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Chapter 1

The Interdictor-class cruiser Renegade gracefully floated in space, caught up in the atmosphere of Polus. The frigid world shone brightly, glittering like a jewel amidst the empty backdrop of space. Two smaller ships, the Dawning Hope and Seeker, floated behind the Renegade to provide additional protection. These Praetorian­-class frigates were outdated and undermanned warships, but they were armed enough to serve as escort cruisers for the Renegade. Unlike in most of the Sith Empire’s battle fleets, the Renegade was protected by two—as opposed to the usual five—ships. But this fleet was not a standard Sith fleet; this fleet had been created specifically for the task of hunting Jedi, the guardians of the Galactic Republic.

Aboard the Renegade’s bridge, the two hundred man crew moved about, roaming around the metallic floor and scurrying about like womp rats. There was a sense of order to their wanderings, though, and they were all dressed in a similar fashion: a standard long-sleeved gray uniform shirt adorned with a variety of medals—the actual number varied per person—accompanied by a pair of equally gray slacks and polished black boots. None of them paid any real attention to the beauteous, ice-covered world staring back at them through the bridge’s viewscreen. The only one among their number who had the spare time to focus on the planet was the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Vaerk Luus.

Vaerk sat forward in his Corellian leather chair that overlooked the entire bridge; from his perch, Vaerk’s green eyes could see all of his officers, and he silently made sure they all carried out their duties appropriately. While he was sitting, it was difficult to discern Vaerk’s height, but when he stood he easily towered over the average adult Human male—standing at two meters in height. Vaerk’s tight-fitting, khaki-colored officer’s uniform contrasted his pale skin and platinum hair, which had been pulled back in a pony-tail that descended to his shoulders. On his belt, a small vibroblade rested in its sheath—even though it was against Sith military regulations for commanding officers to carry weapons on duty.

Vaerk had only recently become captain of the Renegade, evident by the darkened bags that formed under his eyes due to lack of sleep. Sleep had not come easily to him since he had taken command of the ship. The bags exaggerated his already large, flat nose and gave him a visage of wisdom, even though he was not a day over twenty-nine. He was pleased by his promotion; in fact, he had been appointed to serve as captain of the Renegade by Admiral Saul Karath, the commander-in-chief of the Sith Navy, himself. However, the work involved in leading a ship exhausted him, and he grew bored of these wild hawk-bat hunts. Every time he and the Renegeade had been sent to capture and execute Jedi in Sith space, the lead turned out to be fake or exaggerated. His crew had not engaged an actual enemy in weeks, and Vaerk knew they were growing sloppy and impatient.

“Sir,” spoke his lieutenant, a portly, bronze-skinned Human, as he approached Vaerk’s chair from behind. “Our scanners believe we have located the Jedi, but they are hiding in the asteroid belt. Our pilots are hesitant to enter, lest we damage our vessel.”

Vaerk scowled at his lieutenant’s report. Rising from his chair, he towered over his subordinate, and Vaerk hoped to inspire fear in the younger officer. “Asteroids don’t concern me, Lieutenant. I want progress, not complaints. Begin the turbolaser volley.”

“But sir…” the lieutenant tried to argue, but his voice was uneasy. Vaerk’s imposing figure had served its purpose.

“Now Lieutenant! If the pilots or gunners do not comply, you will tell me immediately!”

“Sir, yes sir!” yelped his lieutenant, now driven into a tizzy.

Useless soldiers; they are always whining! Vaerk thought to himself. If he could run the Renegade by himself, Vaerk would do so without a second thought. However, since that was not possible, he was convinced that if he was going to have underlings on his ship, they would serve him obediently.

Walking from the elevated position that contained his captain’s chair, Vaerk marched through the crowd of officers that had formed on the bridge. Every pilot and helmsman he passed on the bridge saluted him as he walked by, and he reveled in the respect he had earned as captain of the Renegade. The captain made his way across the steel-plated floor, his brown military boots clinking with each step he took, until he reached the station that belonged to the navigators. Approaching the head pilot, a Cathar almost twenty years older than him, Vaerk placed a hand on his shoulder and beckoned him to stand.

“What is it, Captain?” the Cathar asked, sneering as he stressed Vaerk’s title.

“I heard that you complained about my orders, Penen. Needless to say, I’m displeased,” Vaerk replied, his voice taking an authoritative tone.

The Cathar hissed and growled under his breath. “If I would have carried out your orders, the entire ship would have been in danger.”

“Insubordination is quite a serious offense, Penen. You’ve been diligent and are quite skilled at your job. It would be a shame if I had to report you to my superiors,” Vaerk replied.

“That is amusing,” Penen muttered. He scratched the back of his hand with his dagger-like claws, sending scraps of oaken-brown fur to the floor. “If I recall correctly, Admiral Mord told you something similar over Sluis Van.”

Vaerk’s jade eyes glared at Penen, meeting the Cathar’s gray eyes. The only thing that infuriated Vaerk more than knowing Penen was trying to mock him was the fact that he was right. Arci Mord, the previous commanding officer of the Renegade, had been a mentor to both Penen and Vaerk. A year ago, when the Sith were fighting the Republic over Sluis Van, Vaerk had refused to carry out Admiral Mord’s orders. He had been scolded severely, and he nearly lost his position in the fleet that day.

“Get back to work, Penen. You will be punished for your impudence,” Vaerk managed to say, his voice cracking for only for a moment.

“Of course, Captain,” Penen hissed. Saluting curtly, Penen turned his back to Vaerk and took his seat before returning his attention to the ship’s engine controls.

“Absolutely useless,” Vaerk muttered, already returning to his chair.

*** ***

Amidst the asteroids that gathered above the eastern hemisphere of Polus, a single Aurek tactical starfighter was hidden on the underbelly of a large, abnormally shaped asteroid. Inside the craft sat a Nautolan male, twenty-four years of age. His skin was a lime green pigment, the standard coloration for a Nautolan male, and he wore a wrinkled, chestnut-colored cloak over his peach-colored robes. Upon his head was a specialized starfighter pilot helmet, adjusted to fit upon his head and not irritate the head-tresses that dangled from the back of his skull like a shaggy mess of long hair. In addition to the custom opening in the back of the helmet, the visor itself was tinted darker than normal so his lidless, sable eyes were protected from the bright celestial objects of space.

Fiddling with the starfighter controls, the Nautolan attempted to find the vessel’s comlink controls. Although the transceiver itself was in plain view, the actual buttons that manipulated it were not located where they were in fighters he was used to piloting, like the S-250 Chela-class starfighters. All of his training as a Jedi Knight were not helping him now. Scanning the redesigned but blandly colored dashboard with his bulbous eyes and bony digits, the Nautolan failed to find the communication controls. Swearing under his breath, the Nautolan was about to give up his search when he saw a blinking red light at the corner of his eyes; apparently, someone had taken the liberty of contacting him.

Hitting the yellow button that was positioned underneath the flashing red light, the Nautolan spoke into the transceiver. “This is Gaiel.”

“Gaiel,” the voice on the other end was gruff and deep, and Gaiel could tell it was displeased at him. “Please use your call sign; you were given it for a reason.”

“Sorry Gizka One,” Gaiel muttered. “How did the search go? Did we find Master Djan?”

