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Thonnel nodded. His father, even in his old age and long-since retired from active duty, was enough to frighten the younger soldier. Retired Commodore Ateton Thonnel was a respected military man from a prestigious family. Raised on Coruscant and trained from a young age to be an officer in the military, he had known nothing beyond a life of disciple and protocol.
 
Thonnel nodded. His father, even in his old age and long-since retired from active duty, was enough to frighten the younger soldier. Retired Commodore Ateton Thonnel was a respected military man from a prestigious family. Raised on Coruscant and trained from a young age to be an officer in the military, he had known nothing beyond a life of disciple and protocol.
   
His son, Rajes, had decided to move against tradition of his ancestors: he joined the Army. His parents were pleased with their son’s decision—at least, at first. After Rajes had left for the academy on Carida, his family seemed to have changed its mind. He was sure they had learned of his failure to rise in the ranks until quite recently, and that must have displeased them even more. If he was not gaining respect and prestige, he was not doing justice to the Thonnel family name.
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His son, Rajes, had decided to move against tradition of his ancestors: he joined the Army. His parents were pleased with their son’s decision—at least, at first. After Rajes had left for the academy on Ord Carida, his family seemed to have changed its mind. He was sure they had learned of his failure to rise in the ranks until quite recently, and that must have displeased them even more. If he was not gaining respect and prestige, he was not doing justice to the Thonnel family name.
   
 
“Well, are you coming to visit?” Thonnel’s father asked rather coldly. “Or are you coming to Coruscant on military business?”
 
“Well, are you coming to visit?” Thonnel’s father asked rather coldly. “Or are you coming to Coruscant on military business?”

Latest revision as of 23:22, July 6, 2013

Chapter 1

“… Sir?”

Captain Rajes Thonnel stirred from a light sleep. Gripping the sides of his chair in alarm, he experienced a moment of confusion as he tried to refocus his waking eyes. Taking long breaths, it didn’t take long for him to calm himself and realize 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. He didn’t remember how he had fallen asleep in the first place. The Hammerhead-class cruiser’s bridge traded comfort for practicality, and every gunner station and console were within earshot of each other. It was wonderful for battle but terrible for sleep.

The Prodigy had picked up Thonnel and his company from Ord Biniir, one of the Galactic Republic’s few remaining garrisons beyond Ithor. Thonnel had been invited to spend the trip in prearranged quarters, 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, one of the ship’s officers, a young Mirialan who 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, but she made up for traditional honor with numerous medals and commendations. Per military regulations, she wore her dark hair under a red-and-yellow cap, matching the fleet officer’s uniform.

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

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

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

“Of course,” Thonnel replied with a groan. 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. Thonnel could tell from her carefree attitude that she probably had not experienced combat yet. She was vibrant, full of energy, and always eager to help around the ship. He smirked at the idea that he had once been exactly like that. He regretted the fact that his experiences had seized his optimism and cheerfulness.

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, and most of the halls were otherwise vacated. The few passengers and crew that meandered about the wide halls seemed to call back to Thonnel’s youth.

Lieutenant Eresh was practically racing through the ship. Thonnel kept pace with her as best as he could, but he simply could not match her youthful exuberance. Her boots clicked with each step she took, and she occasionally turned around to bid Thonnel to move faster. She had been Thonnel’s guide since he arrived on board, and this behavior was typical of her. In the overall military hierarchy, their ranks were more or less equal, but Eresh had no problem forcing him to exert himself despite the fact he was on leave.

By the time they had reached the comm room, Thonnel was out of breath. Panting, he clenched his stomach and tried to focus himself on Eresh and her conversation with the guard posted nearby. After she exchanged a few words with him, the somber guard opened the door to the comm room and waved Captain Thonnel inside.

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

Before Thonnel could protest, the Mirialan began the lengthy sprint back to the bridge. She was gone before he realized what was going on. Turning to the room with a sigh, Thonnel stepped into the communication room and asked the guard inside to wait with his partner outside. He silently complied and left Thonnel alone.

In the center of the room, the holographic projector displayed a life-sized hologram of an aged Human male. Wearing casual clothes, the figure seemed wholly unconcerned about this meeting—even his appearance did not concern him. The man was completely bald, and he had a thick, scraggly beard that had not been cut for some time. He was obese so most of his clothes did not fit anymore, and his comparatively emaciated arms seemed to dangle from his body. Staring at nothing in particular, the man’s wrinkles formed X’s across his face and gave him a strange expression that could only be called stern.

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

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

The captain’s gaze hit the floor. “No, sir, that was not my intention! I was merely surprised-”

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

“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? Is that what I taught you? To whimper in the face of your betters?”

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

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

Thonnel nodded. His father, even in his old age and long-since retired from active duty, was enough to frighten the younger soldier. Retired Commodore Ateton Thonnel was a respected military man from a prestigious family. Raised on Coruscant and trained from a young age to be an officer in the military, he had known nothing beyond a life of disciple and protocol.

His son, Rajes, had decided to move against tradition of his ancestors: he joined the Army. His parents were pleased with their son’s decision—at least, at first. After Rajes had left for the academy on Ord Carida, his family seemed to have changed its mind. He was sure they had learned of his failure to rise in the ranks until quite recently, and that must have displeased them even more. If he was not gaining respect and prestige, he was not doing justice to the Thonnel family name.

“Well, are you coming to visit?” Thonnel’s father asked rather coldly. “Or are you coming to Coruscant on military business?”

“I’ve received some time on leave. I’m planning on coming home and spending 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.”

Ateton Thonnel reached for an unseen switch and the holographic image faded into static. Alone in the comm room, Captain Thonnel lingered and dwelt on his thoughts. He had not been to Coruscant since he left for the academy, and he had forgotten just how much he had missed the galactic capital. The idea that he was returning at all—that he had survived the battles he had fought in—had not yet hit him. He was coming home at last.

His reflection was interrupted by Lieutenant Eresh’s sudden return. “We’re preparing to land on Coruscant, sir.” She walked into the room with a smile on her face. “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.

Surrounded by combat droids, the two warriors stood back-to-back to face their opponents. The combat droids were armed with various types of blaster rifles and ion repeaters, and their leader—if droids could have a leader—had a vibrosword in hand. The lead droid was obviously less threatening than the host of blaster-wielding droids, but its combat algorithms were more advanced than its counterparts and it had tactical analysis skills that its counterparts lacked.

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 the rest of his body remained meticulously still. Glancing about, he counted the number of droids in front of him. Eight. Only eight of them. That was good.

Behind him, his dark-skinned Human companion said nothing. Beads of sweat had accumulated around his forearms where he had rolled up the sleeves of his robe, but he was just as still as the Nautolan. The two warriors had the same blue robes, but the Human’s lined his body’s muscular physique better than the Nautolan’s. He could hear the Human breathe, harsh and uneven, over the whirring sound of the droids’ internal systems. It was now or never.

“Ready?” the Human asked in between breaths.

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

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

The Nautolan was the first to move. The mythical powers of the Force flowed in and around him; this permeable aura gave all Jedi their power, and the Nautolan was no exception. Waving his hand, the Force let him practically touch three of the droids mentally. Ripping them apart in his mind as if their chasses were made of cloth, his targets were bisected at the center, separating their torso from their legs. Beeps and whirrs sounded as their circuitry failed.

The remaining five droids in front of the Nautolan had raised their blasters to open fire. The Nautolan Jedi used the Force to lift the droids he had already destroyed and intercepted the other droids’ blaster fire. The floating metal superheated and melted, rendering it useless, but the Nautolan was safe.

