"The factor that contributed most to the demise of the Republic was not, in fact, the war, but rampant self-interest. Endemic to the political process our ancestors engineered, the insidious pursuit of self-enrichment grew only more pervasive through the long centuries, and in the end left the body politic feckless and corrupt."
Grand Moff Tarkin, The Tarkin Doctrine
We've analyzed their attack sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?"
"Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!"
Tarkin's eyes fluttered open as he came to consciousness. His entire body hurt at first as if a supernova were going through it at point blank range, though it passed as quickly as it came, instead leaving him with a sense of general ache.
When his eyes focused he could see that this was a place unfamiliar to even the well-traveled Grand Moff, ruler of thousands of planets and their sectors. The Moff had awoken only to find himself in a plains amidst a forest he had no memory of. It was not the wilderness he was familiar with in his homeworld of Eriadu, the Carrion Plateau, but rather one with flora not native to worlds he had personal experience with.
The last he could remember, he was orbiting Yavin so that they could fire at its fourth moon that housed the Rebel Alliance's base. To destroy it would mean victory, it would mean…
Tarkin blinked as he thought back. Yavin's moon was a forest planet. Was this that? Was this location…no, he thought. This could not be Yavin 4, as he had read up on the known information of the moon. This foliage was not the sort the moon floating around the gas giant possessed. Aside from normal attention to detail, Tarkin had taken the time to savor the sight of everything he would wipe from existence on the Rebel's planet.
To get a better look than from his position crumpled on the ground, Tarkin tried lifting himself up only to find out two things: one, his body felt lighter and more capable than he remembered it being at his old age, and two, he apparently had suffered from a bad fall, as his limbs panged as he tried to lift himself to his feet.
The pain in his chest kept him from finishing his sentence, but what he meant to say was "young". He felt young, as if thirty years had been lifted from him somehow. While unable to stand, Tarkin sought to satisfy his curiosity nonetheless and he brought a hand to touch his scalp.
The hair he had felt to thin and recede decades prior was back in full. He did not even need to look to see that it had regained its auburn coloration.
What this restoration to his youth meant, he did not know, but Tarkin did know he was going to seek the answer to that question after he took care of other tasks. For starters, this was an unknown forest with unknown creatures and unknown threats. The how and why he was there did not matter if some monster decided to claw its way out of the ground and rip him to pieces before he could even stand.
Of course, fauna was not the only threat. If this was some Rebellion plot, he would have to ready himself to face them as well.
"Those rebel scum, they were closing in on my battle station. They—"
Tarkin used a hand to force himself off the ground, the exertion taking the wind out of him while still being manageable thanks to his restored youth. He had not been unfit as a man old enough for grandchildren, but neither had he been at the physical peak he had acquired in summers spent in a place many would consider a death sentence. The Carrion Plateau and its Spike were...special ways of spending one's summer. Others got to 'camp', he got to feast off the flesh of what he and the others with him could slay that day.
His parents knew how to show they cared, really. After all, they had waited until he was over a decade old!
Tarkin prided himself though on more than just his physical capabilities though. While he was of a slight frame that could never match the likes of his old acquaintance Anakin Skywalker, he did possess a sharp mind and was noted for his ability to unravel conspiracies and plots with the smallest of details. With wit he would overcome whatever this trial placed before him was.
Standing at his full height, slightly higher than that of the Human male average, Tarkin observed that the clearing he was in was roughly circular in nature, with a crop of trees at its center to which his back was turned. Aware of his direct surroundings, his next action was to check his person for any equipment that may be of usage.
Fortunately for Tarkin, a blaster was nearby where he had woken in this almost dreamlike experience. He bent down to pick the weapon up and check it for any damage or faults that may prevent its usage.
"My moment of triumph, interrupted by such a strange hallucination. Not even the powers of Lord Vader reach this level of arcane trickery."
He finished inspecting the weapon by the time he stood back up, his keen eye having caught no flaws outside of smudges on the weapon no doubt caused by its experience with the forest floor. It was a standard blaster rifle, more powerful than a standard pistol and with greater range at the expense of accuracy. Despite this, Tarkin had made sure his personal troops were trained to overcome the flaw of the mass produced weapon and cast aside rumors of inadequate aiming. If they missed, it was because he told them to.
Weapon at the ready, Tarkin moved his mind forward to the next matter at hand: scouting the area and finding a place where he could take refuge or, if possible, escape this forest for a less dangerous location.
"If I am actually here, wherever this is, then I must—" he continued to reason aloud, only to stop at the sound of leaves rustling and branches snapping ahead of him diagonally to the right.
