The Legacy of Ar’Kell:


The Flight of Ar'Kell

Chapter One: The Flight

Palace Ravenspyre was in a frenzy. People were running through the hallways, grabbing anything of value, the artwork off the walls, sculptures on the stands, personal belongings, and all kinds of equipment, as they hurried to take them into the transports waiting outside.
Xar Kerensky strode quickly through the corridor, a bustle of people running up and down the hallway around him. Five other Jedi – Aedile Mathis Organa, Alyx “Vamp” Misnera, Marc Iver, Kurt, and Gaius Adonai - followed close behind him.
"All right, what do you have?" Xar asked behind him.
"Everything's almost ready," answered Mathis. "We're loading everything we can carry into the ships outside."
"All the ships are prepped and ready," Iver added.
"Good.” Xar flashed the sheet of flimsi he was holding at them. “Now I just have to get this over with and we can get out of here.”
”Are you sure about what you’re going to say?” Mathis asked for the third time that day.
”Positively,” Xar replied smoothly. “Do not worry. There is ample enough evidence to back up what we have to say, and this is strong enough to justify our reasons without revealing too much.” Ultimately, they had decided not to publicly confront the Dark Council about the discovery they had made – that the Council had secretly known of and approved the attack on Ar’Kell by Dasok Krun and his Dark Jedi. Why Khyron saw Ar’Kell as a threat and wanted them out of the way, they did not know. But that didn’t mean they would be foolish enough to wait around for another try. Still, for diplomatic purposes, they had to make their secession look like it had a legitimate reason, without making claims that would send the whole Brotherhood after them in revenge.
”But this is still likely to provoke retaliation,” Gaius said from behind.
Xar nodded. ”Once we send this message, they will probably immediately send someone after us."

"True," replied Iver. "But Phare's defenses are not the same as they used to be, especially after Phoenix Technologies blasted their way out of the system. I estimate they won't have more than a couple squads that can reach us in time," Iver added.
"Then we had better be ready for them. Are Balfin's preparations in place?"
Ready and waiting."

"What about the artifacts, including the ones we got from Loki?"
"Already loaded," replied Kurt. "Vynd still hasn't been able to figure them all out. Too bad we sent all we had figured out to the Grand Master."
"Yes, well, that was an unfortunate mistake. Let us just hope there is more where that came from." From the writings discovered on Loki, the Ar'Kellians had discovered a number of new Force powers. They had sent them on to the Dark Council, and the powers were now being used as additional powers for the Sith ranks. Unfortunately those powers had not been made accessible to Ar’Kell members. Yet another blow by the Council.
"Make sure all the items in the treasury are brought out. Kurt, see to that. Take absolute care with them! Everyone is to meet me in the main hall in twenty minutes. Anyone not there gets left behind."
"Sure thing."
Kurt stopped and started running in the other direction.

"Mathis. Make sure all our fighters get out safely. A little ways out we will rendezvous with an Escort Carrier. The ones incapable of hyperspace travel will land in the Carrier."
"Make sure everybody remembers what ships they are on. Iver, you take the Assault Transport on the forward pad. Mathis is in his shuttle with the Corvettes until we meet the ESC. Then he will transfer over."
Xar turned into a side corridor, then came out onto the stage of the main Palace meeting chamber. A large curtain veiled them from view of the audience. Xar walked around the curtain and up to the podium. His companions, the command staff of Ar'Kell, moved to stand behind him.
A light started flashing on the recording device in the back of the room, telling them that the camera was on. Xar began.

"Members of Ar'Kell, citizens and workers of Palace Ravenspyre, and members of the Brotherhood. I am here to make an important announcement concerning House Ar’Kell. Over the past few months, power has been gradually taken away from the houses and transferred to the Dark Council. They have attempted to spy on us and micromanage our houses for us. People loyal to the Grand Master and those who have met his demands have been placed in key positions to carry out his secret plans. Favoritism has been shown in the houses, and Ar'Kell has been insulted and rejected time and time again. We can no longer tolerate such treatment. These events have forced us to declare independence, and for the good of the house, we cannot morally and with good will follow the current Grand Master. Ar'Kell is thereby leaving the planet Frigg, the Brotherhood Territories, and Minos Cluster. We make no demands, and we seek only to be left alone in peace as we leave.” He paused. “I repeat, House Ar'Kell is officially seceding from the Dark Brotherhood." He made a cutting motion across his throat with his hand, and the recording light stopped blinking.
He risked a glance over at his companions. “Well, that did it. Now patch me through the commlink to the whole palace." After a moment the cameraman nodded, and Xar resumed speaking. "Citizens of Palace Ravenspyre, this is the Quaestor. You just heard the announcement. You all knew ahead of time what was going on. Everyone is to evacuate the Palace immediately, those of you not with the Ar'Kell Task Force are to make their way to the North Side and board the transports. Everyone else get to your assigned posts. Make sure you board the correct ships! That is all." With that he turned to his command staff members. "Okay, take care of everything else necessary."
"I'll check up on Kurt and get aboard my shuttle. I need to be with the main liftoff team," said Mathis.
"Okay, I'm off to the Transport," Iver said, and started off towards the back of the chamber.
"Good. Everyone else meet at the Grand Hall, in fifteen.” He looked at Mathis. “Anything we might be forgetting?”
Mathis hesitated, then shook his head. "No. I'll see you in the air." He turned and strode off towards the back.

Xar, flanked by Alyx and Gaius, hurried down a large passage along the side of the palace. The wall to their left had tall windows every meter, offering a serene view of the jungle outside. The view was far from serene today, however. Three Modified Corvettes were running engine preparations outside on the landing pads. Xar's commlink beeped from his belt. Mathis's voice came over the speaker.
"Kurt's finished. He's heading back toward the Grand Hall. Vynd is with the corvette and the other members. All other members and civilians accounted for. Ready for liftoff!"
As Xar watched, the three Modified Corvettes slowly rose into the air. Then three Shuttles rose much closer in front of them, obscuring the men's view of the Corvettes. One was Chief Engineer Thad Balfin's shuttle, the other Mathis', and the third carried another group of members who would fly in front of the fleet as scouts. The beautiful Lambda-class Shuttles' port and starboard wings swung down into place, and the ships turned and ascended up into the sky and out of view.
Meanwhile, the transports designated for the people not part of the secession were rising and heading in a different direction, inwards toward the heart of the system. Those that could not afford or did not desire space travel rose in hovercars that sped off above the treetops. They would take their refuge in Frigg's floating cities hundreds of kilometers away.
Out on the forward landing pad, Iver and the Obelisk members boarded the Assault Transport and prepared to join the rest of the fleet. The Transport, using its repulsorlifts, lifted off from the deck. It would probably be the last ship to ever do so.
"All right, we will make our way toward the Grand Hall, with just one small sidetrack." Xar pressed a certain figure on the intricately carved doorway in front of them, and the door slid upwards.
The three men entered a dimly lit room that smelled as though rarely used. The stone in the walls seemed older, as though here before the Palace was built. They followed the passage in front of them to a junction, turned right and then descended a flight of stairs. Several more turns later, they emerged into a round room with a three-meter ceiling. Both men behind Xar drew a deep breath. There were a number of thin columns in a circle connecting the floor and the ceiling. A number of empty crates and boxes littered what had once been the Ar’Kell treasury, and now only one object was left in the room, standing vertically on a podium in the center. The Scepter of Karanshima, the legendary Force object that would supposedly allow it’s user to see across time and space. The object that Dasok Krun and his men had come here for, and the object that, ultimately, they were seceding from the Brotherhood in order to preserve.
Xar walked up to the object reverently and withdrew a dark cloth bag from within his cloak. He was aware of the others behind him, gazing with him at the gold and multicolored handle of the scepter, and the large, pulsating red jewel sitting at the top. Xar hadn’t trusted anyone else to take care of this one. Reaching up, he gently took hold of the scepter, careful not to gaze into the stone or to let any of the Force flow through him as he did so. Quickly he wrapped it in the dark cloth, then tucked it under his arm and nodded to the other men around him. “Time to go,” he said.

