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Chapter 24

Raen walked toward the rear cargo hold with a small bag in his hands. The Mendacious Architect had just landed on Besero; while the other Jedi prepared to disembark, Northeus commanded Raen to retrieve their prisoner from the storage area. Raen reached for his side to make sure his newly acquired lightsaber was still there. They had taken the prisoner’s weapon, and he had been peaceful the entire trip, but he wasn’t prepared to take any chances. Even a wounded Force-user could still be dangerous given provocation.

The door slid open without protest after Raen hit the panel with his shoulder. To his surprise, the Twi’lek was waiting for him, finishing his meditations as the door opened. Sweat across the Twi’lek’s orange skin reflected light from the glowpanels above them, making his skin sparkle bizarrely. He wore the white robes and dark sash Raen had seen him and his companions wearing earlier, but the fabric around the sleeves was beginning to fray. Raen had no idea what their prisoner had been doing over the past few days, but if his exhaustion and damaged clothes were any indication, it had been laborious.

“We’ve arrived,” Raen said, taking another step inside.

“I figured as much,” the Twi’lek replied. “The ship’s engines have been offline for some time and I can sense other life forms nearby.”

Raen frowned. He had forgotten that the Twi’lek was just as aware of his surroundings as the other Force-sensitives. With that in mind, Raen decided not to waste his time with pleasantries. Raen threw the bag he was holding at the captive.

“What’s this?” the Twi’lek asked, catching the bag with one hand.

“A few nutrient packs, a canteen of water, and a medpac. You haven’t had anything to eat or drink since we left Teya IV,” Raen noted.

“The Force can sustain me,” the Twi’lek said.

“I know that. Even so, unless the Watchcircle has a base really close to our landing site, we’re going to be hiking for some time. Sustaining yourself with the Force is fine for meditating, but you’d have to double your efforts to stay strong traveling cross-country.”

“Do you really think so little of me, boy?”

“Well, I did beat you in a duel.” Raen smiled. “I’d like to think I know my limits. If I can’t hike through this rugged terrain without food and water, you can’t either.”

The captive’s lekku twitched. “You did not best me. Your allies caught us by surprise-”

“And destroyed your ship,” Raen finished for him.

“Correct. You, personally, did not best any of us.”

“If you insist. There’s a medpac in there just in case, though,” Raen said with a chuckle.

“You could not injure any of us. You cannot.”

“Why not?”

“You are a servant of darkness,” the Twi’lek explained. “Your powers are infinitely weaker than ours.”

“Do you really think so little of me?”

The Twi’lek opened the bag and tore open a nutrient pack. “Yes,” he began, “but I do appreciate the gesture.”

“You don’t think I’m trying to poison you?” Raen asked, almost teasing.

“I checked the moment I received your gift. I can never be sure of your motives.”

“You know, I could have killed you without giving you nourishment and medicine.”

“I must always assume the servants of darkness strike the unaware and helpless.”

Raen shook his head. “Come on. Northeus wants you outside; you can eat on the way. He’s quite eager for you to lead us to the Watchcircle.”

“So am I,” the captive said, finishing off a few of the edibles. “Do not fear; I’ll follow you.”

*** ***

As the Twi’lek—who had introduced himself as Po’benel—led the company of surviving Jedi from their ship, Raen realized that Besero was a dead world. No animals roamed in the distance and no pests scurried underfoot. Greenery was noticeably absent; not even lichen or thorns lived in this place. Blood-red rocks served as the only natural landmarks, ranging from sizes slightly larger than the dull gravel that covered the earth to several meters larger than Raen.

Despite the fact that Po’benel had volunteered to take Northeus and his companions to the base of Watchcircle Dominus, he was not eager to cooperate with them. In the planet’s midsummer heat, the other Jedi had trouble keeping pace with the Twi’lek and Northeus. Raen noted that the captive would want to return to his own people, but he could not quite figure out what drove Northeus to haste. Did he really hope to find other true Jedi here? When the wind picked up around them, it was arid and dusty, only causing them to sweat more, but they could stop. Their guide’s steady pace drove them on, lest they be left behind.

Raen was at the back of the group, watching the Ghoul while Syme and Khondine scouted their surroundings. He jogged occasionally to keep up with the others, but even minimal strenuous activity proved difficult. This was the most arid planet he had ever been on—even Ambria did not quite match this one—and he was fatigued already. The Force could give him additional strength when he needed it, but Raen was trying to conserve as much of his energy as he could for now.

“How much further?” Syme called out.

“Patience,” their Twi’lek guide responded. “It won’t be far yet.”

Po’benel left the flatlands behind and entered a hilly region some two kilometers east of their landing site. Navigating mostly through small valleys and low-lying nooks in the hills, the Twi’lek managed to keep the rest of the group out of the sun and give them some respite from the vicious heat. Their guide never led them over any of the hills, sticking to the winding pass that crept through the shadows in the upland.

Navigating through the hills at practically a running pace, Raen was relieved when Po’benel issued a halt. Raen, the Ghoul, and the younger Jedi took their chance to rest, but Northeus remained vigilant. Taking a break from their travel, they ate and drank from the few rations they had taken with them. Scanning the area while nibbling on nutrient capsules, Raen realized that there were traces of Force energy in the distance; he didn’t know where, but there were definitely Jedi nearby. Northeus seemed to have realized this before he did, looking for any new landmarks that would show the way to Dominus’s base.

After about an hour of respite, Po’benel led the group from their resting place toward a tall hill with a jagged crest. Bypassing several smaller hills along the way, the company moved forward until they reached a wide plateau that blocked their path. Directing their eyes to the south side of the plateau, Po’benel identified a staircase that had been carved into the rocks. Above these strange stairs, Raen saw what seemed to be a cave entrance situated some ten meters above the ground.

“There. The sacred home of the Jedi Covenant here on Besero,” Po’benel said, revealing hints of a smile. “Let us meet my brothers.”

Raen followed Po’benel and Northeus over the last few hills between them and their destination, physically scaling some of the distance and using the Force to propel himself the rest of the way. As they made this final push, Raen lamented over the fact that both their guide and their Jedi Master had doubled their pace, hardly aware that their companions were falling behind. At first, the younger Force-users did their best to keep up, but the trek was too brutal for them. Syme had called out to the Jedi Master and his guide and asked them to slow down; they acknowledged him, but they didn’t actually slow down.

