3 after the
“I did not want it to come to this, Cain,” Xar said, lowering his gun. “But you gave me no choice.”
Cain’s face was contorted with pain. With both hands he clutched his middle, where a shot from Xar’s mass gun had punched a hole through his stomach and blown out through his back. His hands were dripping blood, but at least they covered the front hole. The back was completely out of reach, gushing blood. He glared at Xar with hate-filled eyes. Xar wondered what could possibly have driven the man so totally over the edge. The man forced himself to his feet, swaggered a moment. Suddenly he shouted, “No! I will not let you live!!!”
Slowly, impossibly, he extended his arms forward, straight at Xar. As he did so, two mechanical devices came up from his wrists. Xar started; he hadn’t seen them before. Instantly, before he could move, both wrist cannons fired a cylindrical object, flashing out through the distance between them. Halfway there, blades of pure energy shot out of the ends, directly at Xar!
Lightsabers!? He only had an instant to react. For a moment, time seemed to slow. The blades crept closer, looming in on him. For a second it seemed as if time itself cried out against what was occurring. A split decision; Xar gathered the Force around him and leapt. Upwards, launching upwards at blinding speed. But not fast enough. Time suddenly sped back up, and the sabers returned to full speed. Xar pulled himself up, willing himself higher in his jump, but there wasn’t any time. He watched in horror as one of the blades cut cleanly through his left leg, just under the knee… Indescribable pain exploded his leg, more than he’d ever remembered feeling before, and he screamed…
* * *
Over a year before the New Imperium's founding, the House Ar'Kell was one of the most powerful houses in the Dark Jedi Brotherhood. This house, the predecessor to what was to come when it turned from the dark path, was what brought together many of the New Imperium's founders. Ar'Kell had a special role in galactic history, greater than any of its members could have dreamed.
Shortly after Xar's promotion to Aedile of Ar'Kell, in between "Betrayal: Ar'Kell's First Mission" and "Past Reckonings, Future Portents," Xar left to return to his homeworld of Varnus and make a special visit to the only remaining member of his family, andto take care of certain things. But on the way, he was confronted by a rogue Jedi named Cain who had been convinced Xar had killed his wife. Cain forced a confrontation with Xar, and a fierce battle ensued.
Icis Novitaar, the Traveler, also known as Novitaar, stepped in at the final moment and interfered, saving Xar from the madman's attack. But what if he hadn't interfered? How might things have turned out, and how different would they have been? We shall see...
He landed, remaining foot first, and collapsed onto the floor, writhing in pain. His screams reached out into the rafters, echoing throughout the expansive warehouse. Louder, louder, it overwhelmed everything else. Eyes full of hate and rage, he pushed himself around, nearly slipping on his own blood now covering the floor beneath him. Face contorted with rage, he brought his mass gun up at the huge man now leaning back against the wall, gasping for breath.
“DIEEE!!!!” He screamed, and he fired, over and over, feeding all his rage into the projectiles punching through the man’s body and the wall behind him, splattering it with blood. Cain’s body fell, dead before it ever reached the ground. Xar kept pumping slugs into it, until all he was doing was clicking the trigger of an empty gun. Then he threw the gun aside with all his might, falling back against the floor. He clutched the bleeding stump, rolling around on the floor, his screams piercing the air like a siren. Just before he lost consciousness, he thought he heard a noise up somewhere in the rafters. Only a passing, brief thought, forgotten in an instant. Brushed aside by the overwhelming pain. Then the blackness came…
* * *
Xar woke abruptly, immediately coming to a sitting position on the bed. He gasped, first at feeling his body again, at being slammed back into reality, then at realizing the pain was gone. He looked down at himself, but his body was covered with a while sheet. Beside his bed, several instruments were monitoring his progress. He knew where he was. Of course, he had no idea how he'd gotten there. He'd woken a few times before, surreal moments, like a dream. Once his vision had been filled by masked people in white, then another time it had been completely quiet, and he'd been too weak to move. Now he felt almost normal. Almost.
"Good morning. Glad to see you're finally coming around." Xar looked over at the middle aged man approaching his bedside. The man adjusted his long white coat and addressed Xar. Xar caught a feeling of hesitation from the man, of trepidation, but it was quickly masked and the man began.
"Hello. I'm Doctor Gerald," the man said with a smile. "How are you feeling?"
Xar ignored the question. "Where am I, and how did I get here?"
The doctor seemed
taken aback for a second. "Oh, that's right. You probably don't know how
you got here. You're in the regional medical center in the city of
"What planet?" Xar growled roughly. He didn't care about the city's name or the doctor's name, he had to make sure he was on the same world where he'd faced Cain. His ship was still waiting for him, his way out.
"Junor, of course. You've had quite an ordeal, my friend. It's a good thing we were able to get to you when we did. You were one breath away from death. We actually had a bet going on you." He chuckled, but it sounded forced. His eyes looked tense, too.
"How long was I out?" Xar asked with a breath of anxiety.
"Well, it's been two weeks since we picked you up..."
"Two weeks!" Too long! Something was wrong; he could feel it. His absence had caused something bad to happen. He could sense the nervousness in the man; he must have known it, too.
"Well, yes. You'd lost a lot of blood. It took us forever to stabilize you, then fitting all the nerves for your prosthetic took a long time. The wound had been completely cauterized..."
Xar gasped, realization suddenly hitting him like a hammer blow. The fight with Cain... The lightsabers... Frantically he grabbed the sheet covering himself and jerked it off. He stared in horror at his right leg. It wasn't the same color from the knee down as the rest of his body. He hadn't noticed it before; he could feel just as well as with the other, still move his toes, but it wasn't the same. He had a machine attached to his body... "Why?" he gulped.
"I'm sorry, we couldn't save the leg. We gave you one of the best prosthetics available, though it isn’t quite up to military standards, I’m afraid. Sorry about that, we’re not exactly in the Core, you see. You shouldn't notice any difference in feeling, though. In fact, in time it should function almost as well as..." He broke off as Xar lurched forward and grabbed the front of the man's coat and pulled him forward.
"You took my leg, kriff you! What kind of technology do you have here? Stang!"
"I told you, the prosthetic will suffice..."
"Enough, shut up! Do you know I could kill you right now!?" Xar's vision was red, he felt a coldness inside, an utter loathing for the man in front of him. He really could kill the man with the Force and nobody would be able to tell the difference. Something akin to fear reflected in the man's eyes, and he tried to pull back, but Xar held him tighter. Something had occurred to him. The knowledge that his leg was gone enraged him, but he knew he could cope with it in time. But that feeling of wrongness was still there, as strongly as ever. He thought back to his confrontation with Cain; it all seemed a blur, but he could remember the main points. "Tell me! How did you find me?"
The man struggled, a wave of fear washing over him that Xar could feel with the Force. "Please... We got a call, of course. Reporting that there'd been a major injury. We rushed in as fast as we could..."
"Impossible. There was no one around that area. I know it."
"I'm sorry... but there was..." the man managed as he finally jerked out of Xar's grasp.
"Who was it? Describe him." If someone had been there, had been watching things, then Xar wanted to know that was.
"I can't tell you that information," the man said, more confidently now that he was out of Xar's reach.
"You had better tell me," Xar warned in a low tone.
"Sorry. You won't be needing that information anyway."
Suddenly it hit him. If they had found Xar there in the warehouse, then they'd also found Cain's dead body, lying there full of holes... Stang. Now he was in trouble; he didn't have time to entertain the local authorities. So that was why there was no one else in this small ward. "I feel fine now. I need to be leaving," he began.
"I'm sorry, but that's not possible. We're to inform the authorities as soon as you've recovered enough to move around..." The man started moving away, toward the door.
"Oh no you don't," Xar grimaced, reaching out with the force and wrapping tendrils of air around Gerald, pulling him back. At the same time he gagged him, shutting off his whimpers of resistance. Xar swung his feet over the side, set down on the floor and started toward the man. But instead of striding over to him, he took one tentative step, felt his right knee buckle, and collapsed to the floor unceremoniously. His hold on the Force wavered, his control less stable after his time spent recovering. He was weaker than he'd thought. But this wasn't going to stop him; he held his grip on the Force, tightening as he slowly brought himself to his feet. He stood unsteadily, slowly took a step forward. The prosthetic, attached from the knee down, moved almost normally; there was a weakness in the knee as he put his weight on it, causing him to limp. As he took more steps forward, it became easier. He supposed he was simply not used to walking after two weeks. He'd probably get used to it rather quickly; maybe even return to normal, except for the limping. Running might be out for a while, though.
Straightening, he looked over to where the doctor was, and his eyes fell back down to the floor where the man lay, unconscious. Realizing he'd still been holding the man with the Force and holding the gag of air, Xar let it go. He didn't really care about the man, but killing him might bring even more problems down on him later.
Moving over to the still form, he hurriedly began removing Gerald's clothes. He could pose as a doctor until he could slip out of the center quietly. Then he would find a means of transportation and make his way back to his ship. Hopefully the authorities wouldn't have found it, but even that technicality wouldn't prove much of a problem. He had more clothes to change into on the Nightmare, his personal ship. Of course, they'd taken his equipment too... Blast it. The mass gun was a big loss, but the lightsaber hurt the most. It was part of him. It probably wasn't still at the warehouse; the blade was made for throwing, so it didn't go out when it left his hand. It would still have been on when the medics - and the authorities - arrived. It could be anywhere, now. That thought drove him madder than anything else... His lightsaber was an extension of his body, an intimate friend. It had taken many months to build, using rare and unique parts to create it. And only he could use it. He wasn't about to lose it.
