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Chapter 24

Raen walked through the empty halls, his eyes constantly shifting back and forth. Something was here, and he could feel it. The dark side lingered in this entire place and it gnawed at Raen’s mind. He saw shadows where there was light. He saw phantoms in the corner of his eye, and when he turned, nothing was there. He heard whispers despite being alone. Something filled the estate with a sense of foreboding evil, and that evil slowly grew while Raen wandered the halls, searching for his target.

“Raen! Is that you? Come into my study, please.”

Raen’s eyes widened. The voice was unrecognizably the voice of his father, Raystin. He could hardly believe it. He had entertained the notion that his father had been quietly executed by the Sith, hoping to take over his house and use it for their own dark ventures. Raystin had always been too trusting, too eager to aid the Sith even though they harmed his business and, perhaps unwittingly, corrupted his sons. De’dlay had been an old friend of his, and he felt indebted to the Nikto for some reason or another. Raen didn’t know the details, but something the Sith Master had done for Raystin before he and his brother, Jaeln, were born caused his father to trust him with his life.

And now his father was here. If he was here, then Raen’s mother could be alive. His brother could be alive. Things didn’t have to be so different. A thought entered his mind, teasing him with returning everything to the way it was before his forced exile. Before he became a convict and a refugee, unable to return to his home. To be loved again. To feel the embrace and hear the kind words of his family. He would have given up all of his powers to experience that again, desperate and dark as he once was.

The thought was banished from his mind as quickly as it had entered. Nothing would ever be the same, and he knew that. With a somber expression and a heavy heart, Raen turned the corner and approached his father’s office. Raystin’s name was still carved in the door, greeting Raen like an old friend. Smiling grimly, Raen checked the old-fashioned knob on the door and found it open. He twisted it and pushed the door open, admitting himself into his father’s presence.

The chaos that Raystin subjected himself to was no different than the last time Raen saw it. Holobooks and flimsy sheets scattered the floor, accompanied by various drawing instruments and measuring tools. A few bronzium statues had been added, likely gifts from the Sith for his continued support to their cause, that lined the walls around the room. The sliding door opposite of Raen’s side of the room was littered with raindrops, pitter-pattering against its now-opaque frame. And in front of the sliding door, in his desk, sat Raystin Benax.

His father looked far older than he remembered. His neatly combed hair had faded into a solid gray, kindly complimenting the creases that had crept across his face and the wrinkles hovering over his brow. Dark lines raced under his eyes, and Raen had never seen him so tired, even when he was hard at work with the company. His hands were steepled on his desk, resting near the golden vase that always seemed to be near his person. He still wore a rather elaborate black mesh suit, but it was less prim than it usually was.

“Raen.” A smile formed on Raystin’s face when he saw his son. His face almost lit up, shining radiantly with the candles across the room, and he suddenly looked several years younger. “My son, where have you been? What happened to you? I haven’t heard from you in years.”

Raen’s eyes narrowed as he focused on his father. A churning feeling in his stomach told him something wasn’t right. The dark side did not seem less threatening now that he was in his father’s presence; in fact, it was the opposite. The evil aura that surrounded the entire house—no, all of Alderaan—was stemming from this man. His body was manifesting its power and his will through the power of the dark side. Raen had never noticed it before, but his father was a shadow in the Force. Perhaps, as a dark-sider himself, Raen hadn’t noticed. But the light gave him new insight. Showed him what he did not—or could not—see before.

Preux.

Raen’s hand was on his lightsaber in an instant. The blue blade hissed, pointed at the man Raen called his father. Raystin looked alarmed at Raen’s sudden outburst, but his surprise quickly shifted into a tenacious glare that froze Raen in his place.

“What’s this about, Raen?” his father asked.

“You… you’re… Preux?” Raen’s voice was hardly audible, and it quivered with a feeling that might have been fear.

“Raen.” Raystin stood at his full height, though he was not much taller than Raen. “Are you quite all right? You look rather pale.”

“No… how had I not sensed it before?” Raen wondered aloud, ignoring his father’s question. “You… but how?”

“I can’t say I understand what you’re talking about, Raen.”

“Preux! You’re the Sith Lord of Alderaan!”

“Sith Lord?” Raystin scoffed at the thought. “What an entertaining accusation. Sit down, Raen. You’ll feel better in a few minutes. I think you’re just homesick.”

Raystin motioned toward a chair at the edge of the room. Raen moved to sit down, but he quickly realized his position and shook his head. “No,” he growled. “You can’t hide it from me, father. You’re a Sith! Why? How? Did you think you could hide it forever?”

“Raen, please,” Raystin said, motioning toward the chair, “you don’t look well. If you keep going on like this, you’re going to get hurt.”

“By what? You?” Raen shot back.

“You’ll hurt yourself, son.”

Raen cried aloud, not quite sure what was going on. Confused and delirious, Raen threw his lightsaber at his father, only realizing after the weapon left his hand what he had done. Raystin’s eyes widened with shock, and he didn’t even move as the blue blade cut through his clothes and shred his flesh. With a painful moan, Raystin’s body fell to the ground, his torso cleaved apart by Raen’s lightsaber.

The weapon returned to Raen’s hand and his face blanched at the sight of his father’s corpse. He hadn’t even defended himself. He had just died. Raen could hardly see as tears began to sting, and he questioned whether or not he was right. Had he just killed an innocent man? What if his father wasn’t the Sith he was looking for? Had he just struck down his own father in some sort of madness? What if-

“Well done, Raen,” Raystin’s voice said. “But didn’t I tell you? Be careful who you speak the name of Preux to. Do not double-cross him. His powers are beyond your own.”

Raen jumped when he heard his father’s voice behind him. Spinning around—lightsaber in hand—to see the source of the voice, he realized that it was, in fact, Raystin Benax. His mind raced in confusion and he felt a cold sweat rush down his neck. It was impossible. He couldn’t have survived that. He saw his father get cleaved in two by his own lightsaber. He had heard the death cry.

“How…? That’s…” Raen uttered.

“You saw me die because I wished for you to see it,” Raystin said, assuming a cold and commanding tone. “You did not see my power because I wished to keep it from you.”

