Happy America Day everyone
Also, I might be going full time at my job so while that's great for my bank account, it could result in even less time for me to write. I'm not going to stop but I'z gots bills to pay.
"We have taken account of all of the collection my lord." Btui Triolc bowed deeply the hologram of his lord and master. The Shield of Plagueis had failed in his duty to protect the ancient collection of the Dark Lords of the Sith from being pilfered by a upstart with no honor. "It would seem the only things missing are the Circlet of Saresh and the Mask of Mandalore."
"Interesting. It would seem that Nagash's little ring of Kaasen patriots are more capable than we initially expected." The voice of Sidious grated on the ears of Btui. The arrogant apprentice did not have a shred of honor and disrespected their lord by speaking out of turn. How he wished to whip and carve some respect into that flimsy excuse of a politician.
"The Circlet we have known to be apart of the Rule of Three's plots and schemes but the mask… is unexpected but not shocking." The true Dark Lord mused aloud and the Shield awaited patiently for his wisdom. "Do we have any additional intel on those that assaulted my world?"
"We believe one of them was a Kaminoan, they were Force sensitive and highly skilled. Possibly an apprentice." The various reports from the Sun Guard confirmed that a powerful lightsaber user had been matching the appearance of the long thought dead race of cloners. Btui could only imagine the implications of their involvement, though it would more likely a straggler of that dying race than anything.
"Hmm… Nagash has found a new apprentice so quickly after the death of his last." Sidious chuckled darkly and it pained the Shield that he had been the one to achieve that kill. Though the battle had been slightly famed in their very small circle it was still shrouded in mystery.
"I have yet to see a body my apprentice." Good, the Dark lord was putting the pompous fool in his place. "Nagash does not follow our ways and likely has taken several underlings. Diluting his attention to forge a worthy apprentice." That did in fact hurt to hear. The Tools knew their place but it was difficult at times not to hope that their master might see more in them just mere tools. The Shield knew that each of them hoped to one day supplant Sidious, even if it was not him that would be fine as any of the Tools were better than the Naboo native. "As for the matter at hand, begin moving my collection to site five, eight, and thirteen. We will create a new repository elsewhere."
"Yes my lord." Btui nodded his head further and promised that he would ensure safe travel for every piece of his lord's property.
"Sidious, Nagash has clear intent on the Mandalorians. See to it that they do not survive the coming Hutt War. Their final destruction will serve as a rallying call for the galaxy to destroy the slugs." Ah, a brilliant move by the Dark Lord. But that was to be expected by one such as great as him.
"It will be done my master." With that Btui heard the holo-image cut out, but only one.
"Is there… anything else my lord?" He asked carefully knowing that this would his punishment. He had failed to bring Plagueis the upstart's head and failed in the protection of the collection of the Sith. It was only natural to suffer now as mercy was a disservice.
"Yes. I do not wish for you despair my Shield. You, my longest standing Tool have proven your worth many times over should not feel any shame in this loss. Nagash is a foe that can only be bested by myself and none other. The information you have given me is something to be praised." It had to be true but it was all lies. He failed. He failed. He failed! Punishment needed to be carried out as a worthless weakling like him deserved. "But I can sense the hatred in heart has not diminished. Good. Let it fuel you to great heights. Once you are done with your duties, I will be sending you on a mission with the Hammer. There you might find your redemption."
"Thank you my lord." He was unworthy of this and made sure in his mind to begin self punishment to make up for his own intolerable failure. But the chance to prove himself again was not going to be misused.
"I would say that our mission was a total success Mand'alor." It was always so strange how Naraiz referred to him by the traditional version of the title. Even Jaster rarely used that pronunciation but their new ally never once missed a chance to use it.
Now back in his own armor along with the rest of his super-commandos, he and the other mission members of his True Mandalorians along with Naraiz and Ivuc were on his bridge. In the Kaasen's hand was the objective of this mission, a ornate band of metal, though he took great care to only balance the object on the tips of his fingers before placing it back in the bag it had been in before.
"Of course it was successful, don't expect anything less." Khe Strost grumbled a bit as she rolled her shoulders. While she had been one of Naraiz supporters in the initial talks, didn't mean she liked the man. Offhandedly she referred to him as having the look of a man that had too easy a time getting what he wanted. Jaster didn't want to judge anyone so quickly but… Naraiz attitude wasn't discounting that opinion.
"You have your propriety back, now our payment." Jaster said very eager to get his hands on that data-stick. With the code ciphers to Mandalore's orbital defense platforms in hand it would make taking the world that much easier. The space battle would be over quickly and ground invasion would be trivial for his men. Best case scenario, the shock of his faction landing so easily will be enough to force a quick surrender.
But Naraiz didn't say anything at first. Instead his cheeky smile faded to thin frown and Jaster got chills. Reflex and years of training be damned as suddenly Jango was lifted off the floor, grasping at his neck and the satchel bag he had on him was floated over to Naraiz. Everyone pointed their guns at the two Force Users and two of Jango's own squad had fired on them. The blaster bolts froze in the air and then fizzled out of existence. All while this happened, Naraiz slight frown of disapproval didn't leave his face.
"I should correct that… it almost was a total success." He said as he caught the bag he had pulled away from Jaster's adopted son. "I had expected better out of you and your own Mand'alor. I had expressly told you that secrecy was a vital part of this mission. That only I could expose myself to the enemy."
"Your subordinate and his team spoke aloud about their heritage during the mission. Compromising your involvement in this, putting all of your people in danger." Ivuc spoke with a disdain and pity. Jaster was no xenophobe but hearing that tone come from the alien was galling. But his anger for the accusation if it was true was greater on his mind.
"You know damn well why we did that!" One of Jango's squad mates shouted, confirming the story.
"Silence!" Jaster shouted instilling a bit of order back into his Mandalorians. "What happened?"