Once they had reached the staircase and climbed its earthen steps, Po’benel led the party of Jedi into the base of Watchcircle Dominus. Northeus was first to follow him, of course. Raen hesitated for a moment, realizing they had no lighting and the cave was completely dark. A disparaging remark from Syme forced him inside. Once his eyesight adjusted, he thought he had left Besero behind and entered another world. The interior of the cave that served as the Jedi Watchcircle’s base was much larger than they had been led to believe. Strange silver ornaments lined the wall, covering most of the brownish-red earth as they snaked about each other like vines. The tiles that the Jedi stepped on were either made of aurodium or polished steel. The further they went, the more decorative trappings they saw, from fanciful candles to rooms filled with vibrantly decorated barrels and wicker baskets.

Despite the amazing furnishings and awe-inspiring architecture, they did not see any other Force-sensitives in the interconnecting tunnels. In fact, it seemed as though no one had walked through this place in several weeks. Dust was starting to accumulate on the elaborate decorations, and a few of them had fallen into obvious disrepair. Northeus was obviously concerned, but Po’benel seemed unperturbed by the lack of Jedi.

Before any of the others could express concern, Po’benel led his guests into what seemed to be the central chamber. The ceiling here was much higher than the rest of the cave, and holes from above were casting small beams of natural light toward their feet. Po’benel directed their eyes to a multitude of Jedi meditating around a bronzium statute at the center of the room. They were all chanting in low, sonorous voices, and Raen couldn’t understand them.

While Po’benel whispered to Northeus, Raen found his eyes drawn to the colossus rising over them. It was shaped after a Human female, and the figure looked shockingly familiar to him; he was sure he had seen the model somewhere before. The Human’s hair was short, just barely concealing her ears and hugging close to her face. Her eyes glittered back at the Jedi as though she were about to cry. And yet, despite the sad look in her eyes, the figure’s expression was devoid of emotion or mirth—she almost had a scowl on her face.

Po’benel inhaled deeply, as though he could drink from the atmosphere of the room. “Welcome, Jedi, to the home of the Force.”

“What is this place?” Syme was mystified. “What’s with that statue?”

“That,” Po’benel announced proudly, “that is Ashla.”

“Ashla? Why have I felt like I’ve seen her before?” Raen asked.

“Hah. You would not know Ashla if she herself descended before you,” one of the hooded Jedi spoke up.

“Who said that?” Northeus called into the crowd.

The crowd of Jedi meditating in the shadow of the statue stood up as one, preventing Raen and the others from identifying the speaker. However, at the opposite end of the chamber, between the folded legs of the statue, one of the Jedi removed his hood and revealed his face to them. This Jedi’s skin was as white as the robes he wore, chiseled and worn away with age. His hands were folded at his waist, and his flowing beard just barely touched his wrists.

Raen recognized the voice. “Jasparan?”

“The same,” the old man croaked. Seemingly uninterested in Raen, he turned his attention to the Jedi Master. “Northeus! It’s good to see you again. What brings you here, to the true Jedi?”

“Jasparan?” Northeus was as stunned as Raen. “What are you doing here?”

“Ah, Master Ulsan. Did you not know? I have always been an agent for the Jedi Watchcircle, monitoring activities of particularly aloof Jedi Masters like Thon and yourself. Did you think a Jedi as learned and experienced as I would really be only be a Jedi Knight? To need tutelage from an old hermit in the desert?” Jasparan asked. “Not that it was not useful. Your training just lacked… something.”

Jasparan Tes had met Raen while he had been training with Gaiel under Master Thon and Master Ulsan on Ambria. The two had never gotten along, but Raen had always figured Jasparn was jealous of his power. Raen had not seen Jasparan since the Jedi, Watchcircle Dominus, and the Republic had worked together to liberate Alderaan from Sith rule five years ago. He had not even known the old Jedi survived the battle; Gaiel told Raen that Jasparan had disappeared without a trace. Until now, Raen had assumed that he had died fighting against the Sith.

“What are you talking about?” Syme shouted back. “What did it lack?”

“High Lightbearer Eston sent me to Thon. He wanted the old Jedi to teach me the ultimate skill of those who follow Ashla, the true light,” Jasparan said. “I was only there to learn how to erect a wall of light to defeat the darkness.”

Raen shook his head. “I knew there was a reason you were so upset that Thon wouldn’t teach us that skill. Why can’t you just accept the fact that none of us are able to use it?”

“I was not talking to you,” Jasparan sneered. “Be silent, dark-sider.”

“Raen has a point. Thon explicitly denied the chance to teach you because he knew you were not ready,” Northeus replied.

“I was ready then, and I am ready now. I was never upset. I am beyond such base emotions. Ashla, the true light, has given me my power, in her purity. That is why we will try again.”

“Jasparan, where are Jram and Telerus now?” Khondine asked, recalling their names from their time on Alderaan.

“High Lightbearer Eston has traveled, along with an entourage of his finest warriors, to Ambria and Dantooine. Lightbearer Jram perished some time ago, for Ashla’s, the true light, cause.”

“What are they doing on Ambria and Dantooine?” Northeus pressed.

“They are going to rid the galaxy of pretenders to the Jedi heritage, like all of you,” Jasparan explained plainly. “A few Jedi Councilors yet remain on Dantooine, where they will convene for the last time. Thon is protecting a few Jedi from the Sith on Ambria. All of them will die in due time.”

“What are you talking about?” Khondine shouted. “Why are you hunting Jedi? What could you possibly gain from killing your allies?”

“She has a point, Lightbearer,” Po’benel spoke up, albeit sheepishly. “Although a few of these Jedi are tainted, they are not as tainted as I initially thought. Perhaps, we could speak with the other survivors and-”

“Be silent, Knight Enel!” Jasparan boomed. “You dare interrupt me? Know your place!”

“Listen to him,” Northeus snapped. “He’s right.”

“The Jedi Order needs no pretenders such as you, Northeus. You and your allies carry a deep, twisted taint.” Jasparan raised his hands in a dramatic sweep. “You tarnish the reputation of Ashla, the true light, and your reputation has been one of corruption and warmongering. We, the only true Jedi, will start anew from the flames the Sith wrought.”

“I don’t understand,” Raen said. “Is Ashla a person, like in that statue, or is it supposed to represent the Force?”

“Foolish boy. I would not expect you to understand!” Jasparan shouted in a patronizing tone. “Ashla is the true light! The only form of the Force! She is beauty, perfection, order, and justice. She came to us in the form you see before you to give us commands for our new Jedi Order.”

Northeus turned around and headed for the exit, ignoring a call from Po’benel to come back. On Jasparan’s cue, several of the cloaked Jedi rushed forward—either running or jumping into place—and intercepted the departing Jedi Master.

“I’ve heard enough. Get out of my way,” Northeus ordered.