They reached the Grand Hall to see Kurt and Beli waiting for them. "Xar, is everything all right?" Kurt asked concernedly.
”Fine,” he replied curtly. “Just… things are on a tight schedule. We have to get to the side entrance, and fast." Despite his words, he stopped for a moment and looked around.
"Goodbye," he said aloud. Everyone present knew how he felt. It was like leaving an old friend behind. Then Xar turned and strode down the Golden Hall. The others followed closely behind. The tapestries and artworks had all been removed. Xar paused only once to type a command into the datapad on the wall. In response, the computer shut down all access terminals and began a system shutdown. All vital data and record has already been erased, and the system itself could not be restored from shutting down without a long algorithmic key. Then the six men went briskly all the way to the Side Gate, shut it behind them, and ran across the landing pads to where the secret hangar for Xar's ship, the newly rechristened Black Star, lay. Above them the Corvettes were burning for space, but one of the Shuttles flew by overhead, still waiting for the others to evacuate.
As they neared the cutout section of the artificial hill, Xar whipped out his remote control and typed in the key sequence. Just as the hidden door began to open, all the men present were filled with a sudden sense of dread and fear. All eyes looked across the landing pads, towards the jungle. Suddenly a white shape burst out, three meters tall as it crouched on innumerable, spidery white legs. It had two sets of arms tipped with claws, and white armor covered its main body. Each man immediately recognized it, and gazing into that face out of legend each person saw Death. As the creature's glowing green eyes met those of each person present, they immediately felt paralyzed. It seemed to concentrate most on Xar, however. It seemed to be studying him from a distance. Xar, who was barely able to overcome his fear, nodded to the Mortigena. We now leave this planet, he thought, or sent through the Force towards the creature. He was sure it could understand him, his communication. This planet is yours again. He looked back at his companions. "Come on, time to go." Startled out of their trance, the others followed Xar into the cavern.

"All systems go," Gaius reported from the copilot's chair. Vamp was behind him manning the systems station, while Xar, in the pilot's seat, activated the combination on the screen in front of him. The rest of the Ar'Kellians were back in the ship's body, preparing for liftoff.
Slowly the whine of the engines reverberated throughout the ship. Then the black ship rose smoothly on its repulsorlifts and they shot out towards the open exit.
The Black Star blasted out of the hanger, its engines lighting up the grass behind on the hillock that had disguised it. They rose to several hundred meters, beautiful blue sky filling the viewports ahead. Then Xar activated the commlink. "Balfin, you there?"
"Aye, sir.
Ready and waiting."

"Very well, proceed."
With that Xar held up his controller once more, and hit a combination of buttons. Behind the ship the hangar exploded. Flame roared out of the hangar entrance, dirt was blown into the air, and the small hill fell in on itself, forming a crater.
Then Xar pulled the ship around to watch the scene below.

Onboard the shuttle he had once rigged to carry Xar and his partner on a mission - though now it was cleaned up to its true beauty - Thad Balfin looked down at the base below. A few kilometers from the palace was the newly constructed sensor system, a large dish sitting atop a supporting building. Its last use had been to send Xar's secession message. Now it would serve its final purpose.
Now comes the fun part, thought Thad. Bringing up the small weapons control panel from underneath the console, he began entering commands.
The explosives in the building below the dish went, blowing the building's walls outward. As the dish began to fall, the whole building blew up in a huge fireball that blew the dish apart with it. Bits of metal rained down towards the ground.
One down, one more to go. He hit the command key.
The overlapping shield system consisted of a number of small generators formed a circle around the palace. Each one exploded one after another, forming a ring of fire around Palace Ravenspyre.

Xar brought the Black Star around and flew above one of the fireballs erupting from the generators. As he made a close flyby of the palace, he captured in his mind the beauty of the palace. The repairs had gone well. The palace had been restored to its former state, but the unfinished additions stood out. Some scaffolding at the top marked where the topmost spire would have been. It would never be finished.
He had many memories of the palace, many of which he thought he would carry for the rest of his life. Some of the most recent, momentous events of his life had taken place there. There he had been freed from Runis' bonds. There he had met what were now his closest friends. There he had found something worth fighting for. Ravenspyre was a part of his life now, and all the Ar'Kellians who saw this day would remember it forever.
Looking past the palace, he saw the facilities around the landing pads: the fighter hangars, repair and refueling station, and a barracks. Arming the ship's missiles, he designated each structure a target and ordered the computer to fire. Missiles shot out of both launchers, shooting past the cockpit faster than the eye could follow. They streaked out, and impacted against their targets precisely. A veritable conflagration followed, a wall of fire blasting pieces of metal and duracrete into the air, the erupting fireballs forming one huge mushroom-shaped ball of fire. Xar brought the ship low over the landing pads, turning hard to port to avoid the destruction.
Just below them a white figure stood out. It seemed so small at this distance. . He was surprised it was still standing there with all the fire and destruction around it. Xar knew he could destroy it if he wished. But it would not seem right, and it also provided an extra protection for the palace, he thought. If it wanted to make Ravenspyre its territory, it was fine with him. As the Black Star flew overhead, outlined by flames from all sides, the Mortigena raised it head and screamed. The high pitched sound penetrated even the Crinn ship's airtight cockpit, and sent a chill into each man's bones. Then the black smoke obscured the creature from their view. Xar pushed the engines forward, and the Black Star shot skyward a trail of smoke behind. Balfin's shuttle strained to keep up behind it.

*                                   *                                   *



            Grand Master Justinian Khyron stared at the screen as it replayed the news relay that had come out of Frigg only moments ago.  As Kerensky’s words resounded again in his ears, his eyes narrowed in rage at the audacity of the man. True, the Brotherhood had been through more than its share of defections and schisms in the brief years since its revival. But this, to have a whole Jedi House leave, had not happened during the reigns of his predecessors. It was an insult to his very name as Grand Master of the Dark Brotherhood.
Switching off the message, he changed the display to Comm mode. The signal could quickly reach out from Eos, the moon housing the Dark Hall, to Aurora, capital system of the Remnant in Minos Cluster and to the Sovereign, the capital ship awaiting there. The Grand Master could not simply let Ar’Kell think it could get away so easily. But better to wait, he decided, and strike from the shadows, cut out the heart. He would send the Dark Brotherhood’s elite to take care of the job. Yes, an assassination was much more effective for dealing with traitors. Perhaps they would even make it look like an accident. Either way, he would see to it that Ar’Kell was never heard of again, and that its destruction would serve as a reminder to all others who dared oppose the iron rule of Justinian Khyron


