Forgotten Wars: Episode I - Dark Lessons

Prologue

A very long time ago, in a galaxy unknown...

Master Yoda's eyes flew open the instant he felt the unfamiliar disturbance. Like nothing he'd experienced thus far in his two centuries of life, the discordant twang in the Force thrummed all about him, and through him, threatening to gouge a rift in the very fabric of time and space. Slowly the Jedi Master turned in his seat to regard his Padawan learner, Corintheus Thoram. He didn't need the Force to tell him that the human, barely into his twenties, had felt the breach as well. Corintheus's golden brown visage verily trembled, dark eyes wide as saucers, his thick lips murmuring something completely inaudible.

For the Padawan, piloting the sleek starship called X-Falcon II, was beginning to lose control. The holographic image of the preset course, hovering inches above the console, flickered and faded - as did the interior lights of the ship itself. They had long since come out of hyperdrive (or at least they thought they had), but still the kaleidoscope of colors rushed past like a raging river.

"Very peculiar, something is," Yoda remarked at length. "Slowed down long ago, we should have."

"You don't say, Master," Corintheus growled in response, his baritone voice dripping with sarcasm, as he glanced over at the diminutive green alien. As if to refute the very reality of the situation, the Padawan slammed the regulator shift into fourth quadrant, a molecular transmission gear built in to troubleshoot any foreign program entering its system by means of the Force itself. It was a tricky invention, engineered by Master Yoda and his right-hand colleague back on Coruscant. Only now it didn't appear to be working. Comets and meteorites continued to stream past the viewport like a dreamscape, moons and worlds becoming one indistinct blur after another. But eventually, mercifully, they levelled out in the midst of what they originally took to be their own galaxy.

It was not.

Yoda was first to recognize the difference. While the worlds looked similar at first to those he and his Padawan had known from their many travels, both together and as individuals, there was something tangibly different about the soul of this galaxy. Suddenly the Force did not feel as one complete entity of perfection, but of a myriad host of very distinct and largely unpredictable personas. A living gemstone whose hundreds of thousands of facets could not be fully comprehended by mere mortals. One large planet in particular loomed ahead, casting its verdant glow in the blackness of space like a lantern filled with blue fire in a cold mountain cave. Its atmosphere overrode the controls aboard the X-Falcon II, reeling the streamlined vessel directly toward it, like a goober fish snagging its aquatic prey with its long, sticky tongue.

"This is madness," Corintheus whispered in awe, staring straight ahead at the beautiful globe teeming with life-forms that nothing in the ship's scanner log could identify, except to associate a few species with vaguely similar ones residing in its database. That was odd indeed, thought the Jedi Master as he regarded his Padawan briefly out of the corner of his eye, listening to the quiet vocalizers overhead reading off the names of those few species it could associate with, incorrectly naming the denizens of this world, which clutched the starship with its invisible fingers and drew them ever inward. Yoda was able to sense that nothing here was as it should be. Not if they were still in their own galaxy.

Soon, thoughts fell silent, giving way to serenity and acceptance as the ship plunged through the world's bright atmosphere, like a burning star on a crash course with the surface of an uncharted land. As indeed this planet was to Master Yoda and Corintheus Thoram. The X-Falcon II spiraled as would the eye of a nebular storm, careening at breakneck speed toward a destination unforetold and indecipherable to the watchful eye. Yoda merely sighed and closed his eyes, long ears swiveling slightly, falling into a meditative trance to see if he could at least establish a solid connection with this new variation of the Force...

Zaknafein Do'Urden glided out of the great cavern directly behind his patrol-mate, the unusually tall (for a male drow) Baenre boy known as Jarlaxle taking the lead for this expedition only because his brother, Dantrag, insisted that Zaknafein not be put in a position to obtain the glory of the first kill of the night. That was perfectly fine by Zaknafein's standards. He was not particularly fond of the idea of killing a bunch of faeries he had never before met, besides in the tales he and his classmates had been told in the Academy. The night was young in the World Above, he surmised. The crescent dagger in the sky was silvery white, a pale reflection of the golden horror that ruled by day, according to the legends. The breeze of the open plains were fresh, untainted and unhindered. Wildlife danced on the peripheries of the raiding party's set course, which was an arrow aimed for the heart of the woodland domain straight ahead. Unfamiliar sounds filled the air all about them, keeping their senses sharp and alert for anything.

Triel Baenre appeared out of thin air directly in front of Jarlaxle, her hawkish face set in a menacing glare, her ceremonial robes buffeted by the light wind blowing against the mountainside. Do not take this expedition as an opportunity for personal gain, third boy, her delicate black fingers signaled in the silent hand code, the way she emphasized that last reminding Jarlaxle in no uncertain terms that he was an oddity among drow males, and therefore was always expected to do strictly as instructed on pain of death. For everyone knew that Jarlaxle should have been sacrificed at birth for the misfortune of being the thirdborn male in his House, the First House of Menzoberranzan. Only the word of Matron Baenre herself kept the troublesome male alive, much to Triel's disliking above all. Always the troublemaker, this brother of hers, this foolish, grinning, unorthodoxed court jester of a drow! This bald warrior who could nevertheless find a way to flip a profit for himself in the stickiest of situations.

As Triel might have expected, her brother merely smiled and tipped that outrageous hat of his, with its huge diatryma feather, in deference to her as he strode past without a word. Zaknafein, by comparison, spared the drow priestess only a cursory glance before he, too, stepped beyond her imposing form. That one was not to be trusted in the least, Triel mused, as she always did when she looked upon the mysterious Do'Urden. House D'aermon Na'Shez'baernon, twelfth House of Menzoberranzan - a compound known for its warriors even above the prominence of its priestesses in some circles. Perhaps Dantrag should have dealt with this particular Do'Urden when given the opportunity in the last tournament at Melee-Magthere, the school for fighters. Instead, the weapon master of House Baenre had brought home only excuses as to why this Zaknafein creature was still alive and well.

Foolish males! All of them should be willing to sacrifice themselves on altars dedicated to the glory of the Spider Queen, and do so gladly in the knowledge that their worthless lives would finally amount to something other than child-givers in a female's society. Males with pride were one thing; that was merely a fantasy that some of them focused on to keep them motivated. But males with real power? Males who somehow transcended even their own expectations, obtaining some measure of respect even from the priestesses of their respective Houses? That was absurd. Worse, Triel thought wretchedly, it was an abomination!

Perhaps she should arrange for Zaknafein to be killed out here in the open. Or perhaps hers should be the hand of the executioner directly. Either way, it was time to separate the useful from the unuseful, the lizard mounts from the grubworms. In the midst of battle, as the chaos of bloodshed commenced in the heart of the Moonwood, the black widow would make her move against a certain distracted preying mantis.