At 21 years old, the Strykia twins had said their goodbyes, first to Aunt Moraine, Uncle Deshawn and Aleisha, then to each other. Their destinations were a secret to each other. Allyson wanted it that way, so if something happened to either of them, no one could easily track the other. Graydon had hired on with a tramp freighter captain while Allyson had departed with their Coynite friend, K’Ehleyr, for parts unknown.
Graydon had been back to Coyn four times since then. Allyson had been there the last time, and they had spent the days together reforming the bond that the twins had always had. His mother had been right. When Allyson was by his side, he always felt like he was unstoppable. Apart, he relied on his Jinsai skills to steady his fortitude. But he always felt like his path was undefined without his family, especially his sister. Unlike the Jedi, the Jinsai believed that emotional attachments kept a person on an honorable path, not wanting to bring dishonor to those associated with that person.
The new ship he was working on, the Lady Jasmyne, was by far the better of his jobs he had secured since leaving Coyn. Her captain, Marcus Morgan, was better than just a pay check. He took time to mentor Graydon in the ways of working on a freighter. He mentored him on how to slip past the Imperials and how to turn a load of rotten vegetables into a load of credits. Graydon admired the man for his spirit.
For Marcus, Graydon was a young apprentice, even if he didn’t share in Marcus’s enthusiasm for shore-leave. Graydon was almost a partner, someone to watch his back. More than once, his flirting with the ladies had led to jealous husbands trying to deny Marcus the right to breathe. Graydon proved to be an effective deterrent to that happening.
Marcus saw potential in Graydon. He also saw a young man that was out of his element, working on a tramp freighter. The boy had more morals than all of Korbin and that was saying a lot. Marcus even thought that he’d wished one of his children could turn out like the young lad.
Graydon was handsome, courteous, and determined. Not to say that the two children he was closest to weren’t determined. They were diamonds in the rough. They were head-strong and willing to bend some morals to make a credit, just like their old man.
The thing that he couldn’t wrap his brain around was the fact that Graydon had had a successive line of females throwing themselves at him. And each time, Graydon politely looked the other way, almost oblivious to the fact. Since Marcus and Graydon had started working together, Marcus had a fair share of lady friends come into his path in various ports. Graydon could have and should have, also, but chose to ignore the matter.
Their current job was no different.
So there they were, traveling out of Bespin with a unique cargo, a passenger rather than freight. Corana Kord had sought the pair out in a casino on Cloud City, offering a substantial payment for passage to first Carosi XII and then on to Ord Mantell. It was going to be a job that carried some risk, Marcus knew, but well worth the payout. Apparently, Miss Kord was trying to track someone down, but he wasn’t sure to what end… yet.
From the start, he knew they would have to pull out some smuggling tricks in order to finish this job. Marcus recognized Corana by the reputation of her name alone. He kept it to himself, though, and Graydon was ignorant of any knowledge of their would-be passenger. She was young and attractive, which Marcus took note of as soon as she approached the pair. But her attitude and ways seemed too much like Marcus’s daughter, CJ. That put his mind in a business frame, rather than a pleasure frame. He turned on the fatherly charm instead. That seemed to put her at ease with him and helped seal the deal of hiring the Lady Jasmyne for the transport. Marcus noticed, however, that Corana took special note of Graydon, sizing him up like a prime nerf steak, ready to be cooked and eaten.
The Jasmyne was about two days out from Bespin when Marcus had to say something. He couldn’t hold it back any longer.
“Blade, lad, come here and have a seat.” Marcus and Graydon had achieved a first name relationship by then, but Marcus also respected Graydon’s wishes to call him by his honor name around others.
“What’s up, Morgan?” He responded.
“Are ya blind and daft?” Marcus cut straight to the point.
“I’m sorry? Did I miss something?”
“Straight on ya did!” Marcus paused, took a deep breath, and then continued. “Do ya see tha little missy that’s been prancing around tha ship?”
Graydon craned around to glance back towards the cargo hold, where Corana was currently engaged in some type of aerobic stretching. “How could I not? She’s constantly in my way.”
“In yer way, ya say?” Marcus wanted to pop him in the forehead. “Of course she’s in yer way! It’s precisely what she intends to be!”
“So she’s trying to slow me down and stop me from doing my work on purpose?”
“She’s tryin’ ta get ya into her rack, ya blind fool!” Marcus said that just a touch louder than his previous statement. “Trust me when I say this, lad. That woman has ya in her sights. I’ve seen the look before. She’ll get as aggressive as a mynx-cat, stalking prey.”
“I haven’t even given her a hint that I’m interested or available, though.” Graydon responded.
“Hard ta get is the game that women love the best.” Marcus said with a smile and a wink.
Graydon had left the cockpit without saying much more in response. He hadn’t had the opportunity to be around a lot of females his own age outside of Allyson for a long time. He had been alright with that at the time, but now was different. He had to learn to navigate the space-lanes of relationships all on his own. But Marcus seemed to be more than willing to offer advice on the subject. To Graydon, it appeared that Marcus had more than enough experience.
Putting it out of his mind, Graydon returned to his duties. Marcus watched him through the cockpit door and soon saw Corana slowly make her way around the front hold corridor, slinking off the same way that Graydon had gone. Marcus knew what was coming next.
Graydon had just checked the main computer in the engineering compartment, noting that everything looked just as it should. Turning around to head up and check the navicomputer, he came face-to-face with Corana, leaning against the hatch frame.
“Corana.” Graydon said cordially.
“Hello, handsome.” She responded. “Care fer some company?”
“Actually, I was just getting ready to finish up a few ship chores…”
“Chores can wait.” Corana said, interrupting him. “Blade? Such a mysterious name.”
“But I really need to-”
“Do you know how lonely space can be?” Corana interrupted again as she began to slowly advance towards him in slow, deliberate steps.
Marcus was watching down the corridor, noting that Corana was assuming a walk with a sway in the hips, chest arched outwards, and looking Graydon right in the eye with a sultry look. Chuckling, Marcus reached up and hit the activation stud, closing the cockpit door and leaving the youngsters in quiet privacy.
“I… I guess it can get lonely out here. All alone.” Graydon answered and swallowed hard.
