Friday, March 6, 2015

Duel at Uto Academy

Duel at Uto Academy
Bobby Derie

TIE fighters screamed across Bastion's skies in tight formation. Stormtroopers and officers tramped the streets of the Imperial Remnant's old capital in snowcapes and heavy boots. In the unheated warehouse on the edge of the city, Eiven Task sat cross-legged in his meditation chamber, replaying the events of three months ago. The blank faces of the Imperial Knight students, their bright blades burning in perfect synchronization, guided by the will and power of the blademaster, Uto. Anger flashed through Task at the memory of the calm confidence with which he had been bested, the smugness of his enemy, the pain of his slow-healing wounds.

Anger is power. The shade of Darth Modas had told him, the ancient hologram grimacing down at the human. But power requires focus. You must channel it, or the Dark Side of the Force will consume you. What is your purpose?

"Revenge." Task whispered as he came out of the meditation, and scratched idly at the line of scar tissue  where pale flesh and the dark line of Sith runes tattooed on his breast gave way to his prosthetic left arm. Standing up, he crossed over to the wall, where he had laid out the map of the Uto Academy. His brown eyes flicked to between the student dormitories, latrines, library, armory, the thick outer walls of the ancient fortress, the open-air training hall where the last fight had taken place, mentally reviewing the plan. Satisfied, he checked the time, and began donning his armor and weapons.

There were few onlookers at this time of night, even in a city-planet as busy as Bastion. His armor was based on that of the old Royal Guard, white instead of scarlet, a pale ghost moving through the light falling snow, the butt of his lightsaber-pike crunching through the crust of snow in the streets; the passing hovercar traffic compacted the snow it passed over, making strange paths like frozen streambeds. Eiven's senses were alive as he left the main streets and alleys, and crossed through the frozen marshland surrounding the academy-fortress, where the lightspill from the surrounding city was a bit less, and the moon shown bright and full.

Task's mouth tasted bitter as he left the main road and trudged silently over the frozen marsh, a sign that the combat drugs were beginning to take effect. The guards on the gate were students in padded full-length coats, whoever had pissed the blademaster off enough to pull the dead man's shift, cold and tired; even at the best of times they would have relied more on their nascent Force-tuned sensitivity than their physical senses. Task waited for them to report in, communicators squawking out sign and countersign. The first of Eiven's darts caught the nearest one just below the left eye; the second turned too quickly as his mate thumped to the ground, and Eiven's second dot caught in his fur-lined cheek guard, but the third dart caught pierced his nose and he too collapsed as the paralytic toxins took effect.

Standing before the great metal gates, Task smiled within his helmet as he flicked the lightsaber pike to life, it's silver-white blade a torch that cast strange shadows on the snow.

Time to make an entrance.

With care, and holding the pike at its base for the greatest reach, Eiven carefully burned through the hinges on either side; snow flakes sizzled on molten metal as he finished his work and switched off the lightsaber blade. Jogging back a few meters, he crouched and paused a moment to focus himself, feeling the anger burn in his heart, eyes itching from the drugs, and sprinted straight at the door. Task's last three steps were bounds, each one taking him higher and higher in gravity-defying leaps; he hit the center of the door at the top of the third arc, both feet launched forward in a Force-fueled double kick that caused the freestanding door to crumple along the center and fall backwards with a vast and audible crash.

Task slipped the lightsaber pike into the sling over his back, and unslung the DLT-19 heavy blaster rifle, clicking off the safety. Students began to spill from the dormitory, most in light exercise gear and nighttime jumpsuits, and the DLT-19 began to sing its song, a low humming buzz punctuated by the steady thukka-thukka of plasma bolts. Eiven aimed low, mostly at knee-height for the teenaged humans, and mowed through the first wave with hardly a break in his stride as he walked across the promenade to the training hall; most of the rest stayed inside, aside from a few that looked to be making a break for the armory. Task emptied the rest of the clip into that group, which fell to the snowy ground, steam pouring from the flash-fried meat that used to be their legs.

Picking up speed, he dropped the DLT-19 and unslung the lightsaber pike again, sprinting as he came to the training hall, which was pretty much as he had left it - an open-air pavilion, the eight-meter high ceiling supported by eight angular pylons; the gravel and sand floor had frozen hard as concrete in the cold, but that didn't matter much to Task. The whole place felt alive, even empty as it was, the wind whipping through it with a steady moan that rose and fell in strange patterns. Eiven wondered once more what temple or shrine had been here before Uto had built this place, and which aspect of the Force it has been dedicated to.

The blademaster was the first to appear, lightsaber already ignited, stepping carefully, artificial eyes easily piercing through the gloom and the murk. Behind him Task counted six students - senior students, if he had to judge by the way their presence rippled in the Force - each with a lightsaber drawn and ignited. The seven walked carefully, every step in synch, blades outward to face any threat and not endanger the others with an errant swing. Eiven could feel the pulse of their power, seven hearts beating as one - Uto's calm and experience reaching out and steadying his pupils, connecting them so that they moved as a single unit.