“That’s impossible,” Raen said. “No one can completely mask their presence in the Force! Not even a Sith Lord!”

Raystin smiled. It was not the warm, loving smile Raen knew, but a devious, heartless smile that complemented a ferocious spirit. “You’re right, and I can’t. The dark side has always followed me, but it can never be traced back to me. Tor’chal tried to find me, and he failed. Don’t you remember? He felt darkness here, but he thought his true opponent—if he had one—was you.”

Raen bit his lip. “Everything… you’ve been behind everything.”

“Not everything,” Raystin admitted. “Preux’s will hardly reaches beyond Alderaan. But that is the way it should be. My power is here. My thralls are here. My kingdom is here.”

“This is the kingdom of House Latona!” Raen shot back. “The house you killed!”

“Indeed?” Raystin smiled again. “It seems my purge proved inadequate. These… rebels… still unite against me. And who do they unite under, I wonder?”

Raen said nothing, but his father shook his head and cackled with delight.

“Your thoughts betray you, son. I know Jaeln failed to kill Princess Eliorae. I just didn’t know where she hid. But now… now I do. Thanks to you.”

Raen’s eyes widened. “What? How did you…? You’re lying!”

“Your thoughts, feelings, senses… all of them. They are like an open holobook to me. Nothing you hide is truly concealed from me. If Malak was Revan’s fist, I was his mind.”

Raen scoffed. “I’ve heard enough. First you claim you can read my mind, and now you say you’re behind Revan’s victories. Deceit is a trait of the dark side, is it not? Face me!”

His blue lightsaber activated in a flash and plunged toward Raystin’s chest. The older Benax dodged the attack with relative ease, shifting to the side and letting the blade fly through the air. Raen didn’t stop, slashing at his father’s torso and arms with consistent ferocity. Every attack was carefully dodged by Raystin, pivoting on his feet and twisting his body to avoid the strikes his son tried to land. Smiling, he taunted Raen; it appeared that he was enjoying agilely avoiding Raen’s attacks, and the younger Benax became frustrated. He couldn’t even land a blow! Raystin didn’t even have a lightsaber, and Raen couldn’t make contact. It was impossible!

Jumping over Raystin, he tried to cut at his father’s head, but the Sith ducked underneath the strike, avoiding it entirely. Now behind his father, Raen swung at his back, but Raystin merely jumped forward. Raen pressed on, slashing at his father’s midsection and legs, but the older Benax jumped on his desk to dodge the attacks.

Raen felt a sudden increase in dark side energy beyond him, but he ignored it. His father was more important right now. Raystin seemed to have sensed it as well. Peering off into the distance, he realized where the malevolent energy was coming from. Knocking his son to the ground with a kick to the chest, Raystin barely managed to catch the forking tongues of Sith lightning in his hand before it reached him, absorbing it and forcing it to dissipate into harmless energy.

On the ground, Raen rolled on his side and glanced into the hallway behind him. De’dlay stood in the doorway, sending lightning from the fingertips of his left hand. De’dlay had never looked so hideous. His red-orange skin was bruised and battered, with bits of his scaly flesh torn away by lightsaber-inflicted wounds. His eyes were nearly lifeless; they looked like the eyes of a tortured hound, ready to strike back at its master. He wore nothing but simple trousers, exposing infected lacerations and deep wounds along the rest of his scaled body.

Raen’s stomach sank when he saw Al-Meyn’s severed head suspended in De’dlay’s other hand, and he suddenly realized that De’dlay had been the one in the cellar who had killed his Jedi allies. Once he was aware of what was happening around him, Raen rolled away from the lightning overhead, which completely missed him thanks to Raystin’s interference. Standing again, Raen flourished his lightsaber and found himself standing between the two Sith, neither of them paying full attention to him. It was not until De’dlay stopped his attack that he noticed Raen’s presence again.

“Raen,” he growled, his voice unusually dark and frightening, “I have been waiting for you. Jaeln has left, so I had to bide my time, waiting for a second Benax to arrive so I could fulfill my revenge.”

“My son has no part in your petty vengeance,” Raystin snapped. “Leave him out of it, De’dlay. This is between you and I.”

“Quite the contrary, Preux,” De’dlay hissed. “When I kill him, you shall be weakened. And when you are weakened, you will die.”

“You couldn’t kill me in Aldera,” Raystin said, “and you won’t kill me now.”

De’dlay discarded the Cerean Jedi’s head and grabbed the vibrosword from across his back. Swinging it a few times, he charged at Raystin, growling and snarling like a rabid beast the entire time. Raystin easily avoided the attacks, as he had Raen’s attacks, sending De’dlay into a frenzy. Each strike caused him to swing harder, faster, and less accurately, and Raystin dodged the attacks even easier then. Not content with sitting back as the two Sith engaged each other, Raen charged forward, blasting De’dlay with a telekinetic strike while throwing his lightsaber at his father. Raystin easily dodged the attack, but De’dlay – who had ignored Raen—was hit with the full force of the telekinetic wave, sending him flying into a statue against the wall.

Raystin lifted De’dlay with invisible waves of energy, forcing the Nikto against the wall without a weapon. Once he was sure that De’dlay could not move, Raystin unleashed his own Sith lightning from his fingers, shocking the incapacitated Sith Master with the furious power of the dark side. De’dlay roared in anger as the lightning snaked around him, unleashing its power on his weakened and battered body. Before Raystin could amplify the power of his attack, Raen swung at his father with his lightsaber, forcing him to drop the weakened De’dlay and end his attack early.

Raen swung at his Raystin’s face, narrowly missing, before Raystin knocked him off his feet, lashing at his legs with dark side energy. Raen fell over just in time to avoid a strike from De’dlay’s blade, which was intercepted by a bronzium statue’s arm thrown by Raystin. De’dlay hissed and turned his attention away from Raystin, content with cutting down his son, who was dazed on the ground. Raystin noticed De’dlay’s intention, and he threw him into the wall with a telekinetic push. Ripping a chunk out of the stone wall with his dark side power, Raystin threw the heap of stone on De’dlay, who was smashed under its immense weight. Not content with leaving him there, Raystin tore a hole in the floor, sending De’dlay and the chunks of stone to the floor below.

