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Chapter 20

The ride from the spaceport to the Valley of Jyrnn had been a quiet one. It had not been a long drive, and the four Force-users hardly paid attention to their surroundings. The Jedi had initially immersed themselves in the Force, reaching out into the Alderaanian plains. They tried to discern the source of the dark side energy that plagued the planet, but their efforts were unsuccessful. The longer they reached into the Force, the more fatigued they became. The dark side itself hindered their farsight, and they were forced to rest for the remainder of the drive.

Khondine drove by a small pair of hills—Raen recognized them as the Hallowed Eastern Hills—into a valley beyond. To the surprise of her Jedi passengers, soldiers were scattered across the grassy fields that rested at the base of the hills. The Hallowed Hills provided shade from the setting Alderaanian sun, and a great shadow was cast over the entire camp of warriors. There were only a handful of speeders and tanks and the force seemed mostly comprised of infantry.

He didn’t know what his companions thought, but the camp shocked Raen. He had never seen anyone prepare for battle on such a large scale, especially on a world seemingly as peaceful as Alderaan. Such organized attacks were unheard of, and he was surprised that the Sith allowed this base to stand. It was hidden, of course, but the Sith controlled Alderaan. It wouldn’t be hard for them to find it if they needed to.

A wire fence surrounded most of the camp, and wherever there was a gap in the defenses, a Republic soldier stood to admit or deny entrance. Khondine parked their speeder outside the camp and led the three Jedi to one of these entryways. She introduced them to a particular Republic soldier wearing the traditional red-and-yellow combat armor of the Republic Army. After a quick scan and a confirmation from the base’s leadership, the soldier let the four Force-sensitives into the camp.

“How long do you suppose it took to set all this up?” Ranval wondered aloud.

“I’m surprised it’s standing at all,” Raen replied. “You think something like this would stand out on Sith sensors.”

“The Sith don’t know of our presence,” Khondine noted, overhearing their conversation. “They became overconfident and weak, settling in upon gaining power. Their spy network is not as great as they think.”

Raen wasn’t convinced. De’dlay knew of everything happening on Alderaan. He even knew when Tor’chal was set to arrive from Coruscant during a secret Jedi investigation, a year ago. If the Sith could identify when Jedi were landing on a planet that was not even under their control, they could discover the location of a Republic military base on their planet. Why the Sith had yet to act, Raen didn’t know. It didn’t matter. As long as they were here, they could help the Republic fight the Sith.

Hundreds of tents lined the camp, forming neat columns and rows. The Republic had not erected any noticeable bunkers, and it seemed as though they had only just arrived on the world. It also appeared as though they weren’t even worried about the Sith finding them based on how they prepared their base. A camp defended by wires and tents would hardly serve as a defensible position against a legion of Sith troopers. Raen didn’t understand why the Republic’s base was so lax in its defenses.

Khondine guided the three Jedi by the tents and their occupants. Soldiers—some wearing armor, others in casual fatigues—dotted the campsite, sitting around in their tents or strolling throughout the camp. The sound of idle chatter filled the air, and it was hard to hear Khondine answer Gaiel’s questions about the camp. The smell of cooked nerf, a local herbivore, filled the air. The furry beast had a tangy, pungent smell, but Raen had eaten it often enough to know its hearty taste offset the beast’s odor.

The soldiers seemed optimistic and cheerful, and from the conversations Raen overheard, it seemed they were fairly confident about their chances of success. In fact, they bragged that, because Alderaan was a Core World, they would have the support of the planet’s populace during the upcoming battle. They weren’t lacking for confidence, and Raen hoped that bravado was backed by skill. He had never seen a Republic unit fight before, but he was eager to watch them work.

“If you don’t mind,” Khondine said, “there’s a meeting with the Republic leadership going on right now. I will take you there, to see what we’re dealing with.”

“Of course,” Gaiel said.

“This is an honor,” Khondine was quick to stress. “In any other circumstance, I would assign you tents and have you report to your Jedi superiors. But you three appear a bit confused, so I’ll let you come with me to the meeting to get you up to speed.”

At the center of the entire camp rested a huge box-shaped compound made of durasteel. It seemed to be the primary base, and Khondine explained to Gaiel that the building doubled as the logistics center and their war room. Guards were posted at the base’s perimeter, eyeing anyone who approached with suspicion. Very few soldiers dared to enter the paved area that encompassed the building, and most of them actively avoided it. Khondine walked by the first set of guards, and they waved her and her guests through. Upon reaching the guards who monitored the doorway, Khondine handed both of her lightsabers to the guards. Passing by the checkpoint, she urged the three Jedi to do the same.

“Do we have to give them our weapons?” Ranval asked, disappointed. “I’d rather not part with my lightsaber.”

“Yes,” Khondine said, exasperated. “They’ll give them back once we leave. It’s a standard safety procedure.”

Ranval grumbled and handed his weapon to the guard, who smiled toothily under his combat helmet. The other two Jedi gave their lightsabers away without complaining. Once they were disarmed, Khondine led them into the war room.

The war room was unimpressive to Raen and the other Jedi. It was fairly plain, illuminated by powerful glowpanels hovering over the holographic tactical display at the center of the room. It was strangely empty, and all the focus seemed to be directed at the holographic display. Soldiers lined the walls of the room, armed with blaster rifles and vibroswords in case of an emergency. The room reeked of sweat, probably from soldiers who spent too much time here after engagements, and Raen loathed the smell.

Several individuals stood at the center of the room, surrounding the holographic display. A shouting man stood in their midst, a giant of a man who towered over everyone else in the room. He was wearing a Republic officer’s uniform: a pristine crimson dress shirt with medals and commemorations lining his sleeves and chest, coupled with black trousers and boots. Raen heard him screaming and shouting as soon as they entered; he was furious, slamming his fist and stomping his feet like a child. His face was as red as his uniform, and several soldiers nearby were trying to calm him down, but he wouldn’t listen to them.

