Crucible: Gods of the Arena

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Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

OOC: I would like to start out by saying I'm retconning Ryn from the previous Crucible thread, and recycling what little I did with him with this post. That said....


Cadden awoke in a cramped space. There was a blue hue around him, and he felt very strange. The first thing he heard was the rumbling of the engines. I'm onboard the 720, he realized. Not that it took much to figure that out, granted. The second thing he heard was muffled, talking. It only then occurred to him he was floating in a bacta tank.

"It's like a reunion," a man with a thick accent said. He could barely make out the man's words through the liquid and glass of the tank. "We've got all three of them." Cadden frowned, and winced in pain at his still prevalent injuries. All three of them? What did that mean? "First the slicer, now the hunters."

Cadden was in too much pain from the fight, the wreck, and the shock treatment, to think about what they were alluding to. But why the bacta tank, he wondered? This wasn't exactly a rescue op or reinforcements to aid him, so why bother healing him at all? I'm still alive, though, he thought. I'd be dead if I wasn't wearing my armor. His Mandalorian armor took enough of the shock from the impact on Concordia to avoid death, though he suspected not by much. Hence the bacta tank, he was certain. But it didn't explain why those clearly not his allies chose to keep him alive and in relatively good health. He tried to think back, but his head was splitting and he could feel aches and pains all over his body.

"What do you suppose the boss'll do with 'em?" another asked, his voice softer than the first. "He put the slicer to good use, but these two only serve to threaten the empire."

The empire? Were they part of the Remnant? Or maybe the Sith, or even what was his empire? But then why refer to their leader as "the boss," he had to wonder?

"He wants the big one's armor," the first responded. "Not sure about the other. Not after what he pulled a couple weeks back." What Cadden pulled? He was on Mandalore, he'd been on Mandalore. Did they serve Garen? No, that made no sense. He wouldn't be on a ship, if that were the case. Unless Garen was suspicious of Kyr and the resistance finding Cadden again.

"That's enough from both of you," a woman's voice said, and the body it belonged to approached Cadden's tank. "He's awake. Don't want him learning too much, now do we?" Cadden could make out a mischievous grin through the tank's liquid and glass. "Lord Kroda has something very special planned for this one. He'll need his health for what's to come."

Kroda? Cadden had a swell of emotions rage through him. The Hutt really knows how to hold a grudge, he mused. But it left one question unanswered. What did he do two weeks ago that pissed the Hutt off?

Nar Shaddaa, Two Weeks Ago

Kal Joreth brought his heavy repeater rifle to bear on the sentinels guarding the entrance to the building. The blasterfire tore through each of the men before they could get a decent shot off on him. He stepped up to the reinforced door and looked it over, his helmet providing him feedback over the exact material used and any notable weak points. He only had one charge on him, and he needed to make it count.

He placed the charge where the analysis determined it would be of the most use and set the timer for half a minute before retreating some distance away and taking cover behind the duracrete blockade he had fought his way through. His armor was red and silver, painted so as an homage to his time under Bevin Orar and the Blood Sentinels, without giving away his former affiliation. It was also scarred and scratched up from the fight getting through the outer defenses of the building.

This had better be worth it, he thought as he waited for the charge to go off. He prepped his blaster for another round of fighting and waited for the explosion before pivoting around the corner, ready to fire. While the two guards on the other side of the door had been propelled forward from the blast, at least two more had opened fire on him from inside the building, their blaster bolts soaring through the crude opening the explosive device created. Most shots went wide, while several hit his armor, the material doing its job to absorb their impact. He had returned fire, and wagered after a couple seconds there were at least five more men inside as he ducked behind a barricade. He reached into one of his pouches and produced a thermal detonator. With the flick of a thumb he activated the device and threw it over his cover. The detonator bounced through the entrance, putting a sudden halt to the incoming fire as one voice yelled out a warning, before exploding in the entryway. Kal could hear the brief screams, telling him the device did its job well, and got up, ready to continue his advance. He stepped through the wreckage of the door and into the smokey cooridor adjacent.

It was only a little father to his target. Kal scanned the area, checking both side doors for any surprises, but the small size of the building proved to him he had dispatched of nearly everyone, and his target was not among them. If his intel on the building was accurate, there were only two other rooms beyond the one opposite the entrance, and there was no other way out. Yet prey that has been cornered can be the most dangerous, he mused. He opened the door leading further into the building to encounter two more guards, which he easily disposed of, before making his way to the next door. A guard was waiting for him, and took a shot at close range. It struck him between his plate and right pauldron, and Kal grunted in pain but worked through it and delivered a swift blow to the man's forehead with the stock of his rifle.

He keyed open the door and noted his target, a well-dressed human, sitting patiently at a desk with a glass in his hand. "So, it's you," he said. Kal frowned, but kept his guard up. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, though everyone thought you to be dead." He got up, and Kal leveled his blaster on the man.

"You're worth double alive," he said, "but make no mistake, I will settle on dead."

The man shrugged. He was amazingly calm for his situation. That made Kal uneasy. "You're not at the top of your game, either, I see." A heavy blow to the back of his head lurched Kal forward. His helmet managed to tumble off, and he stumbled to the desk, putting his hands on its surface for support. His armor received the brunt of the attack, but he had lost both the helmet and his blaster in the process. "See that he doesn't make it out alive," the man commanded. Kal turned to see the two new arrivals and sneered, spitting blood to the ground. He unholstered his sidearm and fired at the new threat, taking down one but the other charged into him. Kal drove his elbow into the man's back, then delivered a knee to his gut, before throwing him aside. He scooped up his helmet and blaster rifle and took pursuit.

He chased his quarry out of the building only to be met by a small contingency of armed men, and the man waiting at their head with a blaster pistol in hand. He was aiming it right at Kal. "You lose, bounty hunter," the man said, beaming with confidence. "Maybe you should have stayed in retirement."

Kal narrowed his eyes, not quite taking the man's meaning. He didn't bother to ask questions, however, it made little difference to him. "Dead, then," he merely said, and brought his blaster rifle up to bare on the entourage before him. He took out two of the men surrounding his target before ducking behind another barricade. Kal used his cover to dispose of three more men before he left his cover. He aimed his blaster pistol behind him at the thug foolish enough to try to flank him, and the blaster bolt landed the man between the eyes, sending him to the ground. Kal sprayed his enemies with additional fire from his rifle while scanning the area for his target. The man had fled the scene, and now Kal would have to chase him down or forfeit the contract.

He shot down the final mercenary and took to the chase, following his target through his only feasible escape route. Kal had found him moments later scrambling toward his escape craft on a small landing pad near the building. He took aim and fired one well-placed shot and the man fell short of the airspeeder. He cried in agony as Kal approached, shoving him to his back with a boot. The man started to laugh, despite the smoking hole in his leg. "Lord Kroda will have your head for this," he said. "The damage you've caused him is not so easily recoverable, and he will find you. And you will pay with your life."

Kal wretched the man to his feet, letting him cry out in pain for putting pressure on his wounded leg. "Move," he commanded. He shoved the man forward, well aware of his wound. His target nearly fell, but somehow managed to regain himself and proceed on with a heavy limp. He was lead out of the compound and back to Kal's ship without further incident, though they did receive a lot of looks from the locals. No one bothered to try to stop them or intervene, however; after all, who would be so foolish to get in the way of a Mandalorian? After securing the man in one of his holding cells, he lifted off and blasted away from the Smuggler's Moon, enroute toward Nal Hutta to deliver his prey to the Hutt who was to pay for this man. Better alive than dead, Kal thought, but better dead than no contract. He didn't bother to find out what Zietra wanted from one of Kroda's lieutenants, if the condition didn't not exactly necessitate his survival. It didn't keep him from wondering what purpose a dead man was to a rival of Kroda's, if they could so easily be replaced, however. It's not my place to meddle in the political affairs of Hutts. If one could call this a political affair. He didn't doubt his target's words, however. Likely they could take a sample of his blood and learn who he was, then the hunter would become the hunted, he was sure. Kal didn't much care for that notion, but he knew the risks when he took the job. More like Kroda would be too busy trying to fix this mess he's been put in with Zietra to go after the likes of me.

Present Day

He was still battered and bruised, but his time in the bacta tank had dealt with his more serious injuries and Cadden had spent the rest of the trip in a small holding cell. They had dropped out of lightspeed just minutes ago, now, and were no doubt enroute to their final destination, evidenced by the fact they had not since made another jump. Nar Shaddaa, I'd be willing to wager, Cadden thought sourly. He'd had more than his fill of the Smuggler's Moon to last him a lifetime, and he had no love of returning under any circumstances. What I wouldn't give for a weapon. He'd even settle for something as simple and ineffective as a stick or a rock, anything to arm himself around the Hutt. Especially if Kroda had it out for him.

The freighter touched down on the moon's surface, and Cadden's cell was opened as two armed guards stood at ready for him. One motioned him to proceed, and Cadden did as he was told. As they departed the ship Cadden looked to his left at Dahdtoudi's body on a repulsor pad, being led the same way as him. They were taken to a rugged-looking palace, which Cadden assumed belonged to Kroda. Minutes later, he was being shoved before the Hutt in his dais. Kroda just looked at him, in what Cadden figured was the Hutt equivalent to a sneer.

"You took something of mine," he said, "something extremely valuable."

"Your precious Chronic was destroyed years ago," Cadden said sourly. "What makes you think I've kept any of it? I've seen what it does."

The Hutt was silent for a few seconds before chuckling in amusement. "Blackthorne," he said, "I'm referring to Rix Menall. Or, more specifically, the information he had on his person. Where is he?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Cadden gave Kroda a dark look. "I think you've got the wrong guy."

Kroda glared at him before leaning forward. "I will make you pay for my losses," he said quietly, "one way or another." He leaned back. "I want him prepared for the Crucible immediately. He will serve as a fine addition to my gladiators, there. If he survives long enough." Cadden's eyes narrowed.

"At once, your excellency," a Duros Cadden figured was Kroda's majordomo said with a bow. "And what of the other one?"

Cadden was shoved away, but he heard Kroda's response behind his back. "Take him to the woman," he said. "Her skills, and her past dealings with Dahdtoudi, should ensure that armor comes off. Dahdtoudi's life is inconsequential. I want his armor, no matter the cost."

He was led out by a Weequay and transferred to his new cell. Cadden managed to get a couple hours of sleep that night before the cell door slid open and in came a Gamorrean and human to escort him out. He didn't see Kroda or Dahdtoudi, as he was led from the building in binders and to another transport. A slave transport, he noticed, as he saw a few others being guided to the ship in a similar fashion. He was merely going from one cell to another. Minutes after he was in his new cell he felt the ship power up and lift off. It wasn't long after it engaged its hyperdrive.

A few hours later, the hyperdrive disengaged and his cell door opened. He soon found himself joining the ten others in being escorted out the ship and into a hangar. They proceeded on in silence, passing several security checkpoints, until they arrived in a section lined with escape pods. Cadden thought about escaping, but even if he could overpower the guards, here, somehow, and survive the initial conflict, he had no armor and little chance of survival when they would, inevitably, send the other guards their way. Or, simply, disable life support, and save themselves the trouble, he thought sourly. There was only one acceptable option, and that was the small pod. If Kroda wanted me dead, he would have killed me back on Nar Shaddaa, Cadden reflected. His captors shoved him inside the cramped escape craft and the door closed behind him. Soon after the ship jolted free. He looked out of one of the viewports of the craft as the engines engaged, and watched the lush green world before him start to get bigger as the small pod sped forward. The Crucible, he thought. He knew nothing of where he was headed, save for the scant information the pod's HUD gave him, and he watched on as the planet got bigger and bigger. The pod's computer identified what Cadden could only guess was Kroda's holdings on the planet. Within minutes, the capsule entered the atmosphere, and all but the emergency life support systems went dark.

The pod landed harshly on the volatile world, and soon after the door opened. Cadden cautiously exited the craft and looked around. He was dumped in the middle of nowhere. The question being, why? Judging by the pod's computer, his destination was supposed to be the structure it identified during his descent. Was this a mistake, or deliberate? And, if they did intend to land him in the middle of nowhere, to what purpose? Was it to test him, or to attempt to kill him? It seemed contradictory to what Kroda had said back on Nar Shaddaa. He quickly got his bearings and, utilizing years of tracking skills, managed to pick up a trail used by previous unfortunate souls who were thrown into the same circumstance as he was. It was all he needed, and soon Cadden was off through the dense terrain. He found scant signs of civilization, as well as wreckage from previous pod crash landings on the world, but so far found no others from the rest of the group that was delivered to the planet.

Within a few hours he came upon seven of the ten others that were also sent down to the planet to reach Kroda's holdings, and quickly surmised the other three either died during the landing, or not long after.

This planet is a living prison, he mused. Even if one managed to escape their captors, they wouldn't last out here. It was all coming together, now. They wanted to see who was the strongest of the group. He turned his attention to a Rodian, no doubt an accustomed hunter from his world by the looks of it. "We're being tracked," he noted.

The Rodian nodded. "At least two Nexu, by my reckoning," he responded. "They're biding their time, conserving their strength for the kill."

One of the two humans appeared nervous. "Are we even going in the right direction?" he asked. "What if they just shot us down here to enjoy the entertainment of becoming these... things'... next meal?"

Cadden grunted. While the reason that led him to this point was drastically different from theirs, they were all considered potential profits, as their fate was shared. "Between all of us, there are too many credits to consider us nothing more than cheap entertainment," he said. "This is a test." He paused a moment, and nodded in the direction they were traveling. "During descent, my HUD indicated Kroda's holdings were to the east of here," he continued. "Maybe forty kilometers." He did a quick mental calculation. They had been walking for about four hours, now, which meant they should have covered roughly twenty-three kilometers by now. "We're about three hours out, if my measurements were accurate." Which they often were.

"Three hours," the other human said, notably calmer, given the circumstances. "Great. Do the Hutts expect us to to beat these things with sticks and rocks?"

"If that's what it takes," Cadden responded.

The Rodian had been quiet the whole time, observing their surroundings and putting his own tracking skills to work. "They're nearing," he finally said, a bit quieter. The nervous human started to frantically glance around. He wouldn't last, Cadden figured, even if they were to protect him. Out here in the wilderness, it was about survival. Of the seven of them, he could guarantee that he and the Rodian would make it to their destination alive. There was a good bet the other human would, as well, and possibly the Twi'lek and Weequay... but the other two? He doubted it.

With three hours of terrain to crawl, provided that they didn't have any obstacles in their path that would slow them down tremendously, that was enough time for the casualties to rack up. It was just plain lousy luck that they happened to travel too close to the nesting ground of a rather irate combat arachnid. They had managed to defeat the thing, but one of them lost their life in the process, and a simple retreat would not have sufficed. Cadden managed to extract a few of the beast's crystals, confident in using them in the future, despite the rest of the group's objections that they held no real value in their current state.

He looked at one of the gems intently, studying it for any flaws that would defeat the purpose he had in mind for it. It wasn't the greatest, but it would do all the same. As they continued to walk, he found a suitable piece of wood to use, and tore off a shred of his rags. He used it to secure the gem to the wood to create a makeshift spear. The Rodian watched him do his work. "Not bad," he commented, "but there are two Nexu."

Cadden produced two more of the gems, and the Rodian grinned. He nodded to the calm human, and both soon found suitable makeshift spear shafts. They mimicked Cadden's plan and soon all three of them had the weapons ready.

"That's great," the Twi'lek said, "but what about the rest of us?"

"Could be worse," the human said, "you could be used as bait." This triggered a sharp-toothed grin from the Twi'lek. One that Cadden did not like the looks of.

Half an hour later, the skittish human was running frantically through the dense jungle, the two creatures hot on his trail. Scared for his life and unwilling to slow, he vaulted himself over a fallen tree trunk and continued to sprint toward the set up trap. As he sped by the Twi'lek, the alien called the signal to Cadden and the other two armed individuals. The two predatory creatures sped by the Twi'lek without giving him any thought, possibly not even knowing he was there to begin with. Their target was the human. One of the nexu leaped at its target when, suddenly, Cadden sprang up from his position, braced the end of the spear shaft against the ground and angled the crystal-fastened end at the creature with such accuracy that it impaled itself right through the heart. Cadden rolled out of the way as the dieing creature lost its momentum and landed hard where he was previously lying in wait, tumbling and crashing into the bushes.

The other Nexu was already passed him and nearing the running human. The Rodian and other human leapt onto the scene, just as the Nexu pounced on the man, but they were not fast enough to save his life. Just as the Nexu mauled his face, the two spears penetrated his skin. The creature let out a roar of agony, and turned to face the other two. It stumbled, but it was too weak, and they brought themselves around and finished the job.

The other human was dead, however. "Leave him," the Twi'lek said. "We are only wasting our time with a burial." Cadden frowned, but didn't argue. Time was wasting, and they needed to get to the complex before dark.

Some time later, the remaining prospective gladiators arrived at the training complex. A Gran was soon there to greet them. "So you made it here alive." He took count of the small group. "Some of you." He signaled for someone out of vision to open the door. Cadden lead the others into the complex, and the door behind them closed. They shifted from one prison to the next. The only difference was their chances of survival were slightly higher in this one. Armed guards approached the group and checked them for any weaponry. A smart move, Cadden noted, given the nature of their arrival. When the check was finished they were escorted away. Cadden, however, was pulled aside. "Lord Kroda wishes to put you in the games immediately, human," the Gran said.

Cadden narrowed his eyes. Judging by Kroda's command back on Nar Shaddaa, that could only mean one of two thing: he was to be executed. Two guards grabbed his arms and subdued him. He struggled to get loose, but before he could break free, he felt a heavy blunt object impact the back of his head, and he slumped forward. He lost consciousness before he hit the ground.

Cadden awoke in a dark, primitive cell. With a groan, he tenderly rubbed the spot he was struck and looked around as his vision started to stabilize. "Human," a guard said, and kicked Cadden when he didn't respond. Cadden grunted in pain, and looked at the other, a Zabrak. The alien pointed his assault rifle at him. "Get up," he ordered. "You're next."

Cadden gave him a quizzical look before he weakly pushed himself up from the ground. The door opened to reveal a bright light, and Cadden was shoved outside. Behind him, the sound of the door closing could be heard, nearly drowned out by a cheering crowd. As his eyes adjusted, he noted he had been transported to a gladiatorial arena. He saw opposite of him a larger man, and after a couple seconds took note as two more individuals entered the arena. One was a Gamorrean, the other some kind of near-human or humanoid, though he couldn't tell due to the armor the individual wore.

The crowd started to boo in disfavor over the decision, but Cadden quickly realized it was to be ignored. The three gladiators held their position until a horn sounded, whereupon they began their advance. The signal to begin, Cadden mused.

Two of them held swords, one with a personal shield for defense, while the larger human had some sort of axe. Cadden looked down to see his own sword not far away, and picked the weapon up. They didn't want him dieing without making a spectacle out of it. In gladiator games, entertainment meant credits, and a standard execution would not make as much a profit as one where the executed tried to fight back.

Cadden chose to stay on the defensive and waited for them to get to him. The big human swung his axe at him, but Cadden dodged out of the way before bringing his blade up to deflect one attack from the Gamorrean, but the humanoid managed to lay a cut into his right shoulder blade. Cadden yelled in pain, though fortunately he missed any major veins and tendons, and Cadden swung around to counterattack. The gladiator blocked the swing, and Cadden brought his blade back to block the Gamorrean's next assault before rolling out of the way of the humanoid's. He got to his feet and kicked the humanoid in the gut while attempting to block the large human's axe. But, as he immediately knew, all it did was knock him to the ground. The human needed to recover, himself, and Cadden took that moment to trip the man and rolled to his feet before one of the others could take advantage of his situation.

The Gamorrean soon landed a score against his right hamstring, causing him to buckle to one knee. The large human was back on his feet, and was approaching. Cadden brought his blade up to block the Gamorrean's follow-through, but at the expense of the human kicking him to the ground. Cadden landed on his back and struggled to his knees, and for the first time took notice of the human's half breastplate. It was a stylized blood-red starbird, appropriately highlighted with simulated flames. He was suddenly reminded of a brief conversation he had with Lillian once.

"I had a terrible dream last night," Lillian said, visibly worried.

"What was it?" Cadden asked, curiously.

"You were on your knees, bowing before a great red starbird set aflame, the life draining from your veins." She looked directly in his eyes, and Cadden could tell she believed it was a foretelling of things to come.

"What meaning did you take from it?" he asked.

"A warning. If you go to war, you are destined for great and unfortunate things."

Cadden was breathing heavily, now, and watched as the human approached. He mustered his strength and got to his feet, letting the adrenaline take over as he lodged his sword into the man's gut. Cadden pulled the blade out and swiped it across the human's throat violently. He turned to the approaching humanoid and threw his sword at his incoming assailant, the blade meeting its mark perfectly as it pierced through the weakness between his mask and armor. Cadden took the fallen human's axe and turned to the Gamorrean, who was more cautious in his tactics.

The two met each other and, while the Gamorrean got the first swing and cut through the skin at Cadden's chest, he ignored the pain and countered with the axe, lodging it deep within the alien's skull. He let the creature fall to the ground and Cadden looked around, scanning the holographic audience for his ultimate target.

There. He found the image of Kroda, next to the Gran and another Hutt. The crowd was cheering and chanting that he live, but Cadden ignored them and just stared at Kroda, his eyes dark and full of hatred and vengeance, as he awaited his fate.

Back at Kroda's holdings, the three were watching from the Hutt's audience chamber. He was displeased with the outcome. "Where did you find this one?" Toruk asked, amused and clearly excited.

"He was hampering my operations on Nar Shaddaa," Kroda said, making no effort to hide his agitation. "I want him dead."

"The crowd disagrees with you," Toruk argued. "It would be unwise to kill him if they wish to see him fight again. Let me train him. He will die in the arena, or in the school, eventually, but in the meanwhile he will turn you a profit."

Normally Kroda would be the one who suggested such, but this time it was a personal issue. But Toruk was right. If he executed the human, he would lose the favor of the crowd, and thus profits. "Very well," he seceded.

"What name does the man carry?" Toruk asked.

"We never cared to ask," Kroda lied. He knew better than to tell them who Blackthorne was.

"The way he fights," Aen noted, "like the legend of the Taung who organized his people into what would eventually become the Mandalorian Crusaders. Mandalore, he was called." He looked at Toruk who nodded in approval, and the Gran input a command into his datapad, relaying the information to the crowd.

Back in the arena, Cadden waited patiently, as the sudden realization of his wounds began to set in.

"You did what you could," Lillian's voice spoke to him. "You came back, for me, knowing it could mean your life."

"There is no life without you,"
Cadden had said.

The crowd began to chant, though at first Cadden couldn't quite decipher what they were saying. But it became clear after a few seconds. "Mandalore," they were shouting. Cadden looked around the arena, and when his eyes settled back to Kroda's location, the Hutt was no longer there.

"Kill them all," Lillian's voice said, as real as though she were standing there with him.

"For you," his own voice responded.

One of the guards grabbed him and led him from the arena, back to his cell, where he awaited his fate. Within minutes, another pair of guards arrived and escorted him to a transport where, along with a couple others, he was taken back to Kroda's compound and shoved into a cell. There he was given basic medical aid and then permitted time alone, though not for his sake, he quickly realized. Cadden took the opportunity to rest a bit, and closed his eyes.

"Human!" a synthesized voice shouted. It overlapped the all-too-familiar grunting produced by the Gamorreans. Cadden opened his eyes and looked at the creature. "The master demands to speak with you." Cadden watched the Gamorrean quietly as he opened his cell door. He briefly considered making a break for it, but the presence of two additional armed guards quickly dissuaded him. "On your feet, human." Cadden swiveled and got up. He was suddenly reminded of his injuries sustained in the arena. At the time they didn't seem that bad, but now that the adrenaline had subsided and he had a chance to rest he discovered they were enough to limit his ability to fight.

Cadden was led out of the training area and into the surprisingly lavish surroundings of Kroda's audience chamber. "Leave us," the Hutt demanded. "He is no threat to me." The guards and other occupants did as they were told and Cadden watched quietly as the room emptied. When they were all alone, the Hutt spoke again. "I have half a mind to kill you, now, where you stand, Blackthorne," he continued. "After that spectacle in the arena, however, I've been persuaded to keep you alive for the games. You should be grateful."

Cadden just stared at Kroda, disgust and hatred dominating his eyes. He refused to speak to the Hutt.

"I find myself in a rather peculiar situation," Kroda continued. "On one hand, you are now a war criminal, thought dead, yet here you stand. Otherwise wanted by virtually every government and entity in this galaxy. Bringing forth the fact you still live would, no doubt, grant me a very healthy sum of credits, more than comparable to what you might net me in the gladiator games. On the other hand, however, your presence here ought to give me a long term sustainable income. Assuming you survive for the long term." Cadden remained silent, watching the Hutt intently. "So, Blackthorne, which do you prefer? Death by the hands of the highest bidder, or death by the hands of a gladiator?"

Cadden considered what he said for a brief moment. "If you tell others who I am," he said slowly, "do you honestly believe you would live through it?" Kroda narrowed his eyes and grumbled in distaste over those words, yet Cadden continued. "If word gets out, the Empire or the New Republic would come down on this place hard and destroy everything you worked for. Provided the Jedi don't get here, first. Additionally, you would bring the trouble of the Mandalorians to your doorstep. In either situation, you would wind up dead, regardless of my fate and who ends up with me." He took a step forward and Kroda's hand tensed near a button on his console. "So, you tell me, what am I worth to you? Are you willing to bet your operation, your life, on exposing me to a galaxy that wants me dead, or a people that would see you dead to secure my safe return to them?"

Kroda chuckled. "You are on Nar Kresh," he explained, "in the heart of Bootana Hutta. Neither the Republic nor the Empire would dare send a contingency here."

"Perhaps," Cadden allowed, "but Mandalorians don't care about political boundaries. Frankly, I'm surprised you've gone this long without attracting their attention."

"I understand you no longer lead the Mandalorians," Kroda said plainly. "How do you think we found you?"

Garen, Cadden knew. "But I still lead a good number of them. They would come after me, if they knew where to look. And they'd be out for blood. You think numbers would keep you safe? A lone Mandalorian is a small army. They don't need to send hundreds. One or two would suffice." Cadden looked at Kroda square in the eyes. "So, go ahead. Tell the galaxy you have me."

Kroda narrowed his eyes, but soon broke into laughter. "Even when you are at a disadvantage, you manage to find the upper hand," he said. "You have made your point. I look forward to seeing my new prize, the nameless warrior who, simply, goes by 'Mandalore', in future games." Kroda pressed a button on the console and the door slid open. The two guards reentered the room and secured Cadden. "See to this man's wounds," the Hutt continued. "I want him healed and ready to train directly under Asael as soon as he is capable. Soon, the name 'Mandalore' will bring me a fortune."

"And if I refuse?" Cadden said.

Kroda chuckled. Cadden didn't like that laugh. "Then I'm sure the woman will not last long if we punish her for your disobedience," he said. Cadden frowned. "Lillian Tolwyn has provided me with much use, but she isn't the only person in the galaxy with her particular set of skills."

Cadden's eyes widened. No, it had to be a bluff. "You lie," he said. But he quickly realized it to be the truth. The talk on the 720 light freighter of a slicer and him and Dahdtoudi making for a reunion, Kroda's instructions to take Dahdtoudi to a woman who was familiar with him to separate him from his armor. How could he be so blind, so stupid to the facts that were right before him?

Kroda pressed a button and displayed a feed before Cadden detailing Lillian's capture outside none other than the Pursuer. The evidence was undeniable, and Cadden was at a loss for words. Kroda pressed another button, and the display faded. "Take him away. See to it he's ready first thing in the morning." Cadden was violently lead out of Kroda's sight and taken through the complex to a small room. There a Twi'lek was at work attending to a couple of individuals. When given Kroda's orders, the Twi'lek worked to stich Cadden's cuts from the fight earlier that day before Cadden was escorted back to his cell.

That night, he dreamed. All his cares, all his pains, all his distractions, faded away, and he was walking among a sea of grass, stretched out as far as the eye could see. The stars glistened above, and whispered at him once again. "To go north," that woman's voice said, "you must journey south." Cadden looked around, but saw no one, and so he continued on. "To reach the west, you must go east." He kept walking. "To go forward, you must go back." The voice seemed as though it was right behind him, but when he looked over his shoulder there was no one. "To touch the light, you must pass beneath the shadow." The voice was behind him, again, but when he turned once more, all he saw was the grass and stars.

"Who are you?" he demanded. He remained alone.

"Remember who you are, Cadden," the stars whispered once again. "The Mandalorians know. Do you?"

"What do you mean?" he called out. "I do not understand."

He woke stiff and sore and aching, but better than he would have expected to feel after what he'd gone through the day prior. His cell door opened not long after, and Cadden was led into a large open area, covered with sand. There were already a good couple dozen others in the yard, most of them sparring with each other in preparation for their next fight in the arena. He spied a brute of a Trandoshan, a few humans, and even the Rodian he'd arrived with. Some of those whom he didn't recognize stopped and stared at him as he walked passed, though Cadden chose to ignore them. He was led to the mess hall, and there he was left to his own devices. A Devaronian looked over at him and sneered in disgust. Cadden averted his attention to the server, and he retrieved his meal and sat away from the others. In present company, he'd decided he would rather eat alone.

He didn't have much time to himself before the Devaronian approached. "This is the one," the Trandoshan said, "this 'Mandalore' everyone's been talking about."

"That's not my name," Cadden said dryly.

"No one cares who you were, human," the Devaronian said. He sized Cadden up before spitting to the ground. "Certainly not much to look at."

"What do you expect from a human?" the Trandoshan said. "Smells like fresh flarg."

"Oh, they all do," the Devaronian agreed. "Except for their women. They smell like piss… and flarg."

"And who're you supposed to be?" Cadden said.

The Devaronian flashed a wicked grin. "I'm the greatest of my kind," he gloated. "Asael, the Undefeated." Asael. That was the name Kroda gave for who he was to train under.

Off to a wonderful start already, he thought bitterly. "Well, Asael" he said, looking up from his dish, "anyone ever tell you you smell like... a schutta?"

Asael flared and started toward Cadden. As Cadden quickly rose to his feet and put up his guard, the Trandoshan stopped the Devaronian's advance. "Save it for the arena," he said. The Devaronian sneered once again, but turned and left. "You'd better watch your back, human," the Trandoshan continued, before he followed Asael away. Cadden watched them leave before sitting back down.

"Making friends already, I see," a familiar voice said. Cadden looked over his shoulder as the Twi'lek from the journey to Kroda's holdings approached and sat across from him. "We've never been properly introduced. Name's Shar'seca."

"I'm-" Cadden started, but he quickly stopped himself despite Shar'seca's interruption.

"I know who you are," Shar'seca said. "The Mandalore. Defier of fate itself."

"That is not my name."

The Twi'lek chuckled, and Cadden could detect a hint of mockery along with it. "Your name no longer means anything," he said. "Who you were before all this is gone, dead. If they call you 'Mandalore,' then accept it as who you are."

Ironic, Cadden mused, but kept his thoughts to himself. He looked around, eyeing a couple other familiar faces from their trek the other day. "I'm no Mandalore," he said.

Shar'seca sighed. "You may be as new as I am, but I've learned a few more things than you have," he said. "For starters, don't question your superiors. Second, don't piss off those who have a higher stature than your own." He was, of course, referring specifically to the gladiators, but Cadden knew it also applied to anyone Kroda employed to keep this place running. "Finally, don't screw up, here or in the arena. You avoided your death, yesterday, but that doesn't mean you're in the clear."

"I shouldn't even be here," Cadden muttered. He didn't belong in this place.

"Doesn't matter. I could say the same about me or anyone else, but that doesn't change anything. You're stuck here, my friend, whether you like it or not. I suggest you get comfortable. Escape is ill advised, and freedom is seldom, if ever, obtained. Take your Devaronian friend, for instance. Turns out he's been here over twenty years, and he's been Kroda's champion for the past nineteen. I would tread lightly around the gladiators, here. You'd otherwise end up dead." Cadden chortled. "And what is so amusing?"

Cadden forced a smile to his face. "I'm already dead."

After breakfast the new prospective gladiators were assembled in the middle of the training ground. Cadden stood between Shar'seca and the Rodian, staring at the ground, and looked up as the heavy sound of footsteps approached. They belonged to a Gamorrean, and he walked with purpose and authority. The Gamorrean stopped and looked at them. "What is beneath your feet?" he grunted, a synthetic voice translating his speech to Basic in real time. Nobody spoke. "Answer!" the Gamorrean demanded. "What is beneath your feet?"

"Sand," the human spoke softly. This prompted laughter from the gladiators assembled.

"Asael," the Gamorrean called over his shoulder, "what is beneath your feet?"

The Devaronian approached the newcomers. "Sacred ground, Master Trainer," the Devaronian said, "watered with the tears of blood."

"Your blood," the Gamorrean continued, looking back at Cadden and the others, "your pathetic lives, forged into something of worth. Listen, learn... and, perhaps, live. As gladiators! Now, attend your master." He raised his arm to motion to the viewing platform as its door slid open and out slithered a Hutt. It wasn't Kroda, Cadden immediately noticed, but rather the one that was with him back at the arena.

"You have been made fortunate," the Hutt said, "each and every one of you. You find yourselves here in the school of Kroda Direj Thinatj, purveyor of the finest gladiators in all the galaxy!" That spurred a shout from the gladiators standing before Cadden and the others, though he and the rest of the newcomers renamed silent. "Prove yourselves in the hard days to follow, prove yourselves more than a common slave, more than a man! Fail, and die, and be sold off. Succeed, and stand proud among his titans!"

"Kroda!" the gladiators chanted. "Kroda! Kroda!" The Gamorrean bright his whip around and snapped it, silencing the gladiators.

"A gladiator does not fear death," the Gamorrean said. "He embraces it. Each time he enters the arena, he fights his best fight, knowing it could be his last. None of you stray kath hounds would last a fleeting moment. Except one." He approached Cadden and looked right in his eyes. "This sad, battered human stood against three in the arena. Condemned to die, given nothing but a sword to wager his life upon. They came at him! Again, and again, and again! He refused death! Fate!" He looked at the other newcomers. "Gaze at this man," the Gamorrean said. "Study him." He paused and returned his attention to Cadden. "And realize he is nothing." Cadden's eyes locked with the Gamorrean's. "A coward. A mercenary who struck at Lord Kroda's heart and fled. His victory in the arena, as hollow as his courage. He fought against the ill-trained men of Korrdo Besadii Glere, one of your master's rivals."

"A mockery," the Hutt agreed. "Had Mandalore entered the arena with any gladiator here his head would have left well in advance of his body." Cadden sneered at that remark, looking up at the Hutt, challenging. Defiant. And the Gamorrean took note.

"The human disagrees," he noted. "A demonstration, perhaps?" The Hutt nodded and moved a chubby arm to proceed. "Asael! Practice swords." Asael soon approached, two swords in hand, and gave one to the Gamorrean, who tossed it in front of Cadden. Cadden looked at it, then back at the Gamorrean defiantly. "Prove us wrong, Mandalore." Cadden glared and looked away. "Pick it up," the Master Trainer ordered as he uncoiled his whip. Cadden did not. "Mandalore!" The Gamorrean ran out of patience when Cadden did not respond and drew the whip back, sending it forward. Cadden brought his forearm up at the last second, not to defend himself but to catch it as it snapped around his wrist. His veins began to bulge as the leather dug into his skin.

"That is not my name," Cadden said quietly through glaring eyes.

The Gamorrean grunted in disapproval. "Your name, your life, is what we decide," the Gamorrean said. He suddenly yanked the whip, lifting Cadden off his feet and crashing him next to the practice sword. "Perhaps the coward requires advantage to still his trembling knees. Sword!" A new sword was given to the Gamorrean, one that appeared sharp and easily capable of ending a man's life with one swift stroke. The Gamorrean tossed it several lengths in front of Cadden. "Pick it up." Cadden still refused. The Gamorrean laughed in disappointment and turned to the Hutt. "I can do nothing with this one. Send him to the mines."

Cadden suddenly dove and scooped up the sword, rolled to his feet, and swung at the Gamorrean. A practice blade met the real one, and on the other end was Asael with a wicked grin. "Feeling rested, are we?" Asael kicked him back, and Cadden stumbled, nearly losing his footing. He regained it just as Asael attacked with a marvel of speed and grace. Cadden found that every movement the Devaronian made was like a brutal poem and was hardly able to keep up with his slashes and jabs. He tried pushing the offense, but he found he was incapable of breaking the Devaronian's form. Asael delivered a swift kick to Cadden's chest, sending him backwards.

The Gamorrean was circling them during the fight. "An attack must be grounded in proper footing," he said. "He attempts to press before regaining balance."

Cadden got back to his feet and lunged forward with an overhead swipe, which Asael easily blocked and deflected. The Devaronian stepped aside and delivered a reverse blow into Cadden's back, causing him to fall to his knees in pain.

"Allow advantage to your back and you are dead," the Gamorrean said. Cadden sneered and got back up. He took a brief moment to analyze his opponent before he attacked once more. This time, he fared a little better, though his swings and thrusts either met air or the blunted steel of Asael's practice sword. Asael wound up getting the upper hand after a few strikes, however, and delivered a powerful blow to Cadden's chest. He started walking away from Cadden as he struggled to rise again, looking up at the Hutt in delight. Cadden pushed himself to his feet and charged, the two's swords meeting once again, though Cadden was still unable to break Asael's defense, and soon they had each other's forearms locked in a struggle of brute strength. At first Cadden was holding his own, but it didn't take long before Asael began to overpower him. Asael threw a wicked grin at him and, before Cadden knew it, the Devaronian drove his fist into Cadden's gut, an elbow into his back, and threw him to the ground. Asael backed up, watching Cadden roll to a stop. "Become entangled with a more powerful opponent and you are dead," the Gamorrean continued.

Cadden pushed himself back to his feet and gave the Devaronian a dark expression as he turned his back to Cadden and approached his fellow gladiators. In a bout of rage, Cadden threw his sword at the Devaronian's exposed back and, at the last second, Asael turned with a surprised look but, with a fluid motion, knocked the weapon aside, redirecting it through the neck of the human who arrived with Cadden the other day. The man fell to the ground, blood flowing liberally from the deep cut to his artery, dead.

"Hurl your sword in the arena and you are dead again," the Gamorrean instructed. Asael looked away from the dead human and approached Cadden, rage in his eyes. Cadden did not react, still recovering from what he'd just done, as Asael grappled him to the ground and pressed his practice sword up against Cadden's neck. The Gamorrean stood above them and looked at Cadden calmly. His speech matched his eyes. "Your foolishness has cost a life," he said. "But yours may yet be redeemed. Two fingers." He held up his hand in a fist, his forefinger and middle finger pointed outward together. "A sign of surrender. A plea of mercy to the editor of the games." Asael pressed against Cadden's neck with the practice sword, constraining his blood flow and ability to breathe. Cadden did not move. "Beg for your life, little rabbit," the Gamorrean said quietly. Cadden hesitated a second before he curled his hand into a fist. He briefly considered attempting to fight longer, but quickly knew Asael was clearly more skilled than he was, here. Though he still refused to yield to the Devaronian.

I'm sorry, he thought, as he considered all the people he'd let down the past several years. I've failed you. He was not thinking of anyone in particular, though a few specific people had suddenly came to mind after the right. Lillian was chief among them.

The Gamorrean grunted in disgust. "Bash his skull in," he ordered. Asael reared back the training sword.

"Asael!" the Hutt bellowed.

Asael paused and looked up at him. The Hutt waved an arm, and Asael looked at Cadden with a sneer before getting off him and bowing to the Hutt in deference and respect. He stepped away from Cadden. "Master Toruk," he responded.

"Continue training," the Hutt ordered. The Gamorrean nodded in submission and motioned for Shar'seca and the Rodian to help Cadden up. Cadden shook them off, glaring at the Gamorrean as he resumed his place in line.

At the viewing platform, the Hutt looked on. "Master Toruk," Aen Brakkin said with some visible concern over the Hutt's decision, "he tries to kill your best man, and yet you let him live?" The Gran swallowed. "Forgive my saying so, but is that a wise decision?"

Toruk narrowed his eyes in disgust over the majordomo's questioning of his decision. "My brother will be returning in a few days to check on this one's progress," he said. "His intention toward the human may include blood. Until the human's usefulness runs its course I intend to keep it warm and flowing." He leaned back and shifted his body slightly to more directly address the Gran. "Question me again and you will find yourself in the next arena match."

The Gran swallowed hard. "Yes, Lord Toruk," he said with a bow, and slinked away from the Hutt's sight. Toruk looked down as the gladiators began their training exercises. Satisfied with the lack of further quarrel, he slithered back inside.

Cadden and the other remaining newcomers were equipped with a practice sword and a shield each, and were instructed to spar with each other. Cadden proved to be most well-trained of the small group, as his years of military training gave him an edge over the raw talent that the others had. It meant nothing, however, compared to one who was bred for this kind of lifestyle, and if he was going to see his freedom, he knew he would have to play by their rules, or be condemned to this Force-forsaken place.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Kresh Lorda

Sivvi Trinivii Socha undulated her way back to the portion of Kresh Lorda owned by the Trinivii Kajidic and was glad most species didn't know how to recognize when a Hutt was stewing in shame and embarrassment. The massive space station that orbited Nar Kresh was a rare joint effort between the kajidics since Nar Kresh tended to profit all of them, but those profits all depended on how well their respective gladiators did in the arenas. Right now the Trinivii Kajidic was on such a losing streak that it was hard to get people interested in matches between their own gladiators, let alone sending those gladiators against a rival kaijidic's.

Sivvi had just come back from from speaking to the overseer of the Anjiliac Kajidic about setting up a possible match, but had been told in no uncertain terms that the only way they would consider it would be if she agreed to terms that were practically suicidal for her gladiators. There was a time when the Anjiliac would have begged for a match against Trinivii, but those days had gone up like a puff of hookah smoke, seemingly all in an instant.

Sivvi was convinced that things had started going downhill as soon as her cousin, Dorval, had left the Trinivii interests in her care again and left to pursue other ventures. He had set her up to fail, she was sure of it. He had been sent at first to help her increase Trinivii's profits here, and he had managed to do just that, but now that he was gone, they were tanking like never before. It was getting to the point that Sivvi was giving serious consideration to giving up some of her luxuries in order for Trinivii's interests here to still stay in the black.

The whole concept of doing that was anathema to her though. No, the fault was not with her. It was clearly with her subordinates down on Nar Kresh. The only decent gladiator they still had left was Verax. That needed to change.

Back in her private quarters, Sivvi opened communications with her majordomo on Nar Kresh, Kol Tal.

The Kel Dor was quick to respond, as well he should. “What can I do for you, Mistress?”

“You can stop losing matches, for one!” she barked at him angrily. “Trinivii is becoming a laughingstock.” She gestured to herself by placing a hand on her chest. “I'm becoming a laughingstock, Kol Tal. I don't like being laughed at.”

