It has been six months since Zolph Vaelor lost his right arm on Kratzar. He spent the past six months on rehabilitation for several reasons: the planning, designing and testing of a specific prosthetic arm for Zolph, training his hand-eye coordination with said arm, and constructing a new lightsaber to replace the one which belonged to his father until five years earlier he lost with his arm. However, this was a lightsaber he could now call his own: it produced an aqua blade like his previous saber, but it had a claw-like emitter like Maesterus's saber.
Now that Zolph is back in action, he has been called to aid the Galactic Alliance defense of the watery world of Manaan, homeworld of the Selkath and the main producer of Kolto, the Alliance's only other alternative to Bacta as a medical agent.
The Blazing Manta dropped out of hyperspace into the Pyrshak system, where they were greeted by several Alliance and Valkoran starships battling in orbit over Manaan. Some CR90 corvettes were being blown apart by the Valkoran's Shyrack-class assault bombers, which were in turn quickly dispatched by a squadron of A-Wings.
The Manta continued flying towards Manaan's atmosphere, while Zolph manned the guns picking off any intercepting fighters, as the Valks are now familiar with this ship.
After entering Manaan's atmosphere, the Manta approached Ahto City, where several Alliance and Valkoran fighters engaged outside. The Manta ignored them and then landed in one of the city's public hangars.
Minutes later, Zolph and Grein were in a makeshift war room, where they met up with General Ven Choi who they previously met on Polus once again and Shesas, the Selkath official in charge of Ahto City.
"Okay, we're here!" Zolph said panting, and then looked to the Kel Dor general. "It's good to see you again, too. How did it go on Polus?"
"The Valks got off shortly after you left, and you're back from rehab." Ven Choi replied. "But now's not the time for sharing war stories. They have decided to focus on Manaan now."
"Let me guess: it's another battle over who gets the military Kolto monopoly. They don't seem to be landing any boarding parties in the city, and most of the fighting going on right now is ship-to-ship. So what's the point of calling us down to the city?"
"After what you reported on Polus and speaking with Shesas on Manaan's history, I get the feeling the Kolto raid is just a front to what they're truly doing." Choi then spoke to the Selkath. "Shesas?"
Shesas then addressed them, "We don't usually share this with offworlders, but thousands of years before the establishment of the Old Republic, Manaan was under the rule of a tyrannical group of aliens we know as the Builders."
Zolph then asked Grein. "Grein, are these Builders the Rakata you mentioned back on Polus?"
Grein answered. "Yes, they are one in the same. Manaan was part of the Infinite Empire."
Zolph then came to a conclusion. "I'm guessing that what you guys are telling me is that there is an Archfiend here?"
"That's pretty much it." Choi answered.
"Grein, you're the expert on these things. Is there one here?" Zolph asked the purple-eyed Chiss to confirm his suspicions.
"Yes, and its name is Hydrojus."
"Okay, so this attack is definitely a cover-up for an Archfiend summoning, much like they did by raising the crime rate on Tatooine. If there are ancient ruins on this planet like the last two times, they've most likely been covered by this water ball. And how in the name of Kyle's beard are we going to find them without eventually becoming shark food?"
Suddenly, the holoprojector on the table started buzzing repeatedly. General Choi activated it, displaying a Zabrak Alliance soldier.
"General! Valkoran land forces have made their way into the city, but we are not picking up any dropships landing!" the soldier replied.
"Are the anti-air turrets functioning?" the General asked.
"Then they're probably coming out from under the sea. Clear the streets and hold the docking ring. They're probably entering in from the hangars."
"Understood! Zeta Leader out!" the transmission ended.
"Zolph. Grein. I would really appreciate your help holding the line."
"Alright, and this may be our chance to track the ruins' location." Zolph responded. "But what about you and the fish?"
The Kel Dor then drew his vibroblade from his sheath. "I can handle myself if they get in here. Now get going, you two!"
Zolph and Grein picked up some homing beacons and then quickly left the war room.
Moving through Ahto's streets, Zolph and Grein came across a few Alliance soldiers as well as the Selkath militia in fire fights against Valkoran troopers with breathing apparatuses attached to their helmets and backs. They would help out the Alliance and local militia whenever possible.
