[R5 - Korriban - FF] Across the Stars XII: The Servant's Heart

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*This entry has earned 6 XP*

Previous entries in Across the Stars:


I | Severance Pay
Nathan Carda, a young safety inspector, quits his job to go looking for the woman he's fallen in love with--an Imperial spy.
II | Murder!
Before Nathan can even get off-world he runs into another Imperial spy, and this one is not quite as charming as Mayla.
III | Diner Tables and Missed Connections
Nathan meets up with an unexpected contact to try to find transportation.
IV | The Manifest
Nathan's first lead yields surprises, both good and bad.
V |  The Temple Job
Nathan and Ozz travel to a dig site on Yavin IV, where a young stranger offers them aid.
VI | Submission and Death
Lt. Syfot travels to a dark world in search of a inhuman prophet.
VII | The Planet of Ghosts
On Ossus, Nathan and Ozz meet the Searchers, a ghostly spirit, and the Empire.
VIII | The Magic Tree
Nathan and Ozz find their spirits tested in the dark swamps of Dagobah.
IX | The House in the Ash Forest
Nathan strikes out alone into an ironwood forest, and nearly meets his death.
X | Break Out
A traitor rescues one of Nathan and Ozz's allies from the Empire.
XI | The Tomb World
Nathan and Ozz reach Korriban, where they hope to find Balaam's Heart before the Empire. The planet, powerful with the dark side, comes for Nathan's spirit.


The penultimate chapter: Nathan and Ozz have been taken to a secret colony of cultists living on KORRIBAN, where they will finally come face-to-face with the ancient immortality-granting Sith artifact called BALAAM'S HEART.



Ozz awoke to flapping tarps and the heads of spears.
Something smelly was running down his jacket, probably whatever they'd splashed on him to wake him up. It was in his hair too. He laid there sputtering until hands grabbed him and pulled him to his knees. Dimly, he knew he was inside a tent, and surrounded.

"EY! What's the big idea?" Spat the Iakaru. "And where's my pal? What did you do to him?" 
The empty-eyed warriors just stared. Ozz felt a kind of anger he hadn't felt since he left home, and to his own surprise, he started towards the nearest warrior, teeth bared.
The man drove the flat end of his staff painfully into the stout conman's stomach, knocking him back to the dusty ground. 
He probably should have seen that coming.

"I...I swear...if you hurt him, I'll..." Threats weren't his strong suit, but he remembered that too late. "I'll make you regret it, chump. Swear I will." He snarled, his flat simian teeth bared.

The warriors registered none of this. The short beast did not frighten them. They lived among the crags of Korriban; only a few things could.

The guards on either side dragged Ozz out of the tent and into the harsh, fiery light of Korriban's sun. Canyon walls rose up around them, dappled tents and tarps covering hive-like dwelling holes in the rough canyon walls. Sunken faces stared at him from the entrances, young and old alike, with wide eyes and open mouths. They looked hungry, like animals. A village up in the rocks. This planet wasn't so abandoned afterall.
A dozen more ragged warriors stood outside, weapons held tightly, their eyes keen. If they had been pirates, they would be laughing and posturing and gloating over their captives. Ozz wished they would, at least that kind of tough guy bravado was something he could understand. But no: they stood in silence with stony, expressionless faces...he didn't have a context for that. 

Relief hit when he finally saw Nathan. The kid was had been shoved down in front of a set of stairs carved into the rock. He didn't seem hurt, but he looked worse than he had on the ship.

Adrenaline still making him feisty, Ozz tried to wrench away from the warriors.

Nathan reached out to calm him, saying out of the corner of his mouth,

“Hey, hey, now…take it easy, alright? I get it; I'm spooked too. But let's let this play out.”

Ozz went limp and let the warriors push him to his knees beside his friend. His legs screamed in agony--a reminder of his climb from yesterday.


"Yeah,'re right: not my best reaction. Play it cool, that's my motto." They were both silent for a moment, then Ozz asked, "Hey kid, you alright?"

Nathan nodded slowly. "Yeah, yeah." 

He looked tired. They both did.

"No more, uh, magic sickness?"
Nathan shook his head. "Whatever that was, I think it's gone. I'm good. Well, as good as I can be, given our, y'know, present circumstances."

"Sure. That's a relief. Ya had me...well," Ozz waved it away. "Bad time to fall unconscious."

"When isn't?"

"When you're in yer bunk," Ozz replied with a smirk. "Speaking of: sorry I slept in. What'd I miss?"

Nathan shot his friend a skeptical look. "What'd *you* miss—? Are you kidding? What did *I* miss! What happened out in the desert? Where are we? Who are these guys?"