Although it was tough to see over the transmission and the breath mask that Kol Tal wore, Sivvi was certain she could spot her majordomo swallowing nervously. That brought her a little satisfaction, so she decided to up the ante. “I'm seriously considering scrapping everything we have there and starting fresh. Everything, Kol Tal.”

“Mistress,” Kol Tal started, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible, “Verax's injury in the last match against Asael was severe. It will take time for him to recover. We have no one else who can fight at Verax's level. These one-sided matches you've been agreeing to have killed off our other skilled gladiators. All we have to work with now are the new recruits you've been funneling to us, but most of them aren't fit to survive the arenas.”

Sivvi narrowed her eyes. “And why not? Rasar should be shaping them into fighters. That's his job.”

“The pool of talent with these new recruits is shallow at best, Mistress,” Kol Tal tried to explain as gently as possible. “We need more capable fighters to work with.”

The fact that she couldn't afford to acquire better fighters right now was not something Sivvi felt inclined to share with her majordomo. “You'll work with what you're given.” Then, in a flash of inspiration, she had an idea. “What about Skarrek? Why aren't we using him again? We won a lot of matches with him.”

“Skarrek is... well, he's been uncontrollable after what happened to Ket Maliss,” Kol Tal replied. “He's as likely to kill us as he is to attack the rival gladiators. Even then, he won't respect a call to spare someone. We've had to keep him locked up. I've been saying that we need to destroy him for awhile now.”

Sivvi barely registered his words, she was too absorbed in the the idea of sending out Skarrek. Trinivii needed a big win and that Barabel could give it to them. Yes, she was sure of it. This would be her answer. Her eyes focused back on Kol Tal. “Skarrek will represent us in the next match.”

“But, Mistress-”

“I don't care how you do it,” Sivvi interrupted him, “just get it done! Am I clear?”

Kol Tal bowed his head in resignation. “Yes, Mistress.”

Sivvi smiled as she cut the transmission. That was why she was in charge around here; she was the only one keeping Trinivii above water. Let Dorval scheme all he wanted, she would show them all that she knew what she was doing.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

As he walked towards the training pit inside the Trinivii compound, Kol Tal was still reeling from his conversation with Sivvi. Quite frankly, she was a greedy fool who seemed far more interested in partaking in every pleasure she could find rather than putting her mind towards running Trinivii's interests here properly. If they were doing well, it was because of her, if they were doing terrible, then surely it was a failure on somebody else's part and not hers. Kol knew that the only reason Mortrassa had assigned her here in the first place was to keep her away from more important kajidic matters.

Kol had enjoyed the brief time Dorval had come to manage the Trinivii's interests here. That was a Hutt who had seemed to actually value input from his subordinates. Under Dorval's management, Trinivii had come close to finally toppling the Desilijic Kajidic's place in the rankings and dethroning their champion, Tyrok...

And just when it had seemed like they would actually do it, Dorval had been called away to oversee other kajidic matters and Sivvi placed back in charge. She had proved as inept as ever, failing to continue the momentum Dorval had given them, and now the Trinivii interests here were nearly in ruins. This latest order to try and make use of a mad animal like Skarrek was the last straw as far as he was concerned. Kol was determined not to suffer under her reign any longer, and he had a plan to make that happen, one way or another...

As he reached the observation deck, he saw his gladiator trainer, Rasar Kirsho, valiantly trying to make something out of the sorry pack of slaves Sivvi had sent to replace their recent losses. Kol signaled for the Tunroth to join him on the observation deck.

He had new orders.


Skarrek sluggishly regarded the Vodran guards opening his cell. He reflexively tried to reach out towards the nearest one to slash its throat, but his movements were slow and easily avoided. He could barely think, let alone fight at his full capacity, as the Vodrans herded him out of his cell still in his manacles. He dimly recalled why he felt like he was moving through a thick swamp; the temperature in his cell had been lowered to induce a state of torpor in him. Although Barabels had natural insulation that allowed them to retain their body temperature better than other reptile species, that wouldn't help against prolonged exposure to the cold and Skarrek couldn't remember how long he had been imprisoned in there.

Stepping back out into the warmth of Nar Kresh did make him feel better as the Vodrans did their best to try and rush him to the center of the training pit before unlocking his manacles and making a hasty exit. With the sun of the planet beating down on him, Skarrek could feel the fog in his brain starting to lift and the urge to kill all those around him rising like a growing fire.

He gradually became more and more aware of his surroundings. He saw a sorry group of beings looking at him warily – would-be gladiators – and soon recognized that someone was speaking from higher up. He looked up to see Kol Tal giving a speech to the assembled gladiators. Rasar Kirsho was standing next to him. Although it was hard to read Tunroth expressions, Rasar seemed distinctly unhappy that Skarrek was out of his cell.

Skarrek barred his teeth as memories started coming back to him about Ket and what had happened to his blood brother. Between the receding fog in his brain from the torpor and the growing roar of the rage burning inside of him, Skarrek only made out a few words that Kol Tal was speaking: “...if you value your lives, you will take his. He's nothing more than an animal that needs to be put down. You have no choice in this. All of the exits are sealed and the guards will shoot anyone who tries to leave the training pit. Fight and prove your...”

And then the rest was lost to his blood rage. There was a time where Skarrek had learned to control it, something he had learned from Ket as a matter of fact, but now Skarrek let himself fall under its sway willingly. All he wanted to do now was kill whatever was unfortunate enough to fall within his sight. The primal simplicity of it was too intoxicating to let go of now. It made life simple. It gave him a purpose that was easy to understand.

Although still a bit sluggish, Skarrek willed his body to move forward and rushed towards the gladiators - the targets - the meat - standing in front of him. The first one barely had time to react before Skarrek tore into him with wild abandon. The warm spray of the mammal's blood helped to remove the last lingering traces of cold for the Barabel and instinctively Skarrek bit down hard to let that warmth flow into his body.

The dull edge of a training sword abruptly hit the thick scales on his shoulder and bounced off, bringing Skarrek's attention to the next fool that sought to challenge him; some pitiful prey about half his size. He barely registered its screams as Skarrek broke its spine and then crushed the head under his foot.

And then it was onto his next victim. Nothing would survive his wrath...


Rasar Kirsho was not an easy man to make squeamish. During his time as Trinivii's champion, Rasar had seen enough blood and gore to fill many lifetimes, but the sheer brutality of Skarrek's attacks did not sit well with him. He had known since the very first day of Skarrek's arrival that the massive Barabel was only barely holding back a more savage side of himself. Ket's fate had finally snapped the fragile hold Skarrek had on acting like a civilized being.

Rasar turned from the carnage to look at his majordomo. “Sir, I don't understand the point of this. None of those gladiators stand a chance against something like Skarrek. If this keeps up, the only gladiator we'll have left is Verax, and he's still recovering in the infirmary.”

Kol Tal nodded sadly. “Sometimes one needs to make sacrifices to effect needed change. I've served the Trinivii kajidic loyally for most of my life because I believe in how they do business. I want to see them thrive in all things. I've toiled thanklessly under Sivvi for years trying to pick up her slack here on Crucible, but she's placed us in a hole we can't easily get out of.”

Alarmingly, the Kel Dor suddenly climbed onto the ledge so that the only thing preventing him from falling into the training pit was forward movement. “Sir!” Rasar said as he started to reach out to him. “What are you doing?!”

A sharp look from Kol stopped Rasar from pulling him back. “I'm making the necessary sacrifice, Rasar. Sivvi won't be able to cover up her complete failure after today. Lord Mortrassa will take notice and do something about her. Trinivii will rise again, my friend.”

And with that, Kol Tal stepped off of the observation deck and fell into the training pit. Rasar rushed forward to see his fate. The Kel Dor had apparently broken a leg on the impact and yelled out in pain, attracting Skarrek's attention. The Barabel was now soaked in the blood of the other gladiators, but didn't seem to notice or care as he stalked towards the wounded majordomo.

For his part, Kol defiantly ripped off his breath mask and threw it to the ground as he tried to stand. “Come at me, you damn monster!” he yelled. “Finish this!”

Skarrek did not hesitate, and Kol Tal did not resist, as the Barabel used one mighty clawed hand to pierce Kol's chest and tear through it to the other side. Kol gave one last gasp before falling limp in death.

With a shake of his arm, Skarrek dislodged the dead Kel Dor and stalked back and forth as he looked for more prey, but everything in the training pit was dead by now. None of them had stood a chance. Feeling sick to his stomach for the first time in years, Rasar turned to the Vodran guard next to him. “Bring in the cryo projectors. Take Skarrek alive. His fate will be left up to the Hutts.”

After the Vodran nodded acknowledgment and left, Rasar looked back over the scene of carnage. He took some small consolation in knowing that Kol had been right. The death of the gladiators on their own would not be noteworthy enough to attract Mortrassa's attention, but the death of a majordomo at the hands of one was a different story entirely. Sivvi would not be able to cover this up.

Rasar sincerely hoped it would be enough to change their fate here on Crucible.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Dorval Trinivii Jian didn't think he'd be seeing Nar Kresh so soon after he left it. It had barely been a year since he had departed and returned control to his dear cousin. Other matters had taken his attention, as was so often the case for ambitious Hutts, but he had never dreamed that Sivvi would ruin all of his hard work in so short a time. He had practically gift wrapped the top spot for Trinivii before leaving.

While he had always had a soft spot for Sivvi, she had committed a cardinal sin and wasted credits with nothing to show for it. Not only that, she continued to waste them. Dorval adjusted the solid aurodium bracers on his wrists thoughtfully as he waited for the shuttle to dock with Kresh Lorda. The bracers were starting to become a little tight – a sure sign of his increased corpulence – but before he would get them adjusted to reflect his greater mass, Sivvi's mess would need to be cleaned up.

This was just another challenge he would need to conquer before Mortrassa granted him the title of the new Kajidii. If he could prove himself here on Nar Kresh once again, bring Trinivii back from the brink, then no one else in the kaijidic would be able to deny his rightful place as the new leader.

Once the ramp lowered, Dorval slithered out to find Sivvi waiting for him. She was bloated and warty as always but, for once, Dorval was not charmed by her beauty. “I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you again, cousin,” he said, “but clearly that would be a lie.”

“You're not welcome here, Dorval,” Sivvi said with a scowl. “Go back to your ship and leave. I can handle this myself.”

Dorval did not budge. “Don't compound your failures further, Sivvi. Mortrassa was furious once he learned of the disaster on the surface. I'm the only hope you have of being spared his wrath.”

The thought of being on the receiving end of Mortrassa's anger seemed to mollify Sivvi a bit. “And you're helping me, why? What's in this for you? Do you wish to humiliate me?”

Dorval smiled. “You do a fine job of that on your own, Sivvi, but the problem now is that you're humiliating the entire kajidic. I suggest you fix your mistake from last time and actually pay attention to how I run things this time. Mortrassa may just forgo sending you to the compound on the planet if he sees that you can learn.”

“You go too far, Dorval...” Sivvi warned with a growl.

Dorval simply laughed as he moved past her. “I haven't even started.”

Sivvi grunted in irritation as she was forced to catch up to her cousin. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I paid a small fortune for new slaves and prisoners to restock all the ones you lost,” Dorval said to her. “I even used my own accounts so as not to deplete the Trinivii coffers further from your mismanagement. Our reputation is so sullied that I decided to forgo sending them through the gauntlet of the wilderness. No one cares to bet on us anymore, but that will change. These are beings who will thrive in the arenas.”

“Uncommonly generous of you to spend so much,” Sivvi remarked.

Dorval grinned. “Oh, I'll be recouping that investment soon enough because I'm also going to fix the problem with Skarrek. He'll fight for us, obey commands, and bring us the glory and respect he was supposed to when I originally brought him here.”

“Impossible,” Sivvi said to him indignantly. “Kol Tal was right. I should have had that monster put to death. He's lost all sense of reason.”

“This is why you failed, Sivvi. You took no time to learn about who we had fighting for us. They were all just cheap resources to you. I've found that you can get more out of your underlings by learning about them.” He smiled once again. “It makes it so much easier to manipulate them if you know what makes them tick.”

“Skarrek is no different,” Dorval continued. “The incident with Ket drove him into a berserk rage, but to break this rage, all one needs to do is find an even deeper source of anger to snap him out of it. Then, leverage, properly applied, will have him fighting for us willingly.”

“You're bluffing. He's a lost cause.”

“Just watch, dear cousin, and learn,” Dorval assured her. “I've studied Skarrek extensively. I know him even better than he knows himself.”


Once again Skarrek felt the torpor slowly start to recede from his brain. He was back in the cold cell, but it was gradually warming, bringing him back around. The first thing he noticed was Rasar Kirsho standing outside of his cell with a datapad. The Tunroth waited until he was sure he had Skarrek's full attention before holding the datapad up to the cell and turning it on.

Skarrek moved forward and would have reached out to tear Rasar's arm off, but he remembered just in time about the forcefield in front of the bars and restrained himself. The blood rage was simmering right now, waiting for the cold to recede enough to take over, leaving Skarrek as close to thinking rationally as he cared for.

The image that popped up on the screen was that of Dorval. Skarrek snarled at the image, but the Hutt just smiled at him. “As fearsome as ever, Skarrek. I knew Nar Kresh would never break you, but I never expected you to go feral on me either. Truly I underestimated the bond you had with Ket.”

Skarrek barred his teeth and tried to form words for the first time in months. “K..kill... you...”

Dorval ignored him. “Skarrek, I want you to get over this worthless rage of yours. It's not doing anyone any good, least of all Ket. You've more than demonstrated your tribute to your unfortunate blood brother.”

Skarrek flexed his claws, still caked with blood from the massacre he had perpetrated a few days ago. No one dared to try and clean him. A low growl emanated from his throat.

“I know something to make it worth your while,” the Hutt promised. “How would you finally like to learn who was behind the slavers that killed your clan and took you?”

And just like that it felt like something had snapped inside Skarrek. The fires of his rage tempered themselves and the enormous Barabel finally felt the chill of the cold that was dulling his reflexes. He had been searching his entire life for that information without any luck. Now Dorval had it?

“Impossible,” he replied. “The one behind that has covered his tracks too well.”

Dorval laughed in a typically Hutt-like booming fashion. “You do me too little credit. I have resources you couldn't even begin to dream about. I know who was behind it, and I'll give you that information, but you need to do something for me first.”

Skarrek didn't like being at Dorval's mercy, but he had no choice now. He had to know who was behind the death of his clan. “Name it.”

“Bring Trinivii glory once more!” Dorval said to him. “Make us respected in the arena. If you do this for me, I will free you and give you the information you seek. Is it a deal?”

Skarrek clenched his fists, he didn't like how vague Dorval was being on this, but nodded an affirmative anyway. “It's a deal.”

Dorval smiled and looked offscreen for a moment. “You see, Sivvi? That was simple enough.” The Hutt then turned his attention back to the camera. “You heard him, Rasar. Release Skarrek. He'll be fighting for us again.”

Rasar hesitated briefly as his instinct for preservation warred with his loyalty to the kajidic, but he quickly got over it and obeyed as he signaled he guards. “Yes, my lord.”

Once his cell was deactivated and his manacles taken off, Skarrek stepped out under the wary eyes of the gladiator trainer and the guards. He no longer felt an overpowering urge to kill them all. The rage was truly quelled now that Skarrek had a new purpose. He would fight in the games and he would win. He pitied any poor fool who would dare to stand between him and the vengeance his clan was owed...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Cadden found himself among a grassy field, stretched as far as the eye could see. He felt strange, and when he looked down he saw blood on his hands. The green field slowly started to turn red, and Cadden felt weak, feeble. What was happening to him? There was no wound, yet it was his blood. "I am Mandalore," he declared to the grass, as though he expected that title to change anything.

Once, the grass whispered back, until you left your Mandalorians in the dark.

"My father died at the hands of Sivter. I had to avenge him... I had to.…" Cadden could not recall much of what transpired after Onderon. He became frustrated at the sudden realization he had almost no memory between then and the Star Rider. "I will never see him again," he said, dismayed. To him, his father had died twice. Cadden couldn't even make contact with him via the Force. He felt lousy, helpless. Ashamed. Ashamed by what he'd become, what he'd done. "I was the leader of the Mandalorians."

Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your people.

Cadden collapsed to his knees. His body screamed in pain at his mysterious wound, and he grabbed a handful of the blood-soaked grass. His hands trembled as he watched the blades fall to the ground. This isn't real, he thought. None of it is real.

"Walk," Cadden commanded himself. "Follow the wind, and it will take you home. That's where you will find your family." But it took all his strength just to get back to his feet, and when he did all he could do was stand there, fevered and bleeding. He raised his eyes up to the empty blue sky, squinting at the sun. The sky started to turn red, as well, as though his blood was reaching upward, engulfing him in this place. My days are done, he realized bitterly. Despite this, he made himself take a step, and then another, and then he was walking, following the direction of the wind. Following where the sky was still blue and the grass still green.

The day grew warmer, and the sun beat down upon his head. How long had he been walking? The blue sky and green grass seemed no closer to him, now, than it had been when he started. I must keep walking. The wind will carry me away from all of this, and it will take me home.

Except it wouldn't, not truly.

Where would he call home? He was born on Corellia, a Corellian by identification, but that planet was no more his home than Coruscant, or Mon Calamari. He, at one point, allied himself with the Jedi, but if he'd returned there, who knows what would happen to him? He could never return to them, never be considered one of them. Not after all that he'd done.

Never, said the grass, in the thick accent of Kyr Aden. You were warned, Mand'alor. Let everything else be, I said. Your war was for the Mando'ade, I told you.

The voice was no more than a whisper, yet somehow Cadden felt that he was walking just behind him. "I am dreaming," he reminded himself, "nothing more." He paused in a sullen realization. "I am alone and lost."

Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Kyr, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you turned your back on everyone who you ever loved, and everyone whom trusted you. And now you are paying for your mistakes, your misdeeds.

"The Jedi betrayed me. They denied me my vengeance for my father's murder by Sivter's hand, all because of their blind faith to a broken code."

Did they? Or did you betray them? Cadden frowned at the realization that he could not answer that. Their code may be broken, but at least they have one to live by. They denied you vengeance because it is not their way. They were protecting you.

"They wanted to restrain me," Cadden said.

Perhaps, the grass whispered, reserved. But none of that matters anymore. Put aside your past. Focus on the future. You ventured into the darkness, and there you lingered.

I can sense the taint of the dark side within you,
Teslar Maladan's words echoed in reminder, but, unlike other Jedi, that taint is much more natural with you, and I feel it is supposed to be there, to keep you in check, should your destiny be fulfilled.

"To bring swift vengeance upon my father's killer," Cadden argued. "It was the only way."

And when you successfully avenged your father's death, you still lingered.

"To rule," he admitted.

You are a ruler, Kyr said. On Mandalore.

"It is such a long way," Cadden said. "I am tired, Kyr. Broken, defeated. I am weary of war. I want to rest, to plant seeds and see them grow, to see peace instead of violence. I am only one man."

No. You are our Mand'alor. You are the Mand'alor. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Kyr was falling father behind. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.

"My... words?" Cadden asked. He thought on that a moment. Then it came to him. The beskad. "A warrior is more than his armor," Cadden told the swaying grass.

A stone turned under his foot. He stumbled to one knee and looked down at the cause of his imbalance as the stone started to rise from the ground. The wind gushed, though there was no wind. The grass swayed in response, though there was no grass. None of this was real.

He felt he was not alone, and it was an unsettling presence. He fumbled to retrieve the stone from its resting place. It was a poor weapon but better than an empty hand. From the corner of his eye Cadden saw the grass move again, off to his right. The grass swayed and bowed low, as if before a ruler, but no ruler appeared to him. The world in the distance was green and empty. The world was green and silent. He frowned. The world was red, dying. I should get up,he told himself. I have to stop. I have to follow the wind.

The green sea opened. An abyss appeared as it started to split the plains in two. It reached the red grass within seconds. The blood began to drain into nothingness, and soon the abyss reached him. Cadden started to fall, but he was caught. He looked toward the source of his rescue.

Cadden awoke in his cell. He was fully alert, and it was clear he would not be leaving his cell anytime soon. He leaned back against the wall and stared out at the night sky through the small opening in his cell door. "To go forward I must go back," he muttered to himself.

Nar Shaddaa

Kroda had delivered the heaping shell of Dahdtoudi's armor to her just a couple days ago. At first, she was infuriated by the Hutt's demands of her, and turned that fury toward Dahdtoudi, or whatever that was that was brought to her. She didn't want anything to do with it, and she was promptly taken to the Hutt personally to answer for her defiance. It was there she learned that Kroda had an ace up his sleeve, so-to-speak. He had Cadden, and he was alive. For the time being, anyway. The Hutt had promised her that would quickly change should she continue to defy him.

She had been returned to her holding space with the husk of Dahdtoudi, whereupon the following two days she had been attempting to find a way into his armor. Despite the orders being simple enough, the task was far from such, and was made even more difficult by the fact that her thinking was clouded since learning that Cadden was still alive. She looked up as the door slid open to reveal Eelar Madax, Kroda's majordomo, escorted by an armed Weequay. The Duros majordomo looked at her with a level of contempt. "Lord Kroda wants to know what progress you've made on Dahdtoudi's armor," he said, before examining the restrained creature himself and narrowing his eyes, "if any."

"Well, you can tell Kroda it's damn near impossible," Lillian said. "The armor appears to be bound to him, or him to it. In either case, I cannot simply remove it, else he'll die."

"His Excellency doesn't care if Dahdtoudi dies," Eelar said. "All he cares about is the armor."

Lillian shook her head. "He ought to care," she said. "If I simply remove the armor from him, programming will kick in that does a full wipe on the processor and drives built in to the suit, fry the electronics, and deactivate whatever is leftover. You'd be left with nothing more than a glorified trophy, completely useless as anything more than a conversation piece."

The Duros regarded her a moment before speaking. "And what do you require to get around this?"

She shrugged. "Time. Freedom. Whatever materials I may require. And a whole lot of luck."

"You dare demand freedom in your position?" Eelar practically spat those words at her.

"You want this done right, then I need these things," Lillian said. "I need to be free of intrusions, free to do my work without feeling like someone is looking over my shoulder all the time, and free to receive any requests I might have to get this done."

"Lord Kroda will not agree to that."

"Then, I'm afraid, you're not going to get anywhere further with him." Lillian nodded to Dahdtoudi's armor. "You can replace me if you wish, but I guarantee nobody else will be able to give you results. It will take time, but I think I can crack this."

The Duros stared at Dahdtoudi for a moment. "I will present your case to His Excellency," he said, "but I make no promises."

"Then neither can I," Lillian said. The two left the room and she sat down, staring at Dahdtoudi's helmet. She would have preferred to just finish him off while she still had the chance, but then she'd be without a bargaining chip for her life and, possibly, even Cadden's. Nevermind the fact she had no real way to get to the man underneath the armor. "I hate you for what you did to me," she said. It wasn't the first time, and it became something of a routine for her to say it to Dahdtoudi's incapacitated form. She had yet figured out how to even remove the helmet without damaging the suit. Time was unkind to Dahdtoudi's armor, and it made dissection difficult under these circumstances. "You betrayed me, betrayed us. I would kill you, now, if I could."

But she couldn't, even if she had nothing to lose from doing so. Not until she could expose the man under the armor, at least. She thought back on the last time she saw Dahdtoudi, how the man had promised her a swift end to their problems if she'd just follow his lead. Hindsight being what it was, she should have known better, but his argument was strong, and he was careful not to contradict what was previously decided with Cadden and her.

He'd led her into a trap, directly in the hands of Kroda the Hutt and his goons, in exchange for his own life, essentially. She was pawned off as a means to settle the differences between the hunters and Kroda. She was taken aboard one of Kroda's ships, separate from the Hutt himself. For two weeks, they'd taken her from planet to planet, so as to make sure their trail would go cold. Harder for Cadden to find them that way. They settled for a couple days on Comra to resupply and await a more secure, more discreet, ship to take Lillian back to Nar Shaddaa to meet back up with the Hutt and face her fate. That was when everything was turned around and upside-down. An alien race, later identified as the Xen'Chi, entered the system and ravaged the world, leaving none alive. None, save for her and a handful of others. In the heat of the battle that ensued, she stole the ship she was taken to Comra on and fled the planet, barely getting out alive.

That was when she knew she had to maintain a low profile, and went from planet to planet, always on the move, using the Xen'Chi's attacks to keep Kroda off her trail. She lived as a fugitive for years, until only recently, when the Hutt managed to catch up to her. She had acquired a Firespray-31-class patrol and attack craft, in hopes she could draw Cadden out after she heard he'd joined the Mandalorians and, later, disappeared. It turned out to be, of all ships, his original Pursuer, rebuilt from scratch to factory condition. She'd hoped to draw out Cadden, but instead she drew out Kroda, and after a bit of a chase he finally caught her, about three months ago. Whatever became of the Pursuer, Lillian didn't know, but she did know the Hutt had no desire to obtain the ship.

Now, here she was, with the opportunity of a lifetime. Revenge against the man that caused all her angst, and years of living on the run. Alone. It was at that moment she made her choice. As soon as I pry open your armor, she thought, your life will come to and end.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

It started quietly enough: just a few carefully placed plants spread among the gamblers that Dorval secretly paid to go around Kresh Lorda and build hype.

Did you hear about Skarrek?

Skarrek is back!

Trinivii has agreed to fight Anjiliac's best fighters under incredibly unfair conditions and the only gladiator they're going to send is Skarrek.

This match could make or break Trinivii's interests on Nar Kresh for good!

This is not a match to miss!

They did their job well. Perhaps even a little too well. There were more bets placed on Skarrek winning than Dorval would have anticipated, and he wasn't looking forward to paying those out, because the odds were heavily against the Barabel. However, enough were taking the safe bet against him that Trinivii would at least break even. This match wasn't about making a profit so much as it was about showing everyone that the Trinivii gladiators were a force to be reckoned with again.

On the day of the match, Dorval and Sivvi took their positions in the luxury box reserved for their kaijidic and any honored guests that managed to pay their way towards such honor. It overlooked the holographic stadium Kresh Lorda used for big events between kaijidics. Currently the floor of the stadium was empty, but once people were done filing in, the holographic projectors would activate and show - in the best holographic projection that credits could buy – realistic lifesize versions of the gladiators fighting down on the surface. Likewise, the stadium on the surface would fill with the holographic representations of the audience up on Kresh Lorda.

In this way the experience could be as authentic as possible without any danger to the audience or providing an opportunity for the gladiators to escape when the audience was shuttled back. It was an expensive system to maintain, but the costs were divided equally among all participating kajiidics at Nar Kresh. It was a rare example of the various kaijidics working together for a common cause. Even with all of the overhead, Nar Kresh was extremely profitable, and the Hutts were not about to do anything to jeopardize that.

Currently the Trinivii luxury box was empty save for Dorval, Sivvi, and their attendants. Sivvi seemed particularly pleased at the current situation. “You've finally overreached, cousin,” she said to him as she settled into a mud bath to get comfortable for the oncoming match. “You lambasted me about my choices, but even I was not desperate enough to accept Anjiliac's offer. You and Skarrek are about to go down in flames.”

Dorval eschewed the mud baths and kept his attention focused on the stadium grounds. “That is a possibility, but one that does not concern me. You underestimate Skarrek. He's been killing people since the day he was taken from his homeworld. He worked hand-in-hand with some of the deadliest assassins in the galaxy, he was one of the highest paid killers in Black Sun under Xizor, he liberated his world from the New Republic... He even fought GAIT and survived – if those rumors are to be believed.” He smiled confidently. “Skarrek lives, eats, and breathes combat. Nothing Anjiliac has can compete with that.”

Sivvi made a distasteful noise. “They say you should never believe your own hype.”

“Then we should be fine, dear cousin,” Dorval said with a laugh. “I've never known Skarrek to brag about any of it. It's all just another day to him.”

Sivvi made another grunt of disapproval, but to Dorval's ears it also sounded a bit worried.

Dorval reached into a nearby aquarium and grabbed a gorg. The small amphibian desperately tried to escape his grasp, but he held on tight before stuffing it in his mouth and swallowing in contentment. “As well you should be worried, Sivvi,” he thought to himself. “Get in the way of my ambition and I'll swallow you whole as well.”


Skarrek stood in the middle of the dusty arena alone. The terms of the match had forbade him from bringing a weapon or wearing more than the barest scraps of clothing – surely only a concession to some of the more prudish gamblers up on Kresh Lorda. He was circled by five gladiators from Anjiliac who all wore some means of armor and carried their weapon of choice. Although Skarrek towered over all but one of them, they all seemed pretty confident in their chances of winning.

He flexed his claws impatiently as he waited for the match to begin. It was hardly the worst odds he'd ever fought against, although not being allowed to kill them would make it a little more difficult.

Finally, the holographic crowd manifested itself and the fat face of the Anjiliac Hutt made itself known by hovering over the arena. “Today we have a truly spectacular match for you all!” the Hutt boasted. “The mighty Skarrek has returned to the arena and agreed to fight Anjiliac's best to prove his superiority once more!”

Skarrek kept his expression neutral at the fabrication of the facts. Whatever the Hutts wanted to do to inflate their own egos and sell tickets mattered little to him. The only thing he cared about right now was winning this match.

The Hutt grinned an ugly smile. “Such arrogance can't go unpunished however! Skarrek will fight without armor or weapons and is not allowed to kill any of his opponents. Doing any of those three things will disqualify him on the spot and lead to his immediate execution! The noble gladiators defending the Anjiliac kajidic's honor will not be bound by such restrictions. Whether Skarrek lives or dies will be in their hands!”

The crowd roared in approval as the Anjiliac gladiators flexed for them. Skarrek remained as he was.

The Hutt laughed obligingly at the enthusiastic response. “We've kept you waiting long enough! Begin the match!”

As soon as the the Hutt's visage disappeared from over the arena and the chime sounded to signal the start of the match, Skarrek rushed forward to his first victim: a barechested and scarred human wielding a battered helmet and a force pike. The human was still performing for the crowd, obviously expecting the match to begin slowly. He barely had time to react to the shouted warnings of his comrades before Skarrek was upon him.

The human jabbed forward with his force pike, but Skarrek caught it in one hand and jammed his foot forward, snapping it in half. He then quickly dropped the piece he had been holding so as not to be accused of using a weapon as the stunned Human tried to back up and get some distance. He even threw the useless lower half of the force pike at Skarrek, but it was a pointless gesture as the rod just bounced off of his thick scales and spun away. Skarrek's reach was much greater than the Human's and he managed to grab hold of the man's shoulder to set him up for a punch to the face that would have knocked him cold. However, as Skarrek raised his fist for the blow, it suddenly got stuck as he felt tiny pricks of pain flare across his forearm.

He glanced backwards to see a barbed net wrapped around his arm and hooked into his flesh. At the other end was a Klatooinian digging his heels into the ground to try and prevent Skarrek from landing the blow. With an annoyed snarl, Skarrek jerked his arm forward with more strength and continued his punch, sending the Klatooinian stumbling towards him with a yelp. Skarrek's punch connected with the Human and dented the helmet with the force of it, spinning the gladiator around and dropping him to the ground where he remained still.

Before the Klatooinian could get his bearings, Skarrek swung his club-like tail into the other man's knees, breaking bone and causing him to fall to the ground with a cry of pain. The Klatooinian tried to crawl away, but Skarrek's tail lashed out again and thumped the Klatooinian squarely on the top of the head, knocking his second opponent flat to the ground and into unconsciousness.

Skarrek managed to rip the net off of his arm before the next two gladiators came at him at once. They were both Iotrans, twins by the look of them, and each of the stocky humanoids carried a vibrosword deftly in one hand. They tried to split up their attack, with one Iotran going to Skarrek's left and the other to the right. The plan seemed obvious. They were trying to divide his attention so that one would create an opening for the other to stab him.

It was obvious pack hunter methodology for taking down bigger and more powerful game. Skarrek couldn't decide if he was insulted or pleased that they thought this strategy was going to work on him. He had options. The Iotrans were either planning on him trying to fight both of them at once or perhaps rushing towards one of them. While the idea of charging towards one of the Iotrans was appealing, the vibroswords they carried were threatening enough to give him second thoughts since he had no weapon to brunt the attacks.

Instead Skarrek quickly reached down and grabbed two large handfuls of dirt from the stadium ground before throwing them back down as forcefully as he could. The dirt exploded into two dust clouds that quickly merged into one giant cloud that blanketed the area Skarrek had been standing in. The Iotrans paused in their attack, coughing and sputtering against the unexpected hazard.

The dust cloud made sight nearly impossible in the visible light spectrum – or at least the visible spectrum for many species. Skarrek was able to see his opponents' body heat with his natural infrared vision. As the Iotrans struggled to deal with the dust cloud, Skarrek made his move. He zeroed in on one of the two and easily dodged the flailing vibrosword before a series of blows laid the struggling gladiator out on the ground.

The cloud was beginning to settle by the time Skarrek had finished dealing with one of the Iotrans. The other was still trying to blink and wipe the dust out of its eyes, but the gladiator still had enough presence of mind to be on his guard as Skarrek approached. It didn't help. Skarrek rushed forward and sidestepped the vibrosword before getting behind the Iotran and delivering a solid chop to the back of the his opponent's neck.

With that, a fourth gladiator dropped to the ground. Leaving only one left.

Skarrek turned to face his last opponent: a Yuzzem who stood even taller than Skarrek's already impressive 8 foot height. The large and furry creature had chosen to remain where he was and observe the others fighting with Skarrek. In one hand he carried a giant mace that looked like it was made from solid durasteel. His muscled body was protected by an armored breastplate. It was crudely scratched a number of times to denote victories.

As Skarrek approached him, the Yuzzem grinned a toothy smile with his long snout. “Very impressive, Skarrek. Your reputation does you justice. The name is Gor. You'll find I'm not as easy to defeat as the other Anjiliac gladiators.”

Skarrek flexed his claws as he visually sized up the Yuzzem. He could tell right away that Gor was not simply boasting about his prowess. The look in his eyes, his stance, the way he carried himself: this mammal was a predator through and through. Underestimating him would be dangerous. “That remains to be seen, Gor,” Skarrek growled. “Are you supposed to be their champion?”

Gor nodded before unexpectedly throwing his mace away. The heavy weapon landed a short distance away with a loud thud. The Yuzzem then removed his breastplate and tossed it aside as well. “You are no fraud, so honor demands that I fight you on even ground. I do this as a sign of respect for the skills you have shown today.”

Skarrek nodded at the gesture as he took a combat stance. “I'm familiar with Yuzzem honor, Gor. Two of your kind helped me free my world from the New Republic. I considered them a credit to your race. I'm interested to see if they were the exception or the rule.”

Gor took his own combat stance. “I'll be happy to show you.”

Skarrek grinned as he felt the first stirrings of genuine excitement well up within him. Gor looked like he was going to be an actual challenge and the idea of fighting him brought more to this battle than just the need to win and get that much closer to the information he sought. Skarrek had almost forgotten what that was like. He had been lost in the haze of mindless killing for so long.

The crowd roared their approval as Skarrek and Gor charged at each other. The real match was about to begin...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Skarrek and Gor seemed to have the same idea as they charged each other as they both clasped hands and tried to push against each other once they met. Gor had the slight size advantage, but it remained to be seen if he was physically stronger. For a tense few minutes both combatants dug their feet into the dirt and tried to get the other to give ground. Muscles strained and teeth were gritted as the two titans put everything they had into budging the unmovable opponent in front of them.

However, slowly, ever so slowly, Skarrek could feel his feet starting to slip back as Gor roared defiantly and started to gain ground. The Yuzzem grinned. “Once again I am impressed, Skarrek. I knew you were strong, but I did not expect you to give me this much trouble.”

In the back of his mind, Skarrek could feel the urging of the bloodlust tempt him into unleashing it again. As he felt his ground continue to inch backwards, he had to admit to himself that the idea was promising. Under the bloodlust, Skarrek knew that he could overpower Gor in this contest. However, a small worry also surfaced. What if he had lost the ability to control it again? If he gave in to the bloodlust now and became a mindless animal, he would almost certainly kill Gor and everyone else on the arena floor.

Skarrek was surprised to discover that he was actually wary about using it again. Ordinarily he had no qualms about killing people, but he found that he didn't want to risk losing himself again the way he had after the loss of Ket. He didn't much care about the Anjiliac Hutt's threat to destroy him if he killed the other gladiators, the Hutt was certainly welcome to try, but that might interfere with getting the information Dorval had promised him – and that – that – was something Skarrek would not jeopardize.

Finally, Skarrek had to admit to himself that Gor had him beat in this one test. With a snarl, he broke the grip and jumped backwards to avoid any potential retaliatory strikes. His body burned from the exertion, but it was a burn Skarrek knew would not hamper him too much. The Empire had done everything in their power to make him a living weapon and that included a relatively quick recovery. His body was already at work breaking down the build up of lactic acid in his muscles. His opponent would not be as fortunate.

Gor was rubbing his wrists and breathing hard, but the Yuzzem was smiling just the same. “Rarely do I get the chance to test my strength like that.”

Skarrek took a moment to grin himself. “I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it just cost you this match. You've made yourself tired and slow.” He flicked his tail and thumped it against the ground as he took a combat stance. “I have energy to spare.”

Gor also took a combat stance. “We shall see.”

Once again both combatants charged at each other, but this time there would be no amicable test of strength. This time it was for blood.

Gor swung a massive fist at Skarrek, but the Barabel ducked out of the way and delivered a punch of his own towards Gor's gut. The Yuzzem was able to deflect it with his other hand before trying to sweep Skarrek's feet out from under him. Skarrek jumped back to avoid it before going in for another blow.

And so it continued for several minutes. Attack and counterattack. The two appeared evenly matched, but soon enough Skarrek's prediction came true. Gor was slowing down, but his opponent was not. The Yuzzem's blows were becoming clumsy and easier to dodge as he struggled to keep up with the ever persistent Barabel.

After one particularly bad swing that Skarrek was able to bat aside, Gor's defenses were left wide open. Skarrek followed it up with a series of punches, including one to the gut that he had been denied earlier. Gor clutched his stomach and fell to his knees as the wind was knocked out of him. He looked up at Skarrek and chuckled as the Barabel bunched his fists to deliver a final blow.

“Amazing,” Gor managed to pant out. “I never had a chance, did I?”

Skarrek paused briefly and decided to acknowledge his opponent. “You fought well, Gor. The Yuzzem people continue to impress me. However, the difference between you and me is fighting is something you do to preserve your life. For me, it is life.”

Skarrek then delivered a fierce punch to Gor's face, knocking him to the ground and out cold.

As Gor fell, the crowd cheered loudly at the outcome of the match. Skarrek remained where he was, arms crossed, uninterested in playing to the crowd.

The crowd's adulation didn't last too long before the giant hologram of the Anjiliac Hutt appeared over the arena again. “Very impressive, Skarrek! You defeated all five of my gladiators, but I'm afraid not even you could do so without breaking the rules!”

Skarrek looked up at the Hutt in surprise and anger as several Nikto rushed in with weapons drawn and pointed at Skarrek. “What nonsense is this!?” he demanded. “I followed your rules! None of your precious gladiators are dead!”

The Hutt let a nasty smile play across his face. “Ah, but you did break the rules. You used a weapon!” The Hutt's hologram briefly cut to footage of Skarrek throwing dirt to the ground to blind the Iotrans. “The dirt is not part of your body, and you used it for combat, therefore it can be considered a weapon. By the terms of the match, I now get to destroy you!”

Skarrek snarled as he looked around for options. He wasn't about to stand around and get shot. The Hutts would have to work for their pound of flesh...

However, before anything could happen, Dorval's hologram also appeared above the arena. “Always one for technicalities, Grusmol... I shouldn't be surprised that you would resort to this. Very well then. If you insist on destroying my gladiator on the flimsiest of pretexts, just be aware of what it means for your reputation.”

Grusmol eyed Dorval suspiciously. “What nonsense are you going on about, Dorval?”

Dorval smiled back. “If we're calling arena dirt a weapon, then it follows that your glorious fighters were felled by common dirt. In other words, they are literally weaker than dirt. If you'll excuse me, I'll go start spreading the word.”

Grusmol looked as though he had just started choking on a bit of food as his eyes went wide in alarm. He sputtered a bit before forming a coherent sentence. “Now hold on! Hold on just one minute! Upon further consideration of the evidence I feel I may have been a bit hasty in rendering my judgment. Since the dirt was not directly used to attack the gladiators, I deem that it was a... tool.” The Hutt tried to look as though the brief argument was behind him, but it was clearly tough for Grusmol to make his next statement: “Therefore, Skarrek won the match without violating the rules. He lives to fight another day.”

The crowd cheered once more. A few even started to chant Skarrek's name before the holoprojectors shut off and left him in an empty arena. Dorval's Vodran guards came out to escort him back to the Trinivii compound as the Nikto started to drag the other unconscious combatants off of the field.

Skarrek glanced back only once to see Gor had managed to recover and sit up. He was holding his head, but otherwise seemed fine. Skarrek did not linger on it and turned forward again, but he allowed himself a small smile. As much as he didn't want to admit it to himself, he had enjoyed the match. At the very least, he was surprisingly glad he had been restricted from killing. The idea of fighting Gor again was... promising...


“And that, dear cousin, is how you put our kajidic back in the public eye again,” Dorval said to Sivvi with no small amount of gloating in his voice. “I knew Skarrek would not disappoint. This match is going to see replay for days all across the station. We're going to get all kinds of offers for matches now.”

Sivvi did not seem happy. “You took quite a gamble baiting Grusmol like that. He could have just as easily decided to stick to his decision and kill your vaunted Skarrek.”

Dorval chuckled confidently to himself as he undulated out of the room. “Did I, Sivvi? Did I really?”

The door then closed behind him, leaving Sivvi nothing to do but glare at the spot where he had departed.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

After Skarrek had been returned to the Trinivii compound he saw Rasar come up to greet him. Two Vodrans were behind the gladiator trainer, brandishing cryo projectors and looking for an excuse to use them. Their reaction was no surprise considering everything Skarrek had done since the loss of Ket. Rasar didn't seem pleased at all, but that was nothing new in general.

“You fought well out there, Skarrek,” Rasar said to him grudgingly, “but you're no gladiator.”

“I won. That's what matters.”

“You were lucky,” Rasar corrected him. “You still refuse to learn the most basic lesson of fighting in the arena: the crowd is your lifeline. They liked you, but if Dorval hadn't intervened on your behalf, they would have gladly watched you die. You didn't win them over. All you did was briefly entertain them.”

Skarrek crossed his arms, unimpressed. “Is that all?”

Rasar looked like he was about ready to try beating some sense into Skarrek with his kilter; the Tunroth doublebladed club he carried everywhere; but instead he restrained himself. “As a matter of fact: no. Our new majordomo arrived while you were fighting. He wants to see you in his office now. Submit your wrists to be cuffed.”

