Slayers of the Old Republic
Book II: Taris
By Michael Weyer
It was clear from the start that Carth didn’t like being with Canderous. The tension between them was thick enough to cut with Bastila’s lightsaber. They were giving each other cool glares as the group stood in the main room of Davik Kang’s large estate.
It was Canderous’ idea to present the group as new recruits for Davik’s forces. Bastila was keeping her lightsaber hidden and hoping that a little Force persuasion could keep attention off her. In his rumbled jacket and pants and the fuzz on his face, Carth hardly looked like the typical Republic officer and Buffy and Vance still had their disguises.
Davik himself was a balding man in his late sixties, someone who likely obtained power by starting as a hired gun and either working or killing his way up the ranks. Calo Nord stood to his left, the scarily odd little man evaluating them all with a careful eye.
"So, Canderous,” Davik rumbled in his gravely voice. “I see you brought someone with you. Most intriguing if I say so myself. You usually travel alone."
"Not like you to take on partners, Canderous," Calo Nord said. "You're getting soft."
"Shut up, Calo,” Canderous snapped. “You may be the newest kath hound in the pack, but you're far from top dog."
Davik glowered at both men. "Enough! I will not having my top men killing each other - it's bad for business. I'm sure Canderous has a good reason for taking on a partner." He walked right up to Vance and grinned broadly.
"Ah, yes. Good judgment, Canderous. I was thinking of recruiting this one. Had a box seat to see the swoop race - not to mention a good view of the brawl afterwards. Very impressive." He smiled down at him. “Republic?”
“Was,” Vance replied. “Now freelance. Ordo said you might have a position open up here.”
"Canderous was right. The Exchange is always looking for new talent - and with a war going on, times are good. You could have a bright future with us."
Davik gave them a tour, and the centerpiece of it was the Ebon Hawk herself. It was easy to see how it got its name. It was shaped like a bird with its large hull ending in wing-like points with the bridge centered between them. Its dark brown painting allowed it to blend in well in space and it seemed set to take flight at any minute.
“You like it? I'm glad," Davik said. "The Ebon Hawk is the my pride and joy. She's the fastest ship on the Outer Rim, and just as strong as she is fast. My girl's born to run blockades - even the gun turrets are Arkatech top-of the-line...better than the Czerka trash the Sith contract with.” He beamed with pride at them. "The Hawk was born to run, but she's been grounded by the blockade. Progress in getting the launch codes to override the Sith automatic turrets has been slow going. With those, I could come and go as I wished." He motioned them to follow. "But we should continue the tour."
He led them around the estate, showing them the armory and barracks before settling them in a large room. “Here you go. You can wait here while I do a little background check. Purely standard, of course. I hope you can attend dinner with me.” His eyes sparkled toward Buffy and Bastila. “Been far too long since I had such charming company.” He bowed to them before backing up. Calo gave them all a long suspicious look before shutting the door.
“Well, that was easier than I expected,” Buffy remarked.
“Don’t get cocky, kid,” Canderous snapped. “We’ve got a long ways to go. Davik’s place is full of backstabbers and cutthroats.”
“Well, then you’d fit right in,” Carth muttered.
Canderous’ head snapped toward him but he was smiling. “Carth...you fight for the Republic, right?"
"That's right. Signed up when I was sixteen, still a kid, really. That was...well, about twenty years ago."
Canderous chuckled. "I was leading the clan's youth by sixteen. Got my first taste of battle at thirteen, like all Mandalorian lads. I've been a warrior for forty years now." He regarded Carth with honest curiosity. "What battles were you in? We may have faced each other in combat."
Carth looked away, obviously uncomfortable. "I...I try not to think about it. The horrors of war aren't something I like to relive."
"The horrors of war?” Canderous repeated in a mocking tone. “My people know only the glory of battle." He was grinning. "I'm disappointed in you, Carth. I thought a warrior like you might understand. There’s got to be a little of the battle-fever within you. Otherwise, why would you be here?"
"I'm not a warrior,” Carth snapped. “I'm a soldier. There's a difference. Warriors attack and conquer. They prey on the defenseless. Soldiers are the ones who defend and protect the innocent - usually from warriors."
"Nice speech," Canderous said with a sneer. "I'll bet you tell yourself that every night so you can sleep. I accept who and what I am. I don't have to justify it with trite words. Victory in battle is my justification."
"Justification through victory, huh? So what happens when you lose? You know, like you did when you went up against us?"