“Negative, Gizka Two. Gizka Three and I scoured the planet; we didn’t find a trace of him. It was like he vanished off the face of the galaxy,” Gizka One explained.

“Contact Danters, then. Tell him to pick us up so we can get out of here,” Gaiel replied.

“Very well. I’ll get back to you when we’ve reached him. Gizka One, out.”

While Gizka One contacted Danters, Gaiel made his way deeper into the asteroid field. Wading through floating asteroid chunks and derelict ship parts, Gaiel’s used his Aurek’s dual laser cannons to destroy any smaller asteroids that attempted to block his path. Taking several shots at a large asteroid, the emerald lasers launched from Gaiel’s vessel pierced the center of the asteroid, creating a gaping hole. Flying through the artificial crevice, Gaiel’s craft navigated through the remaining asteroids and met up with Gizka One and Three—who were also piloting Aureks—in the heart of the asteroid belt.

Gaiel’s comlink started flashing again. Pressing the button yet again, Gaiel listened intently as Gizka Three’s voice spoke: “So, Gai- I mean, Gizka Two. Who exactly is Master Djan? Why did the Council have to send three of us to look for him?”

Gaiel meditated on the question, allowing it to linger in his mind before he answered Gizka Three. “Celsus Djan is a living legend. He and his militia managed to defeat a Mandalorian invasion army at Mechis III. His skill with a lightsaber rivals the skill of Master Vrook and his ability to use the Force matches Master Vandar. He trained dozens of Padawans, including Syme–Gizka One.”

“So if he’s so strong and so special, why do we have to come and save him?” Gizka Three shot back.

“Shut up. I wasn’t done,” growled Gaiel, his anger getting the better of him for a brief moment. “A squad of four Jedi Masters, including Master Djan, ventured from Coruscant to Korriban to infiltrate the ranks of the Sith and destroy them internally. They never made it, as far as we know. Our last transmission records their party reaching Polus, where we assumed they crashed landed.”

“So that’s why we’re here,” Gizka Three pondered.

“Yes, that’s why we’re here,” Gaiel repeated, still agitated by the interruptions. “But he’s obviously not here anymore. So we’ve called Danters to pick us up. No reason to stick around this ice hole.”

Gaiel heard the pulsating whine of laser fire through his communication channel. A brief explosion was heard on Gizka Three’s end of the channel, and the connection with Gizka Three was temporary lost.

“Gizka Three! Betror!” Gaiel raised his voice when he did not receive a response. Unknowingly, he forgot to use his call sign again. “Are you there? Respond: what the hell happened?”

“I’m here,” Betror’s panicked voice called back. “But we have Sith ships moving toward the planet! A Sith Interdictor is here and it must have spotted us; it’s destroying the entire asteroid belt!”

Gaiel’s face scrunched up, expressing his own concern. “Damn… hold on, Gizka Three. I need to contact Syme.” Switching channels, Gaiel alerted their leader of the problem. “Syme, we’ve got an Interdictor! It’s attacking the asteroids and it’s going to destroy us if we stay here much longer. Let’s get out of here before this whole place crashes down!”

“Gizka Two, what did I tell you about using call signs…” Syme began. It seemed to only take a second for him to realize what was happening, though, and his focus deviated quickly. “I see. Well, Danters is coming in-system right now. He’s being escorted by three Foray-class blockade runners. He’ll be fine.”

“Should we help him out anyway? Maybe give him a heads-up?”

“Yeah,” Syme responded. Now his voice was getting jittery.

Syme’s Aurek took off first, propelling forward and racing through the sea of asteroids. Gaiel sluggishly forced his own, ruby-colored craft to take off after his commanding officer. He wasn’t as skilled at piloting these Aureks, and it was reflected in his craft’s maneuvering. The two starfighters traversed the asteroid belt side-by-side before meeting up with Gizka Three, who had made his way closer to the edge of the asteroids. Once the three Jedi were united, they made their way around the larger asteroids and increased their speed, hoping to reach the Sith Interdictor before Danters and his fleet arrived.

*** ***

“Captain!” Vaerk’s stout lieutenant called to him from the lower-section of the bridge. “Three unidentified vessels are exiting the asteroid field; they’re probably the Jedi we’ve been searching for.”

Vaerk sat uncomfortably on his chair; the leather of his seat caused his sweat-drenched uniform to stick to his seat. Nevertheless, he tried to appear as pleased as possible when his lieutenant gave him the news. “I see. You have permission to send our starfighters after them, Lieutenant. Or destroy them with turbolasers; I don’t care. Do as you see fit,” Vaerk said, shrugging off the news.

“Yes sir, as you wish, sir,” his lieutenant said nervously.

Although the lieutenant tried to be respectful as possible, his nervousness caused his words to become jumbled and slurred, causing Vaerk to despise him even more. He could not stand the oafish attitude that some of his officers had. He couldn’t even decide which he hated more, the bumbling ones or the disrespectful ones. Watching the starfighters leave the hangar bays of the Renegade and race through space toward their targets, Vaerk reveled in the thought that his work was nearly done. Once these Jedi are defeated, he thought, perhaps they’'ll assign me to some actual missions, with a good crew…

Once the last of the starfighters had launched, the Renegade rocked violently; the unexpected quaking sent the captain flying from his seat and caused his face to collide with the metal floor. The rest of the bridge was also thrown into chaos, some falling to the floor ungracefully and others scampering for cover, heedless of their responsibilities.

Wiping away the blood that was flowing from his broken nose, Vaerk forced himself back to his feet and cried out to his crew: “Back in line, vermin! What in the name of the nine Corellian hells just happened?”

The lieutenant was the first to speak, although his voice was still mired with fright. “Sir! A Republic Hammerhead-class cruiser has just entered the Polus system with three Foray­-class cruisers; they’re firing on us with their turbolasers.”

“Shield strength?” growled Vaerk.

“Eighty-five percent and holding!” called an ensign, who had taken up the role of monitoring the ship’s vital systems since the chief engineer had faded into unconsciousness.

“Divert all excess power to weapons and return fire! All batteries, fire!” Vaerk bellowed.

*** ***

Gaiel’s nimble craft rocked as the ruby-colored laser fire from a Sith interceptor starfighter tore across his portside wing, damaging the vessel. Although the attack could have destroyed him, Gaiel was still smiling underneath his pilot helmet. Using his sweaty, cramped thumb, Gaiel squeezed the laser trigger, sending two bolts of green energy at his opponent. As the Sith interceptor came around to attack Gaiel again, the lasers collided with the gray-colored fighter, causing it to devolve into a fiery ball of death and ruin. Soaring through the wreckage, Gaiel’s starfighter joined the rest of the Aureks and S-250 Chela-class starfighters in their strafing run against the Sith starfighters.

The battle was set: the myriad of Sith fighters flocked around their mothership–the Renegade–while the Republic vessels were scattered about, with no clear focal point; however, most of the starfighters were still clumped together around Danters’s Hammerhead-class cruiser and its escorts. The Republic forces had moved first and clashed with the swarm of Sith starfighters. Green and red beams of energy flew between the Sith and Republic forces, and many unfortunate starfighters met head-on. While the majority of the laser fire collided with starfighter wings or forward hulls, some shots found their target and burned through the engines, cockpits, or the crucial section of the hull. With no forward deflector shields–starfighters had no shielding at all–to protect them, pilots only needed to be hit a few times before their craft became raging infernos around them.