With the doctor's clothes now on him and the man himself in position on the bed, Xar left the room and made his way through the hospital, moving as the way lead, not really caring where he went. And woe to anyone who got in his way...
Safely back in the Nightmare - which, thankfully, hadn't been bothered in the small docking area he'd left it, since the authorities didn’t know it belonged to him - Xar brought its systems online and activated the remote locator he'd installed in his lightsaber. He berated himself for forgetting about that little improvement, installed for just such an occasion. But, with all that had happened, it was easy to forget. Now he'd be able to find his lightsaber, at least, and then make his way off this Force-forsaken world...
Xar strode into the police station without regarding anyone or anything present. As he burst through the doors, several officers moved over toward him. With the Force, he sent hammers of air that crashed into their heads with the sound of cracking bone. He wasn't in the mood for subtleties this night. Moving past the main desk, he thrust his arm out, slamming the attendant up against the wall with the Force. Then he moved down the hallway to the sealed lockers and ignited the extra lightsaber he'd gotten from onboard the Nightmare. With one slash he cut through several of the containers, blowing the lock off the one he wanted, the one over which his commlink beeped was the one that held his saber's signal. Reaching inside, he pulled out the black cylinder with gold trimming and clipped it to his belt.
As he turned to leave, he saw a movement at the corner of his eye. He spun, other saber in hand, as an officer brought a stun baton down at him. Xar swung without thinking, and the saber passed through the man like he wasn't even there. The figure collapsed to the floor without so much as a scream.
Looking down at the man he'd just killed, Xar gave a slight tremble, shook his head at the waste of life. Then, his objective in hand, he turned back toward and made his way out of the building. No one else dared challenge him on his way out.
"...an escaped suspect from a murder in
the industrial district that had been recovering in the
* * *
Planet Frigg, Phare System
One Week Later
The boarding ramp on the black raven-ship descended, and Xar emerged onto the grassy hillock upon which Palace Ravenspyre rested. He breathed in the fresh jungle air, heard the normal jungle sounds, but it did nothing to soothe his pain. There was no sense of relief at coming back to base. The feeling of wrongness with the galaxy was stronger than ever; looking up at the palace was like glimpsing into some surreal dreamscape. Everything he'd expected to see had changed. Smoke rose from the broken spires at the top of the palace, rising up toward the thick, grey clouds hovering overhead. The dark duracrete walls were covered with scorch-marks, and gaping holes penetrated them in some places. The windows were shattered, and the stench of smoke filled the air.
The main entrance doors of the palace were missing, but out of the shadows a figure emerged, draped in a dark cloak. The wind swept the cloth around him, and the figure pulled it closer as he made his way toward Xar, who was moving to meet him halfway. It really was like some nightmare had taken control of the galaxy. His planned trip to his home planet of Varnus, the reason for his leave, had cast him over two weeks late. There, in the graveyard where his parents were buried, he'd found his uncle Aron's body, sliced clean in half by a lightsaber blade, already decayed and fallen prey to scavengers. His uncle would have been alive if he'd made it there in time... And now again, the fresh destruction before him screamed out how he'd been simply too late to help. All because of his meeting with that stupid Cain. It was all happening again; the destruction of his world, when he'd returned after two years of captivity to find everything he'd known and loved gone, destroyed. It was happening all over again, for the second time. Now it was taking everything else he had left. It was sending him over the edge. He knew it, but somehow he didn't care. Maybe it was his destiny.
The figure approached and pulled back its hood, revealing a tired face lined with what usually came as age, although this one shouldn’t have seen those effects for several more years. A familiar face, one belonging to a friend. Or what had been a friend. His eyes were tired, sad, as if he'd seen too much. Alyx Misnera, his old squadron mate, and his former bodyguard as a child on Varnus. He wasn't in House Ar'Kell, but Xar had kept a friendship with the man even when they'd parted ways. Xar stood and waited for the man to approach, favoring his artificial leg. When he came within two meters, he spoke. "Alyx... What happened here?" he breathed quietly.
His old friend shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry, Xar. Ravenspyre - Ar'Kell, was attacked less than a week ago."
"I can see that!” Xar blurted. “Attacked by whom?"
"We don't know. They came without warning, and moved inside the palace. They captured and killed the members and burned the palace."
"Why? They... killed them? All of them? Mathis, Kurt, Iver?"
"I'm... I'm sorry, Xar. I just can't tell you how sorry I am... They reportedly took something we think had been hidden underneath the palace. We got reports saying their leader was asking... about you..." he broke off in hesitation. "Xar, it's not your fault."
Why would they had wanted him? Who would have wanted to kill Uncle Aron? "I should have been here... Could have been here... But I wasn't..." he hung his head, feelings of depression and sadness washing over him. He felt a tear moving down his cheek, for the first time in what seemed like forever. Was he really crying?
"It's not your fault, Xar," the man repeated. "Please come on back with me... I was just here to see what happened myself, to check things out and see what was left. I figured I was close enough... They did a thorough job... I don't think anything's left." He closed his eyes, an expression of pain on his face that mirrored the desolation in Xar's heart. "I don't know what to say... how could we have not noticed something like that coming in?"
"It doesn't matter," Xar said roughly, ignoring his use of contractions, a taboo in his own culture. His fought to steady his voice. 'I don't have to go inside... There… There is nothing left for me here."
"What do you mean? You can't leave..."
"That is the only choice," Xar said. He turned away and almost fell; he couldn't bear the sight any longer. He had to get away from this place; far away. "It's the Jedi... Force-users... They did all of this... Everything.... It's all their fault." He barely realized himself thinking aloud.
"Xar? What are you going to do? What was that supposed to mean?"
Xar ignored the man, limping purposefully back toward his ship.
"Xar, what are you doing? Take some time to think about this; don't do anything rash!"
Rain began falling from the dark clouds above, thick, heavy, tropical rain, like the ones Frigg was used to. Like the ones he'd once watched fall from the peaceful balconies around the palace... He had to get away. His life was over, his old life. There wasn't anything left to live for... but revenge. He had a list... He knew how to get information... The Jedi would pay for what they'd done. He still had fight inside him. His wrath would sweep across the galaxy like a shockwave. The battles would come... He would fight. That was all he had left.
* * *
Hours later, back on his former master’s ship, the Crinn-made Nightmare, as it hurtled through hyperspace, Xar sat in the small office that had once belonged to his master and scrolled through the list there. Many targets, some of which had already died by various means, including old age. Neither Runis nor the Council had been young when the outlaw Runis had betrayed the Hall and thought he'd destroyed them all. That had been twenty fire years before, a long time to still go by such an outdated list. He would have to find out some of the information himself. But, he remarked, it was a start. A beginning, by which he would end the tragic legacy of the so-called Jedi. It was a necessary task; the Emperor had worked toward the same goals, though for different reasons. But no matter. He'd take them in order of proximity.
Still, despite knowing what he had to do, that feeling of wrongness was still there, and wouldn't go away. Was this not the way things were supposed to be? It felt like a wrenching inside him, inside the Force, driving him on. He had to make it right again. He knew he was sensitive to the Force in certain ways, weaker in other. Perhaps this was some natural affinity. Could what was happening, the sequence of events in the universe, have been a rare sequence? Could there be other universes where things had transpired differently? Of course, he realized cynically, he would never know, and there was nothing he could do about it anyway. Nothing but to try and make things right, to undo the evil that had plagued the galaxy for so long. And this list was the beginning.
As the black ship plunged through hyperspace, Xar prepared for what has ahead. But one thing nagged in the back of his mind: the sense that the feeling was growing, ever so slowly, stronger.
* * *
Palace Ravenspyre Ruins
Planet Frigg, Phare System
Dark Brotherhood Space, Outer
Dark Jedi Master Khyron silently walked through the empty corridors of the palace ruins alongside his master, getting a glimpse of the destruction for himself. All the survivors of the attack had been transported off. House Ar'Kell was destroyed. Any reconstruction would have to be made over from scratch. Beside him, the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, Grand Master Cotelin, strode ahead, shaking his head. "How in Palpatine's name did someone pull this off?"
Khyron didn't have to answer; he just took everything in, wondering what secrets were hidden around the place. The ones that had survived, at least. It was said the invaders had taken something from below the palace, something even the Ar'Kellians didn't know about. That intrigued him. It had to be important enough to risk the entire mission and the lives of the invaders on... He wished he knew what it was, and why the invaders had wanted it...
After finishing their rounds, the two returned to the main hall, master and apprentice, to what had formerly been the Golden Hall of Ravenspyre. It was a charred, broken image of what it had once been. Moments later a servant approached their position at a trot, hastily spoke a few words in the Grand Master's ear. Khyron gave an annoyed twitch of his mouth; that he wasn't trusted to hear what the Grand Master was told. He was, after all, the heir apparent. And Jac Cotelin's retirement wasn't far away, that much was becoming common knowledge. Khyron couldn't wait much longer.
