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 our victory during the re-enactment coming up.”

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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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

OOC: So, I was scouring my various notes to get my memory going on everything I had been doing and working on, and came upon a partially completed post. Figured I'd finish it up and merge it into this sequence. So this should bridge the gap and help establish my side of the events to come. I'm not quite there, yet, with Vontor, now that my memory is being jogged, but I'm close. Depending on how much meat I put on them, up to a small handful more posts and I'll be g2g.

IC:

Earlier

Three days. That was all the time Cadden was given to prepare for the upcoming titled "match of the ages." The gladiators were assembled early in the morning for the big announcement by Toruk. Asael and Verax were to fight to the death, and the survivor was to be pitted against the rival kajidic's standing runner-up in another deathmatch. Should the rival win, then the other kajidic's runner-up would step in. In the end, only one kajidic would stand. It was no surprise to anyone when the two chosen were Cadden and Skarrek. Asael, despite his wounds, remained unphased by the prospect of fighting either gladiator. Cadden wasn't too sure, himself, however. Trassk's lessons were fresh in both his mind and his body. While he was considered one of the best combatants among the Mandalorians, Cadden's prowess was not as high, here. The mentality was far different than even a Battle Circle fight back on Mandalore. Here, in the arena, each fight could, potentially, be your last, and often you only had what you entered the arena with to rely on victory. While he had improved significantly since he'd first arrived, Cadden was still having trouble adapting that mentality and required set of skills and tactics.

Asael was taken away immediately following the briefing to the doctor to be submerged in bacta for the morning, with high hopes a second treatment would fully heal the wounds the first could not. Both gladiators had to be at their best. Cadden's wounds, however, did not require any further attention than simple rest. He would be treated, as necessary, but Toruk ordered them to be done sparingly. There was much work to be done on his coveted prize.

He was, once again, paired up with Trassk for the day, and, once again, the Trandoshan had multiple lessons to teach. By the end of the first day, Cadden had multiple welts, bruises, and cuts to demonstrate the "progress" that was made on him. The evening meal was a hearty one, and Cadden found himself sitting with Shar'seca and Corbus. "What an honor," the Twi'lek said, "representing Direj kajidic in such a way. To think, our place in the upcoming recreation is to rest squarely in yours and Asael's hands."

"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Shar'seca," Corbus said dryly between bites. He looked at Cadden square in the eyes. "Regardless, the Twi'lek is right." Shar'seca's lekku twitched in response to be referred to by his species, rather than his name. "Everything rides on this. I hear the losing side of the Battle of Vontor typically takes a hit from its roster. And loses significant favor not just from the Hutt Council but also the spectators. If Asael dies, then everything rests on your shoulders."

"If Asael dies," a familiar voice spoke up behind Cadden, "then Mandalore here has no hope of victory." Cadden looked over his shoulder at the Devaronian contemptuously. He knew nothing would change between them, but still somehow Asael's mere presence was enough to ruin Cadden's mood. He was sure the feeling was mutual. He'd have to find a way to use that to his advantage. "You'd best be rested up tomorrow, Mandalore. You've got a long day ahead of you."

Cadden noted the bandages still present on Asael's abdomen. "Your overconfidence will get you killed," he said, forcing himself to remain calm. "You overreach, and this is the result." He nodded to the still healing wound. It was a miracle Asael even survived the fight, if multiple bacta treatments had not healed him fully, yet. Cadden suspected that the Devaronian would spend tonight and tomorrow night both in the tank.

Asael sneered. "Do not address me as you would a recruit," he snapped.

"Then do not act like one," Cadden retorted. "Know your limits, your boundaries."

Asael scoffed. "Words of import from the mighty Mandalore," he said contemptuously. "Defier of Death! Slayer of Shorbecca!" He looked Cadden square in the eyes. "As if you stood alone against him. Without my aid, you would have nothing. Not even your miserable life."

Cadden shrugged. "True," he said nonchalantly. "Yet here I am, fully capable of fighting again. And there you are." He motioned once more to the bandages.

There was a long, uncomfortable moment of silence. Everyone was watching the exchange and fully expected Asael to challenge Cadden. Instead, he merely narrowed his eyes. "You know shavvit of being champion," he said slowly, "of being a true brother. You are only playing at your part. And, one day, the game will end."

"Death comes to us all," Cadden simply said, speaking from experience. While he had never truly died, he'd been in his fair share of encounters that should have otherwise killed him. "Press me again and you shall find yours." He rose from the table and walked away.

The following day Cadden found himself pitted against Asael himself. The bandage was absent from his abdomen, and the scars leftover from the fight against Shorbecca had healed amazingly well, though not fully. If he was not fully healed by tomorrow, Cadden suspected the fight would be Asael's last. Even if he'd be able to best Verax, Skarrek was another story all together, and could possibly give Asael a run for his money even in a fully healed and capable state. Cadden found himself hoping that Asael would have every chance at his disposal to beat both, not because Cadden feared either or doubted his own capabilities, but because, despite all the rivalry and hatred between the two, they were still comrades, brothers. Despite all their differences and hatred toward each other, that detail would never change. No matter how much he wanted it to. It must have been the Mandalorian in him. But, then, why couldn't he bring out the rest of it?

Because there's still conflict, he admitted. And, until that conflict was resolved, he knew he couldn't be the man they needed him to be.

"Fight me," Asael said with a sneer, and Cadden suddenly realized he'd been absent for a moment, "or is the mighty Mandalore afraid to face a true champion of the arena, and a real warrior?"

Cadden sneered at that. Not at the jab against him being a champion, but the comment of not being a real warrior. But he calmed himself. The Devaronian wanted to get him riled up, make mistakes. He wouldn't let that happen. "I would hate to have to reopen your wounds and see you suffer your fate in the arena so unfairly," Cadden said dryly.

Asael's eyes narrowed in disgust. "You are nothing compared to me," he said.

"Prove it."

The Devaronian advanced and swung his sword. Cadden brought both of his up, crossing each other, to block it. Asael kicked out, but Cadden was already moving away, and the strike met air instead. As Asael's foot hit the ground, one of Cadden's sword's pommel was upon the Devaronian, and managed to catch him across the cheek. Asael wiped a trickle of blood from his lip with a grin.

"I see you've improved since last we fought," he said. Cadden could have sworn there was a hint of approval in his voice, though it could have just as well been anticipation. "Trassk has been teaching you well."

Cadden didn't speak, but merely brought the other sword's blade to meet his gut. Asael blocked and struck out with a closed fist. The impact hit Cadden square in the jaw, causing him to stumble back. Asael was fast, and had clearly been healing well. "But you still have much to learn if you think you can best me." The Devaronian was already upon him and Cadden barely had time to react. The sword landed against his ribcage, but just barely. It wasn't enough to incapacitate him, but Cadden knew he'd be feeling it in the morning.

Another swing, but this time Cadden managed to deflect it and redirect the energy back on Asael. The swords locked against each other and the Devaronian pushed back with just enough power to let his guard down and dodge out of the way. Cadden fumbled slightly and found himself crashing down. During that brief moment Asael had managed to sweep his leg around, causing Cadden to lose his footing. The thud against the sand was audible and stunned him for a moment. When Cadden's senses returned, Asael was standing over him, sword pressed lightly against his neck.

"Behold," he declared loudly, "the mighty Champion of Direj kajidic." He looked contemptuously down on Cadden. "There is no scenario in which you would ever defeat me. I will emerge victorious against both Verax and Skarrek, and you will see what a real champion looks like in the arena."

* * *

The day had come. Cadden sat across from Asael, both waiting for the his cue to enter the arena. "We may have our differences," Cadden said, "but there is something you could learn from me now, if you have any hope in surviving against Skarrek."

"Oh?" Asael said, a hint of doubt in his voice. "And what wisdom do you have to part in me?"

Cadden ignored the sarcasm. "Barabels have tough, resistant skin. But expose a weakness in that outer layer and you can do some serious damage. That shock glove of yours is going to do little more than piss him off. Use an electrostaff instead. If you can wound him, then all it would take is a good jolt of energy to bring him down."

Asael nodded. "I shall take that into consideration," he said with a level of respect. "How do you know this?"

"Experience," Cadden said. "Despite what you believe, I've got years of combat experience. But this," he glanced at the direction of the arena, "is a different beast all together. The rules are different. The fighting is different. Everything is different."

Asael released a sharp, nasal breath in amusement. "Only if you choose to believe it so," he said. "My experience may be limited to the arena, but do you honestly believe for one moment you are the first soldier to shed blood on this sacred ground?" Asael gave him a knowing look. "I've never much cared for you, but because of your skill or your beliefs. But because of your mindset, and your priorities. I couldn't care less who you used to be. This is who you are now. A gladiator. And your fellow gladiators in the Direj kajidic? They are now your family. The day you learn that is the day you will earn my respect." He looked at the direction of the arena as they heard Jiron's voice sound to the cheers of an eager crowd. "Offer up whatever excuses you will, Mandalore," he continued, 'but your skills are not what is holding you back. This is not much different than your battles. You still fight an opponent that wants to see you dead. You still have your rules of engagement. And you still have what weapons and constraints are available to you." He returned his look to Cadden. "What you lack, Mandalore, is purpose. A reason to fight in the arena. That is what is holding you back."