"This." Naraiz pulled out something from Jango's bag and everything made so much more sense. In the man's hand was a mask, the Mask of Mandalore the Ultimate. A symbol of their people lost to time, now on his bridge. Jaster's immediate first instinct was to fire upon Naraiz and attempt to take it back. By all rights it belonged to him. But reason and logic of battle caught his hand. "I can understand a bit, I'm not unreasonable. But you have to understand that now you are going to be targeted by the most powerful and influential man in the entire Republic."
Without a single care Naraiz tossed over the mask to Jaster and he caught it as his very life and honor depended on it. Feeling in his fingers, it validated so much. But it also felt hollow as grunt of pain reached his ears and reminded that his son was still being held hostage. Forgetting perhaps the most important object to his people for the moment he looked back at Naraiz and glared. Threatening him to release his son, to which the Force User capitulated. Jango fell back to the floor, gasping for air and several of the men went to help him.
"You save my life and return something priceless to my people, but you have also assaulted my son." Jaster was deeply conflicted as to how he should proceed.
"You are missing a few things there. I also brought you your most hated enemy. Hold my hand the key to the kingdom. And also am likely the only real ally you have left in this galaxy thanks to your son." He taunted as he pulled out the data-stick that could lead to his total victory over the New Mandalorians. The Mask was a massive boon but most of the New Mandalorians wouldn't care all that much for it, the Mask's real worth was in convincing those that had backed the Death Watch and the undecided Clans. But it was last sentence that really got Jaster's attention now that he had the Mask in hand and Jango was no longer losing oxygen.
"Just who was it was attacked?" That detail had always been very vague. He knew it was someone in IGBC but claiming that one of the Muun was the most influential man in the Republic was saying a lot. Yes, the bankers were powerful but that powerful?
"He has held the reigns over the past eight Chancellors either through debt or threat. Maintains a spy network that regularly eclipses that of the Office of Republic Intelligence. Has plants and allies in enough right places that with a snap of his fingers wars are declared. And knows more ways to kill a person without ever touching them than anyone else in the galaxy." Naraiz listed off and sounded like these were only a few examples off the top of his head. And there was the unsaid things as well, the Force User that had been on that moon. Jaster as Mandalore had felt obligated to learn more about his people's history than many others care to do. He knew the enemies that the Republic like to both hide and fear monger against.
"He's a Sith." The very interesting history between his Creed and the Sith was not something that he had much knowledge of but enough to know the danger they faced. That not all the propaganda the Republic put there was fake.
"Of a sorts. But then again, he probably doesn't consider me anymore Sith than I consider him one." People were getting tenser and some slightly moved towards their weapons. Jaster didn't make a move to stop them. It was one thing if Naraiz was some Kaasen noble dreaming of a independent Dromund Kaas, it was another of a Sith scheming of a return of their Empire. "Now don't give me that Jaster, I'm the last friend you have in the galaxy. You can thank your son for that."
"What was he supposed to do, just leave the Mask of Mandalore in the hands of some unknown?" Again the member of Jango's squad interjected and Jaster had half a mind to discipline the man himself later.
"Yes he was." Jaster answered for Naraiz as he kept his gaze on the self-identified Sith. "Knowing that the Mask was even still intact, and knowing whom had it was enough. If we had remained secret, we could have organized our own mission once this foe was weakened, yes?"
"Exactly. Teach your son common sense please." Naraiz playfully gestured to Jango all while still excluding a aura of danger. He had already demonstrated that he could use his strange powers on a whim and as well as a deadly combatant. "I had originally hoped to be a step away from you, let your own destiny play out. But now, if you are going to survive long enough to be useful to me, this requires a bit more hands on strategy."
"He's bluffing. Get our payment and be done with him." Uyaen Nurr had been against Naraiz from the start and so hearing this from him was not surprising. But Jaster knew that he simply couldn't afford to do that.
The veil had been lifted slightly and now he knew that the Mandalorians were going to be brought back to galactic prominence. He had always hoped to do that by installing his belief of honorable mercenaries into the Creed. To be famed soldiers for hire and unparalleled warriors. But now they had stepped into a war of two devils and had the choice to pick one or attempt to ignore them both.
"You call yourself our last friend but why do I feel something cold around my neck when you say that?" The hand that was reaching out for him was not one in friendship but one grasping for a weapon. Jaster could feel that this man saw the Creed as another piece to his future plans of galactic conquest.
"I offer only to thrive in the coming galaxy." There was warning in that voice, to not turn away his deal. A threat and warning. It was times like this that Jaster missed his time as a simple peace keeper and not being the leader of his people. The difficult choices weighed heavy indeed.
"Give me the data-stick, your men will be welcomed in our territory, but we have no further business." Jaster said firmly, his people would lead themselves with no masters. He had fought hard for the future of the Creed and wasn't about to let it fall back into warmongers or rapid dogs of the Sith.
Naraiz studied him with wide analytical eyes, searching for any sign of weakness to exploit. The air felt heavy and for a second Jaster wasn't sure if the entire bridge wasn't about to be turned into a channel house. But he let out the breath he had been holding when the data-stick was dropped to the floor and the Sith turned back and started walking away, his apprentice following him. Everything was silent until the sound of the doors opened and closed behind the pair of outsiders.
"Was… that wise?" Jango asked him as the tenseness was leaving everyone's bodies and he walked over to pick up the key to the kingdom.
"He assaulted you, nearly killed you to make a point and you say that?" Jaster very nearly growled as some of his anger flared up now that the immediate danger had passed. It was also because he was questioning the wisdom of rejecting Naraiz as well.
"I'm simply taking responsibility for my actions. I was the squad lead and the one that took the Mask and brought us into the eye of a dangerous foe, allying with a man like that might be our only way of surviving." Jango was young, and he didn't know the history of the Sith and Mandalorians like Jaster did. While the Mandalore didn't think that the danger of the Muun Sith was nonexistent, there was the great possibility that Naraiz had over exaggerated the threat. His son's heart was in the right place but perhaps fear, youth, and guilt were clouding his judgement.
