Fortress Infernum looked different during the day. The storms often came at night and weathered the island's stony shore, but during the day the sea was merely choppy and the tower looked far less menacing when it was warmed by the light of Bal'demnic's sun. However, inside the fortress, it was anything but warm. The ice-cold presence of the dark side had dulled over the centuries since the cult that built the tower had abandoned it, but its new owner's fresh connection had invited the cold back in. It was a deep, penetrating cold—the kind that sank passed the warmest clothing and settled in the bones like a knife's edge.
Melkor Damask had his eyes closed and his large fingers steepled in front of him in quiet mediation as he awaited the being he sought to hire. The spacious bottom chamber of his dark and dank abode was an excellent place to contemplate on the Force. There, he could imagine his mind stretching out and filling its vast contours until he could feel the hum of the turbolift behind him and the subtle sway of the spearlike structure in the North Sea's harsh winds. For days, he had been chasing a strand of the dark side of the Force in his meditations. A premonition, he suspected, that was leading him to someone or something, though it had thusfar proven elusive.
But he was distracted from pursuing it any further when the presence of a living being stirred him from his mediations. His yellow eyes opened and his senses shrunk until he had properly hidden his presence in the Force. The being that stepped through the main doors of his abode was large, humanoid, yet distinctly feline. Not a Cathar, he realized after a moment of observing the alien, but a Trianii. A rare treat. One did not see many of their kind cavorting about the galaxy. Melkor took a moment to compose himself. To put on the mask of jaded archeologist and collector he pretended to be, and not the servant of the dark side that he was.
A thin smile crept across his long face. "Welcome, my friend," Melkor said in a deep voice that reverberated off the walls of the spacious chamber. "I apologize for the look of the place. Few visit me on this island and old towers require a sort of decor that cannot be found at any marketplace." He paused to step down a pair of stone steps so that he was level with the feline alien. "Am I to take it you are the muscle I requested from the Hutt Clan?" @Logan
Of all the places that the Hutts could have sent him, Kholvar supposed that some place near the water was at least a positive thing. Of course, when the Prowl dipped through the atmosphere of Bal'demnic and Kholvar spied his destination, his optimism turned to annoyance in short order.
Of course he was getting sent to the weird looking tower on the rocky outcropping. It could never be the beach side resort with the attractive cabana boys. Maybe the proprietor of the tower would be attractive and Kholvar could still salvage something from this assignment.
When Kholvar entered the tower and his eyes fell upon the person who greeted him, he did his best to internalize his disappointment. A Muun was about as far from an attractive cabana boy as you could get. "I would assume so." Kholvar said flatly, answering Melkor's question. Reaching out his hand, Kholvar motioned to shake Melkor's in greeting. "My name is Kholvar. My bosses didn't give me yours."
It was a rare occurrence that Kholvar was able to look someone in the eyes without peering down at them, and for some reason that alone made the Trianni respect Melkor just a little bit. Equal height, equal might or something like that. Rules of the jungle. "Must have some nice stuff locked up in here to want real security. I doubt many come looking to loot the tower by the sea."
Looking around, Kholvar didn't see much in the way of things of immediate value. Of course, antiques or artifacts weren't really up his alley, so for all he knew some of the stuff laying around here could be worth thousands. He was more used to the gaudiness and tackiness of criminals, where the valuable stuff was usually coated in gold or diamonds, or something more tangible like guns or people.
"I'm yours to command, though. So long as my bosses continue to receive their payment, and I don't become too annoyed with boredom." Kholvar may have been a Hutt employee, but he wasn't afraid to speak his mind. "So where to begin?
The smile on Melkor's face faded and he gestured broadly towards the turbolift behind him. Kholvar's thoughts and emotions were bare for the Muun to see, even with his senses restricted, and he could feel the Trianii searching the room for the charge that had warranted his protection. So, Melkor decided that the first test of the beast's worthiness as an employee would be his reaction to said charge.
"Perhaps we should relocate upstairs," the Muun said. "Once you see my study, you might understand what warranted your assignment to this dreary place."
