Crucible: Gods of the Arena

18 years after the Battle of Yavin...
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Halomek
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Skarrek was a mess of wounds when Verax unexpectedly called for a halt in the training with Melis. It took a few moments for the Felacatian to calm down enough to stop fighting, but she was definitely making progress in controlling herself. It was more than Skarrek could say for himself. He was no closer to re-mastering his bloodrage than he had been before.

“What's the big idea, Verax?!” Melis demanded with a somewhat uncharacteristic growl. Her primal side was still fresh in her memory, so it would take a little time before she was back to her more playful self.

Verno Lamai stepped out from behind Verax. The Gossam majordomo had been all but hidden behind the much larger and bulkier Tarc. His face made the approximation of a grimace for his species as he got closer to Skarrek and saw what kind of shape he was in. “My word, how can you even stand in that kind of condition, Skarrek?”

Skarrek spit blood out of his mouth in contempt of the idea that he would be anything but standing. “I've suffered worse. What do you want?”

Verno gave him a long measuring look before shaking his head. “New orders from Lord Dorval: effective immediately you're to train exclusively with Verax for the next three days. A fight to the death has been scheduled with you and Verax on one side and Asael and Mandalore on the other. I'll go over the specific rules with you later, but whoever wins will take the wild card spot for their kajidic to be on the winning side of the Third Battle of Vontor.”

“I don't really get this Vontor thing,” Melis spoke up. “A few of the other gladiators have told me about it, but it makes no sense. If everybody already knows which side is going to win, then why bother?”

“Hutts never miss an opportunity to brag about how great they are,” Skarrek answered her with a derisive tone directed at the idea.

“It's more than that,” Verno added. “The recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor is the biggest event on Nar Kresh. The kajidics go all out for the spectacle. Trust me, everything you've experienced so far is nothing compared to how they handle Vontor. That's mainly what keeps attracting audiences to it every year. Besides, there's always a remote chance that Xim's side might win in spite of everything that's stacked against them. The few times it has happened in the past, it usually signals the emergence of a new God of the Arena and no one who follows the games wants to miss that. It's said that's how Shorbecca earned his title, though that was so long ago that only those belonging to the longer-lived species had a chance to see that particular battle live.”

Melis smiled mischievously. “When you put it that way, that does sound fun!”

“Verax has participated in it many times,” the Tarc spoke up. “It never fails to impress him. Trinivii has never made it to the winning side with Lady Sivvi in charge. Lord Dorval has accomplished much to bring us this far. Verax would like to be on the winning side for once.”

Skarrek just shook his head. “I could care less, but if it gets me closer to what Dorval has promised, then it's all a means to an end. I'll crush whoever I need to. Asael and Mandalore are just two more bodies for the pile.”

“Well, there's also your life to consider,” Verno reminded Skarrek. “Either you win or you die. Same goes for Direj. Don't underestimate Asael for even a second. Or Mandalore. As they proved with Shorbecca, not even a God of the Arena is immune to death.”

“No god is,” Skarrek agreed.

“Riiight,” Verno replied as he tried to decipher Skarrek's somewhat cryptic remark. “In any case, I've already informed Doctor Varden that our best bacta reserves are to be used for you two while you train. So, Skarrek, go see him and get healed up immediately. Considering how fast you seem to heal on your own, it shouldn't take too long before you're ready to train in earnest with Verax. Melis, you look like you're still in decent shape, so go get something to eat and then resume normal training with our other gladiators.”

“Righto!” Melis agreed happily before bounding away.

“Verax would like to request a moment with Skarrek before he leaves,” Verax asked Verno.

The majordomo nodded before he started walking away. “Granted, but don't take too long. I can't stress enough how important this match will be for Trinivii.”

Verax waited until Verno had left their training area before facing Skarrek. The Tarc gestured towards him with his upper set of hands. “Verax knows Skarrek has not made any progress controlling his bloodrage. How much damage can you take before you fall in your normal state?”

