One week has passed since the death of Facadma, and Zolph has requested Maesterus to take him directly to Emperor Valkor on Ockla Prime without warning.
Arriving in the Ockla System via Sigma-class shuttle, they bypassed the massive Valkoran fleet in orbit and entered Ockla Prime’s atmosphere. After getting through the layers of thick clouds, Zolph was greeted to the sight of a large city surrounded by a wall and an energy shield. There were a lot of tall buildings – some big enough to qualify as districts and have other buildings inside them. To him, it was like a smaller scale, but somewhat gloomier version of Coruscant. However, out of the all the buildings, one stood out in the center and extended past the shield dome.
The shuttle’s pilot then commented to Zolph. “Welcome to the Imperial Palace. I wouldn’t tell any of your senators about the size if I were you.”
Zolph responded with a question. “I know distinction’s important in this society, but wouldn’t a building that big just be an easy target for long-range artillery strikes? Especially since part of it is poking out of the shield?”
Maesterus then answered him. “We didn’t build this city. The Rakata did that. We just added to it after we settled here. Besides, the palace has its own ray shield as a back-up.”
As they approached the palace’s shuttle hangar several floors above ground level, the pilot prepared to fire some concussion missiles to blow open the entry hatch, seeing as they’re now enemies. However, the hangar opened without warning and let them in to dock.
“That was unexpected.” The pilot commented. “Then again, they didn’t fire on us as we entered the system.”
Maesterus answered his speculation. “Valkor already knew we were coming, and he probably ordered them not to attack us so he can fight us himself.”
Maesterus then peeked further back into the palace hangar to see two of his Black Guards operating the hangar controls: Ascana Vaso, a female Togruta with every part of her body obscured except for her head-tails and montrals, and Yanto Eko, a male Ithorian with armor designed specifically for him and translators built into his helmet’s two vocalizers – though granted, the Black Guard was an elite unit and each member recruited had their armor tailored specifically for them regardless of anatomy, even Ithorians, who are often stereotyped as a species of non-violent pacifists.
“I thought the Black Guard was loyal only to you.” Zolph told Maesterus.
“They are. Those two were assigned as inside men after the Great Split. Unfortunately, Valkor knows all too well about where their loyalties lie.”
As Ascana and Yanto approached the shuttle with their plasma staves activated, Zolph could not only sense that the two were possessed by Forceless, he also noticed that they exhibited mutations atypical for their species. Ascana’s head-tails were slightly moving on their own like prehensile tentacles and her montrals not only had eyes on the outside and spikes growing between them, they moved like an insect’s mandibles. Yanto’s limbs were noticeably longer and bulkier than usual, having torn apart his armor in the process.
Suddenly, one of Ascana’s lekku lifted up and swiftly stretched forward, penetrating the shuttle’s cockpit, wrapping around the pilot’s neck and suffocating him to death.
Zolph and Maesterus then descended from the shuttle’s boarding ramp and approached the possessed guards.
Zolph promptly made a deadpan but very bitter comment not to Ascana and Yanto, but to Valkor, who could see and hear everything some lesser Forceless could sense. “Force anyone else to kill their friends or family?”
None of the two answered, until Yanto let out a loud roar that broke away the mouthpieces on his helmet.
Maesterus somberly responded to his former allies. “Ascana. Yanto. I am so sorry. I shouldn’t have let you be assigned here.” He and Zolph then activated their lightsabers. “Don’t worry, my friends. It will be over soon.”
Ascana then used her extended lekku to throw herself up in the air and perform a jump strike on Zolph with her plasma staff, but he blocked in response. While their weapons were locked, Ascana grappled Zolph with her back head-tail, lifted him off the floor and tried to pull him toward her horn-mandibles to skewer him while searing him with her staff.
“Ow! Really!? Do you have to give me more flesh burns before you kill me?!” Zolph yelled at the Forceless before slicing off the rear head-tail holding him.
Ascana then tried to stab with her staff, but Zolph dodged and sliced the staff in half. The possessed Togruta then retaliated by whipping him in the face with her front lekku – causing him and trying to be bite him with her montral-mandibles. As Zolph held them back with his prosthetic arm, he used his left hand to grab for his blaster pistol and shot through her chest.
Meanwhile, Maesterus flew around the hangar dodging sonic blasts – no doubt amplified by the Forceless possession – let out by Yanto Eko in an attempt to disorient him. The hulking Ithorian then landed a hit on him and grounded him, followed by throwing his plasma staff at him like a spear.
Before it could impale him, Maesterus – too disoriented to use the Force - stopped the staff’s momentum by positioning both of his primary wings in front of him like a shield and letting it pierce through the flaps. He then casually separated his wings and let the stuck staff tear his flaps. He then followed this up by firing a few palm spikes into Yanto’s chest.
The Ithorian let out another powerful roar that shook the hangar as he charged at Maesterus to either smash him with his oversized limbs or make his brain explode from sound overload. Neither happened, as Yanto was promptly impaled by Maesterus’s lightsaber once he got close enough.
As the two Black Guards lay dying, Ascana spoke to Maesterus after he came to her and removed her helmet.
“I knew you’d come back to free us. Our term… has come to an end.”
Yanto echoed what his partner said in Ithorianese.
“But I’m kinda scared that the thing Valkor put inside us is going to eat us when we die, and considering what he said about those he’s eaten alive…”
This then triggered a worry in Zolph in regards to the possession victims he has killed over the last year. Are they truly free when they die? It is said that it takes a while for an individual to fully become one with the Force, and anyone consumed by the Forceless is prevented from joining the Force.
Suddenly, the Black Matter that was inside Ascana and Yanto started to crawl out of their wounds and envelope their bodies like pools of acid.
Even in the one week he spent training with Maesterus, Zolph had not properly mastered his Forceless channeling ability without letting his negative emotions control him. But if it meant saving these two from a fate worse than death…
“Just this once, I’m willing to use this power at the cost of my sanity.” Zolph then put his left hand into Ascana’s Black Matter puddle and used the Force to pull all of it into his skin pores, completely purging Ascana of the symbiote and leaving her body intact. He then rushed over to Yanto’s body to repeat the process.
Yanto let a weak, but satisfied bellow before he succumbed to his injuries.
Ascana then translated his last words. “He said that he is grateful for your sacrifice, and so am I. Now give our former Emperor what’s coming to him.” Ascana Vaso had breathed her last.
