely you do not find it so undesirable a question."

Destane scowled. "No more undesirable than my question to you, asking why you choose to continue relations with people who condemn you as traitors and threaten anyone who agrees with you. If they despise you anyway, why the pretense of civility?"

Vedriat suddenly stood from her throne, walking across the floor toward him; next to the throne, Tymeis tensed slightly. The Queen raised a hand to her face; with a quiet hiss, her mask unsealed, and she lifted it away. She was uncorrupted by the dark energies of the Sith, her eys a striking blue, but he could see the danger in them. He inwardly wondered if he had gone too far; outwardly, he remained impassive. "Can she defeat the Empire?" she asked him point-blank.

Once again wrong-footed, Destane tried to recover. "There is no need. It has already defeated itself."

Vedriat stared at him. "Can she defeat," she said, each word enunciated for emphasis, "the Empire?"

Destane was suddenly grateful for the desert heat, as the sweat might otherwise be misinterpreted as nerves. "As I said, she does not have to. It is defeated already. We have nothing to fear from them...nor do you. If we did, we would all be dead alread. Surely, you can see that?" He seemed eminently reasonable. "Our desire here is not to seek protection from Malagant or whatever amibitious Sith might seek 'vengeance'. It is our desire not to be swept away by the flood that will wipe away the Empire."

Vedriat studied him a moment longer, then, deliberately, turned her back on him and returned to her throne.

"Clearly you do not need us," Dorian said, a hint of sarcasm showing despite his cold monotone. "You can protect yourselves as you said."

"Husband..." Vedriat gave him a warning glance.

"It is more a matter of interest than necessity," Destane replied, trying to remain calm. "We may have nothing to fear from the Empire, but the galaxy is more than the Empire. No matter how others may think otherwise."

"If you were to join with the Hegemony, you would bow to our authority," Vedriat said. "Is Her Excellency prepared for this?"

"'Better a proactive master than a sedentary one' was her comment before I boarded the ship," Destane replied. "So she is prepared, yes."

"She would accept our necromancers and allow them access to her populace?"

"Necromancers?" Destane's eyes narrowed at that. He had heard the rumors that the Hegemony practiced dark powers that controlled the dead, but had thought them just that - rumors, scaremongering spread by the Hegemony's enemies.

"We," Dorian said, indicating himself and Vedriat, "follow the old ways. The true ways of the Sith before your blood was thinned by the Dark Jedi."

Destane was silent, taking this in. He had to admit the idea sounded...appealing. And he knew that Insomnius, a former Jedi archivist and gatherer of knowledge, would have her interest piqued. "I must discuss this with Her Excellency, but...I believe she will be amenable."

"Now." Dorian again in that cold voice. "I wish for my questions to be answered. If I do not hear a straightforward response, this conversation is over. How many systems are in your sector? How many fleets does your lady currently control?"

Destane tried to keep his nerves steady. "The sector is made up of twelve inhabited systems, numbering nearly fifty worlds; we...'inherited' them from the Republic when the sector was conquered nearly a decade ago. As for the fleet...another reason for our dissatisfaction with the Empire." He met Dorian's gaze, or at least what looked like his gaze with that mask. "When Zakuul invaded, Malagant followed the example of others - he dispersed the sector fleet. Then he disappeared, believed killed by the Zakuul Knight who became Exarch. He recalled the fleet over a month ago...and he delivered it to the War Ministry. He had it reassigned away from us."

He was silent for a moment, remembering Insomnius' rage at that news. The RSDF had been reassigned to the Imperial Wild Space Command, part of the forces sent to defend against another attack from Zakuul. Malagant had ensured that Insomnius would have nothing, and he would have the entire sabacc deck stacked in his favor. "The Ministry has also demanded control over the planetary defense force, which was reduced because of the Zakuul treaty - and then suffered a number of losses when the Star Fortress was removed. What we have, we have been forced to...improvise."

"Numbers," the King demanded flatly, the tone not wavering.

Destane finally gave up, his patience stretched to its end. "Alright, damn you!" he shouted. "We have nothing! Is what what you want to hear?! We have a bunch of green militia who barely know which end of the blaster to point, and we have no ships! None!"

"So you do have need of us," Vedriat said in a soft voice. "You require a military."