Cadden regarded him a moment. "My reason to fight is to save another's life, and find a way to get back to her."

There was s brief moment of silence before Asael chuckled. "You speak of escape. There is none. You will not find a single ship on the surface of this planet. At least not one that will take you offworld. Earn your freedom in the arena, and maybe then you will see her again." Asael looked at Cadden with something different in his eyes. "In another life, perhaps you and I would have been as brothers," he said, a hint of regret in his voice. "But not this one."

The door opened and Asael got to his feet. He gave Cadden a look before walking through. Cadden watched as the door closed behind him, then looked down at the floor. He closed his eyes and thought on their conversation, before realizing that, in that brief moment, there was a bond of camaraderie formed between the two. And then Asael's words sunk in. He now knew what he had to do.

Now

Lillian wiped her brow with the sweat rag as she worked on Dahdtoudi's armor. Kroda's majordomo had approached her yesterday demanding an update. He was led personable than usual. She had told him what she'd said the past five times. Progress was being made, but it takes time to override the security protocols. He threatened to leave an armed guards in the room with her, suspecting she was not producing as she claimed, but Lillian managed to convince him of what a bad idea that could be, as it would create further stress and make the process go slower. She could even end up botching the whole thing. Fortunately for her, the Duros ultimately went back on his threat, but he did remind her in a not-so-polite way that time was running out.

She looked over the hulking mess before her and exhaled slowly. There was no way she would be able to do this, she realized. It was just... too much. Lillian slumped back in a sudden onset of dread as she let the reality before her sink in. "This is it," she declared, "it's over." Dahdtoudi's helmet rotate slightly to where he'd barely be able to see her out of he corner of the visor. "Look, I tried. But there is no way-"

She was interrupted by the console beeping and looked up at it. The code finished compiling. Lillian arose and approached the console. And frowned. "This can't be right," she said. "According to these results, I would need to..." She trailed off. Lillian felt Dahdtoudi's eyes on her. "You added this. But..."

"Very… important week," Dahdtoudi reminded her. She nodded, understanding what he meant by that. When Eelar visited the other day, he told her she had a week to finish her task. She protested that it wasn't enough time to finish, but Eelar just disregarded her concerns and informed her that it was a very important week for her. She knew what he meant by that.

Lillian nodded. The clock was ticking, and this was exactly what she needed to get to where they needed to be on time. But would she finish on time? She looked over the new diagnosis reports as they came in. There were still critical system malfunctions. Those took time to resolve. And many of his mechanical functions were beyond her scope and ability, several of which at least with her current situation. Dahdtoudi would not be operating at full functionality, but it was a risk they would have to take. They couldn't avoid that.

"Okay," she said, inputting commands on the terminal, "let's see what we can do before time's up."
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

OOC: More to come from me for pre-Vontor scenes, but this will at least get Skarrek back in action.

IC: Skarrek opened his eyes slowly and groaned as he saw the familiar surroundings of a bacta tank enveloping him. His memory was hazy as he tried to think back to what had caused him to lose control. He had been fighting Mandalore, the human had been searching for some kind of opening, and then something had triggered his blood rage...

But what had it been? Something about Mandalore... The human had been a good fighter, and his electrostaff had been annoying, but that on its own wouldn't have sent him over the edge. Mandalore had been disarmed. The fight had been his! So why was he in such bad condition now? Think! He had come in close to Mandalore to make the disarming more literal and then...

The scent...

Yes! The scent! When he had closed the distance he had picked up Mandalore's scent and recognized it. It was a scent that brought back distant memories of a humiliating loss to a bounty hunter. One of the first true losses that Skarrek had ever had - way back in his days as an assassin for Black Sun. It was the same man Skarrek had told Verax about before they started training for the death match. It was a humiliation that Skarrek had never had a chance to rectify, only bury and attempt to forget.

The scent recognition had brought all those long dormant feelings of anger, resentment, and pent up rage from his defeat back to the front of his mind. It had been unexpected and overwhelming. Mandalore and the mysterious bounty hunter were the same person. There was no mistaking it. It had been all red after that when the blood rage took hold of him.

Even now Skarrek could feel his anger peaking as his clawed hands scratched the inside of the bacta chamber and he uttered a snarl that was muted by the breathing apparatus over his mouth.

His chance for revenge and he had blown it!

His memory was still foggy, but he instinctively knew he had lost. A constant pain in his chest helped to reinforce that idea. He looked down to see the wound there. It was covered in new scales that were a dark olive green in color. They would eventually turn black as the scales hardened and matured, but right now it was as clear a sign as any about how Mandalore had defeated him.

Skarrek had never been able to find out the name of the bounty hunter that had bested him that day so long ago. Unless they had some distinctive type of scar or other marking, far too many humans looked the same to him physically and none of the galactic databases factored in heat signatures or scents or a dozen different other ways he could use to help distinguish one human from another in person. In the years since, he had gotten better about recognizing the differences in human features, but back then he had been at a loss to describe the man effectively.

Now he knew. He remembered that Verno had called Mandalore by the name of Cadden Blackthorne earlier. At the time it had meant very little to Skarrek beyond Blackthorne's rather infamous reputation, but now... Now it filled him with purpose. He would not lose again to this man. There was bound to be more information on someone like Blackthorne in the Trinivii databases.

Skarrek reached up and pushed the lid of the bacta tank open and started crawling out. A medical alarm went off as he disconnected his vitals from the monitoring equipment. This caused Doctor Vardren to rush out of his office to see what was going on. The Anx stopped in his tracks as he saw Skarrek climbing out of the bacta tube.

“I thought your body had finally quit on you, Skarrek,” he said with a sigh. “By all rights, you should be dead. No normal Barabel could take the kind of abuse you do and survive. It seems your body responded exceedingly well to the bacta treatments though. Normally someone who had been electrified and ventilated would need months to recover properly, even with bacta.”

Skarrek jumped from the top of the tube to the ground. His knees shook a bit as he landed, but he managed to stay on his feet. Whatever Mandalore - or Blackthorne - had done exactly, it certainly had taken a toll. “What good is a living weapon if it takes forever to repair?” Skarrek remarked sardonically. “How long have I been incapacitated?”

“Nearly a week,” Vardren answered. “If you were any other patient, I would force you back in there until it was time for the Third Battle of Vontor, but it's just as well that you're out now. Verno and Lord Dorval have been eager to speak to you.”

Skarrek toweled off the excess bacta and experimentally tapped his healing chest wound. A spike of pain lanced through him at the slightest touch. He smiled with barred teeth at the sensation. Good. That pain would keep him focused for what he had to do. Now that he had connected the pieces between that formerly mysterious bounty hunter and Blackthorne, Skarrek felt a drive that he had previously lacked. Of course he was still eager to get to the truth of the slaver raid that had taken him as a child and get off this planet, but facing Blackthorne again was a more primal and immediate need that spoke to him in a way that nothing else would.

Skarrek was so preoccupied in plotting his next move that it took a moment for Vardren's words to register. “They want to talk to me? I have no interest in being yelled at for losing that match. As long as I bring victory during the Third Battle of Vontor, this outcome hardly matters, correct? The upcoming battle is the match that is truly important.”

Vardren shook his head. “Right now overconfidence is the last thing you should be feeling. The side portraying Xim will be outnumbered and you'll not only be facing Mandalore again, but also Tyrok. I can not stress enough how much Desilijic's champion should be feared. He was the only gladiator that could consistently humble Shorbecca.”

Skarrek started dressing in the gladiator training clothes that had been left for him. “So how did Shorbecca earn a title like the Undefeated Giant if someone could always defeat him?”

“Simple,” Vardren answered him. “Tyrok defeats everyone. His stats aren't counted anymore. That's why Jiron uses him sparingly these days, for exhibition matches and so forth. If you want to see the truest example of a God of the Arena, then Tyrok is the gladiator that outshines all others.”

Skarrek chuckled, drawing a look of confusion from Vardren. “I've fought 'unstoppable' beings like Tyrok before. As exciting as the idea of facing him is, I have something much more personal to settle with Blackthorne first. You see, I think that human has inadvertently showed me how I can complete my training to control my blood rage again.” He flexed his claws in anticipation. “If it all goes as I think it will, the arena won't be seeing the rise of another god, but the arrival of a demon.”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Skarrek emerged from the med center to the training ground proper. As per the usual, Rasar was putting the Trinivii gladiators through their paces. If anything, he was being stricter than normal – if that was possible. It made sense. Verax was dead, the most important match of the year was on the horizon, and with the odds stacked against Xim's side, it seemed unlikely that many of them were going to make it back once it was all over.

Verno and a holographic representation of Dorval were above the training grounds, watching the proceedings intently and occasionally speaking quietly with each other. No doubt it was about the performance of one gladiator or another and how well they were likely to fare at Vontor.

It didn't take long for everyone to notice him approaching. Training stopped abruptly as the assembled gladiators turned to watch him. For a brief time the only noise that seemed to occur was Skarrek's footsteps as he walked closer. He didn't care. Even if every single one of them was pissed that he had lost the match, it wouldn't matter. He would go on as always, he would-

“Let's hear it for Skarrek!” Rek suddenly shouted. The Rolani's booming voice easily echoed across the training grounds like a clap of thunder. His species were near-Human, just much larger and bulkier. It wasn't hard to spot him in the crowd. The big man made even more noise as he started clapping enthusiastically.

