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Chapter 20

Malfon adjusted himself in his seat. The rocking of Avaran's personal craft was more severe than most starships he had been on, but he paid it no mind. The old Sith's final executor, his mechanist and pilot, was piloting the ship through hyperspace and said no words to anyone. Avaran Whell was in the passenger's hold with Malfon. The two of them said nothing to each other the entire trip, although Avaran did occasionally motion for Malfon to meditate with him. Much to Malfon's ire, the old Sith had tasked Aurek to join them, and the clone stood at attention near the engine room located behind the hold.

“Master,” Malfon said once they had left hyperspace.

“What is it?”

“You told me that during the forthcoming collapse of the Galactic Republic, we would not have to depend on the Mandalorians and the other raiders for long. Why is that?”

“You remember the Great Foes?” Avaran asked.

“The ones you mentioned when we arrived on Korriban for the first time? What about them?”

“It is rumored that they constructed an empire throughout the known galaxy by building space stations that fed off the strength of stars. These stations were giant factories, capable of building an endless number of droids, starships, materiel, and even clones through the dark side of the Force.”

“Such things sound like myth to me,” Malfon muttered.

“No, they exist! There is a star map leading to one of these star-based forges on Korriban. I have yet to unlock the chamber where it rests, but ancient Sith have recorded its location. Together, we can locate this space station and end our dependence on the barbarians.”

Malfon grinned. Avaran had not discovered the star map because something—or someone—kept him at bay. The old man had been wise to hide these things from him; the more Malfon learned, the more he discovered that Avaran Whell was not nearly as omnipotent or omniscient as he pretended to be. After all, it was not his dependency on the barbarians he had to worry about, but his dependency on Malfon himself. For as long as Avaran needed to draw on Malfon for power, he could deny him. What reason did Malfon have to conquer the galaxy? Avaran's goals would die with him, unrealized.

“I see. And the clones you have created already will serve as the basis for these new clones?” Malfon wondered aloud.

“Aurek and his brethren are Force-sensitive clones from a mighty genetic template. It took me hundreds of years to determine the proper manipulations to ensure that they could use the Force, and even then only after a dark-sider has given them life. They are better than droids, but I have yet to test them against a Jedi.”

“And why is he here?” Malfon asked, eying Aurek.

“You have killed most of my guards. I need someone to watch over my craft while we are on business. Who better than a creature who was born to defend?”

Malfon nodded. He didn't like Aurek's presence—the idea that he was a clone still bothered him on some level—but as long as he remained with the ship, he couldn't complain. The executor announced that they were dropping out of hyperspace, and the two Sith were silent during their descent to Coruscant and their subsequent departure from the docking bay. Although they could have used the Jedi's landing zone, Avaran decided that it would be better for Aurek if he guarded the ship away from their presence.

Avaran instructed Malfon to go to the Jedi Temple while he met with contacts around Coruscant. The young Sith was free to do whatever he wished for however long it took Avaran to do these things; once the Sith Master was ready, though, Malfon would be required to undertake a mission of grave importance. Malfon left Avaran and the ship behind as soon as he was able, and he found himself wandering the streets of Coruscant before long, lost in thought.

How long had it been since he walked through this place? The hub of civilization, the epicenter of culture and intellect, the home of the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order, this place where everything in the galaxy was decided. For now, the plethora of species from across the galaxy waded through the crowd around him, blissfully unaware of the suffering going on away from this place.

And even here, there were people suffering. The poor dwelt in homes kilometers below the shimmering towers and lustrous buildings. The criminals were isolated in the worst districts of the capital, but their evils spread across the entire cityscape. The aliens suffered from xenophobia, and the commoners suffered from the nobility's greed. And in the middle of all these things, the Jedi Order did nothing. Locked away in their temple, Malfon did not see a single Jedi while he wandered the streets.

He saw no Jedi, save one.

Malfon had seen Raystin Benax from the pedestrian walkways below, but he did not know what he was doing. Even now, walking onto the roof of this abandoned tower, Malfon was not sure why he was here. Raystin stood atop the railing at the edge of the tower's rooftop, gazing into the streets—and the precipice around the streets that led to the undercity—below. Balancing himself as best as he could, his arms were extended and the wind blew across his face, whipping his hair about and throwing his cloak in wild patterns behind him. Malfon approached him slowly, not wanting to startle him while he was in a precarious position.

“Raystin?”

“Ah… Malfon. How good to see you,” Raystin replied, his voice tired and hoarse.

“What are you doing?”

The older Jedi was silent for a moment. “I-I thought I dropped something. I didn't see where it landed, and I supposed this would give me a better view. Would you mind helping me down, Malfon?”

Malfon smiled and reached out to Raystin, allowing him to gracefully step down from the railing. The older Jedi looked back at the edge of the roof for a moment, but shook his head. Whatever he was thinking about could wait. Malfon promised to go and find his datapad, but Raystin told him to forget about it. It wasn't that important and could always be replaced. The two Jedi left the tower and entered the bustling streets below, with Malfon leading the way.

“How have you been, Malfon?” Raystin asked.

“Very well. You?”

Raystin smiled thinly. “I've been better, to be honest. Did you hear about Harada?”

“Yeah,” Malfon whispered. “Master Whell told me. Did they say what happened?”

“Initial reports suggested that there was an accident in the mining facility they investigated. I don't believe that. Eighteen Jedi, and none of them sensed the coming danger? It just doesn't make sense.”

“It does sound skeptical,” Malfon agreed.

“I should have been there, Malfon.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was returning from a mission when the assignment to Corbos went out. The Jedi Council wanted me to go, but Harada insisted that I wouldn't be at full strength yet. He took my place on the mission, and now… well, now he's gone. First Lythi, and now Harada. What's going on, Malfon?”

“I don't know.”

“I want to protect you and the others. I thought I had learned so much, but… well, here I am. I'm still too weak to protect the people I care about, and they're dying because of it. What am I supposed to do?”

“Their deaths were not your fault, Raystin,” Malfon said softly.

“I could have saved them, though. I could have been with them.”

“Perhaps.” Malfon was quiet for some time. “But the Force does not permit us to save everyone. I miss them, Raystin. I feel exactly the same as you do. But what else are we supposed to do? We can't turn back time, and we cannot bring them back. We're Jedi. Death is another part of life.”

“Heh. You sound like a Jedi Master,” Raystin noted dryly. “To think: you would be lecturing me.”

“I learned from the best teacher,” Malfon replied.

“Avaran Whell does seem like the type to talk of such things.”

“I meant you.”

Raystin smiled. Shaking his head again, he took the lead, and Malfon followed him back to the Jedi Sanctum. The two of them discussed the happenings on Coruscant during their walk back, and Malfon lied about his mission with Avaran in the frontier. According to Jedi reports, he and Avaran Whell were involved in a heated negotiation process with a world in the farthest reaches of Galactic Republic space. Every so often, Avaran would update the Jedi Council, and Malfon had learned to play along some time ago. Malfon learned about Raystin's more recent missions, his thoughts on some upcoming Padawans, and a few new Jedi on the High Council.

“After I train a Padawan,” Raystin mentioned, “they want to grant me the rank of Master.”

Malfon's eyes widened. “Jedi Master? No way!”

