This isn't happening.
The sky is really falling, the paint's all made of lead
There's asbestos in the walls, hell's coming to rip off the doors
To your privileged heaven.
Do you want to love and feel it?
You can look but you can't taste it.
You can reach but you'll never have it.
We are untouchable;
Untouchable is something to be.
Can anybody tell me why God won't speak to me?
Why Jesus never called on me to part the fucking seas?
Why death is easier than living?
You can be almost anything
When you're on your fucking knees.
Not my son
Not my family
Not while walking is still honest,
And you haven't given up on me.
Again and again, the door shook and shuddered as something pounded on the other side. Groaning in a sudden burst of intense mental agony, James doubled over as the noise continued. At long last, with a resounding crash the door fell inwards, and for the first time in three years James looked up to see the hallway beyond.
There, standing in the doorway, silhouetted in shadow, stood a gaunt man wrapped in ragged black robes. James himself was less than thirty, but the newcomer seemed almost new to adulthood. The age was hard to read, however, as the face was sallow-cheeked and over his eyes sat a black, carapace-like mask. Overgrown black hair went down his back like an oil slick.
James gawped at the newcomer, who turned terrible eyes upon him – eyes with the depth of galaxies, seemingly endless and vast. “I,” spoke the stranger, “am Dacian Palestar. Come with me.”
Hall of Conquest, Hunter’s Enclave, Symbol
- The Palestar Crusader, Chapter Two: Dacian Rising
Unknown Space, Unknown Regions
Corusca Galaxy, Second Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
The entire world felt like a graveyard, and in many ways it truly was.
It was not the stillness or eerie silence of the witching hour that brought such thoughts unbidden to the mind of the Mandalorian. It went beyond that, beyond even the hurried whispers and quiet scowls in the alleys of the Enclave, by all rights the one place on Symbol that should have been a holdout for the boisterous and arrogant nature of the Mandalorian peoples.
The New Mandalorians had lost their faith.
No one would say it, or even allow themselves to think it, but they all knew how the campaign went in the Occupation Zone. What had once seemed a wave of death and destruction that seemed as if it would not stop until all of civilization burned had been blunted, battered, and rendered impotent.
And none of them understood why
The Mandalorian chuckled softly despite himself, for it was a bitter laughter. The sort of world weary laughter of the absurdist, angry at the universe for being too blind to see, but lacking even an inner faith strong enough to force them to. In many ways, Dacian had been stronger than he ever would be. Even if he were a fool.
“Lost in your thoughts?” the voice came from the shadows, but the Mandalorian did not flinch. He sensed a quiet disappointment in the source of the voice as it noted that.
“Never lost, Mand’alor. Never lost,” the Mandalorian replied, shaking his head sadly, “Though to see you skulking through these back alleys like a common dog does nothing to brighten my spirits. Is it any wonder they turned from you?”
“It is no wonder,” the voice acknowledged, moving from the shadows so that at least his outline was visible, “The true wonder
...is how such a perfect specimen could let a ‘common dog’ catch him so unaware.”
“Look down,” the Mandalorian said simply. He did not turn, did not need to, for the booming laugh of the voice confirmed he had finally noticed the vibrodagger centimeters away from his pelvis, “Perhaps you could have landed the killing blow, perhaps even survived my ire, but where two men walked into the Hall this evening; none would leave.”
“You are learning well, Solus,” the voice acknowledged, and its source stepped fully from the shadows to reveal Beff Pike, master of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild and Mandalore-in-Exile.
“No thanks to you, Mand’alor
,” Solus spat back, and the honorific took on a much different tone. Almost a curse, “Not one amongst these so-called warriors could take you in single combat, not even their precious ‘Mandalore’. And yet you sneak like a coward.”
It was a casual flick, so natural in its grace that not even Solus’ superhuman reflexes had time to process before Pike’s own vibroblade had embedded itself in the back of his hand. Any other man, Mandalorian otherwise, would have reacted much different. Howled, bawled, leapt over the table to begin a death struggle. Any other man...but Solus was no man. He was more, and less. Pure...and yet corrupted.