“I'm not sure,” Skarrek admitted. “Usually I've been in a bloodrage whenever someone has come close to killing me in the past. If I wasn't in a bloodrage, then I never considered my life to be in danger.” A spark of an old memory surfaced, one that Skarrek hadn't really thought about for a long time. Strange that it was coming up now...

“There was one time when I was in Black Sun that some bounty hunter got lucky and electrocuted me to stop me from killing his bounty,” he growled. “They were wearing armor that hid their features, so I never found out who it was, but I swore to myself that I'd kill him slowly if I ever ran across him again. I'm pretty sure that was the first time I ever failed to kill my target.”

“Verax didn't think Barabels could be affected by energy like that,” the Tarc interjected, no doubt to try and keep Skarrek's mind on the present topic.

Skarrek held up one of his forearms for demonstration purposes. There was a nasty gash across it that had been caused by Melis, but it offered a look at the flesh behind the scales. “Barabels have a layer of insulating fat right under our thick scales that helps makes us so resilient. Aside from physical wounds, we're protected from a lot of energy that would affect frailer creatures, like stun bolts, but nothing is absolute. Normal blaster bolts can still harm us, for example, even though we can probably take being shot a lot better than most species.”

He lowered his arm. “In the case of the bounty hunter, he zapped me through the thinner scales that cover my palms. Ever since that day, I wore insulated fingerless gloves to prevent it from happening again. I'd still be wearing them now if I had a choice down here. My old pair were destroyed when the people who captured me trapped me under burning rubble.”

Verax nodded in understanding. “It is usually forbidden to give gladiators blasters unless that is the purpose of the match, but electrowhips are always a possibility. Would they be a problem for Skarrek?”

“It depends on how intense the voltage is,” Skarrek answered after giving it a little thought. “Most people aren't familiar enough with Barabel physiology to even think about changing it.”

Verax nodded. “Then Verax knows how he will begin the training once Skarrek is healed. Your ability to take damage and keep fighting is one of your greatest assets, but Verax thinks you should learn how to dodge better and not take damage at all. Additionally, he will fight you with an electrowhip and teach you how to deal with a whip-user. Majordomo Verno was correct when he said not to underestimate Asael. He may already know many of the same things you have told Verax about Barabels.”

“Asael would hardly be the first person I've faced who thought they knew how to kill me,” Skarrek argued, but then reluctantly nodded. “Still... such training would be useful...”

“Then go see Doctor Varden and get healed,” Verax ordered. “Once it is done, return here for training. There is much that Verax must teach and not a lot of time for Skarrek to learn it.”

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Halomek
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

OOC: Since Cadden hasn't logged in for two years, I'm going to slowly finish out Skarrek's role in this story. If Cadden comes back, he can fill in his side of things. A lot of the events I'll be writing was previously planned out by both of us over PM.

IC: The wild card match between Trinivii and Direj was going far better than Jiron could have ever hoped. The start of the battle between Asael and Verax had been spectacular. Although both gladiators had wounds from previous bouts that weren't fully healed, it didn't show in their performance. With the knowledge that this was a deathmatch, the two had gone at each other in a manner perhaps more aggressive and more savage than any of their previous matches.

The crowd ate it all up of course. The masses were easy to predict when it came to this sort of thing. The bets placed, both in number and price, had actually overshadowed the last Shorbecca battle for this fiscal year. It would be a match that would be talked about for years afterwards.

Not that Jiron particularly cared. His delight when Verax managed to crush one of Asael's arms with one of his enormous Tarc claws was more in satisfaction at seeing his plan reach fruition rather than the thrill of the match. He took a draw from his hookah and grinned when Asael managed to use the energy sword that the Devaronian so enjoyed to decapitate Verax. The Tarc, slowed by age and injuries, couldn't dodge or block it in time and fell for the final time to his longtime rival. He laughed when Skarrek was allowed to enter the arena and Asael quickly discovered that he was no match for the Barabel before getting his other horn snapped off and shoved into his brain by the hulking brute.

