An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
7 Years after the Treaty of Coruscant
Beneath the vibrant cities and flourishing fields of Lannik was another realm, hidden from sight and forgotten from the minds of those who dwelled on the surface. The Underworld lived up to both meanings of its name- the world existed in the underground tunnels that was the planet’s main water supply, and it was a lawless dystopia that functioned largely without the support or even acknowledgement of the monarchy. It began as a hiding spot for criminals seeking to escape the reach of the government, but with the oppressive reign of the current king, it had become a slum for the poor and desperate, a last resort for those who had lost everything on the surface.
The mad king cared not for the state of his people; and so it was up to those like Lien’Rysulu to bring a slimmer of hope to those who had nothing to hold on to. A senior executive of Verta Foundation, an organization dedicated to the health and welfare of all living beings, Lien had first come to Lannik to investigate the various plague and famine outbreaks that spread across the planet. Her science team diagnosed the issue as a contaminated water source, which then led the Twi’lek to assess the state of the Underworld. When she found out that vast regions of the tunnels underneath the cities had been filled with dirty shanty towns, she knew immediately what had to be done.
However, her progress had largely been impeded by politics, with the Minister of Health insisting that the problem could not be solved by offering valuable supplies to ‘lowlifes and criminals’ when the supplies were needed elsewhere- that is, for the rich and powerful. Lien had only managed to get as far as she was now with the timely advice of an assistant of Haron Inc., who told her to work with General Navon. While she did not approve of the military being posted around the city and certainly did not want to support them, giving a portion of Verta’s medical resources to the general’s forces in return for distributing the rest into the Underworld was without a doubt the best bet for delivering much needed aid to the poverty-stricken people.
So here she was, in the filthy, undesirable belly of the planet with a small squad of Lannik forces around her. Lien knew the General to be honourable, but she did not trust his men, some of which may be corrupt or hold loyalty to those who were, such as the Minister of Health. She had decided to keep an eye on the operation personally, which of course meant coming down to the Underworld. The troops that accompanied her were mostly droids, ones sold to General Navon by Haron Inc. about two years earlier in the wars against the rebel factions.
Thus far, they had encountered little aside from local troublemakers. The nervousness of the few Lannik soldiers around Lien told her that the stories of the Underworld were true, or at least, convincing enough that the troops believed them. Rumours said that many stretches of tunnels were controlled by violent gangs who exploited the residents and attacked any outsiders who trespassed without paying them, as well as anarchist groups so extreme they were banished by the rebels on the surface. Fortunately, their party had not run into anything of the type, and Lien hoped that their blasters would continue to discourage any potential attackers.
Things did not look well the deeper they went into the Underworld, though. The areas near the stairways and ladders leading up were livelier; some could even be described as vibrant, being host to market stalls that sold goods unobtainable on the world above and roaming rave parties where many of these goods were used. The sections they were in now were no longer seeking to provide illicit trade or entertainment, but contained almost solely the run-down living areas of those forced underground. This was where their help was needed the most, and it was also where they were the most vulnerable.
Handing a small kit of medicine to an elderly Lannik female, Lien reluctantly turned away as the soldiers informed the rest that they would have to wait for the next group of troopers. It was not that they were out of supplies- their cart still had a few crates that were not emptied, but they did not wish to hand it all out in one region, instead choosing those they deemed to need it most while moving on to assist as many zones as possible. This did not satisfy some of the beggars, one of whom began to make a run for the cart.
A combat droid stepped forward, holding the Lannik away with just one of its hands. Frustrated and desperate for the supplies, another beggar took up a random piece of junk and hurled it at the group. The rusting metal bounced off the chassis of another droid, who responded by raising its rifle. Other droids followed suit and this startled the locals, who froze in place. A soldier shouted in Basic that it was time to go, and the droids backed off slowly with weapons at the ready, supported by the Lannik troopers as they escorted Lien and the supply cart away from the erupting chaos.
Hurrying away, they found themselves further down the tunnels, which grew dimmer and dimmer as they appeared to pass out of a residential area. There were still slums stuffed between large machines, but the majority of the sector seemed to be populated by droids and other automaton, and even they were rather sparse. The group stopped as they consulted a map, which insisted that they were going in the right direction despite Lien’s concerns. A trooper made the decision to follow the map, and they set about their way again.
It was quiet and peaceful until they entered a short stretch of uninhabited and dark tunnel. Here, the droids suddenly stopped again, though not to check their location. One of them seemed to have begun to move its weapon, but it never finished this motion as a wave of energy swept across the tunnel. As the pulse hit the droids, ripples of what seemed to be electricity crackled down their bodies as they flailed about until their circuits failed completely and they crumpled to the ground as a pile of metal. The soldiers were also affected, being forced to drop their sizzling weapons as they overheated and grew too uncomfortable to hold.
