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Chapter 22

The Japrael system. Malfon had never been to this system, and he did not know why Avaran was stationed here, but he was undeterred by these gaps in his understanding. The old Sith's vessel floated through space, its engines—sublights and emergency—were offline and the entire vessel seemed to be running on emergency power, though it was undamaged. Extending his perception through the Force, Malfon sensed that there were very few beings on the ship, but he could not identify if Avaran was one of them. No matter. He would find out soon enough.

Attaching an umbilical connector between his rather bulky starfighter and the boarding ramp to Avaran's ship, Malfon walked inside with lightsaber in hand. The final executor, the mechanist and pilot of this ship, was waiting for Malfon on the other side of the tube. A quick flick of Malfon's wrist sent the executor flying, and his neck snapped violently against the wall. No one else tried to stop him, and he could not sense anyone else in the Force. Yet he knew Avaran Whell was here somewhere. Keeping his lightsaber activated, Malfon scanned the ship for traps or enemies until he arrived at the bridge.

“So you've come, Assassin.”

Avaran Whell stood on the bridge in the same place he had confronted his former master before. Now, though, the older Human carried himself much differently. Standing at his full height, Avaran Whell had traded his simple clothes for dark robes beneath a suit of body armor. His gloved hands gripped a hooked lightsaber, and his skin—pale as it was before—had a ghastly pallor to it that made him appear as one inflicted by disease. His eyes were a monstrous gold, glowing with a brilliant light despite the utter darkness of the bridge itself.

“I did. Today we sever the bond that ties us,” Malfon replied.

“So you are ready to die, then?” Avaran mused. “Assisted suicide, is it? I suppose it doesn't matter. The Jedi Council thinks you died during the Mandalorian attack on Ulda Frav, and the Sith you've led to Alderaan will die once I inform the Republic of their location.”

“You think I'll let you leave this place?” Malfon laughed. “Die, old man.”

Malfon sprinted toward Avaran, but his lightsaber was rebuffed by an unseen force. Thrown back, his entire body felt encumbered by an invisible weight. Avaran marched over to him and lifted him up by the throat, strangling him while his rotten nails dug deep into the sides of Malfon's neck. No matter how much he resisted, Malfon couldn't find the strength to lift his arms and fight back. Avaran had him completely restrained.

“Fool. I have wasted enough time with you. No longer will I seek your permission to siphon from your power; instead, I will take what is mine by force. I will crush your spirit and make you into my puppet. Once you are broken, I will force you to have a child with the woman I have prepared, and I will begin this entire chain of events anew with him. Your first child will become more powerful than you, and I shall see to it that your offspring fulfills my plans. I wanted you to be stronger, but I suppose this will have to do…”

Malfon screamed as Avaran Whell called upon the Force and burrowed into his mind. He had never felt the ancient Sith's full power before now, and it was threatening to destroy his sanity. The dark side hammered against his body and ravaged his mind in an attempt to suppress his will, but Malfon would not be defeated so helplessly. Mustering all of his acuity, Malfon struggled against Avaran's encroaching might, pushing back the oncoming tide of the dark side.

He stared into the old man's eyes, and the old man stared back at him. Warm rivulets of blood were flowing down his neck, and his face was growing pale, but he refused to surrender. His entire body felt as though it was being crushed, and his insides burned with a fire that threatened to devour him entirely. But he knew that as long as Avaran was calling upon the Force—his own connection to it, not the parasitic ability he depended on Malfon for—and could be hurt by it as well. In a single moment, Malfon released waves of telekinesis, electricity, fire, and ice around him; the resulting shockwave threw the two Force-users away from each other and ended Avaran's mental assault.

“You… you are stronger than you appear, Assassin,” Avaran noted between gasps for air.

Malfon recovered his footing. “I warned you not to underestimate me.”

“For all your strength, you still lack vision. Killing me will accomplish nothing. What I started, the Sith elsewhere will continue. The Jedi will rise up and have their civil war. The Mandalorians will invade. You only remove me from the operation—without my control, you damn the galaxy to utter chaos.”

“I'll take my chances with chaos.”

“And what of the Sith who remain? Those who hide in the distance and refuse to reveal themselves until the galaxy is at its weakest? Do you think you can fight them alone?”

“Cowards to a lost legacy. I will deal with them as I will deal with you.”

The two Sith were about to attack each other again when an emergency light went off on a nearby terminal. A holographic display of the nearby space showed two starfighters enter the system, and they were both on an intercept trajectory toward Avaran's vessel. Malfon eyed the older Force-user as he approached the terminal and investigated the disturbance.