Both champions dead, two kajidics weakened by losing their best fighters, and he, Jiron, would be praised for planning one of the most profitable matches of the year. The best part was that all of this was just a preamble to his true scheme.

Skarrek played to the crowd before Mandalore was allowed to enter and face off against the Barabel. Somewhat surprisingly, the smaller human made it more difficult for Skarrek than the odds had suggested. He nimbly kept out of reach and would occasionally jab Skarrek with an electrostaff. The electric shocks seemed to do little more than annoy and enrage the Barabel, but perhaps that was the plan all along...

Jiron's attention was taken away from the match by a notification from one of his guards. He pulled up the security feeds that led to his chamber until he found the one that showed him who was seeking an audience. His eyes widened as he recognized the guest. Were he a younger Hutt, or one less experienced in the major players of the galaxy, he might not have realized who the Rodian standing patiently at his door was. Even so, being able to put a name to this face was becoming a rare feat as the years went by.

Nashka, the Green Shadow; one of the deadliest assassins to ever roam the galaxy. Ostensibly retired, it seemed there was only one thing that could coax the man back into the profession: Skarrek. That was indeed why Nashka was here.

“Let him in,” Jiron ordered. “Then I want everyone to leave my chamber until I give the order for them to return.”

“Lord Jiron-” his head of security started to object.

Jiron wouldn't hear it. “That man could easily kill everyone here if he so desired it. Do not insult him or me by objecting. Leave before I decide to send you to fight in the games.”

Although he was still doubtful, the head of security bowed. “As you wish, Lord Jiron.”

Moments later the chamber was empty except for the Hutt and the Rodian. Nashka wore a simple black cloak that obscured most of his features. When he walked in, Jiron strained to try and pick up the sound of footsteps, but he heard nothing. It was a subtle reminder that Green Shadow wasn't just a creative nickname. Nashka's work was precise, silent, and always deadly. There were plenty of stories about Nashka's targets falling over dead without ever realizing that they had been killed.

If Nashka didn't wish to make his presence known, it wouldn't be known. It was that simple.

“Retirement certainly hasn't dulled your abilities,” Jiron said to him. “I'm honored to be able to coax you here for one last job.”

Nashka glanced at the screen where Mandalore was still fighting Skarrek. The electrostaff had been knocked away and now it was the human on the defensive as the Barabel went on the attack. One blow from Skarrek could very well end Mandalore's life, but the human was nimble and was doing a good job of avoiding a death blow, although not every dodge was successful. Skarrek had landed several glancing strikes with his claws. Bloody gashes marked Mandalore's body where the claws had connected.

“Agile fighters have always given him problems,” Nashka remarked before turning to look back at Jiron. “You may not need my services.”

The Hutt was once again surprised. “You think Mandalore can win this? He's half-dead already. It's only a matter of time before Skarrek wears him down and finishes it.”

Nashka shook his head. “Skarrek is not yet back to his full fighting prowess. If he was, this would have been over already. Skarrek is letting his anger take control. He's broadcasting every attack. There is no intelligence behind it. Mandalore is leading him on and Skarrek can't see it. Once Mandalore figures out how to get under Skarrek's armor, this fight will be over.”

Jiron took a drink as he considered Nashka's words. “You got all of that from just a minute or two of observation? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.”

“If Skarrek dies here, I expect the other half of my fee to be paid in full.”

Jiron sputtered in anger, forgetting for just a moment how dangerous the other man was. “Preposterous! Why would I agree to that!?”

Nashka flashed him a glance that seemed to freeze Jiron in place. The Hutt felt like his extremities had been paralyzed and he found himself suddenly sort of breath.

