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Chapter 57

“Commodore…” That was the voice of Blue Wing’s flight leader. Belsio Molir tuned his comm board to clear the static from the incoming communication. “The invisible barrier around the enemy flagship seems to have dissipated. They’ve replaced it with their usual shield, so we’re dealing with that now. Bombers are beginning their run.”

Fleet Admiral Onasi was receiving a similar report from his captains. “All ships fire on the enemy flagship. Aim for the engines and gun decks. We may still have Jedi Knights on the bridge, and we don’t want to lose them.”

“I’ve sent out a message telling our Jedi to get out of there,” Master Rand said. “They haven’t replied, but they’ve definitely received the message.”

“And what about the other enemy capital ships?” Carth asked.

“They’re converging on the lead ship. They intend to defend it until the end.”

“I thought as much. Tell the admirals that all remaining Interdictor-class cruisers are to begin their interdiction protocols. Keep them back and let the Hammerheads and other remaining capital ships deal with the enemy. I don’t want a single enemy starfighter to leave this system.”

“Understood, sir. Giving the order.”

“Blue and Red Wings are through the breach, Admiral,” Molir said. “They’re strafing the largest enemy ships.”

“Then let’s end the Sith threat here and now.”

*** ***

Dynatha had seen Verita’s body as she fled the observatory, but Raystin had urged her to leave it be. There was nothing they could do for her, and Dynatha was already in danger of being caught in the Phantasm’s destruction with only Tserne in tow. Dynatha dragged Tserne’s body all the way from the passageway connecting the observatory to the meditation chambers to the elevator shaft connecting their deck to the rest of the ship. She had been strengthened by adrenaline and the Force for most of the way, but there was no way she could carry him any further. The fact that the elevator wasn’t working meant she had to find some other way back to the hangars, and she had no idea if she could do that with Tserne in his condition.

“Tserne… please…” Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she shook his body. The Force was still in him, although it was very faint, and it was impossible for her to tell if that was his presence or else the lingering effects of the sword. “You have to get up… if you don’t…”

“Dynatha. We cannot linger anymore.”

“I won’t leave him!” She said it and she meant it. She had done everything she needed to do. Now all that remained was staying with Tserne, no matter what. “Not now. I… if this is my fate… I’m ready to join him.”

“Fear not. Help comes.”

“Lady Aris! Oh, thank the Force you’re all right!”

Hope returned to Dynatha’s visage. That was Phaevn’s voice. “Phaevn! Phaevn! Where are you?”

“I’m in the ducts above you,” he replied. Dynatha looked up and sure enough, she could see the hulking figure’s beady eyes gleaming behind the vents. “We must leave this place. Can you get up here?”

She shook her head. “I’m too weak to climb. And Tserne is-”

Phaevn understood. “Not another word. I will join you in a moment. Take care and stay strong.”

*** ***

“Major Olsh is reporting unnatural seismic activity just north of his company’s position.” Captain Ilen brought a report from across the hall. “Scanners indicate a potential nuclear explosion.”

There were murmurs of alarm across the makeshift war room, but Thonnel quickly silenced them. “Was it launched by the Sith? What’s the damage? Any follow-up attacks?”

“Unclear, sir. It seems that it was only one attack, and it was a subterranean detonation. None of our soldiers or operatives were close enough to be harmed, but we’ll be feeling aftershocks here in the Jedi sanctuary shortly.”

“There was that explosion in the northern pass earlier. The one that destroyed that strange tower. Do you suppose that one was also nuclear?” asked another aide.

“Unlikely. It was a strong blast, but sensors didn’t capture particularly abnormal levels of radiation. No fallout either,” replied a Mandalorian strategist.

“Class AA explosives could have caused that much damage,” opined Major Ghoaad on the battle comm.

Thonnel thought for a moment. “Send in a radiation team to investigate. I want to know if it was accidentally or purposefully detonated, at the very least. If the explosion occurred where Major Olsh said it did, then the Sith might have bypassed our lines and have forces approaching. We’ll need to redouble our defenses.”

The entire Jedi sanctum began to tremble. Sure enough, the explosion underground was close enough for them to feel its reverberations.

“Have we secured the mountain pass, Colonel?” Rajes asked via comm.

“Affirmative. Tanks are rolling through the forests on the western side now. I suspect we’ll have the enemy surrounded and subdued before sunrise.”

“Shuttle inbound. It’s one of ours,” announced the guard captain. “Pilot reports that they have the Sunrider family, a contingent of Ailon Nova Guards—including Major Honjenber—and one Selias Siital on board.”

“Let them in,” Rajes said. “Is Siital one of ours?”

“Negative, sir.”

“Keep her outside from questioning, then.” Rajes ordered. They had had enough surprise guests today. “We can deal with them later.”

*** ***

Phaevn had taken Tserne from Dynatha and carried him on his back. Even though Phaevn couldn’t fight as he was, he took the lead while Dynatha struggled to keep pace with him. Her solemn ally had explained that after he had fallen, he navigated through the depths of the Phantasm until he found the entrance to the engineering tunnels, which ran all over the ship like a spider’s web. It was through those same tunnels that they journeyed now, leading her back to the hangars. Dimly lit and quite cold compared to the rest of the ship, the tunnels were not meant for continuous travel. At some points, walkways became dangerously thin and at others the bridge connecting two paths could only be extended from the other side, forcing Dynatha to use telekinesis to trigger the control panel from afar.

While they ran, Dynatha tried applying her healing powers to Tserne. Bolstered by the crystal she had received from Lalun, she managed to heal the smaller cuts around his body, but the injuries to his face and chest were deep, and she couldn’t concentrate while they were in motion. At one point, she heard him begin to take steady, if weak, breaths. That was enough to reassure her of his chances.

While they were crossing the engineering corridors outside the armory and approaching the security hub of the Phantasm, the sounds of combat began to resound ahead of them. They proceeded warily, and it soon became evident that there were Force-sensitives fighting ahead; their lightsabers provided more illumination than the weak glowpanels lining the walls. Phaevn set Tserne down near a wall and took out his blaster. Dynatha prepared to shield and assist him with the Force. The two of them began creeping toward the commotion, staying as close as they could to the wall.

“There are some friends waiting for us ahead,” Raystin said.

The spirit was right. When they turned the corner, they saw two white-robed Jedi Knights carrying golden lightsabers fighting against several guard droids and a squad of Sith troopers. There had obviously been many more enemies earlier, as a multitude of corpses and destroyed droids littered the ground around them. One of them was a male Vultan, and the other was a female Mirilian. Neither of them noticed Phaevn and Dynatha’s approach, but they were quite startled when Raystin suddenly materialized in front of them.

