The Photonovel Alliance

Onboard The Dauntless Knight, Sgt. Klink briefs the Inquistor finishes briefing the Inquisitors on the new mission. The dark side adepts are confused by his intensity, not realizing the high personal stakes their handler faces if his worst fears are realized.


“Waste of a good night on the town,” Mara scoffs. “Here I was having fun.”

——“You have fun?” Kara rolls her eyes.

“I have my own ways of relaxation.”

As the Inquisitors disperse to prepare for action, Sgt. Klink turns to Hank and hands him a blaster.

——“We need all the help we can get on this mission. Take this.”

“Is it really that serious?” Hank is surprised by both Klink’s tone and placement of trust. “It’s just a couple of drug thieves, and I’m still technically a prisoner here…”

——“Let’s just say that I could use a friend this time around,” the old soldier momentarily lets down his guard. “And besides, if anything happens to me, that bracelet on your legs will blow you through all nine hells.”

On the isolated world of Echaban, Hans Kott and Vandel Oxixo carefully pick their way through the ruins of the once grand Castle Gathreel.

——“You know, I always wanted to visit here,” Hans mumbles. “You know, before…”

“Before it got blown to pieces by traitorous scum?” Inspector James Marquand steps out of the shadows, blaster drawn. “Put your hands where I can see them!”

“You see this?” Ox draws his own blaster. “This a friendly business greeting where you come from?”

“Ah, yes, Captain Oxixo and… friend. Of course. Your reputation proceeds you,” Marquand lowers his weapon. “We can’t be too careful, you know. Come with me, there’s someone very anxious to see you.”

Not too far away, The Dauntless Knight touches down and its team disembarks.

——“I can’t believe we’re actually back here,” G’Narrl growls. “Who would ever volunteer to live on this hunk of poodoo”.

“What I can’t believe is that Klink gave your terrorist brother a gun,” Mara mutters to Jaig.

——“Do you forget so quickly that I was a rebel not so long ago?” Jaig replies.

“Oh, I remember, alright. But now I have to keep my eyes on two of your kind”.

——“After all this time you still don’t trust me?” Jaig’s response barely registers with Mara has she laughs to herself and walks off.

-In yet another direction, Cracken and Shade have also arrived on Echeban, heavily armed and protected by a hodgepodge of “borrowed” armor.

“I’m picking up a ton of activity,” Shade reports from the powerful scanners within his old commando helmet. “Multiple ships, several registered to the Empire, others I can’t identify”.

“Are any of them…” Cracken begins to ask.

——“The Dauntless Knight, yes. They’re here. Are you ready?”

“Of course.”

——“I mean, are you ready for if its true? If he’s turned, like his brother?”

Cracken ignores this question, instead heightening his pace and trudging on through the mud, his mind focused on only one thing: Saving all he has left, his fragmented past.

The last group of our players now enters the scene. Willix, Bif, and Ori have accompanied Hondo Ohnaka, while the rest of the rebel team traveled with the bulk of Hondo’s mercenaries. Now, the two groups are meeting to rendezvous.

“This is the place, isn’t it?” Willix asks.

——“Of course, don’t worry, my men are expert navigators across space or land!” Hondo eloquently boasts. “They just aren’t always the most punctual. We operate on our own system, I like to call it… Hondo Time.”

Suddenly, a group of figures appears before them. But they are not the bounty hunters that our heroes were wanting to see!

—“Hondo!” Willix shouts. “What the hell is Bane Malar doing here?”

“Let’s just say I was… disappointed not to get invited to your party,” Malar announces, his metallic voice hauntingly ringing out from beneath his mask. “So I decided to have one of my own.”

The rest of Hondo’s men emerge, holding the three remaining rebels prisoner!

“Braccus! What the frack do you think you’re doing?” Hondo yells at his second in command.

“Promoting ourselves to a higher pay grade, boss. It was nice knowing you”.

The mercenaries open fire on Hondo’s group!

He and the rebels turn to flee under heavy fire!

As the dust settles, Bane Malar and Braccus look over the dead. Malar is disappointed to find none of the rebels among the fallen.

—“You seem to have only managed to kill your own allies,” Malar ominously observes.

“They’d have never joined. Hondo surrounded himself with the most loyal crew members”.