Ozz grunted. "I know how much this whole thing means to ya. I, uh, tried to carry ya somewhere safe. Two of 'em jumped me half-way up the hill. They were gonna skewer us both...until I mentioned Balaam's Heart."

Nathan winced. "I hope that doesn't bite us in the butt."

"Well, it kept you alive, sleeping beauty! I said the words and it stopped 'em right in their tracks. Musta meant something to 'em. Besides that," he shrugged. "I ain't got a clue. Conversation's been pretty one-sided so far."

Nathan looked around at the warriors and the villagers, none moved. One of the males met his gaze and growled. A mother stood by holding a bundled child, protective wrappings covering her entire face except for one peering eye.


Nathan frowned and muttered, "I thought Korriban was deserted…who do you think they are?”

“I dunno!" Ozz shrugged. "Living proof that ain’t true? Don't think I'm qualified to make any guesses. What about you?”

"I'm not sure I am either, but if I had to, I'd say some kind of descendants of the Sith. Not the Sith order, the Sith..." he searched for the right word. "...Culture. Society. The thousands-of-years-old one."

"Didn't know there was a difference. Both sound creepy to me."

The stairs in front of them led to a rise, where crimson pots and offerings surrounded a single statue. The statue was rough-hewn and smaller than those in the valley, but it shared the same bowed-and-clasped posture as the others.
A man kneeled among the offerings. A human, living man, though for how much longer, who could say. He was as old as anything they had seen so far, with white hair framing his sunken face like heather bushes. He looked turtle-like and unpleasant.


Nathan turned his gaze to the statue on the rise, and looked long and hard at the man kneeling at its feet. Unlike the others, he seemed more...vivid. Like the rest were somehow half-real compared to this dark-dressed old acolyte. 
He glanced around impatiently at the warriors. "What's going on here, anyway? Hey!" he called. "Peaceful…greetings, to you. We come in peace. We mean no harm. Everything is...okay, with us.”

The warriors stared at him.

Nathan tried to ignore it, despite how it unnerved him, and continued, "I'm Nathan, this is Ozz."

Ozz waved as though he’d just entered a cantina. “What’s up?”

Nathan appreciated his consistency. At least he kept things casual.

“Who is that man up there?” he asked, pointing to the old man by the statue. "Can we speak to him?"

There was still no response, and Nathan started to realize that the villagers had no way of comprehending who he was or what he was saying. They'd probably never seen an outsider before. It's not like anyone was coming to Korriban on vacation.

Moving very slowly, Nathan put his hands up and started to stand. A warrior tensed, but none of the villagers moved.

"Ozz, listen to me," Nathan said quietly. "We're going to go up to the statue and talk to the old guy. Maybe we can figure out a a deal and get out of here. Don't give them any reason to tear us to shreds."

Ozz nodded, and they both stood. When it seemed like no one was going to stop them, they made their way carefully up the cracked stone steps to approach the statue, and the man attending to its base.
The warriors did not budge, and the villagers made no move to leave their tents. They just turned their heads to watch, gaze unbroken. 

Nathan and Ozz crept closer when the man suddenly moved, and they both froze in place. He pushed himself slowly to his feet, brushed the dust off his dark robes with shaking, veiny hands, and turned to face them.


His dark eyes ran over them both appraisingly, and then his mouth opened beneath his tangled beard, and he spoke in a cavernous voice, speaking words in a tongue they did not know. 
It was nothing like Basic, but Nathan recognized something in it; sounds, maybe even words. It was the language he'd been reading on the slates and transcribing into the journal Luke lent him. It was an old, rough language, a language birthed among these jagged mountains, under this red sky:
It was Sith.

"I'm sorry, we don't understand you," Nathan replied warily, then to Ozz, "I think he speaks Sith. That's what Sith must sound like."

Ozz looked unnerved. "How would you know? You gotta past you ain't mentioned?"

"No, paccat: from the slates! I've been translating it for weeks. I've been looking at verb structures and vocabulary and the barest outline of a Basic-Sith phonetic codex. I sure hope I picked up something." Nathan stepped forward cautiously and peered closely at the old acolyte, who frowned down at him. Nathan couldn't help it; a bewildered smile broke onto his face. Call it the joy of discovery. "I don't believe this," he said. "You''re Balaam, aren't you?"

The old man's gray eyes flashed with recognition at the sound of his name, and his ancient face contorted with confusion. 
"Balaam," he repeated, in heavy accent.

Nathan could've cheered, but Ozz pinched him when he started. "Yes, Balaam. Balaam! I've read, I mean—You're alive!" Words started to fumble in the presence of celebrity. Nathan forced himself to slow down. "I've been studying your writings. We found them on Ossus," Nathan told him seriously, accentuating the planet's name.