After the servant left, Cotelin turned back toward him. "An important matter has come up; I must be leaving. You are in charge of the mop up here. Make sure there's nothing left of value, and don't forget to collect the data core so we can study it. One of our houses they may have been, but I sense there are things they may have kept to themselves, as the others do as well. Things we should know, however trivial they may be."
"Of course, Master." Khyron said in a humble tone.
Cotelin gave a final bow and left, and Khyron smiled to himself. Excellent. Now he was free of prying eyes to see about his own business. He called a servant and ordered the data core removed and brought to him, then continued on in his own investigations.
* * *
Ready Room; SSSD Sovereign
In orbit, planet
High Admiral Ronin stood in front of the viewscreen and listened as Grand Master Jac Cotelin made his report. After all, the Brotherhood operated within a generous allotment of space offered by the Remnant, but it was still Remnant space, after all. That meant this was under his jurisdiction. It never ceased to annoy him that the Dark Jedi couldn’t handle their own people, much less the rest of the trouble they got themselves into from without.
"We are still trying to find out what kind of force could have gotten in like they did, and we haven't entirely ruled out help from the inside..." the man finished in an uncomfortable voice. Ronin agreed; he didn't like to think of traitors in a high enough position to cover up an attack like that.
"Very well," he said. Anything else?"
"Just one thing. Long range sensors picked up a mysterious ship moving through the system earlier yesterday, moving fast. They only caught it for a second. Since the large sensor station the Ar'Kellians were building was destroyed in the attack, we could not keep tracking it. It seemed to be visiting each planet though, broadcasting some kind of signal. It was last reported heading toward the edge of the system, but the planet Loki was in that direction."
Ronin nodded warily. "Send a search party after it, and tell our platform there to remain on standby. That will be all."
As the connection closed, Ronin turned to the tall, dark figure that suddenly appeared out of the air behind him. The man who had become his advisor, two weeks ago. "Your thoughts, Icis?"
The man's eyebrows rose as he spoke softly. "An interesting sequence of events," Icis Novitaar said, in a not-so-interested voice. "It could be something... It could be nothing. The events may have no link to one another."
Ronin ignored the cryptic sentences. "And if they do?"
"Then something else is going on. I don't know what, but it sounds like someone has taken an interest in this part of space."
Ronin exhaled and gave a curt nod. "Well. Be sure to
inform me of anything else you might come across." He turned away, staring
out the expansive viewport down at the fertile planet
Satellite Eos, Aurora System
Khyron sat down in his office, bringing up the computer terminal that housed the recovered Ar'Kell data files. The core itself sat on the floor beside the desk, ready to be handed over to the Grand Master - once Khyron had determined there was nothing in there that was better kept to himself. Bringing the database online, he scanned the contents of its files. There were quite a few; the task could take some time. But he was interested enough in the possibility of hidden information that he waded through the piles of useless trash to search for his objectives. There were activity reports, member records, useless palace and house information, details on various jobs done around the palace... and then the classified files that were only made available to the Command Staff. A few interesting tidbits there, on house activities and opinions that their superiors in the Brotherhood weren't necessarily aware of. Perhaps Ar'Kell's destruction wasn't such a bad thing, after all. He just wondered how much of this kind of thing was still present in the other Jedi houses.
Also in the database were copies of the data from the members' own personal files. Only the command staff really held his interest, though. Interesting history in Mathis Organa's file, a secret obsession for ancient myths and arcane Krath powers in Kurt's file, a list of unrecorded resources for the House and for GIFS Corporation in Marc Iver's... Then he came to Xar Runis’ files. He'd only met the man in passing, but he was drawn to it more because the man was one of the only people not there at the Palace during the attack. In fact, he was still gone, and no one seemed to know where he was. He opened up the file list, found the man's personal files. What he found there, he remarked, was going to keep him busy for quite some time. Apparently a copy of Xar's old master Runis' files. Everything else he would forward to the Grand Master, but this particular information wasn't going any further. Quickly he copied everything into his own system, deleted the files from the data core, and had it sent on. Then he began.
* * *
Planet Halben, Inner Rim
1315 Hours Local Time
He knelt on the flat rooftop, leaned on side of the ledge overlooking the rural city named Carren. It wasn't an urban area, but nonetheless had a modern feel to it, with a bustling shopping square below surrounded by white, multi-story buildings. From his vantage point he could make out a fair crowd of people down in the square as the midday sun warmed the tropical air. He supposed it was a pleasant day, ideal for an outing, or a bit of shopping, or perhaps a relaxing time at the nearby beach. He was counting on it to bring out the person he was looking for, the person his contact said would be here at this time.
He looked again through the rifle scope, sweeping the black, long-barreled weapon out across to study the square below. Dark Jedi Master Koren had made this world his personal retreat, his hermitage as he tried to keep himself hidden from galactic affairs, from enemies in the Empire. As he tried to forget his past, probably. But Xar knew; and now it was time for the man to pay for his crimes.
Suddenly there, in the middle of the square, Xar saw him. Koren's curly white hair was easily identifiable even among a crowd, and his dark robes shouted out who he was to Xar as easily as if he held a sign announcing his being a Jedi. Xar brought the scope's sight onto the man, raised it to center on his head. At this magnification he could see the man's every move.
Koren stopped, pulled down the dark glasses he'd been wearing and glanced around him, as if sensing something. Of course; his danger sense was probably flaring. Too late. Xar fired, the rifle barely kicking back as it sent a near invisible blaster bolt burning through the distance. Koren's head snapped back; he fell back out of the sight's view. Then the square exploded in blue lightning and energy. Xar ducked down behind the ledge, hearing the deafening sound of a whirlwind of Dark Side energy ripping around the square. The man was a little more powerful than his records had said. Well, no matter... Unfortunate, the collateral damage and the bodies, but it would probably help convince the authorities it had been a terrorist bomb or something of the like. Mentally he nodded to himself. One more down off the list... Many more to go.
* * *
Satellite Eos, Aurora System
Khyron turned to face the door as it opened, admitting two officers dragging a stumbling man in tattered robes between them. "Master Khyron, the Jedi prisoner you requested," one of them spoke. Dropping the sandy-blond haired man on the floor, the two officers turned and left the two alone.
Another Jedi brought in, captured from who knew where. There were many who still hid from the Empire, those who had secreted themselves away after the Emperor's ban on the Jedi, those who taught students of their own. Many were simple hermits who tried their best to stay clear of galactic affairs and keep a low profile. Others had delusions of heroism and justice and tried to protect the weak or turn themselves into guardians or whatnot. Khyron didn't really care who this man was or where he'd been found. He'd already been interrogated, put under the rigorous torture that would have made a normal man say anything his captors would've wanted. But again, Khyron didn't care. He wasn't interested in anything this man had to say, even if he did decide on talking. The officers may have thought they were delivering the prisoner to a true interrogator... Let them continue to think that.
The Jedi finally pushed himself off the floor, still visibly weak from his ordeals. He forced himself to his feet, staring out of a gaunt face with surprisingly steady, fierce eyes. "I won't talk," he said matter-of-factly, managing to sound strong despite his broken, dry voice.
"Good. I didn't expect you to," Khyron responded simply. He turned back to his table, glanced at the datascreen one more time, the one holding Runis' old records on absorbing another's Force energy. This was an experiment, one he could afford to make on a captured enemy. If he succeeded, he could very well nearly double in Force power. If he failed, then it was no real loss. But the prospect was enough to make him bold enough to try it without letting it out to anyone. He took the lightsaber beside the datapad, igniting it as he turned back to the prisoner. "Don't worry. This won't take long, and it won't be painful. I'll make it quick."
Realization dawned on the man's face, then turned into resolution. He didn't say anything. Khyron was actually impressed. Then he reached into the Force through the Dark Side, conjuring up the energies needed for this kind of technique. Then he reached into the other man, who was much too drained of energy to summon up the Force to block him, touched the prisoner's connection with the Force, a spot that seemed to be located just behind where the brain met the spinal column. Probing there could be used to test an individual's strength in the Force, or it could also be used to tap through that power.
For an instant, the two seemed to connect. Khyron felt something snap inside his head, a deep connection fusing the two. Into that connection he poured all his Dark Side energy, all his rage and anger and hate, letting it consume the man in front of him until he could sense nothing kneeling there before him but his own raw emotions – himself. Then he swung the saber, slicing the man's head off in one clean blow. The body vanished into the air, the prisoner's clothes dropping softly to the floor.
Khyron didn't even feel himself drop the saber, which burned into the floor with a sizzle. He did feel, however, a rushing of power and ecstasy as he'd never felt before. But it quickly turned to pain, pain as he saw the Jedi's essence flow through him, felt and saw his memories, his power, his personality. It went on for moments, then stopped so abruptly Khyron collapsed to the floor in a heap.
Slowly he pushed himself back up, took the saber and cut it off. An unexpected side effect. Not only did he absorb the prisoner's Force power and ability, but the man's essence as well. Khyron realized, with a half-mad laugh, that he wasn't just himself anymore. There was another person, occupying a bit smaller space than he’d had, but with a database of knowledge and personality that he could touch if he wanted. Strange, but he felt no stronger in the Force than he had moments ago. But the information had said it would take time. Well, he'd see how this turned out, then test it again.
