It was winter on Varnus. A world that had once thrived with prosperity and trade throughout Epsilon Sector, it now lay alone among the stars, forgotten by time and the systems around it. A temperate world, it was home to a race of resilient, persevering humans who had rebuilt their cities time after time, despite numerous periods of destruction in various wars and by various powers. Though much of Vectur, its capital, had been rebuilt in the past ten years since the devastation in the Imperial/Rebel conflict, the city was one of few in that fact. There was little contact with the smaller cities spread out on other continents throughout the globe, many of them mere villages with no centralized form of government. The entire world seemed frozen in time, waiting for something to happen to it, to finish it off or restore it to the former glory of its ancient past.
Xar Runis - as he called himself - knelt quietly in the fresh snow that had fallen. He was sometimes known by the callsign of Sauron, a name out of Varnusan legend. It was a suitable alias to use while in the service of the Imperial Remnant and the Dark Jedi Brotherhood – and another way to hide his true identity. He looked at the layer of white that covered the graveyard around him. It made the landscape seem clean, pristine. An ironic masquerade, almost as good as his name. The thought brought a sickly smile to his lips. The shame of both was his, though. He could never reveal his true name as long as his family and his world went unavenged. And that would never occur until there was no trace of the Rebellion left. It had swept the galaxy, and at the fast rate it was moving he could be following quite a useless cause. Still, it was his duty, as he saw it. Justice had to be served. That was not his only reason, however. It was not merely for revenge that he served the Empire. He knew the Rebellion was morally wrong. After all, they had destroyed everything he had known and held dear. It was his duty to help restore peace to the galaxy.
But that was not what he was here for. Three tall gravestones stood before him, side by side. Leaning over, he placed a package of a dozen stasrhans - beautiful ceremonial flowers native to Varnus – in front of each gravestone. One for his mother, one for his father, and one for his sister, all killed in the Battle of Varnus.
Two gravestones were missing that should have been there. One was for his brother, Rydon. Rydon had been in Inhasa, at the military school, when the bombardment started. The city had been leveled, and nothing had remained but a blackened char. His body had never been found. The other missing gravestone would be for Xar’s betrothed, Illiana. She had last been seen heading in a personal transport toward the coast, for a weekend with her aunt and uncle. Xar could still see her face in his mind, clearly as if she were there in front of him. Her beautiful face framed by fiery red hair, her eyes green as emeralds. Sometimes when he saw another red-haired woman, he would see her. Then all the grief would come back, and he had to struggle out of it like a drowning man. That perhaps evoked the emotions in him that were hardest to overcome. He wondered, as he sometimes did, whether repressing his emotions was the proper way to deal with them. Could Runis have been totally wrong? And yet, it had proven to work time and again, his calm providing the split-second edge he needed over his opponents. Anyway, he’d had this argument with himself enough times. This was not the place for such deliberations. He hesitated, gathering his thoughts.
“Maybe I should not be here,” he began aloud, “but I wanted to see you all, one more time. I do not know if I will get this chance again.” He paused, struggling with the words he wanted to say. He almost hadn’t made it here at all. But this wasn’t the time – he forced himself to forget about Cain, and about Icis Novitaar, and the impromptu fight that had almost killed him. Instead he continued, addressing the headstones before him.
“Sometimes, I find myself feeling like I can still hear your voices. I wonder what you would think about the things I have done? I have fought the Rebellion for so long, and I wonder when it will end. Am I fighting for justice, for the well being of the galaxy, or just for vengeance?” He shook his head. “Mother, Father, I... I am sorry I left. I should have stayed here, done my duty, like you taught me. I just wish I could have seen you all one more time.” He sighed.
“They will always be with you,” a familiar voice behind him said.
Xar slowly stood, and turned. A short distance away, on a small hillock, stood a tall man with white hair. His aged face showed the hardships of his past, more than the last time Xar had seen him, and his tired eyes rested on Xar with a friendly sadness.
“Hello, Uncle Aron.”
The two men met halfway down the hill. For a moment they locked eyes, Xar’s gray meeting Aron’s blue, then they smiled and met in a friendly embrace. Then Aron stepped back and looked at Xar, smiling.
“How are you, Xar? It has been quite a while. You have grown. Not physically, of course. But you look to have matured.”
“Thank you, Uncle. I am… all
right. And you?” Xar noted the tiredness in the man’s eyes, and the wrinkles
“As well as can be expected,” the man replied. “I keep holding off the scavengers from the Palace, organizing the royal guard here. The scavengers seem to be getting desperate lately, like they think they have no future but their hard lives here. But enough of that. What have you been up to since you left? Have you seen the galaxy?”
“It is a long story. Yes, I have seen much of it, both the good and the bad. I joined the Imperial Navy, and after its disintegration, made my way to join one of the remnant groups and the resurrected Brotherhood of Jedi. It is a good organization, and I have made some friends there. I am an Aedile, second in command of a Jedi House, now.”
“That is good. I knew you would make a name for yourself. Xar, you parents would be proud, you should know that. I do. Your father and I might have had some disagreements, but we still loved each other as brothers. I knew him well, and I am glad to be able to help out his son.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
Aron turned to look back toward the city. Although the ruined west side had changed little, the downtown and business district, situated south of the royal palace, was being rebuilt, with many new skyscrapers going up in the metropolitan area. But work was still moving slowly. “So, will you be staying long? I would enjoy some company. I have actually been able to make some refurbishing to the Palace. Many of the nobles and friends of the family would enjoy seeing you again.”
“I would love to, but I was only able to make a short visit. I do not have much leave, and I have another stop to make.”
“Well, that is to be expected. Next time, then.”
The two men spoke for a while longer, then Xar announced he had to leave. “I am glad I could see you again, Uncle. Things may be getting rough in the near future.”
“I know you will survive, Xar.” He placed his hands on his nephew’s shoulders. “Listen to me. You have a destiny. You father knew this. There is a lot about our world’s history that we never understood, but we have known for a long while that you were special, somehow. As I told you before, all this has happened to you for a reason, and I know that it will be a great force for good, someday.”
“Well, I am not sure I can understand that, but I will do my best.”
“Of course, you always do. None of us understand it, but we still strive. Now, may I ask you one favor before you leave?”
“Certainly. Ask anything.”
“Some day, Xar, return to our world, and rebuild it. Do not let Varnus die in the ashes of time. When you are able, rebuild our cities, give our people a chance again.”
Xar stood for a moment, contemplating that thought. Then he looked at his uncle, determination in his eyes. “I will, Uncle. I promise.”
Aron nodded, obviously certain that Xar would fulfill his promise. “Thank you, Xar. Now I can rest here, and live the rest of my life in peace. Now go. And when the time is right, return.”
The two men embraced once more, then Xar turned to leave. “I will always remember your kindness, Uncle. You kept me from giving up. Thank you, and goodbye.”
Then Xar walked out of the graveyard and up to the hill upon where his ship, the raven-shaped vessel Runis had christened the Nightmare, waited. Just before ascending the boarding ramp he turned back, saw Aron standing there watching him. He waved, and seeing his uncle return the gesture, turned and entered the ship.
Aron watched as the ship rose into the air and sped off into the sky. He kept watching until the ship vanished from sight through the clouds, and the roar faded to silence. He stood still for a moment, listening to the quiet. It reminded him of the mountains he had lived in for years.
He looked over at his brother’s gravestone and those of his family. How different things had turned out than expected. He wondered, was this was how it was destined to be, or had things had gone wrong at some point?
Suddenly a rough voice pierced
“Aron Kerensky, I have come for you.”
Aron turned to look at the top of the hill, the one he had been standing on minutes before. On the crest stood a tall figure, cloaked in black. He could not see inside the hood, but as the figure’s unseen eyes gazed on him he could sense a feeling so malevolent, it sent waves through him.
The man began moving down the hill towards Aron. He made smooth strides, not faltering one bit on the ice and irregular ground. Halfway down he stopped, and reached up, pulled back his hood. Aron saw a dark face revealed, rough, and perhaps handsome at one time, but now marred. He had thick, dark hair that descended loosely to his shoulders. A prominent scar began on his forehead and went past his right eye, pulling it slightly sideways, then traced down his cheek ending on his jaw.
“You?” Aron asked incredulously.
A hand came from beneath Dasok Krun’s dark cloak, holding a black cylinder. A dark crimson blade of energy extended downwards in front of him with a hiss.
“It took me a while to find you. I thought I had gotten all of you. Now it is time to finish the job.” He began advancing towards Aron.
* * *
The Legacy of Ar’Kell:
Night descended quietly over Palace Ravenspyre. The half-eclipsed orbs of Ullyr and Sif were making their nightly trek across the horizon, while an approaching layer of stratus clouds promised to obscure the starlit sky above. By morning, the clouds would descend to become thick fog, a usual occurrence on the jungle world of Frigg. The palace stood out, a black citadel blending into the dark.
Palace Ravenspyre’s recreation area contained a dozen rooms, each made for various activities. There was a weightlifting room, a track room, an underground center for combat training, and rooms for other sports popular around the galaxy. The largest by far, though, was the domed room that contained the palace swimming area, deep in the lower levels of the palace. The pool ran from shallow to deep as a thirty-meter rectangle lined with tables and lounging chairs for relaxation. On the deep end was the rear wall carved with a dramatic frieze of House Ar’Kell legend. Opposite the wall, on the shallow end, was the Palace’s underground bar, a surprisingly homey place where officers and civilians alike could stop by and sample foods from throughout Minos Cluster, including a large variety of native dishes from Frigg. Most of the pool room’s exits were in the corners, except for one wall, filled with intricately carved columns, which gave way to the main stairway that lead back towards the upper levels and, eventually, the Grand Hall. The stairway was very wide, and decorated with a long rug that conformed itself along the steps. On the opposite wall of the staircase were rooms for public showers, restrooms, and lockers.
Only a few people walked around the room or lounged around the pool this evening; most were spending the evening in their quarters, watching the nightly news-vids or making private calls. Those on-duty rarely ventured down this far. The recreation area was mostly populated during the day, although the bar stayed open all hours.
Xar Runis floated on his back in the cool water of the pool, trying to relax. He wore black swimming shorts, treading water with his arms and legs. His tanned, muscular form was complimented by his dark hair. His right shoulder was traced with ugly scars that made their way around both the front and back of his shoulder, and also down his side. Other scars decorated his body in other places, speaking of a past already too checkered by conflict. He stared upward at the stonework ceiling, which held gentle glowlamps illuminating the chamber. He was letting his thoughts wander, mentally going over the past few months. Things had gone by so fast, and he had been so busy, that he could hardly keep up.