Raen, who was still unable to stand, watched helplessly as his father took the urn that rested on his desk and left the room through the transparisteel sliding door that led into the balcony beyond.

*** ***

Pallidus walked through the tents, searching for his hapless target. She was so weak, so nubile, and so fun to play with. However, he had a job to do. Calay had instructed him to kill the princess, and that was what he planned to do. He could sense her; she was very close. Walking by a derelict tank that stood among some dismantled tents, Pallidus spied the princess, fleeing toward the large metal building that seemed to serve as the camp’s command post. Smiling, he sprinted after her, hoping to catch her before she could contact soldiers for help or otherwise escape his grasp.

As he closed in, Pallidus was greeted by a giant man, with a receding orange-red hairline and wore Republic combat armor. He had a large vibrosword in hand, and it seemed as though he intended to use it to fight. How quaint. Pallidus would put an end to him, and then he would find the princess. He had time.

Major Altesius moved in, ready to intercept Pallidus and keep him from getting to the princess. He swung only once. Pallidus grabbed Altesius’s muscular arm, using his impressive Force power to bolster his own strength. Punching the Republic soldier in the face with his free hand, Pallidus was shocked to discover that Altesius didn’t even flinch. Laughing heartily, Altesius used his own free hand to grasp Pallidus’s neck. His large grip was strong enough to begin to choke the Sith Master, but he wasn’t worried.

Repulsing Altesius with a blast of dark power, Pallidus gleefully realized the Republic soldier had dropped his vibrosword during his flight. Drawing it to him with a Force pull, Pallidus admired the weapon for a moment, but he realized that it was a simple, military-grade sword, and the novelty of the blade wore thin. He cast it aside, and then drew the two lightsabers from his vest. He would end the major’s life here and move on.

The hulking Republic soldier was on his feet in an instant, charging forward to strike at Pallidus. The Sith Master dodged Altesius’s haymaker, laughing as he positioned himself behind the Republic soldier and swung both his lightsabers. To his surprise, Altesius managed to duck underneath the strikes, keeping him safe for a few more seconds. Growling, Pallidus cursed the soldier’s luck and moved in closer—he wanted to kill him now.

His two lightsaber blades came down, but he narrowly missed his intended target. Suddenly, Major Altesius had his sword in his hand again. Impossible. Somehow, he had recovered the weapon Pallidus had discarded. He wasn’t Force-sensitive, so he couldn’t have called the weapon into his grasp. In the end, it didn’t matter. Even if Altesius had a weapon, Pallidus’s proficiency with his lightsabers would win the day. Force-sensitives were gods among men, complete with superhuman powers and nigh-invulnerability. Precognition and battle awareness made Pallidus a fearsome foe, far more powerful than a normally dangerous Republic soldier.

His blades met Altesius’s sword. With a startling hiss, the two red lightsabers retreated into the hilt. The deactivated weapons couldn’t protect a stunned Pallidus, who received a punch to the jaw for his trouble. Major Altesius’s blade had been made of cortosis, and its special properties had rendered the Sith Master’s lightsabers useless. It was a simple trick, even though a pure cortosis sheath like this sword had was rather rare.

His Force senses tingled, and Pallidus realized that the princess had been near them the entire time. Pallidus figured she had been the one that had thrown Altesius his weapon. Of course. She was too weak to fight, but she could support her allies—and hinder him—from a distance. Unleashing a barrage of Sith lightning on Altesius, Pallidus looked around, frantically scanning the area for the princess’s hiding place. A Force push sent Altesius away, but he had left behind flash and sonic grenades near the Sith Master.

A burst of light and a sudden onslaught of high-pitched wailing disoriented Pallidus. His sight blurred as though he had been exposed to the light of a star, and his ears rang violently. He wobbled back and forth, unable to control his senses or his connection to the Force, but he did manage to stay on his feet.

“Princess Eliorae!” he heard the Republic soldier call out. “Get inside the bunker! You’ll be safe there!”

Pallidus shook his head and his vision returned to him in an instant. The Force was a powerful ally indeed, able to restore his senses faster than most. His head still ached, but he would survive. The princess was gone, presumably running into the command post behind them for protection. Only Major Altesius stood between the Sith Master and his prey, and Pallidus was quite done with distractions. He could feel the Force, but in his confused state he could hardly control it. Altesius rushed at him with his fists, but Pallidus managed to grab both of the giant arms coming down on him before the fists could make contact. Seeing that his options were limited, Altesius smashed his own head into Pallidus’s face, sending the already disoriented Sith Master to the ground in pain.

The Sith Master stood up, but not before Altesius had gotten a few good kicks in. Pallidus warily blasted the Republic soldier with Force lightning, knocking him back and sapping his strength with relative ease. For all his brute strength and supposed battle prowess, Major Altesius was defenseless against the powers of the Force. The fool thought he could stop him, but he was wrong. Once Altesius had been weakened enough that he could not fight, Pallidus stopped attacking him and headed to the bunker itself.

Playtime was over, it seemed. A pity. The Force rushed in him like a stormy current, powerful but uncontrolled. He could feel things—the weakened Altesius, the dying pains of his comrades, even his own life force—but he could not dictate which one to concentrate on. His lightsabers activated again once he was inside the command bunker. Smiling, his red blades illuminated most of the dark room. The room was sparse, and only a few crates, tables, and broken computer terminals kept it from being truly empty.

He found no one inside. The princess was nowhere to be found. Reaching out into the Force, Pallidus did his best to try and focus on the princess’s position. Sure enough, she was not inside the bunker; she was outside. But wasn’t that impossible? Altesius told her to flee inside. Had she left through a back exit? Had she already escaped? Retracing his steps, Pallidus raced to the entrance of the command post.

His eyes widened when he realized that Major Altesius wasn’t where he had left him. Instead of lying helplessly on the ground, he was standing near the derelict tank that Pallidus had passed on his way here. However, Pallidus realized that the tank was not completely destroyed; the switch—attached to the tank itself—in Altesius’s hand froze Pallidus in his tracks. It was a trigger. It was a trigger to activate the tank’s main turret.