Gaiel soared through the multitude of Sith fighters, hitting the trigger that fired his lasers every three seconds or so. In the delay between his shots, other Sith starfighters responded in kind, unleashing a wave of deadly red energy in the direction of his fighter. Performing a quick horizontal roll, Gaiel managed to pull away from the lasers and protect his craft. No matter where he turned, however, enemy starfighters were there to fire at him. Focusing his attack on the starfighters now directly in front of him, Gaiel launched three simultaneous waves of emerald energy toward a small starfighter wing, taking out two starfighters in a single attack. As his targets lost control and collided with the remaining craft in the fighter wing, Gaiel avoided another swarm of incoming fighters and joined a pair of Republic S-250 fighters that were making a strafing run on the nearest Sith cruiser.

Gaiel trembled as their vessels approached the Sith Praetorian-class cruiser. His vessel had already taken extensive damage, and a cruiser’s turbolaser fire would tear his petite starfighter to shreds. Nevertheless, he boldly joined his new partners in their run, and Gaiel felt a lump in his throat as he soared across the hulking dorsal section of the Praetorian cruiser. Watching the ship’s anti-starfighter turrets like a panicked beast, Gaiel was so distracted by the sound of his own breathing that he barely received the cue from his allies to open fire on the vessel. The starfighter triad unleashed a heavy downpour of azure rain upon the Praetorian-class cruiser’s hull. Without bombs on their starfighters, proton torpedoes were the next best thing, but they were strong enough to throw fragments of melted durasteel into the space around the vessel and create jet-black scars across the craft’s steel-blue hull.

As the trio of starfighters made its escape, Gaiel watched with a helpless sense of horror as he realized the pinpoint guns located at the front of the Praetorian cruiser tore into his ventral wingman’s starfighter. Even if he could have warned him, there was no way the pilot would have reacted in time. It only took one shot to burn through the vessel’s hull and cause its engine to self-destruct, creating a blazing tomb for its hapless pilot. Startled, Gaiel barely had the time to react to the Sith starfighter that was flying towards him, firing upon him with a red stream of energy. However, his Jedi training served him well and he managed to divert his craft and perform a sharp left turn, dodging the attack.

Gaiel recovered his own bearings quickly, although he had trouble regaining control of the craft. Once the Aurek was back under his control, Gaiel attempted to relocate his other wingman–they had gotten separated after the strafing run–but he couldn’t identify him amidst the thick swarm of Sith starfighters clashing with Republic vessels.

During the chaos of his most recent firefights, Gaiel had not noticed that his someone had been trying to contact him; the red light of his comm channel was blinking rapidly. Gaiel spoke into the transceiver, though his voice was dry and ragged: “This is Gizka Two. Who is this?”

“Calm down, Gizka Two. You sound horrible,” a voice with a thick Coruscanti accent spoke. “This is Captain Danters of the Enlightened Force. You still alive out there?”

“Barely,” Gaiel admitted sheepishly.

“Heh. I believe it,” Danters said jokingly. “Join Gizka Squadron near the Cherished Flame. Gizka One is planning a raid on the enemy’s flagship; they’ll probably need your assistance.”

“Understood, Gaiel out,” Gaiel responded quickly.

After he had switched off the communication channel, Gaiel hit the ignition and allowed his vessel to surge through the endless swarm of Sith fighters. Guiding his craft by enemy and friendly vessels alike, Gaiel made his way through the confusion that had since swept the battlefield and approached the Cherished Flame, one of the Foray blockade runners that had joined the Enlightened Force in the battle as an escort. As he broke free of the myriad of the fighters and began to approach the Republic capital ships, Gaiel noticed a S-250 fighter flying with him on his starboard side. The Nautolan Jedi hailed his guest, curious as to why this ship was following him.

“Master Jedi, Rancor Six reporting for duty,” the pilot responded. “I was your wingmate during the attack on that Sith Praetorian. Don’t you remember?”

Gaiel nodded as recognition dawned on him, even though the other pilot couldn’t see him. “Ah yes, that’s right. I thought you had died.”

“No, sir. I just felt like blowing up a few more Sith fighters. I hope you’ll excuse me, sir.”

Gaiel chuckled. “Of course you’re excused, pilot. Welcome aboard. Follow me, we’re going to board the enemy’s flagship.”

“Excellent,” Rancor Six replied. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve fought with the ground beneath my feet. Why, I remember Sluis Van…”

Gaiel was not in the mood for war stories, nor was he prepared to be distracted while being lectured by some old war-veteran. Returning his attention to controlling his fighter, but keeping the communication channel on, Gaiel guided his Aurek toward the group of Republic fighters that had gathered around the Cherished Flame. Once he and his wingmate had arrived, Syme’s voice interrupted the voice of his chattering wingmate.

“This is Gizka One. All ships, report in.”

“Gizka Two, calling in,” Gaiel responded.

“Gizka Three is present.”

“Gizka Four, reporting in.”

As the starfighter pilots continued to verify their presence, Gaiel took a moment to ensure his ship was running optimally. Even though he was still not very comfortable with piloting this Aurek, he could now identify most of the ship’s basic controls. According to his ship’s internal readings, all his systems were normal except for his portside wing. For whatever reason, the wing was not responding to the ship’s commands and the Aurek’s computer had to resort to emergency systems to ensure the wing stayed stable and didn’t fall off into space.

“Rancor Six, reporting in.”

“We’re all here, then,” Syme said, his voice more confident now. “Here we go, for the Republic!”

Once Syme had given his rallying cry, the rest of the Republic pilots cheered and gave their own shouts of approval through the communication channel. Assembling themselves in a V-shaped formation, the eleven pilots of Gizka Squadron–including the addition from Rancor Squadron–parted from the Foray cruiser that had been sheltering them. Syme’s vessel took point, since it was the only Aurek with the necessary amount of proton torpedoes to eliminate shielding that protected the Renegade’s hangar from boarding parties. Fighting their way through the mass of Sith fighters, the Republic squadron worked its way across the battlefront toward the Renegade, losing three of its members in the process.

“We’re closing in on the Sith cruiser, Commander,” Gizka Four, the lead Republic pilot, informed Syme. “Are you ready?”

“Of course. I was born for this moment,” Syme muttered, reassuring himself. He was veering it to-and-fro through the remaining Sith fighters between him and the Renegade, struggling to keep the starfighter steady. A feeling of anxiety clenched his chest; the euphoria of the moment was gut-wrenching, and it caused Syme’s vision to falter. Before Syme became too distracted, however, he accomplished his task; he thumbed the trigger that launched his last two proton torpedoes from his Aurek. As the sky-blue projectiles soared through the vacuum of space toward the Renegade, they were lucky enough not encounter any resistance and meet their target head-on. Once they made contact, the entire starboard side of the vessel shook violently and the emergency durasteel barricade around the exposed hangar doors began to close.

Syme and Gizka Four began screaming into the communication channel like madmen, urging their pilots to accelerate as fast as they could and reach the hangar before they were locked out. While each pilot surged forward, Gaiel noticed that his vessel was experiencing trouble; his Aurek was struggling to maintain a consistent speed and becoming increasingly difficult to pilot. However, his engines seemed to be working, so Gaiel did his best to continue flying through the remnants of the Sith starfighters around the Renegade and make his way toward the Sith vessel.

