"What greater weapon is there than to turn an enemy to your cause? To use their own knowledge against them?"
Had he any time to clear his head from the abrupt surprise, Kajex was sure he would have started smiling to see Locke again. But in the moment it took for him to do so, both Syrra and Keris had drawn their lightsabers and ignited them, causing the populated corridor to disperse with startled cries of shock and fear as both women glared at each other, holding their weapons out in combat-ready stances. Cold fear ran through Kajex as both he and Locke glanced at each female.
"Wait, no- Syrra, come on, put it away!" he shouted anxiously, standing in front of her with his arms outstretched.
"What the fuck is she doing here?" Syrra snarled as she pointed at Keris, who regarded the Trianii with a similarly vicious look.
"I could ask the same thing of you, bitch!" Keris spat back, holding her red blade up.
Kajex glanced behind him, noticing among them a Miralukan who looked familiar standing back a couple paces away, looking wary and confused. Talrik, meanwhile, seemed hesitant get between two quarreling women holding laser swords, ears flat against his head as he also stepped back a few paces. It immediately became apparent why Kajex hadn't noticed the Sith trio until the last moment- all three of them were dressed in a fashion far removed from the robes and armor he'd seen them in. Locke had donned smuggler attire with a longcoat not unlike Kajex's black one, albeit in brown leather; Keris looked much like a well-equipped ship technician and copilot in a green sleeveless coverall; and the Miralukan accompanying them, who Kajex now recognized as the lieutenant that had helped save Locke back on AS-303, was no longer wearing white trooper armor, but an assortment of mercenary gear.
Without warning, both their weapons deactivated and were torn from their grip, landing into one of Locke's gloved paws. He let out a relieved sigh as he raised the other. "Now, ladies, there's really no need for this." He peered sternly at Keris. "I expected better from you, my apprentice- this is hardly the time or place to let an old quarrel flare up."
"No kidding," Kajex agreed, looking at the startled and fearful crowd around them. "We're kinda drawing a bit of attention right now." He smiled at the onlookers sheepishly, holding up a paw. "It's alright folks, false alarm. Just... just a little misunderstanding between mercenaries, that's all!"
"Allow me," Locke muttered as he put a paw on the captain's shoulder, stepping forward to address the crowd. "There's no problem here- be so kind as to go about your business," he stated loudly and genially. Kajex watched as the entire crowd seemed to relax simultaneously, their gazes clouding as they started to act as no altercation had ever taken place. Syrra and Talrik gaped as the crowd dispersed as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Having a general idea of what just happened, Kajex relaxed, knowing they were in the clear again. "Fuck... that was a good call, Locke."
"I have my moments," the albino wolf replied with a modest smile, holding out his paw. "As I was about to say, it's good to see you again, Captain. I had worried for a while you might have succumbed to your injuries back on AS-303."
Kajex nodded, returning the smile and shaking Locke's paw. "Syrra tells me I have you to thank for saving my life. I appreciate it, Locke."
"Yes, well it was the least I could do, seeing as you saved mine first," Locke said pleasantly. "And how are you these days, Padawan?" he asked Syrra, regarding her with a polite smile as he stepped forward and casually handed back her lightsaber, holding his paw out to her.
Syrra hesitated to speak as her weapon was returned to her- Kajex had a feeling she was feeling incredibly conflicted, once again seeing her enemy act completely contrary to her expectations. "I... I'm well, Knight Locke." She glanced at Kajex, swallowing nervously and managing a smile as she shook his paw. "It's... good to see you again."
Locked bowed slightly. "Likewise. Now, as I'm sure you know, this is my apprentice, Keris." He gestured to the vixen on his right, who was staring at the trio coolly as she snatched her lightsaber from his paw. "Keris, you of course weren't, ah... present, to meet Captain Surnahm."
Keris flinched, looking as if the reminder that she'd been knocked unconscious by Syrra's concussion grenade trick had struck a sour nerve with her. She glared at the gray wolf with her arms folded. "It's a pleasure to meet you," she growled through grit teeth.
Locke cleared his throat, giving his apprentice a hard look briefly before gesturing to the soldier off to his left. "And you've met Lieutenant Miles Lohess, though we regretfully didn't get to make those introductions."
Miles nodded politely towards Kajex. "Captain, good to see you."
Locke's eyes fell on the second Amaran in the room. "And your Amaran friend here, I assume, must be Talrik Lye."
Talrik frowned. "Uh, yeah. How...?"