The idea of submitting himself to anything was still a thought that rebelled inside of Skarrek's mind, but Dorval's promise of revealing who wiped out his clan also remained ever-present. He could swallow his pride if it meant obtaining that prize. With a low growl of token protest, he presented his hands while a Vodran cuffed them.

Rasar eyed him dubiously, obviously expecting more of a fight. “The instant I think you're about to start something, I will end your life, Skarrek. I won't have a repeat of what you did to Kol Tal.”

Skarrek grinned. “It's hazy, but I'm pretty sure he offered himself up to die.”

Faster than Skarrek would have thought him capable, Rasar grabbed his kilter and used the spiky mace-like end of it to bash Skarrek in the face. The Barabel stumbled from the blow before righting himself back up. Skarrek felt blood trickle down a gash in his face and his anger start to rise, but he was able to restrain himself from reaching out to kill Rasar. He had to endure this, for now.

Again, Rasar seemed surprised by Skarrek's restraint. He eyed him for a moment before pointing his large fin-like central finger at Skarrek menacingly. “Not another word until we get to the majordomo's office. Understand? That was just a love tap compared to what I could do to you.”

Skarrek nodded, but remained silent as ordered. He had no doubt that Rasar could hit a lot harder than he had, and as interesting as it might be to find out just how good Rasar was, now was not the time for it. He would remember this moment though.

Rasar grunted at the response, apparently satisfied. “Follow me.”


Back in her quarters aboard Kresh Lorda, Sivvi was just coming down from a tantrum. She had trashed anything she could get her hands on in her rage. Her cousin was quickly becoming insufferable. Even worse, it looked like Dorval might actually achieve his grand claims of putting the Trinivii kajidic into the top spot with someone like Skarrek fighting for them.

And if he did that, she was finished. Mortrassa would have no other reason but to think of her as incompetent and assign her to some menial position elsewhere. She would lose all face within the kajidic.

She wouldn't allow that to happen! Something had to be done about Skarrek and quickly.

Regret coursed through Sivvi at the thought that she hadn't had the Barabel killed when she'd had the perfect excuse to do so. Ordering his death now, after such an impressive victory in the arena, would only put her under more scrutiny – if Dorval didn't outright stop her. No, there were only two possibilities open to her now. Either Skarrek had to die in the arena - which didn't seem likely – or she had to find a way to control him like Dorval had and make him lose favor.

The problem was that she barely knew anything about Skarrek. As far as she had been concerned, he was just another faceless gladiator there to amuse Kresh Lorda's patrons and make her money.

But there had to be someone out there who knew Skarrek even better than Dorval. Someone who had a grudge or a vendetta against the Barabel who would like nothing more than to see him fall. All she had to do was find that person.

Feeling marginally better about her situation, Sivvi undulated to the com station in her room. While she wasn't as connected as Dorval, she still had plenty of resources to call upon if she needed to. She would get the word out, quietly, about what she needed. With some luck, her solution to the problem of Skarrek would come forward soon.

And after Skarrek was out of the way, she could concentrate on taking down Dorval...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

The coming of morning was met promptly by the song of Gorgg's whip being cracked and gladiators of Direj Kajidic sparring in the small arena owned by Kroda. Cadden was first pitted against Asael, but after a couple hours of humiliation by the Devaronian's clearly superior prowess he had been transitioned to a stationary target to practice his fighting form. To say he had been humbled against the Direj champion would have been a grossly exaggerated understatement, as while Cadden's fighting form was well-honed, he stood no real chance against a man who had come to know nothing else, and lived for combat in a way that meant the difference of life and death. Despite all Cadden knew, and how proficient he was in unarmed combat, he was no gladiator, and in the arena his skill with fighting forms such as Teräs Käsi and Hijkata meant little. While he was confident he could hold his own, if not defeat, the majority of gladiators in hand-to-hand combat, such events were rare, at best, as they often did not bring in as many credits as armed combat would. With a melee weapon, such as the sword he'd been practicing with, Cadden found he had sloppy form when pitted against the seasoned warriors of Direj Kajidic and though he could hold his own, to a degree, his capabilities in the past were likely augmented by his connection to the Force. He could no longer rely on that advantage.

The morning turned to afternoon and Cadden was back to sparring against Asael. The Devaronian was not kind. While Cadden did manage to maintain a decent pace for a little longer at a time, he was still far inferior to the champion's skills. More often than not, Cadden found himself on the ground with a new bruise or cut that would have to be nursed to health that night. When the day was over and he was finally allowed his rest, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. He was met with a similar scenario the following day, though Cadden was able to retain the lessons learned from the previous day and, while Asael remained superior to him in combat, he did show improvement. Asael remained unimpressed, even contemptuous toward him, though Gorgg was starting to show some favor in Cadden's progression. Though Cadden suspected it was only because he was the better of their new batch of recruits, and if the Gamorrean could get through Cadden's barriers and break him, he'd be a valuable addition to the roster.

That afternoon Cadden was taken away to speak with Toruk the Hutt. He was led into the audience chamber where the Hutt was sitting upon his dais, eating some kind of creature from the bowl next to him. "Ah, Mandalore," he said in a boisterous voice, licking his lips. "Gorgg tells me you show promise, though your skills as a gladiator are very subpar."

"I didn't exactly come here on my own volition," Cadden said dryly.

"None of your fellow gladiators did," the Hutt said darkly, narrowing his eyes in disgust over Cadden's lack of respect. "But because you technically belong to my brother, and he has something special planned for you, I will allow you some leniency in your attitude. I highly recommend you change your tone, however." He waved his arm in a gesture to a slave, and the woman brought him a datapad. "You are to enter your first match in the games tomorrow, alongside two others from this school. You may not be well versed in the art of gladiatorial combat, but my brother doesn't seem to think that will affect your chances against your enemies. Prove him right, and live to fight again."

Cadden couldn't help but narrow his eyes. This couldn't have been the real reason why Toruk had summoned him. It seemed trivial in nature. His suspicion was quickly proven true when the awaited dismissal never came.

"I must say," he continued, "You do seem very familiar, now that I've had a chance to see you up close." So that was the purpose of this visit. Evidently Kroda was unwilling to share Cadden's true identity anymore than necessary, even so far as to keep it from his own kin. And letting his own brother in on the secret was likely considered an unwise move. Cadden thought on whether he should turn this to his advantage. It could cause a great diversion if he used it properly. Alternatively, however, it could mean his own end.

"You know who I am," Cadden said. The Hutt looked at him impatiently. "I'm the Mandalore." Toruk narrowed his eyes in displeasure.

"You had best watch yourself... Mandalore... this is a place where you have no friends to fight at your side. With a single command, your life is forfeit."

"But not by yours," Cadden retorted, smugly. Toruk flared, but calmed himself enough to avoid acting out in anger.

"Perhaps some time in the arena will make you learn your place," he said. "Take him away! I want him in the next game. He gets no further training."

Cadden was shoved out of Toruk's audience chamber and back to his cell, where he was confined for the rest of the day, only allowed out to eat. When the next morning came, two armed guards escorted him out of his cell and to a transport, where he met with the other two that were to accompany him. One was the surviving human from their trek to the compound, and the other a Weequay that he recognized from their initiation. The trip to the main arena on the world did not take long, and soon the three were detained in a large waiting area inside the arena's structure. There they waited as the games commenced soon enough outside. While Cadden was not privy to see the match, he did manage to hear some of it, though what he heard he could not believe.

Did they just mention Skarrek? He hadn't seen the Barabel for years, and the last time the two had met was not exactly under friendly terms. Cadden tried to listen intently, but what little he'd managed to gather from the commentary before and after the fight did little to confirm whether or not he heard correctly. The door opened shortly after the match was done, and a guard approached them. "You," he said, referring directly to Cadden, "with me." Cadden slowly arose and followed him to an adjacent room, all the while wondering why he was to proceed alone, despite Toruk's declaration just the previous day. "Choose your gear," the guard instructed. Cadden opted to remain minimalistic for now, and chose a basic harness, a metallic gauntlet and pauldron, and a single helmet, all of which to hide his most obvious identifying features. As he placed the helmet upon his head, he couldn't help but compare it to a Mandalorian helmet. He picked up his chosen weapon in the following room, a basic short sword, and the guard ushered him into the walkway leading to the arena.

He suddenly felt very strange as he began his walk. A calm, feminine voice he could not recognize echoed in his mind. "Death is a natural part of life," it said. He flinched his head to the side as it spoke, and his stride slowed.

It was responded by a deep, dark voice, foreboding in nature. One that he could also not recognize, yet this one was oddly familiar at the same time. "Foolishly you hold to hope for the life you once had," it said. Cadden flinched again, and each time they spoke thereafter.

"You must let go of everything you fear to lose," the female voice said, picking up speed as though in urgency.

"You think you have a purpose, a destiny." The other voice also became faster, more demanding, and each time they spoke it felt more dire than the last.

"You are uncertain and fearful," the first continued.

"You are but a shadow of your former self," the dark voice argued.

"You have become confused."

"Weak and misguided!"

"Do not hide from yourself!"

"Accept the certainty..."

"Confirm your fear..."

"That all is lost!"

"Will I ever see you again?" another voice broke through, silencing the other two. Cadden stopped before the door and braced himself against the wall with his free hand. It was Lillian.

A few seconds had passed, though to Cadden it felt an eternity, and the door opened. He stepped out into the arena. "Your future is uncertain," the feminine voice spoke again, this time calm once again. "You must find yourself.…"

The dark voice responded in kind. "All that you ever had," it said, sending a chill down his spine, "all that you ever worked up for, has been for nothing."

Cadden shook his head in an attempt to drive the voices away. What the hell was that? he wondered.

A door on the opposite end of the arena opened and a single Talz stepped from the shadows into the light, causing Cadden to drop his bewilderment and focus on the here and now. The creature wielded nothing more than a large greatsword. The Talz gladiator looked around the arena, arms stretched out as it basked in the crowd's cheers and chanting of its name. "Rognak," the holo audience cried in support of the clearly more popular warrior. A Hutt slithered into view on the dais, and gestured the audience for silence.

"We have today another treat in store for you," he announced. "Rognak, a favorite of Tora kajidic, known for his strength and cunning in the arena and merciless tactics against his foes, will face against the defier of death and fate itself, Direj kajidic's newest acquisition, the Mandalore." The crowd's response to Rognak's introduction, Cadden noted, was far more favorable than his own, but ultimately it meant nothing to him. He wasn't there for the glory, he was only there because, if Kroda's words were true, it was the only thing at this point that would keep Lillian alive. "This match will be to the death," the Hutt continued. This created an uproar of approval from the crowd. "You are free to use any means necessary to end the life of your opponent." Without another word, the Hutt signaled for the match to begin, and immediately the Talz was upon Cadden, closing the gap between the two with staggering speed.

Cadden threw his sword up in a quick defense as the Talz bore his own down on him. The strength behind the blow strained Cadden's muscles, but he held his defense and dodged out of the way as the creature followed up with another strike. The ferocity behind his blows disallowed Cadden the luxury of defending himself, otherwise he'd likely be worn out before the Talz was. Rognak had the power Cadden would expect from a Talz behind his blows, and one successful strike could end the match real quick. However, what worried him most was the creature's speed and finesse, which seemed unbecoming of his stature.

Rognak lunged after Cadden again, and he shifted to the side and swung his sword futily at the Talz, but the creature was already recovering from the near miss and parried the attempted counterattack with minimal effort. Cadden's failed effort cost him the first shedding of blood as the large sword skimmed across his waist. He'd managed to get out of the way before the strike could have gone deeper, but it was enough to cause blood to start to flow from the wound. Apparently the audience had taken notice, as a wild uproar of cheers of approval erupted across the arena. Cadden was not deterred, however, and kept fighting. Some of his strikes met with Rognak's blade, while others only cut through air, though Cadden did manage to land a blow from the pommel of his sword against the creature's back, but it only seemed to anger him, and make his blows more powerful, his attacks more agile.

Cadden continued to exchange attacks with the Talz gladiator, but with little progress. Rognak had scored another cut against him after a couple more minutes of close quarters combat, and, to Cadden's surprise, wasn't showing any signs of fatigue. Outlasting the brute was quickly fading as an option, and Cadden needed to think of something else, fast. Another cut across his back expedited his decision, and within seconds he found a momentary weakness in Rognak's defenses. Cadden sliced his short sword wide as the Talz thrust his blade toward Cadden's heart. The parry was successful and Cadden immediately followed through with his own attack, twisting the handle of his sword into an inverted grip and redirecting the blade right into the Talz's leg. His victory was short-lived, however, as after he had let out a shriek of pain Rognak yanked the weapon from its resting place and turned it into his own. He let the blood run down his leg and soak his white fur as he stared Cadden down.

The Talz lunged forward once again, only somewhat hindered by his wound, but it was enough to give Cadden some leeway against him. Rognak proved to be somewhat clumsy with two blades, compared to one, and Cadden chose to use that to his advantage as he deflected strikes that he could not dodge by blocking the Talz's arms or the hilts of his swords. Despite his wound, Rognak was still moving fast, and Cadden was still struggling to keep up with the massive creature. He was feeling the fatigue, but continued to press through it, calling upon all his years of training in every attempt he knew to find a means to bring the fight to an end.

The two blades came down upon him and Cadden rolled out of the way, though Rognak followed him and, as Cadden was regaining his balance, the Talz shot his foot out, sending Cadden back to the ground. He approached and drove the blades down once again as the crowd cheered him on, though Cadden barely managed to move out of the way and grip the hilts of each. Rognak used his mighty strength to lift him up and Cadden sneered at him. He threw all of his strength into his next move and delivered a powerful kick directly on Rognak's wound. The creature screeched in pain and loosened his grip enough for Cadden to wrench free his short sword. With a swift strike, before Rognak could recover from the blow, Cadden sliced the blade deep into his chest, drawing blood and creating a deep enough wound to finally slow the Talz gladiator down. Cadden didn't stop there, however, and he followed the strike up with another deep cut, driving his sword through Rognak's outer abdomen and piercing through the other side at his back. In both instances, the Talz's screams were unnerving, but did not deter Cadden, and after he withdrew his blade Rognak fell to his knees. Cadden looked around as the crowd was in an uproar, some cheering him on while others booing his tactics.

He walked away from the Talz and toward his exit, but stopped after only a few meters as the commotion grew. He narrowed his eyes and turned just as Rognak brought his blade forward in a motion that would have ended Cadden's life had he even waited a second longer.

He blocked the blow, though he was sent to the ground, and with an unsettling growl Rognak lunged forward once more. Cadden let the Talz follow up, and as the large sword came toward him he quickly shot his own up to meet him. His forward momentum was too great for Rognak to correct in time, and Cadden's blade pierced through the Talz's heart, his greatsword losing its precision in the process and falling but inches from Cadden's head. The Talz, however, collapsed on top of him, and with a grunt of pain it took all of Cadden's own strength to push him off. Cadden, exhausted, fumbled to his feet, and staggered away from the dieing Talz. The roaring of the crowd was a mixture of spectators booing him, others cheering him on, and some still chanting, "Mandalore!"

Cadden looked back at Rognak and approached the creature. Without a word, he brought his blade up and drove it down into his adversary once again, an action that ceased further movement from the Talz. With bated breath, Cadden staggered away from Rognak's body and looked around at the holo audience. The Hutt slithered back into view and held his arms up for silence. It took a few moments, but the crowd followed. "Victory is yours, Mandalore," he bellowed. "Rest, for you will require it when you fight again!" Cadden narrowed his eyes. Those words made him uneasy.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

It was the first time Skarrek had seen the majordomo's office. Usually gladiators weren't allowed anywhere in the administrative side of the compound and were relegated to their cells, the training pit, the mess hall, or the med bay if they needed to be patched up. It was an interesting contrast to see how much more ostentatious the other side of the compound was.

Thousands of years of Hutt wealth and prosperity had gone into decorating the compound. Perhaps the most notable feature Skarrek saw as he was led to the office were lifesized holos of past gladiators arranged along a long hallway, no doubt of former champions of the kajidic in years past. There were also an abundant number of trophies on display, everything from weapons to body parts, that were enshrined around the various holos; mementos of notable victories.

The last two holos that Skarrek passed were also the most recent. One was of a younger Rasar, the other was of the current Trinivii champion, Verax. Rasar's had a respectable amount of trophies around his holo, but Verax's number of trophies were far more impressive, easily rivaling that of any other champion that had been in the hallway. Skarrek was sure he spotted a single Devaronian horn among the trophies before he was ushered into the majordomo's office.

The back wall of the office was littered with viewing screens with a desk and a chair in front of them. The chair was currently turned so that the back was facing them as they entered. The screens were showing footage of past duels, all except the largest one which was displaying a fight between a Talz and a Human wearing some kind of helmet that obscured his features. The time stamp on the video marked it as happening right now.

“Tell me, Skarrek,” a voice said from the chair. “This fight between the Talz and the Human. Who do you think will win?”

Skarrek watched the fight as best he could. The flatscreen cameras didn't capture the action as well as a holo would. “The Human,” he finally decided.

“Oh? What makes you say that?” the voice asked. “Rognak, the Talz, is a veteran fighter for the Tora. This 'Mandalore' that Direj sent out to face him is untested. He's never been seen in the arena before.”

“The Talz is overconfident,” Skarrek explained. “The Human might be smaller, weaker, and an amateur swordfighter, but his movements suggest he's seen combat before. And also...” he trailed off as he watched more of the duel. Something about this Human... “He wants it more. Something is driving him that the Talz doesn't have.”

“In other words: Rognak is underestimating his prey and it's making him sloppy,” the voice said. “Do I have that right?”

Skarrek's eyes widened a bit in surprise. That was it exactly. He wasn't used to hearing his own philosophy spoken back to him. Experience had taught him long ago that most other sentients in the universe didn't understand life in terms of the predator and prey dynamic. “Yes.”

There was a chuckle from the being in the chair. “Let's see if your evaluation proves to be the correct one, shall we?”

They continued to watch the match in silence and, for a moment, it looked as though Mandalore was the one getting sloppy as he turned his back on a severely wounded, but not dead, Rognak. He managed to barely miss an attack by the Talz before finally stabbing his opponent through the heart.

The sound of clapping could be heard from the chair now. “Wonderful! Wonderful!” The chair turned around to face them and Skarrek was surprised for a second time. A Gossam dressed in finery was sitting in it. The diminutive creature was about half as tall as Skarrek was and looked like pretty much any other member of his race – in that Skarrek could probably snap him like a twig.

For his part, the Gossam didn't look intimidated by Skarrek. “I knew it was wrong to think of you as a mindless brute. Well done, Skarrek.”

“Don't forget it.”

“Show some respect to your majordomo!” Rasar barked as he raised his kilter to give Skarrek another physical reminder of who was in charge.

However, Rasar was stopped by a raised hand from the Gossam. “No need for that, Rasar. Respect is something that is earned, and besides, I'm sure no amount of beatings will subdue someone like Skarrek.”

Rasar reluctantly lowered his kilter. “Majordomo, gladiators that do not know their place become rebellious. It's happened before to other kajidics and I'd rather not see Trinivii's reputation sullied further with news that we had to put down a gladiator revolt. Skarrek's massacres inside the compound were embarrassing enough.”

The Gossam smiled. “That was the past. Skarrek knows his place now. He will fight for us because Lord Dorval has something he wants. Isn't that right?”

Skarrek was starting to get a bit impatient, not to mention annoyed at how he was being talked about as if he wasn't in the room. “I'll fight anyone it takes to fulfill my end of the bargain. Was there a point to this meeting beyond discussing what I already know?”

“My name is Verno Lamai,” the Gossam finally introduced himself. “And yes, there is. We all want the same thing, Skarrek. We all want Trinivii to be the top ranked kajidic here. I'm curious if you have any idea how that's going to happen.”

“What's to know?” Skarrek argued. “I keep beating my opponents until Desilijic is dethroned. It's as simple as that.”

“In theory, yes,” Verno agreed. “Nothing is ever that simple though. There needs to be motivation for Desilijic to fight us and right now they have none. No one will watch a match between you and their champion, Tyrok, because, for one, you're not popular enough, and two, no one thinks Verax or the champions of any number of other kajidics at our current ranking can beat Tyrok. If you continue as you are, it could be years before anyone considers giving you a shot at Desilijic, let alone at Tyrok.”

Skarrek flexed his claws in annoyance. “If that's what it takes.”

Verno smiled patiently. “You're not listening, Skarrek. I don't want to wait years to accomplish our goals and I'm sure you don't either. If you want to speed up that timetable, you need to start acting more like a gladiator and less like an assassin. That means doing what Rasar tells you to do. He wasn't our former champion by happenstance. The same can be said of Verax. Learn from them and I promise it won't be years until we face Desilijic, it'll be months.”

Skarrek was silent as he thought over Verno's words. “I'll consider it.”

“I didn't take this job because I was assigned to it,” Verno said to them. “I volunteered for it. Kol Tal was a fine administrator, but he lacked vision. That's what got him into trouble. I believe we have the means to dethrone Desilijic, but it's going to take all of us working together to do it. Consider that, Skarrek. I don't expect you to believe me right away, but I will prove it to you if you give my way a chance.”

“Fine,” he bit out. “I'll try to be more like a gladiator. You had better be right.”

“If I'm wrong, you lose nothing,” Verno assured him. “But if I'm right, then the information you've been seeking will be in your hands all the sooner.” He looked to Rasar. “That's all. Please return him to the training pit.”

Skarrek turned to leave, but spared one last glance at Verno, before departing.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

While Cadden was waiting back in the holding cells he had gotten to know his fellow human captive a little better. The man was named Corbus Zarel, a mercenary until he managed to get on Kroda's bad side. He'd taken a job that was to disrupt one of the Hutt's shipping and distribution fronts in the favor of a local rival crime lord. Clearly this man had little to no issues with operating on morally gray, or darker, grounds. According to Corbus, Kroda had given him two choices upon his apprehension. He could die an excruciating, slow death, or he could serve as a gladiator for Direj kajidic as a means to financially reimburse the Hutt, and maybe go free in the process.

Cadden frowned. It was all about profit. The bottom line. Kroda had many enemies, and what better way to make an example of those who dared crossed him than put them on display as his personal playthings in arena games? "What about you?" Corbus asked.

Cadden just shrugged. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he simply said. "Kroda found me guilty for something I did not do, and now I am here."

Corbus chuckled. "I get it," he said. "Your secrets are your own... Mandalore."

Within the hour, the two were approached by a guard, and ultimately led out to the arena. Cadden and Corbus stood at the ready, waiting for their opponents to arrive. The opposite end opened, and a Human and Nikto appeared before the holo crowd. The human bore two short swords while the Nikto had a spear. Cadden retained his own short sword whole Corbus opted for a long sword. The two waited for the hosting Hutt to announce the proceedings of the game, and after it was determined to be another fight to the death, Cadden couldn't help but place a good wager on Kroda's, or perhaps even Toruk's, intentions for him.

"A word of advice," Corbus said, "do not show mercy." He twirled his blade once before starting his approach toward their enemies. "They won't."

Cadden grimaced, having learned that lesson once already with Rognak. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep himself in check if he were to live through any of this. That didn't mean he had to like it. It was the exact opposite of what he needed, right now, but there was nothing for it. If Cadden were to survive, if he were to get his chance at being with Lillian again, he had to do this, and play by their rules.

The match seemed to be over quicker than the previous, though Cadden had noted that both combatants were less beast and more honed warriors than his last engagement. He'd been paired against the other human for the majority of the fight while Corbus had tasked himself against the Nikto. When the fight was over, the two stood victorious over their enemies. Corbus allowed himself a bit of show for the crowds, though Cadden remained unwilling to celebrate his actions.

The following two fights consisted of Cadden accompanying both gladiators from Kroda's school, and, near the end of the day, he had fought solo one last time. Unsurprisingly, Cadden's assumptions proved true, as each match was to the death, and the final match he had faced off against a Kerestian where, due to his growing fatigue and weariness, Cadden nearly lost to, and came close to death a few times. He'd come out on top, however, but barely, with several cuts, gashes, bruises, and a broken bone or two. But he'd survived to fight another day. He'd doubted, however, he'd be able to keep this kind of pace up for long. After maybe a couple more bouts like this, and Cadden was sure he'd meet his end in the arena.

He stood over the dead Kerestian and looked at the alien in disgust and contempt. He could feel the darkness trying to crawl out, and he could feel the power, despite being detached from the Force, associated with it. "Why did you kill him?" Lillian's voice asked, though Cadden had no memory of the conversation.

I had no choice, Cadden thought. He looked around the arena, the fatigue setting in as he started to get lightheaded. A man must accept his fate.

"Or be destroyed by it,"
her voice said. Cadden dropped his sword to the ground and looked over the Kerestian's body. He felt numb, and dead to the world around him, before he collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. He barely remembered being hauled out of the arena and taken back to Kroda's holdings and the med bay.

* * *

"I told you that he was to be kept alive!" Kroda's holographic projection declared angrily.

"And yet he lives, brother," Toruk said, dismissing the other Hutt's temper. "If you valued his life so much, perhaps you should have reevaluated your priorities in sending him here."

Kroda flared with rage. "You dare second guess my intentions for my gladiators?"

"I'm the one overseeing these men," Toruk retorted, "not you." He knew that Kroda relied on him to turn a profit, here, though Kroda was not adverse to making regular visits to Nar Kresh. Toruk found his interest in this Mandalore unusual, especially considering that he wasn't around to oversee whatever he intended for him. "If you disagree with my decisions, you are more than free to come take over this operation of yours personally. Your Mandalore turned you a nice little profit, today, and lives to fight again. That's all that should matter to you." Toruk paused a second, a thought occurring to him. "Unless you deem it necessary to divulge the details behind what this man has done."

Kroda narrowed his eyes. "If I see him in the arena again, before I return, pray I don't send you in. As soon as he is healed, I want him restricted to training only." The holo flickered off, leaving Toruk to mull over the conversation.

The door to the room opened and Aen approached Toruk's side. "Master Toruk," he said, "the final tallies have come in from the games today. These two humans ought to turn a profit, and the Weequay shows promise, as well. Shall I schedule them for another showing?" Toruk formed a fist and, after a couple seconds of silence, he threw his arm back and sent the Gran to the floor.

"The Mandalore is to stay away from the arena until further notice," he declared angrily. "He... requires more training, if we're to see any more use for him." Toruk managed to calm himself enough to regain his composure. He would not allow the majordomo to attempt to discern what had just transpired. "While he's proven he can fight, the profits won't last."

"Yes, Master Toruk," Aen said, returning to his feet. "I shall ensure he returns to his training as soon as he is healed."

Toruk narrowed his eyes. "Ensure he is paired against Asael," he said. "Our champion is not to go easy on him."

The Gran nodded. "Very well," he said. "And what of the lineup?"

Toruk considered it for a moment. They needed to send someone in, if for no other reason than to maintain a presence in the games. Asael would be better kept for the bigger bets, and from what Toruk heard the next matches would not have any that would be worth sending their champion in for. "Send Trassk," he finally said, "Aythar, Vok, and Hortak. That should keep the crowds pleased for the time being."

Aen nodded and put in the notes on his datapad. "I shall make the coordination immediately," he said, and took his leave.

* * *

"Have you located it, yet?" Kroda asked Eelar Madax.

The Duros majordomo swallowed hard. "No, Your Excellency," he said, somewhat worrisome. "Whatever he had done with the data, we cannot seem to locate it."

Kroda grumbled in displeasure. What Toruk didn't know was that putting Blackthorne in the arena would not offer a venue to recover what he'd lost. What Cadden had taken was worth far more than credits. Kroda merely did what he'd done to gain some form of recompense, and if Blackthorne turned him a profit, then so be it. And, perhaps, if his idiot brother did manage to turn him into a long term investment; something Kroda seriously doubted would ever be the case; then it was possible that Cadden would be more amiable to giving Kroda what he wanted. "I want that information recovered," he said slowly. "And I want it sooner rather than later." He had many enemies, and should they exploit the information that Blackthorne had taken… Kroda would not allow that to happen.

"With all due respect, Your Excellency, why not simply interrogate him, directly, for it?"

Kroda didn't know whether to laugh at Eelar's suggestion or to hit the Duros. "You fool," he said, agitated. "He already denies all allegations toward him. He won't give up the location of the disc. This is Blackthorne we're talking about. He'd sooner take it to his grave."

"And we are certain it was him?" the majordomo asked. "He seemed pretty sure he had no idea what you were talking about."

"The DNA sample was an exact match," Kroda reminded him. He waved the Duros away. "Get out of my sight," he demanded. "I've suffered from more than enough incompetence for one day." Eelar bowed and took his leave.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The next day Skarrek was woken up by the morning training bell. He had been given his own cell, which was a privilege usually only reserved for champions or other favored fighters. In his case, Skarrek suspected that his cell was more of a precaution than a status symbol. It was either to protect him from the other gladiators or vice/versa. The massacres he had committed were still fresh in the minds of the few survivors that had escaped his blood rage.

They had at least provided a pair of shorts to replace the rags Skarrek had been wearing before. They didn't leave much to the imagination, but then Skarrek didn't really care about modesty. It was the default outfit provided for Trinivii's gladiators while they were training.

As he stepped out of his cell, Skarrek got a good look at the new recruits Dorval had shipped down to replace the other gladiators he had killed. There was the usual smattering of Humans, including one who seemed larger and bulkier than the rest. His dark tan body was scarred in several places and he sported a tattoo of a stylized clenched fist on one arm. Skarrek took special note of that one as the man locked eyes with him for a moment and showed no trace of fear, instead calmly measuring his worth before heading up to the training pit.

Two other non-Human gladiators also caught Skarrek's interest. One was a Bitthævrian, a large humanoid with spiky quills over his knees and elbows and nasty looking fangs jutting from his mouth. The quills seemed decently sized, meaning that this Bitthævrian was old enough to have seen a decent amount of combat. Bitthævrian culture was basically all about fighting.

The Bitthævrian was eying the being next to him and it took Skarrek a moment to recognize the other non-Human as a Kaleesh since he wasn't wearing a traditional war mask over his face. Instead Skarrek got to see that this particular Kaleesh had scarred his own face to resemble a war mask. Two vertical scars ran from his forehead, over his eyes, and ended at his cheeks. Two horizontal scars also ran from his cheeks and curved down around his prominent chin tusks. The Kaleesh appeared to ignore the Bitthævrian's stares as he followed the crowd out to the training pit.

Lastly, almost unnoticed amidst the crowd was a thin insectoid creature barely larger than Verno Lamai. It looked even frailer than the majordomo too, like a toothpick given a head and appendages and covered in a spiky yellow carapace. It was usually tough to try and judge insectoid expressions, but this particular species had humanoid features which finally helped Skarrek identify the species: Kobok. They were rarely seen outside of their homeworld, but they were known to have some dealings around the Corporate Sector Authority. Skarrek had never killed one before, but he had run into a few while taking some assassination gigs in CSA space. He remembered them largely being regarded as devious and vicious little bugs.

As Skarrek and the rest stepped out into the morning sun of the training pit, he was surprised to see another door open on the far side of the compound. More guards emerged, escorting two female gladiators. They wore almost as little as the males did, with an exception made for a top that covered their chests.

“Females?” Skarrek heard one of the Humans murmur incredulously. “What kind of joke is this? You'd think Dorval would have them fanning his fat ass instead of pretending to be fighters. He must be desperate.”

“Look again, fool,” the Kaleesh said to the man. “One of those women is Xen'Chi.”

That caused a string of whispered comments among most of the gladiators. Skarrek had noticed the Xen'Chi as well. During the war he had hunted down many of the galactic invaders after they had razed Thyferra. He had blamed them for killing the one love of his life, Alessandra, although he had later found out after the war that Alessandra had survived the attack on Thyferra. As such he had no particular enmity towards the Xen'Chi anymore. The fact that they had started a devastating war was not something he held a grudge over.

The Xen'Chi, however, seemed to notice him right away. Skarrek realized with a start that she was staring right at him with an odd mixture of hostility and... reverence? That couldn't be right. Skarrek didn't pretend to know much about Xen'Chi culture, but he knew they were extremely xenophobic. Why would a Xen'Chi regard him with anything other than contempt or disgust? She certainly seemed to look upon everyone else that way.

It was such a quandary that Skarrek almost forgot about the other woman being escorted out to the training pit. She looked Human at first glance, but a fine layer of light orange fur covering her body, accentuated by black stripes, and a prehensile tail quickly disabused him of that notion. As Skarrek got closer, he could make out the hints of fangs barely protruding from underneath her upper lip. Her eyes were also definitely feline in appearance. There were a number of feline species she could have belonged to. Skarrek wasn't sure which one to choose at the moment.

Unlike the Xen'Chi woman, or indeed any of the other gladiators, the feline woman seemed absurdly chipper to be here. She waved at everyone in a friendly manner and grinned like she was at some kind of party. “How's it going, fellas!? Anyone else excited to start training?”

“How about we start with some wrestling?” the same Human from before suggested lewdly. “I call the cat girl.”

She grinned back at the man mischievously. “You really think you can handle me, little man? I doubt it.”

“Why you-” the man replied angrily as he started to move towards her, but he was stopped short by a crack of Rasar's power lash.

“Knock it off, Graf!” Rasar barked at him. “Step back before you embarrass yourself.”

Sullenly, Graf backed up, but not before sparing a nasty look in the cat girl's direction.

Rasar nodded approvingly. “Good. I want you all to line up. The new majordomo will be addressing all of you this morning before we start training. We're just waiting on Verax.”

As if on cue, Verax stepped out of the med bay and started walking towards them. Trinivii's champion was a Tarc, a species of bipedal crustacean with two sets of upper limbs. The top pair were humanoid arms that ended in two clawed fingers and a thumb. The bottom pair were a set of powerful pincers capable of crushing rock. One of the pincers looked smaller and a lighter shade than the other, no doubt having been newly grown after the old one was lost in a fight.

With all the other gladiators lined up, Verax took his place in front of them, as was tradition for the Trinivii champion to show his status.

A moment later Verno Lamai walked up to the balcony overlooking the training pit. The Gossam was still dressed in expensive clothes despite his surroundings. “Esteemed gladiators of Trinivii!” Verno said to them over the balcony's public address system. “I am your majordomo, Verno Lamai. Today marks the start of our kaijidic's rise to fame and glory! From this point forward we won't be training just to entertain the masses, we'll be training to take the top spot away from Desilijic!”

Verno gestured with one hand to the assembled gladiators below him. “The days and months ahead will test you like never before, but I am confident that we will prevail!” He then started pointing out specific gladiators. “We have our champion, Verax, who has sometimes been the only commodity keeping our beleaguered kajidic afloat in the arena. And we have Skarrek, our volatile secret weapon, who has proven to be as much of a terror to us as he is to his foes in the arena. I'm sure you few who have survived his recent rampages can attest to that.”

Skarrek felt several pairs of eyes look over at him, but he brusquely ignored them all.

“However, this is not enough!” Verno continued. “Lord Dorval, in his infinite wisdom, has spared no expense in stocking our humble compound with some of the best gladiator candidates he could find to replace our recent losses.” He then started naming names, listing off each of the new arrivals with a tick of his fingers. “Rek Heldran, the Rolani terrorist. Makar siv Hyleeh, the disgraced Kaleesh warrior. Giil Ravak Qotan Nak, the Bitthævrian mercenary. Tuza, the Kobok assassin. Ka'Lomera, the Xen'Chi exile. Melis Puarm, the Felacatian pirate.”

“Whether you were bought, captured, or volunteered to be here; none of that matters.” Verno said to them. “Your pasts don't matter! Your fighting skills are why you're here. As long as you put them to good use and bring victory to Trinivii, that is all that matters. Refusal means death! Victory means redemption! Serve the kajidic well and you can earn your freedom and see all your past transgressions wiped away in the eyes of the Hutts. This is the best opportunity some of you will ever get.”

“Obey Rasar in all things,” Verno said to them. “He will mold you into gladiators that will cause the other kajidics to cower in fear at the thought of facing you. You will become legends in your own time.” The Gossam smiled in satisfaction. “Now show me what you've got.”

Rasar took the cue and cracked his whip again. “You heard the majordomo! Grab a weapon from the rack and pair off. You may have been hotshots elsewhere, but here on Crucible you're dirt until you've earned the privilege to be anything more than worm food. Get to work!”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Verax walked over to Skarrek just as the Barabel chose a wooden staff from the weapons rack that had been provided to the gladiators. “Verax watched your last match. Most impressive. How about sparring with him today?”

Skarrek gripped the staff tighter as he looked at the Trinivii champion. The idea of sparring with Verax was tempting. Skarrek had yet to best him in a match and that did annoy him, but he shook his head in a negative. “Not today.” He then raised his voice and pointed at the Xen'Chi woman. “Today I desire to spar with Ka'Lomera.”

The crowd of gladiators parted leaving Ka'Lomera square in Skarrek's visual crosshairs. She seemed surprised at the sudden attention on her, but recovered quickly. “I would not dream of taking away the sparring partner of our esteemed champion.”

Verax laughed at her response. “It is no trouble. Verax will spar with Rek instead.”

“You heard him, Ka'Lomera,” Rasar said loudly. “Skarrek's victories in the arena give him preference over you on who he spars with. Get to it.”

She nodded wordlessly as Skarrek approached before crouching and raising a medium length wooden blade before her in a combat stance. Ka'Lomera's eyes never left Skarrek as he approached her, but then he saw her do something he didn't expect. She swallowed in obvious trepidation.

Skarrek stopped and held his staff at the ready as he tried to figure out this odd behavior. The Xen'Chi he had faced in the war were many things, but never afraid. If anything, they had been fanatically brave; fighting to the very last every time he had faced off against them. Ka'Lomera certainly looked like a typical Xen'Chi warrior. Her body was well conditioned and her gray skin was covered in the tattoos they so enjoyed scrawling across their bodies.

He decided to force the issue. “Well? Come at me already!”

Ka'Lomera licked her lips anxiously before charging forward with her blade at the ready. She was fast, as expected, but her swings seemed unsure, like she wasn't confident in any attack she initiated. Skarrek was able to deflect each attack with little trouble before he swept her legs out from under her with the staff. He followed up with a strike at her abdomen, fully expecting her to roll out of the way before it connected, but instead she froze and got pinned by the attack.

The strength of the strike caused her convulse in a fit of coughing as she struggled to get back to her feet. Skarrek didn't show any mercy and knocked her down again in with visible contempt. “This is the best Dorval could find?” he said aloud to her. “Pathetic! What kind of Xen'Chi are you?”

“I am a warrior of the sixth bloodline,” she uttered, trying to sound proud and utterly failing. “I served the will of the Xa'Tieron faithfully until you destroyed her!”

Ka'Lomera managed to get back to her feet again, but this time Skarrek didn't attack her. “You'll have to be more specific. I killed a lot of Xen'Chi during the war.”

“I believe your name for the Xa'Tieron was 'GAIT',” she said to him through gritted teeth.

Understanding dawned on Skarrek as the Xen'Chi's odd behavior started to become a little more clear. In her eyes he had killed their living god, it was no wonder she was apprehensive about facing him now. “I didn't actually kill her,” he said to her. “While it's true that I was part of the strike force that went to assassinate GAIT, and the blow I gave her should have killed any normal person, in the end GAIT was too powerful for me. In fact, your 'Xa'Tieron' was the one who almost killed me.”

“And yet here you stand while our god is dead, my homeworld is ash, and my people scattered to the winds,” Ka'Lomera retorted with a scowl. “You may not have delivered the final blow, but you were a harbinger of her destruction.” She raised her blade as she readied another strike. “My people told stories of you during the war, Skarrek. You were the black beast; a demon of death that left nothing but carnage wherever he went. Most dismissed them as childish ramblings until the Xa'Tieron fell.”

The Xen'Chi suddenly struck, this time harder and faster than before. Skarrek blocked it easily and pushed her back. “I'm flattered, but need I remind you that it was your people who started the war? You reap what you sow.”

Ka'Lomera attacked him again. “If that was true, you'd be dead many times over by now!”

Skarrek blocked her attack and countered viciously, knocking her sword away with the strength of his blow before sending her to the ground again with a punch to her stomach that dropped her to her knees. Ka'Lomera glared daggers at him as she struggled to get back to her feet.

Skarrek raised one clawed hand dispassionately, flexing it into a fist before he looked at her. “That's because I do the reaping, Ka'Lomera. The Empire made me into a weapon before I was even old enough to know about my own cultural heritage. I killed for them, then when I had the chance I killed my Imperial masters too, and I've kept on killing ever since. I couldn't begin to count how many lives I've taken. Destroying others is the only true purpose I have.”

Ka'Lomera managed to stand back up, but she didn't attempt to retrieve her sword. Instead she changed focus to an unarmed combat stance. “Is that how you sleep at night?! Is that how you avoid the haunting screams of the people you've massacred!?”

“They were my prey. I'm a predator. That's how it works. Does a butcher feel bad after he kills a bantha to support his job?” Skarrek shook his head. “I think not. It's the same principle.”

Ka'Lomera's eyes widened in alarm. “You really are a demon! You would kill us all right now if the Hutt told you to, wouldn't you? Haven't you ever felt the slightest bit of guilt over anything you've ever done?!”

“No-” Skarrek started to say, but he caught himself. That wasn't quite true. “There is one person I killed that I regret. I thought it was justified, but it cost me the only friend I had at the time.” He looked away regretfully. “I've attempted to have another kind of life other than this before, but it never ends well, so I don't fight it anymore. I know who I am.”

Ka'Lomera suddenly let out an indecipherable yell as she charged forward. Skarrek's guard was lowered after being distracted by their conversation. The Xen'Chi also moved much faster than before. He tried to counter with his staff, but Ka'Lomera sidestepped it easily before delivering a kick to the side of Skarrek's knee.

The pain was immediate and it knocked Skarrek off balance, but if Ka'Lomera was expecting him to fall, she was in for a disappointment. He used his own momentum to land on his hand and pivot his body towards her, delivering a kick with his good leg that caught her by surprise. Skarrek heard ribs crack from the force of the impact as the Xen'Chi was knocked backwards.

He didn't waste time and pounced on Ka'Lomera while she was still prone. He jammed his knee into the spot he had kicked her, causing her to cry out in pain, before he pinned her head to the ground by covering her face with one giant clawed hand. If Skarrek had wanted to apply more pressure, he could have easily crushed her skull against the ground like an egg.

Skarrek could vaguely hear Rasar yelling something at him, but he didn't care. With a snarl he leaned in close so that Ka'Lomera would be sure to hear his words. “If you want to kill me, that's fine, but as you are now, you're barely worth my time! Give me one good reason not to end your life right now.”

“N-no,” she struggled to say through the pain and the pressure of Skarrek's hand on her face. “Just do it. I'm not strong enough to avenge the Xa'Tieron. Dying by your hand would be a good death.”

