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Chapter 17

Raen Benax knelt in the center of the Jedi Council chambers on Dantooine. His arms and legs were locked together with binder cuffs for the protection of the Jedi in the room. Before him, at the farther end of the chambers, sat the four Jedi Masters of the Dantooinian Council. They had assembled together to determine his fate after murdering the Jedi Master Tor’chal. Gaiel and several Jedi guardsmen were situated behind Raen, intent on restraining him should he try to resist. The Alderaanian had no intention of causing trouble; the Jedi had taken him in–though not in a way he had planned–and he could finally share his story with Force-sensitives who could help him.

Master Vandare Tokare–Raen figured he was the leader of their Council–sat in the center seat amidst the four Jedi Masters. To his immediate right was a Jedi who had been introduced as Vrook Lamar. Vrook was an aging Human male with a receding gray hairline and a scowl on his face that reflected his stern demeanor. He wore red Jedi robes underneath a flowing, brown cloak that were both kept in good condition. Raen noticed that he had positioned his folded hands by his face, meditating on the story Raen had just told.

On Vrook’s right sat Zhar Lestin, a pink-skinned Twi’lek clothed in the same blue-colored robes that were worn by Gaiel. Although Raen did not recognize him, Gaiel knew that he was a respectable master who had trained Revan, Bolook, Belaya, and many others. Raen was pleased that he had a friendlier disposition than Vrook, but his face was still stolid and imposing.

On the left side of Vandar sat Master Dorak, the chronicler of the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine. He was a dark-skinned, aged male who was probably younger than Vrook and Vandar but older than Zhar. He wore a ruffled, tan-colored robe without a cloak, and he was the only member of the Council to forgo the brown apparel. He had said the least of the four throughout Raen’s story, and he had remained mostly silent while the other Jedi attempted to clarify details or challenge Raen’s point of view.

“You spin an odd tale,” Zhar said once Raen had finished. “One that is difficult for us to believe.”

“It is true. Once I had landed on Dantooine, I was attacked. I was injured, and I would have died if not for the mercy of Obydias and his wife,” Raen said.

“Your first attackers,” Vandar began, “are the same rogue Jedi that assaulted you and the settlers later?”

Raen nodded, although any sort of movement was difficult in his current position. “When I was staying with Obydias and his wife, the rogue Jedi–who called themselves members of the Jedi Watchcircle known as Dominus–attacked. They killed Obydias and his wife, and I barely escaped with my life.”

“And from then on, you wandered the Dantooine grasslands?” Dorak inquired.

Raen nodded again.

“Impossible,” Vrook spoke up. “Myself and others on this Council were personally responsible for the dissolution of the Jedi Covenant in its entirety, and all of its watchcircle subsidiaries, during the Mandalorian War.”

“Its leader, a Jedi Master named Avaran Whell, was killed before the Mandalorian War during an attack on his escort craft,” Dorak added.

“I can only attest to what I have seen,” Raen insisted. “I’m sure you can trace my mind. You know I am not lying to you.”

“You are not lying. We know that much,” Vandar agreed.

“There is still a chance that you are a threat,” Vrook noted. “You have yet to answer for Tor’chal’s death.”

“I was the one that killed him,” Raen admitted. His voice was hushed, and Gaiel could tell that the Dark Jedi was feeling regret for his actions. “I cannot bring him back. Instead, let me make it up to you. Let me avenge his death. Let me return to my homeworld and bring the Sith there to justice.”

Vandar glanced at the other members of the Council, trying to gauge a reaction. However, each of the other Councilors was deep in thought, meditating on Raen’s request. Gaiel could not determine their emotions from where he was standing near the entrance of the verdant council chambers. Raen, too, was unable to register their decision based on his inability to sense feelings through the Force. The leader of the Council remained silent, pondering Raen’s suggestion–possibly communicating with the other Jedi through telepathy–and how they should respond. The Alderaanian did not understand why they were delaying their reply, but there was very little he could do.

It was Zhar who finally broke the silence. He opened his eyes and addressed Raen, “A Jedi does not act based on vengeance and cannot allow retribution to cloud his judgment. Such ideas are dangerous and such actions can lead to the dark side of the Force-”

“And we can sense the powerful connection you have to the dark side,” Vrook added.

“Your mind is filled with confusion and doubt, Raen Benax. We Jedi have long acknowledged the possibility of a Sith threat on Alderaan, but your comments were the first to confirm our fears.”

“We will send Jedi Shadows to investigate the planet–if it is indeed as bad as you say–but there is little more we can do,” Vandar said. “Our numbers are few and our Order has been fractured. We do not have the manpower to engage the Sith on multiple fronts.”

“Why don’t you consult the Republic?” Raen asked. “Their military is still strong. They can aid you.”

“We would have to go through the Senate,” Vrook explained. “They enjoy bickering more than feuding Dantooinian settlers; it takes months to go through the bureaucratic trappings and necessities to launch a military force. Besides, even if they did propose the idea, there is a possibility it could be rejected, and then we would be back where we started.”

“And to even consider providing aid to Alderaan, every representative and senator from Alderaan must agree to accept it,” Dorak added.

“I see.” He found himself out of options. He needed to return to Alderaan. He needed to extract his revenge. The Jedi were proving to be quite a hindrance. “Don’t you understand? The agents you send won’t succeed. You sent Tor’chal, and now he’s dead…”

“Because of you,” Vrook snapped.

“You’re right. That brings me back to my initial proposition. Let me help you,” Raen pleaded. “I know Alderaan better than all of your Jedi agents. You give me a chance to kill the Sith, and you will save lives and valuable time better used elsewhere.”

“You make a valid point,” Vandar said. “Our Jedi are spread thin, and when Malak’s Sith are not killing our Knights, they are recruiting them.”

“The Jedi Order cannot condone your actions, Raen Benax. You have killed a venerable and powerful Jedi Master of our Order. You also endangered several other Jedi in the process and have caused trouble for our settlers on Dantooine,” Zhar explained.

“You cannot leave us without punishment, Raen Benax,” Vrook said. “Even the Jedi must hold criminals responsible. You will be confined at a high security prison on Coruscant until the Jedi High Council decides to deal out its judgment.”

“After you aid us,” Vandar added, much to Raen’s surprise.

“Why would I aid you?” Raen asked, his tone taking a peculiar combination of disgust and idle curiosity.

“If you do not feel like assisting us, there is a vacated Jedi prison cell on Coruscant that I’m sure would not mind having an occupant,” Zhar noted drearily.

Raen grumbled. “Very well. What must I do for the Council?”

“You and the Jedi Knight Gaiel are to head for Polus,” Vandar explained. “We received a distress signal from the locals. We have reason to believe a Sith outpost exists somewhere on the planet surface. We would like you and Gaiel to investigate it–and take appropriate action when necessary.

“I understand,” Raen said. “I shall do as you wish.”

“After you have completed your mission, you and Gaiel will go to Coruscant. You shall face trial there,” Vrook stated. Once he was sure Raen understood, he turned to the Jedi guardsmen standing behind the Dark Jedi. “Release the prisoner.”

Raen nodded, although he was hesitant to go through with his death trap. He waited patiently as the Jedi guards standing nearby undid his bonds. Once his arms and legs had all been freed, Raen struggled to his feet in a rather ungraceful maneuver. Massaging his cramped and injured wrists, Raen was pleased that the Council had given him a chance to aid them and eventually escape before his imprisonment. He still had little intention of joining the Jedi Order. He was much more worried about what De’dlay and his cohorts were accomplishing on Alderaan in his absence. At this point, there was very little Raen could do until he could get off Dantooine, so he decided that leaving had to be his next course of action.

At the behest of the Jedi Council, one of the guardsmen returned Raen’s lightsabers to him. The Alderaanian took the weapons with glee and returned them to his belt, allowing them to rest until it was time to use them again–which would probably be soon. Another guardsman, a Togruta, had left Raen’s presence for a brief moment, only to return with a small, metallic crate. He handed the storage box to Raen, who barely managed to hold out his hands fast enough to catch it before it fell to the ground.

“You look like an absolute mess,” the Togruta guardsman said. “Clean yourself up, kid. This crate’s got a razor, new robes for you, and some basic hygienic products. The public refresher is across the courtyard, near the dormitories. Please use it.”

Raen gave the Togruta Jedi a mocking bow and muttered insincere thanks before both of the Jedi guardsmen left the council chambers. Walking by Gaiel with a quick sprint, Raen bypassed the Nautolan and headed toward the dormitories. He probably looked worse than he had initially thought, and this chance to clean himself up after his ventures was certainly a welcome one.

Once the Alderaanian had left, Gaiel turned his attention to the Jedi Council. He was eager to speak with them, and now that Raen was gone, this would be the best chance for the Nautolan to receive answers. The Jedi Masters had not acted as Knosar had predicted; sure, the Council had shown Raen a degree of mercy, but the Jedi-killer would soon be paying for his crimes. The prospect of the Dark Jedi suffering bemused Gaiel. He convinced himself that this was just. However, Gaiel was surprised that he had been appointed to watch Raen in their place. Why would they send him, an upstanding Jedi Knight with a sterling track record, with a Dark Jedi on a Padawan’s mission to Polus?

The Jedi Council was preparing to head their separate ways, but they halted their efforts to disband when they noticed Gaiel’s approach. Instead of returning to their respective seats, the Councilors remained standing, watching the Jedi Knight intently.

“Masters,” Gaiel greeted them. He bowed low, and stayed knelt–in reverence and dutiful humility–for a brief moment before rising again. “May I inquire the reasoning behind sending Raen with me to Polus?”