That seemed to open the floodgates, because shortly after that the entire crowd began to cheer and clap for him. Skarrek was dumbfounded to say the least. His last match wasn't anything to be proud of. This made no sense.

Melis squeezed through the crowed with typical feline grace before somersaulting over to him playfully. She rolled to her feet right in front of his face. “Well hello there, Scary!” she greeted him. “You look pretty good for a dead guy!” She then poked his healing chest wound, which was visible since he had decided against wearing a shirt. “Well, mostly...”

Skarrek ignored the pain from the poke. “What is this?” he asked her. “I didn't win. Why is everyone cheering?”

The Felacatian giggled as if Skarrek had just asked why water was wet. “Well, for one thing, if you had really lost a death match, we wouldn't be talking right now, would we? Jiron can say whatever he wants, but we all know it was really a draw. And two... you avenged Verax. That means a lot to everyone here.”

Skarrek looked over the crowd again. Melis seemed to be right, except there was one person in the crowd who wasn't cheering. She wasn't even pretending to be happy that he was alive. Ka'Lomera stood with arms crossed and was silently glaring at him with an intensity that could melt durasteel. It was no secret that the former Xen'Chi warrior didn't like him, but this seemed stronger than before.

Melis followed his gaze and waved it off dismissively. “That's just Ka'Lo being Ka'Lo. She's never happy.”

A sudden whipcrack cut through the noise. “Alright, that's enough!” Rasar bellowed. “Vontor is no joke! If you nerf herders want even the slightest chance of making it back alive, then we don't have time to gab. That means you too, Melis!”

The gladiators were starting to pair up for training again, but Ka'Lomera put a stop the proceedings again by speaking up. “I have a request for Lord Dorval!”

Rasar glared at her. “Well, my orders don't take requests! I don't care if you are one of the Power Seven, get back to training or you're going to find out just how painful my lash is!”

Dorval interrupted the exchange before Ka'Lomera could retort. “It's alright. I'll hear her request.” The hologram then turned to look at the Xen'Chi. “This is not like you. What is so important that you would risk punishment from Rasar?”

Ka'Lomera stepped away from the crowd and towards the raised balcony with Verno and Dorval. “I wish to have a duel with Skarrek. Today. If you grant this request...” She paused and her face contorted as she struggled to complete the sentence. Finally she dropped to one knee and bowed her head before looking back up. “If you grant this request, I will pledge my full loyalty and obedience to you once it is over.”

Dorval was thoughtful for a moment. “I can obtain both those things in due time, assuming you even survive Vontor. While I can appreciate what it meant for you to say it, I'm afraid I see no benefit for me in this. Skarrek isn't even fully healed yet. The last thing Trinivii needs is to further weaken our new champion – to say nothing of what he might do to you. If we are to have any hope of winning, I need all of you at your best and bacta isn't cheap.”

The Xen'Chi's hands balled into fists as she gritted her teeth. “Please! This is something I must do. I will be useless to you otherwise!”

Skarrek regarded her carefully. Ka'Lomera was on the verge of desperation about this, as if something was eating at her from the inside. Whatever the reason for it, this was no simple request. Begging was not something Xen'Chi were known to do. Skarrek couldn't recall a single one pleading for their life during the war, and yet here was Ka'Lomera prostrated before a Hutt and struggling to keep her composure from breaking entirely while doing so.

Finally he spoke up: “As champion, I accept the duel. I won't turn down anyone who wants to fight me.”

Everyone looked over at him. Verno shook his head. “You have a lot of rights as champion, but ultimately it is I, and of course Lord Dorval, who make these kinds of decisions. Not you. We must do what is best for the kajidic's interests.”

Skarrek narrowed his eyes and pointed a clawed index finger at the Gossam majordomo. “Then you're fools! We won't be at our best if you put off her request. Whatever is on her mind has to be dealt with now or it will continue to be a distraction in the future and it could cost you even more. Considering what we have to overcome, it could cost you everything that you've been trying to achieve.”

Dorval put a holographic hand in front of Verno to keep him from responding. The Hutt looked at Skarrek, then to Ka'Lomera, and back to Skarrek again. “Or I could just sell her to another kajidic desperate for more gladiators. That would seem to be the most logical way to clear up this little dilemma. Ka'Lomera has made a good showing in the games and I could recoup my investment that way...” He was quiet for a moment as he mulled it over. “On the other hand, I must admit to being intrigued by this and we Trinivii Hutts do have a certain penchant for choosing riskier options.”

The grounds were completely silent as everyone waited on Dorval's decision. Ka'Lomera remained as still as stone, but sweat was starting to drip down her face that had nothing to do with the heat. She was going to take action whether Dorval approved it or not. That much was obvious to Skarrek. He glanced around and recognized that Rasar was aware of it too. Things had the potential to get very ugly very quickly if Dorval rejected her. The real question would be if Dorval also realized how critical his next move on this would be. They could be just seconds away from a riot.

The Hutt sighed. “Very well, I will grant permission for this, but I expect whatever is going on here to be settled by the end of the fight. Is that clear? We can't afford any more of these distractions before Vontor. If this ends up not being worth the time I'm granting for it, there will be repercussions.”

“If that's the case, then I have a condition of my own,” Skarrek replied. He had a pretty good idea of what was going through Ka'Lomera's head. Some of the others might suspect the same thing, but he had little doubt about why she was so adamant to have a match now. “No matter what happens in this match, do not interrupt it. Let it play out regardless of what happens, otherwise all of this will be for nothing. If you agree to this, then I can guarantee that you will be happy with the outcome.”

Dorval eyed him with suspicion. “Should I be selling tickets to this? I don't like what you're implying, Skarrek.” The Hutt made a gurgle of displeasure before giving the approximation of a nod. “I've already agreed to make this happen, so I will agree to your condition as well. You would not offer a guarantee unless you were sure of something. We'll use the former animal arena for the match. No restrictions. I trust this is adequate for you both?”

“Works for me.”

Ka'Lomera stood up. “It is exactly what I wish. Thank you, Lord Dorval.”

“Don't thank me until after I see the results,” Dorval replied ominously. “Verno! Set it up. We'll have the match in one standard hour. I want every gladiator we have to attend. They're going to be too distracted by this to train properly until it's over anyway.”

The Gossam nodded respectfully. “As you will it, Lord Dorval.”

“I will return in one hour,” Dorval announced before ending the transmission.

As Verno started issuing orders, Skarrek wondered idly how aware Dorval was of what was going to happen. The Hutt had decreed on his own that there would be no restrictions, which meant that the combatants could use any weapon they wanted and there would be no punishment for killing an opponent. It wasn't something usually used during training for obvious reasons. Was Dorval resigned to the idea of losing one of his precious gladiators or was he taking an even bigger gamble? Skarrek didn't know and he didn't really care. All he knew for sure was that Ka'Lomera's challenge was exactly what he needed to complete his own training.

He scanned the crowd for Ka'Lomera, but she was already gone – no doubt to get prepared for the match.

He felt an elbow in his side as Melis nudged him playfully. “Do you know how quiet it was out here when you were stuck in the bacta tank? Then not even fifteen minutes of you walking around and our routine gets jettisoned out of an airlock! I love it. Maybe I should challenge you next and keep the momentum going.”

Skarrek shook his head. “Let me know if you still think that after the match.”
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Cadden
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Cadden had spent the night in the bacta tank, and at first light he was pulled out. He didn't feel fully recovered, but he was healed enough to fight. He wondered briefly what had caused Kroda to change his mind from being completely ruthless toward him to being somewhat reserved at his immediate disposal. But it only took him a moment to consider it. Of course. Things were finally starting to come together. Kroda and Toruk had to have had an exchange about him. It was the only explanation. He grinned, despite himself.

"Something amusing, Mandalore?" Chur'vena asked passively.

Cadden met the question with equal fervor. "Ever been down on your luck, and suddenly a turn of events happens? Like a light at the end of a tunnel?"

"Can't say that I ever have." It was a lie, but Cadden didn't care. Whether the Twi'lek was honest with him or not was irrelevant.

"Then I suppose it would be difficult to explain." He got up from the cot, slowly. He was still achy and sore. Cadden supposed Kroda would see that as beneficial to him, but on the contrary. It would be a constant reminder to Cadden what he had to do in these next few days. "I need to return to training."

"When you're better healed."

Cadden frowned. "That wasn't Kroda's orders." The Twi'lek just shrugged. Cadden was silent for a brief moment. "What is going on?"

"The bacta kept you alive, per Lord Kroda's wishes," Chur'vena said, "and it allowed for your recovery from all your fatal wounds. However," the Twi'lek motioned to him, "you are in no condition to fight."

"If I had a credit for every time someone told me that," Cadden mumbled. He ignored Chur'vena's suggestion and started to the door. He was, by no means, a fast healer, but his stubbornness easily made up for it. And, perhaps, this is what Kroda was counting on. After all, Cadden only needed to be useful enough to fight in the battle. Maybe this is what Kroda hoped for, Cadden being too stubborn to heal properly. After all, there were still gladiators both within and outside the school that were better than him. That was a truth that he had come to terms with since the battle against Skarrek. The reality was always there, but their fight drove the idea home. But rather than dismay or deter him, it awoke something within Cadden that he thought he had long since discarded. Instead, he realized, it was merely buried deep within him. Something that he thought he'd dare not awaken, at one point in his past. But now, he knew, it was essential. Not just for his survival, but for the survival of... her. Them.

