The Photonovel Alliance

-In an isolated corridor, Col. Cracken impatiently awaits word from the two teams he sent on recon to locate the prisoners, while his own squad attempts to gather information on the building they have just invaded.


-As they approach a turbolift, Cracken looks down to Havi, his faithful tech specialist.

———“Think you can hack into their system and get a map of this place?”

“Oh, I can do more than that!” Havi chuckles to himself as he slaps on his goggles and examines the computer console next to the door. “This fortress may look impressive, but it’s old as heck. I can access the entire security network from here”.

-A few short minutes later, he hops back up.

———“All done?” Cracken asks.

“In record time!” Havi smiles broadly. “And it looks like we’ve got company!” The rebels whirl around, expecting approaching Stormtroopers…

-But instead it is only Sila Kott’s search party returning to the main group.

————“No sign of any prisoners on our levels, sir,” the young trooper reports. “Have you heard from the other squad yet?”

“No,” Cracken replies. “Wilson insisted we go silent on coms. But if he doesn’t get back soon, I’m breaking it. We’re bound to meet resistance eventually”.

“Yeah, we didn’t see any troopers in our search at all,” Sila sounds worried. “Creeped me out”.

———“I’m picking up plenty of signals here,” Havi reports, “but none near us…yet. I’m starting to think this could be some sort of….”

“Trap”. Cracken finishes the sentence. “Whatever it is, something isn’t right. Have Saigorr keep some troopers and stay here on guard. Everyone else come with me. We’re going to find out just what the hell is going on here”.

As the rebels traipse unawares through the castle, high above their heads Chief Inquisitor Tarsus enters the Banquet Hall, bustling with major Imperial dignitaries.

——“Everyone, remain calm”, he shouts out. “But I have some urgent news. A rebel force has penetrated our defenses and the castle is under attack”.

“What?!? How is this possible?” one of the visiting businessmen calls out in shock.

———“I’m afraid we have reason to believe that Headmaster Dreyfus betrayed us to the terrorist forces before disappearing from the premises”.

“But do not worry,” Tarsus continues. “We have secure transport to ensure your safe evacuation of the building. Follow Commander Klink to the exit at the far left end of the hall”.

-Stormtroopers and commandos flood the banquet hall, hastily ushering the confused party guests up and to the exit in strict, military fashion.

“Excuse me, sirs” Commander Klink cautiously approaches Darth Vader and Moff Hochsetter, who remain in conversation with fellow officers, ignoring the evacuation. “I need you to come with me, for your safety”.

“I have no intentions of running away from a fight”, Vader’s voice booms out, causing Klink to take a sudden step backwards. “I will stay here”.

-Unsure of what to do, Klink hurries to his master.

———“Chief Inquisitor, sir, um… Lord Vader is refusing to leave. What should I do?”

“Let me speak to him”.

-Tarsus needs not move, for Vader is already there to assert his decision.

———“I will be staying here, Inquisitor. My men and I fight with you. Presuming you yourself plan to stay?”

“Of course I am,” Tarsus scoffs. “These rebels don’t stand a chance. Find whatever troopers you brought with you and follow me”. Vader glares at the arrogant Inquisitor as he walks away.

-In little time, Vader and his loyal pilot Sgt. Townsend march swiftly behind Tarsus and Cpt. Madine towards the lower levels of the castle, seemingly towards a dead end.

-However, the “dead end” slowly creaks open to reveal an entrance to the castle’s extensive secret passageways.

“We have reason to believe the rebels have hacked into our security feeds,” Tarsus reports. “While we cannot risk disabling all the cameras, there will be interference. This passageway, however, is not under surveillance; therefore allowing us to ambush the invading force”.

-With that, Tarsus turns and swiftly marches into the passageway. Vader follows, but is pulled aside by Townsend.

———“Something is wrong here, sir. I don’t like it”.

“Neither do I,” Vader breathes deeply. “But this fool has tried to undermine me for too long. Today he will learn to respect his superiors”. With that, the duo turns and step forth into the darkness.

-Many floors below, Saigorr and Sgt. O’Hara stand guard at the rendezvous point with two other rebel soldiers. Suddenly, the wall behind them begins to slide open, revealing Vader’s ominous form. Saigorr barks out a warning…

-But it is too late! Vader and Townsend are first out of the gate, taking out two of the rebel guards.

