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“Are you awake, sir?” she asked again.
 
“Are you awake, sir?” she asked again.
   
Thonnel brushed his long blond hair out of his eyes. “I am now, Ensign. What’s going on?”
+
Thonnel brushed his long blond hair out of his eyes. “I am now, Lieutenant. What’s going on?”
   
 
“Commanader Rueni received a transmission for you,” she beamed. “He’d like you to take it in the communication room.”
 
“Commanader Rueni received a transmission for you,” she beamed. “He’d like you to take it in the communication room.”
   
“Of course,” Thonnel groaned. Rubbing his eyes to get the last of the sleep out, Captain Thonnel stood up and stretched quickly. “Lead the way, Ensign.”
+
“Of course,” Thonnel groaned. Rubbing his eyes to get the last of the sleep out, Captain Thonnel stood up and stretched quickly. “Lead the way, Lieutenant.”
   
The ensign complied without a word, leaving the bridge with a smile on her face. As a young officer who had yet to experience combat, she was vibrant, full of energy, and always ready to help. Thonnel had experienced some of those feelings after leaving the academy, but the gruesome reality of war – especially against the Sith – wore his optimism and cheerfulness thin.
+
The lieutenant complied without a word, leaving the bridge with a smile on her face. As a young officer who had yet to experience combat, she was vibrant, full of energy, and always ready to help. Thonnel had experienced some of those feelings after leaving the academy, but the gruesome reality of war – especially against the Sith – wore his optimism and cheerfulness thin.
   
Following the ensign through the brightly lit passages of the ''Prodigy''<span style="font-style: normal">, Thonnel realized just how similar everything looked to the academies. The walls were painted the same metallic gray and red. Cleaning droids were everywhere, scurrying about fixing whatever was necessary. Even the other passengers and crew, meandering about the wide halls, seemed to call back Thonnel to the days of his youth. </span>
+
Following the lieutenant through the brightly lit passages of the ''Prodigy''<span style="font-style: normal">, Thonnel realized just how similar everything looked to the academies. The walls were painted the same metallic gray and red. Cleaning droids were everywhere, scurrying about fixing whatever was necessary. Even the other passengers and crew, meandering about the wide halls, seemed to call back Thonnel to the days of his youth. </span>
   
Ensign Eresh seemed to be racing through the ship. Although Thonnel kept pace with her as best as he could, he simply could not match her youthful exuberance. By the time they had reached the comm room, Thonnel was out of breath. Eresh and a guard posted at the entrance exchanged a few words before the door was opened.
+
Lieutenant Eresh seemed to be racing through the ship. Although Thonnel kept pace with her as best as he could, he simply could not match her youthful exuberance. By the time they had reached the comm room, Thonnel was out of breath. Eresh and a guard posted at the entrance exchanged a few words before the door was opened.
   
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take my leave, sir,” Ensign Eresh noted.
+
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take my leave, sir,” Lieutenant Eresh noted.
   
 
Before Thonnel could protest, the Mirialan practically sprinted toward the bridge. Turning to the room with a sigh, Thonnel stepped into the communication room and closed the door behind him. Upon entering, Thonnel was greeted by a life-sized hologram of an aged Human male. Wearing casual clothes, the figure seemed unconcerned about this meeting, and the man in the hologram did not even make the effort to appear presentable. The man was completely bald, and he had a thick, scraggly beard to compliment his wrinkled face and tired expression.
 
Before Thonnel could protest, the Mirialan practically sprinted toward the bridge. Turning to the room with a sigh, Thonnel stepped into the communication room and closed the door behind him. Upon entering, Thonnel was greeted by a life-sized hologram of an aged Human male. Wearing casual clothes, the figure seemed unconcerned about this meeting, and the man in the hologram did not even make the effort to appear presentable. The man was completely bald, and he had a thick, scraggly beard to compliment his wrinkled face and tired expression.
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The holographic faded into static, leaving Thonnel alone in the comm room. He didn’t bother leaving. The captain had not been on Coruscant since he had left for the academy, and he had forgotten just how much he missed the galactic capital. The idea that he was returning at all – that he survived the battles he had fought in – had not yet hit him.
 
The holographic faded into static, leaving Thonnel alone in the comm room. He didn’t bother leaving. The captain had not been on Coruscant since he had left for the academy, and he had forgotten just how much he missed the galactic capital. The idea that he was returning at all – that he survived the battles he had fought in – had not yet hit him.
   
His reflection was interrupted by Ensign Eresh’s return. “We’re preparing to land on Coruscant, sir,” she said with a smile. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to escort you to the hangar, where we’ll disembark. I’ll make sure you arrive safely.”
+
His reflection was interrupted by Lieutenant Eresh’s return. “We’re preparing to land on Coruscant, sir,” she said with a smile. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to escort you to the hangar, where we’ll disembark. I’ll make sure you arrive safely.”
   
 
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<nowiki>***</nowiki><span style="mso-tab-count: 10"> </span><nowiki>***</nowiki>

Revision as of 04:47, January 31, 2011

Chapter 1

“… Sir?”

Captain Rajes Thonnel stirred from a light sleep. Gripping the sides of his chair, he experienced a moment of confusion as he tried to refocus his waking eyes. It didn’t take long for him to remember exactly where he was. Despite his best intentions, Thonnel had fallen asleep on the bridge of the Prodigy, surrounded by bridge officers and control terminals.

The ambient chatter of the crew and the incessant bleeping of the various computers around him quickly overwhelmed his senses, and he didn’t know how he had fallen asleep in the first place. Trading comfort for practicality, every console and every gunner station on the bridge was easily accessible and everyone could communicate at once. It was wonderful for battle, but terrible for sleep.

The Hammerhead-class cruiser had picked up Thonnel and his company from Gravlex Med, one of the Galactic Republic’s few garrisons north of the major hyperlane known as the Hydian Way. Thonnel had been invited to spend the trip in quarters prearranged for him, but the lengthy trip quickly bored him. Finding his way to the bridge, Thonnel took a seat in an extra gunner’s station and fell asleep.

For whatever reason, the ship’s executive officer, a young Mirialan who had introduced herself as Ceni Eresh, disturbed his rest. Her youthful yellow-green skin lacked the tattoos of honor and respect often seen on her species, and she seemed to have only just graduated from the academy. Per military regulations, she wore her dark hair under a red-and-yellow cap, matching the fleet officer’s uniform she wore with an air of pride.

“Are you awake, sir?” she asked again.

Thonnel brushed his long blond hair out of his eyes. “I am now, Lieutenant. What’s going on?”

“Commanader Rueni received a transmission for you,” she beamed. “He’d like you to take it in the communication room.”

“Of course,” Thonnel groaned. Rubbing his eyes to get the last of the sleep out, Captain Thonnel stood up and stretched quickly. “Lead the way, Lieutenant.”

The lieutenant complied without a word, leaving the bridge with a smile on her face. As a young officer who had yet to experience combat, she was vibrant, full of energy, and always ready to help. Thonnel had experienced some of those feelings after leaving the academy, but the gruesome reality of war – especially against the Sith – wore his optimism and cheerfulness thin.

Following the lieutenant through the brightly lit passages of the Prodigy, Thonnel realized just how similar everything looked to the academies. The walls were painted the same metallic gray and red. Cleaning droids were everywhere, scurrying about fixing whatever was necessary. Even the other passengers and crew, meandering about the wide halls, seemed to call back Thonnel to the days of his youth.

Lieutenant Eresh seemed to be racing through the ship. Although Thonnel kept pace with her as best as he could, he simply could not match her youthful exuberance. By the time they had reached the comm room, Thonnel was out of breath. Eresh and a guard posted at the entrance exchanged a few words before the door was opened.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll take my leave, sir,” Lieutenant Eresh noted.

Before Thonnel could protest, the Mirialan practically sprinted toward the bridge. Turning to the room with a sigh, Thonnel stepped into the communication room and closed the door behind him. Upon entering, Thonnel was greeted by a life-sized hologram of an aged Human male. Wearing casual clothes, the figure seemed unconcerned about this meeting, and the man in the hologram did not even make the effort to appear presentable. The man was completely bald, and he had a thick, scraggly beard to compliment his wrinkled face and tired expression.

“Father,” Captain Thonnel spoke, “it’s good to see you well.”

“That’s all you have to say to me, boy?” the senior Thonnel growled. “You haven’t spoken to me in ten years, and all you can do is insult my appearance?”

Thonnel’s gaze hit the floor. “No, sir, that was never my intention! I was merely surprised-”

“Surprised I’m still alive, are you?” his father snapped.

“No! No! That’s not it at all.”

“You sorry pup. You cannot even look me in the eye after all these years. Is that what the Army taught you? To whimper in the face of your betters and insult them when you have nothing to say?”

“No, sir!” the young Thonnel said as loud as he could – not very loud at all.

“Then I don’t want to hear another pathetic word out of you. Understood?”

Thonnel nodded. His father, even in his old age and retired state, was enough to frighten the younger soldier. A naval officer just as his forefathers had been, retired Commodore Ateton Thonnel was the last of his family to join the Republic Navy. His son, Rajes, had decided against tradition: he joined the Army. His parents were pleased when they first learned of his decision, and Thonnel had suspected they were behind his choice. Clearly, he had been wrong.

“Are you coming to visit?” Thonnel’s father asked in a cold tone. “Or are you coming to Coruscant on military business?”

“I’ve received some time off. I’m planning on coming home to spend some time with you and mom,” Thonnel replied.

The old man huffed. “I see. Well, I’ll be here when you get here. Same place as always.”

“Of course, sir.”

The holographic faded into static, leaving Thonnel alone in the comm room. He didn’t bother leaving. The captain had not been on Coruscant since he had left for the academy, and he had forgotten just how much he missed the galactic capital. The idea that he was returning at all – that he survived the battles he had fought in – had not yet hit him.

His reflection was interrupted by Lieutenant Eresh’s return. “We’re preparing to land on Coruscant, sir,” she said with a smile. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to escort you to the hangar, where we’ll disembark. I’ll make sure you arrive safely.”

*** ***

They were surrounded.

The two warriors stood back-to-back, facing the ring of opponents around them. Their enemies were all combat droids, armed with various types of blaster rifles and ion repeaters. The droid leader – if droids could have leaders – had a vibrosword in hand; his combat algorithms were much more advanced than his counterparts.