But the look lasted only a second before Nashka returned his attention to the fight. “You went through a lot of effort to get me here without anyone the wiser. I know Sivvi works for Trinivii. I know you coerced her to hire me so your hands would be clean if anyone were to find out about it. I know she's betraying her kajidic to do this for you and bring me here. Skarrek is that big of a problem for the both of you, but none of that concerns me.”

He crossed his arms. “What does concern me is that I might be wasting my time. I don't like wasting my time. So your choices are simple: I can either be compensated for this by receiving my full fee or I can find another reason to be here.” Nashka glanced at Jiron again. “How many of your enemies do you think will pay to see you removed?”

Jiron forced his pulse to steady. Something that was often forgotten about Nashka was that the Rodian's intelligence and cunning wasn't just centered on assassination. He had been a member of Black Sun's infamous Triad of Vigos after all. Only Prince Xizor's untimely death and the fragmenting of that organization had forced Nashka out of power. Like everything else concerning Nashka, it seemed as though retirement hadn't interfered with his ability to get intel.

He briefly wondered if Jabba had ever been on the receiving end of a Nashka death stare...

“Merely a...” Jiron paused for a moment to think of the right word, “...jest... on my part. Of course I'll gladly pay you your full fee regardless.”

Nashka simply nodded without looking at the Hutt. His attention was on the fight unfolding on the screen.

Mandalore was now a mass of wounds, none of them fatal on their own, but if the battle continued for much longer, the human would likely pass out from blood loss. He had used the arena sand as a makeshift poultice to seal the most grievous of the wounds, but it was a poor substitute for proper care. Even with most of the blood loss staunched, the grounds were stained red by the combatants due to the frequency of hits taken. Skarrek was not without his own wounds, but his armored scales were not as easily pierced and he could afford to lose more than Mandalore due to his greater mass.

Jiron smiled. It wasn't looking good for the human. Perhaps even Nashka could be wrong.

“Mandalore doesn't have much left,” Jiron said to Nashka. “Would you care to make a small wager on the outcome? Do you still believe Skarrek will lose?”

Nashka turned him down. “I don't gamble and you should be glad I don't. You would owe me even more than you do already. This fight is over.”

Jiron looked at the Rodian in disbelief before looking back at the screen. “What are you...”

Mandalore had managed to direct the flow of the fight back towards the discarded electostaff in order to retrieve the fallen weapon. He rolled to avoid a swipe from Skarrek before thrusting the business end of the staff into one of Skarrek's open wounds. Not only that, but it looked like Mandalore had somehow fiddled with the limiter in the midst of his roll, so the electrostaff delivered its entire charge in one devastating moment before the tip of the weapon exploded from an overload.

Skarrek roared in pain as thousands of volts of electricity bypassed the insulation of his scales and instantly coursed throughout his entire body. It was likely enough power to be considered an execution in more civilized settings. The explosion had also left a hand-sized hole in Skarrek's chest, but somehow he was still on his feet after everything he had just endured. Smoke drifted from his body as the Barabel resolutely took a step towards Mandalore before his legs wobbled and he crumpled to the ground and stopped moving.

Mandalore stood over his fallen foe, breathing hard and barely in any better condition than Skarrek. However, this was a deathmatch, and despite Skarrek being prone on the ground, he was somehow not dead yet. It was faint, but Skarrek was still drawing breath. Patience was not a factor in the arena, the audience would not wait for Skarrek to die of his wounds. Mandalore still had to deliver a decisive killing blow.

The human shambled over to Asael's energy sword with a pretty clear intent to use it to either decapitate Skarrek or plunge it into his heart. However, reaching down to grab it was a mistake. Mandalore had lost too much in the fight and as he got lower to the ground, his body decided that it was time to shut down. With a surprised gasp, Mandalore collapsed in spite of his intentions and fell unconscious.

The crowd was rabid once it was clear neither combatant was getting back up any time soon. There was a cacophony of people yelling for Mandalore and what seemed like an equal number of people yelling for Skarrek.

