The Legacy of Ar'Kell:




Dramatis Personae

Imperial Forces

Dark Jedi Knight Xar "Sauron" Runis - Human male from Varnus
Dark Jedi Knight Masel - Human male from Eriadu
Quaestor Mathis “Billbob” Organa - Human male from Alderaan
Ret. Engineer Kay’inenTwi’lek male from Lyccos II
Chief Engineer Thad Balfin – Human male from unknown


Former Dark Jedi Knight Tiberan - Human male from Sif
Former Dark Jedi Master Janus - Human male from Corellia
Sela Ralea - Human female from unknown

Minos Cluster Residents

Commandant Shrrinn Kruaan - Bothan male from Bothwui - dictator of planet Lantare
Captain Je’gem Shaara - Bothan male from BothwuiKruaan’s henchman



Jedi Hunter Tiberan sat in the cockpit of his TIE Defender, and watched as the myriad colors of hyperspace coalesced into starlines, and then receded into millions of individual stars as he reverted back into realspace. One star came closer than the others, a bloated orange sun that shed its light on the blue-green world that appeared nearby. As the ship slowed to sublight speed, two space platforms and a dozen space containers came into view ten kilometers away. Glancing at his radar, he saw that his companions, another T/D and a Patrol Craft, had appeared just off to port.
The other Defender was piloted by Tiberan’s friend Masel. Also a Hunter, he and Tiberan had been friends since they had met as apprentices. Masel was always more outgoing than Tiberan; while Tiberan had had his doubts, Masel had been eager to get on with the testing. Today, the two of them would take their final test. If they passed, they would finally become fully-fledged Jedi Knights, and be able to choose a Jedi House to which they would pledge their allegiance. They would choose House Ar’Kell. There really was no choice. Ar’Kell was the most prominent and feared of the houses, even though it had only recently been reactivated after thousands of years. Yes, he was looking forward to that.
In the Patrol Craft was their mentor, Master Caemas. He had not told the Hunters their mission or where they would be going, but that they had to trust their teacher. It was all part of the test. They had gone through rigorous physical and mental training in the past months, and both were greatly anticipating this final challenge. Then they would be respected among the entire Dark Brotherhood. One last, minor test would be nothing compared to what they would gain from this.
A chime sounded in Tiberan’s cockpit, and he reached up and activated a communications link between him, Masel, and the Patrol Craft.
"--lcome to the Deison system," Caemas’ voice came over the commlink. "It is this place that you shall take your final test. You have learned what you need to know to become a Jedi. Now we must test your devotion to the Dark Side.
"You have been armed with Advanced Torpedoes for this mission," Jedi Master Caemas continued. "You are to destroy the space platforms and the containers, utterly. Allow nothing to escape."
"Uh, what is the military importance of this base?" asked Tiberan. To his left, Masel sped his Defender toward the containers.
"That is none of your concern. Just follow your orders."
"Yes, sir." Tiberan reluctantly feathered the throttle forward. He didn’t like the sound of this. Something didn’t feel right. "Masel?" he asked his friend.
"Who cares?" came the reply. "Come on, we are about to become Jedi Knights!" Masel’s Defender began firing on the first of the containers.
Switching over to torpedoes, Tiberan targeted the first of the platforms. He waited for a solid lock, then hesitated. I’ll just ID it first, he thought. Probably some Rebel supply depot. But if it was the Rebels, where were their fighters?
At one kilometer his computer identified the platform. Tiberan flinched. Twenty-two life signatures were registered within. Civilians? But how? And why?
His finger hovered over the trigger, as the PLT filled the cockpit view. Just before he was about to crash into it, he pulled back on the stick. As he passed one of the larger viewports, his worst fears were confirmed. Two children stood staring out at him, frozen with fear.
"What?!" he yelled aloud. "No! This is wrong!" How could they order us to attack innocent Imperial citizens?
Outraged, he turned his ship back toward the Patrol Craft. "You wanted me to slaughter children? What kind of people are you?"
"This is part of your test,” came Caemas’ cold voice.  “Your devotion to the Dark Side must overwhelm everything else. Only then will you become a true Jedi."
"But why kill innocent people? They’re Imperials, for mercy’s sake."
"You must have no mercy. This is your last chance, Tiberan. Turn around."
"No! This is wrong! How many have killed for you before, Caemas? How many innocents slaughtered at your command? They don’t even know why they’re being killed. You can’t expect to get away with that!" As Tiberan gripped the stick with all his might, his finger tightened reflexively on the trigger. He looked down in surprise and gasped as two torpedoes shot from his launcher and turned toward the Patrol Craft.

Dark Jedi Master Caemas stared in horror as the torpedoes streamed in towards him. Giving out a cry, he turned and stumbled toward the back of the cockpit. "No..."
The torpedoes hit the front of the craft and detonated. The cockpit and entire bow of the ship were blown away instantly. The rear of the ship spun out of control, then flame rocketed through the engines and the rest of the ship exploded into thousands of fragments.
Tiberan’s weak voice came over the comm. "What have I done?" he whispered.
Then the TIE Defender turned and shot into hyperspace.

The Legacy of Ar’Kell

Betrayal: Chapter 1

Dark Tidings

Palace Ravenspyre

Planet Frigg, Phare System

Two weeks later.

Dark Jedi Knight Masel strode down the shuttle’s entry ramp. That title did not seem so significant in light of Tiberan’s desertion. Neither of them had known that there were civilians in that base. Still, he didn’t think his friend would have turned on their mentor like that. He had been utterly shocked at what happened that day, and was glad when he was recalled to Eos instead of having to finish slaughtering those innocent people. He wasn’t sure he could have gone through with that.
Straightening, he studied the climate of the planet Frigg. It was midday, though it was not overly hot for the season. Masel had been born on a world of sweltering jungles and searing deserts, so to him, the climate seemed mild. He had studied the planet and its history when having to choose a house. Frigg was a jungle world with a saturated surface in many places. The cities consisted of either huge floating repulsorlift platforms in the air, or mostly submerged biodomes under the swampy terrain. There would be little chance of meeting anyone out in the jungles, not just because of the cities, but because of the unnatural creatures that stalked in the dark.
Frigg had also been chosen because it seemed to be a center for harnessing the power of the Force. The entire planet radiated with the presence of the Force. Masel could feel its power.
The shuttle had touched down on the main landing platform, on the west side of the newly built palace Ravenspyre. The palace was built to seem like it had stood for centuries, not just a few weeks. It had a gothic look that gave it a dark atmosphere and made it look like a primitive castle of stone, but it was made to fool the eye. The palace was actually better built and guarded than most fortresses. Turbolasers disguised as rounded, peaceful-looking domes stood at the tops of the palaces’ many spires. The stone was black ferrocrete, but one could not tell that by sight. There were numerous windows, though most were higher up, and even a number of balconies with small gardens. The palace and surrounding buildings were enclosed by a planetary shield generator, to protect against bombardment from above.
Masel walked toward the eight-meter high armored main doors as the shuttle lifted off behind him. The doors were inlaid with the Ar’Kell symbol, and loomed in front of Masel. He heard a low roar, and the huge doors began to swing open for him. They did not open to their fullest extent, though; as soon a Masel had half a meter to spare to either side, he quickened his pace and stepped into the darkness. He had no time for scenery; the Quaestor had summoned him to report immediately.

On the garden-surrounded flagstone balcony, near the top of palace Ravenspyre, a hundred meters aboveground, Xar Runis worked with his sword the forms that he had been taught years before. He used a steel blade, instead of a lightsaber, the pale sword whirling in his hands almost faster than the eye could follow. He wore long black pants, regardless of the heat, and a thin black shirt plastered to his lean form by sweat, sleeves rustling in the wind made by his fluid movements. His dark hair was mopped to his forehead by sweat, and his bare feet moved along the flagstones as if he were engaged in a dance. Block, parry, cut, thrust. Slice, block, spin and cut again. Over and over he practiced the forms he knew. Block, strike, block, strike, in an endless rhythm. The hours could pass by unnoticed this way.

When next Xar looked around and took notice, it was already dusk. The sky overhead showed a myriad of stars. Breathing steadily, he turned toward the west where Odin, Phare’s sun, was sinking below the horizon. Xar ground the point of his sword on the flagstone floor and put one foot on the edge of the balcony, where wildly colored flowers were growing, as he gazed at the breathtaking view of the sunset on Frigg. Such a view was an object of legend in this sector of the galaxy. It was said that a sunset on Frigg could calm even the most heavy of hearts. It was just what he needed. The pastel orbs of the moons Ullyr and Sif took up a full fourth of the sky in the west, seeming almost as though one could reach out and touch them. At this distance, there was no sign that civilization had touched them. Xar stood there, his eyes never drifting from that mesmerizing display. He did not even notice when the envoy stepped onto the balcony behind him.
"Jedi Runis, sir?" asked the messenger apprehensively. "I have been sent to retrieve you."
Xar did not move.
"Runis?" No reply. "Runis!"
Xar tilted his head to one side. "Yes? What is it?"
"Sir, you have been summoned to the Quaestor’s chambers immediately. Sir, if you are late, I will be punished."
"Very well," replied Xar. Nevertheless, he waited until the envoy’s footsteps faded to nothing. With one last look at the western sky, he turned and headed toward the turbolift.

The chambers of the Quaestor – the head of House Ar’Kell – were located near ground level, and were composed of a number of rooms filled with various artifacts. The floor was laid with various rugs with ornate seam work, and a few tapestries decorated the walls. Artifacts discovered on Frigg, as well as artwork from Alderaan, the Quaestor’s home planet, stood on stands and in displays. The office, however, was rather simple overall.
Though sparsely decorated, the room was crowded. Books and papers covered every flat surface, and were piled onto the tables, with some even on the floor. The room was brightly lit by candles that seemed in dire danger of igniting the papers that they stood over, but Mathis “Billbob” Organa was not concerned. He was not as obsessive with the substance derived from wood as a Krath, though neither was he as nonchalant about it as the Obelisk order of the Dark Brotherhood.
He leaned back and reveled in the knowledge of his Sith power, his ever-present smile on his face as he glanced at the sweating man in front of him. Masel had already told him everything he knew during the debriefing. He had a moderate level of ability, though probably not enough to ever progress beyond his current level of Jedi Knight. His former friend, Tiberan, however, could cause more trouble than he had already if he wasn’t disposed of quickly – or so the Dark Council had decided.
A light knock on the door, and Xar entered, frowned a moment at the papers, then moved over to stand beside Masel.
"I am sorry for the delay, but I was on the roof." Not an apology, just a statement of fact.
So he had been practicing with his sword again. Sometimes Mathis wondered why the man had not chosen Obelisk. It was clear, though; the only thing greater than his skill with the lightsaber was his ability in the Force. Although a skilled healer, Xar could also turn those powers to the side of destruction. He had been trained before he joined the Dark Brotherhood, and Mathis had been unable to get Xar to speak much about his former training, nor his mentor.
A number of times Mathis had gone down to the recreation area with Xar for sparring. Once, they had given one another rather nasty looking whelps and cuts before having to be almost carried to the healers. They had fast become good friends. But time to get to business.
"Xar,” he began, “This is Jedi Knight Masel, our newest member. His friend, Tiberan, went berserk during their final test and killed Master Caemas. Since they were both going to join Ar’Kell, the Dark Council has decided that it is an internal matter, and that we should handle it within the house. I have selected the two of you to track Tiberan down, and... take care of him. Masel goes because he was Tiberan’s friend and knows him. I want you to go, Xar, because I do not have a house assassin, and you will suffice. And I know you can empathize with Tiberan’s position."
Xar glanced at Masel and scowled.
Mathis leaned forward in his chair. “You will take this mission seriously, yes? I will not have Ar’Kell embarrassed before the Dark Council when we have hardly begun. Tiberan may be untrained, and he may be a fool, but he is still dangerous. I have foreseen some... trouble... concerning him. He may be capable of more damage than any of us suspect."
After a moment of obvious deliberation, a new light entered Xar’s eyes. Determination. Good. He will devote his full attention to the mission, then.
"Can we take the Nightmare?" asked Xar.
"I think not," Mathis replied, "It might be recognized where you are going."
Pulling out a drawer, he produced two datapads and slid them across the table toward the two men. As they retrieved them, Mathis addressed them both. "There you will find Tiberan’s last known location, along with a full briefing, planetary specs and customs, false identifications, and everything you ever wanted to know about Minos Cluster."
For once Xar looked truly surprised. "Minos Cluster? That is practically next door."
Mathis nodded. "That is correct, Xar. Now you see why the need for secrecy."
"You will be leaving within the hour. The shuttle is outside on the perimeter landing pads." Mathis gave a slight chuckle at that. "You have exactly an hour to take a shower, gather your things, and be ready for liftoff. Masel is already prepared."
Mathis studied the two in front of him. "Do not fail, gentlemen. Remember what I said."
"We will be careful," was the reply.
"Then I wish you well on your journey, and may the Force defend you."
Xar looked amused. "Maybe." Bowing, he turned toward the door, followed by Masel. Maybe, indeed. I fear that you soon may need all the help you can get, my friend, if I have foreseen truly.
The door closed behind the Masel, and Mathis leaned back. Reaching down, he took the book he had been studying and continued reading.
A candle’s flame started to lick the edge of a paper.

The Legacy of Ar’Kell

Betrayal: Chapter 2


As the blackness of the starlit sky banished the last of Odin’s rays, and the now-eclipsed orbs of Ullyr and Sif made their nightly treks along the horizon, the small double doors adjacent to the Southern Entrance of palace Ravenspyre burst open, and Xar and Masel tramped out, each hefting a large duffel bag from their shoulders. “So your name is Xar?” Masel asked.                                                      “Call me Sauron,” the man replied. "Ah, the crisp night air.” The taller of the two men, Xar wore black trousers and a cream colored shirt, covered by an open dark jacket. The combination offset his dark hair which was combed back smoothly. As the men traversed toward the landing pads, he added, "That should be the shuttle over there. But I have some things I need to retrieve from my ship also."
"No problem." replied Masel. Similarly dressed, though a head shorter than Xar, Masel’s dark eyes studied the surrounding landscape. "It sure is beautiful here. Too bad I only got to stay here a couple of hours before getting my first assignment."
Grunting in reply, Xar made his way toward the jungle, and what looked like the cut-out side of a hill. However, that was merely what the secret hangar was made to look like. Xar pulled a remote from his pocket and tapped in a code sequence. What had looked like the edge of an outcrop on the rocky wall opened to one side revealing a dark corridor within.
Xar entered, followed by Masel, and as the entrance closed once more, large overhead lights slowly came on with a buzzing noise.
"You may wait here," Xar told Masel. "I will return imminently."
"Hey, wait a minute, there’s nothing wrong with.."
"I will not be long." Xar broke in. Laying his bag on the floor, he made his way around the corner and into the concealed hangar area. There, tethered on the pad, black finish gleaming under the lights, stood the ship that had belonged to Xar’s former Jedi Master. The name Nightmare had been laser burned into the cockpit side armor, clear, and pristine, and filled in with silver. That will not remain much longer, he thought. He had already scheduled the ship for re-christening, though he could never seem to find the time to oversee the process.
Another key combination opened the hatch on the underbelly of the ship, and Xar ascended the ramp at a slow pace. A final button activated the Nightmare’s internal lighting, consisting of overhead lamps augmented by long red lighting on the sides of the corridors that stretched into the distance.
The sound of footsteps on the ramp behind him halted Xar. He half turned, and said, "Is there some problem? Did you get scared back there?"
Masel gave a slight chuckle. "No, I just wanted to check this ship out. It’s a work of art!"
"Hmm. Then wait until you see what is inside. Come on."
Xar led Masel through the corridors, on the way explaining, "My clothes and personal things I brought in my satchel. But I needed to come here to get a few other things." They walked into a large lounge/observatory room with windows that extended nearly from floor to ceiling on one wall. Entering a side passageway, Xar stopped in front of a closed door. He pushed the access button, and the door slid open sideways.
"This room always brings back memories to me." Xar said. Of course, he’d had it remodeled extensively. Entering, he crossed the comfortably sized room, with a bed on the far wall, a small desk, and a personal refresher in a side room. Xar did not go to any of these, however. Walking over to an empty table, he reached underneath and pressed a hidden button. Part of the far wall opened, revealing a small storage room with metal cases on the floor. Entering the small chamber, Xar crouched down and opened each case in turn, grinning at Masel’s gasp behind him.
"Yes, most of this is illegal in civilized sections of the galaxy." Xar told the other man. "The Crinn are very secretive. There are compartments like this all over. They also make some rather interesting weapons. No one gets on this ship if I do not want them to."
Reaching into one chest, Xar retrieved a skillfully crafted lightsaber with gold embroidery. There seemed to be different colors and topical features that were hard to make out, but mostly the thing was black and gold in color.
"This is mine. It is made of many different materials. That one was my former master’s." He pointed to a cruel-looking black saber with silver embroidery. It looked to be made of one piece of material, almost rocklike, jet black with curved, sharp points sticking out from the side pointing toward the front. It would fit well in Runis’ hand, with those grips, but no other’s.
"His was an ancient lightsaber, very rare. They both have rather nasty improvements made to them." After clipping his lightsaber to his belt, he shut that case, and went to another. Reaching inside, he pulled out a black cloth package. After untying the ends, he opened it to reveal what looked like a shiny, polished metal gun of some sort, along with various attachments. Nodding that everything was there, Xar also pulled out a pouch full of objects that clinked together.
"What is it?" Masel asked.
"A hand-held rail gun, or mass driver if you will. Unique now to almost any race but the Crinn. You see, a blaster fires energy-based rounds, but these shield-piercing projectiles will go through a man and the building behind him before stopping."
Masel breathed a relieved breath when Xar retied the package. Drawing a satchel from the corner of the room, Xar put the gun and ammunition inside. That was followed by a small pocket blaster, a modified hand-held blaster with pouch and belt with spare clips. After that, Xar put in several variations of daggers, some with odd shapes and multiple points, and a vibroblade.
"Are you going to put an entire arsenal in there? What do you think we’ll be facing out there?"
"Just being cautious. This is standard equipment. I hate assassinations, though that was what I was trained for. I much prefer a fair fight to striking from the shadows." Adding a coil of rope and grappling hook, and a small medkit, Xar zipped up the package and closed the cases. "Done."
One the way out, back in the observatory, Masel stopped dead in his tracks, exclaiming, "What’s that?" He pointed to a long muzzled weapon hanging on the wall over a couch and low table.
"High powered rifle." Xar replied. "Precise hit at over two kilometers. Are you coming?"
"Oh, yeah. Right behind you." It sounded as though Masel was eager to leave.