“You! You were the ghost that was with Tserne,” the Vultan said.

“You’re in our way, spirit!” the Mirilian shouted, sending incoming blaster fire back toward their enemies.

“You need not concern yourselves with that anymore. The woman you’ve been searching for has come to you,” the ghost replied.

As though to emphasize his point, Dynatha called upon the Force and created a telekinetic whirlwind that swept the droids and enemy soldiers off their feet and threw them off the walkways into the darkness below. With their enemies bested, the two members of the Jedi Covenant turned around at once and realized that they were standing in Dynatha Aris’s presence. The Mirilian fainted, and the Vultan knelt before her and tried to kiss her hand—much to Dynatha’s bemusement.

“Oh, fair goddess! What demon has fouled your beautiful form, such a divine example of beauty? I, your humble servant K’thoi, would ask that you tell me the names of those evil-doers, that I might demonstrate my devotion!”

“Okay…” Dynatha pulled her hands away and stepped back. “I don’t know what you’re going on about. Who are you?”

“As I said, my name is K’thoi. The woman who could not bear your resplendence is Via. We are the servants of Delvin Cortes, Lightbearer of the Watchcircle Dominus. We came here-”

“Wait, wait. Slow down. Delvin? You’re Delvin’s apprentices?”

“Yes.”

“Where is he?”

“I’m afraid we don’t know. We can only assume he is waiting for us outside on our flagship. To be honest, the dark side has made it impossible for us to sense much of anything. We barely sensed you were approaching.”

“Could you take us to him?” Dynatha asked. “You said you knew Tserne…”

“We do know Tserne. That was our main reason for coming in here. We intended to help him in his fight against the Sith, per our master’s orders, but we had been detained and had no idea how far ahead he had gotten. We seem to have come too late for that. We would be happy to take you back the way we came, but I’m afraid our ship was destroyed as we entered the hangar. At the very least, your presence here is enough reason that we should linger. I only wish my adulation could do your beauty justice.”

“That’s quite enough,” Phaevn growled. “Lady Aris, I know the way back to Tserne’s droid and the Grimtaash. I will lead the way, if only these two Jedi would defend us.”

“We would be honored. Let me just wake my startled companion. Master Cortes will never believe what has happened. Just wait until we tell him…” K’thoi said. While he roused Via, he added, “Tserne came here with another woman. A Jedi Knight not unlike ourselves. Is she with you?”

Dynatha shook her head. “She didn’t make it.”

“That is most unfortunate.”

“You knew her?”

“My master did. I had only just met her, but she was a true Jedi indeed if she met her death against the forces of evil.”

“K’thoi? What happened?” Via groaned. “Are we still on the Phantasm?”

“Now that our companion is awake, let us advance. We’re not safe yet,” Raystin warned.

*** ***

“The path is clear!”

Ixi galloped across the hangar beside Nisna, who had carried Ojon with him most of the way. The Arca transport they had taken inside did not survive long after they had left it behind, so another one had to be flown in to get them out. Unlike the last time they traveled the hangar, there were very few Sith forces waiting for them. Not even droids remained.

Ixi hopped onto the boarding ramp, his gangly legs easily clearing the meter between it and the floor. Once he was aboard, he turned around and helped Nisna get Ojon inside and then helped her up as well. Several prisoners followed them inside, as well as the Kel Dor Jedi Master who had led the raid to free them. Only after all of the Jedi were aboard did Sith begin to converge on their location, and they seemed less interested in engaging them than they were in fleeing the Phantasm.

Only a few Jedi remained unaccounted for. Ixi noted with sorrow that they had lost a great many allies. Only a single Jedi Master returned from the assault on the bridge, four Jedi of the original seven survived their attempts to free the prisoners, and the host of Jedi hadn’t received any reports from the large group of Jedi Knights meant to deal with the meditation chamber and engines. Although Councilor Brianna was hesitant to withdraw without them, the fact that they hadn’t answered the call and were not here despite Atton’s warnings meant they had probably joined the Force.

“Councilor, a few Sith troopers are beginning to mount turrets…” the pilot said. “If we stay, I can’t promise it won’t be ugly.”

Ixi saw the conflict in her face. The life of every Jedi under her leadership was important, but ultimately, she knew what she had to do. “Get us out of here, pilot. Our survivors are accounted for and we have the prisoners secure.”

“I hope our brothers and sisters can find rest,” Nisna muttered to Ixi.

“I hope so too.”

“What about Dynatha?” Ojon croaked.

“Ah! That’s right! Councilor!”

“We can’t wait, Ixi. I’m sorry,” Brianna replied, knowing his thoughts. “It’s too dangerous.”

Ixi closed his eyes in an attempt to stop himself from crying. He promised to be strong for his friends, and he refused to allow them to see him in such a vulnerable state. Nevertheless, he couldn’t deny that he was stricken with grief. They had found Dynatha—in one sense of the word—only to leave her behind. Ojon too wrestled with his emotions, and his injuries meant that he couldn’t help her no matter how much he wanted to.

The Arca shuttle left the magseal behind and, finding the flagship’s shields gone, escaped into the relatively safety of space. Ixi, Ojon, and Nisna watched as Republic cruisers peppered the Phantasm and the few ships left to defend it with turbolaser fire, and swarms of Mandalorian and Republic bombers lobbed explosives at its hull. The enemy flagship had only recently lost its shields, but with the damage it was taking, Ixi couldn’t imagine it would last much longer.

*** ***

The hangar Dynatha and Phaevn had landed in had been abandoned by the enemy. Even the reserve shuttles were gone, commandeered by fleeing crewers. Only the Grimtaash remained. After the enemies had fled, Threecee had taken control of the hangar bay, defending the craft from droids wandering around that lacked the self-preservation instincts of their organic counterparts. Dynatha and the others called out to the little droid, it abandoned control of the hangar and returned to the Grimtaash. By the time Dynatha and her company descended the stairs to the hangar proper, its engines were ready and its preflight systems checked.

Phaevn brought Tserne as far as the ship’s lounge before setting him down and heading for the bridge. K’thoi and Via joined him, leaving Dynatha alone with Tserne for the first time since the end of their duel against Preux. Threecee was already in the cockpit, situated near the pilot’s seat, doing most of the work by its lonesome. Phaevn took the pilot’s seat, Via the co-pilot’s, and K’thoi manned the ship’s cannon. Together, they eased the vessel out of the hangar even as the titanic warship fell apart around them.

