A beam of dim sunlight spilled through the open door, creating a weak puddle of light that seemed to ripple across the floor as the cavalier entered Rogue Headquarters. Quickly he moved to one side, staying near the only source of illumination, but keeping himself from being silhouetted in the doorway. He could not afford to expose himself in such a manner. None of the 181st had been visible when he entered the structure, but that did not mean that the Cardinal’s spies and assassins were not guarding the keep.
Squinting into the darkness, the cavalier found the light sensor, but when he palmed the device to activate it, he was sorely disappointed. Sliding the pack from his shoulder, he rummaged through its contents until he found a glow rod. He thumbed the power switch, causing a strong beam of bluish light to wash across the entry hall. The light was powerful, but the shadows that lingered throughout the huge space were too thick for the glow rod to obliterate. Contenting himself with this meager source of light, he again settled the pack onto his shoulder and began exploring the ruined sanctuary.
Rogue Headquarters reminded the gallant of a tomb. Silent and empty, waiting to be occupied by the ghosts of lost warriors. His footsteps echoed hollowly through the deserted corridors, a haunting companion for the tattered wanderer.
He only searched what rooms that were unlocked, never forcing open the doors that had been bolted in an effort to keep Cardinal Palpatine’s men at bay. He knew that this place had been defiled far too often by the 181st, he could not add to the insults performed against this great monument.
His explorations took him through the quarters of Rogues. The cavalier did not enter these rooms, only peeking inside to see what damage had been inflicted against their personal quarters. Their occupants had efficiently emptied most. But others had the look of spaces hastily departed. While others seemed to be the scene of violence. Beds torn apart, clothes strewn from one corner of the room to the other. The rooms had been shredded by some malevolent force. Shuddering at the destruction of the warriors’ private sanctuary, the wanderer moved deeper into the deserted keep.
He expected more signs of violence, but none could be found. Only broken tokens from hasty retreats or impatient searches. Once, while searching the hanger that had housed the starfighters the Rogues had flown before becoming bodyguards, he knelt down next to the dark stain that marred the ferrocrete. He expected the worst, but it was nothing more ominous than hydraulic fluid.
Eventually he made his way to the circular room where the Rogues had prepped for missions. He expected to find the space as hollow as all the other rooms he had visited, but instead, the cavalier found signs of habitation.
As he entered the room, recessed glow panels slowly faded to life, casting a soft light over the scavenged furniture that seemed to sulk inside the space. Shadows inhabited the corners, drifting over the remains of the tables and chairs had been destroyed in the frenzied searches the 181st had performed. One of the tables had been pieced together from bits of furniture. Two ragged chairs sat across from each other.
As the gallant moved towards the broken podium that at one time dominated the room, he saw more evidence of habitation. A heating unit sat in the corner, its coils a fading from dark orange to dull gray, showing that the device had been used in the past few hours. On the table, forgotten scraps and dirty plates showed that someone was truly using this place as shelter.
But who was hiding in the nearly forgotten keep? Some homeless being looking for somewhere dry to sleep or…
The caviler moved towards the table, hoping to find some clue of the identity of whoever was hidden inside the deserted halls.
The sound of metal sliding against leather stopped him. Forced him to stand statue-still as the shadows in front of him materialized into a man. Broad shouldered and walking with a distinctive swagger, the being stepped towards the cavalier. But the young warrior had been sure that he heard a sword being drawn from a scabbard. Which meant…Behind him, footsteps, signaling that the being stepping towards him wasn’t alone.
"Kill him." The being behind him snapped. The being that the young man was sure was carrying naked steel.
The man dark-haired man chuckled. "Really, Tycho. You should have better manners."
The men slowly circled around the gallant. "Tycho" stepping forward as the broad shouldered one walked behind the silent warrior. "Why should I act civil to a thief?"
"Because there is no proof that he is a thief."
"And there is no proof that he is NOT a thief. And that is not the point, Wes. He has intruded on our sanctuary and he should pay for that indiscretion."
"Let the fool have a chance to speak."
The blond stood before the cavalier, ice blue eyes thoughtful. The tip of his sword touched the young man’s throat. "Tell us who you are and why you’re here or I will slit your throat."
The cavalier held Tycho’s gaze for a long moment, barely registering that "Wes" had moved beside the blond holding the sword. "My name is Corran Horn."
