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Chapter 22

Rain poured down upon the eastern plains of Alderaan, mercilessly covering the entire countryside with water. Dark clouds hid the hopeful blue sky that had been present a few days before, when the Republic and their allies were still stationed at their camp. The elements, it seemed, were working against the Republic, the Jedi, and the Alderaanian royalists as much as the Sith were. After three days of rain, it didn’t seem like the inclement weather was going to end for some time.

Progress had been slow in the torrential rainfall; the weather especially affected the armored tanks destined to attack the Sith troopers’ base and those meant to seize the capital. Nevertheless, Colonel Mitos was determined to stick with his schedule. He ensured the delays were dealt with and the troops were ready for battle.

Gaiel arrived at the forest in a Diath-class transport that had been secured by the Jedi to carry their units to the Sith academy. He wasn’t sure, but intelligence seemed to hint that the academy itself was situated at the opposite end of the forest. He had spoken to Jram, the Quarren Jedi Master leading the party, during their flight here. He realized that the Jedi Master had taught Gaiel’s old companion, Betror Sylan, a Jedi Padawan who died over Polus. Gaiel spent the duration of their flight telling the aging Quarren that his Padawan died valiantly, and Betror had hoped to seek his master’s favor—even in death. Jram seemed perturbed by the news, but he did thank Gaiel for his condolences before returning to his own business.

The Diath transport left the Jedi behind in the forest, returning to the camp in case an emergency evacuation was needed. Droplets of water escaped the leafy canopy overhead, falling on Gaiel’s smooth green skin. Each drop chilled him to the bone, startling him even as the adrenaline coursed through his body in the pre-battle atmosphere. A light wind brushed against his face, blowing water into his lidless eyes. The sound of rainwater coupled with the howl of the breeze was enough to silence the footsteps of the incoming Jedi. Nearly forty warriors crept through the forest undetected, sloshing through the mud and drenched undergrowth in nothing but their robes and cloaks.

Lightsabers still rested on their belts; rain had the unfortunate tendency to short-circuit their blades, making them useless. However, even if it wasn’t raining, the Jedi still had to keep their weapons off. There was no point sneaking up to the edge of the forest only for the Sith guards to see their glowing blades through the trees.

Gaiel’s muscles tensed as he planted his back against a tree at the end of the woods. His companions followed suit, sidling against the massive tree trunks or planting their stomachs to the ground, careful to avoid the watchful eyes of any Sith scouts protecting the academy. In the clearing, the Sith academy itself stood before him. They didn’t know whether or not the Sith could sense their presence—though it was always a possibility—and if they were detected through the Force, all their hiding would be for naught.

While Telerus remained out of sight, masking the company’s presence as much as he could, Gaiel peeked out from behind his cover. The Sith academy was so very close, standing less than a hundred meters from their position. It was a large temple, mimicking the designs of ancient fortress-castles that still stood throughout the galaxy. It was a single pseudo-pyramidal shaped building surrounded by walls of dark bronzium. Archways led in and out of the courtyard, and there seemed to be only one entrance. Its bricks—made of concrete and bronzium—were beginning to give way after centuries of use, and it wasn’t likely that it could survive a conventional artillery assault. Gaiel was suddenly regretting not bringing any Republic soldiers along with them.

“Isn’t it beautiful, Gaiel?” Jasparan was crouched behind a nearby boulder. “It was once a Jedi temple, you know. Qel-Droma family apparently founded it centuries ago. It’s been in Sith hands for far too long. It’s far too nice for it to remain in their possession.”

Gaiel nodded, but said nothing. The lump in his throat made speaking difficult. Sith troopers were wandering around the perimeter of the academy, armed with heavy repeaters and several grenades each. Gaiel realized he had never seen troopers wearing black armor like these guards did, and he wondered if they were a different class of Sith trooper entirely.

“There are Sith troopers here,” Jasparan whispered angrily. “Dirty Sithspawn Raen lied to us. He told us there would only be Dark Jedi and their ilk here. So much for that.”

“There aren’t that many of them.” Khondine was behind a nearby tree, and she had one hand at her side. “Five, six at most.”

“Careful, Khondine. Our lightsabers don’t function in the rain.” Jasparan motioned toward her hand.

“I know what I’m doing,” Khondine hissed.

“Enough.” Telerus stepped between the two Jedi, lightsaber in hand. “I have done all I can. If we are going to fight, we’d best start now. Come, use the Force to destroy them! For the Republic and the light!”

A few Jedi cried out, eager to begin the battle. In a single, unified charge, the Jedi rushed from the cover of the trees, revealing themselves to their Sith opponents. A few lightsabers were flourished, these weapons protected with special modifiers within the blades. The dark-armored Sith troopers seemed undaunted by their incoming foes, and they were unfazed by the fact their opponents’ weapons worked in the rain. The soldiers between the Jedi and the academy opened fire, sending shining red bursts of energy into the Jedi ranks.

A Jedi died at Gaiel’s right, unable to protect himself without a lightsaber. Two more died on his left. Ducking, his Force-empowered reflexes saved him from a string of blaster bolts to the chest. However, his quick reaction spelled doom for the Ithorian Knight behind him, and his unfortunate ally groaned in pain as the shots tore a hole through his robes. Gaiel finished his sprint once the soldiers firing at him changed targets. Telerus hollered something in the distance and severed one of the dark-armored trooper’s helmets with his lightsaber. The fatal display unnerved a few Sith troopers, falling back into the courtyard despite their commander’s orders.

Gaiel found himself face-to-face with another soldier before he could retreat. A quick jab to the ribs caused the trooper to clench his chest in pain, and he wasn’t able to reach for his melee weapon. Gaiel muttered a quick apology to the wounded soldier before slamming his elbow into the soldier’s helmet, shattering his visor and sending him to the muddy ground below. Releasing the Force-empowered barrier around his elbow, Gaiel allowed the fragments of his opponent’s visor to spell toward the ground below.

By the time Gaiel had dispatched his soldier, the surviving troopers had fled into the courtyard or the academy itself. The Jedi proved able hunters, pursuing the Sith troopers inside. And as they advanced, more Jedi died. Gaiel felt their deaths in the Force, as he did with the other Jedi, and he felt surprisingly weaker. Even so, he followed the host of Jedi into the courtyard and realized that the dark-armored Sith troopers had lightsabers. Their lightsabers were working in the rain, and they were using their weapons with startling brutality, cutting down several Jedi who approached them. Gaiel had never seen a Sith trooper with a lightsaber before, and he had to fall back a bit to allow one of his allies to engage the troopers before him.

“What do we do?” a Jedi Knight asked Telerus. “We can’t fight them out here! Our lightsabers don’t work!”

“Anyone who has a functioning lightsaber, stay with me and help me fight them,” Telerus growled. “Everyone else: inside! I want the Sith destroyed by the day’s end.”