His first predators were making their move and, knowing little about them, he would have to react to them according to what he observed at a moment's notice. He kept his eyes peeled as he slowly began to put his back to the closely knit group of trees behind him with their thick trunks, narrowing the ways in which he could be assaulted.
From where he saw green eyes light emerge in the brush that formed the barrier around this circular location. The eyes illuminated the bodies behind them, revealing wooden beings that appeared to be canine shaped golems of misshapen branches and bark.
Wolves of branches and twigs? Not even Endor had such beasts, Tarkin thought to himself. Were these creatures beings of the Force? It was unfortunate Lord Vader was not present if this were the case, as Tarkin had observed his mystical powers before. If he could strike down innumerable warriors with what some would consider magic, surely constructs held together by some unnatural power would prove easy foes.
Given that Vader was not present, however, and that Tarkin could make out the noise of at least two other of these wolves approaching him, he thought of another solution.
The blaster fire caught the Timberwolf in the face as it surged forward out of the woods, its body being carried backwards in momentum with the blast so that its charge ended only a third of the way between Tarkin and the woods ten Imperial Standard Meters away. The Timberwolf's body crumbled to pieces, some of its parts burning away entirely as it lost whatever weak power that had been holding it together.
Such was the warm welcome Equestria had for its newest denizen, Tarkin was already half tempted to have his fully operational battle station destroy it from orbit.
"Princess, there has been a disturbance in the Everfree Forest! Do you wish for us to investigate the matter?"
Twilight paused for a moment from her task of book sorting to turn around and face the Royal Guardsman who had come to warn her. She couldn't remember his name, but he had replaced Shining Armor as the Canterlot Guard Captain after her brother moved to the Crystal Empire.
The Princess snorted as she thought about sending ponies to the Everfree Forest. She could think of a list of lists about why not to! Of course, he made this suggestion, so she had best explain some of her reasons for dismissing the idea out of hoof.
"The Everfree Forest is always having crazy stuff happen to it. I mean, last week we had a Hydra attack, the week before that a Manticore, Timberwolves not too long before then…" sure, there had been casualties, but what more could they do but react? Wage a war against the forest itself? That could cause all sorts of other problems! Luna might have been pushing for more security recently, but Twilight had it on good authority that doing so would adversely affect the town she reigned over, "Fluttershy says we shouldn't disturb its ecosystem, so we'll just have to react to whatever happens and do as little harm as possible."
Thinking the matter finished, Twilight turned back to the bookcase in the library that had formerly been her room in Canterlot Castle. There was much work to be done, as those who lived in the castle used the room quite heavily. Books lay in stacks and on carts waiting to be put away, and there were lines of dust to be cleaned.
Realizing that the guard probably had nothing better to do, Twilight nodded over to the 'valuable' work she was doing.
"In any case, this bookcase needs cleaning. Its not like we're in a crisis right now, just some lightshows, sooooo sweep sweep."
The guard bowed his head and continued to argue his point to Twilight's consternation. Why couldn't he just give up on the matter? The Everfree Forest would do as the Everfree Forest would do, and nothing but a force of nature itself could change that.
"My Princess, shall we at least have the Wonderbolts on stand-by?"
Twilight sighed and shook her head, not wanting to deal with this right now. She just filed paperwork concerning the bits that had to be allocated to fix property damage caused by the Hydra, and she didn't want to deal with any more of this Everfree nonsense. She was fine with paperwork as it normally was, but Ponyville was not very modern in its bureaucratic measures and the forms could number in the hundreds for even the smallest of woodlands attacks. To do the same process week after week was tiring even for her long patience.
"I don't know, have one of the bureaucrats here in charge of national defense think about it all. It's probably nothing, like the last eight times random lights have shown up there. I think we'd be hearing more growling if there was an actual threat."
If they made the Wonderbolts change their schedule and requisitioned forces from them, that would be even more paperwork, and Twilight would never hear the end of it from the many high nobles of Canterlot who sought to gain monetarily from having them perform in the afternoon.
She would let the matter drop at that, believing that random lights appearing here or there was nothing out of the ordinary for the mystical forest. After all, if every flash of light were to be thoroughly investigated, Pinkie Pie's many parties would be the source of heavy controversy! Think of what laughingstocks they would be if every disco light were to be questioned!
Twilight couldn't tend to everything herself, and why distract herself with unnecessary paperwork that would take away from her very precious time that could otherwise be used for actual duties and tasks? For solving friendship problems?
