Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: "Jedi & Assassin"

The "Present" sections of this short story actually take place just before the beginning of Session # 39. It's an important story in that it reveals that Tarn's Master, Horellius Creen, and Arresta's husband, Stefan Cassadine, have been working together to manipulate events for quite some time. Conversations between two of the most powerful and important NPCs in the campaign would have been difficult to do "on screen", but short stories like this really allowed their personalities to come through. I particularly liked the idea of Creen being something of a technophobe.

Jedi and Assassin

The Present

Stefan Cassadine walked the streets of Mondder feeling mildly perturbed. Months ago, Jocasta had given him a falsified transponder code for the The Knife’s Edge which identified the ship as belonging to a member of the Authority Direx Board, allowing it to bypass normal customs and security protocols and land directly at the ARC. But on this trip, Stefan had only the ship’s small runabout—little more than a glorified escape pod—and Jocasta was the last person he wanted to know about his presence on Etti IV.

Instead, he had suffered through the starport’s interminable landing and clearance process in one of his usual cover identities—that of a holovid location scout. But more than mere annoyance weighed on his mind—there was surprise and apprehension that the Jedi had chosen to hide here, just a handful of kilometres from his greatest enemy’s stronghold. But this is where the coded message beacon hidden deep in Coruscant’s undercity directed him to go, and Stefan was determined not to turn away. Arresta might never forgive him for what he was about to do, but if all went according to plan, she would never know.

Advertising was everywhere, and even the sidewalk tried to persuade Stefan to buy a refreshing Gloday Spritzer.™ Eventually, he reached one of Mondder’s many residential spires, this one almost wholly inhabited by Plexgrove Combine employees. Plexgrove owned the spire, and most of its workers grew deeper in debt each payday, once the cost of rent and purchases from the company store were factored in. But the 97th floor contained apartments available for rent to some of Mondder’s few independent contractors, and it was here that Stefan was headed.

When he stepped out of the turbolift, he saw a woman in a distinctive blue jumpsuit just coming out of an apartment. For an instant he thought Jocasta had set a trap, and his hand dropped to his belt pouch—although weapons were prohibited on Etti IV, their detectors were crude when it came to poisons and neurotoxins. But as the woman approached, he saw the word “Technician” written on her shirtfront and that she had a distant, almost confused look on her face. She walked by Stefan without a glance and into the turbolift. He walked to the same apartment she had just left, and knocked softly on the door. It opened, and Horellius Creen was waiting.

The Past (circa 85 A.G.)
Sneaking into the Jedi Temple had not been an option. Stefan had been around long enough to know that Jedi were not invincible, but he had also heard enough stories of their vaunted intuition and bizarre mental abilities to make the proposition too risky. He was a man, and could think like men, and assess weaknesses and vulnerabilities. But Jedi were something else entirely, almost another species, with powers he could neither predict nor understand.

Instead, he walked in through the front door as Stefan Cassadine, CEO of Cassadine Enterprises, a specialty shipping company. Like many other petitioners, he felt distinctly uneasy—wondering if his every thought, secret, and motivation were laid bare for the Jedi to see. Were that the case, his only option would be to run, and run far.

The Padawan on visitors’ duty seemed surprised when he asked to speak to Master Horellius Creen, and she had to check a datapad before giving him directions. The route to Creen’s quarters took him far below the Temple, through a veritable labyrinth of ancient and rarely used stone passages. Creen’s living space was a grotto, filled to every nook and corner with ancient scrolls. The man himself sat there, poring over a dusty scroll, his eyes just inches above the inked text. He didn’t look up until Stefan said his name several times—finally, with a sigh, he rolled up the scroll and began to speak in a harsh whisper.

“I am aware of your presence, young man. A little patience would do you good. But speak, now, for I am quite busy with things far beyond your ken.”

Stefan snorted. No one had dared call him “young man” in quite some time. He took a datapad out of his jacket pocket, clicked it on, and slammed it down in front of Creen. The screen showed a Holonews story titled “Thousands Watch Hacked Holofeeds of Glamorous Princess and Her New Jedi Boy-Toy Gallivanting Throughout City.” Stefan gave Creen a moment to read it, and then began speaking.