“Make no mistake, Raen Benax is not escaping the judgment of the Jedi Council,” Zhar dissuaded Gaiel’s doubts. “We all felt a desire for revenge inside of him. This desire runs deep, enrapturing his being, his purpose, and his destiny. Until he can part ways with that revenge, he will not be able to escape the lure of the dark side.”

“We are sending you to guide his path of redemption,” Vrook said. “Without a proper beacon to light his course, he will not survive his journey. The dark side will destroy him. As a Jedi, it is your responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.”

“I don’t understand,” Gaiel admitted, somewhat sheepishly. “Would his death not benefit our Order? Upon his death, all his crimes are irrelevant and our Order is safe from his threat.”

“Gaiel,” Vandar said wearily. He was speaking in a hushed tone, but Gaiel recognized it as the old Jedi’s tone of correction. “You must know that there are more deadly threats to the Jedi than a sole Dark Jedi. He is dangerous, but his death should not be heralded. Would he not escape our justice through death? Why waste a life that the Force has given us to amend and extend our mercy toward him?”

Gaiel meditated on Master Vandar’s words for a brief moment. He concluded that his advice were believable; he would obey as requested. “Very well, Masters. I will travel with Raen and ensure that he reaches Coruscant. He will receive the justice of the Jedi.”

“Indeed. There is also a chance that you find the answers you did not find in Polus’s orbit on the icy world’s surface. A chance you will solve the mysteries of the death of Betror, the Dark Jedi, and others,” Vandar continued.

“I understand,” Gaiel replied. He bowed again and turned to leave the chambers.

“Does something else trouble you, Gaiel?” Vrook asked, sensing the chaos within Gaiel’s feelings.

“Yes, Masters,” Gaiel muttered. He stopped as he was just about to leave the Council’s presence and head into the courtyard. He did not want to continue wasting the their time, yet he felt that he needed to know about him… about Revan. “I… I feel confused. I do not feel as though you are being entirely truthful with me–or, for that matter, the Jedi Order as a whole.”

“And why would you say that, Gaiel?” Dorak questioned. Even with his fairly monotonous voice, Gaiel felt that Dorak and the rest of the Council already knew the answer.

“Revan,” Gaiel said. “I have heard of Revan’s return. By your hands! Why? Why would you do it? He was a Sith Lord? Why would you not tell us?”

“Gaiel. Please understand that this knowledge was intentionally kept from the majority of the Jedi for a reason. We do not withhold information if it is not crucial for the well being of our Order. Revan is key to solving the mysteries behind Malak’s apparent limitless supply of soldiers and materiel,” Vandar explained.

“Have you never found it odd, Gaiel, that the Sith are able to replenish their equipment and rebuild their armies even after we have destroyed them dozens of times throughout the galaxy?” Dorak asked.

“I have,” Gaiel said. “It leads to the death of many Jedi. To find his secret would be to win the war.”

“Exactly,” this time, it was Zhar who spoke up. “If the Dark Lord knew that Revan, his former master, was still alive, he would stop at nothing to destroy him.

“And we cannot tell the majority of the Jedi because many of them still view Revan as a hero. A fallen hero, but a hero nonetheless. Do you think it would be wise to expose him now? When he is weak, lacking his former abilities, and still does not know who he once was?” Vrook questioned, although they were clearly rhetorical. “If we exposed him now, the Jedi would demand that he be killed, or they would appoint him their leader. When his mind was destroyed, he lost most of his former memories and abilities. Should he lead our forces now, he will either perish or join the Sith yet again. And these are things we cannot allow.”

“Wait,” Gaiel interrupted the elderly Jedi. “You said he lost most of his memories. I was told that he lost them all–permanently. Are you implying there is a chance of recovering them?”

“There is always a chance that he could reclaim all of his memories and take on the persona of Darth Revan yet again,” Vandar admittedly sadly. “But that is a chance that we have to take. The Jedi are dying, Gaiel. This is our final, desperate attempt to force the Sith onto the defensive. It will be difficult, and it may not work. All we can do is surround him with those who serve the light, like Padawan Bastila Shan, so he might avoid straying from the light.

Gaiel stood silently for several minutes with a dazed expression painted across his lime-green face. The Nautolan had known that the Jedi Order was weakening, and that it was hardly holding itself together at this point. At least the Council had remedied some of his fears about the man who was Revan. The four Jedi Masters truly had the best intentions of the Jedi Order at heart, and Gaiel felt foolish for believing Knosar’s distorted view of the Dantooinian Council. Hearing the four Jedi explain their reasoning had lifted a burden from his mind. Knosar and Gaiel had both judged the Jedi Council far too harshly; Gaiel’s suspicions were baseless.

“Thank you, Masters. I understand now; your insight on this matter is much appreciated,” Gaiel said. Before he left, he added: “I shall not speak of this to anyone else, as it should be.” Gaiel bowed once more before turning around and heading toward the exit to the council chambers; he passed the two Jedi guardsmen, who were only now returning to their posts, on his way. Walking in a respectful silence, Gaiel left the spacious chambers of the Jedi Council behind him and entered the academy’s courtyard. It would be as good of a place as any to wait for and meet up with Raen Benax.

Once Gaiel had left the council chambers, Zhar waved his hand, signaling the two Jedi guardsmen to leave again. One of the Jedi, a Bith, muttered under his breath as he and the Togruta Knight ventured away from the presence of the Council. Now they were undisturbed, it was clear that the Councilors of Dantooine had something very important to discuss amongst themselves.

“Master Dorak,” the petite Master Vandar began, his voice hushed, “did you search the archives?”

“I did,” Dorak responded. “We have no record of any romantic relationships. It’s impossible for him-”

“Yet there he was,” Zhar mused. “Standing before our eyes, attesting to his past. Did he have any living blood relatives?”

“Dandek Benax. But Raen informed us that Dandek was his uncle,” Dorak reminded them.

“It seems almost impossible,” Vrook spoke up. “How could he be a Benax? If he is being truthful–and I believe he was, sadly–then this bodes ill for us. The fact that he could have a son is inconceivable.”

Zhar interrupted the Human Councilor. “We must ensure that Gaiel keeps careful watch over Raen.”

“Indeed,” said Vandar. “Otherwise, we will find ourselves with another dead Benax.”

*** ***

After Gaiel had concluded his business with the Council, he had walked outside and entered the central courtyard of the enclave. However, Raen Benax had been waiting for him, and he surprised the Nautolan with his presence. Gaiel was shocked at how quickly Raen could clean himself up and make himself look presentable. Raen sat underneath Vodo in the academy courtyard, lingering in the same area where Belaya usually stood. It seemed that the female Knight had gone on a mission, so Raen took her position at the crossroads between the courtyard and the business sector.

Raen Benax had traded his tattered, worn-down garbs for a new, red-dyed Jedi robe. He wore khaki pants to complement his choice of robes, and had cheap, dark brown boots that were typically worn by Jedi Padawans. He had cut off most of his long black hair so it was neatly cropped on the top of his head. Not only did Raen like his hair better shorter, but he found it kept the hair out of his eyes and off his shoulders. He had taken the liberty of shaving off his facial hair, and he was now clean-shaven. Both of his lightsabers rested inconspicuously on his new belt, and if he had acquired a cloak, Raen could have concealed the weapons quite easily. The few scars across Raen’s face and lower arms were much easier to see now that his facial hair had been trimmed, although they did not so much call attention to the fact that he was a Jedi; instead, it stereotyped him as a fighter. The golden amulet resting near his chest, dangling from a chain on across his neck, managed to draw the most attention away from his apparel.

“That’s a beautiful emblem. Were you not wearing it before?” Gaiel asked, approaching his traveling companion.

“No,” Raen answered.

“Did you steal it?” Gaiel asked, bemused.

“Of course not!” Raen snapped. “It’s none of your business how I acquired it.”

Gaiel scowled. “Listen. I don’t need you making this more difficult for me than it already is. If you give me trouble, this will be a long trip. For both of us.”

“Only if you keep whining about how horrible it is that you’re paired up with me,” Raen said, scoffing. “You don’t have to come with me, you know. I could just leave for Alderaan right now. We’d never have to interact ever again. I’d get my revenge; you’d get your peace.”

The Nautolan grumbled. He had underestimated the effort and care that was necessary to babysit this arrogant, violent Dark Jedi. At this point, Raen’s idea sounded excellent to the weary Jedi Knight, and he was about to take him up on that offer. However, he realized that the Council would never let him live it down if he did; besides, this Dark Jedi would cause more trouble without Gaiel’s guidance. Above all, he had to keep his attitude from flaring up. Gaiel had not become famous for a cool head and a kind tongue. He only feared that this Alderaanian would cause him to exhaust his patience before the two left Dantooine.

“I don’t think so,” Gaiel retorted. “We’re going to the Garang spaceport. It’s the largest port in the largest city on this planet. I assume it will have a few spacers-for-hire that would be happy to take us to Polus.”

“Sounds good,” Raen replied.

Gaiel was pleased that Raen was not completely impossible and requested that the young Force-sensitive follow him out of the courtyard. The Jedi Knight led the way to the sublevels of the enclave while Raen followed silently. The two passed by several Jedi on their way to the sublevels, and a few of them shot passing glances at the pair, primarily at Raen. He ignored their inquisitive–or occasionally malicious–stares and continued on his way, trailing Gaiel as he walked.

Raen pondered the character of Gaiel. He seemed like a typical Jedi Knight to the former Sith trainee. Unlike Tor’chal, something about the Nautolan felt chaotic, muddled, or disoriented. The Jedi Master who Raen had met was serene and orderly in his mannerisms. Perhaps it was something that came with training, age, or a certain degree of wisdom. Whatever it was, Raen did not necessarily dislike the Nautolan Jedi, he just found him as a hindrance. Perhaps he could prove useful before the end.