At his left, a Duros male attempted to assuage the furious officer. He wore the same uniform as the shouting man at his side, and he had as many decorations on his vest—if not more—as his companion. His aqua-colored skin was wrinkled with age, but his shining red eyes seemed vigilant enough to make up for his body’s failings. One arm was positioned across his chest while his other hand rested near his face, pensively considering the situation he and the other soldiers were in.

Across from the Duros officer, a comparatively young Human male, but older than Gaiel, spoke to several of his companions. He wore Jedi robes that managed to contain his massive girth, portly and jolly as he was. He chortled with laughter at the chaos the Republic officers were in, but he said nothing to them. He was more concerned with speaking to the squid-like Quarren—with tentacles dangling from his face and webbed hands—and the old, cloaked Human male at his side.

A young woman stood at the other side of the Duros soldier. She wore an elaborate dress that reached the floor. It was bright green with a slight sheen, and its lively color stood out in the presence of her companions. Her golden hair curled freely, beautifully decorated and reaching just below her neck, where the blue cloak that she wore over her dress began. Her delicate, pale fingers gripped the table before her; if she let go, Raen thought she’d simply give up and fall over. She seemed cold in this room, shivering in spite of the fact that no one else seemed to mind the light breeze.

Khondine approached the woman and the table, bowing once the woman noticed her approach. The woman with the golden hair cheerfully welcomed Khondine, bidding her to stand and forgo the pleasantries the guardsman insisted on performing. Khondine stood by the woman’s side at the table, and the three Jedi joined them without a word.

“How dare you?” Khondine hissed at her Jedi guests. “You disrespect Eliorae Latona, Princess of Alderaan?”

“What?” Ranval asked, speaking for the oblivious Jedi.

“Kneel!” Khondine ordered.

“Please…” the woman with the golden hair murmured. “It’s not necessary, Khondine. Really.”

“Princess, if you’d please. Let me handle this,” Khondine said, hardly paying mind to the princess. She turned her attention back to the Jedi immediately: “Pay homage to the sole and true heir of the throne of Alderaan!”

Gaiel bowed first, not willing to start an argument with Khondine. Raen and Ranval followed suit, kneeling before the young princess. Khondine was mollified, but the princess appeared flustered and didn’t seem comfortable with the show of respect. Waving her hands, she begged them to stand before turning from the Jedi. Khondine, satisfied with her guests, invited the Jedi to join them at the war council.

“Where are the princess’s guards?” Gaiel asked. “If she’s the planet’s last leader, shouldn’t she be defended?”

Khondine’s steely exterior seemed to fade for a moment. Raen noticed her clench her fists, fighting back the urge to respond inappropriately. “I… I am the last one. The Royal Guardsmen were annihilated during the Sith’s attack on our castle.”

“I’m sorry,” Gaiel said. “I certainly didn’t mean to-”

“You didn’t,” Khondine interrupted, her resolve quickly returning. “Let me introduce you to the rest of the rebellion.” She cleared her throat and addressed the group before them. “Gentlemen!”

“What is it, Khondine?” the giant man asked, still fuming.

“We have some new warriors in our midst,” Khondine said.

“Jedi?” the Duros officer asked. “All Jedi are to directed to Master Jram’s camp, are they not?”

“These Jedi did not come with Master Jram,” Khondine replied. “They arrived a few hours ago, but their goals are our goals. They are here to defeat the Sith.”

The Duros officer muttered something under his breath, but he smiled at the three Jedi. “The pleasure is mine. My name is Colonel Mitos. My associate is Major Altesius.”

“Yeah, hi,” Major Altesius, the giant man who had been shouting, grumbled.

The portly Jedi, who had been silenced until now, eyed the new arrivals suspiciously. Gaiel thought he recognized him from somewhere, as if they had crossed before, but he didn’t know his name. Raen felt uncomfortable as the man stared them down, and Raen shifted his gaze to avoid his.

“Are you sure you are not Jedi that were assigned to our group?” the large Jedi chortled.

“Yes, sir,” Gaiel said. “We came from-”

“Master, these are the three Jedi who I told you about,” the old man standing near the Quarren said. “Gaiel, Raen, and Ranval.”

“Jasparan?” Raen shouted.

The old Jedi Knight, who stood on the side opposite of Telerus, turned to face the three Jedi. Whatever shock had risen up within him upon hearing Raen’s voice had already faded away when he turned to them. In fact, he seemed at ease seeing them here, even though Raen knew that he was disgusted by Raen’s presence.

“Why, hello, Raen. How surprising to see you here,” he said flatly.

“The Quarren Jedi is Master Jram, and the other two Jedi Knights are Telerus Eston and Jasparan Tes—who I see you’ve already met,” Khondine continued.

“What are you doing here?” Raen growled, ignoring Khondine’s introduction.

“I came here because I received orders from the High Council,” Jasparan snapped. “Just like every other Jedi here.”

“He is right,” the stout Jedi, apparently named Telerus, said. “Master Jram was tasked with leading a group of Jedi to Alderaan to deal with the Sith threat. About forty Jedi are here, under his command, ready for battle.”

“We intend to remove the blight of the Sith from Alderaan,” Jram noted. His Basic was garbled and hard to follow due to the tentacles dangling around his mouth, but they managed to understand him.

“Forty Jedi should be enough to defeat the Sith,” Gaiel noted.

“Indeed,” Telerus murmured. “Colonel Mitos, these Jedi have no business here. They are to fall under our command, per the request of the High Council.”

“Of course,” the colonel said. “What of it?”

“We don’t believe their presence is necessary,” Telerus said plainly. “We are the senior Jedi on this mission, and they can wait in their tents for now.”

“Hold on,” Raen said. “I don’t know what this is about, but we’re staying here. We didn’t receive any orders from the Council, and we can be here—just like you can.”

“Raen, please don’t make this an issue,” Gaiel whispered. “Let’s just leave.”

“I would appreciate their presence here,” Khondine spoke up. “If you wouldn’t mind, Master Jram.”

Jram was silent for a moment, seemingly pondering the issue. However, it was clear that he did not know what to say and was buying time. Glancing at Telerus, and then at Jasparan, the Quarren seemed as though he was asking them for guidance; a Jedi Master could make his own decisions, and he was sure Jram was no exception. Why was he turning to Telerus, as if he needed permission from the Jedi Knight? Raen didn’t understand.