The turbolift ride was a short one. Melkor's study was located on the floor directly above the bottommost chamber. It was a simple obsidian room with a viewport that spanned the entire back wall, gifting him with a splendid view of Bal'demnic's northern sea. Metal bookcases lined the other walls, some stuffed with holobooks, while others contained folders stuffed with sheaves of flimsi, or even older scrolls and tomes that looked nearly as old as the tower itself. But was was really eye-catching was the display cases that dotted the room. Cases containing the helmets of Imperial stormtroopers, burnt banners bearing the insignia of the Galactic Empire, weapon casings with the E-11 blaster rifles previously used by Imperial troops, and so forth. The entire chamber was a museum to the late Galactic Empire.
Melkor's desk was simple enough. Rectangular—a single, solid piece—and carved from the black bark of an irontree from Mustafar. Arcane inscriptions were carved all over it. Any student of ancient history would recognize the runes to belong to the dead Sith tongue, but there were very few in the galaxy that could recognize the script and most of those who could belonged to the same cult as the Muun.
"As you can see," Melkor began, his fingers still steepled, as he circled a display case that contained the battered remains of a stormtrooper helmet, "some in the galaxy might see my fascination with the old ways as... problematic. I am a scholar and a collector, but the Old Empire is somewhat of a special obsession of mine. I have rivals in the academic community that find the fixation blasphemous, and I would hate for something to become of my collection and any future pieces I manage to obtain."
The Muun's yellow eyes cut across the room towards Kholvar. He put the Force into his voice and said, "Which is why I have turned to your employers. To you. I would like you to watch after my possessions whilst I am scouring the galaxy for more. In addition to the payment I owe your employers, there are spare rooms on the floor above this one—pick whichever you like—and you are free to land your ship on this island so that you may go out into the galaxy whenever I am home to personally watch my belongings." The Muun's gaze stayed fastened to his charge even as he completed his circuit around to the front of the display case. "But all that depends on two things. First, I trust you won't find my... proclivities—" He spread his hands to indicate his collection "—objectionable?" @Logan
Khovlar wasn't entirely sure what he was expecting once they exited the turbolift, but a bunch of Empire paraphernalia definitely wasn't it. Given the general vibes of Melkor and his tower, a bunch of skin suits or a torture rack would have been his guess. This option seemed much better.
His eyes scanned around the room as the Muun spoke, silently finding many of the items rather interesting if nothing else. Kholvar was not intimately familiar with the machinations of the Empire and held no real feelings towards it or people who enjoyed it, though he knew that wasn't really the prevailing opinion of most people around.
He noticed the intricate runes that were carved into Melkor's desk but had no idea what they meant, though from context clues he figured they were Sith aligned. Ancient hieroglyphs of some kind. Kholvar couldn't help but wonder why someone would waste their time learning a forever dead language. Like those hipsters who ordered drinks on Nar Shaddaa in Old Corellian.
"You'll find no judgement for your.. eccentric tastes from me," Kholvar said simply as he eyed one of the display cases with old stormtrooper armor inside of it. Kholvar walked over to Melkor's desk, tracing one of the runes with his claw. "Even during the Empire's time a person like me would have lived nearly the same life, my friend. Criminals don't care which authority they're subverting, the only difference between a dictator and a senator is whether you use the front door or the back one when dropping off the slave girls."
Kholvar walked back towards Melkor and the turbo lift, shrugging his shoulders a bit as he did so. "So I guess we can move on to the real question here. What's the second thing?"
So far Kholvar thought Melkor was a little weird, but at least he was interesting. Watching over the strange archaeologists stuff while he was gone wouldn't be the worst job out there, considering the pay was more than adequate. Maybe he'd try wearing one of those helmets later.
The only difference between a dictator and a senator is whether you use the front door or the back one when dropping off the slave girls.
The thin smile was back on Melkor's face. His mind was drawn back to a lesson his Master, Bendak Ko, had given him around the middle of their partnership: We cannot be seen. Not yet, my apprentice. Like the Sith of Darth Bane's Order, we must be content to move about the shadows, pulling the strings from behind the curtains. But — now and again — the dark side of the Force will put certain beings into your path. Beings you can bring into our circle... and use to enforce its will.
This one certainly has the mind of a being I can use, Melkor observed quietly. But to what ends? And in what role?