Behind him, his companion disabled two of the droids he was facing by crushing their blaster rifles with the Force. The compounds within their weapons reacted violently and produced a mini-explosion that burned away at the limbs of their owners, rendering them useless. Before the other droids before him could fire, the Human rolled forward to close the distance between them. Four of them were repulsed with a burst of telekinetic energy strong enough to shatter their bodies. Shifting his body to face the remaining two droids, he hit one with a Force-imbued punch—making it stronger and faster than normal—and performed a dizzying spin-kick to disable the other.

The Human Jedi had destroyed all of his immediate opponents, leaving the Nautolan to deal with his own targets. Once his midair shields had been wasted, the Nautolan leapt behind his targets to avoid their blaster fire. Instead of tapping into the mystical power of the Force to destroy the confused droids, he decided to withdraw the cylindrical hilt resting at his side.

His lightsaber snap-hissed as it came to life. The luminescent viridian blade leapt out from the metal handle, skewering a droid standing nearby. The droids had barely turned around to deal with the Nautolan before they found themselves facing his lightsaber. The Nautolan flicked his wrist back and forth, pivoting his weapon around his torso to block the incoming blaster fire. One-by-one, the droids were struck by redirected blaster fire and shattered into dozens of metal pieces.

The Nautolan moved forward to engage the lead droid—the only one remaining. Although it had advanced combat algorithms for a droid, it could only match blows with a Jedi Knight for a few seconds. The Nautolan struck at the droid’s sword a few times, sending sparks to the floor each time they made contact. Spinning, the Jedi avoided a rather slow counterattack from the droid and found himself on its exposed left side. He used his new angle to cut the droid’s cumbersome hands from its joints, leaving it defenseless.

The droid chirped as it tried to organize a new plan of attack in its processors. The Nautolan turned to assist his Human companion, but all the droids on his side of the room had been destroyed. The Human Jedi threw his short cyan lightsaber at the incapacitated droid leader, severing its head. He caught his thrown weapon safely once it returned to him, and both Jedi deactivated their lightsabers.

Once the room was cleared of targets, an automated voice announced the time it took for them to defeat the droids and how many times the Jedi had been hit—in this case, neither of them had not been hit at all. Jedi engineers had set up this training session to be handled by three to five Jedi Knights, and the lead droid was meant to be defeated by at least two combatants. These two Jedi had run this exercise as new Jedi Knights nearly six years ago and failed spectacularly. They had not lost since.

“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 you may understand it, Syme,” the Nautolan said.

“Leaving a potential threat around to harm me or my friends?” Syme wiped the sweat from his brow. “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 droids rolled out from the maintenance corridors adjacent to the circular training room to clean up the mess the two Jedi had made. Other Jedi or civil servants had once been employed to clean the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, but the lack of Jedi meant droids took over most maintenance-related tasks. Gaiel and Syme hardly noticed the small group of droids scoop up the metal fragments that had once been training droids; their broken pieces would be recycled and used to build other droids.

The Jedi Order was in tatters. After Revan had defeated his former apprentice and friend, Darth Malak, in the last battle of the Jedi Civil War, he left the Jedi Order again. Venturing beyond Republic space, the prodigal knight traveled into the Unknown Regions by himself. The few hundred Jedi remaining found it difficult to rebuild. Too many lives had been lost. Too many relics and sources of knowledge were destroyed. Too many Jedi were disillusioned by the conflicts that had seemed to originate within the Order they pledged to serve.

The Jedi Order lacked a source of leadership. Revan was gone, and the Jedi Council had fragmented and was essentially nonexistent. Gaiel Remus and Syme Devor were two of the dozen Jedi that remained on Coruscant despite the disappearances and forsaken oaths of many Jedi. Councilor Northeus Ulsan was acting groundskeeper for the Jedi Order while the rest of the High Council was away, attending to secretive missions throughout the galaxy.

It was no surprise that the Jedi Order was, for all intents and purposes, defunct. Even the Galactic Senate refused to acknowledge it anymore. These few Jedi that were left simply refused to believe that the Jedi Order was gone.

Once Syme and Gaiel were sure that the droids had cleaned up the dueling room, they began to leave. On his way out of the chambers, Gaiel was suddenly overcome by immense pain. His mind clouded and vision became difficult, creating a feeling of intense vertigo. Gaiel clenched his chest and realized that this immense disturbance in the Force could only mean that the dark side was present—here, on Coruscant. He had not sensed it during his training exercise, but it was painfully obvious now.

“What’s the matter?” Syme turned to face Gaiel when he realized that his friend had practically fallen over.

A shadowy figure dropped from the roof just outside the training room, mere centimeters from Syme’s position. The intruder was clothed in black robes that befitted a martial artist and wore a face-covering breath mask with bright red photoreceptors. His breathing was abnormally loud and sporadic; it sounded like deathly wheezing underneath his mask. Withdrawing a force pike, he swung his metal weapon at the inattentive Human Jedi Knight.

Gaiel cried out to Syme, and the Human Jedi ducked just in time to avoid getting his head lopped off by the pike’s vibrating blades. Rolling out of the way, Syme separated himself from his attacker. The two Jedi Knights activated their lightsabers and waited for the intruder to move in. They did not know who he was, but his malicious intent permeated from his being and the dark side was strong in him.

Instead of advancing on the two Jedi, the intruder fell back into the wide halls of the Jedi Temple. Gaiel turned to Syme and gave him a look that warned him to be careful. Syme nodded and slowly moved forward to pursue the shadowy intruder. Leaving the safety of the training room, the two Jedi saw their opponent immediately, standing between two pillars opposite of them. Syme rushed forward in spite of Gaiel’s warning, leaving the Nautolan behind.

While Syme dueled with the intruder, Gaiel stood back, slowly circling around Syme’s opponent to strike him from behind. A pain in his chest alerted him to something amiss, and Gaiel paused for a moment. Beyond the sound of Syme’s lightsaber clashing with the dark intruder’s pike, he heard the sound of several footsteps closing in on him. Strange, he thought. Are they really…?

Activating his viridian lightsaber, Gaiel spun his weapon in a circle around him, blocking two incoming strikes that he had not been able to see. Suddenly empowered by the Force, Gaiel could make out the vague shapes of attackers—dressed exactly like the first intruder Syme was fighting—who hid themselves with cloaking technology. Even without the Force, their bodies were just barely visible when they moved, allowing Gaiel to see them whenever they decided to attack.

The Nautolan Jedi blocked the next few attacks from his invisible opponents, keeping his weapon close and performing steady blocks. His weapon seemed like a luminescent wall, deflecting the vibrating blades coming at him with a repetitive ease. His opponents’ strengths seemed to fluctuate depending on how close they were to him; in fact, they seemed to get stronger when they moved closer to him.

Gaiel was a patient defender, and he didn’t have a problem with biding his time. Once one of his attackers made a mistake, he would recognize it immediately. Sure enough, after a three-step attack that ended with an attempt to cut off Gaiel’s head, the attacker on Gaiel’s right dropped his guard unintentionally. Jumping overhead to avoid an attack coming at him from behind, Gaiel landed at the attacker’s side and chopped off his weapon arm.

The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as the one-armed assailant deactivated his cloak and gripped the stump left behind in pain. His force pike hit the floor near his feet, cutting off a few of his toes as well. Gaiel kicked the assailant and sent him to the floor so he could concentrate on the other opponent. When the other intruder moved in to attack the Jedi Knight, Gaiel used the Force to call on his companion’s dropped force pike and threw it into his chest. The weapon caused a gory mess of the intruder’s innards and Gaiel winced when he heard the gurgling sound rise up from behind his opponent’s mask.