Solus was Taung.
So while any other man, any other man would have reacted that way, the Mandalorian gave no more than a quick snarl and another bitter laugh before casually yanking the blade out with his free hand and sending it skittering across the stone floor absentmindedly. Still, despite his bravado, the message had been received.
As fast as he thought he was, as strong as he thought he was, as pure as he thought he was; he was not the true
Mandalorian in the room.
Beff Pike was faster, stronger, better
“Your impetuousness is unbecoming,” Pike said, and where before their insults had been nothing more than a playful joust, Solus could tell that now he was angry, “Do not confuse cowardice for patience, for precision. I was master of the Guild before I ever claimed to be Mandalore, and for one so intimately
familiar with the Way of the Hunter, you of all in this broken galaxy should show more respect for our people’s teachings.”
” Solus snarled, and now he was the one who was angry, “It was not I
who gave up on the Mando’ade. Who gave up on ‘our people
’. I was raised in a test tube, raised in one of your labs, and yet I am more a Mandalorian than you will ever
“That was the idea,” Beff shot back, and once again the Taung was frustrated by the bounty hunter’s aggravating logic, “A true
Mandalorian is the perfect warrior, the perfect hunter. And hunters recognize the limitations of their environment. Even-”
And then, in mid-sentence, Pike’s face spasmed in agony and he doubled over. Coughing, always coughing. So heavily and for so long that Solus began to fear he would wake the whole Enclave. How would they react to a perceived ‘enemy’ in their midst? To an interloper, a pretender?
Not with the mercy of Beff Pike
, Solus thought, and wondered if he should knock the man unconsciousness for both their sakes. But as soon as the thought came, the coughing fit seem to subside. Doubled over on his hands and knees, Pike paused only to spit a mouthful of blood onto the stones below him before limping back to his seat.
“Even their own,” he gasped out, and the Taung was confused before he realized the Mandalore, this seemingly impossible human being, was continuing their conversation as if it had been no more than a dizziness spell, “Tell me, Solus. What would you have me do?”
“Call a Great Hunt,” the Taung said instantly, without even having to think. His eagerness betrayed him, for it was a question he had pondering ever since Pike had sent him to this cursed rock, “The first true Hunt in centuries. Not a token gesture, not a tournament or friendly
competition, but a true Hunt...and let all the pretenders burn with the rest of the weaklings.”
He expected another attack. Perhaps a backhand, or even for the bounty hunter to leap across the table, his hands outstretched for the Taung’s throat. But Pike, impossible Pike, always surprised him. He laughed softly, grinning even as the shakes of mirth pained him even more.
“Oh, to be young again,” he sighed, wistful eyes filled with a nostalgia that Solus saw, could only see as a weakness, as his mentor’s tragic flaw, “Perhaps I should, my friend. Perhaps it should have been done long ago. Yet time marches on, with no thought nor consideration for our mistakes...or triumphs. If I called one, right here and right now, who would listen?”
“I would!” he avowed, but he knew he had been baited. Mandalore had lured his thinking into the irrational, and was now prepared to lay waste to his schemes.
“I believe you,” Beff nodded, and he did not need to look into his master’s eyes to see that the old man meant it, “And what a Hunt it would be, with a Taung at my side. A true
Mando’ade. Yet how many could you kill, Solus? Truly, how far do you think we would get, you and I versus the galaxy? Could we kill everyone in the Enclave? Likely. On Symbol, maybe. In the region?”
Even Symbol would be too generous an assumption
, the Taung thought to himself. It was not these New Mandalorians that worried him. Next to the two of them, they were less than useless, and he knew that they would make short work of the entirety of the Enclave. But the Mandalorians had never been the Crusade’s only weapon in their arsenal, or even their most potent.
No, it was Dacian’s Void Knights that truly worried Solus, How do you fight emptiness itself?
“Do not be so quick to dismiss these...New
Mandalorians,” Pike said, although the venom in his voice at the word betrayed his own inner thoughts on the matter, “To die in combat is all any Mandalorian hopes for, and to die at the hands of another Mando’ade...that is true
glory. Whether they be a battle-seasoned veteran,” he nodded at Solus, “or a mewling pup barely out of basic training.” He gestured all around them, at the Hall itself.