His fight with the crazed ex-Jedi named Cain two weeks before had nearly done him in. A cybernetically-enhanced human with some level of Force ability and training, he had confronted Xar during a fuel stop on the way to Varnus. Cain had been convinced that Xar had somehow been responsible for his wife’s death, and he’d been out to claim revenge with Xar’s life as payment. Xar had no idea what had driven the man insane, nor how he’d even heard Xar’s name in the first place. What was worse, a lucky moment had nearly made the madman’s scheme successful. That is, if that mysterious stranger hadn’t shown up at the last instant and killed Cain instead. The stranger calling himself Novitaar…
Xar wondered where this Novitaar had gone after sending him on his way. He’d given a short greeting, recited a purely unbelievable story, then promised to see Xar again soon before promptly disappearing. After that, Xar had returned to Frigg to begin his duties as Aedile. It was a more administrative position, second in command of a house. It would take some getting used to, as new positions usually were, and he had gotten pretty used to it already, but he still preferred the excitement of personal combat, carrying out the mission himself, instead of giving it to others to do. He partly wished he had turned this Aedile position down. At any rate, it was rare that he got a break such as this, a chance to relax and take a swim…
A nearby splash interrupted his thoughts, and Xar looked over at the source of the noise. Beside him floated Miria Nadi, a pretty blond woman about nineteen years of age. Floating on her back, she wore a blue, one-piece swimsuit, and her braided hair swayed with the ripples in the water.
“Ah, doesn’t the water feel wonderful, Xar? It’s so cool… I can feel it between my toes.”
Xar sighed. “Yes, of course it does.” When it was quiet, he could almost forget that even here, he was on a mission of sorts. Miria was the daughter of Imperial Moff Gamon Pav, governor of the Phare System. Pav, heading out-system for a week, had wanted a good place for his daughter to stay and have some fun. Due to his friendship with Quaestor Mathis “Billbob” Organa, he’d suggested she spend her time in a vacation on Frigg, staying in Palace Ravenspyre. Seizing an opportunity to further relations between Ar’Kell and the Moff, not to mention Pav’s Jedi House Arbroath, which was something of a sister to Ar’Kell, Mathis said he would be delighted to have Miria as a guest. And, as a gesture of respect, he’d asked Xar, who happened to be his second-in-command, to be her personal guide during her stay. He was to tour her around the palace, answer any questions she might have, and making sure nothing happened to her. The problem was, the young woman seemed to be infatuated with him, something that annoyed Xar to no end. He knew that she was an attractive lady, but she was totally opposite of his type. Also, ever since the death of his betrothed, he had vowed never to take another until he found her and avenged her. And since the Rebellion was actually growing… He knew it was a cycle he could not overcome, but, well, so were many things.
He also wasn’t very talkative, which was something Miria couldn’t quite seem to understand.
“You’ve got a really nice palace,” Miria complimented. “It must be nice to live here.”
“Yes,” Xar conceded. “But we never get to stay long periods at a time.”
“Ah, that’s too bad. My father’s always going from one place to another, too. He never gets to stay in one spot often. What about your family?”
Xar winced. “They died when I was younger. My uncle is my only living relative.”
Miria sat up and began treading water, looking at Xar. He did likewise. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
Xar shook his head. “You could not have. Do not worry about it.”
“It must be hard. Hey, I bet you’ve had a lot of adventures around the galaxy. Say, have you ever been to Zentrasi? They have a very famous museum there, and one of the most valuable gems in the galaxy there, the Zentrasi Star.”
Xar almost choked. He stared at her for a moment. “Ah, well, yes, once actually. Only a brief stay. I shot in and out, you might say.”
Did the girl not know the Star had been stolen several years ago? And now locked safely in a special locker on a backwater Rim world, he thought, though she couldn’t know that. At any rate, he was getting tired of having to avoid questions. At least she didn’t ask about his scars. Luckily she seemed to get the hint, and asked about which worlds he had been to.
Xar tried to sound interesting as he answered. “Well, I have traveled to Lenias III, a beautiful jungle world; and Imperial Center, also known as Coruscant; Lyccos and Lantare in Minos Cluster; a few dozen others. I got around more when I was in the Empire’s service, before the Emperor died.”
“Sounds interesting.” She thought for a moment. “By the way, I just noticed something; you talk differently. It sounds more formal.” She paused, looking askance, then exclaimed, “I know! You don’t use contractions in your speech. Why’s that?”
Xar fell back on his back, making a splash. “It is the sign of my family’s lineage on my homeworld. Those of royal lineage do not speak in contractions.”
“You’re royalty? Wow! I didn’t know that!” Miria gasped.
Xar looked up at the ceiling for some kind of relief. Too many questions about his family brought up bad memories. This is going to be a long week, he thought.
Inside the Ar’Kell command center, a bustle of activity was going on. Although only a few officers were at their stations, nevertheless the room reverberated with the noise going on inside. Quaestor Mathis Organa was pacing across the floor, looking down at a cluster of reports in his hands.
Over at one of the main display screen consoles, Jedi Knights Gaius Adonai and Kase Zysfryar were lying upside down, their heads inside the access panel. In front of the screen, Adjuctant Marc Iver, with a slightly higher rank of Jedi Templar, sat in a swiveling chair nearby and shook his head.
“I’m telling you,” Zysfryar was saying, “You take this wire across the board here, otherwise you’re not going to get a proper display.”
“What’re you talking about?” argued Gaius. “This one goes here, and that one goes there.”
Iver heard the voices escalate and shook his head again. Why did things always have to be so complicated?
The rambling went on. How two men could get so worked up over a simple machine, Iver couldn’t understand. Of course, with the tech crew having been called away to install the new Academy’s systems, Quaestor Organa had gotten the idea that they should fix the malfunctioning displays themselves. Iver himself was trying to quietly keep out of it. Growing up the son of a rich investor on Coruscant, he had learned better than to interfere with two hardheads until they realized they needed help for themselves.
Gaius’s voice called out from under the console. “Iver, check it now!”
Iver tapped a few buttons on the console. The screen flickered to life, displayed a schematic of the palace that continued flickering. He was mildly surprised. “It’s up, but not perfect.”
“Well, we’d better
get back on it, then.”
“Come on, sir,” complained Zysfryar.
“No! We’re going to get it right!”
“Well, that’s it, I’ve had enough of this,” Iver said, getting out of his chair with a groan. “I’m going to get a drink. Want anything?”
Two no’s came out of the panel, and Iver turned and walked out.
A few minutes later, Gaius reached out and pulled his head out of the access panel. The display burned a solid bright image on the screen. “About frigging time we got it working,” he growled.
Zysfryar clambered to his feet behind him, yawned, and looked from Mathis to Gaius and back again. “If you don’t mind, I’m going for a nap. My shift’s over, and I thought I’d catch a shower and get some sleep. I’ve been up for, well, let’s see…” He looked at his wrist chronometer. “It’s been what, thirty-six hours since I’ve gotten sleep?”
Mathis frowned. “None of us have slept lately, Zys. Repairing the palace’s faulty systems is a priority. After all, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we don’t keep Ravenspyre in top condition.”
Gaius snorted beside him as he started putting tools and the hydrospanner back into his case. “Blame the idiots who installed this junk in the beginning. A couple of years and half the systems go down.”
“We’ve got most of it running well enough,” Zysfryar countered. “Besides, I can’t work at full capacity without rest.”
“All right, quit complaining and go.” Mathis waved him away.
“Thanks, Quaestor.” Zysfryar started to go, then turned back. “Oh, after we fixed the scanner system, I told the system to run a scan for any leftover bugs, but it shouldn’t take more than…” He looked at his chronometer again. “Oh, maybe a couple hours at the most.”
“That means the scanners will be offline till then,” Gaius frowned.
“There’s no ships coming in at this hour,” Zysfryar said. He turned and looked askance at Mathis.
“True, but better safe than sorry. Put an extra guard on the roof to watch for anything suspicious.”
“Yes sir.” Gaius started to comply as Zysfryar left the room, rubbing his eyes.
Xar swam over to the side of the pool and pushed himself out of the water. He went over and grabbed a towel from the bin against the wall and began drying off. Miria swam over to the side, and crossed her arms up on the edge. “Xar, where are you going?”
Xar pulled the towel down from his face. “I am going to change clothes. I was starting to wrinkle.”
He meant it as a jest, but Miria only sighed and got out herself. “You’re no fun.” Then she ran over and grabbed a towel, and came back.
“What’s the matter, Xar? Don’t you like me?”
Xar sighed in exasperation. “Miria… I think you are a wonderful girl. But I know we are both destined for someone else.”
“Probably. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we have now.”
“We have nothing, right now.”
She frowned, then looked around the room and then back at him with a new light in her eyes. “I’m going to convince you otherwise, you’ll see.”
They stood there drying off for a moment, then Miria looked back at Xar.
“Take me on a tour of the palace?” She smiled.
Xar put hand on her shoulder. “All right, but later. We need to go change, and you should check in with your father.” It took effort hard not to use the Force to compel the thought into her head.
She stood there thinking it over for a moment, then finally nodded. “Fine. I’ll meet you back here in an hour?”
“Why so long?”
“So I can look my best, of course. It takes time for girls.”
“All right. An hour, then.”
Xar headed for the showers, and Miria wrapped her towel around her and padded out of the corner exit on her bare feet. He shook his head as she went out of sight. He couldn’t understand women at all…
Dasok Krun stood in the center of the dark room, stripped to the waist, the dim red lighting gleaming on his tattooed, muscular frame. He looked around with dark eyes at his men, all gathered around the circular chamber. The roar of the ship’s engines was audible in the background, and the computer screens around the table flashed green to contrast the prevalent red. The Dark Jedi gathered around in a circle, at least thirty of them, watching their master expectantly from underneath their hoods. Krun looked at each man in turn, their minds connecting for a split second, Krun giving his men a silent blessing for the mission through the Force.
Once finished, he addressed his men again. His rough voice cut over the roar of the engines. “You have all been provided with a map of the palace. Use it. Team two will break into their underground levels, which they are still excavating. Remember that once everyone is herded into the holding zones, any stragglers around the palace are fair game. Leave no one alive to hinder us.”
Another voice spoke up from the back of the group. “What about Janus’ killer?”
Krun looked over at his second, and his potential rival. “He is mine, Nereid. No one is to touch him but me. I intend to make him pay dearly for his crimes. Is that clear?”
The man’s cold stare met Krun’s for a moment, then he nodded once, in respect to his commanding officer. “Of course.”
Xar emerged from the locker area, bag in hand. He was back in his traditional palace dress, an informal, comfortable outfit of dark pants and a close-fitting shirt. His black and gold-handled lightsaber was clipped to his belt. He wore light shoes suitable for indoors, and his short hair was combed down forward. Seeing that he was now alone in the pool area, he decided to wait for Miria near the bar. Its doors were open, but no smell wafted out. At this hour, the chef only made meals upon request.