Despite Gaiel’s attack, the skewered intruder rose to his feet, ready to continue the battle. The Jedi Knight was visibly shocked; the fact he could still stand with the vibrating weapon in his chest was practically impossible. However, before the assailant could attack, Syme—who had already defeated his sole opponent—moved in and lobbed off the wounded intruder’s head with his lightsaber. Gaiel had felt the intruder’s connection with the Force fluctuate when Syme approached, and it happened again when the muscular Human Jedi killed the one-armed intruder on the ground.

The two Jedi reached into the Force, scanning their surroundings. The dark side of the Force surrounded the Jedi Temple, drowning it in a miry shadow. What had once been a place of the light and meditative harmony was now surrounded in confusion and evil. They seemed to be safe for now, but they would not be able to rest for long.

Syme wiped some sweat from his face with his sleeve. “Who were they?”

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

“The dark side was strong in them, but at the same time, they felt… different.” Syme’s eyes traveled between their surroundings and the bodies. “As though they struggled to establish an actual connection with the Force.”

“You felt it too, then?” Gaiel asked.

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

“We have to be careful. We don’t know how many of them could be in the temple, but it seems there are a lot of them. We have to alert the others; we are all in danger.”

“Help! Help me!” a voice rose up from the halls.

As if on cue, a young Bothan Jedi Knight ran toward Gaiel and Syme. His own green lightsaber was activated, but he wasn’t fighting. Panting and gasping, he continued to call out to the other two Jedi Knights even as his legs gave way and he fell to the ground in exhaustion. His pursuers—invisible to the naked eye—switched off their cloaking devices once he collapsed, revealing 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. “Get up! Doreva!”

The Bothan Jedi could not acknowledge Gaiel. Since he couldn’t move, the other two Jedi Knights moved in to protect him. Racing forward to intercept the incoming assailants, Gaiel and Syme each attacked an assassin, keeping them away from the tired Doreva. Both Jedi remained on the offensive, battering at the assassins’ defenses with powerful overhead swings and quick repeated strikes.

Doreva struggled to his feet while the two Jedi Knight were defending him. His feet were weak at first, but he was unharmed. The Bothan fumbled with his weapon and his breathing was still labored, but he managed to calm himself by letting the Force flow through him. Gaiel was the first to notice that Doreva had recovered. He was having trouble defeating his opponent, finding no way to penetrate his defense. Calling on Doreva, Gaiel waited for the Bothan Jedi to approach. Once he was sure his fellow Jedi Knight was close enough to help him, Gaiel locked blades with his target yet again, eliciting a hiss from his lightsaber. Doreva moved in and attacked the intruder’s exposed side, cutting through robes and flesh. His target gasped—practically inhuman under the mask—in pain before Doreva cut off his head.

Syme had managed to defeat his opponent, catching him off guard and bisecting him. Once they were sure their opponents were dead, Gaiel and Syme turned to Doreva, but they kept their lightsabers activated this time.

“Are you all right, Doreva? Are you hurt?” Gaiel asked.

“No… thank you. You two saved my life.” Doreva cracked the hint of a smile. “I was sure I was going to die.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Syme said dismissively. “What’s going on here?”

“I… I don’t know.” Doreva was still out of breath from running and fighting. “I was studying in the gardens when I was attacked by those… those enemies. They killed 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. Before he could continue, Gaiel left the other two Jedi and ran toward the railing to get a glimpse at the ground floor below. As Doreva said, about nine Jedi were fighting amidst the pillars in the massive hallway on the ground floor. The great hall connected the entrance of the temple to the rest of the building; a few assassins had bypassed them, but the Jedi below were holding the rest back. They were not even surrounded—they were overrun by a multitude of the same assassins Gaiel and Syme had fought. Their blue, green, yellow, and violet sabers were both the beacons of hope and the last swords of the Jedi. Most of these dark-siders attacked with familiar force pikes, but a few used red lightsabers that stood out in the crowd of shining Jedi blades and dull metal pikes. A chill raced down Gaiel’s spine. These 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 to those defenders below.”

“We may be able to hold off the Sith until you reach him,” Gaiel added.

“Yes, sirs!” Doreva said.

“Go, Doreva!” Gaiel snapped.

The Bothan turned and sprinted toward the High Council chambers, lightsaber in hand. Gaiel smiled and noted that he was probably going to hurt himself. He was still a young Jedi, and he had lost his master in the attack on the Dantooine Jedi Enclave nearly five years ago. Almost out of pity, the Jedi Council promoted him to knighthood. Gaiel feared that the young Jedi was not prepared for the trials to come.

Syme jumped onto the railing and then down to the ground floor with a powerful Force-empowered jump. He was eager to battle—he always was. Gaiel glanced toward the Jedi Council chambers one last time, hoping that Master Ulsan would be able to help them. He almost had to pull himself toward the railing. With some hesitation, he too leapt down into the battle below, preparing the Force to slow his descent.

The Force save us.


Chapter 2

The Force provided sustenance to all life. From the tiniest microbe to the largest planet, from the weakest beast to the greatest leader, all things depended on the Force. It surrounded everything, yet it was also within everything. It was everywhere, yet no one quite understood it. It was energy, but it was so much more than that. Its will bound the galaxy together, keeping all things in synchronized motion.

In its benevolence, the Force allowed those that sought it out to attain hints of its incomprehensible power. But to reach this state of understanding, a sentient had to meditate and control himself. He had to realize that he was part of a much larger world—a grander existence—than himself. Only then would he be able to tap into the Force. That was why the first tenant of the Jedi Code read: 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 around on invisible paths. He was present in the galaxy, peering into 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 light 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 his crude matter, the Jedi Master could see across time and space to experience events that 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 until 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—a shapeless monstrosity—howled as its gluttonous fervor dimmed the lights of space, 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; everywhere it went, the stars became 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 harrowing darkness it had been. 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. His spirit violently returned to reality, causing his entire body to spasm in pain. He found himself overwhelmed by the dark side of the Force before he could recover his eyesight. He was dazed, and he could not identify where he was or why the dark side was so strong.

The world around him slowly returned, revealing the domed room he was sitting in. The transparisteel walls allowed for the morning light to stream into the chambers, washing it in a bright orange glow. Vacated seats of former or missing Jedi Councilors surrounded him, and at the center of the chamber stood a stone pillar meant to represent unity. It had been pierced by a lightsaber in a trial long ago, leaving a permanent reminder of the Jedi who had been tried and exiled during it.

Doreva’s scruffy appearance faded into view. The young Bothan Jedi Knight was clothed in red robes and an auburn vest. He was the epitome of what would have been a new generation of Jedi Knights: eager, devoted, and strong in the Force. His dark 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 he was resting his hands on his knees.

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

“The Sith… the Sith are attacking!”

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

Doreva gasped and attempted to talk, but his voice faltered.

“Speak, Doreva!” Northeus demanded.

“Most of them are… 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 received and realized that he might know who the angel was. The angel from the peaceful planet. “We…”

“Master?” Doreva asked.

“Who is leading the defense?”

“Gaiel Remus and Syme Devor went to assist Yrai Nakelo. You are the only Jedi Master among us, Master. 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.