Skarrek tightened his grip, half-tempted to do just that, before he abruptly released her and stood back up. “No. It's not going to be that easy for you. I know you're a better fighter than what you've shown me today. If you truly wanted to avenge the Xa'Tieron, you would have come at me with everything you had. This sad attempt was not it.”

Ka'Lomera sat up and clutched her side, but she had nothing to say to Skarrek. Instead she just glared into the distance and avoided his gaze altogether.

By now Doctor Vardren, the Anx physiologist who ran the Trinivii compound med bay, had come out to attend to the fallen Xen'Chi. Skarrek walked away to let the doctor examine her. He didn't make it far before Rasar stepped in front of him with a scowl.

“What the hell was that about, Skarrek?”

“She blames me for the death of her god and her entire way of life,” Skarrek said to him matter-of-factly. “I spared her to motivate her to do better the next time she fights me.”

“That's not your call to make!” Rasar growled. “You don't get to decide who lives and who dies here! If it wasn't for the majordomo's orders, the guards would have opened fire on you for what you almost did.”

“I chose not to kill her,” he pointed out again. “I didn't have to do that.”

“The fact that she's still alive is the only reason we're talking right now,” Rasar said to him. “I'd isolate you in the hot box for awhile as punishment, but I doubt that would affect your Barabel constitution all the much. You're lucky we need you at all.”

Skarrek crossed his arms. “So what are you going to do about it?”

Rasar looked like he had all kinds of ideas, but he shook his head. “Don't tempt me, Skarrek. Traditional punishments might not work on you, but I can get very creative if I need to. This behavior of yours needs to stop now. You're not an assassin anymore. You're a gladiator. I need to know you can train with the other gladiators without trying to kill them.”

“I wasn't trying to kill her, trust me.”

“No,” Rasar agreed, “but you were thinking about it. You can have plenty of more time to think about it when you're back in your cell. You're done with training for today. I expect you'll be more cooperative tomorrow. If not, we'll start trying out those more creative punishments I mentioned. Are we clear?”

Skarrek grunted in annoyance, but nodded. “I understand.”

Rasar nodded back and motioned for the guards to escort him back to his cell. As Skarrek was put back in his cell, he reflected that it might actually be good to have some time to think. Perhaps Rasar had a point. The only reason he hadn't killed Ka'Lomera was because he'd had the presence of mind to spare her life, but if the fight had become any more protracted, he might not have had the time to evaluate his actions. It was a miracle he had managed to stay so levelheaded when fighting the Anjiliac gladiators.

He sat down and looked at his hands thoughtfully. They had snuffed out so many lives that it was practically muscle memory by now. He needed to regain control of himself. He had to get better about not giving in to his more primal instincts. He had been down that road already when lost in his blood rage and he was not eager to return to it. He was a predator, yes, but he was not an animal.

Skarrek hissed to himself in frustration. This was going to be more difficult than he thought...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

"So," Corbus said the following morning during breakfast, "Mandalore. Not exactly the most conventional name."

Cadden was still on the recovery, but the wounds he'd received from the arena were still susceptible to reopening. Chur'vena, Kroda's Twi'lek medic, had released him from care under the stipulation that Cadden was to go easy, else he'd be right back in the med bay before the day's end. Cadden suspected this decision was more out of reluctance than professional suggestion. "That's not my name," Cadden said before taking a bite of his biscuit.

"And that would be... ?" Corbus asked casually.

"Beeogola Nechaska," Asael's voice spoke up, and Cadden looked to see the Devaronian, with Trassk, standing there, both grinning at the insult. "Better watch yourself, Mandalore," the Devaronian continued. "Accidents are liable to happen in the training compound. If you barely stood against Metann, you couldn't possibly survive a true sparring session with me."

Cadden chose to ignore him, and Asael merely chuckled and walked away. "What's his deal, anyway?" Cadden muttered.

"He lives and breathes the games," Shar'seca said. Cadden watched the Devaronian and Trandoshan sit at a far table. "Asael's held the title of Kroda's champion for near two decades. Nigh undefeated. He takes the games very seriously. You don't. To him, that makes you undeserving of his respect."

"I neither need nor want his respect."

"Well, then unless you defeat him in combat, you're going to have a very miserable time, here," the Twi'lek said.

Cadden found that statement rather ironic. He was already miserable, here. "I have no intention of sticking around," he did quietly.

Corbus chuckled. "What, you think this is a pleasure resort or something? You can't just leave." When Cadden chose not to respond, Corbus continued. "I may be just as new as you are, but that doesn't mean I don't know a thing or two about how this works. Kroda owns you. You aren't going to leave, especially not by your own volition."

"Unless it's in a body bag," Shar'seca offered with a wry, sadistic grin. Cadden disregarded him.

"Get used to it, Mandalore," Corbus said. "You're stuck here like the rest of us."

Within the hour, the gladiators were lined up outside. Each was paired with their sparring partner and, unsurprisingly, Cadden was matched against Asael. He could only guess it was a sadistic way for Toruk to vent against him. Cadden knew he was protected, at least to an extent, by Kroda, but that could only go so far, especially when he wasn't present to impose his will and personally oversee operations. Though Cadden didn't feel he necessarily needed Kroda's protection, he did have to admit it was probably all that would keep him alive. For the time being, anyway.

Gorgg's whip cracked, sounding he beginning of the day's lessons. Asael grinned his wicked grin and charged Cadden. The first two of the Devaronian's blows were blocked by Cadden's own sword, but the third landed against his chest before Asael cracked the sword on his back. Cadden fell to the ground with a grunt of pain and gave the confident Devaronian a glare as he picked himself back up. Asael was on the offensive immediately, and landed a swift strike against Cadden's jaw with his fist. While Cadden was recovering from the blow, Asael swept his foot under Cadden's legs and sent him back to the ground. The Devaronian grappled him and pressed his practice sword against his neck.

"What Lord Kroda sees in you, Human, I'll never know," he grumbled. "Can't even carry your own weight in a true fight. You wouldn't even last a minute against a true gladiator in the arena." Asael got off Cadden and walked away. "Gorgg, give me someone worthy of my time. This 'Mandalore' is a waste of space."

Cadden rolled to his hands and knees and looked at Asael's exposed back before pushing to his feet. His free hand formed into a fist, trapping a handful of sand in its grip, and Cadden charged, swinging his sword toward his opponent's weakness. Asael turned just in time and blocked the blow, pressing his sword against Cadden's, before reaching forward and gripping Cadden's throat. Cadden could feel the pressure against his windpipe as the Devaronian sneered at him, locking eyes with his own.

"I should end you right here," Asael said quietly. He squeezed a little more to prove his point. "Go ahead, Mandalore, beg for mercy."

Cadden threw his free hand at Asael, his fist impacting the Devaronian's right temple. Upon landing the hit, Cadden opened his fist, and a small flurry of sand flew into Asael's face. The Devaronian loosened his grip and Cadden was able to stumble back. He rubbed his throat gently while gasping for air. By now Cadden noticed that the others had stopped to watch the brawl, but his distraction proved to be his downfall as Asael recovered from the momentary setback far quicker than he'd anticipated. The Devaronian lunged at Cadden, who managed to dodge the initial strike, and brought his sword down to parry Asael's follow-up slash. Cadden's counterattack was quick and sloppy, which Asael was able to easily block before he elbowed Cadden in the chin. The strike dazed him and soon he found the Devaronian's sword impacting against his skull. Cadden's fall was as graceless as one might have expected, and he did not remember hitting the ground.

He opened his eyes to see Asael pacing before him, laughing with the other trained gladiators at Cadden's fall. He could hear his heartbeat first and foremost, while the voices of those around him were muffled and indistinguishable. "I guess he's more formidable than I thought," the Devaronian shouted, though his voice was still somewhat muffled and echoed in Cadden's head. The Devaronian approached him once more and placed a foot on Cadden's neck. "Let me hear you beg for your life," he grumbled.

"Asael!" a voice came from above, and after a couple seconds, the foot lifted. "All of you, back to your training. Asael, Lord Kroda demands to see you." Cadden looked over, his vision still blurry, but could make out Aen above, before the Gran majordomo disappeared. Asael sneered at Cadden before turning to walk away.

Corbus was the one to help Cadden to his feet. "If nothing else," he said, "you sure know how to take a beating."

"One of my many talents," Cadden rasped. He rubbed his neck idly, watching Asael leave the practice yard.

"And giving a beating seems to be one of his," Corbus said. "Looks like you two are a match made in heaven."

"Corbus," Gorgg's voice spoke up, "your majordomo gave you an order." Corbus regarded Cadden a brief moment before complying. "Mandalore, you will pair with Trassk until further notice." Cadden looked at the Trandoshan, and couldn't help but think that, despite Asael was clearly the better fighter of the two, he'd just gone from the frying pan to the fire. This intervention, he suspected, was going to cost him.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Asael was led to the holo terminal in the compound and, after a few seconds, the display flickered to life. "Lord Kroda," the Devaronian said.

"My brother is taking an extreme disliking to the human called the Mandalore," Kroda said to his champion. "I understand he has authorized you to go to extreme lengths in... training... him."

Asael's eyes flashed in fear for a moment. One could say the Devaronian held no fear, but if there was one individual that he did not wish to stand against, it would have been Kroda. Not simply because the Hutt was his master, but because he wielded true power. He also had a deep respect for Kroda, for it was through his urging and providing opportunities that Asael went from a scrawny new pup to the Direj champion.

"Lord Kroda, if I had known this was against your will...."

Kroda merely dismissed his response. "This Mandalore is meant to be alive," he said. Though Asael had to wonder, if that were the case, why did he sentence the Human to death in the arena shortly after arrival? It wasn't his place to ask, and years of serving Kroda taught him what the consequences of doing so would have been. "If I learn you, or anyone else, has killed him..."

"I understand, Lord Kroda," Asael said. "However, I must agree with Master Toruk. This Mandalore... he is a lost cause. He won't turn you a profit, save the small credits he might get you in games such as yesterday. At least allow me to teach him his place."

Kroda regarded Asael for a long moment before he hummed. "Mandalore is worth far more to me than credits," he said. "I need from him information. And you will be the one to get it."

"With respect, that will be... complicated."

"Then uncomplicate it! You are my champion. If I will it, that could end in even your next bout in the arena. Trassk is already well situated to take your place should the crowd no longer favor you. You have been rather fortunate that is not the case. You know what becomes of gladiators that outlive their usefulness."

Asael swallowed hard. "Yes, Lord Kroda," he said, managing to maintain his posture, though it did him no good. They both knew who was in charge. "And Master Toruk?"

Kroda narrowed his eyes. "Know your place, Asael," he warned. Asael had no reason to know what Kroda would do about Toruk's decisions. "Your only focus is to learn where Mandalore took that information, and who might have it."

"I am practiced with sword," he objected, "not words. Besides, I'm not exactly the best match for this pairing."

"Yes, I understand you two have developed a bit of hatred toward each other," Kroda mused. "Then use that. Get him to boast. He will eventually talk, if you coerce him well enough. Do this for me, and freedom is yours."

Asael was unmoved by the statement. Even if there was weight behind Kroda's words, Asael did not desire freedom. He was a seasoned gladiator, it was the only profession he had. "Why me?" he asked. "Why not any of the others? Or one of the two he already has taken to forming a bond with?"

"Think of it as punishment for what you've done today," Kroda said. "You do not have to change your... relationship... with the Mandalore, you need only get me this information."

He knew there was no fighting it, and so Asael nodded in concession. "Yes, Lord Kroda," he said slowly, averting his gaze from the Hutt. He did not much care for this assignment, but it was small consolation that he did not have to change his opinion on the Human, nor did he have to play nice. Lord Kroda merely wanted this Mandalore alive until he revealed the information he needed. Then, Asael was sure, it would be the end of the line for the Human.

Asael re-emerged in the training grounds and took note of the goings on. "Mandalore," he called out, "what is your true worth, I wonder?" The training died down as the assembled looked at Asael in anticipation of his next move. "Come, face me, if you deem yourself man enough." Asael was actually fairly surprised at the man's recovery from their sparring session from earlier. Though it brought him no pleasure to have to bring the intensity down a notch, that did not mean he couldn't still put the Human in his place.

Gorgg cracked his whip. "No more matches between Mandalore and Asael for today," he declared, much to the Devaronian's disappointment. "It is clear you are the superior, Asael. But it is also clear he will not become a formidable gladiator if he spars against you alone."

He will never become a formidable gladiator, Asael thought bitterly. His disliking of Mandalore stemmed from the man's proud nature and his disregard for the life of a gladiator. This was something Asael could not abide in, and he saw Mandalore as, truly, a waste of time and a lost cause. Though it was clear that Gorgg was not privy to Kroda's assignment, the master trainer was still in charge, and his primary duty was to see to Kroda's gladiators. He nodded. "Tomorrow, then. Maybe he'll learn a few tricks so he won't be so easily bested." Asael picked up a practice sword and pointed it at Hortak in challenge.

The Shistavanen bore his pointed teeth in a wicked smile and accepted the challenge. Aside from Trassk, Hortak was Asael's favored sparring partner. His predatory instincts and violent nature were a good pairing to Asael's years of experience, and he could sometimes even learn something new with the Shistavanen. Today, however, the Devaronian had to vent, and so the two began their session.

Hortak was vicious, as typical, though in a training environment he held back. The two had a respect for each other that bordered on friendship, though Asael could not exactly call the Shistavanen his friend. Hortak wielded a short sword and long sword in each hand, and in the arena he typically also used his claws and teeth. The two clashed blades and began their dance. Hortak deflected Asael's first blow and dodged the second before counterattacking with his own strike. This one Asael was able to parry easily before he landed a glazing strike against Hortak's arm.

The Shistavanen sneered and swung his long sword in a forward arc. He closed the distance upon impact against Asael's sword and followed up with the the short blade, scoring a minor hit upon Asael's side. The Devaronian smirked. Now this was more like it. He didn't have to teach any lessons, only learn from his opponent, and perhaps Hortak would learn from him, as well. Asael blocked or dodged the next several attacks while he analyzed Hortak's form for any weaknesses he could exploit. The Shistavanen had gotten better since the last time they'd sparred, though Asael wasn't Kroda's champion for no reason. He soon found the gap in his opponent's offensive and, with a mighty blow, impacted his sword against Hortak's ribcage. The resulting crack was low, but the hit was powerful enough to send him to the ground.

Hortak coughed and looked at Asael with that hint of rivalry in his eyes, before acknowledging the Devaronian's victory. If this were in the arena, he'd not have that chance. Asael looked to see Trassk still preoccupied with the Mandalore, who seemed to be faring better with the Trandoshan than he was with him, and frowned in disappointment. Before this Mandalore came along, he was typically pitted against Trassk. The Trandoshan had little desire to ascend to the position of champion, at least while Asael was still alive, but that didn't mean he wasn't serious with his training, and fought as though he were Kroda's champion, all the same. What made their situation unique was their true friendship, and their respect toward each other, yet they did not pull any punches when it came to their sparring sessions. Asael saw him as one of his true challenges.

Gorgg's whip cracked. "Gladiators, attend!" he shouted. Once they were assembled, Gorgg continued. "The next set of matches will be attended by the following. Trassk. Aythar." The Thakwaash gladiator grinned in anticipation of the next match. He was relatively new, but he'd experienced enough combat to earn his place in the school. "Hortak." The Shistavanen, Asael noticed, did not react. Possibly he was slightly bitter over the injury he'd sustained and the timing for the next game. It was possible it would hinder him in any matches he'd be scheduled. "And Vok." Now that was an interesting choice. Vok was an oddity of an acquisition among Kroda's gladiators. The Yevethan was sent to the training compound like many others had been, and upon his arrival he was found to be wild and unpredictable, even killing two of Kroda's gladiators in one bout. Many thought he couldn't be tamed, for the lack of a better term, though Kroda gave him limited time with the gladiators nonetheless, and eventually his bloodlust was quelled. To a degree. While Asael knew very little of the species, he had come to know that some basic inherent aspects of the Yevetha could not be "conditioned" out of their psychology. As a result, he was something of a marvel to the crowds in the arena, as he was often found in matches to the death, and he was spectacular to watch.

Asael was slightly displeased that he was not selected, but he knew that it only meant there were no matches that would make his participating worthwhile. He hadn't participated in either of the last two sets, either, and he was getting antsy to be back where he felt he belonged most.

"Those that were called, fall out, so you may rest for the next game," Gorgg continued. "The rest of you, pair up! I want to see some significant progress before the day's end!" To emphasize his point, the Gamorrean cracked his whip once more, and the new and seasoned gladiators alike returned to their sparring.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The next day when it was time to begin sparring, Skarrek found that his privilege of choosing a partner had been revoked. Rasar informed him, in no uncertain terms, that he would be sparring against Rek Heldran until told otherwise. Ka'Lomera was also notably absent as she was still recovering in the med bay after Skarrek had broken her ribs. While the Trinivii compound had access to bacta, that was generally reserved for the best gladiators or the most grievous of injuries, which meant that Ka'Lomera would have to make due with slower methods of healing.

Skarrek once again chose a wooden staff as it was the closest thing to his preferred melee weapon: the force pike. Rek picked up a shield and a very large wooden sword. The weapon looked to be intended for a two-handed grip, but Rek wielded it one-handed without any apparent trouble.

It took Skarrek a moment to recall that Verno had referred to Rek as a Rolani and not as a Human. Skarrek had never heard of the Rolani before, but he had to assume that they were some kind of Human offshoot species since Rek looked and smelled entirely Human. There were so many Human offshoots in the galaxy that it was impossible to keep track of them all.

Rek remained silent as they sparred aside from the occasional grunt of exertion. Despite his size and increased muscle mass, the Rolani had no trouble keeping up with Skarrek's attacks. His movements were likewise that of a veteran fighter. Unlike Ka'Lomera, he showed no fear at facing Skarrek and was able to keep up with every move Skarrek tried.

As they neared the time for the midday break, Skarrek decided to try and up and his game to see just how good Rek truly was. Skarrek rushed towards Rek as the other man was swinging his sword at him. Skarrek deflected the sword with his staff and used it as a way to get inside Rek's guard. The Rolani was able to raise his shield to block Skarrek's charge, but Skarrek was anticipating such a move. He grabbed onto the shield and tried to wrench it away at an odd angle to either force Rek to let go of it or break his arm.

What Skarrek didn't expect was for Rek to not only resist, but to lack any kind of visible reaction to the pain of having his arm twisted. The Rolani grunted, but didn't cry out despite his arm very nearly being turned to the breaking point. It was so unexpected that Skarrek didn't see Rek swing his sword with his other arm until it was too late.

The wooden weapon hit Skarrek full force in the shoulder, snapping the sword upon impact. Skarrek let go in shock. His shoulder burned from the hit, but Skarrek was more amazed that a mere Human could not only hold out in such a compromising position, but still have the presence of mind to counterattack through that kind of pain. It wasn't impossible, of course, but Humans tended to be so soft and frail compared to so many other species in the galaxy that it was unexpected.

Before they could continue their sparring session, the chime sounded to alert everyone that it was time for the midday meal. “You surprised me, Rek,” Skarrek said to the other man. “Well done.”

Rek just nodded before walking away towards the mess hall.

“Is he snubbing me?!” Skarrek thought to himself as he felt his anger start to rise. Normally he wouldn't care about being slighted by someone, but Skarrek had gone out of his way to compliment him. He expected a little more in return than just a nod.

Rasar must have seen Skarrek get angry since the gladiator trainer walked over to him purposefully. “Calm yourself. Rek doesn't speak to anybody.”

“Oh?” Skarrek asked, poorly feigning indifference. “Is he too good for the rest of us?”

Rasar laughed. “No. He cut out his own tongue.”

Skarrek's anger was forgotten at the unexpected answer. “Why would he do that? How do you even know he did it if he can't talk anymore?”

“I read his file,” Rasar told him. “It's my job to know about all of my gladiators so I can better train them. Rek's file was scant on the details, but he used to belong to some terrorist group called the Brothers of Blood that was causing trouble for some backwater territory known as the Laro Order. Apparently, before he was captured, Rek cut out his tongue – presumably so he couldn't divulge any secrets to the government. I don't know how Dorval acquired him, but such are the ways of Hutts.”

Things were becoming clearer to Skarrek as he thought back on their sparring session. “Is he nerve dead too?”

“Not according to Doctor Vardren. Rolani have a fully working nervous system, but for some reason they don't feel pain like normal Humans. Instead of being debilitating, it just alerts them that they've taken damage and nothing more.”

Skarrek looked back at Rek thoughtfully. Some of his respect for the other man fell a bit. So it wasn't training or strength of will that kept Rek from crying out, it was mere biology. Still, it was an interesting ability to have. “I'm surprised I've never heard of their kind before now.”

“Who can keep track of all the different Human offshoots?” Rasar said dismissively. “My understanding is that Rolani typically stay in their little corner of space.”

“I may have to visit their homeworld once I'm done on Crucible and see how they fare.”

“You've got a long way to go before that happens, Skarrek,” Rasar reminded him. “But you've done well so far today. I'm pleased that you didn't try to disembowel Rek after he caught you off-guard.”

“I'm making an attempt to resist my natural impulses.”

“Keep it up and maybe I'll let you pick out your sparring partners again,” Rasar said to him. “But enough talk. Get some food while you still can. We still have a lot of training to do.”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The following week of training was relatively uneventful. Ka'Lomera was let out of the med bay to continue her sparring matches. She did significantly better against her new opponents, but seemed to go out of her way to avoid Skarrek for the time being. For his part, Skarrek ignored her as well. Whatever she had to work through, she could find him easily enough when she felt she was ready to face him again.

Skarrek had so far been able to successfully keep his darker impulses at bay. Rasar had switched up his training partner after a few days. After Rek, it was Makar siv Hyleeh, the Kaleesh warrior. Makar was a noted difference to the ever-silent Rek. The Kaleesh was arrogant and prideful, having shown scorn to all of his previous partners by beating them handily every time they faced each other.

Like Skarrek, Makar preferred the wooden staff as his training weapon, and Skarrek found him to be a clever and thoughtful opponent. He could see Makar adjust his fighting style every time Skarrek found an opening, which forced Skarrek to adapt as well. However, while the Kaleesh was undoubtedly an experienced and creative fighter, he was far from the first opponent that Skarrek had fought that could say the same.

After the first day, it was clear that Makar's pride had taken a significant blow with his failure to do much of significance to Skarrek. The Kaleesh was much more reserved when they sparred the next two days and seemed to have formed an unspoken respect regarding the Barabel's abilities. Skarrek was sure that Rasar, or Verno, had planned it that way all along. While they could have had Verax humble Makar, there was a possibility that it only would have strengthened Makar's arrogance since he could claim that the only one who could beat him was the champion. Having Skarrek do it instead meant that Makar not only lost to him, but also would come to realize that Verax could defeat him too.

And then an interesting thing happened during the midday meal on Skarrek's third day of sparring with Makar. Skarrek usually ate alone in the mess hall, partly due to preference and partly because the other gladiators were wary of him going on another rampage. Makar also preferred to be by himself. He avoided the others and chose to eat alone for reasons he didn't bother to explain.

But on their third day of sparring, Makar walked over to where Skarrek was eating and sat down across from him. Skarrek eyed him curiously, but Makar simply nodded to him respectfully before eating his meal in silence. The two finished their meals without a word spoken between them.

After the meal they went back out to the training pit to find that Verno was waiting in the balcony overlooking the pit. “Gladiators!” Verno announced to them. “Take a seat. I want you all to see what you'll be up against once we start advancing our rank in the games.”

Skarrek remained standing and simply crossed his arms. One or two other gladiators also chose to stand. Verno didn't seem to mind as he activated some controls and two large panels retracted to reveal a large flatscreen that also overlooked the training pit. It's purpose was to allow the Trinivii gladiators a chance to watch matches from rival kajidics, but of course that was only if someone like the majordomo deemed it a worthwhile use of time.

“You're about to see Desilijic's champion, Tyrok, in action,” Verno informed them. “This is footage that happened earlier today. Study it well. This man has yet to lose a match and one day we'll be facing him in combat.”

That perked Skarrek's interest. He had heard a lot about Tyrok since arriving on Nar Kresh, but had never actually seen him fight. His matches tended to be infrequent compared to other gladaitors.

With those ominous words, the flatscreen flared to life at the start of a match in the Grand Arena. The arena was absolutely filled to capacity with several people enthusiastically chanting Tyrok's name in a fashion that drew out the syllables: Tyr-ok! Tyr-ok!

When Tyrok finally walked onto the arena, the crowd went insane with cheering and whistling. Tyrok was a Stenax, a race of beings that naturally approached the same 2.5 meter height as Skarrek himself. They heavily resembled demons from any number of cultures, sporting large leathery wings, pointed ears, a pronounced brow that ended in swept back horns, clawed hands and feet, fangs, and a body covered in several spiky protrusions along their shoulders and arms.

Tyrok himself was a deep crimson in skin color and eschewed all but the most basic clothing, content merely with a loincloth to cover himself and a belt with some pouches to hold it up. He lacked any kind of armor at all except for some decorative braces around his wrists and ankles. For weapons, Tyrok was almost as basic. He carried a simple spear and had a large knife holstered to his leg.

In spite of his fearsome appearance, Tyrok played for the crowd, encouraging their cheers by pointing to members of the crowd and flexing his arms or wings to elicit a response from them. All the while the chanting of his name never seemed to die down.

It took the image of holographic Hutt above the arena to get the crowd to quiet down a little. The Hutt was brown and green in color and had a recessive trait that allowed him to grow hair in the form of a long mustache that drooped on either side of his mouth. The ends of the mustache were tipped by jeweled beads. “Welcome to tonight's main event!” the Hutt intoned with a large grin. “I am Jiron Desilijic Kalshi, the head of the Desilijic gladiator pool, and I'm pleased to bring you a match for the ages!”

Jiron motioned below him to the arena floor and Skarrek noticed that each of the Hutt's fingers wore a large jeweled ring. “Behold Tyrok the Invincible! He has remained undefeated since the day he first stepped onto these hallowed grounds; a true god of the arena! Today Tyrok will defend his title against a hive of Bartokk assassins supplied by the Qunaalac kajidic! That's fifteen Bartokk at once, all connected by a hive mind and relentless in their pursuit of their prey. The match ends only when all the Bartokk are dead or Tyrok is.”

Skarrek's eyes widened a bit at the terms of the match and he could hear whispered astonishment from some of the other gladiators watching that were familiar with the Bartokk. The insectoid assassins were no joke. As Jiron intimated, the Bartokk typically hunted their prey as a group. Each Bartokk contributed to the overall intelligence and creativity of the hive mind, making a fully functional hive like the one Tyrok was about to face a force to be reckoned with.

To make matters even more difficult, the Bartokk were incredibly resilient. Aside from the natural armor afforded to them by their exoskeletons, Bartokk could regenerate from injuries that would be fatal to just about any other species. The only way to truly kill them was to either vaporize them or completely destroy their brains. That was easier said than done when there were a large number of them looking out for the other members of the hive at any given time.

Really, the only advantage one could have over a Bartokk hive was that they got dumber and duller with each loss to their hive. The trick was surviving long enough to make that happen. Skarrek had never found himself targeted by a hive, but he had heard plenty of stories about others who had. Few ended with the prey surviving against the hive.

The match started with the Bartokk emerging from four separate entrances in the arena, effectively surrounding Tyrok at the very start of the battle. The Bartokk themselves were bipedal, utilizing a digitigrade stance similar to that of an AT-ST. Their other four limbs were used like arms, allowing them to hold several weapons at once if need be. Their bodies were jet black and stick-like, culminating in a narrow face beset with six red eyes and a fearsome set of mandibles. Additional eyes were located on their abdomen, giving them an incredible field of vision. A few chose to close the distance even faster by using their lower set of arms as a second pair of feet.

Tyrok did not appear concerned. He let the Bartokk approach before spreading his wings at the last second and launching himself into the air. The Bartokk that had spears or nets attempted to bring him down, but Tyrok either avoided the projectiles or batted them aside with his spear. His nimbleness in the air was matched a moment later by speed as Tyrok abruptly sped towards one of the outlier Bartokk and dove towards it like a hawk swooping in to grab its prey.

The Bartokk attempted to defend itself, but to no avail. The camera showed a red blur obscure the Bartokk for a moment and when it was gone, the Bartokk was missing its head. The camera view switched to a shot of Tyrok in the air holding the dismembered head of his opponent. With one clawed hand he reached inside through the cavity and pulled out the brain before dropping the husk of the Bartokk head to the ground. He then smashed the brain between his hands to destroy it.

Tyrok repeated this with the other three sentries the hive had placed around the battlefield. It wasn't as though the hive couldn't predict what Tyrok was going to do, but trying to stop the Stenax was another matter entirely. In the air he was faster than them and none of the Bartokk appeared to be his equal in one-on-one combat.

In truth, Tyrok probably could have finished up the rest of the hive by picking them off one by one, but after he was finished with the sentries, Tyrok landed back on the ground. Skarrek wondered at the choice until he realized why: it would be more exciting for the crowd if he switched things up. Tyrok was not a champion just because he never lost, he also knew how to earn the favor of the crowd.

Already down four members of the hive, the Bartokk started to act a little more basic as they rushed Tyrok en masse. They knew now that they were no match for him alone. Tyrok, for his part, readied his spear and prepared to meet them in battle.

What happened next was truly astonishing. Tyrok demonstrated just how skilled he was as he attacked, counterattacked, and dodged the oncoming Bartokk before emerging from the other side of the hive swarm. He had a few cuts and gashes on him, but they all looked to be superficial to Skarrek's experienced eye. As Tyrok darted around the last Bartokk in the group, he stuck his spear through the its head and lanced it to the ground. He then lifted up the decapitated body and threw it at the swarm behind him.

The other Bartokk scattered to avoid the flailing body of their hivemate, but that also meant that they briefly lost their number advantage. This allowed Tyrok to target another one that was by itself and decapitate it with his sword.

And so it went as Tyrok systematically picked off the Bartokk one by one and destroyed their brains. It became apparent pretty soon to Skarrek that Tyrok had been playing with the Bartokk the entire time, but unlike the match between Rognak and Mandalore, Tyrok was not underestimating his opponents. He seemed to have a full measure of just what exactly they were capable of. He was doing it to make the match more entertaining for the crowd.

“This has to be rigged,” Graff muttered quietly. “No one is that good.”

Skarrek didn't reply, but he disagreed entirely with Graff's estimation of Tyrok. It was a rare thing to encounter, but he knew there were individuals who fought on an entirely different level and it wasn't because of the Force or some other nonsense. It was pure natural talent and experience. He vaguely recalled that Stenax could live for centuries, so perhaps that was the secret behind Tyrok's incredible proficiency on the battlefield.

Regardless, Skarrek felt a shiver of anticipation run down his spine as he watched the match. Tyrok terrified him. It had been so long since Skarrek had felt true fear that he relished the sensation. This was an opponent he didn't know if he could beat. That fear fueled his excitement at the idea of seeing just how well he would fare against Tyrok.

By now the match was down to the last Bartokk. It's attempts to hurt Tyrok were rather straightforward, but the Desilijic champion played it up without being too obvious about it. At some point he had lost his large knife, so he was dodging the Bartokk's attacks unarmed. Tyrok waited until the chanting of the crowd to finish the Bartokk were at their peak before he rushed in and tore the insectoid's head off with his bare hands and kicked the body away.

Tyrok smiled as he spun the head on one finger like a ball before holding it up and urging the crowd to go into even more of a frenzy to finish the match. Again, Tyrok drew it out to get the most out of the crowd before he dropped the head to ground and stomped it flat.

The roar of the crowd nearly drowned out Jiron's excited exultation that Tyrok had succeeded before Verno shut off the monitor.

“That is who ultimately stands in our way, ladies and gentlemen,” Verno said to them. “As you are right now, none of you are ready to face Tyrok, but if you stick to the training, I promise you will be. No one is invincible, not even Tyrok, and we're going to be the kajidic that proves it!”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Nar Shaddaa

It had taken them a few days to come to a decision, but finally Lillian was granted her request. In the meanwhile, progress on figuring out how to open Dahdtoudi's armor was painfully slow, with Lillian only making it as far as more assumptions on how the security protocols worked. She suspected that this was a diving factor for Kroda to allow her the freedom she requested, though Lillian held no doubts she was still being monitored. In this particular case, however, she didn't mind so much. It was different without having armed goons judging her every move. In the past day alone she had made more progress toward getting Dahdtoudi's armor open without destroying it than she had in the entire time they'd had him there. Though there was still much more work to be done. The code was difficult to crack, and the security measures proved more than a challenge to bypass than simply open the armor alone. She suspected it had to do with the restraining collar they put on him, but she also knew it was the only thing that could have kept her safe from any harm he might cause her, and so she had to think creatively.

Eelar entered the room as she was mulling over the code. Lillian looked up at the Duros with little regard as he approached with his typical armed escort. While his visits were annoying, as they often caused an interruption in her train of thought, they were infrequent, now. "No, I have not found the key to preserving your coveted prize, yet," she said.

"That is disappointing, though it is not why I am here," Eelar said dismissively. "Lord Kroda demands your presence." Lillian knew better than to ask why, and so silently followed the Duros majordomo to the Hutt's audience chamber. Lillian waited for Kroda to speak.

"I understand your progress isn't fairing as well as could be expected," the Hutt finally said.

"Maybe if I'm not being interrupted as often, I might be able to have something more to tell you," she retorted with no small amount of agitation. "I said it before, the security measures in place make this no easy task. These interruptions don't help."

"Then, perhaps, you need more proper motivation." The Hutt waved and a holo appeared of an individual in minimal armor with a Mandalorian helmet. He was fighting a Talz, and by the looks of things, he was losing. Lillian didn't have to ask who it was. There was no other reason why he would be showing her this. After the match was over, the image skipped to another, this time a two-versus-two match with another human. Following its conclusion, the image skipped again, with a three-versus-three match, with a Weequay added to the group that Cadden was in, before, finally, the last match saw him fighting alone again. When it was all over, Lillian looked at Kroda, but didn't say a word. "There will be more, guaranteed," he said. "However, your progress not only determines your fate, but his as well."

Lillian frowned. So this was about her progress with Dahdtoudi. Though Eelar did not lie. They were not necessarily checking on how far, or how little, she had gone with the man's armor. There was another life on the line than her own, now. He had made the point earlier, but now she knew that there was a lot more at stake.

"His next match in the arena could be his last," the Hutt continued. "Or he could continue to live to fight again. However, if I don't see results, progress of any kind even, the likelihood of his death will increase. There are matches far more one-sided than these that he could be put in. Remember that, when you choose to take advantage of my good will."

"I would like nothing more than to crack his armor open," Lillian said, "even if it does kill him." Especially if it killed him. "However, what you are asking of me is no simple task. It will take time for me to bypass all the protocols in place."

"Time neither of you seem to have much of, these days," Kroda said, ominously. "If I were you, I'd seriously start reevaluating my methods right about now. I'll be visiting my gladiator school, soon. It would be a shame if my next command were to cause his life to end." Kroda waved her away, and his guards escorted her back to the room with Dahdtoudi's incapacitated body. Lillian considered all the variables before her. Kroda wasn't the type to make idle threats, so when he said Cadden's life was practically in her hands, she believed it. She needed to figure out this puzzle, and quickly. Lillian looked at the monitor that displayed all the data and findings on Dahdtoudi's armor.

"What is the key?" she wondered quietly, analyzing the information. She could have just pried open the armor, but then it would have been useless to Kroda, even though the chances of killing Dahdtoudi were nearly absolute. But taking the route if caution wasn't going to help her, either. Even if she remained uninterrupted, the algorithms were complicated, to say the least. It would likely take her days to crack the code, and, now, every day counted. She sighed heavily and buried her face in her hands in frustration. She sat there a moment, going through all the information at her disposal. She needed to find the solution, and the sooner the better.

* * *

Cadden got back up after the fierce blow he received from Asael and wiped the sweat and grime from his brow. Ever since Kroda called for him, the Devaronian had shown some restraint in his attacks, though they were no less determined. He had also taken to goading Cadden in an attempt to reveal more about him. So far, Asael had been rather unsuccessful, yet Cadden couldn't help but wonder if he knew, or at least suspected, who he was. Nevertheless, he kept the Devaronian from learning much of his identity.

Asael charged with an upward swing of his sword, to which Cadden brought his own up to block. The Devaronian was prepared for this response, however, and in turn brought forward his free hand in a fist to impact against Cadden's gut. Cadden reacted with his own open palm, redirecting the swing past his ribs, and grappled Asael's arm. He brought his elbow in and landed it against Asael's jaw, dazing his opponent momentarily. Moreover, however, it took the Devaronian aback, and Cadden used that opportunity to utilize his own strength in unarmed combat. Without hesitation, he swept his foot under Asael's, causing the Devaronian to lose his balance. Cadden immediately followed up by dropping his weight down on his opponent, landing a successful blow into Asael's gut and winding him. Cadden quickly retrieved Asael's own sword, rolled to his feet, and without skipping a beat brought both down on the Devaronian. One impacted against Asael's right ribcage while the other left a bruise upon his left temple. Cadden rested one sword against Asael's neck and brought the other back, but a crack of a whip sounded, followed immediately by Gorgg's weapon wrapping around Cadden's forearm.

"Mandalore!" The Gamorrean yelled. Cadden looked at Asael, beaten and sneering at him, before looking back at the Gamorrean. He felt nothing but disgust for the demonstrated double standard, but as he came to his senses, Cadden's feelings shifted more inward, and became focused on himself. He nodded and got to his feet, tossing Asael's sword to the ground. "You have learned well, though you are no champion. Asael merely underestimated you."

"He would be dead if this were the arena," Cadden said coldly.

"That is not for you to decide," Gorgg scolded. "You might have won this match, but Asael is Direj kajidic's champion for a reason." He nodded behind Cadden as Asael had retrieved his sword and arose to his feet, recovered enough to begin again. "Again!"

Cadden narrowed his eyes and brought himself to a defensive stance. Asael spat blood to the ground before he advanced with purpose toward him. "Not bad," he said, "for a thief." Cadden frowned in confusion. "Tell me, Mandalore, what did you do that earned you enough respect to be counted among us?"

"I wouldn't exactly call it 'respect'," Cadden said. Asael swung his sword in a sideways swipe, which Cadden successfully blocked with his own. He jabbed forward with an open palm, which Asael grappled and twisted his arm up. Cadden winced in pain, but managed to bring his sword in a short arc against Asael's midsection. The Devaronian grunted, letting go of his grip, and Cadden spun around to deliver a more powerful attack on the other side of his body. Asael blocked the follow up before he brought his sword up, impacting against Cadden's cheek and sending him to the ground.

"Lord Kroda must see some value in keeping you alive," Asael goaded. "It certainly isn't for your combat prowess. Which means this must be a punishment. So what did our vaunted Mandalore do to wind up here?"

Took down a dangerous smuggling operation for his precious Chronic, he mused, caused millions, if not billions, of credits worth of damage and loss to operations. Take your pick. Though Kroda seemed to be little concerned over events of the past. No, the Hutt was pinning something far more recent on him. "I don't know," he merely said, rising back to his feet. "Nor do I see why it matters."

"Oh, it matters," Asael said. "I won't continue to waste my time on one who doesn't even know how to fight."

Cadden set his jaw. He had to admit, fighting as a gladiator was far different than as a Jedi, or a Sith. Nonetheless, he had to regain his fighting form, if he were to survive another bout in the arena. "Isn't your job supposed to be to teach me?" he asked with a sneer.

Asael matched the expression with his own and approached once more. He didn't wait for Cadden to be ready, and he brought his sword down in a powerful blow. Cadden was able to block it, but at the cost of his footing, and he fumbled to one knee. Asael's sword came around and smacked him in the back before he kicked him to the sand.

"I suggest you stay down," the Devaronian said coldly. "That is where you belong." He spat to the ground and walked away. "Mandalore. Feh! Some Mandalore you are." Asael turned after a few meters and watched as Cadden rolled to his hands and knees. "From what I know about Mandalorians, you do not live up to their name. It's a wonder Lord Kroda sees anything in you."

Something twinged within Cadden and he got back up, took a few deep breaths, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stared at Asael with a fiery determination in his eyes. He brought himself into an opening stance, his sword held out from his body in a one-handed grip, the blade angled upward and back. He folded his offhand across his chest and spaced his feet evenly. Asael chuckled at the move and approached steadily, before jabbing his blade forward. Cadden angled his sword down and deflected the attack, then quickly slashed his own forward, the blunted blade impacting against Asael's gut. The Devaronian grunted, but counterattacked with his own strike. The blow landed on Cadden's arm, but while he winced in pain he disallowed it to deter him as he backhanded the Devaronian with his free hand before sweeping his sword at Asael's legs. The Devaronian blocked the blow and angled his weapon upward in an attempt to take Cadden down once again, though this time Cadden was ready, and dodging the Devaronian's weapon he used his backwards momentum to fuel his follow up strike before he stepped forward, closing the gap with a mighty swing. The sword landed against Asael's shoulder with a loud thud and the Devaronian winced and grunted loudly in pain. Cadden wasted no time and followed up by impacting the sword against Asael's head. Before the Devaronian could recover, Cadden grappled him by the neck and flipped him to the ground, retrieving his falling sword in the process, and stood above him with both pointed downward at his chest.

Asael grumbled in pain and defeat. Cadden held the position for a moment before discarding Asael's sword and walking away. He wasn't sure where that came from, though he suspected Asael felt the same way. He opted to keep the surprise to himself. "You'll find there's more to me than you think," Cadden said darkly. His heart was pounding in his chest, and it took him a few seconds to realize it was not due to exertion, though it played no small part, but rather adrenaline. He tried to calm himself, but the feeling would not go away. If they were in the arena against each other, he would have killed Asael by now, damn the consequences. But here, it was different. It would take a little more effort to kill the Devaronian, fur starters, and the results would be far from favorable. At least, in the arena, it would predominantly affect the crowd's view of him. Though what it meant for Lillian, he could only guess.

The problem he found, however, was that he had no qualms with it. I'm hardly any different than I was as Trayus, he thought bitterly. The strange thing was that it didn't even bother him as much as he thought it would. It's this place. It brings out the monster in a man, his inner demons. He could not let himself fall again. Cadden watched Asael slowly get back up, grunting in the effort. While the blow wasn't fatal, nor would have any long term effects on him, the Devaronian was still dazed and recovering. Gorgg cracked his whip, signaling that the day's sparring sessions were over, and Cadden hesitated a moment before he dropped his practice sword and followed the others to eat.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Training intensified in the days following Tyrok's match. Now that all the gladiators knew exactly what they were up against, there was an extra amount of effort put into their sparring sessions. While the Trinivii kajidic continued to put in appearances in low-stakes matches, to varying degrees of success, Verno seemed to make a point of not sending in his best to compete. Skarrek, Verax, and the new gladiators that Dorval had sent down were purposely kept out of any matches.