The matter ended up dropping specifically because the Royal Guards and related bureaucrats saw fit to just let things be as they were and carry on as normal. Magical phenomena it was claimed to be, though whispers of animals snarling did come to surface.
Upon the spread of these rumors came another voice clamoring for an investigation, that voice being the tough and boyish one belonging to a certain Rainbow haired mare, whose recent promotion in her organization to Captain left her in a state of dutifulness and high spirits.
"Ready to deploy to the Everfree Forest, ma'am!"
Rainbow Dash had reported to the official in charge of overseeing the Wonderbolts from a civilian station. While she was in charge so far as the implementation of their drills, recruitment, shows, and operations, there was an official who oversaw them as a liaison for the princesses since they all could not be bothered to oversee every single matter concerning the celebrities.
The manager, a mare in her later years without being ancient, snorted, "Deploy to the Everfree Forest? Oh no no no. You have a show to give! Why would I ever deploy you for something as mundane as that?"
Rainbow felt the surge of pride swelling her chest deflate at the callous statement. She was new to this game, but she did already not like having to deal with people who weren't Twilight or the other Princesses.
"Uhhhh, because it's my job?"
The overseer waved a hoof around as she lounged behind her office desk, her seat a luxurious model that resembled the sofa Rainbow Dash's friend Rarity would use at times, "You're in charge of your little stunt group, so I'll let you in on a secret: you guys pull in huge crowds and make heaps of bits whenever you go twirl in the air or whatever it is you do. The more shows we do, the more we make!"
"Ma'am, I think protecting ponies is more important than a performance. We just did one yesterday at the same location," seeing no change in the overseer's attitude, Rainbow tried another approach in desperation, "At least let me send my reserves."
"And chance that we do not have a full squad performing in case of some accident? Oh heavens no. Some may ask for refunds! No, you will attend as scheduled, Captain Dash," came the Canterlot mare's greedy response.
Sensing that this conversation was over, Rainbow Dash saluted before starkly turning and leaving the room behind, "Ma'am."
Unlike the Royal Guard, who gave up easily on their pursuit of this matter, Rainbow Dash instead called together all of her nearby team members and held an off-the-record and impromptu meeting.
Turning to two ponies on her left, Rainbow gave a serious look to exude the authority she desired to be known, "Fleetfoot, High Winds, I have a special assignment for you. We're going to investigate local phenomena in the Everfree Forest, using Ponyville as our base of operations."
"Yes ma'am!" came the unison reply from the two Wonderbolts standing there.
This done, Rainbow turned to another seasoned member of the force, "Spitfire, you take care of today's show. Give Private Scootaloo my apologies for not being present."
Spitfire saluted Rainbow and smirked at the young spitfire mare who had replaced her, "You got it, kid."
The word 'kid' made Rainbow roll her eyes, but she did not comment on it out of respect for her mentor and because High Winds spoke up after having had a moment to think about Rainbow's order, "Captain, aren't we disobeying orders by not attending today's event?"
Rainbow shook her head, "If we get in trouble, it'll be my fur that gets ruffled for this, so don't worry. I got a gut instinct that whatever this is, it's big."
Spitfire got to thinking as well in the time since she received her order, "Shouldn't the Royal Guard do something? We're an emergency response force, not the first line of defense."
A snort came in response, Rainbow having to fight hard to not laugh about their fellow guardians of Equestria, "They don't call them royal for nothing. Those prissy guards might have a few guys who'll try something, but they won't get permission to go anywhere but around the castles."
They were supposed to guard the Princesses after all…which made Rainbow come to the realization that, with the right planning, she could get them to do exactly that while also serve as backup for this mission.
"Know what? I think I might be able to get a few of them around Ponyville, just in case…" the Wonderbolt captain smirked as she thought about how she was going to trick her friend for a good cause, "I'll tell Twilight to come by and visit Ponyville, and she'll bring a few along with her for sure."
"Good thinking, kid!" Fleetfoot commented, though she quickly received a look of disapproval from her young boss.
"That's Captain, Fleetfoot. When we're on duty it's Captain, even if you have seniority."
Fleetfoot and Spitfire exchanged glances while each snickered. Rainbow was new on the block but a rising star, and the two of them could still remember when she was an 'Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh' squealing rookie.
Their plan set and made to subvert their overseer's schedule, Rainbow let everyone go and prepare for the day ahead of them.
That being done, Rainbow hoped this was going to be nothing and that she was just having a faulty gut instinct about things.
"I hope I'm wrong about this…"
Some would say she had a bad feeling about this, but what were the chances it would be right?