The black lidless eyes of the Nautolan scanned the opponents around him. Each of his head-tresses, draped around his head like thick strands of hair, twitched as his body remained meticulously still. Behind him, his dark-skinned Human companion said nothing, examining their situation. The Human’s robes were the same blue color, but significantly tighter, than his own.

“Ready?” the Human asked.

“It’s a Padawan’s exercise,” the Nautolan replied.

“Watch out,” beeped the lead droid, “they’re Jedi!”

The Nautolan moved first, ripping apart three droids with a wave of his hand. Their chasses littered the cold metal floor as the other droids responded as quickly as they could, raising their blasters to fire. The Nautolan Jedi leapt into the air, avoiding their shots and leaving his companion exposed to blaster fire from behind.

However, the Human Jedi noticed the danger. After disabling two droids facing him by shattering their blaster rifles with his mind, he rolled forward and avoided the blaster fire coming at him. The Jedi found himself face-to-face with several blaster-toting droids as he rose, and he pummeled one of them into the ground with a punch to its face.

While he brawled with the droids, his Nautolan companion returned to the fray, landing behind the droids who had fired upon him and his ally. He could have tapped into the energy field of the Force again, unleashing its mystical power upon the hapless droids, but the purpose of the exercise was to train their entire repertoire of skills. Instead, he withdrew the cylindrical hilt resting at his side and activated his lightsaber.

With a snap-hiss, the viridian blade leapt from the metal handle and skewered one of the droids standing nearby. The droids reacted quickly, falling back and opening fire with their blaster rifles. The Nautolan’s wrist flicked back and forth, causing his weapon to pivot around his torso, deflecting the shots back at the droids. One-by-one, the shots made contact and shattered the droids’ metal frames.

The Nautolan moved forward and personally engaged the droid armed with a vibrosword. The droid could match blows with the Jedi Knight for only a few seconds; its wrists could only rotate and its skills paled in comparison to the swordsmanship of a Jedi. The Nautolan struck at the droid’s sword a few times, barely acknowledging it or its threat to him. Spinning, the Nautolan found himself on the droid’s left side. Smiling, he used his perfect angle to cut the droid’s hands from its joints, leaving it defenseless.

The Jedi turned his attention to his Human companion even though the Nautolan knew he needed no assistance. All the droids on the Human’s side of the circular room were already dead, cut down by his cyan-colored short lightsaber. Throwing his lightsaber, he severed the armless droid leader and safely caught the weapon as it returned to him.

Once the room was cleared of targets, an automated voice announced the time it took for them to defeat their foes and the number of times they were hit by the droids’ practice weaponry – in this case, neither of the Jedi had been hit at all. The Human Jedi deactivated his lightsaber and approached his companion, who had already put away his weapon.

“I’ll never understand why you don’t just kill the disarmed droids,” the Human admitted.

“It’s no longer a threat,” the Nautolan replied, glancing around the room. “I would not take a life unnecessarily-”

“For the way of the Jedi is a way of peace,” the Human interrupted. “I know. That doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand it.”

“Someday, perhaps you will, Syme,” the Nautolan said.

“Leaving a potential threat with a chance to harm me or my friends?” Syme placed his hands across his chest. “No, I don’t think so, Gaiel.”

“Let’s report to the Council chambers, then,” Gaiel replied. “We’ve done our morning exercises; Northeus probably has work for us to do.”

“He always has work for us to do,” Syme muttered.

Diminutive 3C and IT droid units scurried from the maintenance corridors to clean up the mess that the two Jedi had made. Rolling along, they scooped up the bits of metal and brought them elsewhere. Other Jedi or civil servants had once been employed by the Jedi Order to clean up the Temple on Coruscant, but the lack of Jedi meant droids took over most maintenance-related tasks.

The Jedi Order was in tatters. Since Darth Malak’s defeat at Revan’s hand, the prodigal Jedi Knight had left again, this time leaving the Jedi Order behind and venturing into the Unknown Regions on his own. The last few hundred Jedi remaining after the war against Malak found themselves unable to rebuild. Too many lives had been lost. Too many relics and sources of knowledge destroyed. And too many Jedi were disillusioned by the conflict that seemed to originate from within the Order they pledged to serve.

Gaiel Remus and Syme Devor were two of the dozen Jedi that remained on Coruscant in spite of the disappearances of many Jedi. Jedi Councilor Northeus Ulsan was acting as groundskeeper for the Jedi Order while the rest of the High Council was away. It was no surprise that the Jedi Order was, for all intents and purposes, defunct. These few Jedi that remained simply refused to believe it.

As Syme left the large dueling chambers, Gaiel was suddenly overcome by immense pain. Clenching his chest, the Nautolan took a moment to breathe before he realized what was happening. The dark side of the Force was present – here, on Coruscant. He had not sensed it during his training exercise, but it was painfully obvious now.

“What’s the matter, Gaiel?” Syme asked, noticing his friend had fallen behind.

As he spoke, a shadowy figure dropped from the roof just outside the training room mere centimeters from Syme’s position. Clothed in dark combat robes that befitted a martial artist, the intruder wore what seemed to be a breath mask that covered his entire face. His bright red photoreceptors glared at Syme as he withdrew his force pike and swung the weapon at the Jedi Knight.

Gaiel cried out to Syme, and the Human Jedi just barely avoided getting his head lopped off by the vibrating blade. Springing into action, Gaiel and Syme activated their lightsabers and rushed their foe. They did not know who he was, but his malicious intent permeated his being and the dark side was strong in him.

The intruder batted away several of Syme’s heavy-handed swings, keeping his pike close enough to maintain a steady defense. However, a telekinetic push from Gaiel forced the intruder back into the wide halls of the Jedi Temple, giving them all room to maneuver. Syme rushed forward, not noticing that there were two other combatants – all wearing the same equipment as the first intruder – waiting for the Jedi outside the training room.

Syme managed to reach the first intruder and lock blades with him, leaving Gaiel to fight the two others by himself. Grumbling about his ill luck, Gaiel warily approached his two opponents with his viridian lightsaber. Letting them make the first moves, Gaiel noticed that their strengths seemed to fluctuate as they got nearer to him. It was almost as though the closer they got to him, the stronger they became.

The intruder on his right moved first, aiming his force pike at Gaiel’s throat. Catching the weapon with his lightsaber, Gaiel deflected several quick blows from his first attacker before leaping backwards to avoid an attack from the second. Keeping a safe distance from the two, Gaiel called upon the Force and pulled the attack to his left off his feet. Suspending him in the air with the mythical power of telekinesis, Gaiel could safely focus on a single opponent at a time.

The other intruder rushed Gaiel when he realized his companion had been temporarily incapacitated. The intruder’s attacks were sudden and seemingly random; they had no apparent target and the attacks lacked any sort of flow. Gaiel, on the other hand, parried each wild attack as it came. As he defended himself, the other attacker freed himself from Gaiel’s telekinetic whirlwind and joined in the attack.

Gaiel switched his plan of defense; instead of using careful, organized blocks, he switched to wide defensive arcs that kept both of the intruders from moving too close. Gaiel realized that he couldn’t adequately defend himself against both of these tenacious foes, and he needed to enlist Syme’s assistance. Turning to his ally, his spirits rose when he noticed that Syme had defeated his own opponent and was coming to Gaiel’s aid.

In seconds, the muscular Human Jedi was upon the two attackers, swinging his short lightsaber viciously. The attackers seemed surprised at Syme’s approach, and Gaiel felt their connection to the Force fluctuate again. A single heavy swing from behind cut the opponent on Gaiel’s left in two, and another spinning cut left the other without a head.

The two Jedi inspected the surrounding area before deactivated their lightsabers. They were safe, for now, but they could still sense the dark side. It was everywhere, and that meant that they would not be able to rest for long.

“Who were they?” Syme asked in between breaths.

Gaiel glanced at the bodies. “Assassins, perhaps? I’ve never seen anyone like them before.”

“The dark side is strong within them, but at the same time, they feel… different. As though they struggled to find a connection with the Force,” Syme noticed.

“You felt it too?” Gaiel asked.

The Human nodded. “Their connection to the Force seems to change depending on their target. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“We have to be careful. We don’t know how many more of them are in the Temple, and there is a chance that we are all in danger. We have to alert the others.”

As if on cue, a young Bothan Jedi ran toward the two Jedi Knights, his own green lightsaber activated. He was calling out to them by name, begging them for assistance. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that his pursuers – invisible to the naked eye – switched off their cloaking devices and revealed themselves to the three Jedi. Like the other assassins, they carried force pikes and shielded their faces from view.

“Doreva!” Gaiel called out to the Bothan Jedi. “Get behind us. We’ll protect you.”

The Bothan gladly acknowledged their assistance and stepped behind the two Jedi Knights, who quickly activated their lightsabers to intercept the two incoming assassins. Gaiel and Syme took an assassin each, but this time both of them remained on the offensive, pummeling the assassins’ defenses with powerful overhead swings and quick repeated strikes.

Doreva moved in to aid Gaiel, attacking the assassin’s exposed left side while Gaiel battered at his front. The assassin noticed the Bothan Jedi’s approach, but he could not properly defend himself. Shifting to his left, he blocked Doreva’s attack; Gaiel took his chance and cut at the assassin’s right side. The assassin collapsed to his knees in pain, and – despite Gaiel’s protests – Doreva finished him off by decapitating him.

Syme had managed to disarm his own opponent and cut his torso diagonally. His target fell to the floor, killed by a single strike, leaving the three Jedi alone. Gaiel and Syme made sure their opponents were dead, checking for their respective pulses before turning to Doreva. The Bothan Jedi had already deactivated his lightsaber, but they kept their lightsabers activated this time.

“What’s going on?” Gaiel asked.

“I… I don’t now, Gaiel.” Doreva was out of breath from running and fighting. “I was studying in the gardens when I was attacked by those… those enemies. They cut down Re’dra in the atrium and Kesoon in the halls. The rest of us organized a defense below in the great hall.”

“Right below us?” Syme asked.

Doreva nodded, and Gaiel ran toward the railing to get a glimpse at the ground floor below. As Doreva had said, about nine Jedi were fighting amidst the pillars in the massive hallway below. They were not even surrounded – they were overrun by a multitude of the assassins Gaiel and Syme had fought. Most of them attacked with the familiar force pikes, but others used red lightsabers, sending a chill down Gaiel’s spine as his suspicion was confirmed. They were Sith assassins.

