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Chapter 5

The low rumbling made by the Luminous Daybreak’s engine could be felt all the way from the passengers’ quarters; it was obvious that this ship was outdated and falling into disrepair. Although the vibrations were weak and barely discernible from Tor’chal’s room, the aged Ithorian’s astute connection with the Force enabled him to sense the minuscule tremors with more clarity. The dark-skinned Ithorian sat quietly in a meditative pose while the rumbling became louder and the tremors began to travel farther, reaching out and affecting the entire ship. His wizened hands instinctively began to reach for his lightsaber, although he managed to avoid succumbing to his base reactions. Tor’chal had some faith that the ship would not collapse on itself, but if the vessel was not fixed soon, there were bound to be complications that would affect the entire ship, injuring many.

The Jedi Master heaved a great sigh from his two gaping mouths. The air and dust passed by his archaic gray robes and hammerhead-shaped head, a distinguishing feature of the Ithorian species. The Force was telling him that he was nearing his destination–Alderaan. Tor’chal had visited the Core World many times after the Great Sith War against Exar Kun, the last Sith Lord who had attacked the Republic. To be honest, Tor’chal had enjoyed the world. Its flowing hills of grass, the golden hue of the midsummer sun, and the glistening, clear waters of the Aldera River reminded the old Jedi of his homeworld of Ithor. At least, it was more like Ithor than the industrialized and worldwide cityscapes that seemed to be quite numerous in the Core Worlds.

Despite the world’s tranquility, it seemed to be plagued by the threat of the dark side. One of the Dark Lords of the Sith War, Ulic Qel-Droma, was an Alderaanian by birth, and many citizens of his planet supported his actions, albeit secretly. And now the people of Alderaan were being threatened by the Sith yet again, or so it seemed. Tor’chal was worried. The last time he had been to Alderaan–a year before the end of the war against the Mandalorians–he had seen no trace of the Sith. The old Jedi Master quickly decided it must have been Revan’s doing, despite the fact that only Core World the fallen Jedi had attacked was the shipyard world of Foerost.

The Jedi Master was still pondering all these things when his door chimed, informing him that someone was attempting to get inside. Tor’chal remained seated like he was meditating, using the Force to unlock the door and keeping his hand near his lightsaber. Seconds after the door had opened, a young Twi’lek stepped into the room; from his height, Tor’chal assumed he had barely turned fifteen standard years of age.

“I gave instructions not to be disturbed,” Tor’chal began.

“Yes, sir,” the child replied, “but you also told us to alert you when we were approaching Alderaan. We’ll be on the surface in ten minutes.”

“Excellent. Thank you, lad,” Tor’chal said, hoping the child would leave.

To Tor’chal’s relief, once the child had received Tor’chal’s confirmation, he turned around and left the Jedi’s chambers. The Ithorian Jedi wasted no time in gathering his scattered belongings from around the room, collecting them and placing them in a single knapsack. Once all his equipment–which, to be honest, wasn’t much–had been gathered, Tor’chal reached for the long-range communicator he had attached to his belt. Since the comlink was only usable within a few kilometers of its intended target, Tor’chal could now use his communicator to contact Alderaanian Jedi and alert them of his arrival.

The old Jedi wearily inputted a series of codes and digits necessary to unlock the Jedi communication channel on Alderaan. The world was, after all, unofficially considered enemy territory; privacy was a necessity. Any Jedi spies left on the world would be in danger if the Sith tracked down their location from the Jedi Master’s comm-message.

Sitting in silence for several moments, Tor’chal was worried that no one was left on the planet to take his message. Due to his age, he stayed calm physically, but mentally, he was panicking. He was quickly relieved by a last minute response to his message.

“This is Jedi Knight Loron Psenos. Who is this?” the voice questioned. There was no image, for privacy’s sake, and the transmission was garbled, so it was difficult for Tor’chal to understand the entire message.

“Master Tor’chal, calling in from the Luminous Daybreak, a K20 Core-class civilian transport. I am approaching Alderaan; I will reach the planet in approximately six minutes.”

There was silence for a moment, and Tor’chal was worried he had lost the communication. However, he was relieved when Loron’s voice returned. “Roger that, Master Tor’chal. Where will you be landing? I’ll give you an escort.”

“I’m unsure,” Tor’chal admitted somewhat sheepishly. “I’ll contact you again when I land; you can pick me up then. Tor’chal out.”

Switching the transmission offline, Tor’chal sat on the cot in the corner of the room, awaiting his arrival with a silent patience.

*** ***

The morning sun pierced the dark clouds surrounding Alderaan like a spear, allowing it to shine over the planet. Many Alderaanians were ecstatic that the rains had ended, but Jaeln Benax was miserable. The young Sith warrior was sitting in a beat-up and broken-down hoverspeeder; it was an ugly color, and most of its paint had worn off, leaving a grotesque brown and yellow residue on the speeder. He was sitting on the driver’s seat of the hoverspeeder, clenching an outdated communication transceiver like it regulated his heartbeat. From his position atop a small hill, Jaeln could see the Eastern Alderaanian Spaceport and clearly make out everyone who moved around its vast courtyard. From the homeless wanderer to the lost noble, Jaeln had his azure eyes on every one of them.

Jaeln had been waiting in the speeder ever since daybreak. He knew why he was here, so it was not a complete waste of time. De’dlay had contacted him and his little brother the night before. The Sith Master had informed them that Tor’chal’s ship, a K20 Core-class transport, would arrive before noon today. Although Jaeln was suspicious of De’dlay’s plans and his motives for this entire mission, Jaeln had meditated on his suspicions for almost a week and decided this was his only course of action.

During his meditations, Jaeln had come to realize that he had actually been jealous of Raen. He wanted the glory of killing the Jedi Master. But was that so wrong? He was a Sith after all. Anger, power, jealousy, and passion: these things were feared by the Jedi, but they were the fuel of the dark side. It was strange. His conclusion had not been to pursue these things. Actually, his thoughts and motives directed him toward the opposite path. Maybe the Sith weren’t right for him. Whatever his decision, he was interrupted from his thoughts by the chirping of his comlink.

“Are you there, Jaeln?” De’dlay’s voice spoke through the transceiver.

“I’m here. What is it, Master De’dlay?” Jaeln responded courteously.