Gaiel carefully avoided the lightsaber-wielding Sith troopers, following the other Jedi while the few warriors who could use their weapons in the rain stayed outside to distract and combat them. One of Telerus’s allies stood in front of the great stone door that separated them from the inside of the academy, and he called upon the Force to tear the stone slab from its resting place. Blaster fire erupted from inside, killing the Jedi Knight who had created an entrance for them. Several more fell to the incoming fire before the Jedi were finally inside the academy.

The antechamber was filled with Sith troopers. Their armor—white, red, and black—reflected the light from the ceiling, shining unnaturally brightly amidst the robed Dark Jedi and their droid companions. Red blaster fire met them immediately, but now the Jedi were adequately defended. Lightsabers activated by the dozens, snap-hissing to life once they were safe from the rain. Gaiel deflected several blaster shots himself before he and the other Jedi managed to get close enough to strike at their opponents.

Lightsabers clashed in displays of sparks and bright light. Gaiel found it difficult to reach into the Force; it was churned up and raging like a tempest in the heated battle around him. Telekinesis destroyed bricks and threw combatants, flying around the antechamber with ease. Lightning coursed throughout the room, creating a thick miasma and searing flesh and cloth. Back and forth, the Force was called upon by each side in earnest, hoping to use their own skills to win the day. Even so, the chaotic nature of the battle around him reminded Gaiel to be careful—heated battles could bring a Jedi surprisingly close to the dark side.

The Nautolan Jedi stepped into the fray and picked out a Human Dark Jedi to fight. This fallen warrior had just felled a Falleen Jedi, and he was spying the area for another easy opponent. Gaiel met him first, locking his own viridian blade with the Dark Jedi’s single blue blade. Scowling beneath his hood, the Dark Jedi forced Gaiel away from him with a push, freeing his blade. His counter came in the form of an overhead strike, but Gaiel was familiar with the attack. Sidestepping, Gaiel avoided it entirely and nicked the Dark Jedi’s side with his lightsaber. The Dark Jedi growled and struck at Gaiel’s chest, but it was blocked easily. His moves were predictable. In fact, Gaiel thought he fought like Raen had when they had first met.

“You have one chance.” Gaiel forced the Dark Jedi’s lightsaber away before striking low. “Surrender to me, and I’ll spare your life. I don’t want to kill you.”

“Surrender?” The Dark Jedi laughed at the thought as blocking Gaiel’s strikes. “I’d rather die than be a prisoner of the Jedi!”

Gaiel let a few more ferocious blows bounce off his blade, unable to penetrate his steady defense. The Dark Jedi’s frustration mounted, and his attacks became increasingly sloppy. Until now, Gaiel had been fighting defensively, hoping to stay aware of his surroundings—in case one of the Dark Jedi’s allies got any ideas—and give his opponent a chance to surrender.

Gaiel had offered him a chance, but he refused. So be it. The Dark Jedi swung at Gaiel’s throat, but the Nautolan blocked with a one-handed defense and moved in closer, stomping on the Dark Jedi’s left foot. His free hand struck at the Dark Jedi’s abdomen, and the dark-sider let out a painful wheeze as his breath escaped him. He wasn’t paying attention to Gaiel anymore, and the Nautolan let his lightsaber slide away from the Dark Jedi’s. The Dark Jedi was disarmed and incapacitated in a single motion, his weapon arm and opposite leg completely severed.

The Dark Jedi was cursing Gaiel while the Jedi turned his attention back to his surroundings. His opponent was no more threat to him, and there were other Dark Jedi or soldiers that needed to be defeated. Jedi fought their dark counterparts throughout the room while Sith troopers picked off unobservant Jedi with quick sprays of blaster fire.

In the midst of the duels and red bursts of energy, Gaiel noticed Khondine separate herself from the battle and head down one of the halls by herself. He had a feeling she hadn’t said anything to the other Jedi, and Dark Jedi weren’t pursuing her. She was going to get herself into trouble. Gaiel instinctively moved to catch up with her, pushing and scurrying through the crowd of combatants around him. His companions distracted the Dark Jedi, and the Sith troopers were spread too thin to focus on one fleeing Jedi. Lightsaber in hand, Gaiel separated himself from the battle and followed Khondine into the halls of the academy.

*** ***

Khondine glanced over her shoulder. The Jedi had not followed her. She had made sure that she had left at the height of combat so the other Jedi would not pursue. If they interfered, her quest would be for naught. The few Dark Jedi who tried to intercept her met a quick end by her violet blade. She was alone. Nothing stood between her and her target now.

Danc A’damat. Noble of Alderaan, founder and leader of the Royal Guardsmen, and Force-sensitive warrior of great renown. The Zabrak had once been a Jedi Knight, serving the Order obediently while other Jedi fought in the Mandalorian Wars. Even so, he had left the Order and settled on Alderaan, taking Khondine and her brother, Penelas, as his first pupils. They had been the first three Royal Guardsmen.

He had taught her everything she knew. They were a powerful group, living by the sword and prepared to defend the king and his family—House Latona—until death. Now, the Royal Guardsmen were no more. Danc destroyed them as swiftly as they had been created. He had betrayed them. He was a coward, traitor, and a Sith.

He had been the one to open the castle gates when the Sith invaded. He had lied to his companions, blinding them with reassuring words and the Force while the Sith approached. He had fought in the throne room and betrayed the Royal Guardsmen and House Latona, killing them all—killing her brother, Penelas. Stabbing them all in the back, betraying them at the whim of his true master, Preux. The very thought made her ill.

Of all the Sith in the academy, she could sense him. She had been trained to sense him since she joined the Royal Guardsmen. She could detect him, despite the battle and chaos around her. She had been searching for him for so long, and she had finally found him. Nothing else mattered now. She had left the princess in the care of the Republic. Once she returned,—with Danc’s head—she could continue guarding her majesty. But no sooner. She had to do this. For Penelas, and for herself.

Unclipping the shorter of the two lightsabers that rested on her belt, Khondine gripped the hilt as tightly as she could. The hallway she was walking in ended, and a single door stood between her and Danc. There was no doubt he was behind this door, and he was waiting for her. She could feel the echoes, the vibrations his mind created in the Force, reaching into her mind and tugging at her mental barriers. It was now or never.

The Force tore the door from the wall, and Khondine discarded the crumpled metal frame, ridding herself of the last obstacle between her and him. Sure enough, Danc was sitting in the center of the room. His brown skin was etched with the toils of labor, and each scar on his lip was the memento of some defeated foe. The skull-horns on his head raced around his scalp, reaching toward the ceiling in lengthy curves. He wore dark robes that seemed like the robes of the Jedi, but he wore a breastplate over it for protection.

“Danc!” Khondine’s reserved demeanor had vanished. Her violet lightsaber was activated and pointed at her target. “Stand and face me, you coward!”