With the Black Matter absorbed from the two Black Guards, Zolph Force-channeled once again and transformed into an anger-induced creature.
Suddenly, a platoon of Valkoran troopers entered the hangar – having been alerted to Zolph’s and Maesterus’s presence - but were shocked to see both Maesterus and another freakish, black-skinned monster.
Zolph then used his amplified Force power to effortlessly throw the entire platoon backward out of the hangar door and hundreds of feet to their dooms.
As Zolph and Maesterus progressed through the palace tower, even more waves of troops came in an attempt to overwhelm them, but they were all quickly cut down in groups by Zolph’s arm blades while Maesterus watched from the sidelines before they reached a turbolift. This was promptly followed up by a rage-filled boast.
“Anyone else want to die for their Emperor!?”
Just a second after, Zolph reverted back to his human form and looked at Maesterus.
“Sorry about that, pops.”
“How many more times are you going to apologize whenever you lose your temper?” Maesterus asked him. “Anyway, this turbolift should take us directly to the throne room.”
Maesterus attempted to access the controls, but the door wouldn’t open up.
“They locked this turbolift down, and this is one of the only lifts in the entire palace that can take us there. Apparently, Valkor wants me to take the stairs for the first time in four-thousand years.”
“How many floors until we get to him?”
“About a dozen or so.” Maesterus answered.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded throughout the palace and across the city.
“All forces, report to your stations. An enemy fleet has dropped out of hyperspace.”
Zolph then explained the situation. “Now you know why I didn’t give you a specific time frame for the attack and got you to bring me here without warning. It wouldn’t give Valkor enough time to fully prepare.” He then changed the subject. “And I’m sorry to embarrass you even further.”
“What are you doing?” Maesterus asked
“Dear Great God Emperor Valkor, I know you can see and hear me, and I know you think you have a major advantage by seeing what Maesterus can see and hear. I don’t know if you understand what this means, but I think you’ll get the context of it.” Zolph then made a gesture with his hands that was considered obscene by galactic standards. Maesterus sighed in disbelief. “See you in an hour or two. Signed, Zolph Vaelor.”
“That was it?” Seferin asked with annoyance. “You took advantage of Valkor’s disturbing surveillance method just so you could mock him?”
“It took a while for me to get the idea, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do so. Besides, I’m nineteen, so I’m not that above it.”
“Well, we better get going if we want to be seeing him soon, and my wings are still healing, so no asking if I can just fly you there.”
Meanwhile, a large Alliance fleet under the command of Admiral Cephal – in fact, the largest ever assembled for the war - has arrived in the Ockla System, greeted by the largest Valkoran fleet they had ever seen, although a lot smaller than it would have been if not for the Great Split.
The Battle of Ockla Prime has begun.
The Alliance fleet’s buildup included Mon Calamari star cruisers, torpedo frigates, Nebulon-B frigates, Corellian corvettes and gunships and other ship types. The Valkoran fleet, likewise, consisted of Obliterator cruisers, Dread destroyers, Judicator frigates, Demolisher missile frigates, Fury corvettes, and others that have been seen throughout the war.
Hiriss – piloting the Manthis - led Guardian Squadron – a contingent of X-Wing and A-Wing fighters along with some B-Wing and K-Wing bombers as part of the first attack against somewhat larger squadrons of Valkoran Firaxa fighters, Shyrack bombers and Nexu gunships as well as some Mailoc boarding craft backing up the rear.
“Alright, boys and girls. The Valkoran War ends today, but we need to give Valkor everything we’ve got if we want it to end in our favor.” Hiriss motivated her squadron. “I may not be one of the most seasoned pilots in the Order, and I may have only been brushing up on my skills for a week, but we’re all in this together.”
R9-C4 then gave her some advice in her own language. “Seefor = Fly Manthis and eliminate targets. // Commander Moraana = Strategize and give orders. // Commander Moraana + Seefor + Manthis = Lethal fighting force.”
“Glad you’ve got my back, Seefor.”
“Master Zolph’s friends = Seefor’s friends. // Moraana + Seefor + Squadron = Destroy Valkoran fleet?”
“Sure, why not.”
Hiriss then got a transmission from one of the more experienced squadron leaders. “Don’t worry, Commander Moraana. If you need any suggestions, we’re here for you.”
“Thanks, Hammer Leader.” She then addressed the rest of Guardian Squadron. “Alright, Guardians. Let the Valks know we don’t take kindly to peace and order through oppression!”
The squadron then split into small groups to take on the Valkoran fighters. While most of the X-Wings and A-Wings dealt with the Firaxas, Hiriss focused on the Mailocs charging at the Harmony with their boarding stingers prepared for injection.
While a few Corellian corvettes and Nebulon frigates were boarded and destroyed from the inside, only a few Mailocs managed to connect with the Harmony and the few troops that boarded it were quickly eliminated by the Alliance marines.
Suddenly, Hiriss spotted a hypervelocity shot coming from the planet’s surface, tearing apart one of the Mon Calamari cruisers and some smaller ships flying close to it.
Admiral Cephal then made an announcement on the comm. channels. “All capital ships, break formation! There’s a Fortress Tank down on the surface!”
Suddenly, a second shot came from the surface, destroying only a frigate this time.
“Two Fortress Tanks!” The Admiral corrected himself. He knew this from experience, as the hypervelocity cannons on Fortress Tanks have a significant cool-down time between shots.
“Perfect.” Hiriss responded sarcastically. “Is it possible there’s more than that?”
“It’s possible, but there can’t be too many down there, even if this is the Valkoran capital. Not only do they take an exorbitant amount of time and resources to build given their scope, they’re almost impossible to transfer from planet to planet without being disassembled. I hear only less than ten of them were ever constructed; disassembling, transporting and rebuilding them can take a lot time. It hasn’t been long enough since their Empire divided to bring all of the remaining ones to Ockla, and some of those may be in the hands of the separatist faction.”
“So, what’s the plan, Admiral?”
“We send our special unit to take care of them before we send the rest of the army to attack the citadel. I’m sure they’d be happy to take down one of those monstrosities or two.”
As the space battle raged in Ockla’s orbit, the Alliance started sending their ground forces down to the planet’s surface via GR-75 transports, although some were being prematurely shot down either by the Valkoran fleet or the Fortress Tanks, but an MAAT flew ahead of the rest of the landing force in advance.