Gaiel, meanwhile, was hesitant to say anything to the young Force-user; he wanted to make a good impression while not appearing to be either overtly critical or overbearing. The Jedi were neither of these things, so Gaiel thought he should do his best to imitate the actions of other Jedi. The Nautolan Jedi Knight refused to believe that Raen was his Padawan; such a ridiculous idea was pointless considering Raen’s past. Nevertheless, should Raen ask for help, Gaiel would be happy to provide it, leading Raen toward the light as carefully and successfully as he could.

The Jedi Knight eventually reached the garage in the lower levels of the Jedi Enclave. Upon opening the door, he allowed his traveling companion to enter first–as a sign of respect–before he headed for the nearest hoverspeeder and powered up the engine. Gaiel motioned for Raen to open the door to the dimly lit garage so the pair could make their way outside the academy walls. The Alderaanian, although initially hesitant, followed Gaiel’s instructions and opened the door with the Force. The boxy hoverspeeder flew away from the orange-brown walls of the Jedi Enclave, sending them racing through the golden blades of grass that littered the hills of the Dantooinian countryside.

*** ***

While Raen and Gaiel had been bickering in the academy’s courtyard, several Jedi had been passing by. They were either carrying supplies to the lower levels of the enclave or simply walking through in their attempts to navigate the academy. None of the Jedi paid particular attention to the pair of Jedi because they were all much too busy to care. No one, that is, except for a single Jedi Knight, a Human male several years Gaiel’s senior. He had bothered listening in on their conversation, and he had not done it accidentally; rather, he had eavesdropped on their conversation on purpose.

This Jedi Knight was clothed like every other Jedi in the enclave, wearing a simple pair of robes–in this case, a deep red–underneath a dusty, brown-colored cloak. He wore khaki trousers and faded, almost brownish boots, both similar in color and style to Raen’s attire. The individual had fiery red hair that raced from his head this way and that, as though it was trying to flee from his forehead. He had tiny, shifty eyes contrasted against his obtuse figure and pale, rotund face with equally rounded features. Despite the fact that every Jedi walking through the enclave should have noticed such a being, no one in the courtyard, including Gaiel and Raen, noticed him. He had masked his presence in the Force, causing his Force-empowered aura to diminish. This caused him to appear as a mirage to most passersby; he was a paranormal mirage in the corner of their eyes. Since Jedi walking through had no time to waste, none of them bothered to confirm that what they saw was really an optical illusion.

It was not long before Gaiel and Raen headed elsewhere, leaving the Jedi Knight to linger in the courtyard. After several short minutes, he left his position and made his way across the courtyard, heading toward the eastern courtyard. Panting heavily, the Jedi, known to most as Telerus Eston, made his way from the shadow of the burnt sienna walls of the enclave and into the wilderness beyond. Once he was well out of the way and sure that no other Jedi could bother him, Telerus withdrew a small comlink from his cloak pocket.

“Macallan, are you there?” Telerus’s corpulent, rich voice practically sang into the receiver.

“I am here, Master Eston. What did you discover?” his associate and apparent pupil, Macallan, answered.

“I found the corrupt one. He and his ally–the Nautolan Jedi named Gaiel–are headed for Garang. Get a team of our Jedi and intercept them before they can escape the planet,” Telerus ordered.

“Very well,” Macallan replied obediently. “Any news on Knosar?” he added.

“He perished, it seems,” Telerus noted apathetically. “His loss is tragic, but necessary for our organization to grow. Not only do we know where to find our enemy due to his death, but we also know exactly how strong our foe is. In either case, Knosar was tainted. It was only a matter of time before he became corrupt, and we would have to rid ourselves of him.”

“Of course, sir,” Macallan stammered. However, his voice was clearly reflecting his nervousness, and Telerus could sense his worry and doubt. Macallan continued: “I’ll gather some Jedi and combat them… shall I capture them for you, or would you rather I kill them there?”

Telerus paused for a moment, meditating on the question. It was worth nothing. He did not feel it was necessary for him to kill Raen Benax. As long as the taint was dealt with, the corruption could not spread. There were much more pressing matters for Telerus to attend to anyway. “Do as you wish, Macallan. Make Watchcircle Dominus proud,” he said. Before Macallan’s shaky voice could reply, Telerus cut him off by switching off his comlink. The deed was done.


Chapter 18

Gaiel guided the speeding, if unwieldy, hovercar from its resting place at the Jedi Enclave, leading it far from the walls it had left behind. The vehicle soared across the vast plains of Dantooine, startling many kath hounds–wild dogs native to the hills of Dantooine–and kicking up dry flowers and remnants of grassy stalks. The sun was already beginning to set off the far western coast of Dantooine, descending toward one of its seas. On its way down, it appeared to carry all the light on this sanctuary world with it. The once-blue skies of Dantooine were now glorious shades of sharp violet, dazzling orange, and vivid rays of red. Every so often, a glimpse of yellow and blue were visible amidst the dismal amount of clouds that floated from across the skyline toward Garang. The darkness would be a long time coming, at this rate.

After passing the last sparse hill country separating the almost unending plains from the capital city of Garang, Raen was pleased that his eyes could spy civilization again. No matter how beautiful nature may have been, Raen enjoyed the sights of industrialized cityscapes with throngs of people so much more. Raen knew that Garang was nothing like Taris’s Upper City, or even the capital of Alderaan. The city was nested in between a sparkling river of healthy blue–toxic waste was scarce on this planet–and several large mountains that possessed an autumn visage. The Garang River, itself extending several hundred miles before ending in the sea that the two had seen earlier in the west, was a testament to days long past. The city of Garang had once been a sprawling seaport before spaceflight had been introduced to this still-developing agrarian world. Even now, the city was not very populated and was only frequented by spacers, rogues, and occasionally Jedi or natives of the planet.

Raen and Gaiel entered the city in their speeder–customs did not give them any trouble–and the two Jedi drove through the confined, musty streets of Garang searching for the house of the Jedi Master Tooka. A wizened, old Jedi mentor, he had taken a liking to the settlers of Dantooine and enjoyed solving cases and mediating in disputes between them. In fact, he had preferred to spend time on Garang instead of the enclave for this very reason. Gaiel had heard of Tooka’s location and drove their vehicle into the small lot at the back of his estate; the two Force-users left a piece of flimsy asking him to return this vehicle to the Jedi as soon as possible and continued toward the spaceport on foot.

“Follow me and stay in the crowd,” Gaiel said. “We’ll attract less attention that way.”

The two Force-sensitives entered the crowd of pedestrians trudging through the branching streets of Garang that made their way toward the center of town and, inevitably, the spaceport. Gaiel led the way, always three or four individuals in front of Raen, who was taking time to admire the quaint little bakeries and smithies that lined the side of the streets. Every so often, they would pass by a larger building, probably some sort of office tower, but the city was primarily made up of smaller structures.

As they approached the center of town, complete with large skyscrapers and a large square that doubled as a bazaar and a town meeting place, the bulk of the crowd began to disperse. Heading toward smaller sidestreets in the distance or stampeding through one end of the epicenter of town to the other, the majority of the crowd split and fled. The mass of people had divided and abandoned each other so suddenly that Raen and Gaiel found themselves alone in the city’s heart. Once the last of the crowd had gone, nine hooded individuals, each armed with lightsabers, emerged from the shady, graffiti-lined alleyways in between the office buildings.

“Stay in the crowd… what a great plan,” Raen muttered in a condescending voice. “What do you propose we do now? Shall I throw myself into their lightsabers and save them the trouble? We’ve done everything else for them.”

“Quiet,” Gaiel snapped. “I’m a Jedi. They’re Jedi. They’ll listen to me.” The Nautolan turned his attention from Raen and eyed a few of the lightsaber-wielding figures that had approached. “We give up. My name is Gaiel, and I am a Jedi Knight. You are all clearly servants of the Order as well. This does not need to escalate into violence.”

“It’s not you we are after, Knight Remus,” the apparent leader spoke up. “We’re just after the Alderaanian. He’s a Benax, and he’s tainted. He must be cleansed.”

“Taint? Cleanse?” Gaiel asked. “Are you mad?”

“You can’t kill me,” Raen interrupted. “I was known as Jedi’s bane. A demon. I’ve killed teams of Jedi Masters. What makes you think that your mindless horde of Jedi Knights will even slow me down?”

Gaiel shot his ally a confused glance, and he knew that the young Alderaanian was bluffing. Raen did not respond; instead, he reached for both of his lightsabers, igniting the red lightsaber first and then activating the cobalt blade he had stolen. When the second lightsaber was ignited, Gaiel noticed the leader’s face contort slightly in confusion.

“Are you okay?” the Nautolan asked. He was still not ready to fight these Jedi.

“I’ll… I’ll be fine,” the leader of the gang said. “Gaiel, if you surrender the Alderaanian, you won’t be harmed. I promise. I don’t want this to end in violence either.”

The leader of the gang threw off his hood, revealing his facial features to Raen and Gaiel. He had yellow-brown skin and hair darker than Raen’s, although it was cut in a similar fashion. He had white irises, and Raen thought he might have been blind. However, Gaiel knew that the Jedi probably saw through the Force, meaning his abilities were not hindered at all.

“What guarantee do I have that you won’t hurt me? And why do you want Raen?” Gaiel questioned.

“As long as I, Macallan, draw breath, I swear to you that neither my men nor I will harm you,” the opposing Jedi Knight explained. “Raen Benax is a threat to the Jedi. He is tainted with the corruption. His death will benefit the Jedi Order. You don’t see this, Knight Remus?”