The planet Lantare I

Jedi Knight Tiberan entered the limits of Dol Shura on foot. He was a Jedi Knight, no matter what everyone else thought. And he was a Light Jedi, having forsaken his dark powers after that fateful event in the Seidon system. He had vowed never to use his powers for evil or to hurt anyone ever again, that day.
For the second time he re-wrapped the head-scarf around his head, silently cursing the scorching, dry heat of the desert world. He had to find a cool tavern, if such a thing existed on this planet. Dol Shura was one of the largest cities on Lantare I, except perhaps Jaggerbund, but he could not go there for fear of being caught.
Looking around, he reconsidered that thought. Seeing all the rough-looking humans and aliens alike, he wondered if a little stormtrooper presence here might not be a benefit.
More importantly, he had come to Lantare I for a purpose. A week ago, while streaming through hyperspace in his TIE Defender, running wildly, he had received a message. The sender had called himself Jedi Master Janus, a Light Jedi, who knew of his plight. He knew why he was running from the Dark Brotherhood, and claimed that he would give Tiberan safe quarter. He also promised to instruct him further in the ways of the Force. After taking some time to confirm the message, he had spoken by vidphone to Janus. The man had such an aura about him, one of gentleness and... sadness. Tiberan longed to have a true instructor in the Force, one who would teach him in the light, like the fabled Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. Once Tiberan had envisioned himself as another Skywalker, one who would earn honor and great fame. Once he had thought he could help others and better the life of everyone in the galaxy. Now he himself was running from the Imperials, scrounging on whatever he could find. His Defender was even now parked beyond the outskirts of the city. Now it seemed clear that reality was much different for most. He could still not understand why the Dark Jedi used their powers for self-gain and selfishness.
By this time Tiberan had nearly reached the center of town, and turned down a side alley, looking for a cantina of any sort, when a voice halted him.
"Tiberan?" the feminine voice repeated. When Tiberan saw a figure move from the shadows into the light, he considered running. He held still for the moment, however. The figure reached up and removed its low-pulled head-scarf, revealing a light-skinned face framed with fiery red hair. Tiberan was looking at a surprisingly beautiful woman "I am here to take you to Janus."


As the rock door closed behind him, Masel hurried to catch up with Xar, who was heading toward the silhouetted comm tower in the distance.
When they came into the lighted area of the landing pad, both men stopped and stared in confusion. Before them was a shuttle that must have been made before the Clone Wars. Physically, it looked much like Sienar’s Lambda-class shuttle. The similarities ended there, however. The old armor had more than a few burn marks, speaking of past battles. There were no weapons, either. There was a broad shouldered technician standing nearby, wiping his hands. He seemed to be looking at the two men.
"What is the meaning of this?" Xar asked, raising a hand as he strode over to the tech.
"Well, if you’re fooled by it, then I’m a happy man," the well-built tech remarked, his eyes studying Xar over a thick mustache.
"Excuse me?"
"The name’s Thad Balfin." He reached out to shake Xar’s outstretched hand. "I’m the chief engineering officer of House Ar’Kell, chosen by the Quaestor himself. We’ll be getting to know each other much better in the future, I’m sure. Now, this is the Starwind, here," he said, gesturing toward the camouflaged shuttle. "You listen carefully to my instructions, and you won’t have any problems."
"I don’t know if I like this." Behind him, Masel came up to peer at Balfin.
"Frankly, I don’t care what you like, son. Now listen, I have spent two days working on this ship for your mission, to make this brand-new ship look like a thirty year-old scrap heap. Here, follow me inside."
As the three ascended the shuttle’s ramp, Balfin continued. "Minos Cluster is not a friendly place. Along with your cover story, no one will question you in this ship." They turned and headed toward the cockpit.
"I know," remarked Xar. "I flew several tours of duty there."
"Did you now? Well, this isn’t a TIE Defender, either. She doesn’t look like much from the outside, but she’s got added maneuverability and speed. There’s also a high-tech scanner in the nose, which I will now show you how to operate."

Once Balfin had gone, giving final warnings and threats to take good care of the Starwind, and Xar and Masel stowed their gear in the ship’s two quarters, they returned to the cockpit. Xar sat at the pilot’s controls and began the pre-flight warm-up, while Masel took the copilot’s seat and closed the ramp. Within a couple of minutes Xar had the Starwind operational, and the shuttle began rising into the air.
"Here we go," breathed Masel. Soon after a sonic boom reverberated through the jungle.
Out of the viewport, the planet Frigg seemed to fade away in the distance, and soon was lost in fog. Above, the atmosphere became darker, more stars becoming visible until, finally, the computer told Masel that they had left the planet’s gravity field.
"Strap in, I am going to make the jump to hyperspace," called Xar. Setting the proper course, the computer plotted the best route to their destination. "Tiberan’s last recorded location was somewhere in the Lyccos system. That is our first destination." Xar pulled back on the controls. The stars stretched into starlines, and the shuttle shot into hyperspace.

Lantare I

Sela Ralea led Tiberan through a complex series of turns, and through alleyways, keeping as low a profile as possible. Finally they emerged in a crowded main street, which they crossed, stopping in front of the drab-looking outside of a cantina.
"Master Janus is inside," Ralea told Tiberan in a low voice. "Be careful in there, and do what you’re told."
"Don’t worry, I’ve been searching for a long time. I’m not going to foul it up," said Tiberan "Good. Now follow me inside."

Tiberan entered the Sandy Bantha to a soft chiming of music. In sharp contrast, the room was dark and crowded. His hopes of coolness were banished as soon as he felt the stuffiness of the room. Ralea brushed past him and proceeded toward the bar in the center of the room. Tiberan had no choice but to follow her.
Janus was sitting at the bar with a couple empty seats on both sides, drinking a small glass of caf. He was dressed in gray, with a cape that fell nearly to the floor. He leaned his short haired, white head back after taking a drink, then turned toward the two and stood. He looked at Tiberan with eyes lined by age, though his face was still quite handsome. A gold chain around his neck descended under his shirt.
"Tiberan," he said, putting on a smile. "I am Jedi Master Janus. It is so good to meet you."
"Good to meet you, too, sir." The two men shook hands. "I’ve traveled a long way to find you."
"So you have. I can sense the Force strongly in you. I’m looking forward to completing your training."
"Yes, well, so am I. By the way, where is your facility located?"
"Oh, not here. It’s on Lantare," Janus replied. "We will be heading there soon enough. Patience. I have some business to attend to here today, but we will leave tomorrow."
"Whatever you say, sir."
"Indeed. I am sure you will enjoy working with me. I have trained many Jedi Knights. I am eager to learn more about you, when we arrive home." Janus glanced briefly over his shoulder. "But for now, I must meet with a business associate. Sela will show you around the city. I know you would welcome a cool refresher bar."
"Boy, would I. Thank you very much, Master Janus."
"See you later."

After waving the boy away, Janus returned to his seat. From over at the stage, a tinny voice yelled in Gamorrean, "One, Two, Three!" and music started blaring, accompanied by the loud voice of the singer.
Janus took another drink as Captain Je’gem Shaara came out of the shadows. Shaara was very large for a Bothan, with black fur streaked with white. Coming over to sit beside the other man, he ordered a strange Bothan drink, and turned to face Janus, who sighed.
"I was expecting Kruaan, not his lackey."
A faint growl issued from the huge Bothan. "The Commandant has better things to do. He wants to know where the shipments are."
Janus studied his ale unconcernedly. "The shipment is almost ready. It will be shipped to you next week. It takes a while to mine the stuff, much less process it, you know."
"Yes, well Kruaan says that if he doesn’t get it on time, you won’t be around long enough to regret it. He has a busy schedule."
"I do not take kindly to threats, friend." Janus lifted a finger, and the Bothan felt his windpipe closing. He grasped his throat, struggling to breathe. On the stage, the music flared louder and louder, coming to a climax, until... Finally, Janus let him go, and the Bothan gasped for air. "Cannot breathe well in this humidity, can you? Listen, Kruaan and I have a partnership, and you are my minion as much as his. If it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t be able to keep hold of this rock much longer. He needs me. Kruaan will get what he wants in due time, as long as he sees that I get mine. Tell him that."
Shaara took a long drink before replying. "I will tell him..."
"Good. Now run along. I have things to attend to."
The Bothan left the bar, and seconds later had vanished in the crowd. "You will not back out now, Kruaan," Janus said to himself. "Too much rides on it, for you and me." Seeing several Gamorrean females walk down from the stage, swinging their hips and dancing, Janus decided it was time to get out of this filth-hole. He drained the last of his ale, then headed toward the entrance, cape swaying behind him.


The shuttle blazed through the depths of hyperspace, millions of swirling stars surrounding it, in this other dimension. Inside, Xar and Masel had been discussing their next plans. During the trip, they had read the full briefing from Quaestor Organa, as well as the history and current condition of Lyccos II. "...and once we are settled in, I will go around and see what I can find about Tiberan. You need not do much, except tell me everything you know about him. I want to know what he will do when I confront him."
"You’re going to confront him?"
"Yes," Xar affirmed. "Why? Are you so eager to kill him?"
"Well, no, not at all, I just thought you..."
"Thought I enjoyed killing people in cold blood?" Xar finished for him. "Quite the contrary. I will do what I can to convince him to come back with us. Now listen, let us go over the IDs one more time. I am Kiruun Magnus. What is your name?"
Masel sighed, exasperated. "Delk Carmon. We’ve gone other this a hundred times! Listen, I’m far from helpless. The world where I come from is not exactly a friendly place. I grew up hunting Vraskars. They are large, fast, and deadly."  
 Xar shook his head. "Masel is from that world. Where is Delk Carmon from?"
 At Xar’s heated stare, Masel threw his hands into the air. "All right, blast you, I’m from Lantare. I can’t believe this! Won’t you listen to me? You know you could use my help."
"You..." Xar hesitated for a moment, then nodded finally. "Very well. I am sorry, Masel. I am used to working alone. We will be a team." He extended his hand, and Masel shook it.
"Thanks. I..." The consoles beeping cut him off.
After a glance, Xar strapped back in. "Looks like we are coming up on the Lyccos system. Exit in fifteen."
Xar counted down the seconds to reversion. Although the shuttle would have come out of hyperspace on its own, it was best to be in control and ready for anything. When he reached zero, Xar pushed forward on the controls, and the stars ceased their swirling, reverting to starlines, which in turn receded into millions of stars. A huge red sun jumped into view to port, while a creamy-brown planet loomed off the forward viewport. The computer quickly confirmed that they were indeed in the Lyccos system, though it couldn’t have been any other. The planet slowly grew in the viewport.
Some time later a voice came from the speakers. "This is Lyccos planetary control. Please identify yourself and request landing procedures..."