“Where are you going so soon, Northeus?” Jasparan asked, his voice surprisingly mellow compared to before.

“I’m going to rescue my friends from yours.” Northeus swept his cloak back, revealing the lightsabers on his belt. “Now move. If you or your zealots try to stop me, I will strike them down here.”

“You, who have forsaken Ashla, the true light, cannot harm our brothers! They are immune to the effects of your darkness!” another hooded individual spoke up. “Let your violent-seeking tongue be still!”

“Lightbearer Tor’chal, they are ignorant and weak without Ashla, the true light, this is true,” Po’benel said. “But if they turn from their dark ways, we must accept them into our brotherhood!”

Raen turned to Po’benel, eyes wide in shock.

“What did you say? Who is that?”

Jasparan smiled. “Didn’t I tell you, Raen Benax? It must have slipped my mind. While we were on Alderaan, we recovered several prisoners who had been subjected to pain and suffering under the darkness. We rescued the embodiment of Ashla herself there, but we also rescued a Jedi Master from the brink of death. We rescued the esteemed Jedi Master and true servant of Ashla, Tor’chal.”

To affirm Jasparan’s claim, the hooded figure that had spoken against Northeus removed his hood. The aged Ithorian standing before them was clothed in the spotless white robes of the Jedi Watchcircle, complete with the dark sash over his shoulders and the simple lightsaber hilt around his waist. Northeus, Syme, and Raen all recognized the iridescent eyes and aged body of Tor’chal. To their terror, the same Jedi Master Raen and all his companions thought had been killed when Raen had been a Sith learner on Alderaan stood before them.

Raen stared blankly at the Ithorian. He looked like he had seen Tor’chal die and resurrect himself before their very eyes. As he continued to gaze at the Jedi Master whom he thought had died at his own hands, he found himself unable to stop shaking. It was impossible. It had to be…

Raen had served the Jedi Order in an attempt to atone for killing Tor’chal. He had murdered a Jedi Master; he had been escorted around the galaxy and eventually punished. Under the constant watch of the Jedi and their Council, he had nearly served a life sentence because Jedi refused to kill their prisoners. But now, what was any of it worth? How much time had he wasted? Tor’chal was alive.

“Did you think could kill a true Jedi, and a servant of the Ashla, the true light?” Jasparan cackled at the thought. “You were a failure of a Sith, and you are no Jedi, Raen Benax!”

Raen didn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear anyone. His eyes were focused on the old Ithorian Jedi, and he couldn’t avert his own gaze. Tor’chal seemed to realize that Raen was desperately searching for answers in anything—a look, a subtle action, or an explanation—but did nothing. He refused to look at Raen. It was as though he was not even aware that Raen was in the room with him. Like he didn’t recognize him.

Then what am I? Raen thought.

“You call yourself a true Jedi?” Khondine spat. “Your words are poisonous!”

“I commend you for saving Tor’chal,” Northeus said, as calmly as he could. “But don’t condemn Raen like that. He has a larger part to play in our fates than you realize.”

“Your concern for him is disgusting. It only highlights your own depravity,” Jasparan sighed. “Not all the Jedi Councilors were as shortsighted and corrupt as you, Northeus. Master Qual realized the necessity of serving Ashla, the true light. Why can’t you?”

“Qual? That’s impossible.” Northeus turned around, facing Jasparan. “He was a loyal Jedi and a servant of the Republic. He’s been on the Council for years. Where is he?”

Jasparan and Tor’chal met him halfway. The other meditating Jedi flocked around them as they progressed, shifting the crowd closer to Northeus and his companions.

“He met with the Watchcircle and agreed with our tenants,” Tor’chal explained. “He sensed a disturbance in the Force—caused by some particularly tainted smugglers—and moved to the frontier to deal with them. He should return within a week.”

“The others on Jedi Council would have agreed with him,” Jasparan noted. “If they had not already been thoroughly corrupted and judged-”

“Don’t insult the dead,” Syme snapped. “Or you’ll be sorry.”

“Ashla carried out her righteous judgment!” Tor’chal spoke up. “She has purged the corrupt from the galaxy!”

“All those who fell to the Sith deserved to die. The Force wills it,” Jasparan concluded.

Syme’s lightsaber leapt into his hand. “Take that back.”

“Syme, don’t waste your time. They’re insane,” Northeus said. “If we leave now, we can still save Master Thon and the others.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Jasparan goaded them on. “Leave us and do not return. The Sith seek their own; they will find you and kill you just like they have killed all the rest.”

Khondine moved forward to help Raen to his feet while Northeus and Syme headed for the door. The Ghoul, not sure where to go, stood by Khondine and Raen idly. The members of the Jedi Watchcircle watched Khondine get Raen to his feet and walk away from them, but they said nothing to them.

“Where is that Nautolan, Northeus?” Jasparan called. “The prodigious young Jedi who was with you and Raen on Ambria?”

Northeus came to a halt halfway down the tunnel, listening to Jasparan’s voice echo in the tunnel around him. Clenching his fist, he did everything in his power to ignore the words that repeated in his ears. Syme stopped a few steps short of Northeus and reached for his lightsaber, anger etched into his face.

“What was his name? He’s dead, isn’t he?” Jasparan had a wicked smile on his face. “Your thoughts are blatantly obvious, Northeus. Did your orders kill him? Did you put him out of his misery? Perhaps it was a lack of devotion. Skill?”

“Lightbearer, excuse me. But you go too far, I think,” Po’benel said. “That is certainly unnecessary-”

Jasparan ignored him. “Maybe he’s not dead at all; he just wanted to join the Sith-”

Syme had heard enough. With a shout, he activated his cyan shoto and raced toward Jasparan. Northeus ordered him to stop, but there was nothing else he could do. The crowd of Jedi moved in to protect Jasparan, but he waved them aside with his staff. Smiling grimly, Jasparan placed his cane between himself and Syme and caught the brilliant cyan blade. To the surprise of all the Force-sensitives around them, Syme’s attack did not destroy the simple walking stick; it endured Syme’s short lightsaber and remained locked in place against it. With a sudden push, Jasparan shoved Syme backward.

Northeus marched back back to the central chamber. “Stop it, all of you! You’re all insane. We’re all Jedi. I don’t care if you think we’re corrupted or tainted. We’re on the same side. None of us are Sith. Just let us leave in peace!”

“No. The incarnation of Ashla appeared to High Lightbearer Eston himself and put herself in harm’s way so she could reveal the true Jedi Order!” Jasparan replied. “You are servants of the dark side of the Force!”