For a second he worried that those inside the Hall might have felt the disturbance in the Force and report it, find him out. But it wasn't likely; with Force-users all around, using the Force constantly, it wasn't likely anyone would think it out of the ordinary. He smiled. Yes, he was beginning to like this rather well...
* * *
Planet Cyon, Outer Rim
"Ten of Staves, five of Coins," the scraggly gambler across the table muttered. As he lay the other two cards down, his expression fell even further. “Two of Flasks and the Jedi Knight, ten.” He shook his head. “Three past twenty-four. Three stinking points. Blast.”
The female Gotal next to him dropped her cards, a total amounting to fifteen. Across from her, Xar studied his cards, which abruptly changed before his eyes. He smiled.
“Watch and weep,” the Barabel beside him spoke out in a gravelly voice. “Twenty-two.” He lay his cards down, a five of Flasks, nine of Coins, the Rancor and the Smuggler, four each. “I believe that’ll be it, unless you’ve got better, softy?” he addressed Xar, turning to face him with his intimidating reptilian face. Xar grinned again. Strange to be playing with a Barabel. He had some fond memories of Barab I. He lay down his cards.
“Sabacc,” he said. The other players all let out curses. The Barabel slammed his fist on the tabletop.
“Please sir, no physical displays of anger,” the Automated Sabacc Dealer droid implanted in the ceiling above the round card table berated him, collecting the cards and turning the jackpot over to Xar’s spot at the table.
“Hey, how you keep doing that?” the raggedy gambler to his right asked suspiciously.
“Cheating is not allowed,” the droid said, as if anticipating what the question was about. “He was not cheating, I was watching him.”
“I didn’t ask the opinion of a talking pile of junk!”
Glancing around the room, Xar watched as the doors opened and a new figure, dressed in a ragged brown cloak, shuffled in. That was the person he’d been waiting for.
“Hey! You hear me? I asked you a question, pretty boy!”
“Just lucky I guess,” Xar replied absently, leaving his spot at the table – and the credits. He watched the figure as it made its way up to the bar, moved after it, brushing aside the Barabel as he stood up angrily.
In the few weeks since his surgery, Xar had finally become more accustomed to his new leg, to the point where he could walk mostly normal. Moving in a nonchalant manner, Xar slid up next to the being at the bar. Under his hood he could make out the man’s weathered, scarred face. The being sat fingering a small glass of a yellowish, alcoholic drink, and didn’t look over at him. Xar ordered another drink and spoke as the bartend set it in front of him.
“I hear you know most everyone around here,” he said, trying to make an idle, conversational tone. “I need some information.”
The man said nothing, but Xar could feel a reflexive pulling away in the man’s emotions. He slid the drink over in front of the ragged form. “Perhaps you could tell me where I can find a certain man, an odd man, named Fergen.”
The being shook his head and muttered in a low voice. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Xar grinned. “I think you do,” he said menacingly.
“Leave me alone. I don’t know you. You can’t bribe me,” the man said.
“You will know me pretty soon unless you tell me.”
“I said I ain’t talkin!” the small man yelled, despite all the people nearby in the crowded room. He grabbed the glass of liquid Xar had bought him and splashed the liquid in Xar’s face. Enraged, Xar stood up, picked the man up by his tattered clothes and with Force-enhanced strength, lifted him and threw him over the bar, where he smashed into a display of bottles and fell to the floor, the drinks spilling all over him.
Xar hopped over the desk, ignoring the bartender’s shouts, pulled the man back up, and slammed him down on the bar top. “Now…” he spoke in a rather calm voice. “Tell me where he is.” He applied pressure to the back of the man’s head where it met his spine, holding the man firmly down with his other hand. The man still said nothing, so Xar brought his head up and slammed it down on the bar, hard. “Tell me!”
Finally the man relinquished. “Down… by the docks,” he sputtered. “Lives in one of the warehouses… Number fourteen…”
As soon as the man spoke Xar was gone, hopping over the bar and making his way toward the door. The Barabel gambler started toward him angrily, but one Force-enhanced push on his face sent him reeling back into the table, sending cards and chips flying to the floor. None of the others decided to bother him as he left.
* * *
One week later
Nexal System, Outer Rim
".... They also found a man's decapitated body, lying on the floor next to his own severed head. A body which at this time still has no name..."
Dark Jedi Master Estod switched off the news. "I know his name," he said darkly. Reaching down on his datapad he marked off another member of the list, a list he'd kept for a long time. He'd never expected to actually have to use it. Now Fergen was gone, the son of Cernis, former Deputy Grand Master of the Brotherhood of Darkness that existed during the Clone Wars. One of Runis' enemies. Now Runis's student was killing them off, one by one, and only one name remained on the list unmarked. His. The sound of footsteps echoed in his ears. It was time.
"Estod... I have come for you," a dark voice sounded menacingly behind him. Estod swiveled in his chair to face the tall man standing there, a young man. Holding a lightsaber. The yellow blade sent flashes of light on the ceiling and walls. He didn't recognize this man, but he knew well enough who he was. After all this time, Runis would have his revenge for what they'd done to him, for putting him on trial and trying to kill him. His legacy lived on in his student. Estod didn't speak. There was no need to. He brought up a hand, summoning the Force up in him, feeling his anger rise at such a blatant attack on him in his place of residence. He focused the energy; prepared to send a blast of Force Lighting at the stranger. The man brought his saber up, preparing to strike...
* * *
Grand Master’s Office
Aurora System. Imperial Remnant
"Ah, Khyron. Come in."
Grand Master Jac Cotelin
greeted his second as he entered his royal quarters on
Khyron smiled. He had something to discuss, as well. In the couple of weeks since he'd absorbed the Jedi, his strength had gradually increased to a much higher level than it had been before. Fortunately, more of Runis' records spoke of how to mask part of one's Force strength from another Force-user's detection, something he used when around those who could perhaps notice the change in him. Now, sure of his new secret and the power it could give him, he knew he was ready. His time for ascendancy had come.
"Yes, Grand Master?" he asked in a forced-serventile tone. Jac seemed preoccupied with something, as he often did these days. Soon, perhaps too busy to remain for long. It was no secret of Cotelin’s intention to retire from his position to focus on other duties. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, including Cotelin himself, the Grand Master's reign was going to end sooner than anyone could have expected.
"Any news of recent developments?" Cotelin asked, obviously stalling from what he was about to say. The Grand Master wouldn't have wasted his time studying the core himself. Nor did he bother to remain up on current events often.
"If you are referring to the Ar'Kell survivors, there's still no trace of them. And no response from our search teams on Loki." Khyron didn't really care about such trivial matters, but that last eventuality actually was a bit disturbing. It had been over two weeks since they'd sent a team after the strange spacecraft spotted heading towards Loki. But the fates of such insignificant people couldn't concern him for long.
It had also been two weeks since he'd absorbed the Jedi. At first nothing had happened, but then, as the days built, he could feel his power increasing, his body compensating slowly to the increased Force potential within him. He'd barely been able to hold control of the Force at times. Often he would use far too much power for even basic tasks, having not yet accustomed himself to his increased strength. But now he held full control, and he was ready to try it again. This time on a much bigger target.
"I figured as much," Cotelin replied. "But enough idle talk. I summoned you here for a purpose. As you know, I will not be here much longer. I will be vacating my position in favor of... other interests. You will be taking my place."
"As you wish, Grand Master." Not much longer, now. Cotelin 's reign would end much sooner than he thought. "I will so my best to serve in on the position as best I can, and to carry on your legacy. Though I must confess it will not be the same without you," he lied. Well actually the last bit was true, things wouldn't be the same without Jac. It would be much, much better. He smiled.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Cotelin reassured him. "I will still be around, only performing other duties. I will create a special position for myself within the Brotherhood."
Oh no, he wouldn't.
Khyron was going to rule the whole Remnant with his
new power. He wasn't going to have someone breathing down his neck the whole
time. He reached inside his cloak, gripping the dagger secreted there. Moving
around the desk, Cotelin watching him curiously, he
went to the tall window, stared down at the city stretching out beyond almost
as far as he could see. New
Cotelin looked up at him curiously. It wasn't usual that a Dark Jedi admired such things. "Of course. That is why I chose it. A symbol of the Grand Master's power," he added importantly.
"It will be, and sooner than you think," Khyron muttered angrily. He couldn't keep his emotions in check any longer. Spinning, he jerked the dagger free of its place. "Your time is up. I won't have you sniffing down my back. I'm going to rule the galaxy, and become the new Emperor." Reaching through the Force with his anger, he sent a needle-like Force probe behind the man's defenses and touched his connection with the Force, connected with it. The Grand Master didn't seem to notice.
"You dare challenge me..?" Cotelin began to rise, but before he could react further, Khyron reached out with the Force and immobilized the man. Cotelin’s eyes widened at realizing Khyron’s true power, but Khyron quickly grabbed the man by the hair and brought the dagger up, slitting his throat. Then, as the astonished Jac slumped back, a tremor of Force energy building inside him, Khyron quickly replaced the dagger and pulled the man up by the robes. Cotelin's mouth opened as he tried to scream, but a scream of another kind was emanating from him, a Force Scream. Khyron laughed and, turning, dragged the man around and threw him through the window.