A memory came to him, and Cadden stopped. One that was from years ago. "I think I'm something different, now," he remembered saying to Deranz Tryce once. "Maybe more, maybe less." Cadden looked at his hands as he thought back on what was said. The details were lost in time, but he remembered enough. "But Cadden Blackthorne cannot join you on this battle. That man died. I will take his place. A man without the armor he once proudly wore, without any reason in the galaxy other than it struck fear in his targets' eyes. Now, now I have a reason to wear the armor, but not the purpose. I cannot wear the armor I once wore, until that purpose is fulfilled."

"No,"
Deranz had said, softly. "I don't think that Cadden Blackthorne is dead, simply the incarnation of him that walked the galaxy. The external shell is still the same, and something inside never faltered either. This is just the journey to the next incarnation, and maybe one that will bring you closer once more to your true warrior spirit, and maybe then you will be able to know peace. Until then, my friend, we must do what we must."

Cadden looked at his hands in a new light. Something inside him stirred once more. He turned them around, as though he were studying every folicle, every hair, every crease. "From here on, you guide your destiny, but in order to take the next steps, you must face your past... and put it to rest." This reminder came from that mysterious Jedi, Teslar Maladan, whom mentored him briefly during the early stages of his operation against GAIT and the Xen'Chi.

I've always been the fighter, Cadden mused. That's all I've ever truly known. Something pinged at him and he realized that he was being asked a question. "What?" he said impulsively.

"I said, are you well?" the Twi'lek repeated. Cadden then realized he had been using a nearby table to maintain his balance. He placed a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. "You're still in recovery from your near death experience with Skarrek. I am ordered to-"

"You can shove your orders up your exhaust port," Cadden interrupted. "I'm going out there, and you're not going to stop me." Cadden shoved himself away from the table and, at first, he thought that Chur'vena was going to intervene, but the Twi'lek oddly stood his ground. He approached the doorway. "You can tell Toruk he doesn't have to worry about his prized champion-to-be," he said. The Twi'lek barely suppressed a look of surprise. Cadden had figured it correctly. "I'll be ready to fight for him at Vontor." He opened the door and stepped out into the bright day. The sounds of training flooded his ears, but they died off and his adjusting eyes confirmed what he already knew. The gladiators all took notice of his emergence from the med bay. They merely stared at him, and Cadden could feel their emotions. The tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife. Asael was dead, and here he stood in his wake. Cadden had barely even done anything to make up for it. From what he had gathered, Skarrek had also survived the fight. And so, in their eyes, Asael's death was for nothing. Trassk pushed past the assembled and started to approach Cadden. The Trandoshan did not look pleased. Though, to be fair, Trandoshans never looked pleased. Cadden couldn't decide what reaction was the best, so he erred on the side of caution. The gladiator had two swords in hand. And Cadden was unarmed.

As he neared, Cadden put himself into a ready stance. It wouldn't be much, but he would go down fighting if that's what it took. Trassk then tossed one of the swords at him, and Cadden nearly missed it altogether in his bewilderment. "Mandalore," Trassk said, "we have much to do and little time to do it in." The other gladiators began to return to their sparring. Save one. Cadden eyed Corbus. "Are you deaf?" the Trandoshan continued. "Did that fight turn you brain-dead? I said we train!" The Trandoshan swung his sword, and Cadden immediately averted his attention back to him. "You rest when we rest, Mandalore." Another strike that he managed to deflect. "And you train when we train." Cadden spared a glance after several attacks and saw Corbus was no longer there. He looked back at Trassk. The Trandoshan was not going easy on him. Good. This was what he wanted.

That evening, Cadden sat alone. Not even Corbus or Shar'seca joined him. He ate in silence, feeling the weight of the others' contempt toward him. He ignored it. Cadden wasn't there for them. He wasn't fighting for them, or their precious battle of Vontor. Toruk and Kroda were now at ends with each other, and he knew that there would be some delicate Hutt politics happening. And if he could time it just right, it would mean his escape and finding Lillian. He finished his meal and returned to the courtyard to practice on his own more before, a couple hours later, called it a night from sheer fatigue.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Kroda had considered his position in this game carefully. Toruk had him in a corner, for the time being anyway. And while the Illusive Man had many resources, Kroda had been a part of the Triad long enough to know what this level of failure would mean for him. He already asked for assistance once. Twice would be seen as ineptitude, and Kroda didn't have to guess where that would lead him. No, he had to take care of this himself. The question resided on how Toruk had managed to learn about Kroda's dealings and, specifically, who Rix Harand was and the connection with the Triad. Though Toruk never asked specifically about the Triad, he knew of Rix and that there was something there. That didn't change the fact he should not have even been privy to that much information. Very few were, and Kroda saw no need to distrust any of them.

As he mused on it further, Kroda's eyes narrowed. Of course. Blackthorne. He'd told Toruk what a fool he was to place so much on the man, and now Kroda was paying for it. And, if Toruk wasn't careful, so would he. The other Hutt may have placed him in a very precarious situation; Kroda couldn't just off his brother, but at the same time he couldn't simply let this slide, either. Doing the former would bring unwarranted attention on him, which could result in the same end if he were to have called his bluff. No, Kroda needed to bide his time on this one, and keep a very close eye on Toruk. He would play his brother's game, and Toruk would lose and pay dearly for this complication.

What truly gave Toruk the disadvantage, here, was that he was playing a game he was not truly skilled at. Kroda, on the other hand, had been doing this for decades, ever since he became the Kajidii of Direj kajidic. No, even before then. It was his skill set this game that led him to becoming the Kajidii. And, with the Illusive Man backing his operations, he'd never felt more powerful. No, Toruk would not win this. He made a dangerous gambit. All Kroda needed to do was bide his time and make his younger brother's ultimate demise look untimely. If it were to be linked to an intentional attempt by him, then an investigation could reveal Kroda's dealings with the Triad, and all he'd worked for would be put to ruin.

And then there was Blackthorne. No matter what, whenever the man turned up, it meant trouble for Kroda. First with the Chronic, now his gladiators. He had to die. And if it did not happen during the battle of Vontor reenactment, it will happen soon after. He'd been taken out of his bacta and was back to training, with but days to go until the reenactment took place.

The door slid open and the Gran majordomo walked in. "You summoned me, Lord Kroda?" Kroda remained silent for a moment as he looked out the window at the Nar Kresh landscape. Aen knew better than to say anything, and so waited patiently for Kroda to acknowledge him.

Finally, Kroda turned to face the Gran. "You have served me well throughout the years, Aen," Kroda said calmly, slowly. This made him uneasy, but he stood his ground. "What is your stance on my brother and how he manages things, here?"

Aen swallowed. Kroda seldom asked these questions without a specific purpose in mind. "He performs the task you assigned him as well as he ought to," he said carefully. "Your school is doing well, considering."

"Spare me your diplomatic responses, I'm in no mood for these games."

"Very well, Lord Kroda." Aen took a breath. "He has an eye for talent in the arena. It would be a shame to lose that. He turns a profit consistently and, because of his decisions on who to send and when, you've seldom dropped in favor with the crowds. I dare say the successes you've enjoyed may not have been possible without him. You would have seen success, to be sure, but not as high as it has been since he's been in charge."

"And Mandalore?" This was the true test. Kroda needed to know who knew, and if anyone it would have been Aen. Otherwise, either Toruk was indeed bluffing, or he'd accumulated contacts that Kroda didn't know about.

"He has been a bit of a wild card, but he arena is breaking him. In time, he'd really live up to the title of champion." Kroda grumbled. "That is, of course, if you allow it," he quickly corrected. "Lord Kroda, if I may, Mandalore has proven himself a worthy successor to Asael. He is growing used to the gladiator life. So, why not consider him? He nearly killed Skarrek."

"Nearly is not enough." In truth, that bit did not bother him. Kroda had been studying Aen's words and body language as they conversed. He showed no signs of deceit. So who else knew, then?

"Only because he had lost a lot of blood. If he could have performed he killing blow...."

Kroda dismissed him with the wave of a hand. "The details are irrelevant to me. What matters is how dangerous he is. I need you to arrange for a means for him to meet his end after Vontor."

"Forgive me for saying so, Lord Kroda, but why bring him here in the first place?"

"To repay me what he lost me. Now that has been repaid, he needs to perish. He may be valuable in the arena, but he can spell doom to me if he's left alive."

Aen considered Kroda's words for a moment. "If what you say is true, then we will need to set something up to make it not look intentional. Mandalore has been gaining consistent ground and traction since his arrival. The crowds favor him. But we could use that to our advantage." Kroda raised a brow, waiting for Aen's solution. The Gran was busy with his datapad. After a moment, he turned it around with a smirk.

Kroda considered for a moment the information on the screen. "And you think that would work?" he asked slowly. "Mandalore has been gaining favor, but would this not be considered too rash?"

Aen shrugged. "That would depend entirely on his performance during Vontor." Kroda hummed in consideration. "However, the drawback being that anytime soon would be considered too soon. So, if you're willing to wait a while longer...."