“We’ve got a match. Tor’chal’s ship is landing now. He is meeting with a Jedi contact named Loron Psenos. You’ll hunt down the Jedi–he should be near the capital–while Raen and I pick up our Ithorian friend,” De’dlay explained.

Jaeln nodded and was about to turn off his comlink when he heard the roar of a star cruiser approaching the spaceport. Casting a quick glance, he noticed a K20 transport descending into one of the docking bays. It was quite far off, and there were many people in the area, but Jaeln could feel the power of the Force within the civilian vessel. He knew that the Ithorian Jedi had arrived.

“Negative, De’dlay. Tor’chal just landed at my location. I’ll have to pick him up,” Jaeln explained quickly.

“What? No, that ruins our entire plan!” De’dlay replied. “Who will kill the Jedi Knight? He’ll figure out what’s going on by the time we get there.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jaeln answered calmly, hoping to remedy the Nikto’s fears. “I’ll take the Ithorian to my father’s house–quickly–and then I’ll head over to Psenos’s location from there.”

“If you say so,” De’dlay grumbled.

Turning off his comlink, Jaeln calmly sat down in the speeder’s driver seat and allowed the machine to warm up its engine for a moment. The hoverspeeder was old; it was almost an antique, and it was by the grace of the Force that it was still working. Once the vessel could respond to Jaeln’s commands, he drove the speeder toward the crowded courtyard that surrounded the eastern spaceport. Jaeln parked his speeder at the edge of the mass of travelers and tourists and stood up inside the hoverspeeder. Closing his eyes, Jaeln reached out into the Force and quickly identified Tor’chal’s location. The Sith hopped out of his speeder and began to push through the crowd; wading through the multitude of civilians, he eventually found himself behind the Ithorian Jedi Master.

“Master Tor’chal!” Jaeln called out, lacing any malice he had in a façade of innocence.

The Jedi Master froze in his tracks, clearly startled. Jaeln noticed him reach for his lightsaber, but the Sith grasped his arm in a kind but firm manner, keeping the Jedi from arming himself.

“Who are you?” Tor’chal asked, his voice chilling to hear.

“I am Jaeln. Jaeln Benax,” the Sith spoke. “I am a friend of Psenos.”

“No you aren’t,” Tor’chal snapped. “I can sense your lies clearly, boy. Tell me who you are. The truth this time, or your arm will pay the penalty for your foolishness.”

Jaeln panicked for a brief moment. He wasn’t expecting the Jedi Master’s senses to be so finely tuned. The fact that he could tell that Jaeln was lying worried the young Sith. Jaeln knew this was going to be tricky.

“We aren’t friends; not anymore. We haven’t spoken,” Jaeln explained slowly. He had to choose his words carefully; the Jedi could pick out lies, but Jaeln was sure that half-truths would fool him. “…But you are to come with me to my father’s house. He will provide shelter and protection for you while you are here.”

Jaeln slowly loosened his grip on the Ithorian sage’s arm, eventually allowing letting go of the gray-colored fabric that made up the Jedi’s sleeve altogether. The Jedi and the Sith stared at each other intently, each watching the other’s movements with the utmost caution. Jaeln had one hand in his hair and the other at his side; he was ready to activate his lightsaber within a moment’s notice. Tor’chal, however, seemed much more serene. His two opalescent eyes almost seemed as though they were piercing Jaeln’s soul and were trying to find his faults, his secrets, his fears, and his sorrows. However, the Jedi had removed his left hand from his lightsaber hilt, which Jaeln thought was a good sign.

“All right, Jaeln. I’ll go with you; you seem like an honorable fellow,” Tor’chal said, smiling. “But in the future: don’t lie to me. I don’t take kindly to liars. Agreed?”

Jaeln let out an unwitting smile and a hearty chuckle. “Of course, Master Tor’chal! Come on. We should get to my father’s estate before dinner is ready.”

Nodding, the Ithorian Jedi followed Jaeln through the crowd, keeping up a decent pace and never falling too far behind. After the two reached the archaic speeder, Jaeln allowed the Jedi Master to step inside and get settled before he took his position in the driver’s seat and hit the accelerator.

The pair was silent as they traveled through the Alderaanian countryside. Verdant blades of grass and petals of ivory hovered through the crisp, noontime air; the whimsical remnants of vegetation flew through the air and found their way inside the speeder, where they settled on torn-up leather seats or their passenger’s laps. As the hoverspeeder passed by the capital city of Aldera, Jaeln was careful to keep the vehicle away from the Aldera River that flowed around the city’s stalwart walls. The river’s bubbling, chilly water splashed about its banks, and Jaeln was not keen on getting drenched by the natural shower. Even if the river had been calmer, Jaeln avoided the river to keep his speeder from crashing into the native bantha species; the shaggy quadrupeds could easily cause trouble for his battered vehicle.

After the speeder had left Aldera behind, they entered the plains that the Benax family called home. Jaeln could not help but notice that Tor’chal had been watching him. It seemed the Jedi Master had been examining his every action, every glance, every movement. Jaeln could not tell what the Ithorian was trying to discern from his inspection, and he did not dare ask him.

“This world is very beautiful, is it not, Jaeln?” Tor’chal asked suddenly.

“It is, sir.”

“It reminds me so much of my homeworld of Ithor,” the Jedi Master explained. “I have long yearned to go back there. Hopefully, I’ll go back there after I finish this mission.”

“Oh?” Jaeln asked. He had been feigning interest, but he found himself genuinely intrigued by what the aged Jedi had to say.

“Yes. My niece lives on Ithor. I haven’t seen her since she was four, but I still have the clay amulet she made me,” Tor’chal continued. His voice was soft, almost faint.

Tor’chal lifted a small clay, cross-shaped amulet that hung from his neck, showing the object to the curious Sith. There were Ithorian letters carved into it, but Jaeln was unable to read them. Even still, he admired the beauty of the artwork.

“It’s quite beautiful, Master Tor’chal. Your niece has quite a gift,” Jaeln said, awestruck.

“Your words are kind,” Tor’chal replied. The Ithorian returned the amulet to its former position under his cloak before he continued. “She is getting married in two months. Her father–my brother–died when she was young, and she has requested that I represent her clan during the wedding.”

“Like a father of the bride,” Jaeln mused, rhetorically.

Tor’chal smiled. “I believe that is what you would call it, yes."

