Andronikos cursed under his breath, “Oh crap!”
He locked the controls and quickly left his pilot’s seat the moment Darth Nox and Lord Ashara began quarreling. A few years ago, he’d learned - the hard way - to get the hell out of their way whenever they began to argue. Because of his rage against Ashara, Nox had used The Force to throw Andronikos out of his pilot’s seat, and then slammed him into the bulkhead.
Andronikos didn’t want to have to rebuild the ship droid - again - either. It was a lot of work reconstructing 2V-R8, after Nox had demolished it three years ago.
Three years ago, the droid had become one of the many victims of Nox’s frustrations. Back then, Lord Ashara had refused a mission to assassinate a delegation of Jedi visiting Hutta. These Jedi were on an actual
Five years earlier, millions of Republic settlers had escaped Taris on overcrowded starships, in the final weeks of the Empire’s assault on Taris. During the assault on Olaris Spaceport, as the masses of Republic settlers evacuated the planet, the Galactic Republic government’s resolve to rebuild and resettle the ruined world had been broken. They had abandoned Taris to the Sith Empire.
Among the ten million evacuees fleeing to different worlds, a group of several thousand Cathar had fled to Hutta in desperation. On Hutta, the Cathar people had become virtual slaves. Five years later, Darth Nox had learned of a Jedi delegation that had gone to Hutta to negotiate with the Hutts on behalf of the Galactic Republic. They wanted to relocate the Cathar to Republic aligned worlds.
It was then, in Darth Nox’s office, Ashara had refused an order to interfere with their mission, and had also refused an order to assassinate the four member Jedi delegation.
She spoke tactfully, but resolutely, “My lord, I have not shrunk from the task of killing Jedi, before. But in those instances, those Jedi were saboteurs, spies, and Jedi I felt that threatened my vision of bringing peace to the galaxy.”
Nox scoffed at her, “Peace? When will you ever acknowledge that peace is a lie, Ashara!”
Ashara answered her husband, “My lord, I believe that after the Sith Empire has defeated and conquered the Galactic Republic, the galactic wars will come to an end. Then we shall be largely at peace in the galaxy.”
Nox, at the edge of his fury, told her, “Ashara. For the last time, obey me! Go, now!”
Ashara answered resolutely, “My lord, I obey your will in many things. But in this, I will not. They seek only to ease the suffering of a few people. These Jedi pose no threat to the Empire with their mission.”
On hearing her defiance to him, Darth Nox had flown into a rage and instantly began attacking his ship droid as it happened to approach him to deliver a message. Nox tore the droid apart as Ashara fled from the Dark Lord’s presence, and out of his offices at The Sphere of Ancient Knowledge, in Kaas City.
Andronikos hadn’t known any of the circumstances that had led to Nox wrecking his droid three years earlier, but he did know he didn’t want to have to rebuild the droid a second time.
He ordered the ship droid in a low but urgent tone, “2V-R8, stand by in the Engineering Department. Now! Quickly!”
As Andronikos made his way out of the control bridge, 2V-R8 also rushed for the engineering department as ordered, replying, “Yes, Captain.”
Andronikos Revel, a Human, evacuated the bridge and escaped to the common crew section. There he took refuge from the coming storm in the control bridge. As he lounged in a chair, and with nothing better to do since he wasn’t piloting the ship, he decided to watch Khem Val and Darth Xalek play a round of Pazaak. The two played as though nothing were amiss.
Watching their Pazaak game was his way of weathering the storm of fury and rage brewing within the control bridge. He’d hoped for the quarrel to end soon, so that he could get back to work. Andronikos wasn’t entirely sure the ship was on a course that led it safely out of its orbit over Oricon.
He thought anxiously, “We shouldn’t fly into anything. I hope." Then in frustration, he thought angrily, "Damn Ashara, just tell him you won’t do whatever it was again, so that he'll shut up! I got to get back at the controls!”
However, this quarrel had unexpectedly become violent. Andronikos turned in his seat and looked over his shoulder towards the control bridge. He was shocked at the sounds of clashing lightsabers exploding from within the bridge.
He could hear Ashara’s plaintive voice over the sounds of the angry lightsabers’ own dispute, “My lord...!”
A series of lightsaber clashes followed.
“Do not turn your hatred towards me!”
Another series of lightsaber clashes followed.
“I’m doing my best to serve your will without compromising my teachings!”
Andronikos winced as Darth Nox’s rage filled voice returned with, “I will hear no more of your blasphemous Jedi teachings!”