*                                  *                                  *

The fleet of ships - an Escort Carrier, three Modified Corvettes, and their escorts - moved silently through space, in the outer regions of the Phare System, towards the jump point.
Xar's ship, the Black Star, took up the rear of the formation, with one of the shuttles leading. Onboard, Xar looked back towards Odin, Phare's sun, in the direction where most of the system's planets lay now. Loki, Phare's furthest planet from the sun, was the only planet whose orbit they hadn't passed yet. Alyx, now taking the copilot's seat, was continuously scanning for other ships, but Xar still looked visually for approaching ships. It was possible that he could sense incoming ships first with his Danger Sense. The question was whether or not the scanners would pick them up first.
Alyx shook his head and looked over at Xar. "This ship's scanners still amaze me. We can see further out than any of the other ships, yet she doesn't use an external dish!"
Xar nodded. "The Crinn have some pretty advanced technologies, especially for a race that does not leave their home star system. But I have made some modifications to the Black Star, too. On my second trip to their home world they gave me some special equipment, including blueprints to modify this ship."
He pointed to the weapons display, then sat back in contemplation. He had become mentally exhausted over the past few weeks. Once again, he went back over in his head the events since their discovery on Loki.
  After making his initial decision to break with the Brotherhood, Xar had taken his ship, then named the Nightmare, out into the border between the Outer Rim and the Unknown Regions, into Epsilon Sector. He'd made contact with a number of other disgruntled fleets and corporations fed up with the Brotherhood and the wasteful, Imperial-minded way the Remnant was running things. Included was another group of Jedi, called the Society of Shadows, a group of Jedi truly hiding in shadows, away from the conflict engulfing the galaxy. He'd negotiated with their leader, Grand Master Lei Chandel, about bringing House Ar'Kell into the society. In return, they had agreed to merge the two seamlessly together, and have Xar lead as Grand Master of the new Order. It was more than Xar would have dreamed of mere months before, before he had even taken control of a Jedi House. But since the attack on Ravenspyre, he had undergone a transformation of sorts. And he could say that he liked what had happened, though he regretted the events necessary to change him. He had discovered a lot about himself, and the galaxy, in the past months.
  After the negotiations were complete, in the traditional way Grand Master Chandel had promoted Xar to Jedi Master, and given him any other teaching required of the position. Xar had been surprised to find that he already knew, from Runis’ records and teaching, or had taught himself most of the talents known to a Jedi Master. And with his increased strength in the Force, he could easily accomplish most tasks that a typical Master had to struggle with.
Then, after his secret rendezvous, Xar had traveled to a much more dangerous place. After so many years away from proper Crinn maintenance, Xar's ship was still in great working order, but far from top notch. Also, in the invasion of Palace Ravenspyre Dasok Krun had destroyed his hand-held rail gun, a prototype small enough to be fired in one hand. So, although there was no record of a human traveling to Crinn twice, he’d decided the journey was worth the risk.
  The Crinn system was on the other side of a huge rift in space-time. Navigation through was difficult, and it took the detailed files onboard the Nightmare to even find a safe path through it. On the other side, the Crinn lived in isolation in what could be called their own dimension. Their system only had one planet, Crinn, and the system itself was in something like a pocket in space-time. Since it was so little known, it was only up to Xar to speculate on how differently time ran there from the rest of the galaxy. It did not run so different, though, that Xar noticed much of a change when he emerged. The entire Crinn system was an enigma.
What he found upon approaching Crinn left a still-clear image in his mind. He had thought, upon originally visiting the world, that the Crinn had no large capital ships. He knew they used ships such as the one he owned, to go throughout the galaxy on their own agendas, but this time he had not expected to see an entire fleet of ships, most larger than the Nightmare. In fact, some were nearly the size of an Imperial-Class Star Destroyer.
Unlike his first encounter with the Crinn, the aliens did not try to blow Xar's ship out of the sky with their massive planetary mass driver. They didn't even make a move towards him. The Crinn greeted him as though his arrival was business as usual, and granted him clearance to land. The Crinn were as strange and hard to understand as their system. He landed, strangely, in the same city he had visited before. He suspected the Crinn didn't want him to see too much of their world.
Once there, the Crinn were more than happy – in their way – to provide him with all the help he needed, charge-free as usual. They had nearly taken his ship apart to upgrade it according to their newer design. They had improved the engines and hyperdrive, and revamped the ship's armor. The twin wingtip-mounted ion cannons had always kept the ship underpowered in the front, so the Crinn added two quad-laser cannons in the front spaced in-between the cockpit and the wings. The entire process took a couple of days, during which Xar spoke with some of the Crinn. They never said much about themselves and their intentions, so Xar had to be selective on topics. When he asked them why there was a fleet in orbit, their only response was, "Preparations for the coming darkness," quite a cryptic answer. When Xar told them about the destruction of his mass gun, the Crinn were more than happy to offer a replacement. "Your gun was a prototype, but we have…a modified version," they’d said in their typical dark, scratchy language. Indeed, they presented him with a more refined model with a higher firing and projectile speed. It also was shaped more comfortably for his hand, and instead of the shiny metal, was composed of the Crinn's almost-indestructible, black xenotronium. It also carried twelve bullets, two more than his previous model, with optional extensions to add more clips to the gun.
But the Crinn were not satisfied with just replacing his old gun. They brought him to their weapons testing facility, and proudly presented him with what they called "their proudest achievement in solid-projectile technology". They gave him an even smaller version of their hand-held mass gun, small enough to be concealed in a sleeve or a pocket. It only carried three small bullets, but was a great way to "provide a needed edge in certain situations," or so they said.
After their preparations were complete, they sent him on his way with a warning. "You are the only one to visit our world twice, but be warned, do not return again! Go fulfill your destiny, and stay clear of legends."
Then they permitted Xar to re-board his ship and leave their space, sending a fighter escort to make sure "he got away safely". Strange, indeed.
"Xar, you all right?" Alyx’s voice snapped him out of his reverie.
Xar looked over at his friend. "What? Oh yes, just thinking."
Alyx eyed him skeptically, but turned back to his console without speaking. "Uh-oh!" he exclaimed. "Enemy fighters approaching! We'd better look lively!"
Xar hit a few buttons on the console. "How many?"
"Looks like a full squadron. At five hundred clicks out... What a scanning system!"
Xar activated the comm. "Black Star to ESC Liberator, we have multiple bogeys coming in, ninety degrees to starboard."
"This is Liberator," answered Mathis's voice. He must have transferred over from his shuttle already. "We see them. Blast, we're still half an hour from the jump point. Guess we'll have to engage. Designation: Our Delta Squadron engaging enemy Alpha Squadron. Launching fighters now!"
Xar shut the link and hit the intercom button. "Prepare to engage enemy! All crew to battle stations!" Then he gripped the accelerator and threw it forward. The Black Star shot ahead.
In front of them a squadron of TIE Avengers pulled out from their positions surrounding the Escort Carrier, heading out in every direction, then pulled together and headed toward the approaching enemies.
"Arming weapons systems," Alyx announced. "I’m glad you put labels on these switches, by the way. I have no idea what this says in Crinn. Okay, gunners in position. Ready to engage. Enemy at a hundred clicks now."
"Looks like a flight group breaking off," Xar announced. "Heading our way. Their mistake." He angled the Black Star over, heading straight for the enemy fighters.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

Major General Kaerner stood in the briefing room. Normally it would have been empty at this hour, and most of Tau Squadron was off on various duties. Only two other members of Tau were present before him, Lieutenant General Oan and Brigadier General Binagran. The only other officer present before him was Lt. General Jarad. A good pilot, though not in Tau, Jarad was chosen because he knew and had served with the traitor's leader, Xar Kerensky, and been in Ar'Kell. He was also one of the few available pilots they could spare at the moment.
Kaerner looked each of his men in the eye. "Gentlemen, we have a tense situation on our hands. You all know about Ar'Kell's seceding. The Grand Master has personally chosen Tau to track them down. We don't have much time. They are already heading for the Phare System jump point. Our orders are simple: hang back, but close enough so we can follow their jump trajectory to wherever they're going, send a message back regarding the location of their base, then destroy the traitors before they can react. We only have one flight here, but the Grand Master ordered us to go personally, and I am to lead it. I have every confidence you will perform adequately in this mission. Any questions?"
"Sir," started Jarad. "Why was I chosen? I know Kerensky and the Ar'Kellians, but what good can I be?"
"We don't have time to question orders, Jarad. Apparently the Grand Master wants us to be able to anticipate their responses. I trust you don't have a problem with the concept of killing these traitors?"
Jarad shook his head. "No, sir. I left the house a long time ago. I didn't agree with their methods then."
Because they are traitors, and your first loyalty is to the Brotherhood and the Empire."