“Raystin Benax is here,” Avaran noted in a hushed voice. “We're doomed.”

Malfon's eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“The Jedi Order must have sent him to Onderon on a diplomatic mission to the royal family. Our ship is suspicious; we must fight him.”

“Can't we escape?” Malfon asked, rushing toward the navigator controls.

“Not quick enough. The Jedi fighters will intercept us. I have already unleashed the extent of my strength, and the dark side emanating from my being will be too noticeable for him to ignore.”

Malfon frowned. This was not how he intended to defeat Avaran. He planned on giving him a grievous wound that would kill him, but only after Malfon had enough time to escape. If, by some chance the younger Sith couldn't best Avaran, he would have activated the bomb Gheas had hidden away on this ship and ended them both. Why did Raystin have to be here? If Malfon had allied with Avaran, it was possible for the old Sith to conceal both of their dark side energies, but it was too late for that now. The Jedi had noticed them, and they were in danger. Neither he nor Avaran Whell, despite their strength, could hope to match Raystin Benax in single combat. They had only one chance now.

“We have to work together to defeat him,” Avaran suggested. “It is the only way we will survive this.”

“Very well,” Malfon grunted. He didn't trust him in the slightest, but there was no other choice. “What shall we do?”

“I will remain here on the bridge and meditate to restore my strength. You go and engage the Jedi with my Sith lightsaber; I will bolster your morale and your strength through my dark meditation. You do not need to defeat them; last long enough for me to engage them with you, and we will work together to defeat Raystin and the others.”

“Is that our only option?”

Avaran smiled. “I suppose you could try to corrupt Raystin and make him your apprentice. If you could do that, you and he could return and strike me down. Somehow, I don't think that will work; mine is the only reasonable plan we have.”

Malfon nodded. Taking the old Sith's lightsaber, he left Avaran behind to meditate. If the Jedi had not come, it would be the perfect opportunity for Malfon to finish him off. If there was any way to convince Raystin to join him, then perhaps Avaran's caustic suggestion wasn't so far from reality. For the time being, though, he had to focus. Standing near ramp that would connect the Jedi craft and Avaran's vessel, Malfon waited in the shadows with lightsaber deactivated but ready.

Like Avaran, Malfon had become a beacon in the dark side. Raystin was sensible, but he was also a Jedi. No matter how he tried to wrap his mind around it, Malfon could not think of any way of convincing the Jedi Knight to join him. There was no way the two of them could reach an agreement to defeat Avaran together. He would not ally himself with darkness. His only chance here was to defeat Raystin, kill Avaran, and flee before anyone could try and stop him.

Malfon's heart slammed against his chest as he heard the starfighters slow down until they were adjacent to Avaran Whell's ship. A single umbilical connector slid into place, providing the Jedi with access to the ingress ramp. He didn't have to do this. There was still time. If he relented, perhaps the Jedi Council would be lenient with him. He could surrender to Raystin; he would understand. And yet, something inside him told him that such a thing was impossible. He was a Sith now. There was no time for regrets.

There was no hope left.

And so he threw the lightsaber he had stolen from Gilith at the first Jedi to emerge from the pathway between the two ships. The adolescent Nazzar female stepped into his weapon as she admitted herself into Avaran's ship, and the whirling lightsaber skewered her chest. A soft gasp escaped her, and then she fell to the ground. As soon as she had died, Raystin Benax sprinted onto the ship, shouting his Padawan learner's name. Cradling her body for a short moment, Raystin didn't even realize that Malfon was standing there and that he had killed the young Jedi. Had Malfon truly wanted to kill Raystin, he would have done so then.

Raystin rose to his feet, but he jumped when he realized who stared back at him on the other side of the cargo hold. “Malfon?”

The younger Force-sensitive only nodded solemnly. Raystin reached into the Force to ensure that what he was sensing was no illusion and that, truly, Malfon was immersed in the dark side of the Force. Malfon did not resist his mental probing. He had nothing to hide anymore. The two Force-users stared at each other. Malfon couldn't express himself in words, and Raystin was too mortified to speak, so neither of them said anything at all.