Syme was panting, and his rage was palpitate through the Force. Even dazed as he was, Raen was overwhelmed by his anger toward Jasparan and the other so-called true Jedi. Syme raised his cyan shoto to attack again. As he charged toward Jasparan, the cave began to shake around them. The other members of the Jedi Covenant activated their lightsabers, each one buzzing to life as their gold blades emerged from beneath their cloaks.

“Master! Darkness approaches!” Tor’chal bellowed.

“I sensed it as well.” Jasparan looked beyond Syme and the others, peering into the dark tunnel that Northeus had been in not moments before. “We have another evil visitor.”

“I grew impatient,” a new voice called out from within the tunnel. “If I had not revealed myself to you all now, you would have killed yourselves first.”

Jasparan gritted his teeth. “Who are you? Show yourself, dark-sider!”

“As you wish.”

The cave stopped shaking. A towering figure emerged from the tunnel Po’benel and the others had entered from, wearing heavy black armor. Each step the being took caused the tiles beneath his armored boots to rumble, creating an echo that got louder and louder. The armored figure said nothing. As the armored being got closer, the power of the dark side engulfed them in a miasma that caused the air around them to become thick and cold. The Force seemed to distance itself from the area, replaced by an encompassing darkness. Even Northeus and Jasparan, the two most powerful Jedi in the crowd, noticed the power that followed this figure.

Syme turned to face the new arrival, who was now standing about two meters from Po’benel, Northeus, and himself. The figure’s blood-colored cape concealed any weapons that the warrior’s belt may have hidden, and the dark-sider was not in a position to attack, but that did not comfort any of the Jedi. The others eyed him warily, simultaneously watching for sudden movements and searching him through the Force.

“Who are you?” Northeus asked, keeping his hands close to his lightsabers.

“I am the one who will kill your light,” a man’s voice reverberated inside the great helmet. “You will know darkness.”

“Never!” Po’benel shouted.

The Twi’lek activated his golden blade and rushed at the armored figure. Lifting his blade above his head, Po’benel jumped into the air and brought his weapon crashing down on the dark-sider. Much to the surprise of all the Jedi, the armored figure intercepted the attack with his forearm. With his other hand, Po’benel’s opponent snatched him up by the neck. The Twi’lek flailed about and begged someone to help him, but none of them were fast enough. Po’benel’s throat was crushed in the armored figure’s grip with a vicious crack.

When he realized none of the Jedi were coming to attack him, the dark-sider threw the Twi’lek’s body aside as though it was a piece of trash to be discarded.

“Knight Enel…” Tor’chal muttered.

“Brave and foolish,” the armored being said. “If you wanted to save him, you should have stopped him beforehand.”

“But it is not too late to avenge him!” Jasparan said.

“It never is. I shall test your resolve,” the dark-sider said. “But first, I will destroy your weakest link.”

Using the Force, the armored being called his telekinetic powers to sweep Northeus and the other Jedi Knights before him out of the way. The invisible wave tossed Khondine, Syme, Jasparan, and a handful of others several meters away, but Northeus and Tor’chal were only momentarily stunned. With no obstacles before him, their opponent raised one of his gloved hands and unleashed a barrage of lightning from his fingers, aiming directly at Raen.

Raen was still utterly stupefied from earlier. He was unable to move on his own, and his mind was racing with questions. Inflicted by doubt and confusion, he had been caught up in his own thoughts and had not noticed the goings-on around him. Between Tor’chal’s death, Jasparan’s belligerent comments, and the death of so many allies, Raen didn’t know what to think. He had been so caught up in his own troubles that he did not even realize that an enemy had appeared before them. As the blue-gray energy arced toward Raen, he didn’t seem to notice that he was in mortal danger.

Seconds before the tendrils of lightning made contact, the Ghoul leapt between the incoming energy and its intended target. The luminescent energy crackled as it coursed through the Givin’s body, causing him to scream in terrified pain. Realizing that he had not hit his target, the armored figure actually redoubled his efforts, releasing more Force lightning into the Ghoul’s spasming body.

The rank smell of ozone and the pained cries from the Ghoul snapped Raen out of his confused state. He had no answers to his questions, and he had no idea what was going on. However, he managed to refocus on the task at hand instead of being absorbed in himself. Northeus recovered from the telekinetic attack about the same time Raen came to, and the Jedi Master placed a silver lightsaber between the incoming lightning and the Ghoul. His lightsaber absorbed the coursing energy and protected the Ghoul and Raen. The Givin collapsed behind him while the Jedi Covenant recovered and surrounded Jasparan.

Realizing that his attack had been rendered useless, the armored figure cut off the flow of energy. “Good. You’re not as weak as I suspected.”

“Ghoul,” Raen whispered, kneeling next to him, “why did you do that?”

“You freed me from the Jedi Temple,” the Ghoul wheezed. His body had been severely burned, leaving behind dark splotches of charred flesh. “You let me travel with you even though… I am what I am. I could not repay Doreva, so… let me repay you…”

The Givin stopped writhing about, and clenched his chest with his hands. Northeus stood nearby, patiently waiting to deflect another wave of energy from the armored figure while Khondine and Syme joined Raen at the Ghoul’s side. Raen checked for any sign of life from the Givin, first by scouring for a pulse and then in the Force. The Ghoul had died. Biting his lip, Raen felt anger boiling up inside of him. Ghoul… why?

The Jedi Watchcircle surrounded their most recent visitor while Northeus and his company tried to compose themselves. Jasparan stood nearly face-to-face with the colossal figure, walking stick in hand.

“Do you honestly think you can defeat me?” the dark figure asked. “I am Preux, Lord of Alderaan and master of the Sith arts. You are no match for me.”

The mention of Preux distracted Raen for a moment. He glared at the figure. Preux was the Sith moniker of Raen’s father, the master of the Alderaanian Sith. Raen had fought him and tried to defeat him, but Raen could not bring himself to do it. In the end, Preux had been betrayed and killed by his trusted confidante. Whoever this man was, he was not Raen’s father.

“Our light purges all shadows! Your dark powers are useless against us. You may have survived our initial purge of your pitiful kingdom, phantom from Alderaan, but we will not make the same mistake twice,” Jasparan growled.

“You and your Republic took us by surprise last time,” Preux said. “Let me return the favor, Jedi.”

From the darkness behind Preux, a number of new foes revealed themselves. Wearing gray robes and draped in black cloaks, there were just as many of them as there were members of the Jedi Covenant—if not more. The Jedi were taken aback by their appearance; as the dark side choked their connection to the Force, they had not been able to sense these hidden enemies. Lining up around Preux, his minions activated their weapons in swift hisses and bursts of light.