"Yes sir."
"All right. Finally, we'll be flying Defenders instead of the A-9's." At the confused looks from the pilots, Kaerner explained. "We'll need something with better shields and armor and maneuverability to beat the traitors. Our Defenders will be armed with Advanced Concussion Missiles, enough to take out the Avengers they have with a single hit. When we get out there, the situation might change, so be alert of any order updates. Any more questions?"
No one replied.
"Good, then let's go. They already have a head start on us!" With that the four men briskly made their way out of the briefing room, heading for the hangar.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

The air around the ESC Liberator was filled with TIE Avengers, flying by in every direction. The turbolasers onboard the Escort Carrier and accompanying Corvettes swiveled around to track the fighters flying around them, opening up with blasts of green. An incoming missile impacted against the Carrier's shields, but otherwise caused no damage.
Out of the viewports ahead, Xar and Alyx saw the two squadrons engage. Concussion missiles shot out at incredible speed, some missing, some finding their targets, causing fighters to explode or go spinning out of control. Then suddenly a wall of green lasers came at them. Xar juked the ship around, some lasers impacting harmlessly against the shields. Even if they did bring the shields down, the reflective surface of the Black Star's armor would minimize the damage. The Heads-Up-Display painted targeting crosshairs around each of the four fighters, and the quad-laser batteries, with their auto-targeting system, and the ship's top turrets opened fire. The display painted a missile lock around one of the ships, pulsing green, then turned red.
"Ksthag mosh, grrniv shasm," the computer announced in the evil-sounding language of the Crinn.
"Xar?" asked Alyx as he struggled with the targeting panel. "Turn on the translator, will you?"
Xar, who apparently understood Crinn, took a moment for the question to register. "Oh! Sure." He reached up and hit a button, and the seemingly screeching babble from the speakers suddenly began speaking in imperfect basic. "Targets acquired," announced a feminine voice. Alyx arched an eyebrow, but hit the firing button.
A concussion missile shot out from the starboard launcher, streaking out towards its target. The TIE Advanced turned towards missile briefly, snapping off a quick shot at the missile that missed wide. Then as the missile approached at blinding speed, the pilot pulled the ship up in a vain attempt to avoid the warhead. The missile hit the ship's left solar panel, passing through it like a sheet of flimsi, and penetrated into the body before detonating, blowing the fighter out of existence.
Alyx looked down at the status display screen. "Someone has a lock on us," he warned.
Suddenly an alert claxon sounded. "Incoming missile," said the computer.
"Launch chaff!" yelled Xar.
Alyx complied as Xar pulled sharply back on the controls. Out of the rear of the ship a chaff pod launched, then burst into dozens of tiny beacons meant to draw the missile off course. The missile, once headed straight for the Black Star, turned and flew through the chaff, its lock broken.
The rest of the fighters flew past the Black Star and circled around behind. Xar pulled the ship around also, trying to get behind one of the agile fighters.
"Fighter coming around," announced Gaius. He swiveled his turret, blanketing the area around the fighter with fire. He scored several hits, weakening the fighter's shields.
"I've got him," Beli announced, in the second top turret. His display painted crosshairs in front of the fighter, where Beli was supposed to fire. He complied, sending deadly red lances out at the enemy. His hits clipped the fighter, burning away one of the solar panels and sending the fighter into an uncontrolled spin. Another one out of the battle.
"Fighter on our tail," announced Kurt from the bottom turret. He fired again, but the fighter kept pulling back up into the ship's jet-wash.
"More trouble. One's heading back toward the fleet." Alyx said. A fighter shot past overhead, burning back towards the larger ships.
Xar brought the Black Star on the enemy's tail and pushed the throttle forward as far as it would go. They might not be able to outrun the TIE Avenger, but they could keep it in range long enough to get a clear shot.
"Fighter's still on our tail," reported Alyx. The ship rocked as the ship took more hits from the pursuing fighter. "What are we going to do?"
"Launch a mine," Xar said. At Alyx ‘s confused look, Xar reached over and hit a couple controls. He couldn't expect the man to understand the entire control bank, after all, it was written in Crinn and only the most basic systems had been labeled in Basic for his benefit.
A small hatch opened next to where the chaff launcher was, and a small orb shot out. Just then the ship's afterburners kicked in, flames coming out of the engine housings. The afterburners sent them pulling away from the pursuing fighter. Just then the fighter came in range of the mine, and the small orb exploded, sending a shockwave out around it. It also propelled dozens of smaller warheads, which also exploded, filling the space behind the Black Star with fire. The TIE Avenger emerged from the receding flame, its body armor melted slag. A gout of gas erupted from the engine, evidence of a reactor leak, then the reactor went. The TIE was disintegrated as the shockwave of energy erupted behind the Black Star.
Inside the cockpit, the two men felt the ship shudder from the energy wave. Xar shook off sudden thoughts of a similar incident, long ago.
"Aft shields low," reported Alyx. "We've gained on the target ahead."
Almost, but not enough.” Xar looked down at the readout. "Oh no! It has lock on one of the shuttles!"
Ahead of them, the shuttles were moving around, participating as best they could in the battle around the larger ships. They didn't expect an attack from behind.
The TIE acquired lock, and two concussion missiles sped from its launchers, streaking out towards one of the shuttles. Xar watched in horror as both missiles impacted against the rear of the ship simultaneously and exploded. There was no way the shuttle's shield could handle the impact, and the rear of the ship was blown apart by the blast. Then the ship's engines went, and the entire ship was blown into millions of pieces.
Xar looked over at Alyx. "Destroy him," he snarled. The display painted a positive lock for the ship's auto-aiming lasers.
Every battery on the Black Star erupted in laser fire. Waves of energy flew past the ship's viewports, reaching for the fleeing fighter. The blasts hit, and instantaneously the ship's shields were overloaded, and the second half of the blasts hit the unshielded aft of the fighter, melting the ion exhaust ports to slag and tearing into the body of the ship. An expanding fireball erupted from inside the ship, vaporizing the entire fighter into its component molecules. Xar flew through where the fighter had been a second before.
Up ahead, another missile found its mark. Another enemy fighter exploded, and the debris, and a piece of one of the solar panels slammed into the side of the Escort Carrier.
"Fighter destroyed," Mathis announced. "Remaining three enemy fighters are retreating. Do we pursue?"
Xar thought for a moment. Inside he wanted to eradicate every fighter left, and keep fighting until there was no one left. But he knew that allowing ships to escape would show the Brotherhood that they didn't want the conflict. "Negative. Let them go. Enough life has been lost today. Which shuttle was that, Mathis?"
"One of the service shuttles. The one I came in on."
Xar blew out a sigh and relaxed. The loss of life was regrettable, but at least none of those aboard were Force-sensitive. That made him stop for a moment. Was he thinking of people in terms of how valuable they were now? Perhaps he had to. Perhaps it was part of being a leader. But he didn't like it, not at all.
"We're approaching the jump point, Xar."
"All right, Mathis. Prepare for hyperspace sequence."
Mathis to fleet, all ships close up formation, prepare to enter hyperspace."