“I hope this won’t be an issue,” Colonel Mitos snapped. “We have a battle to plan.”

“Of course not, sir,” Jram said quickly. “As Telerus said, I don’t believe their presence is necessary. Please dismiss them.”

“Very well.” Mitos took his eyes off the tactical layout for a moment and motioned for some soldiers. “Please remove the three Jedi from the chamber.”

“Princess Eliorae,” Khondine whispered, “please speak for the Jedi.”

“Why?”

“They will listen to you.”

“I-I don’t know what to say.”

“Princess, simply tell them that you would request the Jedi stay here.”

The princess cleared her throat. “Excuse me… Colonel Mitos?”

“Yes, Princess?”

“Could I… well… could you… what I mean is-”

“Spit it out, woman!” Major Altesius bellowed.

“I-I-I’d like the Jedi to stay here,” she yelped.

Colonel Mitos made no effort to hide his disapproval, crossing his arms and frowning fiercely. “And why is that, Princess Eliorae?” he asked with a hint of disdain in his voice.

“I… I…” the princess turned to Khondine for assistance, but she merely made an encouraging gesture. Her guard wanted her to keep talking, but she didn’t tell the princess what to say. She was not very helpful. “I would like the Jedi to stay. I would like them to serve as my advisers.”

Khondine nearly slapped her head with her palm, shocked at the princess’s suggestion. The three Jedi were equally stunned; the Republic soldiers were manhandling them in a futile effort to get rid of them, but the soldiers stopped when they heard Eliorae’s request. Telerus huffed loudly, clearly angered at her words, but the other Jedi seemed oblivious to the development. Major Altesius laughed heartily when Princess Eliorae’s face reddened in confusion and embarrassment.

“You… you what?” Mitos asked. “Don’t you think that’s a premature decision based on the fact you hardly know them?”

“The princess has spoken, Colonel,” Khondine interrupted. “Do you wish to deny her request?”

Colonel Mitos glared at Khondine, and then glanced at the Republic soldiers. They seemed less than eager to continue their previous directive due to the princess’s words, and he didn’t want to make an issue of this. “Fine! The Jedi may stay. It is not even my concern. Are we done?”

Khondine waited until the Jedi had returned to the table before saying, smugly: “Yes, Colonel.”

“If I may continue where I left off,” Mitos began. Gladly realizing that no one would interrupt him, he turned his attention to the holographic display on the table. “We were just finishing our plan of attack on the Sith. Master Jram, Major Altesius, and I have been discussing possible scenarios.”

“In most of those, I get stuck guarding the princess,” Major Altesius groaned.

The colonel ignored him. “Our objective is simple. We must force the Sith to capitulate by any means necessary, aside bombing them from orbit. The Senate has declared it… messy. They’d rather not pick up the pieces left after that.”

“Besides,” Khondine interrupted, “Alderaan is a Core World. Bombing it would be like bombing any other Republic member-world, in the eyes of the galactic community. We’d be no different—perhaps worse—than the Sith, especially if we had to bomb civilian centers to defeat the Sith loyalists.”

“Indeed. To immobilize the Sith, we must strike at their infrastructure and chain of command. That gives us three primary targets: the capital city, the soldier’s garrison to the west, and the Sith academy.” Mitos pointed toward each area on his map of Alderaan’s surface, lighting up each target with a faint green glow. “Each one must fall, or our plan becomes ineffective.”

Raen thought about the colonel’s choice of targets. The soldier garrison was an obvious choice. The garrison doubled as the Sith’s logistics and droid-control centers. If they crippled it, and captured the materiel and mechanized cavalry within, the Republic could cut off the Sith supply lines across the planet. The academy housed the Sith’s leadership; capturing it would utterly devastate the Sith’s ability to fight back and defend their leaders. However, it would be heavily guarded by dark-siders, and normal Republic infantry wouldn’t be able to capture it. In fact, they would just be a hindrance.

Aldera was the only one that seemed to be a random target. Raen figured that it was a target meant to give hope to the Republic leadership and their rebel associates. If they could capture it, the soldiers would feel inspired and receive much needed morale. The Sith probably kept a steady presence in the capital anyway, and the more Sith that died in this upcoming attack, the quicker they could all be defeated.

“So, what’s the plan?” Khondine asked. “How are we dividing our troops?”

“We’re going to split our forces into three attack groups, each led by a contingent of Jedi Knights. Each one will attack one of our targets. It’s simple, but effective,” Colonel Mitos explained.

“It’s unnecessarily risky,” Raen spoke up. “You’re wasting soldiers. You don’t have soldiers to spare attacking a pointless target like the capital.”

“Pointless target?” Mitos scoffed. “Of course. Because the Sith’s center of political and economic power is a pointless target. The fact that the Sith use it as a hub for transport and planning is irrelevant. The fact that it is the center of every Sith supply line is frivolous. Aside from the fact Preux, the self-appointed king of Alderaan, spends most of his time there, it’s totally useless.”

“Boy, I think you need to learn to keep your mouth shut,” Major Altesius said with a smile.

“Well, I admit that the capital is more important than I thought,” Raen surrendered, “but sending soldiers to the academy is pointless.”

“And why is that?” Mitos asked, clearly annoyed.

“It’s guarded by the Sith and their underlings. You wouldn’t need conventional troops to fight them—in fact, they’d just get in the way. You’d be better off just sending Jedi,” Raen said.

“How do you know, Master Jedi?” the princess asked.

“I…” Raen hesitated for a moment. He couldn’t just tell them he was once a Sith. It wouldn’t endear them to him, especially with his suggestions for the way their military should be organized in battle.

“Common sense, Princess Eliorae,” Gaiel spoke up. “Soldiers aren’t a match for Jedi Knights, and Dark Jedi are likely plentiful there. If you sent soldiers, they’d just be targets.”

Colonel Mitos crossed his arms. “Let’s say there are no troopers guarding the base, and what you say is true-”

“Be careful, Colonel,” Telerus said. “He could be trying to deceive us. I sense the dark side in him.”