The MAAT, carrying Besh Squad, entered Ockla Prime’s atmosphere. As the gunship approached one of the Fortress Tanks, Captain Xadisall Varessi and his men were briefed via holocommunicator by Colonel Birik G’Jan.
“Are you sure you and your men are up to this task, Captain?” The Bith colonel asked the Mirialan squad captain.
Boltz then commented. “General Choi gave Besh Squad a training tour of a disabled Fortress Tank on Krantisi. Boltz and the Squad have the layout memorized.”
“But are you up to taking two down live fire?”
Bad Kitty then retorted. “Colonel, we infiltrated the Doomsayer in enemy territory. You think we can’t take on the largest tank in the army?”
“But you’re not posing as new recruits this time, Banir. The crew will know you as an enemy.”
Xadisall replied. “What my boys are saying is that we’re up to the task. And we’ll gladly take on two Fortress Tanks in the name of the late General.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear. No rationalizations. May the Force be with you.” The hologram of Colonel G’Jan disappeared as the transmission ended.
Suddenly, the gunship rocked as it was grazed by a shot from the Fortress Tank Vakaziz, named after one of the Forceless Archfiends defeated in the war.
“We’ve found one of the tanks, Captain, but we’re going down!” The gunship pilot yelled back to the squad.
“Well, sirs and madam. You said you wanted to fight a Fortress Tank.” Xadisall then loaded up his blaster rifle.
Patcher addressed a slight concern. “With all due respect, Captain, we’ve been in several rough spots throughout this war and the last, but I don’t think there’s any guarantee we’ll survive this.”
Spectre then answered the Nautolan medic. “There’s never been a guarantee for survival in the jobs we’ve taken, Patcher, and this won’t be any different.”
“And this is what, the tenth time you’ve said that?” Bad Kitty added. “Besides, if we do succeed and survive, we’ll have something to brag to Commander Vaelor about.”
“Brace for impact!” The gunship pilot yelled to the back.
The gunship then collided with the ground below, throwing the squad off their feet. All five of them survived, but the pilot did not. As they got up, Bad Kitty pushed open the gunship hatch, revealing Ockla’s dark gray sky.
They had landed in a gray dirt-patched field with a few massive footprints scattered on the outskirts of the capital city, just outside the energy shield. Bad Kitty also noticed two Fortress Tanks – turtle-like walkers that were roughly the size of a frigate – positioned outside the city walls and firing their back-mounted hypervelocity cannons into space. And conveniently, they were not far from the Vakaziz.
Bad Kitty then yelled into the crashed gunship. “Unless you feel like decorating the bottom of a giant foot, everyone out!”
All of Besh Squad’s members gathered their equipment from the wreckage and hustled out before – instead of being squished by one of the walker’s massive feet – they were blown up by the blaster cannons decorating its underside. There were also some snipers firing from underneath.
After adjusting her maroon-colored, metal-plated hat, Spectre raised her sniper rifle and shot down the Vakaziz’s snipers, some of their bodies tumbling meters to the ground below. She also picked off some of the underbelly cannons.
However, they weren’t quite done with the tank’s outer defenses yet, as plasma cannon fire rained down on them from near one of the walker’s leg joints. Xadisall pulled out his macrobinoculars and noticed some Starmantis artillery droids magnetically attached to the behemoth’s carapace and thighs.
Xadisall gave an order to Spectre. “Spec, we have a few giant, three-legged flightless droid fleas with plasma cannons strapped to their backs. Would you kindly take them out so can begin our climb?”
The Kyuzo markswoman then reloaded her rifle. “Flea treatment coming up.” She proceeded to shoot at the artillery droids near the walker’s left legs, sometimes at their heads and sometimes at their cannons, even causing some of them to magnetically detach. “Treatment complete.”
Xadisall then gave out another order. “Ready the ascension cables.”
All of the squad members fired their ascension guns into the knee of the walker’s left hindleg, but Patcher fired an extra ascension cable and hooked it up to Bad Kitty’s waist.
“Hey, Patch! Are you tellin’ me I’m fat!?” The large Cathar criticized the Nautolan medic.
“No, but you have been gaining weight recently, and that would be from muscle mass. Not to mention that heavy repeater you carry around all the time.”
Bad Kitty then gave Patcher a sarcastic reply. “Ah ha ha. Just shut up and climb.”
Besh Squad ascended the Vakaziz’s calf, and fired another round of cables into the thigh joint. The position of the thigh may been slanted enough for them not to need the cables, but they didn’t want to risk it moving to shake them off.
Once they got near the body, Xad spoke to Boltz.
“Boltz, you didn’t forget your toolkit, did you?”
The Gand engineer replied. “Boltz already has the fusion cutter out.” He then used the fusion cutter to cut a hole for them to enter. Unlike the other tools in his kit, he had the fusion cutter strapped to his belt from the start as he didn’t want to bother struggling to get it out of the kit at a great height. “After you.”
The squad then entered the Vakaziz.
Thankfully, traversing the inside of a Fortress Tank was surprisingly safe, as it had inertial dampeners and artificial gravity generators in specific sections to keep the crew from being thrown around by the walker’s movement and the inevitable tremors created from its stomping.
After getting in, Xadisall outlined the attack plan.
“Alright, we’ll split into two groups: one to take the command bridge and the other to take the cannon. Bad Kitty, Patcher and I will be part of the first group while Boltz and Spectre comprise the second group.”
“What made you decide on that group setup, Captain?” Patcher asked.
“You and I aren’t as specifically combat trained as the rest of us, but you can keep us alive and I can take over this monster while Banir provides the firepower to take the bridge.”
Bad Kitty responded with annoyance. “For the last kriffing time, Xad, don’t call me Banir. Nobody in this squad except for you even uses their real name. And Boltz since that became part of his actual name.”
“Continuing on, Boltz and Spectre’s roles in the squad aren’t those that necessarily pertain to personal combat, but they were both trained warriors in their cultures before they joined. And Boltz, you can sabotage some of the internal security systems along the way. Understood?”
“Yes sir!” All the other squad members responded.
As Xadisall’s team progressed to the bridge, he and Patcher provided cover fire for Bad Kitty with their blaster rifles while the Cathar mowed down everything in their path with his repeating blaster cannon, sometimes accidentally hitting a few cloaked Shadow Troopers.