“An interesting outcome,” Jiron mused. “Ultimately this victory belongs to Mandalore, as you predicted. It seems Skarrek won't be long for this world.”

“That's not enough to kill Skarrek,” Nashka corrected him. “I've made that mistake before, as have many others. Don't forget that he's survived things that should be fatal. When he faced GAIT, she crushed every bone in his body. When he was brought here, he had been buried under a burning building. Leaving him to die is the one thing you don't want to do with Skarrek. His will to survive might be the strongest I've ever seen.”

Jiron stroked his mustache thoughtfully. He had thought that many of the stories surrounding Skarrek were exaggerations, but Nashka wasn't known to lie, even when it would be in his best interest. All the assassin had to do was agree that Skarrek would die, take his pay, and leave without having to lift a finger.

“Would he recover from this by the time we begin the Third Battle of Vontor exhibition match?”

Nashka appeared to consider it. “It's at the start of the next month of the Huttese calendar, isn't it? Yes, he would. If he received top quality care, I'd say he would even be back to full strength by that time.”

“Then your contract is still active,” Jiron decided. “If you'll excuse me, I need to address the crowd. In matches without a decisive outcome, it falls to the the head of the Hutt Council here on Nar Kresh to declare which side gets the victory.”

Jiron flipped a switch that would broadcast his hologram over the arena. By now medical droids were attending to both Mandalore and Skarrek. The data they were sending back confirmed what Nashka had already told him. Somehow Skarrek was still holding on to life and his pulse remained steady. Mandalore's wounds were not life threatening now that he was being treated. The human would also recover.

“What a match!” he declared, playing the part of the excited host for the crowd's benefit. “In spite of appearances, Mandalore and Skarrek are both still alive, but neither of them are in any shape to continue. Although this was declared to be a deathmatch, I am prepared to make an exception in light of how spectacular the battle was! That is, of course, if it pleases the crowd...”

The crowd's response was predictable. There were cheers and chants to let them live everywhere. Jiron smiled back. “It would seem I have my answer. I declare that Mandalore and Skarrek shall both live!” He waited for the cheering to die down a bit before announcing the next bit of business. “I hereby award victory to the Direj kajidic since Mandalore was standing longer than Skarrek. They will be given the wild card spot to represent the side of the inestimable Kossak Inijic Ar'durv in our annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor.”

Jiron held up one pudgy finger to forestall any further cheers. “This of course means that Trinivii will be on the side representing Xim, so these two will clash again soon! Reserve your spot to watch it all unfold now. This is not an event to be missed!”

The crowd went wild again, but Jiron cut the feed now that his business with them was done. His happy expression faded instantly. “I don't want Skarrek recovering next time, Nashka. I will see to it that you're smuggled down to the surface to the Desilijic compound. My majordomo there will know what to do. Kill Skarrek during the Third Battle of Vontor. Do whatever you have to do in that match, but I want there to be no doubts. He must die."

Nashka nodded. “I know better than anyone else in the universe what Skarrek is capable of. I've been preparing for this day for a long time. He will die.”

A promise from Nashka was not a boast. It was a certainty.

Jiron grinned back, he could hardly wait to put Dorval in his place. Jiron had never truly expected Skarrek to die against Mandalore, making the human's victory unexpected, but the grand plan was still intact. Dorval losing the match and his new champion during the Third Battle of Vontor would destroy the little upstart's growing reputation. It might even force him to leave Nar Kresh. “It should be quite the momentous day indeed.”

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Cadden
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

OOC: How ironic... I decided to randomly check the community out, see how things are going. My deepest apologies. The last two years have been busy, and I've been picking up on things that I had previously put on the way-side, and especially in the past several months I've decided to put some razor focus on them. Apart from that, I also required a much-needed break from things. Unfortunately, life isn't letting up by a significant amount, nor do I really want it to tbh, but I'll do my best to keep my end of this rolling. Been kind of missing, of late, doing this, so I intend to return, but not to any sense of normalcy. I'm not calling this a comeback, but I will try to set some kind of “schedule” up to keep my posts regular-ish, not just here but in the various other story arcs I had going. Slow posts are better than no posts, anyway, amiright? For here, I'm going to just go with the current flow. I don't think there really was anything significant for me to say between my last post and now, anyway, plus I kinda forgot whatever details I had been working up on my end. Forgive me if there's errors and whatnot. I'm a bit rusty.