"How much longer?"

Aen shrugged. "In as perfect world? A couple months, maybe. This kind of thing would take time. And, again, we can't be seen as hasty. If Mandalore is wounded in the recreation, that could extend another month, depending on the severity of his wounds."

So maybe three more months he'd have to deal with this. This didn't please Kroda in the slightest. "Are there alternatives?"

Aen shook his head. "Given what Mandalore has demonstrated so far? None that would be anywhere near guaranteeing your desired results." He paused. "I must warn you, Lord Kroda, if you set this up, and Mandalore dies, that will be a significant hit against you."

Kroda nodded. He was well aware of the risks. But he had little other choice. He could let fate decide what becomes of Blackthorne, but the man had a penchant for survival. A chance defeat in the arena was not in his favor in ridding himself of this nuisance. "See to it this happens."

"As you wish, Your Excellency," Aen said. He got to work on his datapad. This would take a bit of time to set up properly. And it needed to appear fluid. Which meant maneuvering many moving parts. Kroda would not expect an update until after Vontor. And if this worked, then all he would have left to deal with was his brother.

Yes, Toruk. Kroda mused on his predicament one again. What was he going to do about this?
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The match between Skarrek and Ka'Lomera was, by its very nature, a much more modest affair than the official matches of the games. Even with the arena being much smaller and the stands filled with the other gladiators of the Trinivii kajidic, it wasn't filled to anywhere near capacity. Skarrek recalled that Verno had mentioned that it was possible to sell tickets to private matches, and technically it was possible to fill this arena up with a holographic audience like the main arenas, but usually it wasn't as financially viable as official matches. Most fans didn't really care about the outcome of a match between Skarrek and Ka'Lomera.

Probably the only people who really cared were the two fighters standing on the arena grounds.

Skarrek had chosen to enter the fight without a single weapon or any armor at all. All he had on were a pair of pants. This was not due to overconfidence. Rather the opposite in fact. Skarrek wanted to be at his most vulnerable. He didn't want the temptation to rely on his usual durability and strength to see him through in this fight. It had to be his combat skills that brought him victory and nothing else. This would all be for nothing otherwise.

Ka'Lomera was mostly unencumbered by armor and weapons as well. She wore clothing meant for training, but tailored to the aesthetics enjoyed by her people – which meant showing a lot of skin. All she wore was the equivalent of a pair of compression shorts and a sports bra. Her flowing blue tattoos covered an impressive amount of her body and were striking against her ashen gray skin. Strapped to her back was a sword, but she was otherwise lacking any other weapons.

While they waited for the official start, the two stared at each other silently. Skarrek kept his expression neutral, as did Ka'Lomera, although her eyes were still burning with hatred.

Finally Dorval's holographic form appeared between them. “This match will start momentarily, but I will once again stress the terms and conditions. Once it begins, there will be no interference until a winner is decided. There are no other conditions. When my hologram moves to the viewing box, that will be your queue to start.”

Dorval took a moment to look at Skarrek and then Ka'Lomera. “I will also reiterate that this match had better be worth my time, as was promised, or I will find some creative ways for you to repay my generosity. Is that clear?”

Both combatants nodded. Dorval didn't look convinced, but nodded back. “Very well. Begin!”

The moment Dorval's hologram vanished, Skarrek was on guard for a rush attack from Ka'Lomera, but the Xen'Chi instead calmly withdrew her sword. It was over two feet long, crafted from some kind of black material, and elegantly decorated with the same kind of design work as Ka'Lomera's tattoos. “Do you recognize this blade, Skarrek?”

“It looks like one of your Xen'Chi weapons,” he replied. “It was pretty effective on the battlefield as I recall.”

“This is a srraka blade, a true srraka blade, and not one of the many fakes being circulated through the galaxy,” she informed him. “We warrior caste soldiers had our own version of the srraka blade, but they were inferior copies of the blade I'm holding now. Only the Chosen were permitted to use true srraka blades. These blades could stop lightsabers and have an edge so fine that they can easily cut through all but the densest materials. In the hands of a Chosen, they could destroy entire regiments.”

She sighed. “Dorval somehow managed to acquire a real one to help play up my reputation in the arena, but as a mere warrior, it would be a grave dishonor for me to use such a weapon. I refused to ever wield it, but I've since changed my mind for this fight. Do you know why?”

“Honor is overrated?” Skarrek replied flippantly.

Ka'Lomera actually smiled at that. “Close. I'm already such a disgrace that it doesn't seem to matter how deep I go now. I survived the war and was too much of a coward to take my own life. I was taken as a prisoner and a slave. I'm using a weapon meant exclusively for a caste above my station....” She leveled her gaze at him. “And I've challenged you to a fight specifically in your weakened condition, because I think it's the only chance I have to win against you.”

She suddenly changed her stance to an attack position. “But if I can kill the Black Beast that slaughtered so many of my people, I can negate all of that! If I can accomplish what even the Chosen failed to do, then I will find favor with the Xa'Tieron again!”

Ka'Lomera then rushed forward at a speed faster than Skarrek had ever seen her utilize before. It seemed as though she had taken to heart his words about improving after their last bought weeks ago. His own body still felt sluggish and didn't have response time he was used to. It all resulted in the Xen'Chi scoring a glancing blow against the right side of his chest. The srraka blade sliced through his scales without resistance to cut into the much more tender flesh below. It wasn't deep, but it was enough to make him bleed.

Ka'Lomera tried to follow it up with backhanded slash aimed at his skull, but Skarrek was able to deflect the attack by knocking the flat side of the blade with his forearm, causing the attack to go wider than intended. The Xen'Chi let the momentum of the swing carry her backwards so she could avoid a follow-up attack by Skarrek. She backpeddled far enough to be outside of his range of attack before smiling at the exchange that had just happened.

“You really are weaker, aren't you?” she asked before swiping the sword abruptly through the air to dislodge any of his blood that was still on it. Flecks of it spattered on the sand around her. “That first strike should never have hit you. Perhaps this was destined to happen. Everything that brought me here... Just so I could avenge my people...”

Skarrek growled in contempt as he felt his wound. It stung, but it wouldn't be an impairment. “There's no such thing as destiny. It's just a delusion people trap themselves in to feel more important. If you do kill me today, the only thing that will change is that there will be one less Barabel in the galaxy. Everyone I killed will still be dead.”

She scowled at him. “You really are a monster, aren't you? I'm going to carve you up piece by piece and see if there's any trace of sympathy hiding in that demented body of yours.”

Once again there was a clash between Skarrek and the sword that he lost. This time on his shoulder, just inches away from being a fatal slash across his neck. Even trying to compensate for his slower reaction time didn't seem to matter. Ka'Lomera was too fast. It wasn't hard to imagine how this fight was going to go if he kept fighting at this level.

He gritted his teeth as he faced the Xen'Chi again. “What happens to your 'destiny' if I beat you? Are you going to take your own life? Fall into despair because some stupid prophecy you made up didn't come true? What a waste. Does it bother you to know that I have more honor than your entire race ever did?”

“Shut your filthy mouth!” she screamed back. “A monster like you has no right to speak about honor! You slaughtered the guilty and the innocent alike! Don't speak to me of honor! You kill indiscriminately! There is no honor there!”

Once again she charged, but her anger was making her careless. Skarrek was able to twist his body and trip her up with his tail. She took the fall in stride and rolled with it before getting back to her feet and lunging again. This time he wasn't fast enough to dodge entirely and felt a slash across his back.

He stumbled backwards, feeling weaker than ever. He couldn't take much more of this in his current state. It would only be a matter of time before Ka'Lomera was able to land a fatal strike. He had only one option: the blood rage. He had to control it again. If he didn't, he would die here.

“I am a predator who hunts prey,” Skarrek said to her. “That's all I've ever tried to be. It may not line up with the morals and honor you follow, but it is how I live my life. If you're strong you survive, if you're not you die. Strip away the pretense of civilization and that is the way of the galaxy. My honor comes from following that code. Personal honor - being true to yourself - that is what matters. It's far more real than any perceived honor someone else might bestow upon you.”

“Your honor is a perversion,” Ka'Lomera replied scornfully.

Skarrek grinned back at her. “Is that so? Because going by my scale, you have far more honor now than you would trying to impress a dead race and their sham of a leader. Also dead.”

Ka'Lomera shook with rage. “The Xa'Tieron is a divine being. She will manifest herself again and reunite my shattered people!”

Skarrek laughed derisively. “GAIT was an insane AI that used the Xen'Chi like meat puppets. She manipulated your whole system of honor to control you to wage war for a cause she never believed in. She abandoned her Xen'Chi body the moment something better came along – for a Jedi I might add. Your Xa'Tieron never cared at all about your people and it's thanks to her actions that your homeworld is a cinder. There was no honor in any of it.”

“You lie! It's all lies!”

“Then kill me and prove it,” Skarrek dared her. “You have every advantage right now. If the Xa'Tieron has blessed you to avenge your people, as you believe, then there can only be one outcome, yes? What are you waiting for?”

“Fine!” she growled. “My next strike will finish it. My only regret is that you won't be alive to see your blasphemy torn apart!”

