The Izzard's Tale
Rating: PG

Everything belongs to Mr. Stackpole and Mr. Lucas.

The frosty chill bit at her nose and reddened her cheeks, but Syal hardly noticed. She was too busy ducking the snowballs that her sister, Myri, was raining down on her.

"I surrender! I surrender!" That was little Jysella, too caught up in rolling giggling on the snow to properly fight back. Her brother, Valin, laughed and ceased the maelstrom.

Doran Tainer, his dark hair frosted with snowflakes, waved to the warring pairs of siblings. "Hey guys, I've got the fire started! Come on!"

With the Vong War now over, the children and their parents were taking a long, well-earned vacation on a little snowy world. While their parents watched from an enclosed porch that encircled the small cabin on the hill, they had been allowed a rare bit of freedom. Doran, the eldest, had even received permission to start a campfire provided he and Valin kept a close eye the on the younger children.

With the giant red sun low on the horizon and the wind slightly nippy, the fire was a welcome respite from the glorious slaughtering grounds of the Snowball War. "Nothing like a nice fire to keep the scary monsters away," Doran said with a grin, pulling up a log next to Syal's.

"What would you know about scary monsters? You get scared whenever your father buys powerpacks," Syal teased back.

"You'd be scared too after seeing the explosions he makes with them. Actually, I've got a story that will have you begging your parents for your nightlight back."

"I want to hear!" Jysella squealed, popping a gooey fire-warmed sweetpuff in her mouth.

Syal frowned. "I don't know."

"Come on, don't be a spoilsport," said her sister, Myri. "We've got three Jedi in training here, two fully trained ones up the hill, and half a squadron of pilots who are also up the hill. If that doesn't make you feel safe, I don't know what will. Whatever story Doran has can't be scarier than the Vong."

They all fell silent.

Finally, Doran set his jaw in determination, and a bit of a merry glint returned to his eyes. "Alright then, I'll start.

A long time ago, long before the rise and fall of the New Republic, a monster made its lair on the throne world of Coruscant. I refer not to Palapatine himself, but a creature far viler than any Shaper's nightmare. Deep, deep inside Coruscant it dwelled, beneath layers of city, filth, and bedrock. Not even the ferals would dare to venture that far down, because they knew what horrors awaited should they stumble across the lair of the Izzard.

Now, I say they knew of the horrors, but no one really knew. Oh, there were stories of a thousand tentacles, each as thin as spine glass, crawling in the darkest shadows, wreathing into all levels of Coruscant, waiting to snatch unattended children or distracted adults alike. Some say it had two rows of teeth, one razor sharp to strip you to the bone and the other to pinch and pull any flesh that remained into a new skin, stretching you painfully until an utter alien remained. But there are two things that the everyone who had ever heard of the Izzard could agree on. First, there was no return from the lair of the Izzard. Your body might return, but never you. Second, that a single molten red eye that burned with the fire of a thousand hells would be the last thing you ever saw."

"You mean it ate people?" Jysella asked.

"Not in the conventional sense. You see, the Izzard would eat your soul. Tender flesh and sweet blood were of no interest to this particular monster; it hungered for more difficult, more satisfying game. It would feast on fear, savor suffering, and destroy any ember of hope or happiness. In short, it would recreate you in its own monstrous image, adding you to its vast collection wretched slaves doing its bidding, salivating at forcing you to do things against the very grain of your heart and soul. Your body would function, but your soul would belong to the Izzard. You would cease to exist."

Syal felt a tingle of fear stroke her spine. "That's horrible! Is it still there, on Coruscant?"

"Ah, there lies the tale. It starts as most tales do, once upon a time.

Once upon a time, the Izzard extended one of its long, dark, terrifying tendrils through the dirty, dank streets of Coruscant and snatched up a young Jedi, lost, injured, and alone. It dragged him back to its lair and began digesting him, bit by bit. First, it fed on the padawan's dignity, eating even his arrogance whole. The Izzard said to him, 'Jedi, the Force has abandoned you. Forsake the Force and be one with my lair.'

The Jedi replied, 'I will never betray the Force.'

Angered, the Izzard began to strip at his loyalty, rending and worrying it bit by bit. When the Jedi gasped with pain and cried out for his friends, the Izzard told him, 'Fool, your friends have also abandoned you. Forsake your friends and join the companionship in my lair.'