It made sense in a way. Verax was still recovering, Skarrek knew he was hard to control, and the new gladiators were still in training. Additionally, Rasar continued to switch up their training partners every few days. Only Verax was allowed to choose his opponent on a daily basis, but even the champion seemed to be following this pattern as Verax would also pick a different person to spar against exclusively amongst the new gladiators. Rasar would then assign the rest.

After Makar, Skarrek found himself matched up against Giil Ravak Qotan Nak, the Bitthævrian mercenary. Skarrek didn't know much about Bitthævrians aside from the conflict they had with the Kaleesh over half a standard century ago. As a people they tended to be isolationists, so the fact that Giil had chosen to make his living as a freelance mercenary was something of an aberrant behavior.

Like Makar, Giil had yet to be defeated in a sparring match. His previous sparring partners, Tuza, Rek, and Melis had all put up a decent resistance, but none had been able to fell the Bitthævrian. Giil used a more unconventional weapon than most: a training approximation of a flail which amounted to a knobby wooden ball with sanded edges on the end of a chain. Unlike Makar, or indeed any of the other gladiators, Giil would often dispense advice to his opponents on how to improve their fighting abilities.

When they first squared off, Giil nodded respectfully to Skarrek. “I was hoping we'd have a chance to spar soon,” Giil said to him. “Your name is well known in the underworld, Skarrek. You have quite the reputation.”

“Whatever,” Skarrek replied. “I've never cared for fame.”

Giil led off with some probing attacks. “I believe you, but the point remains that your deeds are pretty extraordinary. It's hard to accept that you're wasting away here on Crucible as a simple gladiator. It doesn't seem to fit with the same person who successfully led a revolt on Barab I against the New Republic or challenged GAIT to a fight and lived to tell about it.”

Skarrek blocked all of Giil's initial attacks easily and countered with his own attempts to see how good the Bitthævrian was. “So what?” he growled. “I also don't care what people think about me.”

Giil was more than up to defending himself against Skarrek's initial attacks so the two began to spar more fiercely. It quickly became evident that both of them were well-versed in combat. “Maybe you should,” Giil retorted. “Whether you care or not, there's a lot of side bets going around Kresh Lorda that you're here for something other than the games. The most popular bet is that you're here to take down the games from the inside.”

Skarrek deflected Giil's flail with his staff and countered with an attack that forced the Bitthævrian to jump back and avoid being hit. “That's ridiculous! I don't care what the Hutts do here!”

Giil sprang back and rushed Skarrek, wrapping the chain of the flail around the staff and yanking it out of Skarrek's hands. Skarrek countered the follow-up attack of Giil by catching the ball of the flail with one hand and kicking the Bitthævrian away – or he would have if Giil didn't release his grip on the weapon at the last second and dodge the attack.

Giil gave Skarrek the Bitthævrian approximation of a smile before he brought up his fists to continue sparring hand-to-hand. “Oh really? You were taken here against your will and you lost a dear friend. You've committed terrible acts of violence for less. Why should Nar Kresh be any different?”

Skarrek felt his anger flare at the indirect mention of Ket, but he managed to restrain himself. “Maybe you missed the part where I killed most of the previous gladiators here in a rage?” he suggested darkly. “Why do you even care? Why am I so interesting to you?”

“I placed a bet of my own before volunteering to come down here,” Giil said as he suddenly advanced and threw a flurry of punches at Skarrek, forcing the Barabel to guard against them. “So you might say I have a vested interest in what you ultimately end up doing.” He paused his attack and smiled again. “But really I'm just fascinated at how much you're wasting your potential.”

Once again Skarrek felt his anger start to well up. He flexed his claws instinctively. “Explain.”

“You have all the qualities of a natural leader, Skarrek,” Giil said to him. “More than that though, people respond to your strength and will follow you without any prompting. It's already happening with Makar. More will follow his example, I'm sure. Verax might be the champion now, but he's getting older and slowing down. His last match with Asael was proof enough of that. The Trinivii will need a new champion soon. Guess who I'm betting it will be?”

“That's their choice. I could care less.”

“And that's what I mean about you squandering your potential,” Giil replied. “You're an alpha without a pack. You have a strange habit of ditching your followers whenever they start to hang around you too long.”

Before Skarrek could say anything Rasar's power lash cracked above their heads. “Who told you two to take a break?! Get back to sparring or I'll put you both in traction!”

A bit disgruntled, Skarrek walked over to pick up his staff while Giil retrieved his flail. “Did it ever occur to you that I want to be alone?” he growled as he swung his staff horizontally at Giil's midsection. The other man blocked it and countered with an attack of his own, one both physical and verbal.

“I might believe you if your own history didn't say otherwise,” he said, swinging the flail at Skarrek' s head. “The Dinkos, Black Sun, the Kular Clan, the hunting party you formed during the Xen'Chi War, or how about joining the strike force against GAIT...” Although Skarrek dodged the flail's attack, Giil kept pressing his point, narrowing it down to individuals. “Nashka, Ket Maliss, Jerai...” He smiled as he dropped one last bomb: “...Alessandra Jevata.”

Skarrek barred his teeth as his vision started to go red. In his anger he inadvertently snapped the wooden staff he had been holding before dropping the pieces as he struggled to maintain control. Right now all he wanted to do was tear through the Bitthævrian and leave him as a dislocated pile of fleshy parts. That he would dare to mention those people to him... It was taking a supreme effort for him to maintain any composure...

“How do you know so much about me!?” he snarled. He was vaguely aware that Rasar and the guards had noticed the change in his demeanor and were gathering, but he didn't care. He was reasonably certain that he could kill Giil before any of them could stop him.

Giil finally seemed to realize he had gone too far and he dropped the flail before taking a step back. “Like it or not, your exploits are pretty well known. Subtlety has never been your calling card.”

“It's more than that,” Skarrek insisted as he took a step forward to make up the distance Giil was trying to put between them. “Only someone with an unhealthy obsession with me would know some of those names. If they were smart, they would also know never to speak of them to me so casually.”

“I'm a gambler at heart,” Giil explained. “I was on Kresh Lorda when you first arrived. I made it a point to learn as much as I could about you to better inform how I placed my bets. I do it with all the gladiators I bet on.”

After a tense few moments Skarrek reverted his attack posture to something a little less threatening as he crossed his arms across his chest. He didn't believe that was the entire story, but it did seem to fit. He let out a low growl of annoyance before his anger started to ebb. “If I hear those names come out of your mouth again, I'll rip off your head and toss it over the compound wall. Am I clear?”


Skarrek looked to Rasar. “I'm done sparring today.”

“No you're not. I decide that, Skarrek.”

Skarrek pointed to Giil threateningly. “If I fight him anymore today, I'm going to kill him. Is that what you want?”

“I want you to start acting like a damn gladiator,” Rasar insisted. “We can't halt your training every time you have a tantrum. So suck it up!”

Skarrek narrowed his eyes as he studied the Tunroth. By now the rest of the gladiators had stopped sparring to watch the confrontation. Verax had even moved closer to Rasar to provide assistance if needed. “You did this... You told him all that stuff about me to see how well I could control my anger.”

Giil cleared his throat to draw attention back to him. “Rasar didn't do anything of the sort. It was Dorval. He gave me all that information about you and paid me to antagonize you with it.”

Skarrek's mind reeled at the news. “Dorval!” he snarled. “Why!? I've already agreed to fight for him! Why would he do this?”

“I can only guess,” Giil replied, “but he probably sees the same things I do. That temper of yours is going to get the wrong people killed. Dorval might have given me the information, but I chose how to convey it, and I meant every word I said, Skarrek. You're not fighting at your true potential. You're quite skilled, but you're not at Tyrok's level. You're not even close. If you want to be, then you need to recognize what's holding you back.”

Rasar let out of a sigh of annoyance towards Giil. “So you're a ringer that Dorval paid to come down here? I should have guessed based upon your fighting skills. I've never seen you on Crucible before though.”

“That because I never was here before,” he explained. “I didn't lie. I am a mercenary and a gambler, but before I left my homeworld, I was the champion of the arena scene there. I really was on Kresh Lorda when Skarrek was first brought to this planet. Somehow Dorval found out about me. He approached me with the job after Skarrek's massacre inside the compound.”

“Does Verno know about this?”

Giil shrugged. “I have no idea, but I'd be surprised if he didn't. It's pretty clear that Dorval has a plan to take down Tyrok and Verno is in on it.”

“I'm not a fan of being manipulated,” Skarrek growled to Giil. “I should kill you right now as a message to Dorval not to mess with me.”

Giil replied before Rasar had a chance to say anything. He spread his arms wide in a clear gesture of supplication. “If you really think what I said has no merit, then go ahead and do it.”

There were a tense few moments as Skarrek toyed with the idea. The urge was there, and it was strong, but he held himself back from indulging in it. He was going to have some words with Dorval the next time they talked, but Giil was right: killing the Bitthævrian would ultimately gain him nothing except some brief satisfaction.

“I meant what I said,” he finally warned Giil. “Keep those names out of your mouth from now on or I really will kill you.”


Skarrek grunted. “Let's get back to sparring then.”

A second later Rasar cracked his energy lash. “That goes for the rest of you meat too! Get to it!”

Once everyone was sparring again, Skarrek and Giil were practicing hand-to-hand since Skarrek's staff was busted. As they traded blows and blocked punches, Skarrek spoke up. “You really are a gambler, aren't you? That could have easily gone the other way.”


“Do you know why I didn't kill you?”

“I can think of several possible reasons, but I'll admit I'm not sure which one stayed your hand.”

“You offered your life to back up your words,” Skarrek told him. “I respect that kind of conviction. Most gamblers I've come across tend to be cowards when facing their own mortality.”

“Does this mean you believe what I've told you about not fighting at your fullest potential?”

“Let's just say that you have my attention.”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

"Lord Kroda," Eelar announced, "you have a visitor." Kroda hummed in curiosity but permitted the Duros to allow the newcomer visitation rights. Eelar bowed and nodded to the door guards, and after a few seconds a familiar Hutt glided in on her grav sled.

"Ah, Zietra," Kroda said, "What brings you here?"

Zietra looked at Kroda long and hard. "I've come to bargain," she said. Kroda narrowed his eyes, but did not respond. "You would be interested to know I've come across certain... compromising information about you that the Ruling Council would not find very appealing."

At least now Kroda knew what became of the information Blackthorne had stolen. He laughed and waved to his guards. "You fool," he said, "you should not have come here."

Zietra remained calm and her lips curled into a sly smile. "Unfortunately for you, if anything happens to me, the Ruling Council will be given the information immediately. I wonder, then, what might become of this empire you've built up, and this... estranged relationship you've formed?"

Kroda narrowed his eyes and commanded his guards to stop. "You play a dangerous game, Zietra," he said slowly. "Be very careful of your next words. You know not what powers you are meddling with."

"I'm sure,"
she said idly. "Yet I am not the one who faces desolation with a single word. You have only two options, Kroda. Either agree to my terms, or suffer the Council."

Kroda grumbled in distaste over the scenario. "And what is it you want?" he said slowly.

"Influence. Power. Wealth. But, in your particular case, I want something much more. The influence you hold due to your affiliation is unique, and I want in on it."

Kroda thought on her words a moment, letting his silence dominate the room. "Your position is weak, at best, Zietra," he finally said. "You are willing to 'expose me,' as you would put it, but upon doing so you do not get what you want."

"But that's where you're wrong,"
she argued with a wry grin. "I get what I want, regardless. This is just considered a bonus."

Kroda grumbled in disapproval. "Very well," he finally said. "It seems you give me no choice. I will ensure you get what is due to you."

Zietra nodded quietly and left the audience chamber. Eelar approached Kroda afterwards. "Lord Kroda," he said, "forgive my impudence, but is this wise?"

Kroda was unfazed. "I need a very particular bounty hunter," he demanded. "One that will get the job I have in mind done. No questions asked, and discretion is a must."

Eelar nodded. "I believe I know of just the one." He turned and left the audience chamber. Kroda remained a moment before he, too, took his leave and proceeded to his private chambers. Once there, he activated the HoloNet terminal, and a human appeared before him.

"Ah, Kroda," the man said, "a pleasure, as always."

"There is a problem," Kroda simply said, "and I'll require additional, anonymous resources to deal with it."

The man narrowed his eyes and placed his fingers together. "I'm listening."

* * *

The following day saw the gladiators assembled in the training arena at Aen's command. None dared to speak as they awaited the purpose of their assembly. Cadden was in the middle of the group and spared a glance at Asael. The Devaronian paid him no attention, as though yesterday never happened. Finally, the door opened and Aen appeared, followed by Toruk and, finally, Kroda. Cadden's eyes narrowed in hatred toward the Hutt, but he kept to himself and waited in silence. "My gladiators," Kroda announced, "today is a glorious day for Direj kajidic. Later this week we will be showing the spectators of the games a series of matches that will go down in infamy. We will be going up against Gorensla kajidic's champion, Shorbecca. For this feat, we have something very special in store for the spectators. Our own champion, Asael, will fight against Shorbecca." The gladiators roared in approval, and Asael grinned in anticipation. "However, the arena's Undefeated Giant will require more than one gladiator for a profitable match. Joining Asael will be the defier of death himself, Mandalore." Cadden noted Asael's eyes flash wide with rage. Kroda clearly noticed, as well. "I require everyone to be in their prime fighting form. Many of you will be demonstrating your prowess in the coming event against other gladiators of rival kajidics. You disappoint me in the games, the consequences will be dire."

Kroda signaled to Gorgg and the Gamorrean cracked his whip, giving notice for the gladiators to pair up and demonstrate their capabilities to the Hutt. Cadden faced off against Asael, and the two began. The Devaronian's blows were more concentrated, weighted by emotions, but nevertheless Cadden did manage to keep his own throughout the session. It didn't last long, however, before they were approached by Gorgg. "Mandalore, Asael" he said, "enough." Asael gave him a subtle, yet stern, look. "You two train as though you will fight each other. Yet Shorbecca is not like any other. They call him the Undefeated Giant for a reason." It was then that Cadden realized the Gamorrean had fastened his whip to his side and sported a single practice sword. "You will be fighting me, so you two may learn to fight as one to defeat a far superior foe. Begin!"

Cadden and Asael exchanged a quick glance before they charged Gorgg. The Gamorrean easily deflected Asael's initial attack and spun to redirect Cadden's. His counterattack was swift, and brought both gladiators to the ground within seconds. "You each fight individually, and strive to beat the other to the end goal," he noted. "This will be your undoing against Shorbecca. Again!"

The sparring continued for a few more hours before Gorgg motioned the two to cease. He resumed his formal position as the master trainer and cracked his whip to signify the end of the day's sessions. "We will resume training first thing in the morning," he declared. "Asael, Mandalore, you will pair against me until your match against Shorbecca."

It was during the evening meal Cadden had learned something about the upcoming fight. Shorbecca was a fierce warrior, he'd learned, and earned his title well within the arena. According to the stories, which Cadden refused to believe as true as the gladiators believed them to be, only one man had managed to survive a match to the death with the Wookiee gladiator. Gorgg had fought Shorbecca, and suffered grievous wounds, putting him out of the games, though Kroda saw value in the Gamorrean yet, bringing him to the position he was now in. There was even a rumor floating around that Gorgg petitioned Kroda to fight Shorbecca, though the Hutt denied the request.

Nevertheless, Shorbecca was stated to be tall, even by his species, measuring at about 2.5 meters, an impressive height, even for his species, and apparently the Wookiee was well-built to match. Shorbecca was an impressive specimen, if the stories were true. And Cadden knew a thing or two about Wookiees: an average sized one was intimidating enough, but a larger Wookiee with a fierce fighting streak wasn't exactly something he'd be thrilled to face, in the arena or elsewhere. These two attributes, Cadden learned, were what gave the Wookiee his title. Apparently Gorensla kajidic saved matches with Shorbecca as a type of special occasion, of sorts, and were typically among the most talked about, and bet upon, in the games. It was little wonder Kroda was putting his own champion, and his little known and hardly liked Mandalore, up against him. With such odds against them, if they were to succeed, it would bring Kroda a small fortune and a large amount of fame in the games. It could even go so far as to put his kajidic on the map and, easily, on the road to claiming the rank of the top kajidic on Nar Kresh.

After their evening meal, everyone was retired for the night, though as Cadden sat in his cell he noted someone outside in the practice arena, hearing the unmistakable sound of their practice sword hitting a stationary target. Asael, he figured. It was a perk, if one could call it, to being a champion. Cadden paid it little more heed and lay his head down. Before long, he was fast asleep.

OOC: Minor edit due to inconsistencies. Changed Anjiliac to Gorensla and changed Shorbecca's height to justify his totally-not-ripped-off title.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The training pattern continued as Skarrek was paired with Giil for three days for sparring purposes. The Bitthævrian was quite skilled and managed to hold his own against Skarrek for those three days despite Skarrek intensifying the speed and power of his attacks. Giil was strong, but he couldn't match Skarrek in that department, so instead he used skill and experience to either dodge Skarrek's attacks or deflect them to seek an opening.

At the end of three days, aside from everything that had transpired on the first day, Giil's only combat advice to Skarrek was that he tended to leave himself open to attacks if it meant getting a chance to strike his opponent. A skilled fighter could use that against him.

After Giil, Skarrek was matched up against Tuza, the Kobok assassin, for the next three days. Tuza had very little to say and mostly focused on avoiding attacks. It was clear early on that Tuza was someone accustomed to sneaking up on his prey and stabbing them in the back, so head-to-head sparring matches were not his forte. However he was small, fast, and agile, so landing a hit on him was not the easiest thing to do.

If not for all his time practicing against Nashka back when he was in the Dinkos, who fought in a similar manner, Skarrek was sure Tuza would have landed more hits on him than he did.

After Tuza, Skarrek was sure that he would be matched up against the last of the new gladiators, Melis Puarm, the Felacatian pirate, but Rasar unexpectedly nixed that idea. “You two won't be facing each other until we set up a controlled environment for it. Majordomo's orders. Felacatians turn into real beasts when agitated and I don't need two gladiators rampaging out of control.”

Rasar refused to comment on it further, but Skarrek was intrigued despite himself. In her relatively short time at the Trinivii compound, Melis had attracted quite a few admirers from the gladiator pool due to being considered quite attractive by most humanoid standards. Likewise, her friendly and open personality made her easy to approach.

A few gladiators had even attempted to corner her with only their libido on their minds, but Melis had also proven herself to be a very capable fighter. She could easily best just about anyone who wasn't among the new gladiators that Dorval had sent down.

However, amidst all of that, Skarrek had never heard or seen one instance of Melis going out of control like he had. As great a fighter as she was, he didn't see why Rasar considered her to be such a risk.

So he decided to confront her about it during one of the midday meals. Once break was called, Skarrek eschewed his usual custom of sitting at his table. Instead he walked over to where Melis was sitting. She was surrounded by a small group of admirers, but they scattered once they saw him approach. Currently only Makar seemed to have any desire to be around him during breaks.

Melis, however, smiled at him as he stopped in front of her. “Well hey, big guy! I was wondering when you were going to finally talk to me.”

“Rasar says you're dangerous,” Skarrek said to her without any preamble. “Explain.”

“Aren't we all supposed to be dangerous?” Melis replied with a coy smile. “You should know that better than anyone else. You're probably the most dangerous thing here, but don't tell Verax I said that.”

He growled in annoyance at the non-answer, so he tried being even more direct. “Why doesn't Rasar want us to fight?”

Melis got up from her seat and slinked towards him before running a finger down his chest. “You know, I think you could probably take me. I don't say that about a lot of people.”

Skarrek grabbed her by her arms. “Stop avoiding the question! I've seen you fight. You're good, but you're no threat to me.”

“Maybe that's because I've been holding back when I fight the others.”

Skarrek let go of her arms at the unexpected answer. He was usually pretty good at spotting when an opponent was restraining themselves. He never got that impression when watching Melis. “Holding back? You're lying!”

Melis placed her hands on her hips as her tail swished back and forth in agitation. “I'm not lying. I'm holding back for the same reason you're holding back: I don't want to kill anyone.”

Rasar's words earlier about Felacatians being beasts echoed in Skarrek's mind. Try as he might though he just couldn't square her words with what he had already seen from her. “You have something like bloodlust too?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Melis confirmed for him. “I can't control myself in that state though, so I'm working on improving my abilities normally. Dorval commanded me to keep the exact nature of my 'bloodlust' a secret from my fellow gladiators until it's revealed on the arena floor.”

Skarrek eyed her differently than before, attempting to reappraise the woman he saw before him. If what she said was true, then he could understand Rasar's reluctance all too well. Controlling an inner beast like his was not an easy task. He had mastered it once thanks to Ket, but after his breakdown, Skarrek wasn't sure if he could do it again. It didn't seem as though Melis even had the benefit of that much. He could see now that somewhere beneath her happy-go-lucky exterior was something much more primal that wanted out. The way her body tensed when talking about it, the give-away from her tail, there was something else there that he hadn't noticed before...

Finally he nodded. “Very well. I will keep your secret. I know how hard it can be to cage the beast once it's been unleashed.”

Melis breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

Skarrek grunted an acknowledgment before turning to leave and finally get to his meal. Not long after he left, Melis's throng of admirers circled back around her. Skarrek watched her while he ate. Yes, he could see it now. She smiled and joked with them, but it was for her benefit. She was keeping something dangerous from everyone and she did it so well that Skarrek had missed it completely before now.

Only once did she glance in his direction. When she saw Skarrek was watching her there was a very brief flash of understanding in her eyes before she turned back to her small audience of followers. Probably more than any other gladiator, including Giil, she had his attention now.


A few days later the gladiators were gathered in the training pit as Verno walked out to the balcony overlooking the area. By Rasar's order, Skarrek, Verax, and the other gladiators that Dorval had sent down were in front of the rest of the stable. Verno's address would be to them specifically.

“I have seen the measure of your fighting abilities and I haven't been disappointed,” the majordomo said to them proudly. “You are without a doubt the best fighters that Trinivii has. Now you will prove it to all of Nar Kresh!”

“Perhaps emboldened by the mixed performances of our other gladiators in the games, the Gnuda kajidic has requested an elimination tournament with Trinivii. Elimination tournaments are simple affairs: each kajidic sends out a gladiator to face off in one-on-one combat. When one side runs out of gladiators to send against the other, then the tournament ends in a battle royal. The side that still has gladiators standing at the end brings victory for their kajidic.”

Verno smiled. “By Lord Dorval's order I will not be sending all of our gladiators to fight Gnuda in the tournament. I will only be sending the seven of you. I expect that Gnuda will have at least twice that number.”

There were some rumblings of astonishment and disbelief from the other gladiators, but notably nothing from the eight beings standing in front. Skarrek grinned at the idea and he overheard Melis giggle in amusement, but otherwise the other gladiators took the news rather stoically.

“Verax will be sitting this one out,” Verno continued. “I would not sully our champion's reputation by pitting him up against the lackluster gladiators of Gnuda. No, instead this will be a chance to let our Pawa Goba shine in what will be the debut match for most of them. For those of you not fluent in Huttese, that means Power Seven. Get used to hearing that title. Dorval will be shopping it around quite a bit once Gnuda is dealt with. The fans do so love a term they can latch onto.”

Verno nodded. “The match takes place in three days. I expect great things. Now get to sparring!”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Kresh Lorda was filled with many luxury establishments for the high rollers that came to bet on the games, but none was more luxurious or harder to get into than the Nal Bootana lounge. Translated as the Glorious Gardens in Basic, the lounge was mainly reserved for the leaders of the kajidics, their staff, and any honored guests that might earn their favor. As the current leader of the Trinivii kajidic on Nar Kresh, Dorval was automatically given a pass to enter.

Since the place was built with catering to Hutts first and foremost, there was plenty of room within Nal Bootana for Hutts to maneuver themselves or, as was more common, their hoversleds. Dorval usually eschewed the practice of using a hoverseld, but today he was trying to make an impression on his fellow Hutts, so he came on a hoverseld that was attended to by his chief of security.

The atmosphere inside was designed to make Hutts feel comfortable, so it was hot and humid by many humanoid standards. To a Hutt, however, it evoked feelings of being back on Nal Hutta. Dorval found it a welcome respite from the much more arid and stale air that was the galactic standard for star vessels. The general areas of Kresh Lorda were meant to be as accommodating as possible to as many species as possible, so it used the galactic standard.

Dorval soon spotted the Hutt he would be meeting with already waiting for him on his own hoverseld. He also saw quite a few of the other kajidic leaders on Nar Kresh throughout the lounge. Some were in meetings of their own, others were here just to relax. In return Dorval was eyed by some of them, but he ignored the stares as he brought his hoversled up to the booth with the other Hutt.

“Ralla Gnuda Laal,” Dorval greeted him in a civil manner. “I understand that you have some issue with the upcoming match between our two kajidics.”

Ralla was a truly obese Hutt, well into the corpulent stage of his life cycle. He was also far older than Dorval, with his age somewhere in the 800's. Ralla's coloration was a dark brown, bordering on black. His belly was a lighter pink, which gave him something of a venomous look. It was not an undeserved comparison as Ralla had been known as quite the snake back in his younger days.

That, however, was ancient history. Ralla had long since allowed his power and influence to cloud everything else around him. While his far more competent brother ran the galactic affairs of the Gnuda kajidic elsewhere, Ralla had the cushy position of looking after their concerns on Nar Kresh and, in Dorval's opinion, had lost his edge long ago because of it. Gnuda's gladiators were known more for executing the enemies of Gnuda sent to the planet than their participation in real matches.

“Your offering is an insult, Dorval,” Ralla said to him a deep voice that reverberated in Dorval's fat folds. “Seven gladiators against my twenty? I know Trinivii has more that they can give to the elimination tournament. You didn't even submit your champion.”

Dorval signaled for one of the passing waitresses to walk over so he could grab a goblet of wine. He took a gulp of it before answering. “There is no rule that says a kajidic must submit every gladiator they have for an elimination tournament. In your case, my esteemed Ralla, I matched the talent to the tournament. My Power Seven are all that is required to best your entire stable.”

“Your Power Seven?” Ralla repeated quizzically. “What is this nonsense?”

“They are seven of my best gladiators. Each one is a champion in the making,” Dorval said to him confidently. “They are all I need.”

Ralla slammed a meaty fist down on the table in anger. “You go too far!”

Dorval finished the rest of his wine and smiled. “Oh? Then perhaps we should raise the stakes and see if our respective convictions hold. Why don't we make this a true elimination tournament? Instead of giving the gladiators a chance to surrender, why not say that the match is only over once their opponent is dead? If you still feel I'm insulting you, then my gladiators shouldn't last long against twenty of your fighters.”

Ralla seemed a bit taken aback by the new terms. Both Hutts knew that the other side of the coin was that if Dorval won, then Gnuda's stable of gladiators would be all but depleted. They'd be ineligible for the upcoming annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor without first going to great expense to renew their gladiator stable in a hurry. No matter which side of the recreation a kajidic ended up on, not participating at all would be an enormous blow to a kajidic's prestige.

“Damn you,” Ralla said under his breath. “This is what you wanted, isn't it?”

Dorval rested his fingers against his stomach in contentment but said nothing. It was indeed what he wanted. Ralla had played his part exactly as Dorval had hoped, right up to making a scene and confronting him at the Nal Bootana. Now there were other Hutts around to witness Ralla's answer. It was lose/lose for Ralla. Either he backed out of Dorval's proposal and by proxy admitted his lack of confidence in his gladiators or he accepted and risked seeing them all wiped out. There was really only one answer a Hutt of Ralla's standing could give.

“Fine. I accept your terms, Dorval,” Ralla said to him angrily. “I look forward to seeing your measly few fighters get crushed.”

“It will be something to remember, I'm sure,” Dorval replied back. “The corpses of your stable will make fine stepping stones for my Power Seven to ascend to greater glories. If you'll excuse me, I must send word to the betting parlors that the conditions have changed.”

As Dorval maneuvered his hoversled out of the establishment, he grinned in satisfaction. He was taking a huge gamble that his gladiators could pull this off, but it was one he was confident they could do. Getting Ralla to agree to allow killing was the last step he needed to take to assure his victory. At least half of the gladiators in the Power Seven fought at their best when there was nothing to hold them back.

The decimation of the Gnuda stable was sure to get a lot of attention, far more so than the elimination tournament between their two kajidics would have garnered otherwise. This would be an excellent first step on the path to bringing down Desilijic...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Kroda's audience chamber upon Kresh Lorda was extravagant, yet highly functional. To say the Hutt enjoyed showing off his luxuries was an understatement, and decorated upon the walls were short holo vids of his champions in their finest moments of arena combat. Kroda knew how to pander to the spectators of the gladiatorial games, and milked them of every credit they could spare using every tactic of the trade at his disposal. And it paid off. Of course, the prominent feature of the audience chamber was Asael, with his most notable recent accomplishment in the arena against Verax in one of the most anticipated and heated fights between the two in years. Asael emerged the victor and Verax, from what Kroda knew, was put under intensive care, only recently having recovered from the fight. A suitable payback to one of Verax's prior victories against Asael, he thought.

The audience chamber entrance slid open and Kroda averted his attention in mild anticipation for his expected guest. Eelar mentioned to him yesterday the bounty hunter had been contacted and was on his way. The sound of metal clanking against metal and the faint whirring of servos replaced the commotion of the audience chamber as eyes transfixed upon the newcomer. The rusted-bronze colored droid approached Kroda, stopping mere meters from his grav sled.

"T4-K2," the Hutt announced, "your reputation precedes you. I trust my majordomo filled you in on the details of your assignment?"

The droid nodded. "I can eliminate your problem for you," he said, "though my services do not come cheap."

"I assure you, you will be well compensated for a job well done."

"What proof do you require of your rival's demise?" T4-K2 asked.

Kroda chuckled. "She is not your target," he said. "You are to find and either retrieve or eliminate a man named Rix Harand. Zietra is likely keeping him in her holdings on Nal Hutta. Any information he has must also be eradicated. There must not be any trace of what he knows left."

"Consider it done," T4-K2 said. "You will have your target by the week's end."

Kroda chuckled. "I like this one," he said to his attendant. "I will expect you back here by the end of the week, then."

* * *

It was now the day before he would face off against Shorbecca with Asael by his side. That was a notion that left Cadden uneasy, however. During the rest of the week both he and Asael squared off against Gorgg in an effort to best the Gamorrean, but each session ended in their defeat. Gorgg had switched after the first day from his sword to a blunted axe, and despite the two-against-one advantage that they posed, the Gamorrean remained as agile as he had with his sword and still beat them during each session. One match in particular Asael aggressively pushed Cadden away in order to go after Gorgg, himself, a maneuver that cost them both. If it were the real match, both of them would have been dead.

The gladiators had been assembled before Kroda and Toruk, with Cadden and Asael in front and center. The Gamorrean approached them. "Tomorrow, you will both be fighting for your very lives," he said. "Shorbecca prides himself in baiting the audience for a good show before he deals the killing blow to his opponent. He is a fierce combatant in the arena, and not to be underestimated. I have done all that I can to prepare you for the fight tomorrow. Remember this: you must work together to achieve your victory. Fight as one against him, and he will fall." Gorgg looked up to Kroda, specifically, who gave him a slow nod. "The stakes weigh heavily in Shorbecca's favor. Defeating him will not only bring glory to yourselves, but also to Direj kajidic."

Cadden didn't take his eyes off Kroda, and the Hutt noticed, though didn't say or do anything in return. It was no secret between the two Cadden's hatred for him. He couldn't help but wonder the motives Kroda had behind this arrangement. Cadden found it hard to believe Kroda would set him up for any kind of rise in the games, though he wouldn't willingly send his own revered champion to his grave, either. What is your play, here? he wondered.

Kroda made a gesture with his hand and Gorgg cracked his whip. "Mandalore!" he shouted. "Asael! You stay. The rest of you, rest for tomorrow's games. We ship out at the crack of dawn." Cadden watched as the others departed, leaving Asael, him, and Gorgg to Kroda, Toruk, and Aen.

"Asael," Kroda said, "you have served me and Direj kajidic faithfully over the years. As my champion, you have amassed great honor and glory for yourself and this kajidic. Tomorrow, you will prove yourself amongst the gods of the arena."

Asael grinned. "It will be my pleasure, Lord Kroda," he said. "I eagerly await tomorrow's match."

"Do not get cocky," Kroda warned. "Shorbecca's defeat will elevate you to greatness, but it will not come easily. Mandalore, your role is merely to assist where needed." Cadden narrowed his eyes. He could sense the gratification the Hutt got from rubbing the salt in the wound. "Even if it means forfeiting your own life so Asael's may continue on. The crowd will not favor two victors in this fight." Cadden didn't say a word and the Hutt waved them away. "Go," he said, "make whatever preparations you see fit for your... big day tomorrow." Kroda let out a deep chuckle that left Cadden uneasy.

OOC: A bit short for my liking, but I didn't want to hold the thread, so gave it something. Should have the fight(s) written up in a day or two, I'd think.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

The following morning those who were participating in the day's games were transported to the grand arena before the sun rose. Cadden sat in uncomfortable silence across from Asael, neither making eye contact with the other until the craft landed at its destination. They were accompanied by Shar'seca, Corbus, Vok, as well as about a half-dozen others in the day's matches. No doubt Kroda had in mind to escalate the crowd's anticipation gradually by making each match more interesting than the last. They were not the only other kajidic involved in the day's games, but from what Cadden understood Kroda prided himself in making the best spectacle possible when it came to his gladiators.

They were taken to their holding cells where they waited for the day's games to commence. Unlike the previous arena Cadden fought in, the cells in the grand arena favored them a view of the fights. Shar'seca was the first of them to fight, and he stood against an Aqualish and a Sludir in a free-for-all battle. The Twi'lek utilized his dual vibroswords with better efficiency than Cadden recalled from his last match, first assisting through common gain in taking down the Sludir after the creature managed to get a couple of hits of his own in, before his wounds caused him to be a little more sluggish when fighting the Aqualish. The Aqualish gladiator scored a scarring hit across Shar'seca's stomach, but the wound was not deep enough to render him incapacitated. In desperation, Shar'seca charged the Aqualish and drove one blade forward. While the Aqualish gladiator deflected with his double-headed staff, Shar'seca thrust his other blade forward. The second thrust was also deflected, but at the expense of exposing a weak point in the Aqualish's defense. Shar'seca lunged his foot forward, and Cadden could hear the bone in the Aqualish's leg snapping from the cells. In one deft move, Shar'seca beheaded the Aqualish with his two blades. The crowd went wild, and the Twi'lek took it in.

Several more matches took place before Corbus was in the arena. He was pitted against a human, a Zabrak, and a Twi'lek from a rival kajidic, though he had one of the others from the Direj kajidic to fight alongside. A Nikto by the name of Jado, Cadden recalled. The two fought side-by-side in unison, a curiosity for him to observe. Corbus had a sword and shield while Jado wielded a bladed staff similar to those used by the Morgukai. Neither left the other's side, disallowing the rival kajidic's gladiators to successfully flank them, and when the human came within range with his own sword, Jado lashed out with his bladed staff. The blow was parried, but as the human thought he had a quick kill Jado produced his short sword and gutted the man. It then became a two-versus-two fight, as Corbus soon ended the Twi'lek's life before he paired up with Jado to finish off the Zabrak.

Finally, Vok was up, and the Yevetha gladiator entered the arena. The crowd went wild, knowing to expect a good show. A large gate opened and a rancor appeared, causing the spectators to erupt in anticipation for the coming fight. Vok sported very minimal weaponry or armor for the fight, a choice Cadden wasn't entirely sure whether or not was intentional. He wore about his midsection nothing more than a reinforced piece of loin armor and a belt that housed two short swords, though he refused to unsheath them. His lean muscular build made it quite easy for an enemy to underestimate him in the heat of combat.

The rancor let out a roar and started toward Vok. The Yevetha began his charge as the crowd cheered him on and dodged to the side as the massive creature attempted to pick him up. The rancor turned as Vok produced one of the swords and drove it into its leg, causing the beast to shriek out in pain. He left the blade there and continued to circle the rancor. A long sweep nearly impacted Vok, but he managed to avoid it in time. The rancor swung again, this time the blow hitting him square against the chest and sending him to the ground. Vok rolled out of the way just as the rancor attempted to scoop him up, and Cadden noticed the other sword was out as he drove it into the creature's other leg. Once again, Vok chose to leave the blade there.

The crowd was going wild at this point. Vok was back on his feet and maneuvering himself away from the rancor's grasp. Cadden could see what he was attempting to do, now. The beast was weakened in both legs and thus its movement would now be sluggish and clumsy. But if it could get him in its hand, the match would be over.

As if on cue, the rancor managed to get a hold of him and began to draw him close to its mouth. Some of the crowd cheered while others shouted their disapproval. Within a couple of meters of his death, two single objects protruded from Vok's wrists. The Yevetha gladiator drove both down into the rancor's arm and hand, causing it to roar in pain and let him go. He dropped gracefully to the ground and slid under the creature, puncturing its gut with both his dewclaws. Now that the rancor was effectively incapacitated, Vok went around and climbed up upon the rancor's head. Both of the claws appeared again and in a show of victory Vok drove each into the beast's skull. They punctured right where they should and the rancor went to the ground. With a final whimper, the beast became still and quiet. Vok jumped off its head and flourished as the crowd went wild over the spectacle.

After a long day of watching match after match, the holo of a Hutt came to view in the main dais. The Hutt held up its hands in silence. "And now for the moment you have all been waiting for," the Hutt announced. At this time, Cadden and Asael were waiting for the door to open and allow them into the arena. Each sported their typical attire and weaponry they used in the arena, Asael wearing his tattered armor without a helmet while Cadden bore the armor he'd chosen during his second time in the arena. "We have our main event. Representing Direj kajidic is none other than the Direj champion, Asael." The crowd erupted in a frantic cheer. "Accompanying the Direj champion is the Defier of Death, the Mandalore." The gate opened and the two stepped out. The crowd roared Asael's name, and Cadden could even hear the less-than-satisfied spectators boo at his inclusion. The Hutt held his hands up to calm the crowd. "This match has been carefully selected," he announced, "for today, they are going up against the Shadow of Death himself, the Undefeated Giant, Shorbecca, in a fight to the death!" The crowd erupted again as the gate opposite of them opened and out stepped a monstrous Wookiee, his fur predominantly black with stripes and patches of dark brown save for his head which had stripes of white, stepped into the arena. The Wookiee looked around before roaring, holding both arms up for the crowd. One hand gripped a large axe, similar to what Gorgg used against them. He axe had curved blades along the top of its shaft and room for a grip between them for greater precision and control in close quarters combat.

As if the large, menacing looking Wookiee wasn't intimidating enough, Cadden thought bitterly. He glanced over at Asael who was basking in the crowd's cheers for him, sword raised high above his head.

"Kresh Lorda!" the Devaronian shouted. "Shall we begin?" The holographic crowd erupted in approval, and Cadden looked to the Hutt who signaled the fight to begin. Shorbecca roared and, without delay, began his charge. Cadden took a breath and joined Asael in their own rush against their common foe.

The Wookiee's axe came crashing down on Asael, who managed to dodge out of the way at the last second. Shorbecca wasted no time with a follow through, which impacted hard against Cadden's shield. The dance continued on as Cadden and Asael moved around Shorbecca, strafing and dodging the Wookiee's attacks while trying to score their own, though Shorbecca was fast and, if he was not dodging their counterattacks he was blocking them with his axe.

Asael scored a deep cut across Shorbecca's chest. The Wookiee roared and, despite the wound, kept fighting. Cadden cut through air in his attempt to follow up with his own hit. Shorbecca was gradually getting pushed back by the two, now, and Cadden jabbed his shield forward in an attempt to stun him. The Wookiee managed to avoid the attack, but at the expense of Asael's own. The Devaronian kicked his foot forward, impacting hard against the Wookiee's gut and causing him to fumble back. Cadden managed to land a hit and cut across the Wookiee's chest before Asael delivered another deep gash into Shorbecca's gut. The Wookiee fell gracelessly to the ground. The two gladiators looked at Shorbecca's body for a brief moment before exchanging grins and turned to face the majority of the arena.

Asael was the first to celebrate the victory and brought his sword up with a fierce yell. Cadden joined him, though silently, as the crowd cheered for their victory. But it was short-lived. The cheering died down and Cadden and Asael exchanged looks before noticing the Wookiee rise back to his feet. With a mighty roar, Shorbecca charged once again, this time far more ferocious. Both Asael and Cadden could barely keep up, as he battered away at them. Cadden took a hard blow to his shield, sending him flying back to the ground as Asael followed after receiving a backhand strike. Asael was the first back on his feet and didn't wait for Cadden to regain his footing. He charged Shorbecca with the intent of scoring a death blow and claiming sole victory over his opponent but only managed a few quick strikes before the Wookiee swept him off his feet with the shaft of his axe. Cadden was back on his feet by now and rushed Shorbecca, sliding between the two as the axe came down upon Asael. The shield took the brunt of the blow, though Cadden could feel the sting of the impacting force in his arm.

Asael rolled to his feet and lunged at Shorbecca, managing to pierce his sword into the Wookiee's gut before the gap in his defense could close. Shorbecca grunted in pain, though didn't seem otherwise fazed, and landed a hard blow to Asael's forehead, causing the Devaronian to stammer back. Shorbecca pulled the sword from his gut and quickly closed the gap between him and Asael. One swift strike upward opened Asael's gut to his chest. Asael shifted around in a weakened state, exposing his back to the Wookiee, and Shorbecca delivered another blow across Asael's back.

Cadden had gotten to his feet just as Asael collapsed to his knees, and rushed in just as the killing blow was descending upon the Devaronian. Shorbecca's stolen sword met with shield and Cadden thrust forward with his own sword. He missed the Wookiee but did manage to knock the sword away, bringing Shorbecca back to using his axe as his main weapon once more. Cadden blocked another blow from the Wookiee and followed up with his own attack, which was deflected by the axe. Cadden swung a few more times, but couldn't break Shorbecca's defense. The Wookiee moved to the offensive and pummeled him with his axe, striking at his shield several times before a sideways blow managed to dislodge it from Cadden's grasp.

The Wookiee landed a couple of hits against Cadden's head with his free hand and Cadden fumbled back. Shorbecca approached with the intent to finish him off, axe raised and ready to swing down, but was cut short as the reflection of the sun glared into his eyes. Cadden spared a glance back and saw Asael using the shield to reflect the light. Without skipping a beat, Cadden found Asael's fallen sword and lodged it in Shorbecca's gut. He brought the free blade back and swept it across the Wookiee's legs, cutting deep into the tendons and forcing him to his knees. Cadden then brought the blade down and buried it deep in the Wookiee's neck before repeating the strike once more on the opposite side, each time yelling in an adrenaline-fueled rage. Finally, Cadden crossed both swords before Shorbecca's neck before using all his might to server his head from his body, yelling out in fury in the process. He watched the head roll to the ground and barely registered the roaring approval of the crowd before he came to a realization of what he'd just done. Quietly, Cadden let both blades drop to the ground. The crowd cheering and chanting the name they had given to him was a mere echo in his mind.