IC:

Kroda had watched the entire fight develop. While Asael falling to Skarrek was a significant blow to his stock, Kroda had been preparing for this moment for months, if not a couple years, truthfully. Trassk would replace Asael and carry on as the champion of Direj Kajidic. The fight that truly interested him was between Blackthorne and Skarrek. The Barabel was giving the man a run for his money, but at the same time Kroda could tell that his judgment and reactions were being clouded. He did not know much about Barabel physiology, but he did know they were prone to enter a blood rage of sorts. Kroda wondered if that's what was happening, here, and whether or not it was in Skarrek's favor.

Blackhorne suffered several wounds over the course of the fight. He was beginning to weaken. He was still surprisingly nimble for a human, and had managed to get his own blows in against Skarrek, but they were nowhere near as serious. If he kept this up, he would fall from exhaustion or bleed out, and the fight would be over. Skarrek would be the victor. And Kroda would no longer have to deal with this problem. He grinned to himself as it appeared the fight was coming to a close. Cadden was losing ground to Skarrek. But then his relief turned to suspicion. Wait... is that... ?

Cadden swept his free hand down to the ground and picked up the discarded electrostaff. No, he thought to himself, eyes widened. He knew Blackthorne's warrior prowess well enough. The man had a plan. No, no, no.... Blackthorne rolled out of the way from a blow from Skarrek. Kroda caught him doing something to the staff in the process. Not two seconds later, it became clear what it was. He thrust it into an exposed wound and a massive discharge of electricity shot through the Barabel, and the resulting overcharge of the weapon caused the tip to explode. The Barabel sneered and started to advance, but then suddenly collapsed to the ground. He didn't try getting back up. NO!

Kroda's eyes widened in horror as the realization dawned upon him. He didn't care about Skarrek, but this meant... this meant that Blackthorne would be victorious. Cadden, with bated breath, made his way to Asael's sword. The result was pretty clear. No, no, no! But, as he knelt down to pick up the blade, his own body gave away and he collapsed as well. Kroda looked on, but Blackthorne was not getting back up, either. Did he die from his wounds? He watched impatiently as Jiron made his announcement. He finally received that data and slammed his fist on the console. ”Poodoo!” he roared in anger.

Eelar was standing nearby, visibly uncomfortable by the Hutt's reaction. Blackthorne was still alive. “My lord...” he began.

”Why won't he just die?!” Kroda shouted. He turned his hoversled to face the marjordomo. ”Prepare my shuttle. I am going to the school myself. Clearly my brother's oversight of my gladiators is not in my best interests. I will have to take matters into my own hands.”

Eelar cleared his throat. “Forgive me, Lord Kroda, but is that... wise? The woman has been working on the armor for a while, now, and with the recent progress she's made, it may only be a matter of time before-”

”Toruk has been allowing Blackthorne to train, clearly to replace Asael as my new champion,” Kroda interrupted. ”I don't need to tell you what that could mean.”

“But if Blackthorne can't go anywhere, why not rake in the extra profits?” Eelar noted. “If nothing else, it will make up for what he's done to you.”

Kroda glared at Eelar. ”Do not mistake me for my brother, or my other kinsmen,” he said slowly, angrily. Eelar swallowed hard. ”I do not hold the value of a credit over the value of my empire. Or do you not forget what great arena battle is coming upon us? Blackthorne has an uncanny ability to rouse those around him and rally them to a central cause. I am not going to be so willing to let him try to destroy my entire gladiator school because of an attempted escape.”