A couple of hours later, Masel walked behind Xar as they made their way through the labyrinthine tunnels of Lyccos II. Since the two planets of the Lyccos system were slowly spiraling in towards their sun. Everyone, including the native population, whoever they had once been, had had to live underground in vast caverns. The surface of Lyccos II was a baking, barren rock, without an atmosphere.
"Affirmative, Starwind. You have clearance to enter cavernade 3, cavern 7, sub-cavern 17."
"Thank you." Xar said, shutting off communications. "Now we land. You are going to love Lyccos II."
The planet grew larger and larger, until the pair could finally make out a number of openings in the surface. There was not much of an atmosphere to enter, and once they were through, they entered what the computer map of Lyccos II told them was cavernade 3. The entrance was kilometers wide, but continued to wane smaller deep into the surface. The entire cavity was lit by large light sources set into the rock wall. The shuttle turned and entered a side cavern, still large enough. The air thickened as finally they entered another, sub-cavern, and Xar docked the craft alongside several personal space yachts that varied in age from brand new to looking as old as the Starwind. They gathered their things and left the shuttle, locking it up behind them. They visited customs, and went through several anxious minutes while having their IDs scanned. It appeared that Mathis’ ID fakers were thorough, however, and had taken great pains to make sure they fit their description. Masel’s, for instance, fit well with Lantare because of his dark tanned skin. "Have a nice stay on Lyccos II," the attendant told them. "Your ship will be perfectly safe here."
"I would not bet on it," Xar said to Masel later. They climbed aboard Lyccos’ mass transit system, the only practical way of traveling from one cavernade to another, rode for several kilometers, then on foot began their trek through the maze of tunnels that was Lyccos’ planet life.
Masel looked in awe down corridors which seemed to go on forever. "I can’t believe how huge this place is," he told Xar once.
"This is just one ‘city’. They have a repulsor super-train which ferries people between the cities. They say there is more room down here than the surface of most planets. I think we should begin tracing Tiberan from here first, though.
And so now they were standing in front of an inn which, like most buildings here, was built directly into the rock of the cavern. There was a holo-sign above naming it the Digger’s Dream.
Xar explained to Masel, "Lyccos II probably will not last but a few more years, because the sun is in real danger of going nova. So, archeologists and geologists have flocked here to study the ancient race and preserve their treasures, and mine the exclusive minerals."
"Like what?"
"Not sure, but I think there is a valuable metal mined here. Let us go inside and see about getting a room. I chose this place for a reason. The briefing said there is someone here who can help us."
Masel followed Xar inside. The interior was a little sparse, but clean, with a modern look. It probably wasn’t very old. They went up to the reception droid and booked a room. "Room 207, sir," the droid said. Xar nodded. "Also, I would like to speak with the superintendent. He should be expecting us."
"Very well, sir. He is busy at the moment, but will come to your room."
"Thank you."
They ascended two flights of stairs, and traveled down a hallway to a door marked 207. It accepted Xar’s pass card, and they entered the room.
"Not bad for the price," Masel remarked. The room was well-furnished, with all the necessities. There was a clean refresher station, and a bed on either side of the room. Setting his things on the counter, Xar took a seat at the table and turned on the local holonews. Masel followed him and sat on one of the beds.
"We should get started first thing tomorrow," Xar said.
After a while, Masel decided to try and strike up a conversation. "So, Sauron. Why did the Quaestor say that you could empathize with Tiberan? In fact, why did he choose you for this mission, if you don’t mind my asking?"
Xar turned off the holoscreen and faced Masel. "I do not mind, but explaining will take a while."
"We’ve got all day," Masel answered, shrugging.
"Very well. I will be straightforward. My old master, Runis, trained me to assassinate his enemies on the old Dark Council. I was taught by different people, in the use of many weapons. After Runis died, I returned to Varnus to find it devastated. It seems the Empire came and ‘offered’ Varnus membership in the Empire. Negotiations were not going well, but that was when a Rebel fleet entered the system. The Imperials told them that it was an Imperial world, and the Rebels attacked. The main city was nearly destroyed in the battle. I later learned that my father tried to stop the fighting, tried to negotiate with them, but of course that was not possible. He was shot out of the sky, and the city was bombarded. That is one of the reasons I joined the Empire afterward. I loved to fly, there was almost nothing left in my life, and I wanted to start over. Most of all though, I wanted to put down the Rebels, who could not listen to reason even enough to spare my homeworld. They could have tried to overthrow the Empire peacefully, but they immediately resorted to violent force. The Empire may be far from perfect, but neither is the Rebellion."
"I’m sorry," Masel said after a silence. "Hmm. My reasons for joining the Empire are much simpler. In fact, Eriadu is in the Empire. My father is a ranking officer in the Security corps. There was not much of a choice. But when I found out I was Force-sensitive... That was two years ago, about the time of the Emperor’s death. Finally I found the Brotherhood, and leaped at the chance to learn to use the Force. Boy, things sure have changed since the days of the Empire. Do you think we’ll win, Sauron?"
Xar thought for a moment. "Yes, I think it is entirely possible that we can defeat the New Republic. But something was made clear in the war against the Rebellion. The galaxy cannot be ruled by only one man. Palpatine probably did as good a job of it as anyone ever could, but people will always strive for freedom. A good leader could unite the galaxy for a time, but a bad one would do just the opposite. A new form of government is needed. The Republic was proven a poor choice, turning evil and corrupt eventually. Yet the Rebels still persist on using it, though they are doomed to the same fate as Old Republic. If only..." The door chime interrupted him. "Who is it?"
"Kay’ineen." Said a decidedly Twi’lek accent.
"Ah, good," said Xar, rising toward the door. "Our help has arrived."
The door opened, admitting a tall Twi’lek dressed in dark robes. It was still easy to see that he was quite muscular, though. One of his head-tails which hung down his back was almost half-gone. Closing the door behind him, he studied the other two men in the room. Seeing Xar, Kay’ineen broke into a toothy grin. "Welcome back, Kiruun. I haven’t seen you in a long while. Have you returned to continue your search for the Shard of Destiny?"
Xar gave a small frown. Not many knew of his passion for ancient artifacts. And Lyccos II was a treasure trove, if one had the credits and knew who to look for. He bowed slightly to the Twi’lek. "It is good to see you, friend. But no, I have not come for the Shard. My last search nearly ended in disaster. I do have a search of a different kind, however."
"Indeed. I received a coded message telling me so. I will gladly aid you. And your companion?" asked Kay’ineen, nodding to Masel.
"May I introduce to you Jedi Knight Delk Carmon, of the planet Lantare. Delk, this is Retired Imperial Chief Engineer Kay’ineen. He has quite a legendary reputation among higher class Imperial officers."
The Twi’lek shook his head. “Yes, well, I chose to live here to escape all that. Except for... special operations, of course."
Masel stood and walked over to shake the Kay’ineen’s hand. "Very nice to meet you, sir."
Xar arched an eyebrow at the Twi’lek. Kay’ineen, however, was quite used to alien customs, and returned Masel’s smile.
"Now that the formalities are completed, what is the nature of your mission?" asked Kay’ineen.
"Have a seat," offered Xar. Once everyone was seated at the table, he began. "We are looking for a man by the name of Tiberan, a traitor who has killed and stolen Imperial property. Here are the full details." Uploading the data from his datapad to Kay’ineen’s, he also gave him Tiberan’s description.
Kay’ineen was well known for his access to most of Lyccos’ computer systems. He was often asked for his knowledge of security; usually for a price, though. After a few moments of sifting through his data, Kay’ineen nodded. "I know the man you speak of. A TIE Defender? A valuable piece of property indeed, but useless on the market. He passed through the system late last week, then left abruptly. It seems he had a private conversation with a listed archeologist corporation, but with who exactly it is unclear."
"What was the name of the company?" Xar asked.
"Tri-System Archeologist Funds. It seems their research is funded by private investors."
"Well, it is a start, better than nothing. I wonder why Tiberan was talking with them?"
Kay’ineen looked at Masel, who shook his head. "I dunno. He never said anything about liking artifacts."
Xar nodded, then stood, ending the meeting. "Thank you for all your help, Kay’ineen. We may have use of your records again. And we will be staying here at the Digger’s Dream for the duration of our mission."
"No problem. I am glad to be of service. If Tiberan re-enters the system, I will be sure to let you know."
After Kay’ineen had left, Xar and Masel stowed their gear and freshened up.
"Let’s go get a bite to eat," suggested Masel. "I’m starving."

                        *                                  *                                  *

The next morning Xar woke Masel early. Sitting up sleepily, Masel had to stare for a moment to realize where he was. "Oh! Ah... What’s happening?"
"Time to get moving."
"Oh. Right." He dressed quickly as Xar began removing things from his bag of ‘toys’. Xar again wore a dark jumpsuit. Masel wondered how many the man had in his luggage. Xar first clipped his lightsaber to his belt. He slipped the vibroblade into a small sheath at his boot, then brought the packages containing his mass gun and its ammo. He unzipped it, revealing the shiny metal weapon. The thing made Masel uneasy. Xar pulled on a shoulder holster, then removed the gun from its housing. He held it up, seeming to study it for a moment, turning it slightly. "I have many memories with this. Time to put it to use again." A twitch of his finger ejected the clip, and Xar filled it with the projectiles, one by one, fifteen in all. Then Xar slowly pushed in the clip. That was all that was needed. The gun was ready. He put the gun in the holster, which was specially made to fit it, and snapped it in place. Then he removed his jacket from his case and pulled it on, covering the weapon and holster. "Have you got a jacket?" he asked Masel. "It can get chilly in the lower levels."
"Yeah." Masel clipped his own lightsaber to his left side and holstered his blaster on his right. He rounded the bed and got out a folded leather jacket. Pulling it on, he asked, "Ready?"
"Ready. We have a lot to do before the day is over. Only have time for a ration bar on the way to the super express train. TSAF is located over six hundred kilometers to the east."

That night Xar and Masel walked through the corridors, in the general direction of the Digger’s Dream. It had been a long day, and they were both tired. Coming to a junction, Xar saw that it connected three tunnels. The tunnel to the right curved off into the distance, while the ones before and behind them seemed to stretch on forever into darkness. The two were making their way toward a café-style restaurant, deciding to at last get a good meal. The neon sign above read The Hyperspace Diner. Windows surrounded the diner, built into the rock wall of course, with a blue and white interior. The entire place was easily visible from the outside. It seemed a cozy atmosphere, with a bar on one side and tables at each window.
Heading that way, Xar mentally went over the day’s accomplishments. They had traveled to TSAF first, to find it did not open until later, and so they kept an eye out on who came and went from across the street. When they finally entered they only got as far as the receptionist, who when asked had told them that the CEO was currently out-system and not available, and no, they couldn’t speak with any representatives. They had been urged to visit one of their store chains, as funding was usually done there and not at the main complex. Xar would have pressed further, but Masel had argued that it was no use.
Xar was developing a plan to get in, at any rate.
They were much closer to the café now. Xar could see only a few tables were occupied. The bartender, a large man with a full, dark beard, was wiping the blue marble counter. There were numerous bottles of liquids of varying colors behind him. Masel started to open the door, when Xar heard a crash. "Hold on," he told Masel. Looking back across the corridor, he noticed a small side tunnel where five or six shady-looking figures were off-loading crates from a huge vehicle transport onto the floor. They were clearly low-lifes and hired muscle, and one of them was a huge furred creature with fangs. Xar could barely make out the labels on the sides. The crates were marked as Ziranthium, something Xar had never heard of before. He could only see the rear of the vehicle, and the crates were large and stacked together; they were obviously waiting for a loading truck. Xar did not have to see a blue spark light up from the busted crate near the truck or notice that the labels were pasted-on to know what was happening was much less than legit. Still, it was not that. It was none of his business, after all. There was just something about it...

Masel let the door close and stared as Xar started over towards an unloading truck.
"Hey! Where are you going?"
Xar did not answer.
As he started after, Masel wondered what could interest Xar about a bunch of guys unloading crates. Then he saw a spark of Glitterstim, and stopped dead in his tracks, realizing what was going on. Masel had been raised in the Security corps. He had been taught to deeply respect the law, and he hated those who broke it. Even so, he knew this was none of their business. Why get involved? And it seemed Xar did not realize he was taking on five burly-looking men. Masel ran to catch up with him, opening his mouth to tell him to stop, but it was too late.
Xar walked right into the middle of the group, who had finished putting down their crates.
"Greetings. May I inquire as to what you gentlemen have in the boxes?" Three of the men were right in front of him, bewildered looks on their faces.
Suddenly a vibroblade flashed into the hand of one of the workers, stabbing towards Xar’s heart before Masel knew what was happening. Before he could activate the blade, however, Xar’s hands caught the man’s wrist and elbow, bringing it down to his side, the blade cutting into his own flesh, and then he slammed his right elbow into the man’s face. Screaming, the worker dropped the blade, then his scream was cut off as Xar grabbed the man’s hair and brought his head down to meet Xar’s knee. As the unconscious man fell to the floor, another worker stepped in, throwing a punch at Xar’s face.
Xar stepped back and caught the man’s arm, hyper-extending it at the joint. The man yelled in pain. Turning the arm the other way, he brought the man down onto his back, while throwing a sidekick into a third man’s ribcage. Masel heard several cracks as the man fell away, then watched as Xar punched the second man in the throat, taking him out of the fight
Only seconds had passed since Xar had walked up to the men. Seeing another man pull out his blaster, Masel realized he had just been standing there watching. Running as the man brought his weapon up, Masel dived into the man before he could take aim, both of them dropping to the floor. The gun clattered down a few feet away. Masel scrambled on top of the man, trying to keep the man’s hand away from reaching the blaster. Only inches away. Masel reached for the man’s wrist, but the man’s other fist hit him in the mouth. Masel scrambled to rise.

Xar did not notice Masel’s struggle. He had his own troubles. As the huge hairy alien approached, Xar backed away, pulling his lightsaber from his belt. He brought it up, but in a huge backhand swipe the alien knocked the weapon out of Xar’s hand. The force of the blow almost spun him around. Then the beast moved with amazing speed, scooping Xar up in a crushing bear-hug.
Xar could feel the life being crushed out of him. Spots appeared before his eyes. He saw, remembered, burning on a world of sand and dirt, facing a beast that had been about to kill him...
Xar fought down the panic that threatened to overwhelm him. Calmness. Placing his hands on the alien, he let the Force flow through him, as Runis had taught him.
The alien roared in pain as the Force coursed into it, injuring it from the inside. It let go of Xar, but the pain did not subside. The dark side of the Force had already done its damage. The alien beast raised its head and gave a high pitched scream, then stumbled backwards and tripped over the body of the first worker, dead.
As the beast fell, Xar turned toward the last man, and froze. The man stood there, his blaster pointed straight at Xar. No, thought Xar. How could I have been so stupid? I do not think I can absorb and dissipate this... Two blaster shots rang out, and Xar flinched. Looking down at himself, Xar at first wondered why he was not dead. Then he looked up, and the last thug’s eyes rolled up, and he fell, revealing Masel behind him, his blaster muzzle smoking.

Masel stepped around the smoking body toward Xar, his face serious. "Sauron. What the blazes did you think you were doing?"
Xar seemed abashed. "Masel, thank you for saving me. I apologize for underestimating you earlier. I… I am glad you are with me."
Masel was taken aback for a moment. Did the man not realize he had endangered both their lives? Did he not think what he did was reckless and stupid? "That’s okay," he said instead. No point in worsening the problem. "I understand. It takes a while to build someone’s trust."
"Indeed. I..." Xar stopped. He seemed to be listening to something. "It seems we missed one."
"Do you not feel it? Oh, forgive me. You have not the strength to... Never mind."
Xar walked over to the crate that had crashed, which was away from the others, and ripped the label off. Underneath was another label that read Tri-System Archaeological Funds. “Well, what have we here?” Masel looked on in astonishment. How had Xar sensed the connection? But Xar simply shook his head as he pulled off his jacket and laid it on the crate. He moved to the side of the stack of other crates, and reached over and pulled his mass gun from its holster. Masel wondered what he was doing. Before he could speak, Xar looked as him. "You had better stand over there." He pointed back beside the hovertruck. Taking out what seemed to be a small laser sight, Xar attached it to a spot on the gun’s muzzle. It was then that Masel first heard a high-pitched whine. Pulling out his own blaster again, he looked down the long corridor that curved out of sight. Xar was right, he could feel it now. At least, he could feel the presence of someone approaching, someone with very malevolent intentions. How Xar had singled it out from all the other millions on Lyccos II, he had no idea. Perhaps the man would teach him some time. But it was too late now. Masel could see someone coming around the corner, someone on a speeder bike and repulsor sled. Someone dangerous. The figure was dressed in ragged cloth, and wore a hood over a full breather mask, but Masel could see armor underneath that cloth. The figure seemed to notice them, and pulled out... something. It seemed to be a long blaster carbine, or a riot gun of some sort.
Xar took up a shooting stance. He put his right gun hand on top of his left arm steady his aim. "That is Kiraat Shal." Masel’s eyes widened. The famous bounty hunter of Minos Cluster? What was he doing here?
The hunter began shooting before even slowing down. Blaster bolts began rapidly spraying toward them like projectiles from outdated machine guns, hitting the crates and sending up splinters and puffs of flame. Masel got off several shots, but with the hunter’s speed they all passed behind him. The hail of bolts was too much for even the two of them to bear. Masel started running backwards. The hunter didn’t seem to care whether he hit them or not yet. Xar took careful aim, trying to track Shal, but he seemed to realize he was too close now. Kiraat came to a stop next to the unloading truck, and climbed out, firing rapidly in Xar’s direction. Xar ran to the side, blaster bolts hitting the crates behind him, then dived over the wall of boxes. Blue sparks flew everywhere as the glitterstim was exposed to air and light. Shal let off several more rounds around the area Xar dived into. Masel fired a couple more times, but the shots went wide. He just could not hit him while running. Then the hunter turned toward him. Masel took off running away from Shal as fast as he could toward the Hyperspace Diner, firing over his shoulder. Blaster shots missed within inches, so close he could feel the heat, and hit the glass of the Diner in front of him, shattering windows and melting the spots they hit. Masel blasted the door, and it swung open in front of him. Then suddenly he felt a blast hit his arm, and he yelled. In reflex his blaster was flung wildly away, and he dived into the diner and slid to a stop near the bar. Scrambling away, he made his way beside one of the booths next to the window. He sat up, and made himself look down at his arm. It seemed it had only been nicked, but the flesh had been singed and cauterized. He winced in pain. Looking around, he noticed that the diner was completely empty. At least the people knew what to do.