"Why did you kill him?" Lillian's voice once again asked.

I had no choice, Cadden justified to himself. The feeling had passed, by now, as the realization that it was either Shorbecca or him settled in. A man must accept his fate. Those words had far more weight, now, than they had before. Or be consumed by it.

"You were always destined for terrible things, Cadden."
He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering when those words were spoken to him, the the enthusiastic chanting of his name being drowned out by his memories.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

All of Kresh Lorda was still abuzz in the days following the fight with Shorbecca. It saw the downfall of two champions and highlighted the gladiator many now suspected would take Asael's place as Direj's new champion: Mandalore. Of course nothing official had been announced in that regard, and Asael didn't truly fail against Shorbecca (he was still alive), but Mandalore's unexpected killing blow tended to massively overshadow Asael's contributions to the fight.

Thus no one expected anything spectacular from the elimination tournament between Trinivii and Gnuda a mere few days after the death of Shorbecca. At first that seemed to be the case. Without exception the gladiators from Gnuda were easily dominated and destroyed as each of Dorval's vaunted Power Seven took out their opponents. Ordinarily this would have been a good thing, but the fights were over so quickly that the crowd was beginning to lose interest. There was no excitement in it that could compare to what had happened with Shorbecca.

The Grand Stadium was only about three quarters full by the time of the final battle, with many in the crowd having left out of disinterest. As Trinivii's gladiators waited behind a gate for the signal to start the final match, Skarrek's mind wasn't on the dwindling crowd, but rather on what was coming. It had been far too easy to get to this point. None of them were even injured or drained of stamina. That meant one of two things to him. Either Gnuda's gladiators were extremely pathetic or, more likely, that Gnuda had sent out their worst in order to reserve their real fighters for the grand battle that was to come.

The odds would be almost 2 to 1 against them, with 13 left in Gnuda's stable of fighters that still had to be eliminated before Trinivii could claim victory. That meant they would be facing 13 gladiators that had already had a chance to see how they fought, were likely much more competent, and were ready to overwhelm them with sheer numbers.

The odds didn't bother him, they never did. Once in battle thinking about your chances of survival only took focus away from the fight. Killing was so routine for Skarrek that he barely acknowledged it anymore, mostly because it was so easy for him to snuff out a life that he had to consciously restrain himself from doing it.

He glanced back at the other gladiators, each of them preoccupied with their own thoughts about what was to come. He had come to know these people in the weeks of training he had spent sparring against them, but he felt no connection to any of them. The only thing he cared about was that they wouldn't slow him down and that, at least, was something he felt reasonably sure of.

Of course in the heat of battle nothing could be certain except one's own skills and power. Whatever happened today, he would survive it and continue forward. Crucible was nothing but a means to an end to discover at last who was behind the slaughter of his clan so long ago.

A chime sounded throughout the stadium, signaling that it was time to start the last match. The gate opened, allowing Skarrek and the rest of the gladiators to step back out onto the field. Across the way Gnuda's fighters did the same. The two teams approached each other at a steady pace before meeting in the center of the arena with perhaps two meters of space to separate them.

All of the Gnuda gladiators that they had faced so far had been Red Nikto and that trend continued in the group that came out to face them, however there were a few exceptions. Some gladiators of interest on the other side included a Mantellian Savrip, a Kyuzo warrior, and arguably most striking of all, a Felucian of the jungle dwelling variety. Jungle Felucians were rarely seen off of their homeworld and Skarrek knew very little about them except what they looked like – and at that only due to the attempted Imperial indoctrination when he was still captive as part of the Omega Project. The Empire did so love to revel in their past glories.

The two sides eyed each other up close for a bit as the announcer tried to hype up this last match for the crowd. Then the chime sounded, signaling the start of the match. No one on the Trinivii side was a fool. They knew that their best chance of surviving against greater numbers was to group together and face back-to-back in a circle.

However, the problem with that tactic was that it was predictable and the Gnuda appeared to have a plan for it. The Gnuda fighters rushed forward with some of the Nikto leading the front. Several of them fell to Trinivii weapons, but it was a ruse. With the Nikto bodies providing a cushion against harm, the Mantellian Savrip was free to barrel into the grouping with little to fear. The creature, 4 meters tall, was significantly larger and stronger than anyone else on the field. With massive sweeps of his arms, he sent the Trinivii gladiators flying in all directions, disrupting their formation and leaving them isolated.

Skarrek was not immune to the attack either. It had been sudden and unexpected. The impact tossed him into a freefall before the Savrip grabbed him by the leg while he was still in the air and slammed him hard back down to the ground. The breath in Skarrek's lungs escaped from the shock of the impact and threatened to cause his vision to go black as the Savrip pinned him to the ground by pressing one his giant hands to Skarrek's chest. Skarrek fought back against his body's natural reaction to slip into unconsciousness as he tried to recover and break free.

However, unlike Skarrek's fight with Gor, there was no question who was physically stronger in this confrontation. The Savrip had Skarrek beat in that contest and easily held him down. With his other hand he raised a giant mace with the intent of smashing Skarrek's skull flat.

Skarrek was able to reach out with a free arm and break one of the Savrip's fingers in an attempt to weaken the other fighter's grip, but to no avail. The Savrip seemed to ignore the pain completely. With no time left to do anything else, Skarrek braced himself to try and cushion the blow from the mace with his arms. The strength and power behind the blow would undoubtedly shatter both of his arms, but there was a chance it would be enough to cushion it so that it didn't pound his skull flat.

However, as Skarrek was desperately trying to think of a way out of his predicament, he spotted Tuza crawling over the Savrip's shoulder. The Kobok assassin must have been small enough to avoid the sweeping blows of the Savrip earlier. With a battle screech, stingers suddenly popped out of Tuza's forearms which he then used to slash against the Savrip's elongated neck.

The Savrip roared in pain and dropped his mace as he tried to swat at Tuza. The Kobok was far too agile for the big creature, however, and avoided the blow by dropping down next to Skarrek. “Can you stand?” Tuza asked him hurriedly. “My venom is potent, but it will take more than one slash to drop something that large.”

Skarrek growled as he forced himself to his feet. “Yes,” he answered hoarsely. “My thanks, Tuza. I'll take care of the rest. See to the others.”

Tuza was already gone by the time he finished the sentence. Skarrek snarled at the Savrip, eager for blood. His opponent had made a fool of all of them and that would not stand. The force pike that Skarrek had entered the battlefield with had been flung away somewhere when the Savrip and battered them all aside, but he didn't need it. With a flex of his hands, Skarrek unleashed his claws and charged towards the Savrip.

The Savrip was big and powerful, but that size also made him slow. Without the element of surprise on his side any longer, the Savrip's movements were easy to predict. Skarrek dodged one massive fist that slammed into the ground beside him before he followed Tuza's example and leaped onto the Savrip. Using his claws to get purchase, Skarrek climbed onto the Savrip's back and tore into his opponent's flesh.

The Savrip roared in pain and attempted to reach up and dislodge the Barabel. Skarrek simply changed his tactics and rushed forward by finding purchase on the Savrip's neck and swinging beneath it so that the soft flesh on the underside was open to him. With a powerful thrust, Skarrek shot one of his hands up and carved a swath from the base of the neck to the Savrip's jaw, spilling out everything that was inside.

The Savrip grasped at his neck as he tried vainly to get air, but the wound was too extensive and he fell to the ground to slowly die of asphyxiation. Skarrek, however, saw no need to let the big creature suffer a slow death. He spotted the Savrip's mace nearby and picked it up. The weapon was heavy enough that Skarrek had to strain his muscles to lift it, but he was able to bring it over his head and slam it back down upon the Savrip, smashing the creature's head just as his opponent had planned to do to Skarrek not so long ago.

Skarrek roared in triumph, barely noticing that the crowd responded enthusiastically to the display of carnage. He left he mace where it was and sought out his next target. The battle was far from over and there was still more killing to do...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Kroda was furious over the match's result. Asael had been mortally wounded and, in his stead, Blackthorne had risen to something of a legendary figure. To add insult to injury, the crowd wasn't chanting his champion's name. No, instead they were shouting out for the Mandalore. Asael's chances of returning to the arena in such high favor had greatly diminished when he chose to face against Shorbecca alone at those last moments of the fight, rather than waiting for Blackthorne to recover and the two charge against him together. The Devaronian's arrogance nearly cost him his life.

Kroda had taken his personal ship planetside the following morning to assess his gladiators and check on the status of his champion. It was here, he learned, that while Blackthorne was still recovering from the fight, he was in well enough a condition to continue training. But Asael was nowhere in sight. The Devaronian's wounds were worse than he thought, Kroda soon realized, and he had been placed in the bacta tank at the brink of death. It would take some time before he could be healed enough to return to the games. In the meanwhile, Direj kajidic was without a champion, and it was assessed that Asael would not be recovered well enough to participate in the upcoming annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor, only a couple weeks away.

He met with Toruk later that day to determine their plan of attack in the following weeks. The younger Hutt slithered into the audience chamber with a giant grin spreading across his face. "Say what you will about our Mandalore, brother, but he does know how to fight."

Kroda said dismissively. "Our medic tells me Asael is not going to be recovered enough for the Battle of Vontor in two weeks."

Toruk shook his head, but his mood did not falter. "It's about time you consider a new champion for Direj kajidic," he said. Kroda's eyes flared in response. "Asael is growing old, and, whether you choose to believe it or not, the wagers are not as high as they used to be. The Devaronian, I think, has finally run his course."

"He is my best gladiator,"
Kroda said slowly.

"Was, my dear brother. It wasn't his name the spectators were chanting yesterday."

Kroda's eyes narrowed in contempt over what Toruk was suggesting. "Mandalore is half the gladiator Asael is."

"And, yet, it was he who killed Shorbecca, while Asael laid on the ground, bleeding out. Even when he emerges from the bacta tank, his wounds will take time to fully heal. I wouldn't even be comfortable putting him against Verax for some time."
It wasn't a downplay on either champion's abilities, but rather a testament of the severity of the wounds Asael sustained. The two gladiators had a long-running rivalry that both benefited from, and their skills were on par with each other's to a relative degree. If Asael couldn't fight Verax anytime soon, it would be a great disservice to both the Devaronian and the kajidic to let him fight at all.

"Then I am without a champion until he fully recovers," Kroda said bitterly. That wouldn't bode well for Direj kajidic's reputation.

"Not necessarily," Toruk offered. "This Mandalore has proven himself a formidable fighter. And his reputation since yesterday has since skyrocketed. The Slayer of Shorbecca, they're calling him. The Slayer of the Shadow of Death. I say we take advantage of this." Kroda knew where this was going. "Make him the new champion of Direj kajidic. He's already won the favor of the crowd yesterday, and many are talking that he's the likely replacement for Asael. The Devaronian is yesterday's news. Whatever you have against this Mandalore, surely you can put it aside for the greater profit."

Toruk wasn't considered all that intelligent of an individual, especially from Kroda's perspective, but it was a difficult point to argue against. Kroda wasn't all that thrilled with the idea of an enemy of his championing his kajidic in the arena, however, even if it did have the potential to turn a large profit. In this case, his disliking of Blackthorne far outweighed the potential earnings the man would bring in. What he's done to him, both regarding Rix Harand and, years ago, the Chronic, stretched far beyond recovery through profits. The damages Blackthorne had dealt to him and his operations were unrecoverable. It was akin to applying salt to a wound to even dare suggest he become Direj kajidic's new champion.

"Profit is not my concern, here," Kroda said. "This human does not deserve such a prestigious place among my gladiators."

Toruk merely shrugged. "His fellow gladiators, and the audience, seem to disagree with you on that point," he said. "You put me in charge, here, if you recall."

"A task I figured even you wouldn't have much trouble with,"
Kroda said. "Clearly, I was mistaken. Mandalore is here as a punishment for what he's done, not to be elevated to the highest possible status a gladiator could possibly become." He looked at Toruk long and hard. The other held his resolve. "If Asael does not recover before the reenactment, I will consider naming a new champion. But it will not be him."

Toruk nodded, but remained silent. Kroda figured his brother suspected he'd lost sight in the profits that putting Blackthorne in that position would yield. It would elevate him to a position and status of glory. That's the last thing we need of him. He noted that Toruk was about to speak, and narrowed his eyes. "Choose your next words carefully, brother," he warned.

"You know who the Mandalore really is," Toruk said. It was not spoken in a revelatory manner; Kroda did not think highly of Toruk but his brother was not brain dead. But what was the purpose of bringing this up, now, he wondered? "But if there is one thing I know, it's how to manage the gladiators that you lack the time, possibly even resolve, to deal with yourself. This Mandalore of yours holds great potential to be the Direj champion for a very long time."

"And that is why he should not ever become it,"
Kroda simply said. While his knowledge of Blackthorne was not on the personal level, he knew the man's reputation all too well, and what he was capable of. He would not allow that to be catered to, even if he did not have deep personal reasons against him rising in status. "This discussion is over. Trust in my decision, Toruk. It could very well save your life." Toruk narrowed his eyes but said nothing. Kroda steered his repulsor chair away from their little gathering and onto the balcony overlooking the gladiators' training. He saw Blackthorne taking a far more confident and proactive role as a gladiator, this time wielding two practice swords such as when he killed Shorbecca in the arena.

Toruk slithered up next to him, though did not regard him as he joined in watching the training below. "It's a shame," he said. Kroda paid him little attention. "The crowds love him, now, and he has great potential to make a small fortune."

"It's not always about the credits,"
Kroda said. "See to it he receives no special treatment. I'll be returning to Nar Shaddaa in a couple days to see to business there."

"Will you be back in time for the reenactment?"
Kroda nodded, and Toruk grinned. "I have a feeling it will be a spectacle worth seeing this year." It normally was a spectacle, but the way Toruk said it didn't sit well with Kroda. He looked at his younger brother.

"Whatever it is you're planning... don't. I want this to go smoothly. The last thing our kajidic needs is to lose favor, especially this close to the event. Do not turn me or my school into another Gnuda." The maneuver Dorval pulled on Ralla was still fresh on Kroda's mind. It was an admirable, if not risky, tactic, but it worked in Dorval's favor all the same. While the match between the two was yet to occur, Kroda had already predicted its end result, and while he knew Toruk would not do anything as rash as Ralla had agreed to, he was still weary of allowing him full control over the school in his absence so close to the reenactment. But until he was sure of Dahdtoudi's condition and the successful removal of his armor, he was needed back at Nar Shaddaa. Beyond this, there were other matters to attend to, and he had several projects that needed to remain on track.

* * *

T4-K2 had spent the last day on Nal Hutta evaluating Zietra's holdings. Getting into her compound would be easy enough, given his past dealings with her. What made it difficult was getting to his target, the human Rix Harand, and eradicating all evidence of what he knew from this place without raising an alarm. He was within the confines of the building, now, and had integrated himself among the cadre of individuals, running through calculations of various scenarios that could be executed to get the job done. Most of them resulted in a high probability of failure. He had a good idea of where, approximately, Rix was, the most likely place being in a holding cell below ground. Zietra had some of these cells set aside for prisoners of high importance to her, T4-K2 having delivered one or two to her, himself, in the past. But without reason for being down there, there was a good chance any unwarranted attempts would be met with destruction or deactivation of his person. Or worse.

Until a plan would present itself, T4-K2 had to settle for being one of the patrons of Zietra's palace, an honored guest of sorts. It wasn't until the third day there that an opportunity presented itself. The droid was beginning to doubt his ability to follow up on the declaration he made to Kroda when the building rocked with an explosion. T4-K2 turned with the other denizens of the palace to bear witness to the entrance lighting up in flames, followed by several blaster bolts screaming past the doorway leading to the Hutt's audience chamber. Zietra's eyes went wide in surprise and she immediately began bellowing for her guards. Immediately after, another command went out to those not under her employ, promising a small fortune to whomever took up arms against the invaders.

T4-K2 was not among those whom agreed to the contract. He feigned his own reaction to the attack and looked around as both Zietra's thugs and the mercenaries she had just hired took up positions to fight the intruders. The droid found that nobody, not even Zietra, was paying attention to him, at this point, and he quietly backed out the far door adjacent the entryway. As the door closed, he caught a glimpse of a small handful of armed and armored individuals appear and immediately open fire. Their armor was dark and vastly unmarked, with a reflective visor that covered their faces. They carried, and used with extreme prejudice, heavy blaster rifles that he couldn't identify. What appeared to be their leader was a well-built man with short, cropped hair in a white-and-black suit of armor not entirely unlike the others'.

The door closed as the blaster bolts sprayed in every direction, a few even coming close to his exit. T4-K2 would not take any chances and shot the controls to the door. He knew the palace layout well enough; he could find another way out. T4-K2 was not programmed to be a coward, but fighting these individuals was not in his best interests, either. It went against his mission parameters.

The sound of the blaster fire faded as T4-K2 progressed down the hallway toward the stairwell leading to the holding cells in question. He reached his destination without trouble and noticed the commotion in the audience chamber was over. Without considering who won the fight, he descended the stairs to the basement level. Two guards were at the entrance to the cooridor leading to his destination and T4-K2 executed his protocol droid programming. "We are under attack," he exclaimed frantically. "Lady Zietra demands your presence to repel them!" The two Gamorreans looked at each other before finally pushing past T4-K2 and up the stairs. The droid watched them leave and continued down the cooridor. He reached the entrance to the holding cells to see several more guards and he repeated the charade. Most of them left, leaving one to keep the area secure. Disappointing. The droid produced his concealed blaster and put a hole in the man. He walked up to the terminal and found his target. Within seconds the door opened and T4-K2 was stepping inside.

"Rix Harand," he said, "Kroda has sent me for you." The human gave him an uneasy look, but relaxed visibly when he saw T4-K2 made no move to end his life. He then nodded and got up. "Let's move."

T4-K2 led him through the complex to what was, essentially, an information hub for the facility. Like the path they had taken to get there, the room was vacant, likely due to its occupants moving to assist against the men who stormed the palace. He plugged into the main terminal and began to scrub the database clean of everything on Rix and what he knew. There were references to an organization known as the Triad and an individual called the Illusive Man, but he knew better than to snoop, and ignored any impulsive behavior suggestions to create any copies. Once he was finished, T4-K2 unplugged from the terminal and evaluated their escape plan. A question arose. Where were the invaders? And why had nobody reached this point, yet? He decided it was best not to find out.

The compound was now eerily silent. T4-K2's sensors were not picking up anything of note. Nevertheless, the odds of survival retracing his steps were not good, to say the least. He caught a glimpse of a security feed on his way out of the room; Zietra's audience chamber was shown, and the place was a mess. None of the soldiers were seen, but T4-K2 could tell that they were the victorious side. The Hutt had several burns and holes in her body and was laying on her platform, lifeless. All the patrons whom took up arms against her shared a similar fate. T4-K2 opted to cycle through the feed to see where the invaders were headed, but soon found the palace to be relatively empty, aside from those whom did not ever the fray. The unknown assailants only had one objective, and once that was met they had simply left.

This wasn't a power play. This was an assassination. T4-K2 evaluated the possibility of Kroda having a hand in what had happened, here, but ultimately came to the conclusion it was not a wise question to ask. Besides, the logical maneuver, given Hutt politics, would have been to move to seize assets following the reigning Hutt's death. This clearly was not a goal, here. He chose not to take any risks and navigated Rix out of the palace through a back entrance.

Once he had Rix secured aboard his ship, T4-K2 queued up the comm and established a connection with his designated contact. "It is done," he said. "Inform Kroda I am on my way back."
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Skarrek barely had a chance to enjoy his victory over the Savrip before he felt a blade slice across his back. He roared more in surprise and shock than pain. The cut was shallow, although undeniably intended to be deeper, but his thick scales had prevented most of the penetration. He turned to face his assailant and saw both the Kyuzo and the Felucian easily dodge his angry swipe back at them.

Without a word, the two split up on either side of him and took turns attacking him, getting in a hit or a cut while he was distracted with the other one. The damage was superficial at this point as Skarrek's reflexes were sharp enough to respond to prevent the worst of it and his scales were tough enough to provide a buffer against whatever did get through, but it was starting to add up. The Kyuzo and the Felucian were working with the kind of synchronization that would make the Jedi jealous. What was truly frustrating to Skarrek, however, was that he couldn't seem to lay a hand on either of them when he tried to counterattack.

The Kyuzo was simply too fast and nimble to touch and the Felucian seemed to have a sixth sense about where Skarrek was aiming his next attack.

It wasn't hard to guess at this point what Gnuda's strategy was: concentrate on the biggest threat first and then pick off the rest. Skarrek was that threat. While the numerous Nikto gladiators kept the others busy, Gnuda's best would gang up on him and take him out.

It was a solid plan. There was only one problem with it: for it to work, they needed to kill him, and that was something no one in the galaxy had yet accomplished.

It was also clear that if he allowed this to go on as it was, he would eventually be brought down. So what was a predator to do if he couldn't overtake his prey? The answer was simple. The predator trapped it instead with an ambush.

Instead of trying to block and counterattack the next blow, Skarrek instead rolled out of the way and dashed towards the nearest Nikto corpse. The Kyuzo was fast enough to keep up with Skarrek, but the Felucian couldn't manage the same pace. Skarrek filed that little fact away for later and instead focused on his immediate objective.

With one hand, Skarrek grabbed one of the dead Nikto and used the body like a shield to block the Kyuzo's sword. As a defensive measure it wasn't going to last long against the sword, but it wasn't meant to. The Kyuzo clearly believed Skarrek was getting desperate and was strategically cutting off pieces of the Nikto so it would be useless to him as a shield. It's exactly what Skarrek wanted him to think, because unlike a traditional shield, a freshly dead body was relatively soft and porous.

Since Skarrek only needed one hand to hold the body, it allowed him to bide his time before suddenly bashing his other arm through the body shield at the right moment. In a small explosion of gore Skarrek reached through the body and grabbed the Kyuzo's sword arm as the weapon was making contact. The Kyuzo was taken by surprise and tried to get away, but Skarrek held him tight. As fast and nimble as the Kyuzo was, he had no chance of breaking Skarrek's grip.

His opponent let loose with some panicked garbling in the Kyuzo's native tongue, but Skarrek didn't need any kind of translation. Both of them knew that this meant the Kyzuo's death was imminent. Skarrek didn't draw it out and quickly released his grip on his makeshift meat-shield to crush the Kyuzo's neck. As his opponent went limp, Skarrek finally let go of the Kyuzo's wrist and let the body drop. He then shed himself of the Nikto torso still wrapped around his arm and faced the Felucian.

Unlike the Kyuzo, the Felucian was unarmed. Skarrek briefly thought about grabbing the Kyuzo's sword, but decided against it. In Skarrek's estimation, he always did his best work bare-handed. Weapons were simply a means to an end, so if an opponent wanted to face him without using a weapon, he would oblige.

Felucians didn't have facial features in the traditional sense, so it was tough to get a read on what his opponent was thinking, but according to Skarrek's instincts, the Felucian didn't seem the least bit afraid or apprehensive after seeing his fellow gladiator die. It mattered little to Skarrek. He rarely took delight in his kills aside from a sense of satisfaction after a hard fight. All he took away from the Felucian's apparent lack of fear now was that the gladiator was apparently experienced enough in combat to not let that emotion overpower him.

Skarrek charged forward to attack, but the Felucian was able to anticipate where Skarrek would attack and stay out of the way. It didn't matter how unpredictable Skarrek tried to be with his attacks, the Felucian seemed to always know not to be there and avoid the damage. This was as Skarrek expected, but it was worth it to check anyway. What surprised him was the return blow the Felucian delivered.

What should have been a simple punch to the chest felt instead like he had been hit by a landspeeder. Skarrek could feel the punch to his core and it caused him to cough up blood as he staggered back from the blow. While the blood could have perhaps been explained by all his injuries, Skarrek knew better. He had felt a blow like that before. GAIT had nearly killed him with one that had been far stronger.

The Felucian was using the Force.

His opponent's ability to dodge all of his attacks made sense now, but it also meant that dealing with this gladiator was going to require another bit of guile. As Skarrek understood the Force, it could be used to read intent and give glimpses into the future. The only way he could think of to get around that in his current situation was to try and induce a false reading, which meant planning on doing one attack only to instantly and unexpectedly do another without any prior thought or planning on his part.

Which meant he had to rely purely on his instincts.

Skarrek tried to quell his own apprehension as he cleared his mind. He was going dangerously close to bloodlust territory with what he was attempting. The bloodlust was all about operating purely on instinct, but it was also dominated by anger and rage at all living things. Without the control over it that he once had, Skarrek couldn't be sure about what would happen. He might take out the Felucian, but he also ran the risk of attacking his fellow gladiators as well.

Instead he had to concentrate on just one plan of attack and let his body take over from there. Skarrek spit the last of the blood out of his mouth before charging the Felucian once again. His opponent was easily able to dodge Skarrek's attack and then attempt a counterattack of his own. Skarrek didn't try to think of what he should do and just let his body react on its own. Decades of hunting, killing, and fighting were burned into his muscles. If any of it meant a damn, the time was now.

Skarrek ended up taking the blow, which again hit him like a hammer to a nail, but he stayed on his feet and wrapped his arms around the Felucian, trapping the other creature in a deadly embrace. The Felucian squealed in surprise as it tried to wriggle out of it, but Skarrek wasn't done. Barring his teeth, he tore into the Felucian's flesh with a mighty chomp. The other gladiator yelped in pain and became more frantic in trying to escape - to no avail. Skarrek squeezed tighter, cracking whatever passed for bones within the Felucian's body, before he sunk his teeth into his opponent's neck and ripped out another chunk of flesh. He dropped the body and let the wounded creature try to limp away before he lashed out again and kicked the legs out from underneath the Felucian. Injured as it was, it wasn't in any shape to try and predict Skarrek's attacks now.

Skarrek spit out the piece of flesh he had bitten off. Contrary to the rumors, Skarrek had never had an interest in eating sentient prey. Besides, the Felucian tasted terrible.

He finished off his prey by stomping down on the Felucian's head and smashing it between his foot and the ground.

He let out a fierce roar as he felt the bloodlust threatening to overtake him. Skarrek touched the side of his head as he tried to calm down and mentally will the red seeping into his vision to recede. His gambit had paid off. He couldn't lose control now.

Gradually he felt his murderous intent fading away and became aware of the sounds of enthusiastic cheering from the crowd. He looked around in confusion and realized that the fighting was over. His fellow gladiators were waving to the crowd and, for a miracle, all of them appeared to still be alive. Sure, many of them looked worse for wear, but they were still all on their feet and breathing.

Giil approached him and gave the Bitthævrian approximation of a smile. “We did it, Skarrek. Victory is ours! Much as a I wish I could take credit, you were the star of the match. You effectively destroyed Gnuda's three best gladiators with almost no help. The crowd is cheering for you. Indulge them.”

Skarrek wanted nothing more than to leave and sleep off his injuries for the next few days, but quite despite himself he did feel proud of his victory. He was bloodied and beaten, but he was still standing in spite of everything that Gnuda had thrown at him.

Skarrek ignored his pain and raised both of his arms into the air and howled so loud that it almost seemed to overpower the noise of the crowd. The audience in attendance this day would remember that this was the match where Skarrek had earned a title that would come to haunt his future opponents.

Today had seen the birth of the rising legend known as Skarrek the Savage.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

A day after the elimination tournament, Dorval was back in the Glorious Gardens for another meeting. Word had it that Ralla was furious with him, but the other Hutt was far too busy trying to replace his entire stable of gladiators. Instead it was Jiron who had requested a meeting, which had come as a bit of a surprise. Jiron was arguably the most powerful and influential Hutt on Nar Kresh, so one simply did not turn him down without a good reason.

The truth was that Dorval had been hoping to get Jiron's attention, but this was sooner than he had been expecting. As he brought his hoversled over to Jiron's booth, Dorval gave a respectful nod towards the older and larger Hutt.

“Lord Jiron,” Dorval greeted him. “To what honor do I owe your request to meet with me?”

Jiron took a puff of his hookah before responding. “I observed the way you baited Ralla into that elimination tournament, Lord Dorval. I've heard from my sources that you enjoy taking risks, but I must admit that I thought you had overreached in that last tournament. Your victory came as a bit of a surprise, but not an unwelcome one.”

Dorval smiled. “I had hoped it would be sufficiently entertaining.”

“Mmmm, yes...” Jiron said, dragging out the last word thoughtfully. “You not only made quite a profit, but you also knocked Gnuda out of serious contention. To say nothing of the reputation your so-called 'Power Seven' have started to engender with the patrons. Skarrek in particular seems to have gained favor with the crowd. It's a shame that Mandalore's victory over Shorbecca a few days before has nearly overshadowed it.”

“A temporary setback to be sure,” Dorval assured Jiron. “I foresee many more victories in Skarrek's future. As spectacular as Mandalore's victory was, I think we both can agree that luck played as much a part in that match as skill. Without Asael there, Mandalore would have been another notch on Shorbecca's belt.”

“Perhaps,” Jiron agreed. “Time will tell on that score. I didn't call you here to talk about Mandalore though. I want to talk about Skarrek – rather, I want to buy him.”

Dorval smiled as cordially as he could. “I'm honored, Lord Jiron, but he is not for sale.”

“Come now, everyone is for sale if the price is right,” Jiron argued. “Especially here. I understand you would be reluctant to part with such a promising gladiator like Skarrek, but I assure you that my price would not be an insult. I'm willing to pay you twice what he is worth. Combined with your recent winnings, you could buy several gladiators of his skill level to replace him.”

“Your generosity is noted, Lord Jiron,” Dorval said to him diplomatically, “but I'm not interested in selling Skarrek or any of the Power Seven. Not at this point in time.”

Jiron took another puff on his hookah, but it was clear that his laconic demeanor from before was being replaced by annoyance and anger. “Think carefully about this offer, Dorval. Refusal could have unfortunate consequences for your gladiators. You may very well find yourself in the same situation Ralla is in now. Their showing yesterday was impressive, but hardly top tier, and the arena can be so very unpredictable.”

“Would you care to test that theory?” Dorval challenged him. “I would gladly pit my best against yours.”

The other Hutt smiled smugly. “Don't think me as easily baited as Ralla,” Jiron warned him. “While Trinivii may be climbing the roster, your kajidic is still too low to have any appreciable influence. A match between our two houses would be a waste of my time. You should be more concerned with the annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor. Right now your ranking could place you on either side, but if you were to be more accommodating to me... I could make sure that Trinivii ends up representing the winning side.”

“I am again astounded by your generosity,” Dorval said to Jiron, although there was no emotion in his voice to back it up, “however the answer is still no. And, as I'm sure you're no doubt aware, the Third Battle of Vontor can be a double-edged vibroblade. If the forces assigned to represent Xim somehow manage to win, all the kajidics representing Kossak will take a big hit to their reputation and credibility and vice/versa.”

“Such a thing hasn't happened for centuries,” Jiron said after another puff. “It would be the height of arrogance for you to believe your gladiators could change that.”

“If you really do intend to try and punish me by placing Trinivii on the side of Xim, you'll come to regret it, Jiron,” Dorval promised. “My Power Seven are not to be underestimated.”

“One does not threaten Desilijic lightly,” Jiron reminded him sternly. “Don't let this recent victory of yours go to your head. You are but a small chuba in a very large pond and I'm more than happy to remind you of your place.”

“Do what you must,” Dorval replied with equal conviction. “I know the only reason you wish to buy Skarrek is because you recognize that he could be a serious threat. I'm not the fool my cousin is, I can see Skarrek's worth just as plainly as you. We're going to take that top spot away from you, Jiron. In the meantime, you're free to try whatever you want to stop us. I encourage it.”

“This isn't over,” Jiron promised him darkly.

“On that much we can agree,” Dorval said before turning his hoverseld to leave. “I suspect we'll be talking again soon, Jiron. Until then, good day.”


Sivvi could hardly contain her glee as she read and reread the simple message she had received:

Your request has been received. I'll deal with Skarrek. No fee required. I will contact you again soon.


She didn't know nearly as much about Skarrek as her cousin, but Sivvi certainly knew who Nashka was. The Rodian was something of a legend in underworld circles. He was an assassin with few peers and had even been a Vigo in Black Sun back before Xizor had been eliminated by Darth Vader. Although he had reportedly been living in isolation for the past several years, Sivvi had no reason to doubt Nashka was as deadly as ever. One thing that remained constant about Nashka was his dedication to his craft.

If he wanted to handle Skarrek for her – and for free no less – then she could hardly think of a better scenario. With Skarrek gone, her cousin would be disgraced and she would again be in charge of Trinivii interests on Nar Kresh. She could hardly wait to put this troublesome chapter of her life behind her and return things to normal.

With a satisfied grin, Sivvi deleted the message and decided to treat herself to a celebratory mud bath...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Cadden felt different, somehow, since the fight against Shorbecca. Something had awoken in him that had never been there before. Not as Darth Trayus, not as Mandalore, nor a mercenary, bounty hunter, or even soldier for the Empire. Not even as a Jedi, if one could have ever called him such. He certainly never considered himself one, and it was probably far closer to the truth than he thought possible. It was difficult for him to pinpoint what, exactly, it was that had come about as a result of killing the Wookiee, though he wasn't sure whether or not he liked it. He recalled the fabricated conversation he had with Lillian, those words that sounded like they came from her, but had never been spoken, and his response. But, moreover, he remembered what Freedom had told him back on Mandalore. "You need to be Mandalore for yourself more than we need you," he recalled the man's words. "You need to prove yourself to yourself again. That starts with claiming what is rightfully yours when you are ready to take up the mantle again."

Cadden frowned at those words. It was a strange memory to recall, especially considering their source. He didn't have any fond memories with Freedom, so why did those words have such an impact on him, now? "Mandalore," a voice barked. Cadden looked up at the window in his cell. A human stood outside. "Lord Toruk would have a word."

Cadden sighed and got up. He wondered what it was he wanted, now. He followed the guard up to the audience chamber and watched in silence as the Hutt and the majordomo turned their attention to him. Cadden remained silent and waited for them to speak. "Ah, Mandalore," Toruk said, "I have been placed in a very particular situation. One that revolves around you." Cadden didn't respond, though his eyes said he wasn't surprised. "You see, I am of the mindset that you should succeed Asael as the Direj champion here on Nar Kresh. My brother disagrees."

He's probably the smarter for it, then,
he thought bitterly, though kept to himself. Cadden just quietly maintained eye contact with the Hutt.

"You see, the audience is demanding a champion, and Direj kajidic cannot currently offer one. I intend to show my brother what you are capable of. In two weeks, you will be among the gladiators from this kajidic representing the Hutt empire in the annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor."

"But that is not why you summoned me," Cadden observed. Toruk narrowed his eyes, but dismissed the commentary.

"Before the recreation, a little demonstration should be in order," he continued. He motioned to Aen.

"The patrons of the games have become well acquainted with your success against Shorbecca," he said, "but your victory there wasn't enough to solidify your position as this kajidic's new champion. Lord Toruk is arranging an against-all-odds skirmish between you and a half-dozen other gladiators. Survive this battle, and not only will you bring glory to Direj kajidic, but you will solidify your position as Lord Kroda's new champion. The people are craving more from you, Mandalore. They already fully expect you to replace Asael. Let's not disappoint them."

Cadden eyed each in turn. This was an unusual move for Toruk to make. To publicly defy Kroda was risky, to say the least. But to place him in such a position as the gladiator champion of Direj kajidic in the place of Asael... either Kroda had something very particular in mind to dispose of Cadden without arousing suspicion and the ire of the crowds, or Toruk was taking a huge gamble with putting Cadden out like that. Either way, he was sure, he was going to be on the receiving end of the consequences to follow. "And you believe he will go along with this?" Cadden asked.

"If my brother wishes to maintain momentum as a competitive kajidic in the games, he will have no other choice," Toruk said, though Cadden could see the annoyance toward the question. "And, frankly, neither will you."

"And if I refuse?" Cadden asked. This wasn't exactly something he wanted, unlike Asael, who thrived for being the Direj champion.

Toruk's resolve did not change, and the Hutt looked him square in the eyes. Cadden could see a hint of agitation behind the expression. "It is as I said, Mandalore. You have no choice. You either become the new champion, or you die. Either in the arena or here." Cadden wasn't a fan of either choice, but, as the Hutt made perfectly clear, they were his only options. And he was what was keeping Lillian alive, if Kroda was to be believed.

"Won't this match be overshadowed by my fight with Shorbecca?" Cadden wondered, not bothering to hide his disinterest in the matter. "What good will fighting six more men prove?"

Toruk let out a slow, quieted laugh. A mocking laugh, Cadden realized. "Mandalore, you still have much to learn," he said. "Shorbecca was a worthy adversary, truly, but he was one gladiator. You will be fighting six, none of them without at least the same rudimentary training you have received, enough to enter the arena. And they will all be solely focused on you."

Six--to-one odds were far more interesting than one-on-one, Cadden had to admit, even if his victory was likely more attributed to Asael momentarily blinding the Wookiee. He had to wonder if he could have defeated the Wookiee otherwise, then realized that his mind was going down a path he did not wish to venture.

"If you wish to survive," Aen said, "then become the man the arena demands of you. There are far more powerful gladiators than you participating in the games, but bring a show they won't soon forget, and you can be assured of longevity among Direj kajidic. You will prove yourself as Lord Kroda's next champion in three days. Fail, and face death, either in the arena or here."

Toruk waved a stubby arm and the guards flanked Cadden. "Do not disappoint me, Mandalore," he warned, and with that, Cadden was escorted out.

* * *

Kroda's audience chamber on Nar Shaddaa was bustling with activity upon his return, with various individuals doing business with him or concluding previous business arrangements. Many of the patrons were there either out of force of habit or to elevate their own personal standing by being seen associating with him. Speckled here and there was the occasional bounty hunter or mercenary that found themselves regularly under his employ, either taking a new job, looking for one, or partaking in one of the amenities Kroda's palace had to offer.

The main door to the audience chamber slid open, allowing passage to the droid bounty hunter and his prize. T4-K2 strode into view with purpose, stopping short of Kroda's dais. The Hutt only regarded him a second before speaking. "Ah, the infamous T4-K2 has returned," he said. Kroda looked at Rix with displeasure before returning his attention to the droid. "And you managed to return my man to me, as well. I must admit, I am impressed. I've heard the reports of poor Zietra's rather... untimely demise. It is rather fortunate you were able to get out."

"Yes," T4-K2 said, somewhat dismissively, "it was an unusual coincidence. However, it was nothing I could not handle. I have your man, and all the information has been disposed of as you required. I will gladly accept my reward and be on my way."

Kroda waved to Eelar Madax, his Duros majordomo. "See to it the bounty hunter receives his reward," he said. "Detain him." Two Gamorrean guards approached Rix and separated him from the droid's possession.

"No," Rix said quietly. Then again louder, more desperate. "No, no, no! I've always been loyal to you, Lord Kroda! I didn't tell her anythi-" He was cut off when the side door the guards led him through slid shut.

"I would like you on retainer," Kroda said. "One with your particular talents and skills could prove quite useful."

"That is not how I work," T4-K2 said flatly.

"Surely even one such as yourself could not refuse the healthy sum of credits that would come from being under my employ."

"I am not like other bounty hunters," the droid said. "If you require my services, you put out a contact for each one in turn. I do not deal in long term arrangements."

Kroda offered a small nod, though his facial expression betrayed his resolve. He wasn't pleased to learn this from the droid, but there was nothing that could be done about it. He was more disappointed than he was angered. It would pass. "You may stay and see if there is a contact to your liking you would like to fill, if you desire," he said, dragging each word pointedly. "Otherwise, you may leave when you wish. The credits will be yours soon." He knew the droid would not leave before getting paid, so perhaps in the next couple hours Kroda would find sufficient need of his immediate services.

Within the hour, Kroda's audience chamber was once again disturbed from its normal hustle and bustle by an unexpected arrival. Unexpected to all but Kroda, anyway. The repulsorsled that bore the large Hutt eased itself before Kroda, and he matched eyes with its owner quietly. The few seconds of silence that followed seemed to last an eternity, but Kroda was the first to break it as he put on his formalities mask. "Ah, Pazda," Kroda started, feigning his surprise at the Hutt's arrival at his palace. In truth, he expected this to happen. It was merely a matter of inevitability. "What brings you to my corner of the galaxy?"

"I'm sure you know,"
the other Hutt said dismissively. "Your reputation proves you are nothing if not cunning." Kroda did not break his facade, and Pazda merely grumbled impatiently. "Very well, Kroda, I will play your game. Word reached the Council that Zietra had some valuable information on your... less than desirable... dealings. The kind that could threaten our very existence and way of life."

"I was unaware of such a fabricated tale, nor any advantage she's had over me,"
Kroda said calmly. "What proof does she have?" Silence followed those words for a few seconds, and Kroda suspected Pazda was attempting to break his resolve. He would be sorely disappointed.

"Zietra was found dead a couple days ago," he said calmly. They had no proof, that told him. Not anymore, anyway.

"And you suspect it was my doing." Kroda leaned back. "I assure you, Pazda, I had no hand in Zietra's untimely demise." Kroda dragged those last two words out with contempt. It was no secret in his disliking of Zietra, and so Kroda felt no use in trying to hide it. It would likely hurt him more than assist, in this case.

Pazda narrowed his eyes. "I'm sure," he said slowly, quietly. "Zietra had come to see you several days ago, and she spoke to us about additional dealings you may be involved in.

May being the keyword," Kroda interjected. "Zietra came to me with an offer. I, ultimately, chose to accept it."

"What offer?"

"I do not make it a point to openly discuss my business ventures, even to a member of the Council."

Pazda narrowed his eyes, but ultimately chose to press on. "Combined with what she warned us you were involved in, her death seems rather... convenient."

Kroda had to wonder what, exactly, she had shared with the Council. Rix had enough knowledge of his dealings with, and connection to, the Triad, to bring Kroda to a swift end. He would need to find out just how divulging the man had been and, more importantly, how Zietra even knew enough to mark him as the connecting piece between Kroda and the Triad.

"Unfortunately for you, Pazda, convenience is not proof. I would appreciate you not bringing baseless accusations to my doorstep in the future." It was a bold maneuver, considering Pazda's position. However, so long as the Hutt had no proof, Kroda would not suffer his insults.

Pazda's eyes narrowed with contempt. "Mark my words, Kroda," he said, "the Council is not through with you. You will be hearing from us again." Kroda merely smirked defiantly, bringing a scowl to Pazda's face. "This isn't over. You will hear from me again."

After Pazda was out of the audience chamber and the door slid shut behind him, Kroda motioned to Eelar. "I am feeling generous," he said. "Increase T4-K2's payout by fifteen percent. I am impressed by his thoroughness."

"As you command, Lord Kroda," the Duros said. The Hutt watched the door for a long moment, as if he was expecting Pazda to suddenly return. "Master?" the Duros said. Kroda looked at him. "What of Rix Harand?"

