"In Friendship We Conquer..."
Xomox shot a volley of missiles at the enemy ship as it emerged from hyperspace. You won’t escape this time… His spaceship, a modified D5 Mantis called Hazard Pay, was faster and better armed than his target’s but, so far, he had managed to elude capture. As if the pilot had supernatural reflexes. Normal, he was a Jedi and, for that reason, the price on his head was particularly sweet. Only the best hunters took Jedi bounties and Xomox, as Grand Champion of the Great Hunt, was the best.
The Jedi took his ship in a barrel roll and avoided more than half the missiles, taking light damage to his shields. Xomox swore and maneuvered his ship in pursuit of the fleeing Jedi. “You’re lucky to be in space”, he taunted in his comlink. “On dry land, you would be dead already…”
Aaral turned off his comlink, silencing the bounty hunter’s threats. No matter what he tried to lose him, this lunatic was always on his tail. He cut the power to his blaster cannons and redirected it to his aft shields. This should hold while I think of something.
He didn’t have much of a choice. Direct confrontation was pointless. Fleeing was his only option.
If only I had stayed on Taris, this wouldn’t have happened. But he had received a vision from the Force while meditating. He had seen a space station, inhabited by a man. He couldn’t make out his features, as they were hidden under a dark hooded cloak. The man looked like a Jedi Master, and from the power emanating from him, he was as powerful as Mistress Satele Shan or the other members of the Council. This man needed him and had called him, and he, like a fool, had left everything to go meet him. I should have informed myself, consulted the Archives on Tython, or ask a Jedi Master at the Temple for advice. But he had been taught, as a Padawan, to trust his instinct. And the vision seemed so real…
An alarm blared, yanking him from his reflections. The power level on his shields was getting dangerously low due to the relentless attacks by the bounty hunter. Time was short. Suddenly, he saw his chance at survival. Off to starboard, he saw the ethereal form of a nebula. He could hide in it and definitely lose his pursuer, provided his ship didn’t blow up in the meantime…
Xomox saw the Jedi’s ship veer to starboard and understood what he was trying to do. He gripped the ship’s controls tightly and followed, trying to keep the Jedi in his sights, but he had already changed his trajectory. Xomox grit his teeth. This game was getting old; it was time to end it. He had never lost a bounty before and was not about to let this Jedi scum get away. Reputation was everything in his line of work. Also, his current employer, a powerful Sith Lord in a dark, hooded cloak, was not the type of man he would want to disappoint…
He saw his prey reach the nebula and went in after him. The stakes were too high to let him go. However, the nebula’s charged particles rendered the ships sensors completely useless. Finding the Jedi in the floating cloud of gas, while flying blindly, was like trying to find a saberdart in a scrap pile and Xomox knew he had to give up. He turned back, but the ship refused to move. He cut the engines, but the ship stayed on course. It dawned on him; he was stuck in a tractor beam. Who’s hiding in this place? Pirates? A Republic outpost? Doesn’t matter, this day just keeps getting worse...
Suddenly, the source of the tractor beam appeared. It was a space station, but it was too big for pirates. It wasn’t the standard Imperial or Republic design either. The shape reminded him of the Foundry, an ancient Rakata station he had helped capture for the Sith Empire. Xomox got up and went to the back of his starship, checking the ammo of his blaster and the power level of his armor. He would find a way to get out of this floating trashcan or die trying…
Aaral thought he had finally escaped his assailant, when his ship was caught in a tractor beam. I have a bad feeling about this… He recognized the space station from his Force-vision. It was an omen! As his ship, the Mystic Flame, docked with the station, Aaral opened the airlock and went out in search of the mysterious Jedi Master.
A protocol droid was waiting for him in the landing bay. He was an unknown model, painted blue, and bore a strange symbol on his chest: a human eye encased in a triangle, etched on a hand. “Welcome on board the Arx Draconis, Master Adnaron. I am L2-T5, at your service”.
Aaral smiled at being called “Master”. In truth, he had just recently been named a Jedi Knight, and the title of Master would not normally be bestowed upon him for many years. These people knew his name, though, which means they were expecting him. He concluded that they meant no harm and asked the droid a question.
-Arx Draconis? I’ve never heard of this place before.
-It is the outpost of the Syndicate, sir.
-I’m sorry, droid. What Syndicate?
-My Lord-Master, Dragons, is expecting you. He will answer all your questions. Follow me, sir.
Aaral followed the droid out of the hangar and into a long adjacent tunnel. Finally, the mystery will be solved.