“I don’t care,” Malar cuts his new lieutenant off. “The ones that matter are still alive. This is the endgame now. We must reach the castle before they do. And kill everyone inside.”

Back beneath the ruins, Detective Marquand leads Hans and Ox to an inner chamber left somewhat stable in the collapse. Delicately balanced rubble supports the hideaway.

——“And we owe everything to Mr. Fett, here,” Marquand is explaining. “He retrieved Lord Vader’s body and notified us, having had… dealings with us in the past. Realizing the extent of the conspiracy, he agreed to help us keep it secret.”

“For a high price, I’m sure,” Ox looks at the bounty hunter with disdain.

——“Don’t look a gift eopie in the mouth, Ox,” Hans chides him.

“My associate Detective Watts stabilized him,” Marquand continues as Fett steps away to reveal the once mighty Darth Vader, now clinging to life with a battered suit and makeshift helmet. “And we were able to acquire one of Vader’s personal doctors. But as you can see, he is in dire condition, and there are very few we can trust. Are you sure you weren’t followed?”

Suddenly, sounds of a scuffle break the silence beyond the chamber. The Imperials quickly draw their blasters as shots ring out and one of the troopers standing guard falls in onto the floor, dead!

With loud, heavy footsteps, the crew of The Dauntless Knight enters.

“Lord Inquisitors,” Marquand cautiously approaches the dark side adepts. “You’ve come just in time. You see, there’s a great threat to the Empire! Lord Tarsus has committed high treason and we don’t know how deep the…”

“Is that Lord Vader?” Mara interrupts, stepping past him toward the prostrate Sith Lord.

——“Well, yes, it is. I was getting around to…”

“You should have led with that part, imbecile. I can’t believe he’s still alive. And to think the whole Empire believes he’s dead…”

“Well, maybe it’s better off he stay that way!” G’narrl acts impulsively, lunging towards Vader, lightsaber drawn and ignited!

With a flash, Mara reacts. G’narrl looks down confused at the vibrant purple blade emerging from the center of his chest. The entire room drops to dead silence.

At which point Willix and Orrimarko enter, guns blazing!

Their strafing blaster fire rips into the crowd of Imperials has Gnarrl’s body crashes heavily to the ground! Mara leaps forward at the new attackers…

But in the confusion, Sgt. Klink, watching his world fall apart before his eyes, pulls a thermal detonator from his pack. Activating it, he tosses it down and dives for cover as, once again, an explosion rips through the foundations of Castle Gathreel!

Not very far from the castle ruins, the remaining rebel strike team is oblivious to the conflict, but they have problems of their own, being the prisoners of Hondo’s rogue gang of mercenaries.

“So, I hope you two have a plan to get us out of this mess,” Lorna whispers.

———“Look, I know you’re new, but you’ve got nothing to worry about. We’ve escaped far worse than this in the past,” Sila smiles confidently.

“Yes, but you had Cracken with you then.”

———“And something tells me Willix isn’t coming back for us,” Havi mutters.

Out of earshot, one of the mercenaries hears a slight noise. He steps forward to investigate.

The shocked thugs scramble to respond to the sudden, unexpected attack, completely caught off guard…

Shade also joins the fray, dueling a furious, masked bounty hunter…

A brutal blow knocks Shade to the ground, his helmet rolling off!

The bounty hunter moves in to finish his opponent…

Only to be taken out by Cracken!

In the chaos, the captured rebels are able to free themselves. Sila crawls to grab a blaster from one of the slain mercenaries and joins the fight.

Cracken, meanwhile, struggles against a sword-wielding alien assassin…

The rebel hero drops to the ground and Shade rushes to his aid…

But a well-placed blaster bolt strikes down the assassin first!

“Good shot, kid,” Shade nods as Sila rushes to them. But his attention is focused on Cracken, his face still concealed.

———“Is that you, sir?” the young rebel asks.

“It’s me, alright, Sila,” Cracken smiles and removes his helmet. “Once again pulling you out of another fine mess. Where are the others?”

——“Knowing Willix, I’m sure they kept going. They should be at the castle by now. I’ll come with you!”

“No,” Cracken looks into the distance. “Get the others back to the ship. I won’t put anymore of you at risk. This is something I have to do myself”.

In the ruins of the castle, the smoke is beginning to clear.

———“What the hell just happened?” Willix whispers harshly from his hiding place.