The smile on the Muun's face crept up until it had become a murderous grin. Outside, clouds moved to cover Bal'demnic's sun, causing the shadows in Melkor's office to lengthen and wrap around him like a woolen cloak. His yellow eyes glinted like firelight in the newfound darkness. "That you have the martial ability, of course," Melkor answered at last. "Your employers in the Hutt Clan made a point to inform me that you are quite the fighter. I would like to confirm this before deciding to hire you. I trust you won't object?"
Unless the feline alien objected, Melkor would usher them both back into the turbolift, which would bring them back to the first floor of the tower. But the Muun didn't stop there; he continued across the chamber and out the front doors of the tower until they were both standing on the rock outside, a fresh burst of ocean air filling their nostrils.
"You were quite right. I do not often get visitors out here on this island. But that does not mean that this tower does not frequently fall under attack." Melkor gestured to what appeared to be a pothole a few meters in front of them, but which actually was a den. A den for krykna—an invasive species on Bal'demnic. "Go on ahead. If you survive, consider yourself hired." A stray thought twisted the Muun's mouth up into another cruel smile. "Might even treat you to a proper dinner."
If Kholvar accepted and did as the Muun requested, he would see that the "pothole" actually went on for quite aways, deep beneath the island. If he listened, he might hear the chittering of the bull krykna that had made the island cavern its home. As the Muun watched, he would finally allow himself to stretch out with the Force to see what there was to be seen... @Logan
Ah, it seemed obvious now that the main source of frustration for the Melkor and his tower wouldn't be other people, but encroachment of beasts. Nature had a bad habit of always attempting to move into places it was not wanted, and apparently an isolated tower on a rocky outcropping touching the see was no different than anywhere else.
"I'd get the stoves fired up," Kholvar said with a small chuckle as he cracked his neck in preparation. His confidence was evident, but whether it was founded or simply hubris would be revealed soon. "I'll do my best to temper myself to not eat you out of house and home."
Approaching the hole, Kholvar took out the vibrodagger he always carried with him. He'd seen krykna before, they were a common beast in the Hutt gladiator pits. Blasters were essentially useless against them, so getting up close and personal with his knife seemed the only way to go.
Just before dropping down into the den, Kholvar looked back at Melkor, a sly grin splitting his lips, his large fangs catching the last rays of sun, glinting like a knife's edge. "No vegetables."
The path leading down into the main portions of the den was moist, probably from the numerous gallons of blood from whatever it was that krykna around here ate. He could hear the bones of beings long gone crunch lightly beneath his steps, Kholvar doing his best to remain as silent as possible to stalk the beast rather than straight up alert it that he was there. Thick webbing lined the walls but there didn't appear to be any eggs or such folded into their layers, which told Kholvar that he was probably dealing with a bull krykna. Wonderful.
Kholvar's ears twitched slightly as he traversed further in, catching hints of the krykna chittering away to itself. The narrow path he'd been walking down suddenly opened up into a large oval shaped cavern, likely dug out by the krykna itself. Kholvar could see the huge beast a the far end, consuming something that looked vaguely like another animal but it was so beyond recognition Kholvar could only speculate.
Guess there was no sense in subtlety now. Pursing his lips, Kholvar let out a loud whistle to catch the bull krykna's attention, which it did pretty much instantly. The mighty beast shrieked at him, clacking its beak like mouth and moving its fanged pedipalps as if it was excited its next meal had walked willingly into its den.
It rushed towards Kholvar, deceptively fast since it was in its own lair, catching him off guard somewhat and crashing into him like a bull on parade. The force of the beast sent Kholvar flying into one of the walls of the den, his massive bulk causing the whole kriffing thing to shudder violently. Considering krykna's weren't educated civil engineers, its likely this den wasn't up to code as far as safety went. Kholvar couldn't even see any supporting joists. Ridiculous.
The krykna was on top of him in a moment, trying to pin Kholvar down by pressing on his chest with one of its legs so it could do whatever krykna did to subdue their prey. Unfortunately, Kholvar was big and strong too, and wasn't about to let himself get killed by an overgrown spider. Gripping his vibroknife, Khovlar slashed harshly at the beast's leg, lopping it clean off at one of the joints. The krykna howled and staggered backwards, allowing Kholvar to get back onto his feet.