Jaeln returned the smile rather sheepishly. He was happy for the Jedi Master. “Look, Tor’chal. That is Thranta Hill. We’re close to my father’s estate now.”

The Ithorian acknowledged Jaeln with a slight nod before returning his attention back to the scenery around them. Once the Sith realized that the Jedi Master had no more interest in talking for the time being, he returned his full attention to steering the craft. Jaeln gracefully guided the speeder around Thranta Hill and rushed toward the Benax manor.

Jaeln parked the vehicle in the farthest reaches of their courtyard and sat motionless inside the speeder, waiting for the engine to cool down. The Jedi Master hopped out of his seat, and he collected his belongings before heading toward the doorway to the manor. Twilight was already engulfing the remaining light of the day, and the Jedi Master pulled a glowrod out of his knapsack to guide him through the foliage in the courtyard.

“Aren’t you coming too, Jaeln?” Tor’chal asked, stopping where he was standing and turning back to acknowledge the Sith.

“I’m afraid not, Master Tor’chal. My younger brother shall guide you inside. I’m afraid I have a few more errands to run, and I can’t be late. Fair well, and may the Force be with you.”

Jaeln pulled the activation throttle and allowed the speeder and its engine to roar to life again. Jaeln waved a final farewell to the old Jedi Master as his speeder turned around and made its way back toward the capital of Alderaan. As Jaeln drove away, he realized that he was no longer jealous of Raen. In fact, he wanted Raen to be the one to kill Tor’chal, if the kindly Jedi had to die at all. After their brief, but genuine, discussion, Jaeln didn’t know if he could bring himself to kill the Ithorian Jedi. Some Sith I am, Jaeln thought. I cannot even bring myself to despise my enemies. I was never cut out for this…

*** ***

Tor’chal stared at the being who stood before him. Apparently, this individual was Raen Benax, the younger brother of Jaeln. The Jedi Master couldn’t believe that the two were related; Jaeln was well-mannered, kind, and courteous. This fellow was brooding, rude, and shady. The Jedi Mater was worried about Raen because the dark side of the Force was stronger around him that it was around Jaeln. Tor’chal knew it was almost strong enough for Raen to be a Dark Jedi.

“Let’s go,” Raen muttered.

Without another word, the shadowy figure of Raen Benax left Tor’chal’s presence and headed of the doorway. Picking up his things, Tor’chal followed after him quickly, hoping that he would not be left outside in the dark. The pair made their way through the courtyard in eerie silence; the only satisfaction that the old Jedi’s ears received was the tapping of their boots on the stone floor of the manor’s vast walkway. Eventually, the pair reached the door, where Tor’chal scurried past two guard droids on his way inside the Benax mansion.

Upon entering the estate, the Ithorian Jedi marveled at the beauty of the manor’s interior. He was particularly fond of the wooden staircase that ascended several dozen feet above the ground to the remaining floors of the estate. The entire building, though, was starkly contrasted with the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in the Jedi Master’s mind. Unlike the barren, light brown colored walls of the Jedi Temple, these walls were made of an illustrious white stone, and the stone was adorned with golden designs and patterns that had been engraved into the rock. The spartan Jedi chambers did not exist here; instead, the room was vast and filled with multiple sofas and mattresses while bookshelves and stained-glass windows lined the walls, albeit at differing heights.

Raen had already abandoned Tor’chal to go about his own affairs, so the Ithorian sage made his way across the scarlet tiles that were beautifully patterned across the floor. Upon reaching the nearest sofa, he noticed a middle-aged man sitting and playing a game of chess with one of the house’s servants. From what Tor’chal could tell–he had never understood the concept of the game, though he knew the pieces well enough–it appeared that the middle-aged man was winning. He had more of his opponent’s ivory figures than the servant had his ebony figures.

Watching the game intently, Tor’chal noticed that the servant’s king and queen pieces were not protected; most of his other pieces were scattered about the game board, attacking the other player’s pieces. By contrast, the servant’s opponent had well protected his king and queen, although he had very few pawns left in play. Tor’chal watched the game play out in silence for several minutes, not wanting to interrupt the game of wits. Eventually, the servant took out the remainder of the middle-aged man’s pieces, leaving him with his king, queen, and a single knight.

It wasn’t long before the servant took the queen piece of his opponent. After several drawn-out moves, the servant had surrounded his opponent’s king. The Ithorian noted that the lone knight was close to the endangered king piece; perhaps he could do something to save the king. Instead, though, the middle-aged man moved his king and captured the servant’s last knight, leaving him with a queen, a king, a bishop, a rook, and several pawns. Three turns later, the king had been forced into checkmate; the game was over.

“Well played, Nafyan,” the middle-aged man congratulated his opponent.

“No, thank you, Master, for letting me win,” the servant exclaimed.

“Don’t be ridiculous; you won by your own skill,” his opponent assured him. “Since you won, you may take my seat at dinner while I attend to your duties.”

“But Lord Benax…”

“No buts. If anyone objects, they may answer to me. Run along now, Nafyan. I’ll put the game away,” the master of the house insisted.

Waving his hands back and forth, the lord of the house shooed the servant off before he began to clean up the chessboard. Tor’chal walked around the couch and stood beside the defeated man. Without a word, the Jedi Master got to work assisting the middle-aged man in picking up the pieces and placing them back in the box from which they had originated.

“Oh?” the defeated individual muttered in surprise. “You must be the Jedi Master, Tor’chal, who is staying at my home.”

“Indeed I am, Master Benax.”

“Excellent. I am Raystin Benax, master of the manor and lord of the land,” Raystin said. Standing at full height, he shook hands with the courteous Jedi Master before returning to his work.

Once the entire chessboard and its respective pieces had been put back in its box, Raystin walked it over to the nearest shelf and placed it atop several holobooks. Returning to his Jedi guest, he placed a firm arm on the Jedi Master’s shoulder and led him to the dining hall, where there was a large transparisteel table awaiting them in the center of the room. The table was covered from end to end with foods, wines, and spices that Tor’chal had never even heard of; the things he did recognize, however, looked delicious. He was particularly fond of the way the roasted nerf had been prepared–although he was a vegetarian, the Jedi Master still admired the golden-brown hue of the skin and the savory aroma it created–and the various casks of wine that had been set out, each filled to the brim with a dark red or violet liquid.