"I heard about your defection to the Republic after you'd been apprehended by Captain Surnahm," Locke explained. "I imagine your forced conscription and... abuse in the past, may have played some part in your decision," he stated solemnly. "No hard feelings- I know what it's like to be forced into servitude against your will. I heard Captain Surnahm had a hand in rescuing your remaining family from Teeva- are they well?"
Talrik stammered, clearly not expecting the knight's polite inquiry. "I... uh, yeah? They're okay."
Kajex narrowed his eyes, though he looked amused. "Nothing seems to get past you, does it?"
Locke chuckled. "I'm far from omniscient- but as it happens our paths have thus far coincidentally crossed, or come close to crossing, for various reasons- not least because I work with the Sith while you have allied yourself with the Jedi Order. It's hard not to hear of your exploits when you keep interfering in our affairs; though of course," he added quickly, "it's simply an effect of being on opposing sides, and so I harbor no acrimony."
"So what 'coincidence' happens to bring us together again?" Syrra asked skeptically- it was clear she did not completely trust the knight, despite the aid he had given them.
"Business," Locke answered. "The same kind of business I'm certain you have on Southern Star Station." He gazed at Talrik, who shifted nervously. "Namely, the contents of the case your vulpine associate currently possesses." At this, Syrra and Talrik tensed.
"I'm sorry, Locke- it's not something I intend to hand over to the Sith. Not even one that saved my life," Kajex said calmly and clearly.
Locke nodded. "I expected as much. So, with all of that said..."
Syrra glared at the lupine Sith, her paw gripping her lightsaber tightly.
"... perhaps you and your friends wouldn't mind sharing a drink and catching up?" He gestured to a nearby bar off to the side. "I think we have plenty to discuss."
The Trianii's grip slackened as she gaped at Locke. Even Keris looked bewildered at the suggestion. "M-master, are you insane?" she asked.
"Of course I'm not, Keris- I'm thirsty," he sighed, as if it were completely obvious.
Kajex grinned. "Why not. We're getting free drinks today anyway, compliments of the station commander." He gestured to all of them, striding through the passing crowd as Locke followed. He paused when he noticed everyone else rooted to the spot, regarding their respective leaders with a look that suggested the two wolves had completely lost their minds. Kajex arched an eyebrow. "It's free, you guys." When they continued to gape at him he shrugged and strode into the pub, Locke following closely.
Syrra glanced at the other three, hooking her weapon back to her belt and treating her Amaran counterpart to a cold glare. "Guess we'll settle this later, then," she growled.
Keris glared back, her fur bristling. "Oh, you can count on it." A few seconds went by with the two women wishing nothing but ill on the other, before Syrra turned away and headed for the pub. Keris paused, then growled as she trailed behind the Trianii, leaving the non-Jedi and non-Sith soldiers to stare after them.
Miles regarded the fox for a moment before sighing. "I think the two of us are going to need to keep an eye on them, kid- figuratively speaking, of course," he added.
Talrik nodded. "As you say, Lieutenant."
Miles started to walk, before glancing back at the Amaran, his gaze fixed on the fox's weapon. "... Is that a Stouker concussion rifle?"
Miles nodded approvingly. "Nice hardware, kid."
Talrik grinned. "Thanks."
He gestured to the fox to follow. "C'mon, if the drinks really are free, we might as well indulge."
The interior of the pub was abuzz with activity, patrons staring anxiously as holo-displays lining the bar and corners of the establishment, showing all manner of sports- podracing highlights from the previous week on one screen, a live feed of a chin-bret game flashing on another. Cries of exhilaration mixed with groans of defeat as the inebriated customers kept their eyes and ears on the games- the few that didn't were either staring despondently into their drinks, passed out on a chair, or seated near the back of the establishment where few eyes could notice two Amaran, one Miralukan soldier, a Trianii in a bomber jacket and a pair of wolf-like aliens being tended to by a rather stressful-looking server.
"Here you go, folks- 6 Corellian ales, compliments of Commander Ray- enjoy!" the human waitress said with one of the fakest grins Kajex had ever seen. He made a mental note to at least give her a decent tip as she strode away, her face falling into a grumbling glare as she mouthed profanities away from their sensitive ears- or at least as sensitive as his and Locke's. Syrra and Talrik frowned as she moved out of sight, while Keris looked positively livid.
Locke raised an eyebrow. "I didn't quite catch that- what did she say, love?"
She glared at where the waitress disappeared. "You don't want to know." Kajex started shifting drinks around, trading Locke's with his, then his with Keris', then Talrik's with his own again. The Amaran Sith frowned as he watched him push the glasses across the table. "What on Malachor are you doing, Captain?"