The other wolves rushed out as well in the time the Grand Moff took down their first member. As Tarkin threw his back into the trunk of the tree behind him he managed another shot off at the second one, which had come out to the right of the previous one from a spot directly in front of Tarkin's view. This shot caught it in the shoulder despite it attempting to lurch out of the way, the firepower of his weapon carrying the light being backwards as it was separated into two main piles of charcoal and wood, its right front leg and the body directly around it comprising the former group.
As Tarkin caught sight of extraneous wood in the grassland that he quickly hypothesized may be able to reconstitute his quarry, the third came from a position to his far left that almost was outside of Tarkin's view given the uneven tree formation he was pinning himself to. This was not without some planning on his own part, however, as by the time it ran around the concealing tree there was no prey to be found.
Acting on a hunch, Tarkin had thrown his rifle into a thickly leaved tree above him and used his survival skills to scale the tree in mere moments. The other wolf had slowed down its charge with what he had done to the others, buying him time to pull this off. As he predicted, the branches and wood strewn about as in any forest served as fuel to reconstitute the wolves he had already shot, and also as predicted they were not alone.
His experience hunting creatures far larger than himself led Tarkin to know that the best time to steal a kill for yourself was when someone else had its attention. Given that three wolves were attacking him from one side, he correctly presumed that some other threat may loom on the other side of the thick trees he had put himself against and now upon.
He fired off a potshot at two more Timberwolves that had been sneaking up quietly from the other side of the clearing where he had had no vision originally. The two had not expected to be discovered, and their wooden bodies that were darker than the other three thus far were rendered even darker as blaster fire tore into them in a straight line, passing through one fragile being to the next.
The original three with their tan and brown bark had begun to claw at and attempt to scale the tree Tarkin was hanging upon. The one he first shot found its efforts rewarded with another blaster bolt to the face, this time melting away all the wood that comprised the creature's head, while the other two managed to leap up and smash the branch with surprising agility, though one of them caught part of his blaster fire in doing so. This situation would lead to Tarkin's eventual fall, at which point he would be pounced and feasted upon, and so he willingly jumped off it so that he could control his landing.
With a roll when he hit the ground, Tarkin whipped his rifle up and fired warning shots all around him to stave off an instant attack. This worked, even grazing the last standing wolf from the first group as well as a previously unseen member of the second group.
Two wolves down, yet with a chance of reconstitution once more, on the side he originally had been facing and now only one down on his other, with it also possessing recovery powers if the twigs swirling around it was any suggestion, Tarkin found himself surrounded…
He smiled as he watched the wolves regroup into their packs. The different colored bark held the meaning he had expected it to: these were separate wolf packs, vying for him as a seeming meal.
His rifle could not fire forever without being recharged or having its energy pack replaced, so he would have to use it conservatively now…but they did not know that.
Tarkin pointed it at one group quickly and then spun it around to face the other. As expected, they recoiled, obviously fearing its ability to tear them apart at range and damage them so heavily.
Lowering its aim, Tarkin fired at the grass before him in a large circle. The wolves jumped back in response, which was only part of the intended result of this seeming waste of ammo. After a moment though even the wolves knew what he was doing.
A ring of fire surrounded the Grand Moff, who had proven at least to himself why he was the first man to receive the honorable title that placed him in the upper echelons of Imperial power. Being made of wood, the Timberwolves dared not approach him as the fire began to spread. It mattered not that he might consume himself in the flame, as the point was to instill terror in his would be predators before first showing it to them.
To drive his point home, Tarkin shot to pieces the last Wolf who had come to hunt him, causing its group to turn tail and run away. Upon seeing this the original group began to back away as well, though one of its members stopped after a moment to stare at him.
Tarkin realized that he had to leave his position in the next moment or so lest he be purged by his own strategy, and the wolf used this moment to leap at him from the point he moved to exit. With the last of his rifle energy, Tarkin blew it to pieces, though quickly found himself fighting the urge to yell as sharp wooden teeth sunk into his shin and foot.
The second Timberwolf group had seized the movements of the first to lurch forward from the bushes they had sunk back into. The two attackers had each taken a bite into the same leg, and as the remains of the beast before him crashed into his body and cut into him he was faced with a split second decision of what to do.
His instincts guided him at that moment to swing around and club the offending creatures with his now defunct weapon, and too his surprise they burst apart as his weapon came down upon them. Unfortunately, their teeth remained embedded, and they also were not the only ones seeking to assault him.