*** ***

Raen Benax listened to the hum of his magseal cell. Designed to keep both normal prisoners and Force-sensitives imprisoned, the magseal lock was infamous for its maddening hum. Admittedly, Raen had nearly lost his mind after hearing nothing but that sound for the first few weeks of his sentence, but after five years, it was almost comforting. It had never quite become ambient noise, but it was something to look forward to in its familiarity after a long night’s sleep.

Five years ago, Raen Benax had been sentenced to life in prison for killing Jedi Master Tor’chal on Alderaan. Jedi did not kill their prisoners; Raen wished they had. Nevertheless, the Jedi Council had given their judgment, and Raen submitted to it passively. He could not 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 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. All of his training on Ambria with the Jedi was useless, then, while he was alone. Despite his hopes, no one came to visit him, and the only interaction he received was a mute droid that delivered his meals. The dark side clouded his mind and eventually drove him to such depravity that he tried to destroy his cell with no success.

He had lost track of time. Everything looked the same from his dark cell. He stopped hoping to see anyone ever again. Left alone to his thoughts, he stared at the purple glow of the magnetically sealed containment field for months. His imagination failed him sometime thereafter. Images of people he had known—family, friends, random strangers—began to blur in his mind and eventually disappeared altogether. Demons without shape began to cry out to him in the stillness of the day and the haunting hours of the night. Sleep brought no comfort, and he was awakened by constant nightmares.

He was probably days away from losing his mind entirely when Gaiel Remus came to see him. It was the happiest he had ever been; to see another sentient after so long drove Raen to tears. Gaiel pitied him and spent hours talking about nothing at all, relieving the burden of loneliness from Raen’s mind. Before he left, he gave Raen a small satchel to hold onto and use during his imprisonment. To his surprise, Raen opened the bag and found various rune-covered stones within; they had been used to train his telekinesis while he was a Sith on Alderaan, and they had been recovered after the battle there.

It was not long before other Jedi visited 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 at peak physical condition, allowing him to leave his cage for brief intervals to train with a vibrosword and practice with the Force beyond simple telekinesis. For every week thereafter, Raen received regular visits from either of the two Jedi.

What’s more, Raen Benax found 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. 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 dialog—about the Jedi, the Force, meals, or anything at all—as long as the Ghoul was willing to.

A particular topic of interest between the two was the nature of the Ghoul’s capture and eventual imprisonment. He confessed to Raen that he had been a mass-murder, but only after Raen told him that he had been sent to prison for killing a Jedi Master. The Ghoul’s story changed several times, but Raen eventually managed to learn that he had been captured by a Jedi mistress and a shadowy assassin on Humbarine. The Ghoul hated them both, but he could only remember their faces, not their names.

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 was just not the same. He began to miss the Jedi. Their company and training had given him something to do aside from wasting away in his cell. Unlike before, he hoped 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, causing light to flood the darkened chamber. Jedi Master Northeus Ulsan stepped inside looking pallid and worried. Raen grimly noticed that Northeus had aged significantly since he had first seen him on Ambria many years ago; his long 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, Raen could not see his lightsabers anywhere.

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

“Yes, yes I am. It’s good to see you, Northeus.” Raen had already noticed that the Jedi Master looked a bit pale, and as he approached, he noticed his hand was on his chest—a nervous habit of his 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 plan on killing me when that magseal goes down-”

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

“No, that’s fine. Please let me out.”

Northeus nodded and flipped the switch on a device he had been carrying on his sash. The device served as controls for the individual cells in this block, and Raen felt tears swell up when the magseal went down. His ears rang, as though they missed the bitter hum of the cage. Rising to his feet, he raced out of the cell in case Northeus changed his mind. The Jedi Master withdrew a virbrosword and handed it to the ecstatic Force-sensitive.

“You’ll need that,” Northeus noted.

Raen swung the weapon several times. He was glad for the training he had received during his sentence, but at the same time, the weapon was still awkward in his grip. It felt heavier than it should have, and the steady vibration of its blade seemed to rattle his hand. Northeus offered him another vibrosword, and Raen took it as well. He had not fought with two weapons at once since he escaped from Alderaan as a young Sith; it would take time to get used to fighting again.

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

Raen still could not believe he was about to leave. Putting the two weapons in the belt on his gray jumpsuit, he followed the Jedi Master toward the stairs that led to the rest of the temple. His legs seemed to get weaker as he left, as though his body wanted to draw him back to the cell. But he would not go back; he was never going to go back again. Smiling, he felt the full power of the Force return to him, and he telekinetically snatched the satchel with his training runes from his cell.

He was nearly out of the penitentiary when he said: “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.”

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

The Jedi Master paused for a moment. It was obvious to both of them that there was no time to argue about this.

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

Pressing another button on his set of controls, Northeus waited on the last step and watched the other active magseal go down. From inside that cell, a Givin stumbled out, wearing nothing but a ragged smock and soiled trousers—the last vestiges of what had once been a jumpsuit like Raen’s. His face looked very much like a Human skull, and his emaciated appearance was apparently natural for his species, so it was hard to tell just how much pain he was in. His legs failed him; unlike Raen, he had been restricted to his cell since he was imprisoned. Groping the metal floor and muttering to himself, he crawled along the ground to the 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 psychotic murderer,” Northeus replied coolly. “We do not want your generosity in any form. You follow our instructions, and you will be allowed to live. Do you understand?”

The Ghoul nodded.

“What should we call you?” Raen asked.

“Ghoul… Ghoul will do fine. I never… I have no other names.”

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

The three Force-sensitives left the cells behind, much to the delight of the two prisoners following the Jedi Master. Raen helped the Ghoul to his feet, supporting him for a few meters until he could stand on his own. The Ghoul could not stop muttering to himself; it was nonsense to Raen, but it unnerved him. Seeing the Ghoul for the first time, he wondered just how terrible he himself looked. He probably had an unkempt beard and ghostly skin from his time in prison. Raen chuckled. He would do his best to look presentable once they escaped.

They had hardly left the prison ward when they were confronted by two Sith assassins. The first leapt out from behind a pillar, striking the Ghoul with his force pike. Raen cursed as the Ghoul stumbled over him, and then both of them fell to the ground.

Northeus noticed what was happening and used the Force to put both of the assassins in a stasis field. Raen rolled forward to get himself back on his feet. Sadly, the Jedi Master’s stasis lasted for only a few seconds, and the two assassins were freed from their paralysis. One of them moved to engage Northeus while the other decided to attack Raen.

Withdrawing his swords, Raen managed to block the first attack, but he was still not used to actual combat. He awkwardly repositioned his swords, blocking each attack as it came toward him. The vibrating blades produced a stream of sparks each time they clashed, and Raen’s footing barely managed to withstand each blow. He turned to ask Northeus for help, but several other Sith assassins had arrived to attack the Jedi Master. Raen had to handle this one alone.

Keeping his blades in an X-shaped defense, Raen had to use both of his weapons at once to block the assassin’s strikes. His ears rang with each successive attack, coming closer and closer to his head. He knew that alone, he would be unable to defeat this assassin; he couldn’t even go on the offensive.

A backhand strike from the assassin sent Raen tumbling to the floor, and he lost one of his vibroswords in the descent. The assassin was pleased that his opponent was now at his mercy, and he plunged his weapon toward Raen’s chest. Raen winced and averted his head, silently cursing himself for dying so soon after he had gained his freedom. Before the killer could land his blow, he was impaled from behind by a cyan lightsaber. A vicious screech sounded beneath his mask before his body plummeted to the floor nearby.