Once he was certain Raystin had learned everything he needed to, Malfon released a burst of electricity from his hands. To the Sith's surprise, Raystin caught the attack in his hands and rendered the energy harmless. Malfon tried to choke Raystin, but the invisible grip of the dark side could not find its mark. Raystin shook his head. Lifting his hand, he released a Force push so powerful that it lifted Malfon off his feet and tossed him into the wall. Malfon's vision flashed and he thought he heard something in his back crack, but the dark side was quick to empower him in his pain.

“Where did we fail you, Malfon?” Raystin asked, hardly audible. “What happened to you?”

Malfon picked up an empty crate and threw it at Raystin as fast as he was able. The Jedi Knight sighed and closed his eyes, sending the storage container spiraling into the wall behind him. Undeterred, Malfon threw everything he could grab hold of—crates, weapons, armor, foodstuffs, footlockers, broken parts of the hull—and threw them at the Jedi Knight. But no matter how much of these things he launched forward and how fast he tossed them, Raystin protected himself with an invisible shield that sent every projectile on a tangential path away from him. After enduring this storm, Raystin began walking toward him.

Malfon watched Raystin advance, undeterred by the projectiles heading his way. Why did he have to be so implacable? He had to be perfect, didn't he? The thought infuriated him. Smoke rose from Malfon's arms. His skin charred at his finger tips and along the veins at the back of his hand. Summoning the ferocious power that dwelt within him, he sent two streams of blazing fire directly at the young Jedi, shouting even as the fire burned his own body.

“You cannot stop me with your dark fire!” Raystin shouted over the coming flames.

Raystin extended his hands toward Malfon, but the fire engulfed him in an instant. Malfon breathed a sigh of relief as the flames climbed higher and higher. Raystin's figure, a dark shadow within the pillar of fire, faded away as Malfon's vision blurred; the inferno was too much even for him, and he covered his eyes with the tattered remains of his cloak. The Jedi's presence in the Force vanished, and Malfon shook his head. All too easy. None could stand against him at his full strength: not Elbrook, not Avaran, and not even Raystin.

But his relief was short-lived. Raystin's Force aura returned just as soon as it had disappeared, and a brilliant flash of light burst forth from the tower of flame before him. The pillar of fire was extinguished in the blink of an eye. Malfon quivered as Raystin Benax stepped out of the fire unscathed. There were no ashes on his clothes, his hair was not burnt, and he showed no sign of injury at all. Malfon shook his head. Impossible. No one had ever survived that attack!

Raystin closed the last few meters between himself and Malfon. Instinctively, Malfon brought his lightsaber to bear and blocked the incoming swing. Their two blue lightsabers met in an explosion of light. Rising into a levitating position, Malfon countered each of Raystin's blows as they came, floating to and fro to avoid attacks and trying to force Raystin onto the defensive. The Jedi blocked no matter where Malfon drifted, flowing between offense and defense in smooth motions that forced Malfon to depend on the Force to avoid getting hit.

Raystin fell back and positioned himself in a ready stance. Malfon moved in with staccato cuts that aimed for Raystin's limbs and upper body. Each attack found itself close to its mark, but never close enough. Raystin's defense was like a shimmering blue wall, and he could not find a way to break it. Returning to defense, Malfon did his best to avoid actually meeting blades with Raystin and tried to keep moving and dodging attacks that way, but Raystin was prepared for such maneuvers and his weapon gracefully diverted its path to find Malfon's blade.

“Malfon, you've improved,” Raystin said.

“The dark side makes me more powerful than I ever was as a Jedi. I'm even more powerful than you,” he sneered.

“No. You've given up. You couldn't bear the hardship of the Jedi Order, so you sought an easier path. But what good will that do you if it only leads to your destruction?”

“Don't presume to know me, Raystin!”

“How can I? You've hidden so much from us—from your friends. How could you do such a thing? You've hurt more people than you could possibly know.”

“I defended them! I stopped so many evils, and you don't even know anything about it!”

“All I know is that the only evil that has been brought into our lives was brought by you, Malfon.”

Malfon blocked an incoming blow from the Jedi Knight. Before Raystin could press his attack, Malfon repositioned himself at his side and struck at his arm, forcing the Jedi to pivot and intercept the attack at the last second. What did he know? Raystin wanted to judge him for his actions, and yet he didn't know what suffering he had to endure. He had no idea the sacrifices he made, the pain he fought through, or the weakness he rose up from. Raystin was always the best; how could he possibly understand what it meant to be so defeated that the dark side became the only option? His anger at the Jedi before him made him more powerful, and his power forced Raystin to defend.