The hulking gates of the Renegade allowed Gaiel and five of his allies to make their way into the vessel’s hangar. However, the massive doors proved too eager to keep any more allies out; the remaining ships in their squadron were destroyed as the hangar bay doors slammed shut, annihilating the Aurek that crashed into it at their blinding speeds. The surviving pilots watched in horror as their companions met their end in a blazing mess of metal and charred corpses splattered against the protective durasteel.

*** ***

The command deck of the Enlightened Force was oddly quiet. There was no cheering, no groaning, not even the chatter of the gossipy engineers dared disturb the serene silence that had swept over the bridge of the Hammerhead-class cruiser. The crew–each wearing a Republic officer’s uniform of Coruscant Red and Senate Yellow–soundlessly proceeded with their tasks, marching around the bridge in a rigid manner and carrying out their duties at their respective stations. At the center of this robotic uniformity stood Captain Danters, the commanding officer of the Enlightened Force and the leader of the entire Republic attack force stationed here. Unlike his youthful officers, Danters’s skin was ghostly pale and wrinkled; even his unusually round face was stretched extensively due to age. His gray eyes and balding white hair created an aura of experience and age-honed skill around the old captain, who was watching the starfighters brawl in the space around him with intense fervor.

The deck of the ship was cold, icy like the polar world they were stationed over. Danters’s body could no longer keep itself warm under such conditions, so in addition to his ruby-colored captain’s uniform and black slacks, Danters wore a thick blue overcoat to keep himself at a comfortable temperature while he commanded his troops. His gloved right hand clenched a bronzium walking stick because his feet were too weak to support him for long periods of time.

Danters’s aide, a Duros officer about half his age, stepped away from the rest of the crew and approached the captain. Walking up the steps that led to the bridge’s overlook point, the Duros approached the captain from the left and saluted as he got within two meters of the wizened commander. “Sir,” the Duros began. “Our pilots report that the Jedi have arrived inside the Renegade.”

Danters smiled, his wrinkles rising with his lips, and he turned his focus from the battle to his lieutenant. “Is that so, my son? Well, they should be assisted. We have to distract the Sith while they reach the bridge, no?”

“Yes, sir,” the Duros agreed. “Shall I inform Telosian Memento and Cherished Flame to attack the Renegade, then?”

“Indeed. Good thinking, Svarsk,” Danters replied slowly, turning his attention back to the battle. “Inform the starfighters to attack the Seeker. We need their support ships taken down as well.”

“Of course, sir,” Svarsk said. Saluting his superior officer once again, the Duros aide stepped away from the captain’s vantage point and headed back into the conveyor belt that the remainder of the crew was working in.


Chapter 2

“Sir,” Vaerk’s lieutenant whispered. His whining voice was barely loud enough for Vaerk to hear, due to the ceaseless Republic laser fire that was rocking the ship. “A Republic task force has arrived in our hangar. The ship’s defenses managed to stop most of them, but several of them survived.”

“And?” Vaerk growled, displeased with the report and the battle overall.

“I… I… I was wondering if I could organize a unit from the ship’s garrison force to deal with them.”

“No,” Vaerk replied, a clear firmness in his voice. “Our hangar defense force should use this chance to prove it isn’t totally useless.”

“Your advice is almost as horrendous as your capability to lead, Vaerk Luus,” a sultry voice called out from behind Vaerk.

Vaerk scowled as he turned his chair from the scurrying officers that made up his crew toward the dully-colored walkway where the voice had originated. Walking toward him from the hallway just beyond the bridge was a woman clothed in ebony robes. She was not much older than Vaerk, but her sickly coloration and golden eyes made her look like some ancient monster. Just beneath the folds of her cloak, Vaerk saw her lightsaber; the fearsome weapon used by members of the Jedi Order and the Sith.

Pulling her hood back, the approaching individual’s blood-red hair flowed freely down the back of her head, draping over her robed shoulders and upper back. Although Vaerk’s lieutenant attempted to make his way away from the Dark Jedi, a single glare from the woman froze the stout lieutenant in his place. Vaerk attempted to remedy his own fright by standing at full-height and appear as overbearing as he could.

“What brings you here, Lamyia? Why do you befoul my deck with your presence?”

“Your deck?” Lamyia replied incredulously, approaching Vaerk and placing a single, cold hand on his chest. “This is no more your deck than this planet is the Sith’s. Your commands disturb me, Vaerk. Why don’t you send a regiment of Sith troopers to kill the Republic boarding party? It’s what they’re there for, isn’t it?”

Vaerk batted her hand away from him and stepped away from the frightening seductress. He knew her advice was sound, but he was too proud to admit that. “You’re only Malak’s lap dog. You let me run my ship, and you go back to your Sith magic or whatever it is you do while we aren’t around.”

Lamyia glared at Vaerk, who had turned away to avoid her leer. “How dare you? I’m Darth Malak’s representative on this mission, and you will show me the respect I deserve, or else,” she paused for a moment to let the threat sink in before grasping the captain’s shoulder, pulling his ear close to her lips, whispering: “I’m sure the Sith can survive without a disobedient, vain young fleet officer. What do you think, Captain Luus?”

“I think you should get the hell off of my ship,” Vaerk said, with as much courage as he could muster. “Find your way to the nearest airlock and space off.”

“You will pay for your insults, Vaerk,” Lamyia spat. Turning her back to the captain in defiance, the Dark Jedi stormed down by the barren walkway and out of the bridge, returning the way she came. Vaerk knew that, without Malak’s permission, she could not do anything to harm him; nevertheless, Vaerk felt that her words had wounded him deeper than any lightsaber.

The crew was silent for a moment, pausing to see how their captain would respond. It was a test of sorts; if the captain responded correctly, he would gain respect–or sympathy–from the crew. If not, then Vaerk knew the crew would mock him behind his back for several months. If they were audacious enough, they might not even help him when he requested their aid.

Taking a few ample moments to gather his bearings and allow the coloration in his face to return to its normal complexion, Vaerk staggered back to his seat and sat down. Although sweat had drenched his back and he could feel his face redden–whether it was out of embarrassment or rage, the captain couldn’t tell–Vaerk managed to compose himself and address his men. “Why are you dolts just standing there? We have a battle to win and Republic soldiers to crush. Get back to work!”

And with that, the cluttered mob turned their attention from Vaerk back to their respective stations, allowing the captain to return his attention to the battle.

*** ***

As Gaiel’s Aurek flew inside the spacious and spartan Sith hangar, the Nautolan struggled to regain control of his craft. The damage he had sustained in his first dogfight was now critical; his entire portside wing tore off, leaving a disheveled mess where his left wing had once been. As warning lights and emergency beacons blared around him, Gaiel figured it was pointless to attempt to save the craft. He quickly convinced himself that his own survival was more important than an irreparable and replaceable collection of metallic parts before he began his escape.

Calling upon the mystical powers of the Force, Gaiel allowed its energy to engulf his bony digits. Once he had gathered enough power, Gaiel launched an invisible ball of telekinetic energy at the transparisteel casing that encompassed his cockpit, shattering the transparent metal into hundreds of glittering shards. Diverting the Force’s focal point from his hands to his legs, Gaiel leapt from the cockpit as quickly as he could, coming to rest the gray durasteel plating that lined the floor of the hangar. Seconds after he had landed, his starfighter crash-landed and exploded some distance away.