Once they made it to the bridge, the command crew frantically fired their weapons at the squad, but they too were mowed down by Bad Kitty within seconds.
“Surrender, General, and no one else has to taste this cat’s gun.” Xadisall demanded the commanding officer on the bridge.
However, the officer in question, a masked Force acolyte, activated his orange lightsaber. “Fool! You dare make demands of a master of the Force? You shall know your place, worms!”
Bad Kitty sarcastically responded. “Oh look. A drama queen.” He then revved up his blaster cannon. “Well, time to shut him up.”
He let out another flurry of blaster fire, but the acolyte managed to deflect some of them, and a few were sent back and wounded Bad Kitty.
“Patcher.” Xadisall barked. “Take care of his wounds. I’ll end this Sith wannabe’s acting career.”
The acolyte laughed back at Xad. “Do you still want to die, Mirialan?”
“Not in the near future.”
“Then you are an idiot for coming here!”
The acolyte threw his lightsaber at Xad, but the captain quickly dropped to the floor before the blade could cut him in half and shot the acolyte through the chest.
“Im-Impossible! I can’t lose to an ungifted soldier!”
Bad Kitty then boasted to the acolyte while Patcher treated him. “Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it?”
“When Emperor Valkor rules this galaxy, you’ll all be begging for death!” The acolyte then succumbed to his injury and fell to the floor.
Patcher then commented on their situation. “The bridge is now ours, but no word from Boltz and Spectre.”
Xad then followed up on that. “I’ll contact them.”
Elsewhere aboard the Vakaziz, Boltz and Spectre had made it to the hypervelocity cannon. There, they encountered the gunnery crew and two troopers wearing Minotaur-class exoskeletons.
They quickly eliminated the gunners, but the Exo-Troopers weren’t that easily eliminated.
“Shall we split our targets?” Spectre asked Boltz.
“Yes.” Boltz then drew out a retractable Gand shockstaff.
After blocking some blaster fire with her hat, Spectre retaliated by shooting off her trooper’s shoulder-mounted visual scanner, limiting his vision greatly. He in turn retaliated by firing a concussion blast from his right arm, forcing her to leap into the air and land on his shoulders.
He tried to grab at her with his claw, but she simply responded to that by jamming her hat into it, and the general composition of the hat made it difficult to break in half. She followed that up by drawing her vibro-knife, stabbed into his audio sensor to deafen him and then stabbed in through the faceplate’s eyes, killing the trooper. Afterward, she retrieved her hat from the claw of his still-standing corpse.
Meanwhile, after prodding him a few times with his shockstaff and dodging blows, Boltz stuck an EMP device to his respective Exo-Trooper’s armor, temporarily immobilizing him and allowing Boltz to rewire some systems in the armor. He then waited for the EMP to wear off.
“I don’t know what you just did, but you’ll pay for it, you ammonia-breathing gnat!” The trooper yelled at Boltz as he attempted to fire his concussion blaster. This only resulted in his armor – and himself inside – exploding into many pieces of metal.
Following the deaths of the cannon defense crew, Boltz and Spectre were greeted with Xadisall’s voice over their comlinks.
“Boltz. Spectre. Status report.”
Spectre responded. “We have control of the cannon. I take it you have the bridge?”
“So what’s the next step, Captain?”
“Position the cannon as low as you can towards the other Fortress Tank.”
Boltz and Spectre manned the controls for the hypervelocity cannon and aimed it at the other tank’s cannon. Meanwhile, Xadisall’s team already positioned the Vakaziz to have it facing in the same direction.
“Open fire!” Xadisall yelled.
The cannon opened fire and promptly destroyed the other tank’s cannon. This was followed up by Xad’s team firing the Vakaziz’s frontal laser cannons at the rest of the walker and destroying it.
“Aw yeah!” Bad Kitty yelled over the comlink. “That’s two points for Besh Squad!”
Boltz then commented over comlink. “Should Besh Squad go ahead and take out that tower poking out of the shield?”
“I think Valkor knows we’d try to do that and has a much stronger shield in case, so no. Besides, the rest of the Valks are most likely going to try to reclaim this beast, and the five of us aren’t really enough to keep control of it. Everyone, start planting the charges and get out.”
After the destruction of the Vakaziz, the Galactic Alliance’s ground forces deployed at the capital, finally leading to the ground battle of Ockla Prime while the space battle still raged in orbit.
Meanwhile, the Blazing Manta, with both Grein and Luke Skywalker on board, flew to a specific section of the capital.
After clearing a landing pad of some resistance via the Manta’s own guns, they docked and disembarked.
Luke spoke to Grein. “So what’s the plan?”
“Skywalker, I need you to cause them as much trouble as you can from within the walls while the rest of the Alliance pushes through.”
“But what are you going to do?”
Grein muttered only one word. “Masochus.”
Luke then addressed her with concern. “Grein, I know you used to be a Jedi and still follow their values to an extent, but you must still control your feelings. I’ve known the desire for revenge before.”
“It’s not just personal, Skywalker. Masochus isn’t like most other Sith Lords throughout history. Even some of the ones from his time considered him a monster. He was exiled for a very good reason, and not just pragmatism on their part.”
“I won’t stop you, Grein, but mind my warning.”
After getting to a junction, she and Luke parted ways.
Moments later, Grein had found herself in a macabre laboratory of some sort crossed with a morgue. As far as she saw and remembered, this was Masochus’s personal laboratory.
Aside from some mutilated corpses, there were some experiments shown to be on hold, whether it be playing with diseases, randomly mixing body parts of other creatures, or Black Matter-based experiments as sanctioned by Valkor.
As she progressed further through the chop shop of horrors, she came across what looked like a grotesque imitation of an astromech droid made from human body parts.
“K…k….kill….me…..KILL ME!” The ‘droid’ begged Grein in an impaired tone.
Another angry voice then echoed into the room: Masochus’s. “No!”
The puppet-like ex-Sith Lord then approached his creation to torture it with barely enough Force lightning to kill it.
“V2-S7! You are not a person! You are an astromech droid! You don’t speak Basic! You speak only in beeps!”
He zapped ‘Veetoo’ some more before asking him a taunting question.
“What is your name?”