Gazing in awe at the wonder of it all, the Jedi Master didn’t even notice that Raystin had rushed him to the table and forced him to sit near the head of the table, where Nafyan was already sitting. Raystin took his seat beside the enraptured Jedi Master.

“Does the meal look pleasing to you, Master Tor’chal?” Raystin asked, delighted at the Jedi’s facial expression.

“Yes, very much so. I am impressed at everything on this table. Sadly, my people have taken a vow to never eat the flesh of another animal, so I cannot have the meat placed before me. I wish no disrespect toward the cook, though, and I hope you understand my request,” Tor’chal spoke with a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Oh,” Raystin said, with clear disappointment. “No, I understand. And I’m sure my wife will as well.”

“Your wife?” Tor’chal said, slightly alarmed.

“Yes, she prepared the entire meal set before you. It took her the entire day to set up all this food for you, good Jedi.”

“Does our Jedi guest not like the food I prepared, darling?” a kindly voice rang out from the kitchen across the hall.

“I am afraid not, dear,” Raystin called back.

Junara emerged from the kitchen, carrying another large nerf roast in her arms. Placing the entrée on the table as gently as she could, Junara gracefully made her way across the table and into the arms of her husband. After a quick but passionate kiss between the two, Junara turned toward the Ithorian Jedi.

“Is there something detestable about my cooking style, Master Jedi?” Junara asked. Her voice made it clear that she was quite saddened. “I’m sorry if I’m not as good as the cooks at the Jedi Temple; I’m self-taught, and I try to follow recipes and instructions as best as I can-”

“No, no, no!” Tor’chal interrupted her. “It has nothing to do with your cooking, Mistress Benax. I was astonished by the sheer amount of food on this table, and I was enveloped by the beauty and succulence of its appearance. However, I have taken a vow never to eat the flesh of another animal and to never drink alcoholic or strong liquor.”

Although Junara appeared satisfied with the Jedi’s answer, Tor’chal could tell that she was still hurt inside. The Jedi knew she had spent hours in the kitchen preparing this meal for him and he was being both rude and disrespectful by refusing to eat what had placed before him. The Jedi grimaced for a moment, hoping that the feeling would pass and he could get on with his evening. However, he felt quite guilty about the whole situation and it did not help that the other guests was now staring at him, waiting to see what he would do.

Suddenly, Raystin laughed quite heartily.

“My, my, Master Jedi. I don’t know how you survive. No meat, no wine, no women.” He emphasized the last word.

His wife appeared flattered, and she gave Raystin another kiss and quickly embraced him. Tor’chal watched as Raystin whispered something into Junara’s petite ears beneath her golden hair, and she giggled with glee. Smiling like a schoolgirl, she elegantly made her way back into the kitchen, occasionally winking at Raystin while she walked.

“I apologize for causing so much trouble,” Tor’chal finally said.

“Oh? No, no, Master Jedi. You’re no trouble at all. Don’t feel pressured to eat or drink anything you do not want you to. We respect you and your vows.”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts, Master Jedi. Please,” Raystin pleaded with the Ithorian, “don’t eat anything if you’re feeling uncomfortable. It was certainly not our intention to put you on the spot.”

“If you don’t mind,” Tor’chal began, “I would like to go to my quarters. I’m afraid all this chatter has tired me out.”

“Of course, Master Jedi,” Raystin spoke empathetically. Turning away from the Jedi Master, he shouted: “Raen!”

After several short seconds, Jaeln’s sulking younger brother arrived. “I will take you to your quarters, Jedi.”

Tor’chal noticed that Raystin shot a glance at Raen, probably suggesting the latter to remain polite. Even Tor’chal noticed that Raen was quite rude for his age, and that he was arguably the brattiest person he had ever met. The Jedi Master ignored the rest of their nonverbal exchange; quickly rising from his seat and grabbing his things, ready to retire for the night.

“Master Tor’chal,” Raystin called out. “I’d like to apologize again. If you’d like, we can send you up a gourmet salad to eat after you feel better.”

The Jedi Master smiled at the master of the house. “I would like that very much. Thank you, Lord Raystin.”

“Follow me,” Raen said. “I haven’t got all night.”

The Jedi’s smile disappeared as quickly as it had originated as he turned his attention from father to son. The Ithorian followed Raen in another moment of awkward silence; the two ascended the oaken stairwell and progressed down an abnormally long and thin hallway. While they walked through the halls, Tor’chal accidentally bumped into one of the walls while trying to avoid a passing servant. Raen turned around and took note of the Ithorian’s action, but he did not speak up until the servant was out of sight.

“Be careful,” Raen grunted. “Those walls are dangerously thin. We’ve been meaning to replace them, but we haven’t had the time.”

Tor’chal acknowledged the warning and continued to follow Raystin’s youngest child until the pair reached Tor’chal’s quarters.

“Here you are,” Raen spat. He held out his hand and dropped a keycard to the ground in front of the Ithorian. “Here’s the keycard, and the code to enter is 3cn1rpnA.”

Once Raen’s official duties had concluded, Tor’chal watched as he crept away, disappearing into the shadows of the manor. After sliding the keycard and inputting the code, Tor’chal trudged inside the rather plain room. Besides the durasteel bed that lacked a mattress, the room had a wastebin, a hamper for clothes, a small comlink, and a refresher in a conjoined room. Locking the door behind him, the Ithorian Jedi placed his things at the foot of the mattress before stripping out of his gray robes and heading to the refresher.

After taking a quick sonic shower to calm his nerves, the Ithorian returned to his room and donned a new pair of robes; these robes were a light shade of green, similar to his first pair of robes upon joining the Jedi Order. Discarding his other robes in the hamper at the corner of the room, Tor’chal neatly organized the belongings inside his knapsack and moved the bag near the door.

Tor’chal prepared to fall asleep on the floor–he was in no way prepared to sleep on durasteel–when he realized that his comlink had been active for some time. As he went to turn it off, the Jedi Master noticed he had received a message some time ago, probably during dinner, from elsewhere on Alderaan.

“Play back last message,” Tor’chal’s weary voice requested.

“Playing message 076: Tor’chal! This is Loron Psenos, the Jedi Knight you contacted earlier. We’ve discovered that all our transmissions are being intercepted and decoded by the Sith. I repeat: the Sith know everything we’ve been saying. They could be trying to lead you into a trap. Wait for me to arrive at your position; I’ll give you an escort to the king’s court.

