ABY 853
Terminus - The Gailles Wharfs
Warehouse 87(A2) ~ Two Hours Later

Taase Bar-Sharzanon brought his 'recorder' for the task. The recorder ambled at his feet on truncated grav-plats, no larger than a common street waste-bin, though chased with engraved plating and incorporated emerald shielding that trotted out the Terminal Council's revamped insignia. It's decoration was a substitute to simply presenting its extensive compliment of recording devices, a foil on Taases' part, a vice for appearing lordly. Now the pair were committed to reviewing the aftermath of Warehouse 87(A2)'s fracas between security squads and heavily armed 'on-shore' pirate gunmen. The Abnetti snorted the ozone odour out of his nostril vents slit over his smooth nose and stepped over a discarded, slagged carbine heavy-rifle. Sec-Com forensic personnel jostled for shoulder-space midst the cramped warehouse aisles and pseudo-alleyways. Their own dead were being collected off the floor, sealed in crisp steel and black solid containers, while pirates and allied belligerents only got plain white body bags.

His boot momentarily stuck in a pool of sticking blood. Taase tsked, sidled out of the way of a analyst busied with pict-captures of localized gore spattering. Across the floor and gutted aisles, to the east wall roughly half-way lengthwise along the kilometer long storage hall, a melted sheet of rock-and-ferrocrete, insulation, and outer aluminum had collapsed like foil over a block of storage scaffold. Fire-control squads were harrowing a nearby chemical fire and dousing it with foaming rivers of choking retardants. An hour earlier, the heat blasted from the nearby conflagration was unbearable. Now, with power re-routed, overhead industrial fans blasted cool cones of wind. Taase's recorder whirled up and took note of industrial-sized freight packaging flashed with burn-scalds and other superficial pieces of damage.

By estimation, Warehouse 87's contraband managed to weather six hours of traded firepower. Roughly fifteen percent had been, tragically, slagged and rendered useless. Taase's boot toe caught into the cracked visor of a fallen officer, clutching to his squad's collected dog tags, the other hand reaching out for a similarly distraught corpse of a nearby Sargent. Taase peered down, saw the glazed, disbelieving face of a woman staring past his scaled brow. His darting, slender fingertips paused their ruminations across a pair of datapads, considering a subtle enormity the Abnetti couldn't grasp. Awkwardly, he sunk to a thin knee and peeled down her eyes and clamped her gaping jaw shut.

"Aye-Vee?" He called the recorder down from the upper scaffold levels. It whirred and hovered to a stop before his business-dressed torso. "Record," He commanded. "Stationary. Letter format. Thank you. To Twice-Honoured Chairperson Calesete..."


They stood shoulder to shoulder in the second sub-basement level, cramped together in a shot-out Foreman officer. The desk, weighted with dried out temura wood and stapled to the cemented ground, was shorn into three collapsed pieces. Seroth and Sargent Nek roved their eyes over the back wall, previously decorated with cheaply hung wild hunt and 'bling' trophies. Gouts of blasted ferrocrete traced savage lines in random criss-crosses, the planted head of one massive, smoothly domed head blown open. Their feet treaded over clouds of hardened taxidermy cotton drifting in their wake.

"Woulda taken us maybe 'till an hours past sunfall 'fore we got to 'im," Nek said.


~Then, Two Hours Earlier

'Him' was the Foreman. Seroth, with the Sargent in close tow, took a secondary maintenance stairwell from the first sub-basement halls down to the final floor. Resistance dogged every step, surprising Sec-Com by the sheer throng of bodies hurling themselves up the disintegrating grill-steps. Rare Torc warriors and Holessian ex-Regulaers, Nediji flyers, Lakran mercenaries, Rodian Stric-gankers, Chistori beserkers, and Gran heavy-rifles. The menagerie contested for every meter gained by the encroaching security forces, not gunshy in exhibiting any final displays of wild salvos. Nek's strategy, admittedly reliant pressing the boy to the fore, was letting the foe's attention stay grabbed on the Jedi. Seroth's blades wrecked havoc turning back their brute firepower, while Sec-Com pressed with pot-shots and flash-bangs.