Skarrek took a deep breath and let the crimson of the blood rage fill his vision once more. Ever since he had lost control of it, he had either tried to avoid using it or had it overwhelm him. He used to just call it his bloodlust since it made him mindless. It had only been with the instruction of Ket Maliss that he had found a way to control it, but after what happened to Ket, that method didn't work anymore. Subconsciously he had started to call it a blood rage since anger seemed to be the only thing that would bring it out. That was fine, anger was healthy, but it was such a primal emotion that it was easy to lose himself in it. Resisting it didn't work either. It just distracted him. He had to embrace it and he had to control it. To do that he had to have a clear goal in mind; a target to focus on.

His loss to Cadden had forced that realization on him. Whenever he thought about his revenge on that man, there was anger, but there was also no distraction. It was the difference between being pushed around by conflicting currents and swimming with the tides. His anger at Cadden wasn't red hot like it normally was with most people, instead it was cold and refreshing. He felt levelheaded and zeroed in on his goal every time he thought about it.

He had to do that now for Ka'Lomera.

Skarrek pushed through the red, letting it fill him as he dove ever deeper into it. He did this consciously and kept pushing until suddenly the red cleared away and everything cooled. He suddenly had a clear image of the Xen'Chi rushing towards him. Something was different now though. It was as if she was moving in slow motion. Skarrek also felt like he could feel every muscle in his body; every digit and extremity. All his senses were hyper-attuned. He intuitively knew how far he could push himself and could ignore any limiters normally put on his body.

All his blood rage did before was increase his strength and increase his tolerance to pain. That's all he thought would happen once he regained control. This was unexpected. Was it the fullest realization of his genetics being messed with by Imperial scientists? A quirk of his warrior lifestyle reaching fruition? A manifestation of the Force perhaps?

He didn't know and right now he didn't care. The important thing was the here and now. He had to defeat Ka'Lomera before anything else. He redirected his body's energies to where they would do the most good, giving more strength to his legs as he suddenly rushed forward towards the Xen'Chi. She flashed a look of surprise at his unexpected maneuver and sudden burst of speed before he grabbed her wrist and snapped it back, forcing her to let go of the srraka blade. Ka'Lomera yelled in pain before his fist connected with her face, knocking her back and away.

The Xen'Chi tumbled across the ground before getting back to her feet. She looked around desperately for the srraka blade, before finding it in Skarrek's hands. Ka'Lomera's eyes widened as she looked at him. She stumbled backwards at his visage before falling to her knees. “The Black Beast! I see it now! Your true form revealed! This is what slaughtered so many of my people!”

Skarrek stalked towards her, but Ka'Lomera made no move to escape. Instead she was transfixed on him, like a rodus that had been exhausted by a felinx playing with it. He slammed a foot into her chest and knocked her to the ground, holding her there with the weight of his body. It didn't seem to matter since Ka'Lomera didn't struggle to get away.

“Look at what your faith and your need for honor have done to you,” he snarled. “You're a quivering sack of poodoo the moment something shatters your preconceived notions of how the galaxy works.” He took the srraka blade in both hands and redirected his strength to his arms, snapping the blade in two before dropping the pieces to the ground. “Take a good look! That's everything that remains of your precious Xen'Chi Dominion! It was all lies! Just like your destiny! The sooner you stop trying to tie your worth into others, the better off you'll be.”

Skarrek kicked her aside, but otherwise remained where he was. “Now, what will it be? Will you fight? Do I kill you? Or do you surrender?”

Ka'Lomera stood up in a daze and looked at him numbly. For a moment Skarrek was sure that she was going to have him kill her, but instead she held her arms wide and bowed from the chest. “I yield. It seems as though I never had a chance to begin with and I did make a promise to Lord Dorval to serve him after this was done.”

Skarrek nodded with satisfaction. “You give yourself too little credit, Ka'Lomera. That's your biggest problem. You'll be a formidable warrior once you fully come to terms with the reality of your situation. Keeping your word to Dorval is a good start to regaining your personal honor.”

She sighed. “Right now I'm just tired. I've been holding on to all of this ever since the end of the war. Trying to let it go is not easy, but I can't deny what just happened. Maybe there is some truth to your words.”

With a deep breath, Skarrek released his blood rage and was surprised at how tired he suddenly felt as well. This was far more severe than he had ever felt after leaving this state before. He would have to remember to conserve it only for times when it would really be needed. Outwardly he did his best not to let it show and instead extended a hand of reconciliation towards Ka'Lomera. “Are we good?”

She looked at the massive clawed hand dubiously. She didn't shake it, but did nod in acceptance. “In time, yes, I think we will be.”

He grunted approval and walked off, barely hearing the cheers from the other gladiators in the audience. Inwardly he smiled to himself. Things are going to be different the next time we meet, Blackthorne. That's a promise.
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Cadden
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

There are certain moments a man never forgets. His first kiss. His first fight. But, most of all, the moment he first discovers his purpose in life. Cadden did not choose this path, it was chosen for him. At first, he thought vengeance would have been easy. For fifteen years, Cadden fought his way through the galaxy. Visited death upon those who deserved it and moved on to the next. All to exact his revenge on the family that had been taken from him. And he had paid for it, though the cost was far too high.

Cadden was under a moonlit sky, alone, in the training grounds. Before him were the training dummies used by Kroda's gladiators to hone their techniques. In either hand he had a short sword. It only felt natural to him; he had been used to dual-wielding for years with his lightsabers. "You are lost," Freedom's voice rang in his head. A side swing from his right sword impacted against the midsection of the training dummy. "You don't deserve to lead."

"Do not think your battle with the dark side is over, Cadden."
This time it was Kladaar's voice, a distant relative of his. He had spoken to him through the Force, prior to the defense of the City of the Jedi against the Cylon Imperium. Kladaar warned him of some great trial he had to endure, one that would begin with the City of the Jedi. "No, it has just begun." Another swing with his sword, this time the left. It was a downward strike against the target's shoulder. He remembered the conversation, if one through a vision could be considered such, well enough. He was also warned that, if he did not make a decision correctly prior to this trial's beginning, it could mean the end, Cadden had assumed of the galaxy. "You must do what is right, even when you have no other choice. Even if it costs your own life… do what is right." The words hung with him, and Cadden pirouetted before striking a blade across the target's chest.

"You remind us of some of our most legendary leaders," Locke had once said, back when he became the Mandalore. In, arguably, simpler times. "The clans have spoken, and they have chosen you, Cadden Blackthorne, as our new Mandalore." A feigned jab, simulating piercing the target's abdomen. Cadden angled it right so the practice sword would skid right against the tough external material.

"You're going to trust him, after he betrayed our own trust?" Gandon had said prior, though he eventually was convinced, as well. And became one of his most loyal and dedicated followers as a result, and responsible for the training of the new breed of Mandalorians. Cadden had brought outsiders to the world, and Gandon's anger was justified, given the fragile state the Mandalorians were in at the time.

"I get that you mean well, but remember Udine?" Jerik asked him, worried about his rising to power and being the leader of the Mandalorians. Another slash, this time more wild and less precise. It skimmed the surface of the target's chest region. "What if, in this rise to power, that happens again?"

"If it does,"
he had told his son, "I will make sure that no one is effected by it, ever again." He winced in that memory. He had failed. He failed Jerik, Guan. His father. Lillian. Renalla. The brief moment of hesitation fueled the spark that started in him and he swung again, this time the practice sword impacted the target harder, a resounding thud echoing in the practice yard.

"Promise me," Faarel said. It was the last words his father had spoken to him. Cadden felt a surge of anger and hatred rise in him once more. Sivter, the one responsible, was dead, but the wound still remained. He struck harder, the thud even louder. The target shook where it was propped.

"You no longer need to sacrifice for your people," a different voice echoed. He knew that voice. But he could not place it. Yet the words remained clear to him. "You no longer need to bear the weight of your name. I've taken care... of everything...." Cadden let out a yell, instinctively, and with one final swing, the post snapped, and the target fell back to the ground. He was breathing heavily, now, and he stared at his fallen "enemy" with a whole mixture of conflicting emotions.

"Let it go, Cadden," Renalla's calming voice said to him. "Let it go." As if obeying a superior officer's command, he let loose the grip of his swords and let them fall to the sand. Sweat trickled down his brow, and his breathing began to subside. His focus was pinned on the practice dummy that was now on the ground, the post splintered in two. For the first time, he noticed that he had actually caused serious damage to the object. "Even the smallest hope is enough to defeat the dark side," she reminded him. He attempted to calm himself, though found it a difficult task.

"Your son needs you," he remembered Guan saying, not that long ago. He hoped he was okay, that they both were okay. "Your family needs you. We're stronger together than we are apart." He was right. And Cadden had to find a way to make it up to him. Somehow. Right, as though that were some simple task.

"I fear for your safety, for your life," Lillian had told him, merely days before he had lost her. "I fear... I fear I would lose a man I've fallen in love with."

"Mandalore!" he heard a voice behind him. Cadden didn't respond. His eyes were fixed on the fallen target, his blood pulsing, his heart pounding, the sound resonating through his skull. "Mandalore!" The voice was more impatient, this time, and far more agitated. Somewhere in the back of his head he registered it as the vocoder-translated speech of Gorgg. He continued to ignore it. A crack of the whip followed, but no pain. It was a warning. Finally, he turned to face the Gamorrean. He realized he was not alone. Aen and Trassk flanked both sides of the gladiator trainer. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Mandalore has found some strength," Trassk said. There was a hint of respect in the Trandoshan's voice, but it was no more than a hint.