Kroda narrowed his eyes. "Find out the truth from him," he said. "With extreme prejudice, if necessary. Then dispose of him." He could not afford any loose ends, and if Zietra could find his dirty laundry, it was only a matter of time before the Council did, as well.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Cadden finished slipping on his gauntlets when the door to his quarters opened. Lillian walked in and looked him over before offering a wry grin. Over the past several days their relationship blossomed from an awkward mutual attraction that neither were willing to admit to to being openly loving toward each other. In a way, it felt like Renalla all over again. Since Cadden admitted his feelings to her after the incident on Druckenwell, their relationship had taken an unexpected turn. Her grin did not last as the realization of what was about to go down settled in.

"You are dressed for war," she noted, her tone going dry, even a little bitter. Cadden approached her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She did not shrug them away, but she was not receptive toward the gesture, either. "People die in war." She was less concerned for the Triad than she was for him, he knew.

"I have to go," Cadden said calmly.

"I'm afraid of what might happen if you do."

"The dream?" She nodded, and Cadden remained silent.

"I don't know how to explain it. It showed me the man you could become."

Cadden offered his own wry grin. "Could?"

"If set upon the proper path." Lillian remained serious, and Cadden's grin faded.

"And what else were you able to discern about my future?" He allowed a hint of playful mockery in his voice. They had gone over this before, when they initially arrived in the Y'Toub system.

Lillian looked at him square in the eyes, a soft, confident smile bending her lips. She took the bait, and repeated what she'd said last time. "That you will never love another woman." She reached up and gently kissed him on the lips, producing a smile of his own as he returned the display of affection.

It was the night before his next match, and Cadden awoke from the dream, the memory, very suddenly. He quickly found himself unable to go back to sleep and so arose from his bed and approached the faucet fixture in his cell. The water was stale, but potable. He took a few mouthfuls and rinsed his face off before averting his attention to the night sky outside his cell's small window. That was the last time he ever saw her, before...

Cadden curled his fingers into fists and thought back on what transpired from that moment forward. Damn him. Damn Dahdtoudi for what he did. Damn himself for his own part in it, leaving Lillian's side rather than take her dream seriously. And damn Kroda and the Triad. Damn it all. He relaxed a bit as he convinced himself the past could not be changed, no matter how hard one tried, and instead began to let his mind wander. It felt liberating, of sorts, which was unusual, as Cadden had fully expected for his thoughts to venture into the dark recesses of his mind. But he found himself beginning to formulate something of a plan. If Lillian were still alive, then there was still hope. And if there was still hope.…

Nothing will keep me from returning to your arms, Cadden thought. It wasn't the first time he'd made this promise. Not the Triad, not Kroda, not the Force itself. He looked at the door to his cell in thought. Cadden knew, at this moment, he was powerless, but something inside him, deep inside, nudged him, tugged at him, told him a profound truth. Play their game, it said, and you will be set free.

Will I ever see you again?
she asked once more. Cadden returned to looking at the clear sky, the stars shining bright. His focus was set on one in particular, a relatively dim star among the millions in the universe, with a subtle yellow tint.

To go forward, you must go back, the voice from his dream several days ago reminded him. To touch the light, you must pass beneath the shadow. Remember who you are, Cadden.

And who am I?
he wondered. He lost everything, and everyone, he'd ever cared for. And he lost himself. Cadden Blackthorne was dead. He was not a son, nor a brother or a father. Nor was he a Jedi, or a Mandalorian. Or Mandalore, save for in name only. He was nothing. Nobody.

We are who we choose to be, the voice said. You need to make your choice, before it is made for you. Cadden watched the distant sun intently. There was truth in those words, he knew. But what choice did he have? He was neither needed nor wanted anywhere he chose to go. The vast majority of Mandalorians did not want him back in any capacity, the Jedi would see him punished, rather than forgiven, for what he had done as Darth Trayus, and everyone else would sooner see him dead. He had nowhere to go.

Except back.

I should have never left her, he thought.

You did not leave her, the voice said. She was taken from you.

Before the Xen'Chi and the invasion. Before I went to war against the Triad. She asked me not to go. Instead I prattled on about blood and honor.

You did what you thought was right. To protect her.

Cadden continued to stare at the mysterious distant star, not paying attention to his own thoughts. I should have never left her, he thought again.

* * *

That morning the gladiators were assembled for their training. Cadden was led past the group with Corbus Zarel and two others to the entrance to the training grounds. The upcoming events for the day were not grand by any scale, but rather served to temper the crowds before the the Third Battle of Vontor reenactment that was fast approaching. As they left the training grounds and made their way toward the docking bay, Cadden noticed a small assembly of slaves and guards in the adjoining room. They were loading armor that was a humanized variant of what the Hutts adorned back in the Mandalorian Wars. He narrowed his eyes slightly but thought nothing more of it as they entered the docking bay and was led to their transport.

The transit to the arena was eerily quiet, and they were offloaded without a word and delivered to the staging area designated for their kajidic. Aen approached Cadden with a datapad in hand, followed by two slaves with the modified armor in tow. "Mandalore," he said, "Lord Toruk demands you adorn yourself with this armor for your fight. You will be participating in a reenactment of the Second Battle of Boonta, where the illustrious Yarella Direj Thinatj led an army that retook the planet from the Mandalorian Neo Crusaders. It will be a grand spectacle, with you its shining helm!"

Cadden was silent for a brief moment. "I will not fight," he finally said.

Aen paused before a frown crept to his face. "You misunderstand," he said darkly, "Lord Toruk does not ask. He commands."

Cadden shook his head defiantly. "I will not dress as a Hutt and pretend to slaughter my own people." He immediately recognized what he said and regretted it. He had let slip his heritage, from whence he came. He was expecting the Gran to immediately take advantage of this new information.

"Know your place!" the majordomo said sharply. He immediately calmed himself. "You are no longer of Mandalore, or wherever you happen to hail from." Aen's response surprised him, as the majordomo seemed to simply disregard this information without thought or care. "The time has come for you to release your hold upon the past. You are destined for great and wonderful things, Mandalore. Embrace the path that has been set before you."

Cadden glared at the Gran, his eyes flaring with anger and defiance. "Majordomo," he started.

"Hold your reply," the other interrupted. "There is no choice in the matter. You will either embrace your role, or you will perish." He motioned to the armor. "The crowds expect a grand spectacle, Mandalore. Do not disappoint. Lord Toruk is not known for his leniency."

Cadden's expression did not change, but he made no reply. Without a word, the Gran left him with the slaves and the armor. They proceeded to put it on under the careful observance of the guards. Before long, Cadden was adorned with the breastplate, boots, greaves, pauldrons, and gauntlets of the unusual, scale-like armor. The helmet offered to him completely covered his face, not dissimilar to the assault armor that was commonly found among members of Black Sun during the height of the Galactic Civil War. "No," he said. "No helmet. If I am to fight, I require unobstructed vision."

Fully adorned, sans the helmet, he was led to the main gate and waited in silence, two short swords occupying his hands. He took a deep breath, calming himself as he awaited his cue. You turned against your people, the voice in his dream reminded him. You ventured into the darkness, and there you lingered. Cadden looked out to the arena floor, his eyes cold as steel as the crowd booed as six men set foot on the arena's sand. Clearly they were not the favored side in the upcoming match, possibly due to the ridiculous odds that were set up. Each was dressed as a Mandalorian Neo Crusader, their appearance nearly identical to that of authentic Mandalorian armor, half sans the helmet. Cadden supposed, with a small amount of deductive reasoning, the composition of their armor was more for show than function.

Toruk's holographic image came into view on the dais and the Hutt raised his stubby hands for an announcement. Aen's image appeared next to him. "Patrons of the games," the majordomo said, "today we honor the glorious Yarella Direj Thinatj, a prestigious member of this kajidic and a commander of the Hutt armies during the Mandalorian Wars unmatched in glory. As tribute, the magnificent Toruk Direj Thinatj has chosen to reenact his ancestor's most famous battle against the Mandalorian hordes!" The crowd cheered as Toruk gave a flourish with his right hand. Aen let him have his moment before he continued. "Gaze at the prisoners standing before you," he continued, and suddenly Cadden realized he'd been played for a fool. He was told his enemies would be trained gladiators, but instead they were merely men sentenced to death. He was left uneasy as Aen continued to work the crowd. "And imagine the Mandalorian Neo Crusaders that invaded Hutt space. Ravaging and destroying its holdings, pillaging and murdering its noble people. Slaughtering all in their path... even a Hutt councillor!"

The prisoners reacted to these statements in an unusual way, as if they embraced the roles shoved upon them. They seemed to ignore, or remain unaffected by, the crowd's boos. Aen continued his speech. "Violence and madness swept the sector," he said. "Echoing across the stars, where all others turned their backs. All seemed lost, until the Hutts dispatched their prized commander." Aen paused for effect, using the moment of silence to build the crowd's anticipation even further. "Enter Yarella Direj Thinatj!"

The gates opened and Cadden marched out. He felt a bit strange portraying a Hutt, but the crowd ate up the spectacle all the same. They viewed his entrance as an impressive sight, the human personification of one of the Hutt Cartel's finest.

"For the honorable role of Yarella, there was but one choice. The Defier of Death! Slayer of Shorbecca! Soon to be Champion of Direj kajidic… I present to you, the Mandalore!"

The crowd went wild at the announcement and chants of "Mandalore! Mandalore!" reverberated. Toruk approached the forefront of the projector once more. "In honor of Yarella Direj Thinatj," he announced with a booming voice, "let blood be shed!" The crowd roared in approval as the prisoners fanned out to attack. Cadden remained motionless, paying them no attention. Time seemed to slow as he turned his head slightly upward to consider the empty blue sky. A sad smile bended his lips as he felt the sun on his face, the gentle breeze brushing by him. He closed his eyes, thinking back upon the dream he had of traveling the field. He would not allow himself to live by the mercy of another any more. Instead, Cadden left his life in the hands of fate itself.

One of the prisoners stepped forward and hurled his spear at Cadden. It soared through the air toward him, but as it neared its mark the spear caught the breeze and altered its course just enough to miss slamming into Cadden's face. The gleaming tip drew a thin line across Cadden's cheek. Time resumed as Cadden's eyes crashed open. It was not his time to die. Not yet. With a steely resolve, he made his advance. Another prisoner thrust his sword at Cadden's neck, but Cadden deflected it just in time to sidestep a third prisoner's assault. As the third man's sword swung through the air Cadden sliced his right arm, his sword easily penetrating the plastoid replica armor, producing an agonizing scream of pain as blood sprayed through the opening onto the sand. The fourth prisoner's sword carved a giant gash across Cadden's shoulder blades, causing him to buckle back and grunt loudly in pain. This granted the second prisoner an opportunity to take advantage of an opening and advance upon him.

Cadden quickly recovered, the adrenaline pumping through him, and he parried the man's blow just in the nick of time and scuffled forward to counterattack with his own thrust. The man deflected it, but at the cost of an opening in his own defenses. Cadden wasted no time and slammed an elbow into his throat. The prisoner hit the sand as Cadden spun around to meet the fifth man's battle axe spinning toward his head. Time seemed to slow once more as Cadden bent out of the way, the axe rotating lazily an inch from his face. Recognizing the need to get to open space, Cadden barreled toward the fourth prisoner, smashing in the man's helmet with the pommel of his sword. Cadden returned to a ready stance, observing the prisoners.

By now the first prisoner had retrieved his spear and was already moving in to attack. The weapon thrust forward and Cadden countered with one of his blades, knocking the shaft off course. Rather than being taken off-guard, the man immediately used the momentum created by Cadden's counter to swing the base of the spear around, catching Cadden across the jaw. Cadden staggered back, monetarily stunned. The prisoners took this moment to regroup and, as Cadden regained his senses, they were already stalking toward him. Each man had but one mission. Kill the Mandalore.

You left your Mandalorians in the dark, the voice taunted him.

Your war was for the Mando'ade, Kyr's voice reminded him.

They don't deserve to have you lead them, Freedom's words echoed. Those people, the Mando'ade who will die because of your indecision and self-loathing.

Cadden eyed each prisoner, his breath heavy and fast, as he felt the odds closing in against him. A hush had fallen over the arena. Scattered murmurs, barely audible even over the holo feed, portrayed concern that their rising champion may not survive this battle. Cadden continued to survey the prisoners in front of him.

We need you, Cadden, he remembered Kyr saying. Just not as our Mandalore. But moreover, you need you. You need this. You are our Mand'alor. You are the Mand'alor.

His face hardened with resolve. If this is my destiny, he thought, then let it begin now. Cadden sprinted forward with renewed vigor, sword gripped tightly in each hand. In a swift motion, he stabbed the second prisoner through the throat, piercing the shoddy makeshift mock armor with ease. He released the sword's grip and ducked just as the fourth prisoner swung his own sword at Cadden's neck. Cadden clutched his remaining sword with both hands and thrust it upward, skewering the aggressor, as ribbons of blood protruded from the opening he made in the armor and from his helmet on Cadden and the sand below. Cadden rose and removed his sword from the other man's lifeless neck, turned, and hurled it at the fifth prisoner. The blade lodged deep inside the man's skull, nearly splitting the helmet in half from the force of impact.

The crowd was in fervor, erupting in excitement at the spectacle before them. Roars of approval could be heard amongst the spectators, nearly drowning out the sounds of the battle. Cadden paid them no heed as he focused solely on the remaining three prisoners. The first prisoner and the third began to circle Cadden in an attempt to work together to bring him down. They rushed him from opposite sides. Cadden stepped to the side and ran his sword through the third prisoner's stomach as the first prisoner thrust his spear at Cadden's neck. Time seemed to slow once more for Cadden as he leaned back, the spear's tip narrowly avoiding his chin. Cadden used his right hand to grab the shaft and yank the weapon from his aggressor's hand. He broke the spear in two across his knee and drove the pointed tip through the man's right ear with such force that, along with some brain matter and blood, it appeared from the opposite side of his head. The man's eyes rolled back in his head as Cadden turned and looked for the last prisoner.

The man was running to the opposite end of the arena, looking for a miracle, some way out. He futily grabbed the chute's gate and shook it, but to no avail. The man, feeling trapped, turned to face Cadden as he stalked over, both swords dripping blood onto the sand. Like a killing machine. Upon realizing there was nowhere to flee, the man drastically sprinted toward Cadden, both hands holding his sword above his head. He brought it down with all his might, only to be effortlessly deflected by Cadden. The man's sword handle flew from his grip and he crashed to his knees. Cadden's shadow descended over him ominously. Cadden raised his sword, set to deliver the final blow.

Only to pause. Cadden found his own face staring back at him from the sand. But the face itself was not that of Cadden Blackthorne, the Mandalore, the prisoner and gladiator, but rather that of Darth Trayus. A bald head and clean shaven, scarred from his battles against those whom he'd betrayed. The image of Darth Trayus locked eyes with Cadden, and the moment seemed to last an eternity.

Put aside your past, Kyr's words echoed in his head. Focus on the future. Cadden knew what he had to do.

The man looked at him with pleading eyes. "Don't..." he uttered.

Cadden snarled and brought his sword down with violent fury, decapitating the defenseless prisoner. Blood erupted from his neck like a scarlet volcano as his head tumbled to the sand. Cadden noted that the man's face no longer looked like his own, not now nor as Darth Trayus. The crowd roared in response, an overwhelming approval of his actions. Cadden stood, exhausted and blood soaked, absorbing the public's deafening cheers. He knew only one truth at that moment. He had accepted his fate.

Remember who you are, what you were made to be, Kyr's voice reminded him. Remember your words.

A warrior is more than his armor.
Cadden threw his arms up to the sky above, gleaming a tint of red. Much like his dream. He shouted at the top of his lungs a single sentence. "I… AM... MAND'ALOR!" The crowd's roars intensified as Cadden embraced his fate. He had made his choice.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

In the days that followed Trinivii's unexpected victory over Gnuda, Dorval's Power Seven continued to prove themselves in other matches. Sometimes alone, or in small groups, but they were quickly raising the favor of the Trinivii kajidic with audiences. A notable exception was the omission of Skarrek from any match, which was apparently part of Verno's plan. Something about always leaving the audiences wanting more.

As he killed time until his next match, Skarrek trained with Verax, but for him it was something of an exercise in frustration. Verax demonstrated repeatedly why he had claimed the title of Champion of Trinivii for so long. The Tarc's battle experience likely eclipsed Skarrek's own, possibly both in years and frequency. While Skarrek was no stranger to battle, very few opponents he had faced ever presented a serious challenge to him, and of those, they had certainly come much more infrequently than the battles Verax fought on a regular basis against other equally skilled (or more so) gladiators.

Perhaps things would be different if Skarrek was fighting for his life, but when it came to simple combat training, the gulf between their abilities was apparent. Verax reminded Skarrek a bit too much of Nashka in that regard; a being who knew their exact strengths and limitations and exploited that to its fullest during battle. Meanwhile Skarrek remained uncertain of how far he could push himself without losing control. He was not the predator he once was.

As Verax stepped back and released the deathgrip one of his claws had on Skarrek's throat, he nodded in satisfaction. “Verax sees your potential, Skarrek. You are a fast learner. You force Verax to continually change his strategies, but there is weakness inside that hobbles your every movement. Your great strength allows you to compensate for this against most opponents, but it will not save you against those like me, and especially against someone like Tyrok.”

“Tell me something I don't know,” Skarrek growled. “What is my alternative? You've seen what happens when I lose control. I would rather be a weaker fighter than allow myself to lose control like that again. I would not grieve the death of anyone here, but the idea of being a mindless animal again does not appeal to me.”

“And yet you had control over it at one time,” Verax pointed out. “It allowed you to face threats like GAIT and become a demon in the eyes of the Xen'Chi. If you did it once, you should be able to do it again.”

“You're no Ket Maliss,” Skarrek said to Verax. “You have no idea what the bloodlust is like. He did. Without his tutelage to help me remaster it, it's better if I never allow myself to go down that path again.”

“You are wrong,” Verax argued. “If you do not tap into that power, your opponents will use that against you. Verax has seen it before, many times. He has even used that to gain victory over stronger gladiators more often than he can remember. If you do not fully know yourself in the arena, it will eventually be your end.”

“Well said, Verax,” Verno added from his position overlooking the pit. “I've been pondering just how to help you gain control over your bloodlust again, Skarrek. I have some ideas that we may try out sooner rather than later since there's been a rather interesting development from our rivals over in Direj.”

Verno activated the large screen that was built over the pit so all of the gladiators could see what the majordomo was about to show them. He brought up a recent match that appeared to be playing homage to some Hutt victory in the past. There didn't seem to be anything particularly special about it until Verno froze the image on the Human masquerading as a Hutt. “That is Mandalore,” Verno informed them. “He's fighting without a helmet for the first time. Does anybody recognize him?”

Skarrek squinted as he tried to place the face, but nothing came to him. The other gladiators remained silent as well.

“No?” Verno asked rhetorically. “I don't blame you. His true appearance is not well known, but according to Lord Dorval's sources, the prevailing rumors are that this is actually Cadden Blackthorne. Also known as Darth Trayus. Also known once, ironically enough, as the actual Mandalore.”

There were murmurs of astonishment from the other gladiators. The name meant very little to Skarrek aside from some of the man's more notable and/or notorious accomplishments. Unless someone did him wrong or they proved to be an exceptional warrior against him, Skarrek couldn't be bothered to care at all about the galactic fame of certain individuals aside from how troubling they might be if they got in his way.

All it did was confirm for Skarrek that Mandalore would be a tough opponent when they eventually fought. That was something he already knew from seeing how well the Human had fought before. Still, there was something about the Human that bothered him – some distant foggy memory that Skarrek couldn't quite recall. Had he fought Cadden before in the past? If so, it was so long ago that he couldn't remember the circumstances. Maybe getting the Human's scent would jog his memory...

“If those rumors are true, or if Direj is trying to fool everyone with a lookalike, remains to be seen. Strangely enough, they have yet to make the claim that it really is Blackthorne. Still, it would be far from the first time that a kajidic has used an imposter to claim they were using a notorious warrior in the games,” Verno explained. “I've lost track of how many times Boba Fett has apparently fought in the arena,” he added with a roll of his eyes.

Verno shut off the viewscreen. “Regardless, this changes things. True or not, the rumors that Cadden Blackthorne is fighting for Direj will draw big numbers, especially if he keeps winning his matches. The other Power Seven are bringing audiences, but none of them have the name recognition yet that Skarrek does. So we're going to counter the fame of Direj's galactic monster with our own. Lord Dorval has already set up a match for you tomorrow.”

Verno smiled. “And to really play up your notoriety, Skarrek, I think a certain level of pageantry may be required for this next match.”

Skarrek grimaced at the thought. He was just getting used to the idea of playing to the audience at all. Now Verno wanted something more? Skarrek resisted the urge to snap at Verno for whatever stupid idea he had in mind and simply nodded instead. “Fine. As long as it gets me closer to what Dorval promised me.”

“It will,” Verno assured him. “The audience tomorrow is going to eat it up. If we play this right, this revelation about Blackthorne may actually fast track our own timeline. Trust me.”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The following day had much of Kresh Lorda buzzing with anticipation about Skarrek's unexpected match. His opponent was being kept deliberately ambiguous by Dorval as it was a match being supplied entirely by the Trinivii kajidic, so this fight had no stakes for any of the other kaijdics. Still, word that it would be Skarrek the Savage fighting again was enough to raise a lot of interest in what they had in store.

Not that Skarrek was aware of any of this. He simply waited behind the gate for his cue to enter the arena and play the bit Verno had dreamed up. Dorval's voice carried clearly across the arena as the Hutt worked up the crowd...

“...the victory of Mandalore yesterday was impressive, but the Trinivii kajidic found the match a bit wanting in true spectacle. We will correct this today with the unstoppable force you've all been clamoring for: Skarrek the Savage!”

The gate opened and Skarrek walked out to vociferous cheers, that were suddenly hushed as the audience saw his appearance. Per Verno's instructions to raise the level of pageantry, his enormous frame was entirely shrouded by a dark cloak. He moved slowly to try and look as intimidating as possible before he reached the center of the arena. Skarrek then reached up and cast off the cloak and raised his hands to the air.

His wrists were shackled, but with a show of flexing his muscles, the trick cuffs broke away and “freed” him. For good measure, Skarrek added a roar that echoed across the arena. Much to Skarrek's displeasure, the audience ate it up, cheering even louder for him. Verno was proven right about the pageantry, but all Skarrek could think of was how ridiculous he felt showboating like this. He had to keep reminding himself that this was all in service to finding out who was behind the death of his clan, but it did little to improve his mood.

Skarrek carried little with him into the arena. He wore a simple set of light durasteel armor that was designed more for mobility than protection. Over the years he had found that he was at his best with only a bit of armor backing up the protection of his naturally thick scales. For weapons, Skarrek brought a force pike with him and nothing else. His teeth and claws were more than enough to deal with anything the force pike couldn't.

Dorval waited until the audience cheering died down a bit before continuing. “Who would dare to challenge the power of Skarrek? How about some real Mandalorians?”

After Dorval's rhetorical questions were asked, the opposite gate opened and three figures stepped out onto the arena. They wore mock-ups of the supercommando armor, sans the jetpacks, except that the helmets had no visors in them. As the supposed Mandalorians got closer, Skarrek could see that the armor was certainly no substitute for the real thing. It seemed built more to play to the crowds than be functioning armor.

“That's right!” Dorval confirmed the apparently unspoken question in the air. “These three are not slaves dressed up to look like Mandalorians. They are the real deal, caught violating the sanctity of Hutt Space. The Trinivii kajidic has transported them here at great expense to face judgment at the hands of Skarrek. If they survive, their transgressions will be forgiven and they will be set free. If not, they will receive the warrior's death their kind so often seeks. Place your bets!”

There was a brief lull as Dorval gave the Kresh Lorda patrons time to gamble on the outcome of the match. Skarrek took the time to examine his opponents. Whether they were truly Mandalorians or not remained to be seen, but he noted several things that certainly seemed to imply that Dorval was speaking the truth. Perhaps most obvious was that none of them showed any trace of fear as they studied him in the same way he was studying them. These were experienced fighters. They had seen battle before and they were ready for it now.

Skarrek grinned, showing his many teeth. Good. It meant this wouldn't be boring.

Suddenly a chime sounded, signaling the end of betting and the start of the match. Skarrek didn't hesitate as he charged towards the apparent leader of the trio. He would see what these Mandalorians were capable of then he would kill them. Every match won was a match that brought him closer to his goal and he wasn't about to allow anyone to get in the way of that...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Kroda was furious. The Hutt had hurled many objects of various interest at his staff and servants over the past several minutes in response to Blackthorne's spectacle in the arena. "Is my brother brain-dead?!" he demanded. "He was supposed to keep the Mandalore in the pocket! To use him in the upcoming reenactment! Not to elevate him in the direction of champion! My champion!" The Hutt shot his majordomo a sinister look. "And this nonsense about letting him fight without a helmet?"

Eelar swallowed hard. "Lord Kroda, none of us were made aware of Toruk's decisions.…"

The Hutt roared and waved an arm, knocking the Duros majordomo back into the dais. "Do you think I care what you have been made aware of?" he shouted. "I want this fixed, and I want it done now!"

Eelar had returned to Kroda's side and bowed to the Hutt weakly. "Yes, my lord," he stammered. "Of course. I will send someone to deal with this, personally. What is your command?"

Kroda calmed himself some as he considered the possibilities. Toruk was a moron, but in one specific case he was right. Blackthorne was turning a profit, and a high one at that, it would seem. But profits alone did not make a champion. And while the patrons of the games were favoring Blackthorne as Kroda's new champion to replace Asael, he was not so willing to follow their wishes. It wasn't about pride, but a matter of intelligent thinking. He knew enough about Cadden that, if he were to be put in any position of power, trouble would likely follow.

If he were to get a new champion, Kroda wanted one that would be loyal, not unpredictable and a loose cannon. A thought occurred to him, and he let out a disturbingly satisfied chuckle.

"Set an example of what happens when I'm defied," Kroda said. "Toruk needs to be reminded who is in charge, here. Contact Aen. Tell him it's about time to put our Mandalore's skills to the test." Kroda looked at a holo vid of a previous match in the arena not long ago. "And I believe I know the perfect match up for our rising star."

* * *

"What were you thinking?" Toruk demanded. "I set up a match for you to be elevated to glory, and you treat it like your execution? I don't know who you think you are, Mandalore, but you'd better not pull a stunt like that again."

Cadden had remained silent during the chewing out. Despite the outcome of the match, Toruk was displeased with how he'd handled it. "I won, didn't I?" he growled. "Isn't that all that matters? I fight for you in the arena, I win the favor of the crowds. You reap the profits."

Toruk glared at him. "Watch your tongue, Mandalore, or I will grant you your wish for death." He looked past Cadden as the door behind him opened. Cadden kept his eyes on the Hutt as Aen walked into view and whispered in his ear. Toruk returned his attention to Cadden. "It seems my brother sees fit to test your mettle yet again, Mandalore." Which meant, Cadden surmised, Kroda's response was not what Toruk hoped for. He couldn't decide if that was good or bad for him. Likely the latter. "A match that will surely arouse the crowds." It was clear he did not approve of the decision, but Cadden guessed he had no choice in the matter. "Leave us," he commanded, and Cadden was escorted out of the audience chamber.

Cadden was returned to the training grounds where he noted a stock of new recruits being guided in. The gladiators were shouting and jeering at the men as Cadden approached. He noted Asael approach from the medical quarters. Gorgg entered the square, whip in hand, quieting the gladiators with his presence. The Gamorrean master trainer surveyed the recruits with blazing contempt as he launched into his commencement speech.

"What is beneath your feet?" he demanded through the translator.

The slaves eyed the sand in confusion, unsure how to respond. A Weequay spoke up. "Sand?" he said. The gladiators roared with laughter as Gorgg frowned in disgust. The master trainer cracked his whip, bringing the commotion to an abrupt halt.

"Mandalore! What is beneath your feet?"

Cadden was surprised by being called out, but he hid it well with the help of years of training. He stepped forward, delivering his response with confidence. "Sacred ground, master trainer," he said. "Watered with tears of blood." Cadden stole a glance at Asael, who was seething in response to no longer having the privilege to respond.

"Your tears," Gorgg continued, your blood. Your pathetic lives, forged into something of worth. Fix your eyes upon me. Listen. Learn. And, perhaps, live. As gladiators. Now, attend your master!"

Unlike Cadden's initiation, this one was hosted by Toruk. Cadden watched in silence as the Hutt slithered out to the balcony. Following him was Aen with his datapad in hand. "You have been blessed!" the Hutt said. "Each and every one of you, to find yourselves here, in the training grounds of Kroda Direj Thinatj! The finest purveyor of gladiators in all of the Hutt Cartel!" The gladiators cheered, and Cadden allowed himself a grim smile. "Prove yourself, in the hard days to follow. Prove yourself more than a common slave. Fail, and die. Either where you stand, or sold off to the mines. Succeed, and stand proud among my titans!"

The gladiators roared with approval. Gorgg cracked his whip for silence and surveyed the recruits with dissatisfaction. "A gladiator does not fear death," he said. "He embraces it. Caresses it. Flirts with it."

* * *

The next day started without a hitch. Cadden and Corbus sat at a table with their bowls of food, eyeing the new recruits as they poured in as the remaining gladiators filled up the remaining tables. Asael shoved the first back, a slender Iridonian that appeared to have been picked up as a beggar from the streets of Coruscant. "You frelling wait until gladiators have filled their stomachs," he scolded. "If there is any left." The gladiators began to laugh as Asael served himself a generous helping of the stew.

Cadden rose from his seat and approached. "Asael," he simply said, calm and methodical, using his intimidation game as a bounty hunter to project his voice without raising it. Asael's expression darkened. "Let them eat."

Asael hissed. "They must embrace pain and suffering to become gladiators. This is how it is done."

"Not by you. Let them eat." Cadden matched the Devaronian's glare and, after a couple seconds, Asael tossed his bowl in the pot in disgust.

"Mandalore the Kind and Gentle," he mocked, eyes locked with Cadden's, "offering hugs and warm kisses."

Cadden narrowed his eyes slightly. "Do not mistake me, Asael," he said unwavering. "I give no shavit about these recruits. But you are no longer being called the Champion of Direj kajidic. You're only that by name, now. You do not take lead, here. You follow."

The mess hall had fallen quiet as all eyes fell upon the two. There was a tense moment of silence. "The man who follows is forever at your back," Asael said quietly. Something to consider... Champion." While Cadden had not been named champion, yet, predominately due to Kroda's objections, to the gladiators of Direj kajidic and, more importantly, Toruk, he was already such in all but name. Asael pushed by Cadden in hatred and disgust.

"Frelling Devaronians," Corbus said.

The Iridonian retrieved his bowl and looked at Cadden meekly. "Thank you," he said quietly.

Cadden looked past him. "No one should die with an empty stomach," he merely said. He returned to his table without another word.

Cadden was paired up with, of all people, a recovering Asael for their exercises. He was still fairly weary from the fight against Shorbecca, but the Devaronian champion was keeping his spirits high, all the same. Asael, despite himself, offered a sharp-toothed grin, though it lazily attempted to conceal a great amount of contempt for Cadden. Their exchange during breakfast did not help improve their relationship any.

"So the Mandalore thinks he can replace me, Asael, as Lord Kroda's champion?" he said. "Do not forget to whom you owe your life, pup."

Cadden retrieved his dual practice swords and twirled them once in as opening pirouette. "Likewise," he said calmly. "Had the Wookiee bested me, he would have finished you off. We both stand here today because of the other's actions."

"Then we owe each other nothing." Asael lunged forward with his shield, Cadden parrying the blow before the Devaronian spinned a quarter counterclockwise turn to lash out with his sword. The attack was easily blocked. Again Asael took on the charge, his strength, agility, and stamina surprising to even Cadden for someone who, just days ago, was on the brink of death. Nevertheless, Cadden refused to attack, and let Asael take the offensive, dodging or blocking blows as they came.

After a few minutes, the continuous offensive started to take its toll on the Devaronian. He grunted as he swung his sword once again at Cadden, sweat dripping down his brow from the continuous exertion. Using his shield as cover, Asael aimed a well placed thrust at Cadden's left ribs, right at his heart. Cadden used both swords to trap the attack and, in one fluid motion, twisted the sword from Asael's grasp. He wasted no time and answered with his own attack, impacting the Devaronian across the face and sending him to the ground. Cadden saw this as an ample opportunity to prove a point.

"He attacks boldly to hasten victory," he announced to the gladiators and recruits whom since stopped to watch the two fight. "Counter to proper training." Brimming with anger, Asael lunged at Cadden, sword back in hand. Cadden sidestepped and brought a sword against Asael's back, sending him to the ground once more. "Defeat is delivered not only by the sword, but also the crowd." Cadden locked eyes with Asael. "Fall from their grace, and you may never rise to former glories." Asael grunted and rose from the ground once more, his stomach wound had reopened and the bandage around it was starting to turn a crimson red. "A true gladiator is taught to embrace pain and suffering. To fight until life flees from his worthless body."

Asael's eyes flared, wide with rage, and he charged Cadden. Cadden met the attack, deflecting Asael's shield strike with a side step while bringing both his swords down, one against the shield to knock it off balance and one against the Devaronian's wrist. He wasted no time and spun around, using the momentum to strike at Asael's ribs. The impact hit hard, but Cadden wasn't finished. He followed up with a sweeping kick, knocking Asael off his feet. He finished by delivering a powerful elbow strike against Asael's gut on his way to the ground. Both sword and shield clanged to the sand, free of the Devaronian's grasp.

"Learn from this man," Cadden declared, looking Asael square in the eyes. His voice lowered slightly, addressing the Devaronian specifically. "Or share his fate." He brought his sword up, ready to bash Asael's skull in.

"Mandalore." Cadden paused and glanced up at Toruk. "Return to training." He motioned to Shar'seca.

Cadden nodded. "Lord Toruk," he said. He glanced briefly at Asael before turning his back to him and rejoining the other gladiators, pairing up with the Twi'lek.

* * *

Choruk Ad'rangir sized the Barabel before them with intent. Rusur Dinui and Parjir Dral held their weapons at the ready as they assessed their enemy alongside Choruk. They were part of a four-man team dispatched by Kyr Aden to Hutt space after they learned of an unidentified Mandalorian being sent there not long after Cadden's reported death. Kyr wanted to find out what was going on, and if there was a correlation between the two. While the Mandalorian's trail had gone cold, the four of them did manage to stumble onto one of Trinivii kajidic's operations. The mistake cost them one life and, upon being overwhelmed, the remaining three were captured. To be put to the death in gladiator combat, as it turned out.

He calmly narrowed his eyes through the visor of his helmet at the Barabel before them. They had faced worse odds, and survived. This would be no different. The armor they wore was a joke, at best, designed more for showmanship than for protection. Choruk's dark skin showed the blatant weaknesses in his armor, along his arms and legs predominately, contrasting with the light gray color of the so-called protection. Rusur's caramel colored skin tone and Parjir's own light complexion offered similar weaknesses that the Barabel was likely to target first.

A chime sounded the beginning of the match, and the three Mandalorians spread out to give themselves room for the Barabel's inevitable charge. Rule number one in combat: never underestimate your enemy. They would need to determine his skills to adequately fight him, and charging blindly into combat would be a surefire way of dying a quick, and dishonorable, death. He brought his sword up in a defensive position, nestled against the small shield strapped to his gauntlet. Parjir wielded a standard sword and shield while Rusur sported a spear and small shield. All three were at the ready for whatever the Barabel would bring to this fight. Their opponent charged with a conviction all three were easily capable of reading.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Despite appearances to the contrary, Skarrek's charge was anything but blind or rushed. He was using a predator tactic as old as time; rushing into the herd and seeing how they reacted – looking for weakness in how they responded to the threat that could potentially be exploited. The three Mandalorians didn't panic and quickly spread out to surround him, which told Skarrek quite a bit on its own.

For one, the fluidity of the maneuver without the need to even vocalize it implied that these three had a history of fighting as a unit. These were not slaves made up to look like Mandalorians. Perhaps they were not the real deal, but they were still experienced warriors and wouldn't fall to simple scare tactics. That was good. It meant they would be a challenge.

The natural reaction to having prey split three ways would be to pause and decide which one to go after, but that was a good way to give up an advantage. Before even making the charge, Skarrek had already selected his first victim ahead of time: the pale one with the standard sword and shield. It was based on criteria no more complicated than the fact that the darker complexions of the other two would make them slightly easier to track against the sands of the arena.

Skarrek's stride didn't break, didn't even stutter, as he continued his forward charge towards the pale one. At this point the man's companions had two real options, either try to save their comrade, or watch his fight and see what they could learn of their opponent. Even as Skarrek closed the gap, he could hear the footsteps of the other two as they rushed forward to provide support to the pale one. This, too, was informative to Skarrek. Knowing that these three would not abandon one of their own came with possibilities that could also be exploited in a fight.

To the pale one's credit, he tried to keep his distance and buy time for his comrades to make up the distance, but it was a futile effort. Skarrek was larger than any of them and his greater stride gave him every advantage in this situation. Finally seeing that there was no other option but to face the giant Barabel alone, the pale one readied his sword to attack and his shield to block. Unless Skarrek had seriously misjudged how experienced these Mandalorians were, the pale one's next move would be obvious because Skarrek wasn't giving him the opportunity to try anything else. The pale one would not try and meet Skarrek's charge head-on as that would be tantamount to suicide, but rather he would attempt to parry and pivot so that he could rejoin his companions and present a unified front.

Not that Skarrek was going to give the pale one a chance to even get that far. He was already readying his counter in anticipation of the move. With his off-hand, Skarrek swung his force pike - not at the pale one's chest or head - but at his legs. The pale one saw the attack and attempted to sidestep out of the way of the attack, however with only one direction he could go, he ended up getting herded into the exact direction Skarrek wanted him to go. In a split second of action, Skarrek closed the gap and bashed the pale one across the neck and shoulder with all the strength of his primary hand.

The flimsy armor absorbed some of the impact of the devastating blow, but it knocked the pale one to the ground, causing his helmet to fall off and bounce away. Skarrek didn't give his opponent a chance to recover and quickly turned and kicked the fallen man at his comrades. The darkest skinned of the trio intentionally caught the pale one as the tan one dodged the body and continued to charge forward with his spear.

The tan one was good with the spear, no doubt attributed to how many years of combat he must have seen, but it was obvious that such a weapon was not his preferred means of attack. His attacks were precise and designed to keep Skarrek at a distance, nothing more. It didn't take long to realize that he was merely trying to buy time for the dark skin one to assess how badly damaged the pale one was.

Some part of Skarrek admired how committed these Mandalorians were at fighting as a unit. Indeed, it was increasingly easy for him to think of these men as actual Mandalorians instead of men dressed up to look like them. Whether they truly were or not was something he might never know, but Skarrek decided to buy into it, fiction or otherwise, as a credit to how well they were fighting. Had they panicked at the start, or given him any kind of opening aside from the one he had forced himself, this battle would be going far worse for them.

That established, Skarrek still had no intent of being merciful. These three were ultimately in his way and he had no reservations about putting all three of them in the ground to bring himself closer to his objective. Victory could only be claimed once they were dead, so that was what was going to happen.

At the next spear thrust, Skarrek grabbed just below the blade and yanked it forward. The tan one had the presence of mind to let go before he was drawn too close to Skarrek, or rather he would have still been safely out Skarrek's reach if not for the Barabel's force pike. Its entire purpose was to give Skarrek better reach than he would have normally and it served its purpose well. Unlike the tan one and his spear, Skarrek had years and years of experience using a force pike to benefit him in combat. The pike pierced one of the tan one's legs above the knee, crippling him as Skarrek savagely twisted it before pulling it back out.

The tan one yelled in pain before falling backwards as his blood spilled onto the sands. Skarrek rushed in for the kill, but had to unexpectedly abort as the dark skin one charged at him to defend his comrade. Skarrek was able to block with his pike by switching it to a two-handed grip and using it like a staff. The dark skin one was clearly more skilled than the other two. His flurry of attacks forced Skarrek to backpedal or risk getting stabbed by his opponent's sword.

It was in fact a clever gambit by the one Skarrek presumed was their leader, based on his fighting skills and how he seemed to look after the other two. While the leader was keeping him occupied, the pale one had recovered enough to grab the tan one's spear, which Skarrek had dropped after yanking it away. The intent was clear: while the leader kept him occupied, the pale one would use the longer range of the spear to stab him.

Skarrek unexpectedly smiled at the leader, briefly startling the man. Skarrek compounded it further as he spoke to him. “The skills of you and your men are not lost on me. For that, I'm going to save you for last.”

“What are you-” the other man started to say before Skarrek interrupted it by letting the sword inside his defenses on a particularly shallow swing. It cut into the armor Skarrek was wearing and gashed his thick scales, but did little damage otherwise. The unexpected strike gave Skarrek the opportunity to bash the leader in the side of his helmet with the butt of the force pike, knocking the flimsy excuse for protection off of his head and stunning him. Skarrek then grabbed him while he was still dazed and tossed him far away from the other two Mandalorians.

In that time, the pale one was able to throw the spear he had recovered at Skarrek. The aim was true, but the body throwing it had already taken damage to one of the shoulders, so the power behind it was not what it might have been. Skarrek knocked the spear out of the air with a swing of his pike, shattering the thrown weapon in two.

The pale one quickly found his discarded sword and shield and ran to stand in front of his injured comrade; the tan one. With a satisfied growl, Skarrek charged towards them with every intent of finishing them both off quickly. However, it seemed they had one last trick to pull. The tan one, still prone on the ground, had grabbed a handful of sand and waited until Skarrek got close before flinging it at his eyes. Once again the aim was true, temporarily disorientating Skarrek and giving the pale one an opportunity to strike with his sword.

The sword, ironically enough, cut into Skarrek's shoulder and no doubt would have continued horizontally in an attempt to behead him, but the wielder was already dead by the time the blow was struck. Skarrek's force pike had pierced one of the numerous weakpoints on the faux Mandalorian chest armor and destroyed the pale one's heart, killing him instantly.

The sand trick was irritating, but it wasn't going to disable Skarrek like it would many other opponents. His homeworld of Barab I was one of the harshest environments in the known galaxy and the Barabel were well adapted to survive there. Dust storms were a daily occurrence and actually one of the lesser dangers of the planet's wilds. Barabel eyes could take a little sand to the face. To say nothing of the fact that Skarrek had used a similar trick in one of his earlier matches by making a dust cloud to hide in. What the tan one had done was the equivalent of splashing water on a Mon Calamari.

Skarrek dropped the dead Mandalorian and angrily picked up the tan one, who tried to break the durasteel hold Skarrek had on his neck with little effect. With a snarl, the Barabel jammed the claws of his free hand into the open slit of the helmet the tan one was still wearing, penetrating the Mandalorian's eyes to the back of his brain.