-Seeing this, Sgt. O’Hara runs to warn the others. But the noble wookiee warrior stays behind.

-Battle axe waving in the air, he charges towards Vader…

-Landing a blow that barely seems to faze the dark Lord.

-In moments, the duel is over. A sharp roar of pain echoes out down the halls…

-The mighty Saigorr has fallen.

-By the time O’Hara reaches the other rebels, they all seem painfully aware of what has happened.

“Where’s Saigorr?” Cracken pushes his way to the out of breath sergeant. “What happened?”

————“Vader….Vader’s here,” she replies through gasp of breath. “He killed Hutch and Baz and…and Saigorr”.

“That son of a…” Filled with rage at the murder of his long-time protector, Cracken loses his cool, attempting to charge back towards the fight, but is stopped by Hank.

———“Airen, calm down” the soldier breaks rank, addressing the colonel by his first name. “Earlier today you warned me about my personal feeling risking the mission. Now I’ve got to return the favor, okay? Going back there is suicide. Saigorr would want us to finish the mission”.

“You’re right”, Cracken sighs remorsefully before regaining his authoritative poise. “We’ve got to keep moving and find a way to bring this whole castle down on Vader’s head”.

-Elsewhere in the castle, the three surviving Acolytes sit in their barracks, dwelling on the events of the past day and the death of their longtime comrade, Luc Bar’Nett.

“It’s hard to believe Luc is gone…” Kara muses.

———“And good riddance,” Gnarrl growls. “That little frack got what he deserved”. The conversation ends as an alarm blares out through the castle, signaling an evacuation.

“What’s going on?” Mara Jade asks as their supervisor scurries into the room.

———“It seems the castle is under attack by the Rebel Alliance”, the officer reports. “You are to evacuate the Castle immediately. Go to the South Hanger, your ship will be…”

“No!” Mara interrupts. “We’re not just going to run away! Headmaster Dreyfus…”

“Headmaster Dreyfus has disappeerd and is wanted for treason against the Empire. You WILL retrieve the young Jedi from the Med Bay and vacate the premises”. With that, the supervisor crisply turns and leaves the shocked students behind.

———“I guess that means we’ve graduated”, Gnarrl scoffs.

-The siren blares out elsewhere in the Castle, where an Imperial officer stares down a hallway towards the invaders just out of sight.

———“You are surrounded! Give up you blasters and surrender and the law will look fairly on you!”

“Like hell it will,” Colonel Cracken shouts back, popping his around the opposite corner long enough to fire off a shot at the officer.

“Fools,” the Imperial scoffs.

———“What do we do now, sir?” a trooper asks.

“Wait. The others are coming up behind them as we speak. There will be no escape”.

Suddenly, a sound echoes out from behind them, a clamor of stomping feet and shouting voices. The troopers turn to figure out what is happening…

-Just as the army of newly liberated prisoners swarms the hall!

-Led by Master Qwarr, they quickly overwhelm the shocked Imperials.

-Confused by the ruckus, Cracken steps out into the hall, only to see the officer’s dead body tumble out into view.

-In an instant, the hall is filled with a ragtag band of Rebel forces and former inmates. Immediately recognizing the agents and Qwarr, Cracken rushes towards them.

“Where’s Wilson?” he asks.

———“Where’s Jaig?”, Hank speaks at the same time.

“I’m afraid your fellow officer didn’t make it,” Qwarr regretfully replies. “But he has been avenged”.

————“Damn,” Cracken sighs. They have already lost too many men today.

“Jaig is being held elsewhere in this facility. I must find him now. Take this boy, ensure he sees it too safety,” Qwarr motions to Charles, the young prisoner he befriended in the dungeon. “I will see you again soon, with your brother, if it is the will of the Force”.

“I can’t let you go alone!” Cracken shouts as Qwarr calmly walks away. “Vader is back there, it’s too dangerous!” Qwarr does not reply, he simply follows his calling, walking away, down the hall, until he reaches a corner and is out of sight.

-Over the next hour or so, the battle rages on, soldiers lose track of time as interlocking games of cat and mouse play out throughout the corridors of the massive castle.

-In a side room, troopers storm in, catching the rebels and prisoners within off guard.

-They are quickly dispatched as Vader, Tarsus, and their respective confidants march into the room.