“I repea- no! They’re already here! You bloody Sith! I’m taking care of sick and injured children! I’m not a Jedi, no. No, please, don’t hurt the children!”

Tor’chal continued to listen to the message, but it became less discernible after that. Eventually, after a heated argument between Psenos and the Sith, several blaster shots and the hum of lightsabers were heard in the background. The transmission died shortly thereafter.

Suddenly, Tor’chal’s eyes widened. That’s where I’ve heard the name Benax before, Tor’chal realized. The Ithorian’s left hand grasped at his lightsaber while his other hand frantically attempted to use his comlink to contact the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. When he realized that the device did not have enough strength to broadcast to Coruscant, he activated the room’s comlink instead. Although he suspected all the comlinks in the house were wiretapped, he was too desperate to care. The Ithorian had to warn the other Jedi. If he could not reach them, they were all in very grave danger, himself most of all.

Chapter 6

After dropping the Jedi Master off in his quarters, Raen Benax had made his way toward De’dlay’s chambers. Although the Nikto Sith Master did not live with the Benax family, he was an old friend of Raystin’s, so he had a separate room that he could use on occasion for Sith business. Raen passed by several night-shift servants and patrolling droids before entering the Sith’s chambers. Raen was surprised that the Nikto’s door was unlocked, but he proceeded inside all the same; he didn’t care if he was disturbing the Sith Master or not.

“Welcome, Raen,” De’dlay said. “Have you escorted our target to his quarters?”

“I have, Master. He is in position as we speak.”

“Excellent,” De’dlay replied, grinning. “Take my lightsaber, Raen. You will need it to kill the Ithorian Jedi. May the Force curse our enemies.”

Raen snatched the lightsaber hilt from De’dlay’s hands; his eyes were captivated by the weapon’s feel and appearance. His first lightsaber. Igniting the weapon, Raen allowed the weapon’s blood-red blade to flow from the hilt’s emitter. The young Sith waved the weapon in the air, receiving a feel for the handle and the weapon itself. He had used training lightsabers in the past, but he still had to be careful. Giving his master one last curt bow, Raen turned his back to the Sith and headed back into the dark, dimly lit hallways of the Benax mansion.

“Raen!” De’dlay’s voice called out after him. “You must hurry. I’m picking up an encrypted message to Coruscant; Tor’chal is trying to contact the Jedi Council!”

Raen took note of the urgency of the situation and adjusted his speed accordingly. Using the Force to empower his legs with its mystical energy, Raen’s muscles propelled the Sith faster than he had ever ran before. It did not take long for Raen to arrive at the Jedi Master’s door. In fact, he arrived sooner than he expected. Before entering, Raen motioned for two passing guard droids to approach his position.

As they arrived, Raen gave his orders. “Change combat mode from guard to kill. Target: Tor’chal. He’s an Ithorian Jedi Master, and he is currently within this room. I am your ally. All other individuals–organic or not–are civilians.”

“Roger, roger,” the droids chimed in unison.

The combat droids took their position on Raen’s left and his right, pointing their blaster rifles directly at the door. The brooding Sith kept his lightsaber deactivated; instead, he diverted the Force’s energy from his legs to his hands, particularly his palms. Raen placed his hands on the cold metallic door that separated him from his Jedi target and unleashed a blast of telekinetic force from his palms that ripped the door off of its hinges.

The door was launched into the room, and its crumpled remains flying toward the Ithorian Jedi Master, who was urgently speaking into the room’s comlink. Although the door landed about half of a meter from the Ithorian’s feet, he immediately realized Raen and his droids were enemies; the Jedi Master leapt into the air and dropped his comlink, replacing the communication device for an activated, vibrant blue lightsaber. The droids opened fire upon Tor’chal during his flight, sending beams of red energy toward their target. However, the Jedi Master was well-versed in deflecting blaster bolts; as he flew through the air, he sent four of the twelve blaster shots sent at him back at his attackers while the other eight missed completely. Once he had landed on the durasteel mattress at the far end of the room, both droids were destroyed, although Raen was unscathed by the deflected attacks.

Raen stood silently for what seemed like an eternity, contemplating on the events he had just seen unfold. He had never seen a Jedi fight, but even from the short preview of the Jedi fighting style he had just witnessed, he could tell that they were more reserved and graceful in combat than most Sith. Raen knew he would have to keep this in mind for future reference. The young Sith slowly unclipped De’dlay’s lightsaber from the back of his belt, and he held the weapon horizontally at shoulder height. Igniting the weapon while Tor’chal watched, Raen revealed his weapon’s blade, red in color; the color of the Sith Lords of past, present, and future.

Tor’chal silently moved toward Raen, walking slowly as he approached his Sith opponent. Raen moved in to meet him, equally noiseless. Raen was sure that Tor’chal had slain many Sith before, and if he wasn’t careful, he would be added to the Ithorian Jedi’s vast collection of kills. And then their lightsabers met. Red clashed against blue, creating an aura of white light that erupted amidst the darkness of night. Tor’chal struck first, but Raen blocked the attack and countered with a ferocious strike at the Ithorian’s heart. Raen’s first attack was repulsed by the Jedi Master, and Tor’chal sent Raen stumbling back with a swift counter-kick to the chest.

The battle continued as they exchanged blows. Tor’chal’s elegant and swift strikes would graze against the Raen’s red blade, and then Raen would perform a powerful and elongated swing, which was effortlessly parried by Tor’chal’s blue lightsaber. Back and forth the battle went, blue meeting red in a timeless embrace. During this exchange of force, Raen realized that the Jedi was toying with him; he hadn’t yet used his full strength.

The Sith continued his assault with a single hand while his other hand grasped at the metal splinter of his vibroblade that was still attached to his belt. Tor’chal’s blade met Raen’s and the Ithorian performed a slow, wide swing in a dangerous arc that threatened to sever Raen’s weapon arm. The Sith was quick, though, and he managed to move his arm just in time at the cost of losing his grip on his weapon. Disarmed, Raen grasped at the Jedi’s shoulder, keeping him from using his weapon for a split second. Using the only chance he had, Raen took the fragment of the dagger that De’dlay had broken and drove it through the Ithorian’s abdomen.