“Don’t bother, Gaiel,” Raen said tersely. “He’s a smooth-talker, but he’s no different from Knosar. They’re a bunch of rogue Jedi. They have no desire to help the rest of you Jedi. They just get off to killing Dark Jedi or Sith while dancing with the dark side themselves.”

“No!” Macallan countered. “You’re wrong. Knosar was just… a bit misguided, that’s all. We want to help the Jedi Council. That’s why we still exist. The Watchcircle, that is.”

“I don’t believe him,” Raen countered. “He’s clearly lying to you, Gaiel. Trying to mess with your head. Don’t let him deceive you.”

Gaiel lingered, staring at the group of Jedi before him. He could not raise his hand against them; they were Jedi of the Order, just like he was. He had regretted aiding Raen in his fight against Knosar. Even though the Jedi Knight had taken his own life, Gaiel blamed himself for the fellow Jedi’s death. If he had not sided with Raen, he would not be dead, and, most likely, he would not be dealing with this right now. Macallan said that Watchcircle Dominus existed to help the Jedi and their Council. Gaiel did not believe him, but something about his cause sounded right. It sounded like they truly wanted to help. Nevertheless, Gaiel was tasked with keeping Raen safe. He could not let him die until he reached Coruscant–Gaiel had promised the Council this much–and stood trial for his crimes.

Gaiel withdrew his weapon without igniting it, but several of the opposing Jedi did ignite their own. To the surprise of the Jedi, Gaiel threw his weapon to the ground. Standing with his arms outstretched, Gaiel stood between Raen and the nine Jedi intent on capturing him. “I won’t fight you. We’re all Jedi. But I won’t let you take Raen Benax, either. He’s my responsibility, and I could never live with myself if he died before I fulfilled the Council’s will.”

“I understand, Knight Remus,” Macallan said. Brandishing his own weapon, the enemy Jedi Knight allowed his orange-colored blade to spark to life. “But I must fight for the greater good. You’re standing in our way. You will die.”

The other eight Jedi, still robed and cloaked, rushed at Gaiel and his ally, who still had his lightsabers activated. While they were charging forward, Raen threw both of his activated weapons at Macallan, hoping to kill him before the fight actually began. The enemy Knight managed to avoid the attack, spiraling away from the weapons while keeping his own lightsaber activated. Raen found himself defenseless, but this was exactly what he wanted. While the Alderaanian’s weapons were returning to him via strands of the Force, Raen allowed sparks of flame and noxious steam to emanate from his hands. Within seconds, tongues of fire had engulfed the young Jedi’s hands and were threatening to burn Gaiel as well. The Nautolan–fearing the fire and its effects–jumped out of the way just in time for Raen to propel his attack forward, much to the alarm of all the Jedi present.

Raen sent the wave of burning energy forward in a single, wide pillar. The fire hit several of the Jedi who were moving in to attack the pair of Force-users, devouring their flesh and bones in a raging wave of heat. Some of the Jedi managed to jump or backflip their way out of the fire’s path, but half of them had found themselves caught in the blazing inferno. The young Force-sensitive caused the flames to dissipate after four Jedi had died, not wanting to waste anymore of his valuable stamina.

“What in the name of the Force did you just do?” Gaiel yelled at the Alderaanian.

“Giving myself an advantage,” Raen retorted. “Since you’re not helping me.”

Raen smiled as another Jedi was slain while his two blades returned to him, fluttering through the air like deadly spirits. Snatching them out of the air as they approached, Raen waited for the first two Jedi to approach before parrying each of their single, blue lightsabers. The next Jedi leapt over Raen and the two Jedi who were currently fighting and attempted to cut him down from behind. However, Gaiel used the Force to snatch the third Jedi Knight off his feet and propel him away from Raen and the other two Jedi. This gave Raen the time he needed to deflect the next few strikes from the Jedi he was facing and keep his momentum going. Gaiel used the Force to pick up his lightsaber from the ground and ignite his viridian blade. When the last Jedi, Macallan, tried to join in the attack against Raen, Gaiel leapt forward and deflected Macallan’s orange blade with his own.

“Gaiel,” Macallan pleaded, “step aside. We don’t have to do this. The Jedi Order will collapse if we keep allowing people like him to join our ranks!”

“No, you don’t understand,” Gaiel said, barely keeping Macallan’s blade at bay with his own. “He’s not a Jedi. He will never be a Jedi. He’s just coming with me to Polus as part of his punishment. Once we conclude our business there, he’s going to Coruscant.”

“What?” Macallan questioned, somewhat surprised. He allowed his lightsaber to separate from Gaiel’s weapon, and the two Jedi Knights stood before each other, blades activated but at their sides. “My master told me that he was a member of the Jedi now. But if he’s not-”

“Then you don’t have to kill him. You just have to make sure that he doesn’t remain with the Jedi. And he won’t. The Council will imprison him, and may even execute him, on Coruscant. Isn’t that reasonable?” Gaiel asked.

“Yeah,” Macallan said. “Yes, it is.” Macallan turned his attention from Gaiel to the two Jedi who were still fighting Raen. “Jedi! Stand down. We’re done here.”

One of the Jedi attacked the Alderaanian’s upper left side with his lightsaber, and Raen was forced to defend it with his red lightsaber while the other Jedi did the exact same thing on the other side of his body. The exiled Sith had blocked each of their vicious strikes with relative ease, although he was quickly tiring due to the ferocity of their attacks. He was relieved when Macallan called them to stand down. They stopped fighting almost immediately and turned toward their leader. This gave Raen the chance he needed. In a single motion, Raen severed both of his Jedi opponents’ heads, lopping them off of their necks in a clean, horizontal motion.

Macallan screamed as Raen attacked his two agents and decapitated them before his eyes. The Jedi commander ignited his lightsaber to attack, but he was halted by Gaiel, who stood in front of Macallan with his own viridian-colored weapon. As Raen approached Gaiel and Macallan, the last of Macallan’s Jedi jumped toward Raen, landing behind the young Alderaanian. This Jedi had hid on the rooftops to avoid Raen’s earlier fire attack, and he had only now returned to the streets, hoping to avenge his fallen comrades. Although the exiled Sith’s precognitive senses warned him of the incoming attack, he had not reacted quick enough to dodge the attack, and the Jedi’s lightsaber managed to sear the flesh around his right shoulder.

While Gaiel was distracted and worried for Raen’s survival, Macallan pushed the Nautolan out of the way. Gaiel flew through the air and found himself thrown into a nearby alleyway as Macallan went to join his last aide and kill Raen. Once Gaiel was out of the picture, Raen took notice of his absence almost immediately and found himself in trouble. Since the penultimate Jedi’s attack on his arm, he could no longer dual-wield his weapons, and he was forced to combat the Jedi with a single, red lightsaber. The other weapon had been returned to his belt and was currently useless to him. Without his second lightsaber, he was at an inherent disadvantage because he had never fought off two enemies with a single blade. Besides, he had not fought with a single blade since he left Alderaan, and his skills with one blade were not as fine-tuned as they once were.

Jumping away, he narrowly avoided a slice at his face from the Jedi he was currently fighting and dodged Macallan’s first strike at his back. Landing on a nearby rooftop, Raen watched his two foes prepare to join him on his lofty position. Macallan’s ally moved first, jumping at Raen with his lightsaber in hand. Raen exploited the Jedi’s vulnerability during flight and used the Force to strangle the Jedi in midair. As the Jedi stopped his midair advance and found himself being asphyxiated by the Dark Jedi, he struggled and gasped for air before dropping his lightsaber. Now defenseless, the Jedi could not defend himself against Raen’s lightsaber toss, which effortless severed the Jedi’s upper torso from his waist. While the Jedi’s corpse fell to the ground in two parts, Macallan attacked Raen in his moment of distraction. The Jedi Knight leapt at Raen–who had not yet recovered his thrown lightsaber–and the Alderaanian barely managed to counter by deflecting his attack with the cobalt lightsaber on his belt.

Raen prepared to strike back against the Jedi, but a quick Force push repelled him, separating him from Macallan. Macallan wasted no time in getting closer to his target and prepared to strike Raen down with his lightsaber, but another Force push threw Macallan to the rooftop’s stony base, barely allowing him to avoid Raen’s lightsaber; the thrown weapon had returned to its master and nearly took off Macallan’s head. While the two Force-users recovered their footing, Gaiel leapt to the rooftop. He had pushed the two apart, and he was not going to let them keep fighting. They were all on the same side here.

“Would you two idiots stop?” Gaiel shouted. “In the name of the Force, stop! I swear; you two are impossible. Raen, put your weapon away. Macallan, you too.”

“I’m not putting my weapon away until he does,” Macallan muttered, fearful of Raen’s blade. It had, after all, cut down most of his allies.

“I refuse to sheathe my weapon as long as he stands there,” Raen said.

Gaiel responded by rushing at Raen and elbowing him in the chest–startling both of the other combatants–and the resulting pain caused the Alderaanian to drop his lightsaber. The Nautolan picked up both his lightsabers with a quick burst of telekinetic energy and turned from Raen. He might apologize to his associate later. Turning toward Macallan, the Nautolan stood between his fellow Jedi Knight and Raen with his arms across his chest.

“You can either give me your weapon, or I’ll take it from you. Which would you prefer?” Gaiel asked.

Macallan deactivated his weapon and threw it to the Nautolan Knight.

“Smart,” Gaiel said. The Jedi Knight placed all three lightsabers on his belt near his own. “Now then, Macallan. Why did you attack Raen?”