Although the landing had hurt his legs, Gaiel had cushioned his fall with the Force to prevent any long-term damage. Scanning his surroundings, Gaiel quickly took notice that, beyond the five other Republic ships that had landed a good distance from where he landed, there were very few starfighters left in the hangar. Turning his attention toward the closest door, Gaiel’s telepathic link to the Force alerted him that dangerous sentients were approaching his location, making their way into the hangar from behind the door. Not good, thought Gaiel. The Nautolan Jedi Knight nimbly grasped at the cylindrical, metallic object lying in rest on the sash at his waist. Hitting the trigger that was positioned near the bottom of the hilt, Gaiel waited out the two-second pause before his lightsaber completely ignited and the viridian blade sprung to life before him.

Gaiel noticed that the door to the hangar swung open, admitting almost three dozen, heavily armored, imperial soldiers. Their ivory-colored armor encompassed their entire body, and their faceless helmets gave them the appearance of emotionless killing machines. Each was armed with a small, standard issue carbine and an auxiliary blaster pistol at their waist. While twenty of them turned their attention toward Gaiel’s allies across the hangar bay, the remaining twelve or so soldiers made their way toward the Nautolan Knight.

Impatient and unwilling to wait for the Sith soldiers to arrive, Gaiel took the initiative of coming to them. Flying through the air on invisible strings of the Force, the Jedi Knight’s speed proved too quick for the troopers; their eyes failed them as Gaiel approached them unhindered. Descending into the crowd of white-armored Sith troopers, Gaiel sent two ripples of telekinetic energy from his palm into the drove of soldiers. As the wave of energy washed over the infantrymen, the majority of them were sent flying in random directions, crashing into the metal floor and killing them as vital vertebrae were twisted or crushed. The few Sith troopers who managed to avoid the telekinetic attack began to open fire on Gaiel, sending a hail of carbine fire upon his position. Brandishing his lightsaber accordingly, Gaiel deflected the blaster shots with ease, returning them to their owners. The countered blaster shots pierced the light armor of their masters and felled them, sending the last few Sith soldiers to the ground to join their brothers-in-arms as corpses.

Once the troops who had focused their attention on him had been taken care of, Gaiel turned his attention to the remainder of the force–the soldiers that were making their way toward his allies. The Force’s ethereal breath washed over his legs, allowing Gaiel to sprint faster than any non-Jedi. Running across the empty walkway that separated himself from his allies, Gaiel attacked the enemy formation’s flank, sending it into disarray as he began to carve at the helpless soldiers with his green lightsaber.

Syme’s ebony skin was already drenched with sweat by the time Gaiel had arrived, covering his close-cropped black hair and shaven face with a thin layer of moisture. His cyan Jedi robes–which resembled a skin-tight body suit more than an actual robe–reflected his muscularity and were the same color as his vibrant cyan shoto, a short lightsaber. His own lightsaber skills were far more advanced than Gaiel’s; Syme had proven himself a master strategist and keen duelist. Gaiel smiled for a second when he realized he had only won three sparring matches against his old friend.

In contrast, Betror towered over Syme and Gaiel like a hushed titan. His outstretched neck and four, lanky, cream-colored arms seemed to reinforce the image of a gentle giant in Gaiel’s mind. It made sense; Betror was much more of a healer than a fighter. Despite being only a Jedi Padawan, the young Quermian had proven himself in the medical field and was even acknowledged by the Jedi Council for his extensive healing abilities. Ever since the Jedi Knight Verita Ladola perished on Sluis Van, Betror had yet to find an equal among the Order of the Jedi. First and foremost a healer, Betror could still defend himself, proving his skills during combat against the Sith forces with a yellow lightsaber that was almost as long as his gangly neck.

Once Gaiel had felled the final Sith soldier, the three Jedi returned their weapons to the sheaths and probed the area via the Force to ensure the hangar was safe. Once their telepathic scan was complete, Syme signaled for the Republic soldiers still situated in the protective cockpits of their starfighters to emerge and join them. Three Republic pilots joined the trio of Jedi. Gaiel did not know who they were, but their distinct red and yellow flightsuits unmistakably belonged to moderately skilled Republic pilots.

“This is Gizka Four,” Syme spoke out, motioning toward the pilot who had last emerged from his Aurek. The pilot’s hair was a salt-and-pepper gray, and he had a similarly colored beard across his darkly-tanned face.

“Please, call me Calaos. Rene Calaos,” Gizka Four replied jovially.

“Fine,” Syme responded in kind. “The Mon Calamari pilot here–Rancor Six, as I recall–is Jacque. He’s the demolition specialist of this mission.”

“I used to be a sniper, too. But then I lost three of my fingers on Concord Dawn,” Jacque replied, somewhat lost in thought. His face contorted, as though he was recalling a painful or vivid memory, and his vermilion skin became pale for a moment. “I miss the feeling of fighting your enemies where you can see their faces. Starfighter dogfights just aren’t the same.”

“And the last one, the female Twi’lek, is…” Syme paused, drawing a blank.

“Nyalla Danters, sir,” she responded in a respectable manner.

The area above Betror’s eyes furrowed, in the place where his eyebrows would have been–if he had any. “So you’re Danters’s daughter? But…”

“-Danters is a Human?” Nyalla interrupted. “Yes. I was adopted into his family at a young age.”

Gaiel stared at Betror, hoping his glare would be enough of a reminder to avoid asking such obvious–and slightly personal–questions. Especially ones that came across so rudely. Padawans. Gaiel thought. Always speaking before they think.

“Now that introductions are out of the way,” Rene said, “perhaps we should figure out exactly where we are going?”

“Leave that to me, pilot,” Syme assured the grizzled officer. Pulling out a datapad from his Jedi robe pocket, Syme switched on the device, revealing a cut-away image of an Interdictor-class cruiser. “This is a model of a standard Interdictor. Our goal is to reach the ship’s core. From there, we can gain control of the vessel.”

“I think you are mistaken. Most ships are controlled from the bridge. Shouldn’t we be attacking it instead?” Nyalla asked.

“And why in the name of the Force would we want to do that?” Gaiel barked, clearly stupefied. “Are we organizing a suicide mission?”

“Think about it,” Nyalla began. “Sith Interdictors depend upon their life support systems. These systems can only be controlled from two places – the bridge and the life support center itself. However, the life support center is usually barricaded and heavily guarded for security purposes. So, the only other logical solution would be to head to the bridge.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, the bridge is often heavily guarded and barricaded as well,” Gaiel shot back. “The real solution would be to head for the ship’s core, where they’ll least be expecting us to strike.”

As the young Rutian Twi’lek and the Nautolan Jedi Knight bickered, Syme continued to scan the holographic map. Running his oak-colored eyes from one end of the mapped out vessel to the other, he examined their options, and how long it would take to reach each proposed area. The core was technically closer, but they had to take several elevators to get there. It only took two, albeit long, elevator rides to reach the bridge.

“We go to the bridge,” Syme said at last. “Let’s go; no more fighting, you two.”