The cloaked figure fell like a rock, soundlessly as he plunged down hundreds of meters toward the streets below. Khyron had cut his throat for two reasons: to prevent counterattacks or something he hadn't expected, and to stop him from screaming on the way down. It would be harder to prove his death as suicide if he screamed in terror as he fell.
Jac never hit the bottom. Just before he reached the streets, his body exploded in a massive blast of Force energy, and Khyron felt the rush of oncoming power into flooding up into him. He backed away from the window and spread his arms wide, prepared to experience the ecstasy of his victim's Force essence merging with his own.
Idly, for a fleeting moment he wondered whether Jac had even suspected it coming. It was hard to believe how the man had trusted him. Trust was not for Dark Jedi, only constant suspicion. Ambition was the driving force of the Dark Jedi. But too much ambition could be fatal. But Khyron didn't have to worry about that. When he was done there would be no one left who could possibly oppose him. He would be the sole master of the galaxy. The Emperor reborn. It was his destiny. Then his thoughts were interrupted as the power flooded into him...
* * *
Xar sat back in his quarters on the Nightmare, resting. The list was complete. Yet there were more out there, he knew. The HoloNet access he'd had illegally sliced into his systems displayed current news, which he idly listened to while tinkering with his lightsaber. Constantly improving and making additions to the elegant, unique weapon was a serious hobby for him. He always had to keep that edge over his enemies. Estod hadn't been as easy to take out as he'd thought. Subconsciously he touched his shoulder, where he'd had to use the forbidden, dangerous Dark Side Healing to repair the damage from a deadly Force Lightning blast. He didn't like using the power, but it had saved his life on numerous occasions. And now it didn't seem to hurt so badly anymore when he used it, the darkness it left inside him didn't leave him feeling so sick anymore. Of course, he realized that meant he was becoming more and more affected by it. He knew he wasn't supposed to use it too many times. He'd actually forgotten how many times he'd had to, now. But he couldn't let that bother him. The feeling of wrongness with the galaxy had seemed to increase, as well, despite his recent efforts to destroy those who had corrupted it. But he couldn't bother with that, either.
Suddenly an interruption of the HoloNet program flashed into being, being replaced by a special news announcement. Xar turned up the volume to listen.
news, we have official word of a battle between the main Rebel and Imperial
fleets in the Bilbringi System. We also have
confirmation of shocking news, whether observed by Rebel or Imperial. It is
reported that Grand Admiral Thrawn, supreme commander
of the Imperial Navy, was killed in the battle at Bilbringi,
and that the Imperial fleet is in the retreat. This marks a great victory for
“Off,” Xar said absently. The lightsaber dropped to the table from his limp hands. A feeling of anger and despair hit him, and he pushed away from the table and staggered through the outer corridor. Everything he’d done hadn’t made a bit of difference. Now the Empire was truly dead; Thrawn, the greatest Admiral in the Empire, the most brilliant commander he’d ever known, was gone. His whole world was gone, had vanished in a matter of weeks. It was too much to bear. Alone he might have been able to handle each specific event, but all of them combined; the loss of his leg, the death of his uncle, the destruction of Ar’Kell, and now the defeat of the Empire and Thrawn, whom he’d served loyally, had considered somewhat of a friend… All gone now. Uselessly he beat against the walls, fought back a cry of anger. What was going on?! And why did everything just feel so wrong?
Stumbling through the corridors, he entered the main sitting room and dropped in the seat behind the desk, swiveling to face the window. For a long while he just stared out at the stars, enveloped in the blackness of space, yet burning brightly on their own. How could so few have conquered so many? It didn’t make logical sense. For a long while he sat there, lost in thought. Finally, slowly, a thought came to him.
The capital of the
* * *
Bridge, SSSD Sovereign
“I am saddened by the news of Grand Master Cotelin’s suicide,” Ronin told the man on the screen. “As saddened as I was to hear of Thrawn’s unfortunate demise at Bilbringi.”
On the large bridge viewscreen ahead, Khyron’s form nodded gravely. “Yes, a sad day for both the Empire and the Emperor’s Hammer. I presume that you will be taking care of the proceedings?”
“Yes. The Brotherhood will be holding a state funeral in the morning,” Khyron responded. “As a rite of passage, Grand Master Cotelin wanted to officially announce my appointment upon his retirement. Perhaps we should honor him by holding the ancient Sith rite, as the Sith Lords of ancient times performed.”
Ronin gave a condescending nod. “Yes, I suppose it would be appropriate. As the new Grand Master, you will be taking over all the duties Jac had intended. I would like to speak to you regarding your future plans for the Brotherhood.”
“As you wish,” Khyron gave a slight bow. “Please, come to my quarters here
“I will be looking forward to it. I will urge all the Command Staff to attend the proceedings. We will hold the utmost formality. Until then, I bid you farewell.”
Khyron bowed, and the connection closed, turning the screen dark.
As Ronin’s face left the screen, Khyron gave a smile very unbecoming for someone who was supposed to be mourning his master’s death. His position was now firmly established; any would-be contenders would be dealt with, just like everyone else in the Brotherhood he didn’t need. It would just be a small matter of ‘convincing’ Ronin to approve and give him all the control he needed, then soon he would have no need of the man, and Khyron’s path toward becoming Emperor would be well on its way to fruition. There would be no one to oppose him, then. He would establish a new Empire, rising from the ashes of the old, treading on the petty governments that wrested for control of the galaxy. An iron fist gripping the galaxy in a blanket of fear. Fear of him. It would be so sweet…
* * *
Skywalker scrolled through the HoloNet news reports. Two more mysterious deaths in the Cyon
System, exhibiting descriptions strangely similar to both the Emperor’s death,
and the more recent defeat of Joruus C’boath in the battle inside
With Thrawn taken care of, Luke had been planning on initiating
his search for any remaining Jedi or Force-sensitive individuals that he could
try and recruit, convince to join him in
reestablishing the Jedi. This person – whoever was killing these
Dark Jedi – could become a major threat. Luke wondered if he was on that list. He wasn’t a Dark Jedi, of course, but if this
person made targets of any Jedi, then he could be a high target on the list.
Either way, it was necessary to find this man and put a stop to him, or more
people would die. He was on Coruscant now, as most of
Suddenly a thought hit him, a disturbing thought. If this killer was especially targeting Dark Jedi that worked with the Empire, then he might know about Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand. That meant Mara might be a target too! He had to get to her and warn her… Wait… Why was he trying to get away from this assassin and find him, when the person would probably come to them, eventually? All he had to do was keep his eyes open and wait for him, sense him when he arrived. He would have to be ready.
* * *
on the bed in the hostel he’d chosen after arriving on Coruscant.
It wasn’t the nicest set of apartments in
His room was almost at the top of the building, and he stared out the window at a beautiful view of Coruscant’s nightlife. Of course, many of the buildings rose much higher than this one, but there was plenty to see, with sidewalk shopping areas occupying many levels, buildings connected by a latticework of wide streets and walkways, and millions of lights and colors filling the air as far as the eye could see. Another time, he might have enjoyed living here for a while. But now he just took in the cold data, storing it in memory, going over the mission plans in his mind. In his hand he held the profile for his target: Mara Jade. He didn’t like the picture. She reminded him too much of his betrothed, who’d died by the Rebels during the Battle of Varnus that had devastated his world. His whole family had died in that attack. The only survivor was his uncle, Aron, and now he was gone, too.
He shook away the thoughts. He wasn’t going to let his past interfere with his mission. Putting the dossier away, he reached beside him on the bed and opened his large satchel. Getting all his supplies and weapons through security had been a task in its own right, but he’d managed to go through a group on-planet that was sympathetic to the Imperial cause. He hadn’t dealt with them directly, but even if they did turn him in, it didn’t matter. He’d be long gone once they realized, his mission accomplished.
First he slipped into the snug, black jumpsuit, which also served as insulation from the cold weather at the tops of the buildings. Then he slipped on his shirt and pants, black as well, and pulled on his shoulder-holster. Checking the charges on his blaster pistol and extra clips, he snug them into place. Then he attached his utility belt, which held his lightsaber, another blaster with holster, rope, rations, and other supplies. Over that he pulled on a light jacket which would conceal the shoulder harness. Pity that his rail gun was lost somewhere on the backwater planet known as Junor. He put on his boots, sliding his boot knife into the slot on the left one. Finally, he took out the small case from the bag, opened it to reveal the various pieces of his sniper rifle. He assembled the weapon with quick precision, slipped through its harness and strapped it to his back. The barrel stuck out taller than he actually was, so he’d have to be careful not to hit it on anything. Then, reaching into the bag again, he pulled out the grappling claws he’d brought and slipped them on.
Ready at last, he went to the window and pulled it open. Immediately a cacophony of nightlife sounds greeted him, which had been insulated before by the window. The sound of engines, machinery, music, and a cacophony of other sounds all bombarded him. Sliding out, he stood on the windowsill, reached upwards, and dug his claws into the duracrete above. The claws, with their microfine, durable points, clung into the side of the building. Testing his leg beneath him, he began his ascent with his Force-assisted strength.