Corana had moved to the point where she was practically pressed up against him. Her small frame and shorter stature, pressing against his broader taller size. Suddenly, Graydon felt far smaller than Corana. He felt intimidated at that point, trying to maintain a polite air, while he was also trying to summon his Jinsai training to steady himself.
“Every once in a while, a woman has to reach out ta someone when they’re all alone.” Corana reached up and gently stroked Graydon’s cheek. “I’m tired of being alone.”
“You’re not alone.” Graydon managed to answer back, but it was barely above a hoarse whisper.
He had to admit to himself that Corana was beautiful. Her long brown hair and dazzling blue eyes drew his attention. Right at that moment, he was warring with himself on the inside, wanting to be the gentleman and turn her away while at the same time wanting to take her in his arms and protect her. Comfort her. He wanted to do anything she asked him to do.
Corana made the decision for him. Quickly, yet gently, she drew his face down towards hers, tenderly and longingly kissing him on the lips. It was soft, yet passionate, sending Graydon’s mind reeling from the contact. The kiss lasted for what seemed like an eternity. She disappeared quickly back up the corridor before Graydon regained his composure and opened his eyes.
Just as quickly as she’d advanced on him, Corana disappeared. He was left with a mind spinning and reeling from the kiss. It was the first real kiss he’d had from a female in years. Since Shasharra…
That stabilizer had broken loose again.
In an almost trance like state, he finally managed to make his way out of the engineering compartment, slowly going past the cockpit door. Pausing, he knocked and informed Marcus that he was retiring for the night. Graydon was pretty sure he heard chuckling coming from the other side of the door.
Graydon didn’t have to go far to get to his meager cabin. He felt like he still in a trance from the kiss when he opened the cabin door. Not really looking up, he stepped in, questioning what his next action towards Corana should be.
“I was wondering if you’d take my bait?” Corana said as Graydon stepped in.
Looking up, Graydon found Corana lying on her side in his bunk, propped up on her elbow, the sheet from his bunk, and little else, draped over her. “You’re not easy to read, blue eyes.”
The next morning found Graydon up early, in the cockpit monitoring the navicomputer when Marcus made his way in. Marcus gave a stretch before sitting down in the chair across from the young Antrixian.
“So, lad? Did ya sleep well?” Marcus asked.
“I’m not sure it’d be proper for me to answer that truthfully.” Graydon said with a dismissive air.
“Hmm.” Marcus responded. “I imagine not, then.”
“I think I see what you were getting at last night.” Graydon added.
“They’re all the same.” Marcus said with a laugh. “Whether she be from Rhysa or Gallentia, a woman goes after what she wants. Especially her type.”
“Aye.” Marcus answered. “She’s a Gallenti pirate princess. I recalled where I knew her surname from last night, well after she’d made her boarding actions against ya. I may have had a run in or two with her old man out on the Rim a few years ago.”
“A princess?” Graydon asked.
“Oh, sure. In a sense.” Marcus responded. “The Gallenti are run by the Brethren Lords. They’re a territory of pirates and scoundrels from tha Engstrom Trust in tha Western Reaches. A quaint place to visit if you get the chance.”
“Sounds fun.” Graydon added with a hint of sarcasm.
Graydon knew of the Engstrom Trust. It had neighbored the Commonwealth and was viewed as a lawless territory that was primarily run by corporate greed and criminal syndicates. He also knew that the Trust had a history with the Commonwealth that dated far back in the early history of his people.
Something else nagged at Graydon. The accent in Marcus’ speech was heavier and definitely different than a Core accent. Something about it was similar to Corana’s too. Corana was very well spoken for being a pirate princess, but there were still times that she used inflections on her words that were very close to the same way Marcus spoke.
“It tis, or at least can be.” Marcus chuckled. “Ya just need ta watch yer step when ya visit.”
Later that day, the Lady Jasmyne had emerged from hyperspace and landed at Carosi XII. Corana had left the ship, saying that she needed to meet a contact. Her absence was short-lived and she returned to the ship within two hours, asking to get underway for Ord Mantell.
While Corana had been preoccupied and distant towards Graydon prior to landing on Carosi XII, she was right back to the way she had been upon returning to the ship. Graydon was trying hard to keep from being distracted by her, but Marcus assured him that everything was fine. Marcus so much as told the young Jinsai to relax for the next day or two and take in the young lady’s company. So, when Corana snuggled against him while he worked at cleaning his blaster, he tried to return some of the affection.
While touching her, Graydon felt a rare pang, possibly through the Force, coming from her. There was tension in the young woman next to him. It was less, now that she was next to him, but still, it was there.
“Corana?” Graydon asked. “Are you alright?”
“Hmm?” Was her initial response. “Well, yes. I’m okay. Now.”
“I’m worried about what I’m going ta find at Ord Mantell.” Corana was very up front in her answer. “I feel safe now, but I fear what I will discover at our next stop.”
“I know Marcus said your business was your business, but now I have to ask. What are you after?”
“My sister and I left the Belhov Sector two years ago.” Corana looked up at Graydon as she began her story. “We were born a year a part, which is considered a bad sign by the Codex. So, I had ta wait for Bryana ta come of age so we could do our First Embarkations together. At first, we traveled together, but after about six months, we separated, going our different ways. I’d lost track of her until about a month ago when I heard that she’d been wrangled by somebody and taken against her will. I started to track the trail of whoever was responsible when I ran into you two on Cloud City.”
“Wait… So what happened between us… Was that a ploy to get me to help?”
“No. No, not at all.” Corana answered. “I may be afraid for my sister, but I’m still a Gallenti. I saw a ‘cargo’ that I wanted ta plunder. I just need ta get ta Ord Mantell. After that, well, I’ll leave that up ta fate.”
“Corana, please understand that by you telling me this, I’m obligated to help.” Graydon said, placing a caring hand on the side of her face.
“Noble and sweet. Not your average spacer.” She said in response. “Where do you come from, blue eyes?”
“Funny. You don’t look like a Coynite.”
“My people are Antrixians from the Inner Rim. I grew up on Coyn, though.” Graydon responded.
“I see. And now you’re obligated ta help. What are you? A Jedi or Jinsai or something?”