Canderous’ jaw set hard. "You had five times the men, twice the ships, and the Jedi on your side, and we still managed to make you tremble in fear before we fell. And it was not the numbers or the men or the ships that defeated us. It was one person. Revan.”
“Revan?” Buffy asked.
Canderous’ eyes took on an almost reverent light. “He was amazing. No one could defeat him, not even Mandalore himself. The subtlety of his tactics, the cunning, the way he made us think he was going to attack one way then strike another. I tell you this: If Revan had been a Mandalorian, nothing in the galaxy could have stopped us.
"Nice speech," Carth said, throwing Canderous’ words back at him. "Bet you tell yourself that at night so you can sleep."
Canderous sniffed. "Your kind likes to hide behind pretty words and empty concepts, Republic. For my people, it is the honor and glory of battle that drives us. Through combat, we prove our worth, gain renown, and make our fortunes."
"And that's why you attacked the Republic?"
Canderous shrugged. "The Sith came to us with an offer: to fight in a battle that would be remembered forever. We only wanted the challenge of battle and the glory from having fought it - win or lose.” He shook his head sadly. “And we lost.”
“Which is what they wanted,” Vance pointed out. “The entire point was for you to soften up the Republic so the Sith could strike them after you got crushed.”
“Regardless,” Canderous stated. “It was the battle we’d long dreamed of. And even in defeat, we carried ourselves well.”
"And I suppose being a strong-arm collection agent for a petty crime boss carries a lot of glory and honor," Carth sarcastically said.
"Crushing Davik's enemies and the pathetic gangs of Lower Taris couldn't be considered the most glorious of tasks,” Canderous was forced to admit. “More like stepping on bugs. Working for him was like driving a spike through my head. Sure, I get something new in there, but I was losing something too."
He leaned against the wall and looked into the distance. "The days of combat and glory and cheating death at every turn seem to be over now. Times have changed, I suppose. The clans have been scattered, the Republic is in decline, and the Sith Empire rises to take its place. An aging warrior has to take what he can get, but when I think of the battles I've fought...the thousands I've killed...the worlds that I've burned...I weep for my past. "
“Well, on that, we can agree,” Carth said. “Only I weep for how you left the way open for Revan and Malak to strike.”
“Did you know them?” Vance asked.
“I met Malak once. I was impressed by his power and courage.” He sniffed. “Shows how much the Dark Side can change someone I guess.” He turned to Bastila. “What about you Bastila? Did you ever think about joining all the Jedi who were running off to follow Revan and Malak when they went to fight the Mandalorians?"
"That was over seven years ago,” the Jedi answered. “I was still an apprentice, my Battle Meditation hadn't even manifested itself. Yet even then I had the wisdom to obey the will of the Council. Unlike Revan."
"Don't you ever wonder if things could have been different? Would Revan and Malak still have been corrupted if the Council had supported them instead of dragging its feet?"
Bastila began to turn a shade of pink. "Do not blame Revan's corruption on the Council! Your Republic saw only the threat of the Mandalorians, but the wisdom of the Masters saw beyond the immediate threat. When Revan and Malak left, they took almost an entire generation of Jedi Knights with them, all of whom are now dead or turned to the dark side. The Order is still trying to recover. There was something lurking out there, something that devoured Revan and Malak - and many other Jedi. Had the Council sent us all into the unknown, how many more would have fallen?"
"So you're saying they should have done nothing? Just let the Mandalorians conquer us unopposed? I mean, the Republic was under attack, and the Order abandoned us!"
"We did not abandon you!” Bastila yelled back. “But the Council were not about to throw lives away foolishly. In time, we would have aided you against the Mandalorians. But you could not wait. Revan and Malak offered a quicker answer, and the Republic chose to walk the easy path rather than the path of wisdom. Now we see the results all around us. You asked me if I think things could have been different? I know they could have! If Revan had only listened to the Council, millions of innocent people would still be alive."
Vance snorted. "Yeah, right. And every single one of them would be speaking Mandalorain."
Canderous chuckled, enjoying the argument as Bastila whirled on Vance. “You think it was right to do what they did?”
“I think if you’d seen what we did, you’d have agreed!” Vance snapped back. “You weren’t there! I was!”
“Yes and we see where that’s led you!”
“HEY!” They all turned to Buffy, whose face was tight. “As much as I love hearing you all argue the merits of a war I had nothing to do with, shouldn’t we be concentrating on getting out of here before we have half the Taris underworld on our tails?”
Canderous chuckled louder. “The girl has more sense than any of you.” He looked her and smirked. “I think I like you.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m so thrilled.”