“Doreva!” Syme growled. “Go and warn Master Ulsan! We need his leadership and his skill if we are to hold off this attack. Gaiel and I will offer our assistance below; maybe we’ll be able to hold them off until you get to him.”

“Yes, sirs!” Doreva said.

“Go, Doreva!” Gaiel snapped.

The Bothan turned and sprinted toward the High Council chambers, lightsaber in hand. Noting that he was probably going to hurt himself, Gaiel shook his head. He hoped that Doreva wouldn’t be ambushed by Sith assassins on his way there. Syme jumped onto the railing and then leapt down to the ground floor with ease. Gaiel glanced one last time in the direction of the High Council chambers, and then he, too, jumped from the third floor. The Force would slow his fall so he could join Syme and the surviving Jedi in their fight.

The Force save us.

*** ***

The Force sustains all life. From the tiniest microbe to the largest planet, from the weakest beast to the most prominent leader, all things depend on the Force. It surrounds everything, yet it is also within everything. It is everywhere, yet no one quite understands what it is. It is energy, yet it is so much more than that. Its will binds the galaxy together, keeping all things in synchronized unison.

In its benevolence, the Force allows those that seek it to attain hints of its incomprehensible power. But to reach this state of understanding, a sentient must first learn to meditate and control himself. He must realize that he is part of a much larger world – a greater existence – than himself. Only then will he be able to tap into the Force. That is why the tenant of the Jedi Code begins ‘there is no emotion, there is peace’.

Northeus Ulsan was in a state of peace. Closing himself off from his surroundings, he reached out into the Force. Surrounded by a galaxy encompassed in what could only be described as a war between light and darkness, – the two natures of the Force itself – Northeus could almost see the events that transpired around the Galactic Republic and beyond.

Stars danced around him and meteorites soared across the galactic plane. Nebulae dissipated before him and planets swirled about on an invisible path. He was present in the galaxy, looking at it as though he was looking across a room, but at the same time he was looking over it like a map, peering across millions of lights years at once.

Northeus Ulsan had once been called the Jedi Prophet. Projecting himself into the Force and allowing it to separate his consciousness from the crude matter of his body, the Jedi Master could see across time and space and experience events that had happened thousands of years ago like they were happening before his eyes. He could be exposed to the whims of the Force that would not come to pass for centuries after he died. And of course, the Force revealed to him things that would happen soon.

However, the Force was never perfectly clear. There were many times when he did not know whether or not the Force was showing him something in the past or something in the distant future; planets were unidentifiable to him and people did not recognize him. He was an impartial observer with astounding ignorance. Even after scouring the Jedi archives on Dantooine for days, he was often as clueless as when he began.

This prophecy was different. He knew it.

The wisps of a shadow fluttered from the Core Worlds. It raced from a world of peace and escaped to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Finding itself unable to leave, the shadow began to grow. Larger and larger it became, swallowing stars inside its encompassing darkness. The shadow – now a shapeless monstrosity – howled as its gluttonous fervor dimmed the lights of the galaxy, spreading its many tendrils throughout the galaxy.

From the very same planet that that shadow had once called home, a peculiar creature sprung. It was what spacer lore called an angel, a being with four wings and a beautiful shape. Shining brightly, the illustrious creature slowly glided across the galaxy, leaving the Core Worlds and following the shadow. Unlike its native counterpart, everywhere the angel went, the stars shined brighter and nebulae exploded with color.

The shadow had flooded the galaxy in its own darkness. There was no more light. Sight was impossible in this darkness, and there was nothing. A void where light had once been.

To the delight of the galaxy itself, once the angel touched the fingers of the shadow, they dissolved. The lights held within its grasp were freed at the angel’s call. Stars began to glow anew, their pale luster staving off the darkness in its entirety. It had taken years, but the darkness shriveled up and become but a shadow in comparison to the darkness. Stars throughout the galaxy beamed brightly and planets soared around them with newfound joy.

The angel touched the shadow at long last, over an unknown world in the Outer Rim, and then it was no more. With a dreadful cry, the shadow collapsed on itself and became nothingness.

“Master Ulsan!”

The Jedi Master’s meditative vision slowly collapsed around him as he sensed a disturbance in the Force. Returning to reality, he found himself overwhelmed by the dark side of the Force before he even recovered his eyesight. Something had happened during his meditation, and he had been blind to it. The world around him slowly returned to him, revealing the austere pillars that supported the Jedi High Council chambers, the vacated chairs that surrounded him, and the stone column at the center of the room to represent unity. The column had been pierced by a lightsaber, leaving a gaping hole as an everlasting memento.

Doreva’s scruffy appearance faded into view next. The young Bothan Jedi Knight, clothed in red robes and a brown vest, was the epitome of what would have been a new generation of Jedi Knights. His brown fur was tinged with lighter splotches, but it was kept prim as befitting a young Jedi. He had a pained expression on his face, and his hands rested on his knees.

“What is it, Doreva?” Northeus Ulsan asked.

“The Sith – the Sith are attacking!”

Northeus’s dark eyes widened. “Impossible! Here? Where are they now?”

“Most of them are in the great hall, near the entryway. The Jedi are holding them off there.”

“We must join them…” the Jedi Master’s voice cut off as he stood. He remembered the vision he had acquired and he realized that he might know who that angel was. The angel from the peaceful planet.

“Master?” Doreva asked.

“Who is leading the defense?”

“Gaiel and Syme went to assist Yrai Nakelo. You are the only Jedi Master among us, Master,” Doreva said. “Most of the temple guards have been defeated already.”

“Join them, Doreva. I will be with you shortly.” And with that, Northeus marched out of the Council chambers, heading for the penitentiary on the other side of the Temple.


Chapter 2

Raen Benax listened to the hum of his magseal cell. It had been the one of the only things he had heard over the course of the past five years, ever since he was convicted for the death of Jedi Master Tor’chal and sentenced to life in prison. The Jedi Council had given their judgment, and Raen submitted to it passively. He could do nothing to oppose them, after all. He managed to say goodbye to the few Jedi he knew personally – Northeus Ulsan, Gaiel Remus, and Ranval Messor – before he was thrown into solitary confinement.

He had hated the Jedi Council for their decision. The first year of his sentence nearly drove him insane. Seething with feelings of anger, hate, and self-loathing, the former Sith found himself practically enslaved by the dark side. Despite his hopes, no one came to visit him and the only interaction he received was from a mute droid that delivered his meals. He stopped hoping to speak to anyone ever again. Left alone to his thoughts, he stared at the purple glow of the magnetically sealed containment field for months.

He lost track of time after several weeks alone. His imagination – or what was left of it – had failed him sometime thereafter. Demons cried out to him in the stillness of the day and the haunting hours of the night. The images of Tor’chal dying in the the Benax manor flashed in his eyes. His journeys with gangsters, his silent treks across the galaxy, and his training as a Jedi learner began to disappear. Overcome by the memory of his crime, Raen did not know how to cope – or how to disown the guilt he felt.

He was days from losing his mind when Gaiel Remus came to visit him. It was the happiest he had ever been; to see another sentient after so long was enough to drive Raen to tears. Gaiel pitied him and the two spent hours talking about nothing at all, relieving the burden of lonely silence from Raen’s mind.

It was not long before other Jedi began visiting him. Although he had not seen Ranval since his imprisonment, Raen did get to see Northeus again. The Jedi Master took it upon himself to ensure that Raen stayed in peak physical condition, allowing him to leave his cage for brief intervals to train with a vibrosword and practice using the Force. Raen did not know what had changed after that first year, but for every week thereafter, he received regular visits.

What’s more, Raen Benax found he had other company. For whatever reason, a prisoner known as the Ghoul had been moved from a separate cell block to the magseal cell adjacent to Raen’s. The Ghoul, sadly, had lost his mind in his loneliness, but after several days of trying to speak with him, Raen managed to get the Ghoul to comprehend the concept of a cellmate. From then on, the two incarcerated criminals shared regular dialogs – about the Jedi, the Force, the meals, or anything at all – as long as the Ghoul was able to do so.

The young Alderaanian had stopped seeing Jedi recently. As little as three months ago, the Jedi stopped visiting him. The Ghoul kept him company, but it just was not the same. He began to miss the Jedi. Their company and training had given him something to do aside from sit and waste away in his cell. The waking nightmares of his crimes had not left, but the Jedi had been enough to distract him from them. Unlike before, he hoped that they were all away on missions and had not simply forgotten about him. They couldn’t have done that. They would remember him. He knew it.

Sure enough, the door that connected Raen’s cell block to the rest of the Temple opened with a hiss, revealing Jedi Master Northeus Ulsan. The Jedi Master had aged significantly since Raen had first seen him on Ambria many years ago; his hair had always been a silver color, but the wrinkles along his brow were definitely new. Wearing white robes with a brown sash and cloak, the Jedi Master practically raced to Raen’s cell.

“Are you all right, Raen?” the Jedi Master asked.

“Yes, yes I am. It’s good to see you, Northeus,” Raen said. It took a moment for him to realize that the Jedi Master looked a bit pale, and his hand was on his chest – a nervous habit that Raen picked up on. “What is it, Master? What’s wrong?”

“The Sith are here,” Northeus explained. “We need to get you out of that cage.”

Raen smirked. “Northeus, I don't think my life is over just yet. Unless you’re planning on killing me when the magseal goes down-”

“We’re leaving the Jedi Temple,” the Jedi Master interrupted. “If you’d rather stay here and join the Sith again, feel free.”

“No, I’d like to be let out.”

Northeus nodded and flipped the switch on a device he had been carrying on his sash. It was the controls for individual cells in this block, and Raen felt tears swell up when the magseal went down. Rising to his feet, he raced out of the cell in case the Jedi Master changed his mind. Northeus withdrew a vibrosword and handed it to the ecstatic young Force-sensitive.

“You’ll need that,” Northeus noted.

Raen swung the weapon a few times. He was glad for the training he had received during his sentence, but at the same time, the weapon still felt awkward in his grip. Northeus offered him another vibrosword, and he took both of them in hand. Raen had not fought with two weapons since he had escaped from Alderaan as a young Sith; it would take time to get used to that style of fighting.

“If you’re ready, we have to leave,” Northeus said.