It came to a head in the final sub-hall. The Foreman, a long-limbed Ka'hren wielding an asymmetric, crystalline long-blade, stood shielded by a concentric ring of gargoyle-esque Stenax slaves. Nek only made out a short exchange of barbed words between the Foreman and his opponent, before his 'ghouls' leapt upon Seroth. Sec-Com held their fire and their breath, watching the display. The boy was shorter, breaking five feet eight inches, while the Stenax rose another two feet over his brow. They took their postured advantage, one managing a cut into the Jedi's ribs through a long, spade-spear. Another clubbed and slashed the boney extrusions grown from its forearms, gashing into his throat and following up with a slice across his collarbone. The Ka'hren circled and kept a hand readied on his belted shield-generator, eying the Nek and his keen-eyed squad.

A double-slash took a Stenax by his knees and felled him, finished with a cut through his skull and eyes. Seroth cock-stepped forward through the circle's opening, rolled and turned back up to his feet in time to parry off three hacking slashes. His lightsabers followed back along their attack-lines, piercing through palm and forearm, driving the stabs on 'till they punctured up through naked pectorals. Two collapsed, dead on their toes, the next nine surging in a reorganized V-rush. Nek tried to wet his dried tongue, and kept his gaze concentrated on the square of the Ka'hren's back. Seroth feinted a high stroke that swooped down and took a fighter through his red-scaled thigh, kicking off his stumbling shoulder. Propelled overhead, high over their turning vibro-machetes, the boy let out a cry and severed a pair of heads with a whirling rotor-slash. Seven now. The ka'hren slowly blinked round, lightless ebon-eyes.

"Six... Five..." Nek counted down.

Seroth was softly dancing on the pitched balls of his feet before running in and meeting the last four's paired charge. Stenosian martial tradition dictated shearing, precise hacks that would have butchered a lesser foe, timed with practiced routine to skewer through the heart, liver, groin, and throat. They met a virtual wall of viridian riposte's that ripped through their assault-lines and worked them off their footing. Seroth kept on the Djem So rhythm, cutting down the first with an upward diagonal lash, the second clutching to his severed waist before toppling backwards, perfectly bisected. As a desperate gesture, the final pair took up opposing stances with the boy squarely fixed between and charged. The youth's left wrist flicked and slid the blade along the inside vibro-machete edge, whacking through skull and facial bone. The right hand twisted, spun the rightmost Stenax' weapon low and away, already coiled and shoving a glowing blade-tip through his opponent's gut.


The Ka'hren spoke through a modulated pitch of gargled basic. "Those Stenax were an investment; twenty thousand credits a body. You wasted forty years of conditioning that I paid out of my pocket to inherit. How are you going to convince me not to eviscerate you where you stand, Jedi?"

"You could have told them to stand down," Seroth replied in his quiet baritone.

The Ka'hren plowed his sword through a fast string of wrist exercises and came on, his trill outcry coinciding with a simultaneous burst of activity at the sub-hall's far end. A Trandoshan mercenary-guard, pushed back from attempting to flee down a previously constructed escape tunnel, returned as the Foreman's crystal-blade cracked and met the Jedi Knight's cleaving light-swords. Sargent Nek propped up off the stairwell grill-steps and pushed his squad into motion. Mabuse and his remnant of haggard men plied in behind as the first volleys went off. The Trandoshans initially concerned themselves with the dueling pair whisking over the mop-washed flooring, burning plumes of bolt-damage, heavy-repeators thrumming in clawed hands.