“I care not for your divine games,” Mitos shot back. “Leave them out of this war room, or I’ll ask all of you to leave.”

“Yes, sir,” Telerus spat.

“I believe we can divide our soldiers into two groups, then,” Colonel Mitos said, returning his attention back to the map. “I will lead one unit, and it will attack the capital. Lord Petran Farseil will lead the attack on the soldier garrison. The Jedi, on the other hand, will solely focus on attacking the Sith academy, and Master Jram will lead them.”

“What?” Altesius shouted. “Then what do I do, Colonel?”

“You will stay behind and watch the princess with a small contingent of soldiers,” Mitos replied.

“I don’t want to stay behind and babysit her,” Altesius grumbled.

“Major!” Khondine barked. “You are before the princess herself! Mind your tongue.”

“Is anyone going to investigate the Benax estate?” Raen asked, ignoring the current discussion.

“No,” Mitos said. “Raystin Benax was given control of some local factories for some time, but he was forced to close them so as not to compete with Czerka Corporation, the Sith’s primary benefactor. The manor itself is of little strategic importance and—as you so kindly noted—we can’t afford risking extra troops.”

“Send me,” Raen said.

“What?” Mitos asked.

“Let me go to Benax manor,” Raen elaborated. “One of the Sith Masters of Alderaan, De’dlay Yavalaaka, has been known to frequent there. I’d like to investigate.”

“I don’t trust the boy going alone,” Jasparan replied curtly. Raen knew he would disapprove. He surely realized that Raen going to his own home was suspicious, and likely thought it was some sort of plot against the Jedi. The old man shook his head and continued: “I’d opt for us to send three Jedi—from Coruscant—to accompany him.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Colonel Mitos mused. “As long as you won’t be offset anywhere because of it.”

“They won’t be,” Gaiel said. “If he wants some of their Jedi to accompany Raen, I’ll join them at the academy.”

“Me too,” Ranval said.

“That leaves you short one warrior,” Major Altesius noted.

“No, I’m coming too,” Khondine said.

“Khondine?” Colonel Mitos asked. “Why would you travel with the Jedi? I’d think you would want to remain beyond and defend the princess.”

The guardsman shook her head. “I’m sorry. I have… reasons… to accompany them. I believe Major Altesius can fulfill his duties without my assistance.”

“Excellent,” Telerus cooed. “Our force is again its original size.”

“I will select three Jedi to join Raen to the estate,” Jram said.

“Very good. If there’s nothing else, then we can end this meeting,” Colonel Mitos announced. “Best of luck to you all.”


Chapter 21

Once the meeting had ended, Raen left the Jedi and their Republic allies behind. Dismissing himself, he wandered from the central base to the outskirts of the camp, lingering near the wire fence that encompassed its perimeter. Raen took a moment to meditate in the comparatively quiet area while the soldiers prepared for their evening meal.

His mind fluttered from one end of the camp to the other, his perception extending until his consciousness reached around the entire valley. He sensed Gaiel, Ranval, and the other Jedi in the Force, beacons in comparison to the soldiers under the Republic’s command. He sensed Khondine, her iron will evident now—not hidden as it was in the cantina—that she was in familiar company. Even the princess, soft-spoken and meek as she was, appeared far stronger than any of the soldiers in her midst. In the Force, she was certainly stronger than them, even if her resolve was feeble.

However, he had no interest in these people. Turning his attention inward even as his senses extended, Raen began to wrestle with questions that had plagued him since their arrival. His primary concern was De’dlay. What would he do if they met? Raen wanted to kill him. The Nikto was a loathsome thing, and he was a epitome of everything evil on Alderaan. He was responsible for Raen’s suffering, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of sentients. He would be doing the galaxy a favor by killing him.

Was it his place to kill him? He didn’t know. Between his own feelings and the values of a Jedi, he found himself confused and without a definite answer. What he wanted clashed with what the Jedi told him he should do. His meditation did not provide him with answers, merely more questions. Moral enigmas and practical concerns rose up from the nothingness of his mind, clouding his judgment even further. He had no solution. Ultimately, he would decide what to do with De’dlay when they met. Until then, he assumed, it was no use dwelling upon it. His mind and heart were divided, and it would only cause him more stress and uncertainty.

“Are you Raen Benax?”

Raen’s eyes blinked open. He could never quite separate his mind from his surroundings, and it was very easy to distract him, even when he was meditating. That was why he tried to alienate himself from the other soldiers and Jedi, but it seems he had been found. Turning, he addressed the speaker, a female Cerean Jedi Knight with light blond hair and the strange elongated, tapering forehead that betrayed her species. Her lightsaber rested patiently on her belt, and she had one foot positioned on a nearby stone, giving her a semblance of height over the meditating Raen.

“I am,” he replied after a brief delay. “Who are you?’

“Al-Meyn.” A smile snuck across her face. “I’m a Jedi Knight. The Jedi Knight, in fact, responsible for escorting you to your father’s manor.”

“Oh, so Jram knows my last name,” Raen mused, not particularly addressing her.

“Of course he does. Jasparan told him. He figures you’re going on some sort of reconnaissance mission for the Sith.”

“And that’s why you’re coming with me?”

“Seems that way.”

“Wouldn’t you rather be killing dark-siders in the academy?” Raen asked pointedly.

“Perhaps,” she replied brusquely. “But I know my place. When the Masters tell me to jump, I ask how high. When they tell me to use the Force, I ask them if they’d like a push or a weather forecast.”

“So you don’t mind babysitting me on this dull mission?”

“You’re not going to discourage me, if that’s what you’re planning,” she said.

“Of course not. Just making sure you know what you’re volunteering for.”

“I always know.” Crossing her arms, she took a few steps toward the wire fence. “What are you planning?”

“What?”

“Why are you going to your family’s manor?”

Raen frowned. “A Sith Master is known to spend time there. I think it’s fairly obvious that if the Republic doesn’t defeat him, then he’ll go on to cause trouble later.”