“But to where? Even if he manages to get out of the compound, he has nowhere else to go. If nothing else does, the wilderness will destroy him.”

”Do not underestimate Blackthorne. I am going to Nar Kresh and there I will remain until Blackthorne is officially taken care of. You will ensure that Tolwyn finishes her job. When the armor is removed and fully functional, you know what to do.”

Eelar bowed. “As you wish, Your Excellency.” He watched as Kroda hovered away on his powersled, then looked back at the holo. Blackthorne and Skarrek had been both taken away, and would both recover to fight another day. Kroda knew he was in a delicate position with Cadden. He could not be terminated unless it was in the arena. Perhaps the upcoming re-enactment will grant the Hutt his wish. Eelar felt, though, that the Hutt was letting his feelings cloud his judgment. Toruk may be hot-headed and not the best business-minded individual, but he saw more potential in keeping Cadden alive than Kroda did. And what, exactly, could Blackthorne possibly accomplish by starting an uprising? The only way off-world is either by Hutt mandate or in a casket, if you were so lucky for that honor. Even if the uprising were successful, he would have nowhere to go. This was by design. He was, effectively, trapped. But Kroda was never one without his reasons, and Eelar, though he could not see them, had to secede to what his master commanded.

* * *

Cadden grumbled as he opened his eyes for the first time since the arena. I... I'm still alive.... he thought. He certainly wasn't dead. If he was dead, this would not be what he would consider the ideal choice for his own personal hell. Though it was just as close. What happened? He tried to recall the fight, but the last thing he remembered was passing out as he was going for Asael's sword. He was close to ending Skarrek's life. So close. And so close to avenging the Mandalorians he killed in the arena. He tried to move, but his wounds were still serious. Why not place him in a bacta tank? From what he gathered, he should have that honor, being in the status and position he was in now. Asael was dead, which meant he should have been the new champion. Not that he cared for such a title, but wasn't bacta treatment reserved for the best, or those whom were on the brink of death? So why not him? He could still feel the wounds pulsating throughout his body, and had a feeling that there would be plenty of scars from his fight with Skarrek.

“Your Excellency,” Chur'vena's voice was heard, “he's awake.” Cadden groaned and tried to look over at the Twi'lek, but winced in pain. The adrenaline had worn off, and even he was amazed that he was still alive. The medic appeared from Cadden's peripheral and looked down at him. “You're a mess,” he noted. “It's a wonder you even survived. I'd put you in bacta, but...” he glanced back, “I was ordered specifically not to.” He looked over Cadden once again. “Curious. With Asael dead, you are, by all rights, Lord Kroda's new champion.”

”Nar'sheb,” Cadden mumbled, barely comprehensible.

“I'm sorry, what?” the Twi'lek asked. Cadden didn't answer. Chur'vena seemed to just shrug it off and continue with his analysis. “You will recover, but I'm afraid without proper bacta treatment your usefulness in the re-enactment ahead will be limited, at best.”

Because that's what Kroda wants, Cadden mused. He'd been trying to off Cadden for some time, now, for reasons that still escaped him exactly. Whatever they were, specifically, they were irrelevant. All that mattered was that he had to live. He had to live.

Moments later, he heard the door open, but no footsteps. Only the whirring of a repulsorsled. “Your Excellency,” the medic said. Soon, Kroda was looking down on Cadden. He rather wished for a change of scenery, but he really had no choice. “The Mandalore suffered grievous wounds, and without proper bacta treatment, he could-”