Raystin nodded but appeared quite somber. “They think I'm ready. Considering most Jedi Masters spend their time teaching younger students, they want to see how I do raising a pupil of my own. However, they insist it's just a formality.”

“Congratulations, Raystin. You know they're right, too. You've done so much for the Jedi Order, and you're one of the greatest Jedi I've ever known.”

“I think they're getting ahead of themselves. I'm so young…”

“But you are wise beyond your years. Just accept the fact that you're the best Jedi we have to offer,” Malfon said.

“That's high praise coming from you,” Raystin replied.

“Oh please. I was only granted the status of Jedi Knight three years ago. Trying to uplift me in any way is almost insulting to the Jedi Order as a whole.”

Raystin shook his head. “You're ridiculous. You'd make a fine Jedi Master.”

“Well, we'll just see about that, won't we?” Malfon laughed. “When I'm a terrible Jedi Master and end up driving the Order to ruin, I'll tell you I told you so.”

Raystin muttered something about Malfon's impossible attitude, but the younger Jedi saw no reason to respond. Once they arrived at the Jedi Sanctum, Raystin bid farewell to Malfon for the time being, citing several duties to attend to elsewhere in the temple. Malfon, alone yet again, made a beeline for his room. The home of the Jedi was quiet at this hour, and there were very few walking the halls. After all this time, this place was foreign to him, a hallowed place that he could no longer call his home.

As he approached his chambers, a protocol droid informed him that he had a message from Junara, but he did not get a chance to listen to it before Avaran Whell contacted him. Apparently, the contact that Malfon was supposed to protect was being investigated by the Jedi already, and they had to act before he was captured. Almost as quickly as he arrived, Malfon left the Jedi Sanctum and made his way to the coordinates he had received.

*** ***

Malfon pulled his dark hood over his head and walked inside the vacated spaceport. Unlike most modern ports, this building was multi-storied and had several docks jutting out from its sides. Such designs were popular before the Sith War, but their effectiveness had waned as ships got larger and the structure's unwieldy construction proved too expensive to maintain. According to Avaran's transmission, this had long been a meeting place for pirates, slavers, and mercenaries under Sith employ, but recently it had drawn suspicion from authorities and Jedi alike, forcing them to meet less often and take more precautions when they did.

Levitating about a meter above the ground to avoid debris and junk that had been neglected by the janitorial staff before the spaceport had closed, Malfon extended his Force senses to search for his target. According to the dossier he had received, the individual he was looking for was a Zabrak about eight years younger than he was. The man's name was Gheas, and he was a member of the Nova Death Force, a mercenary group who had been purchased by the Sith. Apparently, this Zabrak carried valuable information for Avaran, and he needed to escape Coruscant safely.

The Force informed him that this mercenary was located several floors up, and he seemed to be hiding in one of the abandoned docking bays. Remaining vigilant, Malfon levitated through the empty corridors, taking note of the deathly silence and the lack of lighting in this place. There was a chill in the air not unlike the one he had sensed on Korriban, but he couldn't figure out why. Nevertheless, his Force powers were not subdued and he used them to guide him to his destination.

Malfon pulled open the damaged door to the docking bay where Gheas was hiding. He could sense the mercenary quite clearly, but he could still not see him. Using the Force, Malfon lifted the stack of broken boxes the Zabrak was hiding behind, revealing his position. Wearing dark gray armor and covering his horned scalp with a customized combat helmet, this was definitely the one he was searching for. The mercenary noticed Malfon's arrival almost immediately and jumped in alarm. On his feet in a moment, he pointed his blaster rifle at the hooded dark-sider, who was still lifting the crates with his mind.

“W-who the hell are you? Jedi?” the Zabrak growled.

“No. I am Sith. You must be Gheas,” he replied.

“Yeh. Demolitions and heavy weapons expert. How do I know you're not a Jedi?” Gheas asked. “You could be lyi-”

Force lightning sped forth from Malfon's hands, sending crackling tendrils into the startled mercenary. The lightning's power threw Gheas backward, sending him flying into the wall. The armored warrior pleaded for mercy, and Malfon stopped his attack. All too easy. The Sith floated over to his wounded target while he recovered.

“You have information that is quite valuable to our cause,” Malfon began. “Do you have a way offworld?”

“Of course,” Gheas said with a cough. “I'm heading out right away, but I was told to wait for you.”

“For me?”

“Yeah. Lord Whell wanted me to give you something.” Gheas handed Malfon a wrapped package. “Said it was almost as important as my intel.”

Malfon nodded and took the package. It was strange to receive a genuine gift from Avaran, much less from someone else in his name, but he had no reason to be suspicious. In fact, this could help him. Ever since he had landed on Coruscant, a plan to eliminate Avaran Whell had been shaping in his mind, but he was unsure how to implement it. He had to be close enough to ensure that Avaran died, but he couldn't do it himself. If he was too close, Avaran would tap into their Force bond and he would die as well. No one—except perhaps Raystin—had the necessary strength to defeat Avaran in combat, but even the strongest Force-user was vulnerable to the munitions of war.

“You said you were a demolitions expert, Gheas?” Malfon asked plainly.

“Yup. Learned from my ol' man, who was a minesweeper during the war against Exar Kun.”

“Interesting. What is the strongest explosive you have on you at the moment?”

“Permacrete detonator. I mean, I don't have it on me, but I know a local guy who has one.”

“Indeed? Is it set to motion-sensor detonation, or can you control it remotely?”

“Both. I take it you want one?”

“I don't want one, no. However, I do want you to go set up one for me.”

“And why would I do that?” Gheas growled. “You gonna pay me?”

“Set up this detonator for me,” Malfon ordered, forcing his will upon the mercenary's mind.

“I-I… urgh…” Gheas rubbed his head as though he had a splitting headache. “I'll do it.”

“Very good. Go to the ship located at these coordinates and set it up on the bridge—discreetly. If an individual in dark armor asks what you are doing, tell him Malfon Benax sent you. If a very old Human male confronts you, leave and come back later. If anyone else tries to stop you, kill them.”

“Yes, sir. I will get on it right away.”

Gheas bowed slightly and moved to leave the docking bay. Once he was gone, Malfon tore open the package that Avaran had left for him, revealing a lightsaber, a datapad, and a keycard. Activating the datapad, he read the message the old Sith left for him and learned that the lightsaber was for him to use during the course of his next mission. Avaran's liaison to the Iridorians had failed to unite the various raiding factions, and he was now a liability. He wanted Malfon to kill him so Avaran could start over with a new Iridorian slave. The keycard was for the ship Avaran had designated Malfon to use. Although Malfon was not eager to go offworld, he was eager to kill Iridorians, and he relished the thought of doing so.

Before he could turn to leave, Gheas sprinted back into the room, firing back into the hall with his blaster rifle.

“She's going to kill me!”

Were the Jedi here already? Malfon activated the lightsaber Avaran Whell had given him, revealing its blood-red blade for the first time, and shouted for Gheas to stay behind him. The mercenary did so without question, and Malfon floated forward to face the arrival of their opponent.

The Kel Dor who emerged from beyond the doorway made Malfon's heart skip a beat. Wearing auburn robes underneath a deep brown cloak that matched the color of her gnarled skin, the Jedi Knight before him carried a purple double-bladed lightsaber in her hands, ready for battle. There was something in her body language that hinted at nervousness, but only a keen Force-sensitive or powerful empath would have noticed.