     Xar ducked behind the crates, and watched as Masel got nicked on the arm and dove into the Hyperspace Diner. He had been fortunate to survive that exchange. Then several more shots hit the crates around him, scattering blue sparks everywhere. Then he felt a sharp pain in his arm. He noted, as he pulled out a small shard of wood that had hit him, that this was not the best place for cover.
The shots had stopped. Xar, with his Force-enhanced hearing, could hear Shal reloading the clip, and footsteps receding in the distance. He is heading toward the diner. Going to kill the lesser threat first? Is he that stupid? Or just being careful, and going for cover? One of the crates had had part of the side blown away, and something liquid was seeping out. Reaching over, Sauron he touched some of it, and sniffed it. It felt slippery between his fingers, and smelled almost like jet fuel. Whatever this is, it is not glitterstim. Perhaps I was wrong, or maybe I found something more important after all... Reaching over, he activated the laser sight for his hand-held rail gun, then moved slowly up to the crate to peer carefully around the side towards the diner.

Silence was the first thing Masel noticed. Then he heard quiet footsteps approaching. Sliding up against the near wall, just below the window, he waited. Looking out the window, he suddenly saw Shal moving along the windows. He stopped right in front of Masel. Fear almost froze him, but he saw that Shal was facing away from him. What the... Well, he was not going to scorn good fortune. Slowly, silently, he unclipped his lightsaber, and pointed its focusing end toward Shal. If I turn it on, it will hit him just right, he thought. But what if he is too far away? No, got to take that chance... Suddenly two shots burst through the glass, leaving two small holes in the window. Shal was propelled through the window to land on his back on the booth’s table. Masel looked down in shock at the blood on his shirt and pants. Glass showered him and he closed his eyes to protect them.
He heard running footsteps, then Xar was standing over the body of the dead bounty hunter, searching him.
"Come on, Masel. We have to go now." Masel got up, still stunned, and looked around. There was not much blood on the hunter’s front. Turning around, he saw two holes in the opposite wall, in the same positions, where the projectiles had gone through. Exactly how close those shots had been, and how deadly they would have been had he been in their path, sent chills through Masel. He stumbled over toward the entrance, his feet crunching on broken glass, and met Xar at the door. Then anger pulsed through him, and his eyes narrowed as he looked at Xar.
"What in the name of the Sith did you think you were doing? Are you crazy? You could have killed me!"
"Are you absolutely insane?"
"Security will be coming."
"Good! I’ll tell them to lock you up! You could have killed me!"
"But I did not."
Masel stopped, staring incredulously at Xar. Was the man insane? Ruthless? Or did he have a plan?
"Let me see your arm."
"I can heal you."
Cautiously Masel offered his burned arm. Xar put a hand it, and Masel felt a chill run through him, and then pain exploded through his arm, much worse than when he had been hit. He clenched his teeth and grunted; the pain was swelling. It seemed the pain lasted for minutes, but it could only have been seconds. When he looked down at his arm again, the wound was no longer there. There was a scar, where the bolt had hit, but that was all. Slowly, ever so slowly, the pain was subsiding, until it finally vanished. Masel’s arm still felt... odd, though. He suddenly felt like he needed a bath.
"How... How did you do that?"
"My mentor was a great healer. He passed all of his knowledge on to me. Or almost all. In any case, Dark Side healing is different from the Light Side. There is pain, and scarring, and... a residue, if you will, of the Dark Side. It can have unfortunate consequences, sometimes. The pain may return occasionally. Those are the disadvantages of using the Dark Side, and not just in healing. I myself was badly damaged when my teacher found and healed me. The pain returns, but you can… force it away. Masel, let us go back to the inn."
Masel took a deep breath. "Okay. And thank you. I’m sorry I burst out like that. I guess that makes us even."
"Not quite yet, but a good start." Xar looked over his shoulder, and Masel could hear sirens in the distance. Yes, it seemed the people here knew exactly what to do in situations like this.
"Let’s go," he said.

When they returned to their room, Kay’ineen was sitting at the table, waiting for them. He stood impatiently when they entered. His face seemed carved from stone, and his voice dead serious.
"Kiruun? I have been calling you all day." He paused, and took a deep breath. "Tiberan has arrived."


The Legacy of Ar’Kell

Betrayal: Chapter Three


The tunnel stretched off into the distance, several kilometers of roughly hewn rock and plasteel, dimly lit by glowrods in the ceiling periodically placed along its length. At the near end the tunnel stopped and broke into several side tunnels, along with a large wall of duracrete, which made up the perimeter of the Tri-Systems Archaeologist Funds complex. A hovercar was parked on the road at the base of the wall, not far from one of the side entrances.
Masel sat in the driver's seat of the hovercar and for the tenth time looked down at his wrist chronometer and sighed. What was keeping Xar so long? He looked around, peering through the darkness for any signs of movement. It had been over half an hour since Xar had climbed over the wall, with the purpose of finding out exactly what Janus and Tiberan were up to. Masel did not know what he would do if Xar had been captured. He did not even have a way of knowing if it happened. This is stupid, he thought. This is my first mission. I had no idea it'd explode into something this big.
Then the high pitch of blaster fire cut through the air, and Masel looked around frantically. Oh no, what now? He heard a scraping sound overhead, and looked up to the top of the wall beside the car. A man in black was swinging over the top on the grappling rope he had used to enter, then he quickly rappelled the ten meters down to the floor.
Xar tossed the rope aside and leaped into the back seat of the hovercar, yelling, "Go, go!"
"Right!" Masel shouted. With a whine the engine came to life and the car jolted forward.
Xar moved onto his knees in the seat and brought his blaster up as Masel turned the car towards the tunnel that was their exit out of this sector. "Keep driving, Masel, we may be getting some company. I will try to hold them off."
"Okay! Maybe we can lose them in the industrial sector!” Masel offered.
"Good idea. Head that way."
Xar turned to face behind the vehicle just in time to see the large double doors at the end of the road burst open as another hovercar rammed them open. Xar turned his head to the side and yelled, "Masel, step on it!" Then he turned back to the other car that was rapidly coming up behind them as their car accelerated.

The two hovercars shot down the dark tunnel about twenty meters apart. Three men were in the TSAF vehicle, the driver trying to hold a steady course while a gunman in the passenger's seat and one in the back lined up their shots. Xar focused on trying to get an aim on the car behind him, then ducked as several bolts flashed out, lighting the space between them. After a few rounds had passed overhead, he sat back up and fired his hold-out blaster back at the pursuers. Two of his shots hit the front of the car, spewing sparks, another hit the plasteel windshield, creating a melted smudge, while another missed over the heads of the gunmen. Their return fire was more accurate, and Xar ducked again as several shots hit the rear of the vehicle, causing sparks to fly out and blasting bits of glowing metal into the air. He got back up and fired again, but none of his blasts could penetrate the enemies' windshield, instead just melting more of it into slag.
Another hail of bolts flashed out, and Xar ducked again. One blast hit the back of the front seat, setting it aflame, and another overshot the seat, hitting the inside of the windshield. This is getting too close, Xar thought. He slapped out the flames and fired a couple shots back before jumping over the back and into the passenger's seat. He turned to Masel. "We must lose them somehow," he shouted over the noise of the engine and scream of blaster fire. The end of the tunnel was growing larger ahead of them, where it split in two directions.
"Take the right tunnel," Xar said. "That is the way to the Industrial Sector."
The hovercar followed the right tunnel and entered a series of winding curves in the rock, the turns providing a difficult target for the pursuing vehicle. Then, abruptly the tunnel opened up into a huge cavern, brightly lit from ceiling floodlamps. The cavern was full of buildings and factories, intertwined roads and corporate complexes. The Industrial Sector, as it was called, was the processing center for the resources mined deep within the dying planet, though recently, with the declining population of Lyccos II, some of the refineries had been abandoned. The hovercar shot through the outer gate and into the city-like expanse, swerving to avoid hovertrucks and bulk cargo transports. Xar looked back to find their pursuers still hot on their trail, though now concentrating on finding a clear path through the bustle.
Suddenly a massive cargo carrier began slowly crossing the street in front of the car. Xar knew they were moving too fast to wait for the carrier to pass. "There! Take that side street!" he yelled to Masel.
"Okay!" Masel slowed the car and pulled the stick to the right. The hovercar turned into a narrow alley between two of the factory buildings, skimming the wall on the left as they barely made the turn. The street below them suddenly dropped a story, and the car descended abruptly. Xar looked back to see their pursuers make the turn, hit the wall in a shower of sparks, and drop in behind them. Blast. This is going to be harder than I thought. He turned back around and instinctively ducked as their hovercar passed under a low-lying conveyor belt bridge supported by metal poles to either side. Above on the bridge, boxes were being carried from one building to the next.
  "Wow, we must have had centimeters to spare!" remarked Masel. Xar looked back at the bridge, and as the car behind them squeezed through the gap, the answer hit him. As they approached the next conveyor bridge in front of them, he turned to Masel.
"Masel, see where those support beams attach to the bridge? If we can cut it with our lightsaber at the right point, there!" He pointed to the spot as they squeezed through the opening, hitting one of the support beams, bending it.
"Yes, I see! But it will be hard to hit and drive through at the same time!"
"Just hit it!"
Xar pulled his saber from his belt, Masel doing the same. A blaster bolt hit the back of his seat, and Xar jerked away instinctively, but dared no look back. The final bridge was looming ahead, a large container moving slowly across. One last chance, he told himself. He hit the switch, and the lightsaber activated with a snap-hiss, a brilliant orange-yellow blade humming to life. Masel's ignited, his green bladed lightsaber in his left hand and the driving joystick in his right. He hit the break, slowing the vehicle as they began going under the bridge. Xar stood up and held his saber with both hands diagonally upward. As they went under the bridge the blade sliced through the fragile support beam, and into the bottom of the bridge itself, cutting all the way through the structure. On the other side, Masel's saber sliced through his portion as well, but the blade did not make a clean slice through the bridge. Masel hit the accelerator and the car flew past on the other side, the men deactivating their sabers and turning to look behind them. The one side of the bridge bent low, the weight of the large container moving across seemed to be enough to make the difference. The other side of the bridge broke, and the whole apparatus collapsed with a tremendous crash, filling the entire alleyway with debris.
The driver of the pursuing vehicle saw the bridge collapse, and hit the breaks hard, but they were already moving too fast. The hovercar slammed into the wreckage at a hundred kilometers per hour, causing sparks to fly into the air and igniting a fire in the middle of the debris. The driver was propelled forward into the windshield, his head hitting the transparisteel with a crack. The man in the passenger's seat was thrown over the windshield and front of the car into the debris, while the man in the back, who had been standing, was launched into the air and flew completely over the wreckage to land in the street.
As they drove away, Xar could not see if the man got back up. He turned back to Masel.
"Ouch," said Masel. "I think that hurt."
"Yeah. Come on, find us a place to leave the car so we can get back to the inn."
"Okay," Masel said softly.
The car turned back onto the street and headed for the commercial sector.

Sela Ralea leaned against the office wall and watched her boss's expression become more and more exasperated. Janus had a glass of brandy in his hand, which he often did, but now he sat it on the desk on touched. Janus' office was lavishly decorated, with a large, ornate rug filling most of the floor on which the desk sat. A holoscene occupied one wall, under which was a shelf containing various artifacts excavated by TSAF. On the other wall was a bookshelf with the Jedi Master's datapads, records, and private book collection. An officer, one of Janus' personal guards, stood in front of the desk. Janus began shaking his head as the soldier finished his report.
"And then we lost them after they got rid of the rented hovercar. We found it at the bottom of a ravine. We currently conclude that they are holding out somewhere with the stolen information, and possibly trying to contact their command." The soldier finished speaking and stood at attention, obviously anticipating his master's wrath.
Janus ran a hand through his slicked-back white hair. "Who are these people? First they disrupt one of my spice/fuel transfers, spilling the whole deal out into the open, and now they break into my main facility and take our records! I don't understand it. Here, let me see that recording again."
The officer took the datapad in his hand and laid it onto the desktop. Janus held it up and hit the 'play' button. The first scene was of outside the complex, of a man in a hovercar looking around suspiciously. Then the recording changed to a dark man moving stealthily alongside a building. "Look at the way he moves. This man's a professional. Something looks familiar about him, but I can't tell from this. I don't know the other man, either."
"Sir, that was the best picture we got of him. Like you say, he was very good. He took out five guards, and two of them two didn't have a mark on them."
Janus started at that. “What? Why didn't you mention this before?"
"I... I did not think it important at the time, sir,” the guard stammered.
"Well, from now on you tell me everything, important or not, is that clear?"
"Perfectly, sir."
"Very well then. Enough for now. Dismissed."
The officer bowed, then turned and walked out of the office. Once his resounding footsteps on the marble floor faded, Janus glanced over at Ralea. "That man used the Force to kill those guards, I'm sure of it. Probably Brotherhood-trained and sent after me. Not one of my enemies, but he might work for them. How could they know about the operation though? Unless..."
Realization dawned on him, and he looked at Ralea. "Blast it," he said.
A thoughtful expression came on Janus' face. "I may be able to eliminate two mynocks with one shot. If they find Tiberan, either they are dead, and I am rid of them, or they catch Tiberan, and leave me alone. Either way, I win. Go find Tiberan and bring him in here. And get that officer back here and tell him to stand outside." He picked up his glass from the desk and drained the contents in one gulp, then reached to refill it again.
"Yes sir." The woman saluted and briskly left the office.

Tiberan walked past the guard into the office. Ralea was standing in the corner, with Janus sitting behind his desk.
"You summoned me, master?"
"Yes. I have a special mission for you. Some people have been here looking for you. They have also been disrupting my business. I have a special shipment being sent to our Bothan partners on Lantare. I want you to accompany it there and ensure its arrival to our contact there."
Tiberan was taken aback. "But master, I don't understand. What about my training?"
"You have advanced well in your training.
You are already a Jedi Knight."

Tiberan took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts. For the past weeks, Janus had been teaching him at his own convenience, a tidbit here and there. He had promised to complete his training, but he was so often caught up in his business ventures that Tiberan had had to virtually train himself in the recreation center, working on his fighting skills, with a blade or bare hands. Also, he knew Janus was involved in something illegal, something he definitely did not want to get involved with. But he could not question Janus on it. He felt like a trapped animal, and thought, not for the first time, that he might have been better off staying in the Brotherhood. Janus had not had much time to teach, or so he said. The other part was the fact that his teachings were nothing like what he had expected. His dreams of becoming another Luke Skywalker, of learning the Light Side, were far from reality. Janus' teachings were almost the same as he had learned while in the Dark Brotherhood. He had been taught how to injure or kill a dozen ways, but none to heal. He had tried to stay away from those, instead trying to increase his ability to control the Force, but he now knew that Janus was a Dark Side, and not Light Side Master.
"Sir, may I speak freely? I've been trying to learn more of the Force, and with the little you have taught me, I've had to do a lot on my own. This will set back my training for a long time..."
Janus frowned sternly. “Didn't you hear me? There are two Jedi from the Brotherhood who are looking for you! I'd think you would jump at the chance to get off-world. You will go to Lantare. We will have a trap ready for them; you will not have to do a thing."
Tiberan fought a sudden rush of panic. People from the Brotherhood were after him? He didn't want to be there if they showed up, he would have to agree. But somehow, he would be rid of this slavery. Maybe he could get enough money up to catch a ride out of the cluster... "I'll go."
"Of course." Janus got up and walked to the cabinet against the wall. He opened it, reached inside, and pulled out a lightsaber. "And, just in case you do run into trouble, and to make sure our associates know I mean business, take this." He laid the lightsaber on the desk, and as Tiberan gently picked it up, he said, "That was mine, before I lost the interest to continue. Learning requires more time than I have. You've shown adequate skills with the blade in your training. If you run into trouble, you'll be able to handle yourself." He smiled. "Any more questions?
Good. Dismissed." Tiberan, still stunned, remembered to salute, then left the office, clutching the saber in his hands.