He had been outsmarted by a bumbling giant and a sniveling princess. Death was the only option. He could not live with his shame.

Two high-powered plasma shots from the turret killed him instantly. His body exploded in an inglorious mess, bits of his body splattering the doorpost and ground, but most of it had been vaporized immediately. Altesius smiled. It seemed that their mission was done. Even so, he had heard rumors of these Sith; there was no way to know if he was truly dead. Turning to the princess, Altesius nodded and bid her to press the switch in her hand.

Every thermal detonator in the building went off as soon she pressed the button. The entire bunker erupted in a terrific explosion, tearing apart the metal walls and the surrounding earth. The explosion left behind nothing but burnt earth and a smoking wreckage.

“A fiery grave is a good grave,” Altesius mused. “Good work, Princess.”

“I didn’t do much, Major Altesius,” she admitted. “I just pressed a button.”

“I’d like to think it took a lot of courage to do that.”

“Even so…”

“If anything, I should be thanking you,” Major Altesius replied gruffly. “You saved my ass back there. Recovering my blade—I didn’t even know you could lift a sword!”

“I was taught how to use a blade, Major.” The princess smiled. “I’m not so defenseless.”

“Could have fooled me, Princess.”

“I think we should contact the colonel. He’ll want to know what happened here.”

“Of course. Let’s find a working com-relay.”

*** ***

Alderaan.

Sith.

Benax.

He controlled it all, yet his grip was not absolute. His eyes saw everything, yet sometimes his vision failed him. He planned ahead, but he could not see everything. He knew this, yet he counted on his one true ally—the Force—to guide him. Raystin Benax had to protect his family above all.

His wife, Junara, had been hidden at the Sith base. The Force had told him that, if all went according to plan, she would be safe in Calay’s protection. The Jedi would fail to defeat the Sith, but the Sith at the academy would be devastated by the attack. Neither side would emerge victorious, both licking their wounds and retreating into the Alderaanian hills by the battle’s end. He would return her to their home by tomorrow morning.

He had done all this for her. His love for his wife had given him strength, even in the darkest times. She had given him strength—held him up—and the resolve to fight when things appeared hopeless. Why else would he put his life—and the life of his family—on the line for this seemingly insane plan? Junara deserved it. She deserved a new Alderaan. She deserved a world where she could live the rest of her days in peace, not worrying about tragedy, sickness, or death.

Junara completed him. He saw nothing less than perfection in her, and she was the crux of his plan. A fallen Jedi did not have to become an upstart Sith—if he could be called a Sith—unless he sought the dark knowledge they possessed. Raystin needed their power. Their skills. Their knowledge. And so he walked along the dark path, with Junara as his guiding light, and he became the Sith Master and lord of Alderaan, Preux.

He had done all this for his sons. Jaeln and Raen. Their destiny was a dark one, and Raystin wanted—no, needed to change it. The Force told him, before they were born, that they would become Jedi Knights and their lives would be short and tragic. In an effort to save their lives and Junara’s hopes, he positioned himself as far away from the Jedi he could. As Sith, they would not find happiness, but they would be alive. And they would live their lives how they wanted to.

Yet here he was. Raen was bold, fiery, and a powerful warrior in his own right. Raen had a shimmering blue lightsaber—the unmistakable weapon of a Jedi Knight—in his grasp, and he seemed intent on capturing his own father. A brave and foolish notion. Everything he was now doing, he did against Raystin’s wishes. But Raystin resisted his son’s efforts, even though he didn’t even have a weapon to defend himself. In his hands rested the expensive urn he had bought when he had first arrived on Alderaan. His most valued material possession.

“Preux!” Raen growled. “Surrender yourself to me.”

“I can’t do that, Raen.” The fact that his own son, his flesh and blood, called him by that name was disturbing enough to put a hint of disdain in his voice. “You know I can’t.”

“You can! Drop the urn and come with me—peacefully.”

Raen probably thought his father was being difficult. But Raystin could not surrender to him. It would change everything. The slightest nudge in events could throw off the future he had foreseen. The Republic, the Jedi, even the Sith were all subject to his foresight, but only so long as things went according to plan. He had to keep Raen busy, and he had to convince his son to forsake his plans to become a Jedi—willingly.

That was the hardest part. Preux could force his servants to do his will even when they did not, but he did not—could not—force his son’s hand. He did not have the will, in a show of bitter irony, to force his family to do anything. That was how it was, and that was how it would remain. Raen would decide his future for himself.

“Drop the urn?” Raystin muttered, seemingly confused. “It was a priceless antique I purchased from an old friend when I came here. I don’t really want to, but if you say so…”

The urn shattered on the rooftop. Raystin’s golden lightsaber hilt fell out of the shards of the urn. Unlike other lightsabers Raen had seen, Raystin’s weapon was slightly curved, but the elder Benax paid its peculiarity no mind. Picking it up and activating it as he had hundreds of times before, Raystin allowed the blood red blade to dance around his arm in a display of elegance and grace.

“I dropped the urn, but how would I surrender to you with a weapon in my hand?” Raystin asked.

“Drop the weapon, now.” Raen pointed his lightsaber at his father, as if he actually intended to strike him down.

“We don’t have to fight, Raen. You lost anyway.”

“What?”

“The Republic forces attacking the capital?” Raystin made it seem as though he had only just heard of them. As a matter of fact, he had known of their existence—and their plans—before they had attacked. “They were killed by a fifteen kiloton ordnance located within the castle. The entire capital was razed. The Sith garrison had a similar bomb within, and your soldiers experienced a similar fate there.”

Raen’s eyes widened. “How did you…?”

“Raen, you and your friends still have a lot to learn. If Preux knew of a rebellion, but did not quell it, what kind of leader would he be? He let the Republic remain on Alderaan and think they were playing the hero because he knew they were useful. They attacked the targets he thought they would attack, and they fell for the traps he set.”

“But you killed your own men!” Raen shouted. “Not to mention the civilians and-”

Raystin laughed. His son was only just starting to comprehend his plan. “What concern do you think I have for those Sith soldiers? Or those Sith-aligned politicians in the capital? Politicians are politicians, after all.”