By the time they had gotten to the docking ring, most of the hangars had been sealed off to reduce the number of troops getting in, though not without cost.
Getting to one of the few open hangars left, Grein, with her hydromorphic abilities and a few tracking beacons on hand, jumped out of the hangar into the ocean.
Zolph readied his lightsaber as several grappling cables stuck themselves into the hangar's entrance. Several Valkoran SCUBA Troopers came from below and disconnected their rifles from the cables. As some of them readied to fire, the cable of a trooper from the following groups snapped before he made it in, making a distinct scream one that not many could perfectly imitate unless they are dying before hitting the water below.
"Well, I guess I know whose scream that is." Zolph told himself as he was deflecting blaster fire from the other troopers.
As he has deflecting the shots back at the other troopers and cutting down several more of them, one trooper got really close and attempted to slash Zolph with his forearm blade. Zolph responded with a fully charged punch from his arm, sending him flying out the hangar entrance.
As he then Force pushed some troopers who had just entered, some larger grappling hooks attached themselves to the ceiling. These were followed by not more troopers, but Gundark combat walkers that had been reformatted for working underwater. But Zolph, being more than familiar enough with fighting them even after not fighting the Valkoran for six months, dispatched them quickly.
As he defended the hangar from more troopers and walkers, he got a comlink call from Grein.
"Yeah? I'm kinda busy here!" Zolph complained.
"Just letting you know that I've placed the beacons on the carriers, and that I'm now defending the other open hangar. Ours are the only ones left to close." Grein told him.
"That's a relief. Now we're one step closer to ruining them here. Now let's get back to keeping them out of the city." Zolph then ended the chat.
After a few more minutes, all the hangar doors had closed and the troops and walkers that made it into the city had been eliminated.
Later, Zolph and Grein met back up with General Choi in the war room.
"Okay, General. The Valks are out of the city and the beacons have been set. Have you and your men found out where they are operating from?" Zolph asked Choi.
"We have." He responded.
"Excellent. So we can move out immediately."
Grein then chimed in. "I'm coming too, but we need to keep Choi here to monitor activity outside the ruins."
"Why?" Zolph asked her.
"Hydrojus can manipulate water in large quantities, so if it's successfully summoned and it gets out of the ruins, everyone on Manaan's as good as dead unless they submit their allegiance and free will to the Collective. We need Choi to make sure it hasn't gotten out by the time we get there."
"Good point. There's nothing like a whole planet trying to kill you. Let's get a squad ready for sealing up the entrance when we get there."
Later in the day, Zolph, Grein and a platoon of soldiers arrived at the underwater ruins via submersible. As soon as they exited the sub, Zolph immediately, contacted General Choi.
"Zolph Vaelor to Ven Choi. We've reached the ruins. Is there anything really unusual going on with Manaan's oceans yet, like the sea level elevating drastically or tidal waves trying to engulf Ahto City from all sides?"
"Not yet. Either this thing has not been summoned yet, or it just isn't out of the ruins yet." Choi answered.
"Thank the Force. That's all I needed to know." Zolph ended the transmission and then addressed the soldiers. "Alright, boys, get that barricade set up, or we're all gonna suffer a horrible watery death."
The soldiers got to work on the barricade.
Half an hour later, the entrance to the ruins was covered by a particle shield. The squad then moved out.
As they moved forward, they noticed the ruins were more or less an abandoned civilization, once used by the Ancient Selkath, but also then settled by the Rakata when they enslaved the planet. There were several abandoned homes and fountains scattered throughout the cityscape.
As they moved forward past a small pond, a tentacle of water emerged out of it and snuck up on the soldier farthest back in the group. Upon forcing itself into the soldier's mouth, the soldier struggled as he let out a muffled scream, getting the rest of the squad's attention. Before they could do anything about it, the man's insides suddenly caved-in on themselves and killed him. The tentacle then retracted back into the pond and the other squad members were naturally horrified.
"This is very bad!" One of the squad said while cringing. "What the hell could kill a guy like this?"
"Hydrojus." Grein responded with a little fear in her voice.