Once Syme had dictated his orders, the argument between the two ended almost immediately. Falling into a pseudo-line of battle, the three Jedi and their Republic pilot compatriots made their way from the bridge to the nearest, silver-colored automatic door.

*** ***

Vaerk Luus was musing in his chair as the Renegade destroyed the Republic blockade runner, Cherished Flame, with its main turbolaser batteries. The liquefied metal and flaming debris left over from the attack should have brought a smile to Vaerk’s face–it was, after all, a major step toward victory. However, Vaerk’s pride was still recovering from Lamyia’s stinging tongue, and its healing had taken priority over the progress of the battle. Even when his portly lieutenant attempted to update him on the battle, Vaerk ignored him and sent him back into the crew that was attempting to run the ship without a captain.

“Sir. We have an top priority transmission from the Forlorn Justice. It’s for you,” his lieutenant said, attempting to get through to his captain this time.

“A transmission? Patch it through, Lieutenant,” he replied, although his voice was still distant.

It took several seconds for the holographic image of the commander of the Forlorn Justice to appear before Vaerk. Even from the diminutive hologram, Vaerk could tell that the figure was not tall at all. Standing at about half Vaerk’s height, the figure was clothed in a gray-colored senior Sith officer’s dress uniform adorned with more medals and awards than Vaerk could count. His hairline was beginning to recede, and his gnarled face was littered with so many scars that Vaerk could have assumed he had been mauled by a wild animal.

“Vice Admiral Kvorkasir.” Vaerk tried to conceal the surprise in his tone. “Who should I thank for this gracious transmission to me–a lowly captain on a lowly ship?”

“Save your sarcastic nonsense for your crew, Captain Luus,” Kvorkasir replied brusquely.

Even though it was a colorless hologram, Vaerk assumed that the vice admiral was getting red in the face; Vaerk knew it was a common habit whenever the vice admiral was impatient or angry. The thought of his superior’s face reddening with rage at his effortless comments caused Vaerk to chuckle with delight.

“Very well. What do you want from me, then? I’m in the middle of a battle,” Vaerk said, almost nonchalantly.

“Darth Malak has requested me to inquire as to whether or not you found the Polus Jedi,” Kvorkasir explained.

“I have, and I am engaging them now,” Vaerk responded dryly.

“Good. Remember Vaerk, the Jedi must not discover our secret facility on Polus,” Kvorkasir’s voice was stern and it was obvious his concern was serious.

“Of course, Vice Admiral. I’ll be sure to eliminate the Jedi before they discover the factories. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a battle to win; Vaerk out,” he added quickly, switching off his transceiver.

Now that he had finished the introspection of his pride, Vaerk returned his attention to the battle. From what he could tell by looking through the glassy transparisteel and by using his tactical map, the battle was actually turning in his favor. The Republic fighters wings seemed to be in disarray, and they had already lost one of their capital ships. Though this revelation was a surprise to Vaerk, it was certainly a welcome one.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Vaerk felt his left arm get pierced by a metal object and a sharp, stinging sensation ran through his arm and spine. Yelping in pain, Vaerk jumped out of his seat to avoid a follow-up assault. Drawing the vibroblade located at his side, Vaerk turned to face his white chair and saw the burly sentient being who had snuck behind his perch; the assailant held a small knife in his hand and his oaken-brown fur was sprinkled with fresh blood.

“Why did you attack me, Penen?” Vaerk demanded, recognizing the elderly Cathar.

“Your reputation, your fame, this ship–it all should have been mine!” Penen growled, coming around the chair cautiously and positioning himself half a meter away from Vaerk. “You stole it from me! You took everything that was ever important to me; you tricked Mord into giving you this ship. You bribed other naval officers into giving recommendations to Saul Karath that would convince him to allow you to command the Renegade. I have proof!”

A wry grin appeared on Vaerk’s face. “Who put you up to this, Penen? Was it that temptress, Lamyia? Whatever she’s paying you, I’ll pay you double – no, triple – and give you a promotion. You can be my new lieutenant, considering you killed Borks,” Vaerk uttered grimly, nodding toward the obese and bloodied corpse that was positioned near the bottom of the stairwell that led up to Vaerk’s perch.

Penen scoffed. “You just don’t get it, do you Vaerk? I don’t want your pity, your gifts, or your compliments. I am doing this for me. I want your life,” he growled.

Vaerk’s face became even more pale than usual. Backing up to the railing that encompassed the captain’s overlook, Vaerk called out to his crew: “Men! We have a traitor in our midst; I demand that you protect me. Defend your captain!”

But when he gave his warning, no one stirred. They continued their work, ignoring their master’s pleas. It was all happening too quickly. Vaerk knew that, after Lamiya had insulted him, his efforts at becoming the taskmaster of this ship were in vain. The bored, unruly men were opposing him in apathy; they did not care if Penen killed him. In fact, it was likely that they feared Penen’s claws more than they respected their distasteful and arrogant captain.

*** ***

Gaiel’s expression remained stolid while the six soldiers lingered in the elevator as it slowly ascended. Luckily for them, one of the Sith troopers they had killed along the way possessed the passcard necessary to get the elevator working. Even though the Force had been with them so far–they had taken no casualties and had encountered no real difficulties–Gaiel still had a lingering fear in the back of his mind that the mission would take a turn for the worse.

The elevator stopped as it reached deck three, the closest this elevator could get to reaching the bridge. Exiting the elevator one-by-one, Gaiel ensured he was the last one out and closed the door behind him. Betror and Nyalla led the procession, heading for the nearest silver-colored door, which they assumed led to the next elevator. Even if he had not disagreed to this plan, Gaiel would still be irritated by the genial nature of the Jedi Padawan and Danters’s daughter coupled with the bland coloration of the ship’s interior; a similar light gray paint job had been applied to walls, ceilings, and floor alike, creating the feeling of a single, never-ending passageway.

As Betror headed toward the door controls to open the entrance to the next hallway, Syme suddenly had a vivid warning from the Force. There was a malicious presence behind that door. “Betror!” Syme called out, although he was still several meters behind, and the Quermian could barely hear him. “Don’t open that door!”

“I know! I’m opening the door!” Betror called back, mishearing the instructions.

Once the door swung open, Gaiel noticed the three Dark Jedi who were waiting for them on the other side. Almost instantly, the leader of the pack of fallen Jedi used his dark connection to the Force to grasp at Rene’s neck and suspend him above the ground, causing him to choke and flail about in the air. Although Syme and Gaiel attempted to save him, it happened so quickly there was very little they could do. With a swift wave of his hand, the Dark Jedi leader snapped the aged spacer’s neck and sent him flying into Nyalla, who was standing near Betror. Gaiel realized that Rene’s death was some signal of sorts because as soon as he died, the three Dark Jedi rushed toward the others.

Gaiel met his foes head-on; igniting his lightsaber’s blade, Gaiel rushed for the Dark Jedi lieutenant while Syme attacked the leader and Jacque and Betror prepared to combat the remaining fallen Knight. Engaging his black-robed opponent, Gaiel batted away his opponent’s initial flurry of attacks with a flowing combination of graceful parries. When the hooded Dark Jedi realized his attacks were not working, he performed a swift backflip to avoid a follow-up strike by Gaiel before positioning himself in a basic defensive stance. Gaiel was prepared for the maneuver, however, and he utilized a Force-empowered dash to reduce the distance between him and his opponent. By now, Gaiel realized that his foe’s attacks were disorganized and fragmented, which meant he was a novice lightsaber combatant. Gaiel was sure that a simple feint would be enough to subdue him.