The second Timberwolf the Grand Moff had encountered now was assaulting him head on, and it collided against his body with great force. The creature attempted to go for a kill shot right at his neck—
—only to instead receive a mouthful of shoulder and forearm, as Tarkin struggled to move his body into a position that would save his life. He had renewed youth, and he would not squander it by letting some carnal animal take it from him so quickly.
Letting go of his rifle given its uselessness in this direct combat with no room to swing, Tarkin instead used his free arm and hand to grab the beast by the neck. This was so he could control its movement to some degree as it thrashed against him, which proved life saving as it dislodged from his protecting arm and tried to go for the kill once again, only missing because Tarkin managed to keep its head just an inch from his own.
"The Carrion Plateau could not best me…and neither will this!"
For the same reason the Timberwolf had managed to take Tarkin down, Tarkin was saved: superiority in numbers. The Wolf's attempt to kill the Grand Moff ended as a hail of blasterfire knocked it to pieces.
"Grand Moff Tarkin, sir!"
The reforming Wolves tucked tail and ran at the sight of another blaster wielding being, and they did so with great haste as blaster fire sprayed across the field. Tarkin was grateful for the upward slant to it that prevented it from drawing near him, and despite the fear most would fear at seeing weapon fire so close Tarkin felt no such fear. His uncle Jora had taught him along with their Rodian guides to be steeled even in such situations, as fear in the face of such trifling things was not the Tarkin way.
It was not long before the gunfire died down and Tarkin felt safe to sit up. Halfway up to his feet he felt the armored hands of a Stormtrooper guiding him up, and despite his pride Tarkin did not stop the man. Tarkin's leg had been wounded and, while not anywhere near critical damage, the aid still was helpful as he began to get himself reoriented.
The trooper possessed a voice that was not a mirror of Jango Fett's, so Tarkin knew this to be one of the newer recruits in their army at least relatively, "Are you okay, sir?"
Minor abdominal abrasions and bruises, minor bleeding on his leg, and similar wounds on his left forearm and shoulder. He noticed the soldier take out a set of bacta patches for the wounds, and Tarkin nodded as the man hesitated to start applying them to their superior officer's wounds. Pointless pride would not make the wounds subside, and given the unfamiliar environment every advantage was welcome.
"I am wounded, but I have faced far worse. Your support is appreciated, Soldier."
Tarkin let the man tend to the wounds before he unleashed the flood of questions that had come to mind since his subordinate's arrival.
"What is the situation? What is this world? Do you know of any other Imperial forces?"
The Stormtrooper stepped back and saluted Tarkin as his superior waved a hand to both signal that their close proximity was no longer needed as well as a way of gesturing while speaking, "Sir, I have no knowledge of how we came to be here, but I do have knowledge of the surrounding area. I have located Admiral Motti and other Stormtroopers in the nearby forest, though…"
Admiral Motti was an arrogant man foolish enough to speak down to Lord Vader to the man's face without having the skill or authority to back up his words. If not for Tarkin, the man would have been strangled to death by the mystical power Vader possessed. While Tarkin was fine with punishing subordinates, and had even executed those who were detrimental to the Imperial cause alive, he was above letting petty squabbling result in the murder of a high ranking officer.
Something was off about the manner the Stormtrooper trailed off, however, and so Tarkin questioned the man with some impatience in his tone. For all he knew, every moment here counted, so needless hesitation was a waste of a resource they could not reclaim.
"What is it?"
"Sir, they appear to have been frozen as if they are in carbonite. For some reason they're like statues. I believe the cause to be local Fauna."
Carbonite? Statues? Tarkin thought about the process by which one could turn another being into a statue, a plaque of sorts to be mounted on a wall and stored in a frozen state. A useless practice for many, but popular for crime lords and their favorite victims.
Carbonite freezing could be undone, however, and while Tarkin doubted whatever had happened to the soldiers was indeed carbonite freezing, perhaps a similar reversal could be achieved.
"What is your designation?" Tarkin questioned the Stormtrooper, who quickly saluted again.
Tarkin nodded, "Lead me to them, 4913. I will see about freeing our comrades from this unfortunate situation."
The Stormtrooper led Tarkin into the forest that the Timberwolves had come from, their white and black armor sticking out like a sore thumb within the dark colored confines of the woods. The trees blended together with the other forms of flora such as ferns, moss, and unfamiliar plants.
Tarkin could hear with his trained senses the sound of countless beasts, but he could not make out any specifics given the quantity of them and his lack of familiarity. This did not become a problem at that time however because their destination was not too distant from where Tarkin had been fighting for his life, the reason the Stormtrooper had been able to come help.