“That’s the only reason?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.” She seemed to realize that Raen was unwilling to press the issue. “If you don’t mind, I have to report to my superiors. Nice meeting you, Raen.”

Raen nodded absent-mindedly. He was still eager to attempt at an undistracted meditation. The Cerean Jedi left as silently as she had arrived, drifting from the fence and into the crowd of tents beyond. Her presence soon melded together with the other Jedi, and she was unrecognizable in the sea of Force-sensitivity.

*** ***

Colonel Mitos had settled into his chair with a loud sigh. The weary Duros was glad to be alone; he could hardly find time to eat, much less time to attend to battle preparation and planning. The comfortable fabric of the chair served to relax his muscles and loosen the tension that had built up in his nerves. As the commanding officer, his quarters were far more comfortable and decorated than his subordinates, and he was allowed to have several personal effects brought in from Coruscant per military regulation. A few paintings lined the duracrete walls: strange asymmetrical art that had caught his eye at a gallery on Anaxes.

The serene quiet was too much for the Duros colonel, who saw it fit to turn on his desk-mounted music player and listen to the latest rendition of Au Galia Unto, a famous Alsakan symphony, played by the Alderaanian Orchestra. The song was said to have been inspired by and written during the Pius Dea Crusades, a period of strife rather infamous in Alderaanian history for the conflict between the theocractic government and the world’s philosophers. The Duros contemplated the irony of playing this piece—at a time of Alderaan’s plight—while tending to the paperwork at his desk.

He was skimming the contents of a datapad sent by Republic High Command, treating himself to a cup of caf as he did so, when the comlink receiver on his desk buzzed. Mitos frowned. He had firmly instructed no one—Jedi or soldier—to disturb him. Couldn’t he have a few moments of peace? It seemed that, as the leader of this pitiful troupe, he was always busy.

“What is it?” he barked into the comlink.

The guard at the other end of the transmission cleared his throat. “Sir, the princess is asking to see you.”

The colonel wished he could roll his eyes. The princess, that pampered brat, wanted to see him. How annoying. She had been a thorn in his side since he and his soldiers arrived here. As a royal, she immediately earned the colonel’s ire. Born and raised under a republic, he had no time for local monarchs or their sense of entitlement. Nevertheless, he had been instructed to treat her with utmost respect until the Sith lost control of the planet.

“Send her in, Corporal.”

The door hissed as it slid open, admitting the princess into Colonel Mitos’s office. She looked as confused and spoiled as she had at the war council, and he did his best to put on a flashy smile to assuage whatever nervousness she no doubt had. After struggling to stand from his comfortable seat, the Duros waved her to continue to his desk and take a seat on the other side. She scampered from the entrance, bypassing the footlockers that extended from their place along the wall, to the seat without a word.

“Good evening, Princess,” Mitos said, trying to hide the contempt in his voice. “I trust you are well?”

“Yes… yes, sir,” she said softly.

“Very good,” he added indifferently.

“I did not know you enjoyed the orchestra, Colonel,” she noted with a hint of a smile.

“Oh?” He was visibly surprised. “You’re familiar with this piece?”

“It’s a pretty song,” Eliorae replied. “My… my father and mother would take me to listen to them—the orchestra, that is. But this song was one of my least favorites—it’s… bleak.”

“I see,” Mitos said dismissively. He made a mental note to play this song more often. The princess didn’t like it, which meant he should. “I’m sure you didn’t come here to talk with me about my taste in music. To what… pleasure… do I owe this visit?”

“Is… is Major Altesius displeased with his assignment?” she asked.

The colonel scoffed. “My dear, he is displeased with any job that doesn’t involve blaster fire and dismembered bodies. Do not concern yourself with his attitude.”

“I… that is… if he doesn’t want to…”

“He will protect you, Princess.”

“No, I mean… I can fight.”

The colonel folded his hands on his desk. “I’m sure you can, my dear,” he said, not withholding his patronizing tone.

“I can!” she replied, with more confidence than she normally had. “Danc-”

“Betrayed you, Khondine, and the rest of Alderaan,” Mitos interrupted. “The Zabrak you knew as your retainer is no more. His loyalty—and position—is in the Sith’s hands now.”

“He taught my brother and I swordplay.” Eliorae stared at Mitos, trying to appear as self-certain as she was able. “If Major Altesius wants to fight, I… I don’t think he should be hindered because of me.”

“Noble words, but empty, my lady.”

“But Colonel-”

“I will hear none of it, my lady. You are the last heir to the throne of Alderaan, and if we were to lose you, our cause would be for naught.”

The princess said nothing, so Mitos stood up and bid her to stand as well.

“Colonel,” she muttered.

Mitos waved his hand. “Shh. You need some sleep, Princess. All this talk of battle and violence has gone to your head. It’s not healthy. Do not come to the rest of our meetings; you need some time to relax.”

Walking her from her seat to the door, Mitos escorted her out of his office. Every time she tried to talk, Mitos chided her—as gently as he could—and told her not to get so worked up. Eventually, the princess agreed, and she gratefully accepted the Duros’s advice and thanked him for speaking with her before returning to her tent. Once she was out of sight, Mitos closed and locked his door and returned to his desk.

She was certainly an annoyance. Most of the time, she was a coward and a naïve girl who only served as a figurehead for the true leaders of the Alderaanian resistance. However, there were times when her royal blood boiled within her, and she got crazy ideas and made bold requests that drove Mitos furious. She was stubborn when she tried to be, and she and Khondine made troublesome demands of the colonel. He could not believe he convinced her to stay away from his meetings; he counted that, at least, as a stroke of luck and genius.

Just as he was settling down again, Mitos was interrupted by the buzzing of his comlink yet again. He growled aloud, nearly hammering his fist into his desk. If he could not get a moment of quiet to finish his own work, he had half a mind to leave the camp and go somewhere where he could not be disturbed. Nevertheless, he hesitantly discarded the datapad he had only just picked up. “What is it, Corporal?”

“An incoming message for you, Colonel,” the soldier said through the comlink. “From the western resistance.”

Mitos suddenly calmed himself. “Very well. Patch it through.”