Raystin gave ground to Malfon as he defended himself, allowing Malfon to get him closer and closer to one of the hold's corners. The Sith had no luck breaking through his defenses, but he remained undeterred. Once Raystin was cornered, his tumultuous emotions would give him the strength he needed for victory. Raystin shattered his momentum before he could dive in for a killing blow, blocking in an unorthodox manner and throwing him off-balance. Before he knew it, Malfon was on the defensive again.

Malfon blocked an incoming swing from Raystin and tried to jab him in the chest with his free hand, but Raystin caught his fist and sent him back. Now defending himself with only one arm, Malfon allowed his other hand to claw, punch, or backhand Raystin whenever he had the chance. Raystin moved to block these strikes as well, but Malfon managed to catch him off guard with a few swift kicks to the lower legs and knees. Before he could cause any damage, though, Raystin propelled him back with the Force.

Recovering quickly, Malfon launched a Force storm at the Jedi Knight. The incoming bolts of lightning did not alarm Raystin, and he managed to deflect the many tendrils of lightning heading his way with his lightsaber and his hand. Once he was sure that the Jedi was distracted, Malfon released bursts of telekinetic energy, hoping to throw Raystin off his feet. Raystin resisted and countered with his own telekinetic attack, and the two Force-users began trading telekinetic blows while lightning crackled through the air around them. Sections of the bulwark were distorted from the waves of telekinesis, and the objects Malfon had thrown earlier became wrapped up in a swirling vortex that encompassed the two duelists entirely.

“Malfon, the dark side is weaker, and it always will be!”

“You do not know it's power! You're afraid of it, and that's why you will lose!”

“There is nothing to fear from the darkness. The Force frees me from such things.”

A wave of unseen energy caused Malfon's electrical storm and telekinetic bubbles to end, freeing the air of the gravitational disturbance and the ozone. Then, before Malfon could attempt to defend himself or begin his attack anew, Raystin extended his hand and released a burst of light. The shimmering gold light struck Malfon in the chest, and he immediately felt his connection to the Force weaken. Falling down from his levitation, he barely had enough time to reposition his lightsaber before Raystin moved in and attacked him again.

Despite his weakness, Malfon managed to stand back up and push Raystin away. Calling upon all of his power, Malfon swung down at the Jedi Knight with powerful overhead swings that threatened to cut him in two. Raystin stepped out of the way of most of these attacks, but there were a few he was forced to block. The light-based attack must not have been permanent, because Malfon's Force potential recovered the more he struck at Raystin, and he was quickly back to full strength.

Malfon was forced on the defensive in spite of his restored power, and he realized that there was no way he could continue blocking Raystin's interconnected swings without fail. It was only a matter of time before Raystin's finesse outlasted his raw power, and then he would be defeated. He had to end the duel soon. Each time his blade met Raystin's, he did his best to push the Jedi away and give himself more room, but Raystin was unyielding. No longer content with letting Malfon control the battle, the Jedi Knight slammed against Malfon's defense and blocked every attempt to reposition him, including absorbing Sith lightning and rendering Malfon's pyrokinesis useless.

“It's not too late. Please stop this foolishness and rebuke the dark side!” Raystin pleaded. “There's still a chance you can come back, Malfon.”

The Sith shook his head. “I will never surrender myself to the Jedi ways again. I will not abide such weakness!”

Raystin sighed. “Very well. I will show you weakness.”

The Jedi Knight caught Malfon's lightsaber with his own, and then twisted his wrist in a blindingly fast motion that caused Malfon's own grip to falter. Pain scorched his wrists, and Malfon was distracted for just long enough for Raystin to stomp on Malfon's foot and sever the lightsaber he had taken from the Jedi on Ulda Frav. Weaponless, Malfon was thrown to the ground with a telekinetic blast. He tried to unleash a torrent of lightning at the Jedi standing over him, but Raystin surrounded the Sith with a Force barrier, causing him to shock himself instead. Quickly drained of strength, Malfon ceased the attack and watched helplessly as Raystin stood over him, lightsaber in hand.

“So… kill me then,” Malfon gasped. “I'm not worthy… of… being a Sith.”

Raystin's lightsaber remained steady. “No, Malfon. I don't know what's become of you, but I cannot kill you either. A Jedi Knight spares the unarmed, and I could never kill a prisoner. The Jedi Council will decide your fate.”