Raen followed Northeus up the steps, but he turned back to the cells one last time. “Wait, Master!”

“What is it, Raen?”

“What about the Ghoul?”

Northeus shook his head. “What about him? Leaving him here might get him executed by the Sith.”

“He could join the Sith, and we would have one more dark-sider on our hands,” Raen replied.

Northeus placed his hand upon his chest. “Fine, Raen. I’ll free the Ghoul.”

Pressing another button on his controls, Northeus and Raen watched the other magseal go down. From inside the cell, a Givin stumbled out, wearing nothing but a ragged smock and soiled trousers. His face looked very much like a Human skull. The Givin’s emaciated appearance was natural of his species, so it was hard to tell just how much physical pain he was in. His legs failed him – unlike Raen, he had been restricted to his cell since he had been imprisoned – and he crawled along the ground to the other two Force-sensitives.

“Thank… thank you for freeing me, kind sirs,” the Givin moaned. “I promise to repay you this debt with great… great generosity.”

“You are a sociopathic murderer,” Northeus replied coolly. “You follow our instructions, and we will let you live. Do you understand?”

The Ghoul nodded.

“What should we call you?” Raen asked.

“Ghoul… Ghoul will do fine. I have… I do not remember my other names.”

“Come, we had better go,” Northeus said. “The Sith are everywhere, and it is unwise to linger in one place.”

The three Force-sensitives left the cells behind, much to the delight of the two prisoners who followed the Jedi Master. Seeing the Ghoul for the first time, Raen wondered just how terrible he himself looked. He knew he had an unkempt beard from his time in prison, and his skin was probably pallid from his time spent in the dimly lit chambers. He would do his best to look presentable after they escaped.

They had hardly left the prison ward behind when they were confronted by two assassins. The first leapt out from behind a pillar, striking the Ghoul with his force pike. A buzz followed the Ghoul’s cry of pain, and the Givin found himself on the ground in seconds. Northeus used the Force to put the other assassins in stasis, leaving only a single opponent to deal with.

The same opponent that had struck the Ghoul attacked Raen. The Alderaanian was able to block the attack, but Raen’s arms were surprisingly weak. His knees gave way trying to hold back the assassin’s strikes. Falling over, he saw several other Sith assassins reveal themselves and attack Northeus, leaving him to fight this assassin by his lonesome.

Raen rolled away from the Sith assassin’s first few stabs, giving himself enough space to stand again. He was too tired and out of practice to call upon the Force, so he was forced to depend on his swordplay for now. Raen placed his two swords between himself and the assassin, awkwardly blocking blows with both of his weapons at once.

A backhand strike from the assassin sent Raen to the floor. He lost one of his vibroswords as he tumbled, leaving him at the mercy of the Sith assassin. The assassin raced toward Raen with the intent on finishing him, but before he could get close enough, he was impaled from behind by a cyan lightsaber. Screeching with pain, the dying assassin fell to the floor and his force pike landed very close to Raen's arm.

Luckily for Raen, Syme, Gaiel, and Doreva had arrived just in time to save him from the Sith assassins. Northeus had already felled all of his opponents, but several more Sith assassins arrived to join the fray. The four Jedi surrounded the bewildered Raen and the Ghoul and defeated the assassins as they arrived. Once they were sure their enemies were all defeated, they turned their attentions to their weakened companions.

“Are you okay, Raen?” Gaiel asked.

“Yeah, thanks to you,” Raen said. He glanced at the other two Jedi. “Who are they?”

“This is Syme Devor, an old friend of mine, and the Bothan is Doreva Thrine. They’re both Jedi Knights, so they know what they’re doing.”

“Or at least we pretend we do,” Syme muttered.

“Is the Ghoul alive?” Northeus asked, not very concerned.

Doreva had tried to find the Ghoul’s pulse, but it was proving difficult. His exoskeleton made any attempts to locate it harder than necessary. Gaiel moved closer to aid the Bothan, but the Ghoul suddenly recovered his strength and sat upright, much to the alarm of Doreva.

“More Jedi?” the Ghoul asked, disinterested.

“How did you survive that attack?” Doreva asked. “That force pike would have ripped anyone else in two! And that’s ignoring the nerve damage.”

“I have a sturdy constitution. My people are made of sturdier stock than yours. It is very difficult to pierce our flesh.”

“We’re delaying here too long,” Northeus said. “We need to go, now. Get the Ghoul to his feet.”

Raen brushed off his tattered clothes while Doreva helped the Ghoul to stand. Glancing around, Syme made sure their path was clear before Northeus and Gaiel led the way across the hall back toward the Council chambers.

“Where are we headed, Master?” Gaiel asked.

“To the hangar,” Northeus said. “We’re leaving the Temple.”

“Leaving?” Syme asked, shocked. “But Master, we can’t abandon-”

“We can, and we must.” Northeus’s expression was dour, and he did not glance at the other two Jedi Knights as they walked. “We’ve stayed here for far too long already, and it’s cost us precious time. The Sith knew we were here, and they could have assessed our strength.”

“We need to enlist the Republic’s aid!” Syme said.

“No, the Republic cannot help us. The Republic cannot even keep these foes from entering the capital at will; how would they help us defend our Temple?”

The other two Jedi Knights said nothing, falling back into place behind the Jedi Master with Doreva and their non-Jedi allies. The trek was quiet, but it was free of encounters; much to Raen’s surprise, there were hardly any Sith assassins around. However, what disturbed him more was the obvious lack of Jedi, dead or otherwise. There were so many Jedi when he had been sentenced to prison. Where were they now?

“Yrai. Yrai, please respond,” Gaiel tried contacting the lead Jedi Knight of other group of Jedi left in the Temple. “Yrai!”

“They’re gone. The Sith must have defeated them,” Syme said.

“They were the only Jedi left in the Temple, aside from us,” Doreva cried.

“All eight of them, dead? Impossible. They held their own against a dozen Sith assassins.” Gaiel frowned and shook his head. “I won’t believe it. I won’t.”

“Well, we told them to meet with us in the Council chambers. With any luck, they just switched off their comlink,” Syme replied.

As they approached the Council chambers, the Force-sensitives were suddenly overcome by the sickening power of the dark side. Inside the chamber where the High Council itself had once delegated, a group of Sith stood waiting for the incoming Jedi. Dead Jedi – the eight Jedi led by Yrai Nakelo – littered the floor. Four Sith assassins carrying blood-red lightsabers stood over them, pleased by their latest kills. But in the center of them all, their Sith Master stood, one foot propped up on the great pillar in the center of the room that had been felled by his own lightsaber.

Their Sith Master looked like a walking corpse. He had no hair and his body seemed like it was constructed from decomposed skin and bits of hardened flesh. Scars, cracks, and wounds were everywhere on his body; his simple pair of trousers and his flowing black cape did nothing to conceal his pain. He was effectively expressionless, and he said nothing as he raised his lightsaber and motioned for his men to attack. The Sith assassins each picked a target, striking at the Jedi Knights and the two freed prisoners. The Sith Master himself went for Master Ulsan, sensing that he was the strongest of their prey. Raen hardly had time to notice Northeus withdraw his two silver-colored lightsabers before the Sith assassin intent on killing him moved in.

Raen blocked his opponent’s sweeping lightsaber blows with his two vibroswords, but he was still too weak to put up an adequate defense. Instead of fighting with both weapons, Raen used both of his swords like a single weapon. Raising and lowering his vibroswords and exhausting as little energy as possible, he caught the assassin’s attacks between his two blades. The assassin locked blades with Raen and then suddenly stepped closer to his opponent; a headbutt elicited a crack from the assassin’s helmet and sent Raen to the floor in pain.

To Raen’s surprise, the Ghoul moved from his hiding spot – behind one of the councilor’s chairs – and jumped onto the Sith assassin’s back. The assassin was about as surprised as Raen was, fumbling about trying to throw his passenger off him. Recovering his footing after a moment of blurry vision, Raen motioned for the Ghoul to remove himself. The Givin did as he was told, and Raen plunged his swords into the assassin’s chest.

Aside from Syme, the other Jedi were still fighting their opponents. The Ghoul went to assist Doreva while Raen rushed to Gaiel’s side. The Nautolan smiled when he noticed Raen’s approach. Blocking a few rather close blows from the Sith assassin, Gaiel leapt backward and goaded the Sith assassin to close the distance between them. When the assassin moved in for the attack, Gaiel used the Force to push him backwards into Raen. The maneuver didn’t work as well as he would have liked, and the assassin avoided being skewered by Raen’s swords. Nevertheless, Raen was close enough to the Sith assassin to kick him in the back, sending him toppling over. Now defenseless, Gaiel used the Force to run at superhuman speed and reach them before the assassin could recover, severing the assassin’s two hands with his viridian lightsaber. With his opponent defenseless, Gaiel turned his attention to the Sith Master.

Before Raen and the others could aid Northeus and Syme in their battle against the seemingly undead Sith Master, Northeus managed to disarm him. Cutting the Sith’s hand off at the wrist, Northeus pivoted to the left to avoid a follow-up punch by the vengeful Sith and cut off his other hand with his other lightsaber. Syme made quick work of the defenseless Sith, cutting him in half with his cyan blade.

“That was difficult,” Doreva panted. “I didn’t think… they took out eight Jedi…”

“We barely survived,” Raen agreed.

“We had luck on our side,” Syme noted. “They were probably fatigued from fighting the other Jedi, and the other group consisted of mostly Padawans. We were lucky enough to have mostly Knights and a Master with us.”

“There is only the Force, Syme,” Northeus chided him. “Luck does not exist.”

“Of course, Master,” Syme replied.

“That doesn’t change the fact we do have to leave now,” Gaiel spoke up. “There are still assassins lingering these halls, and it’s not safe here anymore.”

“To the hangars, then?” Syme asked.

“That seems like our best course of action. Let’s go,” Northeus advised.

The company of Force-sensitives left the Council chambers without looking back, unnerved by the Sith who had stationed themselves within and the carnage they caused. All of the Jedi were sprinting now, but they reserved their Force power for a later time. They were not free yet, and as Gaiel noted, there were still assassins around. Northeus led the way, traveling through the eerie corridors of the now abandoned Jedi Temple on their way to the second floor and the hangars.

There were very few Sith assassins between them and their target, and most of them were situated in small groups that were easily dispatched by the larger group of Force-sensitives. Heading down to the right floor by taking the stairs, Doreva and the Ghoul began to complain about the amount of walking they were doing; stares from Northeus were enough to silence them.