“I had orders…” Macallan muttered. “I thought he was a Jedi. He isn’t. If he is not a Jedi, then, technically, I don’t have to kill him.”

“Hear that, Raen?” Gaiel asked. “He’s not going to hurt you.”

“He’s lying,” Raen said. “They hunted me before they found out I spoke with the Council. Why would they stop now?”

“You were a Dark Jedi on Dantooine. This is a Jedi sanctuary world. What were we supposed to do?” Macallan questioned.

“Take me to the Council. Before trying to kill me,” Raen shot back.

“Was this before or after you tried to kill us?” Macallan replied angrily.

“Enough!” Gaiel shouted. “We should all be on the same damn side here. If you two would just get over your petty rivalry, we could leave this planet!”

Raen was silent, so Macallan spoke instead. “Where are you guys headed?”

“Polus,” Gaiel said. “We need to get a ship at the spaceport.”

“I have a contact at the spaceport,” Macallan admitted. “They’re a smuggler crew. They work for my master. If I recall correctly, they just got back from a mission. You can meet them at the spaceport’s cantina. I don’t recall all of their names–I never met them–but one of them is named Cortes. He’s a scruffy guy with messy black hair, dark skin.”

“Thanks,” Gaiel said. “Let’s go, Raen. We’re leaving.”

“We’re just going to let him get away?” Raen said. “This is clearly a trap.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Gaiel retorted. “We’re on his side, and he’s on ours. He wouldn’t have any reason to trap us. Let’s go.”

“Best of luck, then,” Macallan said.

“You’re not coming with us?” Gaiel asked.

“I couldn’t stomach sticking around that Dark Jedi. Even if he isn’t going to be apart of our Order, I couldn’t bring myself to stick around him. Sorry Gaiel.”

“Very well,” Gaiel murmured.

“Gaiel,” Macallan added, “could I have Knosar’s saber? He and I, we knew each other. Old friends, ya’ know? That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“I… I suppose not. Here, take it.” Gaiel unclipped the cobalt blade from his belt and threw the deactivated weapon to the other Jedi.

“You’re giving him my weapon?” Raen questioned. “And you are not even going to ask for my input?”

“You don’t have any input,” Gaiel retorted.

While they bickered, Macallan leapt from the rooftop and headed toward the entrance of town. He had to meet with his master. Telerus would want to hear the good news: Raen Benax was not a Jedi. This meant that they could devote men and time to other, actual threats to the Jedi Order. Hopefully, his master would not be displeased by their losses. The eight Jedi who had died today would not die in vain. Macallan would ensure that Knosar’s memory, as well as the eight other Jedi–each one of them, Macallan knew personally–would live on through him. Despite his personal feelings, revenge was beyond the scope of a Jedi Knight and beyond the ability of a member of the watchcircle.

“You’re an idiot, Gaiel. Not only do you give away my weapon, but now we’re going to trust his contacts? He’s obviously leading us straight into a trap,” Raen continued.

“You’re too paranoid, Raen,” Gaiel said. “I trust Macallan. You should too.”

“Only because he wasn’t trying to kill you,” Raen muttered.

Gaiel ignored his ally’s latest whining and jumped down from the rooftop, using the Force to lighten the fall. Waiting for Raen to do the same, Gaiel headed for the spaceport, particularly its cantina. They needed a ship, and even if it was a trap, Gaiel could handle himself. He had to pause for Raen to discard his crimson lightsaber and replace it with the azure blade of one of the fallen Jedi, but once Raen was finished, Gaiel and the Alderaanian went on their way.

Raen and Gaiel left the alleyways behind the rooftop by the town’s epicenter rather quickly. The two Force-users did not want to attract any more attention to themselves than they already had. After passing by the large building that served as the Garang spaceport, Gaiel directed Raen across the street–toward the cantina–with caution. Reaching out into the Force’s ethereal field, Gaiel sensed that there were no Force-sensitives strong enough to be Jedi inside the cantina. There did seem to be several new Force-users roaming around near the city’s entrance, however. Figuring that they were more watchcircle Jedi, perhaps including Macallan’s master, Gaiel and Raen did their best to remain inconspicuous as they passed through the crowd and into the cantina. The Nautolan had entered first with his head down, while Raen followed at a distance, occasionally bumping into a burly patron or some drunken cantina-goers as he did so.

The cantina’s interior was not nearly as bad as the last one Raen had visited on Taris. Like the rest of Dantooine, and by association, Garang, the cantina was painted in bright colors that reflected the natural colors of the planet’s wilderness. This cantina’s wallpaper, in particular, had energetic shades of yellow and brown, with traces of darker scarlet and purple skating along near the ceiling. Unlike the cantina Raen had visited in the Lower City of Taris–he hoped to never visit it again–this bar did not pervade with the smell of alcohol. Instead, the smell was confined to drinking areas, primarily around the tables and the bar itself. The aroma of alcohol was replaced by the rich scent of exotic spices and other drugs. Raen inhaled deeply, finding that the smell floated throughout the bar in a tasteful manner. Although the Alderaanian did not find the smell too much better than the scent of alcohol, it was a welcome change.

Gaiel walked up to the bar and took a seat on one of the many fancy, linen barstools that lined the counter. Ordering a light drink from the Snivvian bartender, Gaiel waited patiently for his drink while Raen lingered nearby. Gaiel took notice of his inactive associate and feared that he would look suspicious just standing there. It was bad enough that the watchcircle’s agents were probably here; Gaiel had seen some of the fellows that Raen had bumped into walking in and they looked like they wanted to pick a fight with the Alderaanian. Although Gaiel imagined he could handle them himself, he would rather not cause trouble and have the two get kicked out.

“Raen. I’m going to chat with some of the spacers around here. Perhaps I’ll find this Cortes during my talks. Stay out of trouble in the meantime.”

“What do you want me to do?” Raen asked.

“Just go off somewhere by yourself and keep busy. I can handle this,” Gaiel ordered.

Raen headed off in a fuming silence, leaving Gaiel to talk with the nearest spacer he could find. The Alderaanian was furious. Why did Gaiel think he was useless? He knew Gaiel did not want to serve as Raen’s guardian-mentor, and Raen had offered him a chance to leave. The stubborn Nautolan had refused, and now they were stuck together for the remainder of the mission. Hopefully, Gaiel would get separated from him on their mission to Polus. Raen figured Gaiel was in way over his head and if he wasn’t careful, he’d lose it.

The Alderaanian took a seat in the nearest empty booth, sliding on top of the uncomfortable iriaz-hide chairs. The iriaz were a peculiar quadruped species native to Dantooine, and their hide was incredibly warm but also famed for its scratchy texture and rough interior. He stomped on the floor out of frustration. Raen was contemplating all the ways he could get his guardian to give up on him when a small party of individuals made their way toward his booth. They all had drinks in their hand, and the Human female at its head looked quite irritated, although Raen paid no attention to them, caught up in his own thoughts.

*** ***

Tserne was scouting around the cantina for potential opponents, and Delvin was treating himself at the bar. This allowed Ralina, Manda, and Fetcher to have some free time to themselves. After spending some time–and losing some of their hard-earned credits–in the game room, the smuggling trio left the area before Manda’s compulsive gambling caused them to lose all of their money. The three of them each grabbed alcoholic spirits from the cooler before they had left and made their way back to their booth. Luckily for them, the cooler provided free samplers to patrons, so they did not have to cough up any emergency funds.

The leader of the Jedi, the same man who had contacted them before every mission and gave them instructions, was finally meeting Ralina and her crew in person. Why he picked this dingy cantina in the planet’s capital, the captain was not quite sure. The entire crew was tired after their run-in with the Sith over the Convict’s Dawn, but Ralina in particular was unbearably exhausted. She just wanted to relax, get some drinks, and maybe even win a few credits before they met their contact. By then, Ralina would very likely be a bit tipsy and might not even care enough to listen to the Jedi speak.

She was righteously angry when she saw someone sitting in her seat. She nearly shouted at him, but she managed to keep calm. “Excuse me, kid. You’re in our seats.”

Raen turned to face her, although it was clear that he was either distracted or simply did not care. “I did not see a reservation, and no one was here when I sat down. Get lost.”

Fetcher growled and prepared to attack Raen, but Ralina signaled for him to stay put with a wave of her copper-toned hand. Fetcher grudgingly accepted, but he continued staring at Raen, occasionally barring his fangs. The Shistavanen was more than willing to tear this ridiculous individual apart if Ralina requested it.

Ralina handed her drink to Manda–now both of the Devaronian’s hands were full–so the captain could use both of her hands if necessary. She placed both of her fists on the table and glared at the young man.

“Maybe you didn’t catch what I said earlier,” Ralina taunted him. “That’s okay. You don’t look too bright. I’ll repeat: get out of my booth, or I will make you.”

Raen hesitated for a brief moment. He was not scared of Ralina or worried about her threats; he was slightly alarmed by her titanic Shistavanen ally. However, Raen figured he could handle them all with ease. “Please. Before you brag about how you’re wanted in five star systems, at least-”

Ralina did not wait for Raen to finish his sarcastic retort. Despite a warning from the Force, the Alderaanian could not avoid the captain’s hands, which snatched the back of his head. He felt his skin and hair get pinched and clenched by Ralina, and then he saw the table get harrowingly closer, until his face was smashed into the tabletop. Raen’s eyes were engulfed by a dizzying array of dots and colored sparkles, and he found himself unable to focus and avoid Ralina’s next strike. Before he could regain his composure, Ralina threw Raen out of the booth. The Alderaanian ended up on the metal floor of the cantina, and he felt a bit of blood on his lip. Raen was still a bit disoriented from Ralina’s first attack, although the Force helped him stand and deflect a swift jab to his abdomen. Raen smiled as he repelled Ralina’s attack, but she easily wiped the smile off his face by punching him with her free hand, sending him to the floor yet again.