The translucent, blue-gray figure of an old Human male, about the age of the Jedi Master Jram, revealed itself in front of Mitos’s desk. The man wore a fanciful suit underneath his breastplate, but it was hard to distinguish where the armor ended and his clothes began due to the low quality of the transmission. The figure had one hand hovering over his sword’s scabbard and another had a datapad in it.

“Lord Farseil,” Mitos said, “it’s a pleasure to see you, sir.”

Lord Petran Farseil was a nobleman of Alderaan who had escaped the Sith’s attempt to kill all royal retainers. He had been formulating a rebellion even while Khondine and Eliorae were struggling to escape Sith hunters. The Farseil family had long received monetary support from the Senate due to their unyielding loyalty—not to the crown, but to the Republic itself. With House Latona all but destroyed, Petran Farseil believed it was time for him to succeed his deceased friend, Sigmund III, and become king of Alderaan. After all, he and his mercenaries—provided by the Senate—constituted three-fourths of the rebellion's strength, not counting the few Republic troops and Jedi who joined the fight.

“And you, Colonel. What news from your front?”

“We are nearly ready to attack. If all goes according to plan, the operation will begin in three days.”

The nobleman ran his fingers near his receding hairline. “What unit will I be in charge of, Colonel?”

“I hadn’t thought a noble like yourself would risk himself to such danger.”

The holographic figure chuckled. “A noble might not, but the future king of Alderaan would gladly risk his life in any battle.”

“Then you will lead the third, fourth, and sixth platoons against the Sith capital.”

“Aldera? Why?”

“Surely, the king needs a city and a throne to rule from,” Colonel Mitos reasoned. “What better way to lay claim to his kingship than by securing his capital from foreign rule?”

“By making sure the heir apparent is dead,” Farseil snapped. “Has Eliorae been dealt with?”

“I will see to it that she will not be an issue after the battle.” He turned the music off. It was getting distracting. “If we kill her now, there will be rumors of a conspiracy.”

“Then let them think we conspired!” Farseil growled. “Alderaan should be mine, not the plaything of some little girl who should attend to her dolls, not matter of state!”

“The people of Alderaan seem to disagree.”

“But the Republic does not. The Senate knows that I am the better candidate, even though I am not a member of House Latona.”

“They intend to back you if a civil war begins,” Mitos agreed.

“And you are supposed to be helping me.” The veins in Farseil’s forehead looked like they were about to burst. “Kill the girl.”

“It will be done, sir.”

“Then that is all I need. We shall speak more at the coronation, Colonel.”

Mitos switched off the comlink. When the battle was over, he would tell Major Altesius to deal with Princess Eliorae. Despite Farseil’s urging, he knew that he couldn’t act until then. By the time the Republic took complete control of Alderaan, Petran Farseil had to be the heir to its throne. He was the Republic’s heir; he was the only man they felt worthy to hold the title of king. Millions of credits were being funneled their way precisely because Petran Farseil was willing to support the graft and inner dealings of the Senate—far more than House Latona ever did.

Princess Eliorae was an unexpected survivor in the House Latona tragedy. They did not realize the Sith had not pursued and killed her. At first, she served as a valuable and necessary banner for the disgruntled citizenry to unite under. However, she proved a nuisance now. After the battle, Major Altesius would kill her. Her unfortunate death could be blamed on Sith insurgents, using the chaos of the battle to pull off a brazen assassination. In the wake of the mourning surrounding her death, House Farseil would be nominated by the Republic to succeeded House Latona as Alderaan’s royal house. There were very few—strong—noble houses left, and Farseil was Senate-approved, through and through.

Mitos smiled. As he lifted the datapad he had been trying to finish, he realized that his assistance in this plot would allow him to curry the favor of the Republic Senate. No more would he be leading pointless missions and placed in charge of ignorant grunts who doubled as soldiers. He saw medals and promotions in his future, and he relished the very thought of it. He could be promoted to general for his actions. He thought it was quite deserved. Looking after princesses became so very trying for a man of his standing and military experience, after all.

*** ***

Gaiel had found a seat on an abnormally large footlocker near the center of the camp. Taking a moment to rest his legs, he placed his plate of food at his side. The soldiers had taken their own portions of food and wandered around the camp, generally settling on the ground in groups of four or five to chat over their meal. The Nautolan was ignored as he settled down to eat, the soldiers paying him little mind as they went about their business. Even the other Jedi—or at least, those who ate—didn’t stop to greet him.

He glanced at the food that they had give him; it was certainly not the best food, but at least it appeared edible. The dark glaze that covered the fried nerf strips seeped across the metal plate, staining the dried biscuit and unappetizing pile of grass-like vegetables positioned around the meat. It smelled decent enough, and he was hungry.

Besides, he had eaten far worse food during his time as a Padawan. Jedi were often exposed to the strangest or—at the very least—blandest food during their training. They certainly couldn’t be picky. The Jedi Order tried to inspire modesty in spirit and respect for all life forms. That included their bizarre food.

He was just about to stick his fork into one of the nerf strips when Khondine called to him in the distance. Placing his utensils at the side of his plate, he turned around in his seat to focus his attention on the quickly approaching Arkanian.

“Hello, Master Gaiel.” She had a plate of food with her as well, but it suspiciously lacked the entrée.

“Please, Khondine, it’s just Gaiel. I’m not a master in any sense.”

“As you wish, Master Gaiel.”

Gaiel frowned. “As I said, I’m not…” He sighed. “Never mind. Would you like to sit down, Khondine?”

“That’s polite of you, but no, thank you,” Khondine replied firmly. “I’m fine where I am.”

“As you wish,” Gaiel said. Standing, he returned the plate to the footlocker behind him. “Do you have a question for me?”

“How did you…?”

“I’m sorry. You just seem troubled.”

Khondine shifted nervously. On the surface, her movements were serene, and she seemed to be poised and refined. In fact, her polite demeanor seemed to hint at a confidence that her other allies, including the princess, lacked. However, the Force told Gaiel otherwise. The Force revealed Khondine’s unease, her thoughts practically unhidden and otherwise easily readable to Gaiel’s senses.