“How could you? Don’t their lives mean anything to you? They trusted you to keep them alive!”

“They are useless to me. Just as the Sith and Dark Jedi in the academy are useless to me. Every single one is a servant—a pawn. And pawns must be willing to die for their superiors. Their duty in life is to die when their master requires them to do so.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“The Dark Jedi and their Sith allies will die. The Jedi will die. They will kill each other, as they always have. The Republic forces are already destroyed, and the Sith army is in ruins. But the princess still lives.”

Realization dawned upon Raen. “The princess? But that means-”

“The last Sith who know of Preux’s existence will be dead soon enough. When the princess and her ragged band of survivors emerge and claim the throne, Raystin Benax will be there to aid her. As you know, I’m an old family friend with a cordial smile, and a man of political and economic knowledge. Princess Eliorae-”

“Is weak,” Raen interrupted. “She’ll listen to whatever you have to say. You can rule Alderaan through her.”

“Exactly.”

“So you killed Jaeln, too?” Raen hissed. “Isn’t he just a pawn in your game?”

“Not quite, Raen.” Raystin’s face became somber. “Jaeln is my key player. I cannot discard him so quickly. Just as you think of yourself as the Republic’s knight, so too is Jaeln mine. I sent him away, so he would not be on Alderaan during all of this. I hoped he could return and live with us.”

“Live with us?” Raen spat. “You think I actually think you—a Sith Lord and evil-doer—are innocent? Do you think I’m naïve? You’re not the father I knew.”

Raystin stared into his son’s eyes. So much hate. So much depravity. Had he created this? Was this the path he had set Raen on? He was sure that, away from the compromising eyes of the Jedi Order, Raen could grow up in peace. But it seemed as though no matter what he did, Raystin found himself with a broken son. No, two broken sons.

“I’m sorry, father.” Raen repositioned his lightsaber.

“Not yet.”

Dark tendrils hit Raen in the chest and across his arms, eliciting a cry of pain and sending him flying across the rooftop. The roof was still wet, even though the rain had stopped some time ago. Raen struggled to his feet, but he was knocked to the ground again by Raystin’s telekinetic power. Raen lashed out at his father, using his own control of the Force to protect himself with an invisible shield of light, blocking Preux’s Force power for a moment so he could return to his feet. Raen charged forward, meeting his father’s Sith weapon for the first time. Raystin countered with ease, sending his son backwards with a flick of his wrist. The curve on the Sith’s handle made it difficult for Raen—who fought opponents with traditional lightsabers—to estimate the angle that his opponent would attack from. Raystin held his lightsaber in a single hand, performing quick double slashes at Raen to protect himself.

Raen moved in closer, adding power to his strikes, pummeling his father’s defense. Raystin smiled, narrowly avoiding these strikes by hovering away just in time. Raen made up for his complete misses by meeting Raystin’s defense with several quick, light blows that were parried with ease. Raen moved in and struck at his father’s jaw, scoring a clean hit with his fist. Raystin grumbled something to himself as he recovered his footing, blocking Raen’s next few blows with one hand on his chin. Raystin forced Raen to block wide, keeping his lightsaber away from his body. Repaying the favor to his son, Raystin kicked Raen in the abdomen, causing him to recoil in pain.

Raen recovered just in time to block an overhead lunge from his father. Raystin was now on the offensive, but it was hardly as ferocious as Raen had predicted. He used careful, precise strikes that—if they hit—would cause burns and a few cuts. They were hardly strong enough to sever Raen’s limbs, or even grievously wound him. Dancing around Raen in an elegant display of fencing prowess, Raystin used a combination of hovering strikes coupled with fancy footwork to keep his son distracted.

“You’re toying with me,” Raen hissed. “Stop.”

“Fine.”

Raystin’s blade met Raen’s. The blue and red blades were locked together, neither of them moving, sparks fluttering around them to the duracrete below. Twisting his weapon outwards, Raystin waited until Raen’s grip failed him, losing his lightsaber entirely. Now exposed to Raystin’s offensive, Raen received a blast of Sith lightning to the chest for his trouble.

He had been hit by Force lightning many times from De’dlay, but none of the Nikto’s strikes had been quite as painful as Raystin’s sudden attack. Raen fell to his knees in agony, screaming as the lighting caused him muscles to spasm violently. He felt the lighting travel across his skin and shock his entire fatigued body. Seconds before the pain became unbearable, Raystin ceased his attack and let Raen hit the floor, practically unconscious in the wake of his ferocity.

That was the power of the Sith. Raystin knew that Raen could not fight against him. His son fancied himself a Jedi, but he was nothing more than a defeated Sith pupil, ready for another scolding. The dark energy snaked around Raen’s body while Raystin returned his lightsaber to his belt. He was done. What he needed to do now he could do without a lightsaber. Raen struggled on the ground, but he couldn’t stand, so Raystin used this opportunity to talk with his son before he could attack again.

“Now do you understand, Jedi?” he asked, mocking his son. “I am so far beyond you. You are a starfighter trying to destroy a star. Nothing you can do will even harm me. Your lightsaber skills are sloppy, and your connection to the Force pales in comparison.”

“No… not everything…”

“What?”

Raen lifted his hands toward his father. Fire erupted from his fingers, blazing streams that raced through the air toward Raystin. Flames raced around Raystin, but he was unimpressed. Protected from the pitiful embers by a barrier that covered his entire body, Raystin was safe from Raen’s attack. By the time Raen had exhausted himself, he was on his feet again and Raystin was unharmed. Raen’s face betrayed the fact that he had honestly expected his attack to kill his father.

“Bravo,” Raystin chuckled. “You have mastered the dark magic art of pyrokinesis. I'm pleased, but not impressed. I told you: nothing you do can hurt me.”

“Why are you still alive!?” Raen’s fury gave him strength to create another inferno.

Raystin closed his eyes and countered, just like he had before. A small shield surrounded his body, encompassing him a globe of shimmering light. Raen’s fire hit it directly, but it didn’t penetrate it. Without any stamina, Raen could only launch his attack for a few seconds before the flames were doused yet again, leaving Raystin completely unharmed.