“A combat death is the Mandalorian way,” Pike continued, “is our way. One day, when the time finally comes, it is my deepest hope for you that you will be allowed such an honor. Such a tribute
to your name. Truly, there is no death as pathetic and unsatisfied than a peaceful death. To die in peace time, in the comfort of your own bed, whether it be old age or…”
He trailed off, and Solus felt an emotion he knew was wholly uncharacteristic for a Taung. That ran counter to his fundamental genetic code. Looking at Pike, holding on to his composure through merely the unstoppable force of his willpower and determination, and yet with a complexion a little too palid. Beads of sweat a little too frequent.
“Pity me not!” his Mandalore snarled, not reading his mind but his face, “It is the tragedy of greatness. No man or woman in this galaxy has yet been able to stand against me and live, yet all life eventually comes across a foe too powerful for them. The biggest, strongest, quickest motherfuckers in this galaxy all tried and died.
It is only fitting that I should be finally slain, slowly and quietly, by an enemy too small to be seen by the naked eye. Wealth can extend one’s natural life span, but it was only a matter of time before something came along that no sum could vanquish. Could even hope to counter.
,” he spat, and trailed off once more. Then his eyes came back into focus, and he realized from the concern on the Taung’s face that he had been rambling, “Do not listen to the idle complaints of an old man. I have time enough left, more than enough. If not to save the honor of my own name, then at least to preserve my legacy.
I will never understand why you chose such a foolish title for yourself. Would that you had chosen one of the family lines, like Fett or Ordo-”
“Or Pike?” Solus cut him off, and Beff smiled sadly, nodding in acknowledgment of the well placed jab.
“You confuse tradition for ambition,” Beff answered, “Yet there is a truth in your words. I am, in many ways, a victim of my own pride. I am limited by my failings. The failings of a man, the failings of a human being
But you have no such limitations, Solus. You see yourself as an aberrant, as a freak. As the last in a dead line, a dead race, a Taung that never should have been. But I see you for what you truly
are. I always have.”
“And what do you see, praytell?” his tone was flippant, and yet this was the most overt respect Beff had ever shown him before, and it worried him, Has the disease progressed more than even I suspected? Is he truly at wit’s end?
“The first Mando’ade of the New Era,” the bounty hunter said, simply, “The Mand’alor that should have been.”
“How many times have I told you, old man
“Such is a title only earned in blood,” Beff finished for him, waving away the familiar argument, “You do not believe yourself worthy even of consideration. Not yet. But my hope, what keeps me fighting even when all seems truly hopeless, truly lost, is that one day...sooner than you think, you will.”
“We shall see,” Solus said, and Pike nodded. An unspoken agreement between them to move on to other things.
“Tell me, what of your current assignment?” Beff asked, and Solus gave him a disgusted expression that said what assignment
. He elaborated, “Give me your honest assessment on what you have see. What do you think of the empire Palestar built?
What of Dacian himself?”
“There is much potential here,” the Taung acknowledged grudgingly. Even he could not deny the awe of the Crusade war machine, especially considering how quickly it had formed in so little time, relatively speaking, “Yet Palestar was blinded by his own arrogance, by the certainty that he would not, could not, make the same mistakes as all those who came before him. It proved to be his undoing, in the end.”
“Mistake?” Beff raised his eyebrow, genuinely curious, “Interesting. I always thought he maneuvered quite perfectly.”
perfectly,” Solus agreed, drawing a bemused chuckle from his friend and a gesture to continue, “Dacian dragged the powerful and the capable into his orbit through a wholly unique will, and trapped them there with the certainty that there would not, could not be any escape. His followers lost all hope, not of glory and victory for such things seemed so assured, but of advancement.”
