Force Unbridled

Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 2
Chapter 1: The Silver Star

Valan tapped the console, checking and then re-checking the instruments. Nodding to himself, he looked to the woman in the pilot’s chair next to him, “Lil, sensors are showing we’ve arrived at the coordinates in the distress beacon.”

The woman let out a huff of air, blowing a bright blue lock of hair from her face, “Great! I’m bringing her around now to get a visual.” She adjusted a toggle on the control panel and eased the controls to bring the old freighter into a tight turn. The Corsuca Gem followed her commands, arcing in a wide turn to face perpendicular to the direction it had when exiting hyperspace. As Lil watched out of the front viewport, a drifting freighter came into view, severely damaged, and trailing smoke from mangled thrusters in her stern. Lil looked over the hull, noting a series of smoking blaster burns along her flanks. Attached to the dorsal airlock, a second ship sat as if a lamprey on the larger craft. The smaller ship was long and thin, more of a Starfighter in shape than a freighter, but far too large to be a dogfighter.

Valan looked up in a mix of confusion and concern, “Transponder on the larger craft calls her the Silver Star. She’s the one that broadcast the distress signal. The transponder on the smaller craft is masked …”

Kryze shook his head, “A masked transponder means that ship is up to no good. Pirates, or scavengers picking the ship clean.”

Lil let out a sigh, “Either way, they’ll be armed.”

Bail’s smooth drawl chimed in from the back passenger’s seat, “Maybe they’re just concerned citizens looking to help. We can probably leave since they have things in hand … “

Lil turned around in the pilot’s chair to look at the Falleen. It was the most selfish and cowardly thing she’d ever heard, and was pleasantly surprised to see everyone else staring in shock at the Falleen as well. Shaking her head, she continued, “We’re committed.” Turning back to the controls, she throttled the old YT-1300 forward, “Docking now, get your blasters ready.”

Bail shook his reptilian head, his naturally green skin turning amber in irritation and worry, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

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The group moved through the hallways of the ship smoothly, which surprised Kryze, as he hadn’t expected the group to be so disciplined. He had been stuck with the group for over a month now – Thrace had assigned him to be the one to review the data in the holocron for evidence of hidden Jedi strongholds. When he had objected, Thrace had only responded that investigation was in his blood, though for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why he would be inclined to believe that. Over his time with the group, he found them to be more a dysfunctional family than skilled combatants. They fought, argued, and bickered over everything, and the wounded party got snarky at the end of it, every time. It was so bad the behavior threatened to infect him, and on multiple occasions he had to sequester himself in the holocron chamber to avoid them.

Now though, when they had something to focus on, a new group appeared. Lil monitored their progress from on board the Corusca Gem, using the ships sensors to keep them appraised of external threats. Tomo and Valan moved along the corridors like professionals, which Kryze supposed was the case. All info on Valan indicated he had previously been known as IC-1187, which was an Imperial Commando designation. That meant he was probably quite comfortable in operations like this. Tomo had been raised in a religious caste of warriors that were charged with the protection of her entire village. A quasi-mystical group called the “Sword Saints.” Part law-enforcement, part ninja, she reflected the role in her smooth movements and sure grip on her sword. For his part, Bail knew his role – that of face and negotiator – and stayed behind the group as they advanced. The surprising part to Kryze was that Bail knew how far to stay behind. Not so far as to be out of sight or reach of the others (in the case of a rear assault, this is vital for changing orientation of the firing line), but not so close as to hamper the movement of the group or clog lines to cover in the event of a firefight.

Kryze pulled to a stop as his OMNI3 scanner picked up motion and heat signatures around the bend up ahead. He signaled the rest of the group to halt and take cover moments before blaster fire erupted all around them. Four humanoids, dressed in the makeshift armor of novice bounty hunters, opened fire on them from a crossing intersection ahead of the group. Using the corner for cover and wielding blaster pistols, they pinned Kryze and the others momentarily, forcing them to take cover in the braces that extended from the freighters bulkheads.

Kryze returned fire with his EE-3, but with the cover they had, he could do little more than lay out suppressing fire to allow Tomo to move closer. To his surprise (and a little disdain) Valan wasn’t returning fire with him. Instead, he had drawn his lightsaber and rushed forward with Tomo. While Tomo still used her Mandalorian warblade, Valan ignited his citrine lightsaber blade, casting the hallway in a subtle yellow glow that overpowered the red emergency lighting along the ceiling. Bail moved to the bulkhead opposite Kryze and opened fire down the hallway with his blaster pistol.

Kryze nodded to Bail and kept firing, Tomo and Valan’s advance almost to the end of the hall. Kryze managed to drop one of the combatants, who took a moment too long to aim down the hallway. Upon reaching the end of the corridor, Valan and Tomo disappeared around the corner, and the screams of pain and surprise that heralded their arrival told Kryze all he needed to know. Within moments there was nothing but silence, and Kryze signaled to Bail to follow before moving up himself.

Turning the corner, Kryze found the remains of their five adversaries; limbs missing and mangled by blade or lightsaber, in one particular unfortunate’s case, both. Their groans of pain and agony gave proof that they were still alive, however. “We’ll need to bind them for transport,” Kryze noted.

“We don’t have anything to bind them with,” Valan replied, “Besides, they tried to kill us, and we don’t have the time to mess around with prisoners.”

Kryze felt his mouth gape open at Valan. He closed it quickly, thanking his helmet for covering his astonishment. He knew the ex-Imperial was hard, but to slaughter defenseless men went a little far. “We’re not killing helpless combatants here.”

Valan looked at him coolly, the emergency lighting glinting off the purple opalescent armor that he wore, “Like you didn’t do worse in your history as a bounty hunter.”

Kryze felt a surge of anger, fierce and hot. Closing his eyes, he calmed his heart and focused on the here and now. Speaking with a disciplined focus, he replied, “You don’t know the first thing about what I’ve done, Imperial. But fine, you want to kill them without finding out what they know, why don’t we just get back in the Corsuca Gem and blast the whole damn ship and save us some time?”

Tomo shook her head, “Kryze is right, we need information.” She looked over their fallen opponents and found something. “Bolas? That’s strange. At least we can tie them up with it.”

The comment about bolas struck Kryze as odd. Looking more closely at the symbol on their armor, the itch in the back of his mind was explained immediately. “Nova Suns,” he said.

“Who?” Valan asked.

Kryze shook his head, this was bad. “The Nova Suns are a group of Bounty Hunters, not scavengers. They’re less Bounty Hunter and more Contract Killers at that. They don’t take living prisoners.” He looked over the mercenaries until he spotted what he was looking for in the back, a bald human with a cybernetic eye. “This is Nex Pavros. He’s the leader of this group, and if he’s here and captured, we’ve either saved everyone or we’re already too late.”

The group finished tying up the mercenaries and then made their way to the bridge, leaving Tomo to get Lil and collect the unconscious killers. Kryze’s heart leapt to his throat as the door to bridge opened; for there was the crew of the Silver Star. One of the crew was lying in a heap on the floor of the bridge, another leaned over the controls in the cockpit, to his left, a third crewmember lay draped over a computer terminal, her eyes staring in shock as she had turned to look at her executioner. The first two had blaster burns in their backs, while the woman bore hers high on her forehead. The odd coloring around the wound left little doubt the blast came from Nex Pavros’ disrupter.

A great weight hit Kryze, as the last moments of the crew, their pain, fear, despair, washed over him through the Force. He closed his eyes and calmed his mind, letting the emotions go and finding a place of calm. Once again he felt a brief surge of resentment that he couldn’t go to his father for training. He let this, too, leave him, for he long ago came to the realization that even if he were to track Obi-Wan across the galaxy and find out where he is hidden, there was little for him to actually say to him.

What could he? What did he expect? His mother kept her pregnancy a secret, knowing full well that such relations are impossible. Were the Republic to have continued, and the Jedi Order not fallen, then perhaps it would have come out in time, for his aptitude with the Force would have assuredly seen him taken to the Temple for training. That isn’t what happened though – instead, his mother died to the machinations of the Clone Wars, and his aunt raised him as a Mandalorian warrior instead. The Jedi fell, and their order was scattered among the stars, to be hunted down one by one.

It’s why he began hunting Jedi in the first place – to help them remain hidden from the Empire in exchange for training, though if he were being honest with himself the true reason was in the hopes he would someday find his father. Now, however, he realized that his father was far cannier a prey than most, and hid his movements well. The more he focused on digging into his whereabouts, the more attention Kryze would bring to his father, and in the game of bounty hunting, that was a bad thing. Kryze knew that if he truly loved his father, and honored what he believed in, then he must let his father go.

It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. Luckily, his mother taught him what it was to Mandalorian, and above all, a Mandalorian does what is necessary. Like his ancestry, Kryze was pragmatic. Besides, if the Force saw it necessary for him to cross paths with his father, then that’s exactly what would happen.

His moment of reflection was interrupted by Valan, who was over at the computer terminal the woman was laying on. He had pried open a panel on the side of the terminal and was rooting around the interior, “Would you look at this?” he wondered aloud. As Kryze watched, he pulled from the hidden interior of the panel a small cube, glowing with a subtle aqua light.

“What’s a holocron doing on a light freighter?” Bail wondered aloud.

“I just checked out the cargo hold, there’s another body there. Killed like these,” Tomo said, pointing to the crewmen. “The whole hold is wrecked – crates smashed open, contents spilled out. Nothing’s been taken though.”

Kryze turned it over for a moment, “Nex wasn’t here for cargo. He was here for the holocron. Where was the ship coming from?”

Valan shrugged, “I couldn’t get anything off of the computer – it seemed out of sorts. That’s what led me to check the panel out.” Looking down at the ruins of the computer, he sighed, “I doubt we’ll get anything at all out of it now though.”

Kryze shook his head, “Not good. Lil,” he called over the comlink, “what is the nearest system to us. Could you check it using out navi-computer?”

Lil’s voice chimed over the comlink, “Sure, no problem! Lemme see … Cato Nemoidia is closest.”

Kryze blanched, “Cato Nemoidia?” He had no interest in going there. One of the primary worlds of the Separatists during the Clone Wars, Cato Nemoidia was under one of the strictest Imperial controls of any planet in the galaxy. “Well that doesn’t help us much. Most likely they were a legitimate freighter, though based on the cargo of foodstuffs and medical supplies. Cato Nemoidia is still a trade center with powerful merchants. I say we leave the distress running, clear out any signs of the Nova Suns remains and leave a torn patch in one of the crew’s possession. When the corporate authorities or Empire come looking, the patch will lead them to the Nova Suns, who we’ve conveniently captured, so it will appear they’ve gone into hiding. Hopefully, that will allow the crew’s bodies to be returned to their families and the damaged cargo to be replaced through insurance claims.”

Valan nodded, “I’ll go and catalog their gear. What about their ship outside?”

Kryze thought for a moment, “That ship is a Pathfinder-class scout ship. It only needs a single pilot, you all take the Corusca Gem back to the Temple, I’ll fly the other one back, and we’ll meet on Spintir.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Valan agreed. With a final look to the crew, they left the bridge and headed for home.

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The Gatekeeper's Legacy
The Gatekeeper's Legacy Part 1

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Hidden Depths Part 3
Chapter 2: Revelations

D’Jrem led the group through the many twists and turns of the cavern. He had been tracking the route of the prospector for over an hour, and though their pace was fast, he was constantly wondering when they’d finally reach the end of their journey. That probe droid had to have alerted the Star Destroyer above to its destruction, and that meant that at any moment Imperial troops could arrive at the cavern to investigate. He pushed the bewildering prospect out of his as something he could really do nothing about anyways.

The group entered a large chamber, oddly shaped in the form of a bowled floor, descending into the center of the room and then ascending out towards the other end of the triangular space. Shaped like a womb, they had entered into the space from one of the top entrances, and, along a short wall to their left, another tunnel ran on into the darkness. That wasn’t the direction of the prospectors route, however, as it went further into the room, exiting at the tunnel the formed the ‘base’ of the womb on the far end from the two exits where they were.

D’Jrem was oddly nervous at having to cross the entire room, though he couldn’t pinpoint why. He searched in the dim lighting their glowrods provided for some evidence to support his apprehension, but could find none. Finally, with nothing to hold him back and everything to push him forward, he tentatively crept into the room. His first footfall found no trap awaiting him, and so he continued on, with each step easing a little. Soon, he found himself a third of the way into the room, and he motioned the others to follow.

As he crossed the halfway point, he was more than at ease, in fact, he found himself feeling almost, happy. In fact, were he forced to describe the emotion he was feeling, he would say he was giddy. Emotion, though, wasn’t quite the right word. He felt as though his giddiness and happiness were a sensation and not necessarily an emotion. He looked to the others, and realized with a start that they had caught up to him, and were themselves seemingly adrift. The wandered behind him as if in a daze, and as the edges of his sight began to fuzz, he looked around to realize with startling acuity that there was something wrong with the room. “Is anyone else feeling lightheaded?”

Lil nodded, “Yea, and it’s hard to breathe.”

It hit him like a shot. The bowled floor, the presence of rubat crystal, the lightheadedness – they were in a gas pocket! Rubat gas is a byproduct of the pressures needed to produce the crystal. It’s odorless, colorless, and heavier than air! The low point in the room must be collecting it, preventing it from reaching the other areas of the cave! He had no chance to notice it because until they had descended into it, the air was perfectly normal, floating on top of the gas. Now that they floor had lowered them below the threshold, they were in serious danger.

“Everyone,” he coughed, “don’t breathe in any more, and don’t take a deep breath!”

“What in the blazes are you talking about?” Valan’s confusion made his injuries even more nightmarish to D’Jrem, or maybe it was just the gas.

“It’s an invisible gas we’re in,” he explained, “it will slowly starve your cells for oxygen unless we get out of here. Stop breathing and run to higher ground!” He began moving as quickly as he could towards the tunnel exit, the ground rising below him. His legs felt like rubber as the gas began affecting his motor skills, but he kept moving, determined to continue on.

The others fell in behind, the realization of what they were feeling spurring a survival instinct that kept them pushing hard. He knew that most of them had been practicing bolstering their bodies with power of the Force, something he had begun to do himself out of instinct, and saw the same in the others eyes. He feared it wouldn’t be enough, but before the fear could overtake him he found himself at the tunnel. He hesitantly took a breath, and found it to be sweet and restorative. He began breathing easy and motioned to the others the all clear. A string of gasps followed, as each took a gulp of oxygen after their trial.

Smiling and nodding to the others, he went into the tunnel beyond. The tunnel seemed like the others, though it ran far straighter then the twisting labyrinth they had experienced before. It led straight to an antechamber of medium size, perfectly round and domed, as if it were some kind of audience chamber. A chill overtook him as he entered, as if the temperature dropped below freezing, though his breath was as invisible as ever. He chalked it up to an after-effect of the gas combined with a coincidental breeze and looked around.

Spreading out at even distances, were five exits of identical nature. He took a moment to pick up the prospector’s trail and saw it lead into the tunnel furthest to the left, so looking to the others behind him, he nodded and moved on. As he crept down the hallway, a glimmer of light appeared ahead, a faintly orange glow, one that ebbed and brightened as he walked.

He turned to the others to see if they saw the same, but found the hallway behind empty.

Confused, he looked ahead and found not a hallway, but a campfire! He stood looking out on a platform that overlooked a vast crater. The stone that made up the platform was a brown sandstone that was very different from the red stone that made up the tunnel. He looked around to see where the rock changed, but quickly realized he was no longer in a tunnel at all!

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Valan followed D’Jrem through the second tunnel from the left out of the antechamber. His lungs were burning from hold his breath for so long, but D’Jrem seemed intent on pressing forward. It made a certain amount of sense to him; the Imperials surely knew about the probe droid, so time was an issue. He made sure that the others behind could match their pace, then pressed forward behind the Sakiyan. He noted the smooth movements of the Sakiyan, and wondered how he didn’t know about the treasure hunter. D’Jrem had always struck him as a meek and awkward one; his lisp making him almost comedic, but in the cave, searching for these crystals, the dark-skinned humanoid looked like a predator scouring his territory.

He threw a glance over his should to make sure the others weren’t falling behind, and was startled to find only a blank wall. Abandoning his crouch and standing straight, he looked at the cool gunmetal colored wall, rounded and stretching out to both sides of him. He spun on his heel, and found himself not in the tunnel where he was, but instead a turbolift. He exhaled, calmed his heightened nerves, and whispered aloud, “D’Jrem? Lil? Tomo?” A squelch before each statement surprised him, he hadn’t heard its type since he wore his old Shadow Trooper armor. The realization brought with the notice of a heads-up display (which they called a HUD in the Empire) which was overlaid on his vision.

He brought his hand up to his face to realize he wore a helmet. Looking down, he found himself in white and blue plastoid armor, not entirely unlike that of a Stormtrooper. A shoulder pauldron, black with blue accents, sat upon his left shoulder, and a kama like ones worn by ARC troopers back in the Clone Wars circled his waist. The Advanced Reconnaissance Clones had a unique DC-15c sidearm, too, which he found firmly in his hand where his Blastech DH-17 was moments ago. The soft bell of the turbolift let him know he arrived at whatever destination he was headed towards, and the doors opened a moment later.

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Tomo slid along the wall of the tunnel. She didn’t like traps she could not fight her way free from, and that is all this accursed cave seemed to possess. Keeping her back to the wall, she was relieved the see D’Jrem and Valan take the passage furthest to the right, allowing her to keep her back to stone and face down any threats that may come. She continued to slide along the wall, throwing her gaze from the group, always keeping her eyes moving, to minimize any chance for ambush. It was during one of these swivels or her head that she was met with a most unwelcome surprise.

Turning back to keep her eyes on ahead, she instead found a broad plain in front of her and no sign of the others. She looked down on the plain from her vantage point on a high ledge, below her, at the base of the rock wall that formed the ledge, she could see a vast river of molten lava, and across the plain on the far side she could another, matching river of the red superheated stone, at the base of a matching ridgeline. To her left, boxing one end of the canyon below, stood an immense fortress, and before it and army of battle droids stood in companies. At their rear, standing before the gates of the fortress, sat a huge droid, a mix of tank and humanoid. From the waist down, giant treads held it aloft, attached to an armored chassis that sported cannons with barrels as large as Tomo herself. From the waist up, it was humanoid, with two powerful arms, one that ended in a battery of weapons ranging from rocket launchers to blaster cannons, and in the other it held an immense axe, whose blade was easily as long as Tomo was tall.

Across from the droids, engaging the front lines of the droid army, were hundreds of thousands of gleaming white Stormtroopers. At least, they looked like Stormtroopers to Tomo’s eyes. Strange ships flew above the battle towards the giant droid/tank in the back, and as Tomo watched, one of the craft was shot from the skies, crash landing amongst the droids near the rear lines. It was then she noticed hundreds of lightsabers, jutting from odd locations amongst the droids, some near more of the crashed ships, others having advanced towards the rear from other crash sites. Tomo jumped as her comlink came to life, and a confident, baritone voice spoke, “Tomo, bring your ARCs to the crash site, we’re assaulting the Command Droid from here.”

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Lil watched as D’Jrem, Valan, and Tomo advanced in front of her through the middle tunnel in the antechamber. Lil looked around nervously, half expecting a Rubat Spinner to leap out from the shadows and devour her face. She felt exposed and alone, and only the warmth of the necklace Val Isa crafted so long ago seemed to provide and ease to nerves. It was then that Lil realized the root of the problem may lie not in her surroundings, but the Force. The cold around her suddenly had context, it had the same penetrating cold that the nexus on Spintir had. The facts started to fall into place, and Lil was only mildly surprised when she turned to face forward but found herself stepping instead into a long hallway of metal walls interlaced with stone, far below the surface of what she was sure was no longer Phemis.

“Great, another vision.” Lil was almost getting blasé towards the experience. She stepped forward, and turned the corner to see a row of prison cells. Orange fields of energy formed the 4th wall of the cell, barring the prisoners interred inside from escaping. A gunmetal grey combat droid stood guard in front of the cells, which looked to be holding dignitaries of some kind. They all wore fine clothing save one; who had the unmistakable gear of a freighter captain. The only thing missing from the spacedog was the normally ever-present blaster at his side, but that was understandable considering his position.

Lil crept along the corridor, looking to get some clue as to her current predicament, but the droid, probably on high alert, turned and stared at her. The shock of this surprise was total, as it was an HK unit! The droid flickered his photo-receptors and spoke, “Query; Master, what am I doing in this corridor?”

Lil felt her mouth gape open in surprise despite her best intentions, “HK?”

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Bail followed in behind Lil through the second tunnel from the right out the antechamber. He tried not get too close to her, since she seemed more than willing to physically assault him, but still close enough that he wouldn’t get left behind in the dimly illuminated caves. He kept an eye out for any signs of those disgusting spiders from before, but thankfully he didn’t see any trace of them or their webs. His head still buzzed from the effects of the gas, and he was beginning to suspect it was going to have lingering effects, as for some peculiar reason, he was smelling Corsuca Ice Wine, taken from fruit grown in the polar water caps of Coruscant. It was a delectable brew, sweet, and potent. Why it should come to his nose now he only assumed was a byproduct of some damage that miserable gas had done to his brain.