Unfortunately, the location had not remained vacated other than the creepily frozen in stone bodies of a dozen soldiers, including a man in an officer uniform Tarkin recognized as Motti.
Well, there had been that many soldiers or roughly that amount, as it was hard to tell with how a giant beast with a mane, a long tail meant for stinging, and a pair of wings was hacking away at them. It did not seem to be doing so for reasons related to food, as it made no move to consume the destroyed remains, but it did continue to smash away regardless.
Tarkin readied his now reloaded rifle, thanks to a spare ammo pack possessed by his soldier. The beast had not taken notice to them thanks to a large bush they had approached from, but Tarkin was ready to put a blast through the creature and end this. If beings like the wolves were any standard, this planet's beings were not very resistant to blaster fire, and were quite fragile compared to the rugged beasts Tarkin had once had to grapple with.
As the Manticore smashed another soldier's frozen remains, Tarkin snarled as he aimed at the beast's head. His soldier followed suit, and with a silent mark from Tarkin they each let loose their gunfire.
Each would have hit their mark if not for the Manticore lurching forward and leaping into a bush as something skittered across the forest floor. Whatever it was, it had a reptilian body not unlike a Trandoshan in look without the humanoid appearance. It too disappeared into the forest brush, but the Manticore running around the area gave Tarkin a good idea of which was the more dangerous.
With a whisper he asked and confirmed with his soldier that they had seen the reptile here earlier, but only had seen its tail. This time they noticed a feathered head to the beast with a beak, but only saw it from the side as it flashed by.
Telling his soldier to stay there, Tarkin crept out and entered another bush closer to where the commotion continued on. As the Manticore ran out to smash another statue, Tarkin leapt out towards the space five steps behind the creature. Without looking at it he gripped the beast that was giving chase by the neck, and then fired at the Manticore with a wild shot with his other hand. This drew its attention, and when it turned around it roared in fury despite not having been struck.
The roar ended though as its body turned to stone at a rapid pace, the beast panicking in its last moments before it shared the fate of the soldiers.
This done, Tarkin threw the beast he clutched down and stomped down on its neck without looking at it. With both hands free he took aim at the chimera-like beast and shot its remains to pieces. This accomplished, he blew the head off of the creature beneath him with no hesitation.
It had been a gamble, but the actions of the larger beast confirmed that the smaller reptile was an incredible threat. A threat related to the statues, if its prior presence and the Manticore's rampage against them indicated anything. The Manticore had made sure not to look back in its attempt to flee from its pursuer, and the Stormtrooper not having anything happen to them by looking at it from the side and Tarkin doing the same happen from the back meant that it likely used its mystical powers of petrification by direct eye contact.
That was what Tarkin had pieced together about the Cockatrice, and he had been correct. With its death came another thing he had hoped for but was willing to accept if it did not happen: the remaining soldiers who had been petrified transformed back to normal. The last Stormtrooper and Motti each were free, while yet another breathed their last breathe as their broken body came back to normal life.
Irritated that they had been unable to stop a single animal from wiping out their whole party, Tarkin was further irritated that he could not punish their incompetence at this time.
As Motti tried to get ahold of himself and calm down, Tarkin turned to face him and glared at the man fiercely. The man could calm himself as he answered for this...this...
To call it an atrocity would be an understatement. The worst possible thing? No, that would be reserved for the impossible action of destroying the Death Star. No, this was something of its own level that could never be met due to its unique disgustingness.
The man in charge of the Death Star's military operations was Motti, and here the man let himself and his entire group fall victim to a lizard chicken.
A lizard chicken took out a squad of highly trained warriors and their superior officer. Agents of the Empire, defeated by poultry.
This was no paltry matter, and Tarkin was doing his best to not seethe or grind his teeth as he stared down his subordinate.
"Admiral, explain to me how it is that a local life form managed to best you and a squad of our very finest Stormtroopers, the 501st?"
It took Motti a moment to recognize the younger Grand Moff, but he quieted his confusion quickly as he tried to account for this failure.
"It came as a surprise attack, Grand Moff. We had no way of knowing their capabilities, and we were overwhelmed."
The Grand Moff rolled his eyes, exasperated by his subordinate's pathetic excuse, "Oh yes, if only we had military experts and personnel at hand who were supposed to be capable of overcoming a variety of threats. Perhaps then you and your soldiers would have overcome this assailant."
Where was the likes of Vader or his favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett, when you needed them? If either were with Tarkin he would feel far more secure now than he did with this officer he no longer held any respect for given how he brought disgrace to the Imperial cause.