Xomox hated droids, which was an ironic sentiment, coming from a cyborg. On top of that, this one knew his name, which made him even more suspicious. Keeping a hand on his blaster, he followed the droid out of the landing bay through a long tunnel. They emerged in a large high-ceilinged room. Huge grey banners were hanging from the ceiling, each bearing the same symbol as on the droid’s chest plate. Glowing blue runes were engraved in the durasteel walls forming words in a language Xomox didn’t understand.
At that moment, he noticed him. The Jedi had his back to him and was inspecting the runes. Time to strike! His heart rate accelerated upon seeing the Jedi at his mercy. A feral grin appeared on his face as he aimed his grapple gun…
Those were, in fact, Rakata runes, Aaral was sure of it-he recognized the graphology. He struggled with the runes, trying to decipher them. Something about friendship, collaboration. I really should have paid more attention to my lessons at the Temple… He suddenly felt a hostile presence enter the room: an accelerating heartbeat, followed by a burst of aggressiveness, like an erupting volcano. On instinct, he ignited his lightsaber and turned to face this threat. Time seemed to stop around him as he surrendered to the Force. He easily deflected the four blaster bolts coming his way with his emerald blade.
Mad with rage, the bounty hunter rushed him, all the while filling the air with more blaster bolts. As the two protocol droids ran for cover, Aaral kept deflecting the shots with his lightsaber. Too busy, he failed to notice the grappling line circling his forearm. He was thrown to the floor in one hard pull from the bounty hunter, his lightsaber bouncing on the durasteel deck plates.
Aaral got up with difficulty. But the bounty hunter was on him already. He drove his shoulder hard into the Jedi’s abdomen. A muffled cracking sound followed by a sharp pain told Aaral he had fractured ribs. Out of breath, he collapsed on the floor.
“Game’s over, scum”, said Xomox, pointing his flamethrower on the Jedi’s prone form. As the first tongues of flame burst from the nozzle of the weapon, Aaral lifted his arm and called upon the Force, creating an invisible shield around himself. Upon contact with the mystical barrier, the flames turned back on the bounty hunter, engulfing him in a fire storm.
Warning alarms from overheating systems were sounding off in Xomox’s helmet, but the hunter ignored them. Well intent on breaking his prey, he increased the power of his flamethrower to maximum. The Jedi’s willpower was stronger, though, and Xomox saw all of his armor’s weapons and defense systems shut down one by one due to overheating. I’ll kill him with my bare hands if I have to! He jumped on the Jedi like a rabid gundark…
But was stopped mid-flight, floating like a puppet on a string. Another Jedi trick… Anger roiled inside him as he tried, in vain, to land on his feet.
Aaral wasted no time and sprinted away, retrieving his lightsaber at the same time. He fled through a door on the opposite wall. The effects of the overheating and of the Force-lift would not last very long and he was in no condition to fight. He needed to get his strength back if he wanted to survive this confrontation.
He closed his eyes and let the surrounding Force flow through him. He channeled its warm benevolence in his body and instantly felt his wounds start to close and his pain dissipate. He could now think more clearly. I need to find Dragons, only he can stop this nonsense. This place is exactly like my Force-vision, it can’t be a coincidence. He called me and I have to find out why…
A piercing mechanical howl jarred him from his thoughts. He opened his eyes and saw a huge droid come to life in front of him. Ten feet tall, the droid was a marvel of Rakata technology. The upper part of its body reminded him of the Acklay from planet Belsavis, with its insectoid head, armored carapace and long arms ending in sharp mandibles. The lower part had the shape of a snake and, while made from heavy metal rings, moved with uncanny grace and speed, making the ground shake as it went.
Aaral ignited his lightsaber, giving his surroundings a ghostly, green glow. He took a defensive stance as he tried to find a weak spot on this mechanical abomination. I am a healer, fighting is not my way…
Without warning, the droid charged with its mandibles. Aaral parried easily with his lightsaber. He’s testing me… Measuring how much of a threat I am to him… He retaliated and felt the blade bite into the droid’s armor, leaving a scratch on the metallic surface. His next attack, however, was blocked by the droid’s mandibles. The battle had turned into a test of strength, as both combatants tried to break their opponent’s guard. Straining, Aaral felt his arms become numb. He would not be able to keep this up much longer. I’m no match for this behemoth…
Then the droid surprised him, spewing corrosive liquid in his face. The pain was unbearable and Aaral, blinded, was fighting hard to remain conscious. The following mandible strikes found their mark and the Jedi dropped to the floor, critically wounded.
The droid moved on the Jedi, ready to finish him off…Just then, a rocket hit it on the side. It lifted its head toward this new threat. Xomox was flying with his jetpack, raining death from above with his blaster and rocket launcher. He charged, and fell on the droid with the force of an orbital strike.