Setting his bag down by the door, Xar made his way to a small table near the bar and sat down.
The barkeep, Zad Finnis, looked over the counter at him. “Aedile Runis. Don’t usually see you around at this hour. What’ll it be?”
“Zad.” Xar acknowledged him, then thought for a moment. “A Molvian ale and a glass of branlin juice.” Tonight he had a slight aching feeling in his stomach. Since he couldn’t seem to pinpoint the source, he had decided to try the time-honored method of coating it. Branlin juice was from a delicious Friggian fruit, and had become one of his favorites.
“Coming right up,” Zad cheerfully.” He turned back to the counter to prepare the order, then put two glasses in front of Xar a moment later.
Xar sat there for a while, sipping his drinks a little at a time. The uneasy feeling in his stomach did not fade. The holovid above the bar was playing an old holo. After a while, Marc Iver walked in and, seeing Xar, ordered a drink and sat down across from him.
“Iver. How are things going for you?”
Marc smiled wanly. “Same as always. You?”
“Better not to ask.”
Suddenly the holoscreen blinked and a special report screen appeared.
Then the display switched to the Phare System’s
“Volume up,” Xar said. The volume rose in compliance.
“This is Solaria News Network,” the female reporter announced. “We are here with a late-breaking story. Phoenix Technologies, one of the Empire’s largest and most prestigious corporations, has officially broken all ties with the Remnant in Minos Cluster. While CEO Trident has not yet revealed his reasons for leaving, it is clear that he intends to take his entire corporation with him.”
Xar shook his head. “He finally did it. More and more groups are breaking off now, with the Rebellion gaining so much ground. With the news of Thrawn’s demise, most people are giving up.”
Iver snorted. “Trident’s mind was made up,
anyhow. I tried talking him out of it, about the good that
Xar shook his head negative as Zad
walked over and gave Iver his drink. The news lady continued, as scenes changed
to a view of space, and a Victory Star Destroyer making its
was along at flank speed, pouring turbolaser fire behind it. “…And as Phoenix Technologies’
forces blast their way out of the Corporate Sector, Imperial authorities
attempted to hinder or stop altogether the fleeing ships. Moff
Gamon Pav of the Phare System has stated that
“Volume down.” The sound dropped to a barely audible background noise.
“Well, I wish the man luck.” Xar looked into his glass. “He helped me more than once. You know, Marc, I feel like this is just the beginning of something big, something that is going to build up, and maybe be disastrous.”
“What do you mean?” asked Iver, sipping his drink.
“I am not sure… It is strange, it is like I can feel it coming. In my stomach, I have had this unpleasant sensation. I thought it was just stress, but… Things might get rough.”
Iver nodded slowly.
“Well, if any of that comes our way,” he gestured towards the holovid, indicating
Outside the palace, the orbits of Ullyr and Sif had taken them around the horizon. The layer of stratus clouds had made its way directly over the palace, which was hardly visible in the now almost pitch-black night.
There was a low roar, and a large shadow made its way over the ground near to the palace, then the sound of the engines faded away. A large ship, about the size of a Corellian corvette, black all over, with no externally visible lights, began descending through the air on its repulsorlifts.
Onboard, the pilot turned back to the robed figure behind him. “Their scanners are down. It looks like they haven’t even noticed us.”
Krun’s eyes bore out from within his hood. “I do not sense a trap. All the more fortunate for us. I expected stealth to be more of a necessity. Perhaps they aren’t as good as we thought.” He nodded. “Take us down.”
The ship steadily made its way downward, repulsorlifts blowing grass around below, until it settled down right on the ground outside the palace. The entire landing took place in minutes, and there was hardly any sound. The guards situated on several of palace’s rooftops were either snoozing or oblivious to the hissing of the engines, thinking it to be the wind. Without the palace’s scanners, the tenants of Ravenspyre wouldn’t be alerted to the invaders until it was too late.
Two small hatches opened at the bottom of the ship, and more than two dozen figures silently dropped to the ground and began making their way towards the palace.
Iver drained the remaining contents of his glass and set it down on the table. “Well, I had better get back up to command… No telling what they’re up to now. They may be at each other’s throats.”
Xar nodded, then looked over his shoulder back out the entrance. “Hmm… I wonder where Miria is? She should have been here by now.”
“Huh? Oh, that girl.” Iver grinned. “Miss her?”
“Hardly. But I have to watch her while she is here. If she gets lost in the palace, I would never hear the end of it from Mathis.”
“See you later.” With that Iver went over to the bar, swiped his card across the credit scanner, and walked out.
A few moments later Xar rose and made his way back to the bar. Zad was wiping off the counter with a wet towel, something Xar noticed all barkeeps seemed to do. Maybe it was part of protocol.
“Thanks, Zad,” he said, tossing the man a five-credit chip.
Zad caught it and gave a smile. “Anytime, Runis. Have a nice night.”
Xar picked up his bag at the door and headed out. Once he was back in the pool area, he looked around, but saw no sign of Miria. In fact, there was no one around at all. Great, just what I need, he thought. More problems. Maybe she was still in her quarters. He’d better go and see that she was okay. Perhaps she had been talking to her father… But no, her father was just on the news. He would not have had time for a social call. Starting to feel worried, he quickly strode out the side exit and through the dimly lit corridors of the palace, heading for the VIP section. The feeling of dread in his stomach had gotten worse.
After several moments of walking along the main shaft of this wing of the palace, Xar stopped. He had not seen anyone else around since leaving the bar. This was not a heavily traveled section, but there should have been someone walking around at this hour. He listened carefully, but could not make out any noises. He didn’t sense anything through the Force, either, which was to say, no disturbances, but no life forms, either. Strange. He took a side corridor, then went up a flight of winding stairs, heading for the upper levels. Once at the top of the flight, he walked to a crossway The right tunnel headed towards one of the House’s Caste sections, while the left passageway curved off into the distance. He continued straight, heading for a more traveled passage. He was very familiar with the layout of the palace, and knew his way around, but tonight things seemed deathly still, silent, as if waiting for something.
As he emerged in a larger crossway that ran to the left and right, it happened. Suddenly he could sense the presence of a powerful Force user nearby, but this one was unfamiliar to him, definitely no one from House Ar’Kell. It was cold, malevolent. He could feel the tiny variations in the feeling that made each Force wielder unique, though he had never felt this one before, and couldn’t quite form it into a cohesive shape. He heard whispering voices all around him, though he couldn’t understand what the voices were saying. He knew there was a presence nearby.
Xar looked to the left, and saw him. A figure of similar height, wearing a black cloak. With his Force-enhanced vision, Xar could make out the man’s features. He had short cut blond hair, and his clean-shaven face looked to be no older than Xar’s. The most unsettling aspect, though, were his eyes. They were so light a blue, he might have been thought a madman. But Xar could sense the man’s energy, and knew him to be very much in control of himself.
“Runis?” The man’s voice echoed through the hallway. He hadn’t moved a centimeter.
Xar let his hand touch his lightsaber on his belt. From the slight smile the man gave, Xar knew he must have seen the movement. How did the man knew who he was?
The figure reached up and pulled back his cloak and let his arms fall back, the cloak seeming to pull itself off of his body. Xar knew it was a trick of the Force, meant to intimidate him. In response, Xar dropped his bag and unclipped his lightsaber.
The man was wearing a close-fitting dark jumpsuit with a short-sleeved top and a vest over it. He unclipped his silvery lightsaber handle from his belt.
“Nereid Dumenos.” The man gave a slight nod towards Xar, then ignited his lightsaber. A brilliant blue blade extended out, bathing the man’s face in azure light.
“Xar Runis.” Xar hit the activation switch, and his yellow blade shot out in front of him.
For a moment the two men stood there, studying one another. Then both began advancing, until they were only meters apart. Their blades seemed to crackle, as though eager to engage in combat.
Then without warning, Nereid attacked. He came in with a series of strikes, meant more to test Xar’s skill than to deliver a quick killing blow. Xar blocked, then counterattacked. The two sabers cracked with energy, their clash echoing down the corridor. The men moved in a circle, eyeing each other.
In Xar’s last real dual, he had faced only an amateur. But he knew that this man was an expert. This time, he brought his full skills into play. This wasn’t a sparring match to prove a point, but a dual to the finish. Attacking, he struck, blocked, cut, and thrusted, using his full abilities. The man was able to block everything Xar attacked with, and counterattacked fiercely, driving Xar back. This was going to be a tough fight.
The men locked blades, the energy popping around Xar’s ears. Xar was able to judge blades fairly well, and knew the man’s crystal to be of a par with his own. They pushed off simultaneously, then stood back in a fighting stance. Xar stood with his blade raised overhead and diagonally downward, while Nereid used a more relaxed stance, reversing his grip and letting the blade point downward. He said nothing else, but their eye communication said more than words.
Nereid came in again, striking Xar’s saber, trying to push it to the side to deliver a killing blow. It failed, and he reversed his grip, holding the saber backwards, and brought his arm up, the blade striking upwards. An unorthodox way to use the saber, but Xar was familiar with it, and had to follow suit to block the strike more easily. Xar reversed his grip, also, turning his blade down. The grip had both advantages and disadvantages. Someone who used it could deliver a number of hard-to-block strikes, but it was also hard to block some attacks using that grip. It took someone who had mastered it to use it to its full advantage. Nereid brought his saber up again and again, striking first to Xar’s left, then to his right. The sabers clashed again and again. Xar pushed his arm over, blade down, knocking aside another strike, then shuffled back and brought his saber straight up again. Nereid smiled and came in again, but Xar blocked his attack and came in himself, striking down, then sending a thrust toward the man’s body. Nereid brought his arm up, blocking the blow, then across his body to parry the thrust. Then he swung his saber back, one handed, in a strike across Xar’s face. Xar brought his blade up against Nereid’s just in time, then brought the blade down and around, broke away from the man’s saber, and struck down again. Nereid blocked, and Xar backed away, realizing had discovered a weakness. Nereid attacked, and Xar blocked, and thrusted again. As Nereid parried it to the side, he brought his saber around and swung at Xar low on the left side, his grip still reversed. As Xar moved to block, Nereid reversed and using incredible hand speed flipped his right hand up and brought it down, striking at Xar’s right. But Xar had anticipated the move, and as he moved his blade up to block, quickly locked his blade with Nereid’s and brought it around in a clockwise circle. With his reversed grip Nereid couldn’t maintain his grip, and his saber flew from his hand.
What happened next seemed to take place in slow motion, but only took an instant. Nereid’s saber didn’t go out, instead it flipped end over end, barely missing the two men, and impaled itself in the floor point first. Nereid’s hand was still up in the air, where it had been when his saber had left it. His eyes followed the saber as it spun through the air, then turned toward Xar. He seemed shocked at his sudden defeat. Then Xar swung his blade horizontally, the blade passing under Nereid’s right arm and slicing cleanly through his body.