"We are in unfamiliar territory with no knowledge—"
Tarkin cut him off with a raised hand. His face explained that he was not forgiving the man, but rather postponing his reprimand. Tarkin had reminded himself that he had little time to waste, and chastising this failure of an officer would do him no good.
"Enough, Admiral. Your failure will be punished at a later time. I fought off six beasts alone, so there is no excuse for failure against a single creature."
Motti crossed his arms and muttered to himself, "If we are to criticize failure, I do not believe it belongs with me."
No, that honor he would reserve to the person in charge of the Death Star, which Motti believed to be destroyed if their suddenly not being on it meant anything. Why they would be in this hellish landscape of a forest was beyond the man, but he knew he did want to take his frustration out on something, even if that was his superior officer.
That caught Tarkin's attention, and he eyed the man warily. He had heard him despite the soldier's attempt to keep it to himself, "I will forgive your insolence only so far as I have no other alternative, Admiral. I would expect more gratitude for one whose life I spared. Your lack in faith in me is…disturbing."
Remembering the time Darth Vader nearly choked him to death about the matter of the Sith's faith, Motti quickly saluted and offered his regrets.
"My apologies, Sir!"
"We have what, four men now that you have squandered the majority?" Tarkin sighed as he thought back to something he had heard from PI-4913 on the way here, that there were signs of a nearby village on the outskirts of the forest, "I hear that there is a nearby settlement. We will investigate, and if possible subjugate the locals to settle it as our temporary base."
Motti remained quiet, while the surviving Stormtrooper joined with PI-4913. Having received no response, Tarkin raised his voice. The short walk to this location had revealed a flaw he had forgotten about in his apparel: his boots were too small for him, a result of his normal custom uniform having been unavailable at the time of the Yavin 4 conflict. He had had to wear standard boots, not fitted to his wide feet, and the feeling was unbearable as his feet were crushed within.
It was petty, he knew, but Tarkin could not stand walking around in these things. Standing on the bridge of his battle station was one thing, but this was a needless irritation that he did not need on top of an insubordinate officer, beasts seeking to murder him, and a completely unknown location.
"Now, if you have any objections, you may stay with the hordes of deformed beasts in this forest. I intend to remedy our situation so that we may return to our main forces, at which point I will consider orbital bombardment for this location."
After taking supplies from the shattered soldiers the four Imperial soldiers trekked, with PI-4913's leading, for what must have been about an hour or so to the path that the soldier had located earlier, at which point they found the mouth of the forest: a path to freedom from the beasts within. Tarkin proudly strode towards it, glad to be free of the immediate danger and glad that they had not faced any further threats in the forest likely due to their traveling in numbers.
Upon exiting and being met with the sight of a nearby town with a confusingly bright color palette, a pink blur rushed forth from it.
"Hi there! Welcome to Ponyville! I'm Pinkie Pie, who are—"
'Pinkie Pie' was met with a series of stun blasts from the entire party, who had each turned their weapons settings down from kill to stun in case they ran across locals they rather subdue.
Pinkie Pie's rapid approach continued its momentum even as her body electrified, her soon unconscious body tumbling forward until it came to a stop against a tree at the edge of the forest. All four soldiers paused to stare at the impossibly fast equine, look at each other, and then back to the equine.
Shocked by the seemingly impossible movement of the talking animal, Tarkin stared wide eyed down at her blankly until his tactical mind came back to the front.
"Motti, two or three more."
Motti leveled his weapon at Pinkie Pie and prepared to fire, "Two or three more?"
"Two or three more."
Once Pinkie's twitching stopped, Tarkin let his nerve return to its normal cool. That...was certainly something.
Tarkin thought about what just happened, and deemed that whatever species that was, it was sapient and likely was one of if not the majority race populating the nearby settlement that looked completely technologically backwards. No starport in sight, no mass industry, nothing to hint at greater civilization at all.
"I do not think this species is hostile, but keep your weapon ready just in case."
"This appears to be a primitive civilization of sorts. The ability to speak seems to show that they are at least intelligent enough for conversation, though I see no signs of industry or technological innovation. While 'intelligent', I doubt their capability to pose a threat to us with technology, nor do I believe we will be able to requisition a ship from them."
Tarkin looked back to Pinkie Pie from his studying of the town named 'Ponyville'.
"This one is a local. Hide her in the forest for the time being, lest she draw unwanted attention to us."
Once Pinkie Pie's unconscious form was hidden away, the four Humans made a slow approach to the small town. As they drew near they could see more of these candy colored equines, though each kept quiet while having their weapons drawn in case of a threat.