Luke Skywalker sat on the edge of the roof of the Dulpren shopping complex, well within sight of the restaurant Mara was eating at tonight. It was strange, but something had told him to be out here tonight. A flash of intuition through the Force - not a glimpse of the future exactly, but a feeling nonetheless. There seemed to be something in the air itself, signaling change, signaling events about to transpire. It told him he needed to be out here tonight, and so here he was, ready and waiting.
He brought the infrared macrobinoculars up again, scanning the streets below, rising to study the rooftops. Nothing. Just lonely spires jutting up towards the sky, steam rising from the rooftops to meet the sparse cloud cover above. This planet-wide city still felt unnatural to him, being raised on Tatooine with its endless deserts and few buildings. But he’d learned to cope with it, and it didn’t bother him as much anymore.
Suddenly he spotted movement ahead, on the rooftops, at the same time feeling a slight tremor in the Force. A shadowy figure was making its way across them, jumping from building to building, rooftop to rooftop, sometimes making leaps of thirty meters or more. Only Force-enhanced abilities were capable of that. This was his man. A surge of adrenaline shot through his body at the thought.
Turning, he made his way to his swoop waiting nearby, stored the macros in the compartment, and pulled on a pair of night-vision goggles. With them on, he could make out much more clearly the details and contours of the buildings around, the shapes of those in the distance, slightly tinted greenish-yellow in his view. Settling himself on the swoop, he started the bike up and lifted off, turned in the direction the figure had been heading, and started forward.
knelt on the rooftop, leaning on the raised edge, just like in
Across the white cloth-covered table from Jade sat a handsome, well-dressed black man with a bit of a mustache. He was grinning and talking animatedly to his companion. Xar could read lips a bit, having been taught the skills of espionage and assassination from his old master. The man – Xar didn’t recognize him – was apparently discussion some business venture or another. Perhaps they were discussing business, but the man seemed to have a real interest in the woman. Well, enough of him; he wasn’t important. He settled his sights over Jade, who was nodding and replying periodically. She took a sip of wine, set it down and continued listening. Carefully adjusting the range of the shot, having to compensate a bit for the angle at which the near-invisible blaster shot would pass through the window, he lined his sights over her temple. Time to die, he thought bitterly, and made to pull the trigger.
Halfway there, his finger instinctively froze in hesitation. Logically, mentally, he knew what was happening; but he couldn’t stop it anymore than he could stop his own heart beating. Suddenly it all came back as her resemblance to Gwen stuck home. Her fiery red hair, pale, beautiful features. He couldn’t make out her eyes, but he knew they were a deep green, the kind he would become lost in forever when looking at his betrothed. And, try as he might, he couldn’t… pull… the trigger…
Suddenly an incoming sound pierced the silence; the sound of an approaching engine, growing louder as it came. As it did he felt a presence coming, too; someone Force-sensitive. Time seemed to slow, as his eyes turned in slow motion toward the sound, saw an incoming swoop bike gunning for him at top speed. His eyes rose to the driver, an intimidating face wearing some kind of night-goggles. In the man’s hand was a cylinder that erupted a bright haft of green light; the man brandished the weapon as he came in.
Ever so slowly his body responded to his thoughts, as the swoop came in too close and too fast to avoid. At the last instant he spun, bringing the rifle to bear in front and firing a nanosecond before the swoop slammed into him at a hundred kilometers an hour.
Luke drove straight in, bearing down on the man. At the last possible moment the man turned, there was a flurry of motion; he felt a sharp, stinging pain in his shoulder as it was tugged backwards, and at the same time he ran full-force into the would-be assassin. The swoop wavered, pulling Luke further off-balance. As he passed the dark man the swoop tottered sideways and he abruptly fell on its side, sliding.
Luke hit hard and rolled, his lightsaber having flown from his hand at some point. He slid across the rough rooftop, its surface rubbing his skin raw. The swoop hit the rooftop with shattering force, rebounded, and launched itself over the edge of the roof and continued down for the streets below. Luke slid to a stop, turned slowly and pushed himself up, pulling off his goggles. He noticed his left arm wasn’t responding well. Upon first glance, he understood why. The assailant must have had a chance to fire his rifle, sending a bolt burning into his shoulder and out the other side. The pain was intense, but he shunted it away, practicing one of his Jedi-calming techniques. Summoning up the Force, he touched his shoulder, let the Force flow through him. He wasn’t too adept at healing, but he’d healed worse before. Teneniel Tjo had been almost critical when he’d saved her. As if in response to his wishes, the wound softened and pulled together, the flesh began to knit. A chill spread throughout his whole body from that point, causing him to shake with cold. He opened his eyes, and it was done. Not completely, of course, but he wouldn’t be leaking body fluids all over the place. He’d need to see a medical center as soon as possible. He was weak, too; his arm from taking the shot, the rest of him from the energy spent in the healing.
Then, realizing where he was, he looked back over to the figure he’d hit. The man was slumped over, but was rising slowly. His sniper rifle lay on the rooftop some distance away, shattered into several pieces. Taking a closer look with his Force-enhanced vision, Luke could make out the man. He had dark hair, as dark as his clothes, and his face looked weary and troubled. He didn’t seem to have been taking care of himself recently, he was unshaved and had dark spots under his eyes. And there was a coldness to those eyes, a feeling of dark Force energy Luke had only felt around Dark Jedi. This man was hurting; he had a reason for doing this. Luke’s spirits actually rose a bit; he might be able to help him after all.
But the dark man was concentrating on something else. With his left hand he gripped his right arm, which hung limp below him where he crouched. Seeing the limb from the elbow down, Luke winced. Bone was jutting out from skin, past the man’s sleeve, a horrible compound fracture from the hit he’d taken. The man was also breathing heavily, and favored his right side. Maybe he had a broken rib, as well. At any rate, he wasn’t in any shape to fight. Luke tried to stand, instead opted to crawl forward toward the injured man. He called out to the stranger.
“Hey you! It’s over, you’re in no shape to fight. I don’t mean you any harm. Let’s stop this and go in together. I can help you with that,” he said, pointing toward the man’s arm.
But the man wasn’t even looking in his direction. His face was twisted in consternation and pain. He seemed to be concentrating deeply. Luke could feel the Force moving within him; the Dark Side.
Unbelievably, the broken limb began to heal. Bones contracted underneath the skin with a sickening crunch, flesh knitted, his arm wasn’t twisted in an unnatural position anymore. More popping sounds, and the man could move it again, sat up straighter, as if his internal injuries were healed as well. And there was an evil feeling through the Force, like a string of sewage running through its pure ocean. The man’s face was twisted in unimaginable pain, he was shaking all over. Then, slowly, it faded, and he slumped, breathing heavily. But somehow, the man felt even darker than before, more attuned to the Dark Side. Whatever he’d used to heal himself had exacted a price. Luke couldn’t imagine it; he didn’t even know Dark Side healing was possible.
“Who… Who are you?” he asked, moving forward.
The man didn’t answer. Instead, he glared at Luke, abruptly stood and drew his gun from its side holster as he did. Instinctively Luke went for his lightsaber, but it wasn’t there. In the instant he had, he glanced the rooftop for it; he saw it lying by the raised edge, un-ignited. Throwing himself toward it he summoned it to his hand with the Force, as the first blaster shot hit the duracrete below him, sending fiery bits of it that burnt against his leg. The saber hit his hand, he brought it over, igniting it just in time to deflect a bolt with the blade before it was even fully-extended. He let the Force guide his actions; he deflected a second shot, sent the third straight back at his attacker.
The blaster bolt hit the man’s gun, destroying it and knocking the weapon from the man’s hand. Gripping his injured hand, the dark man turned and ran, limping slightly, back toward the raised level where another floor rose above the roof. Halfway there he stumbled and almost fell, but quickly recovered and with Force-enhanced speed vanished behind a group of ventilation machines. Luke sighed. He’d won this round, but it had taken its toll on both of them, it seemed. But the other man didn’t look as tired as Luke felt. Standing, he turned off his saber and started cautiously after the assailant. He’d spotted a lightsaber hanging from the man’s belt. He’d better not take any chances. He followed the man slowly, turning off his blade and sneaking to the edge of the corner. The sounds of the city filled the air around him. At least Mara’s safe, he thought with some relief.
Luke flipped around the corner and nearly lost his head to a blindingly fast horizontal strike from a glowing yellow blade of pure energy. He ducked instinctively, the blade passing over his head and cutting into the duracrete behind. Luke ignited his own blade, swinging around at the man’s exposed flank. But he was too fast; he parried the move and shoved Luke’s green-white blade into a nearby ventilator, sending sparks raining over both of them. They exchanged several more strikes, neither gaining a hit, but Luke knew already that he was dealing with a master. And, with his weakened left arm, he couldn’t hold as much strength as his opponent. He couldn’t believe how the man had so much power after having his arm damaged almost beyond normal repair. Luke could feel the Dark Side raging in him now, as he fueled his power though his anger, anger seemingly directed solely upon the goal of Luke’s destruction. Luke dodged another strike, opened the door that lead from the roof back inside the building, and slipped inside. His enemy was right behind him. Luke emerged in a dimly-lit area with some kind of tiled glass covering one wall. His opponent came in more fiercely than ever, moving his saber in a complex series of strikes that took every ounce of Luke’s skill to parry and block. The few counterstrikes he managed to get in were easily repelled by his enemy, and Luke could feel his strength ebbing. He couldn’t hold up a sustained fight much longer.