Malfon snarled. Had he fallen so far that he would granted mercy by the Jedi? Was he not a threat? Did his power not scare Raystin? The idea of being institutionalized and reformed by the Jedi Order terrified him. They were scared of his power. They could not bring themselves to reach the pinnacles of strength that he had, and they would dedicate their lives to bringing him back to the vales of weakness. He would rather die. No, he would rather not die. Malfon wanted to show Raystin the true power of the dark side.

Extending his perception and calling upon all of his power, Malfon found Raystin's mind. Thought it was surrounded by barriers and illusions, Malfon was surprised when Raystin let him inside. What did he think? That he wanted to communicate with him privately? That Raystin could overpower him and corrupt him with his light? Foolish.

“Raystin, drop your weapon.”

The Jedi Knight stared at Malfon as one who had just heard a tasteless joke. Nonetheless, his weapon faltered. It was slight, but it was there. Malfon smiled.

“Raystin Benax, I command you to lower your weapon!”

The Jedi standing over him trembled. His lightsaber's blade, shimmering and buzzing mere centimeters from Malfon's throat, slowly moved away from the Sith and came to a resting position. Now free to move, Malfon smiled and levitated off the ground into a floating position just enough to meet Raystin Benax at eye level. Now Raystin's expression was different. There was much terror in his visage. Malfon relished it. And yet it was strange. Malfon's ability to manipulate the mind was powerful indeed, but Raystin was so much more powerful in every way. It was almost as if…

“Deactivate your lightsaber, Raystin.”

The lightsaber died. Malfon cackled. Reaching inside his cloak, he withdrew the hooked lightsaber Avaran Whell had given him and activated it, revealing its blood-red blade with a sinister hiss. Where were Raystin's mental defenses? What foolishness. He knew Malfon was an enemy, and yet he allowed him access to the most valuable strength he had: his mind. Raystin's thoughts flooded forth as Malfon pondered what to do next; with the Jedi Knight under his control, the two of them could defeat Avaran Whell. After all, he had not sensed the old Sith's power bolstering his during the duel with the Jedi, and that only meant Avaran never intended to aid Malfon at all. Corrupting Raystin would be easy once Avaran was dead. For now, all he needed to do was order him to fight Avaran alongside him, and that would be the end of it.

“Malfon…” Raystin managed to eek out his name, fighting to maintain his own will.

In an instant, images of despair flooded into Malfon's mind. For a second, Malfon was confused. These couldn't have been images from Raystin's mind. Of course, there was no denying it either. Behind the venerable exterior Raystin Benax had erected for himself, there was nothing but hurt. His parents were gone, his brother disowned him, and his friends were dying. What good was all his power if he couldn't even save those he loved? Malfon realized his pain, and their similar circumstances gave him pause. He knew now why Raystin did not resist his mental control. The anguish and hatred for his limitations destroyed him, and only now did Malfon realize how badly Raystin wanted his end his own life. He had thought Raystin invincible, and yet there was much weakness within him. His self-loathing would give him much strength in the dark side once he was corrupted.

And yet that wasn't quite what Malfon wanted. He was not content knowing Raystin Benax. He was not content being his friend. He was not content being his brother. He never wanted to be like Raystin Benax, nor did he seek power over him. What would that prove? No, such a thing would degrade them both. Raystin would be forced into servitude, and Malfon would be forced to acknowledge that his apprentice was stronger than he was. Malfon never wanted to be like Raystin Benax.

He wanted to be Raystin Benax.

“Raystin.”

“Y-yes?”

“On the bridge of his vessel is an ancient Sith Lord, one wicked and powerful. If he is unopposed, he will go on to destroy the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Order, and everything you hold dear. Take your weapon and strike him down. This I command you.”

Malfon floated away from Raystin Benax as the Jedi Knight reactivated his lightsaber. Malfon didn't have to stay here on this ship. As long as he was close enough, Raystin would remain under his control. It was dangerous anyway; if he was too close to Avaran when he died, the severed Force link would also kill him. Just before Malfon moved toward the umbilical path that connected this ship to his starfighter, he realized that Raystin paused. Did he still have some will of his own? Malfon whirled around and activated his lightsaber, but Raystin made no move against him. Quite the opposite. Wrapping his arms around himself, the defeated Jedi did his best not to move forward. He was crying now, and Malfon mused that this was the only time he had ever seen the Jedi cry.