"I have made my choice Jango. We will not involve ourselves with the Sith and their madness." It still did not sit well with him but this was what he believed was right. As long as he lived he would make sure the Mandalorians were not slaves to anything, not to their baser desires or to any master.
"Your grace, Ser Hightower and Ser Dyane have returned with Lady Stark." Rhaegar smiled as he closed a book that he had read many times before. A detailed record of Maegor the Cruel's reign. To learn what a tyrant did right and wrong. First he turned to that ancestor as a means to further understand Naraiz as clearly the two were quite similar. But soon Maegor became a lesson every time he read of him.
"Bring them in." He set the book aside and stood up. They were a few days later than what was planned but Rhaegar would forgive them just this once. He supposed there were a great many reasons why they could have been late… but they shouldn't have mattered for a Kingsguard.
He righted himself a bit, standing in a lavish bedroom of the Lord of Rosby. The loyal man had given Rhaegar his keep during this sensitive time. He was a good man that would be rewarded once the new order was installed. It would be grand, and now his partner in it all would be here with him. The prince waited for Lyanna to run through the door and clutch his body tightly, fervently in love with her destined beloved. But that did not happen.
It took him a few seconds to come to terms with what he was seeing. In came Lyanna Stark but also the Kingsguard that had been sent to get her. Not only that, but his destined betrothed's hands were bond behind her back and her mouth gaged with cloth. This… was wrong. So much of this was wrong.
"Your grace, we present to you Lyanna Stark." It was Ser Hightower that finally snapped him out of his stupor.
"Why what reason is she like this? Undo it all at once!" He started slowly and softly then built to a rage at this display. How could his noble and loyal Kingsguard act like such brutes and barbarians to tie up a maiden in love like this.
"She uh… wouldn't stop trying to run away. And also… uh… biting." Ser Dyane spoke uncomfortably but what he was saying was just untrue. All of it was absurd. That's not what happened in his story, not in his tale of fate and love.
"Untie her at once!" The two knights hesitated, if they were not some of the best warriors in all the realm he would have had them expelled from the Kingsguard for that alone. Slowly, they both cut her free from her binds. Rhaegar watched but was blind to how Lyanna yanked her arms from Ser Hightower and snapped at Ser Dyane as he removed the gag from her mouth. But then all her attention was to him and the look in her eyes was not a star-crossed lover but a feral wolf enraged at a intruding predator.
"You're insane. Utterly mad if you think for a second that I love you. No. I hate you. You've ruined everything!" She screamed and both of the knights next to her felt torn between their loyalty to their prince and the truth of that fact. Both of them had served a mad king already and now neither could deny that kidnapping a poor girl was something a sane man would order. But then they looked to said man both felt a familiar chill run through their souls. Rhaegar was smiling. And it scared all three of those in the room with him.
"My beloved, I have dreamed of you before me again every night since we last saw each other." He spoke melodically, as a true chivalrous and gallant prince would. Eyes that sparkled and a smile that would melt any peasant girl to a bubbly mess. But even still, Lyanna and the hardened knights were set on edge and felt daggers graze across their skin. "Ser Hightower, Ser Dyane, please resume your duties of guarding me as best you can."
Arthur Dyane looked to his commander, his gaze accusing him. But both of them did as they were told and turned their backs to the prince and young Stark woman. The door closed behind them, leaving the two alone.
"I don't know what crazy shit is in your head but I'm not going along with it." Lyanna knew that running out the door she came in wasn't a option. There was a window, but they were high in the keep of Rosby. No, the only way out looked to be a side door at the back of the bedchamber.
"I know what plagues you, my love. I should have expected it, but I guess I was still naïve to the lengths by which the insidious forces at work would go." Rhaegar clutched his face in exasperation of his own folly. That horrible-horrible man, Darth Nagash had clearly done something to Lyanna's mind to suppress her innate love for her fated husband. "But we will fight this! Our love is too pure and forged by destiny to be beaten by some black magic."
"I don't care whatever nonsense you think is happening, but don't love you and never will." She knew he was stronger than his frame suggested. Rhaegar wasn't like Robert in that he was largely built and packed with muscles, instead he had a more lean and agile body. But she wasn't some frail southern lady.
Knowing that she only had one chance she kicked a small potted plant towards Rhaegar and ran for the back in a mad attempt to escape. But it was futile, they were too close already and Rhaegar was too keen a fighter to be bested by a defenseless woman with no substantial training. He grabbed her arm and caught her tightly. Lyanna trashed about in his grip but her fists did little against the seasoned knight. The next thing that the Stark knew was being thrown onto the nearby bed, her face growing pale at the thought of what was about to come. Looking back, any possible color in her features was completely drained as she saw the blank yet intense look Rhaegar was giving her. Unreadable but unmistakable.
"Don't worry, our true love will break this spell over you. And the only way I can think of is to express that love physically until you come to your senses."
Brandon slowly awoke to mostly darkness. Only two green colored flames lit the room and barely at all. Lit by small candles on a table between him and another chair in this odd room, he was strapped down to his own and no matter how hard he attempted could not bring himself free.
"Rhaegar! Do you think this will stop me from bringing you to justice!" He had been on his way to his wedding in Riverrun when news first reached him. That his sister had been stolen from Winterfell, it could only have been the prince that organized it. He and his trusted entourage of friends and close allies had departed from their way to Riverrun and galloped towards King's Landing. Only now find himself here after going to sleep, having camped just before they entered the Crownlands.
"The prince of Dragons is not whom has brought you here." A woman's voice echoed in the room; it didn't sound right. Instinctively he knew it wasn't human but it didn't sound threatening. He looked around and form the shadows appeared a gray skinned woman with the clothes of a sorcerer or a witch. "It was I and my sisters that brought you here."
"Who are you and what do you want with me? I have to get to King's Landing… and save my sister!" He struggled desperately to get free from the confines on the chair. Just the thought of that bastard Targaryen and what he could be doing to his sister boiled his blood to no end.