"Balaam," the old man croaked again. "Ossus." Then, with suspicion. "Jedi?" The word sounded like creaking leather in his mouth.

Nathan shook his head. "No, we're not—not Jedi."

Ozz, who was growing more and more perturbed, threw up his hands. "I don't get it: I thought Balaam was real old! I mean, this guy is real old..." Nathan had been about to say it, so he nodded. "...But he should be real old AND in a grave, y'know what I mean?" Nathan could barely restrain himself, but he forced himself to stay patient and let Ozz get there himself. It was happening, even if it was happening slowly. 
"Wait a second..." Ozz narrowed his eyes. "This—this whole thing has been about findin'...the Heart...and you said...well, you said it's supposed to give somebody...immorality." 

"Immortality." Nathan couldn't help himself.

The realization blossomed on Ozz's squashed face like a hololamp turning on, and he groaned weakly while Nathan grinned. "Nahnahnah, you gotta—you gotta be jokin' me. T-The Heart? You're tellin' me it's real?" 

 Nathan gave him a look. 

"And it's kept this old saltine alive for...for thousands of years?" Ozz choked.

Nathan shrugged. "Doesn't he look it? What else could it be, Ozz?"

Ozz looked unsteady on his feet. Sure, he'd met a ghost (which was probably not a hallucination) but he'd never for a second guessed this magic stone thing could be real. Everyone had heard of ghosts: who'd ever heard of magic rocks? He drew the line at magic rocks.

"I uh, I just need a second. You two go on and talk without me."

Nathan felt immensely validated, but there wasn't time to dawdle. He turned back to the old Sith acolyte and said, "Listen, Balaam...Servant Balaam? Balaam, you're in danger." 
He enunciated each word clearly, desperately hoping the old man would understand. "Someone—the Empire—is coming for the Heart. Heart...karabast, what was heart in Old Sith?" His mind reeled as he tried to recall his notes. He wished he had them here, then he could have translated more of what the servant had to say. If only Syfot's long-limbed creep hadn't stolen them on Mustafar. If he had his notes, and enough time, he couldn't even imagine all the things Balaam could tell him. Not about the dark side, or any of that, it wasn't that he wanted to know about any evil magic...but how many living people were thousands of years old? Had lived through so much history? Had seen worlds that no longer existed? It couldn't be many.
But it didn't matter: there wasn't any time, and he didn't have his notes. The Empire was on the way. He had to try to make him understand, they had to get the heart away from here. What in the galaxy was 'heart' in old Sith? 
Then, like a light, it came to him.
"Ma-M...Makakt? The makakt!" he shouted, waving his arms to try to mime the threat. The man stared at him from eyes set deep in his skeletal head, hooded and dark. This too, he understood. Nathan could see it. But he wasn't moving.

"Hey, uh, kid?"

Ozz was looking back at the villagers. The people in the tents were no longer in the tents. They were afraid for their master, and were gathered into one huddled, gangly mass. They were creeping closer.
The warriors remained disciplined and unmoving, waiting for Balaam's command.

"Looks like the locals want to chat too."

Nathan glanced back. Just what this situation needed: more pressure. "I'll try and get Balaam to intervene. Hey, maybe you can charm them?"

"With what?"

"Uh, your dashing looks, your...silver tongue! I don't know! Give it a try, what else do we have?"

"Well," Ozz sputtered. "Blasters, for one!"

"Blasters? Really? You really want to shoot all these people?"

They were getting too close now. Ozz started to panic. "I do if they try to EAT ME!"  

Nathan didn't know what to do. The clock was ticking. If they were eviscerated by these Sith people, Syfot would get the heart. Nathan was sure he wouldn't use it to live in exile on Korriban.

Why did he lead Ozz into this?

He would never find Mayla.

It was this thought that broke the camel's back. Tears welled up in his eyes.

Balaam suddenly interrupted his stream of thoughts with a shouted word. Two warriors passed through the encroaching crowd, matched up the steps, and grabbed Ozz.

"Hey, HEY!" Nathan yelled. 

Ozz flailed, but they dragged him down to his knees. After his climb, he wasn't strong enough to resist. "What's the big idea!"

Balaam did not look at them, but regarded the sky, barely focusing his cataract-marred eyes. Slowly, the acolyte raised two thin, mottled fingers. One of the warriors complied with this signal by pulling a long dagger from a leather sheath. 

Nathan finally lost his cool. 
He yelled, "Get off him!" and jumped at them to intervene, but the second warrior held him back. The other placed the point of the dagger against the base of Ozz's neck, and looked up at his master for instruction.

Ozz was in such a position that he couldn't struggle. He could hardly even process what was happening. "Nate, kid!"he called, and he tried to sound calm. "Hey! It's been a good run, you know? Listen, kid, I..."