He could tell that now Beff was curious, “You think he consolidated too much
“A not unfamiliar error, would you not agree?” Solus quipped, and noted with some disdain that the barb had too potent an effect on his master, “Never underestimate the utility of treachery, of deceit, even amongst your own sycophants. Why should they plot for you, scheme for you, when they have no hope of taking what is yours? This has always been the Palestar
Crusade. And it remains so now, even if…”
Now it was the Taung’s turn to trail off, and Pike leaned in eagerly.
“Go on,” the bounty hunter said, “I have heard the rumors, of course, but you never know what to truly believe
about what goes on in Palestar’s tower. Whether it be rumors spread naturally or by his own propaganda machine.”
Solus nodded, unsurprised by his master’s uncertainty. It was a feeling even he shared, “And now we come to Palestar’s true folly. Even his high command has bought into the mythos, to the story. Dacian can see through you, can see your intentions perfectly. That nothing
One only needs to open their eyes to see the lie all around them. Some allies, Dacian drastically overestimated. While others…”
Beff peered at him oddly, an inscrutable expression on his face. And when he spoke, Solus realized that his reverie betrayed him, “You are afraid.”
Solus snarled in anger, but did not refute it. As much as fear was a deadly weakness for any Mando’ade, to deny a truth was the greater folly, “I am not stupid.”
“You said yourself, Dacian’s forces are impotent,” Pike reasoned, trying to read between the lines to understand what could possibly shaken the Taung so after only a few short months spent ‘behind enemy lines’, “You cannot be afraid of discovery. Even the Void Knights-”
“Those shells worry me not,” Solus hissed, the disdain obvious in his tone. How could the galaxy be so blind? Even Beff Pike, the greatest hunter who had yet lived, could not see it, “It is…” and then, in a even lower voice, “...the Dark Priests
Beff gave a too boisterous laugh, stifled at first by caution and then at the look he saw in his protege...in his creation’s
eyes. It was a look he had never seen before, had never imagined he could see. It was a look that, for all intents and purposes, should not have been possible. What millennia of natural selection and selective breeding should have ironed out, his research and development department (all dead now, sadly) should have stamped out.
Was this...was this terror?
“You’re not serious,” he said, but there was now an uneasiness in his own voice.
on the vinewood table came suddenly, and despite a lifetime of reflexes, Pike flinched. The vibrodagger had been buried deep, not even centimeters from his own hand, and Beff knew that were it not for his degenerative illness Solus would not even have been that kind. For it wasn’t a kindness, not to the Taung. That small mercy in itself was a sign of disrespect, an acknowledgment of weakness
“Keep your voice down
,” he growled, and it was the first time Beff could remember that the Taung had lectured him about mission protocol, “There is a Black Cathedral even here, even in the Enclave.”
“You act as if the walls themselves have eyes and ears,” Pike said, but he could tell even as the words came from his mouth that he had struck nearer to the nerve than he had first guessed. No, not terror
, he mused, Paranoia
“It is the lie that holds the Crusade together. The hidden reality that none suspect, not even Dacian himself,” Solus said, and from his voice and tone Beff could tell that this was not merely the nervousness of youth and inexperience. What Solus had seen on Symbol had shaken him, “Did you not wonder why it hasn’t all come crashing down? Why, despite the failure of the Crusade, the soldiers march on and the anarchy continues?”
“I assumed Silk-”
“Silk has not set foot on Symbol since the invasion of Xa’Fel,” Solus said, and the seriousness in his voice brooked no argument. Still, Pike started.
“That...no. That does not make sense,” he said, his mind reeling, What did I miss? Not even I could be that blind
, “Every available source clearly indicates-”
“Your sources are wrong
,” the Taung said firmly, and Beff did not need to confirm for himself to truth in his protege’s words, “All of them. Every single one. It is so pervasive a deception, so complete in its illusion, that even his high command believes it to be the case. Lord Silk is here to save us from Dacian’s madness. He is the power behind the throne. He sequesters both of them in Dacian’s private chambers, siphoning what little wisdom the Mad King has left.