"You won't. You couldn't. It was not meant to be." She spoke ethereally, as wise sage that knew all and had seen all. Brandon didn't listen to a bit of it as he continued to try and free him. "Death is what was fated for you. A choke of a child's loyalty to their father. The madness of fire and the flames of insanity. But you shall be plucked from the web of fate and be replaced by another."
"What are you going on about." Brandon growled but then shut up as another figured entered the light. This one was a large built warrior with many scars covering his body, but with yellow skin with blackened tattoos and a ring of horns growing from his head. A actual devil from the southerners' seven hells. He silently walked into the light and sat down in the chair across from Brandon.
"Dear Rante here, a warrior that faithfully served the Lord of Quills, one that wished to die weapon in hand but could not." She spoke as her hands inspected the devil's face and body. Brandon had to be in some sort of nightmare but it felt too real. The devil across from did not react at all to anything, not Brandon or the witch woman. "Blight has robbed him of that death, but now he can die in the service of the Lord of Quills."
"Wake up Brandon, you got shit to do." He grunted as he shook the chair, hoping to knock it aside and crash to the floor and hopefully wake up.
"This is no dream wild wolf of Stark." The witch spoke as she moved over to him. Brandon flinched as her hand caressed his face and dipped under his shirt. "Good, it will not be as hard as I expected to perform the ritual."
"Ritual? What are you scheming witch?" He spat out the insult but the woman didn't look phased at all by being called a witch.
"To transfer your faces between each other. It is an adaption of a ability of a order the Lord of Quills destroyed years ago." This was insanity. Even if this was a dream he wasn't going to let some witch steal his face and give him the one of a devil. Brandon began to struggle the hardest as he mustered all his courage and fear to help him only to have the witch grab ahold of his face. "Understand this Brandon Stark, this is going to happen. Rante will play out the scheme you had envisioned. Wearing your face he will approach the nest of dragons and demand the prince's head. The prince will not be there but his rot minded father. Your double will be taken, and your father will arrive to much the same as you had once tried to. Both men will die and the realm will devolve into war."
"And you expect me to just let it happen?" He scowled as if what this witch said was true than it would be impossible for him to just stay on the sidelines while his family was destroyed and the realm shattered.
"Yes. You will." She let him go and walked back into the shadows. "The war will go as it was always meant to. The Wrathful Stag will gore the princely Dragon and take its crown. The wild She-Wolf will be saved by her quiet brother and both will morn their father and slain brother. Meanwhile you… will live in secret exile in Essos, alive but free."
"Essos? What makes you think I will ever stay there when my family is here?" Sure he had dreams of running away and joining a sell sword company in Essos. Living as he wished, drinking and whoring without any of the duties of a Lord of Westeros. But his family was here and that meant more to him than any of that.
"You do not have a choice in the matter. If you attempt to return to Westeros we will know. If you attempt to contact your family we will know." The sound had been aimless before but the next words were spoken in a whisper right next to his ear. "And if you try either, you will find yourself north of the Wall with no clothes or weapons."
"That's uh… a strong threat." He gulped as he started to feel the inevitable. Brandon sobered up form his anger and worry and began thinking about this a bit more clearly. If what this witch said was true… then his family would live. His father had been dead for years now in spirit, the only regrettable part of his supposed future was it was not a honorable death for him. But if Lyanna, Ned, and Benjen lived… perhaps he could live in exile content with that. "But do I really have to lose my face?"
"Yes. Rante will need it more than you will." She chuckled darkly before the room began to fill with chanting in a language that Brandon recognize. Green smoke began to come off the flames between him and the devil.
Immediately Brandon could feel the edges of his face start to tingle. Like someone was running bristles across his skin. Then all at once he felt them dig into his head and he felt the urge to scream in pain. But his senses went black. No sight, hearing, or smell. He could still feel the straps on body but they felt feint due to the pain across his body. He tried counting the seconds it took for this to happen but never made it passed three before losing track. But thankfully it all came to ahead and finally stopped.
"Is… is… it over? Brandon exhaled as he tried to come to grips with the pain and his returning senses. It felt different breathing though another man's mouth and nose. A bit of drool left his lip as he breathed heavily from the pain.
"It is complete, now to clip and shave down your horns so you at least vaguely appear human."
Lysa picked at her food, she wasn't feeling all too well for the past few days. She supposed that things had gotten a little better since she first arrived. At the very least she had found some new older women to look up to, Lady Fay and Lyarra were both very nice and helped her so much. The other members of the upper staff were also welcoming in their own way… mostly. But her husband had been even more distant than before, almost like he wasn't even here.
In fact, as he sat next to her while the entirety of the castle's population ate, he still felt like he was on the other side of the world. Looking up from her plate she stole a glance of him, it wasn't right. He didn't sit like he normally did, not relaxed enough or proudly enough. It was like he was a totally different person. However those thoughts were put aside as he stood up and with a clint of his glass got everyone's attention in the room.
"Times are changing, that much has been clear since the Sith Order was brought to these shores. But now a catalyst of changing times has appeared." He announced, his voice echoing through the hall and held everyone's attention. Perhaps it was topic of which he was going to reveal but Lysa still felt like her husband was acting not of himself. "News has begun to spread. That Prince Rhaegar has abducted Lyanna Stark and just this morning I have received word that both Lord Stark and his heir Brandon Stark have been executed by the king for treason against the crown."
The hall erupted into gasps and shouting. Several groups of Acolytes stood up and began screaming at each other, Lysa could guess that it was based around familiarly or kingdom loyalty. It was then that her husband held out a finger and fired a bolt of lightning across the hall to bring back everyone's attention to him. That was not a power that she knew he had, it certainly wasn't one the public knew he had. Or perhaps the pubic of the city and keep knew but she doubted a single soul outside her husband's domain knew he commanded the power of lightning.
"Enough! You are Sith Acolytes, and any of you caught squabbling over previous loyalties will be barred from ever taking their Crucibles. Instead you will be marked as Caitiff and be shunned and pitied." That got people to calm down as even if an Acolyte planned on leaving the Sith Order they still needed to pass their Crucibles in order to properly leave. It was the only way to be recognized by the realm as a proper Sith and to get a Valerian Steel Sword. "Speaking of which, until this matter is settled, the Crucibles will be put on hold."