“Malfon, I love you. Don't do this…”

The Sith Master scoffed. Such nonsense. Do your bidding, slave. I require nothing else from you. Deactivating his lightsaber, the Sith turned around and headed back to his own ship, leaving Raystin Benax to his duty. Sure enough, as soon as he left, Raystin Benax took his lightsaber and advanced on Avaran Whell's position. The Sith Master's starfighter raced away from the older Sith's ship, separating himself from the two warriors as quickly as he was able. Soon enough, he felt Avaran Whell's mental link dissipate, for he could not maintain his connection to the younger Sith's mind over such a great distance. Without that link, the young Sith was safe from Avaran's impending death.

Smiling, he reached into the Force and found the bomb that Gheas had planted on the bridge. Good. The mercenary performed admirably, placing it out of sight and in such a way Avaran and his executor could not find it. Closing his eyes, he released his mental hold on the Jedi—giving him a moment of freedom before the end—and activated the explosive. He sensed the bridge erupt into a ball of molten durasteel and gaseous flames, and he sensed the man who had been Raystin Benax die. His death released great waves through the Force, and the Sith Master suspected they would be felt on Coruscant, Korriban, and beyond. Whether he had done his duty and killed Avaran Whell before the bomb went off, he did not care. Either way, they were both dead now.

The man who was now Raystin Benax smiled.

Without even thinking, the man who was now Raystin Benax activated his fighter's long range communicator and directed it to Taris. After some time, he was redirected to the man he wished to speak to.

“Raystin?” the voice said on the other end. “Is that you?”

“It is,” the Sith Master replied. “It's been too long, Dandek.”

“As I recall, I said I didn't want to speak with you ever again.”

“I realize that. We said some things before that we shouldn't have. I was shortsighted and stupid. You've always been there for me, and I was a fool to throw that away. You're my brother and my arrogance should not separate us. I'm sorry.”

There was a pause. “I'm sorry too. I realized exactly what you did after we spoke last; we were both too stubborn to realize it before it was too late, though.”

“Exactly. You were right about everything, Dandek: our family, our goals, even the Jedi Order. I've seen the Jedi for what they really are, and I don't like it.”

“Oh?” Dandek sounded shocked, but rather pleased. “I take it this means you've left?”

“Yeah. It wasn't easy, though. I suspect they're going to be trying to track me down for years.”

“That sounds like them. You can stay with me for a while, if you want.”

“Thank you, but I think it would be better if I went and started a new life elsewhere. Staying with you would be the first place the Jedi would look. I was thinking Alderaan…”

“Ah! That's perfect. I have contacts on Alderaan. A friend of mine owns a local manufacturing company there. Would you like me to refer him to you?”

“That would be excellent, Dandek. I'll have to maintain some comm silence for a while, but I'll be in touch soon again, okay?”

“Sounds good. Stay safe, brother.”

The man who was now Raystin Benax switched off the comlink. It was over. There was no one alive who could trace him back to his old identity as a Jedi, and the only people who recognized Raystin Benax would either think he was dead or hadn't seen him in decades and would be easy enough to fool. They looked similar enough, after all. If he could settle on Alderaan, he could start anew. He could begin living his life for himself, as Raystin Benax, and escape the dichotomy of light and dark he had been trapped within.

Sitting by his lonesome, the words of Avaran Whell worried him, even now. For all of his plotting, Avaran was assured that, even after he died, the things he set in motion would continue on. The Jedi would be divided, the Mandalorians would strike, and the Sith would return. Even without all that, it seemed the old Sith had planned for Raystin to marry and have a child. Would that have only been necessary if Raystin proved uncooperative? He didn't understand how, but the old Sith had been alive for so long, he must have prepared contingencies. For only a second, Raystin regretted killing the old man; he should have waited and heard the entirety of his plan. He quickly rebuffed the thought. It was for the good of the galaxy that Avaran Whell was dead.

The glow of hyperspace engulfed his viewport. Before long, he would be safe. He would be on Alderaan, free to carry on as he wished. He was alone now. He didn't feel it before, but there was something haunting about the loneliness, the silence. He sat, stolid and alert, for a few moments, but he began to lose his composure. He didn't even realize there were tears flowing down his cheeks. Sobbing, Raystin Benax cupped his face in his hands and tried to hold back the tears.

Raystin Benax was not bothered by the fact he was crying. He had done so before, and he didn't mind it now. What bothered the man who was now called Raystin Benax was the fact that he was crying and didn't even know why.

*** ***

His ship landed on Alderaan some two days later. Fasin contacted him in orbit, directing him to a location in the outskirts of the capital city where he could land without drawing attention to himself. Raystin smiled to himself. Fasin was quite dutiful; he was actually rather surprised that the old Sith had prepared for his arrival.