Performing an easily blockable horizontal swing at his opponent’s midsection, Gaiel waited for his foe to block it before kicking the Dark Jedi’s left shin, causing him to fumble about momentarily. Gaiel knew that his enemy’s loss of coordination, however brief, would end the duel. Jumping into the air, Gaiel performed a powerful overhead strike that initially appeared as though it would come down on the Dark Jedi’s head, although the blade proved fickle in deciding its path and came down upon the fallen Jedi’s left wrist.

The viridian blade tore through Gaiel’s opponent’s flesh with ease. The Dark Jedi, now without a weapon and left hand, cried out in pain. Instead of surrendering, however, he used his other hand to send a telekinetic wave of energy at the Nautolan Jedi. The Jedi’s reflexes were quicker, though, and he managed to negate the strength of the attack with his own Force power. To prevent any more surprise attacks, Gaiel severed his foe’s right arm, and gave him a powerful, telekinetic push to propel his opponent into the wall behind them, knocking his opponent unconscious.

Gaiel turned around just in time to witness Syme behead his opponent with his cyan-colored blade and Jacque giving his opponent a grievous chest wound; the Mon Calamari’s enemy collapsed in pain and did not recover his footing, so Syme ordered Jacque to kill him. Although the Republic pilot hesitated for a brief second, he complied with the order and drove his vibrosword through the Dark Jedi’s skull. Once the three Dark Jedi had been taken care of, Gaiel and the others approached Betror, who had wandered from the battle in an attempt to heal Nyalla and Rene.

“How are they?” Syme asked with a hushed voice.

“Calaos is dead,” Betror said plainly, motioning toward Rene’s lifeless body. “Nyalla should be fine, although her ankle was twisted pretty badly when Rene’s body sent her to the ground. She’s unconscious at the moment, and walking might cause her intense pain.”

“I see,” Syme replied. Placing a hand on Betror’s shoulder, he added: “I’m sorry, Betror. There was nothing you could have done for Sergeant Calaos; there was nothing any of us could have done. I just hope you realize that.”

“No- I’ll be fine,” Betror said reassuringly.

Gaiel grimaced. “If Nyalla can’t walk, what are we going to do with her? Leave her here? Carry her?”

“We’ll have to leave someone behind to look after her,” Syme responded, but there was a sense of worry in his voice.

“I’ll stay,” Jacque piped up. “You are all Jedi. You’ll be needed elsewhere. Leave her to me.”

“Thank you, Jacque,” said Syme. Switching off his lightsaber, he clipped the weapon back on his belt and directed the two Jedi to the nearest door; they still had quite a way to go, and enough time had been spent here. Leaving the Mon Calamari pilot to look after Danters’s daughter, the three weary Jedi continued on their way.

*** ***

Captain Danters’s vessel shook violently. The Enlightened Force had lost its escort ship, the Darkhunter, to Sith starfighter assaults, so Danters’s flagship was now exposed to enemy fire. He had hoped that sending his remaining two ships to distract the Renegade from the boarding party would give the Jedi the extra time they needed to disable the Sith cruiser; however, now that the Cherished Flame was destroyed and the Telosian Memento had lost one of its main turbolasers and its hyperdrive was disabled, Danters realized that his efforts were fruitless. The Sith would win the day.

The Enlightened Force trembled again. This time, the attack had destroyed the Hammerhead­-class cruiser’s hyperdrive, throwing Danters off his feet and into the steel floor of the bridge. As the blood began to trickle from his forehead, Danters found himself too weak to get up; his arms had failed him and he couldn’t reach his walking stick. He wanted to cry out for help, but his ears were ringing sharply and he couldn’t hear anything, so he couldn’t guess how loud to call out for aid. To his surprise, Danters found himself being propped upward; his lieutenant, Svarsk, was helping him stand. Once Danters was back on his feet, the young Duros officer grasped the captain’s walking stick and returned it to him.

“Thank you, Svarsk,” Danters said kindly. “But I’m afraid this ship won’t last much longer. You and the crew; you must flee this ship. Reach the evacuation pods and escape to the planet’s surface. You’ll be safe there, and I’ll be sure to contact the admirals to send a transport to pick you up.”

Svarsk nodded and prepared to head on his way, but he stopped mid-step. “I’m sorry, Captain. But I can’t. I will not abandon you or this ship. I would rather die with my captain than watch my ship get destroyed from an escape pod. I hope you understand, sir.”

Danters’s facial expression altered between stunned horror–his lieutenant dared to disobey his orders–but quickly changed to inexpressible joy. “I see,” the captain struggled to say. “Do you all feel this way?” Danters called out, turning to his crew, who had diverted their droid-like attention from their work to the captain.

“Yes!” came the simultaneous reply.

“My crew- no, my friends… thank you,” Danters said. “Svarsk! Send word to the Jedi. We’re not out of this fight yet.”

*** ***

Gaiel had slowed his stride to keep himself from stepping on Betror’s large heels. The party had slowed its advance after leaving the second elevator; a single hallway and a flight of stairs separated the three Jedi from the ship’s bridge. Gaiel found himself worried. They were about to invade the enemy’s command deck, and yet there was no sign of on-board defenses to stop them. No defensive turrets lined the otherwise bland durasteel walls. The Sith troopers that had patrolled the lower levels of the Renegade were oddly absent. It was almost as if they wanted the Jedi to reach the bridge. I knew this was a bad idea, Gaiel thought.

Syme was leading the somber march through the empty corridors of the Interdictor cruiser. He said nothing, but Gaiel could tell that Syme was just as worried about their current situation as he was. Attempting to draw on the Force for strength and comfort, Gaiel cleared his mind of fear and kept himself focused on the task at hand. Once he had purged his mind of distractions, the Force decided to come upon Gaiel like a flood. Washing over his mind, the Force gave the Nautolan a vivid Force vision. Gaiel could not tell whether they were visions of the past and future. As his mind ached and his body weakened, the vision became clearer in his mind. In his vision, three Jedi fell before the forces of darkness. Gaiel realized the first would be impaled by a former ally, the second would be beheaded by a Dark Lord, and the last would be subject to torture until he perished. However, the identities of the unfortunate Jedi and the location of their deaths were not revealed to him.

“Are you okay, Gaiel?” Betror asked, realizing that his ally was distracted and in pain.

“I’ll… I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“What happened? You look like you just saw a ghost,” Betror questioned.

When Gaiel gave no response, Syme tilted his head toward the two conversing Jedi, signaling for them to return to the task at hand. As an aftereffect of the Force prophecy, Gaiel felt finely attuned with the Force, and his own skills were enhanced beyond his usual limits.

“Hold on,” Gaiel called out to Syme, who had already progressed several meters in front of him. “Do you feel that?”

“What?” Syme replied.

“The dark side. It is strong here. But it is not a strength drawn from malice or hate. It originates from grief and fear,” Gaiel said. His voice was somber, as if he felt the pain himself.

“But I don’t feel anything,” Syme called back, confused.