He closed his eyes for a moment and reveled in its scent. He had only once been fortunate enough to have the wonderful concoction. He was attending a party on Imperial Center to celebrate the coronation of Grand Moff Tarkin, and the Emperor himself had gifted the celebration with some. Rumor stated it was a fondness of the Sovereign’s, something he had enjoyed ever since he first arrived on Coruscant. Bail often wondered what the young Sheev Palpatine might have been like, before the many years of ruling the Empire twisted his face with age and stress. He caught himself wondering if he was ever young at all, or if he had always been the robed visage he now was.

Catching himself as lingering too long in his whimsy, Bail quickly opened his eyes, hoping he hadn’t fallen too far behind Lil. He was met with an unexpected brilliance, as his eyes had become so accustomed to darkness that the lights of the room he found himself in temporarily blinded him. Blinking the light away, his eyes slowly adjusted to reveal he was standing on the bridge of a Star Destroyer, an older model, probably a Victory-class. He looked around to see the crew all oddly similar in height and build, in fact, the longer he looked the more it became apparent the entire ship was crewed by identical siblings. An inappropriate thought towards the stamina and virility of their mother crossed Bail’s mind, but was quickly trumped by the soft caress of finery he felt against his body. He had spent so long in the rough clothing of an adventurer that he had almost forgotten the feel of fine vicuna, a fabric so soft that as a boy he had believed it magical. He felt it now, and as he looked down, he saw he wore the purple and crimson robes he had once seen on the advisors to the Emperor himself!

“Ah, Minister Whill, excellent you arrived when you did, may I speak with you?” The voice was unmistakable, but the face that it issued from was not the one he expected. No rolls of flesh, weighed down by age and worry, sat on the eyebrows of this man. No wrinkles of over a century of life ebbed the vitality from his face. This was the voice of Palpatine, but the face of an elderly, though still vital Supreme Chancellor.

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D’Jrem looked around at the platform he was standing and shook his head. It made no sense, but the vertigo from looking over the edge of the platform was quite real. He even felt the slight change in gravity that told him he was on a different planet. Looking down, he found himself in the Jedi armor he was wearing, but it was covered in an orange banding pattern that he wasn’t familiar with, and hadn’t had before. Moreover, he felt the strange weight of a lightsaber at his hip.

Shrugging, he walked forward to the camp fire he spotted before. The light carried him to small room off the main platform overlooking the crater. Inside, sat four humans, three men and a woman. Two of them wore the same kind of Jedi armor that he himself wore, the shorter of the two having the same orange banding that he had, while the taller of the two had blue striping on his. All three (counting himself) had the wings and saber symbol of the Galactic Republic on their shoulder pauldron. The woman wore a white jumpsuit with a tan half cloak draped about her shoulders, and carried a sleek silver blaster pistol in a holster on her hip. The final man wore the telltale gear of a freighter captain, a combination of civilian clothing and flightsuit, with a heavy blaster pistol slung low in gunslinger’s holster at this side. Aviator goggles sat ready on top of his mop of sandy blond hair, and an ever-present beard shadow covered his cheeks and chin. They all sat laughing and talking, and D’Jrem felt strange intruding on what appeared to be a close knit group.

“I can’t believe it’s almost over. Utapau was critical to the Separatists front. With it gone, Mustafar is their final holdout,” the woman said, smiling and taking a sip of caff.

The freighter captain chuckled, “We have them on the run, alright. I can almost smell the Coruscanti bisque now!”

The others laughed, and the blue jedi, a human youth with sandy blond hair who looked barely old enough to legally purchase rotgut, spoke up, “Owen, what in the twin suns are you talking about?”

The freighter captain, Owen, smiled, “Well, after the war I plan on opening a restaurant on Coruscant! A nice little diner – I love to fly, but I’ve had my fill for a while. If I get the hankering to do some flying, I can always pick up the supplies myself!”

The blue jedi had an astonished look to his face, “But what about your dad’s moisture farm on Tatooine?

Owen shook his head and held up his hands, “Tatooine? Oh, no, I’m never going back to that dustball again! Damn sand gets everywhere!

The other Jedi, the shorter one, had dirty blond hair, almost dark brown in the firelight, but his eyes were a brilliant blue. A full beard offset him from his clean-shaven fellow Jedi, and he spoke with a rich Coruscanti accent, “What about you, Padme? Without your skilled pilot what are you planning?”

D’Jrem took note of her name, and the fact that the Jedi’s question caused her to throw a look not him, but to his younger compatriot, “I’m sure I’ll be able to scrounge up someone to get from planet to planet.” She dropped her gaze and smiled, then looked to the older Jedi, “I’m actually going to be on Coruscant far more often, however. I’m looking at learning more of Senatorial procedures.”

The bearded Jedi looked genuinely surprised, “The Senate?”

Padme continued, nodding, “There’s far too much discrepancy between the Noble practices of the member worlds of the Republic and the Senate. It’s what enable the Separatists to gain such power – they exploited the misunderstandings between planetary politics and Senatorial procedure. If we can close that gap, then we can stop it from being exploited in the future and strengthen the Republic overall.”

Nodding, the bearded Jedi smiled, “A noble goal.”

The woman smiled brightly, “What about you Obi-Wan?” So he finally had a name, D’Jrem looked to the bearded Jedi while the woman, Padme, continued, “Now that you’ve declared Anakin a Knight and no longer your Padawan, and without a war to fight as an excuse for taking another, what will you do?” So the other Jedi was named Anakin. D’jrem reasoned that this must be Anakin Skywalker, before his appointment as the last Defense Councilor of the Republic.

Obi-Wan raised his hands and smile, “Guilty as charged, I suppose. I suppose I will take a new Padawan,” he chuckled, “No, I’m actually quite excited about teaching the next generation of Padawan. With so many Jedi lost in the fighting we number less than two hundred Knights and Masters now.”

Anakin nodded and continued, “With so few of us left, many Padawan have become Knights long before they would traditionally do so. Myself included. I feel as though the Council wouldn’t have let me be knighted without the need for it.”

Obi-Wan shook his head, “Don’t be ridiculous, Anakin, you’re every bit the Knight I was when I was your age. What will you do, Anakin?”

“I’m going to be sitting next to you, Master. To your left, you’ll have Master Windu, to your right will be me. With all the studying I’ve done, this time I know I’ll pass their tests.”

Padme looked confused at Anakin, “’This time’? What do you mean, Anakin?”

Obi-Wan appeared overcome with a sadness, “Anakin has appealed to the Council for a place before. He hasn’t yet passed their tests for nomination. Though I don’t understand why not.”

Anakin spoke with a deep conviction that D’Jrem noted typically came from naivety, “I’ll make it this time, Master. I’ve studied the rarest lore in the archives, and I’ve focused on the subtle nuances of my force skills. I’ve mastered all of the disciplines now.”

Obi-Wan chuckled through his beard, “To distraction, I’ve noticed. Why is it so vital though that you sit on the Council. It’s terribly boring.”

A darkness seemed to swallow Anakin before he replied, “Because I was born a slave.”

Obi-Wan seemed to have been caught off guard, and for his part, D’Jrem couldn’t quite follow the logic either, which Obi-Wan seemed to voice for him, “I don’t follow – you aren’t a slave anymore.”

Anakin looked up at Obi-Wan, and though he wasn’t sure the others saw it, D’Jrem saw a haunted, hollow look in his eyes, “But I’m not free, either.”

Obi-Wan seemed totally flat-footed to the response, “You aren’t?”

A deep pain seemed to build in Anakin at this, an inner turmoil that had its root somewhere in his core, “Well, I am, but yet I’m not. You see, being a Jedi Knight I’m still doing the bidding of the Jedi Council. Yes, I can go where I want and sort things out how I choose, but I’m beholden to uphold the decisions of the Council. If I were on the Council, then I could participate in deciding the future of that criteria – I would be totally free to make choices that matter. That make the galaxy a better place. Until then, I’m still a servant.

Obi-Wan looked to his friend and former student, “Well then, I suspect you won’t have long to wait – liberating Utapau was a major accomplishment, and you were pivotal in its strategic planning. This victory is largely yours, Anakin. The Council will certainly see that.” Obi-Wan’s blue eyes then fell on D’Jrem, and suddenly he felt very out of place, “What about you, Master D’Jrem, what are your plans with the war behind us?”

D’Jrem thought about the possible answers, and merely shrugged, “I suppose I haven’t thought about it before. I’ll probably head back out to the Rim, do more exploring and recover lost lore.”

Obi-Wan nodded, “I really hadn’t entertained the thought either before today, the end of the War always seemed so far away. Truthfully“ Master Obi-Wan was cut off as a huge explosion up-ended the crate he was sitting on. A plume of fire erupted from the floor as a second shell landed in the camp. The sounds outside of clones screaming under the bombardment filled the night.

D’Jrem had never encountered shelling like this before. He looked around the campsite, walls of the fab shelters lay broken, revealing the carnage outside. Clones, or pieces of them, lay about the large platform the campsite rested upon as fires burned out of control from the incendiary shelling. A deep fear rooted itself in his gut, and as the Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, and Owen lay unconscious in the rubble of the fire, D’Jrem felt the icy cold of fear in his blood, but he resisted it, knowing that he was the only one who protect them now.

Scrambling free of the fab shelter’s walls, D’Jrem saw a clone sergeant firing into the distance. Making his way towards the trooper, he noted the Jaig eyes on the forehead. If he remembered correctly, those were a marking only given to clones who showed unmatched courage under fire and perform acts of valor in defense of his comrades. If anyone, that was clone that could help D’Jrem ensure they all survived this madness.

As he got closer, he saw numerous tick marks on the clone’s forearm pieces. The most recent of which looked to have been done just this eve, clean and without wear. It occurred to D’Jrem that if each of those were representative of a separate battle, this clone must have been in the fighting from the beginning. He paused to wonder at how many of his brothers he saw die, how many Jedi fell in battle around him while he endured. As D’Jrem watched, this valiant warrior fired round after round into the night, smoke rising about his from the gas discharge of his blaster. D’Jrem looked out into the night to see what it was he was firing at, but was met with only blackness and smoke.

He looked back to the clone, and found the Jaig eyes on the trooper’s helmet staring right back as the clone regarded him, still firing into the night. Time slowed for a moment, and the trooper spoke, the heavy Man’doa accent rolling out of the speakers of his helmet, “Find me.” D’Jrem had barely an instant to ponder the statement when a brilliant blade of purple light flashed from the smoke and took the helmet from the soldier’s shoulders.

D’Jrem staggered back, unsure of what to make of this new turn of events. He pulled the lightsaber off of his belt, hoping beyond hope that the beginner lessons in lightsaber combat he had been taking at the Temple would pay off when he needed it now. As the smoke cleared, he saw a woman in a black bodysuit step from her obfuscation. A utility belt hung around her waist, complete with light blaster pistol, and her gloved hands held the amethyst blade menacingly before her. A tan head wrap, the same color as the walls of stone around them, concealed her face, but her locks of red hair, the same crackling red as the fire pit behind him, clearly hung in loose curls down her chest and back.

D’Jrem with a strange glee he hadn’t expected, and that was completely inappropriate to the situation, looked excitedly at the color of his lightsaber blade as he turned it on. He was met with the green brilliance of an emerald beam, and while he was slightly saddened it wasn’t as unique as the purple blade he faced, it seemed in his mind to be fitting. He brought the Jedi’s weapon up and took a guard stance.

His opponent dashed forward with all the speed and agility of a cat. He was hard-pressed to knock the blade aside, but managed to do so at the last moment. He countered her strike with a novice strike, one that she ducked with little effort. He did, at least, manage to catch the trailing edge of the cowl she wore, stripping it from her head. With a flip of her hair as she came up, she threw the fiery locks from her face to reveal … Lil!

D’Jrem’s blade dropped as he saw the face of his friend staring back at him. Taking the opportunity, Lil lunged and drove her amethyst blade deep into D’Jrem’s stomach. Pain overwhelmed him, cutting through the shock but only adding to the confusion. He reached out towards Lil, keenly aware that he had dropped his lightsaber. He couldn’t decide if he was reaching to her in an effort to elicit a plea for her to help him, or if he reached out to her to choke the life from her as she had taken it from him.

In either case, darkness consumed him as his vision went to black.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The doors opened and Valan looked out into the hallway that met him. Running off to both his left and right, dull grey walls lined a floor that had both gunmetal and light grey panels. The wall accents were a dark blue, almost navy blue in color. Valan went over the coloring in his mind, definitely not the flat grey of the Empire, and certainly not Republic crimson. That left the colors of the Trade Federation, and later, the Separatist Regime.

“Okay,” Valan said to himself inside the helmet, “So I’m on a Separatist ship. That’s the where, but it leads to a question of when?”

He looked to the HUD inside his helmet, and pulled up the chronometer. It read GR1958:5:20. As it was 18:2:15 when he woke up this morning, and the epoch dating system of GR ended with the birth of the Empire, it was safe to say he was having a vision of the past. He tried to recall the important dates of the Galactic Republic era; “the Empire was founded in the same year, GR1958, on Kata 25, shortly after the battle of Mustafar in the closing moments of the Clone Wars. That puts this date 5 days prior,” he whispered to himself.

It struck him then like a flash. Just days before the Battle of Mustafar was the Battle of Coruscant! It was a huge space battle above the planet – Separatist forces had stormed the planet led by General Grievous and kidnapped the Chancellor and a large contingent of the Senate. Jedi Generals Kenobi and Skywalker stormed their flagship, the Invisible Hand along with some Advanced Reconnaissance Clones from the 501st and rescued the Chancellor. They killed Count Dooku in the process, but Grievous escaped with the Senators to Mustafar.

It was after this battle that Skywalker left the Jedi Order and became the Defense Councilor of the Republic, the first since Palpatine himself. Grievous’ escape directly led to the Battle of Mustafar and the betrayal of the Jedi. This was the precipice after which everything changed. Looking through his HUD’s data files, he found the basic deck plans for a Providence-class destroyer. The Invisible Hand would have differences to the baseline model, but it wouldn’t have many structural changes so the deck plans should get him pretty far. From the readout, it looks like the bridge was to the left.

Valan cautiously moved to the edge of the turbolift and looked out. He could hear the metallic sounds of boots in the distance, but they were down the right hallway, and heading away from him. Exhaling with relief, he cautiously moved down the left hallway, his blaster at the ready. He followed his HUD as he maneuvered the corridors, evading droids as they clanked around, and made his way to the central turbolift shaft. He pressed the call switch and waited for the lift to arrive.

After only a few seconds, the lift descended and stopped with a ding. The doors opened and Valan was greeted with the snap-hiss of a lightsaber. Pulling his blaster up to fire, he was shocked to see a bearded, dirty blond Jedi with eyes of brilliant blue. He spoke with a rich Coruscanti accent, “Commander Valan, nice to see you could join us!”

Shock set in as Valan realized who he was speaking to. General Kenobi was a hero to every kid who was ever told a story about the Clone Wars. ‘Kenobi and Skywalker’ stories were the stuff of legends. His father used to say that there were nothing a platoon welcomed hearing more than Kenobi and Skywalker were on route. The duo’s actions were near miraculous, and eclipsed even the feats of General Windu in their grandiosity.

Gathering his wits, he nodded and stepped into the lift, “Glad to be here, General.” As he moved to take place next to Obi-Wan, he noticed a hole cut into the ceiling above him. Upon his noticing, Obi-Wan chuckled.

“Anakin,” the Jedi explained. The lift started moving up at that point, to which Obi-Wan and Valan both had to brace themselves with a steadying hand. “Now, that’s better…”

At precisely that moment, a figure shot down through the hole in the ceiling and landed between Obi-Wan and Valan. Caught flat footed, Valan looked around in surprise while Obi-Wan, preternatural in his alacrity, drew and ignited his lightsaber before realizing the figure was Anakin.

“Oh, it’s you … “he said sheepishly.

“What was that all about?” Anakin replied.

“Well, Artoo has been …” Obi-Wan began.

Anakin cut him off, “No loose wire jokes. He’s doing the best he can.”

Obi-Wan adopted a look of mock insult, “Did I say anything?”

Anakin looked away, irritated, “He’s trying.”

Obi-Wan threw his hands up, “I didn’t say anything!” Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and stood quietly in the turbolift. Anakin on the other hand, looked to Valan.

“Hello, Valan. I was hoping some the ARC troopers got on board.”

Valan fished around for a reasonable explanation, and realized quickly there wasn’t going to be any. “I’m glad I could support, Sir.” He nodded and stared ahead, hoping that he wouldn’t get asked too many more questions.

Thankfully, the lift ride went forward in silence from there. While he was thankful for the lack of questioning, it wasn’t quite what he expected from the pair. His father had the pleasure of serving with them on a few occasions, and from what he described, the banter between the two Jedi was constant. To see them standing in awkward silence was unsettling, and he wondered if his father hadn’t embellished the stories to make them more epic.

Before he consider it for too long, the elevator doors opened and the three of them made their way into a large main room. They walked out onto a mezzanine made of the same gunmetal and light gray panels that rest of the hallways possessed, an open railing made of the same metal in front of them. Down each side of the mezzanine was an open staircase, leading to the floor below where two large control consoles framed a central throne looking out the forward observation bay. The front wall of the observation bay was entirely transparasteel, allowing a breathtaking view of the space battle outside. In the center of this grand view, the throne spun around from the outside, revealing the Supreme Chancellor, bound to the throne and helplessly watching the Republic Navy engage the Separatists.

The three of them moved to the Supreme Chancellor and as they neared him, the Chancellor’s gaze went from smiling to distress. Obi-Wan bowed and smiled, trying to comfort him, “Chancellor.”

Anakin on the other hand looked concerned, “Are you all right?”

Palpatine tried his best not to stare at something over their shoulders, but he failed, quietly warning them, “Count Dooku.”

Valan turned with the others to see the turbolift doors again open and close. There, on the mezzanine that they themselves entered from, appeared Count Dooku and his bodyguard of B-2 super battle droids. With a flap of his cape, Dooku leapt over the railing and flipped down to the main floor, landing with the enhanced grace of the Force. “Get help! He’s a Sith Lord,” Palpatine warned.

Obi-Wan smiled and turned to the Chancellor, drawing his lightsaber from his belt, “Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our speciality.” He and Anakin removed their cloaks and ignited their lightsabers.

“Your swords, please, Master Jedi. We don’t want to make a mess of things in front of the Chancellor.” Dooku’s baritone voice, confident and honeyed, belied a menace that struck Valan to the core. As the Sith Lord drew his own blade, Valan raised his blaster to take aim at the battle droids, who themselves were moving to fire on the Jedi.

Obi-Wan and Anakin charged the count as a great sword fight began, and Valan opened fire on the droids, drawing their blasters away from the Jedi. The flashes and clash of lightsabers battled to outdo the explosions of blaster bolts, and in the large room, the echoes of the battle would surely have taken Valan’s hearing had it not been for his helmet’s sound suppressors.

Though he couldn’t devote too much attention away from the droids, it struck Valan that Obi-Wan and Anakin weren’t fighting as a unit. As he tried to keep his awareness omnipresent, he saw Anakin pressing the assault alone to kill Dooku while it appeared Obi-Wan was fighting to capture Dooku. The end result caused Obi-Wan to get in the way of Anakin’s killing strikes.

Seeming to notice and looking to capitalize on it, Dooku sneered. “Even now Kenobi considers you the novice, Skywalker, he seeks to claim your prize and maintain his superiority.” He struck confidently between the two, as his words seemed to drive the intended wedge.

Anakin threw a frustrated look to Obi-Wan as the Jedi interrupted another of Anakin’s strikes. In response, Obi-Wan merely averted his gaze, avoiding eye contact. Valan saw Anakin look to Dooku in realization his eyes going wide, though Valan didn’t follow what he suspected.

“Your moves are clumsy, Kenobi,” Dooku continued, “too predictable. You’ll have to do better.” With this, Dooku pressed the attack, lunging at the Jedi, and forcing them to fall back. Valan for his part dropped one the battle droids, and focused his fire on the other.

Dooku sneered at Skywalker, “I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate, you have anger, but you don’t use them.” At this, Valan noticed Skywalker adopt a severe look, and seemed to act even more recklessly. He struck heavier, faster, seeming to feed on the words that Dooku was spitting at him. It appeared to Valan that Dooku had awoken a raging bearsloth, and it forced the Sith to split his opponents to keep up. With an elegant parry and the press of an outstretched palm, Dooku lifting Obi-wan skyward with the force.