In a moment, Malfon knew what had happened. Avaran Whell had sent him to ensure that this mercenary would receive safe passage, and at the same time he had informed the Jedi Order that a dangerous criminal was seeking to escape justice. Of course, the Jedi would ask him who should be sent to deal with this threat; his wisdom was highly regarded and well-renowned. But then, if Avaran Whell was trying to weaken Malfon, who would he send?

“Olnara,” Malfon whispered.

“You…” the Kel Dor Jedi said, “are you a Jedi?”

Malfon stared at her for a moment. She had no idea who he was. He could lie to her, kill Gheas, and end this madness. But would she believe him? How could she accept the fact that Avaran Whell, ancient sage and Jedi Master, was a Sith Lord? What would happen if Gheas's bomb was not planted? He shook his head. It was too much of a risk. He would let Gheas escape, and then he would flee. The thought made him tremble, but he had to engage Olnara for now.

“Do I look like a Jedi to you?” Malfon sneered. “My blade has been stained with the blood of Jedi. Know my power!”

Malfon released a wave of dark side energy, throwing Gheas to the floor and sending Olnara to her knees. Turning around, he grabbed the Zabrak's arm and pulled him to his feet.

“Quickly! Escape this place while I distract her. And remember your mission!”

Gheas nodded. Malfon used the Force to pull Olnara toward him, causing her to roll over herself on the ground and lose her grip on her lightsaber. Once she was away from the exit, Gheas sprinted out of the docking bay, leaving the two Force-sensitives alone. Olnara called upon the Force and grabbed her lightsaber after recovering her footing. She moved toward the exit to pursue Gheas, but Malfon used the Force to intercept her.

“Where are you going, Jedi?”

“Get out of my way! I have to stop him! He's a dangerous criminal.”

“And I am far more dangerous than he,” Malfon replied.

“If you do not move, I will have to defeat you.”

Malfon cackled. “Try it!”

Olnara dove forward, twirling her violet blade in dazzling loops around her body. Malfon met each of her swings halfway, parrying them with his own weapon. While she swung her weapon, Olnara tried to use the Force to pull Malfon to the ground and cause him to lose balance. However, Malfon's resolve proved stronger, and he remained floating in the air. The two danced around each other, trying to navigate their way toward an exposed weak point while deftly intercepting blows from the other.

Malfon pushed Olnara with the Force, sending her flying toward the back wall. Her lightsaber deactivated, leaving her hidden in the pitch darkness of the hangar bay. If she was fighting an average criminal, she would have been concealed entirely, and the advantage would have been hers. However, Malfon could sense her presence in the Force even now that his eyes failed him. With his red lightsaber blazing, he floated toward her.

Large pieces of the shattered boxes Malfon had lifted earlier were thrown at his back, and Malfon floated sideways to avoid them. Before he could return his attention to Olnara, she called upon the Force and created a wave of energy that caused him to fall to the ground. The Kel Dor used his confusion to her advantage, leaping forward and slashing at him with both blades of her lightsaber. Malfon, clumsily situated on the ground, battered them back the best he could, but he was in danger and he knew it. He kicked out, catching her in the shin and causing her to stumble. Lifting himself back up with the Force, Malfon could have cut off her arm in that moment, but he hesitated just long enough for her to recover and continue the fight.

Olnara began throwing more debris from around the docking bay at him, and he countered by throwing objects of his own. Soon enough, metal boxes shattered into metal cylinders and damaged wiring tangled with thick tubes in the air around them while their lightsabers continued to clash. Olnara was skilled indeed, but Malfon's strength in the dark side gave him an obvious advantage. There were several points where he could have severed one of her limbs or destroyed her lightsaber, but each time he stayed his hand. How was he supposed to fight her? She would have no such reservations though, and Malfon fought harder to ensure he was not bisected by one of his friends.

With her double-bladed lightsaber, Olnara had the obvious advantage, but she also tired more quickly. The longer their lightsabers clashed, the more he recognized the wheezing coming from her breath mask. Jumping up to a ledge meant for maintenance workers, she continued her ascent until she arrived at the ceiling of the docking bay. Using her lightsaber's two blades, she cut a whole in the ceiling and jumped into the hangar above them. Malfon took a moment to rest and restore his dark powers, but he knew he could not delay; she would pursue Gheas if he gave her that chance.

Malfon joined her, and he was surprised she did not trap him when he jumped through the hole she had created. Backpedalling just far enough to avoid both her blades, Malfon reignited his weapon and fought back with fury. Although it took him a while to notice, he too was getting tired. Gheas was almost out of the building, but until he had gone far enough away, he was still in danger. Just a little longer now.

“Do I know you?” Olnara asked, catching Malfon's blade and driving it into the floor.

“You think I would be friends with a Jedi like you?” Malfon growled. “You're pathetic. I didn't realize the Jedi were so weak!”

Olnara said nothing, but she continued fighting. Malfon battered away one hit after another, sending the violet blades heading his way back toward their source. However, the tang of burning metal and the bright sparks from their clash were beginning to disorient him, and even with the dark side he could feel his body's strength draining. Olnara used his fatigue to redouble her efforts and gain momentum, forcing Malfon on a dangerous defensive. She fought him into a wall, and then caught the hilt of his blade against her own. Twisting her wrist, she caused Malfon to drop his weapon. With another burst of Force energy, she sent Malfon to the floor and stood over him, lightsaber pointed at his neck.

“Done. We're done,” Olnara said with a gasp.

Then, just when Malfon thought she was going to cut open his neck, the sound of blaster fire echoed through the otherwise empty chamber. Staring up at the Jedi, he saw the blaster holes pockmarking her chest. His eyes widened. The Kel Dor stumbled backward and lost her footing. It took Malfon a moment to realize what was going on, and by the time he did, she was already on the ground with him.

“Olnara!” he shouted in spite of his better judgment as he clambered to her side.

“M-Malfon…?” the Kel Dor managed to say. She reached out and touched Malfon's face with one of her hands. “Ahh… I'm so sorry… I sh-should have noticed…”

Malfon didn't even care that she knew it was him underneath his hood. “Don't talk. I'm going to save you. Just hold on, okay?”

Olnara's breath mask garbled her weakened last words, and her hand fell away from his face. Malfon stared at her lifeless face in silence for a long time. It was only when his Force senses alerted him to another, distorted presence that he realized that Olnara's killer was here. Watching like a predator satisfied with his kill, he did not reveal himself, but lingered in the shadows while Malfon wept. Would everyone he ever knew die like this? Helpless, defenseless, at the mercy of the dark side? Malfon hated himself, loathed his own weakness and the dark power that he received, and he wished for anything that he could have traded Olnara's life for his own.

His self-deprecating grief gave way to rage. And he released that rage on Aurek, the clone who stood in the farthest corner of the room, blaster rifle in hand. For it was he who had come, watched the duel, and shot at Olnara just before she had struck—if she ever intended to strike—at Malfon. He was the murderer, and Malfon hated him.

The clone's body was lifted into the air before Malfon stood back up. Suspended by the invisible power of the Force, Malfon could sense the clone's own Force senses trying to resist, to no avail. Malfon stood up, his body swirling with dark side energies, and he floated over to the clone like a spirit of vengeance. Once he was close enough, he began to choke Aurek with the Force, squeezing his trachea as tight as possible without actually killing him.