During his descent, he noticed that someone was standing with Fasin, and two individuals were waiting for him. He knew Fasin was loyal to him and his cause, but he wasn't sure about any allies the Cathar had recruited. Throwing his cloak over his head and gathering his meager belongings, Raystin levitated just above the floor and left the ship behind. Fasin nodded simply as the Sith Master joined them, but the young Nikto standing nearby showed no signs of respect. Quite the opposite. Raystin could feel the Force in him, but it was wild and unrestrained. Clearly, this one was an eager apprentice that Fasin had discovered. How interesting.

“Fasin, it is good to see you,” the Sith Master intoned, his voice taking a sinister edge to startle the Nikto. “Who is this?”

“De'dlay Yavalaaka. He is a vagrant, but he is quite strong in the Force. He actually tracked me down while I was wandering through Aldera,” Fasin replied.

“I want to be trained in your arts,” De'dlay interrupted.

Raystin laughed. “Such eagerness. I suppose I can train one such as you. Come with us, and we will show you power beyond your comprehension.”

“Actually, there's someone who wants to meet you,” De'dlay noted. “They told me of your coming, and I know of your powers because of him.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I was tasked by a man named Nafyan to take you to him. He is expecting you,” the Nikto explained.

“Interesting.” Raystin glanced at Fasin, but the Cathar only shrugged. “And who did he say to expect?”

“The Sith Fasin and his master, Lord Preux of Alderaan.”


Chapter 23

The Jedi Temple was such a different place.

Northeus Ulsan sat alone at a table at the farthest end of the library. There were a few books scattered across it, but he was uninterested in them. The datapad in front of him was empty, and he had yet to complete the chores he had been assigned. Jedi walked by him, but none of them said anything to him. Droids scurried by only to clean the areas around him. He was essentially invisible. He had been forgotten.

Every Jedi he knew personally was dead. Gone. Lythi, Harada, Olnara, Raystin, Malfon… it seemed as though the Force had been working against him to ensure that he would be left alone. There was no one left for him to confide in, no one left to talk to. The other Jedi were so distant, so aloof, that Northeus hardly felt comfortable speaking with them, and they seemed to share similar sentiments. He was a Jedi Knight, but he felt no stronger than he had been as a young boy, awkwardly meeting Malfon in the library for the first time.

In spite of the Force's ability to deprive him of everything he cared about, he was given one last power it seemed. A few days ago, he had prophesied—the Force gave him a great gift found only in a few Jedi each generation. He had no idea how far into the future he had seen; all he knew was that there would be two Jedi, valiant and strong in the Force, who would lead great armies and betray the Jedi to begin a civil war that would eventually destroy them.

The Jedi Council had summoned him, and he told them all he knew. They were dubious at first, but they eventually found themselves quite concerned about the identity of these two Jedi Knights. Of course, Northeus had no idea who they were. He had never seen them, and he doubted they were even alive yet. The Jedi Council, in their wisdom, only asked that Northeus to inform them whenever he received more visions, and he agreed to that.

What was his power worth if he couldn't share it with others? What good was fame when he was all alone? Shaking his head, he did his best to quell the dark thoughts growing within his mind. He was a Jedi Knight. He had a duty, even if he had to carry it out by his lonesome.

Pulling his personal holocron out of his pocket, Northeus scanned the area for the head librarian. She wasn't around; even if she was, it was unlikely that she would have said anything. No one said anything to him, after all. Then he hesitated. He wasn't in the mood to assemble a log entry right now. He dared not waste such valuable storage space on his grief. Instead, he slipped the holocron into his pocket and pulled out a shimmering blue crystal, attached to a thin strand of thread, that he had held on to for some time. How long had he had this? He didn't even remember. He held back the tears. What good were they? He would never get them back, and this was all he had to remember them.

“I thought you said you would never leave,” Northeus whispered to himself. “You've all left me here. I thought… there was so much we had to do. What am I-what am I supposed to do now?”

The blue crystal shimmered in the library's light as if it could answer.

I'll never forget you. Any of you. I'll become a great Jedi for you. Watch. Watch and… be proud of me.

*** ***

Preux stared beyond Thranta Hill, the looming hill that rested just beyond his estate. The sun was setting, but it was still barely visible beyond the other, taller hills in the distance. The winds were picking up, and there was a chill in the air, but there was no sign of rain. Too bad. Preux was rather fond of the rain.