There was more grumbling at that but mostly the Acolytes understood. After all the Crucibles took place in Valyria, that was no secret. They left in the port of King's Landing and with the capital now embroiled in what would likely be a civil war it would be impossible to enter it for something like the Sith Crucibles. The enemies of the crowns could claim to be Seekers of the Sith bringing Acolytes to the port when in fact they were double agents seeking to sabotage the defenses.
"Now, as to the Sith Order's involvement with the current brewing conflict. We will be remaining neutral until the truth of Lyanna Stark's abduction is brought to light." More shouting came from both sides. But all of the Acolytes sat back down and quieted with a withering glare from the grandmaster of the order. None of them wanted to make him any more angry than they had but their blood was running hot. "My oaths, to the crown, the Riverlands, and to the realm itself conflict too much for me to make a decisive call to action. As such, effectively immediately all of you will be confined to the keep. Any of you caught outside of the keep for any reason will be given a single warning before being declared Caitiff with the same consequences as I laid out prior. That is all." He sat back down and returned to his meal like nothing had happened.
The hall immediately was buzzing, quietly, about this news. Meanwhile Lysa was terrified, war… it wasn't never something she thought possible. The very concept was confined to history books and something the savage east did all the time. She spent the rest of the time in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths stewing over this. How would her family react, what side would they be on, would they even survive this? These were the questions on her mind as she followed her husband out of the hall through his personal side exit. She barely spoke to him but now she had her family to protect.
"Are you really just going to do nothing? You're the powerful man in the realm and stop this all by yourself." She accused, trying to run off the worry for her family to build the confidence to speak to him like this. He turned back to her and it still felt off. The way he looked at her wasn't normal. It lacked the hidden shame and slight revulsion he had when he looked at her. Instead there was only detachment.
"We still do not now the truth of the matter. The crown claims that Lyanna willingly left her home to elope with Rhaegar, but we all saw how she looked during the Tourney. There was obviously little love between her and the prince but we must insure all facts are known to us in delicate situations like this." Lysa just stared at him, everything that he said was very wrong. Not so much the content but the way and how he put it. It was not how her husband spoke at all. Too clean and direct, and without any of the normal cadence he had.
"You're not Darth Nagash are you." A chill ran down her spine as she spoke aloud the thought that came to her. She hadn't meant to say that aloud. But what confused her even more was how the man before he looked impressed. It was bittersweet seeing that look on her husband's face when she knew that it was him. Then, in a shimmer of light the image of her husband was gone and what was left was the other Sith Rathari.
"Impressive, though I guess in my attempt to mimic Lord Nagash's reaction to this development I slipped too much into my natural stoicism." He spoke in his normal even and collected tone but with a hint of approval in it. Lysa was astonished that the Sith were able to do something like… and a little proud of herself for seeing through it and impressing Rathari by doing so.
"Where is he?" That was the first question that came. The dark thought of Rahtari possible having killed her husband and took his place in a garb of power filtered though her mind.
"Far from here. This is not the first time I have impersonated Lord Nagash, at times his attention must take him far form these lands but also must still be present here in Barad-dûr." Rathari explained and Lysa hoped dearly that he was telling the truth and suspicion she had was false. But that still left the current situation on her mind.
"If he is not here, could you end this civil war before it even happens. Find Lyanna Stark and find out the truth. Even if he isn't here, the Sith are still a force that is respected and feared, you could bring both sides together and keep war from happening." She didn't want there to be war. It threatened her family and just was such a scary idea. The realm torn apart with thousands dead over something so silly. But the Sith could stop it. They had already done so much for the realm so this could be trivial.
"I'm sorry dear child, but war is inevitable. Return to your chambers." He turned around after dismissing her. Now Lysa was starting to prefer her husband's distance to Rathari's utter detachment.
"The five of you will be infiltrating King's Landing." Rathari announced to the gathered five Neophytes in the meeting hall of the Tower of Revan. Sitting on the various benches that sat in front of the central podium was Mysa Sand, Luisa, Gruner, Royn, and Jarman Buckwell.
"I thought that the Sith were going to be staying neutral in this?" Jarman crossed his arms as he still felt uncomfortable just how involved the Sith in the setup of the coming conflict. True, he did recognize that majority of the blame rested on the Prince whom instigated it all but Darth Nagash manipulated things to a degree that didn't leave him blameless.
"Publicly we are, but in truth we have already chosen a side." Rathari waved away as he clearly expected the Neophytes to fall in line. And they would. Each and every one of them had been taught the truth of the scale of which their order shadowed Westeros. That they were now part of something so massive it didn't contain to their world. For some this installed a sense of greater purpose but for others it terrified them. "Your mission is to sneak into King's Landing, locate and retrieve Princess Elia Martell and then extract her from the city. Mysa, you will be impersonating the Princess using a holo-projector."
"Uh… okay?" Mysa caught the small metal disk that Rathari tossed to her. The older Neophytes had gotten a bit more used to the tech from the wider galaxy, some better than others. Mysa thankfully for the mission was one of those that had become rather familiar with things like this.
"It's only going to cover your face, thanks to your skin color and similar height you won't have to have a full body projection. This will prevent the chance of discovery if someone or something touches you and causes the projection to flicker. You will need to bind your chest though." The Dornish neophyte snickered a bit at that last sentence, feeling a little proud of herself for being more developed in that department than the Princess of Dorne. Rathari however ignored her and focused on the rest of them. "Gruner and Royn, you two will be in charge of extraction. Buckwell and Luisa, both of you will be on a secondary mission concerning the King."
"We're not killing him are we?" Again, Jarman was divided on this. The Mad King was clearly someone that needed to go and it wasn't like Jarman had any personal oaths to the man. But regicide was still dishonorable. Meanwhile Luisa looked like she was about to throw up. Normally she was all confidence and easy grace, but this was simply too much. She had joined the Order because it felt like the more secure and safe option than striking it out on her own.