“Damn…” Raen shivered. He looked pale, but Raystin could tell that he was furious.

“You are weak, son. Only in your anger can you hope to defeat me.”

“No. I don’t believe you.”

Raystin reached into Raen’s mind, extending his presence until he could effortlessly sense everything going on in his son’s unprotected mind. “What would Gaiel do?” he wondered aloud. The thought was racing through Raen’s mind, and Raystin bitterly realized his son was not about to give into his anger.

He had realized it only a second later.

The Nautolan was alive.

Gaiel Remus, the Nautolan from Raystin’s vision, was not supposed to be alive. He was supposed to be dead, killed by Darth Bandon alongside the old Jedi Master—Celsus, Raen’s thoughts told him—in the warrior production facility on Polus. He had seen the vision hundreds of times. In every instance, Gaiel had died while Raen escaped. It was impossible. Truly impossible. If Gaiel could escape, then did that mean that everything was different? Was the Force actively working against him now?

“The future is in motion.” Raystin gripped his forehead, cursing quietly to himself. “But that means…”

“Preux?” Raen spoke up, still trying to stand.

Reaching into the Force, Raystin ignored his son and left his body. His mind leapt from the top of his manor to the Sith academy. Kilometers away, he could still detect the presence of dying Jedi and Sith in the Force. Feeling his way through the dying and the dead, Raystin identified Calay’s corpse, lifeless and cold, and his greatest fear was realized.

Junara was dead.

It had taken him mere seconds to drift from Calay to his wife’s still body. She looked so beautiful, so serene, even in death. Her eyes had been closed, a final respect paid to her by her Jedi murderers. A lightsaber wound through her chest—the single wound that had felled her. She was no Jedi. She had no defense against them. She never stood a chance, and he had not been there to protect her.

His lungs struggled inside his body. Haggard breaths kept him alive, but only barely. All his strength failed him in that instance, and he fell to the damp floor in anguish. Crying aloud, he tore his suit and cursed—the Jedi, the Force, his own weakness—until his voice was hoarse. Rage gave a true Sith strength; in this confusing darkness Raystin was in, his loss could have sparked a rampage. But it was not rage that Raystin Benax felt. He felt grief. The realization that his wife was gone broke him, and any fighting spirit he had was gone now.

Raystin said nothing when Raen moved to sit near him. A broken man, unable to find the strength to stand, who had once been the Sith-King of Alderaan, but no longer. His hope had been destroyed. Something happened when Junara died, in the academy so far from here, that shattered his spirit and the dark side seemed to fail him. Gnashing his teeth together in sorrow, Raystin said nothing to Raen. He didn’t even notice him. Junara had died.

Raen finally spoke. “Father…”

“Raen!” his voice was inhuman. It was not even recognizable. “She’s dead! It’s over!”

“No, it’s not over. Not yet. It won’t be over until you surrender yourself to the Republic.”

Raystin shook his head and cried, his face against the floor as tears ran down his face. His bitter sobs were jarring to Raen, who had never so much as seen Raystin cry for anything, and he could hardly hold back his own tears.

Raen stood up, wiping his eyes of any tears that might have escaped. He had to grab his lightsaber, just in case. His father wasn’t going anywhere, and he had to defend himself. He also remembered that he needed to contact the Republic forces. They had stumbled into a trap, and this was the first chance he had to warn someone. After recovering his lightsaber, Raen activated his comlink.

Static crackled in his ear while the device searched for the Republic frequency. Someone was out there. Somebody had to answer him. He tried willing the comlink to find anyone—Republic soldiers, Jedi, civilians—to talk to.

“This is Major Altesius! Who is this?”

Raen’s face lit up. “This is Raen Benax, Jedi. I’m so glad to hear from you, Major.”

“Raen,” the gruff soldier’s voice was tired and worried. “I think everyone else is dead.”

“What?”

“Colonel Mitos, Lord Farseil, Master Jram… I can’t contact any of them, Raen. No one is responding.”

“Is the princess safe?”

“Yes.”

“Keep trying to contact other Republic soldiers or Jedi,” Raen said. “Try to get them to meet you at the camp. I have some business to attend to here. Once I’m done, I’ll join you at the base.”

“Very well. Altesius out.”

Before he could switch off his comlink, Raen found himself thrown to the ground by Raystin’s invisible power. De’dlay’s sword narrowly missed Raen’s back as he fell, the Nikto’s horizontal strike missing its mark. Cackling with glee, De’dlay seemed more powerful than ever, especially in comparison to Raystin in his broken state. The Sith Master radiated the power of the dark side, and it made Raen sick to the stomach. He had been saved—yet again—due to the timely intervention of his father.

Raystin stood to face De’dlay, pushing him away from his son before he could strike at Raen again. He had lost his weapon, and he couldn’t find it in him to recover it. The Force had abandoned him, and he cursed it. In all of its power, it had not provided him with a true vision of events. He was weak—feeble in comparison to the ferocious Nikto who practically towered over him now. Even so, he had to give Raen a fighting chance.

Raen would not have the strength to kill De’dlay if he didn’t unleash his anger. Without Junara, there was no point to the any of this. Raen did not have to abandon the Jedi. The Sith did not have to destroy the Republic here on Alderaan. Jaeln did not have to return—it would be better if he did not. Raystin had to ensure Raen remained in the light; at least, for the time being. He was safer there. Junara was dead, and Raystin had to join her. But first…

Raystin leapt toward De’dlay—without a weapon—and grabbed the Sith Master’s vibrating blade in his hands. The weapon grinded his flesh and bone, tearing away at muscles and sinews and showering the roof in blood. He gripped it as hard as he could, and he drove the weapon into his chest, stabbing himself with De’dlay’s weapon until he and the Nitko were face-to-face.

“You’ve lost, Preux,” De’dlay announced triumphantly.

“And so have you.” Raystin’s hands were being torn to pieces against the blade. “You will not hurt my son.”

“Bold words from a dead man,” De’dlay hissed. “Good bye, Preux. Your powers could not save you, and you could not save your family. I shall start with the youngest.”