"Making sure that we all have an equal chance at getting poisoned," the gray wolf replied politely. "Just in case."
Locke frowned. "You wound me, my friend. Do you really think I have any intention to kill you?"
Kajex looked up. "Probably not, but your apprentice and aide..."
Locke sighed. "Yes, well I suppose I can understand why you'd be paranoid. It is a strange set of circumstances- first, I don't kill you and Syrra when I had a chance to do so, and now I don't even bother to be anything but genial to you, despite the fact that I am a Sith knight. Your first impression of me is that I should go out of my way to kill you just for being Jedi or Jedi-aligned, is it not?"
"I would," Keris grumbled, sitting back in her seat and continuing to glare daggers at the Trianii padawan.
Locke frowned at her. "No need to be grumpy, Keris." He returned his attention to his gray counterpart, hesitating for a moment. "I'll be completely honest with you, Kajex- in the event that you stand in my way, between me and my objective, my master has commanded that I end your life. But only if circumstances are unfortunate enough that this should be the case," he said, cutting Syrra off before she could respond angrily. "I personally don't want to see you dead. You have made your choice to stand with the Jedi- I can respect that, I'm sure they do good work." He turned to Syrra. "For now, however, they are proving to be a thorn in the side of the Circle of Syn."
"I guess we're doing our job right, then?" Syrra said with a smirk.
Locke smiled wryly. "I guess so- well enough that I'm certain every other member of the Circle will not object to cutting your team down. I don't say it as a threat, my dear- it's simply a warning that I would advise you to heed as you work against us."
Kajex nodded. "Well, I appreciate you being forthright, Locke. It's nice of you to be honest about how you need to kill me if it comes down to it. Just don't expect me to make it easy for you," he added with a grin, taking a swig out of his glass.
"Oh believe me, I don't expect you to," Locke responded with a similar grin, knocking back part of his glass moments later. He glanced at the other four, who were staring at them again. "Come now, drink up- that bitchy waitress went to all the trouble to get these for us, after all."
Syrra looked between the two of them. "You two... I have no idea what to make of this interaction or whatever the hell it is between you," she admitted, sighing as she grabbed her ale and imbibed.
"I'm with the cat bitch on this, Master," Keris agreed. "What the hell is wrong with you two?"
"Now Keris, just because we're enemies doesn't mean we can't be friends, right?"
She looked dumbfounded. "I- wha- but that's exactly what it means!" Keris sputtered.
Locke ignored her, regarding Kajex with a smile. "So, I had wanted to have a chat with you back on AS-303, before the Republic intervened and prompted you to leave rather abruptly. You wouldn't mind if we had that discussion now, would you?"
Kajex shook his head. "Not at all. You have questions, same as me. Though I warn you I keep a lot of things to myself, so I probably won't answer everything."
"That's quite alright," Locke assured the captain. "It would only involve things about your origins. For example- when and where were you born, and who were your parents?"
Kajex shrugged. "I couldn't tell you anything about my folks- I was found near an orphanage on Corellia around 31 BBY."
Locke raised an eyebrow. "That... would make you a bit more aged than I expected."
The gray wolf smiled. "I spent about 15 years in biological stasis. Long, private and tragic story, but I'm really only 32. Anyway, I was adopted by a human philanthropist mercenary, and his ex-Trianii Ranger husband. Spent years being raised as something of a mercenary myself, before the both of them passed away- I inherited their ship and I've been flying it ever since, just doing odd mercenary jobs for low pay. That's really about it. What about you?"
Locked sat back. "Well, I was found on Coruscant, also without parents or identification, about two years after the Jedi Purge- ran from the capital city's orphanage to avoid adoption to a rich family, decided to try making my own way in the world. I was not aware of my Force-sensitivity until I was about 12, working as an undercity scavenger. Once I figured it out, I started traveling the universe trying to stay out of the grip of the Empire. I ended up being caught on Nar Shadaa when I was 15, and was brought to the Emperor's cadre of Dark Jedi to be trained to be one of them."
"Sounds like a brutal life," Talrik remarked as he rubbed his finger along the rim of his glass.
"You're not wrong, lad," Locke replied. "I suppose it would have made things easier if I'd known I was not the only one of my kind alive in the universe, but until the two of us met I'd merely assumed that I was. No alien profile in the known universe matched my genetic profile."
"Nor mine, I checked too," Kajex responded sadly. "It would kinda suck if we were the only two of our kind left in the universe- neither of us are female, though I don't consider that to be any kind of downside," he said with a wink.