"No. You will not being doing that. We believe that the king is plotting a fail safe plan in case King's Landing is besieged, which would result in the entire city burning in Wildfire." The Neophytes all tensed at casual explanation of the king planning on destroying his own capital. However they all the man that spoke these words to be the kind of person to never say something like that with firm proof. While Darth Nagash they knew to embellish and add flare to a moment, Rathari was about as blunt and straight forward as could be. "You are to eliminate this threat without alerting the king or the Pyromancers Guild that their bombs have bene rendered inert. Through our own research, a mic of base high chemicals mixed with sand will safely deactivate Wildfire's liquid form. Sufficient amounts of this compound will be given to you for the mission."
"And what if it isn't?" This was a serious threat to King's Landing and Jarman wanted to make sure it was taken care of as quickly as possible. On the plus side, what reservations he had about the coming civil war were severely lessened due to this and the knowledge of the state of mind of the prince. Clearly the Targaryens were unfit to rule the Seven Kingdoms anymore if this was their best.
"Then wait but regardless, once the city is besieged eliminate the entire Pyromancer Guild. We have already stolen their secrets long ago, their usefulness has passed and now they are just a danger. If there are no further questions you are dismissed, prepare to leave the city in two days time." Rathari started to make a move to leave but then Mysa held up her hand to ask a question.
"Whatever happened to that new trip up to space we were told about? It was supposed to happen after the Tourney." She and Nathar had both been excited to go back up to space and were getting a little antsy waiting.
"In light of certain events, it was determined that both I and Instructor Fay were needed here. The trip to Tython and Korriban are being put on hold until a time where we are free to leave." Rathari did not explain further onto the nature of those reasons. They had to keep the activities of the Maiden semi-secret as to hopefully prevent her from taking advantage of any of the Neophytes. But that issue should resolve itself once Darth Nagash returns.
The hiss of the hydraulics opening the landing ramp were the first thing that woke me from my daze. Since leaving the Mandalorians, I had been drifting in and out of focus. Just going through the motions on my way back to Terra. It wasn't a complete failure but certainly not the outcome I had hoped for. Perhaps I played things at the end a bit differently it would have ended better but I had to accept that the Mandalorians were not going to be joining me just yet.
"Welcome back my lord, how was your trip?" Quinn greeted me and no one else as I waled down the ramp to the top of the Tower of Revan. I was back earlier than I had expected. There had been a plan for me to join Jaster in his retaking of Mandalore but that was not feasible now. Thankfully, with the Mask of Mandalore and the codes to the orbital defenses he would have little trouble in taking the system and world.
"Less than ideal, but not disastrous. I was able to save Jaster's life and insure that the Mandos have competent leadership but that very leadership is now a bit chilly to us. Even worse, the Rule of Two Sith are likely aware of our intentions towards them and will make moves to remove the Mandalorians from the board." I gave Cipher Nine orders to be on the watch for any overt news in the Republic regarding any police changes towards the Mandalorians. The change from the New to the True Mandalorians will not be something the Republic can ignore given their history. However Jaster and his ideology is something that the military of the Republic would support if things were nudged in the right way. I trust Cipher to arrange the correct outcome for the time being. "At the very least I was able to get my hands on the Circlet and secure a unofficial treaty between the Dragoons and the Mandos so there's still a chance over time we can convince them."
"Of course, my lord." He nodded his head as we began our way down into the tower. It's been a while since I've had a setback like this. One where I really didn't have an exact plan to fix it. Jaster was a man of honor but also he was fighting for his people's legacy. He wanted them to be honorable mercenaries and I have to assume that what he thought I offered was too limiting.
"Enough of the stars, how are things down here?" I needed to move on for the time being. If I was going to convince Jaster to join me I needed two things, proof that the Empire I was building could survive and win, and that I was genuine in wanting his people to have equal footing in my empire. Both needed time and for me to build a certain amount of trust.
"Events happened faster than expected. Lyanna Stark has been kidnapped as you predicted, Brandon Stark was swapped out by Great Mother Talzin and both the double and Rickard Stark have died to King Aerys." It's finally done. I am… regretful that it had to happen like this. Despite all the shit I have done and caused to Rickard over the years and with him being totally unaware of it, I did respect the man. But this was always his part to play. The sacrificial lamb upon my alter to greatness. "Brandon has been deposited near Pentos and was given a tracking serum to insure we know if he intends to return."
"Good, we could at least then mitigate any possible interference he could do here in Westeros." Letting Brandon was a massive risk as his mere existence could unravel several plots, both for myself and otherwise. But with him having a different face and on the other side of the world it could be avoided. "How goes the war?"
"The Vale is turmoil, but it looks like it shall be secured in due time by the rebel forces." It was ironic for us to be rooting for rebellious forces. But things were tracking well, I had been able to return soon enough to oversee the majority of the war. If things with the mandos had been different I'd likely be at least two or three months late. I'll take what I can get honestly. "The loyalist forces are reacting slowly, many hope that the rebellion will be killed in its infancy. Only the North and Crownlands are truly calling their levies at the moment."
"Their Warden and heir has just been killed by the King, yeah… even without Eddard there they would be doing something. And the Neophytes?" Most them will be remaining here but the team I had selected for the King's Landing job should have left by now. Saving Elia had been part of my deal with Oberyn plus I didn't want her die. Elia was a pure innocent in this, even more than in canon as she didn't have any kids with Rhaegar. That's one loose end that I had some worries over early on that solved itself. I hadn't actually orchestrated Elia and Rhaegar's loveless and childless marriage, that was all on him.
"Dispatched or watching the Acolytes. However, five groups of Acolytes have attempted to escape already. A total of twelve Acolytes have been marked as Caitiff and placed under house arrest." I looked back to Quinn and shook his head answering my question if any of the Caitiff were people of importance. That's good, I can't have Brandon Stark or someone else vital ending up a failure. But twelve potential Sith now reduced to being eternal Acolytes. Once the war is over, they will have to be addressed in a more permanent fashion but for now house arrest was good.