As the top half of the man fell over, lightning burst out of both stumps, rebounding against the ceiling and floor, and kept pouring out. Xar yelled and stumbled back, the bolts sending jolts of pain through his body. He ran backwards, away from the source of the energy. The corridor in front of him was filled with escaping Force energy. Lightning pulsed throughout the room, traced along the walls where the internal wiring was held. It hit the glowlamps along the walls and ceiling and they exploded, showering sparks into the passage. Xar watched with amazement. He knew that when a powerful Dark Jedi died, their power was released in an explosion of energy, the opposite of the way some Light Jedi passed away. He had only seen it once, though, and although this was not as powerful a display, he was in much closer proximity to it.
The wave that shot out through the Force was of a different sort, but no less powerful. Xar could hear a scream, as though all the whispering voices before had all perished with the Dark Jedi. Xar could feel, almost see the man’s escaping life and Force energy. It would dissipate, wasted.
The bolts continued to flash about the chamber, until it seemed they found a clear path of current, and all the bolts pulsed into a power outlet and were gone. The man’s lightsaber was still there, pointing straight down, its blade slowly eating through the stone floor under the handle’s weight. Xar walked over and pulled the saber out, de-ignited it, and clipped it to his belt. Then he did likewise with is own, and went back to get his bag. Something was very wrong… One man could never have breached security like this, and there was the total feeling of absence of life around him. Had the palace been invaded? If so, by whom? Xar intended to find some answers. But he knew he’d need a little help. He began running down the corridor, passing by Nereid’s severed body.
Outside of the palace, bolts of lightning struck up at the clouds from one of the palace’s spires, for a moment lighting the black ship sitting on the cleared-off area right beside the palace. If someone had been watching, they could have seen the silhouette of the ship. Unfortunately, no one alive was, anymore.
Mathis was watching the display screen in Iver’s absence. The two men had just about gotten the display cleared. “Hold on, I think that’s got it…” Suddenly an alarm sounded, and the screen flashed a warning message. Mathis stared, then yelled, “Power surge, get out of there!”
Gaius pulled himself out in unison and rolled away from the console. At the same time Mathis leaned away from the screen and turned his head to the side at the last moment. There was a flash, and the screen blew out, sending pieces of glass and sparks flying out. Screens all over the command room went, and the occupants all went to the floor. Smoke began filling the room, and the automatic fire extinguishers came on, sending a spray of foam around the room.
Mathis managed to get to his feet, coughing. He’d barely had time to wonder what had just happened, when the entrance doors burst open, and a dozen yelling men stormed into the room, brandishing blasters. Two men ran up to cover each of the room’s occupants, their blasters leveled at them.
“What the bloody…” Mathis started.
“Don’t move!” One of the men screamed.
A couple of the men helped Gaius to his feet, but their guns were still trained on him. Mathis could sense Force-sensitivity in each one of them.
Another man entered, flanked by two more Force-sensitives. An aura of energy seemed to radiate from the central man through the Force. He wore dark clothing, covered partially by a black cloak. With his gloved hands he pulled back his hood, revealing a marred face. A wicked scar ran along the side of his face, pulling his right eye slightly sideways. His unkempt hair fell wildly around his head.
The man’s dark stare rested on Mathis. “You are their leader.” His rough voice was certain. “I am Dasok Krun, and you are now our prisoners. You will follow us to the holding area until we are finished here.” Then he motioned to one of his men. “Take the prisoners to the holding area. Bring the Null Spheres. The rest of you maintain this station, and watch for enemy reinforcements.” With that the Jedi covering the Ar’Kell members grabbed their prisoners and began moving toward the exit. Several of the Jedi invaders moved over to the control stations, holding bags of equipment in their hands.
Gaius, and the other staff all looked at Mathis for a sign. He knew they’d fight if he told them, even knowing they had no chance. He shook his head slightly. Now was not the time. They’d have to meet with the others, formulate a plan of escape.
Mathis was pulled roughly towards the exit, but he wasn’t going to give in without some form of resistance. “Who do you mean by we? And why are you here?” he demanded.
Krun smiled. “You will find out soon enough.” Then he motioned with his head towards the entrance, and Mathis was dragged from the room with the rest of the prisoners
Xar quietly sneaked through the hallway, as close up against the stone wall as he could manage. He willed himself to be invisible, to be one with the wall. He’d had to pause twice already as a group of robed figures walked by corridors ahead of him. He knew now that there was someone in the palace, that they had somehow invaded Ravenspyre, and were moving freely throughout. There was no way to tell whether there was any resistance going on, but he certainly hoped there was, as much as he hoped that the invaders weren’t killing the Ar’Kell members they met.
He moved around another corner and sprinted over to where his own quarters were. Quickly inserting his pass card, he slid inside as the doors opened. Closing the doors behind him, he moved through the dark room, knowing out of habit where everything was. If the invaders had taken the control room, they might be monitoring the palace’s systems, from turbolifts and automatic doors to personal quarters’ power usage. He would have to be quick. There was no window, unfortunately, so even though he knew the location of all his furniture he bumped into several dark objects along his way. First he moved to his bed, dropped his bag on top, and reached underneath. Pulling out another bag, he opened it and pulled out a small package. Then he made his way into the bathroom and closing the door behind him, figured it safe enough to turn on the small overhead light. Perhaps it wouldn’t use enough power to be noticed. Besides, there was no way he could assemble his gun in the dark.
Moving to the counter in front of the mirror, he sat his package down beside the sink and unzipped it. Then, unfolding the two halves, he pulled out a small bag, which held his ammunition, and set it down. Inside the package was a shiny metal gun, with a grip for one hand, a trigger with a finger guard, and a barrel, fairly long for the size of the gun. The weapon was polished to where it reflected the light illuminating the room. Xar reached over and picked up the gun’s magazine clip in the other side, then reached into the small black bag and began removing the weapon’s bullets and inserting them one by one into the clip. There were only a handful left; the rest were in his ship. He picked up the gun and slid the clip into the handle from the bottom, snapped it into place, and pulled the lockdown switch into place. The gun was made so that a flick of the little finger of his gun hand could open the switch and eject the clip for reloading. Xar then pulled out a small laser sight from the packet and attached it to its slot on the front of the gun, then held the weapon up in front of him. He’d used the gun many times before, and every time he held it he remembered the sheer power it possessed. Made by the Crinn, a race that eschewed the use of energy weapons, instead using a complex technology of mass drivers, the gun could shoot through a target and the wall behind it as well. The projectiles traveled nearly as fast as a blaster bolt, and although some thought of it as inferior due to the high damage of blaster bolts against flesh, the gun had the advantage of being able to go right through an energy shield. Since most races used energy weapons, one rarely thought about their shields being susceptible to projectiles, which require a different kind of shielding technology altogether.
Xar reached up and hit a switch on the back of the gun, activating the power source that would drive the rail gun’s bullets using magnetic force. Then he took his arm strap holster, choosing it because he already was wearing a utility belt for his lightsaber, and pulled it on. Then he made one final glance into the mirror, asking himself a silent do you know what you’re doing? He turned, hit the light switch, and stealthily left his room and made his way down the hall, gun at the ready.
The Ar’Kell members, about thirty of them gathered in the “holding chamber” - actually the private meeting room - watched their captors warily. The attack on Ravenspyre had come swiftly and unexpectedly. The invaders had made their way to the key points of the palace, the command center, VIP quarters, and Caste wings, knowing exactly where they were going and what they were doing. They had burst into each section almost simultaneously, taking the Ar’Kell members totally by surprise. All the invaders moved with a professional air that showed their skill and discipline, but also raised some interesting questions: Who were they? And where did they come from? Most importantly, why were they here? So far though, none of the House members had been killed or otherwise injured.
Mathis saw Zysfryar huddled in the corner as he entered, along with the guards Gaius had assigned to the roof. Zysfryar looked at him with a tormented expression, silently mouthing the words I’m sorry. Mathis shook his head, cutting him off. Now wasn’t the time.
Xar moved around another corner, heading in a roundabout way for the command center, when he came face to face with the first two robed figures. The looked as stunned as he, their blasters seemed forgotten as they met eye-to-eye. Instinct took over, and even as the invaders brought their blasters up, he fired, sending a shot straight through the chest of one man that blew a chunk out of the wall thirty meters down the hall. The man fell backwards with a cry. Xar rolled, heard and felt a blaster shot fly by his ear as he did so, came up on one knee, and fired twice again at the second man. The shots went through his midsection, splattering blood on the wall behind him, as he was propelled backwards almost off his feet, careened off the wall, and fell to the floor.
Xar stood for a moment, breathing heavily, his adrenaline pumping. Then he could hear voices down the hall. He looked over and saw several more figures yelling and pointing in his direction. Xar clambered to his feet and took off running down the corridor as blaster shots erupted behind him.
Dasok Krun paced in front of his captives, eyeing them malevolently. He seemed upset about something.
“Nereid has not checked in,” he said finally. He turned to one of his men. “Check on it.”
As the man left to comply, Mathis took the opportunity to stoop next to Zysfryar. Gaius, Kurt, and the other house members were sitting nearby.
“Forgive me, Quaestor,” Zysfryar whispered. “This is all my fault…”
“No, it’s all our fault,” Mathis cut him off. “We all thought we were safe here. We got overconfident.”
He turned to stare at the leader of their captors. Although he hadn’t revealed the reason of the invasion, Mathis had been able to deduce some of what was going on. Krun had people moving throughout the palace, looking for stragglers. He had also taken control of the command center. It was obvious that they couldn’t hold all of them like this indefinitely, for sooner or later the authorities would notice the lack of communications. They had to have a purpose, and had to plan on escaping again at some point. Also, from Krun’s conversations with his men, Mathis figured that Krun had some of his men down in the lower sections, doing some kind of work, although they hadn’t been able to figure out what.
Suddenly they heard the sound of running footsteps, growing louder. Mathis, Krun, Gaius and the others all looked up at the same time as the doors burst open. Xar ran in at top speed, then skid to a stop when he saw everyone present, his eyes wide with shock. He looked around at the captors, then saw Krun and leveled his gun at him. “Tell me what is going on here, now!”
As Krun looked at him, his expression changed to utter shock. “It’s you!”
“Stay right there!” Xar yelled. “Do not move!”
Krun recovered his surprise quickly. “You are not going to do anything, Runis. If you have not noticed, you are surrounded.” His eyes narrowed. “Oh yes, if you could have used the Force you would have noticed that.”