Suddenly the man’s right leg wavered and he stumbled, and Luke saw his chance. He swung the man’s blade aside hard, then struck with a jab at his heart. Yet at the last second the dark man spun on his good leg, missing the blade, and bring his own back to parry Luke’s to the side. Then he came in, grabbing Luke’s tunic with a roar, and ran forward. Luke flew backwards, hitting the glass behind and crashing through. It gave easier than Luke had thought it was going to, but it still hit him like a sledgehammer. He lost all his breath, barely holding onto his saber, as he felt himself falling. His brief glimpse of his enemy faded from view as he stared at an elaborately-painted ceiling, then suddenly he hit water with enough force that it felt as if his skin was going to fly off.
As his saber hit the water it sent a wide column of steam shooting up toward the ceiling, but the other man was gone.
Luke staggered out of the pool, raising the saber above him out of the water. The few people occupying it were scattering madly away from him, screaming at the top of their lungs. Luke ascended the steps out of the pool and used the Force to pull most of the water from his drenched clothes. Then, saber in hand, he made for the exit and through the corridors.
Luke stumbled through the hallways, trying to stay as clear of the running, screaming people as much as they were from his glowing blade. He realized that his presence wasn’t the cause of the apparent panic; alarms were going off throughout the building, and he could hear larger, air raid sirens coming from the city outside. People were emerging from the doors lining the hallways, going back in, as if they didn’t know where they were going. He tried to stop several of the running people, asking them what was going on.
Finally, one man stopped for a second and yelled, “Don’t you know?! The Imperials are here! They’ve attacked Coruscant! They blockaded the whole planet! It’s all over!” Then he suddenly seemed to notice Luke’s lightsaber, and started running the other direction, screaming more frantically than before.
“Luke Skywalker,” a voice said flatly behind him.
Luke turned, seeing the dark man standing there, glowing yellow saber in hand. Oddly he noticed that was the first time he’d heard the man speak.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” Luke said. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours. Who are you? We can work things out. There’s no more point in fighting; the Imperials will get all of us unless we get out in time.”
The man actually smiled. “You will not be making it out either way. I do not have to tell you who I am. It will not matter soon.” Suddenly he moved in, cutting upwards with his blade. Luke blocked, struck back, and was blocked as usual by his skilled opponent. They fought on, time seeming to slow, for what seemed like minutes. The hallways cleared of people; they obviously had the sense, at least, to stay clear of two dueling Jedi. Luke blocked strike after strike, barely keeping the man’s searing yellow blade from burning through his skin. Where did he get his energy? One thing he knew: he needed to end this soon, or he wouldn’t have the strength to go on.
Xar struck again and again, driving the man back. This Skywalker he’d heard of wasn’t as tough as he’d heard. How had he ever bested Darth Vader? No matter… He forced the man through one of the open doors into one of the hotel’s rooms. They emerged in a living area, with furniture set around a large glass table, a huge window dominating the wall behind Skywalker.
Luke readied his blade, seemed ready for Xar’s next strike. Which didn’t come. All of a sudden a Tie Fighter flashed by outside, sending out a deafening roar from its ion engines. The window behind shattered, and the sound was so intense it jarred both of them for a second. It seemed to have more of an effect on Skywalker; although a tough fighter, he obviously didn’t have as high pain toleration as Xar did. He shook his head, yelling, dropped his guard for an instant. Xar mercilessly swung his blade, knocking Skywalker’s aside, then pivoted and sent a hard sidekick into the man’s chest. Skywalker flew back and crashed down onto the table, shattering it under him. Xar brought his blade down again, knocking Skywalker’s saber away, then he stood with his blade to the Jedi’s neck.
Luke stared up at him, said something up at him. Xar had retained barely enough hearing to make out his words.
“Wait! This isn’t the right way,” the man was saying. “It’s not the Jedi way! You’re confused by the Dark Side! Let it go! I know you can! Let’s go back together and we can break you from the grasp of the Dark Side…”
Xar opened his mouth, interrupting him. “I have never seen a man plead for his life so pathetically.”
Realization dawned on Luke’s face, too late. Xar pushed his blade down, silencing Skywalker’s scream in a flash of light.
Only the man’s clothes remained, and a cut in the floor where Xar’s blade had sliced though. It was over. Strangely, he didn’t feel any joy or pride at killing Skywalker, the living legend. He was just another Jedi, another target. There were more around. Of course, first he had to get off-planet; Skywalker had been right about that. Giving a short laugh at the empty garments below him, he turned off his saber and left the room…
Xar limped onto the landing pad, walking right up to the Rebel pilot that had started off toward his X-wing. Igniting his saber, he felled the man with one blow, then cut the weapon off, summoning the Force around him, taking on the appearance of the dead pilot. The other pilot didn’t seem to notice, and climbed into his own fighter. Hurrying to beat him, Xar hopped into the other X-wing, gave the other pilot a quick salute, and pulled the hatch down. Bypassing the pre-flight warm-up, he brought the ship’s repulsorlifts, engines, and weapons online simultaneously with the Force. Angling the ship over, he opened up with his lasers, blowing the other X-wing into nonexistence in a huge fireball. Then, pulling back on the stick, he pushed the engines to maximum, shooting up into the night air of Coruscant. Ahead, he could see more flashes than he could count: the battle had already begun. But he wasn’t going to fight, his plan was to escape. Let the Rebels die with their prize, he thought. Coruscant was theirs no more…
* * *
Planet Aurora, Aurora System
The last Jedi fell to the ground under the clear sky, dead, drained of all his Force-energy, his life essence. Khyron stood over him, practically glowing with Force energy. That had been the last member, the last one to evade his plans until now. The only ones remaining were those expressly loyal to him, and him alone. From the scores in the Brotherhood, only a dozen or so loyals remained; they had accepted his inevitable rise to Emperor, and lived only to serve him. The Dark Brotherhood was no more. Only his own Jedi order was left. Of course, Ronin was still alive, at least for now. But Khyron didn’t worry about him. He had the High Admiral's total approval. The man didn’t know exactly what he’d done, of course. But a good deal of flattery intermixed with a few suggestions using Persuasion had kept Ronin off his back so far. There was little the man could do about it, now. And soon, he would be rid of him, and the entire Imperial Remnant fleet would be his, ready to carry him on to his rightful role as Emperor.
Khyron rocked back on his heels, reeling in power. This last Jedi's power would be but a thin trickle compared to the ocean he held, yet he found himself wanting more. More victims, more power. The Dark Brotherhood might be gone, but he didn't care. He was the most powerful being in the galaxy. The feeling was incredible.
"Now there is no one who can oppose me!" he yelled with a laugh. "I am the Emperor reborn! I am the most powerful Jedi in history!" Surely no one had ever drained as many as he. He'd had a well of loyal servants to draw from, and now he held all their power. Their essences, their puny memories were all inside him, but repressed by the dark power that grasped Khyron's heart. They were his slaves, mere subservients to the awesome power he now held. He reveled in it, turned to make his way back to the royal palace. There were new plans to be made, and more Jedi to extinguish.
Then something caught his attention. Another presence; Force-sensitive, but not that powerful. He turned... and suddenly a man stood there before him, less than thirty meters away. The man had short blond hair, and striking, yet surprisingly young features. Strange though, the man didn't seem young at all, only in physical appearance. But the way he held himself, the confident stance, the gaze he placed on Khyron... They were far more mature. It was a little unnerving, but Khyron wasn't afraid. He was invincible now. Besides, now he had another bit of Force power to add to his own, a new willing victim. Well, if not willing, at least present. He smiled, moving towards the man. "You picked the wrong day to show up, my friend," he said, moving forward confidently.
Surprisingly, the man smiled. Khyron stopped, realizing what seemed to strange about the man. At this distance, his Force-enhanced vision could make out two different color eyes, one a light blue, the other actually violet. The man's confident smile faded to a mask of disappointment as he spoke. "No. You are blinded," he said in powerful voice. His words held an accent Khyron couldn't identify, one that he'd never heard before. "I sensed your presence from far away," he continued. "I thought to face you first, to ensure things transpire as foreseen."
Khyron shook his head. What was the man talking about? Well, no matter. He didn't have time for such games. As far as he'd advanced in the past couple months, he'd learned many new things. He supposed he really should be grateful to that Xar's old master, Runis, for learning and recording such things. He could sense the power level in others, now, and he knew this man wasn't powerful enough to provide a worthwhile addition to his powers.
"Bah. You are not strong," he said contemptuously. "Begone from me, petty worm. I have more important things to attend to."
"Oh, I doubt that," the other man said with a smile. "Unfortunate that you block yourself from the true power you could have had, but it is too late. You have been consumed, now."
Khyron gave a shrug of indifference. "Of course. Whatever. Now, leave my presence, and be glad I will let you live another day. But do not cross me again." With that, he turned and started away. Let the man ramble on. Maybe he could sense his Dark Side energies. All the better, then. Funny, though. He should be cowering in front of Khyron, the all-powerful Grand Master. No matter. Khyron had much more interesting things to do with his time.