The fact that she brought up the Jedi and Jinsai caught his attention. He knew well enough to skirt the truth. The Empire paid handsomely for Jedi and Jinsai survivors.
“Let’s go with the ‘something’, shall we?” Graydon answered, skirting the question. “Like it or not, I’m along for the ride now.”
“Thank you.” Corana said, wrapping her arms around Graydon and nestling her head against his chest.
Later that day, Graydon spent a fair amount of time persuading Marcus to help follow Corana’s situation through to the end. Marcus was initially resistant, chastising Graydon for getting involved. But in the end, Marcus’ nature got the best of him too, and he gave in.
“You’re right lad. The lass needs help, and we’re gonna give her help. But remember that I’ve been down this space-lane before. Don’t stay longer than it takes ta refuel! She’ll have ya goin’ to fancy parties next, just like my former, if ya let her.”
It took nearly five days for the Lady Jasmyne to transit to Ord Mantell and in that time, Corana absorbed into the ship crew like an actual member. Marcus noted that the affection Graydon and Corana showed for each other was more like an actual budding relationship than a quick fling. While it was more physical during the first couple days, they began to act like a couple, definitely showing some romance for each other, after that.
Upon landing, Marcus took directions from Corana and led the trio to a small cantina on the edge of what use to be a Republic base near the starport landing field at Fort Garnik. Marcus was plenty familiar with the world. His son’s mother was from Ord Mantell, after all. Entering, Marcus was quick to admonish everyone.
“Watch yer step here, this is as much the frontier as the Rim.”
Graydon and Corana nodded. Taking a seat at a back booth, Graydon began scanning the room, watching for trouble. It didn’t take long for him to notice a young human making his way towards the table. His dress was a motley combination of leather and synthfiber with a blaster hanging low on his hip. He approached the table and stopped just short, scanning the occupants.
“You Kord?” He asked.
“That’s me.” Corana responded.
“Hmm. Too pretty ta be a Gallenti, ‘specially related to the Cap.” The Human said in an accent that matched Marcus’. “Yer brother sends greetings.”
“What information do ya have?” Corana asked sternly.
Graydon and Marcus noted that the young woman was switching to more of an assertive persona. Along with the switch came a way of speech that showed she was just as much Gallenti and the man she was peaking with.
“I know this: Yer about three hours behind.” The man stated. “I pulled inta system and saw a banged up Ghtroc and a star yacht hooked ta each other. The Ghtroc landed here just before you. Let’s just say it’ll be staying here too.”
“So what of the yacht?” Corana asked, a combination of anxiety and frustration in her voice.
“The pilot said that he’d been paid ta deliver a hunter and his prisoner to some politician here. The pilot on the yacht told him they was goin’ ta Coruscant.”
“And the delivery man?”
“Dead men tell no tales, princess.” The grungy human said with a sly smile. “The yacht belongs ta a Grego Waldin, some rich pad pusher.”
“Don’t mention it, luv.” The man said as he turned and walked away. Graydon sat there, absorbing everything before he turned to Corana.
“I don’t get it. If your family’s involved, why us?” He asked.
“My family, along with their ships, can’t come within a parsec of a civilized system. They all have prices on their heads, except fer me… so far. The Gallenti aren’t part of the Empire and seceded from the Republic, so we don’t even have citizenship. I’m lucky enough ta be running around on a fake scandocs. That all means that my sister doesn’t fall into the database as a citizen, making her an alien ta the Empire. It also means she can be sold as a slave.”
“Hard ta believe the Imps would do such a thing, let alone allow it.” Marcus chimed in.
“No it’s not.” Graydon said. “The definition of evil has an Imperial symbol burned into it. Marcus? Can you get us on to Coruscant?’
“I knew ya’d ask.” Marcus said. “Aye, we can get dirt side, but we’re talkin’ about Imperial central.”
“Get us planet-side and I’ll worry about the rest.”
The room was dimly lit, full of shadows that stretched into the deepest corners. There were very few possessions in the room that could cast shadows though. The inner chamber of the tall citadel on the planet Celcor acted as a meditation room. It was usually kept dark or barely lit. It was the way that the primary user preferred it.
The figure in the center of the room wasn’t tall or imposing at all, but there was a presence about him. There was a quiet darkness that seemed to radiate out from the figure. Shrouded in a silvery red robe, the man was a mystery to a great many people. It wasn’t malice in the darkness coming off of him. It was a chill that spoke of power that had been enrooted in evil for a long time.
Long ago, on Dromund Kaas, the figure had given himself over to the darkness in order to survive. He now considered it part of whom he was, what he was. Through the darkness, he saw the past, the present, and the future. He saw things through the Force that drove some insane. He saw beginnings and ends, but most of all, he could see things through the Force that others couldn’t.
A lithe female stepped silently into the room, casting her eyes warily about. She had been beautiful once with bright eyes and flawlessly smooth skin. Her service to the shrouded man and to the Dark side had taken that away from her. Like the other, she had given herself to the darkness long ago just to survive. She had been able to apprentice to the figure in the center of the room, which very well saved her life from the horrors that some of the others went through.
The Prophets of the Dark Side were very unusual as servants to the Emperor. Their purpose was to see events through the Force, which they did. The Prophets used whatever means they needed to in order to do this. There were sacrifices. Sometimes there were live sacrifices. Thankfully, both of these individuals on Celcor had been removed and spared such a fate. They could have been the sacrifices all in the name of seeing the future.
Instead, first her master had been selected to directly serve the Emperor. Then, he had returned and freed her. Since then, she had been a trusted companion and a servant that was allowed to live. Here, on Celcor, she could actually live.
“Come in, my apprentice.” Spoke the ghostly, wavering voice.
“Lord Rhakyhl.” The female responded as she began to approach the shrouded figure. “I have come as you have summoned.”
“I have been studying this datacron that we recovered.” Rhakyhl stated before turning to his apprentice and asking a question. “Lestra? Do you know what it contains?”
“I do not know, my Lord.” Lestra Blaize responded.
“It is the very thing we were tasked with, Lestra.” Rhakyhl said. There was an air of pleasure in his voice.
“The Desmora writings?” Lestra paused, cocking her head as she looked at her master.