Luckily for Raen, Syme, Gaiel, and Doreva arrived to save him and Northeus from the Sith assassins. The Jedi Master did not need any assistance; he had defeated his last attacker by the time the Jedi Knights arrived. Raen was still on the ground—bewildered—and without one of his weapons. The four Jedi surrounded Raen and the Ghoul without a word, forming a protective circle around the pair.

“Are you okay, Raen?” Gaiel asked when they realized there were no more assassins.

“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. The Bothan is Doreva Thrine. They’re both Jedi Knights, so they know what they’re doing.”

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

“Is the Ghoul still alive?” Northeus asked, admittedly not concerned at all.

Doreva attempted to find the Ghoul’s pulse, but it was proving difficult. His exoskeleton made any attempts to locate it harder than necessary. In his frustration, the Bothan let out a few choice words that Northeus glared at him for. All the Jedi deactivated their lightsabers while Gaiel moved closer to aid the younger Jedi. Suddenly, the Ghoul recovered his strength and sat upright, much to the alarm of Doreva.

“More Jedi?” the Ghoul asked with a sigh.

“How did you survive that attack?” Doreva asked. “That force pike would have ripped anyone else in two! And that’s ignoring any potential 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 wasting time here,” Northeus mused. “We need to go, now. Get the Ghoul to his feet.”

Doreva helped the Ghoul stand up. Raen was already on his feet and had recovered his vibrosword. Syme scouted the hall ahead of them while Gaiel used the Force to scan for any invisible enemies. Once they were sure that the path they intended to take was clear, Northeus and Gaiel led the way back to the Council chambers.

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

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

“Leaving?” Gaiel repeated. “What does that mean?”

“It means that the Sith have won this day. We have more important objectives than holding onto the temple here,” Northeus explained.

“More important than keeping our sanctum secure? Like what?”

“All in due time, Gaiel.” Northeus glanced around a corner to ensure that there were no enemies in the next hall. “For now, see if you can contact Yrai. Find out how the defense is going.”

“Of course, Master.”

*** ***

“Yrai? Yrai? Are you there? Please respond!”

A voice crackled through the comlink on the ground. It belonged to another surviving Jedi, no doubt. It was impossible to trace the signal, just as it was impossible to determine who Yrai was.

The Council chambers were once a place of hallowed meditation and counsel; therefore, it was not surprising that the Jedi would choose to defend this place. After falling back from the grand hall, the Sith assassins poured into the Temple itself and followed the survivors here.

Led by several bold Jedi Knights, the defenders managed to keep the assassins out of the Council chambers for several minutes. However, there were only eight of them, and it was likely that a few of them were simply trainees—Padawans, they were called. Upon the arrival of Darth Sion, the Dark Lord of Pain, and his elite assassins, the Jedi Knights were doomed. The boldest ones fell first.

By the time Darth Sion reached the center of the Council chambers, all the Jedi defending it were dead. Their bodies found rest near the center of the room surrounding a damaged pillar. That pillar had been erected some time ago, but one of the Sith assassins had chopped it down with his lightsaber to crush one of the petite Jedi who fought nearby.

In his rage, Darth Sion had destroyed chairs, severed bodies, and almost killed several of his own allies. The bodies that littered the ground were testament to his ferocity. He had not deactivated his blood-red lightsaber, finding himself fascinated by its subtle glow.

“Can you identify which one was known as Yrai?” the Sith Lord’s gravelly voice asked his subordinates.

“Unlikely, sir,” one of them hissed. “Their bodies are too mutilated. However, it would be logical to conclude that they are searching for their fallen comrades. They should be here soon.”

Darth Sion stomped the head of one of his defeated assassins. It had taken nearly a dozen Sith assassins to capture this room, and only four of his best killers remained. All of them carried lightsabers as he did; none of them dared to use the Force in his presence. Of course, it was difficult for these specially bred and trained assassins to use the Force anyway. Thus was the way of the Sith Triumvirate.

This was the end of their shadowy crusade against the Jedi. Darth Sion had led the purge, fueled by his immense hatred for the Jedi and their pathetic light. Unlike the other members of the Sith Order, he took to the front lines with the shadowy assassins of Malachor V—the academy and base of the Triumvirate. Traveling from the farthest reaches of Sith space and making his way to the Core, Darth Sion finally arrived at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

“Let them come, then,” Darth Sion growled. “The Jedi—all Jedi—will fall today, by my hand. Prepare yourselves for battle.”


Chapter 3

The Jedi, led by Northeus and Gaiel, had received no word from Yrai, and Syme suspected that their companions had fallen. However, Gaiel and Doreva insisted that the defenders had strength in numbers and had already succeeded in defending themselves against dozens of Sith assassins. A few more were not going to defeat them.

No one commented on the suspicious lack of Sith assassins. It was a blessing, and no one dared to suggest anything that might make a group of the wily intruders appear. In fact, Raen hardly even noticed the lack of enemies. He was far more concerned with the scarcity of Jedi. There were once many Jedi wandering the halls, and he specifically remembered walking through crowds of Jedi on the way to his trial. Where were they now? he wondered.

As the group approached the Council chambers, the Force-sensitives became increasingly fatigued. The dark side became stronger as they approached, and the disgusting feeling was enough to worry even the Jedi Master. Everything was quiet—too quiet, if there were Jedi defenders in the Council chambers—and not even the sound of Coruscanti sky traffic could be heard from their position. Something was amiss.

Upon turning the corner, the team of Jedi realized the reason for the silence. A group of Sith was waiting for the incoming Jedi in the room where the High Council once delegated. All eight Jedi led by Yrai Nakelo were dead upon the floor. Four Sith assassins carrying crimson Sith lightsabers stood over them, obviously pleased by their latest kills. However, everything in the room seemed to gravitate toward their Sith Master, a frightening Dark Lord who propped one foot upon the great pillar that had stood in the room’s center.

This Sith Master was a walking corpse. He had no hair and his body seemed to be 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 not conceal the immense pain his body endured. He reeked of burnt tissue and blood. The expression on his face was lifeless; he looked like he was about to die at any moment. Only his eyes spoke to them, and they were filled with rage and hatred.

Raising his lightsaber, the Sith Master motioned for his men to attack the new arrivals. The four Sith assassins picked their targets wordlessly and rushed forward. As they moved in to fight, the Jedi activated their lightsabers, and the Ghoul fled behind one of the overturned councilors’ chairs. While the Sith assassins attacked the Jedi Knights, their dark master attacked Northeus, correctly sensing that the Jedi Master was the strongest prey.

Raen managed to withdraw his weapons just in time to face the Sith assassin who attacked him. The red blade rushed by his brow, narrowly missing his face. Raen blocked the next attack with his left vibrosword, and then the next with his right. The Sith assassin’s lightsaber danced around his face, eagerly trying to break through his defenses and score a critical blow.

The Sith assassin was skilled. His strikes were fluid and intertwined, keeping himself protected while pummeling Raen’s defenses. To make matters worse, Raen was tired and the dark side was actively weakening him. It was a strange experience; the young Alderaanian tended to draw upon the dark side. Now, movement was sluggish and practically impossible. Alternating between one blade and another, Raen began to back away from his opponent. The red lightsaber hissed each time it clashed with his vibroswords, and Raen could hear the other lightsabers clashing around him. Unbeknown to him, he backed himself into a corner as he retreated from the assassin. With a strong kick, the Sith assassin sent Raen spiraling into the wall behind him.