Zolph then chipped in "And unfortunately, we carbon-based lifeforms are seventy percent water. Everyone, we're gonna have to watch each other's backs from this point forward. And now that I think about it, I sense him not too far from here."
"You mean he just controls the water and is not just the water himself?" the squad leader asked him. "Fighting masochist aliens with organic technology is one thing, but what we're dealing with now right now is something else entirely!"
"Get a grip, soldier! This is exactly why we put up that particle shield, and there are other creatures similar to it on other planets. We're already at risk being here, but the whole planet and the rest of the galaxy will be at risk too if this thing gets out."
Grein then chipped into Zolph's lecture "And the organization this thing is part of? I've seen them do worse things to people than kill them. So do you still want to run away after hearing that?"
"As outlandish as it sounds, I can't refuse to believe you after what I just saw. I may die if I stay here, but if I leave I'm not the only one who's going to die, or worse. So, I'll take the slightly lower chance of dying." The soldier answered.
"I know you're scared out of your wits, and believe me, we're all scared to some extent, but can't you be a little more optimistic about surviving?" Zolph asked with a little encouragement.
"I know we have a chance of surviving this, but you two are Jedi! You people are normally experts at fighting these kinds of things, and we're just guys with blasters. And you're normally trained to not feel fear!"
"We still feel fear. We just don't give into it and spit in its face. And by the way, Grein's technically not a Jedi. Now you and the rest of the squad get back to the entrance. Grein and I need someone to protect the shield generators in case Hydrojus tries to destroy them."
"Yes sir!" The rest of the squad headed back while watching each other's backs.
As Zolph and Grein continued to follow the abnormality given off by Hydrojus, they saw the corpses of several Valkoran soldiers and acolytes, some killed in rather horrific manners, whether it be drowned on land, mangled or turned into grotesque piles of goo.
"Geez, what happened to people just getting shot or cut to pieces?" Zolph asked as he observed the carnage.
"Stay focused, Zolph. We are not in a fantasy novel." Grein told him.
Eventually, sensing Hydrojus really close, they made it to a large swimming pool with a few platforms scattered throughout. They then ignited their lightsabers.
"Keep your guard up, because a lot of water is not a good thing for us right now." Grein told Zolph.
"I was thinking the same thing."
Suddenly, a meters-long tentacle of water emerged from the pool and formed into a sickle-like shape. It slashed at Zolph, and to his surprise, it actually managed to cut a sleeve on his vest. Another tentacle emerged, wrapped itself around him and threw him over to one of the central platforms.
As Zolph got back up on his feet, he noticed a small creature swimming in the pool. This creature looked like a giant disembodied brain with a tailfin on its stem. It stopped swimming and emerged with a large serpent-like body and vaguely humanoid face made of water, with the actual creature posing as the brain for the serpent. Apparently, they now know what Hydrojus looks like.
"Seriously?" Zolph asked. "The thing that has been scaring our troops and gruesomely murdering people left and right is a somewhat itty-bitty brainfish?" He laughed then hysterically until he caught the Archfiend laughing along with him. It then lashed another tentacle at him and held him up above the pool, with another water blade at his throat and Hydrojus glaring menacingly up close with watery eyelids around the actual eyeballs. Zolph responded by Force pushing himself out of its grip, thus breaking the body apart and causing the brain to fall back into the pool.
However, Hydrojus turned its sights to Grein. As she was fighting off more of its tentacles, it somehow managed to trigger her Force Liquefaction and stuck another tentacle into her. Her body then started making odd gestures and the tentacle then carried her over to Zolph's platform as if it were hanging her by her spinal cord.
Once it lowered her down on Zolph's platform, she raised her blade towards Zolph as if she were a Chiss marionette.
"Dammit, Grein! Of all the Archfiends out there, why did you have to come with me on this one?!" Zolph criticized her. "If you know these things so well, why didn't you stay behind like usual?!"
"Think of this as a test." She slowly said as she uncoordinatedly slashed at him. It was pretty clear that she was struggling to speak too. Her left arm then liquefied and then froze into an ice blade. She then slashed at him with both blades, with Zolph barely dodging them.
"Well, Zolph, it looks like you may have to kill me. Do you have what it takes to do so?" She said continuing to struggle with her speech as she continued slashing at him.