“Yes.” Rhakyhl extended his hand and showed a palm-sized sphere to Lestra.
“Is that what the bounty hunter brought to us?” Lestra asked.
“It is. Now we know why there was a lack of evidence suggesting that Dontaine Strykia wiped out his family. I believe that Lady Strykia knew more than we think and put some members of her family into hiding when her oldest son betrayed the Antrixian people.”
“What is the next step, my master?”
“We must investigate this further.” Rhakyhl responded. “If I’m correct, the secrets held within this sphere are deep and far reaching. I must find out more.”
Hope was not lost on the trio as they began to plan for the rescue of Bryanna Kord. Marcus was able to utilize a couple of contacts on Ord Mantell to set up permits for the ship to enter the Core Worlds. There would still be a strong Imperial presence within the Core, but for the most part, the Empire tried to maintain a clean image there. That would be one advantage the group had. Corana’s credits paid for everything, including some less conspicuous clothing for the group.
In preparation, Graydon sorted out his weapons and equipment, narrowing down his usual choices to the knife that Deshawn and Moraine had given him on his eighteenth birthday. Both Graydon and Allyson had received one, a crafted blade that was made in the tradition of the Jinsai. The Ben’sai knife was just as deadly as a Warblade, yet easier to conceal. Its alloy construction made the blade capable of punching through most composite materials, including armor. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.
The plan was simple: Marcus would cause a distraction that would get Corana and Graydon through customs and out of the starport. At that time, the pair would make their way to Waldin’s office or home and negotiations for the release of Bryanna could occur. Then, hopefully, the pair could discreetly return to the ship and depart with Bryanna in their care.
But as usual, things never go as planned.
The wait time to land the ship on planet had taken nearly seven hours alone. Not to mention that the deck crews took their time securing the freighter once it set down. Then, walking down the ramp, Graydon immediately took notice of two humans, a male and female, coming their way. Marcus was still in the ship, near the engineering station, waiting to pull a fuel dump that would cause an immediate evacuation of the area. Sure, he would be fined for it, but Corana had already fronted him the credits to cover re- supply and legal fees. Watching the pair coming towards them, Graydon called back up the ramp to Marcus.
“Hey Marcus.” Graydon called. “Looks like we’ve got visitors.”
A minute went by as Graydon and Corana waited near the base of the ramp, watching the advancing pair. Marcus eventually poked his head down the ramp, looking in the direction that Graydon nodded.
“Oh boy. Not good, lad.” Marcus said. “Here comes trouble.”
“What should we do?” Graydon asked.
“Stay quiet. Hopefully this will pass without a shot fired.”
The human male, a tall, graying man pushing his middle years, strode up to within three meters of the ramp. Dressed in a green flight suit, Graydon noted that he was one of the few within the docking area that had a weapon strapped to his leg. His female companion was dressed the same with a blaster on her hip, dark hair pulled back from her face into a loose braid.
“So, I suppose ye’ll want ta come aboard and search the cargo hold.” Marcus said with a rather sarcastic air.
“Captain Morgan.” The man said with a raspy voice. “Why you’d show your face around here is a question I’ve been asking since I saw your ship on the registry.”
“So yer here fer yer normal harassment?”
“You can either give me permission to come on board or I’ll come up that ramp and twist it out of you.”
Graydon, Corana, and even the female standing with the man looked at each other, all three questioning the exchange that they were witnessing. Graydon was sure that Marcus and this man knew each other, but wasn’t sure in what capacity. There was a moment of awkward silence between the men.
“Alright.” Marcus said. “But you better have brought the whiskey this time.”
Both men laughed as the older, gray man walked up the ramp and embraced Marcus in a friendly hug.
“I didn’t know if they were still on speaking terms.” Said the female as she approached Graydon and Corana. “After the last time, on Corellia, things looked rocky.”
“You know Marcus?” Graydon asked.
“Yeah. Oh, I’m Angella Chylde.” The woman answered, extending her hand to Graydon. “Bren and I are doing an escort detail for CorSec. I’m a little surprised to see the Jasmyne here on Coruscant.”
“We hired Marcus to bring us here for some sight-seeing.” Graydon responded, motioning to Corana.
“Tourists?” Angella asked, looking the two over. “You hired a freighter to take you sight-seeing?”
“Our last port of call didn’t leave us with a lot of options in transportation.” Corana added in.
“Sure.” Angella said. There was a layer of sarcasm thick in her voice. “Then why are you two guarding the ramp?”
“Guarding? We… I… We were waiting for the Captain.” Graydon tried to provide some cover.
“Calm down, blue eyes.” Angella said with a chuckle. “I’m not here to do a customs inspection. Besides, I’m not going to bust my best friend’s dad for coming to the capital. Come on. Let’s make sure the old guys aren’t getting into trouble.”
The three went up the ramp, into the freighter that Graydon had called home for the past few months. Entering the small crew area, the trio found Marcus and the Corellian Security Major sitting at the small table, laughing and passing a small flask back and forth.
“Ah, here they are!” Marcus said when he noticed the others had come in. “Bren Inarro, I’d like you ta meet Dane Sandoval and his companion, Corana.” Marcus motioned towards Graydon and Corana.
“It’s a damn shame you got wrapped up with the likes of Morgan, here.” Bren said as he stood up and shook Graydon and Corana’s hands.
“Good to meet you, sir.” Graydon said, standing rigidly next to Corana, trying to watch everyone at once. He wasn’t sure what was occurring, but he was attempting to be ready in case there was trouble.
“Relax.” Bren said. “You’re standing around like you’ve got a force pike crammed up your backside. You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb here if you keep that kreffing act up.”
“I… I’m just trying to show proper respect.”
“Relax, lad.” Marcus added. “These two are family friends. No worries here.” With that, Marcus stood and walked to Angella, giving her a tight hug.
“Have you heard from CJ?” Angella asked Marcus as he released her from his embrace.
“Not for a while, lass.” Marcus responded. “Last I knew she was working in tha Peruvian Sector.”
“The Trust? Really? Damn. Still, it’s good to see you, old man.” Angella said with a big smile.