Raen heard the eerie hum of a lightsaber near him, but it had not stabbed him—he was still alive. To his surprise, the Ghoul had leapt out from his hiding place and jumped onto the Sith assassin, causing the dark-sider to stumble with his lightsaber. While the assassin tried to remove the Ghoul from his back, the Ghoul used a broken piece of transparisteel he had retrieved and stabbed his target in the back of the neck. Crimson blood gushed from the wound, staining the floor. The Ghoul jumped off the Sith assassin’s back and watched him die before helping Raen recover his footing.

The Ghoul silently acknowledged Raen’s safety. Dropping his transparisteel shard, he searched the Sith assassin’s body and found a vibroblade. Taking this new weapon, the Ghoul moved to help Doreva fight off his opponent. Raen took a moment to recover his bearings, still confused and surprised that the Ghoul had helped him. Wiping his brow of sweat, Raen recovered his vibroswords and moved in to help Gaiel.

Gaiel noticed Raen’s approach and smiled. Blocking a few rather close blows from the Sith assassin, he leapt backward and goaded the Sith assassin to close the distance between them. The assassin took the bait, rushing forward in spite of Gaiel’s potential threat. A Force push sent the assassin flying backward, tumbling into Raen’s swords. Skewered like an animal caught in a trap, the Sith assassin gasped aloud as he expired.

In the distance, Syme had killed his foe about the same time the Ghoul had killed Raen’s target. Sweat stained his face and his robes, and his legs shook trying to keep him standing. He stood over his felled opponent for a moment before directing his cyan short lightsaber against the Sith Master fighting Northeus.

Before Raen and the others could aid Northeus and Syme in their battle against the seemingly undead Sith Master, Northeus cut at his forearm and managed to disarm him. The Sith Master let out what seemed to be a guttural shout and ignored the wound, pulling his dropped lightsaber into his other hand. Northeus pivoted left to avoid a follow-up strike from the vengeful Sith and used both of his silver lightsabers to cut off that hand as well. The Sith performed a drop kick that sent the Jedi Master backward, but Syme cut the defenseless Sith in half before he could stand up.

Gaiel helped Northeus to his feet while Syme collapsed, his cybernetic leg giving way after so much strain. Doreva had just barely managed to defeat his own opponent with the Ghoul’s help, but the Givin murderer had sustained a slight injury to the hand in the process. Doreva sat near the entrance and groomed his knotted, sweaty fur while the Ghoul tended to his wound. The odor of death wafted throughout the room, but the group of Force-sensitives endured it, lingering in the Council chambers to rest.

“That was difficult…” Doreva said at last, panting. “I didn’t think… they took out eight Jedi…”

Raen wiped some sweat from his brow. “We barely survived.”

“The other Jedi were probably more tired than we are, and they still managed to weaken our foes. Yrai’s group was split between Padawans and Knights; we had mostly Knights and a Jedi Master with us.” Syme sighed. “We were lucky.”

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

“Of course, Master,” Syme replied.

“What… what do we do now?” Doreva asked.

“There are still assassins lingering the halls, and it’s not safe here anymore,” Gaiel agreed.

“To the hangars, then?” Syme asked.

“That’s the only reasonable course of action,” Northeus spoke up. “Let’s go.”

The company of Force-sensitives struggled to their feet. Once they had all recovered and ensured that they were not in need of immediate medical treatment, they left the Council chambers and dared not look back. All of them were tired, but no one said anything or complained. Even Syme, whose durasteel leg was not functioning properly, refused aid from the others. Raen panted and wheezed with each step he took, clenching his side in pain. A vicious cramp in his side slowed him down even as the rest of the Jedi practically sprinted on their way to the hangar.

At first, Gaiel led the way, but eventually Northeus took over the job of directing the company. As Gaiel noted, there were still Sith assassins around, but most of them were situated in small groups. These small two- or three-man groups were easily dispatched by the larger group of Force-sensitives, and they continued relatively undeterred. Traveling through the abandoned Jedi Temple was both eerie and sickening; a few Jedi corpses dotted the floors from earlier combat.

The group of Force-users finally reached the hangars after descending several flights of stairs. Finding it unguarded and sensing no Sith assassins, they approached the hangar to find its massive blast doors sealed shut. Doreva hit the reinforced durasteel doors with a cry of dismay while the other Jedi took a moment to rest. There were no Sith assassins, and they were grateful for that, but they were still 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 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 noted.

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

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

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

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

“Let me go with you, then,” Syme spoke up. “It’s too dangerous to go alone.”

“A single Jedi has a better chance of avoiding the assassins than a group, Syme, even a group of two.” Gaiel 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 and sprinted away from them in a flash. The rest of the group was forced to linger around the hangar’s entrance, anxious that a group of Sith assassins could be anywhere. Syme, in particular, was agitated and unable to keep still. He paced back and forth, his metal leg groaning with each step he took. He occasionally muttered profanities or activated his lightsaber; an equally nervous Doreva begged him to stop, but Syme paid him no mind. Raen glanced down the halls to the left and right every few seconds, expecting to see a group of Sith assassins pop out of the shadows.

Northeus was more peaceable than the other Jedi. The Jedi Master seized the vibroblade the Ghoul had acquired before drifting into a meditative trance. The stillness was relaxing to him, enabling him to tap into the Force, but it worried the rest of his companions. Time passed far too slowly; nothing seemed to happen aside from Syme’s restless wanderings. No one wanted to assume that Gaiel had fallen, but at the same time, he had been gone a long time.

Raen was the first to see the squad of four Sith assassins wandering toward the hangar. Northeus moved first, jumping to his feet and hurtling a bit of rubble at the four incoming dark-siders. The rubble crushed one of the Sith assassins, leaving the last three to fight the Jedi Knights. Doreva and Syme closed the distance between the two groups, striking at the Sith assassins’ force pikes. Northeus joined Syme while the Ghoul retreated from the battle entirely.

The last Sith assassin tried to stab Doreva in the back with his force pike, but Raen tackled the Sith assassin, saving Doreva’s life and causing the dark-sider to drop his weapon. Noticing he was defenseless, the assassin punched Raen in the face. Raen felt something in his nose shatter. Licking his lips, he tasted the metallic tang of blood before being punched again, nearly knocking him unconscious. The Sith assassin rolled over, forcing himself on top of Raen. Unable to defend himself, Raen endured a flurry of punches from the vicious assassin.

The hangar doors whisked open behind the brawlers. Raen didn’t notice at first, still trying to free his arms from underneath the assassin’s legs. Each time the Sith assassin’s fists came down, more stars flooded his vision. Blood covered his face, staining his beard and wetting his lips. Glancing behind him, he saw the interior of the Jedi hangar. A smile formed on his lips when he realized that Gaiel was still alive.

Raen struggled underneath the Sith assassin, eventually kicking the attacker off of him. Before the Sith assassin could recover his footing, Syme—who had already killed his target—used the Force to push the assassin away from Raen. The Alderaanian recovered his footing while Doreva stabbed the unarmed Sith assassin who had been attacking Raen. Once he was dead, Raen and his companions were alone again.

“Thank you, Syme,” Raen said.

“Of course.”

“The doors opened!” Doreva realized.

“When did that happen?” Syme asked. “Did anyone see them open?”

“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. None of the combatants had seen the Ghoul enter the hangar or board one of the Star Sabers. While the others had been distracted, the Givin had used the confusion to flee from his Jedi captors and commandeer a fighter for himself. The remaining Jedi rushed inside the hangar to catch a glimpse of his ship as it left the newly opened hangar into 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.

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 isn’t large enough to carry anyone—even if we cram them inside!”

“We’ll think of something, don’t worry. Our first priority is to make sure those ships work,” Northeus noted.