Irritated with the psychopath, Grein impaled his creation and granted the death he desired.
Grein then followed that with some bitter snark. “Kill any tookas today?”
“What makes you think I’d kill a tooka?”
Grein didn’t answer.
“Fine! So, how does it feel to not see your sister before she died?”
“I did see her.”
“Don’t give me that ‘I saw her again through a holo-transmission’ shavit! She would have killed you had you even got within eyesight of her! Admit it: You’re a terrible sibling.”
“Shut up!” Grein activated her cross-guarded lightsaber.
“And now, you’ve come here to make amends for not being able to save her yourself by killing me. Not very Jedi-like, isn’t it? May I also remind you that it was your fault and her own that Emilin got possessed by Facadma?”
“Don’t you dare try to shift responsibility for that? You’re the one who sold her out to Valkor! Why did you do it?”
“I always wanted to make a Jedi suffer for once in my life. I just needed a valid reason as far as Valkor was concerned.”
“That is so typical of you, Masochus.”
“Of course, I also suggested to Valkor that he prioritize planets with Dark Force presences when it came to summoning Archfiends after Dagobah. Oh, how Korriban is the ultimate weapon for breaking Jedi.”
Another voice then came from somewhere else in the room. “Don’t ya mean Moraband?”
Suddenly, Masochus’s smug demeanor broke and his tone changed to that of a child throwing a temper tantrum. “I WILL FLAY YOU ALIVE AND FEED YOU TO A SARLACC!!”
To Grein’s surprise, Gahmah Raan – who she hadn’t seen since Krishar – suddenly dropped out from a ventilation shaft that collapsed from his own weight.
“Lovely. Both of those things have been done to me before.” Gahmah replied back as he got up on his feet.
With no straight-faced way to make a comeback, Masochus simply resorted to blasting Gahmah with Force lightning.
“Ow.” Gahmah responded dully.
Masochus got angrier and zapped him with a slightly more powerful surge.
He increased the voltage and shouted at the top of his lungs, “SCREAM! WHY WON’T YOU KRIFFING SCREAM IN AGONY!?”
“Buddy, I live on a planet where getting zapped by Force lightning is an everyday occurrence.”
“Preposterous! The Sith wouldn’t accept an alien degenerate like you!”
“I didn’t say there were Sith on my planet.”
“The trees do the zapping.”
Masochus flew into another fit of rage. “WHAT THE KRIFF IS WRONG WITH THIS GALAXY!? THE FORCE SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY SENTIENT BEINGS!”
“The Force flows from life.”
“THAT! IS! IT! ONCE I CONTROL THE GALAXY, I WILL DESTROY YOUR PLANET, ERASE IT FROM THE RECORDS, AND EXECUTE ANYONE WHO TRIES TO BRING IT UP!”
Masochus then activated a device on his wrist that opened a door to a cryogenic storage chamber, releasing another mix-and-matched monster created primarily from the corpse of an adolescent rancor.
“Rancen, you have two new playmates. As for the green idiot with the helmet, I WANT YOU TO SWALLOW HIM WHOLE AND DIGEST HIM ALIVE FOR HIS BLASPHEMY! Have fun!” Masochus then levitated and exited the laboratory.
Gahmah then sarcastically shouted. “Oh, sure! Just because you’re a sourpuss that can’t get his way, you try to pull the ‘kill him’ card and run away!”
Meanwhile, Grein had calmed down from just Masochus getting sidetracked from taunting her.
“That wasn’t very smart, Gahmah. If you weren’t you, he would have killed you. And you let him escape from me.”
“He would have killed you if I didn’t drop in. Being almost as old as him, you should know that taunting an enemy to unbalance them is a classic Sith combat tactic. So, I gave him a taste of his own medicine.”
“And how would you know that considering the Sith are all but extinct in your time?”
“On a contract prior to this war, Maesterus schooled me on some Jedi and Sith combat tactics in the event that I’d fight one of them. And I lost some limbs due to my temper a few times.” Gahmah then flipped out his gauntlet. “Anyway, we should talk after we kill this thing. Or re-kill it because… you know.”
The monster tried to swing at Grein with its claws, but she proved too evasive for it. It eventually grabbed her, but she simply liquefied herself to escape its grasp.
With Rancen distracted, Gahmah jumped onto his back and started pulling out the stitches in his neck with one of his blades. Once enough of the stitches came out, the head separated from the body and the creature died.
“And I’ll bet Masochus will be even more ticked with me once he learns I didn’t die, as is the case with a few other enemies I’ve made over the years. If he still had skin, I think he’d be redder than a Zeltron on fire.”
Grein responded. “It’s possible he may be of the Sith species, and they naturally have red skin too.”
“Okay, so he’d be redder than a Sith on fire.”
“What are you doing here anyway, Gahmah?”
“Arcidus hired me as an inside man because he said I’m too unpredictable to be entirely trustworthy. Also something about Maesterus worrying that Valkor sees and hears everything he does and his previous inside men going missing.”
“Then that means…”
“The Alliance is getting some backup. Anyway, let’s leave this slaughterhouse and get some fresh air.”
Meanwhile in Ockla’s orbit, another Valkoran fleet – accompanied by some Kur’Ada and mercenary vessels - dropped out of hyperspace, led by the Doomsayer. The massive vessel introduced itself by firing five plasma cannons shots in succession at an enemy Obliterator destroyer, quickly destroying it.
Admiral Gravlek then gave an order to the rest of the ships under his command. “All forces focus on the Valkoran vessels marked as red on your scopes so as to differentiate friend from foe. And provide aid to the Alliance fleet as needed.”
Afterward, squadrons of Valkoran fighters and boarding craft, led by Arcidus in the Phantom Razor, charged into the battle. As they joined the skirmish, Arcidus took out three enemy Firaxa fighters pursuing Hiriss’s fighter. He then tried to contact the ship.
“This is Arcidus from the Valkoran Separatist movement. Who are you and why are you piloting Zolph Vaelor’s starfighter?”
Hiriss responded back. “This is Jedi Knight Hiriss Moraana. Zolph requested that I fly his ship in the battle while he met with your people. Seeing as your Maesterus’s top agent, do you know where he is right now?”
“He’s already in the Imperial Palace with my master, and he got here before you did.”
“So he was ahead of us. And thank you for the save. But now that you’re here, let’s finish these guys.”