“More Jedi powers, Master Gaiel?” Khondine remarked dryly.

“I’m afraid so,” Gaiel said. “Your thoughts are painfully obvious. You’d better be careful, the other Jedi might not warn you when they search your thoughts.”

Gaiel noticed Khondine’s attempt seal her mind from his passive senses. A powerful Jedi could actively bypass her untrained mind and delve deep into her consciousness, but Gaiel had no such interest. In fact, he was worried that whatever concerned her involved the rebellion, and he hoped that any such issues could be resolved as quickly as possible.

“So, what’s your question?” the Nautolan continued.

“Well, Master Gaiel, I was wondering how a Jedi would react in a particular situation.”

“And what situation is that?”

Khondine hesitated for a moment. “Say you had a trainer—a master, I guess you’d say—who raised you since birth. He was like a father, and you were like a son. You’ve known no other family, and he delights in teaching you to the best of his ability.”

Gaiel paused. He thought of Bolook, his own Jedi Master, and the time he spent learning under him on Dantooine. Shaking his head, Gaiel almost started speaking Huttese, like he had with his old teacher. “I’m imagining it. What of it?”

“One day, after you’ve left his tutelage, your master disappears. He does not resurface for decades. You eventually take a student of your own, and life goes on. However, one day, you and your student are sent on a mission to an Outer Rim world.”

“Go on.”

“Your Jedi teacher has forsaken his commitment to the Order. He has started using his powers for his own benefit, and he betrays your trust as well as that of the other Jedi. Bullying the locals, exploiting their weaknesses, and making himself rich and powerful in the process. He was the problem the Jedi sent you and your student to quell. What would you do in that situation, Master Gaiel?”

Gaiel pondered the situation for a moment. He didn’t want to give her bad advice, yet he didn’t think he could properly speak for the Jedi Order. “You know, Master Jram would likely give you better advice than I.”

“But I want to ask you, Master Gaiel,” Khondine said. “I think you would give better advice than him. No offense, but he seems… incompetent. I don’t trust any of them. He’s always turning to Telerus for counsel, and Telerus is about as slippery as a greased Hutt. It doesn’t seem right.”

Gaiel sighed. “Very well.” He crossed his arms, tapping his foot as he thought. “I think you should try and speak with your master. He may listen to you, if you were as close as you say.”

“What if your master killed your student, Master Gaiel?”

Gaiel’s eyes widened. “What?”

“What if he proved incapable of being reasoned with? He is violent and maddened by power. Your student is dead because you tried to reason with him, but failed. I think you could fight then, couldn’t you?”

“You must not give in to the dark side,” Gaiel pressed. “Under no circumstance is violence the only solution. If you fought and killed him, you would be no better than him. His fate is not yours to decide.”

“The dark side?” She perked up. “What’s that?”

“The dark side is the path of fear, pride, and aggression,” Gaiel recited almost from memory; he had heard it explained many times before. Suddenly realizing he sounded less like a Jedi and more like a melodramatic holodrama narrator, he quickly added: “A true Jedi is selfless. He is concerned with the welfare of other beings first and foremost. If you are acting in selfishness, then you are drawing upon the dark side of the Force.”

“If your master is harming others, you are thinking of others interests before your own,” Khondine reasoned. “You want them to be safe.”

“Do you?” Gaiel retorted. “Or are you only seeking to satisfy your own emotions? Only you can answer that.”

“I wasn’t… I didn’t know there was a dark side of the Force,” Khondine admitted. “I was never taught about it.”

“Who was your teacher?”

“Danc,” Khondine hissed. “He’s a Zabrak. He… I think he followed the dark side. I don’t know.”

“Is he still alive?” Gaiel asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“No. He died during the Sith attack.” She shifted her gaze, realizing that she was sweating and it was obvious she was stressed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take up so much of your time. Excuse me, Master Gaiel.” She had already bowed and departed before Gaiel could respond.

Gaiel’s eyes followed her until she had disappeared into the crowd of soldiers in the distance. Something about her—her presence, worries, even her question—confused the Nautolan Jedi. Something was clearly wrong. He didn’t know what she was thinking, or what she was planning, but he was still worried that his answer did not relieve her spirits. She had confided in him, so he wouldn’t betray her trust. However, he would make sure that she didn’t do anything to put anyone—Jedi or Republic soldier—in danger.

Returning to his seat, Gaiel happily devoured his meal. It was already cold by the time Khondine left, but it didn’t matter. Once he had satisfied his hunger, Ranval seemed to appear from nowhere, carrying two combat staves with him. He looked as cheerful as ever, and he seemed unfazed by the fact that Gaiel was pensive and hardly noticed his approach.

“Hey, Gaiel! You busy?” The Miraluka waved his free hand as he spoke, getting the Jedi Knight’s attention.

“Not very,” he lied. “What’s going on?”

“I was in the mess, talking with some soldiers, and they were sure that they could best me in swordplay if I didn’t use the Force. I disagreed, and they challenged me to a duel.”

“And?”

“They told me to fetch as many Jedi as I could, and they’d still beat us. They’re only ten of them or so, I think we can take them. Wanna help?”

Gaiel chuckled. “You get yourself into trouble, and now you want me to get you out of it?”

“Exactly,” Ranval beamed. “I knew you’d agree.”

“Fine. Let’s go. I could use some sparring practice.”

Ranval threw Gaiel one of the combat staves and turned on one foot, ready to leave. “Oh, I’m going to cheat.”

“And why is that?” Gaiel asked with a frown.

“I can’t see without the Force,” Ranval noted. “If I didn’t use the Force, I’d be blind.”

“No one’s stopping you,” Gaiel replied.

“Except my pride. Speaking of, let’s go show those Republic soldiers what we’re made of!”

Gaiel smiled. Shaking his head, he followed Ranval to the sparring ring at the other side of the camp. This should be interesting, he thought.

*** ***

Raen returned to the rest of the camp after the sun had set. Despite his undisturbed meditation, he didn’t receive any good ideas. He was still unsure, still puzzled about what course of action to take should he encounter his nemesis. He supposed that, should worse come to worse, he would let the Force guide him. After all, there was a chance that he would not even meet De’dlay at the Benax manor.