Graydon watched as Bren and Angella began talking back and forth, quickly catching up with each other. There was an easy sense of camaraderie and family between these three, which made him think back to a time, long ago, when he had all the members of his family together. He had known happiness then. Since the end of the Clone Wars, Graydon had felt like he needed to constantly watch over his shoulder, looking for unseen threats.
Under his assumed identity of Dane Sandoval, Graydon had remained hidden for years. He knew that the Imperials wanted him captured. Along with Allyson, the twins would be used as pawns to force his native people, the Antrixians, to surrender or end their rebellion against the Empire. His brother, Dontaine, wasn’t any better. If Dontaine had any say, the twins would fall to the Dark side and serve as tools to start a war that would give Dontaine more power than he deserved. Dontaine had betrayed his people and his family, and because of that, Dontaine could never be allowed to continue on with his revolt.
“So Marcus tells me you need help tracking down this young lady’s sister.” Bren said, snapping Graydon back to reality. Bren motioned towards Corana.
“Well, yes.” Graydon responded. “We think she’s been taken and sold as a slave.”
“Damn shame.” Bren stated.
“She’s not an Imperial citizen, so I think the laws that would protect her don’t…” Graydon started but was suddenly cut off.
He stumbled back, his hand going to his head. Corana immediately rushed to his side.
“Are you okay?” She asked, very concerned.
“I think I felt a disturbance in the Force.” Graydon answered absently, not even realizing what he was saying until it was too late.
“You brought a damn Jedi to Coruscant?” Bren asked, frowning at Marcus.
“I didn’t know.” Marcus responded.
Tendrils of smoke crawled across to the deckplates like ghostly fingers. Standing in the midst of the wispy smoke and sparks, the young Antrixian male turned slowly, looking into the darkness. His red Lightsaber droned on with its steady, low hum, casually angled down towards the floor.
The male, Dontaine Strykia, reached out through the Force, attempting to locate his opponent. Although he appeared calm, his emotions were a torrent of anger and rage on the inside. The red glow coming from around the irises of his eyes also gave away his frustrated feelings in not being able to find her. This was going to be the last and only duel between these two opponents if he had any say in it. He knew that his mother was hunting him because of his “perceived” fall to the Dark side and “crimes” he had committed.
Dontaine was certain that he could best her. His arrogance in his own abilities far outweighing his actual experience and strength. The one advantage he did have was his lack of compassion. He didn’t care. If his mother was to die today, that would put Dontaine one step closer to achieving his goal.
That goal was to take back the High Seat of the Antrixian Commonwealth which he felt was his by birthright. Never mind if he had committed parricide to attempt to achieve his position. Ignore the fact that his own people and their government, the Antrixian Landsting, had stripped him of all rights. So what if the wench Syanne Harkness and her band of Imperials controlled the Commonwealth right now. It was his. But first, he had to wrap up the current loose ends, primarily the unresolved fight between the former master and her former apprentice.
“Come now mother.” He said aloud, searching the darkness for signs of his mother, Marissa Strykia. “Are we going to do this dance? You strike then fade? Not very Jinsai of you. It lacks honor.”
“You dare to speak of Jinsai honor, Reaper?”
Dontaine whipped around quickly, peering into the shadows, searching for the disembodied voice that came to him, his saber up and ready. It seemed to come from all around him, rather than from one specific direction. The set of his jaw said that his emotions were rising to the boiling point. The flare in the glow of his eyes was a dead giveaway that he was giving in to his anger and frustration.
“You know that the Jinsai Tribunes have stripped you of birthright. Even the Landsting has stripped you. You are Gaishain. You broke your oaths.” Marissa had chosen her hiding spot well, letting the natural acoustics of the old ore processing station carry her voice and project it from where she was.
“Oh no… Not the sacred oaths.” Dontaine said mockingly and let out a laugh.
Instead of allowing her to bait him into a total fit of rage, he changed tactics and began to combat her words with sarcasm.
“They’re going to bow down when the Commonwealth falls to me. Those oaths will mean nothing. Then I can do whatever I want, regardless of my status with that rabble.”
“I thought we taught you better than that, Dontaine.” Marissa said, with a degree of compassion in her voice. “The Emperor betrayed us all. His Imperials set the trap and we took the bait. You don’t have to make enemies of your own people. The Empire stands in your way for your desires, but I know your dreams. You want what we all want. You want your family and home back.”
“No… NO! I want the power that I was promised.” Dontaine shouted. “You and the man you called husband traded me away like a political pawn. You both betrayed me by allowing Draygan to get what he wanted. You want to have your little apprentice by your side to be your beck and call servant and an apprentice once more. Too bad that Graydon and Allyson died, otherwise you could have had that. I, on the other hand, will not lower myself to that. I am above you.”
“Have you fallen that far, my son?”
“Oh ho… I have touched the mother inside you. Did you know that they called out for you right before… Right before Harkness extinguished their pitiful lives? She enjoyed hearing their screams.”
“You lie!” Marissa felt a touch of emotion begin to rise inside of her.
As much as she resisted it, she couldn’t help feel the sting of the thought of anything happening to Graydon and Allyson. While it wasn’t much, the telltale sign of it inflected her words.
“Ah… so they are alive?” Dontaine began to laugh again. “Good. They’ll serve as the perfect pawns in my plans once I turn them.”
“Not so long as I have breath. NOW!”
Marissa’s shout preceded the activation of another lightsaber, blue bladed, and a small, lithe figure spiraling down from a support beam to land in front of Dontaine. Almost simultaneously, Marissa sprang from her hiding spot, charging towards her estranged son with her own Lightsaber whirling in blinding arcs as it sprang to life.
“Hello Reaper. It’s time to answer for the lives you’ve taken!” Said the small figure, the Knyden Jinsai master, Les’sa Drima, her tan robes flowing out behind her and her long silver hair cascading down her shoulders.
Dontaine first parried her initial strike, and then spun to parry Marissa’s attack behind him.
“Master Drima! I am surprised that Lady Harkness hasn’t ended your life yet. So be it. Your journey will end here!” Dontaine spat as he flashed through a myriad of maneuvers with his lightsaber, parrying, slashing, and spinning in defense and attack.