The group of Jedi reached the hangars to find its massive blast doors sealed shut, much to their dismay. There were no Sith assassins in the area, and the feeling of the dark side presence seemed to have weakened, but it did not change the fact that they were stuck.

“How foolish of me,” Northeus mused. “I forgot to go to the central security terminal and unlock the hangar bay doors.”

“We can still get in,” Syme growled. “If we all cut at the doors with our lightsabers-”

“What about the hyperspace beacon? We won’t get very far if we don’t activate that first,” Gaiel said.

“You’re right. And we can open the hangar doors and activate the hyperspace beacon from the same place,” Northeus replied.

“It’s three levels up, Master. I don’t want to go all the way back there just to get ambushed by Sith again,” Doreva grumbled.

“Then I’ll go alone,” Northeus said. “We need to activate that beacon, or our starfighters won’t be able to go anywhere.”

“No, Master, you stay here,” Gaiel said. “You need to watch out for Raen and the Ghoul. I’ll go in your place.”

“Let me go with you, then,” Syme quipped. “It’s too dangerous for a Jedi Knight to go alone.”

“A single Jedi has a better chance of sneaking by the assassins than a group, Syme, even a group of two.” He placed a hand on Syme’s shoulder. “I’ll be fine.”

“You have my permission. But hurry back, Gaiel,” Northeus ordered.

“Of course, Master.”

Gaiel used the Force to sprint away from them. The rest of the group was forced to linger around the hangar’s entrance, restless and worried that a group of Sith assassins could be anywhere. Syme, in particular, was agitated and unable to keep still, in spite of protests from an equally nervous Doreva. Raen glanced at the halls to his left and his right every few seconds, expecting to see a group of Sith assassins pop out of the shadows.

Ten minutes after Gaiel had left, the group of Jedi was starting to assume the worst. No one wanted to believe that Gaiel had fallen, but at the same time, he had been gone a long time. Their worries began to get the better of them as they paced back and forth, surprised that they had not encountered any enemies – even patrolling Sith – since they arrived.

Northeus was the first to notice the arrival of a squad of four Sith assassins. They rushed toward the group of Force-sensitives with their force pikes, obviously less skilled than the killers the group had faced before. Northeus moved first, but Doreva and Syme quickly joined him, leaving the last Sith assassin to pick his target. The assassin approached Doreva, hoping to land an easy kill on the distracted Bothan. Raen noticed the assassin’s plan and tackled the Sith to the floor, knocking his pike from his grip.

The battle between Raen and his target descended into a messy brawl. Noticing he had lost his weapon, the assassin punched Raen square in the face. Raen felt something in his nose shatter as the metallic tang of blood flooded his lips. The Sith assassin rolled, forcing himself on top of a stunned Raen. The young Force-user couldn’t defend himself from the assassin’s flurry of punches because his arms were pinned, and he felt every blow as it smashed against his chest or into his face. While Raen was on the ground getting pummeled by the Sith assassin, he noticed the hangar doors had opened during the battle. A smile managed to form on his battered face when he realized that Gaiel was alive, despite the fact he was being thoroughly devastated by the Sith assassin.

To his surprise, the assassin was lifted off Raen with the Force, freeing the young Force-user at long last. Struggling to his feet, Raen turned and thanked Syme for saving him before the Jedi Knight threw his lightsaber and cut apart Raen’s opponent. The other assassins had perished already, leaving the group alone yet again.

“The doors have been opened!” Doreva said with a grin.

“Where’s the Ghoul?” Northeus yelled.

As if to answer the concerned Jedi Master, the engines of a Star Saber XC-01 roared to life inside the hangar. No one had seen the Ghoul enter the hangar or board one of the Star Sabers, and the remaining combatants rushed inside only to catch a glimpse of his ship as it left the newly opened hangar for the Coruscant skies overhead. The Ghoul had taken one of the last ships in the hangar, leaving two working Star Sabers and S-100 Stinger-class fighters each for the remaining Jedi and Raen.

Syme was the first to speak: “That backstabbing piece of Hutt-”

“Calm down,” Northeus interrupted. “We’ll be fine.”

“What are we going to do?” Doreva asked. “Those fighters can only hold one person, and their cargo space won’t fit anyone else – even if we crammed them in there!”

“We’ll think of something, don’t worry. Our first priority is to start the ships,” Northeus noted.

The two Jedi Knights quickly acknowledged Northeus’s orders, rushing to the nearest ships that worked and had hyperdrives and starting their engines. Raen waited at the entrance of the hangar, glancing back and forth in search of Gaiel. Northeus had stepped inside to start one of the Stingers, but he noticed Raen lingering behind and returned to his side.

“Let’s go, Raen. We don’t have much time,” he said.

“I don’t want to go,” Raen answered.

“What?” Northeus asked, surprised.

“We only have four ships capable of hyperdrive. Gaiel needs to leave. I’ll just slow you all down. I’ll stay here.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. If it comes down to it, we’ll either stuff one of you in the storage compartment or use one of the salvaged vehicles lying around. They don’t have hyperdrives, but they’ll be able to get offworld, at least.”

“I’m not leaving him behind.”

“No one is leaving him behind,” Northeus insisted. “But we need to start those ships. Come on, Raen.”

Raen glanced back and forth again, and then silently acquiesced to the Jedi Master’s request. Joining the three Jedi, Raen primed the engines on a Stinger fighter while the other three made sure their ships were in working order. It had nearly been ten minutes since the Ghoul had taken off, and Gaiel still had not returned.

More Sith assassins had stumbled upon the hangar itself and were quickly approaching. Syme leapt from the cockpit of his ship to engage the incoming Sith assassins. There were too many for him to handle on his own, and Raen and Doreva joined him. During their duels against the other Sith, Gaiel suddenly arrived.

“We need to leave! Now!” Gaiel gasped.

“What’s going on?” Syme asked, parrying a blow from his opponent.

“That Sith you and Northeus killed! He’s still alive!” Gaiel shouted. “We need to leave!”

Doreva stared at him. “That’s impossib-”

Just as the Bothan turned to address Gaiel, the Sith in question jumped down from the level above them, revealing himself to the Jedi and Raen. The shockwave he created in the Force knocked Doreva and Raen off their feet. Lightsaber in hand, the revived Sith swung at Gaiel, who only narrowly avoided the wide slice by rolling out of the way entirely. Once he recovered his footing, Gaiel found himself surrounded by several Sith assassins who deactivating their cloaking fields.

“Jedi, we must leave!” Northeus called to his companions from the cockpit of his starfighter. “We cannot hope to defeat them! Retreat!”

The Jedi began a meticulous but hasty retreat. Doreva was the first to break away from his opponent, using the Force to push him away before fleeing back to his ship. Raen blocked a lightsaber that was thrown at the fleeing Bothan and stood at Syme’s side as he fought off three Sith assassins at once.

“Get to the ship!” Gaiel called to them both from his position farther out.

Raen complied, quickly kicking his opponent in the chest before breaking away from the battle entirely. He looked behind his shoulder, realizing that neither Syme nor Gaiel were breaking off their attack and continued to fight the Sith at the entrance of the hangar. Gaiel managed to fight his way over to Syme, despite the fact that at least a dozen Sith assassins were surrounding them.

“Why don’t you get to the ship?” Gaiel growled at his ally.

“Why don’t you stop trying to play hero?” Syme snapped. “We’re all getting off this rock, whether you like it or not!”

“Not this time, friend. If someone doesn’t distract those Sith, we’re in trouble. You know that. They’re not going to let us take off.” Gaiel blocked several incoming force pikes with a single arcing sweep of his blade. “Just go! Let me handle them!”

“I’m not letting you die!” Syme used the Force to repel several assassins and knock even more off their feet. “Come on!”

“It’s up to you to protect Raen now.” Gaiel smiled at his friend. “Help Master Ulsan.”

Gaiel suddenly used the Force to push Syme into the hangar, much to the Human Jedi’s surprise. Knocked off his feet, Syme couldn’t even react before Gaiel used a remote kill switch to shut the hangar doors. The massive blast doors slammed shut, separating the Sith Master and his minions from the Jedi in the hangar. However, it also kept Gaiel from reaching the hangar, leaving him at the mercy – or lack thereof – of the Sith.

Syme stared at the door for brief second, his brain trying to understand just what had transpired. Realizing what Gaiel had done, he shouted and screamed the most vicious profanities he could think of. The Jedi Knight rose to his feet and slammed his fists into the blast doors, not even bothering to use his lightsaber.

Northeus left his starfighter, despite the fact it was already ready for take-off, to join the delirious Jedi Knight. Syme did not acknowledge Northeus as he approached or by the time he stood at his side.

“We have to go, Syme,” the Jedi Master said.

“Damn you! You knew this would happen, didn’t you! You and he planned this, didn’t you? You and your plans – your prophecies! Did you see this? Is this why he went to unlock the doors? It has to be!”

“Syme, please. The blast doors will not separate us from a determined Sith hunter for long. We cannot linger.”

“Then let them come! I will fight them all, and if I die, so be it! I would rather die now and join Gaiel and the rest of my Jedi brothers than live.”

“Your emotional state only makes you susceptible to the dark side,” Northeus reprimanded him. “If you keep fighting, you will fall. This is certain.”

“Then let me fall to Sithspawn and damnation! I don’t care anymore!”

“Syme, would you die now, as a fallen Jedi, and fail to carry out Gaiel’s last wish?”

The Jedi Knight was silent. He said nothing for a long time, but Northeus stayed by his side the entire time. Syme struggled to turn away from the blast door and join the other two Force-users at the cockpit of his own ship. Once Northeus was sure he would not turn back and he was able to pilot his craft, he too left the blast door behind and hopped into his ship. The crafts’ engines roared to life, finally ready to take off and leave the Jedi Temple. With great hesitation, the four craft took off and abandoned the Jedi Temple – and its surviving inhabitants – to their fate.

The trip into Coruscant’s orbit was a silent one. Raen carefully piloted his ship alongside the others, keeping in a relatively sloppy formation that would be able to defend against a basic starfighter attack. To their surprise, the Ghoul’s Star Saber was waiting for them when they approached the Jedi-specific hyperspace beacon. Without it, none of them could acquire hyperspace coordinates to leave Coruscant’s system at all, so it was not surprising that the Ghoul was here.