“Then you Jedi truly are a pitiful bunch,” a voice called out.

Each of the Jedi’s eyes wandered toward the source of the voice: a female Dark Jedi, adorned in coal-black robes that contrasted her blood-red hair. She was flanked by twelve Sith elite commandos–recognizable by their scarlet armor–and a single Dark Jedi, whose facial features were shrouded beneath his mist-colored hood and cloak.

“Who are you?” Syme asked, ignoring the insult.

“I am Lamyia. I serve as Darth Malak’s representative on this mission. Unlike that fool of a captain,” Lamyia spat as she mentioned him, “I am not stupid enough to assume average soldiers can deal with three Jedi. No. I know better. That’s why I am here to kill you.”

Gaiel had remained silent until now, barely phased by Lamyia’s appearance. When he spoke up rather suddenly, he startled Betror. “Have we met before, Lamyia?”

Lamyia’s sickly, golden eyes diverted from the dark-skinned Syme and glanced at Gaiel, eyeing him in a rather uncomfortable fashion. “I don’t believe so, Gaiel-” She paused in shock once she realized that she knew the Nautolan’s name. “Kill them! Kill them!”

Gaiel attempted to reach into her mind and learn more, perhaps figure out where he had seen her before, but her mental barricades prevented him from taking further action. Any further attempts to enter her mind were cut off as the Sith troopers around her fired on the Jedi with their rapid-fire blaster cannons. The Jedi responded immediately, activating their lightsabers and deflecting the torrential rain of crimson back toward the Sith squadron. As the troopers continued their attack, Lamyia and the Dark Jedi advanced toward the trio of Jedi, both armed with a single red lightsaber. Syme moved in first, allowing his cyan blade to meet Lamyia’s crimson lightsaber. Gaiel and Betror waited for the remaining Dark Jedi to come to them before engaging him in combat.

Gaiel blocked the Dark Jedi’s initial strike, parrying the fallen Jedi’s lightsaber with his own green one. While Betror aided his ally by deflecting incoming blaster strikes, Gaiel kept the Quermian safe by distracting the Dark Jedi. Even though Gaiel assumed he should have been exhausted by now–he had been engaging Sith forces ever since he boarded the Renegade–the Nautolan did not feel tired at all. In fact, he felt stronger and faster than he had ever been. Every time the Dark Jedi prepared to attack, Gaiel could read his movements like a book; the Force informed the Nautolan of the lightsaber’s pre-determined path, allowing him to defend himself with ease. After the Dark Jedi reverted to a defensive posture, Gaiel let a ceaseless barrage of lightsaber strikes batter against his opponent’s guard. After effortlessly striking at the Dark Jedi’s commendable defense, he altered his tactics; Gaiel unleashed a vicious blast of Force energy from his palms, creating a telekinetic explosion that sent the Dark Jedi flying off his feet and causing him to smash his head into the durasteel floorboards.

Diverting his attention to Lamyia, Gaiel could sense that she was easily beating Syme, even though she was just toying with him at the moment. Gaiel felt braver and stronger than ever, but he realized that if Lamyia was beating Syme, one of the strongest lightsaber duelists Gaiel knew, then there was no way he could defeat her.

“Don’t worry, Syme! I’m coming to help you,” Betror called out, deflecting one final blaster bolt before leaping toward Lamyia’s left side, hoping to land an easy blow against the Dark Jedi.

However, the Force had alerted Lamyia of Betror’s approach, and she was prepared for his advance. As soon as he landed, Lamyia used the Force to psychically grasp at her fallen comrade’s lightsaber, pulling it into her hands on invisible strings. Lamyia ignited the weapon as soon as it leapt into her left hand, sending the beam of red energy into Betror’s unguarded chest. Gaiel watched helplessly as the perplexed Quermian dropped his golden lightsaber and gasped for breath; blood had started to fill his air passageways and suffocate him. As Lamyia removed her second weapon from Betror’s chest and returned her focus to Syme, the Padawan staggered about. Gaiel could feel Betror’s fear and pain cloud his thoughts and noticed his feet betray him, causing the Padawan to trip over himself. Gaiel utilized a Force-empowered sprint to reach the Quermian and managed to catch him before he fell.

“Betror! Don’t die, please!” Gaiel struggled to say. “We’ll get you out of here, and a Jedi healer will treat you, and Jram will hear of all your deeds,” Gaiel began to ramble. His soul ached when he realized just how helpless he was in the grand scheme of things. “You’ll be a Jedi Knight, Betror! A Jedi Knight!” Gaiel cried out. It was at these times he envied Humans for their tear ducts; there wasn’t much the Nautolan could do to express his despair.

“Thank you,” Betror barely managed to mutter. “You and Syme have done so much for me. I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi Knight. I’ve only wanted to please Jram. He’s a harsh taskmaster. But… it seems I’ve let him down again. Tell him I’m sorry,” Betror begged.

“Tell him yourself,” Gaiel shot back. It was only after Betror’s youthful eyes glazed over and death overtook him did Gaiel realize the futility of his words.

Gaiel’s mourning quickly became his strength; the Nautolan placed Betror’s body on the deathly cold floor of the Renegade before grabbing his dropped lightsaber and reigniting it. Allowing the euphoric rush of the dark side to engulf him like a blazing fire, Gaiel charged toward Lamyia. Gaiel had no idea he had become blinded by his rage and had lost his previous sense of unity with the Force. His attacks were strong, but they were cumbersome and unwieldy. Unlike him, Lamyia knew how to control the dark side, and her graceful sweeps and wide parries countered Syme’s strikes and Gaiel’s disconnected swings blow-for-blow. Using a telekinetic attack to put distance between her and Syme, Lamyia focused on Gaiel. The Dark Jedi’s attacks penetrated Gaiel’s defenses with ease, and she gave the Nautolan two light cuts–one on Gaiel’s left leg and another on his right shoulder–which forced him to the ground.

Syme recovered his footing after Gaiel had been bested by Lamyia. The Jedi commander knew that the Dark Jedi was superior to him in every aspect of combat; nevertheless, he was tasked with defeating her. If he did not, the Republic forces would never succeed, and the Renegade would survive. Calling upon the last of his strength, Syme used the Force to draw Betror’s golden-hued lightsaber to him. Now armed with two lightsabers, Syme could face the enchantress on equal terms–with lightsabers. He knew that his aggressive fighting style was no match for Lamyia’s elegant fencing style, and she was much more skilled in the art of dual-wielding lightsabers, or Jar’Kai. But Syme did not care anymore. He would defeat her, or he would die trying.

“Are you ready, Jedi? You’re the very last one,” Lamyia called out, mocking him.

Silently, Syme rushed toward Lamyia. His gloves were drenched in sweat, and the grip on his two lightsabers was weak. The blood and sweat that encompassed his head clouded his vision. Even his legs and chest were crying out in pain, begging Syme to stop this foolish advance. Deflecting blaster shots from the last two surviving Sith troopers, Syme managed to repel their attacks and force the blaster bolts to return to their masters, killing them. Leaping toward the Dark Jedi, Syme hovered in the air for what seemed like infinity. Suspended in the air, Syme discovered that his mind was free of thoughts or fears, joy or doubt. In the midst of it all, only one thought lingered in his mind.

There is no death, there is the Force.

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