It was Sec-Com's two dozen against the Trandoshan's even score, with the duelists pivoting on their feet and running through fast sword-work routines midst the blaster-fire. Nek cussed that it was a miracle the pair weren't shot off their feet, gunning a Trandoshan across his belly and shoulder, bursting open armour and reptile-flesh. Repeater fire burned the air, setting an ozone haze of heated oxygen and wreathing smoke. The Ka'hren managed a succession of parry's before Seroth slipped into his guard and lightly glided his blade-tips over the cloth and skin of his triceps. The Foreman had his long, heavy reach, pushing the Jedi back into a comfortable sphere of distance. Yet, a swift diagonal side-feint left and then a rush right would bring Seroth in too close. The Ka'hren couldn't bring his arms in to bear, lacking necessary space to slash down onto the boy's head. Time and again, those humming cuts harried into his limbs.

Seroth caught a downward slice with one readied blade and forced the Foreman's long-arm to fold and coil back. But, 'fore his opponent could initiate a counter stroke, the boy tensed, crouched, then kicked. The Foreman was propelled back, turning in one complete, flailing circuit. His shoulders and spine smashed first through the reinforced window-glassing of his office, briefly impacting with an unyielding wall. The Ka'hren spent his final moments reorienting onto his feet, looking upwards across his desk. His enemy came on, battering aside his crystalline long-blade, which shattered into a scattered cloud of multicoloured shards. One lightsaber found his second heart, then the first, flopping 'neath Seroth's falling knees as the blades tore out then down his torso.



"Hmmn," Taase hummed, touching a holoquill through a burned torso wound, crouched over the slain Ka'hren. "Pity. A surrender would have netted him a chance to plea-bargain, reduce any eventual sentencing. Even supplied Sec-Com with further intelligence regarding other contraband operations amidst Terminus."

"Maybe were he a merc," Sargent Nek snorted from nearby, outside the broken office window. "Pirates, tho'? Take m'word, Mister Taase, they got funny codes of operatin' when captured. Honourable silence and the like."

Seroth tuned out the particulars of their conversation, shuffled against Sargent Mabuse as they rustled through a shot-glanced cabinet. His gloves were slung in against his waist-belt, wrist-deep in piled pict-slates and data-pads, though every other 'pad was locked tight with nigh impenetrable encryption. Once more, the distasteful bile that had rose from his gorge in Cato Neimoidia's afore and aftermath haunted his palette. Arguably, every foe slain beneath his fierce strikes was a criminal with enough violent potential to commit any number of horrible crimes. They'd robbed, looted, taken their stolen goods and left it for storage and eventual life as black market commodities. The boy considered what his friends may advise.

Jaxton Ravos would just shrug, comment strongly that they weren't owed second considerations. They'd warped their consciences enough to justify everything under the sun.

Ben Watts' hand would clamp onto his shoulder, tug him close and poke into his chest. Terminus, for all its strangeness, still required a judging hand. Were it not for his intervention, how many more officers would have died?

And Master Wraith, Darron, would just nod solemnly and smile in his knowing way. The boy did as best he could, in unfamiliar territories, against armed enemies that wouldn't have given a second thought about vaporizing his brains. There was a difference between wholesale bloodletting and a principled battle. As he aged, the asymmetry would become drastically more apparent.

"...Master Jedi?" A rasp-voice broke his reprieve. Seroth turned and reached up fast to catch the falling credit-voucher in Agent Taase's hand.

"So sharp," The Abnetti complimented. "For your efforts here today, as agreed. Fifty thousand credits. No, save the skeptical looks, the Council rarely reneges. ...Though, a few Chairpersons are scoffing at the amount of compensation."

"Think I'd get a raise if I could throw a glow-sword about?" Mabuse chuckled, rubbing grit from his dark chin. "You feeling charitable there, Jedi?"

Seroth loosed a little laugh and pocketed the voucher-chit, shaking his blood-caked brow. "Very much so, Sargent, but what's your vice? I'll need every credit to spare where I'm going?"

"Jus' where you gonna head off to anyways?" Nek rumbled.