Skarrek walked out of the sand cloud with the tan one still impaled on his claws and convulsing in death throes. When the body stopped wriggling, Skarrek slammed it to the ground with a roar before shaking off the excess gore still on his fingers. The crowd hollered its approval at such a brutal display of death, although that was secondary in Skarrek's mind. He had actually forgotten that he was supposed to be playing to the crowd. He rectified this by bellowing another roar that echoed across the arena.

The crowd went wild and started enthusiastically chanting Skarrek! Skarrek! over and over again.

By this time, the leader had managed to get his bearings and was standing once more, even managing to recover his sword. “I'll avenge what you did to Rusur and Parjir. I swear it!”

Skarrek casually pulled the sword out of his shoulder before reaching down and patting sand into the wound. The wound would heal on its own soon enough, but it wasn't a bad idea to stop the bleeding in the meantime.

“No. You won't,” Skarrek corrected him calmly. “I've seen your level of skill now. It's impressive, but it won't save you from me. You're going to die by my hand. I take no personal gratification from it aside from the thrill of the fight. In that, you should be proud. Tell me your name and I promise I will remember it.”

Skarrek adopted a combat stance with the sword that was covered in his own blood and grinned. “Or keep your silence and meet your end in anonymity! Either way, this is your last battle, so make it count!”
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

It became immediately evident that their opening maneuver was a mistake, as the Barabel had already chosen his first target before the match began, negating any advantage they would have otherwise had. Parjir was the first choice, and Choruk swore quietly to himself as the Barabel began his advance. He was fast, much faster than any of them had anticipated, and closing the gap between them proved to be a chore. Parjir was no idiot, nor an amateur in combat. Their enemy's charge already provided them useful information. He was attempting to keep the distance between him and the Barabel in an effort for the three to regroup and take him down together. It proved futile. He forced himself to halt and sidestepped as the Barabel swung with his force pike. The strike was meant to lead into the real blow, and soon Parjir was stumbling their way. Choruk caught him while Rusur continued the advance, intent on buying some time for them to present a unified front. Choruk quickly assessed Parjir's wounds, keeping Rusur in his peripheral vision.

The Barabel was fast and strong, moreso than any of them had expected. Despite the clear disadvantage the three Mandalorians were put in, they still fought as one cohesive unit, something that seemed to surprise their enemy slightly. But their tactics were not enough. Rusur bellowed in pain as the Barabel pierced through one of his legs with his force pike and savagely tore it from the wound, spraying blood to the sand and crippling him.

Choruk was already on the move, and brought a harsh blow down on the Barabel, forcing him to block with both hands. Choruk held more an advantage in single combat against their enemy than his comrades did, having more experience with a sword than either did with their chosen weapons, and being of stronger build. He did not allow the Barabel an advantage and began to deliver attack after attack, looking for an opening. There were a couple near misses, but the Barabel backed away with each successful strike to avoid injury. Choruk made sure to follow.

Suddenly the Barabel smiled, taking Choruk aback. "The skills of you and your men are not lost on me," he said. "For that, I'm going to save you for last."

"What are you -" Choruk began a split second before swinging his sword once more, this time penetrating the Barabel's defenses. He'd let Choruk hit him, and it quickly became apparent why as the side of the force pike impacted against Choruk's helmet. The little protection it offered was rendered useless as it flew off his head. Choruk was dazed momentarily, but before he could recover the Barabel grabbed him and threw him aside, creating the opportunity he needed.

Choruk slowly pushed himself to his feet and shook his head to attempt to reorient himself. He looked over at his comrades just as the Barabel received a fistful of sand to the eyes by Rusur as Parjir stabbed the Barabel in the shoulder, as if to pay him back for his own wound. It was a powerful enough blow that could have otherwise ended the fight, but the Barabel's force pike had pierced though Parjir's chest armor at the same time, running right through his heart. He gripped Rusur by the throat as Choruk attempted to close the distance, but he was too late. The Barabel jammed his free hand into Rusur's face, ending his life. Choruk stopped his charge and stared, anger flaring inside him, partially at the deaths of his comrades but, even moreso, at the reaction of the holo crowds. He roared as the crowd chanted his name. Skarrek.

Choruk put the rest of it together from there. He had heard of this particular Barabel, during the Xen'Chi War. He was considered a monster even by their standards, and to many of them he was a force to be feared. Choruk steeled his resolve. "I'll avenge what you did to Rusur and Parjir," he said darkly. "I swear it!"

Skarrek pulled the sword from his shoulder and used the sand in the arena as a makeshift bandage. "No," he said calmly. "You won't. I've seen your level of skill now. It's impressive, but it won't save you from me. You're going to die by my hand." Choruk narrowed his eyes, but did not respond. "I take no personal gratification from it aside from the thrill of the fight. In that, you should be proud. Tell me your name and I promise I will remember it." Choruk sneered at his enemy as Skarrek took up a combat stance with Parjir's sword in hand. "Or keep your silence and meet your end in anonymity! Either way, this is your last battle, so make it count!"

"Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum," Choruk said solemnly. He spun his sword three times, once for each name he said. "Riye Aran. Rusur Dinui. Parjir Dral." He paused, the sneer returning to his face. "Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a." He charged Skarrek with renewed vigor and resolve, bringing his sword back for a wide arc swing. Skarrek parried with his own sword and followed up with a counterstrike, the Barabel's blood flinging against Choruk's face as he dodged back, the blade coming merely inches from impact. He wasted no time and moved against Skarrek once more, gambling on the fact that the Barabel was more used to being on the offensive. Choruk was hoping that, by keeping him from gaining any ground, Skarrek would be at a disadvantage and in less familiar territory, whereas Choruk could exploit his own strengths and gain the upper hand and slay the black beast, and avenge his comrades.

The Mandalorian pressed his attack, jabbing and swinging at Skarrek with little more finesse than intent to land a solid blow. But the Barabel was well trained and his defensive tactics were more sound than Choruk could have hoped for. He managed to land a strike against Skarrek's chest, but the Barabel was fast enough to avoid any real damage and parried the attack, smashing the hilt of his blade into Choruk's waiting shield. Choruk sneered as he heard the wood crack under the force of the blow and discarded it before Skarrek could follow up. Another strike could have easily splintered the shield, turning it into a weapon against him. It was a move Skarrek was banking on, and the Barabel was slightly surprised, but easily more pleased, to see Choruk drop the shield. He was hoping Choruk would keep it in a vain effort to provide some defensive measures against whatever was coming next. Just as the blow hit, Choruk realized he was forced into a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation, as Skarrek's sword impacted hard against his own. Choruk's sword flung away from them and the Mandalorian quickly dodged out of the way of the follow-up attack, rolling to one knee to avoid the otherwise killing blow.

As Choruk arose from his kneeling position he saw Skarrek approach with a fierce resolve, his own sword having been discarded. Better for both the sport of the kill and the thrill of the crowds, he surmised. While the Barabel gladiator could have chosen to keep his weapon, what little Choruk knew about gladiator games told him it would not have culled the same amount of favor as a spectacle of unnamed combat would. And if Choruk could retrieve his sword to gain an advantage, all the better if Skarrek did manage to win. He spared the time to look around for his weapon, but its whereabouts were not obvious. He could not afford any more time, as Skarrek was now upon him. The Barabel threw a vicious hook, which Choruk blocked. He was a strong man, but not strong enough to absorb the impact fully. Skarrek was stronger, and had more power behind his swings than Choruk could have. He would have to rely on dodging and putting in counters where he could until he could locate his sword if he were to win this.

Choruk was a fast and capable combatant, but Skarrek proved to be faster, and while there were several narrow misses, a few of the Barabel's blows made impact against the Mandalorian warrior. The last one in particular was a powerful backfist which followed a roundhouse kick. The impact pushed his head to the side and blood flew from his mouth to the sand. Before he could recover, Skarrek had already made his move and a clawed hand dug into Choruk's barely protected gut. The Mandalorian's eyes widened in pain as he looked at the Barabel, but his expression did not convey shock or a plea for mercy. While in pain, Choruk was still a seasoned veteran among the Protectors. He did not fear death, though this was not the way he'd ever expected to go.

"I'll give you one last chance," Skarrek said. "You fought well, but you were no match for me." Choruk coughed up blood. "Your name, and it will not be forgotten."

Choruk was defeated. His death was inevitable. His culture, his beliefs, reminded him he would fade from existence and memory, if there was not someone to honor him. "Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum," he repeated weakly. He coughed again. "I'm still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal." He winced in pain, but continued regardless. "Riye Aran. Rusur Dinui. Parjir Dral." There was a pause, but he managed to speak the last name. "Choruk Ad'rangir."

Skarrek nodded and dug his hand up into Choruk's chest, digging the claws into new territories. One pierced Choruk's left lung, while another cut open his heart. He twisted his hand and the heart tore open, and the Barabel withdrew, his hand covered in red blood, and watched Choruk collapse. Choruk did not speak, did not make a sound, did not move, as his vision blurred. The crowd's roars of approval started to grow faint and distant, and his vision went black. Then, silence.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

The days after the match with the Mandalorians were something of a blur for Skarrek. He didn't pay much attention to the praise he received for his performance. Dorval in particular was extremely pleased with how well he had handled himself in the arena and had pretty much authorized Verno to give Skarrek anything he wanted, save for his freedom. It was a treatment generally reserved for champions, but it was lost on Skarrek. He didn't much care for anything but his freedom and he didn't care to have things given to him. He was used to simply taking what he wanted.

He preferred it.

Instead Skarrek felt unfulfilled. The Mandalorians had been a challenge, yes, and he had meant his words to them that we would remember their names, but deep down he had never felt as though he might lose to them. Humans were soft. It took an exceptional one to rise above all of their many weaknesses. As prey they had been... memorable, but unfortunately only just adequate as a challenge.

He sat on his bunk in his room staring down at his hands. Not for the first time he cursed the Imperial geneticists that had tampered with his DNA and turned him into a living weapon. He clenched his hands into fists, digging his claws into his palms until he drew blood before releasing his twin grips. He looked on dispassionately as his blood seeped out of the wounds he had made. They would heal quickly and by tomorrow there wouldn't even be scars to show what he had done to himself.

That was how it always was. He should have died so many times before now, from inexperience or recklessness or even on occasion from facing a superior opponent, but no matter how badly he lost, the universe seemed to decree that there was more for him to do. Over time all of the accumulated experience and his unnatural resilience just made him deadlier and deadlier - to the point that the number of beings who could provide him with a real challenge grew smaller and smaller with each passing year.

And he would never know how much of that was due to his own skills and how much was due to the enhancements that had been made to his body. He was forever robbed of that knowledge.

In that respect, Crucible was something of a blessing in disguise. There were worthy challengers here, if beings like Verax and Tyrok were any indication. Possibly the Human who called himself Mandalore as well, although Skarrek had yet to be truly impressed by him. Perhaps it was for the best he was here after all. Where better for someone like him to be if not a planet where combat was a way of life? He even found it somewhat enjoyable until he was reminded that he was considered a slave.

He would never get used to that. His former Imperial masters had learned the folly of trying to keep him in chains. So would Dorval if he attempted to renege on his deal.

Skarrek's thoughts were interrupted as his door was unexpectedly opened by Rasar, flanked by two guards on either side of him.

Skarrek glanced at the chrono in his room. The day's activities weren't supposed to start for another hour. Why would he be opening his cell unless...

Rasar apparently saw the murderous glint in Skarrek's eyes and held a hand up to forestall any attack the Barabel might have been about to make. “Easy, Skarrek. We're here on orders from Verno. You're to start special training today. Come with me.”

Skarrek stood and, as per usual, dwarfed Rasar and the guards as he exited his cell. “What kind of special training?” he demanded.

The Felacatian, Melis Puarm, popped up from behind a guard and waved at him with smile. “Special training,” she said to him cheerfully, emphasizing the first word. “What more do you need to know?”

He growled distastefully at the non-answer. “I'm already playing to the crowd. I've won every match I've been in. What more does Verno want from me?”

Melis pranced around him playfully. “You already know what he wants, big guy. We're not fighting at our best. Now that we've made an impression on the crowds, Dorval thinks it's time to take the next step. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why.”

Skarrek grunted. It made sense but he wasn't about to say as much to her.

Rasar saved him the effort. “She's right. Follow me and I'll show you what your new training is going to consist of.”

He nodded, curious despite himself about what awaited him.


Rasar led the group to the other side of the Trinivii compound and Skarrek was surprised to discover that it led to a small enclosed arena. It was about half the size of the main arena he was so used to fighting in. Verax was waiting for them as they arrived. In one of his hands, the Tarc held a collar and a control device.

A slave collar! Skarrek bristled at the sight of it, but was almost immediately caught off-guard as Melis placed a hand on his arm. “Cool your rage, Skarrek. That's not for you. It's for me.”

“I don't understand,” Skarrek finally admitted. “What's going on here? What kind of training is this? What is this place?”

“Verax will explain all of that,” Rasar said to Skarrek before he looked directly at Trinivii's champion. “They're all yours, Verax. I hope you know what you're doing.”

“We shall soon see,” Verax replied with a nod.

Rasar didn't seem happy about leaving them here, but he simply nodded back and turned to leave, stationing the two guards at the entrance before he departed.

“Answers, Verax,” Skarrek demanded angrily. “Now.”

As usual, Verax didn't show the slightest hint of being intimidated by the large Barabel. He simply nodded. “This place was once meant to hold and train gladiatorial animals, but Trinivii stopped with that practice after Sivvi was placed in charge. It was not worth the cost, according to her, so it was abandoned except for general maintenance. Today it will serve a new purpose as Verax helps you two to reach your real potential.”

“You're talking about my blood rage,” Skarrek guessed. There was really nothing else Verax could be talking about. “If I bring it out, I'll tear Melis in half. She can't hope to hope to defeat me if that happens. You would have been better off using someone who can take more punishment, like the Rolani.”

“You truly aren't aware of what Felacatians are capable of, are you?” Verax asked rhetorically as he handed the collar to Melis. As she draped it around her neck, Skarrek noticed that it was about two sizes too large for her. “This isn't just about you, Skarrek. We're also here to train Melis.”

Skarrek looked at Melis curiously as the Felacatian skipped merrily to the other side of the arena.

“We're here so that you two can let loose without endangering the other gladiators,” Verax explained. “It is Verax's hope that continued exposure to your other states will bring familiarity – and with that – control over them. Verax will oversee and intervene if he needs to. All you need to do today, Skarrek, is survive.”

With that the Tarc left for the relative safety of one of the gates that blocked off the arena from the staging areas. The heavy durasteel bars closed shut with the creaks and whines of a long disuse before Verax held up the collar's control remote and pressed the button.

On the other side of the arena, Melis yelled out in agonizing pain as the collar activated. Even with it only touching part of her neck, the shocks were still apparently pretty effective. It continued for what would have been a cruel amount of time, but Melis never indicated that she wanted Verax to stop. Skarrek soon saw why and it all became clear to him what his purpose here was.

“Survive indeed,” he thought to himself with a smile as Melis charged towards him. Maybe Verax was on to something...
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Cadden had been summoned to Toruk's chambers the day following his near success at killing Asael. The Hutt had expressed his desire to allow Cadden what advantages he could in the upcoming mystery fight. As he took his place in the chambers a holo screen flickered to life, showing the arena with three men wearing mockup Mandalorian armor. Opposite them was a single Barabel. Skarrek. The match's introduction and formalities were commenced, and the fight began. Cadden could immediately tell these were no pretenders. They were true Mandalorians, as the presiding Hutt had claimed.

Then the light skinned one lost his helmet, allowing Cadden to identify him as Parjir Dral. The dark skinned one was soon identified, as well. Choruk Ad'rangir. Both were more prominent members of the Protectors during Cadden's time as Mandalore, and had been a part of Kyr's resistance. But what were they doing here? This was no coincidence; the Mandalorians had no interest in Hutt Space, and Kyr had no dealings with the Hutts, either. That could only mean one thing. They were sent out to find him. But how did they know to look all the way out here?

The match ended with Skarrek digging his claws into Choruk's gut and pressing upward into his chest, ending the man's life. Cadden's hands tightened into fists as he felt the rage building up in him. "They don't deserve to have you lead them," Freedom's voice reminded him. "Those people, the Mando'ade who will die because of your indecision and self-loathing."

Toruk hummed in revelation, bringing Cadden's attention to him. "Ah, so what they say is true," the Hutt said with a sinister tone backed by pleasure. "You are who they claim you to be."

"And who is that, exactly?" Cadden asked through gritted teeth, in no mood for games. He eyed Toruk with a sneer, making no attempt to mask his anger. While the Hutt had nothing to do with this match, Cadden assumed, Toruk would need to choose his words carefully, else one of them wouldn't survive the day.

"You are the Mandalore." Cadden was taken aback by this statement, his anger shifting to confusion, though his feelings remained unchanged. "Blackthorne, my boy, you are going to make me rich and powerful beyond my wildest dreams."

Cadden calmed himself enough to regain his composure. "Darth Trayus is dead," he said dryly and emotionless. He hoped his indifference in tone and the usage of his Sith name would be enough to convince Toruk. "Killed by the Jedi."

"Despite what my brother may think, I am no idiot. You cannot hide behind trivial technicalities. You are Cadden Blackthorne. Though, I must admit, your reputation seems greater than the reality behind it. You disappoint me, Blackthorne. I expected more from someone of your... capabilities."

Cadden considered his situation carefully. Toruk was far more intelligent and observant than he let on. This made him dangerous. While Cadden did not believe the Hutt knew or suspected who he was the whole time, now that Cadden had inadvertently given himself away there was no hiding it from him anymore. "I am not Cadden Blackthorne any longer," he said after a moment of silence. "I am only the Mandalore. That is all I am, here."

Toruk chuckled. "At least you have some sense of your place, even if you do willingly fight it." A pause. "You will become my new champion, and it will elevate me to my rightful place."

Cadden couldn't help but pick up the nuances in the words Toruk chose. The Hutt was planning something, and Cadden was sure he would be put in the middle of it. "If that is Lord Kroda's wishes," Cadden said, hardly attempting to conceal the mocking undertone in his voice. Toruk frowned, but Cadden disallowed him any attempt to respond. "I take it you do not know why he put me here?"

"You stole from him," Toruk said, willing to play Cadden's game, though his voice portrayed a need for Cadden to tread carefully, here. "Make your point quick, Blackthorne, before I lose my patience with you."

While true, Kroda's accusations were pointed to a closer to present event. The whole debacle involving the Chronic was in the past, it seemed. Evidently, Cadden had performed a more recent crime against Kroda. "I assume he never bothered to mention what, exactly, that was? I thought not. It might benefit you to learn who, exactly, a man named Rix Herrand is. And what kind of information he has about Kroda."

"Or I could get it out of you." Toruk's tone was that of impatience and aggravation, but Cadden disregarded it. The Hutt could only do so much to him, now. This whole revealing of his identity might just work to his advantage.

Cadden shrugged. "That will be impossible, I'm afraid. Believe it or not, your brother's got the wrong guy. But, if it is as essential to him as it sounds, I bet I've got a pretty good idea on why he wanted to keep this from even you." Toruk's lips curled into the Hutt equivalence of a sneer. Cadden, personally, could not expose Kroda's affiliation with the Triad; he'd already tried, before. The organization was too well resourced, and it was able to bury his past allegations. He had nothing new to add to his previous attempts to expose both. But if his suspicions were correct, then whomever this Rix was could just as well do it for him. And even if not, well, a house divided against itself cannot stand. He would get free, and save Lillian. Or die trying.

Toruk waved Cadden away without a word. As he was taken from the Hutt's sight, he couldn't help but allow himself a smirk. As the moment faded, however, his thoughts drifted back to the match that pitted Skarrek against his comrades. His grin disappeared as quickly as it came. While the Barabel had little to no choice in the match up, it was by his hand three good men died yesterday. And he would avenge those deaths, either in the arena or outside it. The Barabel will learn the cost of pissing off a Mandalorian.

* * *

The following day Cadden's thoughts were focused solely on Skarrek. While he harbored anger and hatred toward what the Barabel had done, Cadden had paid attention to his tactics. Cadden was paired up against three different gladiators throughout the day, and he had bested all three with little effort. His years of combat training proved useful as a gladiator, as Cadden was able to mesh together the various fighting techniques he knew with the nuances of fighting against others in the arena. Though it was not to say he was on par with other champions of the arena. Toruk, Aen, and even Gorgg all made a point that, once Asael was fully healed, the Devaronian would have his strength and stamina back and could best Cadden in singular combat. Cadden's only saving grace, he was told, was the fact the Devaronian was in no condition to fight.

Cadden was now training to ensure that promise would never be fulfilled. He was paired against Trassk in the afternoon, a wise choice considering the Trandoshan was the current runner up for the title of champion of Direj kajidic, in Kroda's eyes anyway. Trassk also knew nearly all of Asael's moves, which made him a formidable opponent in his own right. The day was winding down, and Cadden had noticed he was pushed to his limits against the Trandoshan. Trassk was no pushover, but Cadden was still able to hold his own against him, to a degree. Not without a few bruises. It just went to show he was nowhere near the top of the food chain. His previous years' worth of combat training helped, but gladiator combat had its own set of skills and techniques to learn. Additionally, it was a whole different mindset. All of that would have been drastically different if he could still use the Force. Then again, he wouldn't even be here if that were the case.

The blunt tip of the spear caught Cadden's cheek, sending him sprawling to the ground. He slowly got to his hands and knees, eyeing his opponent as Trassk chuckled in pleasure. "The mighty Mandalore," he taunted, "on the ground before a mere gladiator." Did he know? Had Toruk informed his gladiators of Cadden's identity? No, that wouldn't make sense. Toruk had no reason to tell anyone what he knew, just like his brother. Besides, the Trandoshan's choice of using the name Mandalore told Cadden enough. Trassk was merely insulting him based off his gladiator name.

Cadden scoffed and returned to his feet, wiping the blood from his split lip. He remained silent. He had to keep his focus on Skarrek, and the match against the Mandalorians. That was currently all that mattered. Trassk was merely an obstacle to an end goal. He lunged forward, sword thrusting with his momentum. The Trandoshan hit it aside as he performed a pirouette, and used the shaft of his spear to knock Cadden back to the sand. "I suggest you stay put," he chided. Cadden refused and rolled back up, both swords forward in a ready stance. Despite his warning and clear contempt toward him, Trassk grinned a pointed tooth grin. A sinister grin. "So be it." The Trandoshan lunged forward, the extended reach of his spear offering him advantage over Cadden.

Cadden shuffled to the side, the spear passing mere centimeters from his flesh, and immediately closed the gap, far quicker than Trassk was anticipating. He jabbed at the Trandoshan with his sword, causing him to recoil the spear, but Cadden was already one step ahead, hoping Trassk would sacrifice his one clear advantage to avoid being struck. Cadden spun and slashed with his second sword high, and followed through with a thrust against the Trandoshan's rib cage. Trassk fumbled back and grunted in pain, the grip on his spear loosening some. "Good, but not -"

Before he could finish, Cadden was already back upon him, and a well-placed swing knocked his spear free. Taken aback, Trassk attempted to recover, but it was already too late. Cadden kicked the weapon away and brought both swords up to his neck, stimulating a beheading. "You got lucky, Mandalore. But that will only last you so long in the arena."

"Perhaps," Cadden said with a shrug of indifference as he lowered the weapons. He would not be intimidated by the Trandoshan. "But where my luck runs out, I'm sure my skill will suffice."

Trassk laughed. A mocking laugh. "Do not delusion yourself. You are far from being a true threat to anyone above the equivalence of a rookie." He retrieved the spear.

"Others have underestimated me before," he argued. "Most are dead." Cadden was growing tired of this game. It was almost worth it to let on who he was, stir the pot, as it were, but he knew better than that. It would create more problems than it would solve, and if word got out he was still alive, the entire galaxy would be after him. And that wouldn't help anyone.

Trassk sneered. "Then prove yourself," he said contemptuously. "You are not respected because you have not earned what you've gained. All that you've risen to become has merely been handed to you. And you gladly accept it. Work for it! Fight for it!" Trassk lunged his spear at Cadden's chest. He had to react quickly, and ultimately irrationally. The Trandoshan was forcing him into a situation he didn't much care for. The shaft caught him on the cheek, and he quickly found himself swept off his feet and falling to the ground due to a follow-up sweeping strike. His head hit the sand hard, and his vision glazed over as a result. His hearing dulled and everything seemed distant. Trassk was talking, but Cadden couldn't understand the words. The dulled tip of the spear gently pressed against Cadden's neck, enough pressure to constrict his breathing just to the point of moderate discomfort. "He will be better," the Trandoshan's voice said, becoming clearer. "I do not pretend to be some celebrity in the arena, nor do I believe myself to be better than the likes of Asael, Verax, or any of the other champions. I know my place, Mandalore. You had best learn yours, or you will wind up just like the thousands of other casualties before you. Slayer of Shorbecca or not, you are still nothing but Bantha fodder, here."

Cadden eased himself to his feet, slowly, groggily. The impact against the ground did a number on him, and now he was at a severe disadvantage. Trassk spun the spear a few times, indicated he was ready for Cadden to attack. He merely nodded in response, though he doubted it looked very convincing. The Trandoshan grinned. This was going to be a long week.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Kresh Lorda had a version of the Hutt Council that operated in much that same way as the main one, however achieving influence on it was tied more into the success of that kajidic's gladiators rather than on profits alone. Of course success and profit often went hand-in-hand, but the key difference was that with a solid roster of gladiators even the poorest kajidics could rise to prominence within the council. That was the theory anyway. In practice, those with the most credits usually had the best gladiators and the Desilijic kajidic had held on to the position as the top kajidic for hundreds of years on Nar Kresh thanks to their enormous wealth and territory throughout the galaxy.

As such Jiron Desilijic Kalshi was the most powerful Hutt on the council and not one to take lightly. It was said that he could be as devious and manipulative as the infamous Jabba himself. Although every Hutt on the Kresh Lorda council supposedly had an equal vote, it was an open secret that Jiron had several of the Hutts in charge of the weaker kajidics in his proverbial pocket. The council almost always voted in his favor because of this. This was further exacerbated by the fact that many kajidics saw Kresh Lorda as a diversion rather than a serious business venture and so many of the Hutts sent to oversee their interests here were either those in semi-retirement or the very young and inexperienced. As a result, there was a lot less competition against Jiron here than there would have been on the main Hutt Council.

So when Jiron called for an emergency session of the council on Kresh Lorda, all of the Hutt lords in charge of Nar Kresh were in attendance. Whether one considered Jiron an ally, rival, or enemy, it would nonetheless be foolish to not hear what he had to say. Although he was many things, Jiron would not call for such a session without a good reason.

As Dorval took his place in the giant meeting hall on Kresh Lorda that was reserved strictly for the Hutt lords on the council, his mind rushed furiously through all of the various possibilities for such a meeting. One conclusion he kept arriving at was that his plans were starting to bear fruit. If his calculations were correct, then Trinivii was making quite the upset with the recent string of highly profitable and popular matches it had won recently. No doubt Jiron had called this session to either profit from or crush Dorval's ambitions. Maybe both. Considering that Dorval's last meeting with Jiron had ended on less than friendly terms, it wasn't hard to guess which way Jiron was going to go with it.

Once all of the Hutts had gathered, Jiron approached the special podium built to accommodate a Huttese hoversled. Jiron was much too corpulent to do much moving under his own power any more as befitting his wealth and power.

The chatter in the room died down as Jiron made a motion that he was ready to speak.

“My fellow Hutts,” he began in a booming authoritative voice that hardly needed to be amplified to reach everyone in the chamber. “The day is fast approaching for our annual recreation of the Third Battle of Vontor!”

There was cheering from several Hutts at the announcement. There was no more prestigious game on Nar Kresh than the Third Battle of Vontor. The goal of every kajidic was ultimately to secure a spot for their gladiators on the winning side – the side representing the legendary Hutt, General Kossak Inijic Ar'durv – during the recreation. Those who fought under the banner of Xim the Despot were routinely defeated. The recreation was intentionally stacked in favor of Kossak's side to make it so. Although killing gladiators during the recreation was not required, it wasn't forbidden either. As such it could be very costly to be on Xim's side.

Jiron motioned for silence before speaking again. “Most of the spots have been secured, but it seems we have a slight dilemma now that all of Gnuda's gladiators were recently wiped out by Trinivii. It creates a wild card spot for some lucky kajidic to join the winning side. Moreover, it seems as though Trinivii's recent string of surprise victories has placed them in a dead heat with Direj for the spot.”

Dorval suspected that Jiron was doing some creative accounting to reach that conclusion. On the books, Dorval was sure that Direj still had the lead over Trinivii, but the books also didn't factor in audience appeal very well. Skarrek and many of Trinivii's new gladiators had quickly become very popular with the crowds and that could conceivably be used as justification to make up the deficit between the two kajidics.

Besides, no one was going to be foolish enough to challenge Jiron on such a trivial matter. Not when it only affected two kajidics. All it would ultimately end up doing is force Jiron to explain himself, maybe even call for a vote to decide it. In either case, Jiron was no doubt prepared to deal with both eventualities. In short, it would be a waste of everyone's time.

Dorval glanced over at Kroda. The older Hutt was much too experienced to betray his thoughts on the matter, but he seemed content, for now, to see where Jiron was going with this. Dorval himself was suspicious of Jiron seeming to give Trinivii the edge considering how angry he had made Jiron recently, but Dorval also had no good reason to willingly argue that Trinivii didn't deserve the wild card spot either.

The moment passed without any Hutt raising an objection to Jiron's declaration, so he continued his speech with the point all but clad in durasteel now. “We could allow these two kajidics to continue to host games to try and definitively one-up the other, but if recent history is any indication, their dead heat will continue with more victories on both sides and nothing will be solved. Rather than risk audience exhaustion so close to the Third Battle of Vontor, I propose one last match between the two of them to decide who will take the wild card spot.”

Dorval turned on his podium mic to speak. “Trinivii has no objections to such a match, but this hardly seems a matter worthy of the entire council. Surely we could have settled this without involving all the lords of Kresh Lorda.”

Dorval's purpose had been to subtly antagonize Jiron, but it seemed as though he miscalculated since the other Hutt smiled back at him and twirled a pudgy finger through his long mustache. “Indeed, Lord Dorval, normally inter-kajidic matches need not concern the council, but to take such a prestigious spot like the wild card will require a match the goes above and beyond the norm. What I'm proposing to the council is a definitive end to the longstanding rivalry between Asael and Verax; a match between the two to the death.”

“You can't-” Dorval started to object, but then cut himself off. The council could indeed force two gladiators to fight in any manner they wished if they collectively believed it would provide the greatest profit to Nar Kresh's coffers. It was in the bylaws, although rarely used in practice. Now it seemed as though Jiron was appropriating that particular bylaw to try and punish Dorval for refusing to sell Skarrek to Desilijic.

Not that Jiron would admit that it was his true purpose. As long as he could provide a plausible reason for the match to the council, that was all he would need before he called for a vote.

“I may have miscalculated my dealings with Jiron,” Dorval thought to himself. Even if Verax won the match, the end of such an established rivalry would cut off a very lucrative revenue stream for both kajidics. It would mean trying to cultivate a new rivalry and that was always fraught with the risk that audiences wouldn't latch onto it as strongly as the old one.

“On the contrary,” Jiron responded to Dorval's broken objection. “We need a big match to cap things off before the Third Battle of Vontor and there's very little that can be done between your two kajidics to top the death of Shorbecca and the elimination of the Gnuda stable from the roster. A normal match between Asael and Verax, while sure to impress as usual, is unlikely to top the grandeur of those matches. However, a FINAL match between the two is all but guaranteed to draw paying customers in droves. Ambition has its price, Lord Dorval. You had best be prepared to pay it.”

Dorval set his mouth into a terse line. Jiron had him dead to rights and they both knew it. There wasn't much he could say to argue the point without looking weak and pathetic in the process. Even if it was just a cover to punish Trinivii, it was still a damn good cover.

Dorval stubbornly pushed his grudging respect at being so masterfully manipulated to the back of his mind, but made a mental note of Jiron's technique. Enemy or not, learning from Jiron would only be a benefit for the future. “In that case, Trinivii will gladly participate in the match. It promises to be very lucrative.” He looked over at Kroda. “Assuming Direj agrees to this arrangement as well, of course.”

All eyes were now on Kroda. Unlike Dorval, Kroda had a lot more influence on the council. He could conceivably make things difficult for Jiron if he wasn't happy with the arrangement, but without majority support, such objections would be defeated eventually. Still, it would be interesting to see how Kroda would respond...
Last edited by Halomek on Thu Mar 29, 2018 2:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Cadden »

Unlike Dorval, Kroda was thrilled with the idea presented. It was not because of Asael and Verax squaring off against each other for the last time. No, this opened a door that was previously closed to him, a way out of his predicament with Blackthorne. "I accept your terms," he said calmly, "but only under one condition." Kroda watched Jiron's eyes narrow and relished in the fact he was about to out-do the other Hutt. "While a final match between our champions would be quite the spectacle for all to see, let us not forget that Verax was grievously wounded a while back, and Asael as well more recently. The crowds certainly won't."

"What are you getting at?" Jiron asked suspiciously.

"We ought to make things more interesting," Kroda said matter-of-factly. "This match will not be enough on its own. I propose a simple addition. Both Dorval and I should double the stakes. Those whom are considered the ideal runners-up as our new champions should be included in this fight." Blackthorne had outlived his usefulness, Kroda decided, now that he had Rix Herrand back in his possession. And Lillian was not producing as quickly as Kroda would have liked. If Blackthorne were to perish in the arena, then his problems would be over. What better way than to match him against one such as Dorval's top choice for new champion, Skarrek? It made Kroda's plan for dealing with both Blackthorne and Toruk all the simpler. "A match to the death, with only one standing. The crowds get their final battle between our champions, and something extra, as the runner-up fights to the death to claim the title himself."

Jiron hummed, clearly satisfied with the idea. Kroda didn't have to guess why. It was no secret Jiron had his own game, here. Kroda simply knew how to play it to his own favor. It was a win, even if he lost. But Jiron didn't need to know that. Trassk would take the mantle of champion if Asael died, and it would be to the crowd's liking if their beloved Mandalore wasn't in the picture any longer when that happened. But, if, for some reason, he was... well, Kroda would deal with that in due time if the unlikely were to happen.

"Your terms are noted, Kroda, and I see the reasoning behind them," Jiron finally ceded. "Very well. A match, to the death, between Verax and Asael. The winner must then fight to survive the rival kajidic's runner-up, whether it be your Mandalore or Dorval's Skarrek. Does Dorval agree to these conditions?"

Kroda resisted the urge to narrow his eyes at Jiron's mentioning of Blackthorne being the one to replace Asael. It was heavily implied among the crowds that he was the likely choice, but all the same he didn't appreciate the Hutt making that assumption. Instead, he nodded his agreement. He glanced back at Dorval, his eyes gleaming with confidence, as if to say the ball was in his court, now.

* * *

"Open, damn you," Lillian muttered, now more than just a little annoyed over her lack of progress on the armored suit. While she was given the space she requested, that didn't make this task any less stressful. She slumped down next to the incapacitated hulk and wiped the sweat from her brow, exasperated. The memories of what Dahdtoudi did to her were distracting her, she realized. Lillian wedged the hydrospammer in her hand violently into the armor, lodging it into the control panel she'd previously managed to pry open. A beep could be heard on the console. She frowned and got up, approaching the display. "What the hell is this?" she wondered quietly. "One thousand seven hundred fifty-eight days?" Lillian looked back at Dahdtoudi, wondering what to make of the information.

The armored gauntlet twitched, startling her. Lillian instinctively moved back and eyed Dahdtoudi for a moment. "Blackthorne," he mumbled. But there was something different about his voice. Something... wrong. It raised a question in her, however. Why would Dahdtoudi be interested in Cadden? "Where... is... Blackthorne?" Lillian frowned, but remained silent. That voice. What was wrong with it? There was anger, hatred, behind each of those words, but it was more than that. It was as though the voice was his, but also... not. Lillian frowned. One thousand seven hundred fifty-eight days. That wasn't long after.…

She carefully reached her hand toward him. "Dahdtoudi?" she asked, her voice shaking. She feared the answer to her question. "How... How long have you been... in that armor?" His head tilted her way, causing her to stop just inches away.

"Lillian Tolwyn," he grumbled. She nodded quietly. "Blackthorne." The head tilted back to stare up at the ceiling.

"Dahdtoudi," she said quietly, "what happened to you?" He brought up an armored gauntlet and triggered something near his helmet. The suit decompressed with a loud hiss, and he detached the faceplate from the helmet. Lillian's eyes widened in horror.

"Blackthorne," the decaying husk of a skull said, anger and hatred behind every syllable. Its speech was garbled, but comprehensible. There were dozens of questions that circulated her mind, paramount among them was: What the hell was keeping him alive?

"Cadden did this to you?" she asked incredulously. Sure, what Dahdtoudi did was unforgivable, but this... this was a fate worse than death. She hated him for his betrayal, but not even she would wish this upon him.

"Betrayed," Dahdtoudi rasped, "me."

She frowned. "You betrayed us," she said angrily. "You lied to me, and you handed me over to Kroda just to save your own skin." Her voice had elevated to a near yell. Lillian reached toward the console to trigger the comm. But stopped. She noted a change in Dahdtoudi's eyes. It was pain. Not physical, but emotional.

"No choice," he said laboriously. "Blackthorne couldn't... wouldn't... protect you. You... were doomed... to your fate." He breathed hard as he spoke. Lillian realized the only thing keeping him alive was his suit. She slowly lowered her hand from the console. "Kroda... powerful. Would have... found you, either way." He merely expedited the process and, in doing so, triggered whatever caused this.

"That should have been our choice to make," she said angrily, "not yours. All you wanted was Kroda off your back. You were nothing more than a coward."

The... thing... sneered angrily. Given Dahdtoudi's condition, it was actually quite frightening. She winced. "Did... what I had to," he said, his tone filled with hatred and rage. "Now, I must... do what I... have to... again." He paused, and his voice grew dark. "Kill Blackthorne."

A thought occurred to Lillian. Kroda wanted Dahdtoudi's armor. Dahdtoudi was a killing machine with it. She saw an opportunity. "Look," she said quietly, low enough to not be picked up by the microphones in the security cameras, "I need your help. I need out of here, and you have the means to do it." He looked away. "I'm willing to let the past be the past, Dahdtoudi. But neither of us can escape without the other's help. I can't fix what happened to you, but if you promise to get me out of here, I can get your suit working again."

Dahdtoudi looked back at her, though she found it impossible to read what he was thinking. The stare was blank. "Why?" he asked.

She swallowed. "If I get that suit off you, Kroda won't care if you live or die. And my usefulness will run out. Make amends for what you've done. Help me get out of here, and you will be able to continue on, as well. Or don't... and we will share the same fate." She paused. "You may not care much for Cadden, but do you really want to be responsible for my death?" Dahdtoudi didn't respond, but merely averted his gaze back to the ceiling. Lillian sighed in resignation. The door opened and she looked back to see, with no small amount of surprise, Eelar with a small handful of guards in tow.

"I see you managed to remove its faceplate," he said. "Kroda will be pleased to learn of your progress." He saw what was left of Dahdtoudi's head and frowned. "Disgusting, isn't it?" He looked back at Lillian. "We'll take it from here. Your services are no longer required."

"That's where you're wrong," she said quickly. Perhaps too quickly. Elar frowned again, this time contemptuously. "Removing the faceplate is one thing, but successfully removing him from the armor is something entirely different." She pointed to the computer screen. "The failsafes are still in place. Taking the armor off, without deactivating them, would kill him." Eelar merely shrugged, indicating a lack of care for Dahdtoudi's life. "And render the armor useless. It would turn into a pile of scrap and spare parts." This triggered the care in the Duros's mannerisms.

"You had better hurry up with this," he cautioned. "Now that you have made some real progress, Kroda will be expecting better results." He looked them both over, his facial expression giving away his rising suspicion, but he said nothing and merely nodded to the guards. After they left, Lillian looked back at him.

"Your choice," she said quietly. "Both our lives rest in your hands."
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Re: Crucible: Gods of the Arena

Post by Halomek »

Dorval hated to admit it to himself, but he had a hard time trying to figure out Kroda's angle in suggesting they put even more assets at risk in Jiron's little scheme. It was especially confusing to him because it didn't seem to benefit Kroda in the slightest. Even if Verax lost this upcoming deathmatch, he was sure to make Asael work for it and then, champion or not, the Devaronian would no doubt fall to a fully rested and intact Skarrek. Dorval also wasn't convinced that Mandalore, for all his skills, would prove an equal challenge to Skarrek either.

The only possible explanation that Dorval could think of was that Kroda was trying to clean house without angering the fans. But why? They were two of Direj's best gladiators. It made no sense financially or politically. Kroda stood to lose significant revenue as well as his current influence on the council once his kajidic was reduced to fighting for Xim in the Third Battle of Vontor.

No matter how Dorval looked at the angles, it only seemed to benefit Trinivii to include Skarrek and Mandalore in this match. There was the possibility that Trinivii might lose the match, of course, but the odds on that didn't seem likely. Yes, it was Mandalore that had ultimately killed Shorbecca, but that fluke was more due to Asael setting up the kill. Asael almost certainly wouldn't be in a condition to do the same to Skarrek.

“I'm missing something here and it bothers me that I don't know what it is,” Dorval thought to himself. He would have to have his spies step up their game and look for any signs of treachery in the upcoming match, either from Jiron or from Kroda. Fixing a match without the other kajidic's approval would be a serious violation of Nar Kresh's laws. It could even get Jiron banished if such allegations were proven. Would Jiron go that far simply because he had been denied the sale of Skarrek? Dorval didn't think so, but a good Hutt never dismissed such a notion entirely.

And besides, it was only a violation if the perpetrators were caught...

All of this introspection on Dorval's part lasted seconds at best as he kept his expression neutral. He also kept his reluctance hidden as he agreed to the terms Kroda had proposed. “It will be a match for the ages,” Dorval said to the chamber with a confident tone. “Trinivii is more than happy to use this opportunity to showcase the quality of our best gladiators.”

Jiron smiled, no doubt relishing the thought that he had Dorval backed into corner. “Then if there are no objections from the rest of the council?” The chamber remained predictably silent for the bare minimum of time Jiron gave for someone to speak up. “It is settled then. The match will take place in three days. That should give both kajidics adequate time to prepare as well as allow us to sufficiently promote the match. This session is closed.”

Jiron sounded a chime to make it official and then departed the podium.

Dorval didn't waste time hanging around to speak with some of the other Hutts. There was a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Winning this match and assuring Trinivii's spot on the winning side of Vontor would significantly accelerate his schedule to put his kajidic on top in the rankings. Whatever Jiron's scheme really was, Dorval now had to bend it to his advantage.

And right now that meant that everything was ultimately going to depend on Skarrek...
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