“What are you doing here?” Malfon roared.

“I… Avaran sent me here… warned you were… in danger…”

“I was never in danger!” Malfon shouted back. “How dare you kill who I deemed not fight to die! You are trash! You don't even deserve to be called alive. You are better off dead if you cannot even follow simple instructions!”

“I thought you s-said my purpose was to protec…t you…” the clone wheezed. “I… just wanted to fulfill my purpose…”

Malfon stared into the clone's eyes. In seconds, they would be lifeless. Empty. Clouded. So close to death, Aurek's Force bond with him strengthened in an attempt to preserve his life, and Malfon felt the emotional tumult within. On one hand, the clone knew he had betrayed his master's trust and failed to live up to his expectations, causing his sorrow. On the other, the clone did not know how to complete his mission successfully and was scared that his failure would result in his death. The confusion within him influenced Malfon, and he released the clone just before he died.

The clone fell to his knees and gasped loudly. Malfon could still sever his connection to Aurek in the Force, ending his life, but he felt that was too impersonal for how the clone had harmed him. He deserved to die, but Malfon would grant him clemency, if only because he was such a useful tool. The clone seemed to realize this, and he did not say anything or look Malfon in the eye. He rose quietly and quickly to his feet and bowed his head, waiting for further instruction.

“You will follow me, clone. We are going to Ulda Frav, a world in the frontier where the Iridorians have gathered. You will say nothing of this to Avaran Whell or anyone else, nor will you report to him any longer. All your orders are to come from me personally. Do you understand?”

“Master.”

“Then gather your things and join me at the ship docked at these coordinates. We leave immediately.”


Chapter 21

Malfon landed on Ulda Frav several days later. Finding no obvious settlements and detecting no hostile camps in the cleared areas of the tropical world, Malfon used the Force to detect the location of the Iridorians. After some time, he set the ship down near the edge of a thick forest after sensing some sentient beings within. Ordering Aurek to remain with the ship and guard it against any and all hostiles, Malfon headed into the forest with lightsaber in hand.

The humidity within the forest quickly became apparent, and he doffed his cloak and rolled over his sleeves. Sweat layered the back of his neck and his forearms, and sloshing around in the tepid mud proved only to make him more uncomfortable. Extending his senses in the Force, he ignored the fluttering of large insects and the movement of wildlife to search for any traces of the Iridorians. Sure enough, he sensed some of the raiders deep within the forest, almost at its heart. That meant a several kilometer walk, but it would be well worth it. Killing Iridorians was always worth it.

He walked alone for some time. He heard running water in the distance, and the further he traveled the louder its roars became. He suspected that there was a waterfall nearby, but it was impossible to tell and he was in no mood for exploring. The heat continued to be unbearable, and the low-hanging plant life proved a nuisance, even if it was easily cut through with his lightsaber. Hanging vines dripped thick sap as he carved through them, and barbed underbrush pricked through his robes, cutting his lower legs and sticking to his boots. It was a miserable experience, and he wondered how anyone could manage to hide out in such a place.

Malfon saw his first patrol after nearly an hour of walking. Two quick swings of his lightsaber ended the lives of the three raiders, and he quickly searched their remains for anything useful. Unfortunately, they lacked any sort of noticeable comlinks and did not have any maps on their persons either. Grumbling to himself, Malfon pressed forward.

He lost track of time after killing a third patrol. Crossing a wide but rather shallow river, he lost track of how far he had traveled, but the Force told him he was getting very close to where the Iridorians were stationed. Once he was across the river, he began to hear what he thought were footfalls in the distance, but whenever he moved to investigate he found nothing. What's more, these sounds increased in frequency the closer he got to the Iridorians. Despite sensing no one nearby, he could not shake the feeling that he was being followed.

Then in an instant, he was attacked. Iridorians sprung out of their hiding places amongst the trees, beneath shrubbery, and behind large rocks. Blaster fire bounced back and forth around him, and he used his lightsaber to defend himself as best as he could. However, the more raiders he killed, the more raiders moved in to take their place. Blaster pistols gave way to blaster rifles, and they in turn gave way to heavy repeaters. Malfon avoided the inundation of blaster fire by jumping into the trees and repositioning himself. However, as soon as he landed, he found himself facing Iridorians. Their vibroswords, battle axes, and knucklers were no match for his lightsaber, but there were many of them.

Back and forth he went, in close-quarters combat and then dodging blaster fire. He should have been able to defeat all of these enemies—indeed, they were not skilled combatants—but the fact that they did not stop made his progress slow. He dared not risk using the Force extensively, especially after he was so tired from the trek here. His struggle wore on, but in the end it was useless. A blaster shot scored a hit against his left thigh, and he fell to the ground. He did not know how many more blaster shots he took, but the third one rendered him comatose.

*** ***

Malfon awoke from a stupor. Glancing around, he found himself in a wide circular arena without seating for an audience. Weak and groggy, it took him a few seconds to realize that his right leg was chained to the floor. He tried to reach out into the Force, but he was still very weak. Was he inside the Iridorian base? He must have been, but there did not seem to be anyone around. However, what perturbed him more was the fact that he kept being captured and dragged around after being stunned. Once he became a Sith Lord, he would put an end to that pattern of humiliation.

“Ah. You must be the Assassin. We've been told to expect you.”

Malfon glanced around, but he saw no one. “It's a shame, then, that I do not know who you are.”

The door at the opposite side of the arena opened, revealing an Iridorian warrior in heavy green armor. This raider's armor was far more fanciful than any he had seen, with tassels of gold, additional plates to defend the joints, and a flowing white cape. Carrying a spear in one hand and a heavy blaster pistol in the other, he was flanked by several other armed guards and appeared to be quite important—for a raider.

“Bruton Iulis. I am the chieftain of clan Iulis and am the strongest Iridorian alive. I killed my father, the last chief, for this position and slaughtered three other clan chiefs who sought to challenge me.”

“You are the raider Avaran has been working with,” Malfon muttered.

“I have worked with Avaran Whell, Lord of the Sith, for some time,” Bruton agreed. “He and I sought to unite all the Iridorians under a single banner. However, I have seen that he only wants to make me and my people Sith puppets. Therefore, I will end the life of his valued apprentice using his own experiments, and unite them under my own glorious strength.”

Malfon's Force senses, although still weak, sensed that Bruton Iulis was certainly stronger than most Iridorians. In fact, he was probably strong enough to challenge a young Jedi successfully. He noticed that his lightsaber rested on the chieftain's belt; he only needed a moment to recover so he could grab it.

“You're a fool,” Malfon replied. “Only the Sith can give you the power you seek.”

“We shall see today the limits of Sith power. Bring in the terentatek.”

A door closer to Malfon slowly opened, revealing a hulking abomination chained just within the doorway. Its lumbering arms ended in four thick claws that were coated in a fetid smelling poison, and the two tusks just beside its mouth were similarly dangerous. Jagged spines grew from the back of its head and around its spine, and its entire body seemed to be shielded by its dark hide. Its immense limbs were wrapped in durasteel chains, but it was not sedated in any way and roared ferociously at Malfon and his Iridorians captors.

“What is that?” Malfon gaped.