Xar stared in confusion, then realization hit him. He couldn’t sense the Force! Then he felt a hard object hit the back of his head, and everything went black.
* * *
Xar looked up, a trickle of blood running down his chin. He smiled slightly. Then Krun’s fist hit him again, so hard it knocked him down backwards. Xar fell back, and struggled to regain his feet.
Everyone else gathered in the room watched the two men, wondering what exactly this was about. Xar looked up at Krun, trying to keep an arrogant look on his face.
Krun scowled down at Xar, then held his hand out beside him. One of the captors placed Xar’s mass gun in his hand, and Krun held it up, studying it. “Charming toy,” he remarked.
Then he dropped to one knee and smashed the gun against the floor with all his strength. The weapon shattered into hundreds of pieces that scattered across the floor. Krun looked right into Xar’s eyes, driving the act in. Then he stood and moved over to a table against the wall, upon which lay Xar and Nereid’s lightsabers. He picked them up and turned to face Xar.
“Excellent saber,” he said. Then he looked down at the silver one in his left hand.
Xar looked arrogantly at Krun, and smiled. “Sorry Nereid could not make it. He had to split, so to speak.”
Krun smiled, then turned and threw the silver handle into a vase on the table, shattering the centuries-old piece of pottery. He seemed to study Xar’s for a moment, fingering it as if looking for the activation stud, then scowled in frustration and tossed it onto the table as well.
Xar smiled. His saber could only be activated by himself. A trick he had copied from Runis. He enjoyed the frustration on Krun’s face. Both men locked eyes. The Varnusian accent in their language was so evident to them that it seemed palpable. The room’s other occupants might not have noticed, but to the two men it intensified their discord, in fact, to Xar, it was the cause of it. This man was from Varnus, his home planet, which made this personal. The fact that he tried to mimic the speech of the royal family only further enflamed his anger.
At first he hadn’t
recognized the man, but then it had suddenly come back to him. It was the
intensity in his eyes. He’d been only a small boy at the time he first saw Krun, and he had been allowed to sit in the
Xar wasn’t about to show any weakness. “Your friend died honorably, although I must say I was disappointed in his combat skills.”
Krun waved his comment aside. “Nereid was a rival. Still, we take care of our own, Runis. When they are killed, we avenge them. But you will pay mainly for the death of another. That of Janus.”
Xar’s eyes widened. “What about Janus?”
Krun gave him an incredulous look. “You really have no idea what you have gotten into, do you?”
“Please, enlighten me.” That might explain it, he thought. If they had been allies of Janus, then they would be looking for him based solely on that act. Krun didn’t know his true identity.
Krun shook his head. “I think not. I am going to enjoy killing you, slowly.”
Xar stepped back and prepared himself for an attack, but the two guards to either side grabbed him by the arms, holding him fast. Just then the doors opened, and one of the invaders ran over to Krun.
“Sir, we’ve just gotten a report from team two. They say they found the entrance!”
“They found it?” Krun thought for a moment. “Have they found the artifact yet?”
“I don’t think to sir, but they shouldn’t be too far away.”
“Then I will be there personally when they discover it. Remain here and watch the prisoners.” He turned back toward Xar. “I will deal with you later.” Then he quickly walked out of the room.
Xar sighed and sat down next to the others on the floor. For the first time he took real notice of the other occupants in the room. The prisoners were arranged in a rough circle, murmuring softly across to each other. The occupants of this holding chamber included Quaestor Mathis, former Aedile Delk Adder, Gaius, Zysfryar, Kurt, Emil Beli, and others who had joined the house in the last six months. The rest of the Jedi belonged to one Caste or another, but many more of the tenants were civilians and palace workers. The room was guarded by four captors near the entrance and two more at the end of the room. Xar moved to where the Jedi were gathered. They seemed to be the only ones that were calm and collective, hard to believe considering they had been cut off from the Force.
Xar looked at each of the other Jedi, and shook his head. “Dasok Krun is dead.”
Gaius nodded. “We all have it in for him,” he said sympathetically. “Just be patient.”
Xar shook his head. “No, Gaius. I mean, he is supposed to be dead.” He began to relay the story of how he knew Krun. When he was finished, everyone looked at him with surprise.
“Interesting, indeed.” Mathis commented. “And whomever he works for, our friend Janus did also, it seems.” They paused for a moment, considering in silence.
“Anyway, whatever happened to Iver?” Kurt spoke up.
Gaius shook his head. “I don’t know. He never came back up. Either he’s with another group, or he’s loose somewhere…” No one wanted to consider the other option, that he might not be alive at all.
“We should formulate a plan of escape now,” Mathis said
“First things first,” Xar said. “Why can I not sense the Force?”
Mathis lowered his voice and nodded toward the other end of the room, where two Jedi guarded a small stand. On the stand was a transparent sphere. ““They have some strange devices. At first we thought they’d brought Ysalimiri, but we heard them call it a Null Sphere. Maybe a Force artifact; I don’t know. They’re using one for each holding chamber, rendering our Force powers useless. Of course, it does the same to theirs. I don’t know where they got them or how they got so many.”
“What does it do, exactly?”
Gaius spoke up. “Krun was not very forthcoming with the details of how they’re operated. It resonates with negative-Force, like the Ysalimiri. The Force is rendered useless within a range of several meters around it.”
“Then we have to destroy it,” Xar said.
“Agreed, but they are pretty well armed. We’re going to take some losses if we try,” Gaius said.
“It’s a chance we’ll have to take,” Mathis said grimly.
Xar nodded. “Perhaps I can minimize our losses. But it is up to everyone whether or not to help. See if they will. I suggest we tackle the guards, try to stop them from drawing their lightsabers, some of us will go for the sphere.” He looked to Mathis for approval.
“All right. We’ll see.”
After a few moments the plan had passed through the crowd, and most of the prisoners agreed to help. The captors, sensing something going on within the prisoners, pulled out their lightsabers, but didn’t ignite them.
Then Xar stood and strained to look over on the table at his lightsaber, trying to be obvious about it.
“I hope he did not break by lightsaber,” he said aloud.
One of the Jedi moved beside the table, put his lightsaber away, and picked Xar’s up. He sneered at Xar, then hit the activation switch. Nothing happened. He looked down in puzzlement. Xar, seizing the opportunity, walked closer.
“You cannot activate it like that. Here, let me show you.” With those words chaos broke loose. Xar dove for the man, grabbed the saber in the man’s hands, and hit this ignition switch. The blade extended, passing straight through the man. Xar got a firm grip on the handle and pulled it to the left, the blade passing through the already dead man’s middle, and came out from the side. Xar brought his saber up to block a strike from another captor who had immediately reacted to the scuffle, then Xar brought his saber underneath the other’s and ran forward and to the right, his saber slicing the man’s middle. He didn’t look back at his opponent as he fell to the ground.
All over the room the Ar’Kell members ran toward their captors, some falling upon ignited lightsabers, but they overwhelmed the invaders with sheer numbers. Moments later, it was all over. Moans emanated from the wounded, and the smell of burnt flesh wafted around the room. Xar moved over to where the others were, near the Null Sphere.
Gaius walked over and gave it a push. The sphere tumbled off the stand and fell to the floor, bounced once, and began to roll. “Whoa, this is tougher than it looks to be.”
“Let me at it,” said Mathis. Bringing one of the invader’s sabers up, he swung it onto the sphere with all his might. The blade hit the sphere, and there was a flash of light and a loud crack, and the sphere broke in two. The negative-Force field vanished instantly, and the Ar’Kell members were filled once again with a sense of the life-giving Force.
“There!” sighed Mathis. Then he turned to the survivors. “Okay, listen, people! We all have to work together to take back Ravenspyre! All civilians and those who don’t have practice using a blaster, get the wounded down to the medical level. Just hope they haven’t shut it down, these people need attention now! The rest of you, let’s get in contact with the other groups! We have a resistance to start! Anyone who can fire a blaster, come with me!”
Xar looked at Mathis. “I am going after Krun. This is between him and me.”
“You’d be better off with some help,” Mathis warned.
“I will be responsible for myself. One of us will die, the other will not. It must be settled.”
Mathis could see that he couldn’t dissuade the man. He sighed. “Very well. Good luck.”
Xar gave a half smile, then, lightsaber in hand, ran from the room.
Xar rounded a corner, and suddenly he could sense him. It was as though a roar of rage reverberated inside his head. He knew Krun would be able to sense him as well. This would be the most dangerous man he had ever faced; he knew that. It would take the limit of his skills. Xar mentally checked his condition. Was he ready for such a confrontation? He might not be able to tell until the moment of truth came. He would have to pull all of this training together, to be able to control his emotions. It would take calmness to defeat rage. He sneaked through the halls, trying to gain on the man. He didn’t know exactly where the supposed secret tunnel was, but he could vaguely sense the direction the other man was heading in.
As he emerged in a large round chamber with branching passageways, lit by false torches along the walls, he saw Krun, standing in the middle of the room, waiting for him. Xar knew it was time.
Krun smiled and began walking around the room in a circle, following the walls. Xar did likewise, the two men eyeing each other. Xar felt doubts and fear enter his mind, but he forced them down, knowing them to be a manipulation of the Force from Krun. The other man smiled again and began taking off his robe. It fell to the floor in a heap, revealing Dasok Krun’s true figure. He wore a black sleeveless shirt that revealed his muscular form. His dark hair flowed wildly down to his shoulders, and a necklace with a strange carved symbol hung from his neck. On his waist hung a black lightsaber handle.
The two men began loosening up, rolling their shoulders and getting their blood flowing. Xar looked across at the man. “You should be dead, Krun.”
“I am very much alive, my friend.”
Xar’s eyes narrowed. “Stop talking like one of the Royal Family, impostor!”
Krun looked at him in confusion for a moment. “Who are you really? Some member of the Royal Family that survived the bombardment?”
Xar lowered his voice. “My true name… is Xar Kerensky.”
Krun expression changed to one of utter shock. “Kerensky? How…”
Xar had no desire to waste words with explanation. “I was not on Varnus during the attack. I was captured by rogue Jedi Master Runis, who trained me.”
“Runis…” Krun seemed to go over the name in his head. “Ah well, no matter. The son of Kerensky lives.”
“Yes, I live. And as much as I hate to fight someone from my world, I am prepared to fight you, if you will not surrender.”
Krun leaned his head back and laughed. “Naive fool. You have no comprehension of whom or what you’re dealing with.”
“Then enlighten me.”
Krun laughed further. “You could not handle it.”
“Tell me! Where were you during the attack?”
Krun stopped laughing and stared at Xar. “You shouldn’t have asked that question. The answer might just change your life.”
Xar sneered. “Of that I will be judge.”