The officer entered, closing the door behind him. "You asked for me, sir?"
Janus walked back to the cabinet, where he retrieved another bottle of Corellian brandy. He ignored the guard's rhetorical question, and stood in the corner where he could face both the officer and Ralea. "I think I know how to find our intruders," he began. Pouring himself another glass of brandy, he continued. "For months now we've been aware of a spy ring here on Lyccos II, and we know I've been investigated." He moved to the desk, still facing the room's two other occupants, and set the bottle on the desktop. He was working out his plan in his head, but spoke as though he had intended it all along. "We're going to let it become common knowledge that a very important shipment is heading out to Lantare, and that Tiberan will be on it." He took a drink of brandy and continued. "I believe that these two Jedi, if there are just two, are using the Brotherhood spy ring to find out what Tiberan is doing, and they've certainly discovered my presence here in the meantime. When our intruders find this information, they will certainly go after Tiberan. I'll have a trap set for them once they arrive in the Lantare system. Meanwhile, we'll use this opportunity to find the leaks in our system, and eliminate them."
Ralea stirred from her position against the wall, and looked at Janus attentively. "But sir, won't that mean our presence here has been compromised? Even if we destroy the leak, they've probably sent word to their command by now. They know you're here."
"True, but after this operation's over we're going to leave anyway." He stopped, and turned to the officer as though realizing he was there. "You have your orders. Carry them out."
"Yes sir." The man saluted and left.
After waiting for the door to close again, Janus continued. "After this mission has been completed, our work here is done. I hear we're going to have more important things to do soon." He smiled. "But, as a parting gift to our enemies who have so vigilantly watched us, when we find who is coordinating the spy ring, I want you to send them a personal message."
Ralea smiled. "I understand perfectly, sir."
Janus moved back to his seat behind the desk. He sighed a relieved-sounding sigh. "Within a week Kruaan, along with everyone else on Lantare, will be dead, and I'll have the Shard of Destiny in my hands."
"What about Tiberan?" Ralea asked.
"He's served his purpose. One way or another, we won't see him again. You weren't growing fond of him.” He arched an eyebrow questioningly.
Ralea smirked. "Of course not."
"Sela, you're the only one here with me who knows who we really serve. Don’t forget your oath."
"Don't even suggest such a thing. I live to serve."
"Indeed. That is all. Dismissed."
Ralea turned to leave, but at the doorway she stopped. "You really should give up that," she said, pointing to the bottle of brandy. "It's a bad habit. I can't have my liege bringing harm to himself." Then she left, the sound of Janus' chuckling behind her.
After Ralea left, Janus spent a long time in his office, staring into space, contemplating what was ahead for him. Soon, he thought, Soon, I will have the Shard. Then none of the others will be able to challenge me. I’ll be first among the Chosen servants when our masters arrive. When he was ready to leave, he got unsteadily to his feet. Looking down, he noticed the bottle was empty.

Xar and Masel entered their room to find Kay'ineen already there, watching the news on the holovid.
"Ah, welcome back, my friends," the Twi'lek said, smiling. "I trust your mission was a success?"
"Indeed," Xar replied. He held up a disk. "All the information is here."
"Great. Let's see it."
Xar moved over to the holovid and inserted the disk. Instead of the news, the display switched to a directory listing all in code.
Xar shook his head. "This may take a while."
Kay'ineen stood beside Xar and looked at the screen. "I think I can sort through this. I'll go through it and let you know what I find."
Kay'ineen sat down in front of the screen and began typing as Xar and Masel waited.
"Okay, here's what we've got," Kay'ineen said after a while, turning around in his seat. Xar moved to a seat beside the table, while Masel sat down on his bed. Kay'ineen, certain he now had an attentive audience, gestured to the screen. "The Tri-Systems Archeologist Funds is a legitimate company. But it looks like it's also used as a front for its CEO's operations as well."
"Who's the CEO?" Masel asked.
"A man named Janus Amonda, who took over a few months ago. He actually runs a smuggling operation, dealing contraband with other crimelords. Looks like he deals in spices, weapons, you name it. From the manifest in these records, anyway."
"You mentioned crimelords," remarked Xar. "Who are some them?"
"No big names, really. Wait, here's one. Commandant Shrrinn Kruaan. In fact, there's a shipment headed for Lantare tomorrow morning. Manifest claims to be foodstuffs, but it's actually carrying... Whoa. Spice City. Even has some good Glitterstim, and a few boxes of rare gems. Probably mined from right here on Lyccos. I would like to see what Kruaan gave him worth all that." He began typing some more, then sat back with a thoughtful hum. "Why does Janus need rocket fuel?"
"Rocket fuel? Wait a minute. That is what I smelled in that scuffle near the diner." Xar tuned to Masel. "But why would Janus need it way out here?"
Masel, looking confused, shrugged. "Maybe he wants to propel this rock away from its inevitable doom."
"Intellectual-sounding, but not practical."
Kay'ineen spoke up. "They weren't just carrying rocket fuel. Try electronic parts, datatapes, and the like."
"Well, we can report all that to the local authorities,” Xar said. “Our mission is to get Tiberan. What about TSAF? What data is there on the company?"
Kay'ineen began typing, reading out the data in front of him. "Let's see, it operates mainly here and on Lyccos I, there's an exploration division, a workers division, a security division, interesting... Even a research division."
"What kind of research?"
"Not specified. Just says they are working on something called 'Project Clean Sweep'. Could refer to artifacts, I suppose. Anyway, they're currently doing extensive digging into the Unexplored Sector, in sectors 214-256."
"The Unexplored Sector? Near the Slums?"
"Yes, that's correct. Why?"
Xar leaned back, in thought. "Nothing. Probably unimportant. I just had a nasty run-in once in the slums."
Suddenly Kay'ineen's commlink beeped. "Excuse me please," he said, looking at his the device. "I have an important call coming in. I'll let you know if there's anything worth hearing."
Kay'ineen got up and walked to the back. A few minutes later he came back. "Looks like you've got a vested interest in that shipment, after all. Tiberan's going to be on it."
"Then we’ll be there too. Thanks for all your help," Xar told the Twi'lek. "I better report in now, and request an order update. I am fairly sure we will not have to come back here, as we will catch Tiberan on Lantare."
"Glad I could be of service. Anything for my Imperial friends." He smiled. "You know, this is my last month before retirement. I think I'll go off-world, maybe retire on some backwater pleasure world."
"Sounds like the kind of life I could never be satisfied with."
"I'm sure, but you're still young. Someday, after you've had your lot with adventuring, you'll see as I do. Well, I better set about finding someone else to run this place, shouldn't I? Again, a pleasure working with you. Best of luck in this and all your future endeavors." Standing, he shook the two men's hands and made his way out of the room.
"I doubt it," whispered Xar.
"What was that?" asked Masel.
"Nothing. I better make that call now. Then we need to get some sleep. I think we will be moving soon."

Ralea waited until the man shut off the commlink before speaking. The false data planting had gone just as planned. "Excellent work," she told the spy she had found and interrogated. "That's all I needed you for." With that she drew her blaster and fired a bolt into his head in one smooth motion. The spy never had time to cry out, and crumpled to the floor. Ralea stepped over the body and headed back to her hovercar.

"Janus?" asked Mathis. Xar’s face filled the monitor in front of him. "Janus Amonda? Are you sure?"
"I am sure. Why? You know him?"
"I know of him. Dark Jedi Master Janus used to be in the Brotherhood. He was removed because the Council found out he really wasn't powerful enough to be a Master, that he'd been using a Force Splinter to enhance his abilities to that of the norm. The Council tried to cover the whole thing up after he was dismissed..."
"A Force Splinter?" The burst of emotion that appeared on Sauron's face was quickly covered. "Sir, I suggest we send a team to take out Janus as soon as possible."
"Xar, I understand your concern. But I'll send a transmission to the Council. They'll know what to do about it."
Xar seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face. "Sir, with all due respect, I do not think that would be wise."
Mathis sat back, confused. "Why not?"
"Because Janus is looking for something a lot bigger than a Splinter to enhance his powers. He has to be looking for the Shard of Destiny."
"The Shard of Destiny?” Mathis frowned. “That's just a legend."
"No sir, it is not. I looked for it once. And believe me, the Lyccos Security Corps has tried to cover up what happened for a long time. I got in over my head back then. Anyway, that is not important now. What is, is that Janus cannot be allowed to get that Shard. And neither can anyone in the Brotherhood. Some things are best left alone. He is looking in the right place, Billbob." 
Mathis thought for a moment. "Very well. But first, you must accomplish your mission. Here's what we'll do. You and Masel will follow Tiberan to Lantare, and take care of that problem. I'd also like to find out the details about this deal they're doing. The Remnant would love to get Kruaan out of office. Then, you'll return to Lyccos II, where I'll meet you personally. Then we'll stop Janus. Quietly, I hope. Good enough?"
"Good enough, unless he gets his hands on the Shard in the meantime."
"We'll have to act fast enough so that won't happen. I'll get things finished here and join you as soon as possible. With luck, we should arrive back at Lyccos about the same time."
"Oh, one more thing. What should I do with Tiberan? He is just a lost boy caught up in all this."
"Just make sure he knows not to get in the way of the Brotherhood. If he’ll listen, suggest he hide somewhere, become a hermit. Preferably for a long, long time."
Xar out."

Lantare System
0900 Hours

"Coming out of hyperspace, now." Masel announced, pulling back on the levers. The stars stopped rotating, pulled back into starlines, and coalesced into stars, filling the viewport around them. A bright star loomed closer, until it grew into a dirty yellow ball, not a star at all, but a planet. Lantare.
"Navigation confirmed. Lantare system." He turned to Xar. "We're here."
Xar nodded. "Just between us, I dread this. It is going to be hot down there. On my homeworld it rarely gets very hot." For a moment he seemed to see another place, another time. Funny, Masel thought. H had never heard the man complain before.
"Well, I'm used to it. Hey, snap out of it. I'm scanning for ships." The planet was growing closer in front of them.
Suddenly two blips appeared on the screen. "What the... Oh-oh," said Masel. "What's that?"
Xar looked at the screen. "Z-95s."
Two snubfighters were zooming toward them on the screen. "Only ten klicks out. They knew we were coming."
"But how?" asked Masel. "They're not pirates."
"Kay'ineen has a leak of his own. But whoever sent these expected an unarmed shuttle."
"What do you mean? We are unarmed, right?" Seeming to realize this for the first time, Masel looked wide-eyed at the screen. "Seven klicks, and closing!"
"Calm down, Masel. This shuttle just looks old on the outside, remember? Our friend Thad Balfin outdid himself. Watch this." Xar reached under the console and brought out an auxiliary control pad. "We have a surprise for our ill-equipped and ill-informed friends."
Responding to Xar’s commands, a small hatch opened on the underside of the shuttle's belly. What had seemed like a cheap patch job was, in fact, a small concussion missile launcher. In addition, round ports opened to the sides of cockpit, and hidden lasers extended from their hiding places.
"Four clicks," Masel announced.
"Weapons armed. They will probably not even notice until it is too late."
"We're about to see. Three clicks. Coming into missile range. What if they have missiles?"
"This ship has better shields than you might think."
A tone indicated that they were in missile range of the Headhunters, and that they were in the hunters' range as well! Xar targeted one of the Z-95s and waited until yellow pulsing box painted around it on the HUD turned red. At the same time a warning tone sounded.
"Missile lock," said Masel. "Them and us. What're you waiting for? Bantha fodder! Missile incoming!"
Xar held the shuttle on course. "Hang on." The readout on the display read them the missile's distance. Only one klick away. Just as they could see the missile coming at them at incredible speed, Xar fired the shuttle's own concussion missile and pulled the ship hard down and to starboard. Masel gasped as the missile flashed past, barely missing the port fin. Just then the shuttle's missile sped out towards the Headhunters, now less than a kilometer away, and rammed into the front of the left Z-95. The fighter exploded in a spectacular fireball, flaming gases spreading out like the fingers of a hand. The other Headhunter let loose with its laser cannons as it passed. The first shots overshot them, but then several blasts impacted against the forward shield, causing a brief, blinding flash as the shield absorbed the energy. Then the Headhunter was past, and Xar was turning back to port to get on the fighter's tail.
"No way we can get behind him."
"One way."
Xar turned the shuttle around, but the Z-95 had already completed its turn and was heading back toward them face-to-face again. Without warning Xar fired another missile straight at the fighter. The pilot, perhaps thinking his targeting computer had malfunctioned, swerved to the side to avoid the missile. The warhead, without solid lock, sped past into empty space, while the Headhunter fell right into Xar’s crosshairs.
"Got you," Xar said, and fired. Green lasers shot out, playing over the top of the fighter. The fighter pilot tried to pull away, but he was heading toward and to port of the shuttle, allowing no way to get out of the line of fire until the ships passed. The pilot tried to bring his fighter around in one last futile maneuver, then Xar fired again. The shots blew out the Z-95's tiny shield and cut through the fuselage. The Z-95's power plant went, blowing the fighter into thousands of pieces.
Masel gave a relieved sigh. "Sith bones, you're better than I thought. I didn't think... Oh no!"
The missile that had previously missed them had circled and reacquired its lock. It sped in and hit the underside of the shuttle and exploded. The shuttle lurched, then shook violently as if an invisible hand were shaking it. Electricity ran across the console in front of Xar, then the shields blew out. Masel yelled as a screen behind him, the shields terminal, exploded, sending a shower of sparks and shards on his back and into the controls in front of him. Then the ship leveled out, and the shuddering stopped as abruptly as it had begun.
Masel sighed with relief. "Whew, that was close."
"Run a systems check," replied Xar. "This ship can take some punishment. Those Z-95s though... Pieces of junk. I would rather fly a TIE Fighter, any day. The Headhunter's lack of speed and wide-spaced lasers cannot be made up for by those paper-thin shields."
"Yeah, well, we’ve lost our shields now. Other than that, we're nominal. I hope they don't decide to send more after us, though."
Xar snorted. "I doubt it. With the credits they just lost, they would probably rather cut their losses. They want to make something off this deal." He grinned. "All right, now to find that cargo transport."
"That shouldn't be too hard, considering its size," said Masel.
"Correct." Xar looked out at the yellow planet ahead. "Tiberan and his friends planetside are about to have company."

Tiberan stood outside the boarding ramp, watching the worker droids unload the crates from the transport into the house. He looked again up at the white sandstone house, which was more like a mansion, sitting in the middle of the desert. He had to assume this was some sort of transfer point, as this location was certainly too conspicuous to house a base. The mansion had a red tiled roof, numerous windows, and a large storeroom in the back, which was where the cargo was going. Tiberan had been surprised that there were only two other guards who had come with him. With droids present to do all the loading, they would have to face their partners at a disadvantage. Probably why Janus had sent him, as a Jedi Knight, and with the lightsaber.
He turned back from watching the droids, and saw Kruaan's henchman, Captain Je'gem Shaara, standing on the steps leading into the house in front of him. Another guard stood beside him. Tiberan had never seen such a Bothan as Shaara. Not only was he much taller and naturally bigger than most of his race, but was heavyset with muscles underneath that Bothan fur. All around he made an imposing figure. Tiberan let his hand touch the lightsaber clipped to his belt, both to remind Shaara of Tiberan's position and to remind himself that the saber was there. As representatives of their bosses, they both had technically the same authority. However, there was, as always, an natural desire to assert their domination, one over the other.
Shaara's gaze fell on Tiberan, a cold stare that sent a chill through him. Tiberan could sense the Bothan's hostility towards him. A brief thought occurred to Tiberan. He knew Shaara wasn't going to back off over anything. He tried to ease the tension. "The loading is going good," he said. "Pretty soon we can pull out and leave this to you guys."
Shaara did not respond. Instead he looked at the loading droids heading back into the transport for another load. Then he turned his head slightly to the side, as if listening to something. He looked towards the sky. Tiberan followed his gaze, and saw a metallic speck glinting the sunlight against the blue sky. "Something's coming in," he said.
Shaara looked at Tiberan skeptically. "You'd better get to cover," he said in a rough voice. "I'll take care of them."
Tiberan looked defiantly at the Bothan. "Your boss's trap failed. How do I know you can take them out? You'll need my help. They're Jedi."
Shaara took several steps down the stairs toward Tiberan. "You insult me!" he roared. "Any other day I would rip your heart out with my bare hands. I will destroy these intruders, and you better be gone when I'm done!"
Tiberan unclipped his lightsaber, his heart racing. He didn't want to kill the Bothan. But he had to resolve this so they could concentrate on the task at hand. He reached out to the Bothan's mind with the Force. If he was, as Tiberan suspected, mostly muscle and little brain, he might be able to divert his attention. "Shaara, we need to concentrate on these intruders. I'll go in the transport and wait for them. It's me they're after anyway. You go back in the house in case they go that way. Good enough?"
Shaara paused, then shook his head slightly. "Well, human," he said. "You better get to that transport in case they try to take the cargo. I'll go inside and wait for them."
"That's right," Tiberan said. Looking back up, he saw the shuttle coming straight for them at a steep angle. "That pilot's crazy!" he yelled. "Go! Go!" Forgetting the Bothan, he started running as fast as he could for the rear of the transport, where the droids were just bringing out another load of cargo.