Anakin, believing to have Dooku distracted, charged anew at his opponent, a tactic that revealed Dooku’s trap. Now free to expose his flank to Obi-Wan, who was choking helplessly in the air, Dooku spun and delivered a devastating kick to Anakin, sending him into the control module to the side of the room. With a disgusted laugh, Dooku moved his other arm and sent Obi-Wan flying through the air to crash into Anakin’s crumpled form.

“You’re fools to believe that even were my arm to shorn from my shoulder I would ever be taken prisoner by the likes of you. I could beat you both one handed!” The sneer of the Count seemed somehow off to Valan, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. It wasn’t until he looked to Obi-Wan that he noted a shared sentiment between he and the Sith, as if a code of some form was passed. It struck him then that Obi-Wan and Dooku had some connection, perhaps a plan that they were about to enact.

Obi-Wan stood, even as Anakin had regained his composure and looks to him. Obi-Wan placed a calming hand on Skywalker’s shoulder and they shared an unspoken word and nod to each other. With frightening coordination and speed, they leapt in unison and attacked Dooku. Simultaneously, Valan distraction cost him, and the battle droid opened fire with complete abandon, pinning Valan behind the console he was using as cover.

“Trifle not with the affairs of Jedi,” he scolded to himself. His father warned him how distracting it can be, and how quickly it got undisciplined clones killed. Focusing on the immediate danger, and his part in this battle, targeting what he remembered his father saying the weak points on the old droids were. Shot after shot hit the mark, but true to his father’s words, the beastly droid refused to go down. He lost track of what the Jedi were doing, instead taking aim as best he could on the battle droid.

Without cover, and under Valan’s trained fire, the super battle droid faltered. Pressing his advantage, Valan aimed for the base of the head, hoping to get the neck. It was a tough shot, as the super battle droid typically tucked its head into the chest cavity during fights, but the purpose of the strikes his father taught his was to get the droid to falter and raise so it could look to the side. It was doing so now, and that was the opportunity he needed. He squeezed the trigger lightly, and the bolt struck true, launching the head into the air as the body stumbled and dropped to the ground.

With a whoop he stood triumphant, feeling pride and wishing his father could have seen it. Reality struck fast however, as he heard the hiss of a lightsaber and the pained cry of Dooku behind him. Spinning, he found Dooku dropping to his knees, holding the stump of his main hand. Kenobi stood defiantly over the severed digit, still holding Dooku’s lightsaber, as Anakin lowered his blade to Dooku’s throat.

Palpatine smiled from his bondage, “Good, Anakin, good. I knew you could do it.” His gaze lowered to the Sith, “Kill him. Kill him now!”

Obi-Wan shook his head and looked to Palpatine, “Chancellor, Jedi are not executioners.”

Mouth agape, Palpatine looked shocked at Obi-Wan’s refusal of his order. Looking to Skywalker, he again gave the order. “Anakin, you must … kill … him,” he emphasized.
Valan could see the conflict in the General. It appeared the young Jedi was fighting with the decision, and it appeared as if it was killing him. “I … can’t …”

Obi-Wan as well appeared to notice the conflict in his friend, and tried to defuse the situation. “He must stand trial for his actions, and he will reveal the identity of the other Sith Lord.”

Shaking his head, the Chancellor made his decision, “He’s too dangerous to be kept alive. The Chancellor’s guard isn’t prepared or capable of handling a Sith. The bureaucracy of the Courts are corrupt and far too slow in processes before he would inevitably escape.” He turned his gaze from Kenobi to Skywalker, “Imagine the danger he would present if he were to escape! The damage one like he could do on Coruscant! The deaths of countless innocents amongst the populace and the Senators. Anakin, consider the danger he would pose to your wife, Padme.”

Valan joined Obi-Wan in a moment of shock. His father had always told him Jedi were forbidden from having relationships, much less marrying, and the stories never talked about Skywalker having a wife. Obi-Wan looked to Anakin, and Valan followed his gaze. Anakin, looking hard at Dooku, appeared to have steeled himself, swayed by Palpatine’s words. Valan knew the look of a man determined, and Skywalker wore it in spades.

Obi-Wan reached a hand to his friend, and it was obvious that he was more pleading than asking, “Anakin, I feel the conflict within you, but Jedi do not kill the defenseless. Does that sound like the actions of the Jedi Master you wish to be?”

Whatever the two had in the past, the words must have struck a deep resonation within Anakin, but Valan suspected not in the way that Kenobi wanted. Anakin’s head lowered in sadness, eyes closed, and a moment passed while all the General’s emotion slowly drained from his face. After a moment, his eyes opened and he raised his head to stare cruelly into Dooku’s eyes, “But I’ll never be a Jedi Master, will I Obi-Wan?”

Valan knew what was going to happen next, and he saw Obi-Wan’s eyes widen as he too realized what Anakin intended. It felt wrong to Valan, but the Chancellor’s orders were clear, and he felt more an observer than someone who should be violently disobeying an order from the Commander in Chief. Make no mistake either, he thought, violence will be the only thing that stops this. In a flash, Obi-Wan made up his mind and his outstretched hand used the Force to yank Anakin’s lightsaber from his grip.

Rage filled Anakin’s face. Betrayed by his friend, and to save a grave threat to the Republic on top of it, Valan could see that reason had left Anakin for the moment. Using the Force, Anakin flung Obi-Wan against the wall, knocking him out, and angry and weaponless, reached out with his other hand to Dooku. With the Force, he lifted the Count into the air, Dooku’s eyes growing wider the higher he was lifted, choking and staring in betrayal at Palpatine.

To this, the Supreme Chancellor only laughed, and Valan felt the unmistakable call to move to him and free him as the events played out. Unbinding him, Valan’s vision blurred as the sound of Palpatine’s laughter, Dooku’s gasping, and the crunch of Dooku’s throat became a deafening roar in his ears. As he lost consciousness, Valan had the feeling of falling before he became keenly aware of pain lancing through him, as if a thousand needles had pierced his flesh.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tomo looked around her, trying to align the voice on the comlink with what she knew to be the world. She noticed that she was no longer in the armor of the Lady Mandalore, but instead wore no helmet, and Jedi battle armor. The coloring on the armor white, but bands of purple covered her shoulders and elbows. Attached to her back, a jetpack hung heavy above a cloak of brown.

Behind her stood what appeared to be 10 stormtroopers, though they wore odd skirts that Tomo was unfamiliar with, and their helmets were different than a stormtroopers would be. Their coloring was the same as hers, and instinctively she knew she was their commander, though she couldn’t rationalize why she knew it.

“General,” the trooper to her right spoke with the same clicking at the start and end as she heard from stormtroopers. “I believe we have a straight shot at that Command Droid.” He motioned over her shoulder at the fortress, and the huge droid tank that stood before it. “If we can get there and cripple it, the entire army shuts down and we win the day.”

“Don’t listen to Sevens, General,” the trooper on her left said. “General Windu ordered us to the front to defend him. He needs us down there,” he pointed to a crashed transport towards the front lines. The glow of lightsabers surrounded it, defending the crash site from the endless tide of droids that assaulted them.

Tomo looked from one to the other. If she could end this now, and save all the Jedi down there, she should do it. After all, she knew she was in charge of these troops, what good was being in charge if she couldn’t make decisions and had to follow the orders of others? She looked again to the droid tank thing, it was enormous, but she held a lightsaber. She knew they could cut through almost anything, and there were the troops behind her. The ridge was clear, and they had jump pack units that would let them fly from the ridge to the droid without having to fight any of the others.

Tomo knew she could do it. It was alone and exposed. She was more than capable with the others of taking it out and ending this. Turning to the troopers behind her, she ignited her lightsaber and nodded to the one called Sevens. “We fight. Follow me.”

With a burst of speed that required the others to use their jump packs to keep up, Tomo rushed along the ridgeline above the battlefield. Tomo felt the Force leap to her side, cold, calculating and exact, filling her muscles with energy and her mind with lethal precision. As she approached the ridgeline that was nearest to the Command Droid, she adjusted her wrist so that the jet pack activator was depressed and vaulted off the edge of the ridge. With a belch of fire, the jump pack jets ignited, launching her into the sky and controlling her descent towards the Command Droid.

The sounds of her jet pack were met with the replies of the troopers own. From the battlefield below, General’s Windu and Kenobi saw eleven shooting stars hurtle from the ridgeline down towards the Command Droid.

Tomo landed with a downward strike of her blade to what appeared to be the Command Droids shield generator. She felt the Force flow into her arms and legs, adrenaline fueled strength coursing through her limbs. Her strike landed true, and in a shower of sparks and rampant ion energy the unit exploded. The energy field that had provided it protection from the stray shots of the battle before it burst like a soap bubble, and Tomo’s ARC troopers let loose a torrent of fire as Tomo back-flipped from the droid and landed amongst her squad, deflecting any shots the droid launched their way.

“Press the attack!” she shouted to her troops, her head swimming from the battle stimulus and the Force’s razor-sharp focus, and moved a step forward to better protect them with her lightsaber. The ARC troopers dug in, blasting the Droid while she deflected its return fire, striking with her blade when there was a lull in the giant blaster cannons fire. The Force surged in her, allowing her limbs to flash with blurring speed, moving her from place to place in a blink and counter the Droid’s every move.

Little by little, the droid retreated towards the doors of the fortress, armored pieces falling from its torso as the withering hail of fire from the ARCs took its toll. Aided by strikes from her lightsaber, the droid began to falter, after repeated hits from the ARCs weapons, a giant gaping hole opened in its chest. Tomo heard one of the ARCs shout for a launcher, and within seconds a rocket struck the newly opened wound with a thunderous explosion.

The Command Droid, hopelessly crippled by the blast, ground to a halt, its weapon arms dropping limply at its sides. All around them the sounds of blaster fire began to slowly cease, first from the battle droids on the field, then from the troopers in the canyon that no longer needed to return fire. As the droids fell silent, the troops and Jedi alike cheered. She had done it!

As the realization dawned on her and lifted her spirits in triumph, she heard the doors to the fortress open. She smiled, her victory led them here, and now the gates opened to accept the victorious army. As she watched, the fortress slowly opened to Tomo’s army, but on the interior was not victory. Instead, waiting on the other side of the doors were two of the behemoth Command Droids! As she watched in horror, the droids on the battlefields snapped back to life, resuming their fire on the troopers.

Summoning the Force to her side, she felt a sickness take her as the mystical energy slip away, abandoning her. The ice cold energy that had made her such a weapon before evaporated as she reached for it, replaced by a dark, malevolent emptiness. She finally understood that the power she had summoned was not the life-giving wellspring of the Light, but instead the violent chaos of the Dark. Looking in defiance at the towering droids, she summoned her courage, something that she knew would never abandon her, and ignited her lightsaber to once again face her foes.

The hail of blaster fire was all-encompassing. Around her, despite her best efforts, Seven and the other troopers fell in a torrent of explosions and super-heated plasma. Desperately trying to deflect the shots and save her troopers, Tomo felt the burning pain of the heavy blaster fire tearing at her flesh. As realization of her overconfidence and arrogance overtook her, she saw the last of her troopers fall, and with a final cry of rage, the world exploded into a ball of light and then all went black.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Query; Were it not me, who would I be, Master?” The photo receptors on the droid flickered, clearly blinking in confusion.

Lil shook her head, “Hell, if I’m having a vision, why not bring an imaginary murder-bot with me?”

“Excuse me,” one of the dignitaries behind the energy field asked, “but exactly who are you, why are you dressed as a Jedi, and what is your droid doing guarding our prison cell?”

Lil raised a finger and was about to shoot a flippant remark about not being a Jedi when it suddenly occurred to her that she was wearing what looked to be a tan cloth tunic. The problem with this is that Lil hated tan, didn’t wear common cloth (it itched terribly) and preferred blouses and corsets to tunics. With a horrid, sinking feeling, she looked down at herself, and true to her pessimism, she was donned in Jedi armor. “Motherf-“ she stopped herself, realizing that she was stuck.

“Val Isa, is this your trick?” She looked around the room, ignoring the looks of insanity she was receiving from both the prisoners and HK. When the dead Jedi Master failed to respond, she looked at the young dignitary, “See? That’s why Jedi suck, they’re always messing with you and then going AWOL.”

“Can you get us out of here or not?” The dignitary asked again.

She looked to HK, “Can you deactivate this energy shield, HK?”

The droid looked around the hallway, and spotted a control bank before moving over to it. He had just begun to work at the controls when the sounds of boots on the hallway caused him to spin and raise his blaster towards the approaching figure. To Lil’s surprise, she recognized the approaching Jedi – sort of. Dressed in white plastoid and brown robes common to Jedi battle armor, Kryze descended the stairs at the end of the hall. At least, it looked like Kryze. She had only seen him without his helmet on once or twice, in downtime moments around the Temple. The man in front of her had the same neatly trimmed beard, and the same face. He also had the same brilliant blue eyes, though his hair was darker, more a sandy blond than a light gold like Kryze. It was also much shorter than Kryze’s, being neatly trimmed where Kryze wore his hair down to his shoulders and parted in the middle.

As he neared the group, the subtle differences in their nose and cheeks became clearer, and though the man was nearly identical, there was enough differences to prove to Lil that this couldn’t have been Kryze. This was confirmed as he finished his approach, and it became telling that he was too old to be the bounty hunter being closer to thirty than he was a teenager. Kryze had barely left his teens, so there was no way he could be the man before her now. “Hello, there,” he said in a rich Corsucanti accent eerily similar to Kryze’s.

“Obi-Wan, thank goodness you’re here!” the young dignitary shouted.

“Huh,” Lil replied. The new arrival looked confused.

“Commander Lillandria,” he remarked, “I’m glad another Jedi made it through the droids outside.

“I’m not a Je-“ Lil started, then remembered her robes and the fact she was in some stupid vision, “-pudu.” Putting her hands on her temples she closed her eyes and tried very hard to remain composed. Lil liked things her way. She did things her way. She knew though, that doing things her way didn’t always work to her benefit, and if she became too focused on herself things would only get worse. Resigning herself to riding this out as the Force intended, she looked to HK, “HK, can you get that force field down?”

“Affirmation; Of course, Master.” With a few button presses, the orange energy field flickered and dropped.

Nodding, Obi-Wan looked to Lil and the others, “We have very little time, they are going to bombard the fortress from orbit. The hangar is that way,” he pointed off in the direction that he came from. “Take the first shuttle you find and get out of here.”

The young dignitary looked at him with concern, “Where are you going?”

Obi-Wan smiled briefly, but then his look turned serious, “I’m going to make sure Grievous pays for this day.” He nodded and turned to go.

“Wait,” Lil shouted, “if we’re going to get shelled from orbit, then Grievous is going to get hit harder than anyone. You going off to settle some debt won’t help anyone but yourself. We need to get these people to safety.”

Obi-Wan turned, “I have to do this, Lil. I’ll be alright.”

Lil nodded, “Damn stubborn Jedi. You’re being arrogant, finishing a war that isn’t serving anyone. No wonder the Jedi die out.”

Obi-Wan stopped, turning, her words seemed to have hit a chord within the Jedi that she hadn’t expected. “You’re right. Let’s get to the shuttle. This way,” he smiled as he turned to leave.

Lil looked back to HK to make sure he was with them, but a cold wind on the back of her neck sent shivers down her spine. Dreading turning around, Lil slowly turned to face front again only to find a bleak corridor in front of her. Densely packed snow formed the floor, walls and ceiling of the corridor, the occasional irregularly placed white rubber mat breaking the snowy ground. White power coils ran the length of the walls at irregular heights, seemingly haphazardly placed on the walls.

The cold was noticeable, and she wrapped her arms around her to warm herself. To not much surprise, she was no longer in the armor and robes of a Jedi, but instead wore a strange a beige thermal bodysuit with a tan cold weather vest over it. Crème colored gloves completed the outfit, and to her relief a blaster pistol again hung in her gunslinger’s holster at her side. Behind her, HK stood staring at his surroundings.

“Query; Master, I believe the illness that has caused your delusions has found a way to replicate the effects in code.”

Lil laughed softly, “It’ll be okay, HK. We just need to figure out what the trick to this vision is and it’ll stop.” She started down the hallway, figuring the way she facing was as good as the way back. As she went, an explosion rocked the hallway, causing puffs of snow to cover her as chunks of the packed material fell from the ceiling, shattering nearby on the floor.
A male voice came over the loudspeakers, “Imperial troops have entered the base! Imperial troops have entered …” blaster fire, followed by static ended the transmission with an ominous finality.

Lil looked to HK, “We’d better move.” She began running through the corridors, hoping that the choice she was making would lead her in the direction of escape, or at least a hangar where she could get a ship. As she turned the corner, she nearly careened into a soldier, clad in similar colored cold weather gear.

“Have you seen Commander Skywalker?” He asked. “His snowspeeder crashed, but he should be here by now!”

Lil shook her head, confused, “You’re the first person I’ve seen.”

Panicked the soldier shook his head, “Vader’s here. Luke is the only chance we have of getting out of here alive.” Terrified, the soldier took off down the corridor.

Behind her, a strange sound caught Lil’s attention. A rasping sound, deep, ominous, and mechanical, echoed though the corridor. A coldness came over Lil, worse than anything the snowy corridor could produce, chilling not just her bones but her very soul. Without a doubt, she knew she was in the presence of the Dark side.

Turning, she saw a figure looming behind HK. It was a tall humanoid thing, clad from head to toe in pitch black armor. Black robes, not unlike those the Jedi used to wear hung from the armor and a black cloak clasped with silver chain draped the figures shoulders. A control box of some type was affixed to the armor’s chest and two smaller control boxes sat on each side of its belt.

“Points for the ominous wardrobe,” she muttered. As she watched, the snap-hiss of a lightsaber heralded the appearance of a crimson blade that extended from the black and silver lightsaber in the figure’s hand.

“Okay, I got nothin’. HK, run!” Lil turned without a second thought and rushed around the corner in front of her.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bail smiled at the sight of the powerful figure. “Sheev, my good friend, of course you may. How can I help you?” Bail moved to take the Chancellor’s hand in a friendly handshake, as Palpatine placed his other hand on Bail’s shoulder.

“I’m afraid it’s Defense Councillor Skywalker,” the Chancellor began. “I have a great many duties to attend to, but I also need to speak with the Defense Councilor about going planet side. I was wondering, while I attend to the other matter, can you speak with Skywalker for me?”

Bail nodded with excitement, to be the personal assistant of the future Emperor of the galaxy? Hell yes, he could! He imagined the wealth and power that would come along with the position. There were definitely worse fates! “Of course, Sheev! What do you need me to tell him?”

The friendly smile of the elderly politician seemed at once to both brighten the room and lengthen its shadows, “Excellent! With the Separatists in retreat, I just was thinking that were he to go planet side, he could be there to personally free his wife, Padme from her incarceration. It would be heartwarming to have the couple there together at the end of the War.”

It seemed reasonable – the publicity opportunity was undeniable, who wouldn’t love to have a vidshow of the hero of the Republic saving his beloved from the evil clutches of the Separatist stronghold and ending the Clone Wars? Such a fairy tale ending would make the Republic seem as though it were divine in origin, and that would enable the government to make whatever policy it desired. Bail smiled, “I’ll go tell him right now!”

“Excellent!” The Supreme Chancellor of the Republic turned to leave, as did Bail. When he was almost out of the room, he stopped, turning and raising a finger as if he suddenly remembered something. “Oh, and Bail,” he started.

“Yes, Sheev?”

The smiling old man suddenly took on a much more sinister disposition, “I need you to impress upon Anakin the need to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi. He abandoned his troops planet side, and cannot be allowed to survive. Moreover, I believe he has feelings towards Padme, and may be seeking to keep her from Anakin.”

Still high on his future as a rich and powerful socialite, Bail merely smiled, “Of course, Sheev, anything for a friend.”

As Palpatine retreated to a side corridor, Bail turned and looked to the crew again. Standing around a large holographic display of a space battle, which Bail presumed was the one raging outside the viewports, was a trio of men. Two wore the sharp uniforms that Bail recognized as Republic navy. It looked very similar to the ones worn by Imperial naval officers, save for the coloring. It took a brief moment, but with shock came the realization that one of the two men was none other than Wilhuff Tarkin!

The third man must have been Anakin Skywalker as he was wearing the garb of the Defense Councilor, and Bail walked confidently to him. As he approached, a coordinator looked up to them from the control pit, “Separatist fleet in full retreat, Defense Councilor.”

Anakin nodded as the other officers smiled and congratulated their crews. “Excellent, I’ll go and inform the Supreme Chancellor.”

Bail held up a cautionary hand to the young man, “No need, Defense Councilor.” Anakin looked confused, but stood his ground, “I have spoken with the Chancellor and he wished me to extend his wishes.”

Nodding Anakin replied, “Of course, Minister Whill.”

“The Supreme Chancellor believes it would be a great opportunity for you to go down to the planet and be there when Padme and the Senators are freed. He offered you his shuttle to do so.”

Anakin looked conflicted, “I really shouldn’t, we’re not done with the fighting here, and I’m needed at my post.”