"Vikt Ukamanat—ukamanatanyinai!" Nathan cried. He had butchered his pronunciation, like any first-timer would, but the words themselves were right, and well chosen.
The warrior who stood release to execute Ozz faltered, looked over at him, and for the first time Nathan saw understanding and confusion in one of their eyes.
Nathan turned back toward Balaam, who looked down on him in amazement. 

"Ukamanatanyinai! That's 'will not die', right? My friend won't die! Makakt!" Nathan said once again. Anger was etched across his face. It made Balaam pause.

The villagers reacted to the outburst by surging towards the steps. They did not care what Nathan could say, only that he threatened their master, and must die.
The old man reached into the deaths of his old robes. From within, he withdrew a small, flat, stone.

"Makakt," said Balaam, and the word had power from his tongue.

The advancing villagers all at once dropped to their knees, slapping their palms against the dust as though hit by a wave from behind. The two warriors did the same, the dagger hastily discarded. 
Ozz, hyperventilating, scrambled towards Nathan. The human grabbed him protectively, shielding him with his own body, and they slowly backed away.
The villagers groaned and wailed in the old tongue while Balaam stood over them, Stone in hand. Nathan wasn't sure if they were venerating the stone, Balaam, or the bowed statue towering over them all.

"Vok irluuk ol-tekmasnatoinoktoi nyâshqûwai, stigik yuntok voqks-wnai!"
bellowed Balaam, his mouth gaping beneath his beard like a black doorway, and when he spoke, the cracked ground trembled under them.

He fell silent while his people worshipped, and he looked with dread at something no one else could see. Some oncoming fate, long-foretold and yet unexpected. His vision appeared hazy and weak, as though some well of strength was finally drying up.

Nathan turned to follow his gaze into the canyon village. His heart dropped at what he saw.
Gleaming white helmets coming through the crevices of the rock, wrong for the browns of Korriban. Stormtroopers flooded into the ravine village, barking commands. 
Blood-red bolts of blaster fire rent the air, and screaming replaced the worship. 

He heard Ozz growl beside him. "Awwww, nuts."

The crowd turned, startled, angry. They rose from the steps, roared, and charged down into the canyon walls. The two forces clashed among the tents. The Sith warriors quickly killed two, before five of their own were gunned down in response.
Nearly a dozen villagers at the front of the crowd convulsed and rolled to a dead stop, blaster smoke rising from their bodies. The remaining warriors hesitated in their charge, stopping to form a protective wall in front of the crowd. They held their weapons tightly, glancing between the invaders and their master.

Balaam eyed the newcomers with no change of expression. He waved a slow hand, and without question, his warriors kneeled. There were many more of them than there were stormtroopers, something Nathan guessed the stormtroopers hadn't expected. 
Now prone, the warriors cast dark glances up at the occupying force. The Stormtroopers did not deal gently with them. They treated them like filth, pushing the people to the ground, rounding up strays into small groups. Nathan sensed an echo of past events, and caught a kind of sense memory of the death of the Archscriptist Abay on Ossus. Nathan hadn't been there, but he knew the Searchers had been rounded up in the same exact way.
The Stormtroopers corner the groups of villagers and warriors until a path was created down the middle of the village. Nathan felt a sudden swelling of darkness fill the clearing. His throat started to close up in response.

Lt. Syfot walked proudly up the middle, hands clasped behind his back, the picture of command and control in his gray uniform, his black cap fixed perfectly atop his head. The monstrous Vu'othh accompanied him, gliding behind like a fog rolling into a swamp. 

Nathan went to draw his blaster on instinct, but Syfot—almost lazily—produced his own gun first, and trained it on his chest.

"Not a very polite greeting, boy. What a surprise to see you here. You are tenacious, I'll admit that."

His eyes, dark and fill of contempt, swept over the scene: the cowering villagers and the furious warriors, the exhausted, dirty human and his Iakaru companion. The lone old man standing atop the stairs, looking blankly into the sky.

"So much vermin in one place," he sneered. "Still, boy. You come from education, I believe. Your writings do you credit. I suppose I ought to thank you for all your hard work. It's been a great service to the Empire," he said, and then added, too casually, "...and to me. I am sure the girl will be grateful: you have been a useful tool, no one could deny that." Syfot grinned, and made as though he'd just recalled something else. "Oh! But I did, of course, burn your work. Too dangerous, naturally. I wouldn't want such knowledge to fall into the...wrong hands. Don't you agree?"

Ozz grabbed Nathan's arm before he could lurch forward. "Don't rise to it, kid! Keep cool!"

Nathan wiped his eyes. He was shaking with rage. That Luke guy had given the notebook to him to keep safe. He'd failed.