Several steps after he'd turned, Khyron felt the man's power level begin to rise – rapidly. It rose, and rose, and kept rising, faster and faster. Khyron's breath caught in surprise. Somehow the man had masked his Force potential. And now Khyron had almost made a fatal mistake. Khyron began drawing on the Force, feeding his anger, fueling his dark energies.
About the time the man's power level began exceeding his own, Khyron knew. Somehow he'd attracted this being to this part of the galaxy, if it really was a man. And as his power level continued to rise, went beyond Khyron's ability to gauge it, he understood the scope of what was transpiring. The man was right; he had been blinded. There was more, so much more to the universe. And now he had attracted dangerous attention.
This was life or death. He'd only get one shot. He drew deeply on the Dark Side, pulling it in, as he turned back to face the blond-haired man.
The man hadn't moved. He stood at his ease, as he had before, a plain look on his face. But Khyron wasn't going to be fooled. He knew he'd only get one chance to kill this man. This was something on a level at which he'd never expected, never prepared for. But he could defeat him. He summoned the Dark Side around him, bringing his hands up in front of him. A breeze born not of the wind picked up, stirring his hair. Bits of dust and pebbles rose off the ground and hovered around him as he built up his own massive Force power level. He held the power of every member of the Dark Brotherhood who hadn't been away from Eos. Dozens and dozens of Jedi, many of them masters themselves. The power, all his. Surely the man in front of him was creating an illusion. There couldn't be anyone more powerful than the mighty Khyron. Filling himself with the Dark Side of the Force, he focused it together, preparing to strike. The man opposite him didn't even move. Khyron's anger built, turning into hatred and rage. An unconscious roar began to emanate from his throat, as his vision blurred and turned red. His eyes felt ready to burst out of their sockets, he felt his neck veins pulsating, his muscles contracting. His rage built, a fury of unstoppable force that even the Emperor could never have achieved. Because this was his only chance.
Then it began.
Khyron drew it all in. The Dark Side itself poured through his veins, filling him with life for a fleeting moment, the pure power of the Dark Side. He knew he was drawing enough to probably waste himself away after he let go, but he didn't care. It was all worth it. Screaming with rage, he stepped forward and extended his hands. With a deafening blast of thunder, a massive beam of energy leapt from his hands. Everything he fed into that one huge blast. The beam widened, thicker than a man was tall, but it didn’t drive him back. He set his stance, pouring every ounce of rage and fury of the Dark Side into it.
The beam of purple-white light streaked across the space toward the other man in an instant, but it seemed to travel forever in the space between them. It poured across the distance, burning the grass below it to a crisp instantly, superheating the air around it, creating a corona of fire. Nothing should be able to withstand it.
As the blast came upon the man, threatened to overwhelm him, turn him to a mere shadow in front of the irrepressible light, the blond man stepped back into a low stance, and extended his hand, palm outward, at the oncoming fury. The power seemed to seep from his body, the air around him rippled. As the blast reached him, impossibly it parted around an invisible field surrounding the man and passed around him on both sides. The blast continued on, coming back together behind him into a beam of energy and light that struck one of the buildings half a kilometer past, obliterating it in a huge explosion that filled the air.
Khyron let the blast die, felt the power drain from him. That blast had taken nearly all of his strength, but at least it was over. He smiled, watching the dust and smoke fade. Now he truly was the most powerful being in the galaxy. Too bad he couldn't have absorbed the man's incredible energy as well. He gasped for breath, feeling his skin wrinkle, his body aging ten years with using such heavy Dark Side power.
Then as the dust faded, the smoke cleared around, a figure stood, the distance behind him filled with flames. The blond man stood there, without so much as a hair or a bit of his clothes singed! Khyron jumped. His jaw dropped, and he began trembling like he never had before. A weak cry came out of his throat as he stared in utter and complete shock. "What.... how?"
The blond man with the different colored eyes smiled. "Nice try; not bad for a beginner. You almost singed my fingernails."
"No... no way... It's not possible..." Khyron stammered, shaking violently.
"Now it's my turn..." the man said with a low grin. At his side, a ball of light formed in his clawed hand, glowing larger, brighter. Brighter than the sun.
Khyron reflexively flinched back, crying out in pure terror. His power was gone; he didn't even have anything to defend himself with. In a sudden flash of thought, he understood that all his power was useless, worthless. He was nothing. And as he thought that, he realized he was about to die.
Ronin stood on the bridge of the Sovereign, staring suspiciously down at the planet below. Beside
him, Icis – Icis Novitaar – joined him at the railing, his face hidden in a
mask of non-emotion. Ronin barely noticed him; his
concentration was completely focused on the tremors in the Force coming from
the planet below, from
He turned to Icis, asked him for some explanation. The other man simply looked at him wide-eyed. Almost a frightened look in those eyes; something he’d never seen in them before. Ronin was scared, too.
Then a sudden
surge from below, so strong he gasped and stared down toward the surface. A blinding flash of light erupted, brighter by far than
Then chaos reigned.
A flash of
unfathomable energies pulsed into surface of the planet, and in an instant a
hundred square miles were obliterated in a colossal explosion that engulfed
Stunned beyond words, beyond belief, Ronin pushed himself up and faced the viewports again, watching his ruined planet, imagining the endless winter that this explosion would cause.
Icis didn’t answer, but just stared back at him in disbelief. Ronin just stood there a moment, wondering what to do. He was still standing there as one of the bridge crew yelled.
“Admiral! We’ve got a fleet of ships coming out of hyperspace right in front of us!”
Ronin spun around to face the officer. “What? How many?”
The man stared at his screen in terror. “Too many! I can’t count them all! And there’s something huge coming out right in front of us! Bigger than the Sovereign, sir!”
In an eyeblink, the space ahead of the bridge filled with lights and shaped that glinted in the sun, ships. The ship’s proximity alarm went off, as another ship dropped out of hyperspace in front of them. Ahead, there was little proof of it, except that the stars were suddenly gone, blacked out by its massive presence.
Ronin opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a scream from Icis behind him. He whirled around.
“Oh NO! THEY’RE HERE!!!!” the man screamed in terror, stumbling backwards. Then he turned and began running toward the back of the bridge, toward the escape pods.
“Icis! Wait! Who’s here? Come back! ANSWER ME!!!”
But the man did not answer. He had already cloaked himself in invisibility, and was gone.
Ronin turned back to face the viewport, staring at a scene from his worse nightmares. A battle was raging, but his badly outnumbered forces were being cut to ribbons. Ahead, the ISD Intrepid was coming apart from continuous beam attacks from ships all around it. What were these attackers?
Then blasts began erupting from the black ship ahead, continuous beams of energy reaching across space to connect with the Sovereign. The ship’s shields were still down, and not being able to rise in time, the energy beams tore through her hull and into the bowels of the ship, sending tremors throughout the bridge. His beautiful flagship was being sliced to ribbons, and he knew there was nothing he could do about it. Vaguely he heard some of his officers, yelling at him to evacuate, to get to the escape pods as Icis had, but the cries passed around him unheeded. Gripping the railing, he stared straight ahead, watching the impossible come down around him. Then another beam shot out, connected with the hull, working its way up the ship, gutting it like a fish. Ronin stood quietly, contemplating how things had happened this way, as the bright flash of energy enveloped him…
* * *
Xar flew forward as fast as his X-wing would take him, having shunted all laser power to the engines and shields, juking the ship to avoid the turbolaser and starfighter fire passing all around him. He burst through the atmosphere and into space, where a ring of Imperial starships filled the space ahead, a deadly wall of metal with the power to destroy him without a second thought. Behind him, several TIE Fighters trailed, trying to line up shots to hit him, but he was an expert pilot, and he had the Force to aide him. Many of the other fleeing Rebel and civilian craft had neither advantage, and this was proven by the explosions erupting all around the planet, inside the Imperial barricade. This world was going to the Empire, and Xar didn’t think there was anything the Rebels could do about that. In a way, he was glad. Of course, the knowledge that he was flying a Rebel craft kept him sober about it. If these people knew who he was, they would probably not be trying their best to kill him about now.
Ahead, he thought he spotted an opening in the blockade. It the best chance he would get. Pulling the fighter over, he headed straight for it, counting on his fighter’s speed to keep him moving too fast for the Imperial gunners to hit. It almost worked. The space ahead was full of Frigates and Dreadnoughts, and even a Victory-class Star Destroyer. He shot towards the opening, which the Imperial ships couldn’t quite close in time.
But he suddenly realized why, as he saw the Lancer-class Frigate move in from behind the other ships to block the hole. Lancers were an anti-starfighter ship, pure and simple. And hurtling straight for it at top speed, Xar knew he didn’t have a chance. The ship’s laser batteries erupted as one, streaking straight towards him in the blink of an eye. Desperately reaching for the ejection handle, Xar didn’t even have time to scream as he launched out into space – then the blasts tore into his fighter, turning it into an expanding ball of flame and gas that faded in the cold of space…
Shadows of the Past
Written by Joshua Ausley
a.k.a. Xar “Sauron” Kerensky