"Why do you hide?" He rasped, that strange, commanding imperative tone echoing throughout the hall. "Are you so afraid of a fair fight? Or do you only murder defenseless chi..."

The flashbangs and wailers Task had hidden cut him off in mid-taunt, catching even the experienced blademaster by surprise. From the dark ceiling, Eiven dropped down into the middle of them, lightsaber blades crackling to life from either end of his pike in his right hand, a small repeating blaster blazing away in his left. Two of the students fell in the three shots Task managed to squeeze off as he fell. Even still, Uto's instincts were those of a veteran of the battlefield, and his concentration had not entirely failed; the senior adepts moved into position to deflect further shots, and found themselves off-guard as Task dropped the blaster and lashed out with his blazing staff, the spinning weapon slicing through arms and legs in great arcs.

In the space of a few seconds, Uto's students lay on the ground, screaming and clutching burning stumps. Task quickly looked around for the blademaster himself - and barely brought his weapon up in time as the former Imperial Knight's boot caught him full in the chest with an audible crunch as the armor buckled and cracked. On his knees, Task scrambled for his weapon, but Uto laid his foot to rest on the weapon. His own silver-white lightsaber blade crackled, lightning playing along the edges.

"Get up, boy," the blademaster's voice was a vise that seemed to drag Eiven to his feet almost despite himself. Task's hand went to the Jedi-forged blade at his waist, and he felt the former Imperial Knight's influence fade as he focused and drew the long knife. From just above Task's left wrist, a fiery burst of crimson lit out as he activated the short-bladed forcesaber embedded in his prosthetic left arm. Rage swept through Task as the blade's dark side power drew him on, but the Jedi-blade in his other hand balanced the fury that nipped at the edges of his consciousness. Without blinking his durasteel eyes, Uto swung the white-silver lightsaber in front of him in an en garde position, as Eiven himself assumed a defensive stance, the crimson forcesaber held out in front of him, the Jedi-blade in near his belly, parallel with the floor.

Task didn't see the blademaster move, but he felt the ripple in the Force as the former Imperial Knight began his assault. Eiven brought his arm up instinctively, the forcesaber blade clashing with lightsaber in an electrical crash, then moved in with his Jedi-blade, but the blademaster was already moving. So they spun and danced; Uto the calm center of a swarm, his blade seemingly everywhere at once, the characteristic storm of blades that marked Vaapaad, the most dangerous and powerful of all lightsaber combat styles. The Force flowed through his muscles, lending him endless strength, speed, and endurance - but not foresight. Task dodged and parried, strained to his max after only a few moments; in a normal fight with another Force adept, the Sith runes that hid his presence in the Force and his own intuitive insight into the future would give him an edge, but here it barely allowed him to hold his own. It was no use to see the hurricane that was about to hit you.

The end, when it came, was with a suddenness that took Task by surprise. Raising his left-arm blade to parry, Uto's lightsaber suddenly clicked off and the blademaster slipped inside Eiven's guard, left hand grabbing Task's right wrist, right shoulder pushed into Eiven's chest. With a superhuman heave that kicked up gravel from the frozen floor, Task and Uto flew backwards, slamming into one of the pylons hard enough to dust from the rafters. Uto stood back, breathing heavily at the exertion.

Task, still standing, leaning against the pylon, tried to move forwards - but a sharp pain dragged a brief scream from his lips. Looking at his right arm, Eiven saw the Jedi-blade driven hilt-deep in the palm of his hand, pinning him to the pylon.

The blademaster's lips twitched into a smirk. "You are clever and resourceful, boy. I'll give you that. A decent strategist, too." The old man's lightsaber crackled into life. "I'll make this quick and clean."

Task raised his left arm - the crimson blade still burning fiercely. Without a word, he brought the blade down on his right wrist. Uto narrowed his eyes and moved forward in a deadly swing - but not fast enough as Eiven brought his charred stump forward into the old man's face, both men screaming in pain at the impact. Task launched himself forward, shards of cracked and broken armor falling from his body in an adrenaline-fueled assault that caught even the blademaster momentarily off-guard. Taking three steps back, the blademaster held the blade in front of him, level with Task's chest - and Eiven Task, heedless, walked straight onto the burning blade, steam and boiling blood erupting from the wound as the burning blade at the end of his arm swung down and through Uto's neck.

Sirens filled the cold night, and the snow had stopped falling from the sky, which was now bright and clear. In the marshy wasteland outside the Uto Academy, Eiven Task lurched forward through the ice and snow, leaning heavily on his lightsaber staff in his left hand, the stump of the right pressed up against his chest. The drugs didn't take the edge off the pain, but they let him ignore it and keep moving, which is what he needed right now. He pushed thoughts of tomorrow away - the inevitable manhunt, this time likely with Imperial Knights on his trail. Time enough for that if he survived.

Hovering over his corpse, the blue-lit shade of Uto looked down at his own sightless eyes. "Well done, boy." The shade said aloud, to no one in particular. "I didn't know you had it in you."


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