                                    *                                  *                                  *

Moving silently through space, maintaining radio silence, Major General Kaerner watched the ships jump to hyperspace through the tight-band transmission coming from the retreating fighters. They should be able to get a fairly accurate estimate of their hyperspace jump trajectory. Of course, whether or not the Ar'Kellians would make the jump directly, or make several smaller jumps to throw off pursuers, was unknown. But his TIE Defenders were rigged for silent running, and he knew he'd be able to find their destination and/or base. After all, he commanded Tau Squadron, the most elite group of pilots in the Brotherhood, which meant the most elite group of pilots anywhere. This was the kind of job Tau was designed for.
"This is Kaerner to Wraith Flight. Prepare for hyperspace jump. Let's get the traitors."
Kaerner activated the motivator, and his handpicked flight group of the Brotherhood’s finest entered hyperspace as one.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

The Legacy of Ar’Kell:


The Flight of Ar'Kell

Chapter 2 : The Arrival

Xar sat in the makeshift briefing room, the Command Staff of House Ar'Kell gathered around the huge wooden table, and listened to them make their reports. In the few days since they'd retaken Varnus from a band of pirates, the Ar'Kellians had been busy. The ships used in the Flight (except for the Escort Carrier) had landed just outside the Royal Palace, which was now under reconstruction, being converted into the new base for the Jedi. It had a distinctly different feel from the one Ravenspyre had, definitely a more Varnusan feel, though Xar could tell it more than the others. It was also much, much larger, like a small city in itself. Most of the palace was in ruins, but Xar's late uncle, Aron Kerensky, had managed to rebuild some of the inner sections and decorate them with the Varnusan art and artifacts he'd managed to keep away from scavengers and pirates. Still, a lot of work needed to be done. And the sooner the Society of Shadows arrived, led by Grand Master Chandel, and the rest of their alliance, the New Imperium, the sooner they would be able to finish rebuilding the Palace, then Vectur, the capital city, then all of Varnus. Xar could imagine it, the world glistening beautifully against the void of space, like it once had. He had promised his uncle he would rebuild it one day. He intended to keep that promise, no matter what.
Soon, when the Society arrived, Chandler would transfer leadership to Xar, and Ar'Kell would merge into the larger organization.
Stang, but it was good to be home. The air smelled good, like Varnus, and made him nostalgic for times from his childhood. Though he had avoided his homeworld for years after the disaster and his capture, he had now reconciled the past, and he felt reborn. Being here gave him energy and life. He was overjoyed to be able to build a new government here and an organization of Jedi. Already the capital city of Vectur had been rebuilt by the hardy citizens of Varnus, and Xar knew that under the New Imperium, a new age of economic prosperity was ripe to begin.
His thoughts were interrupted by Iver, who was making reports on the military readiness of the Ar'Kell forces.
"Yes, Iver, I hear you. Go on."
Iver straightened and continued his speech. "The platform we managed to capture in orbit had been re-staffed with those crew we can spare, and repairs are being made to the minor damage. It still can't hold fighters yet, but the other systems are up to ninety percent."
"Excellent. If anyone follows us here, they will let us know, and be able to jam any enemy transmissions, correct?"
"Correct, sir, at least until the platform is destroyed." He didn't mean it as a joke.
"What about our situation down here?"
"Well, we have the three Modified Corvettes, and our contingent of fighters. That much firepower should protect us here in the Palace. But all things being equal, I hope the Society forces get here soon. The more protection I have around me, the better I will feel."
"Agreed, we all feel that way. Alyx, status of the reconstruction?"
Alyx looked across the table at the Quaestor. He too seemed re-energized by behind on his homeworld once again. "We are fortifying the inner levels of the palace, including exploring the underground sections, and we’re also recruiting some of the local inhabitants. Hard to see them like this. Everything used to be so beautiful.” He glanced down at his datapad. “At any rate, we need some supplies and some major equipment to do any real work."

Xar nodded. He understood how the man felt at seeing their native world, so damaged from years of war and negligence. "You will get it, after we meet up with the Society forces." Then, standing, he said, "All right, thanks for your reports, everyone. Take a break. We will get back to this tomorrow. Mathis, if you would come with me?"
"Of course."

Xar stood on one of the palace's balconies and looked out over the city. The Royal Palace sat at the top of a small hill, giving those within enough height to view the surrounding capital, which had grown all the way around the palace grounds. Vectur had once been a massive city, with tall buildings that might, themselves, be considered a work of art. Though many were destroyed or abandoned after the bombardment, construction was visible everywhere. With the New Imperium moving into the system for the past couple of years, Varnus was modernizing as much as possible. At least one city on this planet would be a modern metropolis. Xar was saddened, as always, as he thought about the loss that had occurred, but he was heartened by the fact that, as always, Varnusians stood back up and rebuilt things stronger than ever.
Mathis stood next to him, silent in respect for Xar's contemplation of the city around them. Finally, after due time, he turned to the Quaestor and asked, "Did you wish to see me about something?"
Xar glanced at Mathis. "Yes, I did. You know, I promised my uncle I would rebuild this palace. But it is such a monumental task... How will we ever accomplish it?"
"Xar, you and I have both lost our homes and families. That’s one thing we have in common, and maybe that’s one reason we’ve grown close. But at least you still have something left to build back with. Alderaan…” He paused, a sad, faraway look in his eyes. His ubiquitous smile had, for once, faded. “Well, it’s gone now. Nothing can bring it back. But at least here,” he said, gesturing around at the city, “there is land, and materials to rebuild with. I am sure that your people, hardworking as they are, would love to assist you. They’ve been without a leader for years. They will follow you. You have the talent to lead. Perhaps you should give the common folk an incentive to help here," he suggested. "And however large the task, we shall take it bit by bit, section by section, until he have rebuilt everything. It will look glorious again."
Xar kept looking at his close friend, nodding slowly. "You are right, my friend. We should not separate perceived ‘royalty’ and the ‘common’ folk any longer. They have gone through just as much as I have. I think everyone should have a fair share in our city and our world. Thank you for your optimistic words, Mathis. We shall prevail. That is what this is about, after all: prevailing."
He turned away and made his way back into the palace. Mathis walked along beside him.
"The Society and the New Imperium should be arriving soon, Mathis. Amazing how well we have gotten along with them. I believe this is the beginning of a new future. Something greater than what we could ever have been back in the Brotherhood."
Mathis nodded. "Now we have freedom. And a new beginning."
Anyway, I want to make sure everything is in order. I know we cannot do much to the Palace cosmetically now, but we can make sure our defenses are top notch. I want to make sure their arrival and the ceremony goes smoothly. I want fighter patrols in the atmosphere and in orbit daily."

"It will be done."
"Good. And one more thing: I want to fly one of the patrols. It has been a long time since I have flown, and I want to see the planet from the air again. I will take any wingman. I just want to get into the cockpit again."
Mathis immediately shook his head, adamantly. “Not a good idea. We can't risk you right now. It’s a critical time. I must protest..."
"I understand, Mathis, but I will not be dissuaded from this. I am going to fly, one way or another."
Mathis looked in Xar's eyes, and saw that he wasn't going to convince Xar not to go. "Very well," he said. "But don't stay out too long."
Xar laughed. "Trust me, I am only going for a joyride."

                        *                                  *                                  *

The two TIE Avengers screamed through the air. Breaking radio silence, Xar gave a yell of joy as he felt the acceleration of his powerful fighter. It had been some time since he'd flown other than in simulators and mock combat against Imperial Remnant members. He hadn't seen actual flight – or combat – in  a while. Not that he expected to do any fighting today. He was just exhilarated by the thrill of flying again. He zoomed low over the ground, the landscape flying past in a blur. Much of the land was grassland or forest, but every so often the green was interrupted by a dead spot where a turbolaser had struck the ground years before. Still, much of the land was as he remembered it, causing fond memories of his trips as a youth.
Finally he pulled up towards the upper atmosphere, away from the surface below. His wingman, Eman Chori, callsign "Striker", twisted to keep up with Xar's wild maneuvers. Striker was one of Ar'Kell's better pilots, and a Jedi Hunter, just under Knight, by rank. Xar considered promoting him to full Knight if he could keep up with him for the whole flight. Striker was one of those loyal to Ar'Kell, and decided to come with them regardless of their reasons. He believed in loyalty to a cause, not one leader.
"All right," Xar said through the commlink. His TIE’s helmet muffled his voice slightly; although the Avenger had built-in ejector seats, they still had to wear the traditional combat suit to survive hull leaks, ejections, and the like. Xar had been considering redesigning the uniforms to better suit the newer generation of fighters and the needs of the pilot, but he did not have the resources available, yet. Perhaps in the future, when they had more resources, he would. "We will run through some training exercises, skim the area logged on the flight plan, then maybe pull out and do some space recon. Try to keep up, and keep an eye peeled."
"Yes sir." Striker's voice was steady, he'd been in combat before, and knew how to take orders.
Xar pulled back on the stick and launched into a series of maneuvers. If Mathis knew what I was up to, he thought, He would never have let me go out. Inside his helmet, he smiled.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