Bypassing a few drunk soldiers sprawled out upon the dusty ground, Raen made a beeline toward his tent. A curfew forced Republic soldiers to be in their tents by nightfall, but Jedi were allowed to wander the campgrounds at their leisure. Even so, using the Force had drained him both physically and mentally, and he was prepared to rest in a comfortable bed for the first time in ages.

He had nearly reached his tent when he had to cross a rather spacious area. It generally had a campfire burning, a tool for the night watch so they would not have to stand idly in the darkness. However, tonight it had been reduced to dying embers and only a few noxious fumes. The Jedi had guaranteed that they would protect the camp, and Jram insisted the fire would only give their position away to the Sith. Colonel Mitos reluctantly agreed.

As he passed the fire pit, he realized that someone was sitting there—alone—in the darkness. He wasn't sure who it was, and he hadn’t got used to the dim light of the stars, but he was clearly noticed as he attempted to walk through the area.

“W-w-whose’s there?” a shrill, worried voice asked.

“Raen,” he called as he approached.

“Oh, Master Jedi,” the princess sighed. “You startled me.”

“I’m sorry, Princess.”

“No… no… don’t be,” she insisted. “It’s my fault. I should have paid more attention.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Raen paused when he realized that something cold was pressed against his chest. “Princess? What is…?”

“I’m so sorry.” She pulled whatever it was away from Raen, and he almost thought he heard her sheathe a weapon. “I didn’t mean to.”

“Did you just pull a knife on me?” Raen asked. He would never have figured the meek princess of Alderaan to have a weapon on her, much less know how to use it.

“Yes… I am so sorry! I didn’t think… I didn’t know…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

She pressed her hands against her chest. “No! You-you don’t mean that!”

“I do. Just forget about it.”

She muttered something—likely an apology—that Raen couldn’t hear.

“What are you doing out here?” Raen asked. “Shouldn’t you be asleep? Why are you out here by yourself?”

“I couldn’t sleep, Master Jedi.”

“Why?”

She wandered from him, lightly stepping from her position near the fire to a row of tents nearby. “I’m worried.”

“Oh?”

“Yes… I… sleep doesn’t come easily.”

Raen nearly laughed. “Do you have nightmares, Princess?”

“Yes,” she replied with a serious tone that startled Raen.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“No, it’s… it’s okay,” Eliorae said, smiling. “It’s just…”

“Just?”

“I want to be a good queen, Master Jedi.” Eliorae drifted back toward him, her pale face shining by the light of the fire. “But I’m not a good leader. I was never taught how to lead. I don’t know how to lead.”

Raen didn’t know why she was telling him this, but it didn’t matter. “You don’t know that.”

“But I do!”

“Have you tried?”

“… No.”

“Then you don't know.”

“What if they don’t like me? What do I do?”

“You’re worrying too much,” Raen snapped. “You’re not even queen yet, and you’re worrying about this. Shouldn’t you worry about getting your kingdom back first?”

“Y-y-yes. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Quit apologizing. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t mean it.”

“But I do!”

Raen rolled his eyes. She was a handful. “If you don’t mind, Princess, I’m going to return to my tent. Excuse me.”

He didn’t think he could handle much more of her problems, and her incessant whining was driving him insane. She was a noble, like he had been, but he didn’t remember encountering anyone who had been that self-centered and incapable of action. He hoped, for Alderaan’s sake, that she was not the only one left to rule. Otherwise, he did not know whether or not he would willingly return to this planet once this battle ended.

*** ***

“I am here, as you ordered, my lady.”

Calay smiled. Pallidus was such a good dog. Even in the pale light of the stars, shining between the cracked walls of the Sith academy, she could see him, bowing at her feet. Obedience was a trait that had to be instilled in a man, and she almost chuckled aloud when she realized that some of these Sith warriors were quite feeble-minded indeed. Jaeln, Pallidus, Vericcho… there were very few Sith who could escape her grasp. Once they were under her thumb, that is where they would remain until they were needed. And she needed Pallidus now.

“Rise, General,” she said with a hint of contempt. “Are you prepared?”

“Anything my lady wishes. I will head to the farthest reaches of Alderaan, and slay the princess where she stands. I fear nothing, and you are my everything. Speak and I will listen. Command so I may obey.”

She ran her fingers across his chest. “Good…” What a dramatic fool. He would be the first to die once her plans were complete. “Are you going to take any soldiers with you?”

“Two Dark Jedi will be all I need, my love.” His lips met hers for a brief moment. “And your support. I will slay the princess of Alderaan—the act Jaeln could not do—and bring her head to you.”

“That is all I ask. Go.”

Pallidus was gone before she could say another word. She didn’t even need a whistle to control him! He was as loyal as a hound, and killing him would be no different. Even so, it was a shame she had to discard him so quickly. Such blind devotion was hard to come by. Are you becoming… attached? She shook her head at the thought. These men were here for her amusement. Nothing more.

The princess would die. She would die the same day that the Republic launched its offensive. Her spies had infiltrated their camp with ease, and she had learned of their plan and time of attack. She would be ready for them in the Sith academy, ready to kill the Jedi upon their arrival. Calay was unconcerned with the Republic targets. After all, they were Preux’s responsibility. If he was unprepared, that was his fault. He would fail, and he would fall. She would take his place. That was the way of the Sith.

It was a shame De’dlay was not here to share in her victory. Of all the targets of her seduction, he had been the hardest to tempt. But he had fallen, like the rest. He was more violent, more bloodthirsty than her other targets, and that made him—for whatever reason—less susceptible to her advances. Even so, he still lived, despite his rebellion against Preux. She sensed this, and she knew where he was hidden. Even so, she had to wait until Preux died to free him, for Preux was the only one who resisted her.

If she felt like it, of course. An old Sith Master could ruin her plans. Hopefully, Preux killed him before the Republic’s attack failed and their princess died. Until then, she would wait for Pallidus’s report. That would stem her over until the battle began.

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