“For all your power, you still have not learned the most important lesson.” Raystin smiled as he whispered: “Authority belongs to the strongest.”

“And I am the strongest.”

“And that is why you lose. You are still ignorant.” Raystin laughed as the bony remains of his hand ignited. Fire rose up from his shoulders, his legs, and his chest. It wasn’t long before his entire body had become engulfed in a pillar of fire, and De’dlay with him. Raystin laughed the entire time, muttering to himself as De’dlay screamed in furious agony in the midst of the unbearable pain.

“Raen!” Raystin was dead, but his essence had lived in the Force longer than his body had. “Beware of Jaeln! He will become… his is… far greater…!”

When Raen awoke from his dazed state, Raystin Benax was no more.

Raen heard himself cry loudly, and he found himself unable to hold back the tears. His father and mother were gone. He shouldn’t have been this sad. His father was a horrible man who killed hundreds in his quest for power. He was a Sith who was enslaved to the dark side. His mother was no better, willingly loving such a man. Yet… Raen hadn’t known that man. He knew a kindly man, the same man that everyone else on Alderaan knew. A man who was concerned with his family, distressed because his sons were uncontrollable, and a bit too fond of wine.

This may have been a charade. His parents’ entire life could have been a lie. If it was, Raen didn’t care. His parents were kind to him, they had loved him, evil as he was. Evil as they were.

Raystin and De’dlay had died together in a fiery grave. Raen was safe. Alderaan was saved.


Chapter 25

“Are you all right, Gaiel?”

“Yes, Master Ulsan. Thank you for coming.”

Northeus nodded. “Of course. How is Ranval?”

“… He’s doing fine, Master. He’s shaken up, but he’ll survive.”

“I’ve read the reports. Are you sure?”

Gaiel knew why Northeus was asking. Ranval had lost both of his hands against Calay, the Sith Lady they had fought in the Sith academy. The injury could cost Ranval years in lightsaber training, and it was unlikely that any prosthetic would be good enough for him to fight like before. Even so, Ranval hadn’t said anything to Gaiel since the attack, nearly a week ago.

But he couldn’t say anything. He was still confused himself.

Gaiel walked alongside Master Northeus Ulsan, flanked by several other Jedi Knights, as they departed from the Jedi Arca-class shuttle, Legacy. The other Jedi Knights were silent, and Gaiel was privileged to know Northeus. Otherwise, it was unlikely that he would be speaking right now.

“This is my first time on Alderaan,” Northeus noted.

“Oh? And what do you think, Master?”

“I’ve heard it’s a beautiful world. It’s a shame that the Sith had to control it for so long. Scars caused by the Sith will not heal quickly, Gaiel.”

“I understand, Master.”

“And Dantooine?”

Gaiel nearly jumped. “What about it, Master?”

“That is one of their many wounds upon the Jedi Order. How are you feeling about that?”

“I… it is behind me now, I think, Master Ulsan.” Gaiel’s eyes drifted into the distance, as if he was trying to catch a last glimpse of the Jedi Enclave he was raised in. “A Jedi is to think of others before himself. The concerns of the Alderaanians are foremost on my mind.”

“Of course. But remember that, as selfless as a Jedi should be, he must never forget the Jedi Code. You must monitor your own emotions and achieve a peace for yourself before you can give peace to others.”

“Yes, Master.”

Khondine joined the party of Jedi on their way through the halls of the military compound. The bunker was hardly spacious and the lighting was inexcusably poor, but none of them paid these things any mind. Gaiel acknowledged Khondine’s presence—and better spirits—with a quick smile, and she did likewise.

“How did the battle go, Lady Khondine?” Northeus asked.

“Four-fifths of our troops were killed in the traps set by Sith leadership. Droid casualties were near total.” She eyed the datapad that had found its way into her hand. “Colonel Golgi Mitos and Lord Petran Farseil were among the casualties.”

“I see-”

“And,” Khondine cut him off, “we lost half our Jedi force.”

“Jedi?” Northeus asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“How many Jedi were present?” Northeus had stopped walking.

“About forty,” Gaiel spoke up. “Give or take a dozen.”

“What were they doing on Alderaan…?” Northeus wondered aloud.

“Didn’t you send them, Master?” Gaiel asked. “They told us the High Council-”

“The High Council issued no such order.” Northeus crossed his arms. “Their orders were explicit: no action was to be taken against the Sith force on Alderaan. You, Ranval, and Raen were the only Jedi allowed to be on Alderaan.”

“Then that means Master Jram…” Khondine began.

“Jram?” Northeus asked. “Master Jram? He’s dead.”

“Dead, Master?” Gaiel’s eyes widened.

“Yes. He was wounded en route to Coruscant on a Jedi cruiser and died under our care. If he was among the Jedi here, he was not under our authorization.”

Telerus, Jram, and even Jasparan could have been rogue Jedi. They could have killed Gaiel and his companions, but for whatever reason, they didn’t. They had some ulterior motive for being on Alderaan, but Gaiel didn’t know what they wanted. They had seemed to be looking for something, but he didn’t know what it was. They were essentially traitors. Gaiel only wished he had known of their deceit earlier.

“How very troubling,” Khondine mused. “And we let him and his warriors right into our ranks…”

“Who’s the highest ranking Republic leader left?” Northeus asked, changing the subject. “I’d like to speak with him after the festivities.”

“Major Altesius,” Khondine said with a sigh. “He survived the battle while protecting the princess in the Valley of Jyrnn.”

Northeus nodded. Turning to Gaiel, he asked: “Is Raen here?”

“Yes, Master.”

“May I speak with him?”

“He’s not here now, Master,” Gaiel specified. “He’s at his father’s estate.”

“Oh?” Northeus seemed surprised. “Well, may I see him?”

“I believe so. I’ll arrange a shuttle for you.”

*** ***

Raen stood at the entrance of the Benax manor. Sweat poured down his ash-covered skin as he somberly regarded the scene before him. A single spark had been enough to alight the whole building, and in less than an hour, nothing would remain. The fire’s glow reflected off his face, its reds and yellows burning brightly in his eyes as he watched to make sure the flames did not spread.