The Zabrak opened a single eye to look at his former student. Sitting on the ground in a meditative pose, he didn’t seem alarmed—or even surprised—to see her. “Khondine. My dear, sweet Khondine. I’m surprised to see you alive. I had thought-”

“Don’t talk!” Her lightsaber had left her hand, spinning toward Danc’s throat. The whirling blade would have easily severed the Zabrak’s head, but a simple Force push from him sent the blade back into Khondine’s hand. “I will kill you!”

“I love your straightforward confidence.” Danc shifted his stance, so his left side faced his former student. “I always have. You’ve learned well.”

“I haven’t learned anything from you!”

“You must have learned how to hold that lightsaber from a hermit, then,” Danc said mockingly, “because you certainly couldn’t use it when I found you.”

“I hate you!”

“And that’s why I love you.”

Khondine rushed at Danc, her blade as hungry for his blood as she was. To her dismay, her lightsaber was stopped mere centimeters from his face. His own silver blade had leapt into his hand and deflected the blow with ease. She struck back, using powerful sweeping blows in an attempt to catch him unaware. However, Danc stood and leisurely parried each of her vicious swings. Sparks flew through the air wherever their lightsabers met, his slothful silver blade defending him from her violet weapon.

“Come now,” Danc said, “your moves are sloppy and ill-planned. I taught you better than this.”

She missed an opening. “I’m… better than you. I’ll kill you today.”

“My darling Khondine.” His silver blade blocked a few more of her strikes before countering in a mighty overhead blow that Khondine narrowly avoided. “You fight as poorly as Penelas.”

“Don’t speak his name! You can’t!” Khondine clenched her teeth and struck back, viciously battering her weapon against his defenses. “You killed him, and you’ll pay!”

“It’s not my fault he was too trusting. It must be a fault in your family.”

She spun around and struck at his side, but he managed to lazily step out of the blade’s arc. Using the Force, he arrived behind her before she could blink; one arm was wrapped around her shoulder while her forearm was firmly in his grip. Bending her arm backward, Khondine yelped in pain as her lightsaber deactivated and hit the floor, leaving her defenseless against Danc’s attack.

Once she had been thrown to the floor, Danc severed her lightsaber hilt—now in his possession—with his own weapon. Khondine muttered something under her breath as she recovered her footing, standing to face her opponent once more.

“Why don’t we just end this pitiful dance?” Danc fiddled with the two pieces of Khondine’s hilt, now broken and useless in his hands. “You are no match for me.”

“You don’t know that.” Khondine grabbed her second lightsaber. Twirling it as its blades leapt from both sides of the hilt, she revealed the double-bladed lightsaber that she had created for this moment. Both blades hissed as she held the elongated hilt in both hands, ready for battle.

“Oh? Interesting. So you have created your own weapon,” Danc mused. “Let us see if you know how to use it.”

*** ***

Storm clouds filled the sky, looming overhead and painting the sky in broad black strokes. Rain pelted the ground like hail, turning dried grass and soil into pits of mud that would have to be navigated. The harsh wind was no different than the dark aura that encompassed Alderaan, chilling bone and flesh. The sun was nowhere to be seen. Damn. This type of weather was both unfortunate—for the Republic soldiers—and depressing.

If there was one thing Raen truly hated, it was this weather.

Standing about two hundred meters from his father’s manor, drops of water fell around him in buckets, but he did his best to ignore it. His hood was thrown over his head, shielding him from some of the rain, but it wasn’t completely successful. He was knee-deep in mud by now, and the feeling was foreign to him; as a noble on Alderaan, he had never been subjected to traveling through the rain on foot. Mud and grime were unknown to him before now, and they felt strange beneath his feet and against his skin.

He and his three Jedi companions lingered in the distance, admiring the manor itself. Three stories of ivory walls and pearly windows. The building was no different than Raen remembered. No different than the building he saw in his dreams. A great door stood between Raen and his target, erected in the center of a large courtyard of drowned plants and slippery duracrete. Fire damage was evident near the front of the building, a memento from Raen’s last mission with the Sith.

The three black-armored Sith guards didn’t notice their approach. They had been distracted, sent false information by Raen’s Jedi allies. Their powers of manipulation, especially on the weak-minded, were more advanced than Ranval’s, and Raen was naturally intrigued by it. Two of his Jedi companions cut down two soldiers, using the building’s balcony as shielding from the rain while the third threw his target—with telekinesis—into the duracrete from several meters in the air, incapacitating him.

If Gaiel and Ranval were with him now, he would have been far more comfortable. He knew them, and they knew him. Telerus would have none of it. The Jedi who accompanied him had to be Jedi he knew personally, or else Raen would not go at all. Raen grudgingly accepted Telerus’s terms, but he was not ready to accept these Jedi as his friends. They were allies, perhaps, but nothing else.

“Hey,” Raen addressed the lead Jedi, Al-Meyn. She was the same Jedi he had met at the campsite several days before. “What’s the plan from here?”

She smiled knowingly. “Raen, I’m sure you know this place better than we do. Tell us where to go.”

Raen glanced at her suspiciously. He hadn’t expected her to give him command of this attack. “Are you sure? Telerus-”

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she interrupted. “What are your orders, Boss?”

“There’s an entrance behind the house. It’s located near a little rock garden. It leads to a wine cellar that connects to the foyer,” Raen thought aloud. “I’ll need you three to enter through that way and provide me with reinforcements.”

“I object, Al-Meyn,” a Glymphid Jedi spoke up. His thin body looked like it was about to blow away in the wind, and his stick-like snout looked ridiculous while he spoke. “This could be a trap.”

“Do you sense deception in the boy?” the lead Jedi asked angrily. “Because I sure don’t. If you suddenly became more perceptive in the Force, please let me know. I’ll go under your command immediately.”

“No, ma’am,” the other Jedi replied sheepishly.

“Well, then. I hope you realize that if Raen was sending us into a trap, it wouldn’t matter if we followed him now or went around through the cellar. It would be a trap regardless.”

“Thank you,” Raen noted.

“Don’t mention it,” she replied. “We’ll head round back. Force be with you, Benax. See you on the other side.”

The three Jedi left Raen’s side, following the building’s walls to reach the cellar on the other side. Raen could have pushed open the doors in front of him and started his mission, but he realized that he had become distracted. Thoughts ricocheted back and fourth in his head, and his mind was troubled. Sitting down near the door that led inside, Raen closed his eyes and entered a meditative trance.

He had to refocus himself. De’dlay was the only thing that mattered here. He knew the Nikto was not at the Sith academy, because he was never there. Only when Raen needed training and refused to participate in it did the Sith Master bother to go to the academy. He spent more time at the Benax Manor, staying in the guest chambers that his father had prepared for him to use.

The dark side surrounded his old house like fog. He could not see through it, and when he tried to send his perception within, he was rebuffed by dark side energy stronger than his own power. He needed no further proof that De’dlay was inside. De’dlay was the only Sith Master on Alderaan who had enough power to make Raen’s efforts in the Force useless, and he had been the only master who could easily defeat Raen in combat. That was before. Now, Raen had a power that De’dlay did understand, and that would be his key to victory.