Bastila moved forward and opened the door. She took a look around and then nodded to the others. “Come. The way is clear for now.”
They stole their way down the hallways, Canderous taking the lead. They passed one doorway just a loud scream could be heard. “What was that?” Bastila asked.
“Davik’s interrogation room,” Canderous stated in a flat tone. “The droids are probably doing their work on someone now.”
“And you’re going to let that happen?” Bastila asked in disbelief.
Canderous gave her a puzzled look. “Why not?”
The Jedi’s face hardened and Buffy sighed. She knew that look. Bastila moved in and opened the door. There were a pair of torture cells along with various pain-inducing devices set around from laser scalpels to electro-whips. A pair of spidery torture droids were hovering over the cell, their photo-receptors spinning toward the group. Bastila’s lightsaber ignited, the twin yellow blades sweeping in wide arcs to slice the droids apart.
With them destroyed, she could make out the man behind the force field of the cylinder. Bastila quickly freed him and pulled him out. The man heaved for breath. “Than…thank you. You...you have no idea what it was like in that cage. I...I don't know how long it would be before I went mad."
"I couldn't watch a man suffer," she said.
Canderous sniffed. “I could never understand this. I’ve seen how fierce a Jedi can be in battle and yet you limit yourselves with compassion.”
Bastila glared at him. “Without that compassion, we are no better than the Sith.”
"My...my name's Hudrow. I tried to quit, and Davik threw me in here. I can't give you anything tangible as a reward." He smiled wanly. "But I've a better way to hurt Davik. Here, do you have a datapad?"
“Here,” Carth said, pulling out his and handing it over. Hudrow punched in a quick entry and handed it back.
"Those codes will take out the security system around the Ebon Hawk! I used to be her pilot. Use those codes to steal it. Then you can do what you like with it."
“Thanks,” Carth said.
“You’d better get out of here,” Buffy stated. “Davik’s about to take a hit that’ll lower his prestige around here.”
“Fine by me,” Hudrow grinned as he took off running down the hallways.
Buffy smirked at Canderous. “So, any more comments on foolish compassion can be?”
The Mandalorian just grunted as they raced into the hallways. “The hanger is this way,” he stated. “You’d better get those friends of yours alerted because we won’t have much time before-------“
A loud boom could be heard seconds before the ground rumbled. The entire group halted, confused as another boom could be heard, then another and then it seemed to come without pause. “What the hell is that?” Vance said.
Both Buffy and Bastila let their senses flow out to find the cause. Both suddenly stared with wide eyes and exchanged matching looks of horror.
Outside, the Sith had begun to shower hell on Taris.
A minute earlier, Faith, Mission and Zaalbar had been standing just outside of Davik’s estate. They were in a corner away from the sight of the guards outside, trying to keep them being noticed. T3 was next to them, patiently waiting. Zaalbar was still as Mission played a solo game of pazaak. Faith was pacing in place, her natural impatience coming to the fore. “”Come on, come on…”
“Relax, they’ll be ready,” Mission said. “Gotta admit, I’m kinda surprised you’re so eager to get off Taris.”
“I’ve never really thought of this place as home,” Faith answered. “It’s just a place to hang for a while until I figured things out.” She kicked the small bag at her feet. “Hell, look how I put all my needed stuff in one bag.”
“Yeah, never thought of this as home much either,” Mission said. “Especially without my brother.”
Faith was surprised. “Didn’t know you had a brother.”
Mission smiled. “Yeah, Griff. He was great, he took care of me and------“
The rest of her answer was lost as loud boom echoed through the city. “The hell?” Faith asked, staring up. “Is that…thunder?” She knew rain was rare on Taris and thunderstorms even rarer.
The ground shook suddenly along with more booms. Faith raced over to a sidewalk where she could look up. She saw a streak of red light sail from the sky to strike a skyscraper, blowing the top ten floors to pieces. Another bolt smashed the rest and suddenly the skies seemed to be raining with cannon fire, the towers of Taris wilting under the attack.
“Oh my God,” Faith whispered. She swallowed and turned to the stunned Twi’lek and Wookie. “Come on!” She began to run toward the door of the estate. The two guards had already run, seeing the chaos and seeking some sort of shelter.
“What about the signal?” Mission called out as she lugged Faith’s bag.
Faith grabbed the bag and slung the strap around her shoulders. “If the Sith bombing us to hell doesn’t count as a signal to haul ass, I don’t know what does!”