“It’s clear, sir,” Townsend reports to his master.

——“Good. Be sure to keep on guard in this fight. Something is clouding my mind. We must dispose of this rebel garbage quickly, then report to the Emperor”.

“All clear, you say?” Tarsus chimes in smugly. “Good. Captain Madine, begin the full evacuation of the troops. We need to evacuate the castle as quickly as possible”.

——“Yes, my Lord”, Madine swiftly exits the room to do his master’s bidding.

“What do you mean, evacuate??” Townsend confronts the Inquisitor. “We’re winning!”

——“No,” Tarsus smiles. “YOU aren’t winning…”

“I am”. In a flash his blades ignites through Townsend’s chest!

-In a blur of motion, Vader ignites his own blade, breaking it down against Tarsus before Townsend’s body hits the floor. In that same instant, one of the temple guards turns his blaster on Vader’s other companion, gunning him down.

————“So it’s treason, then?” Vader growls.

-Before he can finish, Vader violently shoves out with the Force, hurling the Inquisitor into a wall…

And with the same gesture, pulls the remaining trooper onto his blade.

“Do you think you’re the first fool to try and betray me, Tarsus? Who do you think I am?”

- Suddenly, a massive blast, undetected by the dark lord’s clouded mind, rips into him from the back, sending him crashing down to the floor!

Bane Malar and Bossk step forward as their employer smiles approvingly.

“I’m still reading vitals on him, Tarsus. Should we finish him off?” Malar asks.

———“No. I’ll do that myself. Ensure the charges are prepared, then wait with my shuttle in the private hanger”.

“Roger that”, Malar turns to Bossk. “Let’s roll out”.

-As the bounty hunters leave, Tarsus kneels down over Vader’s damaged body.

———“I know exactly who you are,” he sneers, as the cyborg’s already labored breathing worsens. “You’re a relic of a broken system. A system I intend to wipe out. No more clones, no more superweapons, no more broken old fools desperately clinging to power. A new dawn is coming. And the Sith will truly rule this galaxy, as it should be”.

-As Tarsus reveals his grand scheme for the future, Jaig Landow awakens, his mental state in shambles, to the beautiful face of Mara Jade as she frees him from his shackles.

“Wha…what’s happening?” he mumbles. “Where’s my Master? Where’s Tarsus? Where’s…”

————“Calm down, Jedi,” Kara soothingly speaks to him. “Go to sleep”. With a knudge of the Force, Jaig once again passes out, going limp in the arms of the Acolytes holding him.

“I don’t see why we need this fool”, Gnarrl grumbles, picking up the unconscious Jedi.

———“We can always use new recruits,” Kara assures him.

“I don’t like leaving this way,” Mara mutters. “We should be fighting”.

———“We have our orders, Jade”, Kara replies. “Come on, the hanger is this way”.

-They exit, Jaig in tow, unaware that they are being watched by the eyes of their prisoner’s master, slinking through the shadows in a discarded cloak.

-He first moves to follow them, preparing to call on his full power, ready to risk everything to save his beloved Padawan. But suddenly, he feels called back. For the first time since he entered the castle, his mind is clear. The Force has called him. But not in the direction of Jaig.

-For as long as he has any memory, Suun Qwarr has dedicated his life to the will of the Force. After the Clone Wars, he fell away, but it was this young boy, this new pupil, who brought him back to the light. Jaig Landow saved him, and now is in the peril he once faced. He must be saved, raised up to follow the light, the first of a new order to restore hope to the galaxy… But Suun Qwarr now knows this is not his destiny. Fighting back a single, crippling tear, he turns away, and begins the long walk to the castle’s furnace.

-The sounds of battle begin to be dying down as less and less troopers begin to appear in the halls.

————“I think I have the answer to our problem, sir”, Havi reports. “This castle seems to be powered by some manner or archaic furnace at the heart of the structure. If we can blast that…”

“We can bring the whole place down” Cracken finishes the sentence. “Get word to Hank, he’s the best demo man we have. Send him to that furnace and blow it to hell”.

-Far below, in the heart of the castle, the furnace itself roars, seemingly in fury at what is about to happen, as Tarsus and a lone guard drag a failing Vader across the precarious walkways high above it.

“I’ve done my research, Vader,” Tarsus mocks his victim. “You began in fire. How fitting you should end in it”. His saber ignites with an electric buzz, drowned out by the flame below.