“Those are confident words for a fool.” The lithe Knyden Jinsai held her ground as she countered and struck out against her Antrixian rival. Marissa and Drima had planned this encounter for weeks, intending on finishing Dontaine here and now.
With Marissa joining the fray, Dontaine knew that the scale of battle had tipped away from him. Against Drima, he knew he could best her. Against Marissa, his mother, though. The dark side had allowed him to match her in power before, but the Force wasn’t always there for him lately.
He could still perform his regular feats without concern, but the great strength he had once garnered from the call of the dark side seemed to be fading. Perhaps he couldn’t best his mother.
He needed more from the Force than ever before at that moment. He couldn’t get that unless he was prepared to go even further down the dark path. At that moment he decided that killing her wasn’t enough. Killing Master Drima was one thing. Torturing his mother after he defeated her and making her show him where the twins were… Now that was something else. Her death, at the appropriate moment would help convert the twins. Both of them. They would be his pawns then. New servants of the Dark side.
While this had crossed his mind before, he had believed that he would end up killing both of the twins eventually. He had never really considered having two apprentices to serve him.
These thoughts coursed through his mind in the blink of an eye. Dontaine found himself having a vision within that split second. He ruled the galaxy from Antrixies and Coruscant. Syanne Harkness wore scant clothing, a mere slave bound to him, chained to the throne from which he ruled. His younger brother and sister stood to either side of him, garbed in black and twisted by the Dark side. With the twins as his enforcers, he ruled an empire like no other had before him. The Jedi and the Sith were trivial compared to the new order he had created.
The Dark side had baited Dontaine yet again.
Lightsabers clashed against each other, red against blue, green against red. Dontaine knew that this fight would end in his defeat if he did not act quickly. Quickly parrying, he shot himself backwards into a mid-air flip, landing away from the Jinsai. His rage was seething, but he felt purpose and destiny now in front of him.
“THIS ENDS NOW!” With a bestial roar, Dontaine shot his arms out in front of him, quickly and forcefully, almost as if to push the air with all his might.
A visible wave of kinetic energy, a wall of solidified air, cascaded out from him, arcing towards Marissa and Drima. They had little time to respond as the nearly invisible barrier slammed into them, sending both Jinsai back, through the air, crashing against the wall.
The effort left him drained, yet he knew his opening was small and he had to act with haste. Stalking forward, managing more than a stagger through determination alone, Dontaine went to his closer target, Drima.
The Knyden was struggling to rise from the crumpled heap she had fell into when the Force Wave crashed her into a support strut. She looked up, hearing the heavy boot steps, just as Dontaine thrust his red saber blade into her mid-section.
“I told you, Drima.” Dontaine said, breathing heavily. “I told you that your journey ended here.”
She cried out as the lightsaber pierced her body. Dontaine, in his exhausted state, immediately thought that he had delivered the killing blow, especially when she slumped over after he freed his blade. Straightening, Dontaine began to scan the room for his mother. His search took but a fraction of a minute, seeing her attempting to rise from debris that had been cast against the bulkhead, along with her body.
Still exhausted, he knew this was his moment to strike. She was beginning to regain her footing and her lightsaber was still in hand. He had no time to waste. Mustering his strength, he ran towards her, intent on disarming her and rendering her incapacitated.
Marissa had regained enough of her senses that she saw Drima struck down by her son. She knew that she was next. When she saw him begin to run in her direction, Marissa knew she must act, or all would be lost. All her planning and preparing would come to an end. She sensed a terrible darkness in the Force approaching her.
Dontaine was intent on taking her saber hand off, then striking her to knock Marissa unconscious. But he didn’t intend on her striking at him first. Marissa’s saber swung in a quick, blinding arc. Dontaine barely had enough time to parry the first strike. But when the second, third and forth strike came at him, his rage took over, his plans forgotten.
“I loved you, my son!” Marissa panted as she made a desperate feint to her right, before quickly swinging up, over his head, and just as quick, straight down. If Dontaine had been a fraction slower, Marissa’s personal quest of retribution would have come to an end. Realizing the feint, Dontaine began to pull back, away from his mother. He knew she was going to best him in a face-to-face duel. He also knew that his plan, and his vision, had been just another seduction of the Dark side. The power which drove him constantly, betrayed him continuously. It had all dissolved inside of mere seconds. But he could not let the light prevail. Even as he pulled back, he knew that his own beliefs had betrayed him.
The burning bite of Marissa’s green saber started at his nose, gouging down his face to his mouth and chin, then still lower to his neck and upper chest. Only his backward momentum saved him from mortal wounds. Only the tip of the saber blade had done enough, though.
Screaming, the pain and the rage sent Dontaine swinging outward, blindly. Marissa, surprised that she had scored a hit, yet sorrowful that she harmed her own son, was unprepared for the swings coming from her wailing opponent. She sensed his pain through the Force, although she did not sense his intent because there was none. His actions were purely reflexive. Her only reaction to the lightsaber blade coming into contact with her was one of pure Force to deflect it.
All went black.
Donatine staggered back to the shuttle at the docking hatch. His pain was incredible and he called upon the Force to keep him upright, his reserves completely spent after his encounter. Even through his pain, Dontaine took some amount of victory from the battle. Both of his opponents had been left lying dead on the floor of the station. He was sure of that. But his pride was scarred. His mother had done more than kill him, she had disfigured him. He knew that much. The vanity of the Dark side made the anger well up inside of him.
At least she was dead, just like his father.
Tripping over a Thys’sian body, slain by Marissa in the initial boarding action, Dontaine finally managed to reach the shuttle. The Vian, Whenya, met him as he burst through the airlock.
“My Lord!” She exclaimed. “You’re wounded!”
“Get me back to the Blacktooth! Now!” His words were garbled, but still understandable.
“Yes, my Lord!”
The crew cabin was very quiet after Bren’s statement to Marcus. Everyone looked at everyone else, trying to determine who might make a move against who. Tension was quickly growing. Angella, thankful broke the silence first.
“Is it true?” She asked, looking at Graydon.
He didn’t see apprehension in her face when he looked into her eyes. Instead, there was a twinkle of something else, possibly hopefulness. There wasn’t the prejudice that the Empire had bred into the galaxy in her expression. It was more like a curiosity. She looked at him like he was a living legend. It was in part, true.