"Would you like me to get on my knees and say it?! Yes! We need you! Malagant and his bureaucratic pet Heermann has dismantled our fleet, and between the Eternal Fleet and the Star Fortress, we had to rebuild our army - and they want to take that, too!" He took a deep breath, now wondering who he should be more worried about: These two, or Insomnius...

"You have no army, you have no allies," the Queen continued. "What, then, do you have to offer us? If we were to take this risk in protecting you, what would be our payment?" Behind his mask, Dorian smirked.

Destane sighed. "I will not trouble you further," he said, feeling disgraced. "It is obvious we have nothing."

"You have no resources in which to offer?" Dorian replied.

"You do not have the resources to manufacture weapons?" Vedriat added, eyebrow arched. "No food reserves, no minerals, no artifacts, or knowledge?"

Destane just stood dumb. He had no idea what to say now. This was not as he had expected - or what Insomnius expected, either. He felt like an utter fool. He wondered if maybe Insomnius had sent him to get killed...

Vedriat gazed at him for a long moment. "You have one thing that we require: citizens."

"And your dead," Dorian added, in that emotionless monotone.

Destane felt utterly ashamed. "I...I must confer...with Her Excellency...I..."

"Please do. We will provide you with a link to our satellites, if needed." Vedriat gestured lightly to Tymeis, who bowed and stood next to Destane.

Dorian gave a slight nod. "When she is ready to bow and swear fealty to the crown, we will be more than willing to send some fleets to protect your sector."

Destane took another deep breath, then bowed his head to them, before following Tymeis out...wondering how the hell he was going to explain this.

----

Whitesoul Spire - Insomnius' Residence
Montagne Noire, Reydovan Prime


Darth Insomnius sighed as she disabled the commlink. Destane's mission to Shadren V had the makings of a full-blown disaster. Yet...she thought it was salvagable; the Shadren monarchs hadn't killed him, which was a good sign...

Yet it was obvious there had been a misstep. The Hegemony maintained ties to the Empire, which added tension to the whole negotiation. But if what Destane said was true, and the rumors of Dorian's dark power were actual fact...it was a lot more than she was getting from the Empire. Between Malagant and the War Ministry, Reydovan Prime had little to offer. And really...she didn't give a damn about these people. She gave the impression to maintain power...but they had proven they were going to follow her to hell.

If they were just more meat to be expended...so be it.
Circled tomb of a different age
Secret lines carved on ancient stone
Heroic kings laid down to rest
Forgotten is the race that no one knows


Offline Joshmaul

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Kaas City Spaceport, Dromund Kaas

Sneering all the way from the capital to the spaceport, Insomnius felt more than ever that she had made the right decision to leave these fools. "Victory Day", indeed. Elym may have been content to delude herself into believing she had earned her place...but what Insomnius had, she had taken. She had not groveled at the feet of men like Malagant, or whored herself to men like Heermann. She had done enough grovelling to self-righteous, unworthy idiots in the Jedi Order, mewling pacifists like Iaera Farworlder and Saxtus Fayhan, as well as her own teachers in the Order, Aken Tyrell and Gadren Zulek.

For all the good preaching peace and defense did them, she thought. Fayhan, Tyrell, and Zulek were all dead, and Farworlder had all but vanished anyway, as had her little enclave. Though she wasn't worried about that so much; she knew that her former Padawan, Ediren Lorath, had gone off the deep end and joined with the rabid zealots who flocked to Saresh. The Custodum were traitors to the Republic, and he had gone off to hunt them down. Or so she had heard; he had not been heard from in a while, either...

An invisible hand grasped her throat as she rounded the corner towards the elevator down to her hangar. "You're either incredibly bold...or incredibly foolish."

That voice. How she hated that voice.

Malagant stepped out of the shadows, his burning red eyes glaring at her. One hand was raised as if grasping something...and he was. "I understand why you hate me, Caradell. Your hate makes you powerful. But to take what I have built and turn it against me? To abandon the Empire when it is ready to ascend once more? To try and make me your PUPPET?!" With a flick of his wrist, he hurled her across the hall. She tumbled across the floor, her scrimshaw eyemask clattering off her face, before she finally came to rest. She gasped, coughing, getting back her breath.