Krun shook his head. “An arrogant fool, just like your father. Very well. I wasn’t on Varnus during the attack. The Battle of Varnus was the brainchild of General Akira. After my… rescue… from the island your father banished me to, I was assigned to his command. I led a deep cover group installed in the Rebel forces during the battle. Akira got me to implant “information” regarding Varnus in the newly formed Rebellion’s computer systems. They jumped at the chance to get a fresh world on their side, uninfluenced by the Empire. Akira saw to it the Imperials were there, too. The order came in, and we initiated combat, starting the whole battle. During the fighting your father took a shuttle up to try to “negotiate” between the two forces.” Krun shook his head. “Your father disgraced me in front of our entire world, cast me out from every group. It was a pleasure blowing him out of the sky.” He smiled.
Now it was Xar’s turn to be shocked. He staggered back as if hit by a blow. Suddenly an image formed in his mind. As they were taking Krun away, after he had been sentenced.
As the guards were pulling Krun away, he struggled fiercely to get to Xar’s father. Unable to do so, Krun spit at him, and roared, “This isn’t over, Kerensky! I’ll come back to get you! I’ll kill your entire family for this. You’ll pay for what you’ve done today!!” At the time no one thought Krun would ever get off his place of exile.
Xar looked back up at Krun with pure loathing in his eyes, but Krun wasn’t finished.
“There is more, much
more, Kerensky. Killing your father was not enough. Remember my vow? After your
father was killed, the Varnusians started attacking.
We made sure the Imperials took out their share, so we had a three-way battle
going on. During the confusion I took my fighter wing down to the capital and
Xar remembered something Aron had said to him at his first visit. He had said that the destruction of the palace didn’t look like it was done by orbital bombardment, but that he’d heard a group of fighters had strafed it and shot down fleeing survivors with ruthless precision.
Xar stared into space. All the hurt, all the pain of his family’s and his world’s death had come back. And, just as painful, the knowledge that he had been blaming the wrong enemy for all this time. But this time it had a true focus: the man in front of him. Anger flared, but he fought it down. Instead a coldness entered his stomach.
“You killed them? You killed my family, for revenge? You betrayed your own people?”
“They were not my people. They disowned me, remember? Remember that promise I made to your father? I keep my promises, Xar.”
“Me, a murderer? You’re no different. How does it feel, Xar? To know all those Rebels you’ve killed before, for revenge, are calling out their innocence? To know that your life is a lie. How many innocent lives are on your hands?” He smiled cruelly.
Xar gave a twisted grin. “I do not fight the Rebels for revenge, Krun. I am not like you. The Rebellion’s methods are wrong, that is why I fight it.” He sneered. Krun attempt to destroy him with guilt had failed. “But, I have a very good reason to fight you.” This man had destroyed his life. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. And no one knew. Except Xar. He struggled to keep his emotions in check. It seemed harder then anything he’d ever done. He looked up at Krun, his eyes were slits. Everything seemed red. He ignited his lightsaber, its yellow blade coming to life with a snap-hiss. “Prepare to die.”
“Wait!” Krun held up a hand. “There is one more thing. I had thought I had gotten all the Kerenskys. But little while ago I found out I had missed one.” His voiced echoed above the hum of Xar’s lightsaber. “Your uncle, Aron Kerensky, was alive.” His emphasis on “was” was obvious.
“You lie!” Xar yelled.
“Search my feelings, you know I have spoken the truth. But to convince you…” He held up a small holorecorder. The device hummed to life, and an image was projected a couple meters away. “I recorded it, for my collection.” It was small, and a little blurry, but Xar could make out his uncle’s form. All hope left him. He saw Aron yell, “Why? What have I done to you? NO!!” Then a red beam of light flashed in front of him, and the recording stopped.
The image faded, but the scream didn’t, instead taken up by Xar and reverberating throughout the chamber. “NOOOO!!!!!” The anger exploded. Emotions were no longer repressed. Xar flew towards Krun with lightning speed, his saber overhead. Krun dropped the recorder and brought his lightsaber up, blocking even before the crimson blade was fully extended. He pushed Xar back with his sheer strength, then danced his deep red blade in front of him.
Xar was far from dissuaded, however. He came in again with a series of strikes, attacking with all his strength. The sabers crashed together again and again, their sound echoing off the walls of the circular room. They locked blades again, and again Krun pushed Xar away with his incredible strength.
Xar forced his anger down, replacing it with a calm coldness. It was going to take calm and reason to beat this monster, not blind emotion. That was what Krun wanted, for him to be angry and make a mistake. He reminded himself that Krun was probably as cautious and worried about Xar’s skills as he was of Krun’s. He was going to have to outthink Krun in order to win this battle.
He gathered his calm, and chose his attacking strategy. He’d have to find the man’s weakness and exploit it, with a planned method of attack. Krun waited patiently for him, doubtless doing the same. Xar moved in again. This was going to be the fight of his life.
The Ar’Kellian resistance was gathering into a storm to retake Palace Ravenspyre.
A group of Ar’Kell members led by Mathis burst into another holding chamber, blasters held at the ready. The prisoners dove to the ground as blaster fire erupted around them. The Ar’Kell members advanced relentlessly, some being struck down as they entered the room. Mathis fired, saw an invader fall, then switched to another target. Blaster bolts flew through the room, some missed, striking walls, and some didn’t, searing flesh. When the two forces got close, lightsabers ignited and began clashing against one another. He fired again, hitting one of the invaders guarding one man he’d been searching for.
Iver ran over to Mathis. “Thanks for the help. I guess we’re breaking out now.”
Mathis grinned. “Glad to see you’re still alive, friend.” He tossed Iver a blaster from one of the dead invaders, then began firing again.
Within moments, the superior numbers of the Ar’Kell members won out. Another prisoner room free, dozens more rushing to join the resistance.
Xar attacked fiercely, driving Krun back before his powerful strikes. Xar knew he was using a lot of his strength, but he was hoping to end the battle quickly.
Dasok Krun was backing through an auxiliary access station, located in a small connecting corridor that linked the main passage and another side passage. Computer display screens and consoles were on either side, some activated, some not. The displays shone down on them, projecting various data readouts onto their bodies. In the otherwise dimly lit chamber, Xar’s face was illuminated with topaz light; Krun’s reflected a blood red.
Xar struck, a balance of adrenaline-filled fury with calculated fighting technique. His blade clashed against Krun’s again and again. He swung, Krun ducked, and Xar’s blade hit a console, cutting it in two. He brought his blade back up, and Krun pushed it to the side. The tip pierced a display screen, causing it to blow outwards in a flurry of glass and sparks that hit both men. Krun disengaged their blades, looked at Xar, and smiled. Xar braced for an attack, but none came. He struck again, and Krun blocked, then pushed him back with tremendous force. Xar fell back, his saber ready, but Krun didn’t advance. Instead he turned and fled from the chamber, his arms spread out beside him. Xar could vaguely sense the manipulation of the Force, but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what he was doing. As he got to his feet, though, he found out. As he looked around him, he saw electricity spark across the consoles, sparks spit from data ports, and display screens fill with static. He could feel the buildup of energy around him. He had only seconds to react. He got to his feet, summoned as much Force as he could, took two steps forward and leapt forward, using the Force to propel him farther than any human could normally jump. He was not a moment too soon. Behind him every electronic circuit blew out, filling the corridor around him with a shower of sparks as he leaped. Then everything exploded, and he flew out of the chamber as flame filled it behind him.
Xar landed and rolled to stop himself from crashing into the opposite wall of the Grand Hall.
Xar came up on one knee and brought his blade up just in time to block a powerful downward strike from Krun’s saber. The man’s powerful arms pushed Xar’s blade down. He barely caught it before it touched his own shoulder. Then Krun brought his blade back up and down again. Xar switched his blade around and blocked again, then Krun brought his saber around and struck to the side, a difficult attack to block from Xar’s current position. Xar desperately moved his saber over to block the attack, and gave the other man’s blade a shove and rolled away, eyeing Krun warily.
“Very good,” Krun complimented. He didn’t seem pleased, though.
Xar came to his feet. “There is more where that came from.”
“I’m sure there is. After all I’m all you have to live for.”
Xar sneered. Krun’s charade of speaking like royalty had faded once the battle had begun. Rejuvenated, he attacked again. Then Krun caught his blade with his, brought it up, and holding it there with hit right hand reached on his belt and drew a curved dagger, point down, and slashed with one motion at Xar’s middle. Xar tried to jump back at the last second, but couldn’t avoid the blade entirely. The dagger’s curved edge sliced across his midsection, cutting through his shirt and causing a shallow but painful cut. Krun stood back and grinned. He came in again with an easy-to-block strike from his saber, obviously intending to use the dagger again. Xar blocked hard and pushed it to the side, then snapped his foot out, kicking the man in the wrist. The dagger flew out of his hand. Then Xar brought the stunned Krun’s saber over the other direction, to Xar’s right, and turning threw a sidekick into the man’s ribs. Krun grunted and staggered back, but recovered almost instantly. Xar moved in and locked blades yet again, pushing Krun’s down. Now that it seemed clear they were making this a grudge match, Xar was happy to oblige. He threw a left hook against Krun’s jaw, then reversed and sent a backfist against his cheek. Krun whipped his head back around and retaliated, throwing a hard left into Xar’s face. Xar took a step backwards, but Krun moved right in, locking their blades together and moving them to the side. Their blades dug into the wall, and he grabbed Xar’s shirt with his right hand head-butted Xar in the face. Xar fell back and disengaged, throwing a hand against the wall to steady himself. His forehead was cut and bleeding from the head-butt, but he brought his blade back up without wiping it.
Krun brought his left hand up, holding his fingers in a claw. Xar could feel the buildup of Force energy and braced himself for an attack. He expected the man to use Force Lightning or an energy weapon, but the kind of attack was totally different, catching him off guard. A force hit him and pushed him against the wall, then he felt pressure wrap around his throat, midsection and limbs. It did not feel like a Force grip though; Xar had felt them before. This felt like a long snake wrapped around his throat and middle, and his arms and legs, squeezing tighter and tighter. He couldn’t move from his position, or bring his saber up to defend himself. Krun smiled and moved in for a killing blow.
In desperation Xar reached out to the Force. He couldn’t pull the pressure away, instead he imagined a knife cutting upwards, slicing through each tendril one by one. Then suddenly Xar was free, and threw himself to the side as Krun’s blade sliced into the stone wall where he had been seconds before. Rock exploded outwards.
Xar took a deep breath and moved down to the flight of stairs below. Krun followed, looking down as Xar malevolently.
“Enough of this,” he growled.
“Come on,” Xar taunted. He was standing several steps below Krun, and moved in and swung at his legs. Krun jumped over the blade, and jumped over Xar’s return strike, then swung his saber hard straight down. Xar blocked and pushed in on the man, then threw a hard kick against Krun’s knee. Dasok fell backwards, and Xar turned around and ran down the hallway, de-igniting his lightsaber.