Graydon’s revelation put Angella into a time that she had only heard of in stories. When she was young, Angella had spent a great deal of time with Marcus’ daughter, CJ, when the later was staying with family on Corellia. Marcus’ own mother had fueled the girls’ imagination with tales of the old Jedi Knights and how they had quested against evils throughout the galaxy. Those times were long gone by the time Angella had set foot out, into the galaxy.
“I’m not a Jedi.” Graydon answered quietly.
“But you said…”
“He doesn’t have to be a Jedi to be Force-sensitive.” Bren interrupted. “You are Force-sensitive though, aren’t you, boy?”
“Yes.” Graydon expected Bren to take him into custody right then. It would serve him right, for not guarding his thoughts and tongue better.
“Damn.” Bren shook his head. “This makes things a little more interesting. If the Imps catch wind of you, we’re all going to Kessel for a long time.”
“You mean you’re not going to arrest him?” Corana broke her silence.
She had been standing next to Graydon, watching the whole situation in disbelief. Her question wasn’t accusing, just surprised to find an authority figure that bent the rules here, in the Core.
“No girl. I’m not going to arrest him. There aren’t enough heroes left in the galaxy that want to do right when somebody’s in trouble.” Bren answered. “I’m damn sure not going to take somebody to the Imperials that’ll make a better thorn in their side than the two-bit crooks we chase down every day.”
“So yer plannin’ to help still?” Marcus asked.
“Yeah, I’m gonna help.” Bren shook his head. “Probably going to get me kreffing killed in the process too.”
“All right old man, what are you proposing?” Angella chimed in.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I think I know where to start.” Bren answered. “I have a contact in the Southern Underground district. Look up Jynner. He’ll be able to point you in the right direction.”
“Oh no.” Angella moaned in disgust. “Not Robbie ‘I know a guy’ Jynner.”
“He’s scum.” Angella said, looking towards Graydon and Corana. “He’ll sell your boots out from under you while you’re still wearing them if you’re not careful.”
“Aye.” Marcus intoned. “But he’s our best bet right now, lass.”
“We’re going to have to split up.” Bren added. “Ang and I are out of our jurisdiction here and two CorSec agents are going to stick out like a sore thumb. We’ll be there to help, just not really visible.”
“I understand.” Graydon said. “This is up to us, but I appreciate any help.”
Once that was said and done, the group disembarked and made their separate ways through the spaceport to public transportation. Marcus went and rented a speeder while Graydon and Corana took a public tram to the Southern Underground district. Marcus would meet them later, after they made contact with Bren’s contact.
Graydon had to marvel at the sight of Imperial Center, the world that was officially known as Coruscant, but called Imperial Center now because it was the home of Emperor Palpatine. Darth Sidious. Graydon recalled that much from his last moments spent with his mother. He recalled that she had warned the defending Jinsai that the Sith had finally shown themselves and that the Sith Lord behind the Clone Wars was probably in control of the Republic at that time.
When Palpatine had announced himself as Galactic Emperor, Graydon was able to put two and two together. The Sith wanted power and control, that much he knew. Palpatine, the Chancellor he had once met now had power and control, plus a Sith Lord under his control, Darth Vader. That was enough to know that Palpatine had been the Sith master all along. His reflexive response to Palpatine on that day, long ago, was one of subconscious reaction. Somewhere, deep within him or the Force, he had seen through the man’s mask. Too bad he hadn’t been trained better. He might have known sooner and been able to alert his mother, who in turn could have alerted the Jedi. How different would things have been then?
Still, Graydon took in the scenery, noting that it didn’t look that much different from the last time he was here. Life for the majority of the Coreworld inhabitants went the same as it did in the days of the Republic, just under a different government. They were blissfully ignorant of the conflicts brewing further out in the galaxy.
Sometime later, the tram arrived at the public station in the Hasamadhi Warehouse district. The Southern Underground was located in the sector beneath the Warehouse district and was known as one of the rougher areas of Coruscant. Granted, it wasn’t the roughest, but it held a nice middle ground between slum and ramshackle area. The crime in the Southern Underground wasn’t as bad as it was in the district known as the Works, but many things could be had here that were considered illegal on the surface of Coruscant.
It took Graydon and Corana some time to descend down into the Southern Underground, but they made it safely. Once they were in, they followed some of the rough directions Bren had given them upon their departure from the ship. Going to The Old Winehouse tavern, Graydon led Corana inside, instantly aware that all eyes were on them as they entered. Corana nervously fingered the hold-out blaster in her coat pocket as they approached the bar and Graydon gripped his knife in one hand, just to be at the ready should they need their weapons.
Once at the bar, they were approached by a green-skinned Dubravan barmaid. Leaning over the bar towards Graydon, she smiled and made sure to expose a generous amount of cleavage for his viewing. Graydon quickly averted his gaze, trying instead to focus on her eyes. He blushed and his eyes flared just a bit with their tell-tale glow. The barmaid’s smile only widened.
“So, blue eyes,” She said in heavily accented Basic. “What can I get for you? Perhaps you like what you see already.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Graydon responded. “I’m looking for a man. Maybe you can help me find him.”
“Sorry sweetie.” The alien responded quickly. ‘Never heard of him.”
“But I didn’t even give you his name.”
About then, Corana pushed in next to Graydon, sliding a credit chit across the bar to in front of the Dubravan. The barmaid looked down, then at Corana.
“Maybe I can help.” The alien woman responded.
“Good.” Corana responded. “His name is Jynner. You know him?”
“Yeah.” The woman responded. “I know him. You sure you want him?”
“We’re hoping he can answer a couple questions.” Corana said.
“Good luck.” The alien replied. “He probably knows whatever your looking for, but don’t trust him. You can find him on Level three, twenty-one eighteen-a.”
Both Graydon and Corana breathed a sigh of relief as they exited the Winehouse. Eventually, after searching diligently, they were able to find markings that led them to Level three. Within moments , they were standing outside of what appeared to be a modest apartment complex where twenty-one eighteen-a was supposed to be located. Once they found the door, both stopped and silently collected themselves before proceeding. Corana gave Graydon a nod as he looked at her before pushing the call button on the door for eighteen-a.