The ground was looming closer and closer in the viewport. Masel swallowed hard and looked at Xar.
"Hey Sauron, shouldn't we slow down a little?" He could see a large building below, next to the transport that the computer painted a targeting image around.
"We have the element of surprise.” Reaching underneath the console he brought out the weapons controls. Then he waited, his hands resting on the throttle controls. He began edging back on the speed, and pulled out of their steep descent. Then they were flying only a few hundred meters above the surface, yellow sand dunes passing below in a blur. "Handle the controls for a minute," he told Masel. As Masel brought them in closer to the complex, bleeding off speed as he did so, Xar used the weapons board to paint several targets on the HUD. "Lock on," he said. The complex was clearly seen in front of them. There was a huge, contemporary looking house, a warehouse beside it, and the large Container Transport lying in front of both in the sand. "After I fire, bring us in fast and hot. We will have them surprised for a few minutes." Then he hit the fire button.
Two missiles fired from the launcher in rapid succession, streaking out towards the facility almost too fast for the eye to follow. One hit the top of the transport and exploded, sending flaming shards of metal into the air and setting the top of the ship ablaze. The second missile shot past and flew into the warehouse through large open doors opening the droids were just taking the cargo into. Huge flames came back out the entrance, and the roof of the warehouse collapsed, and more flames came out, reaching skyward. Burning pieces of metal from the transport fell down from the air, landing around the ship. Several pieces landed on the mansion and went through the windows, causing more fires.
Then the shuttle made its landing. The repulsorlifts caused a veritable sandstorm as the shuttle hovered over the ground. As Xar left the cockpit, Masel sat the shuttle down fairly hard, the impact lessened by the soft sand below them. He immediately descended the boarding ramp. Xar, who had been waiting at the entrance, rolled out when there was barely enough space and dropped to the ground. Leaving Masel to hurriedly put the shuttle through shutdown procedures, Xar went right for the side of the house and cover, then drew his hand-held mass gun. As the shuttle's whine became a soft hum, he looked around the house for some sign of activity. Once the shuttle's systems died down, Masel came out at a run, his blaster out. Xar’s job was to cover him as he made his way to Xar’s position, hoping that no one saw Xar when he rolled out under cover of the sandstorm. Their plan paid off. Xar saw a white painted door along the side of the house open slowly, and a bearded face and a blaster came out from around the side. Xar took aim and fired in one smooth motion. Only one shot was necessary; the projectile went through the door and the man instantly, dropping the latter onto the steps leading to the door.
Suddenly there was a crash of breaking glass to Xar’s left. Masel dived behind the sandstone wall circling the front of the house as blaster bolts spat out toward him. Xar aimed in the direction of the shots and fired twice, attempting to at least draw of the attacker's fire. Masel straightened and fired several shots through the window, then looked at Xar and nodded. Then the two men sprinted to the main door and burst inside.

The main room was empty. They were in what seemed to be a living room with a contemporary décor. Lamps on oddly shaped stands occupied the corners, and similarly shaped couches surrounded a small table. They could see into the kitchen through an opening in the wall, and at the far corner another entrance broke into a hallway on the left and another room to the right, obscured from vision by the side wall. Various paintings and a small desk completed the furnishings. Suddenly a man stepped into the entrance and fired a snapshot at them. The shot passed wide and both Masel and Xar returned fire. The blaster shot hit the man in the chest, and the mass bullet followed through, doing far more damage. The man was knocked back into the far wall without firing a second shot.
Their unity proved to be a mistake, however. They heard a noise and turned to see a huge Bothan appear from the kitchen entrance, somehow hiding from view before. With a yell he threw a vase at Masel, who was standing in front of Xar from that viewpoint. Masel instinctively raised a hand to block the object, and Shaara dived right behind it. Masel knocked the vase downward and raised his blaster, but was too late. The Bothan knocked the gun to the side with a swipe of his hand, then threw a hard left into Masel's face. The man fell to his back, and Shaara shifted his momentum to dive straight at Xar, who had tried to get around Masel to get a clear shot. The two struggled for a second, Shaara's hand holding Xar’s gun arm up, and Xar trying to hold off the Bothan's other hand. Raw strength proved to be the winning factor, and Shaara pushed Xar off and knocked his gun away. The weapon clattered to the floor behind the couch, and Xar made a move toward it, but Shaara tackled him again and both men fell against the couch, knocking it over. Xar made it up first, and hit the Bothan in the face twice as hard as he could. Shaara hardly seemed fazed, and hit Xar back hard enough that he fell to his back and slid across the floor. Then suddenly Xar felt the gun under his back, and quickly turned over to grab it. The Bothan yelled a war cry and leaped for Xar, but the man had already flipped back onto his back, firing twice. Shaara's advance was halted, causing him to stagger back. Then the Bothan's eyes became flames, and he roared as he started to advance again. Xar was shocked at the shear ferocity of such a creature. Coming up on one knee, he fired again and again, until he had totally unloaded on the Bothan. The shots blew through him with lightning speed, with enough force to propel him into the air, over the overturned couch, to come down on the glass tea table with a crash. He was dead before he landed. Xar let out a long-held breath, then holstered his gun and made his way over to Masel.
Masel came to and shook his head, and immediately regretted it. "I've got a terrible headache."
"Yeah, I know. The hairball is history, though."
"Is Tiberan anywhere?" asked Masel as he came to his feet.
"No, and I do not sense anyone else around... wait a second. Someone is in the other room." He pointed to the far wall, beside the entrance that the other gunman had come through.
"I'll get him," Masel said, moving toward his blaster.
"No, hold on. The gun is in his line of sight."
"How do you know that?"
"Experience. Quiet." Xar moved along towards the middle of the room, as quietly as possible. Masel tried to listen, but could not hear anything. Xar seemed to be listening with the Force. He stared at one spot along the wall, then unclipped his lightsaber. Then he raised the handle, ignited the saber, and threw it at the wall before it was fully extended. The blade did not cut off in midair, but quickly spun over and over towards the wall. To throw a lightsaber, it had to be balanced specifically and made without the pressure plate that many had, which was sensitive to the holder's touch and would de-ignite once it left the hand. It also took a lot of training on the owner's part.
Xar’s lightsaber flew true to its target, the blade cutting through the wall instead of coming up handle-first. The man sliding along the other side of the wall never had a warning other than the sound of the saber ignition. The yellow-orange blade, over a meter long, easily cut through the prefab wall. There was nothing to stop the saber, its simple momentum was enough to make it go through anything in its way.
As Xar went to retrieve his saber, Masel picked up his blaster and followed. He tried not to look at the body on the floor. To him, Xar seemed cold, indifferent to the life he had extinguished. He had to do it, but the man could show at least show some regret over it. He looked at the room around them. It looked like another sitting room, with a lot of windows to the outside. Some of the glass had been broken by pieces of metal from the transport, and the carpet and a chair on this side had started burning. He could see the transport outside, still motionless. "I think Tiberan's in there," he said.
"Let me go first. Maybe I could talk some sense into him." He definitely did not want Xar to go ballistic and kill the man. The last two people he had killed, the Bothan and this one, were enough to make him want to throw up.
Xar seemed to consider it. "Perhaps you can. Very well, go on ahead. I will check the premises. If there is anyone else I will take care of them. I want to see what kind of cargo they are carrying, too."
"Well you blew up the warehouse, so you'll have to do that from inside the cargo hatch of the transport." Masel looked down at his chronometer. "Wait five minutes for me."
"In five minutes you could be long dead. But I will wait." Xar had a thoughtful expression on his face. "I want to find out what is going on here. I think Tiberan was used as a pawn."
"Maybe he was, but I'm going to try to bring him around. See you, Sauron."
"In five minutes." Xar turned and headed down the hallway. Masel, blaster in hand, made his way out the front door.

Tiberan sat on a crate in the cargo hold and held a rag against his head. Not long after he had entered the hold the whole ship had lurched, throwing him against the bulkhead. He took the rag away and saw blood on it, from where his head had impacted against the unrelenting metal. The loading droids had all been blown away when the missile hit the storehouse. What a botched job, he thought. He still couldn't figure out why his pursuers were so relentless. It was like he was a threat to the entire galaxy. Or maybe just the ego of the Brotherhood's leaders who couldn't stand having anyone who tried to go off on his own. Of course, there was that incident with Master Caemas. Those Jedi probably thought he had killed him on purpose. He considered trying to fly the transport out of this place. He could probably sell it at some port, make some credits, and disappear for a long time. It was clear Janus had used him, did not care about him at all. Janus had his own agenda and Tiberan was not a part of it.
Tiberan was just about to go to the bridge to see about implementing his plan, when he heard footsteps at the entrance. Dropping the rag, he unclipped his lightsaber and stood up. He saw a figure standing at the entrance, silhouetted by the bright sand outside. Taking a few steps forward, he asked "Hello?"
"Hello, Tiberan."
Tiberan instantly recognized that voice, the voice of the only friend he had made while in the Brotherhood. "Masel?! What are you doing here? They sent you after me?"
Tiberan heard the other man sigh. "Yeah. Because I know you. Because you might let down your guard around me."
Tiberan snorted. "Dark Jedi trash. Willing to sacrifice anyone. I'm glad I left."
Masel walked closer, coming up to stand a few meters away from Tiberan.
"Are they the only ones who sacrifice their own? Listen to me, Tiberan. There's no point in running. The Brotherhood will follow you as long as they know you're alive. Janus can't protect you. Looks like he doesn't even care about you, sending you out here."
Tiberan shook his head sadly. "I... I know that, Masel. I finally figured that out. But I'm not going back Brotherhood, ever. And you can't make me."
"Come on, Tiberan. They'll probably just banish you anyway. You can start a new life. But you can't run forever."
"Never. They won't show me any mercy. You know that, Masel, you're just avoiding it. I can see it in your eyes. Why not come with me? We can leave all this behind."
Masel shook his head. “I've found a home with House Ar'Kell. You know, the one we were going to join? It's really nice."
"Yeah, I know. Well then, I hope you have a nice life with them."
Masel’s voice took on a sense of urgency. “Tiberan, I can't let you go. We've got to work this out. I have to bring you back, one way or another."
"I'm never going back, Masel. I swear it."
"Tiberan, please don't make me do this." Masel brought his lightsaber handle in front of him.
Tiberan looked his friend in the eyes. "Is this what it comes to? You're willing to kill your friend, just to follow orders?"
"No, Tiberan, I don't want to fight you."
"Then leave me alone."
"I can't. I'm sorry." Masel ignited his lightsaber. Green light painted his face.
"Don't think you'll win easily. I've been training." Tiberan hit the ignition switch. A brilliant blue blade of energy extended from the focusing lens. "Never thought it would come to this. I'm sorry, Masel." Then he ran forward, striking overhead. Masel raised his blade to block the blow. The two blades crashed together. For a moment the blades touched each other, each man looking into the other's eyes. Then Tiberan brought his blade around in a strike to the midsection. Masel blocked and struck back. The men maneuvered as best they could in the cramped space, for a moment each man holding his own. Their blades crashed together again and again. Then Tiberan, filled with a sense of desperation over losing his friend, and his struggle for freedom, began a fierce attack, sending hard but unfocused strikes at Masel, who backed off under the onslaught.
Tiberan struck at his opponent's left side, then the right, then overhead. Each time Masel blocked and shuffled back a bit, not making his own attack. Tiberan could see the perspiration on his face, and when he struck again, felt the other man's blade give way slightly under the pressure. He knew Masel was weakening. Tiberan attacked again and again, striking Masel's saber, then pushed forward and locked their blades together. Both men pressed against each other for a moment, then Tiberan, through advantage of training, pushed Masel's saber over to the right, and holding the blade down with his saber, threw a left hook into Masel's face. The man's head jerked back, and he staggered, holding his saber in front of and away from him. Then Tiberan sidestepped to Masel's right and swung his saber hard down on the other man's blade. The saber fell from his hands and clattered to the floor, the blade de-igniting once it left the man's hand. Tiberan held his saber away from him and threw his hand toward Masel, Force-pushing him back against the wall.
Masel staggered back, holding his hands against his head. "Ooh... My head. Why did you have to do that?"
Tiberan stood back, glad the fight was over, but incredulous towards his friend. "Are you crazy? You tried to kill me! I'm your friend, Masel. Why?"
"No, Tiberan," Masel said, wincing with pain. "I didn't intend to kill you. I just wanted to knock some sense into you. Get you to see the light."
"Masel! These are lightsabers, not training sticks! You don't use sabers unless you mean it!"
"That is correct," said a new voice. "Never draw your blade unless you intend to shed blood."
Tiberan spun towards the voice. Standing inside the cargo hold, toward the entrance, was a dark haired man, looking him right in the eyes. Tiberan had never heard him approach. The man was holding his lightsaber handle in his hand.
"Who are you?" asked Tiberan.
The man looked around the hold, then at Masel. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah, except for a splitting headache. Tiberan won't come."
"I know." The dark-haired man looked back at Tiberan.
"Who are you?" Tiberan asked again.
"I am Sauron. That is all you need to know."
Masel stood up and started walking towards Xar. "Sauron please, don't kill him. He can't cause any harm. We both know that."
"Like you said, Masel, he needs to be taught a lesson." Then Xar leaned close to Masel and whispered something. Tiberan, even using Force-enhanced hearing, still couldn't hear a word the man said.
Then Masel began making his way out, and Tiberan was alone with the newcomer.
"Okay, tough guy," Tiberan began. "I don't know who you are or who you think you are, but get out of my way. I'm not going back to the Brotherhood, and you can't make me."
"I know."
"I know. You are not going back to the Dark Brotherhood." The man ignited his lightsaber. An orange-yellow blade extended downward at the angle which he was holding it.
Fear jolted through Tiberan, but he fought it down. He wouldn't let this man get a psychological advantage over him. This ‘Sauron’ definitely had an ego problem. Tiberan determined he was going to remedy that. He raised his bluish blade in front on him, and shifted into a fighting stance. "You're going to regret you met me, especially when I send you back to your masters in pieces." With that, he ran forward to attack, determined to strike first and end the fight quickly. Xar stepped back and raised his saber over his head, blade pointing down diagonally. Seeing Xar’s backside open, Tiberan moved in and struck that side first. But suddenly Xar’s blade was there, parrying the movement before it made it halfway. Tiberan stepped back, then went in again, striking hard and fast, with all the techniques he had learned. But somehow Xar’s blade was there to block every attack, every thrust and swing. Tiberan swung low, then came up and struck straight down, but Xar’s blocked the attacks with casual ease. So far the other man hadn't attacked yet. Tiberan knew he was testing him out. He attacked even more fiercely, throwing all his might behind his attacks to try and move Xar’s blade to the side, but he couldn't match the other man's strength or get enough leverage. Tiberan stepped back, and for a moment the two men stood there facing each other, each man watching the other's movements to detect any attack before it came. Tiberan figured that somehow the man must be sensing his attacks before they came, with the Force. For a moment he wished he had stayed just a little longer, so that he might have been able to learn how, too. But he saw the difference in this man and Masel, whom Tiberan had defeated rather easily. This was no beginner, nor was he new to the art of lightsaber combat. Every movement, everything about the man before him spoke of skill and professionalism. Tiberan kept watching the man's eyes, a piercing gray that made him uneasy, but he knew that the key to fighting was not to watch the enemy's blade, but the eyes. So he did so, however uncomfortable it made him. It was because of his watching those eyes that saved him, had he not been watching he never would have seen an attack coming. Tiberan could see the change, the switch from defensive mode to offensive. He knew it was going to be bad...