Smiling pitilessly, Malagant crushed the eyemask with his boot. "You came to gloat about how you don't need us, and yet you scurry toward Numair as if he can save you from me. Jadre maimed my body...yet in rebuilding it, you tried to maim my mind. What was it you said as you were leaving? You would overload my cybernetics if I ever threatened your precious little dominion?" He laughed and extended his arms outward. "Come at me, then, you eyeless freak!"

Shrieking with fury, Insomnius' saberstaff entered her hand as she charged at him, swinging right at his face. But Malagant simply raised a hand...

...and stopped the blade dead in its tracks. Insomnius' expression turned to shock, not seeing his other hand raise, hurling her back with a push through the Force. She impacted hard against the wall and collapsed to the ground, her weapon rolling away from her. Malagant stopped it with one foot...and then stamped hard, cracking the hilt in two and shorting out the delicate mechanisms within. Then he knelt next to her, holding her head against the floor.

"I was content to watch until now," he whispered cruelly in her ear. "But now...you will do the watching. I'll tell you what I told Vedriat: Remember the lesson of Jaren and its greedy Traders' Council. Remember what I did to them for their treason. Think on that...and then choose your next move carefully. It may be your last."

Then he was gone.

----

Temple Re-Relocation Project Site, Yavin 4
Two days later


"The last blocks arrived this morning, Lord Malagant. Everything in its place - and we're putting it all back in its place."

"Good. If the drastic measures are required, at least this piece of our history won't go up with it." Malagant stood on the bridge overlooking the site; years ago, when he had first taken power on Reydovan Prime, he had used the resources from the planet's Council of Nobles (all slain on his order, with its leader, Baron Androsius Sarnak, slain by his own hand to seal the deal) to move this temple from this very spot to the Caymarnian Mountains. Insomnius had long since abandoned it to the elements, as it had been when he had found it here. Now, with the last of their ill-gotten gains, it was coming back here. He would maintain the house on Nar Shaddaa for whenever he visited the Dancer's Palace, but once again, his Temple of Introspection would be his sanctum.

Wild Space Command had its headquarters in another nearby temple, which - if he was going to be a part of the battles to come with Zakuul - made this ideal for him. And what's more, the lax security caused by the Imperial conscription (combined with the mineral deposits that fouled scanners in the Caymarnians) had allowed him to make this transition right under Insomnius' nose.

Satisfied, Malagant turned to the mobile comm station nearby, fed through the WSC's relay to orbit. "Admiral Krysiak."

"We have brought them out of storage, my lord. Though I hope we will not have to use them."

"As do I, Bardin...but she may leave us with no choice. We will see."
Circled tomb of a different age
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Heroic kings laid down to rest
Forgotten is the race that no one knows


Offline Joshmaul

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The Temple of Introspection - Malagant's Office
Yavin 4 - One day after the burning of Sugilar


Malagant stood at his holoprojector in silent contemplation after the bounty hunter had left. It was strangely refreshing to see a bounty hunter take a job and not accept pay for it. All the man wanted - no doubt influenced by his Jedi ancestry and the light-side power Malagant felt in him, which strengthened as he made his case - was that the people of the other worlds did not suffer the same fate as the people of Sugilar. Malagant had agreed; he would prefer the worlds to return without further purifications, but that would be up to them...and up to the hunter, if he was able to achieve his goal within the one standard month he had given the sector to make up its mind.

Already half of the sector had elected not to tempt fate, because they would not receive the protection of the Shadren monarchy until they swore allegiance...and they hadn't. Now they wouldn't; Malagant had already sent word to the Ministry of War to send what could be spared to occupy the systems that had surrendered - he would have asked Heermann for troops, but the forces headquartered here would be needed when the time finally came to fight against Vaylin and the Eternal Fleet. Reydovan Prime itself was now in the throes of civil war. The other worlds held out, for now...perhaps the removal of the fallen Jedi who ruled them would change their minds. That would be the hunter's task.

He has his timetable, Malagant thought. We'll see if he is able to follow it. Though even if he fails, and she is somehow forced into hiding - and thus out of power - that may well be enough...

He remembered the admonition of his old Master, Inquisitor Jaeden'laek: "We need subjects, not graveyards." Malagant had to concede that he had filled his fair share of graveyards, but he felt that examples were necessary. Nikaea and its allies had held out for the Revanites, and Jaren had betrayed him to Arcann; he admitted he had taken pleasure in that destruction. He took no pleasure in this, save perhaps a small consolation in sticking it to someone who had tried to make him her puppet (ironically looking over the fact that he had tried to make her his puppet).