Dynatha heard the ship leave the hangar, but the knowledge didn’t give her a moment’s relief. Try as she might, her Force power was incapable of healing Tserne’s wounds. She allowed the Force to flow through her like a stream, but even with her nigh perfect connection with the Force and the increased potency of her healing arts thanks to the crystal Lalun had given her, it still wasn’t enough.

“Why can’t I do this? Why… Tserne… don’t die now…”

His life was all but spent. The Force was so faint that Dynatha could not detect it, and it seemed that he had stopped breathing. His skin was wan and his eyes dilated. He was cold to the touch, but Dynatha held his hand anyway.

“I won’t let you die, Tserne. I won’t.”

“Dynatha… I’m sorry. There’s nothing you can do.” Raystin’s spirit took shape beside her. No longer a floating specter, he appeared beside her as though he possessed a living body, albeit shimmering and transparent. “He was dead the moment Thoronim’s dart struck him. It is a testament to his strength that he lasted so long.”

“No! I refuse to believe that. I won’t let him die, Raystin. Not after all this.”

“I’m afraid…” Raystin stopped himself. His brow furrowed, and he shook his head. As though he had to think about it, he added, “There is a way, but I cannot recommend it to you.”

“Please. I’ll do anything. You know I would.”

“I know you would, that is why I hesitate to tell you.” Raystin appeared to sit beside Tserne, so that his eyes met Dynatha’s. “Do you understand the nature of your Force power?”

“What do you mean?”

“You are a natural Force-user, there is no doubt of that. However, do you know why your potential suddenly became so great after you nearly died on Alderaan?”

“I assume it has something to do with the Quarren Jedi Master who sacrificed his life to save mine.”

“You are correct. You see, much like my spirit has been imprisoned within the sword you carry at your side, his spirit is bound within your body. You and he became symbiotically linked the moment he sacrificed his physical life to save you, and he has watched over you in spirit ever since. Whenever you thought you acted instinctively through the Force or else the Force saved you without you willing it, that was in fact his doing.”

Dynatha stared at Raystin in wonder. “But how? Why didn’t I know that? How come I couldn’t sense his presence at all? And for so long?”

“Some Force ghosts are more powerful than others. Some materialize in a recognizable form to the living, and others remain unseen forces that travel the galaxy. Some take time to mature, as odd as that sounds, and remain shapeless and filled with tumultuous, indecipherable emotions for a long time before they can appear as I do. This is often the case of Sith spirits. As far as I can tell, it would seem that he could appear before you if he wanted but chose not to. He wanted to assist you as much as he could, but he did not want to make this obvious to you. Why? I cannot say. His power is not in question, as you well know.”

“So can he help me save Tserne?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Raystin hesitated again. “You know about the sword. You sensed it the moment you picked it up. It is an artifact of immense power. It vanquished the derriphan in one strike. Preux lost his connection to the Force and his possessor when he was hit. Tserne received his power from the weapon, giving him back what he had lost. You could also draw upon it.”

“So you’re saying I could make my healing arts even stronger with the sword in hand.”

“Yes. However, that alone cannot help Tserne. Not now. If you wish to save him, you must be willing to sacrifice everything. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Then take the sword in one of your hands. Take the crystal Lalun gave you in the other. As if you were going to save yourself from the grave, summon the Force and draw all of the strength you can from the crystal. Beseech the spirit that dwells within you; ask it for assistance. Channel every fraction of Force power within your body into the sword. Once the sword has been filled with your strength, I will do what I can to transfer all you’ve gathered into Tserne to revitalize what remains of his life force.”“Will it work?”

“I cannot guarantee it will, but this is the last hope of saving him.”

Dynatha resigned herself to that. If nothing else, she would devote everything she had to help Tserne survive. Again, Lalun’s crystal bolstered her healing prowess far beyond anything she could do on her own. Once she had drawn upon everything the crystal could provide, she turned her attention inward, to the spirit that apparently lived inside her. She called out to him, that same Jedi Master who had saved her from certain death many years ago, and she begged for him to help her save Tserne now. Her connection to the light became so great that her entire body began to glow—first a bright red, and then a blinding white—and she felt as she had on Truuine while Ranval and Delvin were testing the limits of her Force power.

Cognizant of the source of power, she seemed to be able to control and understand every minute detail about everything within her, from the recesses of her mind to tiny cells of skin along her fingertips. It was during this cursory scan of her body that she realized that the Sith had damaged her womb with their dark power, many years ago on Alderaan, and even the light provided by her savior had not restored it. This discovery disheartened her and caused her resolve to falter.

With some encouragement from Raystin, she rallied her strength. Upon attaining as much Force power as her physical body could contain, she transferred everything she could from her body into the blade. She had largely drained herself of Force power, and she could barely sense what was going on in the cockpit across the passage, much less how Tserne was doing.

“Be at peace, Dynatha. Do not be alarmed. I am taking your essence from the sword…”

Although she had moved her strength from her body to the sword, the sword itself was an extension of her, so she could have reclaimed it at any time she wanted. Raystin gathered everything she had imparted onto the blade and transferred it into Tserne’s body. She had gravely underestimated just how much she had given away. The Force ghost that had been with her for many years silently departed from her, using what was left of his connection to the mortal plane to increase Tserne’s chances of survival. Without him, her own connection to the Force began to dwindle. So much of her life had she given to him that there was scarcely any left for her.

Losing the Force was an indescribable experience. Unlike Tserne, who had transitioned between periods of Force-sensitivity and Force-blindness, Dynatha had never lived without it. The room around her began to dull, becoming monochrome to someone who had seen in color for her whole life. The sensations of sound and smell diminished, and her touch became less sensitive. Her spatial and temporal awareness flitted away into nothingness, and much of her strength, supernaturally provided by the Force, vanished.

“Dynatha…” Raystin’s spectral form faded in and out of view, like an image on a damaged holographic display. “You’ve… do not fear. We will see each other no longer. Forgive me. It is through my failings that you and Tserne have endured much sorrow… You have done what you were destined to do, and I am proud of you. Farewell, servant of the Force…”

The last of her Force senses faded away as her connection to the Force wilted and died, and she never saw the ghost of Raystin Benax again.

No sooner had the spirit departed from her eyes than she heard Tserne breathing. Without thinking, she embraced him and started to cry, confusing him as he awoke from his comatose state.

“Dynatha… what happened? Where are we?”