The mottled sky of hyperspace coalesced into starlines that pulled themselves back into stars. There weren't as many stars around as in systems closer to the core, but a beautiful purple and pink nebula to starboard added color to the scene. A planet loomed into view, a beautiful blue and green sphere.
Major General Kaerner activated the tight-beam commlink to his flight group. "Welcome to Varnus, gentlemen. Time to eliminate our traitors."
They had tracked the Ar'Kellians through their multiple-jump route to Varnus, and finally learning of their destination, gave them a little time to settle down and make easier targets. Not that elite Tau squadron needed easier targets, though.
"System data acquired," Tau 2, Lt. General Oan, reported. "Sending encoded message back to Aurora. Transmitting system info... What? They're jamming us, sir."
Kaerner checked his screens. "Well, well. They've got a space platform. That's what's jamming us. Tau four, you may have the honor of taking it out. Then we'll send the transmission."
"Yes, sir." Brigadier General Binegran said.
"Meanwhile, Tau two and three on me. Let's go give these traitors a wake-up call. Lock onto their largest energy transmission when we get within range; that should be their primary base of operations."
A murmur of assents came over the commlink. "All right, then let's move!"
One fighter broke off and sped towards the platform, a small dot ahead. The rest of the TIE Defenders streaked down straight for the planet, with very hostile intentions.

"Sir, I'm picking up ships,” Striker’s voice came over the commlink. “They're transmitting Imperial IFF Codes!"
"What?" Xar looked down at his display. Indeed, there were three fighters heading in their direction. But their IFF Codes weren't just Imperial...
"Defenders! It's Tau Squadron!" Striker said. Indeed, they’d openly identified themselves as Tau Squadron. But Tau didn't fly Defenders...
Why were they here? And how had Tau found them? Xar realized it wasn't important. The platform would be jamming their frequencies, so that would be one of their targets. But the main three were not heading towards the platform, but for the planet itself. Looks like they want a few easy kills. Xar wasn't about to oblige them. With few fighters on patrol, the palace would be a sitting target. He activated his link back to the palace. "Ar'Kell Air Control, do you read? This is Kerensky, Patrol flight one, over."
"This is Air Control," said a neutral female voice. "We read four confirmed incoming bogeys. One is approaching the platform."
"Right, can they hold their own?"
"They will attempt to. Remaining three bogeys on course for home base."
"We are engaging. Get us relief support in the air if you can."
"Roger, emergency shuttle launching. More fighters should be in the air within five minutes."
"Xar out." He hit the in-flight frequency. "All right, Striker. Looks like they have not seen us yet. They are heading on a direct approach for the capital. Form on my wing and prepare to engage. Time to test your skills."
Xar pulled back on the stick and hit the thrust, moving to intercept the enemy.

"Looks like an enemy patrol," Jarad said in Tau 2.
Kaerner checked his radar. Two blips were quickly closing in. "Looks like TIE Avengers. Let's take them. Then we'll find their base and give them something to talk about." Kaerner knew that their Defenders were more than a match for the slower, less shielded Avengers. Yet if they fought in atmosphere, the Defenders were less aerodynamic, and the Avengers might actually be more maneuverable.
Suddenly the incoming signal blipped, indicating a transmission from one of the fighters. Kaerner activated the link.
"This is Ar'Kell One to Tau Squadron. You are violating Varnus air space. Withdraw at once."
"Negative, Ar'Kell flight," Kaerner answered. "We have orders to take you down. The Empire doesn't cater to traitors."
"Kaerner, is that you?"
"Who is this?" The voice sounded familiar...
"Kerensky. What in the galaxy are you doing here, Kaerner?"
"Xar... I don't want to fight you. Turn yourself in. But I have specific orders to put you down one way or another."
"You will have to try," Kerensky’s voice came back defiantly.
Kaerner shook his head. "You've no chance against us. You know that. Stand down."
"We shall see." There was a click as Xar cut the link. Kaerner watched his radar as the two fighters accelerated towards them. They seemed to be waiting to engage inside the atmosphere, though. The man was crazy. First defecting, and now this. Xar was good, but Kaerner had bested him in practice together, two years before. They had no chance of survival. But if they were too stubborn or stupid to realize that... well, he had orders. Still, he didn't like the idea of putting Xar down himself.
"All right, people, you take the leader. I'll take his wingman."

Xar watched the Defenders split off, two heading in his direction and their leader moving to intercept Striker. The fighters glowed as they penetrated the outer atmosphere. "Watch it, Striker, you have one coming in. He is good. Try and hold him off while I handle these two."
"You sure you can handle them?"
"No problem."
The fighters were only a few kilometers away now. As they would be fighting in the upper levels of the atmosphere, the advantage in speed and maneuverability of the Defenders would be decreased. Plus, they had just come through reentry, and their systems would be a little slow. Kaerner must not have done much atmospheric flying. After all, with those three sets of protruding solar panels, as opposed to the two curved ones on the Advanced, the Defenders were much less aerodynamic.
Xar saw Striker break off and head for his target. Painting his crosshairs over one of the approaching Defenders, Xar switched to missiles and waited for a solid lock. He saw a missile streak out from the enemy leader, saw Striker pull up and release chaff. The more maneuverable Advanced pulled out of the way, and the missile streaked through the chaff and headed for the planet below.
Xar got a solid lock on his target. He pulled the trigger, sending two concussion missiles streaking out almost faster than he could follow. He hoped he didn't know either of these two. He hated killing people he knew.

"Incoming missile!" Oan yelled. He watched the missiles fly towards him, and wrenched the flight stick to the side at the last second. One missile missed him by little more than a meter. The second must've connected with the fighter's shields, because it detonated, throwing the shields down and sending the fighter into a spin. The lock tone wasn't broken, though.
"Where is it? I lost it!"
Jarad's voice came over the speaker. "It's coming back around, launch chaff!"
Oan hit the button, launching a cluster of chaff behind him. He watched his radar, seeing the missile turn around. It wasn't heading towards the chaff; it was heading straight for him!
"It's still coming in, Jarad!"
He pulled up in desperation. He could see the missile now. It had come back around, passing to port, and had turned and was heading straight in. It grew larger and larger, until it bathed the cockpit in red light for a bare instant. His last thoughts shifted to his commander.

The missile hit the fighter, piercing the cockpit. The pilot was dead before the missile detonated. Then it exploded, blowing the TIE Defender into thousands of tiny particles.
Kaerner watched with horror, then looked down at the other enemy fighter with hate. One of Tau's members killed, just like that. He would avenge Oan. His target didn't have a chance.

"Xar, I can't shake this guy!"
"Hold on, Striker, just hold on!
I’ll be there in a second!" Xar replied. He had taken a snapshot at the other fighter, hitting its forward shields, then managed to pull past his tail in the confusion, and headed for the other pair.
"Sir, I can't shake him! Shields down!” The man gave a yell. “Incoming missile!"
"Striker, eject!"
But it was too late. The missile hit the rear of his fighter. The explosion began at the engines and disintegrated the fighter from stern to bow.

Hurt and anger filled Xar. The Dark Brotherhood just couldn't stop; they wanted to kill all of them, every single one. Ruthless killers. He wouldn't let happen. He turned back onto the tail of his target, pouring green laser fire after the enemy fighter, hitting it again and again in the stern. The shields went, and the blasts began melting the rear of the fighter, pieces of metal blowing out. A trail of smoke trailed from the engines.

"Kaerner, He's all over me! My shields are down!"
Another blast rocked the TIE Defender, and a warning beep sounded. "Engine failure," the computer said.
"Sorry sir!" Jarad reached down and hit the ejection switch.