”Not be fully recovered for the Battle of Vontor, yes, I know,” Kroda said contemptuously. He looked at Cadden square in the eyes. ”You have been a thorn in my side for far too long,” he said slowly. ”I gave you ample opportunity to die in the arena. But, despite all these efforts, you simply refuse. Your stubbornness is noted, but clearly you cannot hold out much longer.” He looked at Chur'vena. ”But the crowds do love you. I hate to admit it. Despite all the pain you have caused me, you have managed to put me in a very precarious situation. I was not expecting this. But make no mistake... you will not become my new champion. I would much rather go without one. I brought you here as nothing, and nothing you shall remain.” He hovered out of view, and Cadden managed to turn his head slightly, but it wasn't enough to follow the Hutt. ”I could simply leave you to die, the crowds would believe it. The medical attention you received would not have been enough on its own to save your life. You could have simply perished before we got you to the bacta tank.” There was a moment of silence. ”However, as much as it pains me to say so, this would put me in a bit of a setback. With Asael dead, I am down one capable fighter. And rumor has it Skarrek will live to see the Battle of Vontor. Previously, this would not have concerned me, but, fortunately for you, I have had some time to think about this. Your usefulness will expire at the conclusion of the battle. I will have ample time from there to recover from my losses.” Another brief pause. ”Put him in the bacta. But only just to the point where he can recover well enough to fight and continue to train. I don't want him back in peak condition, but I do want him recovered well enough to retain his usefulness for one more month.”

Chur'vena bowed. “As you command, Your Excellency,” he said. The door opened and closed once more. The Twi'lek looked at Cadden. “Whatever it is you did, I would hate to be in your position.”

“I've been through worse,” Cadden managed to say, using what strength he could to form a coherent sentence. It was bated with effort and barely comprehensible, but the Twi'lek had definitely understood him this time.

“I find that hard to believe, given you situation, but who am I to judge? We get all sorts out here. Let's get you in that tank.”

Earlier

“Ah, brother, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Toruk asked, armed open in greeting as Kroda hovered into the audience chamber.

“You can dispense with the masquerade, Toruk,” Kroda said contemptuously. “I am here to correct the issue you have placed before me. I am taking over the gladiator training personally.”

Toruk was a bit surprised. “Oh? And why is that? Mandalore was deemed victorious in the arena fight. Granted, we lost Asael, but once fully recovered, he would be well suited to take the place of champion.”

Kroda glared. “And you were explicitly told it will not be him.”

“Whatever grudge you have against him, brother, do not let it cloud your judgment,” Toruk said. Kroda was taken aback by this statement. “This little stunt was your idea, I ought to remind you. And now you are suffering from it. All because of this grand scheme of yours to rid yourself of this man without losing favor to the crowds. In your heyday, you might have been good at managing these things, but now? You are out of touch of the nuances of handling a gladiator training school. I am here doing what I do best, and I see great potential in this man. He could elevate Direj kajidic to heights you never deemed possible before.”

“You seem far too confident given the position you are in,” Kroda said with narrowed eyes. Toruk knew something, but what? “Speak, but do so carefully. You may be my kin, but that does not mean you are above reproach and punishment.”

Toruk smiled. “Ah, brother, we do have much to discuss, do we not?” His confidence troubled Kroda. Toruk usually did not have such a presence around him. Something changed, and Kroda did not like it. “I think it's time you tell me what this man has done to you which deserves such ire and contempt.”

Kroda stared at him for a second, before finally chuckling. “Is this all you have for me, Toruk? I don't have time for this.”

“But clearly you had time to focus on cleaning up the mess involving Rix Harrand.” Kroda looked at him incredulously. “So, please, brother, we have much to talk about. And nothing you do to me will clean up that mess fully. I have already put precautions in place to where, if something were to happen to me... well, let's just say you will have a hard time explaining yourself to the Hutt High Council, and I'm sure an investigation will lead to whatever dirty truths you have been hiding under the rug.”

Kroda navigated his hoversled forward, but noted Toruk tapping his finger near a particular button. “This is a dangerous game you play, Toruk,” he said as he brought the sled to a halt. “Are you sure you are up to venturing into this territory? I doubt you have what it takes to survive.”

“I will be the judge of that, my dear Kroda,” Toruk said. “Now. About Blackthorne.”

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