Quinn continued to report various events and developments of lesser importance to me as we walked through the stairs and halls of the Tower of Revan, keeping a slow pace. Everything so far was going as planned which was welcome shift from the derailment back in space. Once I had done some admin duties of the keep and more importantly family duties, I could more actively handle the situation. Plucking at the strings to insure that the war went as I needed it to.
"Anything else to report?" I asked as I turned back around to face Quinn, we stood at the crossroad between my family's wing of the floor and the way to the stairway down.
"Yes, We confirmed that it was indeed the Maiden that kidnapped Nira. The girl escaped or was rejected by the being. Both Fay and Talzin examined her and don't believe she is affected by the event other than minor mental trauma. The girl herself does not recall what occurred." That bitch is playing her hand is starting to become more and more active. First Thoren and now this, thankfully I now had the key to accessing her little pocket in the Force and hopefully we can put her chains back on her. I gave a deep sigh and motioned for Quinn to keep going, this was a issue that needed to be handled after the war. I couldn't' risk diving into the Force again and coming out months later. "Lysa was able to see through Rathari's impersonation of you, an impressive feat I must say."
"Really? Well… she is a second daughter who lived in the shadow of her older sibling. People like that tend to become very observant. But still, we haven't had much interaction and yet she picked up on Rathari." My trusted double had years to perfect his act though our personalities were pretty much opposite so it could never be flawless. There was even one time that Rathari had managed to fool Quinn with his impersonation of me and Quinn was extremely hard to fool.
"Yes, it is an accomplishment worth praise." Oh no, not him too.
"What is your opinion of her Quinn? Fay is mother hen'ing Lysa and I can't trust Lyarra or Joanna's opinion on the matter. I need another perspective of the matter." Loyalty and logic, two things that Quinn had in spades. Even with his heart growing colder in this last year I trusted him to advise me on a matter like this.
"I understand your objections my lord. But to ignore a possible, and pliable, ally is unwise. You stand to help her grow into a woman whom can be proud to apart of your legacy." Eee… that makes me feel like I'm grooming her. If she didn't want that sort of relationship I would happily take her under my wing and teach her to be a proper Imperial woman of the court. One that turned heads, crushed weaklings, and held rooms in the palm of her hand.
I dismissed Quinn, letting him think I seriously considered his advice. His opinion I valued but in this instance it really sounded like he wanted me to groom a child. I'm sure he didn't see it that way and I'm likely pushing my own feelings on the matter onto his words but damnit this topic was a sore spot for me. But the Force seemed intent on me confronting it as not two minutes later I ran into Lysa and Fay, from the direction they were coming from Lyarra's room. There was no avoiding this, Fay definitely wasn't going to let me.
"Darth Nagash, you have returned from your mission abroad." She smiled at me like a cat that had just caught a mouse in a corner. Lysa stared at me suspiciously at first then blinked and become her normal shy and embarrassed self. Probably was weary if I was Rathari in disguise but assumed that Fay could also tell.
"Yes I have." I forced myself to play along with her games. But, I should shallow my feelings and just at the very least acknowledge a achievement when done. I looked down to Lysa and pushed away the fact I was married to this teenager for a moment to allow myself to feel proud for her. "I have been told you saw through Rathari's impersonation of me, that is not an easy thing to do. You should continue to hone your skills Lysa."
"Thank you my lord." She blushed, ow… no… just let the girl have this.
"You're welcome. Now, I must speak with Fay privately for a moment." I tried to keep the small smile on my face genuine and not look forced at all. Ironically I was praising her observant ability but she was too keen on being approved by me to notice that. With a curtsy and words of respect, Lysa left me and Fay as she continued down the hallway.
"Now wasn't so hard." I glared back at Fay's teasing. "But thank you, that probably meant the world to her to hear from you."
"I only said what was true." I dismissed and ignored the look I was getting from Fay as I reached into my side bag to pull out the Circlet. Immediately Fay's mood shifted upon seeing the Light Side artifact, now it was serious time. "Now be honest, you didn't really think I would get my hands on this did you?"
"I did, you have a habit of doing the impossible you know." She held out her hand for me to give it to her but then glared when I put it back in the bag.
"Oh no, you do not want to touch this thing. It is far stronger than we ever expected." Just holding it just then was enough to give me a mild migraine as the Light Side flooded my senses. Fay was already very attuned to the Light Side but had yet to Harmonize with it fully. This would overload her on just a single touch. "Quinn told me about Nira. With this we are going to put the Maiden back into her cage."
"Yes. Me and Talzin have spoken about a few different ritual methods. If we could just have access to the Circlet I'm sure we can-"
"The Circlet is going to be handed over to the Three Eyed Raven until such a time he devises a plan to deal with the Maiden." I said firmly, my tone warning her that this was one of those things that were too dangerous for even us. The Three Eyed Raven was a powerful Force Seer and one that had been fused to the World Weirwood and so had been bathed in the power of the Force for decades. Quite possibly he was one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy and myself, Fay, and Talzin all agreed on that.
"I suppose that is the best course of action." She sighed as I believed she clamped down on the Light Side's influence on herself. While the Light Side wasn't as insidious as the Dark Side in terms of influence, it was more grave. Afterall, the Light Side was about acting in service of the Force fully while the Dark Side was about using the Force for your own ends. Both had their dangers, both could cause a Force User to lose themselves though in different ways. And I might as well help Fay out here a little.
"Hey, wanna celebrate this great achievement of recovering the Circlet tonight with a few drinks?" Best way to fight the Light Side was to selfish things. Drinking with me, something I knew she enjoyed even if she won't admit while sober, was selfish. Her features softened as she mulled over the idea in her head. "I got a few bottles of Merenzane Gold on the here."
"Oh… what did you do?" She looked at me accusingly, though in that playful way that told me I had her attention.