Rising to his feet, Raen outstretched his hand. Concentrating all of his telekinetic power on the doorframe before him, the young Force-sensitive waited until the entire metal door was torn off its place and thrown into the foyer of his father’s home. No one waited for him; no one tried to intercept him. He was inside.


Chapter 23

Ranval wandered through the halls of the Sith academy by himself. Jedi were still fighting in the courtyard and antechamber, but many of them progressed to other areas of the academy. Ranval opted to search for Khondine and Gaiel. They had disappeared sometime during the initial battle and they hadn’t been seen since. His yellow lightsaber seemed to provide more light than the candles in the hall, and he kept it close to his chest as he cautiously navigated the area.

He couldn’t sense either of them. His Force-sensitivity, powerful though it was, could not penetrate the mist created by the dark side of the Force. Without the Force, he couldn’t see, and he couldn’t extend his perception without it. His sight was limited to a few meters around him as long as he was inside the academy, and he would have preferred to be fighting somewhere where his connection to the Force was strong. At least he wouldn’t be handicapped and weaker elsewhere.

Turning the corner, Ranval saw Gaiel fighting by his lonesome. He was relieved to see the Nautolan was still alive, but he realized—or at least sensed—that Gaiel was losing the battle against his opponent. The woman he was fighting was well built and she wore the uniform of a high-ranking Sith officer. She had a shaved head, and her eyes were feline, piercing, and altogether eerie to behold. Her knife protected her from Gaiel’s attacks, and Ranval was surprised that she could fight him off with such a simple weapon.

“Gaiel!” Ranval called out.

“Ranval?” Gaiel didn’t even take his eyes away from his opponent, deflecting a few blows with his viridian lightsaber. “Go get help!”

Ranval took Gaiel’s request to mean he should join the battle. Using the Force, Ranval performed a lengthy jump that propelled him through the air, landing behind the uniformed Sith opponent. Giving Gaiel a quick kick to the chest, his female opponent knocked him over and turned her attention to Ranval. The Miraluka’s first few attacks were easily blocked, and then she went on the offensive. Ranval barely managed to protect himself against her careful, precise strikes at his chest, weaving his lightsaber back and forth to defend himself.

Gaiel regained his footing and returned to the fray as Ranval’s defenses seemed ready to give way to his opponent. The Sith kicked Ranval’s leg, knocking him off balance and giving her a chance to face Gaiel. Instead of fighting him, she used the Force to push him away and ran up a nearby staircase. She practically goaded the Jedi to pursue her, and Ranval raced forward, eager to accept the invitation.

“What are you doing?” Gaiel asked, grasping Ranval by the shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Ranval shoved his hand away. “We need to follow her.”

“Ranval, she was about to cut you in two. You were seconds away from dying. If you go up there now, you’ll die. She’s leading us into a trap.”

“And if we let her go, she’ll cause trouble for other Jedi.”

“We can’t stop her,” Gaiel said plainly. He was fatigued and not in the mood to argue. “Let’s go tell Telerus, and he’ll send some Jedi Knights to stop her.”

“Can’t you sense her, Gaiel? She’s definitely a Sith. She’ll escape, and then-”

“Ranval! You are a Padawan! What are you going to do if you catch her?”

Ranval crossed his arms. “I… I don’t know.”

“Exactly. If you’d come with me, we can get help.” Gaiel smiled reassuringly. “We will stop her. I promise.”

Ranval grumbled and nodded, bidding Gaiel to go first. Once the Nautolan was on his way back to Telerus and the others, Ranval cautiously reversed his steps and quickly turned around, heading up the staircase after the Sith. Gaiel didn’t notice him leave, and Ranval heaved a sigh of relief as he headed up the staircase. Gaiel had good intentions, but he was a bit foolish at times. If any Sith escaped and went on to hurt someone, Ranval wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt. He had to stop the threat before it could begin.

He had been out of sight for nearly ten minutes before Gaiel realized that the Miraluka was not trailing him. “Damn Padawans,” Gaiel sighed. “They’re all the same. They want to jump into trouble the moment it shows itself.”

Shaking his head, Gaiel turned around and chased the Miraluka Padawan. He would have to reach Ranval before he got himself into trouble. He sent a quick comlink message to Telerus, asking for assistance with a powerful Sith. He wasn’t sure if the message went through, but he continued anyway. Khondine and Ranval were both in danger, and Gaiel realized that he was the only one here who could ensure their safety until Telerus and his men arrived.

*** ***

The camp was silent without its members. Empty tents were being taken down by the few remaining soldiers and droids. They had been left behind in case of an emergency, staying with Major Altesius in the valley at the behest of Colonel Mitos. The twenty or so soldiers that remained were personally responsible for Princess Eliorae’s protection.

As long as Khondine was away, fighting alongside the Jedi, Major Altesius himself served as her bodyguard and advisor. He had grudgingly accepted the job from Colonel Mitos, who insisted that someone had to stay behind and defend her. Altesius wanted to join the battle, wanted to battle the Sith forces that held this planet in their grip, and he wanted to raise his already impressive kill count. How many Mandalorians and Sith had already fallen by his hands? Too many for him to count, but he couldn’t wait until he could battle again. Combat was his life, and staying behind to defend a helpless royal was a waste of his time and talents.

Princess Eliorae Latona was sitting near the fire pit. She was alone now, but soldiers were nearby in case she needed anything. Her flowing dress and sparkling high heels had been replaced with a mesh combat suit and boots. She felt uncomfortable in these clothes, which were far more form fitting than she was used to, but Major Altesius insisted on her wearing them. If they fought anyone, then her current attire would apparently protect her more than a gown and heels would.

It wasn’t her place to judge the major’s orders, but she personally thought that the idea was ridiculous. No one was going to fight them here, and his precautions were an unnecessary formality. He wanted to be fighting on the frontlines, and she knew that. She didn’t want to keep him from battle, and she had talked to Colonel Mitos about her misgivings, but he had firmly rebuffed her request to let Major Altesius fight. Now they were here, both of them miserable, while their friends and allies fought the Sith throughout the planet.

The princess heaved a weary sigh as her hands traveled to her head, resting against her cheeks. She realized that, once the battle was over, she would be queen. Her parents were gone, and her brother had been lost. She was the last in line for the throne in the House of Latona. She didn’t think she was ready. Khondine would be at her side, and the nobles would support her, but she had never been prepared to inherit the kingdom.

Her father had focused his attention on her brother, and when he disappeared, he became withdrawn and sullen. Whatever preparations he had given to her brother were not given to her. She received no instruction from him, and now he was gone. Her father, mother, brother… no one was left. Just her and Khondine. They were all that remained. And she was as confused and just as unable to lead as she was on the night the castle fell.

There was a rustling behind one of the tents that caught Eliorae’s attention. Her gaze trying to peer beyond the line of tents to whatever it was that was hiding. Rising to her feet, Eliorae crept from her seat at the doused fire to the edge of the tents. As she peeked her head behind one of the tents, she was sent flying backwards by an invisible force. She hit the ground with a thud and her vision swirled as she struggled to her feet.