Xar saw the pilot eject, and pulled out. The enemy fighter dove toward the surface, where it would hit and be destroyed.
He turned the fighter back towards the leader. Somehow he knew it would come to this: him against Kaerner. He knew that with his slightly advanced maneuverability, they might be just about evenly matched. But Kaerner was an excellent gunner as well, and his fighter could take more of a beating. In a Brotherhood competition once, Kaerner had soundly defeated Xar multiple times. He swallowed hard. He couldn’t let that affect his flying now. They flew straight for one another, going head to head. Xar launched a missile, that sped straight for the enemy fighter, but Kaerner fired a quad blast that detonated the missile prematurely.
Xar switched to lasers and fired, but Kaerner somehow evaded his blast. Only a few Remnant members had been able to best him in head-on runs. He just had to hit him.
Kaerner returned fire, and a quad blast of green energy hit his front shields, dropping them almost to zero.
Xar turned away in desperation, knowing the fighter would pull onto his flank. Another blast flew past.
He dove for the surface. He knew his only chance would be to out-maneuver his enemy in the lower atmosphere. Kaerner got to him first, though. Blast after blast him in the rear of his fighter. Sparks began popping around the cockpit, and warning claxons sounded all around. The ejection light was flashing.
Giving a Varnusian curse, Xar hit the ejection switch. The top of the fighter shot off, and he was flattened to his seat as he rocketed upwards.

Kaerner fired single rounds again and again, then cried out in dismay as Xar ejected. Cursing, he switched back to quad-lasers and fired. The blast hit the rear of the fighter, causing the engines to go critical. The fighter exploded, but the ejecting pilot had had enough time to clear the proximity of the blast.
Kaerner turned to avoid the explosion, and looked out through the viewpanel. He saw the small ejection pod drop towards the surface, and pushed the stick forward to follow suit. He had to meet the man before the rescue crew got to him. The leader, the head of this treacherous snake, had to be cut off, regardless of his feelings. He sped towards the surface. This wasn't over.

Two more missiles streaked out from the TIE Defender and impacted against the shields of the platform.
The platform's turbolasers returned fire, but the agile TIE Defender nimbly avoided the shots.
Down in the makeshift control center, Mathis heard a cry for help come over the loudspeakers.
"Sir, we can't hit him! I don't think we'll last much longer! He must be doing something to us through the Force! We can’t hit him!” Tau’s members were, after all, Jedi.
"Just hold on!" Mathis replied. Then he switched to a different frequency. "Get all the Command Staff up here. I have an idea."
Then another call came through. "Sir, this is Air Control. We've received an ejection signal. Quaestor Kerensky ejected, along with one of the Tau members. Striker and one Tau member killed. Looks like their leader is following them down."
"Get the shuttle after them! We have to get to him before he's killed!" Shutting off the commlink, Mathis just hoped they weren't too late.

                                    *                                  *                                  *

It was late afternoon where the two ejected pilots landed, within a kilometer of one another.
Xar climbed out of the ejection pod slowly, methodically. He dropped off the side to the ground and pulled off his helmet. It had been a long time since he'd had to eject. It made him furious. He threw his helmet down, ripping out the gas transfer hoses and control board, and pulled off his gauntlets. Reaching back onto the side of his suit, he ripped open the side pocket and pulled out his new handheld mass gun. He'd brought it with him, just for an extra safe feeling, and knowing if he had to land somewhere he wasn't familiar it would come in handy.
Bringing the gun up, he hit the magnetic energy activation switch. Twelve bullets, he reminded himself. Then he looked around the surrounding landscape. He'd landed in a fairly clear area. The ground was bare here, probably the sight of a turbolaser hit during the past bombardment. A number of large boulders were littered around the area. He started walking forward. He knew he shouldn't venture far from the ejection pod, which held the signal for his rescue. Then he heard the high-pitched whine of ion engines, and turning, saw the TIE Defender fly overhead, then turn around on an approach vector. Unafraid, he walked towards it. A strange feeling fell over him, and he suddenly felt the full weight of what had happened to him over the past months, sinking into him a feeling of invincibility. He knew he wouldn't die today. He had a destiny.

Kaerner brought his fighter low over the ground, moving on repulsorlifts only. He'd tracked the energy signal of the ejection pod, and was approaching it now. And then he saw him. Xar was there, walking towards him only a hundred meters away. The man truly was insane. Didn't he know that one pull of the trigger and he would be vaporized? Still, Kaerner hesitated, drawing close enough to see the man’s face. He knew this man, had flown with him. Did he want to kill him? He shook his head. No, it wasn't whether he wanted to or not. He had orders. But his finger stopped short of pulling the trigger. Xar was yelling something, his arms wide. What should he do? His finger began closing on the trigger.

Xar took a couple of steps further, and stopped, staring ahead. Kaerner's TIE Defender was hovering right in front of him, humming on its repulsorlifts. He stood, looking at the opaque cockpit. Kaerner didn't fire. What was he waiting on?
Xar opened his arms wide, feeling the exhilaration of the moment. "Come on!" he yelled. "What are you waiting for!? Shoot!"
Kaerner still didn't fire. Xar waved his arms. "Come on! Kill me!" he screamed.
"Shoot me!" Then he gave a wordless roar and brought his mass gun up in one hand out in front of him and fired at the craft’s viewport. He walked forward, firing again and again as fast as he could pull the trigger. The shots left tiny trails of smoke and air forward to connect with the fighter's cockpit.

Just as Kaerner’s fingers tightened on the trigger, the projectiles went through the Defender's cockpit like a sheet of flimsi. Kaerner vainly brought up his arms in front of him as the shots hit him. They didn't hinder the shots, either. Kaerner screamed as the bullets blew through him into the seat behind. Some missed, but too many hit. When it was over, Kaerner slumped over onto the controls, lifeless.

Xar stopped firing. He thought he'd made off maybe ten shots. The fighter veered to the side, the repulsorlifts keeping it in the air, but the pilot was obviously dead. Xar lowered his head. Why? Did it always have to end this way?
He heard a noise behind him, and he turned, gun ready. A man walked up in a combat pilot's uniform, without a helmet. Xar lowered his gun when he saw who it was.
"Jarad? Is that you?"
The ran up close to Xar, an incredulous look on his face. "Kerensky! What the... Are you crazy?” he blinked. “Are you absolutely insane? You just killed Kaerner!"
Xar nodded solemnly. "What was I supposed to do? Let him vaporize me?"
Jarad seemed absolutely bewildered. "Do you know what this means? They'll never let up now! You'll be a marked man."
"They had no intention of letting up until we were destroyed, anyway. I am already number one on their hit list. Why can you not leave us alone?"
"What do you mean?” Jarad said, exasperated. “You’re wrong. We have orders, and we just follow them. It's nothing personal. Why did you have to leave? You could've settled your problems peacefully."
Xar shook his head. "No, I am sorry, Jarad. We tried that. The Brotherhood is a dictatorship. The real galaxy does not work like you imagine. I had to get Ar'Kell out of it for its own good. Do you not see? I am doing this for my House. Not for myself. The good of many is involved here."
"This isn't about that, Xar! You're traitors now. You blasted your way out of Phare. You've killed Imperial pilots. You said you didn't want conflict!"
"You think I had a choice? You attacked us! We just want to be left alone!"
"You've got a funny way of showing us that. You and these other traitors. You're no better than the Rebels. In fact, you are Rebels, now."
"Jarad, try to understand! We are not Rebels! We serve the good ideals the Empire upheld. We serve the same cause, just in a different way."
"That's a kriffing lie,” Jarad spat. “You fought the Rebels. You used to say you'd serve the Empire to the end. That you'd never leave. How people have you killed for the Brotherhood, for the Empire? Now look at you. All you have to look forward to is life as a traitor. You're not the legitimate Imperial government. You'll never be."
Xar shook his head. “You are wrong. We are different. The Empire has split apart, it no longer exists. We will rebuild. We are not the Empire or the Rebellion. We see past this stupid conflict and we will restore peace to the galaxy."
"Keep telling yourself that," Jarad chided. "And some day you might believe it."
Xar was shaking his head, tired of trying to convince his former comrade. But Jarad wasn't done.
"I served with you for a long time, Kerensky. You taught me a lot. You told me about how Runis captured you. Look at you! Look at what you've done. Traitor to the Brotherhood? You've become Runis!"
Jarad didn't realize his mistake. Almost instantly Xar was upon him. Xar's left palm struck out, hitting Jarad's jaw, then Xar brought his knee up into his midsection, then grabbed the stunned man and threw him to the ground. Xar knelt on top of him, his gun pressing into Jarad's throat, eyes filled with rage.
"Never say that! Ever! You have no idea what you are talking about!"
Jarad breathed heavily and looked up at Xar with malice. "Go ahead," he panted. "Kill me, just like everyone else. Maybe one more will make a… difference."
The words made Xar pause. His anger faded, and he stood up and backed away. "Just… leave us alone," he said He sighed, tired of arguing. "We will let you go back to the Brotherhood, Jarad. We are not like you. I have no wish for more loss of life. Come on, they should pick us up shortly." He turned and began walking back towards the escape pod.