“A creature so powerful it was once called Jedi killer. Avaran Whell gave it to us after studying the creature as a gift, and he gave us lessons and training to counteract your sorcerer's ways. It worked, but only the strongest of us adapted to his teachings. Now, we shall use this creature to kill you and your master.”

The terentatek's bonds shattered in a vicious screech. The creature roared once again and charged toward Malfon. Realizing he had no time to lose, Malfon reached out into the Force and grabbed his lightsaber from Bruton's waist as a force field separated himself from the Iridorians. He activated the red blade and cut his own bonds, giving him a chance to dive out of the way seconds before the terentatek trampled him under its thundering footfalls. The massive creature just kept on charging, either unaware or undaunted that its prey had escaped, and tried to attack the Iridorians at the far end of the arena. However, it ran headlong into the large energy field between them, causing it to electrify itself. Seeing no other course of action, the terentatek spun around and rushed at Malfon again.

Malfon had already recovered his footing by the time the terentatek refocused on him. With lightsaber in hand, Malfon unleashed a burst of electrical energy at the massive creature; however, his attacks were rebuffed as soon as they made contact with its thick hide. Didn't work. The terentatek moved into melee range and clawed at Malfon with a swiftness that he was unprepared for. Malfon took the attack directly, and he was thrown across the arena. Blood seeped from the wounds on his chest and upper arms, and Malfon could feel the poison from the beast seeping into his veins.

It moved in for another attack while he recovered. Forcing himself to his feet, Malfon avoided an incoming blow from the terentatek and jumped behind it, slicing at it several times with his lightsaber. Its hide was far more durable than Malfon expected, and his lightsaber hardly cut at the beast. Spinning around, the terentatek slashed at him again, faster this time, but Malfon managed to guard with his lightsaber, tearing apart chunks of the creature's claws and superheating some of the poison left behind.

In spite of its massive size and lumbering gait, the terentatek was a worthy opponent. Faster than it appeared and tougher than most creatures, Malfon had to call upon all of his energy to counter it. Even then, his powers were still not at full strength. Malfon took several hits in exchange for a chance to land some clean blows on the creature, but even his direct attacks caused the creature to bleed very little.

Malfon tried to leap onto the beast's back, but it intercepted him halfway and swatted him to the ground. While he was lying on the ground, he felt the floor shake beneath him, and then noticed that the entire base was shaking as well. The lights went out for a brief moment, drowning the arena itself in darkness, and the energy field that the Iridorians were hiding behind faded into nothingness.

“What's going on?” Bruton shouted.

“We're under attack!” his aide replied quickly. “Mandalorian ships! They're firebombing the forest above us!”

“What? How is that possible? How could they know where we are unless…?”

“Avaran,” Malfon gasped.

“He plans to defeat us with his other slaves,” Bruton realized.

“Energy shield is down! We can't restore power, sir!” another aide announced.

“Retreat! That terentatek will kill us all!”

The terentatek, only momentarily dazed by the lack of lighting, ignored Malfon for the time being and rushed toward the Iridorian chieftain and his men. Bruton used his comlink to call for help before he and his men opened fire on the monster with their blaster cannons. Their efforts were even more ineffective than Malfon's lightsaber swings, and his two aides were hacked to pieces by the beast's claws. Bruton managed to roll out of the way and avoid being pinned down by the creature like they were, but the creature was almost as fast—if not as maneuverable—and cornered him again in an instant. The creature swung at Bruton, but its attack ended prematurely when Malfon leapt on top of its back and drove his lightsaber into its right shoulder. That gave Bruton the chance he needed to move out of the way and fire at the beast.

“We need to work together to defeat it!” Malfon shouted.

“You'd wish, Sith! I'm getting out of here!”

Bruton scrambled for the door, but Malfon couldn't restrain the terentatek for long, and he was thrown from its back without his lightsaber. The massive creature tore through the wall near the doorway and charged after Bruton. Under no obligation to save Bruton or the other Iridorians, Malfon stood up and dragged himself out of the arena. He was bleeding heavily from his chest, lower back, and shoulders, and the poison from the terentatek's claws was seeping through his body, but he was able to walk. Now that the chieftain left, Malfon took his time to call upon the Force to quell the poison and stifle some of the bleeding.

Was Avaran truly so treacherous? Did he truly intend to kill all the Iridorians and himself? The idea made Malfon furious. After all of his talk of trust, teamwork, and unification, he was just the same traitorous manipulator he always was. Shaking his head, Malfon knew he had to survive before he could deal with him. Once he felt strong enough, he followed the path of destruction wrought by the terentatek on its way out of the base.

Since he didn't have a lightsaber, Malfon carefully avoided any surviving Iridorians, although it seemed that most of them had either fled or pursued the terentatek as it left the base. Luckily, Bruton appeared to have made his way directly out of the base, and the predator that pursued him was all too eager to give chase, which helped Malfon discover how to get out as well.

Ascending the stairs that led from the Iridorian's underground base into the forest beyond, Malfon couldn’t believe the destruction he saw. Fire fell from the sky in great swathes, causing the trees to burn around them. Pillars of smoke concealed the sky in a dark gray, and the red inferno around the base threatened to contain everyone inside. He thought he could hear the sound of starfighters overhead, but their engines were drowned out by the crackling of the brilliant fire around him. His eyes watered, his lungs burned with each cough, and he saw no way out of this conflagration.

The terentatek recognized the chaos around it and used it to its advantage. Its prey had nowhere to go, and it could navigate this place as was necessary; after all, its hide could resist the Force and lightsabers, so fire hardly worried it. The surviving Iridorians—numbering far less than Malfon expected—had spread out around the beast and were shooting at it from all directions, but they couldn't take it down.

Malfon joined their fight, if only because there was nowhere for him to escape to. Jumping back onto the terentatek, Malfon grabbed at the lightsaber still imbedded deep within its body, pulled it out, and stabbed into it again and again. His lightsaber hardly did any damage, but it did distract the beast so that the surviving Iridorians could fire upon it. Luckily, they avoided him and fired only on the beast. Unexpectedly, the creature fell backward, threatening to crush Malfon under its weight and forcing him to jump away. His lightsaber was crushed beneath its girth, but Malfon managed to avoid the attack.

Now that it was on its back, the terentatek was rushed by Bruton and the other surviving raiders. Of course, the beast only continued to prove how agile it was. Its claws raked across several Iridorians, severing limbs and poisoning others. Bruton himself lost an arm against the beast and retreated before it stood up again, giving it a chance to bite off the head of two raiders at once.

Malfon picked up a blaster pistol from the corpse of one of the raiders and fired at the terentatek. There was no effect, and it didn't even notice his attack. Instead, it focused on Bruton and the other survivors from the base. Its tusks jagged into Bruton's chest, tearing him in two gory pieces before it focused on his bodyguards, shearing off armor and flesh from three raiders with its claws and stomping on another.

It noticed Malfon only after brutalizing several other Iridorians. Roaring, the monster charged at Malfon, who fired several more shots from his blaster. The creature moved in to slash at his chest, and Malfon realized only too late that he was too injured to jump out of the way. A rocket flew forth from within the blazing inferno and struck the terentatek square in the back, causing it to stumble and saving Malfon's life. Running around the creature, Malfon watched as another rocket smashed into its back, leaving two gaping wounds where some of its bony spikes had once been.