As if saying that playtime was over, Xar attacked. He advanced upon Tiberan with lightning speed and terrifying ferocity, though he never betrayed any emotion. Tiberan's thoughts of attack vanished, and it took all his concentration just to block the attacks coming at him from the side, overhead, low, and thrusts in one continuous flow The man moved as if in a dance, as thought the sabers the men held were just beams of light. Tiberan moved back with each new attack, bringing his saber to block each at the last instant, just before the blade cut through his flesh. Sweat began pouring out all over him, as he tried to parry each strike. For a moment he blocked an attack and the two men locked blades, then Xar pushed Tiberan's saber down onto one of the crates. The blade cut into the crate and blue sparks began shooting out of the gash, Glitterstim being exposed to the intense light from the blade. The sparks blasted between them, and Tiberan tried to move backwards while blocking, then ducked under a swing to his head. Xar’s blade hit the wall and cut threw a circuit pipe, sending more sparks out and a blast of steam from the opening. Tiberan ran back deeper into the hold, then turned just in time to block Xar’s next strike. The attacks came in again and again. Tiberan knew he couldn't hold out much longer. His strength was ebbing, his arms weren't responding fast enough. His blocks were coming slower and slower. Shouldn't he be dead by now? Surely the man couldn't have slowed so much. Tiberan stumbled back, exhausted, holding his saber in front of him to guard any further attack. Breathing heavily, he looked at the man in front of him, awaiting the final strike that would end the brief but momentous existence of Tiberan Samnov. Seeing the man in front of him, playing as a cat with its prey, so far ahead of himself, rage filled him. Bringing up all his remaining energy, he brought his saber up in a feint to the man's right, then switched and struck downward on Xar’s left with all his might. With a crash Tiberan's blade connected with his opponent’s. A sizzling sound came from the touching blades. Then Xar spun his blade around Tiberan's, the two blades touching, bringing Tiberan's blade around counterclockwise once, twice, then Xar pulled his blade up and Tiberan lost his grip on the handle. His saber spun upwards and off into the distance, de-igniting as it went. Disarmed. It's all over. Despair filled Tiberan. Xar brought his saber straight out towards Tiberan, who began backing away.
"Please, don't kill me. I'll..." Tiberan's foot hit something behind him and he fell over backwards, landing on the hold's metal floor. Looking down he saw the pipe he had tripped over, and then looking back up at Xar, he began sliding back until his back hit another crate behind him. Nowhere else to go. Tiberan slid all the way up against the crate, bringing his hands in front of him in a gesture of surrender.
"Why? Why all this?" he asked Xar.
In reply Xar twisted something on his handle, and the yellow-orange blade became thinner and longer, extending straight for Tiberan's heart. Tiberan gasped as the blade came within centimeters of his chest. "Don't kill me, please! I'll do anything! I'll do whatever you want!" Seeing the cold eyes of the man in front of him, Tiberan nearly abandoned all hope.
Then Xar replied. "I am not going to kill you, Tiberan. That was not my intention from the beginning. Do you really mean you will do anything I want?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry. I was a fool."
Xar hit a switch and the blade retracted back into the handle with a hiss. Then he stood upright.
"Listen carefully to me, Tiberan. This life is not for you. I am going to let you go, but I am going to give you some good advice. You would do well to follow it. Leave Minos Cluster. Never return. Go off somewhere, on the other side of the galaxy maybe, and start a new life. I do not care what you do, you can live like a hermit if you want, or not. But forget about becoming a great Jedi, changing the galaxy, or whatever. Forget about the Empire and the Rebellion, the Dark Brotherhood, and most of all, what has happened the past weeks. Just live a normal life, and be happy. In that, I would envy you. That is my advice. Now, get out of here. Forget about taking the transport, you would never get into a port with a stolen ship. You can book passage on a liner from here on Lantare. I do not want to see you again. Is that clear?"
Tiberan got to his feet. "Yeah, it's clear. And, for what it's worth, thanks."
Xar shook his head once. “Believe me, I am glad we could end it this way. Better than the alternative. Now, go. Wait a couple of minutes after I leave, no more." With that he turned and headed back towards the entrance. He paused at one point, and Tiberan saw the lightsaber he had dropped fly over to Xar’s hand, then the man walked out.

Masel closed the shuttle's ramp once Xar was onboard. He began powering up the systems as Xar came into the bridge. He saw that Xar had two lightsabers clipped to his belt.
"Is it over?" Masel asked.
Xar sat down in the pilot's seat. "Yes. Our mission is complete. Tiberan will not be any more trouble." Glancing over at Masel, he gave a slight half-smile. Masel sighed with relief.
As the shuttle began lifting off the sand, Masel looked out the viewport at the base, for one last time. "Goodbye, my friend."
As the shuttle rose, Xar brought out the weapons console. Then he looked at his chronometer. After a moment, he nodded, and began typing commands. The remaining missiles in the shuttle's mini-launcher shot out, one by one. One hit the mansion and exploded, bursting the place into flames. The rest hit the transport in the cockpit and down the ship's spine. Then the lasers began firing, to finish the job.
Once the shuttle turned and blasted off toward space, the base below was a conflagration of fire and destruction.

Lyccos II
2100 hours

Masel and Xar disembarked their shuttle with their gear. Leaving the ship over to the repair facilities to patch up the minor damage they had incurred on their trip, they caught a ride on the transit shuttle back to Sector 519 and the Digger's Dream.
While in transit, Masel took an obviously false, savory breath. "Ah, good to be back, is it not?"
Xar grinned slightly. "Just remember to use our aliases, now that we are back."
"Oh, sure thing, Kiruun Magnus." Masel smiled.

Entering the Digger's Dream, the two men made their way to the receptionist desk. "Any messages for me?" Xar asked.
"Yes, sir," the lady said. You have two. Would you like me to relay them to your room?"
"Yes, please. Thanks. Oh, is Kay'ineen around?"
"No sir, I haven't seen him around this evening."
"That's odd," Masel noted.
As the men turned to leave, the receptionist called out, "Oh, wait!" Xar looked back. "One thing I forgot. There was a man here looking for you this morning. I told him you weren't here, and he left. Said he'd be back."
Xar paused for a moment, then nodded. "Thank you." Then he turned back to Masel. "Come on. We need to get to the room now."
As the two men hurried down the hall, Masel spoke up. "Hey, what's the hurry?"
"I just sensed danger... death."
Xar stopped in front of the door and entered the card into the slot. The door slid open sideways, and he stepped in. Masel followed, then stopped as Xar turned back in front of him. "What?" He leaned around to see past the man. "Oh no..."
There was a puddle of blood on the floor at the foot of the far bed. Lying in it was the body of Retired Chief Engineer Kay'ineen, his face a bloody mess, more caked blood filling other wounds in his chest. On the mirror on the wall a message was half-written in blood. It read: "IT--WAS--JA."
Masel turned around and dove into the bathroom. Loud gagging sounds came out from inside. Xar shook his head slowly. "He was not supposed to die... Why would someone want to kill him?"
Suddenly he felt another presence behind him. He turned towards the door, just as a familiar figure moved to fill the doorframe.
"Hi," said Quaestor Mathis Organa, smiling.

"Intendant!" Janus snarled into the comm screen. "Is the shipment ready to be loaded?"
"Yes sir," the man replied, "All one hundred packets ready for placement."
"Good. See to it. We're going to send a message to the galaxy."
"On it, sir."
"Oh, and once you're done and have been paid, I expect you to disappear."
"Sir, with the reward I'm getting, I'll never have to work again."
Janus shut off the comm screen. Good. Everything was coming together. Soon he'd be able to get off this Force-forsaken rock.
The comm light started blinking again. Janus hit the button activating the connection. A man in a construction uniform and hardhat filled the screen. In the background Janus could see lights and hear the sound of machinery. "Yes, chief?"
The man gave an awkward salute. "Sir, great news! We've been digging overtime like you said, and we’ve got an item matching your description."
Exhilaration filled Janus, but his expression didn't show it. "Good work, chief! What sector are you in now?"
"Sector 235, sir. Will you be coming now sir?"
"As soon as I assemble my guard. Prepare for my arrival."
"Yes sir! We'll have the item waiting for you!"
"No!" Janus fought back the urge to yell. "Leave it wherever you found it. I want to see it undisturbed. It's very sensitive. I'll need to retrieve it myself."
"Um, very well sir. We'll mark the way to it, though."
"Janus out." He shut off the link, then dialed another number into the keypad. The screen flashed to a view of an empty console. "Ralea! Ralea, where are you?"
There was a scuffle of footsteps, then Ralea's image came into view. She sat down at the console. "What is it? I had to clean up after taking care of the Twi’lek."
"He’s unimportant,” Janus shot back. “Get the team ready and bring my transport! They've found the Shard!"
Ralea's eyes lit up. "Yes, sir, at once!"
"Our mission is almost complete, Sela. This is it!" He shut off the link, then jumped up out of this seat to get ready.

"And," Xar finished, "That is basically it." He laid Tiberan's lightsaber on the table in their new room.
Mathis sat back in thought. "I see no reason no one outside this room needs to know that Tiberan's still alive. Do you?"
"No, sir." Both of the other men said.
"Good. Then your mission is complete. I'm afraid we have another one, though, before this thing's over."
"Janus." Xar said the name as though savoring it. "I am looking forward to it."
Mathis’ ever-present smile grew wider. "You'll get the chance. That's why I'm here. He’s a threat we can’t leave hanging around to cause trouble."
"Sounds good," Xar replied. "Where is the team?" Seeing Mathis’ expression, he looked at the man incredulously. "No, seriously?"
"That's right. Here I am. Sorry, no one else could make it. Not after that business with the food shortages and all."
"The what?"
"Never mind, I'll fill you in later. Right now we have to plan our strategy."
"Hold on, let me check my messages... I almost forgot in all the bustle." He picked up the controller and hit a few buttons.
"Displaying message one of two," the computer said.
Mathis’ face appeared on the screen. Xar looked over at the man, now only across the table from him. Mathis smiled wryly. "Heh. Sent it before I left. Just forget it."
Just as Mathis’ face started talking, Xar spoke up. "Delete message. Next message."
"Confirmed. Displaying message two of two. Message is audio only."
A woman's voice came over the speakers. In the background someone was groaning, as if in pain.
"I'm not sure if you'll be back to hear this. You're probably dead right now, with all the others. Your friend here put up quite a fight, but in the end he told me everything. If you come back, well, we'll deal with you. When we find you, you're going to wish you had never been born." The voice sounded self-assured. "I'll see to that personally." The speakers clicked.
"Message over," the computer said.
Xar lowered his head. "Delete message." Then he threw his cup at the holovid. Drink spilled down the screen.
Mathis looked at Xar and Masel. "All right, here's the plan. I have several contacts here that'll let us know where Janus is..."

Lyccos II
Sector 235
0700 Hours

The black stretch-hovercar came to a rest beside a strikingly contrasting bulk hovertruck. The doors opened, and Janus, Ralea, and four guards stepped out. Janus wore clothing of the finest quality, a dark suit with a black cape around his shoulders that offset his white hair. Sela Ralea wore a black jumpsuit with her weapons and utility belt and boots. Her red hair was pulled back and tied. The guards surrounded Janus and led him toward the entrance of the excavation site, a huge hole in the rocky wall. Ralea led, with two guards in front of Janus and two guards behind him to cover the rear.
They made their way through the massive entrance and into a side cavern. The cavern was a dozen meters wide and about seventy meters long, where at the end two more caverns broke in opposite directions. Glowlamps provided illumination from above, and a latticework of metal walkways and beams crisscrossed above their heads. The whole cavern was artificially made during the expedition, and the walkways above led to more entrances/exits below the twenty-meter ceiling. In the cavern and on the walkways workers were busy about their business, going on various errands or making their way to or from the excavation site. Waiting for them in the center of the cavern was the Chief Engineer of the Tri-Systems Archaeologist Fund's Excavation Department on Lyccos II. Flanking him were several other workers in dusted-off uniforms, forming a makeshift honor guard.
Once inside the cavern the guards spread out, and Janus and Ralea approached the Chief Engineer, who snapped to attention.
"Sir! We're honored by your presence here. We've done a lot of work here, I think you'll be proud of us."
"I will be, if you've found my artifact. Give me an update."
"Like I told you, we found the artifact. It was actually buried in the ground not far from the ruins. My guess is the aliens didn't want anyone to find it before they left."
"Yes, yes, go on." Janus said impatiently.
"Well sir, like you told us, we didn't bring it. The man who found placed it in a special spot, on a type of pedestal there at the edge of the ruins, right near the ravine. You can't miss it. We've set up red flag markers to show you the safest way down. Just take the right tunnel there and you'll be on your way. Sir, if I may ask, why did you want to wait to retrieve it yourself?"
"Because, none of you are Force-sensitive, and the ones who left it here might have set some trap. For instance, in could have been rendered useless if you'd taken it out of the ruins."
"Ah, I understand now, sir." The chief nodded purposefully.
Janus smiled to himself. The man didn't understand at all. He just followed orders. "All right," he said. "Good work. Now I want everybody cleared from this area. You can all go back now. Your job's finished.” He put in a dose of Force Persuasion into his voice, to make extra sure.
"Yes sir." As Janus and the others waited, the Chief spoke into his commlink. "All right, everyone. We're pulling out! The job's over. Drop what you're doing and move!"
With that the Engineer started off to see that his orders were followed. Janus ordered two of his guards to make their way to the walkways above and guard the entrance. He didn't expect attack; after all, he'd made a deal with the Silent Ones, who claimed this sector, but he wasn't taking any chances either.
Janus could hardly bear waiting until everyone left. After they were all gone, he sighed. "And now, my greatest moment has come. At long last I shall receive that for which I have searched so long." He smiled at Ralea, who smiled back knowingly. "Two guards will remain at the entrance. Sela will accompany me down. Let's go." The remaining four started walking towards the entrance. Then, just as they were making their way down the cavern, two men slowly stepped out from around the left side tunnel and turned to face them. Both wore dark cloaks, with their heads uncovered. They strode purposefully toward the group. Things seemed to happen in slow motion. The guards halted and brought their blasters up to bear, yelling, "Halt!" Janus could sense that both of the men were Force-sensitive, one of them powerfully so. How he hadn't noticed them before was a mystery. They must have been able to mask their presence from him somehow. Staying behind his guards, he addressed the men.
"Who on this miserable planet are you?" He could guess the answer though. They were, undoubtedly, the two Jedi who had broken into TSAF and caused Janus so much trouble. But he'd been told that they had gone to Lantare after Tiberan. Surely they couldn't have gotten back so quickly? That also meant Kruaan's forces hadn't stopped them. Ah well, it didn't really matter where the men died.
The two men stopped, unperturbed by the blasters pointed at them.
One man raised himself up importantly. "I am Billbob," he said.
The two guards in front of Janus snickered. Janus couldn't help but smile himself. "Billbob? What kind of name is that?"
"A very good one. But I'm afraid you'll never find out. This here is Masel, my associate. We're here to arrest you."
Further amused, Janus studied the man. "You Brotherhood lackeys have no idea who you're dealing with. Unfortunately, you'll never find out, either. Kill them," he told the guards.
Masel held his hands up. "Wait! I know something that you'd really want to hear!"
"Oh?" asked Janus. "Amuse me."
"Okay. In about five seconds, you're going to wish you'd never met us."
Janus laughed. "Oh? I already do." He opened his mouth to give the order to the guards to shoot, but the man's expression stopped him. He could see Masel visibly counting down the seconds. "What the..."
A huge explosion sounded behind them. Janus spun around to see the flaming remnants of the hovercar fly into the cavern. Then chaos reigned...