“There you are, you coward,” Syme growled through his comm system. “Can’t escape us because you don’t know the codes to activate this buoy, do you?”

“Actually, I intended to wait for you here,” the Ghoul replied, somewhat sheepishly. “I have no weapon – I would have been useless to you down there. If you had never showed up, I would have returned to the capital and found another way offworld.”

“If you had just stayed down there, we could have escaped with Gaiel…” Syme muttered angrily.

“Enough! We all have our roles to play, and so did Gaiel,” Northeus assured them. “For now, we need to leave Coruscant behind.”

“What can we do?” Doreva asked, exhausted from the fighting he had been doing. “How do we know they won’t pursue us?”

“We don’t,” Northeus replied curtly. “But we do know that there are some Jedi who still live. We must find them. There is safety in numbers.”

“That will be difficult, especially if most of the Jedi abandoned us here on Coruscant or went into hiding,” Doreva noted.

“I know Master Lonna Vash is on M4-78, investigating some strange occurrences on that planet with a squad of Jedi. We can start there,” Northeus pointed out.

“Then that’s where we’ll go,” Raen mused.

“Come, I’ll pick out the coordinates we need and send them to your ships,” Northeus said. “Be prepared for a hyperspace jump.”

“And cramped quarters,” Doreva complained. “I hate these ships.”

“May the Force be with us all,” Raen said with a sigh.

*** ***

He shined like a star.

Gaiel’s very being was enough to repel the Sith assassins at first. Enveloping himself in the very essence of the Force itself, Gaiel stood amidst the evil as a beacon of light. His entire body radiated with a pure white light, extending in rays from his body. His lightsaber fluctuated between this magnificent white and its standard coloration. As the Jedi Code raced through his mind, Gaiel took one step, and then another. He stepped away from the safety of the hangar bay doors and into darkness.

His mind was filled with thoughts as he moved his lightsaber into a defensive stance. He didn’t understand what was going on, but something was filling him with a brilliant power that he did not understand. His senses increased a thousand fold, letting him see in the normal spectrum and through the Force simultaneously. His ears heard his companions’ ships leave the hangar from beyond the thick blast doors, and he could easily sense the fear that had suddenly grabbed the hearts of the Sith assassins around him.

One of the bolder Sith assassins moved toward him, but a single swing of Gaiel’s lightsaber – faster than he could see – cut the hapless dark-sider in half. Realizing that their comrade would be the first of many to die, all the Sith assassins came down upon him, unleashing the power of the dark side. Force lightning was deflected from his lightsaber as he picked up Force pikes with his mind to block lightsabers and other force pikes.

His lightsaber floated around them like it was carried by a dizzying wind. Limbs fell to the ground as the cries of the Sith assassins rang in Gaiel’s ears. He did not want to kill them, and his being ached as the lives of these killers expired, but he knew that it was only him and them now. He would kill them, or he would be killed. His telekinesis proved strong enough to tear apart the pillars in the distance and pull them into his targets. Smashing his foes with the great masonry that once supported the Jedi Temple itself, Gaiel knew that there were far too many enemies in the Temple for him to kill. But he had to try.

His strength expired much more rapidly as he maintained his sense of unity with the Force. The power he had been granted was taxing on his body and his spirit, and he was forced to separate himself from the Force entirely to free himself from that weariness. As the light around him faded, the Sith assassins took notice of his sudden change in appearance. They attempted to attack him while he was weakened, but they hesitated when the Sith Master himself – Gaiel had heard one of them call him Lord Sion – approached Gaiel’s position.

Carrying his red lightsaber in hand, the Sith challenged the Jedi Knight with a simple wave of his hand. The Nautolan sprung into action as much as he was able. His connection to the Force would not be back to normal for some time, or else he would find himself back in a state of unification, and his body would probably destroy itself trying to maintain such a connection.

Their lightsabers clashed between them. Sparks scattered at their feet with each blow traded. The Dark Lord, Sion, was not elegant or graceful, preferring to strike with heavy blows that would shatter defenses and kill quickly. Gaiel was the exact opposite, practically dancing around the hulking Sith Lord with his own lightsaber. Quick stabs and cuts proved easy to make on the Sith Lord, who did not defend himself as most Sith did. He was solely focused on offense; he was focused on killing the Jedi Knight who stood before him.

Gaiel severed his opponent’s left arm, and then his right arm. Spinning, he looped around the Sith Lord and cut at his legs. The Sith fell the floor again, but he had not been killed. No, each time he was struck down, he only reformed himself – through some terror of the dark side – and came back to haunt the Jedi Knight again. Gaiel cut him to pieces more times than he could count, but each time, Darth Sion stood up again, ready to continue the battle.

Gaiel did not give in to the anger that tempted to rise up within him. Instead, he knew that all these things were happening for a reason – to delay his allies’ capture by the Sith – and continued fighting. Blocking one of Darth Sion’s wide swings, Gaiel kicked the Sith Lord in the leg and spun to his side. Latching on to his head with his free hand, Gaiel plunged his lightsaber into the Dark Lord’s eye, eliciting a genuine cry of pain for the first time.

One of the Sith assassins had noticed their master’s cry and rushed to his aid, striking Gaiel’s back with his force pike. This time, it was the Nautolan who cried out in pain, falling to his knees as the brief contact with the pike had torn a hole in his back and scrambled nearby nerves. Darth Sion ended up on the floor due to his injury, but not for long. The Sith Lord, now bearing a scar underneath his right eye, rose to his feet with lightsaber in hand.

Peace.

Knowledge.

Serenity.

Harmony.

Gaiel tried to stand, but his feet proved too weak. Kneeling before his opponent, Gaiel remembered the vision he had experienced so long ago, onboard the Sith cruiser Renegade, where he saw the death of several Jedi. He had identified the first Jedi in his vision as Betror, the young Padawan who died not long after Gaiel received the vision. The next Jedi to die would be him.

“Goodbye, Jedi, and may the pain of death take you,” Darth Sion’s hoarse voice growled.

“There is no death,” Gaiel replied. “There is only the Force.”

The Sith’s red lightsaber sliced at the Nautolan’s neck. However, much to his surprise, the Jedi’s body vanished as soon as his stroke fell, leaving only his sweat-stained Jedi robes and his deactivated lightsaber behind. Kicking at the robes, Darth Sion did not understand what had happened, but he knew his opponent had been defeated; that was all that mattered. The last of the Jedi had perished in their very temple, and the Republic could do nothing. The Republic had failed their allies; soon, the Republic would die just as that Nautolan Jedi had.

“My Lord Sion,” one of the Sith assassins hissed. “We have found Lady Traya. Our shuttle awaits.”

Darth Sion nodded, silently deactivating his lightsaber. Taking the shuttle provided to him by an old Hutt acquaintance of Darth Traya’s, he would return to his Sith Interdictor located just outside of the Core Worlds and pursue his former master. She needed to die for what she had done to him. That was all that mattered. His hatred for her knew no bounds.

“Prepare the shuttle. We leave immediately.”


Chapter 3

Peace is a lie. These were the first words of the Sith Code and the first words all Sith learned. Many dark-siders could recite these words, mocking defeated Jedi before striking the finishing blow. It was true that the Jedi were ignorant of the true state of nature, but many self-proclaimed Sith knew no better. Few Sith knew what these words meant. These words were at the heart of the Sith Empire. To misunderstand the nature of the Sith Code was to misunderstand the Sith.

Peace breeds laziness, which gives way to gluttony and greed. Classes emerge, exploitation occurs, and corruption becomes commonplace. Without order, the once blossoming society fades into a state of civil unrest. The poor are discontent and groveling while the rich are discontent and surrounded in luxury. Eventually, these peaceful people are stricken by the most damnable plague of all: apathy.

This was why there is no such thing as true peace. Peace is thought to bring in prosperity and contentment; it creates everything but. Knowing this, foolish Sith believed that the opposite of peace is violence. They assumed the only way to counteract the ill effects of peace was to succumb to brutish instincts and base aggression. This chaotic violence destroyed the Sith and everything around them. There was no benefit to this.

A true Sith was enlightened. A true Sith realized that emotions were not something to be suppressed, but expressed. A true Sith was the embodiment of passion. Because passion was the prime mover of the galaxy, true Sith moved in harmony with the galaxy. Sith were masters of the true nature of the Force.

Nafyan knew this. Born in the true Sith Empire, not the ones constructed by the fallen Jedi over the past few hundred years, he had experienced the power of the Sith firsthand. The Dark Council of that empire had foreseen that he would become a powerful Sith and influence the deaths of the many; naturally, they trained him as soon as they were able to ensure they would be spared. Knowing nothing else, he served them – through torture and humiliation – without question.

Once the Dark Council deemed him old enough to learn, he was granted access to the great libraries of the Sith capital on Dromund Kaas. Learning the wisdom of the ancient Sith Lords, Nafyan trained and studied as often as he could, eventually becoming a Sith in all but name. The Dark Council refused to grant him the title he sought, fearing what he would eventually become. Lashing out in anger, Nafyan intended to seize his rites by force. He had escaped death only because the Sith Emperor had other plans for him.

Called to the Sith Emperor’s throne, Nafyan was tasked with leaving Dromund Kaas and seeing to the arrival of one who would be known as Preux. In a galaxy of pretenders, Preux would become an embodiment of the dark side of the Force. However, without guidance, he would succumb to the false doctrine and instability of the dark-siders around him. Nafyan was to teach him the ways of the ancient Sith. Obedient to his only master, Nafyan did as he was told, spurning the chance to become a Sith Lord.

Nafyan arrived on Alderaan with nothing more than a few ancient texts copied from the libraries of Dromund Kaas. He knew he had been exiled, but he also hoped that his success in the galaxy would allow him to return home one day. Until then, he would carry out the orders of the Sith Emperor without question.

Before long, he met the child who would become Preux. Under Nafyan’s watchful eye, the boy grew and learned. Exposing him to the same teachings he had been, any trace of idealism was obliterated in the young man and replaced with the steeled resolve of the Sith. If not for the Galactic Republic’s attack on the planet and the expulsion of its Sith presence, Preux would have consolidated power on the planet and risen to become a vicious warlord. He would have become an emperor.

Sadly, it was not to be. Alderaan was lost. The man who Nafyan knew died. But Preux remained.