Its attention turned toward its new target, the droid did not notice Aaral slowly getting back up. Calling upon the Force, Aaral proceeded to heal his injuries once more. Gradually, his blurred vision came back. He could see the bounty hunter battling the metallic monster. He was faring pretty well, but he too would not last long. His armor was heavily damaged and he was starting to show signs of fatigue. The Jedi closed his eyes, reached out with the Force, and used his powers on the hunter…
Severely battered, Xomox suddenly felt invigorated. As if an unknown, but benevolent energy had penetrated his body. Little by little, he felt his strength come back. At that moment, the droid was about to blind him with his corrosive spit, but Xomox hit it on the side of the head with the butt of his blaster putting a stop to the sneaky attack. “Press on, I have your back!” he heard the Jedi shout.
A destructive rage took over him. You’re going down… Thus healed, Xomox turned into a real killing machine, alternately firing his blaster, rocket launcher and flamethrower at the droid. Since the Jedi was healing him, Xomox didn’t bother dodging or parrying attacks, and kept attacking relentlessly. The Jedi soon joined him, lightsaber drawn, and in no time, the mechanical menace was nothing more than a smoking pile of scrap metal.
A solitary applause broke out in the now silent room. The two combatants turned to see a man dressed in robes, his head covered by a dark hood. He was flanked by the two protocol droids they had met on their arrival. The Jedi moved closer to him and bowed respectfully.
-Master, thank the Force I finally found you.
-Congratulations, Padawan, your mission was a success.
Xomox could not believe what he was seeing. What was this Jedi doing with his employer, Lord Dragons? Was it a trap?
Sensing the confusion in the bounty hunter, Dragons turned to face him. “You too, bounty hunter. Excellent work.”
-Who’s side are you on?
The question brought a smile to Dragons’ cloaked face. “Neither side, and, at the same time, both of them”, he replied. “As leader of the Syndicate, it helps to keep your mind, and your options, open”. It was the Jedi’s turn to speak: «What is the Syndicate?”
-The Syndicate is a group of people who work in the shadows for the greater good of the Galaxy. Our members come from all walks of life: the Jedi Order, Imperial Intelligence, the Republic Armed Forces, the Sith Order and even the criminal underworld. We’ve been observing both of you for quite some time and you were brought here to be evaluated.”
-You mean this was all just a test?
-Exactly, a test you almost failed. Until you realized that certain obstacles can only be overcome by teamwork”.
Aaral’s eyes lit up upon hearing what Dragons had said. The runes on the wall finally made sense. “In Friendship We Conquer…”, he said.
-So, we passed your test, said Xomox. What do you expect us to do now?
-You will help the Syndicate protect the Galaxy from the many dangers that threaten it. These threats are often ignored because of the war between the Republic and the Sith Empire. We identify them, and then take steps to neutralize them, should they come from the Republic, the Sith, or elsewhere. Membership means loyalty and dedication. In short, you get out of the Syndicate, what you bring to the Syndicate…
As he listened to Dragons speak, a new world opened up before Xomox. A world rife with opportunities to increase his wealth and reputation. The intrigues and power struggles of the Sith Lords meant nothing to him and he was tired of being their lapdog. Finally, someone was offering him a real chance to leave his mark on the Galaxy.
The more he thought about it, the more what Dragons said made sense, Aaral decided. Good and Evil were notions which transcended political affiliation. After all, history was filled with the exploits of Dark Jedi in service to the Republic or the heroic deeds of certain Sith Lords. He remembered what a former Master had told him: “The Force does not judge, it simply is”. The vision he had received suddenly took a different meaning: it was a call, to take part in something greater than himself, but also something he could no longer ignore.
Lord-Master Dragons stared out into space through the transparisteel viewport in his quarters. Every star had its own worlds and each of them had a different story, with its conflicts and its heroes. He had battled on countless worlds himself, but still could not help but be amazed at the immensity of the Galaxy.
He saw the Mystic Flame fly in front of him and jump to lightspeed as the Hazard Pay was launching out of its hangar. He smiled. The Syndicate was growing… Xomox and Aaral had been accepted as members of the Syndicate and would have their part to play in the upcoming battles. It’s not over yet, there’s still so much to do…
Two new starships had just emerged form the nebula and were approaching the station. Dragons activated his portable holocomm and the flickering blue image of a protocol droid appeared in its center.
-Maintenance teams have repaired the combat droid, Lord-Master. He is operational once again.
-Good, I want you to get down to hangar 28 right away. We have two new recruits…
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