"I don't just get the expensive stuff when I've done something wrong. Sometimes I just like getting my friends nice things." Or maybe I had gotten them in the event I did in fact piss Fay off. But I needed to unwind in several ways from the failure I just had, and I'm sure that Fay has been run raged trying to keep the Acolytes in check.
"Fine, but I still think you did something and are hiding it from me." She said as she passed by to follow after Lysa. I mumbled a few curses about ungrateful women before turning to find more appreciative members of the fairer sex as well as my kids. I need both father love and lover love after the stress I've had to deal with.
"Exiting hyperspace now." Jaster watched from behind the Mask of Mandalore, now affixed to his helmet as his fleet entered his Creed's home system. With it he had been able to convince a large majority of the Clans that had either been supporting Death Watch or on the fence. He now stood at the head of a proper armada and with a just as proper army waiting to take Mandalore for him. "Scanners show they already in battle formation."
"Good, seems our efforts to convince some of the New Mandalorian Clans went as we predicted." He smiled under his new mask. They had contacted a few Clans that had been supporting the pacifists tangentially, in the hopes that one of their number would let it loose that he was coming. What he was planning was underhanded but Jaster believed it was the fastest and least bloody means to securing his power. "Once we are in range of transmitting the command codes to the orbital platforms, have them open fire on the New Mandalorian fleet."
"I don't like this Mandalore, we should be fighting them in the open." Raallorr Carid complained as he crossed his arms. He was the kind of man to boast loudly about honor but in practice was only around to make money. But he had a large fleet of merchant ships that had been quickly retrofitted to be supply ships, as well as a good household guards so he was allow to be part of Jaster's war council. Rhyhall had been right, Jaster wasn't fully cut out to be a pollical leader as much as a military one.
"I would agree normally if we were fighting a outside foe. But this is our homeworld. A swift and sudden victory would be best to insure the least casualties." The hope was that with the orbital defenses taking out their own fleet and clearing the way for the True Mandalorians to have orbital superiority, landing on the world would become far easier. If Jaster could land all his troops unopposed then it might be enough to bring the New Mandalorians to their knees on sheer threat alone.
"Approaching transmission range." This was it. If that Sith was true to his word and this codes would indeed give his technicians access to the orbital defense platforms then the Clan Wars could be ended here and now. He shallowed as time slipped by. Mandalore grew closer and closer and he could see the outlines of the New Mandalorians fleet. It wasn't as large as his but with those defense platforms and the fact a good chunk of his fleet was made up of retrofitted civilian and junker ships the odds were not in his favor.
"Transmitting codes." Time ticked on by, and Jaster clenched his fists. History was about to be made. "Codes accepted, accessing platform targeting systems." An excitement had grown in his bridge officers as they now all frantically began working their terminals. Jaster didn't let himself relax, they were quickly approaching the range of the New Mandalorian fleet.
"On your orders Mandalore."
"Fire." Seconds after he watched as the floating fortress that defended the world turned their guns upon nearest ships. The rear deflector shields had never been raised and so they ripped apart from behind.
The largest and the nimblest of the New Mandalorian ships survived the initial attack due to bulk and sped respectively. But they quickly fell to confusion and then Jaster's own fleet taking advantage of said confusion. One after another, the capital ships of his foe were swarmed by his fleet's fighter and bomber squadrons. He had always preferred to arm his fleets with large amounts of carriers as opposed to heavy capital ships. Mostly because he wasn't a officially recognized government of the Republic and so capital ships would attract too much attention but now it was also paying off in a tactical sense.
"It seems that Rhyhall was able to deliver us a clean victory." Jango pointed out and Jaster sighed in resignation. Despite what the Sith had done and what his son had done, Jango seemed to have turned to quietly or pointedly supporting the Sith. Either because of guilt or being the bigger man and seeing the situation in a clearer light, it didn't matter to Jaster. He would live with his choice and keep his Creed free from chains to his dying breath.
Morkail - I'm not sure how much you have read of this. Becuase one, Naraiz has said several times that he estimates that with all the Force Powers and tech at his disposal he'll be able to live between 400 and 600 years. Second, he does have a Star Forge, he has the Infinity Engines and the Infinity Shipyard. The Clone Wars period is still thirty years away so he is perfectly on track for the assets he currently has.
Ahtu - he was trying to hide his full Sith-ness from the Mandos though that didn't exactly pan out did it? Neither Naraiz or Ivuc had any idea as to what was in the vaults, even the Circlet wasn't confirmed. So Ivuc wouldn't have had any knowledge as to the Mask being there. The Nightsisters drugged Lyanna as it would have been difficult to kidnap her if she had been resisting, the Kingsguard just assumed that her father was doing that because that made sense from his misinformed perspective.
CynicArchon - He didn't know the stakes and he thought he was doing the right thing for his father.
ZhaWarudo - yeah, the problem is that metaphysical stuff is important and real danger. Dealing with Abaloth or the Maiden is just one form of it. But yes, other normal people would probably be more concerned with tangible threats like the Republic.
CyDawg - not gonna lie... that user name has me a bit sus that you're a certain streamer out there. But thank you very much.
Monkeylikespie - Naraiz Astartes will be using Mark 10 Power armor from 40k. As much as I dislike the Primaris SM I do like their armor.
Reads too much - Oh yes, the Sword of the Morning I have plans for. The difference between Ivuc and the Mandos is that Ivuc does not want to return to his people's old culture. The previous culture of the Kaminoans was psychopathic in a lot of ways. Hell, the only reason he's okay with them being cloners again is it buys his people a place in the future Empire. So for him the past should be left in the past. As for Quinn... a bit. But not everyone is able to grow positively, sometimes people get worse and dig themselves into a hole.
Guest - oh yes. I have already written a scene in which he does something that a star ship and the Senate Building. In later chapters there will be some crazy Force nonsense.
Just Realized - yup. And yes I have mapped out the future battle lines. Effectively the Republic and the CIS will occupy the same space they do in canon until the Empire carves out a good majority of the galactic north and north east.