“I’m wanted in six star systems,” Ralina said with a slight smirk. “And I don’t brag. I prefer to let my actions speak for me.”

Raen struggled to stand, and he was glad that the Force had forced his vision to return to normal. He took notice of the crowd that had gathered around him and Ralina. Most of them were screaming obscenities, urging them to keep fighting, or simple yelling incoherent, drunken babble. The crowd caused trouble for the exiled Sith because he had planned on escaping the cantina before Ralina could continue her assault. Now he was forced to stay and fight her–an idea that did not seem too keen in his mind. The last time he had tried to fight a woman, he had nearly been incapacitated. Needless to say, he was not eager to go through a similar experience on Dantooine.

Blocking the next few strikes from Ralina with his arms, Raen narrowly avoided a follow-up kick to the groin. He had learned how to avoid those strikes from previous encounters and was able to keep up an unarmed defensive. Ralina continued her strikes, mostly swift punches, and threatened to break Raen’s arms as the attacks became increasingly severe. He did not want to fight back, lest he ignite the anger of the Shistavanen who was still watching the fight from afar.

As Ralina was about to move in for a strong punch at Raen’s chest, Gaiel pushed his way through the crowd. His lightsaber was in his hand, although it was not activated. He began to yell at the two fighters to stop fighting, pushing through Fetcher and Manda to reach a position between Raen and Ralina. Although the captain tried to make her way around the Nautolan Jedi, a light telekinetic push from Gaiel sent her backwards. Once he had positioned himself in between the two combatants, Gaiel felt the cold metal of a vibroblade against the back of his neck. Luckily, it had not punctured any skin, but it was startlingly close and could have done so with ease. He had sensed several Force-users in the city, but Gaiel had not presumed any were in the cantina. To add insult to injury, Gaiel had not detected his invisible opponent before he had decided to uncloak himself, revealing his position–and weapon–to the Jedi Knight. Tserne DeLarane looked like death himself to the startled Nautolan; Gaiel saw a haunting emptiness in the man’s eyes as Tserne threatened to cut open his neck.

The fight was about to break out again, this time between four combatants, when the spacer Gaiel had spoken to earlier ran toward them. He had also run through the crowd, knocking over a few drunkards in the process, and was waving his arms. “Stop fighting, stop fighting! And let Gaiel go, Tserne!”

Gaiel’s assailant reluctantly removed his weapon from Gaiel’s neck and returned it to the sheath on his belt. Tserne muttered something under his breath and he snuck back into the crowd. Once the majority of the spectators realized that the fighting was over, they began to disperse and continue on their way. The majority of the patrons returned to their drinks, although some of them had been looking forward to someone dying and left the bar in disgust.

Ralina sighed as she cleaned off the hair and blood that she had collected around her shoulders and fists and took her drink from Manda. The Devaronian was still shocked about the entire ordeal, so it was difficult to pry the alcohol out of her hands. The three spacers took their seats on the booth that Raen had occupied while Delvin walked away, giving himself distance between the booths.

Delvin himself looked exactly how Macallan had described him. Raen took note of the fact that Cortes was shorter than himself and Gaiel, and was about as tall as Ralina. However, he made up for his shorter height with his build; his muscle mass made him appear strong enough to fight the Shistavanen in their crew. He was clothed with brown slacks and a buttoned-up red-brown spacer’s jacket.

He smiled once Raen recovered. “Hello, Raen. My name is Delvin Cortes. You’ve met my crew, I’m sure.

Gaiel snuck around from Delvin’s left side and walked up to Raen. Placing a firm hand on his shoulder, he whispered tersely: “Didn’t I tell you to stay out of trouble?”

“Trouble found me,” Raen muttered.

“Anyway,” Delvin continued, ignoring the private conversation between the two Jedi, “Ralina over there is our captain. You’ll probably call her Captain Venli. The Shistavanen, well, we call him Fetcher. You’ll do so too, I think. His real name would sounds like a Squib’s. The Devaronian is Manda. She’s a bit odd.”

“And the freakish knife-wielder? He’s with you?” Gaiel asked.

“His name is Tserne,” Delvin said softly. “None of us enjoy his company, but we’re forced to deal with him–for now, anyway.”

“So you guys are Macallan’s contacts?” Gaiel asked.

“Who?” Delvin asked. “I’ve never heard of any guy named Macallan.”

“But you can take us to Polus, right?” Gaiel asked.

“Of course,” Delvin assured him.

“You must be kidding me….” Raen began. However, the young Force-sensitive was cut off by a sharp pang in the Force. He realized that Gaiel had also sensed that a threat was approaching. It felt as if someone had died not too far from here.

“Delvin, where is your ship docked?” Gaiel asked.

“Well, it’s not my ship. But hangar twenty-one. Hound’s Sapphire. One of our guys will let you in. If you guys are leaving, you can meet us there in fifteen minutes.”

“Not a problem,” Gaiel said.

Gaiel motioned for Raen to follow him away from the cantina. The two Force-users shoved their way through the crowd, not bothering to stealthily avoid patrons now, and worked their way toward the back entrance. Raen followed Gaiel as quickly as he could, although he had to be careful not to step on Gaiel’s heels in the process. The two Jedi paid the burly and apparently unintelligent Human bouncer several dozen credits to allow them to use the back door of the cantina. Gaiel figured that it would leave to an alleyway that would connect to the streets outside the spaceport. The bouncer happily complied, opening the locked door without asking any questions. Gaiel left the cantina with Raen at his side, hoping that the Jedi Watchcircle had not encircled the cantina to trap them.

*** ***

“But… but Master,” Macallan said. “Don’t you understand?”

The Jedi Knight was dangling from invisible strings, and he was clawing at his neck in a futile attempt to stop the pain. Telerus and several other agents of Watchcircle Dominus were standing in an alley near the entrance to the cantina, and the Macallan’s own master was choking him. Macallan felt tears well up in his eyes; whether of out sadness, fear, or simply the fact he was choking, he couldn’t tell.

“I understand perfectly,” Telerus cooed. “I understand that you are useless, tainted Jedi who has bought into their lies!”

Telerus waved his hand and walked out of the alleyway with his other minions. As soon as Telerus had left the dark backstreet, a vicious cracking noise was heard from Macallan’s neck, and the Jedi Knight died in midair. He was still floating–a lifeless corpse suspended by Telerus’s power–when the Jedi Watchcircle agents entered the cantina’s front door.

Ralina had watched the two Jedi scurry out the cantina, and she let out a sigh of relief. The Nautolan Jedi did not appear rude or demanding. His Human friend, though, was simply annoying, arrogant, and idiotic. She had enough Jedi in her life in the form of her employer and his aides; she did not need more idealistic and haughty Jedi inviting themselves in at will. At least Delvin got rid of them.

She beckoned for Delvin to sit down with the rest of the crew, and he took the last available seat. Once the entire crew of the Hound’s Sapphire–except for Tserne, but only Ralina considered him a crewmate–was seated, Ralina proposed a toast to a job well done. The entire crew cheered, clanked their drinks, and finished their beverages. Manda, in particular, was nearly drunk enough to pass out on the table, but the other members of the crew had enough alcohol tolerance to stay sober.

“So Cortes, who were the two Jeedai? Why were ya’ talking to ‘em?” Manda asked, her voice bubbly and a bit garbled.

“Latest cargo,” Delvin said. He tapped the barmaid on the shoulder as she passed by and requested another drink. “Since we’re not going to be working for our other employer, it seems.”

Ralina nearly spit out the rest of her drink at Delvin’s revelation. Manda cackled in drunken delight.

“Wait, what?” Ralina asked. “You permitted them to ride in our vessel without my permission?”

Delvin nodded and shrugged. “With all due respect, Captain, they’re rather wealthy. When I met them, I asked myself, ‘what would Ralina do?’ and I decided that you would take the chance to earn fifteen thousand credits. Especially for one simple escort mission.”

“Where are they headed?” Fetcher asked.

“Polus,” Delvin answered.

“Fifteen thousand,” Fetcher repeated. The amount they were willing to pay just sank in. “They must be desperate. That’s what we earn in three months.”

Ralina had noticed that the Jedi Watchcircle agents had entered the cantina. At first, she watched them out of the corner of her eye, wondering if they had seen them. Then, one of the agents pointed toward Ralina and her crew, and the four or so Jedi, robed and hooded, made their way toward the Hound’s Sapphire crew.

“Hush,” Ralina said amidst the chatter. “Our contact is here.”

From elsewhere in the cantina, Telerus stalked toward the crew of the Hound’s Sapphire, flanked by three Jedi guardsmen. He and his associates were all wearing standard Jedi robes, although Telerus’s guards also had hoods to conceal their identities. The plump Jedi Knight approached Ralina’s crew with a disturbing smile on his face–Ralina assumed he had just kicked a dog–and pulled up a stool. He sat near the booth itself, forcing an awkward silence upon the crew. The rest of the Jedi followed their commander, standing around him to shield him from harm.

“It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintances in person,” Telerus chortled.

“We’re busy people,” Ralina pointedly stated. “Let’s hurry this along.”

Telerus heaved a thick sigh. “Do I ever waste your time, Ms. Venli?”

“There was that one time over Corulag…” Fetcher began.

“That doesn’t count,” Telerus protested, eyeing the Shistavanen fiercely. “Regardless, I suppose you’re right. Enough banter. Do you have the goods?”