While the pain incapacitated the Ithorian, Raen jumped out of the Jedi’s weapon’s range and stooped down to pick up the lightsaber he had dropped. Activating the weapon and allowing the red lightsaber to return to life, Raen pushed the Ithorian Jedi away from him with the Force so he could get a chance to stand up.

The Ithorian was clearly surprised by Raen’s Force power. Temporarily deactivating his lightsaber, Tor’chal reached out his hand and propelled telekinetic energy toward the Sith acolyte. While the invisible stream of energy approached Raen, he countered with his own surge of kinetic force. Both Force-sensitives closed their eyes and stretched out their hands; they were trying to overpower the other’s Force push and cause their opponent to falter. As the telekinesis ricocheted in the area between them, it began to tear away at the walls and floors; the untamed energy had nowhere to go, so it began to attack everything around it in an attempt to free itself.

Eventually, the wizened Ithorian Jedi could no longer compete with the youthful, raw energy that was being unleashed by his Sith opponent, and Raen realized it. With a heroic shout and a final push to secure his triumph, Raen’s telekinetic energy threw the Ithorian across the room, sending him flying into the slender wall behind him. Raen noticed that Tor’chal had lost his lightsaber during his ascent, and it had been thrown on the ground, deactivated. Raen shot a glance at the Jedi Master, who was still on the ground, and he knew that he would attempt to recover his lightsaber. Instead of performing a mental battle over the fate of the lightsaber, Raen turned his attention toward the projectile he was going to lob at the Ithorian.

The Ithorian took a moment to recover and find his lightsaber on the floor, and he called it into his hands by utilizing the invisible fingers of the Force. By then, though, it was too late. Raen had already lifted up the durasteel bed with the power of the Force, and he had thrown the artificial missile at the Jedi Master. Raen watched with amusement as the Jedi attempted to divert his attention from the lightsaber to the bed; instead of running out of the way, the Jedi stood his ground and attempted to use a telekinetic bubble to slow the projectile’s advance. Luckily for Raen, his attempt failed and the projectile smashed into the Ithorian Jedi at an alarming speed. The force of the impact sent both the Jedi and his bed into the wall and caused a great crack to appear where the collision had taken place.

The Sith acolyte was pleased with himself. The Ithorian remained under the durasteel weight Raen had thrown upon him, and his lightsaber was still on the ground. Raen could not sense the Ithorian in the Force, so he assumed that the Jedi Master had perished. Raen deactivated his lightsaber and sauntered over to the Jedi Master’s lightsaber. Scooping the weapon up in his hands, Raen placed both of his acquired lightsabers on the back of his belt and left the room in a reverent silence. Four battle droids marched up to the room as Raen prepared to exit, and the Sith acolyte instructed them to ensure that the Ithorian was dead and then wait for further instructions. As the droids moved to carry out their mission, Raen went to report to De’dlay.

Raen again rushed through the silent halls of his father’s manor, using the Force to propel him faster and farther than he could ever go on his own. Raen arrived at De’dlay’s quarters again; this time, Raen took notice of the two guard droids standing at his door. Although they were still set to guard mode and therefore weren’t hostile, Raen was curious why they had been moved in front of the Sith Master’s room. Stepping inside, he was slightly perturbed to see his master standing and facing the door, as though De’dlay had been expecting him.

Raen performed a low bow to greet his master. “Master, I have killed the Jedi Master Tor’chal. I present his lightsaber to you as a gift.”

De’dlay scoffed as Raen reached for the Ithorian’s lightsaber, and Raen felt his windpipes constricting on themselves. The Sith acolyte gasped for breath as he began to choke; both of his hands wrapped around his neck in a futile attempt to protect his throat from De’dlay’s vicious Force attack.

“You foolish boy. Do you think I am fooled by your antics? Even now, I sense the Ithorian–alive–in the Force as much as I did when you left!” the Sith Master spat.

Raen’s eyes had gotten used to the dim lights by now, but it was still difficult to see as he gasped for air and his eyes began to water. The Sith Master was going to choke him to death. But what he was saying made no sense. He had not sensed Tor'chal, and the Jedi Master had been crushed under the durasteel. Raen could not believe his powers sensing others in the Force were so weak compared to his master’s.

“Please… I didn’t know… he must have died. I did not sense him…” Raen managed to say.

“Silence!” De’dlay shouted. He continued to tighten his grip on Raen’s neck, causing the acolyte to wheeze and gasp for air. “Of course you knew. You can sense him in the Force, can’t you? His aura is clear amidst the darkness that emanates from this place.”

“I… I cannot sense him…”

“Impossible. You are clearly lying to me. And I cannot abide traitors, Raen Benax.”

“Treachery?” Raen’s face betrayed his confusion, even as it contorted and struggled to collect air.

“Don’t play dumb,” De’dlay shot back. “I know you’ve been passing my plans on to Preux. You plan to overthrow me by getting his help! You even recruited Dynatha to help you! How could you? She was one of the most promising young pupils we’ve ever had.”

Raen’s eyes widened upon mention of Dynatha. How had De’dlay known he had met her? “I’ve… only met her once…” he struggled to say.

“Shut up! Your lies are evident. Master Calay caught her consulting with Preux in her quarters, and Calay reported this to me. But don’t worry, Raen. Dynatha is paying dearly for allying with you.” De’dlay was cackling now, and he had a large, toothy grin across his face.

To Raen’s relief, the Nikto released his mental grip on Raen’s neck. The Sith acolyte let out a quick sigh before he took a large breath of revitalizing air. The euphoria of breathing did not last long for Raen, however. De’dlay lifted his hand again and pointed a single finger toward the Sith acolyte. Without warning, Raen was telepathically thrown through into the wall behind him. But the wall didn’t stop his flight, and he broke through the thin wall and continued to fly. The helpless Sith was launched through six walls, shattering them like glass. Raen eventually landed in a pile of destroyed droids outside of Tor’chal’s quarters. Gasping for breath, Raen attempted to stand up, but his feet betrayed him; he couldn’t even force himself to rise to his knees. De’dlay arrived near him, utilizing the Force to dash through the holes in the wall that Raen had created.

“I’m sorry, Raen. You were my best pupil. Together, we could have defeated any opponent that stood in our way,” De’dlay mused. “But it seems this is the end. Farewell, son of Raystin.”