Lies. All of it, lies
. Silk is gone
. I don’t think he was ever here
“If not, Silk, then…” he trailed off, as Solus pointedly scanning the Hall around them, “You leap at shadows. The Church is one of Dacian’s fancies
, a sick joke meant to siphon zealots from Kaine’s invented God. It is an opiate
“-for the masses, yes,” Solus finished, too eagerly, “So you said. And so I believed, and that is the genius of it, because it is. It is a drug, the most powerful drug this galaxy has ever known. We dismiss its fanatics as delusional, weak minded fools drawn to promises of a great catechism and a truth in darkness. So we dismiss them as foolish. Meanwhile…”
“Meanwhile there is a Cathedral on every world the Crusade has touched,” Pike finished for him, “Preaching the word of their Unspoken god, and…”
“...and gaining followers,” Solus affirmed, “More and more every day. And that is just what is known. You say there is one on every world hit by the Crusade, but that is not what truly worries me. What worries me is the ones on worlds that are on the other side of the galaxy
. Day by day, the Church spreads. Like a silent plague, like a hidden serpent, like…”
“Like sleeper cells,” Pike said, and this time it was the Taung causing too much noise, loudly thumping the table with his fist in affirmation, “How could it have gotten this far? Surely Dacian would have known, would have seen-”
“Likely he would have, if given the chance,” the Taung acknowledged, his hesitancy letting Pike know that this was the part that confused even Solus, “Words are wind, no more anywhere else than on Symbol, but from what I pieced together, when Silk recruited the Dark Priests, they swept through the Crusade almost as if they had been prepared to do so. Not arrogant, not swaggering. Humble, patient, and above all: useful
Even Dacian must have been swayed. He likely saw them as no more than delusional freaks, the sort of scum uniquely drawn to his banners, and when they showered him with gifts and promises and...well, there is a rumor here. I do not know what to believe, and what is fancy-”
“Tell me what you suspect,” Pike said, and despite their friendliness, it was certainly a demand.
“Some say when their Dark Lord came to bend the knee, he invested Dacian with a portion of the Unspoken’s spirit,” Solus said, aware of how crazy even he must sound to the bounty hunter, “I do not truly believe that. There is another, less popular but more likely story, that this Lord brought with him an artifact. Either way, it ends the same. They say Dacian asked the Lord what this Unspoken could give him, what he could promise in exchange for the resources and access to the Crusade and its followers.”
“And?” Pike said, eagerly.
“The Dark Lord said that the Unspoken would give him time itself,” Solus said, and Pike chuckled, grinning, “Do not be so quick to dismiss the fairy tale. I do not know what happened next. Or even if any of it is true. All I know is that Dacian himself laughed, and then the Dark Lord...I don’t know, he showed him the artifact or whatever it was in private, and…”
“And that was the last anyone has seen of Palestar,” Solus said, “To this day. I do not believe he is dead. How can you kill a man like that? A man who is not truly a man. But this Unspoken...it is something else. Something worse, more devious...the Priests must have known they could not dispatch Dacian so easily, if only to avoid making a martyr of him. So they trapped him instead.”
“Trapped him?” Beff asked, “With time? Surely such a thing, even an artifact, would only serve to ensure Palestar’s domination.”
“I believe you think much as Dacian must have,” the Taung said, nodding to himself more than to Beff, “He must have thought it would make him unstoppable. But for a man who is already unstoppable...it is the ultimate solipsism. Give a man like that access to all of creation, and what is the point
of it all? What is the point of anything?
Even the glory of conquest must have seemed a hollow thing to him, after just one night with...whatever it was that he was given.”
This time they both shuddered. Truly, there was nothing more mortifying to a Mando’ade than a warrior who had given up on war. Dacian had been many things, most of them unsavory to an extreme, but neither Mandalorian could say that they did not respect him. None had risen so quickly and so violently, and perhaps none ever would again.
How the mighty fall.
For a time they sat in silence, each mulling over the conversation. It was Beff who noticed the hour first, the first hints of what served for twilight on such a wretched husk of a world beginning to creep over the horizon. Soon, even the muted Enclave would be more alive with the hustle and bustle of Mandalorian society, particularly the Hall of Conquest.