Bail chuckled, releasing his pheromones subtly into the air to make Skywalker more amicable. “You’re needed with the woman you love, Anakin. Besides, my good friend Wilhuff here can handle the stragglers here. You have the opportunity to be there when your wife is freed. Don’t pass that up.”

Anakin smiled, “You’re right of course, Minister. Captain Tarkin, you have the ship.”

Tarkin and the other man quickly stood to attention as Tarkin replied, “Yes, Defense Councilor.” Almost immediately, the strategist began organizing the fleet. Anakin moved towards the hangars, and Bail quickly fell in step.

“My boy, there’s something else that the Supreme Chancellor related to me,” he started, “a problem of sorts.”

Skywalker’s expression grew concerned, “What is it, Minister?”

Bail again let his pheromones waft towards Skywalker, and took a worried expression that he hoped would sell what he had to say next. “There’s a rogue Jedi planet side. He left his comrades to die and took off alone, I think he may be trying to get to the Senators and your wife.”

Skywalker stopped, “What?”

Bail nodded gravely, “the Supreme Chancellor said he believed he was dangerous. He wanted you to kill him, his name was Kenobi.”

The Defense Councilor lowered his head, and for a moment, a chill came over Bail. Moments later, Skywalker raised his head again, emotion drained from his face and a grave expression in its place. “I understand.” He turned to go.

Bail watched him recede down the hallway, and, despite having accomplished all he needed to, he felt cold and empty. He turned and went to his quarters, the chill in his bones and the solitude he felt pressing in on him like a great weight. As he opened the door to his room, the opulence of the place overcame him. Rare fruits sat in a basket on the serving table, Corusca Ice Wine on a plate, uncorked with a chalice waiting. Plush chairs covered in fine fabrics littered the room, and a grand canopied bed dominated the center of the room. Rare fabrics covered it, and draped it in finery. Bail moved to it immediately, and slid under the heavy covers, keenly aware of the chill in his bones. The touch of many fine fabrics and gentle plush pillows consumed him, but despite the heavy comforter and many layers of sheet, the cold still reached him.

As he pulled the covers higher, and drifted into a sleep, he couldn’t stop shivering, as if a draft was omnipresent and pressing. As he the darkness took him, he pulled the covers over his head, hoping beyond hope that warmth would reach him soon.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil rounded the corner and came to a stop. No snow met her gaze, no irregular floormats or power cables, no track lighting or omnious Sith monsters either. Ahead of her was only a small cavern lit by hundreds of faintly glowing crystal formations. As she looked around, she found herself in the center of a chamber full of what could only be Rubat crystals. Amazingly, she traced her steps back and found that somehow she had maneuvered around hundreds of sharp points of crystal to this spot.

She also saw that not everyone was so lucky. D’Jrem stood impaled on a large outcropping, having somehow walked right into one. Valan lay on the floor of the chamber, blood rushing from dozens of tiny cuts caused by small points on the ground. Tomo had walked into a walk of the razor like crystals, and Bail had somehow worked his way into a cage of the crystals, unable to move without cutting an artery.

HK was nowhere to be seen, which probably was for the best, but she still wondered why he was in her visions. She hoped it wasn’t because he had grown attached to him, even though she knew she had. Over her comm, she heard a familiar voice. “I don’t know if you can hear me in there, but you need to move!”

It was Kryze! Making sure her subvocal was still active, she replied quickly, “Kryze! What are you doing here?”

“HK and I spotted Imperial activity shortly after you headed out, we figured you might need back up. I’m with Thrace and Kara – we’re engaging the Imperial forces on the way to the caves, but we won’t be able to hold them long. Get the crystals and get out of there!”

Lil quickly gathered the others and freed them from their respective predicaments. After seeing to his own wounds, D’Jrem used the healing techniques he learned from Rav to start healing the others. Soon, they were all healthy enough to start moving, though none save Bail and Lil were happy about having to do it. Each had taken the crystals near them when they came out of their visions, as well as a few more for Kryze, Tam and V’brel.

Rushing through the chambers, they came across the remains of the Rubat Spinners, apparently they had killed each other in their conflict. Rappelling down into the canyon again, they boarded the ship and rushed the startup. The imperial troop carriers were just coming in as they lifted off, and though the Gem was an older ship, it was still faster than a troop transport. Breaking the gravity well under the cover provided by the Containment Group, it wasn’t hard to make it to hyperspace.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil dropped the crystal in place using the Force and clicked the housing cover shut. With baited breath, she held her finished lightsaber in front of her and thumbed on the activator switch. With a snap-hiss, the lightsaber sprung to life, its emerald blade casting the room in a strange green glow.

“Well done, Lillandria,” the Warden said, her stern expression softening into a smile. “The last of your skills are now complete.”

Lil looked up at the golden hologram, “I’m not a damned Jedi.”

The Warden smiled, “No, for that you must pass the Trials. But ask yourself this, how different from the Jedi do you believe yourself to be?”

Lil hit her saturation point, “The Jedi turned their back on the galaxy. When the chips needed to hit the table, they came up short. They forgot what they were and failed the whole damn galaxy.”

The Warden nodded, “Then perhaps it falls to you to fix their errors and remind the galaxy what a Jedi is supposed to be.” The glow faded before Lil could reply, which in the end, was both more frustrating, and totally expected.

She stood up and left her chamber. The others had made a deal that when they were done with their lightsabers they would meet in the main hall and show them off to each other. She walked to the main chamber, and found herself next to last. Bail, the last member to arrive followed her in and she stood in the circle with the others. To her left was Tomo, followed clockwise by Valan, D’rem ending with Bail to her right.

“Ready?” Valan asked. The others all nodded. He flipped the activator on his blade and a brilliant yellow light sprang from the hilt.

“Nice!” D’Jrem admired before igniting his own. Like Lil’s his blade was a brilliant emerald. Bail was next, igniting a citrine blade the same as Valan, bringing it to Lil. She noticed D’Jrem looking at her, almost as if he was specifically interested in what her lightsaber would look like, and it made her nervous.

“Okay, here we go,” she said, hitting the activation button. As her own green blade added it’s illumination to the others, D’Jrem almost as if he was relieved, but the look of comfort evaporated slightly as Tomo produced her lightsaber.

“Check this out!” she said, igniting a blade of purple, unique among the group. D’Jrem looked from Tomo to Lil, and for a moment she thought he was going to say something, but instead he just quietly nodded.

As the hum of the lightsabers filled the hall, Kryze arrived, as the lightsaber he had at his side, it turned out, he had built many years ago.

“Nice everyone,” he said, “So what’s next?”

View
Hidden Depths Part 2
Chapter 1: Imperial Entanglements

The Corsuca Gem came out of hyperspace above the planet Phemis with the thrum of disengaging hyperspace engines. At the helm, sat Lillandria Joutael, foster daughter of Laird Joutael and his wife, Attie. She never thought about them much anymore, nor their son, Mino, it was times like this that she missed them most. Sitting behind the controls of a starship, hurtling through space. She felt bad for abandoning them, but the feelings that Lil and Mino started sharing were a bit much for her, while he wasn’t even remotely related to her, he was technically her foster brother, and that was one step removed from creepy. Taking up the mantle of running their spice supplies to the cartels seemed like the easiest route out of an uncomfortable situation. Laird wasn’t up to the dangers of smuggling, nor was his wife Attie, they were getting older, and spending less and less time in the operation. As such, Mino was being groomed to replace Laird as the boss of the mines, and so he had to stop making the runs to learn the production business. That left Lil, and she was more than happy to get away from the spice mine to do it, but it was under the light of the stars in the deep black that she most missed Mino’s smile and her foster parent’s wry humor.

She looked at the co-pilot’s chair next to her. Valan sat reviewing instruments, his brown hair falling over the metal that framed his cybernetic eye. He wasn’t ugly, the life of a soldier certainly kept him in shape, and his build was certainly more muscular than Mino’s lean spacer build, but where Mino had shining eyes that betrayed his mischievous nature, Valan had that glowing red light in his head. His other eye was brown, matching his dark hair, but it was even more frightening than the red one. It stared through you instead of at you, like it was always searching for something hidden out in the darkness. She caught herself wishing that it was Mino in that co-pilot chair, and quickly dismissed the thought. That was the past. It’s over now. Mino’s future is on that blasted rock making an illicit living through selling a controlled substance. Her future was raiding ancient tombs for lost lure and fixing the mess the Jedi left the galaxy in. Nothing was going to change that.

Valan’s faced soured, and for a second Lil feared he might have learned how to read her thoughts, but his attention to the instrument panel led him to look out the canopy windows above them. “Lil, sensors are showing we have an ImpStar Duece in orbit!”

Lil raised an eyebrow and leveled an irritated look at Valan. He had a tendency to assume everyone around him was a good little soldier, and most of the time he opened his mouth it required Lil to take a half hour to figure out what the stupid abbreviations he used meant. “A what?”

Valan shook his head, “Sorry, military cantor again. Imperial-Class Star Destroyer, Model 2. Imp, Star, Duece. It’s parked in planetary orbit, but our approach makes it hard to spot visually.”

Tomo sat up in the passenger’s seat behind Valan, “This planet was supposed to be unknown to the Empire.”

Lil held up her hands defensively, “It was supposed to be – that’s the whole reason why I was alright with leaving HK back at the Temple and flying the Gem myself!”

Valan took some more readings and sighed in relief, “It looks like it’s surveying the planet – she just shot down a group of probe droids. I doubt there are many troops ground side and certainly no permanent garrisons.”

Bail chimed in from the comm station behind Lil, making her jump in surprise, “We’re being hailed, I’m giving them the story that we’re delivering supplies to the local miners.”

Lil brought the ship around and heading towards the planet, there, floating above the copper ball of Phemis, was a single, wedge-shaped starship. Lil mused at how small the thing looked. She knew it measured over 1600 meters from bow to stern, but it seemed more like a child’s toy at this distance. She flipped the toggle on the transponder and adjusted their heading to point them towards one of the mining facilities on the planet. “Here’s hoping I don’t need to test my piloting ability …”

The sakiyan, D’Jrem had entered the cockpit module to see what was going on when they’d dropped from hyperspace. He now braced himself precariously in the doorway, “Why don’t we have HK with us, exactly?”

Lil rolled her eyes, they’re making a bigger deal out of this than it needed to be, “Because I don’t trust the Mandalorian we left back at the Dawn Temple as far as I can throw him – even with that jetpack of his, and Tomo and Valan have stakes in finding these crystals.” Of all of them, Lil figured only Tomo, Valan or HK had any real chance of stopping Kryze from doing whatever the hell he wanted, and out of those three, only HK didn’t need a crystal to build a lightsaber. It didn’t make her happy, but neither did leaving Tam and V’brel as the only barriers between Kryze and Val Isa’s holocron. D’Jrem looked as if he was about to make another comment, but Bail interrupted the attempt.

“Alright, we’re clear to approach the planet. That Imperial comms officer was a real hoot, she’s apparently from Tatooine, quite exotic sounding too.” A broad smile spread across the falleen’s lips and Lil shivered at the flash of memory it pulled. Despite Bail being true to his word and replacing her bed (with one Lil herself could never afford to boot) she still felt dirty just going into her quarters after catching him with those sorority girls.

“Ew,” she voiced, “Let’s just hope that the canyon Hethan and Kryze researched really yields the crystals we need. I don’t think we’ll have a lot of time down there. She angled the Gem planet side and hit the accelerator. The old freighter leapt forward and within moments they had passed the Imperial war ship and found themselves amongst the white clouds of Phemis’ atmosphere.

It took only minutes for the powerful ship to fly into sight of the valley that they were looking for. Valan sighed and shook his head, “Sensors are picking up where those probe droids went to …”

A sinking feeling overtook Lil, “Let me guess …”

Nodding, Valan leaned back in the chair and switched off the sensor suite with a frustrated clack, “Yep, they’re all over the valley below, only reason we caught them is that they’re running constant active sensor sweeps.”

D’jrem shook his head, “It’ll take some fancy flying to get in around them and set down in the valley.” He moved behind Valan and looked at the charts of Phemis’ surface, “We could always land here,” he said, pointing to a section at the head of the valley, “and try to sneak our way in on foot …”

Lil shook her head, the sinking feeling tightening, “I have a bad feeling about this.” She looked at the map with Valan and D’jrem, “How long would it take to hike in from there?”

D’jrem shrugged, “Four or five hours if we want to play it safe. The trick is maintaining our pace and heading in these cliffs. No telling how bad the canyon will be, and if we get caught without equipment, or worse, Imperials come after us, we’ll be out in the wind without the ship to use for an escape plan.”

Lil didn’t like it, walking in meant they still needed to face the probe droids eventually, and having the ship a five hour hike away meant that if Imperials showed up they wouldn’t be making any quick escapes. “I think I can get us in there. Worst case, we get spotted and we turn tail and run. I won’t have us caught out there without an escape.”

Valan nodded, but D’jrem looked unhappy. Lil jumped as Bail placed a hand on her shoulder and, in what was possibly the one instance where he wasn’t being creepy, nodded with a confident smile, “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. I measured the scan patterns on the droids based off their sensor emissions to the Star Destroyer, and I think I figured out a pattern, fly where I tell you, and as long as you can keep us off the cliffs I can keep us away from the droids.” Lil absently touched her neck, where Val Isa’s necklace hung loosely, and nodded.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As the Corsuca Gem set down in the bottom of the valley, Lil let out a heavy sigh. The course through the valley wasn’t easy, but it was a lot easier than she had expected. The Gem handled like a dream, and the valley had stayed open for the most part. They’d found a recessed part of the canyon wall, and with a few baited breaths, had landed safely, sheltered by the outcropping above. Lil hoped it was enough to shield them from any probe droids passing above, but she readied herself for a lightning raid on the mines anyway.

“It looks like the entrance to the tunnels is above us on the ridgeline,” D’Jrem was staring at the maps with a troubled expression, “but there are not paths up. It’ll be a straight climb.”

“We have some rope in the hold,” Valan mused, “but no climbing gear to speak of. Those rock walls look tough, too.”

Lil looked out the canopy. The walls of the canyon were rugged and bare. She couldn’t see any vegetation, but there was a texture to the walls that would account for handholds. It would be a hard climb, but not impossible. “We’ll have to chance it.”

Grouping up outside, Valan and Tomo took point. The most athletic of them, and far more skilled at free climbing, the duo took the rope and scaled the rock wall to the ledge with the cavern entrance. While Valan progressed on with a measured pace, hand over hand, picking the next move carefully, Tomo was far more primal in her ascent. With a preternatural grace, she leapt from one hand hold to the next, scaling the wall as if she was running along its face. While she moved far faster than Valan, she did so in a circuitous route, and when she finally landed on the ledge, Valan pulled himself up behind her moments later.

They affixed the rope to a secure location on the wall and uncoiled it down the wall to the others at the bottom. Lil was first to grab the cord, and with some maneuvering, made her way to the top without issue, followed closely by Bail. D’Jrem, waiting with his medical supplies to make sure that everyone had cleared the climb, ascended last. Though Lil couldn’t see what caused the accident, midway up the climb part of the wall gave way, causing D’Jrem to plummet to the hard canyon floor. Worse still, while the avalanche of rock and debris that came free when the wall gave way missed him, the thunderous sound echoed throughout the valley.

As the last bits of dust were still clearing, Lil could make out D’Jrem down below, waving to signal he was okay. Her relief at his health was quickly replaced with dread as the sound of repulsorlifts broke the silence. Around the corner to their left, a probe droid floated into the valley with them, its bulbous multi-eyed head turning to switch sensors repeatedly. D’Jrem took cover in the debris while the rest retreated into the cavern entrance, but it slowed to a stop not far from where D’Jrem was hidden, if well above him in height.

Lil knew it was only a matter of time that the droid spotted them, either via the clearing dust and their own flimsy cover or the droid switching to a thermal sensor and registering their body heat. Setting her jaw and throwing caution to the wind, she steeled her nerves and stepped out onto the ledge. She reached out her hands to the droid and retreated her senses into the Force, summoning it from deep within. She opened herself to the flow of it, and felt Val Isa’s presence fill her, emanating from her necklace like a guiding hand. She could feel the Force around her, inside her, surround the droid and the space the between. Summoning all of her strength, she willed a piece of the rock wall to detach from its moorings. She watching in amazement as a section of wall half again as large as the probe droid shatter and split from wall. Focusing her will, she envisioned the path the wall needed to take, and hurled the sheet of rock at the droid. The stone heeded her command, and flew into the droid with such weight and impact that the slab and droid both slammed into the wall on the opposite side of the canyon with a tremendous crash. A spark of electricity was all that could be seen of the droids fate for a moment until a shuddering explosion shattered the rock slab into fragments, revealing a deep score in the wall and the utter disintegration of the probe droid.

The others looked at Lil in a combination of appreciation and disbelief. Though she could feel their stares, she tried not to think about them, instead reaching out with the Force once again to envelop D’Jrem in its flow. She pictured him rising to the ledge, and the Force followed her wishes, fulfilling her will. D’Jrem looked panicked for a moment, but it quickly subsided when he settled softly on the ledge. “That was a much easier option than rock climbing,” he jested. The mood broken, they all shared a laugh before heading into the cavern.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They had been wandering the dark, rocky caverns for an hour when disaster struck. While wandering what seemed to be a perfectly average passageway, one of several such passageways they had been through already, an ominous crack could be heard above them. Flashing his glowrod up to the ceiling, D’Jrem spotted a glittering of something purple just moments before the ceiling splintered and fell, showering the group in jagged rock shards and choking clouds of dust.

Covering themselves as best they could, D’Jrem heard Tomo scream out as he saw a sharp spike of rock pierce her side. To his left, he saw Valan take a slab of rock to the face, the force of which send the big soldier to his back before he flipped onto his stomach to better protect his vitals. Lil and Bail seemed to be safe from the collapse, having taken cover against the walls of the passageway.

D’Jrem quickly moved to Tomo to check her injuries as Lil and Bail checked on Valan. Her injuries weren’t crippling, but would be painful and distracting until she healed. Turning, he saw Lil and Bail take a cautionary step back from Valan as he stood. The stone slab, while not damaging the cybernetic plate protecting his eye, had sheared the synthskin coverings from around it. Now flaps of artificial flesh hung off of his cheek, revealing cold, gleaming metal beneath. The extensiveness of the injuries that resulted in the need for his prosthetics was finally revealed, as the false enamel was shorn from the teeth, now appearing the same cold metal as the rest of his cybernetics. The look was frightening, and even though he didn’t have an aggressive demeanor, he looked monstrously destructive. He spoke in an even voice, “What the hell was that?”

D’Jrem took a moment to scour his surroundings for evidence of what he already suspected. He found it in small, purple resin-like shards amidst the debris proved his suspicions. “Rubat Spinners.”

Valan and the others looked at him with a confused expression, “What are Rubat Spinners?”

D’Jrem looked to the ceiling and found the tell-tale veins of webbing. He held the shard up to the light and shook his head, “Rubat Spinners are a race of large arachnid that feed off of Rubat crystals. They absorb the minerals and nutrients in the crystal, and permeates everything they produce, including their webs,” he shone his glowrod to the veins of webbing above him. “They make traps using their webbing. The stuff is as strong as a metal, so they imbed it in the rocks like a climber’s piton. Then they run it to their nest and when invaders enter the cavern they use it to trigger a cave in, crushing their would-be predators.”

Lil nodded her head, “So if they run these webs to their nest, and they feed off of Rubat, it’s likely they’ll be pretty close to their food source, right?”

D’Jrem shrugged, “It’s a sound theory, though I’ve never encountered them in person before. I can track them back and see for sure.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The group made their way along the corridors, following D’Jrem as he traced the webs back to their origin point. They had all began creeping along in stealth, as they were keenly aware that the webs of the Rubat Spinners would betray their presence even if they weren’t being actively looked for.

Their path had led them into a large chamber, not terribly deep but very squat. On the far side of the chamber, three tunnels continued on from the opposite wall, and on each end of their own wall a tunnel sat as well – the left of which they were standing in. D’Jrem confirmed that the webs ran directly into this chamber, and looking up, they could see hundreds of strands of the Spinner’s webbing covering the ceiling. Layered upon itself, the webbing formed a canopy that obscured the natural ceiling, giving the chamber a strange, bohemian look as the purple resin of the webbing glimmered against the light of their glowrods.

Laying midway through the chamber, near the entrance most directly opposite of theirs on the other side of the chamber, was the remains of some long dead miner or prospector. His grey and orange uniform rotted and frayed from its time in the cave, D’Jrem could see a satchel sitting at his side. Looking closely, the unmistakable form of rubat crystals spilled from the old satchel and were scattered about the corpse. Turning to the others he saw they, too, noticed.

It was beyond reasonable that the prospector may have a map of the caverns on him, or at the very least may have tracks leading to the main crystal chamber. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, and so, one by one, the group crept into the chamber, D’Jrem in the lead, and Bail bringing up the rear.