Lifting his hand over Raen’s bruised body, the Sith Master’s gnarled hand began to crackle with an invisible energy. A second later, blue-white energy had formed around his fingertips; the Nikto launched the energy downward, and the sparkling electrical energy rained upon the Sith acolyte, causing him to cry out in pain. As the Sith lightning poured down upon Raen, he cried and screamed for mercy, even though he knew he would receive none. The lightning pulsated around Raen’s body, snaking about his skeleton.

Suddenly, De’dlay was pushed backward with invisible energy, flying back through one of the holes in the wall and ceasing Raen’s suffering. The young Sith was shocked as Tor’chal grabbed his arm and pulled the weakened Raen to his feet.

“Why?” Raen questioned.

“Don’t ask questions now,” Tor’chal whispered, “you must go to Dantooine. There is a Jedi Enclave there. Seek Jedi training. Is it not clear that the Sith have rejected you?”

“I don’t understand,” Raen whimpered.

“You are our last hope!” Tor’chal shouted. “The Force has shown me a vision. You must live!”

Raen was stunned, and he froze as De’dlay emerged from the hole had been thrown into. Calling upon his dark powers, De’dlay launched another blast of lightning at Raen and the Jedi. Although Tor’chal didn’t have a lightsaber, he could still deflect the lightning that arced toward them. Raen watched silently as the Ithorian leapt between him and De’dlay’s attack. Raen was sure that Tor’chal would be killed on contact, but he was amazed as the Jedi Master absorbed the azure energy into his hands and dissipated the attack, using the Force to turn it into harmless energy.

“Go! I can’t hold him off forever!” Tor’chal spoke to Raen.

Raen stood, staring at both of these mighty Force-sensitives. His mind was racing now, and his feet had implanted themselves in the ground.

“Run!” Tor’chal bellowed.

The Sith acolyte turned from the two Force masters and fled down the vast empty hallways of his father’s house. Raen thought he heard De’dlay call out to him, urging him to return. Raen thought he heard Tor’chal scream at him, imploring him to continue onward. However, his ears were deaf to all pleas and exhortations. Igniting his two lightsabers–red and blue–he began to cleave through the droids that stood in his way. These droids that had once served him faithfully had been programmed by De’dlay to attack and kill their master. Even some innocent servants that were wandering the dark hallways were victim to Raen’s maddened lightsaber swings. Bloodlust did not differentiate between friend and foe. There were only targets.

Raen fought his way through the hallways and reached the building’s foyer. Although he was subconsciously alarmed by the squad of combat droids that stood on the staircase to block him, his body acted on its own. He moved his hand to throw his mechanically opponents throughout the white-walled room, but it was not telekinetic energy that emerged from his hands. Instead, a blast of searing flame shot from his palms, destroying several droids and lighting the wooden stairwell on fire. What the hell did I just do? Raen thought. But he had no time to contemplate his actions; he was being surrounded by droid reinforcements. The young Sith exile leapt over the flaming staircase with the power of the Force and landed atop the blue sofa he had sat on while he spoke with De’dlay and his brother almost a week before. In a blind rage, the exile cut the sofa in half with his blue lightsaber while his other blade deflected blaster shots from his opponents. From there, Raen ran out of the foyer and into the vast courtyard that surrounded the Benax manor.

Raen cut down the last two droids that attempted to capture him, severing them both at the legs with his dual lightsabers. The exile ran through the empty courtyard amidst the cover of darkness; the evening light had long since been enveloped by the darkness of night. Not even the moon or the stars dared to shine through the black storm clouds that were engulfing the sky.

The young Sith exile reached for the comlink that had been on his belt since he had fought Tor’chal. Raen activated the communication device and contacted G’aull. He hoped that the Iridorian had not yet left for Sluis Van. “G’aull, if you can hear this, I need you to go to Thranta Hill. I need a pickup! If you could come soon–really soon, that would be great.”

Raen made his way from the edge of the Benax estate toward the hill that loomed in the distance. That was Thranta Hill; it was supposedly one of the many homes that had belonged to Alderaan’s original inhabitants, a species of unnamed insectoids. As a child, Raen and Jaeln would often flee to the hill to avoid the wrath of their parents when they fooled around or were disrespectful. They had not gone to the hill in many years, mainly due to the fact that it had since been declared a national monument of historical importance. Nevertheless, Raen had introduced G’aull to the hill several years ago, when they had first met.

Raen ascended the hill with relative ease. Leaping over the electrical fence in a single bound with the aid of the Force, Raen walked up the barren hill and passed by several abandoned guard posts. During the day, this hill would be swarming with tourists, who would be strictly monitored and their actions regulated. However, at night, Alderaan’s policing agents presumed that the electric fence was enough to keep hoodlums and thugs off the hill. Luckily for Raen, he could pass the barricade with ease through the Force.

Raen finally reached the summit of Thranta Hill. It was, like the remainder of the hill, barren and spacious, and it would serve as the perfect place for an emergency aerial pickup by G’aull. If he was still on Alderaan. Raen sat down atop the hill and kept his eyes on the Benax manor. A good deal of the building was aflame now, and it would only be a matter of time before the flames spread throughout the countryside. Even from here, the Sith exile could see individuals scurrying back and forth throughout the courtyard, heading in and out of the mansion. Raen stared at his hands. What did I do? Pyrokinesis… is that even a Force power? I’ve never seen anyone use it.

“Raen! What the hell happened? Why are you here?”

Raen spun around and was startled when he saw two individuals approaching his position with glowrods. It was dark, but even in this darkness, Raen recognized his brother’s voice.

“Jaeln! You don’t know how happy I am to see you, brother,” Raen called back.

Raen ran toward his brother to embrace him, but the younger brother noticed that the Sith’s eyes were elsewhere. He was not focused on Raen; his eyes were pinned on the inferno that was engulfing his father’s house.

“Raen, what happened? Why is the house burning?”

“I… I…” Raen hesitated. He did not dare tell his brother the truth.

Raen’s voice was silenced by the arrival of G’aull’s aerialspeeder. The Iridorian dropped a single rope down for Raen to climb up. While his vessel was flying over Thranta Hill, the vessel’s sublights illuminated the hilltop and Raen could clearly see the other individual who had been following Jaeln. Calay.

“What is she doing here?” Raen asked, moving away from his brother.

“She and I went to kill Psenos. Don’t you remember? I thought we told you before we left,” Jaeln mused.