At the same time, some Behemoth-class landing barges and Sigma-class shuttles were making their way down to the planet’s surface.
Back on the lower levels of the capital, Luke Skywalker aided the Alliance forces as they battled Valkor’s supporters. While the Alliance soldiers had some trouble fighting with the Exo-troopers – which could move surprisingly fast when given a lot of open space, but took a while to slow down their dash jets -, Luke had almost no problems at all given his previous experiences.
Just as another trooper has ready to fire his concussion blaster on Luke, another Exo-trooper charged at the firing trooper from behind and ran his claw through his back. However, the rogue Exo-trooper had the flag symbol on his suit blotted out.
Some other rogue Valkoran forces along with some Kur’Ada warriors and Skakoan commandos came in as well, led by Juganak and Machinus.
“Maesterus’s forces are with you, Skywalker.” Juganak told Luke.
“Glad to hear that.” Luke replied.
One of the Alliance troopers then alerted both parties. “More armored units incoming!”
As described, two more enemy Exo-troopers, along with a Rancor assault tank and a Nexu gunship arrived on the scene.
Machinus rhetorically asked Juganak. “Juga, how far can you throw one of those suits with a person inside them?”
“Allow me to demonstrate, Professor.” Juganak rushed at one of the Exo-troopers. The trooper fired a concussive blast at Juga, but the muscular Miraluka simply shrugged it off before effortlessly hoisting him over his head and then hurling him at the gunship, destroying both in the process.
The other trooper tried to fire on Juganak while he was focused, but Machinus drew his attention by firing a few relatively harmless blaster shots from his wrists.
“Hey, laserbrain.” Machinus taunted the trooper. “I invented that suit.”
“Then you’ll die by it!” The trooper yelled before firing a concussive blast. Machinus simply repelled it back with his repulsor generators.
While the trooper reeled from the blast, Machinus jumped behind him and quickly sliced his dash jets. After the trooper recovered from the shock, Machinus lured the trooper into facing the tank before he suddenly dashed into the tank at high-speed, destroying it and himself.
“Arrogant little punks like you stealing my tech is exactly why I don’t correct every weakness, and one of the few people who knew how to work around them was a naval officer, and he used the prototype.” Machinus retorted.
Some of the Alliance troopers watched in awe. “Well, I’ll be damned.” One of them said. “It’s a good thing they’re on our side.”
One of the rogue Valkoran troopers responded to him in turn. “I can say the same in regards to Master Skywalker, and Vaelor, and every other Jedi.”
With the enemy Valkoran forces in the area cleared, Luke addressed Juganak and Machinus. “So, what’s the plan, right now?”
Machinus then gave the details. “Admiral Gravlek and Arcidus are helping your forces in orbit. Neur, Armogeist and Lieutenant Helms have the upper city. We hired Gahmah Raan as a scout before the battle, and Maesterus and Zolph Vaelor got here before we all did and are inside the palace as we speak. Meanwhile, I’m trying to get to the security station so I can rewire the enemy’s automated defense systems to work for us.”
“So Zolph’s already going for Valkor? That worries me, but we really don’t have much of a choice in this matter.”
Juga responded. “You’re not the only one. Maesterus is also worried about Zolph’s personal problems, and I’m worried about Armogeist, as he may have to fight Masochus, and he’s more tainted than Zolph.”
Machinus also addressed his concerns. “And Neur’s… other half may pop up again, and I won’t be around to repair her lekku for some time if it malfunctions, but she made her choice to go alone.”
Back in the upper levels of the city, Grein and Gahmah continued their hunt for Masochus, assisting the Alliance invasion force and Maesterus’s supporters along the way.
One of these groups that they came across was led by Neur and Lieutenant Helms. After helping them take down a Manticore droid on a bridge suspended between two buildings, Neur addressed the purple-eyed Chiss and the Krishari bounty hunter.
“Hey, I remember you. You came to Moraband with Zolph when he killed Cinydra.”
“I… remember you too.” Grein responded nervously, still recounting the time she went insane and tried to kill her out of misguided jealousy for Zolph. “And I see you’re one of those people that use one of the modern names for that planet without being executed by Masochus.”
“The only reason he didn’t was that Valkor wouldn’t let him when we were still on the same side. And don’t worry, my interest in Zolph is purely platonic, and I know about your real connections to him; if the… other me crops during the battle, you’re safe from my wrath.”
Lieutenant Helms followed up on the comment. “She speaks truly; she’s been taking some psychotherapy sessions, so she’s a little less unhinged.”
Gahmah then interrupted. “Getting back on topic, have you people seen the infertile pseudo-zombie passing by recently? And yes, I know because I have seen him…” Gahmah briefly shuddered in horror, “in his lack of a birthday suit.”
“Yeah.” Helms answered him and pointed towards an adjacent building, which looked like a cathedral of some sort. “We saw him over at that shrine, and General Armogeist decided to go after him.”
Grein then thought to herself. “Typical, Balos.”
“If you’re after him, make him answer for experimenting me and all those who aren’t cursed like I am.”
Neur added to that. “And for all the times he sabotaged my head-tails and tortured me to blackmail Cid.”
Grein then complimented her. “Thank you, Neur. It seems most of us have a grudge against Masochus, but you clearly have your own priorities. May the Force be with you for whatever you’re doing on this level.”
“And with you as well.”
Both groups then parted ways.
Following Lieutenant Helms’ directions, Grein and Gahmah made fought their way to the shrine, specifically one for training people in the ways of the Force and Forceless worship if the abundance of Force acolytes coming their way was an indicator.
Gahmah then asked Grein a question as they fought their way across a bridge leading directly into the cathedral. “Do you know which Archfiend this is the church of?”
Grein answered him. “I haven’t been here for a very long time, Gahmah, and last I remember, this building was abandoned, but a lot can change in the course of thousands of years.”
“Then why haven’t we started developing travel between different galaxies yet? It’s like we’re stuck in some sort of technological stasis no matter how much time passes.”
As Gahmah got ready to open the door to the cathedral, Grein stopped him.
“Careful. I sense a disturbance in the Force behind those doors, and it’s not Masochus.”
“Now that you mentioned it, I sense it too – my senses kicking in a little too late again –,” Gahmah angrily muttered to himself before getting back on topic, “and I think I know who it is.”