“A pale complexion, golden hair, and an unmistakable pair of glittering blue eyes… you are no doubt Eliorae Latona.”

Standing over the princess, Pallidus realized that he had completed his task. His Dark Jedi companions were killing the other soldiers and guard droids that dotted the camp; he had volunteered to locate and kill the princess. His green hair waved about in the wind, and a menacing smile crept across his face. His lightsabers rested on the front of his leather vest, making sure Eliorae knew exactly who she faced. No doubt she had heard of all the Sith leaders on Alderaan, particularly General Pallidus, master of the soldiers and right-hand of Preux himself.

Eliorae managed to stand, but her feet were weak and she wobbled back and forth. Pallidus placed one hand on her shoulder, but she found the strength to shove it away. A slap to the face followed, startling the Sith Master. The princess was bolder than he had suspected. Perhaps she was a mysterious figure, masquerading as a weak princess when in fact she had an iron will and great strength. Pallidus didn’t know, but it made the event more interesting.

He reached for her face, but she backed away instinctively. “Come here. Don’t be afraid.”

“Help me! Help me!” the princess cried.

“Now that won’t do.” Pallidus ran around her with a Force-empowered sprint and wrapped one of his long arms around her neck. He used his other hand to cover her mouth. “Keep still, little bird, or else I will have to put you to sleep.”

She bit his palm, eliciting a string of profane insults from the Sith Master as he accidentally loosened his grip and let the princess escape. She didn’t look back once, running toward the war room in the distance. Pallidus, appalled at her violent reaction, stared at his bleeding palm. Shaking his hand in an attempt to alleviate the pain, Pallidus gave chase. They would play predator and prey, if that was what she wanted. He was in no hurry, and the princess would certainly make an interesting target. He always wanted to pursue a princess.

*** ***

Jedi were bastions of light defending the galaxy against armies of darkness. It was a favorite topic of Thon’s, and Raen had taken a liking to it as well. He hadn’t understood it before, in his stubbornness and pride, but he had come to realize that the old Jedi Master was right. In fact, much of his wisdom was truer than it first appeared.

The metaphor came alive as he defended himself against the host of Sith troopers in his father’s manor. Dozens of soldiers, wearing now familiar black armor and armed with heavy repeaters, revealed themselves from behind the burned staircase at the center of the main room. Why he hadn’t sensed them before, Raen didn’t know; he stumbled right into a Sith trap.

The luminescent red blaster fire that pulsated toward Raen was reflected and sent across the room. Holobooks shelves against the wall, furniture scattered throughout the room, and the various pottery and statues that lined the corners all felt the pain of redirected blaster fire. It seemed as though the Sith trooper’s fire could hit everything except their intended target. In the midst of it all, Raen Benax was safe.

He was so immersed in the Force, he felt like he could continue deflecting blaster fire until Alderaan’s sun exploded. He knew he couldn’t, but the ethereal feeling of being bathed in the light side of the Force in spite of the surrounding darkness invigorated him with power that was previously unknown to him. Every blaster shot seemed to more slower than thrown stones, easily blocked by his blue lightsaber.

He knew he couldn’t stay on the defensive forever. He had to keep moving. A tingling sensation in his hand alerted him to an alternative he hadn’t considered. Deactivating his lightsaber, Raen placed a Force shield between himself and his targets, keeping him safe from their blaster fire for a brief moment. Thon had taught him the skill on Ambria, and he made a mental note to thank him later. Dropping his lightsaber from a moment, Raen waited, waited for his hands to burst into flame.

Fire encompassed his fingers and raced around his palm. He could finally control it. The fire felt familiar in his hands, like a tool that could be used as he pleased. At his command, the fire got larger and burned brighter, engulfing both of his hands and bathing the room in an eerie red glow. Extending both of his hands as if to reach out and grab the Sith troopers, Raen unleashed a fiery storm upon his dark-armored opponents. The fire struck each of them, melting armor and charring flesh. The light blinded Raen, but he heard cries of agony and terrified moans from his opponents within the inferno.

Seconds later, Raen exhausted his power, and the flames he had created were snuffed out without warning. He was the only one in the room. Dark burns were visible on the wood beams that suspended the weakened walls, across holobooks, and along the fabric of the furniture. The soldiers had perished, leaving bits of bone, ashes, and misshapen metal in their place.

His personal comlink buzzed in his ear. “This is Raen.”

“Raen! Oh, by the Force, you’re there.” It was Al-Meyn’s voice. The Cerean sounded frightened, panting aloud and stuttering. “You have to help me.”

“What’s wrong? Where are you?”

“Still in… still in the cellar.”

Raen turned his head in the general direction of the cellar. “What’s going on?”

“There’s… there’s someone here.” She was panicked. “He-he’s killed everyone. There’s no one left.”

“I’m coming to help,” Raen said. “Stay there.”

“Oh, damn.”

“Al-Meyn?”

“Sorry, Raen. We couldn’t stop him. We’re done for.” Raen could hear the sound of lightsabers crackling from the other side of the comlink. “He’s too… too strong! Can’t stop him! Tell Telerus we tried! The Force wills it!”

There was a cry, and then everything was silent.

“Al-Meyn, are you there?” Now Raen was worried.

“Stay right where you are, Raen,” a low, gurgling voice spoke through the comlink. “I can… I can smell you.”

Raen trembled. “Who is this?”

“You know who I am.”

Al-Meyn’s comlink was shattered by its new owner, forcing Raen to shut off his own. He didn’t recognize the voice, but the fact that whoever it was had been strong enough to kill three Jedi Knights was enough to worry the young Force-user. Picking up his lightsaber again, Raen jumped over the burned stairwell that once led from the foyer to the upper floors of the estate. The destroyed stairs would slow down a normal sentient, but Raen knew that the voice’s owner was not normal. He would have to hurry and find De’dlay before he was found by the Jedi-killer that was coming from the cellar.

*** ***

Ranval was exhausted by the time he got to the hallway at the end of the stairs. Gasping for breath, he warily moved forward, not sensing the Sith or any other enemies nearby. His lightsaber was activated in his hand, and he waved it about, hoping to find some hiding opponent in the shadows. To his slight dismay, there were no hiding enemies. However, a burst of Force energy in the distance told him that someone was here.

Bits of wood flew out of the darkness and hit his back. Shocked, Ranval spun around, using his lightsaber to see the source of the disturbance. There was no one behind him. He felt his heart rate increase as a wicker basket smashed into his back. Growling, the Jedi Padawan pivoted back and forth, looking down both ends of the hallway for his target.

An assortment of items became projectiles, flying toward Ranval from the darkness around him. He tried to intercept them, but his reactions were always delayed; aside from the fact he couldn’t see, the dark side hindered his reaction time. He didn’t realize that things were flying at him until it was too late. The items weren’t large or heavy enough to be deadly, but they were annoying.