Though gravely injured, the Jedi exclaimed, 'I will never betray my friends as they would never betray me.'

The Izzard's red eye shone fiercely as it crowed in glee. 'But Jedi, one of your friends has already betrayed you! It was one of my creatures that brought you to my lair, one of my creatures that knew your weakness, one of my creatures that you call friend!'

The Jedi cried but the Izzard only laughed and began gnawing anew at his soul. Just as despair threatened to consume him fully, the Force came to him in a dream. Pure light lit an unguarded path out of the lair and guided him back to civilization, back the friends and comrades who would nurse his battered soul back to health. The only man ever to escape from the Izzard."

Jysella bounced eagerly on her log. "Wizard!"

Valin wrinkled his brow. "But why didn't the Jedi slay the monster?"

"Because he was too weak," replied Doran, giving the younger Force-sensitive a superior look.

"What happened next?" Myri asked.

"Enraged at the Jedi's escape, the Izzard thrashed and clawed at its lair until it tore a gash through the very crust of the planet. In its fury, it leapt free of Coruscant and swam through the void to find another planet to prey on.

As the Jedi lay ill in his darkened sickbed, fighting to recover his strength, he whispered his story to a handsome young soldier who had lost one of his comrades to the Izzard's dark tentacles. The soldier listened carefully, a cold determination building inside as the Jedi listed the horrors he had suffered through. Leaving the Jedi to recover, the soldier took his small ship to seek out the Izzard in its new lair in the stars.

The Izzard cut a wake of missing and soulless creatures through the galaxy and the young soldier followed it closely, desperately racing to catch the terrifying creature. Finally, the soldier could go no further without stopping for provisions. He set his ship down on a small, quiet world and began taking on supplies. As he packed his ship full of fuel and food, a beautiful young woman approached him. 'Please sir,' she said, 'I have heard you seek to slay the Izzard. Take me with you, I beg you.'

The soldier studied her. Her obvious beauty did not entice him, for he had had beautiful women before, but by the fire in her eyes stirred a deep connection. 'You too have lost a friend to the Izzard?' he asked.

'My husband,' she replied, tears burning in her eyes.

'Then gather your blaster and say your good byes, for tomorrow we hunt the Izzard.'"

"Aww, don't tell me this is some crummy romance story. You said it was scary!" Valin's rebellious look matched the one on Myri's face. Neither looked impressed with the story.

"Patience, my young padawan," intoned Doran.

"Oh, shut up! You're not that much older," shot back Valin.

Syal frowned, her knee bouncing. "Doran, are you sure you should be telling this story?"

"Why, not scared are you?" teased her sister.

"No, but it's almost familiar. I don't think ..." She shivered slightly as she tossed another log on the fire. She regretted it instantly. The wet wood popped and cracked like breaking bones, eliciting memories of the Vong War.

"Come on, finish the story!" exclaimed Jysella, obviously enchanted by the tale.

"Days and weeks passed, and still the soldier and the widow hung tightly on the Izzard's trail. Finally, they caught up with the Izzard. It had begun burrowing a new layer on a small green world centered on the trade routes. From here, its tendrils could grasp the paths to the outer edges of the galaxy and feed on the soul of the galaxy itself.

Together, the soldier and the widow crept into the Izzard's lair, their blasters drawn. As they passed the piled corpses and heard the moans and cries of the soulless, they resolved to kill the Izzard even if it meant dying themselves. More importantly, they vowed that should one of them fall to the Izzard, the other would ensure that the Izzard would be denied their souls."

Jysella interrupted the story, her hand waiving in the air. "What does that mean?"

"I'll tell you when you're older," her brother said, a slight bit of worry crossing his face.

"You're mean," Jysella complained, sticking out her tongue.

"Are you two done? Good. Now, the soldier and the widow continued to climb into the lair, avoiding the spine glass tentacles and hiding from the soulless servants. They had almost made it to the center of the lair, where the Izzard's shriveled heart lay, when they encountered two of the Izzard's soulless servants. The first struck at the couple, trying to kill them to please his master, the Izzard. With a single shot, the widow killed the creature, not realizing at first that the soulless man was, in fact, her husband. She fell to her knees, sobbing.