Locke chuckled. "Are you attempting to flirt with me, Captain?"
"Strangely enough, it seems like I tend to grow attracted to handsome or cute individuals who save my life," Kajex half-joked. "Like Syrra and Talrik here." He turned to his packmates, who stared at him once again as if he'd gone insane, then cleared his throat and returned to the conversation. "Anyway, you mean to say that with all the resources of the Empire, you still weren't able to figure out anything about who we are?"
Locke shook his head. "It's not as simple as that, Kajex. You must understand that for much of that time I was being trained in the ways of the dark side, restricted from contact with much of the universe for years until I could prove my deadliness and acumen with the Force. But no- even when I was knighted and those resources became available to me, they offered no leads I could follow up on."
"Imperial records rely a lot on multiple databases," Miles intoned as he set his drink down. "A lot of knowledge ended up being lost during the Clone Wars, either wiped out when most of the Jedi Archives, one of the largest data repositories in the universe, was destroyed along with the Jedi Temple itself; or else covered up due to being facets of cultures involving the Separatist Confederacy. Even public libraries were scoured so that any reference or trace of Jedi or Separatist ideology was removed- it's not unlikely that if there was any information on your species, it was wiped out along with a lot of other data during that time period."
"After a while," Locke continued, "I simply gave up hope of finding any information and accepted that I was likely the only one of my kind. I put my focus into my studies and my... 'career', for lack of better word, which involved all manner of tasks- subterfuge, assassination, tying up loose ends, putting escaped criminals to death."
"How many were innocents?" Syrra growled with a glare.
"A few, I regret to say," Locke answered honestly. "I admit, there is blood on my hands, but that is the story of my life- as I said to Talrik, I know what it's like to be forced into servitude, doing things I'd rather not do. I do try my best not to kill anyone I don't have to. It's easy to do when you can render those who stand in your way unconscious, or dominate their minds to make things easier."
Talrik regarded the knight cautiously. "Well, you haven't killed any of us or tried to control our minds- you actively went out of your way to prevent a fight. So we're probably not standing in your way, are we?" he asked.
"Indeed not, lad," the albino wolf acknowledged. "In fact, your presence here actually makes my current job easier. I wasn't even aware you had arrived on this station to begin with, though I suspected there might be some eventual Jedi involvement at some point."
"So you've been here a while?" Kajex asked.
"The better part of week, in fact," Lock informed the captain. "It became necessary for me to arrive before any of my... associates did. There's much at risk, I suspect, if the contents of that case are what I think they are."
"What do you think they are?" Syrra asked.
"Well, I suppose I had better make sure that I know what it is, before I tell you," he suggested, looking to Talrik. "If you would be so kind as to allow us a glance at the relic?"
Talrik frowned. "No deal."
Syrra hissed. "So you can steal it?"
If neither of them had not been looking at Kajex to see what he had to say, they would have each thought they were hearing things. He was looking at Locke intently, with no trace of animosity on his face. When they didn't move, still gaping at him, he turned to them. "I mean it. Show him. He's not going to steal this artifact." They didn't move, still staring at him. He sighed. "I promise I'm of sound mind. He's not controlling me with the Force."
"Maybe not- but you have lost your mind!" Syrra exclaimed.
"I haven't," Kajex responded firmly. "We just saw Locke use the Force to convince a shitload of people to ignore a pretty intense standoff between you and Keris. If he really wanted what we're carrying, there's absolutely nothing we could do to prevent him from influencing our minds so he could take the case off our paws without us lifting a finger." Syrra opened her mouth to speak, finding she had no argument to counter his own and letting out a defeated sigh. Kajex nodded to Talrik. "Go ahead, kit. We're fine here."
Talrik hesitated, but found himself unable to dispute the gray wolf's reasoning either, letting out a similar sigh as he extricated the narrow case from his satchel. The fox worked his thumbs over the clasps, sharp hisses sounding from the case edges until he unclasped the last one, lifting the lid up as the Sith knight leaned forward with a frown. The eyes of everyone seated at the table (save Miles) fell on the black and red pauldrons nestled within the velvet interior of the case. Locke swore softly, a troubled expression on his face. He glanced around the noisy pub as if to ensure nobody else had seen. "Very good, lad- put it away, that's all I needed to see."
Talrik glanced at Syrra, who shrugged confusedly as he shut the case and locked it back up. He looked back towards Kajex, who seemed to be concerned with the white wolf's reaction. "What is it, Locke?"