High above Taris, Saul walked across the bridge of the Leviathan to where Malak remained standing, staring out at Taris. The fleet was spread around it, every vessel laying out cannon fire. Saul could see the explosions from space as he waited behind his Master.
“The bombardment is proceeding, Lord Malak,” he said, trying to keep his voice cool and professional. “The planet is completely helpless and has issued a surrender. Also, we have received word from the commander of our forces, asking for a halt in the attack so they may evacuate.”
Malak simply nodded. “Continue the bombardment, Admiral.” He waved a hand toward Taris. “Wipe this pathetic planet from the face of the galaxy!”
Karath nodded and bowed before moving away. Inside, he tried to keep his seething to a minimum. Destroying an entire innocent population was one thing. But it galled him that Malak was willing to wipe out his own forces on the world to boot. Revan at least had some respect for the lives of his own men but Malak considered them as he considered all living things: expendable.
But he was his commander and Karath, much as he hated it, had to follow his orders. He walked over to the communications net to tell the Sith forces on Taris they, like everyone else on the planet, were on their own.
Inside the estate, chaos had quickly taken hold. The bombing was bringing out Davik’s goons, who flooded the hallways. Most were simply running to get away but a few had enough sense to see the intruders in the halls. Thus, Bastila, Buffy, Carth, Vance and Canderous found themselves in a running firefight through the hallways.
The two Jedi’s lightsabers flashed as they carved their way through a trio of Twi’leks. Vance’s own dual blades were put to use as he dueled a gray-skinned gang member. Behind them, Carth and Canderous were side by side, laying down a field of fire at a group that emerged from the barracks. Three of them were cut down while the others stayed back. “Cover me!” Carth yelled as he pulled out a grenade and threw it down toward the barracks. The two moved back as it detonated, screams echoing through the halls.
Canderous smirked. “A Mandalorian, a Republic pilot and two Jedi fighting side by side. Bet you never thought you’d live to see this, eh?”
Carth couldn’t suppress a smile. “And they say the galaxy never really changes.”
“Are you two going to start giving each other flowers?” Buffy called out as she turned from the body she’d just cut down. “Or are we going to get going?”
The two hiked behind as the others raced toward the hanger. The explosions outside were getting louder and more repetitive, indicating the bombardment was coming closer. Canderous opened the door to let them into the hanger. The hanger doors were wide open and a pair of small ships that had been there earlier where already gone, indicating some of Davik’s men had been smart enough to realize they had to leave.
As the quintet raced to the Ebon Hawk, the doors at the other end of the hanger opened to show Davik and Calo. "Damn those Sith!” Davik was yelling. They're bombing the entire planet! I knew they'd turn on us..."
He stopped upon seeing them and sneered. "Well what do we have here? Thieves in the hangar. Let me guess, you're here to steal my ship for your get away and leave me while the Sith bomb this place to dust? Uh-nuh, I don’t think so!"
“We think differently,” Canderous stated.
"Your plan, wasn't it, Canderous?” Davik didn’t sound surprised, more like resigned. “Should have figured you'd do this."
"You should have known better than to cheat me, Davik. Consider this collecting my back pay."
"I'll take care of them, Davik." Calo's voice still didn't break monotone and the group couldn’t help but respect how he seemed to be utterly in control, despite the situation.
"Make it quick, Calo,” Davik hissed. “The Sith mean business. If we don't get on the ships and get out of here, their bombs will kill us all."
Bastila licked her lips and tried diplomacy. “There is room enough for all of us. If you are willing to call a truce, we can take you with and drop you off at-------“
“Sorry, lady,” Davik interrupted. “My ship and I don’t make deals with backstabbers or Jedi.”
“Fine by us,” Buffy said, lifting her lightsaber as Vance came up to her with his blades. “Let’s do this.”
“Careful.” Calo was holding a small metal globe in his hand. “Thermal detonator and it’s good enough to take us all down. I’m not going to be captive to------“
A cannon bolt struck the ceiling and sent a wave of debris down. Calo looked up and for the first time, his face lost composure just before he was struck by the falling ceiling parts.
Davik leaped back and then shook his head. “Fine, I’ll do this myself.”
Buffy stared at the small globe that rolled away from the pile of debris and toward Davik’s feet. “Ah, I think you should look down first.”
Davik laughed. “What, is my bootlace untied? I expected better from a Jedi!” He lifted his guns just as the detonator exploded. Davik didn’t even have time to scream as flesh and bits of armor were sprayed throughout the hanger.
“Oh, gross!” Buffy said as she wiped a piece of flesh off her shirt. “I thought I was over getting pieces of flesh on my clothes!”