“We’re safe, Tserne. We did it. We defeated Preux. It’s over. It’s finally over.” Tserne smiled. “Raystin… we did it. Thank you.”

Could he touch the Force? She meant to ask, but before she could, Tserne pulled her close and kissed her. Twice they had been separated, and twice he had returned. Words could not describe his longing for her, and he only wished they had been reunited sooner. Dynatha was speechless, overwhelmed with emotions, crying but nonetheless joyous beyond measure. In her heart she had longed of this day, when she would find herself in his arms, locked in a passionate embrace, timeless and perfect. The kiss spoke volumes. He would never leave her side. She would stay loyal and true to him. He would protect her always. Her whole heart was his.

It was a vulnerable and private moment, and neither the Jedi Covenant nor Phaevn interrupted them, despite the fact that they had reached the safety of Republic lines. To Tserne and Dynatha, nothing else mattered in that moment. They were together at last. The battle had been won. Their journey was over.


Epilogue

Coruscant

Thertos Velle stood on one of the balconies overlooking the expansive chapel where newly promoted Brigadier General Rajes Thonnel was being wed to media darling and corporate mogul Iea Keradyle. It was an unexpected but altogether happy occasion. Many officers and NCOs from the Republic Army, especially those who had served under Rajes Thonnel on Sernpidal and Falang Minor, had been invited. Journalists and reporters were sprawled about the main level, intent on capturing a glimpse of the couple with their holocams. Even the stock market rebounded.

Thertos himself hadn’t even been invited. He wouldn’t have even been here, if not for Fier’s work in helping the Mandalorians aid the Republic on Falang Minor. The younger daughter of Jhosua and Verita had been told she could invite four others; after her sister and Briggs, Thertos was her third choice. It was with some grumbling that he accepted; stuffy and high-class events were hardly his idea of a good time.

He thought he looked ridiculous in one of his father’s suits. Ralina had fawned over his appearance mercilessly, helping her son look his best for an event that wasn’t even about him, and Manda mocked him relentlessly for his appearance—as was her right. The waistcoat was entirely too tight on him, and he fidgeted mercilessly as the ceremony went on.

“What are you nervous about?”

Fier stood by his side, her arm wrapped around his. Despite his grumpiness, he had to say that seeing Fier in a flowing formal gown was entirely worth the effort. Manda, for all her mockery, had helped the Weros sisters with their hair, and Fier’s amber hair had been done up in a complex sort of bun—Thertos had no idea what it was called—with a few strands of hair left to hang around her ears and neck. Her dress was blue like the sky on Telos on a clear summer day, with sleeves that barely reached her forearms and a conservative neckline. She wore short gloves that matched her dress, and she had heels that she had had some trouble walking in.

“I’m not nervous. My father should have tailored this suit better,” Thertos grumbled.

She giggled. “Don’t worry. The ceremony’s almost over. They’re exchanging their vows now.”

“The sooner the better,” Thertos agreed. “Where’s your sister?”

“She’s at the bar with Briggs, I think.”

“That’s what you get inviting Mandalorians to your wedding. Can’t even wait for the kiss to start drinking.”

“Be nice. We’re not… exactly Mandalorian, are we?”

Thertos immediately regretted his gaff. He had to tread carefully. His father had nearly walked in on Ralina and Manda comforting Fier while she cried about the loss of her parents. His own parents and Manda had showered them with affection and empathy, but the pain of loss was still fresh on the Weros daughters' minds. Fier seemed happier now, more willing and open about what had happened, but Thertos couldn’t bear the idea of making Fier cry at a time like this.

“What I mean is, Glacis hates these things more than I do. She’d much rather be shooting targets than dolled up like a mannequin in the fashion district.”

“I think she likes it, even if she doesn’t say so,” Fier said. “She’s just scared to admit it.”

He shrugged.

“Thertos…”

“Yes?”

“What… what are you planning to do, now that you’ve left the army?”

“You know, I’ve been thinking about that. My parents are so well off, after selling the fuel Uncle Fetcher left them, that they’ll never want for anything. Manda is quite content, of course. I don’t know if I could spend the rest of my loitering about in the home they’re building. Seems… boring to me.”

Fier nodded for him to continue.

“I can’t bring myself to break the law and become a smuggler, but I want to do something in honor of my dear uncle. He spent the last years of his life dealing with the Exchange, for his own reasons of course, but in a way he made the galaxy a safer place. Now, I’m not a great man like him, but I can make my little corner of the galaxy safer, so I’ve been thinking about joining Telos Security.”

“A police officer, then?” Fier smiled. “What would your parents say?”

“They’d be suspicious. Mother especially. Father would say he liked the idea, but I think he really wouldn’t. Manda too. They’ve always had a distrust for law enforcement. That’s that quibble, though. If I’m going to live on Telos for the rest of my life, I’d rather help uphold the law and make it safer for them than run around as a common criminal or vagrant.”

“It’ll be dangerous.”

“I know.”

Fier returned her attention to the ceremony. Thertos thought she was going to say something else, but when she didn’t, he too tried to focus on the goings-on below. While his eyes wandered the crowds for familiar faces, she suddenly said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, but I think I remember Telos. It’s a very pretty world, and it’s recovered much since Darth Malak.”

“It has,” he agreed.

“I would be happy on Telos, and I would be happier knowing that you’re there.”

“You wouldn’t mind coming back with me?”

“I’d love it more than anything.”

“What about your sister?”

Fier’s eyes misted a bit, but she refrained from crying—if only to preserve her makeup. “Glacis has her own path to follow. I couldn’t keep her cooped up unless she wanted to be. I’d be happier if she was with me, but I understand. As long as you’re with me, Thertos, I’ll be all right.”

She and Thertos shared a smile. He had doubts about his plan before, but hearing her praise his thoughts gave him confidence to move forward and comforted him despite the sorrow they both had suffered. While the ceremony continued, his mind was filled with thoughts of the future, and he was glad to know that Fier would be there with him.

*** ***

The bar itself was not supposed to be opened until the union had been affirmed and the main ceremony concluded, but Glacis and Briggs were tough customers. Some allusions to threats of violence forced the poor Khil bartender to open early and begin serving them. At first, the duo had merely drank to pass the time, but the wedding had dragged on for so long that they had challenged one another to a drinking contest. The more they drank the louder they became, and the bartender was racing back and forth from the bar to the canisters of alcohol to keep them sated.

“You drink like a schoolgirl, Briggs!” Glacis shouted. “I’d be embarrassed for you if it wasn’t so much fun watching you lose!”