As Bail crept into the room behind the others, he noticed an odd gleam towards the center of the room. A stalactite descended from the ceiling, and in the dark of the cave, it appeared to have a dark purple hue in the gloom. As he watched, the gleam he spotted moved along the stalactite and was joined by another! He realize then that the gleam was not the play of light off of stone, but rather a sinister set of eyes! With the body of the prospector at his feet, and his friends around him, he realized the stalactite nearby was full of Rubat Spinners happily feeding off of the crystals in the prospectors pack! The spinner that spotted him turned to the others to raise the alert.

Bail looked around quickly and hatched a plan. Seeing the spider munching away on the crystals, he quickly pocketed the remaining and slid the empty bag to rest underneath the Rubat Spinner that followed him. The dust from the bag covered the arachnid in crystal residue, and as it chittered an alert to the others its mandibles became covered in the stuff. Two more of the large, shelled arachnids descended from the stalactite and looked to their broodmate. Seeing the empty bag of crystals, and seemingly remains of the crystal covering their brethren, the other Rubat Spinners hissed in anger at the first.

Caught with surprise, the first Spinner looked about, but by that time Bail had receded into the shadows with the others. Turning back to his angry broodmates it began chittering and descending the stalactite to get distance from them. Aggressively they advanced on their brother until, with a frightening swiftness, they leapt, attacking who they perceived to have taken their food. The three Rubat Spinners rolled in a ball, intent on killing each other.

In all the distraction, D’Jrem had noticed a trail from the prospector leading down one of the hallways. Apparently the prospector had grabbed more than his pack could hold, and fragments of shattered crystals that fell from his overfull rucksack littered the way deeper into the caves. Signaling the others, he slipped into the passageway and the group made good their escape.

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Hidden Depths
Hidden Depths Part 1

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Lessons from the Past Part 4
Chapter 3: Sanctuary

“My name is Thrace,” the armored bounty hunter said. The helmet was reminiscent of the Mandalorian’s helmet beside him, but it was smoother, more rounded. It appeared to be a much more modern design than the one the Mandalorian wore, having the same T shaped visor, but with a more modern aesthetic. The chest and shoulders of the armor were more of an olive colored powered plastoid than they were the metal plates of the Mandalorian’s as well. They appeared to be both more flexible and fully covering the torso than the Mandalorian’s mixture of metal plates and padded vest. Finally, while ‘Thrace’ had gauntlets and bracers on his forearms, they lacked the weapon slots that the Mandalorian’s did. They both had their armored highlighted with red and dark colors for their bodysuits, and for a moment Valan wondered if it were representative of their bounty hunting team.

“This here, is Kryze,” Thrace continued, motioning to the Mandalorian. While Thrace’s armor benefitted from some olive coloring and a dark grey bodysuit, the Mandalore had only black, red and unmarked metal to color his. The facemask was polished metal, with black accenting along the cheeks. The dome of the helmet was black, with stylized flames of deep crimson forming a crown around his head. The main pieces of the armor, from the neck guard to the chest plate and bracers, all shared this crimson coloring. His bodysuit was black, along with his gloves, belt and half-cape, which hung down his right side.

It wasn’t coloring that was different that Thrace either, as where Thrace carried a standard Imperial issue E-11 blaster rifle, Kryze held an EE-3 Blaster Carbine, the type used by high end bounty hunters. The EE-3 was designed around a pistol grip format, with a lengthened stock that tucked against the forearm. The effect was that the firer could remain remarkably unencumbered while firing, allowing him to track targets incredibly quickly while still having a solid grip on the weapon to reduce recoil. The weapon gained popularity among those forces that were tasked with Lord Vader’s Jedi purge operations, as they allowed a trooper to better counter the fast moving agile targets Force Users often were.

The proof of ‘Kryze’ being a participant in at least one of these hung at his belt. There, nestled between ammo pouches, hung a lightsaber.

“I assume you have some place we can sit and discuss things?” Thrace continued, after waiting a moment to allow the group to introduce themselves. When no one offered, he must have grown impatient, which was reflected in his voice.

Lil nodded and directed them to follow her to the main area. They’d prepped the holochess table to act as a meeting table of sorts. Thrace entered and sat at one side of the round table, Kryze standing behind him and slightly to the right. Valan surmised that this was prearranged, and if needed confirmation that these were professionals, this would have been enough. Most bounty hunting groups are collections of thugs who can’t bring in bounties on their own, so they form into groups to accomplish it. These two weren’t amateurs – they moved with a practiced skill, probably ex-professional military, both of them. Likely the Mandalorian is the real thing, born and bred in the Death Watch or Protectors, trained from birth to be a warrior and killer. Together, they could probably walk through everyone on the ship if Tomo and he didn’t stop them. HK alone would only prove a fight once they dropped a restraining bolt on him and he went psycho.

Bail sat at the holochess table across from Thrace, “My name’s Bail, now let’s be civilized and meet face to face.”

Thrace responded with even tones and no motion, “You must think I’m a rookie if you expect me to exit and environmental suit around a Falleen. You can deal with me as is.” The click of his comm before and after his speaking acted to lend a condescending finality to the debate. For his part, Bail was good natured about it, shrugging and holding his hands up in good nature.

“Suit yourself, but we mean you no ill will,” Bail responded. He had hoped the bounty hunter would fall for it, but after the female pilot earlier proved competent, he expected they were dealing with experienced professionals. “So what do you want with us?”

“You’re in possession of an Assassin Droid, HK series. HK-1040 specifically. There’s a bounty on him that we intend to collect. We have the means to ensure this works out for everyone.” The statement was matter of fact. No information more to their motives or methods than what everyone had already surmised. Thrace accompanied it by sliding a datapad across the table showing the official notice of the bounty. There was also wiggle room to keep them talking, which is exactly what Bail needed them to do. If he responded to the obvious open statement, and asked how it would work out, then he was putting the ball into Thrace’s hands to control the conversation. If he asked the wrong follow up question, then he would blow the negotiations by being seen as unreasonable or incompetent.

Bail took as long as possible looking at the datapad before answering. He felt the uncomfortable presence of Valan at his left and Tomo at his right, and from the smell of lilac and spices, he guessed that Lil was right behind him, reading over his shoulder. “All right, it looks like you really are acting for the Empire,” now comes the tricky part. If he plays dumb and asks why they think HK is there, and the gambit fails then he won’t be able to play innocent later. If he’s honest up front, then he plays into Thrace’s gambit. “How did you manage to track the ship here? This isn’t a common location, and even as Imperial Bounty Hunters, you didn’t have access to operate at Phelar University. It’s totally locked off to,” smiling, “rougher types like yourselves.”

Thrace tilted his head, then shrugged. “Because you operate out of Spintir, the last known location of HK-1040. We were in orbit waiting for unusual registrations. Your BoSS profile stated you left from Reles Spaceport, but your ship took off from a location that wasn’t Reles. It was possible that you went sight-seeing before leaving orbit, but a stock light freighter typically has business to do when they take off, and sight-seeing isn’t high on the list of them. The chances were that you were leaving from a shadowport of some sort. That means people that don’t want to be followed. When you went to Eriadu, we parked in orbit and made ground contact with the informants there. They got a visual of HK and we waited for you to leave, when you did, we plotted your possible destination. Granted, it was a bit of a trick – we couldn’t figure out why you’d ever come to a superstitious ship graveyard, but we figured the superstitious part might be exactly it.”

Bail smiled, he’d taken the bait. Now Bail could keep a running conversation, though how long he could do it was now the game. “I’m not sure I understand. How did superstition identify our destination?”

Thrace looked around as he answered, “HK units have a history of winding up around Jedi and Sith. It was their primary task when they were designed – to kill Jedi. Some found themselves in the employ of Jedi, after all, they aren’t very different from Sith when you strip out the morality plays. Our contact said that you also were headed to the Archive Spire – the place where they keep all the goodies and relics. But those two facts together, and it seemed reasonable that you would be travelling someplace following a legend of some sort. Were we right?”

Bail smiled, he couldn’t answer the question, and Thrace knew it. That left him with only one choice left for the conversation, “You said you could make this work out for us. How does losing our droid turn into a profitable situation?”

Thrace leaned back in the chair, “Because we have a functional HK model droid that’s only missing a central processing core. From the holovids I’ve seen of your droid, he’s a little worse for wear. This one is a pristine rebuilt chasis. I only need to prove the destruction of the droid you have, not the sapient in its memory core – they’ll assume that on their own. You download HK-1040’s memory core into our blank CPC, creating a double, we swap the CPC’s HK into the new body and our copy into HK’s original one, and we scrap the non-sapient program and turn it in. We get our reward, you get a new and improved HK with no bounty on his head.”

It was a good deal. Bail turned to Lil and the others to see their reaction and saw Lil glaring at the duo of hunters with a look that meant she was suspicious. He turned to Thrace, “On the surface it sounds good, let me discuss things with my associates for a moment.” Thrace nodded.

Lil retreated around the corner with Bail to speak to HK, though none of them though anything of the Mandalorian, Kryze, getting up and walking the opposite direction. Lil looked to HK and went to the cockpit, the droid in tow. “Where’s the Basilisk control core?”

HK titled his head, “Statement; it is secured in your quarters, master.”

Lil nodded with a sigh, “Good, I don’t trust these bounty hunters any further than I can throw them. If they found out about the Basilisk or the Sanctuary I don’t think that Mandalore would leave us alone. Moreover, I think that Val Isa hid a holocron with all the records of the Jedi in that ship, and those hunters wouldn’t stop until they got access to it.”

Kryze, who had went down the hallway in the opposite direction and circled around the common area (a standard feature on YT-1300’s) nodded his agreement, “No doubt.”

Lil’s shoulders shrunk as she placed the palm of her hand against her forehead, “Balls.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They had been back at the bargaining table for more than fifteen minutes, but had progressed no further than where they had ended when they took the break. Tam had returned and (after a tense few minutes of the Mandalore eyeing his Jedi armor) explained the sublight drives were shot – replacement parts would be needed to get it up and running. Lil was sure it was her imagination but she could also see the smile that Thrace was wearing under that helmet, as if the smooth “T” visor had suddenly developed the ability to articulate expression.

“It seems you need us,” Thrace cooed, “which is perfect, because we have a vested interest in whatever ancient wreck you’re going to investigate.”

Lil set her hips and planted a hand on each, “We never said anything about a ship.”

Thrace held up a single finger, “But you have ancient tech,” he flipped up a second, “and mentioned ‘The Sanctuary’ which my friend and I consider a proper name for an ancient ship,” before finally raising a third, “which considering we’re in an infamous ship graveyard only stands to reason.”

Lil shrugged, “Fine. It still doesn’t explain why exactly we’re going to cooperate with you.”

Thrace leaned back, “You’ll cooperate because without us you can’t get to the ship you’re looking for. You need our propulsion and parts, and we need your knowledge of where we’re going. It’s pretty obvious from the looks of your friend here,” he motioned to Tam, which only served to irritate Lil more, “that what you’re looking for is Jedi related. The fact that a Basilisk is involved means it dates pre-Empire, probably pre-Republic. That means it may have information about old Jedi worlds that could give us a leg up on our competition for finding hiding places.”

Tam glowered, “Why exactly would we ever help you hunt Jedi?”

Thrace motioned to Bail, “As your friend said, you’re all upstanding members of the Empire.”

Lil shook her head, “That doesn’t make us entitled to help you in your Bounty Hunting.”

Thrace looked to Kryze, and the two shared some obvious internal discussion over their secured network. Kryze shook his head in the negative, and the debate continued. Finally, as if defeated by some logic he couldn’t counter, the Mandalorian slumped his shoulders and casually waved his hand in dismissal. Thrace turned to the group and spoke, “Despite the advice of my associate here, I’m willing to prove your interests lie with us.”

Lil snarked, “How in the nine rings of Iiago are you gonna pull that off?”

Kryze turned to look at Thrace and Lil could feel the irritation in him, but Thrace merely continued on, unabated, “We’re going to let one of you onto our ship. We’ll reveal the whole operation, and provide the proof that I promised. If your representative, who we will let you pick, then comes back to speak on our behalf, the rest of you will agree to let us work with you.”

Murmurs of disbelief rivaled those of disapproval, but Thrace held up a hand, “Not only do I promise no harm will come to the one that goes with us, but we’ll also leave Kryze here so as to avoid any worries about us absconding with your crew.”

Lil laughed, “You’ve got to be kidding, you seriously expect us to …” she was cut off abruptly by an unexpected answer from Tomo.

“I’ll go. I agree.” Tomo wasn’t entirely happy with the situation, but it was clear to her that the others weren’t focusing on the mission, but instead letting their fear of these bounty hunters motivate them. If they could convince her that their intentions were as they claimed, the potential advantages the Sanctuary held far outstripped the dangers the information on the old wreck would give these hunters.

The others looked at her with mixes of disbelief and shock. Tomo stood and tried to ignore their gawks – she was simply doing what must be done, for every moment that they delayed, there was greater chance that someone else may arrive and complicate things further. Without the ability to repair the engines, stalling for more time could only make things worse – not better.

As she departed the Corsuca Gem, she shot a final look to the others and nodded. She hoped it wasn’t the last she would see of them.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Kryze looked around the ship, it was an old one, which was almost given considering it was an old YT-1300. They were pretty much the dominant stock light freighter a hundred years ago, but they since were phased out by the newer 2400’s, which were improved in pretty much every way. This one in particular was extremely well maintained – it looks as if it weren’t even flown more than a few times. That alone was surprising – she must have been used as a shuttle or some other diplomatic role. Most of the ships had hard lives, carrying cargo from places of ill-repute to places of far less repute. They tended to have carbon scores from countless battles and replacement panels from other, less fortunate, peers. This one though, this ship still has her original parts, and the internal panels are present, indicating a distinct lack of emergency repairs. All signs pointed to the Corsuca Gem not seeing much action.

That didn’t fit at all with how the current owners behaved. The de-facto leader of the bunch, Lil, was obviously reared in the smuggler’s life. Kryze guessed that she was raised by them or somehow got sold into slavery with them. That might explain her inherent distrust and general anger issues, but somehow he doubted the slavery angle. He’d seen lots of slaves in his line of work, and to the last, they all had the same look in their eyes, of someone with something that was taken from them. Some piece of them that they would never get back. Lil was whole, for better or worse, but there was definitely something in her craw that drove her to be fierce as a rancor and twice as touchy.

Though he couldn’t spot the barrel, he had the feeling he was under the blaster the whole time that the muscle of the group (he thought they called her Tomo) was aboard the Hunter. He figured if there was a gunman at his back it would be the droid, HK. The only other person he pegged as capable of being an executioner was the cyborg, Valan, and he had been able to keep his eyes on him the whole time. It seemed Valan preferred to let you know face to face he wanted to kick your teeth in, and had been glaring at Kryze in full view. He also didn’t have a gun trained on him, so that meant the hairs on his neck were standing up from a different direction. The droid wasn’t needed to pilot, so that gave him the freedom to be doing something else, but also an excuse to stay out of the main room and “in the cockpit” to explain his absence.

In the end, it didn’t matter much. Kryze knew nothing was going to happen to Tomo, and even if the crew decided to get antsy and start something before Thrace and Tomo got back, the Falleen, Bail, and old man, Tam, were both within reach of Kryze. The first sign of a blaster being discharged one of the two would make for a fine body shield. After that, the other would meet the stun setting on his EE-3, leaving the shooter and Valan. Lil would most likely stay back, as she was under the protection of the HK and seemed to be more of a talker than a fighter. Plus, he didn’t want to make any action towards her because the HK might kick into some new programming if his ‘master’ was threatened.

Valan he figured would take a hit or two, but the HK looked to be modified for piloting, not for ground combat. That made the droid his next target. Once all the softer targets were out of the way, he figured that Valan might provide a fight, but not much of one. The terrain favored Kryze, with plenty of cover, and in close quarters Valan wasn’t carrying anything that would match Kryze’s lightsaber.

Still, revealing the nature of the Containment Group’s work to this crew was a foolish risk, regardless of what Thrace said. Kryze knew Kara would feel the same way, but with Kara and Thrace, you were always fighting one voice. If Kara agreed to it, then it was Thrace that was calling the shots on this one, and that left Kryze out in the cold as far as options went. He only hoped these moppets didn’t get themselves captured by anyone with an interest in his work, or else there were sure to be complications.

It took less than 15 minutes for Thrace and Tomo to return, which surprised Kryze, and for a moment he was worried that Tomo hadn’t bought their operation. With a simple nod, however, Tomo proclaimed she believed them, and Kryze let out a sigh of relief behind his visor.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

An hour later, Tomo found herself standing at the airlock to the Sanctuary. Though Lil held deep reservations, she had trusted Tomo’s opinion, and was willing to work with Thrace and the others to complete their mission. What she had seen on board the bounty hunters ship still chilled her, but she understood the necessity of what they did.

Though she had agreed to their partnership, she had also agreed to keep their secret, one which weighed heavily on her. She didn’t feel right keeping it from the others, but she also understood the danger that came with it getting out. She only hoped the others understood enough to not put her in a situation where she would be forced to betray anyone’s loyalty.

With the partnership agreed, they had locked the Hunter to the Corusca Gem using docking clamps and then slaved the Hunter’s controls to HK in the cockpit of the Gem. The processed had allowed them to navigate the two ships together, carrying the crippled Gem, while still letting HK lead them to where the Sanctuary was located at. The process went remarkably smoothly, and now they were docked with the crippled ancient vessel. An old Hammerhead-class cruiser, looked more like an ancient tower spire than a ship. In her death throws, explosions must have ripple along her, splitting her roughly in half from bow to stern. Surprisingly, an external flight around her showed that most of the exposed compartments had been sealed at some point, meaning the ship most likely had an atmosphere inside. The quality of that atmosphere after all this time was a bit of a question, but it was a bright prospect.

Lil had directed them to a sternward airlock that she claimed was the closest to the room she saw in her vision. Kryze seemed keenly interested in hearing that, Tomo couldn’t be sure why though. The Mandalorian had volunteered to come along, alone, to represent the bounty hunters interest in the wreck. It seemed fair, and Tomo rather preferred to have the tested warrior along rather than the more loquacious Thrace; Kryze seemed the more capable warrior of the two.

As the airlock door to the Sanctuary opened, a rush of stale air met them. Kryze and HK went in first, to verify the stability of the atmosphere. After a moment, they gave the thumbs up, and the rest of the group went inside. The walls around them weren’t what Tomo was expecting from an ancient ship. There wasn’t the bare metal of durasteel like on board the other ships that Tomo had been on. In its place was what appeared to be natural stone accented with wood paneling. Tomo knew that it was only a veneer, but the effect was oddly comforting despite the knowledge. The lighting in the hallway was still powered, if only on emergency lighting, but even this had a natural reflection, with the lights placed in irregular distances and heights, the end effect being that mimicking the presence of luminescent insects. The group made their way through the wreck towards the bow sections, as Lil had no recollection of the layout more than the rough bearing of the place in her vision.

“It’s towards the opposite bulkhead,” she pointed to the wall facing them, “it’s straight that way.”

“Great, but the hallways run this way,” Valan said, motioning to the perpendicular nature of their predicament.

“I know, but all we can do is pick a direction and hope it circles back,” Lil shrugged and started walking forwards.

The passage from the airlock was a short one, but they hadn’t the time to cross it before there came a howl so unnatural that Tomo felt sick to her stomach. Like the baying of a thousand wolves, a hundred reptiles and a snarling rancor all in one, the sound shook through halls of the crippled ship. A deep seating sickness took root in Tomo’s gut, and instinctively she withdrew to the shadows like a hunted mouse in the presence of a much larger cat.

“That has got to be the basilisk,” Lil sighed.

“I thought we had the control core back on the ship?” Valan looked to Lil and then HK questioningly.

“Correction;” HK replied, “I have the control core here.” The droid motioned to his chassis, and popped open a storage area with the ovular piece of electronics. “Regardless, that does not matter, as the sound issued from an entirely different basilisk war droid, one that has its control core intact.”

Valan placed two fingers to his temples, “HK, are you telling me there is at least one, and possibly more, of those things here?”

HK tilted his head to side, “Clarification; that is precisely what I am telling you, meatbag.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tomo was almost back to the ship when the guilt of leaving the others finally overcame the unnatural terror that had caused her to retreat into the shadows to begin with. When her senses returned to her, she had found one hand resting upon the panel that opened the airlock door, and the other tightly wrapped around her resting on the ribs of her opposite side. She realized with a start that she had been hugging herself the whole way.

She knew why, the memory of the morning that her village was sacked had never left her, though she had long ago lost it to the recesses of her memory. It was a faded thing in the back of her mind, a slip of shadow that had flitted about her mind granting context to her actions, but never rearing its head to take credit. She realized, finally, that while her conscious mind had long ago forgotten the reason that she had picked up her blade, the ghost in her mind never had.