Aboard the Interdictor-class cruiser Asylum, Nafyan meditated in his austere chambers. Many Sith shunned the art of meditation, content with acting on their own and calling upon the Force only when necessary. Nafyan rejected their pitiful ideology, finding solace and strength as he obtained control of the Force in his subconscious.

His dark eyes remained opened as he meditated, staring into the space beyond the walls of the ship. Eerily he maintained his gaze; he looked like he could have been dead. Age had long since caught up with him, exposing itself in wrinkles under his eyes and at his cheeks. The wrinkles on his forehead were also clearly visible, revealed by his receding gray hair.

Despite the fact he had once been a servant to House Benax, Preux’s family, Nafyan had no qualms dressing fancifully. In contrast to his sparsely decorated chambers, his robe was decorated with golden tassels and shimmering rings, particularly around his arms and legs. At his chest, a metal cuirass rested inside the gap in his robes. These particular garments had been acquired from an ancient Sith trove on Almas. Even the crimson color of his sleeves reminded him of a Sith’s lightsaber. How quaint.

“Master Nafyan,” one of the bridge crew hailed him from a nearby holocomm. “We’re approaching Obulette. Your presence on the bridge has been requested.”

Nafyan nodded and rose to his feet. “Prepare the crew for landing, Lieutenant. I will be there shortly.”

The garbled transmission cut out after Nafyan had given his orders. Unlike the officers in the destroyed empire of Revan and Malak, these servants were not required to adhere to military protocol. They were only told to do their jobs efficiently. These men were slaves, not soldiers. They were expendable, and they were subservient to their Force-sensitive masters. That was all that mattered.

Nafyan grabbed his staff and left his chambers. None of the crew was stationed on this level and there were very few other droids or passengers onboard. It was a silent trip; the last time a ship had been this quiet was his brief visit to the Phantom Rising. After Jaeln Benax, Nafyan’s protégé, had killed the crew, it was far too quiet on that ship. Nafyan and Jaeln had abandoned the ship once their work was done; it was a useful asset, but it was not necessary by any means. That ship was the last piece of the Benax’s Sith kingdom.

The elevator ride from his level to the bridge did not disturb his reflection. Stepping from the elevator, several Sith troopers waiting nearby escorted him to the bridge. Their heavy white armor contrasted with their black mesh underlay and opaque visors; Nafyan recognized traces of Mandalorian design in their armor. They said nothing to him, and he did not acknowledge their presence. It was a short trip, and once he had reached the bridge’s massive blast doors, the two guards saluted and returned to the elevator.

The bridge itself was as crowded as ever. Nafyan was often impressed by the sheer amount of sentients necessary to run a ship like the Asylum, but he also knew fewer Force-sensitives could run it better. Dim lighting caused the entire deck to appear lifeless and dull, and the metallic walls did not help. The crew drearily did their work underneath an elevated walkway in the center of the bridge, traversing from one terminal to the next. Paying them no mind, Nafyan stepped onto the elevated walkway and joined the ship’s commanding officer at the far end of the bridge.

Captain Tasa Isinn watched her men work with her back leaned against the primary viewport. She wore her ink black hair long, spilling across one shoulder. Her purple prosthetic eyes stood out from her soft features and smooth complexion; her damaged eyes were her only visible scars from the Mandalorian War. She was very young in spite of her rank, and Nafyan held her in high esteem for it. She took his anti-military approach to an extreme, wearing her uniform unbuttoned and carrying weapons – a blaster rifle and vibrosword – on the bridge.

At her side, a large warrior – at least two heads taller than the captain – encased in armor darker than the captain’s hair kept a close eye on the crew’s doings, perhaps more so than the captain herself. This figure’s armor had been selected from the finest Sith armory available on Korriban, raided by Captain Isinn and Nafyan before the planet had fallen to the Republic and their Jedi allies. A crimson cape was draped across the warrior’s back, and the cylindrical hilt of a Sith’s lightsaber rested at his side.

“Captain Isinn, are we almost prepared to land?” Nafyan asked, stepping by the armored figure.

“Prepared as we can be, my lord,” the captain replied. “We’ve received permission to land from the planet’s orbital security.”

“So why have I been summoned?” Nafyan growled, trying to keep his anger in check. “Are you wasting my time, Captain?”

The captain sighed. “Someone on the ground wanted to confer with the commander of this vessel before we landed.”

“Why didn’t you do so?”

“I knew you would have punished me later, my lord. I would not dare do things behind your back.”

Nafyan huffed. The captain was as argumentative as she was lazy, but she always knew what to say to get herself out of trouble. “Very well. Let me take the message here.”

The three Sith stepped away from the viewport and headed to the opposite end of the bridge, near the entrance. A large terminal with a projector had been placed across from the main gun controls to receive incoming transmissions. After the ship’s comm system had been set to pick up transmissions from Obulette, a blurry image of a humanoid appeared on the holographic projector.

“Are you the commanding officer of the incoming ship Asylum?” the holographic figure asked.

“I am,” Nafyan replied. “Who am I speaking to?”

“I am an aide to House Mecetti and High Lord Tadeus II. He would like to know the reasoning behind your incursion of Tapani space and what it is you seek on Obulette.”

“We seek shelter and aid from his lordship, Tadeus II,” Nafyan explained. “We desire an audience with him on behalf of House Benax of Alderaan.”

“House Benax was eliminated,” the hologram replied. “Destroyed by the Jedi at the end of the war against Darth Malak.”

“I am the caretaker of the family and major domo of their estate. I request an audience.”

“Your-”

“Your lordship would do well to remember Preux’s benevolence when he accepted dozens of Mecrosa Assassins from your province during the Jedi’s purge.”

The other individual was silent for a moment. “High Lord Tadeus II will grant you an audience. Follow our orbital security officers’ instructions, and we shall escort you upon arrival. Out.”

Captain Isinn had left Nafyan’s side when the ship reverted from hyperspace, leaving him and his companion at the deactivated terminal. Several reports came in about the orbital satellites and a few starfighters that were rather close to their ship, but the captain ignored them. Whether she was bemused by the strange sight of Obulette itself or simply too lazy to care, Nafyan could not tell.

Surrounded by a half-circle of shipyards and several small orbital stations, Obulette looked like a barren rock from their viewport. A gray orb caught in perpetual twilight by a dim star several million miles away, Obulette’s cityscape could hardly been seen from this distance.

The Mecrosa Order, a sect of assassins devoted to the dark side, were said to reside on Obulette. After being defeated in the Exar Kun War and purged during a cleansing of the nine Tapani Houses, they retreated from their various fortress worlds and returned to House Mecetti. Nafyan did not know if they existed, but if they did, he would need them to carry out his plans.

“Move us into drydock Jenth-22, gentlemen,” Captain Isinn bellowed. “And someone contact hangar control and tell them to prepare two Herald-class shuttles for our shore party.”

A chorus of replies rose up from below the walkway. A few rather concerned officers continued to ask the captain questions about the starfighters and tried to caution her against approaching the planet’s defenses, but she brushed them off. Nafyan had already given his orders, and she was simply carrying them out. She would hear none of their complaints.

“Two?” Nafyan asked as Captain Isinn returned to their side. “One of those shuttles could easily hold my master and me. There is no need for two of them.”

“I’m coming with you,” Captain Isinn explained, “and we’ll be accompanied by two squads of Sith troopers.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“Those are my shuttles, and I say this is necessary.”

Nafyan glared at the young captain. He raised his hand to strike at her but restrained himself. It was not the time or the place for discipline. He nodded his agreement. “Come, we should reach the hangar.”

*** ***

The capital of Obulette was built with old megacities dedicated to industry in mind. Large towers and linked skyscrapers reached for the dark red skies. Few buildings had been built on the lowest level; in fact, most buildings started at the second or third level up from the ground. Massive generators inhabited those lower places, powering this and other cities on the planet’s surface using exajoules of energy per second. The nearest ocean, shallow and polluted even in comparison to the galactic capital’s, was not even touted as a tourist destination.

Despite the industrial design of the capital city itself, the capital building was based off fancier and more vaunted models. Towering colonnades separated each floor, and its flat roof housed a botanical garden of some fame. Several small walls separated the glimmering capital building from the rabble of the city, but they had been maintained for show. The guards were more than able to handle intruders, and the aged walls would not have stopped the most inexperienced vandal.

Nafyan and his companions had been led from floor to floor of the capital building, apparently on some sort of tour. Despite Nafyan’s insistence that they skip the art galleries and lounges that dotted the interior, the guide was insistent that they view the entire house before meeting with the high lord. It was ridiculous – insulting, even – that Nafyan had to be subject to this, but the guide explained that it had to be done to expose Nafyan and the other Sith to Tapani culture.

After several hours of pointless touring, Nafyan and his allies were permitted into the high lord’s chambers. Like the rest of the building, this meeting place was unnecessarily extravagant to Nafyan. The Tapani were fond of relics, surrounding themselves with the statues of old regimes and the artifacts of their ancestors. This place was no different, and the throne itself was seemingly protected by two very decorative, towering statues of old Tapani emperors.

Several Herglic bodyguards stood at attention, watching over the high lord and his throne. Their hulking cetacean appearance did not inspire fear, although their armament of blaster rifles and vibroaxes compensated for their pacific appearance. They said nothing to the group of Sith as they approached the throne, letting them get within several meters before hindering their progress with a blockade of axes.

High Lord Tadeus II sat on his throne, watching his guests approach with great curiosity. He was decades Nafyan’s junior, trading the scars of age for a fair complexion. He had short blond hair and a trimmed goatee – the only sign of age on his face. A massive man, he seemed strong, but he was slightly overweight due to inactivity. His meaty fingers gripped the edge of his throne, as if he was prepared to leap from his perch into the midst of his guards.

“So, my guests finally arrive!” the high lord cried in a nasally voice. “I bid you welcome to Obulette, despite the fact I am surprised by your visit.”

One of the Herglic guards motioned for Nafyan and his associates to bow as the high lord stood up to approach them. Nafyan scoffed when some of the soldiers behind him – including Captain Isinn – did as they were instructed. Waving his left hand dismissively, Nafyan temporarily blinded the few hulking bodyguards around him, allowing him and his armored companion to step by without hindrance.

“Lord Tadeus, I come bearing ill news,” Nafyan spoke.