"The Yoke of Seeming," he answered with a sigh. "As my master and I feared." He took another drink and leaned back. "I'll assume that nobody here but I has actually heard of this relic- allow me to impart what I know of it."
"The Sith, as you know them now, are not how the Sith have always been. The forerunners of the faction started after the Hundred-Year Darkness, a period of war between the orthodoxy of the Jedi Council and the radicals that practiced the dark side of the Force, believing it to be the true source of power. This would have been some 7,000 years ago, a few years after what is known now as the Second Great Schism. Those who are these days considered to be among the greatest leaders of the Sith included Ajunta Pall, XoXaan, Karness Muur, Remulus Dreypa- and Sorzus Syn."
"Perhaps they were only truly 'great' because when the dust settled and the war was finally over, they and a handful of others were the only ones left alive. Nevertheless, rather than agree to the Republic's demands to have them executed for treason, the Jedi instead foolishly sentenced them to exile, forcing them to board unarmed transports and guiding them to the edge of Republic space. It was believed that these Dark Jedi would come to see the error of their ways, to find peace on other planets where their works could do no harm."
Talrik frowned. "That's incredibly merciful- and naive."
"Quite so," Locke acknowledged. "The end result was far different. It took them only months to find an uncharted planet with a sentient life- Korriban, the home of the true Sith, a red-skinned race of humanoids who were highly sensitive to the Force. They are believed to be extinct these days, the result of generations of crossbreeding between them and the Dark Jedi invaders who invaded their world, culture and people. But before they could be completely assimilated into the Sith, they possessed a sophisticated, if violent, culture- one that appealed to the Dark Jedi and their goals. With a higher than average population of Force-sensitives, they had formed a religion around the dark side of the Force, fueling their desire for constant war among themselves, blood-sacrifices and all other manner of tribalistic behavior that most people these days would consider crude and barbaric."
"Yet these were conditions the Dark Jedi found favorable to their own aims- they adopted their clothing, their traditions and their titles. They flourished in the conquest, as they took control of Korriban and its neighboring systems, discovering the many weapons and armor that the true Sith had created through Force-based alchemy and 'magic'. They created Sith warswords that could block and match a lightsaber in combat without the use of lightsaber-resistant alloys; poisons that could rot flesh or cause insanity in special, pressurized vials; trinkets of varying sizes had been designed to focus one's mind in battle, strengthen musculature while active, or heal injuries over time. And all of these treasures held great appeal to those who had by then called themselves Sith, just as the Sith today covet them."
He gestured to Talrik's satchel. "One of the many amulets the Sith Purebloods created included the Yoke of Seeming, a set of pauldrons that sears the flesh of the one who wears it- which admittedly sounds impractical, except that one who channels their will through the Force can use it to cast an illusion that allows them to take the form of anyone or anything they so choose, and to mask their minds so as to hide their intentions and thoughts. As I understand from the ancient records, Sorzus Syn and XoXaan quarreled bitterly over who should possess this relic. Syn wished to study and replicate its effects, but the feud was ultimately settled when XoXaan took it for herself abruptly, just as she started to establish her empire as a Sith Lord, as they all did back then. Having other projects to focus on, Syn bitterly gave up on attempting to possess it."
"What happened to the Yoke?" Keris asked, keenly interested in her master's story.
"The same ironic fate shared among most artifacts, locations and events of Sith or Jedi importance- it faded into the background," Locke replied with a wry smile. "Which isn't the same thing as saying it was completely lost, mind you. The barest mention of the relic surfaced throughout history, popping up in isolated incidents, but clear mention of the Yoke would not be made until around 4,000 years ago, in the hands of a woefully inept Jedi named Haazen. Once a failed student of the venerated Jedi Master, Arca Jeth, Haazen betrayed the Jedi, though his first act of betrayal resulted in the loss of several limbs that he replaced with cybernetics- the Yoke was fused into his back as an implant, and his basic skill in the Force allowed him to mask his disfiguring visage and his own agenda from all but the wisest and most perceptive of Jedi and Sith."
"But as I say, Haazen was ultimately a fool, only kept alive through having the sheer luck to possess another amulet, the Gauntlet of Kressh the Younger, which safeguarded his miserable life several times when he should have properly been killed. Eventually, Haazen met his end on Coruscant- his own 'student' tricked him through simple duplicity and removed the Gauntlet, rendering Haazen vulnerable to a Republic orbital strike. The absolute best that can be said is that the Republic and Jedi continued the deception by claiming Haazen's attack was actually a Mandalorian terrorist attack- an answer accepted by many given that the Mandalorian War was full swing by that point."