Once Malfon was safely out of the terentatek's range, Aurek revealed himself from the inferno. Carrying a rocket launcher, several blaster rifles, heavy repeaters, and vibroswords, the clone positioned himself near Malfon while the terentatek recovered.

“Are you all right, Master?”

“I've been better,” Malfon mumbled. “What are you doing here? I told you stay with the ship!”

“The ship was destroyed during the initial bombing run by Mandalorian forces. I came here when I sensed you were in danger.”

Malfon nodded. “I need a weapon.”

“Take this rifle and sword. I'll use whatever ammo I have left in this launcher to wound him, and you attack his vulnerable points.”

Malfon armed himself appropriately and then turned his attention to the terentatek. The creature had been dazed from the wound it received, but it had recovered now. Aurek opened fire with his rocket launcher, sending two more projectiles toward the hulking monster. It tried to block these with its arms before rushing at Aurek. In the meantime, Malfon managed to sneak behind it and fired several rounds of rifle fire into the wound Aurek had created earlier. The beast howled in pain, but it kept charging.

Malfon called upon the Force with impunity, but his pain hindered his efforts somewhat. Ripping burning trees from their roots, Malfon hurled several of them at the terentatek before it reached Aurek, slowing it down just enough for the clone to reload his weapon and fire his last rocket. This one hit the creature directly in the head, causing it to recoil enough for Malfon to jump onto its back and stab at its exposed wound.

Startlingly, the dark-side abomination proved strong enough to survive even that attack, and it continued forward toward Aurek and swung at him several times, cutting through his armor and sending him flying. Malfon shouted in anger and kept slicing at the terentatek's wound, causing streams of dark blood to pour out of the wound and dirtying his boots with burnt fat and torn muscle. The smell of the creature's exposed innards being torn out was rancid, and Malfon did his best to focus on the task at hand.

The terentatek managed to buck Malfon off its back, throwing him to the dried earth below. He saw Aurek several meters away, bleeding profusely and struggling to stand back up. Malfon forced himself to rise just in time to take a direct hit from the terentatek's claws, forcing him back down. Aurek managed to fire a few shots from his heavy repeater, distracting the terentatek long enough for Malfon to recover. Malfon coughed up blood in the process of trying to expel the smoke from his throat, and he stared at his bloodied hands and chest. Were they going to die here?

Aurek took another slash from the massive animal, nearly tearing off his arm and causing him to scream. Malfon flipped through the air and performed an overhead swing that sent his vibrosword directly into the creature's exposed spine. The creature struggled only for a moment, swinging helplessly at the Force-sensitive on its back, before it fell forward and died. A thick green mist exuded from its corpse, causing Malfon to vomit blood and bile.

Once he had some strength, Malfon limped toward Aurek, who had not stood back up since he was last hit. The clone looked terrible. His armor had shattered in several places, and claw marks on his chest and upper leg were pouring out bright red blood. His left arm was dangling from its place, seemingly attached only by a few strands of muscle and bits of bone, and his visor had imploded, burying transparisteel shards in his face. He was lying in a pool of his own blood.

“Aurek! Aurek, get up!”

“I… don't think I can. It hurts a lot,” the clone explained. “I'm sorry.”

“What?”

“I disobeyed your orders earlier, on Coruscant. I disobeyed your orders now.” The clone groaned in pain. “All I ever wanted was a purpose, and when you gave me a reason to live, I… I felt complete. I've protected you, and I did my duty to the best of my ability. I only wanted you to be proud of my, sir.”

“I am. You have no idea… how grateful I am that you saved me.”

“Good. Then I can die knowing that I've fulfilled my purpose.”

“No! You can't die. Not yet. You haven't finished your task. You haven't-”

“A life for a life, right? I killed that Jedi on Coruscant against your wishes. You said I was a waste of being, a useless life. This is the least I deserve. I don't think I've actually changed your mind, but I'm content with the fact that you… have more work for me, sir.”

“I command you to live! Your purpose is to live!” Malfon shouted. “Don't leave me here, Aurek. I can't do this on my own.”

“Perhaps not, but I don't think I'll be joining you. Sorry… sir. I'll be waiting… for your orders… in the next life…”

Malfon screamed. Malfon punched the earth. He was trembling, and he was furious. Wake up, clone! Don't just save my life and die! How dare you die without allowing me to repay you for your deeds? Malfon shouted incoherent things at the clone's body. He tried to pick him up to carry him out of the forest with him, but he was too weak. Struggle as he might, he could not find the strength to bring him along. It would be tough to get out of the dying forest by himself, much less bring Aurek with him. As gently as he could, Malfon set the clone down near the embers of a burning tree and fled the forest. He didn't care. The Iridorians, the terentatek, Aurek. They could all stay and burn in this place. He would leave, and the fires could consume him later.

Malfon had no idea where he was going. The forest was falling apart around him, flaming branches and burnt leaves descending to the ground amidst the blinding cloud of ash and soot. The fire was disorienting, and nothing was familiar here. His entire body was begging for an end to the pain. Every breath he took caused his chest to ache; every tear he shed caused his vision to blur. He tripped over himself more than once, but each time he managed to stand again. Blood trailed behind him, and his clothes were burnt, but if he could make it out of the forest, he would be fine.

With dried eyes and a throat caked in soot, Malfon could see the edge of the forest. He couldn't stand up anymore, and he was clawing at the ground beneath him to keep going. His nails dug in deep, shattering against the rocks and dregs around him, but he pushed on. The wounds he received from the terentatek were more severe than he first realized, and his mind was barely conscious from the pain rippling through his body. Even now, though, he could be fine. If he contacted Raystin, he would be able to-

“Malfon? Malfon, is that you?”

Malfon glanced up, and he realized that there were four Jedi looking down at him from atop their starfighters just beyond the forest's edge.

No. No, no, no.

Elbrook Naldrafos and his two childhood companions, Gilith Mros and Rogos Bolo, descended from their personal fighters. The woman with them, a Zeltron named Alel, had been Elbrook's first paramour and ultimately became his last; the two had married in secret only a year ago. The four of them walked toward Malfon's wounded form with looks of confusion on their faces.

“Malfon, what are you doing here?” Elbrook boomed, his voice somewhat jovial and a tad bit concerned. “The Jedi Council said there was a dark side holdout here from the war against Exar Kun.”

“Hey, don't you sense the dark side from him?” Rogos growled. “Don't tell me I'm the only one?”

“I sense it too, Rogos!” Gilith sneered. “Maybe he's is the leader of the dark side cult on this planet?”

“Malfon?” Elbrook sounded unconvinced. “I sense it too, but… I don't know. That's ridiculous.”

“Don't doubt your feelings, dear,” Alel replied. “He's dangerous.”

“I suppose he is. He was always a bit suspicious, after all. Him and… that other guy.” Elbrook turned his attention to the wounded Force-user. “So tell me, Malfon. Are you the leader of the dark-siders here?”

Malfon managed to stand up by pulling himself up with a tree stump. Coughing, he managed to expel some of the foul soot from his lungs. Without Avaran Whell to defend him, his dark side nature was exposed, as if someone had torn off his mask, for all to see. There was no use hiding it; these Jedi wouldn't be so easily fooled, especially not in his weakness. Of course, this revelation could prove useful. He could finally have his revenge on Elbrook and the others for the pain they brought to him as a child. He only had strength for one attack, so he had to make it count.