She was barely four when the raiders had come to her village. Cairanax had never been a technologically advanced planet, and so tribes of raiders and brigands weren’t uncommon, and to combat them villages sought those with the special abilities that Tomo now knew as the Force. These gifted men and women were trained from an early age to serve as village protectors, called “Sword Saints” by her people. Tomo was one of these, though at the time of the raid, her abilities weren’t known yet. In fact, the gifts of Force-sensitivity were so rare in her village she wasn’t even tested for it, and at the time of the raid there were no Sword Saints standing in protection for her people.

The raiders sacked everything, slaughtering with glee all those they didn’t desire for slavery or … other purposes. Tomo had just one memory of her parents, though she didn’t realize she had any for it was from that day. Her mother had lowered her into a trench meant to transport the livestock from the barn to the field while her father stood guard above. The trench was filled with excrement and uneaten food, rotting from exposure, but her mother told her over and over to follow it and not make a sound, and when she got to the other end her family would be waiting for her. Tomo remembered the cold of the morning air, and the chill earth of the trench walls. She’d wrapped her arms around her to keep herself warm when there came a howl from the hounds the raiders used as hunting companions.

The dogs descended on her mother and father as she watched, and though they fought with all their strength, they were far outmatched by the claws and teeth of the beasts. Tomo remembered running, low to the ground, quiet as a mouse, arms wrapped tight about her, all the way to the field the trench had led to. The howls seems to follow her, though it was all in her imagination. She hid for two days, until she emerged from the pains of thirst and hunger. She was found by traveler from a nearby village, and so it was she was saved from the fate of the rest of her family.

The cold guilt of her weakness washed over her. She’d left those she considered family again, only this time, she had not the excuse of being four, of being untrained, of being weak. She’d left them as quickly as that beast howled, she had forgotten her oath, her debts, and her worth. The sickness she had felt in her gut wasn’t from the beast, it was from her weakness and cowardice. Her hand dropped from the control panel and she placed it on her womb, wondering what her mother would think of her after her actions today. A soothing warmth came over her, and where her hand rested, a heat stirred, easing the sickening feeling she had been fighting.

She had not abandoned them, she was still here, still present. She could make a difference now. This is where she would put to rest her fears, where she would lay to rest the child that hid in the trench. Taking her hand from her ribs, she drew the Mandalorian Warblade. Taking her hand from her stomach, she drew her Honor Blade. She would not let her family die this day.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Where’s Tomo?” Lil looked about, unable to locate their companion. In all the discussion about the basilisk, she hadn’t seen anyone sneak off, but now they found themselves one short.

“She took to the shadows to scout our way, I lost track of her a while ago.” Valan shrugged and readied his weapon. He wasn’t exactly happy about the prospect of a functioning basilisk war droid, but he’d only heard a single howl, and it wasn’t answered by anything, so he was comfortable in the estimation that there was only one.

Lil looked around the room they were in. It appeared to be a huge space meant as a repair facility. The original use of the space was a mystery, though its position above the remains of a hangar (now exposed to the harsh vacuum of space from the damage the Sanctuary had sustained) indicated it may have been a vehicle repair facility. Lil had the sense from her vision that this area had served a different role on the vessel, with most of it having been re-purposed towards the care of people rather than starships.

All that really didn’t matter anymore, for as the group watched, a rusting maintenance droid shambled through the area, tearing panels and parts from walls as if searching for parts still usable. The ramshackle droid was a mix of parts, seemingly cobbled together from hundreds of different models, patch repair work heaped on itself until the original model was unrecognizable.

It had obviously been doing this for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, for now the area was reduced to a series of piles towered high with scrap. The space was so picked over that the walls were little more than superstructure, wires hanging like vines in an overgrown cavern. The sheer size of the area made Lil more than a little nervous, and the wide open paths (far too wide for the maintenance droid) indicated that the space had lanes kept for the basilisk’s movement.

“The basilisk must be patrolling the ship,” Lil ventured, “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

HK looked at her, “Concillatory; Agreed, master. It most likely considers the ship to be its domain. That would mean its standard programming would set up a defensive patrol route to keep out trespassers.”

Valan looked around the area and came to the same decision that Lil had, “the size of those corridors through the scrap look plenty large enough for the basilisk. And that maintenance droid is getting spare parts for some reason, and it’s obviously not to repair the ship.”

Cold realization hit Lil like a rock, “We’re in its den.”

Tam looked into the room, “Most likely, but some of those parts look to be from engineering. There’s a good chance that I could find the parts we need to repair the ship in there.”

“Let’s figure out how to deal with the basilisk before we go dumpster diving for parts,” Lil snickered. “We’d best get out of here before it comes home.”

Tam looked back the way they came, “It’s too big to fit through the corridor we used to get here. We can double back and take the stern oriented hall.” The others nodded and they retreated into the corridor.

They met up with Tomo when they were nearing the airlock, and united group then continued on towards the stern section. In a matter of moments, they found a passage that circled towards the starboard side that Lil had said the room they were searching for was on. After a moment more, they found themselves outside a large domed room that Lil knew all too well.

“Here we are.” She said, looking at the Jedi Training Room.

The external walls of the room had the same wood veneer that the rest of the corridors had, though the upper portions of the wall had a green covering that more resembled artificial moss than anything else, though dim light could be seen from the inside that betrayed a translucence to the artificial vegetation. The overall effect was soothing, but in the grim environment they were in, this formed a feeling of sadness.

Large double doors met them at the entrance to the room, sandstone from appearance, but numberous blaster burns had crumbled part of the stone veneer to expose the durasteel below. The skeletal remains of Jedi and Republic soldiers lay at the doors, intermixed with the armor covered remains of their Mandalorian opponents. Valan dropped to a knee and perused the armor covering the Mandalorian deceased.

“This stuff looks like it could still work!” he marveled. It made sense to Lil, Mandalorian armor was supposed to be tough stuff, and forged to last. Most of it had even outlasted their entire culture, it seemed. Valan collected a few odd plates here and there and placed them in his pack. Lil, answering a hunch that came from nowhere, closed her eyes and placed a hand against the wall of the room.

She felt the wall subtly rumble, a rhythmic shake that followed in time to the footsteps of an animal of great size. She looked up and with the help of a boost from HK peered into the room through the semi-transparent moss. There, inside to room, she saw the basilisk.

The lumbering form of the beast was huge, easily half again as tall as a human at the shoulder. Lil couldn’t make out many details, but she could see it seemed to have two fore limbs, each as thick as a tree trunk. It had a long, muscular neck, ending in what appeared to Lil as a beak of some sort, a pointed head with a flat, irregular muzzle. Two, large, insectoid like wings sprouted from its shoulders, and the rear of the thing was long and flat, like a lobster tail. It seemed to be standing over a suit of Mandalorian armor, nuzzling it with its muzzle, and though no details could be seen, Lil had seen enough in its actions to realize it was attempting to get the armor to move.

Lil dropped from the back of HK and turned to the others, “It’s in there.” As if in response, another of the beasts howls shuddered through the ship, though with her new perspective, Lil noticed the sound was more one of mourning than one of rage.

“Do you think we can bring it down?” Tam looked about at the group, HK, Kryze, Tomo and Valan were the most likely to be able to take it out, with Lil, and himself providing support and distraction. He wasn’t sure what Bail would bring to the table – he doubted that diplomacy was much of an option.

“Statement; I believe I might offer an alternative course of action” HK looked to Lil with as thoughtful an expression as the droid could muster.

“Let’s hear it, HK,” Lil nodded.

“Explanation; The control core that I current am in possession of is in a poor state, but still contains its primary coding. If we were to connect it to the operative basilisk, it would act as a virus, sending conflicting programming into the basilisk’s functions. This would create an infinite loop of programming, potentially rendering the beast immobile, or at the very least, greatly slowed. Thus, its combat efficiency might be lowered to a point where it would not outright liquidate you meatbags. You excluded, master.”

“HK,” Lil inquired, “could it be re-programmed to accept a new master, one of us?”

“Apologetic; I’m sorry master, but a basilisk war droid is a fully functioning artificial intelligence patterned off of an extinct biological species. As such, it is not ‘programmed’ in such a manner,” HK shrugged.

Lil shook her head, “HK, that doesn’t make any sense. That one is behaving as if it belongs to the Mandalorian who died in there.”

“Clarification; That is true, master. When I said it is not programmed to obey a master, that is because when the basilisk war droid comes on-line, a Mandalorian will mount the beast and ‘tame’ it through a test of dominance. Once that occurs, then the basilisk programming ‘bonds’ to said Mandalore in the same manner as organic domesticated animals do. From that point on, the basilisk is paired with the Mandalore until its death.”

“So how do we get the control core installed in the basilisk?” Tam looked to HK with a confused expression. “Any attempt to get close to that thing is going to result in us having to fight it.”

“Suggestion; the maintenance droid in the basilisk’s den was preparing scrap. It is likely that the droid is maintaining the basilisk. If this is the case, then we would simply need to convince it to install the control core during the next repair cycle.” HK looked to the others matter-of-factly.

“Can you convince it, HK?” Lil asked, slightly surprised by HK’s helpfulness.

“Apologetic; I’m sorry, master. I’m not programmed for deception, only assassination. Should you need the maintenance droid exterminated, while I will despair at the rising ratio of meatbags to droids, I will happily expunge the droids circuitry from the ranks of working order.”

Lil caught herself laughing despite the inappropriateness, she was just happy that her expectations of the droid were met, “Got it, HK.”

A slow drawl and smooth voice chimed in, “Perhaps I can help in that regard,” Bail turned to HK, “HK, could you repeat verbatim what I tell you to say?”

HK looked at the falleen, a mechanical mimicry of Bail’s voice squelched from HK’s audio ports, “Of course I can repeat verbatim what you tell me to say,” switching back to his normal voice he continued, “Clarification; I would much rather liquidate your squishy internal organs, however, than listen to them blather on.”

Lil caught Bail’s intention, however, and looked to HK. “HK, Bail is offering to help you upgrade your deception protocols by guiding you through an exercise in subterfuge with the maintenance droid. It will help us with our mission and may allow you to improve your own sub-programming as well.”

HK regarded Lil for a moment and then turned to Bail. A tense minute went by as he looked from Lil to Bail and back, as if attempting to ascertain how he was being manipulated. Finally, his shoulders slumped, “Acquiescent; Very well, master. I will allow the fleshsack to utilize my vocalizer in an effort to forward our objective.”

Tam stepped forward, “If the control core can send bad programming code to the basilisk, it stands to reason that the only way for it to stop it would be to re-boot.”

HK nodded, “Statement; You are correct.”

Tam continued, “Well, if that’s the case, won’t the re-boot cause the basilisk to enter into conditions that would enable someone to re-bond with it?”

HK’s receptors blink off and on again, “Revelatory; That is possible. Though someone matching the rough build and armor of the original Mandalorian bonded to it would need to be the one to guide the basilisk through the confusion of the re-boot.”

Lil smiled, “I know where the former master is – their body at least. We could see if any of us match the build.”

Kryze spoke up from the back, “As loathe as I am to put any of you into Mandalorian armor, if your build is close I could fit the armor to you. Provided it’s even close to being intact, that is.”

Lil nodded, “So we just need to see the body. Kryze, can you use your jetpack to get up to that broken window?” Lil pointed to a section of the wall that had a break in it. “The basilisk should be right next to the Mandalore’s body that it was bonded with. Once we get a look at it, we can figure out which one of us will fit the bill.”

Kryze nodded, and activated his jump pack. As he ascended, he patched his optics into Lil’s datapad, and with the help of the datapad’s holoprojection unit, the group was able to see what Kryze was witnessing. As he landed on the dome, the image of the basilisk appeared finally to everyone. What had appeared in silhouette to Lil as a beak-like head was in reality far more frightening. The tubular hydraulic cables of the basilisk’s huge neck continued all the way to its large head, ending in what appeared to be tubes that housed (based on their location) either optics or blaster barrels. The massive barrels must have been starship grade weaponry, and Lil quickly understood why the Mandalorians rode the beasts into battle against starships – they packed the arsenal to take one down. On the back of the beast, nestled between two large panels on each shoulder that Lil had envisioned as insectoid wings, was affixed a saddle that would house the rider. Below the panels, facing towards the rear of the beast, were large engines that would supply propulsion when flying.

Most importantly, lying beside the basilisk, was the limp form of a Mandalorian’s battle armor. Laying next it were the robes of Val Isa, and Lil supposed that the two were the end of each other, a suspicion that was reinforced by the Mandalorian’s pike, which speared through Val Isa’s robes, and the helmet of the Mandalorian, which lay clear from the rest of the corpse, severed by a lightsaber.

The armor itself was a work of art – the sterile environment had kept dust and grime from collecting – and brilliant vermillion, magentas, and purples colored the armor while baroque designs of gold ornamented the plating. A waistcoat of turquoise cloth edged in white fur hung about it and a cape of olive accented the armor. While Kryze was witness to the beauty of it, the others had the effect lost through the static blue of the holoimage. Kryze shook his head at the work that went into it – his own armor and that of his kin a pale imitation of the skill and craft of his ancestors.

“It looks as though it’s ladies night,” he said. “Lil, you or Tomo are going to have to step up on this one.”

Lil’s stomach sunk, as much as she would love to have the basilisk as a pet, the prospect of riding the beast and winning a test of dominance made her sick. She looked to Tomo, and saw a strange, haunted look on her face that she’d never seen from Tomo before. Tomo stood and spoke with a voice forged from iron.

“I will do it, the hound and I have unfinished business.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil slowly entered the Jedi Training Hall. The others had already left, Kryze having fitted Tomo with the Mandalorian armor from the room. They had decided that when Tomo attempted to mount the basilisk, the rest would be there, ready for combat should the process fail. Lil’s job was to use the opportunity to get the holocron and any other treasures that were hidden in the vault. If the whole plan failed, and the basilisk defeated Tomo and the others, then at least Lil could get away with the Holocron and return to the temple.

Lil slowly collected the robes that had once belonged to Val Isa, and neatly folded them. She cleaned the few specks of debris that had collected from the lapel and placed the robes into her pack. Though there was no trace of Val Isa’s lightsaber, Lil closed her eyes and replayed the vision she had witnessed in her head. She felt the sting of the Mandalorian’s pike, felt the strength leave her hand as she finished her swing, letting the lightsaber fall – flung by the swing’s momentum to … there.

Lil found her gaze resting in a corner created by one of the many staircases that surrounded the outer edge of the room. She followed her instincts and soon located the cylindrical hilt of the weapon. She kneeled to pick it up, and though she’d never been here, nor held it, a rush of nostalgia overtook her as she touched it. A silver nickel cylinder, gold fittings covered the lower half up to a third of the way down the haft. Cut out of this gold fitting the hand hold was made of an amethyst leather, stippled to allow a firm grip. At the one third point, a ring of gold circled the cylinder forming a makeshift guard for the hand hold, around it was the same proto-republic writing that was on the necklace. Lil knew the writing to mean, “May the flow of the Force forever light your path” and from the ring ascending long the remaining length of the lightsaber, waves of gold filigree rose from the ring to form the blade emitter cover. Along these waves rose more of the writing, “May you guide the light of the Force in return.”

Almost without thinking, Lil ignited the blade out of habit, one she knew was not her own, and the citrine blade burst forth, casting the room in a somber yellow glow. The feel of the blade was right, calming, welcoming and comforting all in one. She switched the activator off and clasped it to her belt, a newfound serenity in her that hadn’t been there before. As if a great journey were finally complete.

Moving to the large stone plinth in the center of the room, she extended her hand. Calling upon the Force, she felt the familiar touch of the mystical energy field swirl around her, lightening her body and filling her with the stuff of the universe. From deep within, she felt the Force swirl, and she directed that whirling pool of power outward, like an invisible tornado, until it encircled the stone plinth before her. She tightened her control on the spinning power in her mind and focused its energies on the stone, lifting it up with the power at her command.

The large plinth groaned under the pressure of the Force’s pull before finally lifting free of its moorings. Lil moved the stone to the side and set it gently back upon the dais, having revealed the vault underneath. With a giddy smile, one born from the joy of seeing something only theorized to exist, Lil moved to the vault and peered inside. There, wrapped in cloth, sat a dodecahedron, still glowing faintly purple. She unwrapped the holocron and lifted it free, surprised at how light it was in comparison to the holocrons from the Dawn Temple.

“You have done well,” a voice softly commented.

Lil jumped and turned to Val Isa, wreathed in a faint blue glow, standing behind her. “Oh, I hadn’t realized I’d activated it.” She said, gesturing to the holocron.

“You haven’t.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tomo steadied herself. The armor was comfortable, and it certainly had its merits, but she was unused to being so covered, and even though it didn’t restrict her movements, it felt like it should be restricting her movement. She looked to Kryze, who seemed as if he was admiring her, though she supposed he was merely admiring the armor. The others were behind him, all save for HK, who was overseeing the maintenance droid, who had sent the command to the basilisk to shut down.

The plan had worked flawlessly, Bail had told HK just what to say to convince the maintenance droid that the basilisk needed the control core to upgrade its systems. It had called the basilisk in, and the basilisk in turn thought the control core had come from the maintenance droid’s salvage, never expecting that it was a bomb intended to blitz its systems. Once installed, the counter programming of the conflicting control cores rendered the basilisk a behavior not entirely unlike being inebriated. As more and more irregular code piled up, the effect became ever more exaggerated until the basilisk was unable to do more than limp.

Bail quickly had HK alert the maintenance droid to the situation and suggest the maintenance droid tell the basilisk to shut down and re-boot, which the maintenance droid (and subsequently, the basilisk) did with haste. Once shut down, HK had the maintenance droid delay the reactivation routine until she was ready to engage the basilisk.

That let Kryze finish the adjustments on the armor and allowed HK to prep her on what she needed to do. From what the ancient droid said, when the basilisk awoke, it would be confused and look around for context. When this happened, she needed to approach and place her palm on the sensor package at the tip of the basilisk’s head (she figured “nose” was the best description she could give it). Once this was done, she had to mount the basilisk quickly and then hang on for dear life, wrangling the beast into a calm state. This latter part was the segment of the process which concerned her, but HK assured her that the armor would assist by locking into the saddle.

Kryze and Tam looked to her, asking if she was ready. She nodded, and turned towards the basilisk, walking forwards. When she was close enough, HK told the maintenance droid to deliver the wake up routine and stepped into the shadows with the others. Tomo watched the great beast remain frozen for an instant, then sluggishly, it shook one of its massive feet, planting it onto the cold deck of the repair bay. With a great heave, it pushed itself upright, and its thick neck moved its head back and forth, looking around before coming to rest on Tomo. With a deep breath, she held her hand out and placed it flat on the tubes that ended in its photo-receptors.

It went still for a moment, then lowered its head and knelt in front of her. She took the opportunity to climb onto its back and she felt a pull as the saddle affixed her armor to it magnetically. As soon as she was in, the basilisk went berserk, leaping around the room, smashing into piles of refuse, loping along the deck, its tail flipping up and smashing down. She placed her hands on what appeared to be lit consoles, each round and large enough for her entire palm and fingers to fit. The consoles shone brighter, and from the inside of her helmet she could now see the orientation of the basilisk overlaid on her visor. She moved her hands in an arc, and she heard the sound of thrusters on each side of the beast fire.

“So this is how they control it flight …” Tomo thought. She was sure she could control it, she just needed a few minutes to get the feel for it. She twisted her hands to the left, and the basilisk stumbled under the pressure of the thrusters, sideswiping a large pile of starship pieces, sending them sliding along the deck. The basilisk tried to compensate and throw her off by leaping with the thrust and then changing direction, but she slid her hands forwards and the main engines behind her fired just as the beast straightened out, launching it forward towards a pile of droid chassis. The beast dug in its clawed feet and tried to stop, and Tomo smiled as the basilisk fell for the bait. She relaxed her control and without the forward thrust to fight, the basilisk came to a stop.

“I serve” the basilisk roared. Her ears heard the strange mix of biological and mechanical noise the basilisk physically made, but her armor (patched into the basilisk’s systems through the saddle) translated the sound into a rough, grumbly baritone voice through her helmet’s comlink. “I serve the Lady Mandalore for all time.” The creature bowed to Tomo and she knew she had tamed the beast.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“You are not the Lady Mandalore, no matter what the basilisk says,” Kryze pointed out. They were well underway back to the Dawn Temple, Tam having had the time to scavenge for the parts they needed had finished the repairs and gotten them underway. They had agreed to allow Kryze to come with them since it would take time to go through all the data the holocron stored. It would also allow them to keep tabs on what information he was getting.

“What’s your problem with it?” Tomo challenged, “It’s just what the basilisk called me.”

Kryze took of his helmet, revealing a young, bearded man with sandy blond hair and deep blue eyes. “I am son to Satine Kryze, last Queen of Mandalore. She died many years ago, fighting to prevent the savagery our people descended from. She was the last ‘Lady Mandalore’ thank you very much.”