"Yet an orbital bombardment wasn't enough to vaporize the Yoke itself?" Kajex asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Not completely, no. Whatever else the Sith Purebloods might have been, they were unparalleled in Sith alchemy except perhaps by Sorzus Syn. Something imbued in the Force to that extent would be resilient enough to weather even massive explosions that would otherwise cause wounds in the Force itself. The Glove of Darth Vader, for example, persists even to this day, despite being at the center of the second Death Star's explosion; tossed into a wormhole created by the hypermatter expelled from the battlestation's core; surviving reentry into a planet's atmosphere; and finally the immense deep-sea pressure in the oceans of the planet Dac. And Vader's skill in the Force paled in comparison to the Sith Lords of old, to say nothing of the Sith Pureblood priests and priestesses that created more powerful amulets."
"You speak of them reverently," Syrra noted with disdain.
"Not at all," Locke assured her. "It's a simple, honest fact- what they knew back then is more than what my master and our associates know today. Even your current Jedi Order knows less now than the Jedi Order of the old days. Both our organizations have struggled to relearn what has been lost- and we both run the risk that may never truly regain that knowledge ever again. That's not to say, however, that everything we lost should necessarily be rediscovered."
He paused, taking another swig of his ale and gazing out of a nearby viewport. "The Mandalorian Wars came to an end 3 years later, when the Jedi Meetra Surik annihilated the Mandalorian army at Malachor V, while Supreme Commander Revan killed Mandalore the Ultimate in a duel. And while Revan and his friend Malak came to meet the Sith Emperor on Dromund Kaas, agents of the Sith Empire were already gathering the remnants of artifacts on Korriban and Coruscant- among the relics was the Yoke of Seeming, stolen from the Jedi Temple's Black Vault and granted to Revan as he and Malak started their campaign against the Republic."
Locked sighed. "But the trail seems to end around that point. All that is known is that Revan had ordered the relic to be loaded on one of the vessels in his fleet, and that the ship in question had been present during the Destruction of Taris. After that... nothing. Until now."
Kajex frowned. "So why didn't Revan use such a powerful artifact during his conquest?"
Locke shrugged. "There's no way to know without asking the man himself. I personally believe that the artifact has been damaged to a degree that the amulet's countermeasures have become more debilitating, and Revan was able to sense it, prompting him to cast it aside."
"Countermeasures?" Syrra asked.
"Most Sith amulets like the Yoke are 'safeguarded', in a sense, by the siren song of the dark side. Without sufficient mental training, the unworthy are often subject to visions and sensations that cause insanity." He eyed Talrik's satchel warily. "I would strongly suggest that none of you not touch it in any way while it remains in your possession."
The trio stared at the white wolf. It was Syrra who spoke first. "Wait... so you really don't want this relic? Why not?"
Locke smiled. "I should think that would be obvious- it's far too dangerous."
"I think we may have missed something," Kajex stated, scratching his head.
"Then I'll be quite clear," Locke stated clearly and firmly. "As we speak, Knight Ulfric is gathering a strike force consisting of Shadowtroopers to assault this station and take the Yoke by force. I assume you remember the oversized lout? He's rather difficult to forget, particularly since you fired your ship's cannons at him and tickled the oaf on Abaat."
Syrra groaned. "I hated that guy. He's on his way here?"
Talrik glared. "Then why haven't you informed anybody? Why did you invite us for a couple of drinks instead of sounding the alarm?"
Locke rolled his eyes. "Because, lad, I'm a Sith knight, and the commander here is a very capable Antarian Ranger veteran in control of several hundred bounty hunters and mercenaries with impressive work records. I would be very lucky if even one of the three of us managed to get out of such a situation alive. I spent the last 4 days trying to find a way to get the Yoke out from the watchful eyes of the Commander with absolutely no luck. Much as I hate to say it, Ulfric would succeed in getting the Yoke with a strong-armed approach. I had hoped by obtaining the Yoke and announcing it to him, I might lead him away from this station. Nobody here should have to suffer needlessly over this artifact- and as far as why we're in a pub talking, I was thirsty and wanted to discuss things with Kajex." He regarded his drink with disappointment. "I'll have to remember to find a better bar on this station next time we're together- I think they water down their ale, and the service seems ill-tempered."
"I thought it was just my glass," agreed Kajex as he slid his beverage glass away. "At least it was free- though now I'm starting to worry the waitress might've spit in our drinks."
