Chapter 5

Chapter 5

On the walls of the surrounding buildings were erratic scorch marks where blasterfire had ricocheted off of the assailant’s weapon. If Thal had had any reason to doubt his initial conclusion, those details cemented it in his mind.

Lightsaber.

The thought of the ancient Jedi weapon being used for murder here on Nar Shaddaa, here a bare dozen meters from where he had been standing not two hours earlier in the night, sent a strange shiver through Thal’s spine. It wasn’t dread or fear, or even unease. Yet it wasn’t excitement either. It was… curiousity.

Curiosity. That damnably human trait that plagued so many of Thal’s species.

This was a puzzle. A riddle. A line of intellectual inquiry. Who on Nar Shaddaa had the proficiency to wield a lightsaber so adeptly? Who on Nar Shaddaa was stupid enough to wield a lightsaber in the open, in the Red Sector? Who on Nar Shaddaa was stupide enough to wield a lightsaber against an Imperial officer? The Empire would be all over this as soon as the news reached the governor’s headquarters.

More importantly, though, who on Nar Shaddaa had seen it happen?

A thought, no, a memory crept into Thal’s mind again.

We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. We have a special task for you that requires discretion and finesse. We hope you won’t let us down.

He tried to drive it away, but the words simply kept repeating themselves, over and over again.

We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. We have a special task for you…

We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa…

To Nar Shaddaa…

Nar Shaddaa…

At last he couldn’t take it anymore. He bolted through the crowd and ran down the streets to the edge of the Red Sector. The neon lights and recycled smells faded into the background as he went, until he stood in near darkness with the sun of the Red Sector serving as his only point of reference in the dark galaxy of the city.

As he stood there, in the darkness, Thal felt a kind of calm. It was far from quiet, and no part of the planet was ever fully dark. But for that moment, he didn’t have to worry about criminal organizations, troublesome bartenders, Imperials, or murders. It was simply him and his mind.

Thal soon realized that his mind was seldom easy company.

The questions and memories continued to come, bombarding his intellect with their many possibilities. He couldn’t ignore the murder, it would soon send Imperials into a frenzy as a miniature reenaction of the Purge would happen on Nar Shaddaa itself. Thal would have to prepare for that, and the Diplomat would want to know how they could profit from it. That much was inescapable.

But Thal didn’t have to dwell on the past. He could ignore the voices in his head, constantly dredging up the memories of comrades long lost in the flames of the Empire’s birth.

With his mind newly resolved, Thal turned back toward the Red Sector and decided to return to the crime scene. He still had an hour or two before dawn, and though he would’ve liked to have gotten back earlier, this was important enough for him to invest the time.

After all, the Diplomat would want information. So Thal was only doing his job.

 

#

 

A heavy drizzle had begun to fall as Thal reached the hanger for The Elegant Empire. The crowds had dispersed in the hours since Thal had been there last, likely because the Imps had come and cleared out the alley.

Thal didn’t see any of them now, but that didn’t mean they weren’t around. The officers and agents were likely conducting a systematic search of the area, complete with stormtrooper escort, as they interrogated each and every patron, owner, and employee they could find for potential witnesses.

But the alley was thankfully empty for the moment.

Thal approached without pretense or caution. As far as he was concerned, no explanation would serve to justify his presence, and so he would simply have to be careful that he wasn’t caught.

At the mouth of the alley, Thal found that the body was gone. Understandable, the sight of an Imperial officer severed in two and lying dead on the ground in the Red Sector sent the message that the Empire could bleed. While they didn’t maintain a particularly strict presence on Nar Shaddaa, it was important that they be respected and feared when they decided to enforce whatever laws or policies they needed to carry out at the time, and this incident certainly wasn’t going to help.

Even without the body, though, Thal knew he could find plenty of evidence to expand his knowledge of what had happened.

Stepping into the alleyway, Thal looked up and down both of the surrounding walls. The scorch marks were easily identifiable as small blasterfire. And, so far as Thal could tell, they were noticeably recent. That added further weight to his conclusion about the lightsaber. In addition, a few telltale gouges in the lower portions of the wall indicated that the assailant had allowed the point of the blade to drag along for a brief moment, indicating a wide arc in his swing.

That could mean several things, Thal decided.