“You talk a lot for someone who’s spilling beer all over herself,” he replied.

It was a rare occasion to see Briggs outside of his familiar combat armor. Trading his traditional combat apparel for ceremonial light armor, he was unfortunately forced to forgo his helmet. He hated walking around with his face uncovered, but Glacis couldn’t imagine why. His face was chiseled like it had been carved from Durosian marble, with scars lining his chin and forehead where his helmet hadn’t quite protected him. His eyes were green with honey-colored dots, and his hair, thin and wiry, was a deep brown. It could have been the alcohol talking, but she thought he was very handsome.

Likewise, Glacis traded her usual attire—either armor or a mesh suit for training—for a dress not unlike her little sister. She had been vehemently against the idea, but Ralina, Fier, and Thertos had chipped away at her resistance until she finally acquiesced. She wore a charcoal-colored blouse with no sleeves, ending quite a few centimeters below her shoulders. Her red dress was about ankle length and a cut ran from the bottom of the dress up to about her mid-calf. Manda had laughed at her just as she had laughed at Thertos.

“I’m sorry, only men can criticize my drinking habits,” Glacis said, downing another shot.

“You’re going to fall out of your chair.”

“You’re going to lose, and I’m never going to let you live it down.”

Glacis leaned over the bar to call for another drink—a stronger one—but she couldn’t stay upright. She swooned and fell back. Briggs gave a theatrical sigh while catching her. Glacis tried to play along, but she couldn’t maintain her facade any longer. Her smile suddenly became a frown, and she began to sob.

“Glacis?”

“Oh, Briggs…” One of her gloved hands moved to cover her face. “I miss them so much…”

Briggs had no idea what to say. “Ah… Glacis, listen-”“You have no idea! I should have gone after him! I should have listened to her. Neither of them would be dead if it wasn’t for me. It’s all my fault! It’s… it’s all my fault…”

Glacis clumsily rested her head against Briggs’s chest and started to weep uncontrollably. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. Shooing away the bartender when he tried to come by with another round of drinks, he sat quietly and let Glacis cry for some time.

“Listen, Glacis. It’s not your fault. There was nothing you could have done.”

“No. I could have-”

“Mandalore couldn’t have saved Jhosua. If he couldn’t save him, how could you? Verita demanded you remain on Mandalore with her. If you had listened to her, what would have happened to Fier? And Thertos? You’re the reason they’re still here. I couldn’t have protected them on my own.”

“But…”

“No. They chose their paths. You chose yours. I’m sorry. I miss them too. But you can’t blame yourself anymore than Fier ought to blame herself for the deaths of Mandalorians she led into battle. She tried her best, but sometimes the best isn’t good enough. I wish it didn’t have to be like that, but it is.”

“I wish they were here.”

“So do I. You have to keep living like they are, knowing they’re proud of you.”

“I can’t go back. I can’t face everyone like this. Fier won’t even be there.”

“Your parents were heroes. There is no shame being their child. Hold your head high. If you wished it, Mandalore would surely allow you to join with my clan.”

“I can’t… there would be too many memories… too many reminders…”

Briggs nodded. “Thertos’s parents suggested that we stay with them before we left. I refused them, but perhaps it would be best to stay with Fier and Thertos for a few months. We don’t have to go back if you don’t want to, but we can’t stay there forever. We’ll eventually have to find our own place in the galaxy.”

Drunk though she was, she started to pick up on his hints. “Don’t talk like that Briggs. You have a clan. I couldn’t ask you to abandon them for me. You belong with your people.”

“I belong wherever you belong,” he replied.

“You don’t have to defend me anymore, Briggs,” she snapped. “My father-”

“Your father didn’t ask me to do anything. I asked him.”

“… What?”

“Yeah.” Briggs began to wipe the tears from her cheeks with a handkerchief. “I approached him during basic training and asked if I could serve in his unit with you. He wasn’t happy at first… he nearly knocked me out then and there. But I think he took a liking to me in the end. At least, that’s what I hope.” He cupped her face in his hand. “I would hope that you’ve taken a liking to me too.”

“Oh, Briggs…” Glacis sniffed. “Yes. Yes I have. Thank you… for everything.”

*** ***

The leading naval officers that had survived Falang Minor had been invited to Thonnel’s wedding as guests of honor. It was such a media spectacle that their presence meant very little, but Belsio Molir still felt out of place. The admiralty table, as it had been called, was far smaller than he had hoped. Admiral Svarsk and Vice Adimral Yur were there, as well as Rear Admiral Gabran and several other lower-ranking flag officers. Carth Onasi had declined the invitation, returning to Telos to handle his estate. With his retirement, Opelle became fleet admiral, since he was the senior-most flag officer who had not taken part in what had been called the Falang Minor disaster. His gallant work stopping the Mandalorians from beginning a 'civil war' didn’t hurt, either.

With the destruction of the Palatine, the death of Admiral Marathos, and the destruction of nearly half of the Core Fleet, Belsio understood why journalists and politicians both condemned the battle. Not privy to classified information, it would have seemed a boondoggle of immense proportions—untold death and destruction to handle a fleet of rebels left behind from Gamandar. Given his disobedience to the Defense Ministry, Carth had taken the political fallout upon himself and retired from his post, publicly humiliated. Even though most of the admirals urged Carth to let them defend him, he would have none of it. It was a miracle none of the admirals sitting with him had been forced into retirement as well; at the very least, he and the others would be kept from promotion for a very long time.

The aftermath had become a scandal. Eliorae Latona Panteer had received political endorsements from Carth and Ducian Eto both; with the former disgraced and the latter dead after serving with Admiral Onasi, her political career came to an end. She resigned as senator of her system and backed out of the race of supreme chancellor, retiring with her husband to rule as queen of Alderaan while her chief adviser became senator in her place. For the first time since the end of the Great Hyperspace War, military funding was cut dramatically, and several contracts with very powerful military-industrial firms were canceled as a result. Fleet Admiral Opelle, quite confident that the threats of the Sith and the Mandalorians were behind them, began to disband the regional fleets in favor of the pre-Jedi Civil War sector fleets led by a local flag officer. General Eto’s successor began the same process in the Army.

Commodore Molir, for all of his fame and past heroism, realized that his career was essentially over. Only Carth had trusted him enough to command at his age, and without his approval he would be resigned to desk work for the rest of his days. After the furor about Thonnel’s wedding died down, Belsio had decided to issue his resignation. It was about time to return home to his wife anyway. He wished his service could have ended on a high note. Although none of the other officers had expressed such a sentiment in words, he could tell by their looks and mannerisms that they were also considering retirement.