While Jaeln’s eyes monitored the constant tongues of flames erupting from his home, Raen was glaring at Calay. He watched the Sith Mistress pull her hand away from her earpiece communicator and stare back at Raen. The Sith exile shivered. It was truly a heartless leer; there was no emotion in her at all. Raen’s eyes traced the path of the Sith Mistress’s hand as she reached for the blaster at her belt, pulled it out of its holster, and calmly pointed the weapon at Raen’s head. Raen’s eyes alit with terror, and his brother turned around just in time to realize what was going on.

“No! Calay, don’t!” Jaeln screamed.

But it was too late. Calay coolly took three shots at Raen, hoping to take him down in a single attack. The Sith exile was not prepared to die, though. Using the Force to pull both of his lightsabers into his hands, Raen activated them and deflected all three shots with two quick swings of his lightsaber. While two of the deflected bolts flew off into the night sky mindlessly, the last shot hit Calay’s left leg. Screaming in agony, the Sith Mistress fell to the ground. She dropped her weapon and instinctively gripped her leg.

Raen rushed at the wounded Calay with his two lightsabers; he was prepared to decapitate her with a single swing of his blade. As his blades came down on the beaten Sith Mistress, Raen’s blue blade was blocked by a red blade while his own scarlet lightsaber was blocked by a vibrosword. But it was not Calay who had blocked the attacks… it was Jaeln. Unlike Raen’s vibroweapons, Jaeln’s were made of cortosis and could resist the cutting power of a lightsaber. Raen stared at his brother, his expression a mix of disgust and confusion.

“Raen! What’s gotten into you?” Jaeln questioned.

“Me? What’s wrong with me?” Raen insisted. He almost laughed as he stressed each successive word more than the last. “That’s funny, Jaeln. Considering that your friend–Calay–just tried to kill me, and you’re trying to defend her for it!”

“Raen. She’s a Sith. You’re a Sith,” Jaeln insisted. “We don’t go about killing each other!”

“Tell that to De’dlay!” Raen shot back. “In fact, your little temptress here got Dynatha in trouble; Dynatha didn’t even do anything!”

“Dynatha? Raen, what are you…?”

“No!” Raen shouted. The Sith exile backed up, stepping away from his brother and Calay but kept his weapons activated. “Don’t talk. No more excuses. I’m done with you, Jaeln. I’m done with the Sith, and the Jedi, and Tor’chal, and Preux; I’m done with it all!”

“Raen, please, try to listen to reason,” Jaeln pleaded.

“No, you listen!” Raen snapped. “We’ve always been friends, haven’t we Jaeln? W-we’re brothers, damnit! So why are you protecting her? She tried to kill me! But I suppose loyalty to the Sith is more important than loyalty to your family.”

Raen grabbed a hold of the rope that G’aull had dropped from the driver’s seat up above. The Sith exile lightly tugged the rope that had extended from the aerialspeeder, and it slowly began to accelerate.

“Don’t try to follow me, Jaeln, or I’ll have to kill you,” Raen said.

The darkness of night caused Jaeln to lose sight of the speeder within several seconds. But it was of little consequence. The Sith did not actually intend to chase his brother. No, there was no reason for him to do so. In his eyes, Raen was not a traitor. Misguided, confused, or lied to, maybe, but he was not a traitor. Despite what Calay had said about his little brother on the ride over to kill Psenos and the report he was likely to receive from De’dlay upon their arrival at the manor, Jaeln still had faith in Raen.

“Master Jaeln,” Calay whispered. “Thank you for protecting me.”

“The pleasure is mine, darling,” Jaeln replied softly. “But don’t you dare shoot at a target without my permission again. Am I clear?”

“Crystal. Sir.”

“Excellent,” Jaeln said. He helped the weakened Sith Master to her feet and allowed her to use him as a crutch. “We’ll have to head back the way we came. I hope you still have your cardkey. I’m keen to hear what De’dlay has to say about all of this.”

“As am I, Master Jaeln. As am I,” Calay responded quaintly.

*** ***

The ride from the Thranta Hill to the Eastern Alderaanian Spaceport had been silent. Raen had not been in the mood to speak to G’aull, and G’aull did not feel like prying in private business. Eventually, the long, inaudible trip ended–much to G’aull’s relief–and the pair disembarked from the aerialspeeder. G’aull led the way, heading through the courtyard while Raen followed behind him.

The two entered the spaceport. The building itself was never locked since all the individual shops and hangars were sealed shut behind durasteel security doors. It was at that point that G’aull allowed Raen to take the lead. The Sith exile traveled to hangar eleven; the hangar served as one of the Benax family’s many private hangars. Entering their universal passcode, 1nAAr3d, Raen stepped inside and waited for G’aull to enter the docking area before closing the door behind them.

“That’s a pretty beat-up ship,” G’aull finally said.

“Sure is,” Raen responded half-sarcastically. “A Conductor-class civilian transport. This thing has been sitting in this hangar since I was a kid. I used to pretend that I flew this thing while my father and mother were at work. My… my brother would watch over me. I used to call it the Rocket One. A cheesy name, I know.”

“Don’t worry about it,” G’aull assured him, “it still looks like it can fly. Where are you planning on going?”

“Taris. I have some relatives on Taris. I’ve always had a good relationship with my cousins,” Raen explained.

G’aull nodded. “You’d best be off. No point in staying here on Alderaan. If the Sith are hunting you, they will find you before long.”

“You’re right. Thank you, old friend. Stay safe,” Raen said, softly.

“Same to you,” G’aull assured him. “Oh, and if we ever see each other again after this, you owe me twenty creds. I did not deserve to pay for your drink!”

“I’ll play you pazaak for it,” Raen said while he entered the Rocket One.

G’aull chortled heartily, and he moved out of the way as the Rocket One’s engines roared to life. The Iridorian waved at his Human friend, genuinely hoping that he would get to see the young ex-Sith again someday. Raen gave curt wave in reply before turning the majority of his attention toward piloting the vessel. Although he had not piloted a ship in quite some time, Raen was lucky that a droid navigator, T1-N7, had been placed in the ship some time ago for maintenance and upkeep. The Iridorian watched as the Rocket One slowly made its way from the hangar bay into the cloudy Alderaanian sky. Even after Raen had disappeared, G'aull found himself staring into the distance. Once he was certain that Raen was not coming back, G’aull proceeded out of the spaceport and back to his speeder. His business, for better or worse, was done here.

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