The attacker may have swung from below, cutting the officer from waist to shoulder, instead of an overhand strike, as Thal had initiall assumed. This was a distinctive trait, as it implied a level of training and technique beyond functional proficiency.

A lightsaber was a very difficult weapon to use. The balance issues alone were enough to prevent many non-Jedi from even using it as a tool. And it was impossible for one who was not Force sensitive to use the weapon effectively in combat, especially against blaster fire. So the simple detail that this attacker had clearly deflected blasterfire meant it had to be a Force sensitive, and a trained one at that.

But this additional detail of the underhanded slice implied a distinct form. Thal hadn’t studied Lightsaber combat forms very thoroughly while he was at the Temple, so he could not say for sure which ones this technique might be from, nor what advantages it offered, but it was clearly enough to overcome a lone Imperial officer.

The alternative, of course, was that the attacker may have simply been lazy. He may have allowed the blade to drag against the building’s wall due to an inexperienced lack of precision. If that was the case, than all of Thal’s theories about a distinctive form and a refined level of training were irrelevant.

Another possibility was that the Imp had given more of a fight than Thal had assumed. Perhaps he had gotten close and the attacker had stumbled out of the way of a deadly blast, forcing the blade to drag against the wall for a moment as he advanced.

There were dozens of possiblities and scenarios, Thal realized. But the evidence was there to confirm that this had to have come from a lightsaber. Additional information would help to further narrow his understanding of the encounter.

Thal turned the apparent evidence over in his mind once more, running through the immediately obvious scenarios again to see if there were any he could dismiss.

Two ideas connected as he did so. The main piece of current evidence he had at the moment were the blaster marks on the walls. The theory that the Imperial may have been more capable with his weapon was one that Thal thought he could pursue further if he reexamined the available evidence, and maybe searched for more.

He studied the walls again for a brief moment, reconfirming the mental image he had taken, and then began to make his way further up the alley. If the Imperial had managed to loose a bolt that his attacker hadn’t deflected, it would have to appear further down the alley. The buildings were all tall enough here that any shot with even a chance of hitting the attacker would’ve had to have struck one of the surrounding walls. So there was a good chance that Thal could find it if he looked long enough.

It was slow going as Thal scanned every square meter of the alleyway for clues. Nothing was showing up yet, but he had patience.

Unfortunately, the Empire did not.

“You there, halt!”

Thal froze; he knew better than to get on the bad side of an Imperial patrol. Best not to draw attention to himself by running.

“Turn around. Hands where I can see them!” The voice was clipped and filtered, obviously coming through a stormtroper’s mask.

Thal slowly turned as he spread his hands out to the side.

A small squad of half a dozen stormtroopers were led by a grey-uniformed Imperial officer. None of them looked particularly friendly as the Stormtroopers held their weapons ready and the officer glared at him with an eye of superiority.

“What are you doing here?” said the officer, slowly approaching Thal. “Who are you?”

Two question. Didn’t they ever learn that that was a terrible interrogation technique?

“I’m just passing through,” said Thal, tone carefully neutral. Too aggressive and the Imps would take it as defiance. Too placative and they would see it as weakness.

“This is an Imperial crime scene. You’re not authorized to be here,” said the officer.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Like hell you didn’t. Everyone in this damnable sector knows. There’s no way you’re going to get out of this on an ignorance claim. Now tell me who you are!”

Okay, I guess it hasn’t been a good night for them, Thal thought. Apparently news had spread fast, as if often does in the underworld, and the Imps were already feeling the initial repercussions. Now Thal would have to suffer the brunt of this officer’s indignation simply because he had wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time.

Unless he ran.

He waited until the officer had approached close enough to be directly between Thal and most of the stormtroopers’ lines of fire, and then he turned and bolted down the alley. It caught them offguard enough that the disciplined stormies didn’t even try to open fire for fear of hitting their commander.

But they were soon after him. He could hear a dozen feet rushing down the alleyway towards him.

Thal wasn’t the most physically imposing creature on Nar Shaddaa, nor was he the swiftest, nor in the best shape. He certainly wasn’t a match for six top tier Imperial soldiers, either in a fight or a chase. But he didn’t have to go far, if he could just escape their line of sight for a moment and then duck into a side street of alley door — or even get himself lost in a crowd — he could make it out of this.

Unfortunately, there were no more crowds to speak of. It was that strange hour where the nightlife had almost finished tapering away and the morning crews had only just begun to trickle in. There were people, sure, but nothing like the crowds of even an hour ago.