"Why do you keep up this 'harmless, noble Sith' schtick?" Syrra asked Locke, frowning. "What's in it for you?"
Locke stared at her. "Call it difficult to believe, Syrra- but just because I belong to the Sith and draw on the dark side to fuel my abilities does not necessarily make me 'evil'."
"You have an agenda," Syrra accused him.
"You're right, I do," Locke replied shortly. "And part of that agenda involves keeping myself and my own apprentice alive- which brings us to why I'm opting to help you out." He looked between all three of them. "If there is one word I could use to describe the entirety of the Sith as they are, it would not be 'power'- it would be 'betrayal'. It encompasses the entire history of the Sith, it is how the majority of them operate. The Yoke is the perfect example of a tool of betrayal, capable of masking one's appearance and motives from all others, allowing the bearer to strike indiscriminately and eliminate all who stand in opposition. A bitter, foolish Jedi possessed it for only a few years and was able to act effectively against the Jedi Council through deception- in the hands of any member of the Circle of Syn, it would be a bloodbath."
Syrra shook her head. "Why should you give a damn? Your Sith Code is--"
Locke sighed. "Syrra, we are not going to wax philosophical on Force viewpoints- especially not since my objective now is to make sure you three get off this station with the Yoke in your possession." He glanced out the viewport again. "Knight Ulfric, as you have no doubt gathered, is an unrepentant beast. He kills because he enjoys killing and fights because he enjoys nothing more than to cross blades with anyone- he possesses no compassion for sentient life, no patience for mistakes. He has mastered tutaminis, the power to absorb energy-based attacks, making him difficult to dispatch. His master, Inquisitor Tesque, is hardly any better- she was one of Emperor Palpatine's favorite torturers, always devising new and 'clever' ways to inflict pain on her victims."
Syrra blinked, not expecting to hear him speak ill of one of his associates. "You sound like you don't much like either of them much, despite being allies."
"I don't," confirmed Locke. "My master and I agree on very little, but among such topics is how dangerous it would be to allow others to gain an upper hand. If Ulfric should come to possess the Yoke on this station, his unworthy mind would be subjected to insanity and he would become a mindless, unstoppable berserker, killing all those within reach and perhaps beyond. If he should manage to deliver the Yoke to Tesque, she would not hesitate to use it to dispatch any associate of hers she finds irksome or unworthy. My master is among those who views the Yoke as unnecessary and dangerous to have around- and he charged me with destroying the damned thing. It would really put a crimp in the Circle's plans if it were allowed to continue existing. Now, however, I don't have to- not when you can get it to a Jedi stronghold and keep it far safer than I ever could while you work out the means to destroy it."
"So why are you stalling us for time?" Talrik asked.
"I'm not. My contacts have informed me that Ulfric isn't scheduled to leave his post on Prakith until tomorrow morning- but that doesn't mean that Remnant agents won't go out of their way to try to shoot you in the back to get their hands on it. And you'd have to be stupid to believe the Empire doesn't have its share of Imperial saboteurs on this station. I'd actually prefer it right now if I could keep an eye on everybody just to be safe."
He paused, his eyes lingering on Kajex. There was a strange expression on his face, which Kajex slowly realized was worry. "That's not all, either. It has much to do with you, Captain. I just... call me foolish, Captain, but... now that I know someone like you exists, I don't want you to be my enemy, and I don't want to see you killed for being in the way," he said softly. "I'd rather know the only other wolf in this universe as my friend, not as someone I might need to kill. As you can imagine, servitude to the Sith leaves very little time or opportunity for things like this."
"If I did stand in your way, Locke," Kajex asked slowly, "and you had the choice to spare me or kill me... which would you choose?"
Locke looked stunned for a moment, before looking away in shame. "I confess... I probably would kill you, I'm afraid," he admitted.
Despite the answer, Kajex smiled. "Thank you for being honest."
Syrra stared at her lover. "He... just said he'd kill you if he had to."
Kajex shrugged. "Yeah, he did. Which is good to know, because it means that he's not going to lie to me." He regarded Locke respectfully. "I've lived a good portion of my life looking over my shoulder that it's actually a little refreshing to know that someone who might have to kill me would do it with honor rather than stab me in the back while I'm not looking."
"Absolutely insane," Keris sighed, shaking her head. "The both of you have completely lost it."
"Oh, I dunno, Keris," Miles said airily with an amused expression. "I think I understand this little exchange, to an extent."
Locke took a calming breath before looking up to his gray counterpart with a sincere smile. "I would very much like to see you off. When do you leave?"