“Yes. It's true. Now, if you would all… die.”

Malfon released a burst of lightning from his fingertips, but Elbrook activated his blue saberstaff and caused the harmful energy to dissipate into nothingness. Malfon gasped despite himself when he realized that it was ineffective, and he tried to reach for his lightsaber, only to remember that it had been destroyed earlier. Gilith activated his two blue lightsabers and Rogos his single yellow blade, but Alel remained behind Elbrook as though she possessed no lightsaber and needed his protection.

“That was foolish of you, Malfon,” Elbrook cooed. “You could have lied to us, tricked us, sent us after someone else. Who knows? We might have believed you. Gilith has been wrong before. Now, though, we have to defeat you and bring you in for questioning. The Jedi Council will want to know what happened.”

“Maybe he's the one who killed those Jedi,” Alel noted. “You know, all the Jedi who've died in recent years.”

“That's right!” Rogos shouted. “He's been with us the whole time, watching for our weaknesses. He's a murderer!”

“Monster!” Gilith added.

“Now, now. There's no proof of that yet. Let's not jump to conclusions. We'll let the Jedi Council decide his fate,” Elbrook decided. “Will you come peacefully, Malfon?”

Malfon spat at him. “I'd rather die.”

“That can be arranged!” Gilith snapped back.

“Oh, well. You always did want to do things the hard way, Malfon. Gilith, Rogos, take him down.”

The two Jedi Knights moved toward Malfon, who could hardly stand at this point. He could feel the dark side swelling up within him, but he couldn't quite get the strength he needed to actually fight. His body was still so weak, and any further combat would cripple him. How could this happen? Mandalorians weren't even enough? What did he need the Jedi for? Was this all part of a more sinister plot that he had been keeping to himself? Gripping his side to alleviate his pain, Malfon tried to summon the strength to cast Force lightning, but no such power came.

As Gilith and Rogos moved into striking distance, there was the cry of some subsonic craft overhead that distracted them. Almost instantaneously, a shadowy figure jumped from some unseen vantage point and landed between the two Jedi and Malfon. The new arrival hit Rogos in the tusks with an open-handed strike, causing him to squeal in pain and giving the figure a chance to snatch his lightsaber. Before Gilith could react, the figure cut off one of his cranial horns and incapacitated him. The figure paused for a moment and watched the two remaining Jedi intensely.

Malfon, now barely standing, eyed the figure suspiciously. Had Avaran sent someone else? “Who?”

The figure cast back her hood, revealing Junara's light blond hair and pale face. “A friend.”

The shock of seeing her again did not wear off quickly enough for him to respond, and Junara jumped into the fray again. The yellow lightsaber she took from Rogos proved incredibly useful facing Elbrook's double-bladed weapon, and she repulsed Alel so she only had to fight him. Elbrook seemed as shocked as Malfon was to see another combatant, and it took him a moment to recompose himself. Despite never seeing her wield a lightsaber before, Malfon was quite impressed by Junara's skill. Was she some sort of Jedi as well?

While she distracted Elbrook, Malfon limped over to Gilith, who had faded into unconsciousness, and crushed his neck with a large stone. Rogos was still paralyzed by the injury from Junara, but he would soon recover. Malfon snatched one of Gilith's blue lightsabers and threw it at Rogos, removing his head from his shoulders.

Turning his attention to Junara and Elbrook, Malfon realized that she was in trouble. Although Junara herself was an able duelist, she was no match for Elbrook in an extended duel. Trading blows, his two blades danced around her single blade with enough strength and speed to throw her off balance several times. The more he struck, the closer his weapon's blades came to cutting at her body. His first instinct was to rush in and aid her, but he quickly dispelled that notion. Malfon was too weak to risk a direct attack, and at this point he'd only be a hindrance. However, there were other ways to defeat a Jedi.

Junara and Elbrook locked lightsaber blades. In a quick arc, Junara tried to sever his weapon arm, but he parried the attack and pushed her over. On the ground, she was temporarily separated from her lightsaber, but that single instant was enough for him to kick her weapon away. Before she could counter, Elbrook stood over her and held his lightsaber just above her chest.

“Elbrook!” Malfon shouted. “Drop your lightsaber or Alel dies.”

“El-Elbrook… help…” Alel gasped.

The female Jedi was suspended in the air several meters away from Malfon, being choked by the Force. She had already lost her weapon, and Malfon was in a position where it would be easy to cut her down with his own lightsaber if Elbrook refused. No matter how the Jedi tried to avoid it, Alel was in mortal danger, and Malfon would not let her go unless Junara escaped unharmed.

“Put her down!” the older Jedi growled. “Damnit, Malfon, let her go.”

“Release her and I will release Alel,” Malfon replied.

Elbrook looked at Junara on the ground before him and then back at Alel. Something in his eyes told Malfon that he was not considering surrender. “No.”

Malfon felt his grip on Alel weaken as Elbrook forcibly severed Malfon's mental chokehold on her. However, Malfon's distraction gave Junara the time she needed to roll away from Elbrook and recover her lightsaber. In a single motion, she was on her feet again with weapon activated. Instead of focusing on Elbrook, though, Junara leapt through the air and pierced Alel with her weapon. The young female Jedi stumbled over herself and fell onto the blade, letting the lightsaber do more damage. The shock of Alel's death gave Elbrook pause, but when he came to he was furious, and he threw his lightsaber to cut down Junara. Malfon was ready for an attack from him, and he threw his own weapon and deflected it. Before the Jedi's weapon returned to him, Malfon called forth all of his power and ignited the entirety of Elbrook's robes, causing the Jedi himself to catch on fire as well. In his alarm, Elbrook was distracted long enough to miss his lightsaber, allowing the double-bladed weapon to cut off his head and end his life.

He was dead. Malfon smiled to himself as Elbrook's headless body landed on the burnt earth. However, his delight quickly gave way to fatigue, and he collapsed as well. He simply had no more stamina, and his injuries compounded to cripple him.

“Malfon! Are you alright?” Junara asked, rushing to his side.

“Just tired. D-do you have a ship?”

“Yes.”

“Just let me… lie down somewhere. I'll be okay.”

Junara nodded and carried the half-conscious Malfon to her ship.

*** ***

Malfon's eyes blinked several times to get used to the strong light overhead. Disoriented and groggy, he struggled into an upright position only to realize that he couldn't quite move his arms due to the intravenous drips. Shaking his head, he used the Force to restore his sense of awareness, dispelling the side-effects of the drugs being injected into his body.

It took him a moment to realize that he was probably in Junara's ship, somewhere in space, away from Ulda Frav and all the destruction wrought there. The Iridorians and their mad leader was dead, but so was Aurek. The terentatek was dead, and yet so were Elbrook and the other Jedi he brought with him to investigate the planet. He clenched his fist when he realized that, in the end, he was not strong enough to face Elbrook alone. He had wanted for so long to prove himself, and yet here he was: lying in the medical ward of his savior, surviving his last encounter only because of her timely arrival. The thought was comforting, and yet it was also somewhat humiliating. He was a Sith. He should have been strong enough to finish his missions alone.

“You're awake!” Junara said, disturbing Malfon's train of thought.