“Charge! Kill them all!” Jasparan shouted, still shocked by these new enemies.

“Do battle with the Jedi,” Preux ordered. “Take no prisoners.”


Chapter 25

The Jedi leapt forward, breaking ranks and leaving Jasparan behind. A few of the Sith avoided the frontline Jedi entirely, using the Force to jump into their midst and attack them while they were unprepared. The rest of the Sith remained in place, giving the battle a brief prelude. Then, a hundred lightsabers clashed. The golden blades of Watchcircle Dominus met the rust-colored lightsabers of the Sith, sending sparks flying to the ground and creating blinding white bursts of light where they intersected.

The Jedi and Sith fought in a large circle. They were so packed together that a simple Force push would often send more than one combatant flying, and sometimes a Jedi would accidentally lock blades with his ally. The Sith ignored the risks, using Force powers freely and hitting their comrades in the process of attacking several opponents while outnumbered.

Although he was still reeling from the death of the Ghoul, Raen knew what he had to do. He rushed forward, heedless of any warnings from Northeus, and joined the fray in earnest. Despite what the Jedi Watchcircle believed, despite what Jasparan believed, they were all Jedi. Raen was a Jedi. It was his duty to side with these members of the Jedi Covenant against the Sith. Whatever the personal feelings of those around him were, there was no other choice. Light had to stand together against darkness.

Entering the crowd of warriors was like diving headlong into a full-sized battlefield. Lightsabers clashed around him, forcing him to duck his head and quickly maneuver out of the way lest he step into the path of one of his allies. Picking out his first enemy in the sea of Force-sensitives, Raen blocked a few random swings in his direction and charged toward a Sith fighting a one-armed member of the Jedi Covenant. Attacking the Sith from behind, Raen took his target down with a single cut to the back. The burning scar from Raen’s blade was still visible on the dead Sith as he tumbled to the ground. Nodding his thanks, the Jedi Covenant member Raen had aided rushed on to battle a new foe.

Before Raen could pick another Sith to attack, he sensed danger in the Force. Ducking just in time, Raen narrowly avoided a thrown lightsaber—not aimed at him, but beyond him—which continued on and struck one of his allies in the chest. He had to keep his head down until the lightsaber successfully returned to its owner in the distance.

Once he was sure it was safe, Raen stood up again. The sound of lightsabers and the varying cries of death disoriented him for a moment; he couldn’t figure out who had thrown the lightsaber in his direction. During his search, he saw Khondine fighting two Sith by herself. What was she doing? These enemies were dangerous; it was no time to be outnumbered. Navigating by the fights around him, Raen moved to help her.

He had almost reached Khondine when he was intercepted by an avian Sith warrior. His foe hovered a few centimeters off the ground, and the dark-sider used his small height advantage to attack Raen’s upper body. Parrying with a few quick strikes, Raen knew that his enemy’s flight could be exploited to his advantage. After blocking the first few of the Sith’s vicious and quick attacks, Raen struck back with a wide defensive swing, forcing his opponent to retreat and avoid the attack altogether. Once his target had flown back, Raen ran forward and struck at his lower body, which the avian struggled to defend.

Repeating this several times in rapid succession, Raen hoped the avian would pick up on his pattern, and he did. The Sith avian flew over Raen’s head, blocking his golden lightsaber as he positioned himself behind the Jedi. Raen pivoted on one foot, allowing him to just barely block the avian’s follow-up strike at his back. Raen threw his lightsaber at close-range, forcing his opponent to duck and allowing Raen just enough time to kick the crouching Sith in the face. Fluttering backwards, the avian did not recover in time to avoid Raen’s lightsaber as it returned, cutting him in half.

Raen heaved a sigh of relief. Wiping some sweat from his brow, he turned his attention back to where Khondine had been, but she had already disappeared into the crowd of combatants. He cursed his luck. Even though Khondine was a strong warrior, he would have felt more comfortable with her at his side. Before he could search further, another warning popped into his mind; he barely had time to reposition his blade to stave off an incoming Sith warrior.

*** ***

Tor’chal had been watching the one who called himself Preux. Standing at the edge of the brawl, the Ithorian Jedi Master was more of a spectator than a combatant. Occasionally, he used his lightsaber to defend himself against upstart dark-siders; however, most of them were too distracted to notice him. This allowed him to watch the mysterious armored figure. His target had a similar idea to Tor’chal, standing away from the fighting.

“Tor’chal!” Jasparan called to the Ithorian. “Come. We will fight the leader of this evil pack together. No servants of Ashla, the true light, can fall if we stand as one.”

“Is that wise?” Tor’chal asked. “He is very powerful. We ought to wait until more of our allies are able to assist us-”

“The Force wills it,” Jasparan replied.

Tor’chal breathed heavily from his two throats. “Then its will be done.”

Racing around the circle of lightsaber duelists that continued to get smaller and smaller, Jasparan traveled around the right side while Tor’chal went left. At superhuman speed, they found themselves face-to-face with the leader of the Sith force in seconds. Despite their sudden appearance, Preux seemed unsurprised; he seemed so relaxed, he did not even draw his weapon as they did.

“Our light shall cast you out, evil-doer!” Jasparan shouted.

“No. You are not strong enough,” Preux mused. “Your light is not strong enough to wound me.”

Jasparan was tired of listening to Preux. His lightsaber’s shimmering blue blade burst forth from its place inside his walking stick, allowing him to guide the hidden hilt into his hand with the Force. As Master Lightbearer of the Jedi Watchcircle here on Besero, Jasparan alone was allowed to keep his lightsaber from his time in the Jedi Order. Leaping forward, Jasparan struck at Preux’s chest, but it proved ineffective—it didn’t even scratch his armor. Tor’chal moved next, throwing his golden lightsaber at Preux’s head. Preux caught the lightsaber by the hilt as if it were a thrown stone and used it to parry Jasparan’s follow-up attacks.

“Is that the best you can do?” Preux asked. “Where is your leader? Let me fight him and see your light extinguished.”

“Be silent!” Jasparan shouted.

The old Jedi lashed out against Preux, striking at his armored form in a random flurry of attacks. Tor’chal’s stolen lightsaber and his blue blade crackled as they met, sending sparks flying through the air around them. Preux’s defense was slow and cumbersome, giving Jasparan enough time to strike at his armor directly. He left scratches across its ebony surface, but he could not penetrate it.

Preux shifted to the left, and Tor’chal faded out of his peripheral vision. Once the dark-sider couldn’t see him, the old Ithorian used a telekinetic burst to push the armored figure back. Jasparan thanked Tor’chal in the Force and took a moment to calm himself.