Jarad scrambled to his feet and shook his head. He'd tried to persuade Xar, but the man was just too stubborn. Too far gone in his madness. He had his orders. He ripped open his small side pocket and pulled out a small pocket blaster. Not too powerful, but it should do the job. He raised the gun, aimed. For a split second he hesitated, then forced himself to pull the trigger.
The shot hit Xar in the back, burning through the tough combat suit into the flesh beneath. Xar gasped in pain, as smoke and flame burst across his back, and stumbled forward. Jarad didn't fire again. Xar wobbled for a moment, then dropped to his knees, and fell forward, motionless.
Jarad cautiously approached the man, now lying on his face. Was he dead? He had to make sure.
He walked over to the man's side, and pushed the body over with his foot. The man rolled over, and Xar's eyes met Jarad's for a brief second, cold, but very much alive. Jarad's eyes widened, and he brought his gun up for another shot...

Xar fired twice, emptying the gun’s chamber. The shots blew through Jarad and streaked for the sky, propelling the man into the air and backward two meters to land on his back with a thud.
Xar let the gun drop to the side and gasped in the pain wracking his body. Why? He turned over onto his hands and knees, the pain in his back agonizing. He smelled charred flesh. His vision blurred. Could this be the end? No, he had to make it. He couldn't die this night. He began making his way towards the ejection pod.

The command staff were all assembled. Mathis let them in on his plan. "We don't have much time. If we want to keep that platform, we're going to have to help them. There's a TIE Defender pilot using the Force to distract the gunners so they can't hit him. Well, he's just one Jedi. And we are many. We're going to give him a taste of his own medicine. Concentrate your Force energy through me. We'll reach out and distract him for a moment, long enough so that the platform's defenses can take him out."
Each man nodded, and silently drew the Force and lent their power to Mathis. He channeled their energy, combined with his own, outward, toward space...

Xar was crawling now, gasping for air. He'd almost made it to the pod. He reached out and touched the metal. He had to hang on, yet his vision was dimming, narrowing to a dark tunnel. He absently saw lights heading toward him as his strength left, and he sank down to the dirt. No, it wasn't time yet! He had to hang on…

The shuttle touched down and immediately the boarding ramp descended. A group of medics ran out at full speed, carrying a stretcher and equipment.
"There he is!" one of the medics yelled. They ran over to where Xar was lying face down, one hand reached out to touch the ejection pod. He was already unconscious. They gently rolled him over and placed him on the stretcher, then lifted him, running back toward the shuttle.

Binegran fired again and again. The petty gunners couldn't stand up to his power over them with the Force. This was too easy.
Suddenly a cloud descended over his mind. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before. He stopped, watching it curiously.

The TIE Defender had stopped firing and was heading straight in the same direction. The gunners onboard the platform had no trouble tracking his course.
"Fire!" yelled Mathis.
The batteries around the platform opened up all at once, spitting turbolaser fire towards the fighter. They hit as one, dropping the shields and boring into the fighter. The TIE Defender exploded in a huge fireball of gas, and was no more.

The shuttle landed beside one of the Modified Corvettes and the boarding ramp descended. Xar was rushed out on the stretcher, wearing a breath mask over his face.
"Hold on, sir, we'll get you safe," one of the medics promised. Xar was barely conscious, looking around and muttering intelligibly. When he looked up, he saw the blurred faces of Mathis, Iver, and Gaius over him, looking down in concern. He tried to get up, but his body wouldn't respond. Maybe they could tell him what had happened... Then his vision faded into darkness...

*                                                           *                                                           *

            Mathis stood in the medbay of Escort Carrier Liberator, watching Xar as he floated unconscious in the tank of blue bacta in front of him. Stripped of all but a loincloth, the man’s dark, writhing scars were clearly visible across his chest, right shoulder and arm, and now his back. It made him wince just to look at them. At least he’ll survive, he thought. That the soon-to-be Grand Master had almost died of a foolhardy decision, right at the most critical time of the merging, had driven his nerves almost to their end. From now on there had better be no more stupid stunts like the one he’d pulled, flying a fighter like that.
 He felt rather than saw Gaius walk up behind him. “Sir,” the man began. “Is he…”
 “He’ll be fine,” Mathis said, turning to Gaius. What did you find? Did they get a signal out?” If Tau Squadron had told the Brotherhood of their whereabouts…
 “No, sir.
The platform had them jammed the whole time. There’s no way they could’ve gotten a message out.”
 Mathis gave a sigh, releasing the tension that he’d been holding for hours. They were safe then, at least during these next critical days. He looked at Xar, floating there in front of them. “I hope he knows what he’s gotten us into,” he mused aloud.
 Gaius nodded. “So do we all.”

*                                   *                                   *

Four Days Later

Xar stood in the graveyard, the night quiet around him. He could still taste bacta in his mouth. Bandages still covered the new scar across his back. He'd come close to death. He looked at the gravestones before him, one more than the last time he had been here. He'd been unable to find the remains of his uncle, and give him a proper burial, but he’d had a grave dug and a headstone placed, anyway. It lay with the rest of his family, now, empty like all the rest. He felt truly alone, now. He was the last of the Kerensky's. But he did had his companions, his fellow Jedi. And the Force. He knew that with that, he would never truly be alone.
Turning, he made his way up the hill, where the all the Ar'Kellians were gathered.

Every member of Ar'Kell was there gathered in a circle, waiting for him. Xar walked to the center and addressed his people. He called on the Force to lend strength to his limbs and to his voice.
"Members of Ar'Kell, we have done it. We have been through trials together, and this is a new beginning. We shall prevail here, and rebuild this world. And we shall bring together the largest group of fleets the galaxy has ever seen, and restore peace to the galaxy one step at a time. We, the New Imperium, will surely complete this noble task. We shall never give up, never retreat, never surrender. And the name Ar'Kell shall live forever!"
With that he brought his lightsaber up over his head and ignited it. His yellow blade shone up in the air, a bright light banishing the darkness. Then one by one the other Ar'Kellians ignited their sabers, until there was a rainbow of colors, a circle of lightsabers. Then they shouted as one:
"The name Ar'Kell shall live forever!"

The Circle of Sabers, as it would later be known, could be seen even from orbit. And as the Ar'Kellians made their vow, up above in space, a massive Imperial Dungeon Ship emerged from hyperspace, with dozens of escorts. The Society, along with its New Imperium escort, Ar'Kell's new future, had arrived.

The End
The Flight of Ar'Kell

Written by Joshua Ausley
The New Imperium

Copyright 1998