The Ar’Kell members were assembled now; everyone had been freed or was loose somewhere in the palace. They had taken all the holding chambers and driven the invaders out. All the invaders left were either dead or moving around the palace, except for one more group.
“All right, people,” Mathis
told those assembled. All the members of Ar’Kell’s
command staff were there, and most of the other members, except for Xar. The
rest were moving in different groups, looking for the invaders that were loose
in the other levels of the palace. “The only place left is the
An explosion blew the doors to
the command center into the main room, filling the entrance with smoke. Ar’Kell
members stormed in full-force, yelling as they went. The invaders began firing
back, but the Ar’Kell members wouldn’t be dissuaded. Mathis saw one Jedi, the
one he had remembered Krun give control of the
Within moments they had overwhelmed the invaders, and those who’d surrendered were moved into a circle in the center of the room.
Mathis walked over to
the palace comm system and hit the master switch.
“This is Quaestor Mathis.” The system would relay the
message to every speaker system in the palace. “We have retaken the
Now back in the underground chamber that housed the pool and bar, Xar plastered himself against a column and listened to Mathis’ report over the loudspeaker. He gave a quiet sigh of relief. The palace is back in our hands. The invaders are being driven off. Now all they had to do was get the rest of them out of the palace, or kill them. Of course, he reminded himself that there was one small matter left: Dasok Krun. Rage tried to build itself up again, but he forced it down. He didn’t want to think right now. If he did, he might lose his focus. He only had to concentrate on one thing right now: defeating Dasok Krun. Krun was the best opponent he’d ever faced. He seemed to know more ways to use the Force to attack him, methods Xar knew he could duplicate but normally wouldn’t have thought of in the first place. He was also strong in the Force, as strong as Xar. He was also much more stronger physically. Perhaps the Force had increased his strength to its phenomenal level? A horrible idea flashed again into his head, and for the first time he actually considered employing it. He had been able to break into Runis’ computer system onboard the Nightmare, and discovered his most personal and secret entries and findings. His most secret Dark Side Force powers. Was death a just enough punishment for Krun, who’d taken the lives of countless innocents? Xar knew it wasn’t up to him to decide, but he had to end this, somehow…
Xar heard the sound of a lightsaber being activated only meters away, and suddenly a beam of red swung for Xar’s face. He ducked just in time, igniting his own lightsaber. Krun’s blade struck into the column he had been standing against, and stuck there for a moment. Xar stood and quickly swung his blade towards the other man, but he moved back and the cut singed part of his shoulder instead. Krun yelled and jerked his blade free with his awesome strength, then backed into the main chamber. Xar moved out of the columned area, and stood in the space between it and the pool. Krun’s shoulder had a black-charred scar and was bleeding.
Krun snarled. “Why can’t you just die?”
The words brought a flashback to Xar. He remembered the words of his uncle. “Listen to me. You have a destiny. You father knew this. There is a lot about our world’s history that we never understood, but we have known for a long while that you were special, somehow. And somehow Xar knew he was not going to die here today. His destiny would lead him elsewhere. He smiled.
“What are you grinning at, fool? Don’t you know I can destroy you?”
Xar brought his blade up. “Come. Let us finish this.”
“Then it ends.” The two men charged for one another.
Xar struck with all his skill, putting everything he had into it. Krun didn’t do any less. They were the pinnacle of a true dual between Jedi, two men struggling for victory. One fought for personal revenge, the other to avenge his family and his world. Xar fought harder than he had ever fought in his life. He attacked, swung, blocked, thrusted, parried, and struck again, over and over. They circled each other as they fought, disengaged, and came in again.
They clashed again, locking blades and pressing against one another. They held on to one another with one hand, and pressed their blades together with the other, grunting with effort. For a moment they struggled, their feet clambering over the stone floor, coming to the edge of the pool. Then, suddenly they pushed in the same direction and their balance was broken, and they both slipped over the edge and crashed into the water. They fell into the shallower end, into only a meter and a half of water. The sabers hit the water, instantly evaporating any water that touched them, causing gouts of steam to rise upwards toward the ceiling.
Xar became totally submerged, and disengaged from Krun. He resisted the urge to jump back up to the surface; he had gotten a good breath before they’d gone in. He had only an instant to decide his course of action. Then he finally rose toward the surface. Things seemed to happen in slow motion. He came out of the water, his blade already raised above his head horizontally. It was what saved him. Almost before his head cleared the surface he saw Krun’s blade come down hard, striking Xar’s blade with incredible force. Xar’s grip held, and turned his blade the other direction as Krun brought his down again on Xar’s again. Then Xar realized Krun had done this before, and anticipated the man’s next move. As Krun swung his blade around horizontally to Xar’s left for a killing head blow, he took a short breath, dove underwater, and swung his saber from left to right. He felt a slight resistance as the blade sliced through both of the man’s legs above the knee. Then he burst up from under the pool, water flowing down his body, his yellow blade a piercing beam of light held above his head.
Krun was screaming, his arms held wide. His eyes seemed clouded over, but Xar’s baleful gray eyes stared into his. Xar reached through the Force, connected with the man and his link to the Force. Without thinking he let his anger flow into Krun, reaching into the man’s core, connecting the two men, tapping into a dark power he knew he shouldn’t. Then Xar swung his blade downwards, slicing through the man from shoulder to hip.
Krun instantly exploded in energy, blowing Xar right out of the water and ten meters away to splash into the deep end of the pool.
Xar’s eyes snapped open. He must’ve been knocked unconscious for a brief second. He struggled upwards and burst to the surface. The wave of energy rushed by overhead, nearly as powerful as he remembered Runis’ had been, years before. The wave hit the walls and bounced off, and turned into a maelstrom of swirling purple energy. Lightning burst out from the man’s former spot and waves of energy struck the walls, the ceiling, blowing out the glowlamps and ceiling lights. Xar felt the man’s power, even his very spirit, flashing by. He hurriedly swam back towards the shallow end, the storm flowing overhead, nowhere to go. He reached the spot where Krun had died, the bloody red water forming an expanding circle. He reached down and picked up the man’s still-ignited lightsaber, which was casting steam up into the storm above. Then the connection he had with Krun made took full effect. Lightning blasted him, and he felt the man’s Force energy fill him. His vision flashed other scenes in his mind, of a life he’d never lived; Dasok Krun’s life. He saw glimpses of people and places he couldn’t describe, worlds and races he’d never seen or heard of, and wonders he could otherwise only imagine. Then they were past, and an incredible force seemed to fill him, and just as suddenly was gone. Then he looked up, and saw the maelstrom around him. He’d done it. His family was avenged. The hurt and pain of his family, his world, everything he had done, all the emotions he had ever suppressed, came crashing back. And for the first time since his capture by Runis eight years ago, he let it all go. Raising the sabers up in front of him, he crossed them, and screamed. Lightning struck all throughout the room, some striking the sabers with a tremendous crack. The Force storm and its wind swirled throughout the room, destroying the lounging chairs and potted plants. The bar interior was torn apart and thrown outside in pieces. The entire room began shaking, and pieces of stone were blown from the ceiling, floor, and walls by the lightning, tossed around by the storm. Xar’s yell continued, on and on, as pieces of stone flew around him, striking his body, his arms, and his face. As the bits hit, his head turned to the side with the impact, the flecks of stone causing cuts all over his body. Finally his breath failed him. Then the storm found a method of escape, and flowed out through the air vents. The gas and energy was sucked into the vents at incredible speed, then suddenly was gone. Pieces of debris were left in midair, and rained down on the floor and water below.
Xar staggered back and de-ignited both lightsabers. Then he turned and made his way to the side and pulled himself out of the water.
The entire palace rumbled as a force made its way through the air duct system from the lower levels to the top of the palace. The repercussions through the Force were felt by every Force-user in the palace. They knew that someone extremely powerful in the dark side had perished.
The outside vents blew out, and a purplish energy-filled wind, part dark side energy, part Krun’s life energy, traveled straight up for the sky in a swirling column. A hole appeared in the layer of clouds above, revealing starlit sky above, and the wind went through, reaching for the void.
Xar laid the sabers on the floor and walked into the shower room. He reached down and pulled his tattered shirt off with effort; it was soaking wet, and his energy was almost expended. He tossed it to the floor in a pile, and kicked off his light shoes. Then he went to the nearest shower faucet and turned on the water. He felt the warm water wash over his body, looked down and saw bloody water run down the drain at his feet; part his, part Krun’s. The cut on his stomach was bleeding, but with what tiny bit of the Force he could manage to hold, he slowed it to a stop. Moments later, he had washed all the blood out, and turned off the water and went to get a towel. He dried off as fast as he could, then went out and picked the lightsabers up again, clipping both to his belt. He dropped the towel and looked around. I think I remember there being an emergency blaster hidden somewhere around here… The palace had such placed hidden throughout the palace, in case of an incident such as this. Xar ran into the bar, his pants still damp and his feet leaving small prints in the floor. The bar was a shambles now, and doubtless Zad had either been captured or taken shelter somewhere. He moved behind the counter, and felt underneath for the hidden switch. He found it, and when he hit it a small hidden panel swung out of the back of the counter. Inside was a blaster and several power packs. Grabbing the blaster, he loaded a pack into it and checked the charge, then started off running. He had to get to the main meeting chamber. He knew the rest of the invaders would be heading there as well as the Ar’Kell members, hoping to end this in a showdown. Xar intended to stop them.
The bodies had been removed from
“Sir,” Gaius walked up next to him. “I’ve been looking at one of the datapads the invaders were carrying around with them. It has a detailed map of the palace.” The men looked at each other, and Gaius voiced both men’s thoughts. “Looks like they had someone on the inside.”
Mathis nodded resolutely. “Hopefully we can trick them into revealing themselves when we meet at the chamber. Only problem is all the people there. We don’t want anyone else hurt.”
“Yes sir. There’s one more thing sir. I think I’ve found where the invaders were searching. See this spot on the map?” He held the datapad up for Organa to see. There was a spot marked, actually located underneath part of the palace, under the bottom floor in that section. There wasn’t anything marked on the map. Mathis nodded. “That’ll be where they’re searching, and their main objective. Send a team there immediately. We can’t let them get their hands on whatever it is, and we definitely don’t want them to escape. Good work, Gaius.”
you sir. We’ll stop them.” He ran from the chamber, yelling orders to
the group gathered outside the
“All right, everyone to the main meeting chamber but those I
told to guard the
Nearly two hundred people were gathered in the main meeting chamber. The chamber was designed primarily for ceremonies and important announcements, as well as a briefing center for the house members on a large scale. This time it was used to take a count of everyone, to calm the regular population, and find out everything that had gone on. It was late, and many of the room’s occupants were wearing nightclothes or robes. Mathis noted his command staff, which formed a line in front of the crowd standing or sitting in the stands. Marc Iver, Kurt, Emil Beli, Delk Adder, Zysfryar, Gaius, and the Ar’Kell Caste leaders made themselves look composed and nonchalant to calm the other people present.