To the Jedi’s surprise, Preux recovered his footing and returned Tor’chal’s lightsaber to him. As soon as Tor’chal grabbed the weapon, Preux rushed toward Jasparan in an unprecedented show of agility. Dodging his target’s initial attack, he backhanded the old Jedi and threw him to the floor with a Force push.

Tor’chal rushed to Jasparan’s side so he could protect him. Striking at Preux several times, Tor’chal’s attacks proved as ineffective as Jasparan’s. The armored dark-sider made no attempt to block the Ithorian’s attacks, but he also did not intend to kill Jasparan, either.

“Do you know what this is, Tor’chal?” Preux asked.

The armored figure removed a clay amulet from within his breastplate, suspending it between himself and the Jedi Master. The mere sight of it forced Tor’chal to pause. His eyes widened. Of course he knew what that was. The clay amulet had small letters carved into it, shapes from an alphabet used by the Ithorian people before they joined the Republic. It was finely crafted, carved from a beautiful slab of earth. That amulet had been given to Tor’chal by his niece when he had visited her on her eleventh birthday. Losing her mother and father at a young age, Tor’chal spent time raising her—despite the Jedi Council’s warnings about attachment—and caring for her as his own child. He had kept the amulet on him at all times as a reminder that she was waiting for him on Ithor, and he could not die and deprive her of another member of her family.

He was to represent her at her wedding several years ago, shortly after his scheduled mission to Alderaan. However, when the Sith defeated him, he lost his amulet and any chance he had of traveling to Ithor. It was with despair that he counted the days to her wedding from a cell on Alderaan, knowing that he had failed her—both as a Jedi and a father. He was determined to die in that Sith cell, hopeless and shamed. How could he face the Jedi Council or his niece ever again?

When the Jedi Covenant saved him, they had saved his body, but his spirit was essentially dead. In the tenants of the Jedi Watchcircle, he saw a chance for penance. He saw a chance to do good before ultimately returning to his niece and explaining to her his failures. Sometimes he thought it would have been better had Raen Benax killed him that day on Alderaan. Then he would not have to explain himself to a heartbroken young woman who sorely missed the only father she ever knew.

Why did this man have the gift that she had made?

“Who… are you?” Tor’chal asked.

Preux shook his head. “Suffice to say, I know where your niece is and I can kill her anytime I please. And not just her. I can kill her mate, the children she no doubt has, and all the rest of your clan. All this is within my power.”

“No!” Tor’chal bellowed. “I will stop you!”

“You’ve sensed it, haven’t you? I’m much more powerful than you are. This old man, too,” Preux said, glancing at Jasparan’s wounded form. “Join me. If you serve me, I shall spare the life of your niece and everyone she loves.”

“What? No! I will kill you and save her from any terror you decide to inflict!”

“Your resistance is bold, but meaningless. If you die here because you fought me, I will assuredly kill her for your impudence.”

“Why…? Why are you doing this?” Tor’chal pleaded.

“I require your assistance. I hold the life of those you love in my hand,” Preux explained. “There has been no easier choice for you than the one I am offering now. Join me or lose everything you love.”

Jasparan stood up again, ready for battle. “Come on, Tor’chal! We still have a chance! We can beat him together.”

“Choose now, Jedi,” Preux warned. “This is your only chance.”

Tor’chal looked at the lightsaber in his hand, watching the golden blade given to him by the Jedi Covenant shimmer in the dim light. It was a symbol of his duty. Then, he turned his attention to Jasparan and Preux. Even now, his niece was safe, living without him on Ithor. She had been like a daughter to him. Now she was threatened. Tor’chal’s loyalty was to the Jedi and their way of life, but he could not live on if he knew that his weakness not only disappointed her, but ultimately resulted in her death.

A Jedi protected the innocent. His niece was innocent, and this Sith was making a fool of him. Yet, there was nothing he could do. Preux was right. Tor’chal and Jasparan were too weak to kill their opponent. He sensed this, Jasparan sensed this, and Preux knew this. But he could not forsake his oaths to the Jedi Order. He had already failed them once. To fail them again…

Jasparan lunged at Preux, who backed away just in time to avoid the old man’s lightsaber. Tor’chal steeled himself and charged forward, lightsaber swinging high above his head. Sensing Tor’chal’s approach, Jasparan strafed to the right to give his companion room to fight, and then the old Human struck at Preux with all of his might. His dark blue lightsaber left a deep crack in the dark figure’s armor, eliciting a cry from Preux.

Jasparan smiled. They were one step closer to victory. He was so confident that he had not even bothered to sense who Tor’chal was aiming at. Why would he? It was trivial and unnecessary. They were servants of Ashla, the true light. Treachery was a device used by the Sith, and the Sith alone.

It took one strike.

Tor’chal’s blade plunged deep into Jasparan’s back. The golden blade cut clean through his robes, burning through his spine and coming out of his ribs on the other side. The smell of burnt flesh was too much for the aged Ithorian, and he deactivated his lightsaber immediately, sending Jasparan’s limp body to the ground.

“What…? Tor’chal…?” Jasparan stared into the Ithorian’s eyes. “Why…?”

Tor’chal closed his eyes. “The Force wills it.”

*** ***

Raen performed an aerial backflip to avoid a low swing from his Bith opponent. It had been a last second reaction, and he didn’t even realize that his fancy maneuver would pin him between a Kel Dor Sith and a wounded Jedi. Whipping his lightsaber in front of his face, Raen blocked a dozen rapid strikes, one after another. Raen countered with a few parries, but he focused on keeping the Kel Dor at bay. The Bith opponent who had attacked him first rushed to join the fight. Using the Force to push away the Kel Dor, Raen fled the incoming Bith and positioned himself against one of the walls.

The Kel Dor and the Bith approached him together. Raen figured that he would be safe as long as he couldn’t be flanked by either of them. As expected, the Sith attacked him on his left and his right; Raen had to navigate his blade through their wide cuts so he could block them both at the same time. Allowing his blade to dance between their two orange-brown lightsabers, Raen barely managed to uphold a steady defense. Entering a blade lock on accident with the Kel Dor, Raen realized that he had vibroswords on hand. He quickly pulled one of his swords from its sheath and battered away the Kel Dor’s bronze blade. He just barely shielded himself from the Bith with his freed lightsaber.

Raen’s defense was successful, but he could feel his strength waning. He had fought six other Sith before these two, and the presence of the dark side still surrounded him. Sweat coated the back of his neck, and he could feel his muscles strain each time he swiveled his arms—so fast they almost blurred together—to block an attack. The Sith seemed to encumber their own efforts by working together, giving Raen a slight advantage, but they were strong enough individually that he could not eliminate either of them.