Another round of violent saber clashes exploded from within the bridge. The unmistakable sounds of lightsabers cutting into the metal cabinets, the bulkheads (the walls in a ship), and the ship’s deck caused Andronikos to jump to his feet.
He faced in the direction of the control bridge thinking in dismay, “What the hell are they doing to my ship?!”
In the control bridge, Darth Nox, a Sith Pureblood in his mid thirties, with black hair done in a flamboyant top-knot which stuck out of the back of his partially shaved pate, battled his reluctant apprentice, former Jedi and wife of seven years, Ashara Zavros of the Togruta species. He battered her to the deck of his modified Fury class Interceptor spacecraft. His rage against her had never been as severe as this.
His spies had discovered that rumors were spreading amongst his servants within his powerbase, and worse, among the other members of the Dark Council.
He roared at her, spittle spraying from his mouth, as he brought down his sabrestaff repeatedly with all of his fury, “This has happened because you keep insisting you’re a Jedi!” He suddenly paused his assault to drive home his point, “Get it through your thick skull! You are a Lord of The Sith!”
He was determined to beat that lesson into her, as he renewed his attack.
Ashara blocked, parried, deflected, and dodged four rapid and vicious attacks.
She shouted pleadingly, “My Lord...!”
Lightsaber clashes followed.
“Do not believe the lies your enemies have invented!”
Followed by more lightsaber clashes.
It was rumored that Nox had not only failed to turn his captured Jedi to the Dark Side, but that Ashara had been leading him on with silly notions of changing the powerful Imperial government into a weakened egalitarian form of government, with rights and freedoms for the non-sith and the undeserving.
Darth Nox was beside himself with humiliation and rage. Humiliation, because it was true that he’d failed to turn Ashara to the Dark Side of The Force, and rage because the rumors depicted him as having been dominated by Ashara’s Jedi trickery.
Nox raged at Ashara, pointing at her face with his finger, “These lies are true, so long as you call yourself Jedi!”
He had backed Ashara into a corner of the control bridge. He executed a spinning attack with his sabrestaff.
Ashara leapt over him, as his sabrestaff cut into the bulkheads, creating showers of sparks, but she kept low to avoid hitting the overhead (or ceiling). She rolled to the center of the control bridge deck, thus escaping his trap and regaining distance from Nox as she turned to face him with lightsabers ablaze in each hand.
Ashara was unsettled. She’d never seen her husband and lord so unhinged before. Her visions of the future, which she’d been having for the last three years, were finally becoming reality, and her heart pounded with the realization that she knew what would follow.
Andronikos had been standing in front of his seat facing the hatchway to the ship’s control bridge. He agonized over the havoc those two were creating on his ship.
He thought to himself in disbelief, “Damn! They’re really fighting in there! That argument got out of hand, fast!” Then in frustration, he exclaimed to Xalek and Khem, “They’re gonna wreck the damned ship!”
When he didn’t get a reply from either of them, he turned to look back and was shocked to find that the two had already withdrawn from the game table and were rushing to their respective quarters.
Andronikos thought to himself, “Damn! What the hell am I standing here for?!”
He made a break for his own bunk. As he rushed to his own quarters, the fierce clashing of the sabers had suddenly ended. He felt a sickening feeling grow in his gut as he walked quickly to his quarters.
He though to himself, “The fight’s over?”
In his gut, however, he felt something wasn’t right. Andronikos faintly heard Darth Nox’s worry filled voice coming from the control bridge as he came to a stop just outside of his quarters.
“Ashara! Ashara?!” Then, “WHAT... HAVE... I... DOOOOOOOONE?!”
A furious storm of lightning suddenly raged within the control bridge, which then spilled out into the common crew section.
His heart racing, Andronikos watched as multiple bolts of Lightning arced from the overhead to the deck of the common crew space. His stomach lurched as he watched lightning blast the lounge seat he’d been sitting in not a moment before. He could barely hear Darth Nox’s anguished cries over the sounds of arcing lightning and exploding control consoles in the control bridge and the common crew space.
Andronikos shook his head in disbelief as he thought to himself, “He actually killed Ashara!”
He also realized he was going to have a lot of repair work ahead of him, but he had no idea how bad the damage was about to get.
Standing just outside of his quarters, Andronikos shook his head in disgust as the fire alarms began to sound off and acrid black smoke began to pour from the control bridge. He felt some relief, however, when the fire suppression system kicked into action, nodding his satisfaction when 2V-R8, an integral part of the fire suppression system, rushed into the control bridge with fire fighting equipment to fight the electrical fire and to conduct damage control activities.