The second servant collapsed into the corner, clutching at his head, for he had recognized the solider as a friend and could not bear to strike. The soldier ran to his side, begging him to fight the Izzard's iron grasp on his soul as he had fought by the soldier's side for so many years. Realizing there was nothing more he could do, the soldier left his friend and the widow and rushed onward to stab the Izzard's heart.

When he arrived in the central chamber, the soldier grabbed his vibroblade and thrust it into the throbbing, putrid mass of flesh that occupied the center of the chamber. Instantly, the Izzard was there, by his side, its red eye flaming with anger. 'Who dares try to kill me?' it hissed.

'I am a simple soldier who has lost too many friends and refuses to lose any more to your wretched appetite.' Not waiting for a response, he sliced off the Izzard's head.

Victory pulsed through the soldier's veins, relief, and cheer at finally avenging his comrades' deaths. But as he turned to leave the chamber, a spineglass thin tentacle pierced his leg, brining him to his knees.

Now two Izzards stood before him, spawned from the wet bloody pulp he had spilled on the floor when he had slit the Izzard's throat. 'Fool, you can't kill us. We are the soulless.'

'And like the soulless, you will die alone,' cried the widow as she snuck up behind one of the Izzard's and shot it through the head. At the same time, the soldier wobbled to his feet and pulled his own blaster, killing the second Izzard. Without the sea of blood from which to spawn, the Izzards lay dead.

'Thank you,' said the soldier.

The widow replied, 'We had a promise, remember? Together.' And she kissed her soldier on the lips.

'What of your husband?' he inquired when they broke apart.

'He died. He died a long time ago,' she said, her head bowed. 'But fear not, your friend still lives. He waits for us, the last spark of his soul still burning.'

The three escaped from the Izzard's lair and returned to Coruscant where they were celebrated as the heroes who had slain the Izzard. The Izzard's soulless died off one by one, unable to survive without their master, save for the man they had rescued. Slowly, he healed and rejoined his friend, fighting side by side. The soldier married the widow, completing their vow to remain together, in death or life. But in the years after the Izzard's death, its last words would continue to haunt the soldier.

'We are the soulless,' it had said. And as long as just one of its soulless servants survived, it would survive as well. After all, the soulless did the Izzard's bidding and if it said to spawn, then spawn it would, and another Izzard would rise and the tendrils would once again hunt children in the night. The soldier hid his concerns behind a cheerful smile whenever he looked at his wife. But whenever his gaze turned to his friend and comrade, he'd wonder just how soulless those blue eyes were.

So beware the soulless, for another Izzard could rise in the dark canyons of Coruscant. Beware the creeping tentacles; come to suck out your soul!"

Myri screamed. "Something grabbed my ankle!"

"Doran, cut it out!" Syal scolded, having seen the mischief glittering in his dark eyes.

Valin snorted. "Yeah, Doran, the Force is not for playing pranks and childish games."

"Says the Jedi without an ounce of T.K. ability!"

As Doran and Valin bickered, a dark shadow coalesced from behind them. Jysella gave a soft shriek as everyone spun around.

Tycho Celchu, one of Syal's father's oldest friends, stood by the fire, an amused look on his face. "I hate to break up the party, but I do believe its well past the little ones' bedtime."

A chorus of 'But Uncle Tycho' fell on deft ears as he urged Doran and Valin to guide Jysella and Myri back to the house.

Syal hesitated, and bent down to assist Uncle Tycho in smothering the embers of the fire. They worked in silence for a few minutes until Syal could hold her question no longer. "Uncle Tycho, was Doran's tale true?"

His formerly cheerful voice turned flat and he gazed at the dying fire. "I don't know what you're talking about. I assume he was telling ridiculous stories to frighten the little ones, which I'm sure Iella and Mirax will be dreadfully annoyed about tomorrow after neither of the girls can sleep."

"But the Izzard," Syal pressed, "is it really gone or can the soulless bring it back?"

His voice turned cold. "There is evil in us all. It oozes out of any crack we allow it, so we must always be on guard." He looked up at Syal. Those icy blue eyes gazed at her, soullessly. "Run along, Syal. It's time you were safely in bed."

Syal turned and fled.

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