Perhaps it had been because he had ruled this sector himself, and had seen all he had done to take it from the Republic a decade or so ago, laid to waste - first by Darth Cyanoculus, then Moff Velade, and now Insomnius...

The commlink in his desk beeped. "Lord Malagant, I have a contact on the line from Dromund Kaas."

"Put it through." The holoprojection of the Reydovan system faded, and was replaced by the weathered face of a female human in an Imperial uniform - an agent of Sith Intelligence. The daughter of an Imperial Moff killed fighting the Eternal Fleet near Korriban, if he recalled rightly. "Thank you for responding so promptly, Cipher Five-Seven."

"A pleasure, my lord. What's the assignment?"

"I need you to look into someone for me. A bounty hunter who is on the trail of the renegade Darth Insomnius..."
Circled tomb of a different age
Secret lines carved on ancient stone
Heroic kings laid down to rest
Forgotten is the race that no one knows


Offline Joshmaul

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The Temple of Introspection - The Gardens
Yavin 4 - Two days after the Dancer's Palace


"Emperors come and go, but a Sith is a Sith. They expect certain things - and no two Sith expect the same things."

Menrim Tekan found himself remembering this little axiom, one of the last things that had been told to him by his mentor, Commander Varan. He had learned the truth of it the hard way, especially these past few years, with the insurgency by Zakuul. He despised Malagant's selfish excess and wanton cruelty, but he had to admit that it was the corpulent Sith Lord's loyalty to the Empire - in spite of all efforts to destroy it - that made him swear his service. He knew that Varan had had a rocky relationship with him, but the Chiss sniper had good judgment. After all, it had been Varan's judgment - in the wake of the attempted coup by Darth Malgus, and the Alien Initiatives that followed - that allowed the Cathar to join the Imperial military in the first place.

If he was right about me, perhaps he was right about Malagant, he thought. We will see.

Tekan found Malagant sitting under the gazebo in the gardens, sipping a cup of hot tea and reading a datapad - a translation of writings pertaining to the Zakuulan "Old Gods". On seeing the sniper, Malagant smiled and gestured for him to sit. "All is quiet, Commander?"

"All is quiet, Lord Malagant," Tekan replied, bowing his head before he sat down. "Just making sure the cannon wasn't bugged or anything, making sure it does what Lord Lazhna says it's supposed to."

Malagant nodded. The cannon was in fact a good-sized command center of sorts, courtesy of Lazhna's contacts within this "Alliance" on Odessen - which, if the rumors were true, included her elder brother, the rogue Jedi Shadow-Master Tergahn Dai'lo. Malagant idly wondered how the Jedi felt about associating with his Sith Lord little sister, especially knowing that she had murdered their parents when they tried to stop her from going to Korriban. "You don't think the Alliance would do anything...tricky, do you?"

"With the kind of mixed bag they've got, I would not take anything for granted," Tekan replied. "Besides, as I'm sure my lord is aware, the Alliance has tried to make contact with the traitor once before, to recruit her into their fold."

"Hmm...fair point," Malagant conceded. "Trust, but verify, eh?"

"Always. One of the first things Varan taught me when he trained me. He knew my duties would require more than just knowing how to shoot, and when to do so."

"He was Imperial Intelligence for a while, that sort of thing comes natural to spies. Though they're not the only ones who should be wary, of course."

A trooper in the temple garrison approached their table. "Pardon me, my lord. Commander. The agent from Dromund Kaas is here to see you, my lord."

"Ah..." Malagant looked pleased. "Some good news, I trust. Bring her to me." The soldier bowed and made his way back across the bridge.

Tekan looked curious. "An agent?"

"As you know, we had that bounty hunter pay me a call several days ago," Malagant replied. "Something about him struck me as odd, but as he talked, letting the idealism ooze out, I realized what it was. He was Force-sensitive."

"A Force-sensitive bounty hunter?" The Cathar could not hide the surprise in his voice.