The lightning arcs stopped long enough for Darth Nox to take in a deep breath. Then a new storm of lightning erupted in the control bridge as Nox screamed out his fury and his agonizing grief. The second Force Lightning storm was worse than the first one. The lightning arcs spilled all the way to the passage way on the far rear of the common crew section, almost to the ship’s main air lock.
Any relief Andronikos had felt over the situation was replaced with feelings of dread, as he watched the smoke suddenly begin to retrace its path back into the control bridge.
Andronikos was drowned out by the cacaphony of alarms as he cursed aloud, “Oh crap!”
He knew this could only mean one thing, as a new alarm added it’s panicked noise to the cacophony of alarms sounding off throughout the ship. The main canopy had cracked and had sprung a big leak. Air was seeping out of the ship through the crack in the main canopy.
Andronikos thought to himself, “Hell! I’d better do something!”
The instant he thought that, however, the main canopy shattered explosively and the ship’s atmosphere let out a terrifying howl as it escaped into space. The ship began to suffer explosive decompression.
However, the terrifying howl of thousands of cubic feet per second of the ship’s atmosphere vacuuming out through the shattered canopy, and into space, became less terrifying as the ship’s automatic systems kicked in. Blast doors came down, separating sections of the ship, and barrier force shields went up where the shattered canopy used to be, preserving the remaining air.
The very loud hissing sound of compressed auxiliary air, restoring air pressure in the crew spaces, was welcomed relief to Andronikos. In a short time, the air pressure returned to normal, and Andronikos’ popped ears also returned to normal.
Andronikos took note that the ship’s fire suppression system and the environmental control system both worked flawlessly. The tension began to leave Andronikos’ shoulders as the blast doors began to reopen, retreating into the overhead, and the alarms became silent, one by one.
He thought to himself, “Well, now I don’t have to run tests to see if those work. They just did.”
Andronikos turned his head at the movement at the corner of his eye. He’d found that Khem and Xalek had appeared once again, emerging from and standing just outside of their respective quarters. The three of them all returned their attention to the control bridge entryway as the Dark Lord of the Sith finally emerged.
Andronikos wondered for the first time since the chaos began, “Are we next?”
Darth Nox emerged from the bridge filled with pure hatred, seething in unbridled rage, and drowning in crushing grief. Darth Nox made a low growling noise as he dragged Ashara’s limp and partially severed body, leaving a heavy trail of her blood and other bodily fluids on the deck. His low growl was like the sound of a fierce predator that had suffered a terrible wound.
Darth Nox, his shoulders stooped and his face twisted by his pitch black emotions, seemed to drag himself as well as his late wife to an airlock. He stood for a moment, staring at the controls, as though he'd briefly forgotten what it was that he’d intended.
After a moment of staring absently, Nox finally used his free hand to manipulate the controls to open the inner hatch. His low wounded animal growl became a furiously anguished roar as he used The Force to assist in throwing his late wife's body into the airlock, but he did it with such power, that its impact against the outer hatch could be felt reverberating throughout the ship. It sounded as if an overgrown giant rancor had banged against the ship’s outer hull with a huge boulder.
Then, he stepped into the airlock himself and faced the airlock controls. After staring at the controls in contemplation, and hesitating for a good while, he stepped back out of the airlock, deciding to take the darker path. The power of the Dark Side flowed through him like it had never done before. He’d sought that power for many years. Now, here, he’d finally obtained it.
Darth Nox shut the hatch, then activated the purge system. Ashara’s lifeless corpse tumbled out into space. Nox leaned against the inner hatch, sobbing. After a few moments, he turned about slowly and made eye contact with Andronikos Revel.
Andronikos had never felt fear of another man in his life, but right then, he felt that he was in the presence of a demon, not a man, and it gave him pause. He felt the crushing pressure of Nox’s monstrous hate filled aura becoming worse with each step Nox took towards him. He'd felt this aura from Nox many times in the past, but it was never like this.
Darth Nox, panting for air, stopped a few paces from where Andronikos struggled to remain standing, leaning back against the bulkhead for support. Nox’s face had lost much of the darkness that had twisted it into a facade of hatred only a moment before. However, Andronikos could still feel the crush of his Dark Side aura. He felt cursed as Nox spoke his name.
Andronikos, sweat pouring inside his tunic and running down his temples, down his brow and into his eyes, fought to keep his cool and to keep breathing as he replied cautiously, “Yeah...?” He gulped, then added, “Boss?”
Darth Nox spoke in a low, harsh breathy tone, still out of breath, “The control bridge needs repairs... The controls seem to be damaged... Find us...,” He paused for a few breaths, and then continued, “... Find us an Imperial Navy space port..., a port with repair facilities to take care if it.”