“Come out!” Ranval shouted. “I know you’re there!”

“As you wish.”

Calay slithered out of the shadows behind Ranval. She was close enough to reach out and strangle him, and he hadn’t even noticed her presence. How foolish. This would be easier than she thought. Her knife was in her hand, her palms sweating in anticipation of her first kill. Calay crept closer, getting close enough to him that she could whisper in his ear.

Ranval leapt with terror when his opponent’s presence in the Force suddenly became apparent. He turned to face her, and not a second too soon. Her blade had been centimeters from his back. He hadn’t noticed her at all, and he probably would be dead by now if she hadn’t revealed herself in the Force. Why had she given away her position? Ranval gripped his lightsaber with both hands, pointing the weapon at Calay.

The Sith Lady took his stance as a challenge; rushing up to him in the blink of an eye, Calay smashed her knife’s hilt into Ranval’s head, and he cried out in pain as he stumbled into the nearest wall. His head felt like it was shaking—trembling—in pain. He placed one hand on his head as he turned to face Calay, but she was quicker than he anticipated. At his side even as he regained his composure, the side of her hand met his throat. A quick chop at his neck caused him to gasp and wheeze as he struggled to breath. Ranval fell to his knees before Calay calmly planted her boot on his arm and kicked him over.

He was practically unconscious as she positioned herself over him, practically strangling him with her foot. If he wasn’t so disoriented, he could have shifted around, grabbed her leg, or even just kicked and she would be knocked to the ground as well. He couldn’t even find the strength to recover the lightsaber that had slipped out of his grip during his fall. Groaning and coughing as her heel clamped down his neck, Ranval flailed as much as he was able.

Ranval saw her blade ascend, preparing to plunge deep into his chest. He didn’t see it descend. He didn’t know whether or not he had had a sudden lapse of consciousness. In fact, he thought he had died. Everything was so bright, so vivid, so ethereal. His Force vision faded in and out, at one moment filling all his senses with brilliant light and then drowning them in a thick darkness.

Gaiel had rushed forth and blocked Calay’s blade with a single swing. She shifted her attention to him immediately, shifting all her weight onto one foot and escaping to Gaiel’s right. Three swift cuts flew toward him, each carefully blocked by his lightsaber. He positioned himself between the Sith Lady and Ranval, who was hardly able to focus his attention on anything, much less aid Gaiel in battle.

“Brave.” Calay’s blade locked with Gaiel’s, the two weapons centimeters from the Jedi’s face. “But you should have fled when you could. I won’t play with you anymore.”

“It’s not a game if I can’t win,” Gaiel noted wryly. “Why don’t you give up now?”

Calay let out what Gaiel thought was a laugh before returning her attention to the duel. Pushing his lightsaber away from his body, Calay leapt into the air and kicked Gaiel in the face. The Nautolan stumbled backwards, clenching the side of his head in a futile attempt to stop the ringing. Calay was on him in an instant, pummeling him with her fist while her knife danced alongside his lightsaber—held too far from his body to be any use. Gaiel backflipped to avoid a strike to the jaw, but she responded with a burst of dark side energy. The most brutal effects of the darkness were rebuffed by Gaiel’s own powers, but his knees buckled against the incoming power nonetheless.

One hit, two hits. Gaiel resisted the urge to cry out in pain from her blows. The staircase was behind him, and Calay was before him. He couldn’t fight a Sith Master. She was too strong for him, a Jedi Knight. He knew they should have gone for help.

His lightsaber blocked her first strike, but she managed to get around his defense with a single motion. Her knife plunged deep into his leg, and Gaiel lost his footing, tumbling forward to avoid a long fall down the stairs. Calay kicked his face once he was on the ground, cackling with glee at the helpless Jedi Knight. She activated her red lightsaber, holding it at her waist, to finish off the Nautolan.

“Time to die, fishy. I’ll make it slow and painful, just like I’ll do to your friend over there.”

To Gaiel’s relief, Ranval had recovered quicker than either of them realized. His lightsaber met Calay’s before she could even swing her weapon at Gaiel, and the exasperated Sith Lady muttered something about having to deal with two stubborn Jedi.

“Take this!” Gaiel threw his lightsaber at Ranval, and the Miraluka gladly accepted it.

Ranval activated Gaiel’s lightsaber as soon as it was in his grip. His yellow and green blades met Calay’s in an X-shaped slice, but she merely shook her head. It seemed as though she had been expecting Ranval’s plan of attack, and she easily blocked his next few strikes with her single lightsaber. In fact, she seemed stronger now that she was using her Sith weapon instead of her knife.

She staved off Ranval’s next few double-blows with ease, and then—in a terribly exaggerated maneuver—spun and positioned herself at Ranval’s side. Before the Miraluka could counter, she brought her lightsaber down onto the young Jedi, severing both of his hands with a single strike. A Force push sent him flying into the wall opposite of them, incapacitating him entirely.

Gaiel struggled to his feet, even though the Sith’s blade was still inside his leg. He swayed back and forth as if he was intoxicated, unable to stand. He seemed to think he could fight against Calay in his position. She smiled cruelly as she stepped toward him, ignoring the wounded Miraluka for the time being.

“Do you intend to stop me, Jedi?” Calay chortled at the thought. “You seem to have something in your leg.”

“I think it belongs to you,” Gaiel countered. “Would you like it back?”

“I think I do. I’ll dig it out of your corpse.”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“Gaiel! You idiot!” Jasparan stormed up the staircase with a small group of Jedi, lightsabers at the ready. He was with Telerus, Jram, and a few other higher-ranking Jedi, and none of them looked particularly pleased. “Why didn’t you tell us you were fighting the master of the academy?”

Gaiel grasped the wall for support. “This is…?”

“Yes, this is Lady Calay, headmaster of the academy here on Alderaan. She took over in the wake of the Battle of Aldera.” Telerus turned his attention to the Sith Lady, who seemed to betray more emotion—she was shocked at the Jedi reinforcements—than usual. “You’d best plead to your Sith ancestors. Now you face justice at our hands.”

“A fat fool like you?” Calay spat. “Fear me, for I am darkness itself!”

Another burst of dark energy flew toward the host of Jedi. Telerus calmly stepped between the attack and his allies, his girth blocking Gaiel’s view of Calay herself. His hand extended, calmly, and the dark side was dispelled. Calay gasped when her attack failed, and she charged forward to attack Telerus himself.

Not only was her attack quickly ended, but the dark side seemed to disappear from the surrounding area. No longer did Gaiel feel fatigued, nor was his connection to the Force hindered. He could sense everything around him—Ranval’s pain, Calay’s rage, Telerus’s confidence—and he felt stronger. The knife in his leg prevented him from doing anything to aid the Jedi who positioned themselves in front of Telerus. Instead, he watched patiently as Jram and several other Jedi Knights attacked Calay, fighting her in a group, while Telerus meditated near Gaiel.