———“You’re…mad to think…you can get away with this”. Vader coughs.

“That’s what they tell all the visionaries,” Tarsus replies, raising his saber for the final blow…

-Suddenly, Qwarr bursts into view, eliminating the trooper…

-Then hurling his body through the air, striking Tarsus and knocking him off balance.

“This is not your fight, Jedi” Tarsus shouts, pulling himself up from the edge of the abyss.

“It is now,” Qwarr sternly stares down his opponent.

-On opposite sides of the gap in the walkway, their sabers crash back and forth, sending sparks flying…

-Qwarr lashes out, striking Tarsus across the chest…

-But, barely fazed, he responds with a firm kick to the Jedi’s face, knocking him back over one of the massive vent pipes!

-Straddling the pipe, the fight continues, blow after furious blow exchanged…

“You think you can stop me?” Tarsus scream. “Your Order is dead, a new one is rising. I tried to show you the light before, but you wouldn’t listen!

Your precious Padawan, though, he will!”

———“You know no light, Inquisitor. Only darkness”.

-With that, Tarsus remembers his true purpose and leaps away to ensure an end to Vader…

-But is once again thwarted, as Qwarr desperately flies through the air with wild abandon, not knowing why, finally giving himself fully away to the Force as Tarsus’ blade comes chopping down…

-And only an empty cloak and clothes comes falling down at his feet. Tarsus is momentarily distracted…

-And in that moment, Vader, with a final ounce of strength attacks him from behind, lifting the traitor into the air, but then he stumbles, his damaged robotic legs give out…

-And they both tumble atop one of the furnace pipes.

-Despite pain searing through his body, Tarsus turns his blade around, desperately trying to end his hated rival. But Vader’s metal hand grab the

blade holding it back. The two are locked in a battle of sheer will, but it is clear who has the upper hand…

———“I will not let you kill me…” Vader groans.

-With that, he lets go. Tarsus scrambles to grab the edge of the pipe as Vader plummets down, down, and out of sight, into the depths of the furnace.

-Badly beaten yet still victorious, Tarsus rolls back to the catwalk…

-Only to look up into the blaster of Hank Landow.

-With a grunt of pain, he pulls the blaster away with the Force, leaving the shocked rebel unsure of his next move.

——“You’ve come here to set charges. They’re already set,” Tarsus coughs. “This fortress will destruct in ten minutes. You can try to kill me, or you can go save your friends. Get them out. And tell them… tell them Darth Vader is dead”.

-Utterly confused by what he has just heard and witnessed, Hank turns back, walking first slowly, then running down the walkway, to warn his friends of the impending threat.

-Behind him, Tarsus finally collapses from his injuries. He manages to activate his comlink.

——“Malar, I need you to come get me from the furnace. It’s finished”.

-Elsewhere in the castle, Cracken has regrouped most the surviving rebels and prisoners. Suddenly, Hank and the remaining fighters come running into view!

“We need to go now, sir, the furnace is wired to blast any minute!”

———“Where are the others?”

“Qwarr’s dead, Jaig… Jaig is gone. We need to go NOW!”

“I can get you to the nearest exit”, Shade enters himself into the conversation.

———“Good, we’ll follow you,” Cracken rallies the troops. “Move it, this place is coming down!”

-Back on the ground, the rebels burst out of an exit to safety just in the nick of time!

-They send up a raucous cheer as the mighty Castle Gathreel comes tumbling down.

-However, not everyone joins the celebration. Shade stares longingly at the remnants of his past life, now literally reduced to rubble. Willix mourns the loss of the new friends he had finally found, he is now once again alone. Cracken himself has lost another team member, one who had protected him all his life. And Hank can only think of his brother, once again taken from him, this time by forces of the darkest evil.

-As the remaining rebels celebrate, Cracken pulls Hank aside.

———“We’ll find him, Hank. Don’t worry. We keep fighting. For Saigorr, for Qwarr, and for Jaig. It’s what we do”.

“I know we’ll find him”, Hank sighs in reply. “But what will he become by the time we do?” Cracken does not know what to say to this. Instead, he places a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder, the two staring up into the sky, looking for a glimmer of hope in the darkness of war. And in that moment, for a brief instant, they both find peace.

<<  Chapter 22
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Brought to you by Choi

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