“How’s your ship, Admiral Svarsk?” Vice Admiral Yur asked.

“It’s as good as new,” the Duros replied. “I’m quite pleased with the repairs and retrofits. I can’t say it will be put to good use, but I think I have a worthy successor in mind.”

“Have you been assigned a new ship, Xera?” asked Rear Admiral Gabran.

She chuckled. “Nope. I suppose they’re trying to force me behind a desk.” “What position?”

“Head of supply distribution and resource management.”

“What a nightmare,” Belsio said.

“You can say that again,” Admiral Yur grumbled. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life perusing datapads and order manifests. I’ll complain to the Admiralty Board again if I have to.”

“You’ll probably have to,” Admiral Svarsk noted.

“Look on the bright side,” Rear Admiral Gabran said, though not without pause to check if anyone was listening. “At least we finally beat the Sith.”

“Did we?” Belsio asked.

“I would say so. I mean, the Jedi Order has even returned to Coruscant. Hell, they got a better fanfare than we did when they reclaimed their abandoned temple.”

“Admiral Onasi wouldn’t have stepped down if he knew there was more to be done,” Admiral Svarsk agreed. “I think we can say that, while our careers are dead, we did what we had to do to save the Republic. That’s what matters, really.”

“Who knows? Who cares? If there is something out there, we can’t deal with it anymore. Let’s leave to the young bastards,” Xera said. “I’m tired of worrying about this mess.”

“Cheerful as always, Xera,” another vice admiral chided her.

“At the very least, let’s not spend our whole time here griping,” Admiral Svarsk said, and he raised his glass in a toast. “Let’s salute those who gave their lives to end the threat of the Sith. Without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t be here today, and our Republic would not stand. Pray we never forget that.”

“To the fallen!” Belsio agreed.

“To the fallen.”

Mandalore

Mandalore the Preserver sat alone in his war room. The battle had been won. Mandalore and its system had been liberated for his people, and the Sith had been defeated. Cleansing himself of his ancestor’s sins, he had fought alongside the Galactic Republic to rid the galaxy of the Sith menace. He and his surviving field marshals had returned home to the largest celebration ever held on Mandalore, and the festival—in his honor—lasted for many days. Even after the main event had ended, celebrations continued on for well over a month. It was only recently that things had begun to return to normal.

There was much to do. Most of their people had already come from nearby planets and systems to settle on Mandalore. Farmers and herders had been allocated land, and homes were springing up all across the planet. Clans who had ancestrally come from Mandalore were given back their territory, and those who had lived offworld had their claims recognized before they departed. Shipwrights were working on land and in orbit, repairing spaceworthy vessels and building new ones. The field marshals had been given control over much of the armed forces, and they had spent many months modernizing equipment, developing technology, and creating new strategies for war.

The Mandalorians were nearly self-sufficient. His tasks were completed. He had done everything required of him. And yet, he felt uneasy. With a heavy sigh, Mandalore the Preserver removed his helmet, and Jhosua Weros saw the world around him without the visor of the leader’s mask for the first time in many months.

When Mandalore had sacrificed his life to save Jhosua and took the life of the traitor Tyrollian, he had no idea that this would be the ultimate result. Giving the former Mandalore a burial at sea, Jhosua traded his armor for the armor of Mandalore, master and commander of all the clans. He had not intended his deception to go on for so long, and he certainly did not intend for his family to be deceived as they had been. He had tried to tell Verita shortly after 'his' funeral, but the sudden knowledge of her infidelity held his tongue. He had been conflicted, heartbroken, and he did not know what to think. It was only later that he regained the strength and contacted her.

Jhosua held her lightsaber in his hand. One of the Jedi, Dynatha, had returned it to him. She told him that his wife died in battle while saving their lives from the Sith Lord. He had always known that her destiny was different than his. He only wished that they could have reconciled before she died. That was what he had tried to do. Too little, too late.

With Verita gone, the madness that had lingered in the back of his mind returned. Tales of treachery and fear came upon him, and he was haunted by half-truths and visions of the past. How long had Verita deceived him? Had she ever truly loved him, or had names like Geryon meant something to her? Were the young girls he thought were his even his daughters? Fear was an ever present demon, and he found no relief. Every time he tried to talk with the young women he thought were his daughters, he found himself hesitating. He couldn’t look on them the same way, and his concerns paralyzed him.

His unease and looming madness did not go unnoticed by his leading officers. They had taken control, quietly, of the situation on Mandalore and elsewhere. The military was almost entirely theirs, and everything from infrastructure to the economy had been delegated to one of the Mandalorian field marshals. Jhosua feared for his life. He knew that if he revealed his identity now, they would murder him—either as a traitor to the deceased Mandalore or because he was useless to them. Only as long as he continued his charade as Mandalore would they keep him alive as a figurehead.

“Why do you fear them? Surely you know that the truth would relieve you of much misery and suffering,” the voice of his brother echoed in his mind.

“You know what happened when you kept these things a secret,” the voice of Verita agreed. “You lost the woman you loved because you waited too long. Do you intend to lose these people as well?”

“You know what you have to do.” This time it was Tyrollian who barked into his ear. “Tell the people that the field marshals are planning to claim power for themselves. Execute them for treachery. Consolidate power for yourself, and you will be safe.”

“Surely that would cause discontent amongst the people. I have no proof, and the field marshals have done good things for them,” Jhosua mewled.

“What do you have to fear? You are Mandalore.” Now Kerre spoke. “Your word is unquestionable. Your authority is absolute. Canderous isn’t here to save you this time. If they incite another rebellion…”

“But the civilians-”

“Forget the civilians!” Glacis shouted at him. “The warriors are all that matters. They support you, as do I. As long as you have them on your side, you can quell any dissent.”

Jhosua continued to talk to himself, although thinking there were others with him, and he was so caught up in his conversation that he did not realize that his guards had been executed by intruders. Their entire bodies were draped in black cloaks, and they wore durasteel masks to conceal their identities. For some time they watched Jhosua argue and debate alone, finding some deal of amusement in his suffering.

“Mandalore,” the leader of the pack finally said. “We have business with you.”

Jhosua’s eyes danced over to them. Shocked by their appearance, he nonetheless quickly recognized several things: they were not Mandalorians, they had armor beneath their cloaks, and they carried lightsabers on their persons. He jumped to his feet and grabbed the battle ax that was resting against the holographic projector behind him.