Malagant chuckled. "Curious, isn't it? Possibly a rogue Jedi...then again, they're all rogues, nowadays. The Grand Master and the Jedi Council have vanished, and a number of Masters and Knights have either been killed by the Zakuulans or gone to Odessen to fight for the Alliance. As opposed to us...Acina remained to ensure there was still a leader for the Empire. We'll see how well that turns out." He looked up, seeing the female agent approach, smartly dressed in her uniform. "Ah. Welcome, Cipher Five-Seven. Anything on our hunter?"

"It took some digging, but fortunately Intelligence's archives are largely intact. I will warn you there's not much, though."

"Go on..."
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Offline Joshmaul

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Palace of the Mountain Shadow
Montagne Noire, Reydovan Prime


Darth Insomnius stood alone in her private quarters, gazing at a holoprojection of the Reydovan Sector.  It had been twelve days since Malagant had issued his ultimatum, with nineteen remaining - and nearly the entire sector had surrendered to him, fearful they would suffer the same fate as Sugilar. All that remained to her was Reydovan Prime...and with the conflict escalating, the planet had erupted in civil war. Pro-Imperial and anti-Imperial citizens from here to Illuminopolis had risen up to fight against what they believed was the imminent destruction of their world - either by Insomnius or by Malagant, depending on what side you were on.

Insomnius was under no illusions. She was alone, and she knew it. If that bounty hunter - who reeked of Jedi idealism, and whose aura in the Force was painfully bright in her sight - could just waltz in here with his hunting crew, so could a Sith Intelligence agent or some other assassin. She knew Malagant had issued a bounty, and who knew what sort of low character would want to collect?

"Your Excellency," the palace chamberlain said uncertainly from the doorway, "we are receiving a transmission from Lord Destane on Shadren V."

Insomnius did not so much as move her head to look in the direction of her minion. "Put it through."

The holoprojection before her faded, replaced by the image of the Pureblood Sith Lord. "My lady, I have been approached by Tymeis, the servant to Queen Vedriat. She wishes a meeting with me. She has also requested one with you."

"Then she will have to come to me, if she wants to risk walking into a war zone," Insomnius retorted bitterly. "Every major city on the planet is crippled by riots, and bounty hunters can walk into my palace with impunity! Ever since that pseudo-Jedi walked in, I've had three others try to take me on. The rest of the sector has cowered before Malagant, and for all I know, once he's done with us, Shadren is next."

"He wouldn't dare," Destane protested. "The Hegemony can protect itself, especially with the powers at the Numairs' disposal."

"Malagant is an arrogant lunatic, Destane!" the Miraluka snarled. "He will dare - and he will probably get away with it!" She paced angrily, still trying to believe how it had come to this. It had been so simple! What had gone wrong? Destane continued to stare passively at her. Finally, she looked back up at him. "Well, don't just stand there gawping, man! Go! See what she wants!"

"Yes, my lady." Destane bowed, and the projection faded, replaced once more by the projection of the sector - and the Imperial sigils taking over every system surrounding the Reydovan system...

----

The Temple of Introspection - The Archivum Malagantia
Yavin 4


Malagant consulted the sector map in his archives, seeing the same thing as Insomnius. The Reydovan system was surrounded; the remainder of the sector had submitted rather than suffer for her hubris. Some HoloNet news services were reporting that Malagant had not elected to wait until the one-month buffer period ended, that the ships entering the sector continued to burn worlds; they were in fact carrying occupation troops. Still, the erroneous reports amused Malagant, and he allowed them to continue rather than issue a rebuttal.

These arrogant, backstabbing wretches have mocked me long enough, he thought. Let them tremble.

Disabling the display, Malagant stepped away from the console and went over to one of his archive banks, selecting some reading material...
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Offline Joshmaul

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((With big thanks to @Dassalya - Lord Destane's dramatic exit, part 1!))

Zalfari Outpost
Shadren V


Destane again found himself in the throne room of the Shadren monarchs, though only one of the thrones was occupied. Vedriat was resplendent in silk, lace, and armor, with a black and gold pendant at her throat, her hair pulled back by a jeweled tiara. Tymeis, demure as ever, stood nearby, as did three hooded female figures.

The Pureblood hid his relief at Dorian's absence as best he could as he bowed to Vedriat. "Your Highness. Tymeis said you wished to speak to me."

"I did," Vedriat replied, regarding him coolly. "I am displeased with the situation between Shadren and Reydovan Prime. You will help me remedy this."