"I don't yet know..." Seroth sighed quietly. Taase returned to speaking into a collar mic-bud, raising observations and conjecture to his unseen 'Recorder' droid. The thing in questioning was taking a long circuit round the pocked and gored second sub-basement floor, face-scanning over the dead and committing the unidentified Stenax and Trandoshan merc-crew to digital memory. Nek just relaxed against the outside door jamb, murmuring into his helmet mic while Mabuse aided in rummaging through the office proper. Eventually, the Sargent jostling for shoulder space with the Jedi loosed a long, low whistle.

"Huh..." He grunted.

"What?" Taase came stooping over. Sargent Mabuse had fished an antiquated parchment from deep within a bottom cabinet drawer, having smashed a digital lock and braving any possible anti-theft measures. The Chairman Agent would chide him for that. Of greater interest than his misstep, though, was the aforementioned parchment. It resembled an old papyri scroll, ancient and greasy at the touch, marked by faded boundary lines and hand-writ script. Nek stomped in to get a closer peak, pushing past Taase's collection of long arms.

"...Whas' that?" He asked.

"A map," The Abnetti remarked slyly.

"Well obviously," Nek sassed. "But to what exactly? Tha' one of 'em fabled 'treasure charts' or summat? Somethin' the pirates commit to paper rather than datapad?"

"No..." Seroth reached in and ran a finger along. "See those? Boundary marks, border lines. The dots... planets, and right beside them their designations. And there... little mark for distance."

"So a starchart anyway, but damn, it's old," Mabuse murmured and stuck his nose closer. "Cos - March - Eee. Cosmarchy, if I'm reading that right. Pfftah!"

The trio, Sargents and Agent, shared a knowing chuckle while Mabuse re-rolled the parchment up and replaced it back in its cabinet space. Seroth looked to each wryly, wondering what local tradition was causing their humour. "...I'm sorry...?"

"Apologies, Young Master," Taase coughed. "You see, the map is entirely useless. It may be of interest for historical sake, given its age, but it's no more than a cave-drawing for all intents and purposes."

"I don't understand," Seroth said. "It's a fake?"

"Completely," Taase replied. "You saw the name, Cosmarchy? It doesn't exist and frankly never has. It stems from old trade-lane traditions and a few byword spacer legends. Every funded expedition to discover some lost, backwards 'empire's ended in failure. This is just a fanciful sketch pieced together by some bored deckhand, once upon a time. ...What are you doing?"

The youth had stooped down to a knee and retrieved the parchment. Taase merely tsked. "Honestly, Master Jedi, if I can save you time and money? Keep it, I'd say, it's a pawn item at best. Trade it in when you're in need of some fast credits. Otherwise - "

Cosmarchy. Seroth plied his attention to the extensive 'sector map', detailing trade lanes, 'warp routes', and intricate spacial boundaries. Slavish detail had been applied to nearly every aspect of the parchment's creation, from the permanent black quill-dyes that kept the edge of legibility from decaying to minute drawings, annotations, and a side-long symbolic legend. Amaranth... Bladeswail... Kale's Ward and the Crone Isles... "...You're sure this is just some fool's bored fancy?"

Taase shrugged. "Sure as I can dare risk."

". . ." Seroth tapped a knuckle against the aged grease-paper and trundled it under his arm. He'd worried that from Terminus, he'd set out in some meandering, rudderless direction, waiting and hoping to come upon a lost, scattered world. The Grandmaster had been precise in his instruction but left the Ranger Mandate's execution up to the boy's own judgement. The Unknown Reaches weren't called so because of some cartographer's laziness. This stretch of space... This Cosmarchy... Every story held a grain of truth. If all it ended up to be was a backwater region limping along and waiting for long sought aid, then so be it. It'd be a virtuous step on the right path. Seroth scratched at the drying wound across his collarbone and stepped about the wrecked office-space.

"Officers. Agent Bar-Sharzanon," He said to the trio, and then departed.