"Mandalore, back to your cell," Aen said. "Lord Kroda will hear of this." Cadden glared at the majordomo and the gladiator trainer. Gorgg prepared his whip, this time it was clear that it would not be a warning, and Cadden started walking toward them. He pushed himself through them and back into his cell.

Sitting on his bed, he thought back once more to that day. "I was wrong about you, I see that now. I don't want to lose this." Her words were both soothing and stirred up buried emotions. She saw through his flaws, through his imperfections, and saw a man who was simply trying to do what was right by him. Atoning for sins of the past, perhaps, or working toward a better future. Sometimes the two lined up in perfect unity. Other times... not so much. The adrenaline was wearing off, and Cadden found himself fatigued. He rested his head on the pillow, and thought back on the last time he spoke with Lillian, before sleep took him.

He awoke the following morning to rustling outside the cell. Groggily, Cadden propped himself up and moved to the door. He looked out the window and noted the gladiators were moving about. It felt too early for this. He worked the door handle. Locked. Cadden frowned. Since winning against Shorbecca, this was a first. He wasn't the champion of Direj kajidic, but he was afforded several of the liberties of the champion, thanks to Toruk. This was not among them. "Shar'seca," he called out as the Twi'lek passed. He stopped and looked at Cadden, who gave him a quizzical look, but he just continued on his way. The frell is going on? He tried the handle again, hoping his first attempt was a mere fluke. No luck. The gladiators assembled outside.

"The Battle of Vontor is upon us," he heard Kroda announce from somewhere above the yard. "You have the honor of representing the Hutt clans against Xim the Despot. This is no small honor; upon our victory Direj kajidic will be elevated to greatness equaled by only a few of the other schools." The Hutt's pep talk was effective, in its part, and with time running out before the reenactment would commence he must have been getting on edge. Was this more for him than it was for his gladiators? "When you fight, you will be fighting for your very lives. And, should you die, know you die in the highest honor you can attain in the arena." The gladiators cheered their approval, though Cadden noted a little less enthusiasm out of Corbus. "Today, you will fight and train against one another as though you were in the reenactment. And tonight, you shall feast. A reward for all your hard work." More cheers. It only made sense to provide the feast now, rather than the night before, in order to eliminate any adverse lingering effects the food might have on the gladiators. It was all a ruse, a means to lift their spirits and increase their morale. And it was working.

They are a vastly different breed, Cadden noted, far separated from what I could ever be.

"You will be fighting alongside and against the best each kajidic has to offer,"
the Hutt continued, "and so you must provide them the best you have to offer. When you step foot upon that sacred ground, you will be watched by millions, in a spectacle that only happens once a year. And you will give them a show that they will not soon forget!" Cadden noted the way that Kroda was working them up, promising them glory in place of their lives and freedom. No man should have to live like this. Not against his own free will, that was certain.

The Hutt made several more statements that were carefully designed to rouse his gladiators before finally dismissing them for the day's training. Cadden remained locked in his cell for several more minutes before a couple guards approached and unlocked it. "Mandalore," one of them said, "With us." Cadden silently followed, and soon they were within the audience chambers.

"I presume that this has less to do with your special target practice dummy and more about... something else," Cadden noted dryly as he was left to Kroda. The Hutt turned his repulsorsled to face him. "Considering how cheap those things must be to replace, and I doubt I'm the first one to break one of your toys."

The Hutt furrowed his brow. "Don't test me, Blackthorne," he said slowly, agitation clear in his voice. Though it did not feel like it was directed to his statement. "You are only alive because the crowds demand it."

"Guess you're stuck with me, then," Cadden said passively. He wasn't sure what it was, but he hadn't felt this way in... well, in a long time, actually. Empowered. In control, even if it didn't feel like he was. Powerful, in a way. No, the last time he felt this way....

"Your increased training was neither requested nor ordered by me, or Toruk," Kroda said, unusually patiently. "I ought to keep you locked up in your cell until the reenactment commences."

"But you won't."

Kroda narrowed his eyes. "Again, the crowds love you." It was simple. Any sign of an interruption in Cadden's increase in skill would be picked up, chatter would be made, and who knows what would result from that? He had a suspicion that Kroda was unconcerned by this, however. So, what was he doing here? "This displeasure you have brought me will no longer be tolerated. You will do precisely as I order, to the letter, or she dies."

Cadden wasn't sure how to react to that. Anger? Frustration? Fear? There were too many conflicting emotions. It must have shown. Kroda grinned.

"That's better," he said calmly. "You see, all it takes is a matter of leverage." They weren't alone. Cadden resisted the urge to look around. He quickly reasoned with himself that, if Kroda planned to kill him, he would have done it by now.

"I must say, he's nowhere near as powerful and menacing as he used to be." That voice. He knew it from somewhere. It was deep, gravelly, somewhat unnerving in its own right. A man stepped into view and joined Kroda at his side. He looked Cadden over, his head and face interlaced with some sort of cybernetics, and his eyes had an eerie bluish glow to them. "Huh," he continued. "Would never have pegged them as a pair."

Then it all came together. Cadden looked at him, perplexed. Kroda just chuckled. "Ah, Blackthorne," he said. "So you do remember my associate, here."

But, it couldn't be. He was dead. Dahdtoudi had watched him fall into the depths of Nar Shadda, himself. Yet, sure enough, he was standing there, alive. Well, judging by the looks of him, mostly alive anyway. Yet, how? The man grinned a wicked grin. "You and I have some unfinished business to attend to, Blackthorne."

"Later," Kroda said. He looked at Cadden. "You see, Blackthorne... what you did with my Chronic operations put a severe loss to me and the Triad. But, Jace is not as forgiving as I am of past transgressions. He has been waiting a long time for the moment to get back at you and Dahdtoudi. And, well, with Dahdtoudi as good as dead, I suppose that just leaves you."

"With him?" Cadden asked dubiously. Jace Dedar wasn't exactly the top of the stock when it came to Kroda's enforcers. Or was he with the Triad? Just trying to recall that complex web made his head spin. He didn't want to think about it. Cadden let out a slight chuckle. "If your plan is to insult me to death, I suppose you're on the right track."

Kroda chuckled in response. "You will learn soon enough," he said. "I thought it poetic that you get a chance to see what would be your rather... untimely demise... in advance."

"Never took you for the artsy type," Cadden said dryly. Kroda's patience was clearly starting to wear thin, judging by the way he reacted to the statement. Great, Cadden... still got it in you.

"Luckily for you,"
Kroda continued, "you are expected to participate in the reenactment. So I shall not keep you. You have some training to attend to for the day." He pressed a button and the door slid open behind him. "Your liberties have been revoked, however. I suggest you maximize use of the time given to you, as you will be expected to perform at your best in the battle. It will be rather... interesting... to see how well you fare." The calmness and subtlety in Kroda's speech made Cadden uneasy. There was more to this than met the eye. Though, when dealing with the Triad, nothing was ever as clear as it appeared on the surface.

Guess my past finally caught up to me, he mused sourly as the guards ushered him out of the audience chamber. He spared a glance back at Jace Dedar who gave him a hard, cold look. One that sent a shiver down his spine. Cadden had a bad feeling about this.
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Halomek
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Skarrek spent the remaining few days leading up to the recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor regaining his strength and testing the limits of his newfound breakthrough with the bloodrage, seeing how quickly he could enter and leave it and how often. It felt amazing. Exhausting, but amazing. As much as Skarrek hated to admit it, seeing playback of him fighting in this new bloodrage state reminded him of Nashka. Perhaps the Rodian assassin had some kind of breakthrough of his own long ago. Back when they had still been friends, Nashka had always kept insisting that Skarrek’s fighting potential was impressive but unrefined.

Skarrek had never listened too much to it. Back in those days he never needed to. His own physical abilities, the natural ones and the unnatural ones granted by the Empire, had been plenty to do the job. He had grown a lot as a warrior since that time, using every failure against stronger and more skilled opponents to improve his own abilities until he could overcome such obstacles.

Fight. Fail. Learn. Return. Overcome. That had been his basic way of doing things and he had left an impressive trail of bodies behind him in the process by tackling every obstacle in his way, but it had never been like this...

He was currently fighting the rest of the Power Seven. They were all skilled gladiators in their own right and had proven it in their own matches. Skarrek had fought and trained individually with all of them since Dorval had formed the group. None of them on their own could quite match him in his normal state, but now it was a six against one.

And it still didn’t matter. He was holding his ground against all of them. With his senses heightened to levels he had never considered before, he knew where to be and what to do to best counter each of them. The fight ended with the other six on the ground and Skarrek standing triumphant over them. He was tired after using the bloodrage for such an extensive amount of time, but it was balanced out by his own exhilaration at his victory.

“Incredible,” Giil said with a wheeze as he managed to get back to his feet. The Bitthævrian laughed with self-depreciation. “In all my years, I’ve never seen – or felt – anything like that before. It’s reminds me of-”

“-Jedi,” Makar interrupted, finishing Giil’s sentence. The Kaleesh shook his head. “You have truly ascended, Skarrek.”