Malfon nodded. “How long was I out?”

“Not very long, considering your injuries. Ten hours, maybe?”

“That's good. I feel much better now,” Malfon replied. He only then realized that there were several questions lingering in his mind. “What were you doing on Ulda Frav? How did you know I was there?”

“What?” Junara appeared indignant. “You aren't glad I saved you?”

“It's not that. But I… didn't tell anyone where I was going. There was no way you could have known,” Malfon explained.

“Didn't you receive my message?” Junara countered.

Malfon shook his head sheepishly.

“I told you that the Force kept sending me powerful visions in which you were in pain. The visions were unclear, and I didn't know if you were on Coruscant or some other world. They were maddening. It came to a point where the Force broadcasted the world you'd be on next, so I followed you here.”

“I… I forgot you could use the Force,” Malfon admitted. “But I'm grateful, all the same. That's the second time you saved me.”

“Well, technically, you saved me last time. Let's call us even for now.”

“All the same, thank you for your assistance. I wouldn't have survived if you hadn't stepped in.”

“Think nothing of it.” Junara stood up and walked toward a viewport across the room. “Why were the Jedi attacking you?”

“You ask this after you kill them all?” Malfon scoffed.

“I only killed one!” Junara replied quickly. “You did the rest.”

“So I did. But the story is quite long, and I don't think we have time for it.”

Junara arched an eyebrow. “We have all the time in the galaxy. You're not going anywhere.”

“I have something I must do.”

“You're still injured!”

Malfon removed the drips from his arm and the monitors from his chest. “I'm well enough to do what must be done. Do you have any small fighters on this ship?”

“A few. I don't know how well they work, though. Why?”

“I need to borrow one from you. Just for a few days.”

Junara was silent for a moment. “On one condition.”

“What's that?”

“Come back and see me on Alderaan when this is all over and explain everything to me.”

“I didn't know you were so interested,” Malfon replied.

“I'm… it's not that! I just don't like being left out of these sort of things, that's all!”

Malfon stood up to leave, but Junara grabbed his arm and stopped him. When Malfon turned around, she kissed him lightly on the cheek.

“Don't die, Malfon.”

*** ***

Those words echoed in his mind the entire ride back to Korriban. The planet was as dead as it was when he left it, and there was no evident hostility from the few sentient beings left. No one expected his arrival. Landing the ship he borrowed right outside the tomb of Adas, he emerged from his fighter in a single bound and shattered the sternum of the lone guard with a Force-empowered kick. The first of many casualties today. Taking the guard's vibrosword, he descended into Avaran Whell's base of operations.

Three slaves were lingering on the stairs leading into the base, and they were surprised to see the Assassin alive and well. A quick burst of Force lightning disintegrated their bodies before they could finish screaming for help. He marched straight for the library, seeing no other Sith brave enough to stand in his way. As usual, Fasin was caught up in his reading, but he noticed Malfon's arrival immediately.

“What is it, Malfon?” he asked.

“It's time. Avaran Whell dies today. Gather your things; we leave this place.”

“Where shall we go?”

“Alderaan,” Malfon said after a brief pause. “We shall start anew on Alderaan.”

“Alderaan is in the heart of Republic space. Is this wise?”

“All the better. They shall never expect their enemy to be so close, and that gives us the advantage,” Malfon replied. “For now, collect the tomes of greatest importance and take them with you as you depart. The others will be recovered in time.”

“Very well.”

“Once you've done that, lead the attack here and ensure all the Sith are killed. Leave none alive.”

“No one?”

“I want no survivors. The clones will assist you.”

“… As you wish.”

Fasin moved with great haste, gathering books and scrolls of utmost importance. One day, when Fasin had learned all he could and Malfon was suitably powerful, they would destroy these works so no one else could gain such power. For now, though, they would have to be kept close so that only he and his closest allies could use them. Leaving his companion to his work, Malfon left the library and made his way to the science facility. Although slaves were lingering in the corners of the rooms and the shadows of the halls, they said nothing to him and did not interfere.

As usual, the doctors within the research and cloning chambers were meandering about, observing the droids and the tanks they monitored in silence. Doctor Tserne DeLarane was the first to notice his arrival, and he moved out of his predetermined path to greet him. The other two doctors acknowledged him, but only with a wordless nod.

“Ah, Assassin. How are you today? What can we help you with?”

“The clones. I'm releasing all of them.”

“All of them?” The doctor was baffled. “For what reason? Has Master Whell authorized this?”

“Master Whell will be dead in a short while. I intend to kill him and all those who consider themselves his loyal servants. You and the other doctors have a choice,” Malfon stated. “You either allow me to release the clones and assist me, or you will all die and I will release the clones anyway.”

“Point the blaster at our head, why don't you?” Doctor Bancho murmured.

“What he means to say is that we'd be honored to serve under you, Assassin,” Doctor DeLarane noted quickly. “Consider our talents your own; all our resources are at your disposal.”

“Excellent. Report to Fasin in the library while I awaken and arm these clones.”

The doctors and their droids left the cloning chambers behind. Malfon smiled. What good was Avaran's conspiring now? Who else could he turn to? Drawing upon the power of Korriban itself, Malfon unleashed all the dark side potential he possessed and reached into the dormant minds of the humanoids around him. Creating a web of Force bonds, Malfon felt his strength leave him as they took it and gave themselves life. Surrounded by the dark side as he was, he would quickly regain his lost power, and the clones needed very little of it to begin the birthing process, so he knew he would be well before his destined battle.

In seconds, the clones had emerged the tank as one, each standing before him dripping wet with not much of anything on. Their eyes were clouded and their skin pale, and many were breathing laboriously as they traded their artificial respirators for the lungs that had been fashioned within them. They had no purpose, no identity, and no strength of their own, but they knew one thing: Malfon Benax was their master.

“Clones! Your single task in this life is to heed my every order. You shall question nothing, and you will receive your objectives from no other. You are Force-sensitive warriors, trained soldiers, and vicious killers. Now go, armor yourselves, select your weapons, and carry out your first mission!”

“What is our first mission, sir?” the clones asked in unison.

“Kill everyone in this tomb! Kill every slave, every prisoner, every servant, every apprentice! Leave only Fasin the Cathar and the three doctors who created you alive! I will imprint their appearance into your minds so you know who they are. Protect them with your lives, as you would protect me. Go!”

And so they went. Each clone equipped himself with heavy armor, a black shell with a shimmering blue shield around it, and took individual weapons according to their skills and needs. Malfon left them to their duties and returned to the main hall. By now, the Sith who were not loyal to him had realized the danger they were in, and they were scrambling for safety against the droids Fasin had sent to attack them. They would find no succor from their mechanized bodies, and they would find none from him. Blaster fire echoed throughout the tomb, and Malfon revitalized himself through the death and destruction around him.

Fasin made his way through the chaos with lightsaber in hand. He was uninjured, but he was encumbered by the knapsack he carried—filled with Sith lore, no doubt. Eying the surrounding area, he approached Malfon and watched the violence unfold around them.

“Is there anything else you require of me, Master?” Fasin asked after some time.

“Go to the communication room and find out where Avaran and his ship are. I intend to meet him there.”

“Yes, my lord.”

At long last, Avaran Whell's dreams of an empire would come to an end.

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