"Another Corellian." Wes rolled his eyes dramatically, "You would think Corellia was the only habitable planet in the galaxy."
"You wouldn’t be complying if he was female," Tycho reminded.
"Too true," Wes replied, eyeing their captive thoughtfully. "He doesn’t look like one of the Hounds."
"Would the Cardinal send a man that LOOKED like a Hound if he meant to spy on us?"
"No," Wes conceded, "But he would send the Hounds if he wished to rout us out of here." His hand drifted to the sword at his hip, fingering the grip gently. "He could be nothing more than a young fool wanting a souvenir from the lost and yet to be lamented Rogues."
"Actually," Corran interrupted. "I came here to become a Rogue."
At that comment, Wes laughed while Tycho scowled at the young man. "Then you’re twice the fool I took you for. The Cardinal disbanded us months ago and put a price on our heads. You have to be either stupid or suicidal to want to join with us now."
To Wes, this brash Corellian was neither suicidal nor stupid. There was a keen edge to the cavalier’s green eyes that could not feign stupidity. And the careful way he moved around Tycho, making sure the Rogue never questions motives, was an obvious sign that suicide was not what Corran desired.
Slowly, almost acting as if he ignored the presence of Tycho’s sword, the gallant told the Rogues of his quest to become one of the Heir’s bodyguards. Corran himself was an outlaw with a price on his head. But his crimes were not the distasteful ones Tycho accused him of. Instead, the young man had been forced to leave Corellia because of his relentless search for his father’s murderer. A search that ended when he had accused the dictat of his homeworld of conspiring to kill a CorSec officer whose crime was exposing the corruption that was devouring the government he had pledged his service to.
Corran had been his father’s partner, a CorSec agent of impeccable record until Kirtan Loor had tainted it with charges of murder. Loor marked him as kinslayer, a man who had murdered his own father.
Knowing that he could not fight such odds, Horn had escaped Corellia. During his exhaustive travels, the gallant had watched the Rebellion crumble until the Rogues were the only visible reminders of the cause so many had died for.
And the Rogues became his ideal. He had been an agent of justice while working for CorSec and without that role, Corran had been completely lost. An aimless wanderer that would soon sink into a malaise that there would be no escaping from. To save himself from this darkness, the young man had focused on the shining example of the Rogues.
Becoming one of those bodyguards became his obsession. And as Wes listened to the man’s words, the Rogue realized there would be no dissuading this warrior from his task. Either he would become a Rogue or Corran would die trying.
It was a madness that Wes could understand and respect. There was something almost feverish about the man. A strange trait that made Wes feel better for having worn the orange. For so long, he had remained hidden, pretending that he had never picked up a sword until he almost wished that he had never pledged himself to the beleaguered Princess. Then, by the mere presence of this electrifying young man, Wes again felt as if he were a vital part of the shattered Rebellion.
The Rogue eyed his friend, but the blond seemed immune to the gallant’s charm. Tycho, it seemed, wanted nothing to do with this brazen Corellian with more guts than sense. "Listen, boy. We’re telling you that the Rogues are dead." Tycho paused, eyeing his comrade. "Or are as good as dead."
"Thank you for targeting me when you said that," Wes groused.
"If YOU were not so fond of barroom brawls, it would be more difficult for the Hounds to find us."
Wes wisely chose to remain silent.
Tycho finally sheathed his blade, pacing before the warrior who had stumbled into their sanctuary. "We are outlaws. Any who side with us will also be an outlaw. You will be a criminal."
Corran let out a harsh bark of laughter. "I am already a criminal. My supposed crimes are far worse than any the two of you have performed. I am kinslayer."
Tycho’s pale eyes narrowed. "Do not trivialize my past, BOY," he spat. "I have been to hell and I can easily arrange for you to stay there permanently." The blond Rogue took a shuddering breath. Wes watched patiently, knowing that no words would ease the pain that wracked his friend’s soul. When Tycho spoke again, his voice was smooth as ice. "I do not believe that you understand the gravity of the situation."
Turning on his heel, the Rogue stalked towards the door, gesturing for the cavalier to follow. "There is something I need to show you."
Corran glanced at Wes who shrugged helplessly. "After you," Corran offered.