Telerus’s feet seemed hidden underneath his stomach as he sat, eyes closed and thoughts racing. Gaiel remained silent, and he realized that the Jedi Knight was not only meditating, he was calling upon the Force. Light emanated from his being, and he seemed to overflow with the Force. He could extend his own powers to his allies fighting the Sith Lady. Every one of the Jedi felt the effects of his power, fighting more effectively and in unison against their stronger opponent. Even Gaiel and Ranval, weak as they were, felt empowered by Telerus’s battle meditation.

Calay had managed to decapitate two Jedi with her lightsaber, and a third fell to an vicious Force choke. However, the last five Jedi, including Jram and Jasparan, proved too much for her. She couldn’t divide her attention between four opponents. Intent on killing as many of her enemies as she could, Calay unleashed the full power of her dark rage, bathing in a wave of passion and fear. Her movements became blindingly fast in her final moments. Slamming her lightsaber against Jasparan’s defenses, she managed to trick the other Jedi into thinking she had become distracted. When another Jedi moved in for a strike at her back, she crushed his ribcage with the power of the dark side.

Before she could return her attention to Jasparan, Jram drove his lightsaber into the back of her head, killing her instantly. Her body, as if to respond to its dying state, unleashed a violent burst of dark side energy, completely destroying her body and shredding the clothes along with it, leaving nothing behind. Telerus shielded his allies from this attack as much as he could, but Jasparan had been knocked unconscious by the blast and Jram’s remaining allies had been afflicted with some unknown poison.

Jram turned his attention to his companions while Telerus moved toward Gaiel.

“Are you all right?” the large Jedi asked.

“Yes,” Gaiel muttered. “I think… I think that blade’s got some poison on it, though.”

“I see.” Telerus closed his eyes. Using the Force, he carefully guided the blade out of the wound. Once the blade was free, blood began to flow from the wound, but Telerus’s power quickly sealed the wound and extracted the toxins from Gaiel’s blood. “It should be fine now. You’re lucky the blade didn’t fragment on its way in. That could have done quite a bit of damage.”

“Thank you, Telerus.”

“Of course.” Telerus chuckled lightly. “Ranval should be fine too, aside from his missing hands. He’s unconscious, but he’ll wake up soon enough.”

“So what now?”

“Now, Gaiel, you sleep.” Telerus placed his hand on Gaiel’s forehead, and a wave of energy washed over him. It was not harmful, but the Nautolan could feel his body begin to shut down. “We have dealt with the Sith. You will be safe here.”

“Telerus…” Gaiel muttered. “You… what are you…”

He couldn’t finish. Gaiel faded into an unconscious state, and Telerus rose to his feet—with some difficulty—ignoring him entirely. One of his Jedi allies had already torn the nearby wall apart, per his orders. The wall opposite of the inhibited Nautolan was supposed to contain De’dlay’s private sanctuary, or so the reports said. The other Jedi had gathered around the recently excavated staircase that had been hidden behind the walls.

Watchcircle Dominus had not come to Alderaan to aid the Republic. It was a noble goal and secondary objective, but it was not their purpose. In an effort to hide their true motives, Telerus and his compatriots pretended to be Jedi sent by the High Council. As such, Telerus had to seem as though he was Jram’s subordinate. In reality, the titles handed out by the Jedi Council were meaningless to him. Jram may have been his superior in the Jedi Order, but in the Watchcircle, everyone answered to him and him alone. It was the way they operated, but it would seem strange to the Republic.

They were here because there was a Jedi who needed to be rescued. Abandoned by the Jedi Order, they were not even aware he was alive. But Telerus knew. He always seemed to know. The Jedi Master Tor’chal was still alive, here, in the Sith academy. They had to masquerade as those false Jedi to be allowed to get close enough to the combat zone to rescue him.

Ironically, it was Raen, the corrupt Force-sensitive, who had made this entire situation possible. It was Raen who had defeated Tor’chal; his masters imprisoned and tortured him here, and his despair was heard—in the Force—by Telerus. Raen had suggested that only Jedi venture to the academy. Now the Republic could do nothing to stop him from taking his men and leaving with his new ally. What a pity. Raen seemed to be guiding their hand.

“Master.” Jasparan had since recovered his bearings. “Are you sure it’s wise to leave Gaiel here?”

“And what would you rather do with him?” Telerus replied.

“We could kill him, Master.”

Telerus scoffed. “And what would he do if he’s left alive? Tell the Council?” He laughed heartily at the thought. “Ineffective and blind fools. No, there’s no reason to kill Gaiel Remus, a valuable soldier of the light, here. He and his companions can live, besides Raen, perhaps.”

“Even so-”

“The Jedi Order is broken, Jasparan. Too far gone, too seeped in darkness. You’ve seen it firsthand. They say they redeem Dark Jedi and rescue Sith, but all they do is incorporate them into their ranks. They do not face justice. Dark-siders haunt the Order we once held dear.”

“Then we must purge them.”

“No.” Telerus seemed almost disappointed. “We’ve tried. We’ve lost a lot of good Jedi trying to eradicate them. But they are a pestilence that we cannot cure. We are cutting at the limb instead of striking at the heart.”

“I don’t understand.”

Telerus sighed. “A purge is too complex. We must start again. And to do that, we need true Jedi. True Jedi… like Tor’chal.”

Telerus entered De’dlay’s private sanctum. It reeked of death and pain, despair and malice. It was an abominable pit of the dark side. His powerful presence, coupled with the cleansing power of the light, held back the wave of malevolent energy that rose up from inside the chamber. Even so, some of the weaker Jedi hesitated, smelling the stench and feeling the chilling aura. Telerus had no such thoughts. His only goal here on Alderaan, this pitiful planet mired in shadow, was the Ithorian prisoner captured by the Sith.

Walking down the steps that led from the main halls to the prison below, Jram and Telerus—flanked by several other Jedi—entered the chilly aired room. They were not met by anyone, and they reached Tor’chal’s cell without incident. “Free the Master,” Telerus demanded, “and all the other Republic or Jedi prisoners here.”

His men shouted cries of agreement and obedience. The Jedi Knights began ripping apart the bars that held the cells together, shattering them and tearing them into bits of broken metal. Telerus stood alone at the center of the T-shaped hall, bathing the room in the glorious power of the light side of the Force. The darkness had no power over him, for he was purity incarnate. No carnal desire had power over him, and he had subjected all of his baser emotions to his whim. The light side flowed out from him like a star in the cold, lifeless realm of space, and he began to restore hope to the battered and broken prisoners that had been subjected to pain and torture in this place for so long.

“We have rescued Tor’chal, Master,” Jasparan called out from a distance.

“Good,” Telerus purred. “Very good. And what of Junara?”

“Junara Benax?” Jasparan asked, revealing himself to Telerus. “What of her?”

“Calay was protecting her, was she not?”

“Indeed. What of it?”

“Those who receive the aid or protection of the Sith deserve no mercy from us. Show her what happens to those who ally themselves with darkness.”