My, we're direct, Destane thought. "I trust you have something reasonable in mind; the Reydovan system is the only holdout left in the Sector, and when I last spoke to Her Excellency Darth Insomnius, the planet's population is tearing itself apart. Everyone else has surrendered to Malagant."

"Yes..." Vedriat's eyes never left him. "Insomnius seems doomed to fall, does she not?"

Struck by that blunt assessment, Destane's eyes narrowed. "Are you proposing removing her yourself then?" His tone turned sarcastic. "I'm sure Malagant will be glad to give ten million credits to those he places in the same category as us. Would you like to claim the extra ten million on me, while you're at it? Because I will make you work for it."

Vedriat smiled coldly. "Your offer is tempting. I've not had a challenge in some time." The smile vanished just as quickly. "But I have other uses for you. I've no desire to grant Malagant his wish; playing the part of his fetch hound holds little appeal."

"Unless you have a better idea, the only solution I see is military in nature. And from what I heard on the HoloNet this morning, your King is just as eager to burn planets as Malagant. Which leaves us in a bit of a quandry: Why should we want to accept aid from those who will do to us what Malagant has done, and continues to threaten doing? We seem to be in a lose-lose situation."

"Oh, Dorian was quite calm and sweet before this all began. Can you say the same for Malagant? And you forget," and at this, Vedriat's tone sharpened, "that I hold Dorian's collar. I saw upon your face that you did not have fear when you entered this throne room without him. Truly, Destane, it should be the opposite." She continued to stare at him. "You are alive because you are malleable. You will serve me, or you will die."

Destane met her gaze evenly. "Then I definitely no longer see a difference between you and Malagant. And neither will Darth Insomnius." He held out his arms. "Kill me, then, if that's what you wish. But I hope the Force allows me to see your face when Malagant burns all that you hold dear to ash. Because he will. Once he's done with her, you're next, and you know it."

"Why do you think you are here?" the Queen said with disdain. "Insomnius is brave, I will give her that, but foolish. I will not bow to Malagant, but I would also be a fool not to see the threat he poses me and mine. You will help me deliver him her head."

"You say that you are not willing to be Malagant's fetch-hound...Your Highness." He spoke those last two words with venom. "I will certainly not be yours." He had wrestled with this decision since he called Insomnius, wondering just how much further he was willing to go for a cause that obviously seemed lost...but now he made it firmly. "You want to kill her? She says that four bounty hunters have just waltzed in without so much as a by-your-leave. So do it yourself. I'm done." He felt relief. "With you, with her, with him. So either kill me, or I will be on my way."

"I am offering you a chance to preserve the resistance of your planet. Is that not what you wish?"

"Reydovan Prime can burn. So can Shadren, for all I care." Temporal and temporary. The watchwords of his father and master, Darth Verulam, whenever he discussed the Empire. The Force would endure, even if physical existence itself did not. Now that Verulam was gone, Destane understood what he had meant. Even he was merely temporal and temporary. "I only came here because she asked me to. But now I see I have once again aligned myself with failure. Just as I did with the Empire. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice..."

"This is disappointing, Lord Destane, but not unsurprising upon reflection." The Queen looked to her handmaid. "Tymeis?" The woman nodded. With only a split second of warning, Destane felt the Force claw at him, trying to crush him to his knees. From the wings on either side of Vedriat's throne, two of her hooded attendants, the Furies, approached, raising their hands to enact this will upon him.

Destane let out a snarl as he felt the grip of Vedriat's witches upon him. The agony was excruciating, but he refused to bend...certainly not for some queen of the dead. "I...am of the bloodline of Adas," he hissed through gritted teeth. "I WILL NOT BOW TO YOU!" With that, his lightsaber shot into his hand, the blood-red blades igniting at either end of the hilt.

Vedriat stood from her throne, the red flare of her saber igniting in response. "And I am of the line of Azeara," she replied, scowling. "You will bow."

Twirling his saber with a master's expertise, Destane sneered. "What is a human bloodline to the Red Sith of Korriban? Perhaps you may strike me down, but the blood will endure! Even with your filthy perversions!" He spun on one heel, a blur of crimson and obsidian, and beheaded the Fury closest to him, trying to further impose her mistress' will. Tymeis looked horrified and angry at the death of the Fury. "At least I do not rely on others to fight my battles for me, 'Your Highness'," he said mockingly. "Face me yourself, if you're not a coward!"