Andronikos had somehow mustered the strength to reply, “Sure, Boss.”
Andronikos fought the fog of demonic hatred, emanating from Nox, which threatened to smother his mind as he surveyed the scorch marks on the overhead, the bulkheads, the deck, and the ruined furniture of the common crew space. Andronikos fought to keep his sense of humor, as he thought to himself, “Just the control bridge, eh?”
Darth Nox, just starting to breath normally, addressed his only remaining apprentice, again in a low, winded tone, “Darth Xalek.”
Xalek could feel the crushing black darkness and hatred pouring from his master. He knelt before his lord and intoned ever so reverently, “Yes, Dark Master? How may I serve thee?”
Darth Nox replied, as some strength returned to his voice, “I want you to contact whomever is in charge of Taris these days and start inquiring about captured Republic bases. Find out whether any ancient artifacts have been located in any of them.”
“Is there something in particular you are searching for, lord?” Xalek asked.
Darth Nox replied, “For now, I will keep the particulars to myself. Just start inquiring.”
Xalek replied, “As you decree, my dark master.”
Xalek stood, turned, and walked to the conference room without another word to begin his task.
Darth Xalek was Nox’s apprentice whom Nox had obtained from the Sith Academy on Korriban. He was a Kaleesh male. He served and worshiped Nox as a living god. It was the way of his people’s culture to worship the most powerful warriors.
Xalek was, himself, worshiped as a living god among his Kaleesh peoples. His exploits in battle were all well known to them. Xalek however, knew that he was leagues below his master in terms of power and control of The Force, but he always gleaned new knowledge from his master every chance he got, and became stronger every time.
Now his master required him to find an ancient relic. No doubt it was one of immense power or containing forgotten dark knowledge. He wanted to find it and use it himself before turning it over to his master. Xalek hoped to one day defeat his master and truly become a god among the living. He was deeply awed by Nox’s great power and basked in Nox’s crushing hate filled aura. He rejoiced inwardly, for Darth Nox, as he witnessed his master reach a new level of darkness and might in the Dark Side of The Force.
Darth Nox turned to make his way to his own quarters, but stopped in his tracks after only a few steps.
He turned his head to face Khem Val and said, “I could feel your malevolence all the way from here, Khem Val.” Then with irritation edging his tired low voice, he asked, “What do you want from me?”
Khem Val scratched the back of his head as though he had second thoughts about what he’d wanted to ask.
After a short but perceptible pause, Khem shrugged his massive shoulders as he thought to himself, “Why should I fear to ask?” Aloud, Khem Val said to his master, “Master, long have I wished to eat that one. Let me get her corps, so that I may feast on it.”
Andronikos took a big leaping step into his quarters and shut the hatch. He shook his head in disbelief as he allowed himself to sink to the deck in his quarters. He didn’t have the strength to remain standing in the face of Nox’s crushing dark aura. He rolled onto his back and held the palm of his hand firmly to his mouth to suppress his laughter.
He was struck with great mirth as he thought to himself, “Khem, you insane monster, you!”
Darth Nox now turned fully to face Khem Val and walked towards him.
Khem thought to himself, “At last! The moment of my freedom has come!”
He was about to reach for his weapon, but hesitated when Nox stopped in his own tracks. Nox had barely mastered his fury.
In a low, shaky, rage-filled voice, he told Khem Val, “Go...! Go out the airlock..., to get her corps..., if you want it..., that badly!”
Khem Val bowed respectfully as he replied in a tone that showed both his gratitude and his deep appreciation for what he believed was Nox’s largess, “Thank you, my master. I shall relish this meal!”
Andronikos had been waiting in his quarters for a new battle to erupt inside the ship, but it remained silent. After a while, when he found it easier to move, he’d gotten up and opened the hatch to his quarters and stuck his head out. Andronikos’ jaw dropped in amazement as he watched Khem, in his spacesuit and compact jetpack, entering the airlock. Nox had apparently granted Khem’s request, and had already gone into his own quarters and shut the hatch.
Khem Val was a Dashade male with green skin adorned with tattoos, whose meaning was lost to all except other surviving Dashade. He was a hulking behemoth of a beast that subsisted on the flesh of those sensitive to The Force. In short, the Dashade hunted, killed and ate Jedi, Sith, and anyone else sensitive to The Force.
Years before, when Darth Nox explored the tombs of Korriban as a mere acolyte, he’d come across this Dashade and fought it in a furious battle to keep from becoming its food. Since Nox had prevailed, the Dashade furiously relented and regretfully bound himself to Nox’s service as was the custom of the Dashade species.