The two Jedi Knights acknowledged Northeus’s orders, rushing to the nearest ships and starting their engines. Raen stayed near the entrance, glancing back and forth in search of Gaiel. He had yet to return, and Raen was worried that he wouldn’t make it back safely. Northeus had stepped inside to start one of the Stingers, but he noticed Raen lingering near the entrance 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 was visibly shocked. “What are you talking about?”

“We only have enough ships for four people. 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 compartments or use one of the salvaged vehicles. 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, or else none of us are leaving. Come on, Raen.”

Raen glanced back and forth again. He had only just escaped his cell, and he wished he was back inside. Fighting Sith assassins was not easy, and he was so outmatched by them that he was only a hindrance to the group. If Gaiel was still alive—he had to be—and on his way back, he would have to escape. Raen and the Ghoul were just brought along for strength in numbers. The fact that the Ghoul escaped at all was an oversight.

However, Northeus seemed to insist otherwise. Despite Raen’s better judgment, he silently acquiesced to the Jedi Master’s request and entered the hangar. It was spacious, but it hardly had any working starfighters. Picking out the last of the four remaining fighters with hyperdrives, Raen entered the Stinger fighter and started it up. It was fairly straightforward even though Raen had never used one of these models, and the start-up process was far easier than any ship Raen had ever flown.

The other Jedi were disembarking from their starfighters when another group of Sith assassins approached. Armed with force pikes, they were quite far in the distance and Raen was not sure if they had seen the Jedi in their hangar. Before they turned the corner, Gaiel suddenly leapt from an upper level of the Temple. The exhausted Jedi Knight nearly tumbled over when he landed, but he managed to maintain balance and race into the hangar. His arrival was enough to alert the Sith assassins to their presence.

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

“What’s going on?” Syme asked, maneuvering over to his friend.

“The Sith you and Northeus killed is still alive!” Gaiel shouted. “He won’t die—we need to leave!”

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

The Sith in question jumped down from the level above them, obviously in pursuit of a fleeing Gaiel. Lightsaber in hand, he swung at Gaiel and Syme, but they both managed to avoid the attack by leaping out of the way entirely. The reborn Sith Master was surrounded by Sith assassins who revealed themselves to the Jedi. Including the reinforcements who had been alerted to the Jedi’s presence, the undead Sith was surrounded by at least two dozen killers.

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

The Jedi were hesitant to retreat at first, willingly engaging their new opponents. However, Northeus repeated himself several times, eventually causing the Jedi to rethink their strategy. It was obvious now that the Jedi were too tired to actually defeat all of the Sith, not including one who seemed to be immortal. Doreva was the first to break away from the crowd of combatants, using the Force to push away the assassin he was facing.

Raen jumped backward to avoid a lightsaber strike at his abdomen. Once he was safe, he kneed a Sith assassin who tried to strike down the fleeing Bothan. His target groaned as the wind was knocked out of him. He keeled over, giving Raen an opportunity to cut him down. Returning his attention to his other opponent, Raen spun around to intercept a lightsaber stab to the back with both of his swords.

Syme had killed three Sith assassins already, and he moved to engage a fourth. He and Raen were within several meters of each other, but neither they nor their opponents were working together in the fight. Gaiel was fighting three opponents of his own in the distance, including the Sith Master who the Jedi thought they had already killed.

Sensing the arrival of several other Sith assassins, Raen decided to heed Northeus’s warnings and broke away from the fight. Syme took over his position in the battle, ignoring the fact that Raen had fled. Looking over his shoulder, Raen realized that neither of the Jedi Knights intended to return to the hangar.

Gaiel used a burst of telekinesis to scatter his opponents. Instead of striking any of them down, he made his way over to Syme, who had just killed Raen’s former target. Their lightsabers hummed in unison as they killed two more Sith assassins, keeping them safe for a brief moment. The foes that Gaiel had thrown about recovered their footing and reassembled; the dozen Sith assassins and their Sith Master rushed at the two Jedi standing between them and the starfighters.

“Why don’t you just get into the hangar?” Gaiel asked his ally.

“Why don’t you stop playing hero?” Syme snapped. “We’re 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 others off their feet entirely. “Come on!”

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

Gaiel called upon the Force and pushed Syme into the hangar. The Human Jedi didn’t even realize what was going on; Gaiel had pushed him off his feet and inside the hangar before he could properly react. Once Syme was safely inside, Gaiel activated a remote kill switch to seal the hangar doors. The massive blast doors slammed shut, separating the Sith Master and his minions from the Jedi who were already inside the hangar. However, it also kept Gaiel from reaching the hangar, leaving him at the mercy—or lack thereof—of the Sith.

Syme recovered his footing and stared at the door for a brief second. He was dazed. After a brief pause, it seemed as though the result of Gaiel’s actions finally hit him and he screamed aloud, startling his companions. Shouting vicious profanities as loud as he could, Syme hit the durasteel doors with his fists. It looked ridiculous to Raen, but he did not understand what was going on.

Northeus left his starfighter, despite the fact they were ready to take-off, to join the delirious Jedi Knight. Syme was still hitting the doors and crying out—his voice was hoarse and pained—in confusion. He did not notice Northeus when he approached. The Jedi Master stood by his side, waiting for the Jedi Knight to calm himself.

“We have to go, Syme,” Northeus said at last.

“Damn you!” Syme growled, suddenly paying attention to the Jedi Master. “You knew this would happen, wouldn’t you? You and he planned this, I bet! You and your plans—your prophecies! Did you see this? Is this why he locked the doors? It has to be!”

“Syme, please.” Northeus remained stolid. Raen noted that he did not react at all to the Jedi Knight’s cries. “The blast doors that separate us from the Sith will not last long against a determined Sith hunter. 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 and sisters than live.”

“Your emotional state only makes you susceptible to the dark side,” Northeus reprimanded him. “Your cybernetic is failing quickly, and you will soon be unfit for combat. But 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 see to Gaiel’s last request from you?”

The Jedi Knight stood silent. To Raen’s surprise, Northeus had managed to quiet his raging student. Syme stood still for a long time, avoiding eye contact with his companions and staring at the floor. Raen did not know what he was thinking about, but Syme’s haunted expression seemed to reveal that he knew he was being foolish. Northeus remained by his side the entire time, waiting for the Jedi Knight’s ultimate reaction.

After a great deal of reflection, Syme nodded slowly and forced himself away from the door. Once Northeus was sure that he would not turn back, and he was able to pilot his own craft, he too left the blast door behind. Raen joined the two Jedi as their entered their starfighters, hopping into his primed Stinger fighter. The craft’s engines were already ready for departure, but he hesitated as he took control of the starfighter. Taking one last look at the blast door behind him, Raen guided his starfighter out of the hangar, leaving the Jedi Temple—and it surviving inhabitants—behind.

The trip from the Coruscant’s bustling cityscape to its silent orbit was wordless. None of the Jedi spoke to him via the squad’s comm channel, so Raen did his best to pilot his ship alongside the others. It was a terribly sloppy formation that a first-year starfighter academy pilot would have scoffed at, but it would provide some initial protection against a basic enemy attack.

To their surprise, the Ghoul’s Star Saber was waiting for them as their fighters approached the Jedi-specific hyperspace beacon—one of Coruscant’s many artificial satellites. Without it, none of the Jedi could acquire the necessary hyperspace coordinates to leave Coruscant’s system, so it was not surprising that the Ghoul was waiting for them here.

“There you are, you coward,” Syme growled through his comm. “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 had no weapon because your Jedi Master took my only means of self-defense, and I would have been useless to you down there.”