Xar pulled himself up onto the walkway and pulled out his mass gun. He had reloaded it from the spares in his bag, but he only had ten shots. He would have to make them count. Keeping his head low, he ran across the bridge and into the main cavern as the explosion from his thermal detonator took out the hovercar. He grabbed a handrail to hang on, then continued once the bridge stopped shaking. The two guards standing on the walkway ahead were just recovering themselves. Still running, Xar held one hand under his gun hand to brace it, aimed, and fired two shots at each man. The shots flew true, and one man gasped and fell back onto the bridge, while only one hit the other man. Yelling, he spun and fell over the railing to the floor below. Xar ran to the railing's edge, where the guards had been standing, and looked down at the scene below.
The two guards below had turned back to look up at him, and brought their blasters up. Xar brought his gun up and fired a round. One of the men dropped to the floor, but the other got off a shot that barely missed Xar to hit the scaffolding behind him. Masel ran over and tackled the man, sending both of them to the floor. Janus started moving towards Mathis, yelling to the woman beside him. "Take him out!" he said, pointing up. As Ralea drew her blaster, Xar leaped over the railing. The woman took a snapshot that passed below Xar, then he landed on her, knocking her back and sending her gun clattering to the floor. Xar straightened and leveled his gun at Ralea, as she stood up and froze. Xar froze, too. Suddenly his mind flashed back, to an image of another woman, her fiery red hair framing a beautiful face. Illiana.

Ralea saw the man freeze up for some reason. Taking advantage of the situation, she slapped the gun out of Xar’s hand, the weapon sliding across the floor to stop near the wall. Xar seemed to come out of his trance, but Ralea gave him no chance to act. Yelling, she came in and struck him twice with palm-strikes, sending his head snapping back, then as he brought his hands up to block, she sidestepped and locked his arm out, then kneed him in the ribs. Xar grunted, hunching over sideways, then the woman spun and threw a kick into his midsection, sending him onto his back.

Masel saw Xar go down, vaguely, as he tried to get behind the man he was grappling with. He succeeded, and wrapped his arms around the man's neck. He jerked the man's head to one side with his Force-enhanced strength, heard a sickening crack, then let go. The man slumped to the floor.
Ralea threw another kick as Xar was rising. Xar threw his elbow forward, knocking the blow to the side, then stood quickly, feinted with his left hand and threw a right palm-strike under Ralea's chin, sending the woman reeling back. Ralea turned with her momentum and dove toward her fallen blaster. She grabbed it and spun to her feet, the muzzle trained on Xar now. He froze, knowing she would not show him any mercy.
As the man dropped, Masel turned to pick up his blaster, then watched the scuffle between Xar and the woman. Ralea grabbed the blaster and turned to face Xar. "No!" yelled Masel. He brought his blaster up and fired. A sizzling blaster bolt hit Ralea in the side, just above the hip, catching fire to her clothes as well. She gasped and fell down and to her side.
Xar looked over at Masel and nodded. That was a second time he owed the man. Then both men turned their eyes toward the end of the cavern, where Janus and Mathis seemed to be locked in an invisible struggle. Xar knew they were grappling with each other using the Force. Each man stared the other in the eye, hardly moving a muscle. Neither seemed to have an advantage.
Then rage filled Janus' face, as though enraged at his inability to best the other man using the Force. His hand disappeared behind his back, and Xar saw the end of a blaster slide out in slow motion.
"Mathis!" Xar screamed. He looked around, but his gun was all the way against the wall. It may as well have been a mile away. He turned back to Masel to warn him, but it was too late. Janus brought the muzzle up and fired. Xar couldn't see were the shot hit, but Mathis flew backwards, his cloak flying out in front of him. Masel brought his blaster up, firing and missing, then Janus turned toward him first and fired again. The blast hit Masel in the throat, and his head snapped back. Masel stumbled back, clutching his ruined throat. A gurgling sound came out of his mouth, then he collapsed.
"JANUS! You frigging butcher!" Xar ducked out of the way and brought the mass gun to his hand with the Force. Janus started running toward the exit, firing as he went. Ignoring the shots around him, Xar brought up his gun. He fired just as Janus dove through the exit, the bullet barely missing and blowing through his cape trailing behind him. Then he was gone.
Xar looked down at Masel. The man's dead eyes stared upward, an expression of disbelief on his face. Then he heard Mathis groan. Holstering his gun, he ran over to where the Quaestor lay.
"Xar, I'm hit."
"Hold still, old buddy. Xar knelt down beside Mathis. He could see now where the shot had hit, low on the man'' right side. The wound had cauterized, and Mathis was starting to hyperventilate. He was probably bleeding internally. Xar knew there was only one way to save him.
"Hold on, Mathis. This is going to hurt, but it will save your life."
Reaching down, Xar placed his hand over the man's wound. He worked himself into a state of emptiness, pushing his emotions aside. Then with a sickening feeling he let the Dark Side flow through his hand.
Mathis gasped, then cried out in pain. He tried to sit up straight, but fell back down. He groaned, trembling all over his body. Then Xar removed his hand, breathing heavily. The wound was gone, but he could see a white scar through the hole in his clothing. Mathis, still fighting the pain that was ever so slowly ebbing away, looked up at Xar curiously. "How?" he asked.
"Healing, taught by my old master. But there is a price."
Mathis looked up at him. "Listen, Xar. We can't let Janus get his hands on that Shard! I'm too weak to help you. Go and finish this, for Masel and me!"
Xar nodded silently. Then, rising, he drew his mass gun and checked the reading. Three bullets left. Janus has a blaster. And if he gets his hands on that Shard... But what difference did it make, he thought. There is a time for everything. If it is my time to die, then so be it. He ran full speed towards the exit. He had to catch up to Janus. He had to.

Xar slipped though the entrance quickly and moved to cover. He took refuge behind a stone wall, then jumped up on top and into some sort of square. Only then did he notice his surroundings. The ruins of an entire city surrounded him, extending as far as he could see into the darkness. It had to be one of the cities of the ancient race who built these tunnels, only recently discovered. Looking around, he noticed the more recent-looking destruction of the buildings around him. Janus' workers had been very thorough, in their search for the Shard. Of course, they cared nothing for the city itself, or the secrets they might tell about the race that lived here long ago. That thought further angered Xar, but he fought it down, as he had before. For now he had to find Janus. He could see some sort of markers with little red flags attached. That was probably the path down, but he knew Janus would be watching that. So he would have to sneak around the long way. He began running through buildings, vaulting over knocked-down walls and boulders that had fallen, keeping an eye out on the path to his left. Then he saw a glimpse of black fabric go around the corner. Moving around the opposite side of the building, he saw Janus for a split second as he passed between buildings. Xar raised his gun and fired, but the bullet passed just behind Janus and through the wall behind him. Then Janus was out of line of sight again. Two shots left. Xar kept moving. He came onto an older path, and followed it to the next building. Then a blaster bolt shot out from the window, hitting the wall beside him. Seeing the spot where Janus was peeking through, Xar fired. The shot hit a boulder beside Janus and ricocheted off into the distance. Janus fired again, and Xar dove to the side to avoid getting hit. He waited a couple of seconds, then jumped up and started moving again. Janus was running wildly down the path now, firing blindly behind his back. Blaster bolts hit ruins thousands of years old, destroying columns and pieces of wall. Then Xar got a clear view of Janus' destination: He was almost on the outskirts of the city, where a platform took up several square meters of ground. Then suddenly the path ended in a huge crack in the floor, probably ten meters wide. On the other side the city continued on. But Janus wasn't running for the other side. On the platform was what looked like an altar made of stone, and on it was a semi-transparent object about a meter long, sharp on both ends.
Janus fired behind him several more times, then carelessly threw the blaster off into the distance as he vaulted onto the platform. Xar knew it was too late to stop him from getting the Shard. Indeed, Janus practically dived onto the altar and, gripping the Shard with both hands, grunted as he lifted it. Xar looked around. He only had one shot left. He had to find a good place to set it up. There, between those two boulders. Just like at the ambush at the Diner. He ran and dived between them. Janus never looked over, his attention was only on the Shard.

     Janus heaved the Shard off the altar and into his hands. "At last," he said. His voice in awe, he stepped backwards near the edge. "My destiny will be fulfilled. Yes!" He held the Shard over his head. The Shard began to glow, and Janus could feel the power, more power in the Force than he had ever felt in his life. He gazed at it in awe. The Shard seemed to have been faceted once, but now there were chips and cracks along its body. Janus knew that the Force Splinter that he now held in his pendant was somehow a missing piece of this artifact, and what had prompted him onto his quest. Even this piece seemed to have been part of a larger object once, but it didn’t matter. Compared with this, the Splinter he had used before was an insignificant trinket. Holding the Shard high above his head with both hands, he yelled. "Absolute power!" Lightning blasted out of the middle of the Shard, reaching for the ceiling a hundred meters above. "With this, I am invincible! None of the others can challenge me now!" His eyes filled with the power, he looked around the ruins for some sign of Xar. "Where are you, miserable worm? Look! Who has the power now?" Lightning shot out from the Shard into the ruined city, blasting through columns and walls as if they were nothing.
Xar ducked as the waves of energy passed overhead. Janus could not see him, but if he could just get off one shot… He shifted his aim. There was something he wanted to find out.
Janus, his attention once again only on the Shard, looked up into it. He felt the power coursing through his body, through his veins, filling him with vitality and life. He knew his destiny, now, he would be the Herald of the new Return, leading armies innumerable into battle to conquer the galaxy. With this, he knew he could do anything.
Xar fired.
Suddenly something blew its way threw Janus' right arm, midway between the wrist and the elbow. Bone splintered, and blood and flesh sprayed out the other side. Janus screamed. He stared at his ruined arm, falling away like a dead limb of a tree. Then he noticed he couldn't hold the Shard with one hand. The power left him, too, and he stumbled backwards. The Shard fell backwards, and Janus watched helplessly as its own momentum pulled it out of his left hand. He was standing right at the edge of the chasm. As the Shard fell, he reached out for it, but it was beyond his reach. He watched the beautiful Force artifact fall into the endless black of the abyss.
"NOOOO!" Janus' scream followed the artifact down. The Shard spun, end over end, over the side of the chasm and into the depths below. Janus just watched it vanish, dumbfound. He thought he heard it shatter below. Despair filled him. Enraged, he turned, clutching his forearm, just as a fist came out of nowhere and slammed into his face, splitting his lips and sending him staggering back towards the edge. He cried out as he began to fall.
Then Xar reached out and grabbed the man's shirt, holding him back. But he didn't pull him in. He held him there, he feet on the edge of the chasm. Janus’ eyes bore into his. 
Xar looked into the man’s eyes. "Well, Janus. Your plan is ruined. What are you going to do now?"
"You ignorant pig," Janus spat, seething in pain. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? What you’ve wasted?
"Now, now. Talk, or you will go down after your precious Shard."
"Fool! I won't tell you anything!"
Xar calmly reached with his right hand into the front of Janus' shirt, found the strap that held Janus' pendant on, and pullet the piece out. Then he let go with his left hand, and then Janus was held from falling only by the leather strap of his necklace, on the brink of the edge. Janus, unable to move, released his right hand, which swung to the side out of control.
"Now will you talk?"
Janus’ eyes slid downwards, glimpsing the abyss below. Fear filled his gaze as he looked back at Xar. All right! What do you want know?" he gasped. He risked another glance downward. There was nothing but blackness, no sign of the bottom. Blood trickled its way down his ruined arm and dripped from his fingers into the darkness below.
"Enlighten me. I know why you wanted the Shard. But why the deals with Kruaan? Why the rocket fuel, and using Tiberan?"
"I... I was ordered to," Janus stammered. "Yeah, I was working with Kruaan, but he's a fool. He wouldn't have lived to enjoy the fortune I sent him anyway."
"Why not?"
"Because, in less than twenty-four hours, everyone on Lantare will be dead. I've had scientists working on a plague that will wipe out the whole population in weeks. They recycle everything, even air, on Lantare, but it won't catch the virus. They'll be spreading it themselves." Janus' eyes rolled and focused again on Xar.
"But... Why? What would the point in that be?” Xar demanded.
"I don't know." Janus laughed a sick laugh. "I don't care."
Xar nodded evenly. ”That is just it. You could not have planned all this yourself. Not with such a small time organization. You are working for someone bigger, some larger force. Who?" Xar let the man down a fraction. "Who are you working for?!"
Janus glanced down once more, then rolled his eyes back up. Xar could see something different in them, now. He had hit a nerve. This man was willing to die to keep this secret. The sheer resolution of the man was astounding for a moment.
"Last chance, Janus. Talk. Who are you working for?"
Janus' mouth twisted into a half smile, then he leaned his head back, hocked, and spit into Xar’s face. “You’re dead anyway, fool!”
Xar’s left hand came up, breaking the thin leather strap. For an instant Janus teetered on the edge, holding his arms out, as his expression turned to shock. Then he fell over backwards. Xar watched as the man fell, screaming, arms and legs moving wildly, into the abyss. The man was quickly lost from view, then the yelling became quiet.
Xar reached up and wiped his face, and saw the spit on his hand. Then he looked at the pendant he held in his other hand. Inside, under the glass casing, was a small Force Splinter. That was what the Shard was in thousands of pieces of, now. Turning, he made his way back toward the entrance.

Dreadnaught Galthain
Phare System
1100 hours

"We hereby commit his body to the Force. The Force gives us life and to it we shall return," Mathis finished.
Xar stood in front of the coffin. "Masel... was a friend. He was dedicated, never backed off from a fight, and died with honor. I worked with him, and he was a good man. He will be missed."
All the members of Ar'Kell, gathered around the sealed coffin, murmured their approval. Then they watched as it was lifted on repulsorlifts and slid out of the Dreadnaught’s hangar bay, then launched toward Phare, the system’s sun. The members of Ar’Kell watched until the object was lost in the brightness of the star.
"Very well," said Mathis. "Dismissed."

Phare System
Planet Frigg
1900 hours

Back in the Quaestor's Chambers, Mathis finished debriefing Xar on the mission. Standing in the outer office, the two men went over what they had learned, and tried to piece together what had happened.
"Well, the local authorities will handle it from here on. Those rockets will never get off the ground." Mathis looked at the pendant, turning it over and over in his hands. "Heh. Charming trinket. Keep it. You’re the artifact lover." He handed it to Xar, who pocketed the item. Then he motioned the man to follow him into his chambers.
Once inside, Mathis sat down behind his desk and put a datapad on the top. "I'm promoting you to Aedile, second in command of House Ar’Kell."
Xar’s eyes widened. "Sir, are you sure?"
"Positive. You've earned it. Besides, I can't have you running around all over the place, now can I? You're too valuable." He smiled. "Seriously, it's a good move for you, and will get you into more administration responsibilities. You have a talent for it. Weren’t you a prince?"
"Yes sir, but that is just the thing. That was why I ran away from home, remember? Suffice that I shunned my – princely role on Varnus."
Mathis chuckled. "Yes, well. I'm sure once you get a real taste of it, you'll grow to like it. It's all spelled out there in the datapad."
Xar picked up the pad. "Very well. But I have a favor to ask first. I want to go back to my home world, visit my family one last time. My remaining family, at least."
Mathis nodded seriously. "I can arrange you a couple week's leave. You've earned it. Meanwhile, I'll take care of all the legal arrangements." He stood and bowed to the man across the table. "Congratulations, Aedile Runis."
"Thanks, sir." Xar smiled. Then, checking his chronometer, he said, "Well, I better get packing. You know, for once I would like to stay in the palace for more than a few hours at a time."
Mathis laughed. "Really? Well, wait till you become Quaestor. You never get to go anywhere. Well, not without infiltrating an enemy base, getting shot, and uncovering a plot to kill millions."
"Then I am looking forward to it," Xar laughed. Then he bowed, turned, and left the office.
After Xar left, Mathis sat in his office for a while, thinking. He rubbed the spot where he had been shot, and subsequently healed by Xar’s technique. It still ached. He knew he should get to the medical facility, for a checkup on the blaster wound. But something about this past mission nagged at his mind. Oh well, he thought. Might as well get some rest. One can always think better in the morning, anyway. Then he rose, to begin his checks he performed every night before he went to bed. No rest for the weary, he thought mildly.

*                                      *                                    *

The two beings knelt in the throne room, awaiting their turn to be called on.
"Janus is dead, my lord,” they finally said.
They waited. Then a feeling of anger and loss filled them, and they knew what their next task was. Still bowed, they backed slowly away out of the chamber, not looking up until they were well outside in the hall. Then Dasok Krun and Nereid Dumenos marched off, minds set on their new task.

The End of

Betrayal: Ar’Kell’s First Mission

                                Written by Joshua Ausley
                                Copyright 1997