Kajex paused for a moment, before deciding to be honest with the albino wolf. He checked the time quickly. "About another hour. Commander Ray needed us to wait while the station's medical staff prepares a passenger for transport- the girl who found the Yoke on the High and Mighty. She appears to be suffering from paranoia, possibly insanity- those 'safeguards' you mentioned seem to have affected her mind."
Locke frowned. "Why do you need to take her?"
"So she can be treated at the Jedi Academy," Syrra explained. "There are healers there who might be capable of helping her recover from the trauma. We have no intention of leaving her behind," she stated flatly.
Locke nodded. "I wouldn't ask you to- it's a kind thing you have chosen to do. Nevertheless, I would highly suggest you not linger here any longer than tonight."
"What about the station?" Talrik asked sharply. "If Ulfric is coming then the people here need to be warned."
"I'll send a transmission to my contacts after you've left to inform Ulfric that I have the Yoke in my possession."
Kajex nodded. "It's a good plan- if he takes the bait."
Locke sighed. "Don't you worry about that- Ulfric positively hates me and my mas--"
He jerked, his expression turning from casual to one filled with incredible fear, his head snapping to the side as he gazed out the viewport. After a moment, Syrra started shivering, standing up with an expression of horror on her features as she followed Locke's gaze into the stars- Keris' ears folded back as she, too, turned her head in the same direction.
Kajex looked between all three of them in confusion, before his face fell in alarm as he realized what was wrong. "Aww, fuck! He's coming early, isn't he?!" He leapt from his seat and moved to the viewport, the other 5 leaping over their chairs or dodging around the table to join him, the tension rising with every second the group waited, their eyes darting anxiously in all directions.
Before long, it happened.
Out of nowhere, a massive, wedge-shaped vessel dropped out of hyperspace and drifted ominously towards Southern Star Station- both Kajex and Locke groaned at the sight. The Imperial Star Destroyer was far enough away that the station's edge seemed to be out of range- but not so far that the station did not notice its presence. Within half a minute of its appearance, a siren began to wail through the entire station- moments later, shouts and screams could be heard from within the pub as its patrons noticed the Imperial vessel floating in the distance.
Miles grimaced. "They've launched fighters." Sure enough, tiny needles of red and green light began to lance through space, fired from starfighters that were only barely discernible to their advanced eyesight. Distant explosions could be seen as the ships engaged and tore each other apart. "R-41 Starchasers are decent ships, but they'll be hard pressed to stand up against TIE Interceptors- and they won't be able to keep up if they get past their fighter screen."
Syrra growled. "You told us he would be leaving tomorrow, Locke!"
"Clearly I was mistaken," Locke replied softly, focusing intently on the Star Destroyer. "This is all wrong... my contacts assured me that Ulfric would be leaving tomorrow morning."
Kajex sighed, running a paw through his hair. "You told us the history of the Sith is steeped in betrayal- I think you've been betrayed, Locke."
"Or you've betrayed us!" Syrra spat at the albino wolf.
Keris glared at her. "Mind your tone, Jedi."
"Kiss my a--"
"Enough!" Kajex barked. "I don't believe for a moment that Locke has betrayed us, Syrra, but the constant bickering between you two is not going to help this station! And I don't care whether or not you give a damn about the people who live here, Keris," he added with a glare. "The fact of the matter is that we're all in deep shit right now! So both of you- do everyone here a favor and cram it in the cargo hold!"
Syrra swallowed, looking away from her lover shame-facedly. He had never spoken to her like that, but understood immediately why he had- he was right. "What do we do, Alpha?" she said softly.
Kajex put a comforting paw on her shoulder, his expression softening. "First, we calm down. By panicking, we lose focus. Second, we get information and suggestions." He turned to the white wolf. "What's your take on this, Locke? Can you tell them to stand down?"
The knight shook his head. "No. They were not assigned to me and so they are not under my command. The only upside is that I'll not be branded a traitor if I decide to kill them." He paused, looking troubled. "Everything about this is wrong- not just because it's too soon, but... I don't sense Ulfric on that Star Destroyer." He closed his eyes, focusing. "Yet... he's near. Somewhere."
"Guys...?" Talrik's voice said weakly.
They all turned to him, seeing him stare at the entrance of the hub with a look of fear in his features. One by one, they followed his gaze, their eyes falling upon a massive, black-armored, blonde-haired human, his murderous blue eyes glaring at the group.
Locke swallowed, regarding Knight Ulfric with concern. "Ah. There he is."