Ralina nodded, and then beckoned for Tserne, who was standing in the distance, to approach. The sickly assassin stood by Telerus–although his guards prevented him from getting too close–and showed the Jedi Knight a large satchel. At Telerus’s orders, one of the guards took the bag from Tserne and opened it. Inside, dozens of Jedi and Sith holocrons of all shapes, sizes, and designs were resting. Telerus’s eyes bulged out like Suurjan olives upon seeing the holocrons for himself.

“Excellent,” Telerus bubbled with delight. He giggled and bounced about in his stool, and Ralina was worried that the poor seat would be shattered by Telerus’s girth. Telerus handed one of his guards a cred stick, and he, in turn, handed it to Tserne. Once the assassin had taken the payment, he departed from their presence.

“How much did you pay us?” Ralina asked.

“Six thousand, as promised.”

“I want double,” Ralina demanded. “This was a dangerous mission, and we’re concluding our services with your organization.”

Telerus chortled. “Now, now, don’t be greedy, my fair smuggler. My men distracted Malak’s vessel, and they paid for it with their lives. You owe me nearly four million credits–the cost of the ships I sent to protect you and your crew–and you’re demanding payment from me? It’s a pity that you won’t be working with us anymore, but I’m afraid that trying to get rich and run is not going to work with me.”

Ralina’s crew was silent for several unnerving moments. The captain sorely wanted more payment, but at this point, she had to accept the fact that their employer had sent his own men to protect her ship. She also had to acknowledge that if he had not, Ralina’s crew would never have escaped and managed to get here. The captain nodded begrudgingly and accepted defeat. The entire crew immediately became downcast as they realized their captain had lost the bargaining, but Telerus smiled wryly. He was just happy their groups could come to an agreement–in his favor, of course. He stood up with some difficulty and returned the now-damaged stool to its location at a nearby table. Waving toward Ralina and her crew, Telerus bid farewell to the smuggling crew as he and his guards walked away.

“Wait,” Ralina shouted. Her request halted the Jedi in their tracks, and they turned their attention to Ralina. “What are you going to do with those holocrons?” she asked.

“Haven’t you learned yet, Ralina Venli?” Telerus’s voice had taken on a radically different tone, and the change startled the entire crew. “We don’t meddle in your criminal activity, and you don’t meddle in our business. It was a mutual respect between employee and employer. Now that you don’t work for us, no such respect exists. Do not compromise the already-thin ice you’re on.”

“Was that a threat?” Ralina snapped, standing to her feet. At this point, she was more than ready to take down this corpulent space slug.

“Have you seen any Jedi around here?” Telerus continued in his normal, optimistic tone as he ignored the captain. “Besides us, of course.”

Ralina hesitated for a brief moment. She was about to tell Telerus about Gaiel and his friend, but then decided against it. “No. I’m afraid we haven’t. Were you looking for Jedi?”

Telerus eyed the smuggler carefully, glancing about her lithe body. Ralina shuddered as his small, faint eyes stared at her, and it was almost as though the Jedi Knight was trying to see through her; he was not interested in her, but rather in something beyond her. The Jedi Knight closed his eyes for a brief moment, giving the captain a brief respite, before opening them again. He whispered commands to his Jedi allies, and the three of them left the cantina in a hurry.

“Problems?” Fetcher asked, not fazed by the Jedi Knight’s inspection of their captain.

“Let’s just say that a sheep needs to be returned to the shepherd’s flock,” Telerus replied kindly. As he turned around, he muttered, “And another to the slaughterhouse.”

As he concluded his business, Telerus followed his agents out of the cantina. The crew of the Hound’s Sapphire was left alone at their table yet again. This time, there was no cheerful banter or curious dialog. Instead, each of them sat at their table in a confused and slightly disturbed silence.

“Why didn’t you tell them about those two Jedi?” Fetcher asked.

Ralina ensured that Telerus had left the cantina entirely before replying to Fetcher’s question. “I really hate that Hutt of a Jedi now. He thinks he can mock me, my crew, and threaten me as well? I don’t think so. My information is my own, and not his.”

“I never trusted ‘em,” Manda noted, still a bit drunk. “And I always knew ‘e was a rat.”

“We should get going, Captain,” Delvin spoke up. “Those Jedi–or fake Jedi–seem quite perceptive. If they even sensed you were lying to them, they’ll know. In fact, I think he did know you were lying. They probably have some agents prepared to follow us. The sooner we leave this place, the better.”

“You’re right,” Ralina said. “Tserne! Pay for our drinks. Everyone else, head for the hangar. We’re getting off of this dull world.”

*** ***

Once Raen and Gaiel had left the cantina, they made a maddeningly quick beeline through the city’s sidestreets and a few abandoned avenues on their way to the Garang spaceport. As the two Force-users passed through the light crowd that occupied the street in front of the spaceport, someone in white clothes bumped into Raen. The young Alderaanian was knocked backward due to the force of the collision, and the other individual did not even bother turning around or helping Raen. Raen cursed at the individual, but–to his surprise–the white-clothed being was already gone. Confused, Raen realized that the figure had slipped a holocron into his hands.

Unlike most holocrons, or at least, the ones Raen had been lucky enough to see, this device was octahedral in shape, possessing eight faces of light gray coloration. It was small enough for Raen to hold it in a single hand, but it was significantly heavier than his lightsaber. The device exuded an aura of light, and it caused Raen to feel uncomfortable. The power of the light side seemed to burn at his skin, and he was surprised that he could feel pain in his hands; ever since he had started to use the flame-based Force power, he had been unable to feel pain in his palms and digits.

“What is it, Raen?” Gaiel asked, realizing that the Alderaanian was lingering.

“Nothing,” Raen said. He slipped the device into a pocket in his robes before the Nautolan could see it. “Just some junk I found. I’ll discard it once we get to the ship.”

Gaiel could tell that Raen was lying to him, but the younger Force-sensitive did not answer any further questions and continued on his way to the spaceport. The Nautolan followed him to the dockmaster’s office at the entrance of the port. After paying the dock’s paltry twenty-five credit entry fee, they headed down the blue-colored halls toward hangar twenty-one.

The two approached the doorway of the hangar, and Raen noticed that it was unlocked. Opening the door, Raen entered first while Gaiel followed him shortly thereafter. The two were awed by the size and status of the smugglers’ vessel. Their ship was a modified and refurbished Lethisk-class armored freighter that had been painted blue instead of the standard yellow. The freighter itself looked like an oblong spoon to Raen, particularly its stern. The Alderaanian almost laughed aloud at the sheer ridiculousness of the thought, but Gaiel silenced him. The Jedi Knight knew they had gotten off to a bad start with these smugglers, and he did not need Raen causing more trouble.

None of the ship’s crew was present in the hangar except for Fetcher, who was tending to some of the ship’s external damage before the ship left. He had a rag, a box of tools, and a headlight strapped between his lupine ears. At the moment, he was cleaning out one of the ship’s starboard guns.

“Ahoy, Jedi,” Fetcher called out, noticing their approach. “Took you long enough to get here. Go ahead and step inside. The captain and Manda–if you remember her–are out. They’re gathering some last minute supplies, but they’ll be here shortly.”

“And we can leave as soon as they arrive?” Gaiel asked.

“Of course.”

Gaiel nodded kindly and stepped into the ship by using its metallic boarding ramp. Raen followed suit, barely casting a passing glance to the working Shistavanen. Once the two were in the confines of the ship, which was duly painted and hardly spacious, they were greeted by Delvin, who was sitting on a bench near the entryway.

“Come with me, Jedi,” Delvin said. “I’ll show you to the bridge.”

Raen nodded complacently and allowed Delvin and Gaiel to lead the way. He wanted to get this mission over with as soon as possible.

*** ***

Telerus was seated in the commander’s chair on the bridge of the Jedi Covenant’s flagship, Clairvoyance, a powerful Hammerhead-class cruiser that had been converted for use by the Jedi Order. The crew of this vessel alone numbered in the hundreds, and the majority of it was run by droids, prisoners, and recruited soldiers. The bridge itself was not large by the standards of most capital ships, barely able to fit twenty people at once. The ship’s interior was also primarily painted in Republic Red and Senate Yellow. However, it was spacious enough to please Telerus and his associate, a Quarren Jedi Master. The Quarren wore ornate, scarlet robes and a shimmering, equally beautiful white cape. His head was squid-like, and he had tentacles over his mouth in addition to fleshy protrusion on each side of his head.

“Master. Why did you send our agents after those smugglers? Would our agents not better be used elsewhere?” the Quarren Jedi asked.

“For the same reason I had my men attach a homing beacon to their ship,” Telerus mused. “To startle them. I want them to know that they are not exempt from the justice of Watchcircle Dominus.”

“Of course, Master,” the Quarren said. “But why? What did they do that requires our justice?”

“They are helping the tainted one and Gaiel reach Polus. They lied to my face. And the captain has too much of a temper for my liking,” Telerus purred. “She’ll have to be… calmed down.”

“How do you know they’re helping Raen?” asked the Quarren.

“Dear, dear, Jram,” Telerus said coolly. “You’re still so blind. You have yet to see the light like I have. Your mind is still clouded, like all new recruits to our covenant. Don’t worry. You’ll be enlightened soon enough. But to answer your question: nothing is hidden from the light. All secrets–those that dwell in the shadows–are visible like an open book to me.”

“Yes, Master,” Jram muttered, somewhat alarmed. “Shall I inform the crew to pursue the Hound’s Sapphire?”

“No need,” Telerus replied. “The Sith seem to be doing our job for us. Apparently, Raen Benax is not popular amongst the Sith, either. No, he’ll be dealt with. We’re heading for Alderaan.”