Khem Val vowed to him then, “I serve you now, little sith, but one day I shall become strong. I shall break my bonds to you and shall feast on your delicious throat!”
Sith powerful enough to subdue a Dashade were vanishingly rare, as were the Dashade themselves. When Nox returned to the Sith Academy from the tombs with Khem Val in tow, he was regarded with great awe by many of his peers. However, his rivals and enemies, who’d scoffed and mocked him before, began to fear and respect him instead.
Earlier, when Nox’s and Ashara’s quarrel started to get really bad, Talos’ sixth sense told him to start saving whatever relics he could. He’d loaded some very old but very well preserved relics – possibly predating the Sith era – that he’d unearthed while on Oricon into an escape pod. Then he got into the pod himself to wait out their argument.
When their argument turned into a lightsaber battle, Talos thought he’d have to launch the escape pod to save himself and the precious artifacts. As far as he knew, Nox and Ashara had never been violent with each other before.
Talos wondered to himself, as he rested his hand on the launch button, “Will this be our end?”
He could feel Nox’s putrid dark aura all the way from where he sat in the escape pod.
Talos Drellik was a Human who served as a captain in the Imperial Army. He served in the branch known as the Imperial Reclamation Service. In essence, Talos was a military archaeologist.
Talos served Nox by conducting archaeological digs and studying ancient Sith and Jedi ruins, relics, artifacts, etc. Talos had a long and distinguished career before he’d met Darth Nox, but his reputation among his fellow archaeologists and academicians only grew under his direct service to Darth Nox.
A long while later, in the escape pod, after the alarms had stopped sounding, Talos had gotten a call from Xalek to join him in the conference room.
Talos said, “Darth Xalek, it sounded pretty bad for a while there.” Then he asked, hesitantly, “Is it... done?”
Xalek replied, “It is. Do not say anything to our lord, for now. It might re-ignite his rage. Now, hurry here. We have much work to do.”
Talos had yet to learn of Ashara’s demise, but Xalek’s failure to mention Ashara made him fear the worst for her. He genuinely liked her.
Darth Nox’s vile, hate filled aura had receded, and Andronikos, sensing that the coast was clear, confirmed that Khem Val had returned to the ship before he made his way to the ship’s Engineering Department. There, with the aid of the ship droid, Andronikos used the back up navigation systems to pilot the ship back to it’s last port of call, an Imperial Navy orbital station with repair facilities in orbit over Ilum. The Imperial Naval station, orbiting the planet, boasted state of the art repair facilities. It was where the Imperial Fleet, operating in the region, made repairs for minor to moderate battle damage.
After fierce fighting, some years before, the Republic finally acquiesced and largely conceded Ilum to the Empire – for the time being. The Jedi had vowed to, one day, return. The Sith Empire took that vow very seriously, and bulked up their forces on and around Ilum, in preparation for the Jedis’ eventual return.
Darth Nox, alone in his stateroom, was reeling from his emotional imbalance. He was, at once, furious and in mourning. He was filled with hatred, at himself, and filled with fear of his enemies moving against him.
He reveled in the power of the Dark Side, which flowed through him at that moment like it had never done before, but he was also filled with terrible regret for what he’d done. He had killed his wife! He loved, and he hated, Ashara.
She was the mother of his children, and she was his first apprentice, albeit very stubborn and headstrong. Now she was dead, made into food for his Dashade servant, Khem Val. He reproached himself bitterly for allowing it, and it fueled his Dark Side power even more.
Nox thought of his two small children, four and five years in age living in Kaas City, and wondered how he would break the news to them. Would they hate their father for killing their mother? Or would they instead be filled with crippling fear of him? Would it make them stronger in the Dark Side of The Force? Or would their spirit break, leaving them useless as heirs?
He wanted them to become stronger in the Dark Side before sending them to Korriban for their trials in ten or twelve years. However, he anguished over whether this news would fill them with empowering hatred or destructive fear. Nox shook his head as he struggled with his doubts, his fears, and his self hatred.
Thinking of Korriban reminded him that the Dark Council also resided on Korriban. Nox realized that for the first time in his career, as a member of the Dark Council, his position was threatened. He’d been blindsided by these rumors, and the derogatory whisperings within his own powerbase was becoming widespread.
There was no doubt his rivals were already moving to discredit him and were already working to have him removed from the Dark Council. He would need a powerful new ally to help him beat back his enemies on the Dark Council, both through careful political maneuvering and, if need be, with his sabrestaff. For that reason, he ordered Xalek to start his search.