“Who are you?”

“You know who we are… we’ve met before,” the lead figure replied. “We are servants of the Sith Emperor.”

“Sith… but we dealt with you. You’re dead.”

“No, only sleeping.”

“Our master may be bound and biding his time, but he knows betrayal when he sees it. You’ve done an unfortunate thing, Mandalore—or should I say, Jhosua Weros?” another, shorter figure continued. “Indeed, by betraying us when we needed you most, we’ve decided that we must take from you what you value most.”

Jhosua’s mind immediately flashed to Glacis and Fier, and he raised his ax to do battle. He may have lost them, but he would not allow these fiends to harm them. To his surprise, the Sith minions only laughed at him as he approached.

“Don’t waste your time. We’re not interested in your daughters,” the lead Sith said, rebuffing Jhosua’s approach with a telekinetic wave. “They would be easy prey, but they’re harmless. Force blind and ignorant. They’d pose no threat to us. We are here only to repay your betrayal.”

“Besides,” one of the Sith near the back added, “it’s patently clear that they are not what you care most about.”

“Shut up,” Jhosua growled.

“Look around you. What do you see? I don’t see your family anywhere, but I '’do see Mandalorians. Whole clans, many battalions, a multitude of ships. The thing you care most about in your heart is not, in fact, those girls. You knew all along they aren’t yours. No, you are worried about the men and women you’ve spent many years nurturing, training, leading. The Mandalorians are your children, and you love them more than anything. Their repatriation was the finale of many years of hard work, your greatest accomplishment, in fact.”

“So we’re going to deprive them of you,” the leader spoke again. “We’re going to kill you, and we’re going to seize Mandalore’s mask. We’ll reveal to them all what you have done, from your time in the Republic to your 'betrayal' of Mandalore. Without a leader, they’ll have no one to turn to, and without the mask, they can appoint no new leader. So the field marshals will fight amongst themselves, and they’ll divide the Mandalorians again. We’ll ensure they remain fragmented and leaderless until a time comes when we need to summon them again.”

“Once a servant of the Sith, always a servant of the Sith.”

Jhosua refused to believe it. He wouldn’t let everything he had accomplished be in vain. He wouldn’t let Canderous Ordo’s vision of a united Mandalore be destroyed so easily. Even in his madness, he knew what he had to do. “I won’t let that happen. I’ll slaughter you all and see to it that your bodies are hoisted in the central plaza where all can see what happens to enemies of Mandalore.”

“Indeed?” the leader mocked him with his wry tone, and whole group ignited their lightsabers as one. “Then show us, Jhosua. Show us what you’re capable of when you’re fighting for those you love.”

Alderaan

Celes and Harin were looking for a way out of Aldera when they ran into Ranval Messor’s companions. The two Jedi Knights had been appointed as diplomatic envoys to the royal family by the Jedi Council, and they had met Artinan Neim while in the palace. Although they had not known that he had been an agent for Ranval, they recognized him immediately when they met him and Ranval’s other operatives in the market.

“So what are you doing here?” Harin asked Selias. “Come to pick up your little spy?”

“I take offense to that,” Artinan quipped.

“And where’s Ranval? Surely he hasn’t extended your leash long enough to let you out of his sight,” Celes added.

“Over there.” Selias motioned toward the rolling green hills in the distance. “He’s communing with spirits or something. As for us, we need to sell the extra goods and supplies we had gathered while clearing out our bases across the galaxy. Aldera just happens to have one of the largest markets in the Core Worlds, so we might as well kill two mynocks with one stone.”

“Makes sense to me,” Harin said. “Do you have a ship?” “We do. Are you on your way back to Coruscant?”

Harin and Celes shared a knowing look. “No. We told the Jedi Council that we went on this mission as advisers to the king and queen. That much was true. We did advise them. However, we did not tell them that we would not be coming back.”

“You’re going to abandon the Jedi Order?” Artinan chuckled. “Why does that not surprise me?”

“Do you trailblazers have a destination?” Selias asked.

“Not at the moment. We’re just going to wander the galaxy, let the Force show us where people are in need or the galaxy needs saving. I’d rather we serve as Jedi Knights like my mother and her mother did than as stooges to the High Council on Coruscant.”

“That Sunrider blood acting up again,” Artinan joked.

“You make it sound like a bad thing. Almost hypocritical, given Ranval’s position,” Celes countered.

“Fair point.”

“What about you all?” Celes asked as they walked through the crowded marketplace. “Where are Ranval and his merry band of misfits headed?”

“We’re going to the Kanz sector. After the Jedi left the region, the situation on the ground has been one mess after another. We’re going to help any way we can.”

“All by yourself?”

“We’ll manage. Of course, if the legendary Sunrider duo was with us, we’d be able to establish peace much easier.”

Celes shook her head. “No can do. I don’t know anything about the region, and the Force hasn’t impressed upon me the same urgency that you have. Our destiny lies elsewhere.”

“If you say so.”

Falmas crept through the crowd and found her way beside Selias. Her face was barely visible beneath the shadow of a thick cowl, and she covered her body with a flowing cape. “Pardon me. The ship is ready. Lree wants to know when we’re planning on leaving.”

“I hate it when she does that,” Selias muttered. “Let Ranval know that we’re just waiting for Omel to finish some business with a pair of smugglers in the cantina. Tell Lree to keep the engines warm.”

“Until your friend gets back from the cantina, let us travel with you. We have to unload a few supplies of our own, and I have a feeling you know the markets better than we do,” Celes said.

“We’d be happy to have you along. We’ll show you where the best deals are—if you can haggle. You’re not too good for that, are you little Sunrider?” Artinan teased.

“Weren’t you playing maid for a queen not too long ago?” Harin riposted. “Don’t tell me you took her royal highness to such a lowbrow market like this.”

Artinan didn’t say anything, but the barb did manage to elicit a laugh from Selias. “If nothing else, I’m going to miss the acerbic Sunrider wit.”

*** ***

Ranval was alone on nearest of the grassy hills that overlooked Aldera. The sun was high in the sky, a comfortable breeze ran through his cloak, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. In the beautiful weather his mind wandered, and he likely would have remained lost in his own thoughts if Raystin Benax hadn’t appeared beside him.

“I understand that this is where Malfon took up his residence.”

“Not far from here,” Ranval said. “The ruins of his manor are still there, hidden between the hills. We could visit if you want.”

“That’s quite all right. I didn’t come to reminisce. I’m not long for this plane, anyway.”