Uninterested in the squabble, the Vu'othh passed by them and approached the statue. Its facemask was unreadable, but its body language was clear: it was enraptured by what it saw.

Syfot waved the muzzle of his blaster pistol dangerously.
"Listen to your slank servant, you stupid, sniveling weakling," Syfot's grin widened. "Now, you made it here first, but I see the job remains unfinished. Sloppy work, boy. Afraid to get your hands dirty? I cannot say 'Mayla' feels the same."

Syfot smirked at the obvious effect of his taunting. Sometimes it was too easy. He turned his attention to the statue, the old man, and the Vu'othh.
For all his commanding presence and High Imperial accent, Syfot paled in comparison to the Vu'othh now more than ever. All 8 feet of its height meant it towered over everyone there, Balaam included. There was an ease in its long-limbed movements that the stiff and volatile Syfot could never match.
Nathan felt the dark aura of the planet curling around the edges of its robed, surging in the veins of its long, pallid limbs. It swelled in the dark presence of the statue, came alive in its vileness, and everything else seemed to shrink in response. 

"Yessss. This one can feel a great presence. Pregnant is this place with power most dark," it hissed with pleasure, and then addressed Syfot with a hollow tone. "Your submission is fulfilled, Absalom. This one has now fulfilled your every request. Now, the thing you have desired is before your eyes. Behold; this one gifts you Balaam, devotee of the long-dead shadow once named Abar Qel, servant of Bogan, keeper and namesake of the Servant's Heart. Beautiful," it whispered, its masked face pointed at the ancient acolyte. "The heart yet preserves his form."

Balaam's gaze fell upon his masked admirer, and his eyes darkened with fear and hatred. The two were reflections: acolytes of darkness, masters of their own cabals of servants. They sensed this similarity, but there is no kinship in the dark side, only opposition. 

"Long has this one known of you, Servant of Lord Qel. Absalom has given This One a great gift in the chance to meet with you. This one seeks what you know."

The dark side of the Force hovered over the village, surging in evil intentions and pulsing like a tide. It drifted between those gathered: appraising...choosing. 
Nathan's head ached as he felt the presence pass him by. He felt the same faintness from yesterday returning, and Ozz had to prop him up to stop him from stumbling.

Syfot—blaster still trained on Nathan—eyed the old man and the Vu'othh with a snarl. He despised them both; freaks and monsters and degenerates. Weak and spindly, sub-worthy creatures that played at grandeur.
He was perceptive enough to know there was something wordless going on that he did not include him.
That would not do.
He marched forward until he stood right in front of Balaam, and looked him over with an arrogant smile.

"So, Vu'othh, my faithful servant..." He said, and the Vu'othh cocked its head towards him. "This is the man? The original holder of the Heart?"

"...Yes, Absalom," it replied, as though teaching. "Alive by the power of Bogan and his perished master, Abar Qel, imbued within the stone."

"How intriguing," replied Syfot, with infuriating casualness, like he was gossiping about someone's failures at sabaac and not talking about ancient powers. "'Bogan', you say? Of course, it sounds like nonsense, but the results speak for themselves, don't they..." He nodded, speaking primarily to himself. Then he decided. "Yes, I'll be taking this 'Heart'. It will require extensive research before I present it to Moff Pyerce." He was careful to disguise any sign that he was impressed. He would not bow and scrape and stare in awe at these fools. Not now. Not when he so close to being rid of it all. But first, he couldn't deny himself a bit of fun.
The corner of his mouth twitched. "Tell me: why do all 'servants of the dark side' choose to live in" 

The Vu'othh and Balaam looked at him. Neither spoke. Their true feelings were impossible to discern. Two powerful old beings, harassed by an insect. 

"What's the matter?" Syfot smiled. "You could not attain the thrones you sought to claim? You were forced to live in the back of beyond? In shame? I suppose you are servants, aren't you?" he conceded, and he said 'servants' like he might have said 'peasants'. "Well, aren't you?" 

Neither of them replied.

Syfot frowned, and turned to the Vu'othh. "Old Balaam must not speak in our 'lesser languages', I suppose. Only ancient riddles for this one. Isn't that right?" he said, and turned with a mocking smile to the old acolyte, who did not meet his gaze. Syfot's grin widened, and he barely stifled the urge to laugh in their faces. Ridiculous, all of this. Adrenaline coursed through him, excitement from defying these despicable things. Fear tinged his eyes. He held his blaster loosely.

The Vu'othh looked down at him and said nothing.

"Is it poor socialization?" he prattled on. "Or poor hygiene, perhaps? Yes, having spent some measure of time in the presence of the Vu'othh, I can personally confirm that's a possibility. So, Balaam, that's what you're called? It's a nasty business, what's brought us here, but I'm afraid it's all for the greater good."