“I don’t know sir,” Ori replies. “Maybe they blew themselves up for us?”

Across the chamber, Cpt. Oxixo crawls towards Vader’s body. But he is frozen in his steps by the sound of cold, long footsteps echoing across the charred floor. He turns back to see the tall, dark cloaked figure of Jaig Landow. With an ominous electric crackle, a red lightsaber blade ignites.

But before he can strike, Mara leaps in to attack!

The two acolytes duel across the rubble of the collapsed chamber, their sabers creating a brilliant display of light and sound!

“I always knew this day would come!” Mara shouts over the crash of their blades. “The others were blind to trust you!”

———“Says the girl who just killed her own teammate!”

“I have only one team. One allegiance. One master. The Empire!”

-The ferocity of her attack increases, pushing Jaig further and further back, struggling to block her cavalcade of blows!

Desperate, he reaches out with the Force and sends a landslide of rubble slamming into Mara!

But his attack proves too much for the precarious floor he stands upon. The rock gives way, sending the young Jedi plummeting into an abyss!

Back on the surface, Bane Malar waits. His newly assembled army of mercenaries stand around him on edge, impatiently anticipating their next orders. Malar, however, demands silence, reaching out with his mind to survey the situation.

Suddenly, without warning, he snaps to attention!

——“Braccus, divide your men. Half will come with me. The rest stand guard. The only people who leave this place are us. Anyone else tries to escape… Kill them on sight.”

With that, he turns away, kneeling to enter the ruins, his band of savage killers eagerly lining up behind them, ready for the fight to come.

Jaig slowly awakes, face down on the stone floor. He can hear the creaking, groaning death spasms of the ruins shuddering around him. But nothing can prepare him for what he hears next…

“Get up!” barks a voice Jaig has not heard for what feels like ages. A voice he thought he would never hear again. He looks up to see the ghostly vision of Suun Qwarr sitting sternly beside him!

“Master… Master I’m…” Jaig stutters, crouched on the ground, unable to look his old mentor in the eye. “I’ve ruined everything. There’s just so… so much darkness everywhere! I don’t know what I’m doing! I never did!”

“Good,” Qwarr nods. “You have learned a great lesson, then, my son. Tell me again, why did the Jedi fail?”

——Jaig struggles to focus, to think back to the lessons long past around a fire at night. “Because they thought they knew what they did not.”

“Exactly. They thought they knew so much, they demanded control of things they could never hope to put in a tidy little box to understand. To be one with the Force, Jaig, you must accept that you don’t know. Let go of control, and replace it with trust. Only then will you know the way”. The slightest smile crosses Qwarr’s lips, before the building shifts and his spirit vanishes beneath a cavalcade of gravel and rubble.

Back in the chamber, the survivors huddle around Vader, desperately checking his faltering vital signs.

——“This whole place is going to come down on our heads any minute now,” Boba Fett reports. “We need to get out, and fast.”

From behind a collapsed rock wall, Sgt. Klink and Hank watch. Both men know that this is their last chance to complete their mission and destroy their hated foe. Hank silently raises his blaster…

But is stopped as Jaig grabs him from behind!

———“Brother!” Hank chokes out in a traumatic whisper.

“Hank, please… go home,” Jaig pulls his brother close. “I know you don’t understand. But it’s time to stop this fight.”

——“I… I don’t have a home, Jaig. I can’t go back”.

“Then make a new one. That’s what we’ve always done, right?”

——“You’re leaving again, aren’t you?”

“Hank… I’ll always love you. Even if our paths never cross again. Promise me you’ll always remember that”.

——Hank nods, somberly in reply, the only response he can offer. Jaig smiles the saddest of smiles, then turns, and walks away.

Mara immediately draws her lightsaber upon seeing Jaig again.

——“I’m not here to fight,” he says, raising his hands.

“Then you’re coming back in chains,” Mara glares.

——“I don’t think your master has that time left,” Jaig gestures to Vader. “I’m going to find Kara and we will be leaving. You can do whatever you wish”.

“Get out of our way, then,” Mara responds, her voice as cold as ice. “But don’t think you can walk away from this, Jaig. I will find you. And Kara. No matter how far you run, no matter how long it takes. I will end this story. And there’s no happy endings.”

<<  Chapter 29
Chapter 30Chapter 31
Brought to you by Choi

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