Raystin had introduced himself to Ranval not long after their victory against Preux, but the Force ghost had taught him much in that time. In some ways, he had carried on the teachings that Northeus had left him with and completed his tutelage as a Jedi Knight. He would always have respect for his deceased master, no matter his ignoble death, but Raystin’s teachings were far beyond anything Northeus could have offered. There was still much more Ranval had to learn and regretted that they would be parted so quickly.

“The sword kept me from death, and my fury kept me bound to the sword,” Raystin explained. “All those years ago, when the galaxy demanded that I take up my blade and strike down my best friend… I couldn’t do it. I broke my oath and failed the Jedi Order when it needed me the most. When he needed me the most. I am responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands.”

“The failure was not yours. He could not resist the dark side.”

“He faced against an evil so great that I cannot blame him. I can only blame myself for failing to redeem him.”

“He could not be saved.”

“Perhaps.” Raystin stared into the distance. “Regardless, Tserne and Dynatha both resisted that evil. They succeeded where Malfon and I did not. No more shall the progeny of Avaran Whell haunt this galaxy.”

“What about the rest of the Sith?”

“The Sith… remain. Avaran fought for many years to surpass the Dark Lord in waiting. He yearned to cheat death and use his immortality to claim the title of Sith Emperor for his own. It seems he failed, but it has not been all for naught. The Emperor on the Eternal Throne will stay his hand for the time being. He has seen Dynatha, Tserne, Verita, and the Sunriders. He has seen you and the other Jedi Masters. He will wait until you have all perished before revealing himself.”

“How long do we have?”

“Decades… centuries… who can say? Very few Sith can stave off death the way he can. He has perverted the natural order in a way that cries out for justice. He is powerful, more powerful than any being alive, but the more he tries to bend the Force to his will, the more it will fight back. You observed this in Dynatha.”

“Dynatha?”

Raystin nodded. “Avaran bred men and women to create the perfect host for his immortal body. He manipulated their wills and made them into his playthings. When no Jedi moved to face him, the Force waited until the pivotal moment to act, bringing forth Dynatha when the galaxy needed her most. The same is true for any hero.”

“The same was true for you.”

“My soul will rest easy knowing that, in the end, my failures in life have been undone. Long has vengeance occupied my thoughts. Now that it is done, I am finally free. I yearn evermore for the destruction of the Sith, but that task will be left to the living. You will not see me again.”

“I regret not learning more from you.”

“You’ve learned all I can teach you, Master Messor. Go with my blessing and take up my mantle. Guide the Jedi Order as I have guided you.”

“And remember,” Raystin’s voice echoed through time and space, “the Force will be with you… always.”

Ambria

The wind howled as it cleared the mountains to the south. Even Lake Natth, apt to stir without provocation, was peaceful. The sun was barely beginning to rise, and the whole world was still very cold and dark. In what would have been the shadow of Thon—and later Northeus’s—abode, Tserne DeLarane stood alone, his eyes traveling this way and that across the horizon.

Absent-mindedly, he extended his hand and tried to tap into the Force. Nothing happened. Nothing would ever happen, because he had lost his connection to the Force when he had given up the sword. Even when Dynatha had transferred her life into his to revive him, it was not enough to completely restore his bond with the Force. The sword still retained some of its mystical power, but without Raystin Benax inhabiting it, there was no way for Tserne to draw upon the Force. He was, for all intents and purposes, Force blind.

He had seen only a few of their companions and friends since their departure from Falang Minor. Phaevn had returned to Lalun’s side after the battle, eager to spend his final days at her side. K’thoi and Via had made peace with the Jedi Order and returned to Coruscant, where they were made Jedi Knights. Ranval, Selias, and Falmas had stopped for only a short visit on their way to Alderaan. They had not seen the Sunriders since they had all separated at Sernpidal. As far as he or Dynatha knew, Ixi and Ojon were safe on Coruscant, and their exemplary bravery and heroics on Falang Minor and abroad had won them much praise from the Jedi Council. Only Threecee remained with them.

Tserne enjoyed spending time alone, deep in his thoughts. He had forgotten much, and he had lost most of his memories from the past twenty years due to the Sith, but he also remembered many important and good things. Though he had chosen to live a life of solitude with Dynatha, sometimes the voices of the past still haunted him. He thought of his days as a cold-hearted killer, a bounty hunter with no scruples for illegality, and a gun-for-hire. Sometimes he made the galaxy a better place, no doubt, but at the cost of many lives. Although it was not justice as the Jedi would have wrought it, he saw his loss of the Force and his stolen memories at the hands of the derriphan and Lord Preux as retribution for those deaths. For all the lives he had taken, he was willing to lose something of himself in return.

Force blind though he was, sometimes he thought the dark side whispered still. After all, he had abandoned Dynatha once before; surely he couldn’t live like this for the remainder of his life, staying in a hovel with little food and nothing to do but tend livestock and crops. Although his mind flirted with the idea of living in a palace with a vast contingent of servants at his beck and call, or else enjoying the vivacious and exhilarating lifestyle of a Coruscanti socialite, he never seriously considered it. As long as Dynatha was with him, he could ask for nothing more.

He heard her approach him from behind. Her footsteps were light and barely audible, but her nightgown fluttered in the wind as she approached. She leaned on his shoulder, half asleep, and Tserne quickly covered her with the coat he was wearing.

“Tserne… you’re awake awfully early. What are you doing out here?”

“Organizing my thoughts,” he replied.

“What are you thinking about?”

Tserne held her hands in his. “How fortunate I am to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“You’re only saying that.”

“I’m serious. Trust me. We’ll stay here and make Ambria into a world that Northeus would have been proud of.”

Dynatha pecked him in the cheek. “That’s good, because I’ve no intention of losing you again.”

“Come on,” Tserne said. “You’ll get sick lingering out here with me. Let’s go back inside.”

“Hold on. You don’t want to miss the sunrise, do you?”

“Dynatha-”

“Well, you can’t just linger in the darkness and miss the light’s coming. Who does that?”

Tserne shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “You’re right. I suppose that doesn’t make much sense. Let’s watch the sunrise, then.”

Dynatha stood wrapped in Tserne’s embrace and watched as the black of night began to flee from the coming dawn. She had known it for a long time, but in that moment, she knew that she had finally achieved what she had hoped for for many years since. She loved Tserne, and he loved her, and she could say those things assured that they were true. She had lost the Force, but she had found love, and that was greater than all else in the universe.

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