Carth and Canderous were already heading into the Ebon Hawk. “Wait, the others!” Buffy called out as she ran over to the hallway, Bastila calling after her.
Buffy entered the hall, which was now filled with smoke and several debris. She saw several shapes moving and held up her lightsaber. She felt her heart soar when she saw Faith leap over a fallen pillar and run toward her. Mission was right behind and Zaalbar took up the rear. The Wookie had T3 held in one strong arm. The droid let out some beeps, not happy with this treatment but Zaalbar knew its treads couldn’t handle the wreckage in the hall.
Faith nodded to Buffy as they entered the hanger. “The bastards are bombing the whole damn planet!” she yelled.
“Already gotten that!” Buffy yelled back as she led them to the ship which was already powering up. “Come on, come on!” She entered, the others behind her, Zaalbar ducking to enter as the ramp was pulled up.
In the cockpit, Carth was in the pilot’s seat, glad to see the Hawk’s controls were easy to handle. Bastila was next to him as he lifted off. The ship moved out of the hanger, heading into the skies just as a pair of bolts destroyed the entire hanger.
Carth hissed as he swung the Hawk through the skies. Before, he might have had a difficult time handling the skyscrapers of Taris. Now, there were no skyscrapers, tower after tower turned into flaming rubble. He looked down to see people on the streets, running about, screaming, looking in vain for help or shelter as the cannon fire reduced them to ash and bone.
Just like Telos. Carth shook it aside, trying to concentrate on getting past the rain of fire. He saw one ship shredded into a fireball by a pair of bolts and sailed through it. The Hawk was rocked by a glancing blow but Carth kept it steady.
Faith was getting Mission and Zaalbar into a bunkspace aboard the ship when she heard a yell of pain. She ran into the main command center at the heart of the ship to see Buffy and Vance gasping in pain. He was on the floor while she leaned against a holographic projector, both grasping their heads. “B? B!” She grabbed her friend and shook her by the shoulders. “Buffy!” Buffy didn’t seem to hear and Faith ran to the bridge.
She paused as she saw the chaos outside and licked her lips. “Something’s wrong with Buffy and Vance! They’re screaming and howling at nothing!”
Bastila gravely nodded. “As I feared…they’re feeling it.”
“Everyone.” The Jedi’s face was drawn. “Every death on this planet is echoing through the Force. Millions at once, all in pain and agony and it’s overwhelming them.”
“Why not you?” Carth asked.
“I’ve had training,” Bastila stated. “Even so, it’s a struggle. They can’t block out the effects as I can, it’s hitting them all at once. Once we get away, it should be better for them.”
Carth was grim as they soared out into space. He swung the Hawk away from one of the bigger Sith vessels but saw a flashing light on the console. “We’ve got fighters!” he yelled out. He looked over his shoulder. “Faith, get Canderous to help you with the gun turrets! We’re going to need some time before we go into hyperspace!”
“I’ve never handled-----“
“Just aim and shoot! GO!” Faith swallowed and ran to where the gun turrets were placed at the rear of the ship. She heard blasting and saw Canderous was already in one, handling it with ease. Faith crawled up the ladder to the second one and sat in the reclining chair.
She’d never handled a turret before but grasped it was like a fancy video game. She brought up the screen to target the oncoming Sith fighters. She fired, missing her first few shots as the fighters swept over to streak the Hawk with laser fighter. The ship buckled but its shields held. As Faith swung the cannon around, she saw Taris from above, saw a pair of escaping ships blown apart and rage took hold. She gripped the handles hard and held down the triggers as she swept the cannon about. She caught one fighter, ripping it to shreds. The other cut away only to be caught by Canderous’ cannon.
“Okay, we’re ready for the jump!” Carth’s voice echoed through the ship. “Everyone hold on!”
Faith quickly buckled the belt on her seat and took a deep breath. She felt a tug as the ship seemed to be stretched out, then rocketed forward. The space outside turned into a streaking tunnel of blue and white as the Ebon Hawk and its crew escaped the ruins of what had once been a great planet.
None of them realized that the danger and the journey for them all was only beginning.
Wheh! Thanks for holding on. As KOTOR fans know, you spend more time on Taris than any other planet so the next few books should be a bit shorter. Book III is coming soon but I could always use some comments to make sure people are liking this. Good or bad, I’m open for them so let them come and thanks for reading.
Next: The team attempts to find refuge only to be put on a much bigger quest in Book III: Dantoine.