“I expect nothing else from you,” Tadeus mused, stepping closer to the group of Sith.

“The Sith Empire of Revan and Malak has fallen. The Sith are no more in this galaxy,” Nafyan announced plainly.

Tadeus was nearly face-to-face with Nafyan and his companion now. The hints of a smile appeared on his face when he replied: “So the Sith are no more. Why should this concern me? Tapani Space belongs to the Galactic Republic now. The Sith have no authority here.”

“The Mecrosa Assassins under your protection would disagree,” Nafyan countered. “Or have they sworn loyalty to the Jedi and their Republic since Malak’s fall?”

Tadeus prepared a response, but someone in the distance interrupted him. Approaching the throne from a room beyond, a diminutive Human male stumbled into the room with several datapads resting in his hands. The old man was nearly bald, and his grotesque face was practically devoid of Human features; scars and burns across his plump cheeks and broad forehead told stories of battles long since won.

Despite his apparent confusion, it was clear that this man was a respected member of Obulette’s military. He wore the same uniform of black and gold as the high lord himself, but he had more medals than the high lord and all the officers Nafyan had seen so far. A vibrosword rested at his side, and each step he took caused every commendation on his person to jingle in unison.

“Vice-Admiral Kvorkasir!” Captain Isinn saluted when she saw the newest arrival. “Is that really you, sir?”

The older man turned from Tadeus and glanced at Captain Isinn and the soldiers surrounding her. He seemed as surprised as she was. “Lieutenant Tasa Isinn of the Peerless?”

“Yes, yes sir!” she exclaimed. “Oh, but I am a captain now. Captain of the Asylum.”

“Ah, Commodore Essen’s old ship. Of course.” Kvorkasir stood at the high lord’s side, and it was apparent now just how short he actually was – barely half Nafyan’s height. “I hope she has been serving you well, Captain-”

“Admiral Kvorkasir, what do you want?” Tadeus interrupted with a hiss. “I am meeting with these… guests.”

The admiral bowed. “My apologies, High Lord Tadeus, but I have received initial reports from our… venture to Tallaan.”

“What of it?”

“We have been met by resistance, it seems. We need to construct more gunships or purchase them from Barong if we are to capture Tallaan soon,” Kvorkasir explained.

“Your fleet’s ineffectiveness is not important to me right now, Kvorkasir,” Tadeus replied. “Return to the war room and consult with your aides. I shall be with you soon.”

Kvorkasir nodded, saluted, and then left the high lord’s presence quicker than he had arrived. Captain Isinn and some of the other soldiers were still awestruck in silence. The fact that Admiral Kvorkasir, a sixty-five year military veteran, had survived Malak’s service and traveled here was unfathomable. He was a living legend. Every other high-ranking member of the Sith military hierarchy had been killed defending the Star Forge, where Malak had also met his end.

Nafyan noticed Isinn’s respect for the aged admiral, and he suspected that Kvorkasir would make a fine commander for a new Sith armada. Until that time, though, he did not care about the old man. He had more convince Tadeus to side with him first.

“Lord Tadeus, you seem to have issues within your own territory.” Nafyan ensured his tone was blatantly insulting. “Would you require assistance?”

“I need no assistance from you!” Tadeus snapped, turning his back on the Sith.

Nafyan began to move closer to the young nobleman, but he was stopped by several Herglic guards. “How many Mecrosa Assassins remain?” he asked.

“No more than fifty,” Tadeus replied after a great deal of hesitation.

“You are sure?”

“Yes.”

Nafyan was pleased by this development. As long as there were some Mecrosa Assassins left, they could train more. These shadowy killers, once subservient to the Sith, could be made into obedient followers yet again. He simply needed to goad the high lord into offering his assistance.

“Where are they now?” Nafyan pressed.

The high lord hesitated. When he did not respond, Nafyan used the moment of silence to step around his hulking guardsmen and approach the young leader. Staff in hand, the Sith stood at Tadeus’s side in what seemed to be reverent silence.

“Where are you hiding your assassins, Tadeus?” he finally asked.

“They’re here.”

“On Obulette?” Nafyan said with a hint of excitement.

The high lord nodded. “In the capital. We keep them here to protect them from the Republic.”

“Lord Tadeus, you are bold, but you lack the means to accomplish your goals. This much is certain.” Nafyan knew that the Force had influenced Kvorkasir’s approach, and his report was crucial to Nafyan’s success. Using the knowledge he had acquired to his advantage, he added: “The other nobles and your emperor will not approve of your imperialist agenda.”

“They do not have to approve; they have live with it!” Tadeus growled.

“Lord Tadeus, your house will crumble if you do not heed my advice.” The old man waved his hand as he said: “You will heed my advice.”

Nafyan took a risk employing the powers of the dark side on Tadeus. He knew that, if the young leader proved stronger-willed than he suspected, Tadeus would immediately reject anything else he had to say. Manipulation – mental and otherwise – was one of Nafyan’s most finely tuned skills, and he counted on his own willpower to exceed the naïve young nobleman’s.

Tadeus immediately showed signs of resistance: biting his lip, sweating, and running his fingers across his brow. However, he eventually agreed with Nafyan’s request. “You’re right. I should… I should definitely listen to what you have to say. So speak.”

“You must join with us. You have the shipyards and the assassins we need. We have the manpower and resources you need,” Nafyan explained. “Together, we can work with one purpose – a single fleet and a strong army – and crush our enemies.”

Nafyan placed his hand upon Tadeus’s shoulder, but the young man brushed it away. Much to Nafyan’s surprise, the high lord was proving to be quite resilient to his mental attacks. Separating himself from Nafyan again, Tadeus paced back and forth for a moment before returning his attention to the Sith.

“Lady Brezwalt, one of my powerful and honored predecessors, sided with you Sith. She experienced success at first, but the Republic’s might and the Jedi’s cunning proved too much. You abandoned us and left the Mecrosa Order to die,” he said.

“No, the remnants of Exar Kun’s Sith left you to die,” Nafyan noted. “It’s understandable. They lacked the leadership and the resources to concentrate on anything.”

“We were still left for dead.”

“No. Lord Preux saved your people as they died. The Mecrosa Order lives on through him…” Nafyan hesitated. The longer he spoke with the high lord, the more open his mind became. Bits of information and knowledge escaped his mind and entered Nafyan’s possession. “It lives on through you, Grandmaster Tadeus.”

The young man practically jumped. Eyeing Nafyan uncomfortably, he fled back to his throne. “I… I don’t use that title anymore!” he practically screeched. “I don’t lead them anymore.”

“Your mind betrays you, Lord Tadeus.” Nafyan chuckled. “For the leader of a group of dark side assassins, your mind is particularly unprotected.”

Admittedly, Nafyan had not expected the High Lord Tadeus to also be the leader of the remaining Mecrosa Assassins. The revelation, pried from the young nobleman’s open mind, only worked in Nafyan’s favor. Tadeus did not realize that his mind was already under Nafyan’s sway, as evident by the fact that he did not immediately expel the Sith from his presence.

“I told you, I rejected that title,” the high lord countered. “My father was killed on Korriban and the position was passed on to me.”

“So you are the rightful leader of your assassins – your people.”

“I want no part of my father’s or your Sith scheme! All I want is to strength the Mecetti.”

“Trust us, young Tadeus. We will make your house great, and you will learn to lead your assassins – personal agents and killers. You will be exposed to powers beyond your comprehension.”

As if to illustrate his point, Nafyan pointed behind him without looking. Suddenly, one of his own Sith troopers grasped at his neck, as though an unseen vice had clamped down. The sounds of his asphyxiation were unnecessarily amplified through his suit’s radio, and in a matter of seconds, he was dead. Despite his instant death, Isinn and her companions scrambled to resuscitate him in vain.

Nafyan’s eyes had remained fixed on Tadeus throughout his display. The high lord was horrified at first, wondering what drove the Sith to such insanity – to kill their own companions. He pondered this, saying nothing to Nafyan for some time. The high lord was hesitant to trust Nafyan even though the Sith was worming his way into his mind with his words and his dark side power. Layers of doubts fell as Nafyan was allowed to speak, and Tadeus’s mind was clear to him now.

“Very well,” Tadeus said at last. “I will join you and your forces, Sith.”

“Excellent.” Nafyan easily concealed the fact he was unsurprised. “We should get to work right away. Time is of the essence. We’ll need a leader for our new combined fleet, and we’ll have to appropriate funds and resources.”

“Admiral Kvorkasir has decades of experience, and he is the man we need to lead our fleet,” Tadeus recommended. He said everything Nafyan wanted him to say. “We don’t have many ships now, but we will begin construction immediately. I will have a report for you by the end of the year.”

“Then we will begin assisting you with your expansionary plans at that time,” Nafyan said.

The Sith had no plans to aid the high lord in his expansionary campaign throughout his sector, but it did not matter. Tadeus was under his control, and eventually he would forget his own goals. As long as Tadeus assisted the Sith with his resources and by providing him with assassins, Nafyan would say nothing.

The high lord left his throne and drifted toward Nafyan as though he was dazed. His resolve had been unraveled by Nafyan’s persuasion, and the Sith’s words were present in his mind. He thought he understood now what drove the Sith to do what they did. He and the Sith shared a common aspiration for power.

“Long live the Sith-Mecrosa Alliance,” decreed the high lord.

Nafyan nodded and let the high lord bow to him. At this point, Nafyan was merely humbling – or stupefying – the young nobleman’s guards. He had done all he needed to do here. Walking away from the genuflect leader, Nafyan joined his armored ally near the far end of the throne room.

The soldiers were still shaken by the death of their comrade, but Captain Isinn forced herself to fall in line with the two Sith. The soldiers left the midst of the Herglic guards and followed suit without a word.

“Sir, I just got a transmission from the Asylum,” Isinn spoke up as she approached Nafyan. “They want to know if we’re prepared to leave.”

“We are, Captain. Let them know that we are headed home,” Nafyan said.

“Will do, sir.”

“Nafyan,” the voice of the armored figure echoed beneath his helmet. “Are we returning already? Should we not take the Mecrosa Assassins with us?”

“No need, Lord Preux,” Nafyan replied. “Tadeus will have them prepared for us when we need them, and we don't want to risk losing them. Separating them from their master now could simply lead them to their deaths.”

“Very well.” Lord Preux ran his hand over his helmet. “Then that is all.”

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