"This one shall speak, Absalom."

Syfot didn't look at the Vu'othh. He raised his blaster and pointed it at the old man, who stared at him dolefully. "I don't think you will, Vu'othh. Time is of the essence; I'll spend no more time on this planet than is necessary."



"Absalom...what of prices paid?" Said the Vu'othh, and it seemed to grow outside of Syfot's sight. 
Nathan and Ozz crept back. The dark force was swirling, like a growing maelstrom that threatened to consume everything it touched. The eye of the storm, its epicenter, honored over Syfot, Balaam, and the Vu'othh. Nathan blinked, as the light seemed to recede, and darkness crept into the corners of his vision.

Syfot did not notice. He jabbed his pistol towards the old servant. "That stone, then, that's your Heart? I hope so. If it's more literal then things might get a bit messy. Give the artifact to me, you old fool, and I may let you live."

The Vu'othh watched him from above, its long fingers reaching out to caress the air around him.
"You would break the pact with this one, Absalom? Precious Absalom: betray, and be betrayed," it quoted itself. "The Heart must be won, not taken."

"Must it?"

Syfot suddenly lunged towards Balaam. The old man scowled and raised an arm to defend himself, projecting a burst of invisible resistance that caught Syfot's body, but did not throw him back. He struggled forward as though against a howling wind. 

"Give it to me! You CANNOT DENY ME!"

Balaam was not as strong with the Force as he had once been. The parts of the dark presence clinging to his withered frame suddenly abandoned him, and Syfot's spirit swelled.
He snarled and pushed past Balaam's defense with sheer will. A blaster shot rang out, and the wave dissipated as Balaam clutched his smoking side. This was the opening Syfot needed: the Imperial barreled forward as his momentum returned, and he struck the old man across the face with the hard durasteel of his blaster, sending him stumbling to the ground. 

Syfot began to laugh over his conquest, a low, unhinged laugh that swelled in time with the dark. The old acolyte, mouth in the dust, clutched at the wound in silence. Before he could turn himself over, Syfot's boot came down to crush his wrist. Blaster stuck into his back, Syfot roughly hauled the frail old Sith to his feet, and turned to face the corralled villagers. Balaam's face was drained, empty of emotion. He was no longer in control.

"Say goodbye to your master!" Syfot spat. "He could not protect you. He cannot protect himself."

"Absalom," warned the Vu'othh.

"Farewell, old fool," and Syfot wrenched the stone from Balaam's fingers.

The old man lurched and reached out. His weak cry was cut off as his face, following the rest of his body, turned from leathery skin to cracked stone.

"Karabast!" Ozz swore in surprise. 

The crowd wailed in shock, a sudden blast of mourning that Syfot's men rushed to quell. Nathan heard a chuckle from his side, and looked to see one of the Stormtrooper's standing guard.

A wide grin split Syfot's face. He looked down at his prize. Slowly, he wrapped his fingers around the Heart and held it tightly in his hand. His back arched and he took a deep breath, as though suddenly refreshed and relieved of any pain or weakness. He stood triumphant at the top of the stairs, the frozen form of Balaam behind him, trapped in his final moments. The Acolyte's people cowered before him. 

He savored it for a moment. Power, control, fear. This was happiness to him, everything he sought to gain. He held up the stone and peered at it with sudden delight and appreciation.

"Incredible," he whispered. 



But outside his vision, the Vu'othh towered over him like a growing revenant. It swelled toward its former master, its long fingers reaching until they were like tree branches, and the dark robes it wore seemed to blot out the sun. One-by-one, the cultists, the stormtroopers, Nathan and Ozz...a searing fear, so powerful it hurt, doubled them over. Nathan cringed and fell to his knees, reaching out to help Ozz, watching their guard begin to panic and pull at his own helmet as though suffocating.

"Oh, Absalom," hissed the Vu'othh, its voice deep and dark and all-consuming. "You make the choices of a child controlled by fear. Reckless, thoughtless, destructive. But now you waste what is precious. You reject knowledge and the gifts of Bogan. This has been your greatest mistake. Come to this one.

Come and sleep in the darkness."

Syfot looked like a cornered animal. He bent over, protecting the Heart like it was his young, and wasted no time with words. He turned and roared, turning his blaster on the creature as it rose above him, firing into its dark mass over and over.


The Vu'othh screamed like a boiling pot. Bolt after bolt sunk into its body. Nathan watched in shock, even as the bolts only served to slow it down. It swelled to overcome the challenge, but then, unexpectedly, Syfot's attack turned the balance. His rage seemed to beat back the Vu'othh's growing darkness, taking it over, claiming it for himself. Hampered by blaster-fire, the writhing Vu'othh was forced back. Smoke rose from its robes. It cringed in pain as Syfot's crude weapon scored its mortal body.