The wounded Jedi who Raen had inadvertently saved from the Kel Dor moved in to provide him some relief. Throwing rubble and dirt with the Force, the Jedi managed to distract the two Sith with a plume of dust. This gave Raen the opportunity he needed to strike, killing both of them with a low horizontal cut.

Raen turned to thank the Jedi who had saved him, but a sudden clanging noise caught his attention. In the distance, in the shadow of the statue at the center of the room, Preux stood with Tor’chal. Less than a dozen Jedi remained, and they were all engaged with the remaining Sith; no other dark-siders were with Preux. At first, Raen did not know what Preux was doing. The armored figure stood as still as the statue before him, raising his hands to the sky as if to exult the female it portrayed.

Then Raen heard something shatter. The statue cracked, exposing its interior to the elements around it. The cracks got larger and larger, spreading across the statue’s body until it started to cave in on itself. Preux stood before the falling statue, using the Force to redirect the large chunks of bronzium so it flew behind him. Crushing the bones of Jedi and Sith alike, Preux’s projectiles did not differentiate from friend or foe.

Once the statue and its base had been cleared away by Preux’s telekinesis, he revealed a secret exit that had been hidden by the bronzium giant. Without a word, Preux began the climb up a long flight of stone stairs and left the rest of his Sith warriors to fight to their death. Tor’chal alone followed him, leaving behind the Jedi Covenant and any allies he had left.

“Tor’chal!” Northeus cried. “Wait!”

The Ithorian did not heed his fellow Jedi Master; he didn’t even look back. While the other Jedi were busy fighting their duels, Syme had found himself without an opponent. Raen could have moved first, but he hesitated—he suspected Preux was going to get reinforcements. Syme took the initiative instead and pursued the two fleeing Force-users, following them up the stairs.

Raen called for Syme, trying to get him to stop. It was too late by then, and Syme was already out of view and unable to hear him. Glancing around, Raen hoped to find someone who could follow him. Northeus was fighting three Sith warriors and wholly distracted, Khondine was engaged with her own opponent, and the wounded Jedi Raen had saved already turned to rejoin the few duels that were left. Realizing he was the only one who could aid Syme, Raen activated his lightsaber and followed him.

*** ***

Syme’s weapon smashed against Tor’chal’s lightsaber. Their blue blades should have signified their unspoken alliance—a dedication to peace, justice, and the light side of the Force. Syme didn’t know what was going on, but before he could attack Preux, Tor’chal had gotten in his way. It didn’t matter. Even if the Ithorian was an esteemed Jedi Master, his status would not save him from Syme’s blade.

The stairs that had been located behind the statue led the three Force-sensitives to the top of the plateau that the Jedi Watchcircle called home. Preux stood at the center of the plateau, watching a bulky shuttle that was rapidly approaching from the north. This was the perfect place for it to land, and Syme was assured that the armored warrior intended to escape this place in spite of the Jedi still living. He was the only one who could stop him.

Jumping back to avoid an incoming swing from the aged Jedi Master, Syme gathered Force energy in his palm and punched the ground, releasing a telekinetic bubble that sent Tor’chal flying backward. The unsuspecting Jedi Master was completely defenseless, and Syme could have killed him with ease. Instead, he set his sights on the leader. Jumping over the Ithorian, Syme closed the remaining few meters between him and Preux by using Force speed.

Syme’s cyan lightsaber made a burning diagonal cut along Preux’s breastplate. Spinning, Syme made several more cuts at the armor’s shoulder and torso plating. As his shoto zigzagged through the air before him, Syme realized, to his dismay, that his weapon was not penetrating the Sith’s defenses. How could this armor be so powerful? Syme attacked the apparently defenseless Preux several more times before raising his weapon high above his head and bringing the blade crashing down on his helmet.

“Was that… all?” Preux’s voice asked from inside the cracked helmet. “You disappoint me.”

“Why can’t you die?” Syme growled.

“Your strength is insufficient. Prepare yourself.”

Syme had hardly reverted back to his basic stance when Preux moved in. Snatching his own lightsaber from behind his flowing cape, Preux left no distance between himself and the Jedi. The scarlet blade was active in an instant, and Preux unleashed a flurry of strikes at Syme. Preux’s staccato, powerful swings caught Syme by surprise, and he didn’t even realize that his opponent could move so quickly.

“You’re done,” Preux said.

Preux moved around Syme’s dazzling lightsaber so that he was at Syme’s side. With two real legs, the Jedi could have repositioned himself to defend. As he was, his prosthetic was too slow to pivot to the side. Preux drove his red lightsaber into the Jedi’s chest. Deactivating the blade while it was inside Syme’s body, Preux allowed Syme to lose balance and tumble backward.

Syme heard Raen arrive behind him just before Preux’s shuttle arrived.

*** ***

Raen’s legs quivered beneath him. They were practically crying for mercy as he reached the top of the stairs, ending his full-powered sprint. Despite his best efforts, he had arrived mere moments too late. Syme was lying on the ground, stabbed through the chest, and he was dying. No! Why did I hesitate? Raen cursed himself.

Preux stood near Syme’s body. A personal shuttle landed behind the armored figure, no doubt intending to ferry away the dark-sider and his new Ithorian ally. Without Syme, Raen was at a keen disadvantage against both of them at once.

“Don’t get any closer!” Syme called to him. “Don’t… don’t do it. He’s too strong for you.”

Raen ignored him. He was exhausted, and his two opponents were much stronger than anyone he had faced earlier, but he could not let them escape. Pulling his lightsaber back into his hand, he let the golden blade activate with a snap-hiss. Tor’chal mirrored his movements, withdrawing his own lightsaber and positioning himself in a defensive stance.

“No, Tor’chal. Board the ship. Let me handle this,” Preux ordered.

Deactivating his lightsaber and clipping it to his sash in a smooth motion, the Ithorian spun around on his heel and entered the shuttle behind Preux. Though he said nothing to his new master, Raen was now certain that Tor’chal had betrayed the Jedi to side with the Sith. He did not know why he worked with Preux, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

“I never imagined meeting you like this, Raen,” Preux said once they were alone.

Raen glared at him. “What do you mean? And why are you using my father’s name? Who are you?”

“Preux. It is the name of the Sith Master of Alderaan. Our father was the first, but he will not be the last. It is not a name; it is a title. Preux is the champion of the Sith cause, and he is the one who will lead them into war against the Jedi.”