“Dark nights bring dark tidings,” Pike said, and Solus nodded at the sentiment, “The time for such worries is over. In fact, it is time for you to put the Crusade behind you, for a time. Your assignment is over.”
“There is still much to do here,” Solus said, but his eagerness let Beff know that he too was enthusiastic to leave this place.
“Nothing that cannot be handled by lesser agents,” Pike waved away, “You are no lesser agent, Solus. You may curse me for giving you life, may think me a nostalgic old fool for trying to revive a tradition that may be better off buried with honor and glory along with your ancestors. But I cannot, will not give up on me people.
Even if they have given up on me.”
“You have a plan,” the Taung said, and it was not a question. Good, he thought. It would have been a shame to kill the bounty hunter tonight, but Solus knew that if Beff had left him without recourse, honor would dictate that he attempt to dispatch his mentor for no other reason than senility.
“You truly are a blunt object,” Beff said, and Solus knew that he had guessed at the Taung’s thoughts. From the wry expression on his face, he knew that Pike was not hurt. That he approved, “One day, I hope to hone you into a fine blade. A blade truly worthy of Mand’alor. Don’t mistake my caution for old age, I share your fear that this wretched illness will take me before our work is done, but better to fail in the Hunt than to catch the wrong Prey.”
Solus was not sure if he agreed with that. Perhaps it was the difference between the two of them. It was that youthfulness, that confusion as to whether he or Pike had the right of it, that kept him in the lesser man’s service.
“Oya!” Solus cried softly, both excited and a little annoyed at Pike’s habit of talk over action, “What would you have of me?”
In response, Beff slid two items across the vinewood table. One was a battered insignia, faded over the years and bloodstained in spots but of a significance clear to Solus. The other was a slip of...really more papyrus than any sort of modern lumber-based paper. On it was scrawled, in the bounty hunter’s own handwriting, a name.
“Kyr’tsad?” Solus said aloud, holding the patch in his hand, “My next target is the heir to Viszla?”
“Not your target,” Beff said, shaking his head, “Your new teacher.”
For a long time, the Taung stared at him.
“Mar Viszla is not Beff Pike,” he said.
“No, he is not.”
“The Viszla’s hate you,” he said.
“Can you really blame them?”
“They are cowards
,” he said.
“Some, perhaps. Not all. And not Mar. As for the rest…”
“I do not like this,” he said.
“I am not asking you to like it,” Beff growled, “I am not asking you anything. You have chosen me as your Mand’alor. I may not agree, but I will hold you to that oath. An oath you are no more capable of breaking than cutting off your fighting hand.
go to Concordia. You will
join blood with the Kry’tsad. You will
earn Viszla’s trust and, if necessary, friendship.
And if necessary, you will
take his place.”
“I still do not understand,” the Taung said, but it was not a refusal.
“And if I needed you to, perhaps that would be problematic,” Pike replied, “But I do not, and so it isn’t. Still, if you are too limited by baser curiosity,” at this Solus growled, “then let us just say that whatever you may think of the Viszla’s and their lineage, the Kry’tsad are exactly
what we need. Exactly what you
need. And, when the time comes, I have faith that you will be exactly what they need as well.”
“What they need is a miracle,” the Mandalorian spat back, rising from the table in a mock display of indignation and challenge, but dawn was fast approaching and Beff was rising too.
“Yes,” the bounty hunter admitted, “And that is exactly what I wish to give them.”
For all his bravado, Solus did not know what to say to such an open declaration of admiration. It was not in either of their nature. It troubled him so much, that he did not stop thinking of it even as he stole away from the ruins of the Palestar Empire, headed towards the future. Headed towards Concordia. And the more he thought of it, the more he realized that in a galaxy that had been governed by false Jedi and Sith and false Mandalore’s for longer than anyone could remember, perhaps the Supercommando Codex was not the answer after all.
Perhaps what this galaxy truly needed was a Death Watch.
This post was edited by Zark (3:40am 18/05/15, 6 years ago)
I see you with MY EYE!
And all is SILENCE!
I Wake! I Remember!