“What do you mean ‘the Lady Mandalore’?” Lil asked again, leaning back in the chair at the head of the holo-chess table they were gathered around.

“It was the warrior queen of the Mandalorians who led the group that raided the Sanctuary,” Val Isa replied. Lil had come to understand that the glowing Jedi was no image, but rather an apparition – apparently she had some strange ability to transcend death and appear physically. “They call her ‘Lady Mandalore.’ The basilisk was in service to her, and when your friend adorned her armor and tamed it, is merely assumed it continued to serve the Lady Mandalore.”

“No pudu, the queen of the Mandalorians, huh?” Lil replied, looking to Tomo.

“Who are you talking to?” Tam asked.

Lil looked to Val Isa and then to Tam, “Wait, you can’t see her?” pointing to Val Isa.

HK’s photo-receptors flickered, “Query; Who am I supposed to be seeing in the empty corner, master?”

Lil shrunk, a defeated finality overtaking her, “Balls.”

View
Lessons from the Past Part 3
Chapter 2: Containment

Without thinking, Lil drew her blaster and fired at the Falleen’s crotch. Blue bolts of stunning energy shot out and struck true, and Lil for the life of her couldn’t remember if she had intended to flip the switch on the stun setting or if it were just habit. The Falleen fell back into the bed, shaking his head, as the girls leapt up and began screaming. The sounds of boots from elsewhere in the ship could be heard in the distance, and the intercom crackled to life as HK reported in.

“Query; Master, do you require me to liquidate any troublemakers?” Lil smiled and for a moment and was tempted to let HK exercise his bloodthirst, but she was already feeling a little guilty over her own reaction. She hoped she wasn’t becoming more like HK, than HK was becoming like her.

“Its fine HK, I just have a stowaway in my quarters.” She turned to said stowaway. “Explain. Now.”

The Falleen shook his head to clear the lingering effects of the stun and looked up at the blaster toting woman, “Now, relax there.” His voice was a smooth rolling one, as if someone was able to give sound to a cloud of hickory smoke. The accent was definitely from the deep core, not native to Eriadu. “I’m in a bit of a pickle here, you’ll have to excuse me. I told the ladies here this was my ship.”

Flames. That’s what Lil would later refer to when describing her first encounter with Bail Whill. She would refer to her field of vision going red, as if fire had engulfed her surroundings and cast the orange glow of a firepit across everything in her field of vision. She would relate the feeling that came over her to licks of flame that covered her skin; starting at her toes and lapping their way up until she felt the fire on the side of her face.

Everyone else who was present would have varying tales about what really occurred next. Some would tell of a series of blaster shots that tore her room near to pieces before everything was sorted out. Others would speak about how the two young women from the university, naked save for scraps of their clothing they were able to grab came running through the hallways of the ship, screaming about the mad woman going to kill them. In fact, everyone aboard the Corsuca Gem that day would have a funny story about the incident except for one; V’brel T’bat.

That is because the entire incident was his fault.

It had all started innocently enough. When Lil had requested that he search the Holonet to find out what he could, he had begun studying the subject in earnest. Unfortunately, since Phelar University was closed to the Holonet, and used the downloaded version for the campus, they had seen fit to put certain limitations on access. This was probably to ensure that students would access inappropriate areas of the holonet while on campus, and to prevent faculty from misusing it as well, but in the end, it created boundaries that V’brel didn’t appreciate.

To get around those boundaries, he called upon an old associate that he knew was attending the university, Bail Whill. A Falleen noble he helped a few years back. Apparently his wife was having some problems with incriminating messages that could implicate her and get her kicked out. He’d helped Bail clear things up and decided to cash in on the favor to get unrestricted access now, as Bail had become a relative power in the university.

When he’d finally gotten a hold of Bail, his friend had expressed the need for someplace to be ‘discreet’ with his study group. V’brel had told them about the ship but he totally forgot to mention it to the group (he expected Bail to be long gone by the time they returned). This of course didn’t smooth things over immediately however, as there was still the matter of a very angry Lil to deal with and a couple of university students that were no longer anywhere near their university.

Seeing as he was told he wasn’t needed, HK had continued prepping the ship for take-off. He had already left the orbit of Eriadu by the time that Lil had lost her temper, and by the point at which the matter was resolved, he had already plotted the coordinates to Koler and entered hyperspace. By time anyone even asked for HK, they were well on their way.

To make matters worse, it quickly became apparent that there was enough discussion that sending Bail away was going to be difficult. He knew too much about what they were doing, moreover, Tam had sensed that he was Force sensitive himself. The possibility that he would wind up in the presence of the Empire and endanger the others meant that the group faced a desperate problem. In the end, the only reasonable way out of their position was to bring Bail along. V’brel, for his part in the fiasco, had the less than exciting job of taking the girls back to Phelar, and to accomplish it they would drop out of hyperspace and stop by the nearest starport. When he was done, V’brel would head back to the Temple and let everyone else know of what they’d found while the rest of them would explore the Sanctuary for what salvage they could find.

As so the group split once more, and the Corsuca Gem was on its way to the tomb of Val Isa once more.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As HK brought the ship out of hyperspace, the cockpit was cast into a baleful red light as the supergiant star outside cast its glow into the cabin. Lil had never seen a star so immense before, at least not from this close, and the size of it made her feel as if she was weighted down just looking at it.

“Uh-oh,” Tam murmured from the sensor station. HK immediately began looking at his instruments as Lil turned to the old man.

“What do you mean, ‘Uh-Oh’?” She snapped.

HK shook his head, “Statement; It appears we have been followed, Master. It is possible we attracted our tail when we unloaded the stowaway meatbags.”

Lil sighed, was there no end of to the torment that lizard brought on them? “Lose them, quick.”

HK turned the ship over and plummeted towards the star as Tam moved from the cockpit. “I’ll get to engineering in case we take any damage.”

Nodding, she watched as Bail replaced him at the communications console. She quickly flipped the switches necessary to bring the old freighter’s shields on line, and then adjusted their arcs to the rear. Tomo and Valan moved quickly to the gun wells and began powering up the dorsal and ventral guns. Lil had to admit, everyone seemed to be on top of things when it really mattered, but something about the ship trailing them bothered her.

The sensor console in front of her showed the trailing ship to be a Firespray-class transport. The Firespray was a rare ship, Mandalmotors had sunk everything they had into it to try dominate the systems patrol craft market. It turned out to be a disaster – only six prototypes were ever produced. They were delivered to a prison on Oovo IV, but while there one got jacked, and the other five were destroyed trying to bring it in. The loss caused the company to go bankrupt, and it wasn’t until Kuat Systems Engineering (KSE) bought out the companies mothballed holdings a few years back that the designs were revived. With KSE’s designers and decades of improvements in the field of starship engineering, the new Firesprays were being targeted towards law enforcement agencies and the top tier bounty hunters.

Either this is the original Mandalmotors prototype, which would mean they have possibly one of the most notorious shipjacks of all time coming after them, or this is one of the new ones, and they have either law enforcement or very elite bounty hunters on their tail. Lil wasn’t sure which of those options the worst was.

HK flew circles around most anything Lil ever saw try and give chase, but whomever was in that ship was every bit his equal. For every maneuver HK made, the Firespray pilot matched it, though since the Corusca Gem was equipped with turrets, she supposed it could have been worse. She watched helplessly as shot after shot ate away at her shields and as a few bolts flew past from misses, she spotted the tell-tale blue of ion bolts.

Tomo and Valan tried desperately to match the Firespray shot for shot, but between HK’s erratic flying as he attempted to evade their opponents, and the Firespray pilot’s own maneuvers, they were having a hard time hitting. Those shots that did hit, didn’t slow their opponent, and with a gripping finality, a series of blasts ripped along their engines, causing the lights to flicker and the Gem slow to halt.

Bail turned to Lil and HK in the cockpit, “We’re being hailed.”

Lil looked to HK and then, with a resigned sigh, slouched into her chair, “Let’s hear it.”
The comm crackled to life and a cold female voice came in over the speakers, “Corusca Gem, you are now under the control of the Containment Group, acting on behalf of Imperial Bounty AX42715. Prepare to be boarded.”

Bail flicked on the comms under the baleful glare of Lil and HK. If anyone had a chance at talking their way out of this it was him, but without the help of his pheromones, it was going to be a little tricky. At least the pilot was female. “Now, hold on there, sweet-cake.” Lil slammed her palm against her head in frustration, but Bail disregarded it – the statement was a test, much like everything he said was. If the pilot got aggravated by the phrase, then that was a chink in her armor that he could exploit. If she played back, then he knew that sexual innuendo could be used to disarm her in the future. If she didn’t react at all, he knew she was disciplined and would need to use more complicated tricks. “You say you’re acting on an Imperial bounty, and I want to assure you that we are nothing less than upstanding members of the Empire. In fact, I have personal ties to Grand Moff Tarkin, now, I call him Tarkey, personally, but you know him by the former.”

A few tense moments passed, then the reply came. “This ship is registered to a known associate of the fugitive droid. Stand down and prepare to accept boarders for negotiation.” The female responded in an even tone.

“There, you see, negotiations. That’s an improvement over outright combat.” Bail smiled at Lil and honestly felt it was at least a little bit of a win. He was slightly worried that the pilot played such a cool hand, but getting the negotiators in his presence (one where his pheromones could do their work) was about as good as he expected he could do.

“HK, prep the ship for boarding, Tam, how long on those engines?” Lil certainly wasn’t happy about it, but it was better than getting assaulted, and buying any time was worth it – they still didn’t know which of the floating wrecks out there the Sanctuary was, and until Tam finished repairing the engines they had less than no chance of getting there.

“It’ll be at least an hour.” Tam responded over the intercom. An hour wasn’t bad, it’s entirely possible that the lizard (which she had taken to calling Bail) could keep the bounty hunters talking for an hour.

Their conversation was interrupted by the sounds of a docking clamp being secured to their dorsal port hatch. “Sounds like company’s here,” Lil flustered. She checked her blaster pistol was ready and moved towards the inner hatch seal, Bail and HK in following behind.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Valan, Lil, Tomo, and Bail stood waiting by the hatch as it unlocked and slid open. Tam was in engineering working as fast as he could, and HK was around a corner, out of sight, waiting to see how the negotiations went. As the lift lowered, the four force-users waited to see what the bounty hunter “negotiators” would look like. When what began as non-descript boots finally blossomed into full figures, Lil’s heart sank and her gut twisted. The lead figure wore a heavily modified combat armor of a design Lil couldn’t place, but the armor of the figure flanking him was frighteningly easy to identify. It was Mandalorian.

View
Lessons from the Past Part 2
Chapter 1: The Kyber Crystal

The group passed yet another building spire that ascended into the clouds around them. Lil and HK, searched their surroundings as Tam and Valan stared into the sky, desperately trying to see where the spires ended. V’brel looked to the comlink as a holographic image of D’jrem floated serenely above it. Tomo, carrying what appeared to be a large box of blankets, wore the garb of a grad student and did her best to cover the scowl she wore, the blankets clearly hiding her swords.

“This is humiliating and a dishonor to the Mandalorian who forged this blade,” she muttered.

Lil rolled her eyes and looked back at her over her shoulder, “The Mandalorian that forged that sword can’t see us, but those Stormtroopers can.” She motioned to two Stormtroopers who were marching down the quad opposite from them. The moved with a steady pace, but their stature pegged them as bored and merely going through the motions.

Tam shook his head, “What are Stormtroopers even doing at a university?”

V’brel, still looking at the D’jrem’s holographic image, answered first, “I did some research, and apparently Eriadu is the homeworld of some super-Imperial named Tarkin. They just named him the first “Grand Moff” last month, so as a status symbol he arranged for all private security on the planet to be replaced by Imperial Military.”

HK looked around and clapped his hands, rubbing them together in excitement, “Excited Statement; Wonderful! Based on our prior performance, I calculate a 94.327% chance that this will allow me to exterminate Imperial meatbags after our mission goes off plan!”

The Chandra-fan patted the droid on the side and smiled, “Just remember who brought you that good news, there, HK.”

HK looked down to the small rodent-like humanoid and nodded, “Conciliatory Response; Oh, I won’t forget. I find my circuits warming to you, and despite my suspicions that it is a corruption of my data files, my diagnostics systems assure me that the behavior is programmed.” Lil looked at HK, obviously shocked, and in response HK again started running a systems diagnostic, sure that something was wrong, but unable to calculate what exactly.

V’brel puffed up and smiled, “Damn right it is, ‘cause I’m awesome!”

Lil shook her head and sighed, “No one is killing anything. The false credentials worked on the guards up front, it will work everywhere else, so stay calm.” Satisfied, the group continued on their way through the campus. The gleaming white buildings of the university served to heighten the light in the quad, which in turn was reflected off of the myriad glass windows which covered the buildings at the university. In some cases, these windows formed the entirety of the walls of the various classrooms, allowing the students natural light and a calming environment for their studies. As Lil looked, she wondered what her life would be like at one of the posh schools, catering to the privileged and wealthy. She supposed that it was pointless to consider; she was in the end nothing more than an orphan, raised by Spice smugglers. Worse than all that, she was sensitive to the Force; all these things meant a life sentence of living on the run and in the shadows. At least while the Emperor was running things, that is.

Her dark thoughts were interrupted by Tam, who was speaking to D’Jrem through a holocommunication device. They had left the Sakiyan back at the Dawn Temple to take care of Rav Naaran. Tomo believed it a dangerous and reckless decision, but Lil was pretty sure that the feelings of betrayal after being lied to (or creatively truthful, as Lil was sure that Rav saw it) had broken any illusions that D’Jrem held for the former Jedi. A guilty pain shot through her thinking of Naaran; she had given him her word, and then V’brel betrayed that promise.

Between the Chadra-fan’s actions and Valan permitting HK to wipe out Naaran’s acolytes against her express wishes, she felt as though she was alone. Tomo seemed to trust her, and was herself trustworthy as far as Lil could tell, but something about the harsh edge that Tomo had made Lil instinctively keep her distance. That basically meant that she was all alone, all the time. It wasn’t the best situation, but there wasn’t a lot better on the horizon, either. At least she had Hethan to talk to still.

“Ashur seems convinced that the necklace he found has something to do with the Jedi” Tam continued. The holographic image of D’Jrem nodded sagely and closed a book he was inspecting.

“From the holomessage he sent I don’t believe he’s wrong. That gemstone set in the middle certainly looked like a Kyber crystal from all the research I’ve done – I’m interested in finding out what he has to say.” He moved about in place, and though Lil knew it was just from the way the holographic image portrayed him it still looked strange to her, and came to stop at a table which partially entered the frame – it appeared to be the holotransciever.

“If he is also correct about the engravings, then the necklace would date back to the times of the ancient Order, possibly even before the establishment of the Old Republic!” Tam seemed years younger as he talked, Lil thought it strange to see him so excited – Jedi were supposed to be emotionless. She was about to make a quip about it when the whole group was startled by a shout.

“I’m telling you! I wasn’t the one who sent your brother to prison!” The shout came from a small, elderly Gotal wearing the garb of a professor at the university. He was being held at the elbows by two Stormtroopers, one at each side. As they watched, an Imperial Officer, standing defiantly in front of the Gotal, clenched a fist and drove it into the helpless scholar. Blood dripping from his mouth, the Gotal wheezed in defiance, “He sent himself! He shouldn’t have been selling that contraband!”

Gasps and horrified expressions abounded from the passersby, but a quick look from the Imperials and they cast their gazes elsewhere, lowering their heads and scurrying about their business. Only Lil and the others stood their ground, none moreso than the Chadra-fan, V’brel, who lowered his gaze evenly at the Imperials, and balled his fists. The holographic form of D’Jrem shook his head as he regarded V’Brel, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Lil led the way (if only to keep the Chadra-fan from rushing the Imperials straight away) and led the group over to the Imperial Officer. She stared hard at the Officer and set her jaw in her most ‘displeased bureaucrat’ position. She chanted the Imperial mantra in her head ‘I’m a bitch and everyone is subordinate slime to me’ over and over and when ready spoke in her most haughty voice possible, “Private, what is the meaning of this? Let the professor go and explain yourself immediately!”

The officer looked her over and sneered, “I’m a lieutenant, and exactly who are you?”

She casually waved a dismissing hand and continued, “Whatever affectations you may have mean little in this place of learning. I am a scholar here, and you are hired security, security that is intended to keep us secure, which you are doing a most pathetic job of. You know, I have half a mind to call the Dean – I’m sure he’d be most interested in seeing your ‘efforts’ at procuring our safety first hand, how does that sound?”

The Imperial grew pale and looked to the Stormtroopers, “Let him go, this is obviously a misunderstanding, no need to involve Proctor Garai.” The Stormtroopers dropped the Gotal and moved behind the Lieutenant. “Be on your way now.” V’brel and Tam moved to the Gotal and Lil led them off, giving the Imperials a withering glare as they retreated. Once a decent distance away, they brushed off the professor.

“Are you all right?” V’brel inquired as he looked the Gotal over.

“I am, now, thank you! My name is Professor Psyrel, I’m sorry but I don’t recognize you.” The Gotal looked to his rescuers and tried to place them, but his mind drew blanks.

“We’re the new transfer Professors from Corsucant,” Lil quickly answered, spotting his confusion. Confusion tends to grow to suspicion far too quickly in Lil’s opinion, “That kind of thuggish behavior would never have been tolerated in Imperial Center.” It was true too, thanks to the Imperial tendency towards xenophobia, Professor Psyrel would never even be allowed near the university, regardless of his qualifications.

A grand smile spread across the Gotals face, “Ahh! I’ve heard about you! Well, if you need anything during your stay here, please don’t hesitate to ask of me! I must be getting along to my afternoon session now though. Don’t be strangers!” With a final wave, the professor went about his business.

The group nodded to the tottering old alien and turned to face their true destination; the Archive Spire. Stretching into the clouds above the university, and easily dominating the campus skyline, the Archive Spire held all the items of interest at Phelar University, acting as a library, special collections department and warehouse all in one. The gleaming point of durasteel looked more like a military structure than an academic one, and the effect was only amplified by the presence of Imperial Stormtroopers posted at its front door. An Imperial army trooper (a low ranking officer it appeared) stood at a desk near the door, flanked on each side by a Stormtrooper. In front of him, a long line of university scholars patiently queued in line awaiting entrance. Lil looked to the others and shrugged, taking a spot in line.

The wait didn’t take long, and soon they stood before the officer, a young yet strict looking youth not much older than Lil herself. “May I see your identification?” He asked, seeming polite, cheery, and bored all in turn. Lil and the others handed over the credentials had worked before, but that was just for entry, everything they’d heard about the Spire stated it was for professors and graduate students accompanied by elder scholars, meaning a level of security they hadn’t faced yet. The officer scrutinized them for moment before finally handing them back and waving them on. Lil let out a sigh of relief as she hurried past him. She’d only taken a few steps when he called to them again.

“As you’re new here, you’ll need to report to the University Proctor, he welcomes all new the teachers here. I’m calling ahead now to have him meet you inside.” Tipping his hat, he smiled again and turned to the next set of scholars in line.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

They’d barely had time to discuss the plan of how to handle the Proctor when a thin, wiry man with a shaved head and a cybernetic brain implant approached them from a windowed office inside the main lobby of the Spire. He wore a simple brown suit with tan tunic, and the large identification badge on his breast pocket revealed him to be the University Proctor, Eren Garai. A wide, gleaming smile shown on his face as he extended a hand to the group and shook each offered in turn.

“Welcome to Phelar and our university here! I’m Eren Garai, Proctor here at Phelar,” he smiled to the group and let his words hang on the air until someone replied with an introduction. It didn’t take Lil long to catch on to his intent, but she refused to take the bait. Instead, it was Tam that offered his name, followed by the others. Pleased that they jumped the appropriate hoops, Garai smiled, “Before we let you delve into our research materials, the university would like to give you a quick orientation tutorial.” He held up his hands in a show of acquiescence, “I know it sounds tedious, but we do have a certain way we like to do things here.”

As the game plan was to go along with whatever they were approached with, the group agreed with a readiness that belayed any suspicions that they wouldn’t “play ball.” Lil had hoped this would negate any unusual qualities they possessed, and while it would take them longer to meet Sungazer, in the long run they would benefit from less attention. The group was led to a small, circular theatre with a large holotable. Lil assumed it was used for lectures or faculty meetings of some type, as the table was easily large enough to seat almost a hundred people. The large, black dome in the center of the table lit up with a thought from Garai’s brain enhanced cybernetics. The effect was lost on all the table save for V’brel, who had been watching the fascinating bit of tech since he first saw Garai.