“What is on that pitiful excuse for a planet that could possibly require your presence, Master?” Jram questioned. “Surely you do not need to step foot on that corrupted planet.”

“I’m afraid I do, Jram.”

“But why?” Jram asked again.

“Tor’chal is on Alderaan. And we must… rescue him.”

*** ***

The two Force-users and Delvin arrived on the bridge after Delvin had shown them around the back section of the ship. The bridge, Raen noted, was rather unimpressive. Barely large enough to hold the smuggling crew’s five individuals, Raen feared that they would not have enough room to maneuver should someone attack their bridge. Regardless, it was more comfortable than the bridge of the Rocket One. He had lost it over Taris, and he had lost Teeone during his time with the settlers here on Dantooine. Raen sighed. He missed his belongings.

“Who are the new organic beings, Delvin?” Jon’s digitized voice asked.

“My name is Gaiel Remus,” the Nautolan Jedi introduced himself. “And this is Raen Benax, an Alderaanian.”

“Pleased to meet you. My name is Jon. It’s not a fancy acronym for anything, but I suppose my official designation would be Virtual Cruiser Assistance Program model 2040. Apparently, VCAP 2040 was not as easy to say as ‘Jon’,” the AI explained in a detailed monologue.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Gaiel responded, trying to be as brief as he could.

Once introductions were out of the way, Ralina and Manda arrived on the bridge, panting and gasping for breath. They were both still in the garb they had worn at the cantina, although it was a bit messier than the last time the two Force-users had seen them. Fetcher was trailing them and followed them onto the bridge. Delvin helped the captain into her seat, while the other two crewmembers trudged toward their positions.

“What happened?” Gaiel asked.

“We were attacked,” Ralina said between gasps for air. She was already punching commands into her chair’s readout console. “By Jedi, of all people. We escaped, but they might still be following us.”

“I’ll prep the engines,” Fetcher responded quickly.

“And I’ll get the hyperdrive active,” Jon said.

Ralina nodded. “Manda! Any hostiles on the sensors?”

“No, Captain,” Manda murmured. She was glancing at her displays, although she had a frown on her face. “Our vessel’s sensors don’t work too well in urban areas, though.”

Gaiel stood by Ralina’s chair as the ship began to leave the hangar and ascend into the Dantooinian sky. Raen took a seat in the technician’s chair–Halendot’s chair–and he was immediately glared at by every member of the Hound’s Sapphire crew. Fetcher returned his attention to the steering module rather quick, guiding the vehicle toward the dark realm of space that encompassed Dantooine.

“If you don’t mind,” Ralina addressed Gaiel. “I heard you’re willing to pay us quite heftily for this trip.”

Gaiel hesitated. “I’m… I’m afraid we don’t yet have the funds. Would it be too much trouble to pay you once we arrive on Polus?”

Ralina grimaced and then sighed. She knew she couldn’t force credits out of them, and she couldn’t exactly just jettison them into space–they were Jedi after all. “If you must.”

“Thank you,” Gaiel continued. “Would you mind if I retire now? I am feeling weary after today’s ventures.”

“Go ahead, Jedi. Tserne! Show him to his room,” Ralina ordered.

Tserne appeared from the shadows near Gaiel, effectively startling the Jedi Knight half-to-death. The former assassin motioned for him to follow Tserne to his new quarters. Although he was initially hesitant, Gaiel was assured by Ralina that Tsrene would not attempt to harm him. Once he had been convinced of his safety, Gaiel left the bridge with Tserne, leaving Raen alone with the crew. Raen appeared dazed and lost in thought. He was wondering why he was still doing this. Wasn’t he supposed to be going to Alderaan, not on a joy ride with these smugglers to Polus?

“You all right, Jedi? You seem flustered,” Delvin noted.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Raen assured him. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

“This ship too impressive for you, Jedi?” Manda snickered.

“Hardly,” Raen retorted. “I just need some sleep.”

“Fine,” Ralina said, somewhat flippantly. “You get the engine room.”

“The engine room?” Raen repeated.

Ralina nodded, smiling. “Yeah. Just because we’re helping you, doesn’t mean we’re friends or anything. Your Jedi friend is nice enough, but you’re a brat. You get to sleep in our engine room.”

Raen angrily stormed off of the bridge with a scowl on his face. How dare they make him sleep in the engine room like an animal? Manda was clearly enjoying the spectacle, because she laughed loudly upon seeing Raen’s face; Ralina had to silence her–despite her better judgment–lest Raen return to the bridge and try to kill them all with his Jedi powers. Once Raen had left the bridge, he stalked through the confined corridors of the Hound’s Sapphire on his way to the engine room. Tserne was walking toward Raen on his way back to the bridge, and he bumped into Raen. The Alderaanian was nearly thrown off his feet; however, neither of them bothered to react to the other.

Raen finally reached the engine room after a vicious march through the otherwise-empty halls. Finding himself in the cramped engine room, Raen considered destroying or sabotaging the engines to force the crew to suffer. After meditating on his plan, he realized that his idea was counterproductive and pointless. He did not want to spend more time with them than necessary, after all. The Alderaanian began to place his belongings–like his lightsaber and the holocron–onto the deck itself, and he had almost finished preparing a quasi-bedroom of sorts when Gaiel entered the engine chambers. Raen felt his presence and quickly threw a small crate over the holcron itself, shielding it from the Jedi’s view. Turning around, Raen saw the dour expression on Gaiel’s face, and he knew that he was about to get lectured.

“Something wrong?” Raen asked halfheartedly.

“Do you feel that, Raen?” Gaiel asked. He entered the room and spoke softly; when he was acting this aloof, Raen knew that something was amiss.

“No,” the younger of the pair admitted. “What is it?”

“The dark side. It lingers in this place. This entire ship, even. At first, I thought perhaps it was just the presence of those who were chasing us on Dantooine, but I can still sense something here, and we’re leaving the world,” Gaiel explained. “It’s very subtle–possibly unintentional–but it is sinister and deadly.”

“You sure it’s not me?” Raen asked.

“No. You’re… it’s not you.”

“Then what is it?”

“I am unsure what could be creating such a pervasive, yet lingering, aura. Just watch yourself. Is this where you’ve been assigned?

“Yeah.”

“All right. We should trade off nights, then. You sleep tonight; I’ll sleep tomorrow. If you’re not sleeping, you’re on guard duty.”

Raen smiled. “Does this mean you think this could be some sort of trap?”

“I never suggested that.”

“But you’re acting like it.”

“I’m just not sure,” Gaiel admitted. “Raen, I’m not a Jedi Master. I’m not a prodigy in any sense of the word. I could have been wrong about Macallan. Admittedly, I shouldn’t even be here.”

Raen felt slightly uncomfortable. Weakness in a Jedi was something he had never heard of–though he certainly suspected those like Celsus were rife with it. “The Council chose you for this mission, didn’t they?”

“Yes.”

“And you trust their wisdom, don’t you?”

“… Yes.”

“Then you’ll be fine,” Raen said. He hesitated for a moment, and then continued: “Gaiel… I… I’m sorry.”

“You? Sorry? What for?” Gaiel asked. His expression betrayed his evident shock.

“My actions and my attitude on Dantooine were out of line. Perhaps… maybe… we can both win. I… I’ve killed a lot of Jedi, Gaiel. They were strong, wise Jedi. And… they really shouldn’t have died.”

“Are you feeling… regret?” Gaiel questioned.

“Maybe.”

Gaiel smiled a toothy smile. “Then we’re already one step closer to understanding each other, Raen Benax. I was not as patient with you as I should have been. I’m willing to forgive you for your actions on Dantooine. And I think we should start over, don’t you?”

Raen pondered this option for a moment. He still wanted to go to Alderaan, and he certainly was not ready to commit himself to a Jedi prison. But for the time being, he felt that he owed Gaiel something. He personally killed several Jedi. He could at least cooperate with Gaiel until their time together was done.

“Very well. We’ll start over,” Raen finally said.

“Excellent,” Gaiel replied. “Then let’s begin.”

“Begin?”

“Your training, Raen.” Gaiel activated his lightsaber. “If you are going to survive, you’ll need someone to teach you.”

“I understand. Then let’s begin.”

*** ***

“I heard you laughing from all the way down the halls,” Tserne told Manda, walking onto the bridge.

“Just because you saved the captain and helped us on the Convict’s Dawn, don’t think I forgive you for killing Holen,” Manda snapped. “And I’m not talking to you, either.”

“Enough,” Ralina growled. “I know you guys can’t stand each other, but your bickering is driving me mad. Save it for when you guys are in private, please.”

Manda nodded reluctantly, returning her attention to her duties. Tserne moved from his position by Ralina’s chair to a corner of the bridge, hiding himself in the shadows. As the Hound’s Sapphire pulled itself from Dantooine’s wispy atmosphere, the vessel raced through the emptiness of space and away from the planet’s orbit. Ralina watched the viewport and mused over their time on Dantooine. She would have to force Manda and Tserne to cooperate and act cordial toward each other. In time, of course.

“Captain. Are we prepared for the hyperspace jump?” Fetcher asked.

“Yeah,” Ralina said. “Bring us into hyperspace. Slowly.”

“10… 9… 8…” Jon began the countdown.

“To Polus, then,” Ralina said.

The Hound’s Sapphire groaned with excitement as the vessel’s hyperdrive kicked in. The freighter slowly propelled itself into the realm of hyperspace, fluttering out of realspace with a burst of speed and a glimmer of light. Leaving Dantooine and the safety of the Jedi Enclave behind, Ralina’s smugglers forced the vessel to head for Polus. Carrying Jedi and smuggler alike, the Hound’s Sapphire ventured into the unknown and the beginning of a new adventure.

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