His father and mother were inside. Cremation, it seemed, was a fitting death for the couple. The burning fire had done its job, and now it simply had to destroy the home that Raen had lived in for most of his life. A symbolic reminder that he could not return to Alderaan. At least, not now. Someday, perhaps, he would come to understand all his father did—or at least reason it away. He would be able to return and enjoy the prosperity that Alderaan would have in the years to come. Free from Sith influence, the Republic would reign alongside House Latona in freedom and wealth.

He had denied the chance to attend her coronation. He would be unwelcome there, anyway. Although Princess Eliorae insisted that he come, he couldn’t bring himself to attend. The Jedi were uncomfortable around him, and most Republic soldiers didn’t trust him. Even civilians knew his face and recognize his family name. He asked Eliorae not to inform the masses of his father’s treachery, and she had agreed. Even so, the name of Benax was recognized as a name belonging to Sith sympathizers, and there was no more love for them on Alderaan. Even those who had sided with the Sith suddenly hated them, as if Preux’s power had ensured their love of the Benax family.

“Raen.”

He recognized that voice. “Northeus?”

The Jedi Master disembarked from the shuttle and stood by Raen’s side. For the longest time, Raen stood in confused silence, and Northeus said nothing. It seemed that they were content to stay here and watch the fire burn away the last vestiges of Raen’s early life.

“Do you know what you must do?” Northeus asked.

Finally, Raen was at his journey’s end. He had no doubt that the Jedi would try him justly. He had done his share of evil, and it was time to receive punishment for all he had done. From Tor’chal to Raystin, he had done his share of fighting. The Jedi would decide his fate now. It was time to stop fighting and experience peace.

“Yes. I am going to Coruscant.”

“Very good. Head to the shuttle. We’re going to the coronation.”

Raen frowned. “I don’t think-”

“Raen, you were invited,” Northeus said firmly. “The princess invited you. I’m telling you: go to the coronation.”

“Sir.” Raen left the blazing inferno, heading for the shuttle.

Northeus lingered there for a moment, watching the fire lick at the failing house. He seemed distant, his eyes misting over in the presence of the immense heat before him. The Jedi Master removed a trinket from his pocket. He tossed the small blue crystal into the flames. It would burn and become ashes, like everything else.

“You were the one man that frightened me, and your death scares me even more. Was all this for her? I don’t even know what I should call you—except a corpse.” Northeus chuckled. “Your son knew you as Raystin Benax. Did you name your son to scare me too?”

He shook his head. The man who fooled himself into thinking he was Raystin Benax was no more. Dwelling on the past would not change that. Northeus turned to the shuttle, ready to join Raen.

*** ***

Beneath the Hallowed Hills of Alderaan, in the Valley of Jyrnn, festive banners and expensive tassels waved in the air. Light streamed from Alderaan’s sun, bathing the entire plain in radiance. A symphony orchestra announced the commencement of the event, and hundreds of Republic soldiers, once stationed under these hills in their tents, stood at attention. They were the survivors. Their ranks made a line on both sides of the procession, creating a walkway for the incoming nobility and other political figures. Behind both lines of soldiers, thousands of sentient beings from Alderaan and nearby systems had gathered, trying to catch a glimpse at some of the famous figures walking by.

Gaiel, Northeus, and dozens of other Jedi Knights were already standing on the elevated platform that stood at the end of a long stairwell. All attention was focused on this platform, because everyone who walked through the procession found their way here. Senators, politicians, police, and nobles joined the Jedi on the durasteel platform. Everyone was dressed far too lavishly for Gaiel’s taste, and he was glad that—while others got away with ornate cuirasses, shining cassocks, and elaborate dresses—he could wear his Jedi robes and the matching cloak. His lightsaber was in plain view for the first time since they arrived on Alderaan, and that in itself gave him hope for the planet’s future.

The music swelled in a glorious crescendo, and all eyes drifted from the platform to the farthest end of the processional walkway. There, dressed in a flowing blue dress complimented by shining pearls, a glittering mantle, and other regal vestments, stood Eliorae Latona, soon to be queen of Alderaan. Khondine stood by her side, wearing a new suit of formal red and black Royal Guardsman armor and dressed like a peasant in comparison.

Khondine walked first, leading Eliorae from her place at the back the causeway all the way through the procession. Guards saluted first to Khondine, and as soon as Eliorae Latona passed, they bowed in reverence. Some civilians followed suit behind them, although others—brazen as they were—did not. Despite their insolence, Khondine said nothing, having been specifically instructed to remain silent.

Gaiel watched the beautiful scene unfold before him in awed silence, and it was not long before the entire assembly was bowing before Eliorae, and she hadn’t even reached the lofty position where Gaiel and the others stood. He reflected that—in spite of her attitude—she never looked more courageous and powerful than she did now.

When she did reach the platform, she received encouraging glances and nods from many already present, including Gaiel. One of the clerics, specifically trained for this duty, stepped forward. After asking everyone to stand,—he wasn’t pleased that they had bowed before the event had concluded—he stood before Eliorae and asked her alone to kneel.

Once she was genuflect, he issued the beginning proclamation and salutations. He waited until everyone was quiet before turning to the princess. “Eliorae Latona, Princess of Alderaan, do you swear to defend Alderaan and her people in times of peace and in times of crisis?”

“I swear to defend Alderaan and her people as long as I live.”

“Do you swear fealty to the Galactic Republic evermore?”

“Alderaan shall serve the Galactic Republic until Alderaan is no more.”

“Would you be willing to lay your life down to defend Alderaan, her people, and the Republic?”

“This I swear.”

Taking the royal crown from Khondine, the cleric said a quick prayer to himself and—in an elaborate motion—placed the glistening diadem atop her golden hair. In spite of the cleric’s stubborn instance otherwise, the crowd erupted, cheering and congratulating their new ruler. The soldiers bowed yet again, and many civilians followed suit. As the music suddenly filled the air again, Gaiel felt inclined to kneel. He did so, and Khondine did too. The others on the platform mimicked the two warriors, and soon, the entire assembly around Eliorae was kneeling, honoring their new queen.

The cleric sighed, and he bid her rise, Queen Eliorae I Latona of Alderaan.

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