Wes chuckled, then gestured for the gallant to follow Tycho. "I haven’t lived this long without learning caution." Then he placed a hand on his chest dramatically. "And what sort of example would I set if I did not offer a guest first chance through the door."
Tycho led them to a shadowed hall that seemed to have at one time been an area that housed many of the Rogue’s celebrations. The floors were dressed in granite. The remains of furniture that littered the space were of an opulence that was rarely seen outside Palpitine’s courts. The walls were paneled in a rich golden wood that must have been imported onto the city-planet. All walls, that is, save one.
One wall showcased the greatest artwork Corran had ever seen. It ran the length of the celebration hall. The mural was a wonder that he had never expected to see in the finest of palace rooms, let alone in the keep housing a band of rough warriors.
The center of the wall was dominated by the red and blue ensignia of Rogue Squadron; a symbol that had been kept even after the group gave up its x-wings. A memory of their past; beneath this reminder, the Rogue’s motto had been carefully calligraphied in golden text. "All for One. One for All."
On the left side of the emblem was the painted representation of the Squadron’s past. Starting from Skywalker’s successful flight against the first Death Star, the various dogfights and battles faded one to the next until the horrible defeat at Endor.
On the right side of the emblem was a grand court scene. This side represented the transformation of starfighter unit to an elite group of bodyguards and confidants. The artist had shown this change by painting the court in its full regalia as the specially chosen Rogues: Wedge Antilles, Wes Janson, Tycho Celchu, and Derik “Hobbie” Kilvian stood before the Heir and promised the service of the Rogues to her. Promising to defend them with ‘till their dying breath.
Wes Janson. Tycho Celchu…Dear gods, he was in the presence of two of the men who had pledged the Rogues to the Princess.
Before Corran could fully consider this thought, Tycho drew his attention towards the painting. His reverence toward the painting of the Heir was disconcerting; He stared up at her as if she were made of flesh, not paint. “This was painted by a young Rogue named Gavin.” Tycho pointed to a faint curl of gold pain that was so deeply hidden in the details of the work that Corran would have never found the signature without aid. Tycho let out a tired sigh, his voice somber as he continued speaking. "Gavin Darklighter. A more noble man never walked these halls."
Corran reached out to touch the mural, wanting to feel the glossy texture of the marble so realistically portrayed din oils. His hand hovered a centimeter from the surface, then withdrew. He was unable to deface such beauty with even the slightest touch. "What happened to him?" Corran asked quietly. He already knew the answer but felt compelled to ask.
"Murdered." Tycho’s ice blue eyes suddenly warmed with the fires of rage. "Murdered by the Cardinal’s Hounds."
"The 181st." Corran tipped his head, absorbing the brilliance of a work painted by a life ended far too soon. "Why do you call them Hounds?"
Tycho kneeled down; ignoring Corran's question, tracing the delicate curves of the signature so beautifully hidden in the decadence of the painted court. "Poor bastard should never have left Tatooine."
Wes answered for the Rogue. "We call them Hounds because their commanding officer’s a bitch."
"Isard," Corran breathed, a shudder coursing down his spine. He had heard of this deadly woman who, it was said, fought better than any man. A woman whose madness knew no bounds. A deadly, eager mind that devoured all information and twisted it to her and her master’s use.
A more dangerous woman never lived…
Suddenly, Tycho surged to his feet. "Yes, Isard," the Rogue snapped. "She will hunt you down like she hunted down the rest of us. She will torture you and then kill you slowly. Do you want that to happen to you, BOY? DO YOU?"
Corran stared calmly at the enraged warrior. He knew that this anger was not directed at him. It was meant for the beings that had killed Tycho’s friends. Towards the beings who had destroyed something precious to him.
Corran was just a convenient target for his rage.
"I don’t care about the risks. I’m a dead man already. The price on my head guarantees that within the next few months, some bounty hunter will deliver me to the Dictat. Better do die for her," the gallant pointed to the image that Tycho had seemed so enraptured by. "Than be killed by some gutter scum."
Quicker than thought, Tycho grasped two great handfuls of the gallant’s tunic, almost lifting Corran off of his feet. "Let me make this crystalline clear. The Rogues are dead and your fascination with them will end with your death. Get out of here before I do the Cardinal a favor and kill you myself."
Continued in Part Three