The dark side clung to Syfot. A champion had been chosen out of the three, and Bogan had rewarded not duty, or knowledge, or respect, but fear.
Syfot was powered by fear.
Hatred for the Vu'othh drove his limbs and gave him strength. The statue of Abar Qel watched as the Imperial, empowered by the Heart, marched towards the creature he despised and took advantage of its weakened, burnt state to knock it viciously to the ground. He fired as many times as his gun would allow, long after the Vu'othh had stopped moving. 

Heaving with breath, his body shaking, Syfot kicked the dead thing in the ribs, fearful that it still lived.
It did not move.
The Lieutenant turned--wide-eyed--to those still living. An unstable grin grew across his face.

"Well...another loose end, cut."


Nathan knew he had to do something.
Slowly, he started by closing his eyes.
He wasn't sure why he thought it would work, except that a feeling--reassuring, familiar, and yet alien--was quietly introducing itself, and it encouraged him to try. The feeling bolstered him, strengthened him to take a step that was, he realized, the only natural thing to do, but he would never have done it on his own.
Nathan lifted his hand towards Syfot and the Heart and reached out with all his will. His fingertips grasped at the air in front of him. Nathan felt a light bloom within the swirling darkness and come racing to join him, joyful, at peace, and prepared to help him. The triumphant appearance of a new, surprising ally. Nathan felt his own fear fading away. 

"Kid...?" he heard Ozz say.

The Heart pulled away from Syfot's fingers. It broke free and tumbled through the air until Nathan caught it in his outstretched hand.
He stared at the small stone now lying in his palm, and laughed in disbelief. Ozz looked on, unsure what he was seeing.
A tangle began inside Nathan as his Ally and the Heart clashed like oil and water. Nonetheless, he felt the Heart siphon away his exhaustion, and a raw well of energy lit his body on fire from the inside. 
The disappearance of this same sensation hit Syfot before he had even realized he was no longer holding the Stone. It was a horrible feeling, a sudden seeping and abandonment as the well left him. It left a hole, where nothing would satisfy except the power of the Heart. Syfot felt suddenly starved, and desperate to sate his hunger. He turned, saw Nathan holding his Stone, and his own rage filled the gap.

"How..." he muttered, before gnashing his teeth. "Boy!" he screamed. "Give that to me, or I'll make you beg for death. Do you understand me? Take it from him," he ordered the nearest of his troopers, but they were still recovering from the Vu'othh's power. They were holding their heads in their hands, murmuring to themselves, trying to understand where they were. One of them didn't move at all.

Nonetheless, the one nearest to them reached for his blaster carbine where it lay in the dirt. Empowered by the stone, Nathan turned to the trooper, planted a foot against his side and pushed, knocking him down the stairs. Then he turned to help a bewildered Ozz up to his feet. 

"Ozz--run!" he shouted.

Ozz didn't waste time, he understood the stakes well enough, and knew he was way outside his wheelhouse in terms of "crisises he could handle". He sprang down the steps, between the dazed stormtroopers and their captives. The sight of him seemed to jog the cultists from the haze the Vu'othh had put them in--taking their chance in the sudden shift of power, the warriors and villagers rose up and attacked the Imperials closest to them. The first troopers to fall didn't stand a chance. Grief and anger drove the crowd into a wicked frenzy, and they descended on them like piranhas. 
Staying clear of the fighting, Ozz looked back to make sure Nathan was with him. 
He wasn't.
Back at the base of the statue, Syfot and Nathan traded blows. Nathan knew what he was doing, but experienced from the streets of Targonn wasn't enough to give even the empowered Nathan a chance against Syfot's training and sheer ferocity, and both of them knew it. Syfot was gaining the upper hand, Nathan's arm trapped in a vice grip, the stone held just out of reach.


Nathan made his choice, and used the one advantage he had.
Holding Syfot back, he turned, called out Ozz's name, and hurled the stone.
His new energy left with it. Screaming with rage, Syfot smashed the now-normal Nathan into the ground and finally finished the fight. But he didn't care; his eyes were on the Heart, flying through the air. 


The villagers saw it too. They watched, hungrily, as it passed over their heads and landed, nearly fumbled, in Ozz's hands.

"Got it!" he cried proudly. His mood quickly changed when he saw the dozens of unfriendly, staring eyes. All of them locked on him.
"Uhhhh, see ya," he croaked.