Fortunately, as they approached nopony dared get close to them. Who would have thought the only ones more xenophobic than the racist Empire would be Ponies?
Seeing every local in the immediate area flee at their approach made Tarkin even more comfortable. This was not going to be a problem if this really was just some technologically backwards race, "Good. The locals fear us. Do not approach them without my saying so, and keep wary for any surprise attacks."
One of the nearby buildings did not possess any of the fleeing Ponies though, and as such it was the first location Tarkin desired to inspect. The inhabitants would not have prior warning to his presence, and it appeared to be a store of some kind with its windows displaying various things.
Snapping his fingers and pointing, his men approached the structure as he followed behind. The very tall building was light purple with other flowery colors Tarkin possessed no love for, but he had to start somewhere.
His mind was made up about starting his quest for information here though when his eyes caught sight of something in the window frame that made his aching feet, which had grown blisters and were causing him abject pain, ease instantly.
"I will investigate this location first. Admiral Motti, you are in charge while I speak with whomever owns this facility. Secure the entrance and perimeter, I will not be long."
At last, a remedy for the damnable boots he had been cursed with wearing: while the equine species ought not to have many things he could use in terms of clothing, an exception was seen in the form of the carpet slippers on display in the window.
Motti and the others may think lesser of him for it, but Tarkin would not allow further disrespect in his presence. This was not him being vain, the Moff thought, but rather practical: his old footwear was in tatters, and he needed something new for his feet lest he have his mind occupied not with tactical plans but the more mundane issue of foot pain, wrought by his wide galactic standard size twelve feet.
Entering the frilly boutique, Tarkin made a mental note to have punished whoever requisitioned his last uniform.
"Darling, just wait one moment! I will be right with you!"
His eyes still mainly focused on the slippers, Tarkin noticed then that the entire facility was adorned with various forms of clothing and materials for further tailoring and sewing.
The man let himself grow a small smile. Yes, this would be a perfect place to begin this. He could solve his wardrobe issue, study an example of the local populace, and then use whatever information he could gather to decide if conquering this location was feasible.
But first, the slippers, because damn this boots were chafing his poor feet.
"Oh, my, we don't see too many bipeds around here! Come take a seat, dear, you look absolutely exhausted. Do you need any medical attention? Water? Just say the word and I will fetch it immediately"
The shopkeeper had arrived, a mare of the same size as the pink one, though this one had pearly white fur with a royal purple mane. She had emerged from a stairway leading to the second floor, and she seem quite shocked with the only moderate level of dishevelment on her "customer".
While curious as to why she was not put off by seeing a Human, Tarkin let that thought go for this moment to instead think of what to say as an introduction.
It was then that the Grand Moff realized in some horror that he had walked in a store without a credit or whatever form of currency this species used. The idea of going out and buying something had not crossed his mind in decades, and to be suddenly confronted with the situation now had him unprepared.
It was for this reason that Rarity found herself slowly raising an eyebrow at her new customer, who stood before her in a rigid fashion as his mouth hung slightly open as if he was trying to say something.
This fleeting concern on his behalf left in all of its ephemeral glory however as Rarity found herself eyeing her Human visitor's damaged garb.
"Oh my, what a peculiar uniform you have. May I take a look? The grey-green oil drab is not on any palate I have used before, the flared legs are certainly in right now, and those poor boots must have been quite the site before you ran into those nasty Timberwolves."
Common ground achieved, Tarkin sighed in relief.
For the first time in his life, he could have a conversation about fashion choices that did not have to be discussed with a droid programmed not to judge him.
"I designed the uniform myself, as a matter of fact, and I have come to seek tailoring aid. I have some experience in the craft, but I believed a local could provide more aid than I could manage in that abominable forest."
Governor of the Outer Rim regions and his home planet of Eriadu once upon a time, Tarkin thought back to his years of diplomacy and smirked as he realized that his tailored response hit its mark. The shopkeeper was overjoyed to be speaking to someone of a common sort, someone of their same ilk, and the path was paved for his mission to claim this territory in the name of the Empire.
So what if it was a personal hobby as well? It meant nothing. Its not like he wanted to wear slippers for his own sake and break dress protocol. Of course not. He just needed to not be distracted, like he was right now as he maintained eye contact with his intended purchase…that he could not pay for.
Oh well: that's what weapons were for.
A/N: Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed! When I saw Tarkin's appearance in Star Wars Rebels I was fascinated with him, at which point I read the novel about him in which...we see in the very beginning that Tarkin is an understated fashionista. Now here we are! Instead of encountering pesky death, he has to deal with pesky ponies.
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