Gahmah opened the door and they both entered the catheral’s main hall. After cautiously moving past a few seats in the darkened hall, Gahmah and Grein sensed a shot of compressed air coming their way. They dodged just as the shot exploded into a concussive blast.
Looking to see where the blast came from, they saw a large humanoid figure armored from head-to-toe with a face-wide visor and armed with not only a concussion rifle, but a repeating blaster and some other equipment characteristic of a bounty hunter.
The monster of a man replied with an inhuman growl reverberating from his abdomen.
“Hello, Gestroma.” Gahmah greeted him as he drew out his blaster pistols. “Nice new set of armor you got there.”
“So he survived the destruction of his lab. Be cautious, Gahmah.” Grein warned him. “There’s something wrong here. Last I heard from Zolph and Hiriss, Gestroma was an independent Forceless herald building his own collective. If that’s the case, I find it strange that he’d be wearing armor of Valkoran design after his life’s work was destroyed. Unless, Valkor had him possessed by one of his symbiotes and assimilated him into his collective.”
Gestroma then switched his concussion rifle for his repeater and tried to gun down Gahmah since he didn’t have a lightsaber to deflect the shots with.
“This bastard’s just here to stall us. You continue after Masochus.” Gahmah ordered Grein.
“But what if…?
“Masochus may be one of the absolute worst people in the galaxy, but he hasn’t personally hurt me as he’s hurt you. This is your fight.” After firing a few shots at Gestroma, Gahmah continued. “And if he tries to push your buttons again, remember that his are far more trivial than yours, so you have an advantage over him. He’s just one of the worst of a culture of sociopathic spoiled brats, after all.”
“Very well, Gahmah. And thank you for your help. May the Force be with you.”
Grein then made her way deeper into the cathedral while the two bounty hunters dueled.
“Good luck, Grein.” Gahmah then turned his attention back to Gestroma. “As for you, you’re stuck with me, and I’m going to finish what Zolph and Hiriss started.”
Meanwhile in the Imperial Palace, Zolph and Maesterus – the latter now having his wing flaps regenerated - had finally made it near the top of the tower and an active turbolift connecting to the throne room.
“Well, the throne room is just ahead.” Maesterus told Zolph.
“It’s about time. I was beginning to think this tower extended all the way up into the stratosphere.”
“So now you can stop asking me if we’re there yet.”
However, they had one last obstacle before coming face-to-face with the Emperor himself: two of the strange guards Zolph saw on Christophsis, who quickly unsheathed their swords as soon they noticed the intruders.
“What are these guys, anyway?” Zolph asked Maesterus.
“Aside from Valkor’s equivalent of the Black Guard, they’re not a species from this galaxy.”
The two Force-users clashed swords with the Forceless guards, who put up slightly more of a challenge than the Black Guard did with Zolph. After a minute of traditional sword-fighting, they shifted their sword arms into whip-like tentacles to flail their blades and emitted a blinding flash from their x-shaped visors. However, the temporary blindness was only a minor nuisance, as Zolph and Maesterus could still sense them and quickly cut them down.
After recovering their eyesight, Zolph and Maesterus entered the turbolift to the throne room.
“No more obstacles.” Zolph said as the lift began its ascent.
Arriving in the throne room, Zolph and Maesterus were greeted to the sight of Valkor sitting on his throne with his clawed fingers crossed.
“So, did you enjoy the tour of palace?” Valkor asked Zolph chummily. “Although, I’m a bit disappointed that you skipped the base levels.” Valkor then extended a gray tongue out of one of his mask’s eyesockets to lick around the opening before retracting it back in.
“It was okay, if not a little tiring. Why did the architects have to make this place so damn big?” Zolph answered. “And can you please keep your tongue or tongues inside your mask? I’ve met depraved Chagrians who are more subtle than you.”
Valkor then turned to Maesterus. “As for you, Maesterus, how did you enjoy taking the stairs for the first time in nearly four-thousand years? I’m sure you noticed a few things have changed since the first time you scaled this tower.”
“Why are you so amiable all of a sudden, Valkor?” Maesterus asked suspiciously.
“You must be a bit exhausted after the tour, so why don’t you take a moment to rest. While you were busy killing my staff, both the Galactic Alliance and your little band of mutineers caught my other loyal subjects off guard.”
Valkor then stood up from his throne and redirected his attention back to Zolph.
“I would like to ask you a question, Vaelor. Why aren’t you dead yet?”
Zolph responded with a bit of snark. “I’ll give you the same answer as everyone else who has asked me that: I’m just hard to kill.”
“No, Vaelor. I’m asking how after all I’ve put you through, you still haven’t lost the will to keep living.”
Zolph then clenched his fists in anger. “What!”
“First, I order the death of you and your parents, but you survived that attempt on your life thanks to a miracle on Maesterus’s part and went on to become a Jedi anyway. Then, I ordered Masochus to have Dynn Manthis given an arm created from my blood, ultimately forcing you into a situation where either you’d kill her or let her kill you. Even in the aftermath of that traumatic experience and constantly being led into scenarios that made you relive that moment, you still didn’t give up. And even after I rendered you completely helpless while I tried to kill another one of your closest allies and ordered the destruction of an entire planet around you, you persevered.”
“So you did all that… just so you could break me and have me commit suicide!?”
“It’s worked before in my earlier galactic conquests, and you’re one of the few who have managed to resist it. You should be proud of yourself for lasting this long.”
“You tried to destroy my life… just because you saw me as one of the biggest threats to your plans for universal conquest!”
Maesterus then tried to calm Zolph down. “Do not give into his taunts, Zolph. Not only do you risk fueling the Dark Side, you will become unbalanced in the fight ahead. He might not be a Force user, but he knows about our combat tactics and weaknesses.”
“Yes, Maesty.” Valkor sarcastically responded. “Lecture him on the dangers of the Dark Side of the Force. Surely he hasn’t gotten tired of hearing about it from Skywalker, your wife and the rest of the Order.”
Zolph calmed down only slightly. “Admittedly, it does get a little tiring, but I keep getting reminded for good reasons, and it’s kept me from falling so far. And some of your more idiotic lackeys like Belluzub made the mistake of trying to tell me to give in. You may be attempting to unbalance me, but at least you don’t try to make promises about the lure of the Dark Side. But what led you to consider me a threat in the first place?”