All at once, Sith and Stormtrooper surged towards him, but they slowed each other with attacks and blaster bolts and created a mess of violence. Syfot was shouting, blasters rent the air, troopers choked as sith axes lodged into their armor. 
Ozz had never felt this strong, thanks to the stone. Or more terrified. Hesitating just a moment, concerned for Nathan, the oncoming torrent of foes turned him quickly around and the squat Iakaru booked it down the village canyon, wailing as he went.



A few of the warriors who broke from the fighting gave chase, sprinting after him on much longer legs. They pursued Ozz out of the village, out into the open, across a plateau, but even on open ground they couldn't gain on him. Inexplicably, Ozz--short-legged and recovering from yesterday's climb--outpaced them all. He flew like the wind, his legs a blur beneath him, but he was so panicked he didn't even notice. Not once did he attribute his survival to the stone still clutched in his hand.
His eyes on his pursuers, Ozz plowed straight off a cliff and went bouncing--unharmed--down the dusty, rocky mountainside. His ignominious tumble won him an even bigger lead, but he didn't stop to appreciate it--he reached the bottom, jumped to his feet, and took off across the desert, running hard for a long time until he saw the familiar shape of the Lucky Star half hidden by the sand. 
Ozz charged up the ramp, his breathing surprisingly steady, and poked his blaster into every corner something could feasible be hiding in. Finding nothing, he threw himself into the pilot's seat, sealed the hatch, flipped the dampener toggles, pressed the power flow initiator and--
the ship, finally out of fuel, clanked, sputtered, and died.

"Noooo, come on! Come on, girl!" Ozz tried the old 'kick it to start it' trick, but the Star was well and truly down for the count.

He crept back to the hatch, opened it to look out into the desert. He swore loudly: two of the warriors were coming at him fast. Ozz fumbled for his blaster, praying under his breath to whatever Force might exist to get him and Nate out of this mess.
Then he heard something even worse then the footfalls of cultists: a TIE Fighter's scream.

"No, no, no!" he moaned, watching the TIE race overhead and come back around in an arc towards him for an attack run. "I don't have anything for that! Thanks for nothing, Force!" 

Ozz grabbed anything he could find and, with a tortured wail of despair for his trusty ship, made to break for it.

The TIE fighter approached. Ozz ducked and winced and heard the bursts of its guns as it fired...

And he was still alive. 
Well, at least, he thought he was. He sniffed--the bad smell on his coat was still there. He was still alive.

He hazarded a look around and saw the smoldering bodies of the two warriors. He stared, bewildered, as the TIE slowly perched itself on the dusty terrain, and the black-helmeted pilot leapt out.

Ozz raised his blaster shakily at the figure. "No closer, alright?" he shouted. "Hey, why didn't you just shoot me from the sky? Now I've got ya--" He fired, and the bolt went wide. The pilot snaked towards him, raising their own blaster to shoot his from his hand. He yelped and nursed his unwounded appendage, before a kick from the pilot send him sprawling to the ground.
"Hey! Get back I said!"

The pilot stood there looking at him, seemingly unbothered. They removed their helmet to reveal their identity as that of a young, dark-haired woman--calm and focused.
Ozz squinted at her in surprise, taking way too long to realize who she was, what was going on here. When he finally did, he lit up like a hololamp.


"Magda--no, Mayla. Mayla!" he yelped. "You gotta be Mayla! Oh man, I can't believe it, the kid was right!"

Mayla raised an eyebrow. "Right about what--?" she stopped herself with a sharp intake of breath, and started forward seriously. "No, I'm sorry, there's no time. Listen, I'm here to work with you. I'm defecting from the Empire. I want to stop them before it's too late."

"Hm, it won't be that easy, girl. You're gonna hafta earn my trust before I go anywhere with you. I don't take rides from strangers."

"I--I understand, but there isn't time for that, either. Where's Nathan?" She asked, fear betrayed in the shake of her voice. "Syfot's shuttle was taking off when I was flying down here. Does he have the Heart of Balaam?"

Ozz unfolded his fingers to reveal the small stone inside. His expression turned somber.

"Nah, kid. I've got the stone," he said darkly. "The crazy Imp guy--Syfot, you called him? Syfot's got Nathan."

To be concluded in a final chapter.



(Note to the Judges: please score each of these builds separately and combine the two scores for your final number, like you would if they were posted individually. Thanks!)

The build below was built for Episode 7, back last fall. Finally seeing the light of day.
The right portion of the build below was used in an already judged post. The village is new, along with the ground, stairs, wall/door, and the little rise in the back left.


Thanks for looking!

Edited by goatman461

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Great build and a wonderfully constructed story, looking forward to seeing the next story entry

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Really nice build, the colours of the landscaping are great and the photographs are as ever very cinematic. This is the one of your stories that I haven't read right through from the start so I definitely need to go back and read the prior entries!


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