“You are not my father, and I will never refer to you as Preux,” Raen shot back. “Who are you?”

Preux said nothing. Reaching for his helmet, the dark-sider removed the latches that held his helmet in place and let it fall into his hands. Preux’s face was like Raen’s, with soft features with only a single scar that ran from his chin to his cheek. However, he was several years older than Raen, with long brown hair that curled at the edges and piercing blue eyes. Of course, Raen recognized him immediately.

Jaeln?

He hadn’t, but should have, expected it. He had heard that his brother had been killed when Alderaan was liberated by the Republic and the Jedi. As far as he knew, no body had been found, but Raen had no reason to doubt the information’s veracity. He should have. His father had told him during their duel that he had sent his oldest son away. His father had warned him about Jaeln. He should have known that his brother would have survived the entire Jedi Order and outlasted even his father.

Seeing two ghosts in one day was too much.

“I could never hide anything from you, could I, brother?” Jaeln asked, his voice familiar without the distortion from the helmet.

“Jaeln…? How are you… what are you doing?” Raen asked between breaths.

His brother smirked. “Nafyan has kept me safe. He guided me away from Alderaan and has tended to my needs. My exodus has been long, and it will continue yet. I am here only to deal with a few light-siders who survived the other Sith.”

Raen trembled. His lightsaber was still in his hand, active, but he wasn’t sure he could use it now. Minutes ago, he had been about to avenge Syme’s defeat by killing the leader of a Sith sect. Now, he would have to duel his own brother. They had done it for years. How come he couldn’t raise his blade to fight now? Why couldn’t he stop shaking?

“Don’t worry, Raen. We aren’t going to fight here,” Jaeln said, noticing his brother’s unease. “Meet me on Antared V.”

Raen said nothing, so Jaeln climbed onto the boarding ramp of his shuttle.

“You are a Jedi Knight, aren’t you?” Jaeln asked. “And I am a Sith. If you are to do your duty to the Republic, you must come and face me. I will be expecting you.”

Everything that happened after that blurred together. Raen remembered his skin becoming cold and his stomach churning up inside him. He saw Jaeln step into his shuttle and watched it escape Besero’s atmosphere, leaving the plateau behind. He gagged on the lump in his throat. He must have stumbled over himself and passed out; when he awoke, he was on the ground, and Khondine and Northeus were at his side.

“Raen, are you all right?” Northeus asked, looking at the sky.

Raen shook his head. “I… I don’t know…”

“Don’t try to move,” Khondine urged him. “You look deathly pale. What happened?”

“Syme’s… he…” Raen stammered.

“We know. Syme is dead,” Northeus noted. “The rest of the Jedi Watchcircle, too.”

“We defeated the remaining Sith warriors, but when the survivors from the Jedi Covenant saw that their statue had been destroyed, they all fell on their lightsabers—some sort of ritualistic shame drove them to suicide,” Khondine explained.

“Where did Preux go?” Northeus asked.

“Antared V,” Raen said, his voice clearer now. “He escaped with Tor’chal.”

“So Tor’chal is working with the Sith,” Northeus mused. “This bodes ill for us.”

Khondine helped Raen to his feet. He was uneasy and almost unable to stand at first, but after a few seconds his body was beginning to return to normal. His nausea had passed. Glancing around, he could see the makeshift grave Northeus had created for Syme near the corner of the plateau and the Mendacious Architect, traveling on autopilot, approaching in the distance.

He considered his next words carefully. He had no idea about Jaeln’s motivations, plans, or even how strong he had become. He was only beginning to absorb all the information he had received from his brother—both verbally and the information he had received from the Force. If Raen didn’t go, there was no guarantee Jaeln would stay there; besides, his brother was a Sith. Raen could not deny that. There was no way he, as a Jedi, could allow a Sith to wander the galaxy unchecked.

“We have to go after him,” Raen announced.

“Raen, we can’t pursue him. You know that. Antared V is probably their stronghold,” Northeus said. “There’s no way the three of us could defeat them. It took all of Watchcircle Dominus just to beat this group. No, it would be better to fall back and meet with Thon.”

“We could probably still save him from Telerus and Watchcircle Dominus if we hurry,” Khondine agreed.

“No,” Raen said.

Northeus and Khondine both eyed him suspiciously.

“He’s dangerous. We can’t leave him alone,” Raen said. “And he doesn’t have an army stationed there. It’s just him and a few of his subordinates.”

“How do you know?” Khondine asked.

“Preux… this Preux fed me information about the area through the Force. There are only four of them there. He issued me a challenge. If we don’t pursue him, he’s only going to cause more suffering.”

Northeus and Khondine looked at each other. Neither of them was quite sure what to say, but it was obvious to Raen that they were not about to agree with him. Jaeln was dangerous, that much was obvious. However, Northeus’s goal had always been to find and link up with surviving Jedi; the Force itself seemed to oppose his plans until now. If he could meet with Thon or other Jedi Councilors, there was hope for the Jedi. But at the same time, there was no time to lose. Through the Force, Jaeln impressed upon him the location of Antared V and the number of Sith on the planet waiting for them. The longer they waited, the more and more agitating that information became.

“I’m going after him. You don’t have to come,” Raen said.

“Raen! Can’t you wait until we recruit some help?” Northeus asked.

“No. I have to do this, Northeus. The Force is practically begging me to go. You can’t deny that he’s powerful, and we may be the only ones who can stop him.”

“He will be there after we meet the other Jedi,” Northeus noted.

“What if there are no other Jedi, Northeus? What then?” Raen countered. “Then we’d just be wasting time, like we have since we left Coruscant. What if we’re the only Jedi left? Have you ever thought to really consider that possibility?”

“Raen, that wasn’t necessary,” Khondine said.

“If you two don’t want to come, I understand. Really. But could you at least bring some reinforcements my way once you’ve found them?”

Raen turned and walked down the stairs leading to the Jedi Watchcircle’s chambers. At first, Northeus and Khondine said nothing, quite unsure what to do. It was Khondine who moved first, pursuing Raen down the stairs.

“Where are you going, Khondine?” Northeus asked.

“I am going to follow Raen. Like he said, send some reinforcements our way as soon as you can.”

Northeus shook his head. “Don’t be foolish. He is going to get himself killed.”

“You tasked me with defending the last hope of the Jedi,” Khondine countered, “And that is what I’m going to do.”

Northeus frowned. “You can’t use my orders against me.”

“Are you coming or not?” Khondine asked.

“Go get Raen and bring him back here,” Northeus replied with a sigh. “I’ll ensure that the cruiser lands safely.”

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