"You will regret what you have done," Vedriat said, the words without passion, as she entered into the opening stance of Makashi. Recovering herself, Tymeis turns her suddenly scathing gaze to the Pureblood. A flicker from the brazier - one moment Tymeis is there, the next she is gone.

Destane smiled...he now knew he would not be walking out of here alive. And with all that he held dear long ago turned to ash, he was content. "I regret many things...bowing before lesser beings like you, Insomnius, and Malagant. No longer!" He twirled his lightsaber again. "I am Destane, son of Verulam, Lord of the Sith - and even if you kill me, even if you defile my body...YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY SPIRIT!"

Without another word, the Pureblood charged at the Queen of Shadren, and she met him halfway. A block, a strike...the hiss and roar of their sabers clashing. Vedriat was out of practice - too many hours upon a throne, and not enough upon the battlefield. Destane, on the other hand, had fought for many years - against the Republic, the Revanites, Zakuul...other Sith; he was battle-primed, and it showed.

Spinning around his opponent, Destane worked at the sides, the back - somewhere not easily blocked by a lightsaber. His saber struck her left arm in a shiim move. But Vedriat was quicker than he gave her credit for, responding in kind to a slash at Destane's knee. Fueled by pain and rage, she attempted to drive him back, switching from the duelist form of Makashi to the heavier, more powerful form of Shien.

Destane hissed with hate as the edge of Vedriat's saber struck his leg, relying on his natural skill and speed - keeping the blood flowing - to keep his focus off the pain. He begins an elaborate blade-dance around her to distract his opponent, while anticipating her next move. He did not anticipate the torrent of Force energy she launched at his chest, knocking him off balance. The leg finally gave way under him, but he twisted to avoid the killing strike...and watched as her saber cut his in two. Snarling, he discarded the broken half and staggered back to his feet with the single blade. Vedriat gave him no time to recover, as the Force roiled around them.

Dodging a strike, circling her, Destane channeled Force energies within himself - similar to the dark powers of the Furies. "You claim to wield the power of death...you're not the only one who remembers the old ways." He let loose a powerful burst of death energy against the Queen, ripping life essence from her body. Vedriat screamed as the energy tore through her. It ripped at her flesh, at her bones, at the very Force within her. Trembling, she fell to one knee.

Destane, invigorated by the essence he had taken, held his saber tip at her throat, preparing for the coup de grace...just as a violet saber blade entered his spine and ripped through his chest. Gasping in shock, he looked down at the horrific wound...and realized who had made the strike. The one who had vanished. "You...bitch..."

His fingers suddenly went nerveless, and his broken saberstaff clattered to the floor. Tymeis' saber withdrew, and Vedriat forced herself to her feet, staring at him with derision.

Destane fell to his knees, then pitched forward onto the floor. "Coward," he rasped, blood seeping from his mouth. "I hope...he kills you...slowly."

"No." Vedriat disengaged her saber. "I am not done with you yet." As Tymeis went to the beheaded Fury, Vedriat held her hand over the dying Sith Lord. A creeping cold began to fill the room, and color began to fade. "You are mine."

Destane just laughed, coughing blood. "Only...my body, human. I hope...it turns on you." With a ragged gasp, his essence ripped itself from his body...and then it was gone. The last sound he made was a rattling laugh, then his body finally went still.

Vedriat scowled, as a word - ancient and terrible - broke from her lips. The Force suddenly twisted and screamed, and her eyes - an unmarred blue - turned bright with the corruption of the dark side. Destane's body jerked once, twice, and then, with a hiss of whispers and distant cries...

...began to pick itself up from the floor.

Lowering her hand, Vedriat staggered back, spent from her duel. The color and warmth returned. "Bow before me...Lord Destane."

As its mistress spoke, the soulless, broken corpse - an empty vessel, waiting for commands - went to one knee.

"Go to Insomnius," she said after a long moment. "Hide your wounds. Find out all her secrets. And when you have done so, when she least expects it...bring me her head."

The corpse nodded, and stood. With machine-like precision, it walked out...to where the ship waited.
Circled tomb of a different age
Secret lines carved on ancient stone
Heroic kings laid down to rest
Forgotten is the race that no one knows