So that option was out.

The others quickly left as well, as Thal found himself consistently hounded by the stormtroopers. He couldn’t duck out of sight because they were always half a second behind him in the alleyways. And he dared not go out onto the main street to search for help for fear of finding more troopers waiting.

He was stuck, and quickly running out of breath.

Then he hit the end. A boxed alley without any exit. Three walls and no doors or windows.

Damn, why does anyone build stuff like this in a city?

The Imperials caught up to him and the first stormtrooper slammed Thal in the gut with the but of his rifle.

Thal collapsed as the little air he had left escaped him. His head swam and his vision blurred, but he could still see the stormtrooper leveling his blaster rifle at Thal’s head.

This was it. It was over. No more running. No more hiding. Only the end.

The trooper’s arms jerked suddenly upward as the blaster flew from his grip. Thal heard a sound that he had thought was gone from the galaxy forever as a shadow landed amongst the white shapes of his armored pursuers. Scarlet light arced about to the left and the right side of the shadow as it cut through one, two troopers. Angry red bolts burst forth from the blasters still held in trembling hands, but they failed to find their mark as the scarlet light sent them flying away.

By the time Thal’s breath had begun to return, and his vision had settled, it was over. He sat slumped in the corner of the alley and looked up.

In the center of a ring of decimated Imperial stormtropers stood a woman in crimson armor and black robes. She held a lightsaber in her hand, its blade glowing scarlet. As Thal stared at her, she turned her head to look at him. Their eyes met and Thal saw fury in those eyes. He felt a quiet whispering in the back of his mind, a sensation and memory that he had closed himself off to long ago.

Then, deactivating the lightsaber, the woman leapt into the air, landing on a catwalk above Thal’s head, and began climbing up to the rooftops of Nar Shaddaa.

 

#

 

There was no one to greet him as Thal returned to his home in the Diplomat’s headquarters. He had thought to get himself a place of his own several times before, but he had never had any need for anything beyond what the Diplomat already provided.

It was just as well, though, that no one was there. Thal was in rough shape. It had taken him far greater effort than he had though would be necessary to rise up off of that alley floor, and far greater still to stumble his way back to the headquarters. Most of the city’s morning crew was busily cleaning up the messes left by the previous night by the time Thal returned, which meant that most of the criminals were sleeping in.

Making his way slowly to his room, Thal collapsed onto his bunk and slept without even taking his clothes off.

It was not long, however, before his mind woke him with nagging thoughts about the night before.

A red blade. The detail stung him like an old wound. You know what that means, his mind whispered.

Thal tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but the thought kept coming back.

You know what that means; you know what you’re supposed to do.

It was a long time ago, Thal argued with himself. No one who cared then is alive now.

You care.

It didn’t take long for that sentiment to finally bring Thal to full wakefulness.

A red blade. The detail he kept returning to. The fact he wanted to ignore. The irrefutable evidence before him.

What does it mean, Thal? Say it.

“Sith.” He whispered the word, just to hear the sheer madness it created when uttered allowed. It was a word of legends, an idea from a different time. It had no place in the world he lived in now.

But then, neither did he. He was as much a relic as she was. There was no place for either of them in the Empire’s New Order.

Thal rose from the bunk and stood in the center of the room.

You know what you have to do.

He nodded and crossed to the locker beside his bed.

It’s what you were sent for.

Searching for the hidden compartment within, he withdrew a heavy cylinder wrapped in a cloth bag. Inside, was his lightsaber, hidden and forgotten for many of the past ten years.

This is your destiny, Thal.

Despite knowing that it would mean his death if anyone found him with it, Thal ignited the blade, hearing the familiar snap-hiss of the weapon’s activation, basking in the warm and golden glow of the blade’s light.

You know what you have to do…

Thal deactivated the blade and held it tight in his hand as he felt a trickle of old feelings, knowledge, and memories grow into a flood that overwhelmed him. He knew. He had always known, but he had tried to forget. He had locked it all away behind walls of intellect and shame, but the lightsaber had opened it all like a key.

We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. The memory of that day was no longer lingering like a whisper. It was deafening him with clarity. The day the council had sent him away. The day he had received his final mission.

We’re sending you to Nar Shaddaa. You must find the Sith that are hidden there. And you must destroy them.

 

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