“I’m no Jedi,” Skarrek replied. “I don’t even think it’s the Force. I shouldn’t feel this tired after using it if it was the Force.”

“I must agree,” Ka’Lomera chimed in. “The Chosen were said to be unstoppable warriors; inexhaustible in combat. The Force gave them energy to spare. What you appear to be doing is burning through your own body to heighten every sense you have to its maximum potential.”

“By rights, continuously overexerting your body like that should kill you or at least give you a heart attack,” Tuza chittered as he walked up and popped his arm back into place with a clack of his exoskeleton. The Kobok tested his arm experimentally before looking again at Skarrek. “But then I suppose many things should have killed you by now. Even if I was capable of replicating this new bloodrage of yours, I wouldn’t dare try it myself.”

"It’s a shame you killed all of the Imperials that did this to you,” Rek said to Skarrek. The Rolani was bleeding from a few wounds, but in typical fashion, didn’t seem to mind or care about his injuries. “My people were literally selectively bred to be bigger and tougher than normal Humans, but even the scope of that program pales in comparison to the job done on you. If the Rolani Dominion was still around, they would have paid top credits to get their hands on that research.”

Skarrek glared at Rek, but there was no real anger behind it. He had gotten used to Rek’s complete lack of tact or sensitivity. At the very least, it made it easy to know where the big man stood on any particular topic. It was refreshing in a way.

“The Omega Project was a horror show that deserved to be wiped from the galaxy,” Skarrek said to him. “When Nashka and I eliminated all traces of that vile program, my only regret was that some of the people connected to it died too quickly. If your Rolani Dominion ever tried to revive it, I would destroy them too.”

Rek waved the threat off. “Nah, the Dominion is gone for good. Queen Doljian was pretty thorough when she reformed that entire sector of space into the Laro Order.” He grinned crookedly. “Trying to fight her reign is was what got me caught and eventually sold to the Hutts. That’s progress I suppose.” He then abruptly changed subjects. “Is your buddy anything like you?”

Melis had joined the group by now and she seemed the least injured out of all of the Power Seven. “You’re kidding, Rek! You’ve never heard of Nashka, the Green Shadow? Deadly assassin? Former Black Sun Vigo? None of the stories about him ever reached your sector of space?”

Rek just shrugged in response.

Skarrek narrowed his eyes. “Let me put it this way: even after knowing what the Omega Project did and how horrific it was, he willingly chose to join it to be experimented on. He even provided a list of specific things he wanted done to his body. When I wiped that place out, it was because it was a cancer on the galaxy. Nashka wiped it out because he got what he wanted from it and didn’t want anyone else to make use of it. So no, he’s nothing like me. He’s much worse.”

Melis chortled. “This coming from the guy with a reputation for ripping out throats if you annoy him. I didn’t know you had a righteous side.”

Skarrek tried to ignore the uncomfortable feeling growing in his gut. It had been a long time since he had shared much about himself with anyone, let alone in a group. Every time he opened up to people, it usually meant something terrible was going to happen to him in the future. “I do what I think needs to be done. It doesn't matter to me if it’s considered by the rest of the galaxy to be the right thing or not.”

Before the conversation could continue, it was interrupted by Rasar. “Skarrek! Lord Dorval has summoned you to discuss strategy for the event. Head to the majordomo’s office at once. The guards have been instructed to let you inside. The rest of you, head to the Med Bay and get patched up. We have a big day tomorrow.”

Skarrek hid his relief, actually thankful for once to see the Tunroth. The group parted and Skarrek made his way to Verno’s office. When he finally arrived and was let inside, he was taken aback by the sight before him. When Rasar had said that Dorval wanted to see him, he had assumed it would be by hologram, but instead the Hutt was physically in the office with Verno. No matter how realistic the Hutts made their holograms, the smell and the infrared heat signature coming from Dorval was all Skarrek needed to confirm the Hutt’s physical presence.

Dorval smiled at him as he entered. “Ah, Skarrek! I’m glad you’ve arrived. We’ve got much to discuss.”

Skarrek glanced around the room. It was only the three of them. There was nothing stopping him from tearing Verno and Dorval apart if he so decided. Then it would just be a matter of finding where Dorval had left his shuttle and he could escape this place. Sure, there might be some resistance from the guards, but he had faced worse odds. He could do it. It would be catharsis on an epic scale...

Instead he crossed his arms across his chest. “Taking a big risk, aren’t you?”

The Hutt laughed in typical booming fashion before moving closer to Skarrek under his own power. “This is a gamble, I admit, but we’re never going to win tomorrow unless chances are taken. Besides, my being here in front of you is hardly a risk. Yes, there was a small chance that you would attack me, but I banked my own preservation on you being too intelligent for that. You know I’m more of an asset to you alive rather than dead. I’m elated to see my faith in your abilities has yet to be misplaced.”

Skarrek snarled in annoyance, but he had no reason to argue with what Dorval’s statement. “So why am I here?”

“Strategy!” Dorval declared as he motioned to the center of the room. A giant hologram of an arena popped into view. “Specifically how we’re going to win tomorrow. It’s all going to depend on you, Skarrek. Still... fearsome as you are, the odds are a bit too skewed against the side representing Xim for us to have any chance if we play this straight. That’s why I’ve devised a plan to give us an edge.”

“How familiar are you with the Third Battle of Vontor, Skarrek?” Verno asked him. Unlike Dorval, the Gossam was perfectly content to remain behind his desk.

“Just what I’ve picked up since it was announced,” Skarrek answered. “It was the last battle between Xim the Despot and Kossak the Hutt. Kossak won the battle by recruiting the races of the Vodran, Nikto, and Klatooinians to overwhelm Xim’s remaining forces.”

“Kossak Inijic Ar'durv is a legend among my people,” Dorval said proudly. “It’s why Xim’s side isn’t given any kind of realistic chance of winning during the recreation that we stage here on Nar Kresh. The way it typically works is one gladiator is chosen to represent Kossak and one is chosen to represent Xim. If one of those representatives is killed, then the opposing side wins. One side can also choose to surrender after 30 standard minutes of fighting, but that has hardly ever occurred. It’s usually much easier for Kossak’s side to overwhelm Xim’s side and kill the Xim representative. Depending on how full the gladiator stables are, it can be as high as 3 to 1 against Xim’s forces.”

“Historically accurate I suppose,” Skarrek grumbled. “Let me guess... I’m Xim.”

Verno nodded. “Indeed you are. The representatives aren’t announced until the start of the recreation, but this year it’s not difficult to figure out who will be picked on each side. Among the other kajidics on our side, there isn’t another gladiator that can compete with your skills.”

“And Jiron is sure to choose Tyrok to represent Kossak,” Dorval added. “Jiron’s influence over the other kajidics is fairly solid. Those few that don’t blindly obey his orders don’t have enough power on their own to challenge him. Trying to argue against Tyrok wouldn’t get them very far anyway. Tyrok is admittedly the best choice to make. Fortunately for us, Jiron’s years of unchecked power make his moves fairly easy to predict. Since we know what he’s going to do, we can strategize against it. I might not be able to do much against him up on Kresh Lorda, but the fates of all the kajidics here are tied into the games. A victory for Xim’s side will seriously hurt his power base and that I can exploit.”

Verno manipulated some controls on his desk to alter the image of the hologram until a multitiered bunker like structure appeared on one end of the arena. “Xim’s side is given a barrier of sorts to defend themselves with. This is supposed to represent Xim’s fortress under assault, but don’t put too much faith in it. It’s cheap duracrete and heavy wooden doors painted to look like durasteel, designed to last just long enough for the battle. It won't hold up very long against a determined assault.”

“Indeed,” Dorval agreed. “Typically Xim’s side will try to hole up in the fortress and attempt to survive with those meager defenses for 30 minutes until they can surrender. That strategy has seen varying degrees of success, but it still means a loss. The other strategy of simply charging the superior numbers of Kossak’s side and fighting them in the open is even less likely to work. So we need a wild card...”

Dorval gestured to Verno who manipulated the controls to replace the arena with a nondescript humanoid figure wearing some sort of costume. It looked like deep blue body armor with a stylized skull emblem on the chest. There was also a helmet sculpted to resemble a primitive droid head. A cape flowed out from the back.

“May I present Xim’s battle droids,” Dorval announced proudly. “I had these secretly made and distributed to our allies specifically for the match tomorrow. This costume is based on his infamous Guardian Corps battle droids. Every gladiator on our side that roughly fits your dimensions will have one of these costumes – which is only a handful at best. The armor is functional enough, but the true objective is to make it harder for the gladiators on Kossak’s side to locate you. The droids didn’t have capes, but I added that flourish to help hide your tail.”

“It’s clever,” Skarrek admitted, “but it won’t fool them for very long.”

“That is why the rest will be on you, Skarrek,” Dorval agreed. “It’s already been agreed by the other kajidics on our side that they will follow my lead, which means their gladiators will follow your lead. No one else can surrender for Xim other than you, so they will fight for as long as you deem it necessary or until you die. If it turns into a battle of attrition, we won’t win. It will also be melee weapons only, so trying to reduce their numbers at range is not an option.”

Skarrek nodded as he looked over the schematics of the fake fortress that would dominate one side of the arena. He smiled as a few thoughts came to his mind. “I have some ideas...”
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