Zolph then smiled and pulled out a grenade a cryoban grenade specifically. "I don't think that'll be necessary." He then threw it into the pool, causing it to freeze over, including the tentacle and Grein. He then shattered the frozen tentacle attached to her.
A few seconds later, all the ice shattered and Hydrojus remerged with his serpent body, clearly angry at Zolph for breaking his control over Grein. It then attempted to cut both of them apart, but Zolph retaliated by Force Repulsing all the water sickles away. He then threw another cryoban grenade into the water, this time freezing Hydrojus's serpent body.
This time, Zolph ran across the ice and Force pushed Hydrojus out of his frozen body. Hydrojus, now no longer making full contact with any bodies of water, was completely helpless and attempted to scurry away on some scorpion-like legs. Zolph then Force pulled the creature towards him and immediately sliced it in two vertically. The terror of the depths was finally deceased.
Zolph walked back to Grein, and she promptly unfroze herself. She then noticed Hydrojus's bisected corpse slowly disintegrating. "Well, looks you like passed the test." She told him.
"Test?! I could've killed you!" Zolph complained to her.
"To see if you had what it takes to take out any allies that get possessed by Forceless. However, what I experienced was very mild compared to actual Forceless possession, and you found a loophole, so you got out of this one easy. What are you going to do when you're faced with the real thing?"
Zolph then told her with discomfort. "I can't answer that one. I refuse to believe anyone can't be saved from them."
"However, I can commend you for trying to find another way, and letting me live longer. I'm just warning you that saving others from Forceless possession is very unlikely."
"I'll deal with it when the time comes."
They then crossed the frozen pool and made their way back to the city entrance.
Much later, the entire squad returned to Ahto City and met up with General Ven Choi in the war room to report their success.
"I take it you found and killed this Hydrojus creature?" Ven Choi asked the squad.
"Yep. Manaan's safe for the time being." Zolph answered. "You won't believe what your troops have been through down there."
"I can tell from their current reaction" the General pointed out, noticing the terrified looks on the squad members' faces.
"Judging by what's in the rest of the report, some of them may be suffering from PTSD as a result. You may want to consider putting them on them leave for a while, General."
"No can do, Commander Vaelor," one of the squad members told him "If these things are as bad as you say they are, I don't want to sit out of this war."
"While I do admire your bravery, I'm going to have to agree with Zolph," General Choi told the soldier. "I'm not going to make you sit out the rest of this war, but I am putting you all on leave for a month or two. The last things I need are soldiers who are nervous wrecks. Besides, I can tell you've been through hell today, and you deserve a break from this chaos."
understood, sir," the soldier responded. "My boys and I'll pack up and head home then." The squad minus Zolph and Grein then left the room.
The General then turned his attention back to Zolph and Grein. "Anyway, I've got something you two may want to hear about."
"Go ahead and shoot." Zolph told him.
"While you were down in the sea, our fleet had an encounter with a new Valkoran Star Destroyer: the Doomsayer." The General then displayed a hologram of the vessel, with a scale showing that it was several times the size of an Obliterator-class Star Destroyer, being on par with a Super Star Destroyer.
Zolph was naturally shocked. "By Chewie's ghost, how did the Valks get the credits and resources to build that thing?!"
"Here's another fun fact I learned while you were on rehab: the Doomsayer is Maesterus's personal flagship." Grein told them both.
"You don't say? Of course, I'd expect him to get one of, if not the biggest ship in the fleet." Zolph spoke back to the General. "So General, what do you have to report?"
"While it did a number on our fleet in orbit, I thought we could find a way to extract some information, possibly more Archfiend locations, from this ship. So, I ordered Rogue Squadron to take out all of its weapon systems, fire a tracking beacon onto it and let it retreat from the battle with extensive damage."
"You know, for someone who isn't a fleet admiral, you're not half-bad at space tactics." Zolph complimented the Kel Dor. "So when do we infiltrate it?"
"It's still in Hyperspace right now, but we'll give you the shipyard coordinates as soon as it reaches its destination. Given the extent of the damage, it should take a week or so to fully repair, but since you've done a lot today, I'll give you the rest of the day off."
"Thank you, General."