While Jasparan left, three other Jedi carried Tor’chal, once thought dead, from his dark, fetid cell into the hall where Telerus stood. He was lying on his back in a repulsorlift stretcher, but he was clearly conscious and aware of his surroundings. He had blotches of white pus and dried, dead flesh scattered across his body, particularly where his four throats rested inside his massive neck. His breathing was labored and irregular, likely due to the shock of seeing other Force-sensitives—who weren’t trying to cause him pain. He smelled like something that had just come from a slaughterhouse, but Telerus ignored it, even as his subordinates gagged and turned from the Ithorian Jedi.

Tor’chal’s voice was feeble and terrified. “You… you are…?”

“We are Jedi Knights, Master Tor’chal,” Telerus beamed. “We’re here to rescue you.”

“Rescue… rescue me? Well… that’s… how nice,” Tor’chal couldn’t find any other words to say.

“Think nothing of it, Master.” Telerus placed his hand on Tor’chal’s shoulder. “Rest now. You’re free from the Sith and their evils.”

“Thank you…”

Tor’chal was ferried away on the stretcher, and several other Jedi and Republic prisoners followed him, either by their own power or on stretchers. Once he was sure that all of the Sith’s captives had been set free, the Jedi Knight turned to leave.

“Master Telerus!” Jram’s voice rang out from the other side of the hall.

“What is it?” Telerus was ready to leave, and these delays were wearing his patience thin.

“Master, there’s a girl down here. She seems to be Sith; she has the taint of the dark side on her, although it’s very faint.”

“Leave her,” Telerus said coolly. “No taint, no matter how faint, can be removed. She is darkness and evil. Let the Republic deal with her.”

Telerus returned to the halls of the academy, and he brushed off his cloak, as if he could brush off the terrible smell and power of death that pervaded the prison below. He followed his other Jedi to the antechamber where they would leave the academy and be picked up by a Jedi Covenant dropship. From there, they would retreat into space before the battle ended, and soon no one—except for the few that had interacted with them—would know that they were ever on Alderaan.

As he left, Jram emerged from the prisons that had once served as De’dlay’s private sanctum. In his arms, he carried a young girl, far younger than anyone else in the academy, who had been subjected to a myriad of tortures and painful inflictions that only drove her deeper and deeper into despair.

Jram could not leave her to die. Compassion entered his heart when he saw her, and even when he turned away, ready to leave at Telerus’s orders, he could not erase her battered, weary face from his mind. She was tortured, sickly, and bruised, but Jram remembered a time when Betror, his Padawan, had been her age. Something convicted him; he felt as though leaving her would be like leaving Betror to die in that place.

He would take full responsibility for his actions. Telerus would not be pleased, and he would face judgment—even if it meant his death. Telerus would be merciful. He could understand. This girl, Dynatha, would be saved, and Jram would make sure of it.

*** ***

Khondine’s lightsaber battered against Danc’s defenses. First a strike to the left, then to the right. Back and forth, this way and that, her weapon whirled through the air as she danced around her old teacher. Danc seemed to be tiring, and his defense was slowly giving way to Khondine’s two violet blades constantly clashing against his single lightsaber.

“Do you know why I spare you?” Danc cooed.

“Spare me?” Khondine growled. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m beating you.”

“You always were overconfident.”

“You might as well tell me.” Khondine’s whipped her blade toward Danc’s face, but she missed entirely. “I’ll kill you while you’re distracted.

“The same reason I taught all my students—but especially you—to sense my presence wherever you go.”

He had taught them to detect him in the Force in case there was an emergency. Or at least, that was what he told them. Either way, as Khondine promised, she used the conversation to her advantage. Lashing out at the Zabrak, she elbowed him in the jaw. He swore loudly as he tried to recover, and she maneuvered around him and struck at his right arm. He wasn’t prepared for the attack, but he managed to dodge it, despite losing a few skull horns in the process.

Danc closed in with his own weapon, battering at his opponent’s defenses. She blocked each blow easily, forcing him to strike repeatedly. His last attack was aimed at her chest, and while she managed to block, Danc used his momentum to cut the hilt itself in half. The violet blades deactivated immediately, the severed hilt useless, and she was defenseless against Danc’s attacks.

She punched at his throat, but he managed to grab her fist and deactivated his lightsaber before backhanding her with his other hand. Stars and bursting globes of light filled her eyes, and only seconds later did she realized she had hit the ground headfirst. Without a weapon, she couldn't stop Danc from slinking toward her, crouching low enough to meet her eyes. He got as close as he dared, unsure how easily he could block her fist from where he was.

“I killed your brother,” Danc whispered, his voice harsh and cold, “because your brother would have tried to stop me from getting to you.”

Khondine’s eyes narrowed angrily. “You monster, what are you talking about?”

“Please, Khondine.” Danc stroked her face. She tried to strike back, but she realized that she had been placed in a stasis field. She could only speak and listen. “Do you know what the Sith promised me in exchange for the king’s head?”

“I don’t care! Let me go now!” Khondine tried to struggle, but she was completely immobilized. “You freak! Fight me fairly.”

“I taught you how to sense me, so you could always find me.” Danc smiled eerily. “So I could always find you. No matter how far away we are…”

“Get away from me!”

“The Sith promised to teach me the power… the power necessary to make you my own. I want you, Khondine.”

“You’re insane!” Khondine thought she was about to start crying, but she held back the burning tears. “What the hell happened to you? What did they do to you?”

“Shhh. We’ll be together soon, Khondine.” His head crept uncomfortably close to hers, and she could feel his breath in her ear. “And when we are finally one… nothing will separate us. Not your brother, not the Jedi, not the Sith… not even death.”

A swift kick to the side or a punch to the face would have sent Danc away from her, but she couldn’t move. Her arms struggled against the stasis field, and her head twitched the closer he got. Something told her she wasn’t going to survive this, and if she did, she would wish she didn’t.

Suddenly, the Zabrak’s eyes drifted from her. “It seems someone is coming. Soon, Khondine, soon. I have to leave—I can’t risk dying here, no. We’ll be together soon. Don’t worry, my love.” He jumped to his feet and fled the room by a back door. He was gone before Gaiel stumbled into the room.

Khondine was lying in the center of the room. The stasis field had long since worn off, but she could not find the strength to stand. She was shaking violently, and her breathing was labored and coarse. Gaiel rushed to her side, a bit stronger than he was before, but she didn’t seem to notice him. Her eyes didn’t meet his, and she hardly responded to his presence, aside from flinching when he checked her pulse.

“Khondine, what happened?” His voice betrayed his concern.

“Danc… Danc…” Khondine whispered. “He… I can’t… no…”

“Khondine…” Gaiel extended his presence in the Force, using what was left of his power to ensure that she would remain conscious. The Jedi with Telerus had gone. He would have to contact the Republic to send aid. Until then, he would bring Ranval and Khondine together so he could watch over them.

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