Mathis saw Miria, Moff Pav’s daughter, walk up next to him. Mathis had been relieved to find her safe in one of the holding areas with Iver and Beli, two capable officers. She’d been in her quarters when the attack came, and had left to make her way down to the pool area again, when one of the invaders, posing as a member of Ar’Kell, had told her Quaestor Mathis wanted to see her. She’d followed, and been duped into one of the “holding chambers” where she was held prisoner with the others. Mathis was just glad she was safe.
“Where is Xar?” Miria asked.
It took Mathis a second to realize she was speaking about Xar. Usually only Xar’s close friends called him by his first name or by anything but his callsign.
“I don’t know, dear,”
he said apologetically. “Xar’s been gone most of the night. But I’ve no doubt
he’ll show up, in good order.”
“I hope so…” Mathis noted the worry in her voice, and wondered at her choice of attire as such a late hour. She was wearing a finely made tailored dress, which looked quite unsuitable for the occasion.
The invaders who had been taken prisoner were gathered in the middle, surrounded by guards. Mathis was just about to order their questioning, when the far doors burst open loudly, and Xar ran in, brandishing a blaster. He was shirtless and shoeless, had small cuts all over his upper body. His bare upper body revealed his lean, scarred, muscular form, with a new, still bleeding cut across his stomach. All eyes turned to look at him.
“Mathis, look out! They are planning a surprise attack!” Suddenly there was a cry from the crowd, and robed figured moved in from the sides, holding blasters. Miria gave a cry at Mathis’ side as she was jerked back and held in front of someone at gunpoint. Mathis looked at shock at her captor. It was Zad Fennis!
Everything happened at once. Mathis yelled, “You traitor!” Xar ran up, his blaster pointed at Zad and his hostage, holding the gun in one had and his other hand palm-out in front of him. The other invaders who had appeared leveled their guns at the Ar’Kell members, who did likewise at the invaders.
“Hold it!” Xar yelled, his eyes wide. Mathis had never seen him like this before. He was truly a mess. But his presence must have meant that Krun was dead. He didn’t get the impression either would’ve stopped until the other was dead.
“Leave the girl alone! She has nothing to do with this!”
Zad stared at Xar with a cold look in his eyes. “She’s my hostage now. And she’ll stay that way till I’m out of here. Let us go!”
Xar shook his heard. “Sorry, I cannot let you do that.”
“Then the girl will die.”
Xar paused. “Okay, okay!” He turned and made as though he was pulling his blaster away. Then suddenly he yelled, “Miria, move!”
Miria turned and dove away from the man. Even as he turned Xar’s blaster came up…
The room exploded in blaster fire. Xar fired again and again, and the room was crisscrossed with fire from the Ar’Kell members and invaders alike. Then suddenly it was all over.
The invaders lay dead on the ground, and their survivors flat on the ground in submission. Zad Fennis lay on his back, two blaster wounds in his face, smoke pouring from the holes
There was a moan, and Xar looked down. The former Aedile, Jedi Knight Delk Adder, was on his back, a wheeze escaping from his breath. Xar dropped his blaster and dove to Adder’s side.
“Delk, are you hit bad? Hold on, you will be fine. Call the doctor!” he yelled back toward the crowd.
“Adder gave a painful grin. “Sorry, Xar. It’s too bad… I’m not going to make it.” He looked into Xar’s eyes. “Make Ar’Kell great!” Then he took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. His eyes rolled back, and his head fell to the floor.
“Delk … I am sorry.” He looked around to see if anyone else had been injured or killed, but the other Ar’Kell members were watching sadly. “I will, Delk.” He stood and looked at Mathis.
Mathis looked at him grimly. “I guess it’s over. Krun?”
Suddenly Miria was there, and Xar was wrapped in a close hug. “I was worried about you.” Xar looked down, startled. He didn’t know what to say. He gently took her shoulders and moved her back. Her dress was stained with blood from Xar’s wounds. “Thank you.” He managed a weak smile.
Mathis’ commlink beeped, and he picked it up. “Go ahead.”
“This is Gaius. We got here just in time. We stopped the invaders down here, and took some prisoners. I think you better get down here.”
“Right, be there soon.”
Just as he was replacing his commlink it beeped again. “Go.”
“Sir, this is
“What! On my way.” He looked at the Jedi around him. “Come on!”
Mathis strode into the
“Give me a readout on the enemy ship,” Mathis ordered.
A moment later a small schematic appeared of the enemy ship, along with an external picture from one of the palace’s outside cameras.
“Sir, it’s like no
ship in the records. Hold on, it’s taking off!”
“Let’s make it regret it ever came to Palace Ravenspyre! Open fire!”
The last of the retreating invaders piled into the ship, and it rose on powerful repulsorlifts. As it rose higher, its laser cannons swiveled and began spraying fire back towards the palace. The blasts hit the grassy earth in front of the structure and worked their way up. Red laser fire erupted from the emplacements, striking the ferrocrete sides of the palace, blowing large chunks from the walls.
The turbolasers hidden in the palace’s numerous spires returned fire, pounding the still-unshielded craft as it moved away. The blasts hit the side, destroying or melting some of its armor, but otherwise not damaging it seriously. The ship’s batteries fired again, and one of the palace’s turbolaser emplacements was destroyed in a rising fireball. Then the ship completed its, turn, activated its engines, and burned a long streak in the ground in front of Ravenspyre as it blasted off into the sky.
Some time later, Mathis and most of his staff rushed into the lower level of the palace where Gaius was waiting. The prisoners were gathered near one wall. Xar noticed that there was one covered body nearby. Gaius met them, obviously relieved.
“I’m so glad you’re here. They’d already gone through the wall. We caught them just as they were entering the chamber. We questioned them, but the only thing we could get from one of them was what sounded like a name. Akira, or something. He died as soon as he said it, Quaestor! All the others shut up after that. What in the ancient bowels of the Sith is going on here?”
“I don’t know, Gaius,” Mathis shook his head. “But I intend to find out. Let’s get into that chamber.”
Akira. Krun had mentioned that name, too. Something was going on here, something that didn’t quite fit together yet.
Xar followed the others through the corridor revealed by the invaders’ digging. The stone in this area made Ravenspyre’s purposely-aged stone seem young in comparison. They emerged in the chamber, and froze. The room was littered with artifacts of all sizes and shapes. But one held their attention beyond any other: a tall scepter, covered with ancient writing, upon with was held a massive blue crystal. It seemed to call to them, beckoning them through the Force.
“What is it?” Gaius stared wide-eyed.
“The Scepter of Karanishma. And that jewel is the Star of Karanishma.” Xar said, amazed.
“How do you know?”
Mathis and Gaius both turned to look at him.
“I know something of Force artifacts. A passion I received from my former teacher.” Indeed, Runis had been obsessed with them, and his records included a description of the object they were beholding. It was like a dream come true for Xar. “This is a legend, a fable, really. Unbelievable. Why would it be here?”
“But what is it?”
powerful Force artifact. They say it enables its user to see into far
places, even other times. Alternate Presents, possible Futures. If it is true,
you could potentially see anything in the galaxy you wanted to. I can see why
these people would want it.”
“So can I.” Mathis reached out to it.
“I would not touch it,” Xar warned. “We need to be careful, take our time in studying it.”
Mathis nodded, and
dropped his hand. “I agree.” He looked back toward the entrance, making sure no
one was listening. “This is a big find. And a lot of things have happened here.
We’re not even still sure all the invaders are gone. Here’s the plan. Use the
Gaius nodded. “Understood.”
“We had a spy in our midst,” Mathis continued. “We might have more.”
“Yes, who would have expected the bartender?” Xar said.
“Zad?” Gaius frowned. “Why would he be a traitor?”
Xar shrugged. “He used to work in the Imperial armed forces, as personal bodyguard for, who was it… Sharm Cild, I think. The Planetary Governor.”
“If he was taken in then, then maybe the infiltration of the invaders is on an even higher level.” Mathis said.
“The question is, who are these invaders?” Gaius mused.
“I guess we’ll have to figure that out as we go.” He looked back down the corridor again. “Okay, I’m putting an order of confidentiality on all this here. And you’re to talk to no one else about anything that happened here tonight until I finish debriefing you. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” both men responded.
“Good. I’m going to have to put together a really good report to the Grand Master about all this.” He sighed. “You’d better send Miria back, Xar. And then get to the infirmary and deal with those wounds. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
Xar nodded. “Are you going to tell the Grand Master about this?” He gestured around the room.
Mathis snorted. “Are you kidding?” All three men smiled.
Xar turned to go, then looked back for a moment. “Oh, one more thing. I have not been totally honest with you. As long as my world went unavenged, I could not let my true name be known. But my name is not Xar Runis. That was just the name of my instructor. My true name is Xar Kerensky.” As the two men silently mouthed the word Kerensky, Xar turned back, and walked out.
“Goodbye, Xar.” Miria looked intently at Xar, as though trying to burn the image of his face into her mind.
“Goodbye, Miria. I am sorry this had to happen.”
“Don’t be. I had a pleasant time. I’m glad met you.”
Xar looked down, then back into her face. “I know we could never be… But I hope you find a good man, someday.”
“You’re a good man, Xar.” She reached up and gave him a light kiss on the cheek. “I will remember you always.”
“That is what I would like to be.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled.
Miria smiled. “Goodbye. Perhaps we shall meet again someday.” With that she turned and headed toward her waiting shuttle.
Xar knew he’d never see her again. He turned and headed back into Palace Ravenspyre. Mathis had granted him another leave, considering what he’d found out about himself and what he’d been though. Xar looked up at the sky, laced with beautiful striated clouds. He had a destiny. He knew it now. Xar Runis, who had lived in hiding of his true identity, was dead. Now, there lived Xar Kerensky, Prince of Varnus, Jedi Knight, and a leader of House Ar’Kell. Now it was time to begin fulfilling his destiny. He went forward to meet it with excitement.
General Akira looked at his reports. Perhaps it would be worth it to place more attention on that particular section of the galaxy after all, he thought. We thought it small, of no consequence. But perhaps it merits more consideration. Kronos will want to know. He began making new plans.
Past Reckonings, Future Portents
Next: Read: An Unexpected Visitor, the second Run-on Story of Ar’Kell, in the continuing Legacy of Ar’Kell series and Plot Line of the New Imperium…
Written by Joshua Ausley
The New Imperium