The man known as Robbie “I know a guy” Jynner was a weasel of a human. Small in stature, almost petite, with sharp facial features and eyes that some would call beady. The Corellian native had moved from Corellia to the underworld of the galactic capital years ago, partially because he had sold out too many of his former associates to CorSec, and partially because the rest of his usual clientele knew his typical schemes too well. When he didn’t have anyone else to sell out in order to keep himself out of the detention centers, Jynner knew his best bet was to uproot his “practice” and take it elsewhere. The galactic capital, along with a contact in Black Sun made the Southern Underground district look very attractive.
Jynner would brag behind closed doors of his ties to Black Sun. In reality, his ties were nothing more than a simple sewer guard/technician that watched over the tunnels that ran under what was supposed to be the palace of the head of Black Sun. Jynner tried to intimidate people that came to him for information and black market goods, using the Black Sun name. Sometimes it worked. The criminal organization had enough of a mythos surrounding it that no one wanted to test the waters of crossing paths on the wrong side. Jynner knew and he tried to use it to his advantage.
When the call box squawked at him, he shambled to the door in a haze. The Death sticks he’d purchased and used the night before had definitely “troned” him today. Still, he was running short on credits and needed some business headed his way. The door chime was hopefully somebody looking for some business.
The door opened and there stood a skinny little man with sharp features. Both Graydon and Corana looked at each other and then back to the scrawny human. So this was the man that Bren had said could help them?
“Jynner?” Corana asked.
“Yeah.” He replied. He rubbed his eyes with both hands, trying to clear up his vision. “Who the kref are you?”
“My name’s Cora and this is my partner, Dane.” Corana answered. “We were told you could provide some… assistance.”
“Well, that’s what I do.” By this time, Jynner’s sight had improved a bit. He gave Graydon a quick up and down look, sneering and almost pulling back away from him. But when he saw Corana, his eyes went wide and he kept looking her up and down.
“I believe I can be of some assistance to you.” He said, almost hungrily.
Motioning for them to follow him inside, Jynner led the pair into a ramshackle apartment that was cluttered with trash and discarded items. Graydon wrinkled his nose at the mix of foul smells that permeated the air inside. Jynner quickly cleaned off a stool and offered it to Corana, leaving Graydon standing and ignoring the fact that a proper host would offer both guests a seat.
“So what’s it going to be?” Jynner asked, licking his lips and eyeing Corana. “I’ve got connections for guns, spice, whatever you need. I know a guy that can get you anything.”
“Actually, I need information.” Corana responded.
“That, I can probably get.” Jynner said, smiling wide.
“What do you know about an Imperial pad pusher that has a taste for, let’s say, females that might not be willing to have him for company?”
“There’s lots of them, up in those towers on the surface.” Jynner’s smile became even wider. “Some are willing to come down here from time to time ‘cause the girls will let them pay to be rough.”
“I’m talking more along the lines of slavery.” Corana hastily said. The man’s comment had sent a chill up her spine.
“Slavery, huh?” Jynner rubbed his chin as he thought. “I only know one that has a taste for kept women. His last one was a Twi’lek girl that he choked with a chain when she finally tried to escape.”
“So you do know who we’re looking for?” Corana was visibly excited.
“Oh yeah.” Jynner replied. “Lucky for you he’s a low-life. Easier to find, right? Grego Waldin. He’s a Shipping Officer in the Hasamadhi district, right above us. He lives in the Brenden Tower. Kinda a slum for people who wanna be richer than they are. He should be down here with the rest of us.”
“Well, that is fortunate. Thank you for your assistance.” Corana began to stand to leave.
“Whoa, whoa. Not so fast.” Jynner’s hand had slipped inside his dirty jacket. “Info ain’t free, cutie. We can negotiate, of course. Whatcha say to a hundred credits and you come in the back with me for a while?”
“How about a hundred credits and we let you live?” Corana had slipped her hand back into her jacket, fingering her blaster.
“I’m sure your boyfriend won’t mind.” Jynner’s mouth twisted into a wicked grin as he produced a blaster from his own jacket.
As soon as the weapon was out and free, Graydon made his move, not even giving Corana or Jynner time to react. His Jinsai training made him a blur of motion as he kicked the weapon from the con artist’s hand and then delivered a punch to his chest that sent the pathetic man sprawling back, onto the floor. Graydon was upon him before Jynner could even begin to recover, knife held to the man’s throat.
“How about you stay alive and we walk away now?” Graydon said, trying to remain focused and calm.
“I… I got ties to Black Sun.” Jynner quickly spat out. “You’re gonna pay for this if you hurt me.”
“I’ve never heard of them and I don’t care.” Graydon’s eyes flashed a bright blue glow. “You threatened us first. I’m promising you last.”
“Alright… Fine! Go! Just get away from me!”
“I think that’s a fair price.” Corana said as she began backing towards the door with Graydon following.
The journey back up to the surface went fairly smoothly once Graydon and Corana left Level three of the Southern Underground. Contacting Marcus was easy and soon the trio was speeding towards section thirty-three, where they would check out the Imperial Shipping Offices in the Haramadhi Warehouse District.
While enroute, Graydon took the time to think back to their preplanning. Nothing had gone as planned so far. Corana had check a public info terminal which had revealed that Waldin was responsible for assigning cargo manifests to the smaller transports that made their way out to interests further out in the galaxy. That was a good starting point for the group. Perhaps they could take advantage of that. Initial contact with the Supply Routing and Control office showed that Waldin had been absent from his office for the past two days. That raised some questions with the trio.
“If the man just arrived back on the planet with a new play-thing, that could explain his absence.” Marcus said absently.
“If that bastard laid a hand on my-” Corana began angrily.
“Corana.” Graydon interrupted her. “We’re here now and we’re going to get Bryanna out of there. That’s all that matters right now.”
“You’re right.” She said after pausing for a bit. “I know you’re right, but it doesn’t make me feel any less sick.”
“I know.” Graydon responded. “The important thing is that we remain calm and focused until the job is finished.”
“Listen to tha lad.” Marcus chimed in. “He’s beginnin’ ta sound like a legendary hero and that’s where our hopes lie.”