He had grown old since he arrived in this place. His hair was beginning to gray in places, and his youthful skin had become coarse and rough around the edges. In many ways, he looked like Raystin Benax had before he died, albeit a few years younger. The resemblance was so uncanny, in fact, that Preux had no idea why he didn't conspire against the Jedi Knight earlier. It would have been all too easy.

It had been some time since he had finished that nonsense with the Jedi and the Sith. Despite his worries, the Jedi Order hardly investigated the matter and seemed to believe Mandalorian pirates caused the death of Avaran Whell and Raystin Benax. The poor boy who was known as Malfon had been killed earlier by those same marauders on Ulda Frav. A pity. The Jedi Order seemed to have lost an entire generation of Jedi Knights in such a short time.

The Sith were a more prominent part of his life, but nothing particularly dangerous. Fasin maintained control over the Sith academy they founded, but Preux suspected that De'dlay, who had grown in power and arrogance, would make a move to seize control quite soon. Occasionally, the Sith Master of Alderaan would receive reports, but he made it a point not to be disturbed by petty squabbles and minor inconveniences. He was no more a Sith Lord than he was a Jedi Knight; he simply had not finished manipulating the dark-siders as he had the light-siders.

Sometime after arriving on Alderaan, Lord Preux had married Junara and become an aristocrat of sorts. The royal family distrusted him, both because he was an offworlder and because he married Junara, who was supposed to marry the current king of Alderaan himself. He did his best to earn the king's graces, particularly because their children were Force savants and would be very useful tools. Until then, though, he was content with living in an idyllic estate in the country just beyond Aldera, the beautiful capital of Alderaan.

He kept his lightsaber nearby, but never on his person. The dark side was powerful enough to support him. He hardly ever practiced it anymore, but he recognized the importance of staying stronger than the Sith he trained. After all, he did not want to be bested in combat and defeated; the Sith would not rise again under his watchful eye. The Sith would destroy everything he held dear, just as the Jedi did. No, one day he would have to destroy them both, but that was a long time off still.

Reaching into one of his pockets, Preux found a blue crystal—the only trinket he carried with him from his Jedi days. Every time he remembered that it was on his person, he tried to throw it away. After all, such a thing was a dangerous connection to his past life, and even just a hint of that would unravel a great many of his manipulations. It did not matter that there was only one who knew exactly what that melted blue crystal meant, but Preux was worried that the Force would work against him.

Pulling the glistening item from his pocket, he moved to throw it from the balcony with the strength of the Force so it could never be found again. Junara joined him on the balcony just before he could, and he quickly slipped the crystal away. No sense in trying to explain its meaning to her. Of course, he trusted her and she knew everything about him, but there were a few things he had forgotten to mention while recounting his time as a Jedi. Even now, he was unsure how their rather bizarre friendship evolved into romance, and how that romance budded into a marriage with two young boys. Nevertheless, he had come to love Junara Benax for her devotion and constant companionship, and he would not have traded her affections for anything else in the galaxy.

His wife whispered after a moment, “Malfon, come back inside. It's cold out here, and someone needs to watch Jaeln while I look after Raen—he's crying up a storm and he won't stop. I just don't understand it; Jaeln was never this bad.”

“Raystin,” Preux calmly corrected her.

“A hard habit to break, dear,” she replied, unperturbed by his focusing on particulars. “Either way, would you mind?”

Preux turned halfway before pausing. “Aren't you ever worried?”

“About what?” she asked, still trying to drag him away from the edge of the balcony.

“Avaran Whell told me before he died that he wanted to use my son to bring all of his evils to pass. What happens if, by some chance, he's able to do that from beyond the grave?”

“I'd say you're worrying too much,” Junara replied. “He's dead. You won. You can't let him do this to you, because you're just letting him earn his victories post mortem. Don't give him that satisfaction.”

Preux smiled thinly. “You're right.”

“I know. Now come inside.”

The Sith Master nodded. He had done all he needed to do for now. There were no threats to his power. The Sith would be destroyed in due time, the Jedi would splinter and collapse, and he would reform Alderaan into a place where he and his family could live peacefully. Who could stop him? Reaching into the Force, both past and future, he was satisfied when he received no answer. Finally, he was unchallenged.

Even as he was led away by his wife, Preux watched darkness descend upon Alderaan. Long ago, he had been terrified of it. This darkness, though, was different; this darkness was comforting, because he recognized this was his own. He had created it, and he would see to it that it ended only when all of Alderaan belonged to him.

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