Leaping into the air, Kholvar landed on top of the krykna and began stabbing it wildly in its eyes, one of the weak points of any animal. Dark, viscous blood poured from the its now empty eye sockets, spraying haphazardly into the air and coating Kholvar, staining his snow-white fur. It was as if he'd found a reserve battery of energy inside of himself, something was fueling Kholvar more than just adrenaline or fear or simply wanting to live.
Sliding off the krykna's back, Kholvar lunged at the now blind spider, attempting to get underneath of it. He jabbed the tip of his knife deep into its underbelly, pulling the blade the entire length. Guts spilled out as Kholvar rolled to the left to dodge them, though in its death throes the krykna managed to take a decent chunk out of Kholvar's leg with its beaked mouth.
It died shortly thereafter, and although he was limping slightly due to his leg injury, Kholvar climbed his way back out of the den. He waved cheekily at Melkor, a smile coming to his face again, as the gore slowly dripped off his body with audible gloop...plop noises.
"So then... how about a shower before dinner, eh?" Kholvar couldn't help but chuckle, tucking his knife back into its place.
Melkor felt it. Faint — a low, electrical buzz beneath the surface — but it was there when the beast focused his fear. The thread he had been following in his meditations. A whisper of the dark side. This being had the Force! Now it all made sense. Why the Hutts so highly prided his abilities. The wheels of the Muun's brain were turning.
He had trained two apprentices sense his own induction into the Sith Eternal cult. Both for the cult itself—part of his duties as a Guardian. But his Master had taught him that there were other reasons to take on an apprentice. Apprentices could be moulded into many purposes. Assassins, enforcers, spies. But this one... this being had a mind for the criminal as well as the martial might to be an effective warrior. A mole in the Five Syndicates, yes, but... if he played this right... so much more.
"Yes..." the Muun found himself agreeing with Kholvar. "Yes, but before that, another proposition. You dealt with the krykna impressively. The Hutts' trust in you was not misplaced. And yet, I sense that you feel this assignment is below your abilities. Anyone can guard a dusty old tower in the middle of the ocean. But you... You think yourself special. You felt it just now, against the spider—that rush of power."
Melkor stretched out a large palm and curled his fingers. A series of fist-sized rocks floated up from the ground and hovered around him. "I could teach you to tap into that power, you know? To–" He closed his hand into a fist and the rocks burst into a cloud of dust "—unleash it. The strength of a hundred men, the speed of a falling star, dominion over the darkness. And all it would cost—" The Muun's yellow eyes met Kholvar's "—is your loyalty. You will continue to serve your Hutt masters without change, but I shall be your true Master. Perhaps, in time, you could use the power I give to you to rise in the ranks and scrub out your rivals." Melkor paused a beat and steepled his fingers. "If you find this proposition agreeable, then kneel and pledge yourself to me... and to the Sith Eternal."
He had said it. There could be no going back now. If Kholvar refused, he could not leave this island alive. The Muun built up power in his hands, ready to lash out with lightning should the moment arise. But... it was odd... he sensed he would have no need to kill the feline. No. Kholvar would come to him. And their partnership would be quite fruitful for the both of them. @Logan
Melkor's words piqued Kholvar's interest heavily, so much so that his ears twitched a little in anticipation. When the strange Muun started floating stones around himself, even the usually unflappable Trianii found his one good eye growing wide.
Melkor's words were dramatic and probably exaggerated, but even if he was only able to provide half of what he offered, Kholvar didn't think it was an opportunity he could disregard. Throughout his entire life he had always felt like he was.. better than others in ways that weren't quite quantifiable. He was often lucky, his reflexes sometimes seemed superhuman even for a dexterous feline. It all made sense, really.
Loyalty was all the Muun asked for, something that Kholvar didn't really give to anyone.. or anything. Lust for knowledge, for power overriding his ego, Kholvar nodded silently at Melkor's request. Thinking on it, he was fairly confident that kneeling before another was something that had never occurred before in his life. Melkor should feel privileged in that regard, the subjection of a monster such as Kholvar was no small feat.
"My loyalty is yours," Kholvar said, falling down heavily to one knee. Even in this pose he was still taller than most sentient, though not Melkor. "My master."
Melkor's voice was flat, but his pleasure was evident. He wore the grin of a triumphant soothsayer. Somewhere in the distance, waves crashed against the island's stony shores, and Melkor added, "Then let us begin."