“What would you have done if we had died, then?” Doreva asked.

“If you failed to appear, 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, as Gaiel did,” Northeus assured them. “For now, we need to leave Coruscant behind.”

“What can do we? Where can we go?” Doreva was exhausted from their fighting, and it was evident in his voice. “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.”

“That will be difficult, especially if most of the Jedi abandoned us here on Coruscant to go 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 shone like a star.

But it was not just him. The universe exploded around Gaiel as though he had been caught in a Corellian light spectacle. His sight began to blur until he could see no more, and at first he thought he had been struck down. He heard nothing at first, and even the sweat drenching his body seemed to disappear. His senses failed entirely. Then, suddenly, in a burst of energy and light, they were restored. Gaiel Remus was brought forth in a vivacious union between his own body and the power of the Force.

His very being was enough to repel the Sith assassins at first. He could no longer see them as he used to. They were miry shadows to him; their lights were so dim, yet he could still see them. He not only saw, but felt. He could hear their thoughts echo in his own mind, and he could feel their fear and their doubt even as they warily stepped closer to him.

The Dark Lord in their midst was an agonizing husk, not even alive. Not really. His lightsaber shimmered between hundreds of colors, some incomprehensible without the power of the Force. The Dark Lord was so caught up in the dark side, and he reveled in his self-inflicted pain. He was, essentially, nothing but pain. But he, too, possessed a spark. He was so far gone, but he was not the dark side. He was a slave, just like they were.

Gaiel’s face burned. He wished he was able to cry.

The Nautolan was enveloped in a shroud of light, wrapped in the very essence of the Force itself. He was a beacon in this darkness, and his entire body radiated with a pure white light. Rays reached out of his body and touched the corners of the room, the walls, and even the assassins, while his lightsaber fluctuated between a majestic gold and its standard coloration. As his sight was awash with the ethereal colors that the Force provided, his mind suddenly remembered the Jedi Code.

One of the bolder Sith assassins moved toward him. Gaiel held out his hand, hoping that he would stop. Instantly, a bubble of stasis surrounded the incoming dark-sider, rendering him immobile. As though they were all suddenly overcome by a driving fear of the Dark Lord, all the Sith assassins rushed upon Gaiel.

Force lightning dissipated into nothingness before it came into contact with his body. He could smell the ozone as he advanced into the midst of the assassins. Reaching into the Force seemed almost automatic. Discarded force pikes leapt into the air to block red lightsabers and other force pikes. His own lightsaber spun around him in a telekinetic dance, whirling and cutting apart Sith assassins as they approached.

Each death cry hammered upon Gaiel’s soul. As a Jedi Knight, he had done his best not to take the life of any sentient. And yet, in this last hour, he was conflicted. If he did not kill, he would be killed. Rendering them immobile was not an actual solution; they would eventually free themselves and threaten him again. He would fight, and he would kill them if he had to.

His strength seemed to expire rapidly. Union with the Force seemed to drain his very being, and his entire body fatigued under the omnipotent Force. Reluctantly, Gaiel separated himself from its might, lifting the taxing power from his body. The Sith assassins noticed the change, and they tried to take advantage of it. Fetching the lightsaber that was still barely floating around him, Gaiel struck at them with the same tenacity he had before.

Carrying a red lightsaber in his hand, the Dark Lord—Gaiel learned his Sith moniker was Darth Sion—challenged Gaiel to a personal duel with a wave of his hand. The Sith assassins immediately broke away from the battle and separated themselves from the Jedi Knight. The Nautolan sprung into action as quickly as he was able. His connection to the Force was temporarily severed, so he knew it was the worst time to accept such a duel, but he had no choice. Calling upon the Force would lead to a state of unification, and Gaiel knew his body would probably destroy itself trying to maintain such an awesome connection.

Their lightsabers clashed between them. Sparks scattered at their feet with each blow. 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 to be successful; Darth Sion did not even defend himself. He was solely focused on the offensive. He was focused on killing the Jedi Knight before him.

Gaiel severed his opponent’s left arm, leaving behind a sizzling stump of decomposed flesh. A quick pivot allowed the Jedi Knight to avoid the Sith’s counterattack, and he cut off his weapon arm as well. Limbless, Sion growled at the Jedi Knight and nearly head-butted him. Gaiel looped around the Sith Master and chopped off his legs, sending the remains of his torso to the ground.

But he was not dead. No, each time Darth Sion was struck down, he only reformed himself through some unnatural 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.

The Dark Lord was no more tired than he was before he died the first time, but Gaiel was exhausted—he was drenched in sweat and he could feel his heart beating relentlessly within him. The fatigue was starting to set in, and he was not any closer to winning. Instead of giving in to the anger that threatened to rise up within him, Gaiel fell back into a defensive stance and waited. He knew that he was doing this to delay his allies’ capture by the Sith. That was his purpose. Winning did not matter.

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 pulled him back and plunged his lightsaber into the Dark Lord’s eye. The attack elicited the first genuine cry of pain Gaiel had heard out of the Sith, much to his surprise.

One of the Sith assassins noticed their master’s cry and rushed to his aid, striking at Gaiel’s back with his force pike. This time, Gaiel cried out; he had no way of sensing a sneak attack. The pike tore a hole in his back and scrambled nearby nerves, forcing the Nautolan to his knees. Allowing the Force to take over again, Gaiel managed to repulse the Sith assassin, but could not find the strength to stand.

Darth Sion had 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 and recovered his lightsaber.

Peace.

Knowledge.

Serenity.

Harmony.

Gaiel tried to stand again, but he was too weak. Kneeling before his opponent, Gaiel remembered the vision he had experienced so long ago, onboard the Sith cruiser Renegade. He had foreseen the death of several Jedi, no doubt the three Jedi on that mission. He had identified the first Jedi in his vision as Betror Sylan: the young Padawan died not long after Gaiel received his vision. The next Jedi to die, then, would be him.

“Goodbye, Jedi, and may the pains of death take you,” Darth Sion’s deep, gravelly voice spat.

“There is no death.” Gaiel smiled as the light that radiated around his body returned to him. “There is only the Force.”

With a vicious howl, the Sith brought his red lightsaber down and sliced at the Nautolan’s neck. The Jedi’s body vanished as soon as his stroke fell, leaving his sweat-stained Jedi robes and a now-deactivated lightsaber behind.

It was done. The puzzled Sith Lord did not understand what had happened, or why the body disappeared. Then again, it didn’t really matter. He knew his opponent had been defeated, and that was enough for him. Darth Sion had fought Jedi under Exar Kun, Revan, Malak, and finally alongside his fellow Sith Lords in the Triumvirate now. His latest fight was a personal vendetta against the self-proclaimed defenders of the Galactic Republic. Using the Sith assassins provided to him by Darth Traya, the master of the Sith Academy at Malachor V, he carried out his shadow war against the Jedi.

And he won. The Jedi were no more. Their last Knight was slain on his way out of the Jedi Temple. Now, he would redirect his attention the only being in the galaxy that he nearly hated as much as the Jedi. Darth Traya, Dark Lord of the Sith and his former mentor.

“My Lord Sion,” one of his 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 Traya’s, he would return to his Sith Interdictor located just outside the Core Worlds. Once he was safely beyond the Galactic Republic’s reach, he would pursue her, and he would kill her. She had haunted him for far too long. Her words haunted him, lingering in his mind even when she was absent. He needed to silence her for good.

“Prepare the shuttle. We leave immediately.”

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