“I’ve been watching this girl for a long time—she’s made me proud. But her dalliance with this boy threatens to slow her development,” he said. “I want you to do something about this Padawan of yours.”

Creen thought for a moment. “Your manners may be wretched, young man, but your timing is impeccable. I had myself begun to think the boy is losing focus. But pay it no mind. A careless word said in the wrong circle and the Council will be prompted to halt him short. He’ll renounce the girl if everything he’s been striving for his entire life is at stake.”

Stefan inclined his head graciously. This had gone better than he had expected. “Then you have my thanks, Master Creen, and I’ll spare you any further interruption.” He turned and started to leave.

“It may not be enough,” Creen said matter-of-factly. “If they both remain on Coruscant, they’ll be drawn together again—even if the trial ends as I expect. The boy’s training is at a vital stage, and he cannot be sent away. The girl will need to be distracted.”

Stefan turned back slowly. “What did you have in mind?” he said.

Creen considered while he began to absent-mindedly rearrange scrolls. “I believe I still know someone in Republic Intelligence. Perhaps young Arresta can suddenly become crucial in the war effort.”

The Past (circa 293 A.G.)
Creen heard the footsteps booming down the corridor and sighed, wondering how he was going to get any work done with the constant distractions—this was his third visitor this month. He knew Stefan Cassadine was livid, but one needn’t be a Jedi Master to sense such a thing. Cassadine rounded the corner, his face an iron mask and his eyes red and piercing.

“Where is she?” he said sharply.

“Ostensibly, headed towards Corellia,” Creen replied. “But this girl is deceitful—an admirable trait, at times—and I suspect she’s gone to Alderaan.”

Stefan paced, clearly working hard to keep his anger under control. “You didn’t tell me the boy had already left by the time I brought her here,” he said accusingly.

“Would it have made a difference? You wanted to test her loyalty in an environment safe from Ventress but with something to keep her from growing idle and restless—thus, this ‘mystery’ she was assigned to investigate.” Creen waited a moment, and then continued. “And now, you know the results of the test, Ventress is no longer a factor, assuming you dealt with the Guild, and young Arresta is certainly not idle.”

“Her disappearing was never part of the plan!” Stefan shouted. “When I catch up to them—and I will—that boy Jedi will breathe his last.”

Creen slowly shook his head. “That would be discourteous, Mr. Cassadine. Tarn Tamarand may yet still be of use to me—and killing him now will leave him forever fixed in her affections. Every time she looks at you, she will think of him. No, she needs to realize that Tarn means nothing to her. She needs to forget about him entirely.”

“I guarantee she’ll never see him again,” Stefan said.

Creen chuckled. “Must a celibate old man instruct you on the ways of the heart? Indeed, perhaps time and distance will dull her feeling, or he’ll die in a misadventure. But more likely, the day will come when you realize nothing you can do will truly keep them apart. And on that day, you’ll come to me.”

“You try my patience, old man. Speak plainly.”

“Yours may be the way of the killer, toxic dart and poison needle, but my ways are the subtle mysteries of the Force. Old ways, lost to most, but there for those who would seek them. I can ensure that she’ll forget about Tarn Tamarand, as one would forget the flash of a dream before waking. She’ll be yours then, if you can keep her.”

“And if this day should come,” Stefan said carefully, “what will you ask from me in return?”

“Will it matter?” Creen replied with the hint of a smile.

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1 comment:

The Wife said...

First, I love this story. One of my favourites that you've written.

You totally gave away the surprise ending with your commentary! As I recall, the reader is meant to think that Stefan is going after Tarn Tamarand to finally kill him -in that first section, you're supposed to think that HE is the one hiding on Etti IV just under Jocasta's nose. Then it is a surprise reveal that Stefan is in cahoots with Creen.

Speaking of which, this was not a good partnership for Stefan. Not only did Creen fail to deliver on his promise to erase Tarn from Arresta's mind, he failed to mention that HE was the one who sent after after Tarn, on what turned out to be her two year disappearance.

Nice twist though that it was the two of them who exposed Tarn and Arresta's love affair...leading to Tarn getting reigned in by the Council and Stefan showing up to save the day for Arresta by marrying her.