The two more experienced Lannik troopers reacted quickly by drawing their vibroknives, but as they pulled out the blades their arms were yanked forwards, the knives flying from their grip and into the darkness of the tunnel beyond. The surprised soldiers did not have time to act again before something dropped into view in front of them, slamming one across the head and knocking him out cold. Attempting to lunge for the shadowy figure, the second Lannik found herself being launched over the assailant’s shoulder, impacting the ground hard as she fell.
The final soldier turned to flee, realizing that he was utterly outmatched. Their attacker, however, had other ideas. After taking several steps away the Lannik slowed before coming to a halt, clutching at his neck as he found himself unable to breathe. He dropped to his knees, gasping and then trying to crawl away from danger to no avail as his body gave way and he passed out from the lack of oxygen in his brain. Unaware of the fate of her comrades, the female Lannik trooper rolled onto her front and began to push herself up as she regained her senses. Despite facing the other way, the figure was aware of her movements and spun around, delivering a hard kick to her chin, rendering her unconscious and taking her out of the fight for good.
The assailant came closer, allowing Lien to make out his key features: a tall armoured man wearing a helmet and a flowing cape. These were telltale signs of a Sith Lord, and though Lien knew it would be useless to resist one, especially with no combat training, she was too stubborn to go out without a struggle. As she backed up Lien reached to her waist where a small, last resort blaster pistol was hooked to her belt. She drew the weapon and pointed it straight at the approaching figure, squeezing the trigger.
The heat coming from the pistol told her that the weapon had not yet recovered from the electromagnetic pulse that was used to disarm them and disable their droids. The cloaked man simply stepped up to her, swatting away the weapon while his other hand set on her throat. With him now in such close proximity, she knew full well what her fate would be and the dread gripped her mind, all strength and thoughts of fighting having slipped from her.
“Where is Laesa?” the figure spoke in a mechanically altered voice, his hand giving the faintest sign of applying pressure to her neck.
“Where is what?” Lien replied, too frightened to show her confusion.
“Laesa,” he repeated again. “You were with her in the palace.”
“Y-you mean the party? I met a lot of people there…I don’t recall all their na-”
The man’s gauntlet tightened around her throat, “Don’t play games with me.”
“I…I really…have no idea…w-who…”
His grip loosened, leaving Lien to cough as his other hand retrieved a small circular communicator, turning it on to display the image of a woman in a long jacket with dark, shoulder length hair. Lien stared for a moment before she recognized who it was, and it seemed that the cloaked figure could tell her realization.
“Where is she?” he asked louder this time.
“I don’t know, I…I saw her at the party-”
“Not the party,” the man interrupted again. “I saw you in the security monitors. You were inside the palace, just the two of you.”
Lien shook her head, “You must’ve mistaken me for another Twi’lek, I-”
“I can tell one Twi’lek from another. You can speak the truth, or I can leave you to the mercy of the gangs. Your choice.”
“The last time I saw her we were sitting down for a drink with her boss the day after the party, that’s all I know!” she exclaimed, frustrated with the questions she knew nothing about.
“Kelly Haron, one of the heads of Haron Incorporated, a droid production company,” Lien explained. “She’s working for them, didn’t go by the name you said though. She was the one who gave me the idea of collaborating with General Navon to provide aid in the Underworld.”
“She’s at it again,” muttered the man. “But what is she up t-”
His sentence was drowned out by a large boom that echoed through the tunnels, followed by a violent quake that shook the dust from the old walls around them. Lien began to cough again, though the armoured man was unaffected behind his helmet. He let go of her, glancing around alertly as if he was scanning for any immediate danger. A second explosion came soon afterwards, an even stronger one that made them both stumble.
“What was that?” Lien took the chance to step away from the man as she looked around as well.
As a more smaller third explosion sounded in the distance, the image of the woman on the holocommunicator fizzled and was replaced by a male Bith, who began to speak, “I thought you may want to know that the palace is under attack.”
The cloaked man nodded, “Find out whatever you can about the situation, Si'ril. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Flicking the device off and returning it onto his toolbelt, the figure turned to Lien, who had already began sprinting away. Raising his arm once more, he did not reach her physically, but she suddenly froze in place, finding herself unable to move any of her limbs.
“It’s not safe to traverse the Underworld alone,” he said.
“Why do you care?” Lien shouted. “You killed these soldiers in cold blood!”
“They’re not dead. They’ll have concussions, maybe minor amnesia, but they’ll live. As will you if you don’t speak of our encounter.”
“You’re letting me go? That’s not a very Sith-y thing to do…”
“I am not a Sith,” the man corrected, the anger seeping back into his voice. “But if I find out you lied to me…”
“You won’t,” Lien finished for him. “I told you the truth, everything I can remember.”
She heard the armoured footsteps of the cloaked figure approaching behind her, and then the touch of his gauntlet on her head- not a punch or any sort of blow, but a gentle tap. There was no pain as everything went black…