“Some years before your war with the Yuuzhan Vong, a prophet told me that one of Maesterus’s descendants would pose a threat on the merits of being immune to possession by what you and Ze’grein’aradi call Forceless. Truth is, I knew Maesterus allowed her to desert from the Valkoran Empire in secret even before I gave him some of my blood, but I just let him and the rest of the Empire believe I didn’t know. And knowing my previous cult in this galaxy, I couldn’t even trust a compulsive backstabber like Masochus with this information. I just didn’t realize my appointed cult leader was already developing a weaker form of that immunity until it was too late.”
Maesterus came to conclusion. “So that’s why I found you sealed in this throne room. The Rakata predicted that – following some incidents with the Archfiends that they were able to summon - you would try to dispose of them once you and the rest of them were summoned over here. Yet, your emptiness in the Force still called out to me like a homing beacon when I first came to this system by chance.”
“Admittedly, a few stupid decisions in my time guiding the Infinite Empire have led me to be more careful with this Empire.” Valkor then looked to Zolph. “But since you’ve been such a pain to deal with, I couldn’t resist the urge to… give into some of my more personal pleasures. Even after I tried to minimize the amount of damage I did following Christophsis, I still lost half of my cult.”
“It can take one bad decision to shake one’s faith. But I think we’ve rested enough.” Zolph responded before he and Maesterus drew their lightsabers. “You know why we’ve come here, Valkor.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Valkor asked. “Last time, I squeezed on your heart, put you on the brink of death and had you hospitalized.”
“I made the mistake of underestimating you last time. And now, I know what you’re capable of.”
Maesterus commented as well. “And he’s got my support this time.”
“Very well.” Valkor then readied his claws. “If you two are eager to throw your lives away, so be it.”
Zolph proceeded to fake Valkor out by quickly taking his right hand off of his lightsaber, drawing his blaster pistol and firing into one of the Emperor’s eye sockets, leaving a temporary burn inside that regenerated shortly.
Valkor then leaped surprisingly high into the air and lunged at Zolph, quickly swiping the blaster away from his hand and tearing up some of the sleeve on his right arm. Zolph was lucky to have that arm be mechanical in this situation, as he would have lost his original arm a lot later and at a more inconvenient time.
Maesterus tried to attack Valkor from behind, but he quickly turned around and grabbed the lightsaber blade with his right claw. Zolph tried to get the drop on him too, but Valkor grabbed his blade with his left claw. While locking blades, Valkor had two puddles of Black Matter slither over from under his feet to his foes.
Knowing what was about to happen, Zolph and Maesterus jumped and flew away from Valkor respectively just as two spike traps emerged from the puddles.
Maesterus retaliated by firing four palm spikes from above, but Valkor simply erected a Black Matter barrier from one of the spike traps to absorb them and then fire them back at Maesterus, who simply deflected them. While he was preoccupied with his own spikes, Valkor turned the other spike trap into a tentacle, lashed at Maesterus’s leg and slammed him into the throne room walls, knocking him out.
Zolph tried to get the drop on Valkor again, but he saw another Black Matter puddle beneath his feet, this time turning into a giant tooth-filled mouth similar to the one Valkor tried to eat General Choi with. As Zolph jumped up into the air to barely avoid being eaten, he looked down to notice that inside of the mouth looked incredibly deep despite the fact there is a solid floor beneath the puddle it generated from. Zolph readied a thermal detonator and threw it into the mouth at just the right time so it would explode in the mouth itself and not whatever physically improbable stomach it had in its much larger interior. To his surprise, the detonation destroyed the entirety of the puddle while still revealing a solid floor beneath it.
“And I thought I had seen everything…” Zolph told himself just after landing on the floor.
“And you never will have…” Valkor said to him just before lashing a small Black Matter eel from one of his eye sockets. The serpent’s head grew a bit larger and bit around Zolph’s body, binding him in a way that would keep even his mechanical arm from getting him free.
“Did you really think I had shown off everything I was capable of? Even what I just showed you now is a small sample.” Valkor taunted Zolph while sinking his teeth into his arm. “If it’s any consolation, I’m not going to bother torturing you this time and kill you right now, and that traitor will soon follow, as well the rest of your allies should they not be possessed.”
While Valkor was taunting and gripping him, Zolph watched Maesterus – who had just recovered from his earlier knock-out - sneak up on Valkor from behind. Valkor realized the ambush too late just as he was bisected down from his left shoulder to his waist, causing the Black Matter serpent gripping Zolph to dematerialize.
“Thank you, Sef.” Zolph complimented Maesterus.
“We’re not finished yet.” Maesterus said as he pointed to Valkor’s upper half lying on the floor, which was still moving.
Valkor let out a slightly angered grunt. “He’s right. It’s not over yet.”
“Give it up, Valkor.” Zolph told the Emperor. “You’re on the brink of death and you’re outnumbered. You’re empire has come to an end. You’ve lost.”
Valkor then let out a slight chuckle that gradually turned into deranged laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“On the brink of death? Surely you've concluded that this body is only a shell by which I can present a more comfortable image to influence my followers by.”
Suddenly, several gallons of Black Matter flooded out of both halves of Valkor’s robotic body – more than what that body could possibly hold - , creating a hideous blob-like monster covered in multiple Forceless eyes, limbs and mouths that didn’t consistently lead anywhere in his body, with the upper half of the shell still attached and active.
“Shavit.” Zolph uttered.
“And you say I’m outnumbered? The Valkoran Empire may be half as big as it used to, but I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about the rest of my army?!”
Zolph then activated his comlink to Admiral Cephal while Maesterus contacted Gravlek.
“Vaelor to Admiral Cephal.”
“Commander Vaelor.” Cephal replied. “It’s good to hear your voice and to know that you’re still alive. Whatever you have to say, I’m patching it through to everyone else.”
“Be on the lookout for anything coming out of hyperspace. We’ve got enemy reinforcements coming, and they’re not a part of the Valkoran military.”
“We’re not picking up anything ready to drop out of hyper-…. Wait a second! We’re picking up… some wormholes… and some creatures that vaguely resemble starships are coming out of them!”
“That’s the same group I encountered on Sleheyron. We’re now up against the Forceless Collective army. The Valkoran were just a proxy cult. But don’t let your guard down. Even their space combat tactics involve possession.”