As the room dimmed in response to the holoprojector’s activation, a three dimensional image of the university appeared and the Proctor began his presentation, “Phelar University is a major center for advanced learning in the sector, and our Archive is crucial to that effort. For that reason, we take great pains to maintain proper procedure for research efforts. Some of our artifacts are tens of thousands of years old. This knowledge must be protected, preserved, and understood.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The lecture had almost lasted longer than Lil could manage to feign interest. Luckily, she’d kept herself occupied by asking questions throughout, and the others seemed to catch on, coming up with something to inquire about that genuinely held a modicum of interest for them whenever they started to drift. In the end, they’d actually almost beaten the Proctor into quitting early, the length of the presentation growing so long that it appeared to be putting his own timetable in jeopardy.

The Proctor had ended the presentation with a quick q&a where he clarified and inquired about everyone’s fields of expertise. The credentials that they’d been using tied into their own talents enough that the answer they gave were never lies, and they had practiced droning on about it long enough to divert any attention. Now, they were on their way to the archive proper, where they hoped Ashur Sungazer would still be waiting for them.

As they entered the main research area, Lil was struck by the immensity of the archives. The central area of the Spire was dominated by an open repulsorlift area, little more than sections of floor that raised or lowered to the desired floor. The effect of this was to allow casual viewers an unobstructed view of the height of the research area; over a hundred floors, that extended into the heights above. The lighting was controlled, remaining dim save for tables of high illumination for fine review of items, and sound suppressors made it so that each research area was quiet despite there being no walls in the area. Rows of research stations dominated the area, each with a full complement of tools, and countless maintenance droids ferried artifacts from the controlled research lockers to the research stations.

“This place is incredible! It has a complete duplicate of the holonet on a secure server!” V’brel excitedly intoned, “the sheer number of databanks such a thing would take is almost unbelievable! We’re talking starships worth of size!”

“That’s so we can access any information we need for our research, yet still maintaining complete security to ensure our finds do not get stolen on the Holonet itself.” The voice was a familiar one, though it didn’t come from any of them. An older human, dark skinned and grey haired, smiled to them as he approached. It took only moments to realize that Ashur Sungazer had waited for them afterall. “I’m so glad you got inside! I’ve been going out of my mind waiting for a chance to share in this discovery. I have a feeling about this talisman. It’s not just a piece of jewelry. It’s special. I know it.”

They spent a few minutes saying hello before heading to Ashur’s research area. As they ascended the repulsorlift, Ashur gave another rendition of the orientation meeting, explaining the process by which the artifacts are retrieved by the university and catalogued, “And that leads to the two problems with this talisman,” he finished. “Besides not knowing enough about what it is, I’m not sure where it came from either! The university receives dozens of cultural artifacts from across the galaxy every day. They get put into storage immediately for cataloguing. Unfortunately, a lot of the paperwork is incomplete or just missing. It did come with some starship wreckage, but knows if it’s from the same dig site.” Ashur smiled at them ruefully, “It’s as frustrating as it is exciting!”

As he finished, the repulsorlift slowed and let them off on the 73rd floor. Ashur led them to a series of research tables in the north corner of the spire and there they saw a series of items sitting at his research station. The first was an old helmet that appeared to be split into two pieces down the middle, though the bottom of the helmet was still connected. The second appeared to be a transponder of some kind, a device used to record and identify starships. The third appeared to be code cylinders, they were marked with the insignia of the Imperial Military. Dominating the table was the next item, which looked to be a control core of some kind for a droid. The final item on the table was the necklace they’d seen in Ashur’s original holomessage. A simple stone talisman affixed to a leather cord was all the necklace was made of – nothing ostentatious or glamorous. The stone as tear dropped shaped, and about a two and a half centimeters long.

It certainly didn’t strike Lil as being a lightsaber crystal, and she had started to wonder what D’Jrem had been talking about when Ashur picked it up and held it to the light with a gleam in his eye. Tiny veins of crystals ran throughout the stone, reflecting the light through it but invisible in the dim light of the research archive. From one crystal to the next they passed the light, as if moving, giving the whole stone the appearance of pulsing with energy, like a beating heart. Lil moved towards it, almost as if she was being pulled. To her, it seemed more – a living thing. It exuded calm and serenity, yet also, a deep, lingering sadness. She felt a desire in its presence – a desire to do better, to be better. It drew her as assuredly as a moth to a flame.

V’brel had, in the meantime, moved to the code cylinders and popped one into his data pad. After a moment of button pressing, the telltale voice of a Stormtrooper issued forth form the speakers, “Lieutenant TK-575 reporting. All useful cargo has been confiscated and added to our stores. The smuggler has been judged and sentenced.” At this, a scream curled the toes of everyone listening before being silenced by the sounds of blaster fire. “All other cargo, a transponder, helmet, electronics, and some sort of necklace, will be delivered to Eriadu. Nothing else to report.”

V’brel looked to the others, “This report is coded as a little over four years ago.”

Tomo looked up from the helmet and regarded the others, “This looks and feels like the same kind of metal as my Mandalorian warblade. Perhaps they are connected.”

HK looked as though he was about to say something when Lil finally grabbed the necklace. She felt something drawing her, and she opened herself to the Force and “poked” back at the necklace. Everyone was held in place as she stood straight, eyes rolling back into her head, hand gripped tightly around the talisman.

Lil found herself in quite a different scene.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The flash of light Lil experienced was overwhelming, like a supernova, and as her eyes began to recover, she found herself no longer in the Archive Spire. She was staring down at herself, kneeling on a stone dias, staring at a hidden safe in the floor. The lid to the safe, a large stone block, sat to one side, and the collection of items inside the safe gave her pause. Quite in spite of herself, she placed a final item in the safe and the sight of the pink dodecahedron, faintly glowing with an inner light, shocked her.

She is garbed in the clothing of a Jedi! A burst of anger at being garbed so was quickly squelched by the deeper understanding that this was normal – which itself was unsettling, but yet illuminating. Lil could only imagine that she was somehow picking up the emotions and memories of the Jedi that had owned this necklace. The idea that this was all some crazy illusion was oddly comforting, and Lil decided that if she was getting the front seat to a holovid show, she might as well go with it, at least she was still a girl and not some old codger.

She looked around at her surroundings, noting that the chamber she sat in was nothing short of magnificent. A vaulted ceiling of stone arched above her, depictions of star systems and planetary bodies in bronze against the dark sandstone of the walls. Rising nearly a hundred feet in height, the chamber was as wide as it was tall. Stone walkways encircled her, arching high around the chamber in circular patterns.

Lil turned back to the safe, a memory or impulse telling her she needed to finish as her time grew short. Raising a hand, she lifted the stone plinth with the Force, moving if over the safe and placing it atop. The lid in the bottom of the plinth snapped into place with the sounds of environmental seals engaging. Even as the lid was placed, Lil felt shudders throughout the chamber and heard the sound of distant explosions rumbling through her. As she turned from the safe, a group of people looked to her, some like her in the garb of a Jedi, others in odd orange and grey uniforms. Instinctively she knew these were her students and the crew of what she now understood to be her starship.

One of the crewmen looked up from his comlink and addressed her, “Master Isa. The Mandalorians have breached the hull!”

So that was what was going on … she was right, she was communing with the Jedi that owned the necklace. She nodded firmly to the soldier, quite despite herself, and spoke, “Go. I will hold them here. You can still escape in the Sanctuary’s shuttle.”

Her students opened their mouths to protest, but she shook her head firmly. This was not their destiny, but rather hers and hers alone. They knew better than to argue, and with silent acceptance, they nodded their agreement. She took a few moments to say farewells, embracing some students and offering words of encouragement, but in the end, they all fled, leaving Lil alone in a room that had somehow taken on the appearance more of a tomb.

She kneeled at the dias once more, placing her lightsaber before her and could feel herself meditating, a clam flowing over her from deep within her core. The warmth of the Force felt like a warm embrace from a lover long absent. Lil had never felt something so significant before, as if for the first time she was truly touching the infinite. Perhaps it was the first time, for Lil’s connection to the ancient energy field of life was never as strong as it was now. Within the folds of the Force she could feel her students and the crewmen, rushing along the metal floor and climbing into the escape pods. She also felt the presence of a few crewmen standing outside the chamber door, defying her order due to their loyalty to her. She was saddened by their sacrifice, yet still inspired by their courage and devotion. She allowed the Force to envelop the men and women who stood guard, filling them with clarity and purpose.

She could also feel the heavy footfalls of the Mandalorians and their terrible beasts of war. They were coming. The sounds of combat filled the halls, and despite her attempts to bolster their abilities, the cruel methodical warfare practiced by her opponents proved to be too much for the noble crewmen. Soon, the sounds of armored boots rang through the chamber as a pack of armored warriors burst in. Opening her eyes, she regarded them calmly and spoke.

“I do not seek a fight.”

The warriors howled and leapt, producing blades of sinister dark steel. Lil waited calmly as they approached, still beyond striking range. As they ran, she reached out one last time and looked to her students. Their presence was withdrawing into the void of space now, they had made it to the pods and escaped. Lil felt a soft smile spread over her face, one that was quickly smothered by a stern setting of her jaw.

In a single movement, Lil felt herself leap forward and call to her lightsaber. The ancient weapon leapt to her hand, answering her call, even as she moved past it to meet the Mandalorians. She felt the cool metal of the weapons grip enter her hand and the resistance of the activation plate as a citrine blade of light thrummed to life. As she leapt forward to her last battle, the vision faded from Lil’s mind.

In her head, she heard the final thoughts of Val Isa, clear as words spoken in front of her today, “Do not follow my example. Jedi cannot retreat from the world. They must struggle, succeed, and fail with the rest of the galaxy.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil found the others staring at her, and a blush came over her as she put everything together. Shaking the embarrassment away, she regarded the group. “I had a vision of the owner of this necklace. It was a Jedi during the Mandalorian Wars. V’brel, can you research a ship called the Sanctuary? That was what she called it in my vision.”

V’brel smiled and began typing on his datapad, “You got it!”

Nodding, she turned to Tomo and HK, “Tomo, that helmet and the control core – they belonged to the Mandalorians. Since you two have experience with Mandalorian things, can you figure anything out?” The two nodded and moved to the artifacts to begin looking them over.

“Tam, you’re good with mechanical things – can you try and get the transponder to work? It might provide clues to where it had been and maybe even where it got the artifacts. There’s no way its old enough to be from the Sanctuary, so it must be from the smuggler’s ship.”

“I can try,” Tam replied, and got to work.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The group spent the better part of the day exploring the items and researching the leads they offered. V’brel discovered that the ship was registered to the Ancient Republic as a “support ship” that performed geological surveys for the fleet. This allowed him to get a listing of planets that the ship surveyed, though it didn’t have any decommissioning information, meaning it was lost.

Tomo and HK had determined the helmet to definitely be a Mandalorian Crusader’s helmet, from the right era. The control core was actually the heart and brain of a Basilisk war droid – something that everyone thought was just a legend, but HK knew to be quite real. While the control core was no longer operable, it did have some basic data in it, and HK gave it to Tam to try and recover.

Lil had researched Val Isa herself, and managed to come up with some interesting information on the old Master. She had been tasked with guarding something called the “Travelling Sky Temple,” which Lil supposed was a reference to the Sanctuary, which from her vision she knew functioned as a Jedi training Temple in addition to fleet support ship. She also discovered that Val Isa was an accomplished painter, who didn’t agree with the Jedi’s position as warriors for the Republic. Soured by the many wars with the Sith, she traded her lightsaber for a paintbrush. Though she couldn’t find any paintings done by Val Isa, there was record of a series of paintings she did relating to the mythical elements. She had spoken to Tam as he was restoring the transponder, and old tales amongst the Jedi told that she was convinced that one of the Jedi’s wars would lead to the Order falling, and was determined to protect the legacy of the Order through that turmoil. Lil didn’t know exactly what that meant, but the holocron that she placed in the safe during her vision suggested that Master Isa might have been recording the history of the Order.

Tam had finished analyzing the transponder, and actually restored it to operation. Using the data they retrieved from it, and cross referencing the geological survey data of the Sanctuary, they were led to a single location that matched, that of Koler, a red supergiant star system. Kolar was the name of one of Val Isa’s paintings as well, relating to the element of fire, and so they had decided to head to the system to see if they could find the wreckage of the ancient vessel, and the history that it contained.

As Lil and the others boarded the Corusca Gem, she told HK that she was planning on heading to get some sleep. She had as exhausted, not just from the all night research session either. Ever since her vision, she was haunted by the memory of Val Isa’s death, and more than a little on edge. She couldn’t stop replaying the scene over and over in her mind, the death of the crewmen, the fight against the Mandalorians, in the final moments of her vision, she actually felt the blow that killed Master Isa. She shivered with cold at the thought as she opened the door to her quarters, but what greeted her flooded her body with the warmth of rage.

Giggling.

Not just any giggling, but the high pitched tittering of idiot girls who were in the midst of flirting with macho jerkwads. She’d been privy to the sound for most of her life, growing up around the smuggler’s havens that her foster parents frequented, she saw plenty of bar trollops who spent their time fishing for free beds and endlessly taunting and torturing the foster kid in their midst.

There, in her bed, was a Falleen en flagrante delicto with two sorority girls from Phelar.

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Lessons from the Past
Lessons from the Past part 1

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Lure of the Lost Part 5 - Finale
Chapter 4: Shadows of the Clone Wars

It had been almost a week since the final holocron was placed within the holocron chamber of the Dawn Temple, and still there was no sign of either the Jailor or of D’Jrem, and it was beginning to worry the group. V’brel continued to look through endless screens of data points, trying to decipher what the Jailor was doing, but up to this point hadn’t achieved any measure of success. Tomo and Tam had been carrying out scouting missions to the sites of the animal attacks that D’Jrem had been sent to, but neither was an accomplished tracker and they returned without success.

Valen had returned with the group, and was still getting his bearings inside the expanse of the Temple. He had been amazed that such a thing even existed on the planet he’d been on for so long. Hethan had volunteered to get him situated with a quarters and introduce to him the Gatekeepers. For the most part he had adapted to things, though he could be seen from time to time marveling at the facilities.

Lil and HK had been going over the Corusca Gem, getting her ready to start taking longer trips. It had taken some time to get stocked up on consumables, but their trip into Reles city had helped greatly. As Lil placed the hydrospanner back into the toolbox, she wiped the sweat from her brow and tightened the hairband that held her blue-black locks out of her face.

“That looks like the last of it, HK,” she chimed before standing and wiping her hands.

“Statement; I agree, Master. The Corusca Gem is finally ready to serve as a means of profit!” HK seemed almost to beam with pride. It was quite fortunate to find the old transport in the lower levels of the temple, as they had lost their previous ship to impound after the unfortunate incident involving the necessary deletion of many Imperial meatbags at the last planet they were on. “Warning; Master, I detect multiple life-forms on the deck outside. They do not conform to the meatbags profiles I am accustomed to.”

Lil quirked her head to one side and drew her blaster, “That’s odd … let’s go check it out.” She led HK from down the gang plank to spot three figures wandering in the hangar, looking around as they cautiously moved towards the ship. V’brel hid at the bottom of the gang plank, hold-out blaster in hand, looking at the trio.

“They just came in a few minutes ago, they don’t look friendly,” the Chadra-fan whispered. Lil nodded before patting him on the head and moving forward.

“Excuse me?” Lil demanded in her best ‘you-aren’t-supposed-to-be-here-get-the-heck-out’ voice. The response was one (in hindsight) she should have expected, but didn’t. The lead figure, eyes wild with anger, produced a makeshift club from his belt (she had supposed he was hiding the length of it behind his back) at the same time a sinister smile spread across his lips. His two compatriots did similar, and the trio leapt forward with hoots and hollers of spine wrenching terror.

Lil, HK, and V’brel didn’t wait for them to close the gap, firing with their blasters the moment the aggressors moved. The first fell immediately, but the other two managed to close the distance before the second dropped at Lil’s feet. The final stranger, shiv gleaming in the landing lights of the Corsuca Gem, slashed at Lil, barely missing her. HK moved to intercept immediately, punching the maniac in the stomach with his weaponized arm before firing a gruesome shot from the retractable blaster on his forearm. With a groan, the strange man fell to his knees before finally sliding off of HK’s arm and rolling gently to the bottom of the gang plank.

“What the hells was that?!?” Lil demanded, knowing full well that neither of her compatriots would have the answer.

“Hypothesis; Master, if there were aggressive meatbags here in the hanger, it stands to reason that they could have compromised the rest of the temple as well. Perhaps a search and destroy mission is in order?”

Shivering, Lil acquiesced, “For once, HK, I’m inclined to agree with your bloodthirsty response. We should make sure the others are alright.” With a final look to the corpses, the three rushed deeper into the temple to find the others.

It didn’t take long to spot the others, as the concern they all had was the holocron chamber. When Lil and the group arrived, Valen, Tomo and Tam were already there. To their astonishment, so was D’jrem. Quickly getting an update, it was revealed the others too had encountered the strange madmen, and come to the holocron chamber to ensure that it was alright. D’jrem explained that he had great news, for while he’d been gone he had found a Jedi Knight!

“It was amazing!” he explained. “I’d been scouting the surrounding area after I’d cleared the wildlife from the temple when I wandered on a cave that lead deep underground.”

Lil furrowed her brow, “it wasn’t covered in ice crystals was it?”

Shaking his head, D’jrem continued, “No, it was oddly warm. It lead deep under the temple, to a forgotten section, a labyrinth of man-made tunnels. I made my way through them until I found an open door that led into a room with a bunch of stasis pods. Most of them were empty, but one was occupied!”

He shook his head, still in disbelief of the event, “He was frozen in stasis, but he made contact with me via the Force – some form of Empathy, or Telepathy. His name was Rav, and he related to me that he was a General during the Clone Wars, and that he was injured and frozen in there until his injuries could be healed. Something happened, I think that was when the Temple got abandoned, and he was never unfrozen after he healed up. So he’s been there ever since!”

Lil was suspicious, she hated things that seemed to be so simple. A tiny pang of guilt bubbled up at referencing someone getting frozen in stasis for almost twenty years as being simple, but getting put into a stasis field and being dunked in bacta to heal injuries were two incredibly different things. She opened her mouth to ask a few questions when the holographic forms of the gatekeepers appeared, long missing, the Jailor was among them. While still surrounded in the white light he appeared in earlier, the serenity and joy his appearance hinted at prior was replaced by the feeling of dread.

“I regret that I must be the bearer of ill news to you, young aspirants. The true malice and cunning of the darksider whom you bested in the temple those weeks ago has only now been revealed. He was sent to tamper with the most critical systems of the Dawn Temple before you arrived to stop him, and only upon completion did he seek to find the holocrons. He did this not to steal them or destroy them, but instead to install them and activate the Temple itself.”

Tam placed a thoughtful hand on his chin, “So the sabotage was arranged, but couldn’t be triggered until the temple was restored to working order then.”

Nodding the Jailor continued, “Correct. With my return and the activation of the last of the temple’s powers, his sabotage has yielded a terrible result. All of the patients who were awaiting treatment for their corruption are now loosed, including one of the darkest spirits ever to be housed within the Dawn Temple.”

Lil shook her head as the pieces fit into place, “This place was an asylum for Jedi, where they stuck the crazies.”

The Jailor’s expression grew pained, “They were never crazy, Lil. The Dawn Temple was a place of solitude, rest, and recovery. Many Jedi had moments of doubt and darkness during the many times they were called to conflict. The Clone Wars were an especially difficult time, with the Order returning to War after so long in abstention.”

“If they were so trustworthy then why lock them in stasis?” Lil countered.

“Those who most needed our aid were sometimes restrained until I could find a way to treat them and restore their spirits, but it was for their own safety, rather than as a punishment for any misdeeds. Rav Naaran and his minions were the only patients that I have ever failed to treat – the only beings held in restraint for any great length of time. If the Republic and the Jedi Order had remained able to support the Dawn Temple, even they would likely be restored.”

Valen went pale. “You mean the Butcher of Deneb?”

The holographic form of the Jailor lowered his head, shoulders slumping. Lil looked between the Jailor and Valen, “They call him the ‘Butcher?’”

Valen’s jaw tightened, “My father fought in the Clone Wars, he as an ARC trooper, Advanced Recon Clone. He served with the 212th Attack Battalion, and was one of the Muunilinst 10, so he got around the galaxy. He had the displeasure of being on the mop-up crew that came in after the Battle of Deneb.” He walked to a nearby bench and sat down before continuing, his head hung low.

“Deneb was a hot spot of Separatist activity, been a stronghold for longer than anyone could remember. The droids had dug in deep, and they’d done so with an entire town of civilians around them by converting the natural industrial warehouses over to military ones. The job of cracking it went to one of the Jedi with the longest service records. Kenobi and Skywalker were busy chasing leads on Dooku at the time, and General Windu was waist deep in reclaiming Ryloth, so that left only one candidate with the experience and availability…”

“Rav Naaran.” Tam finished.

Valen nodded. “Rav had a success rate that was unparalleled. Even before the outbreak of the Clone Wars he as always knee deep in combat, assigned to protect the Outer Rim space lanes from piracy. When the Clone Wars started, he became sharp as a razor – cutting through his opponents like no other Jedi General before him. He always had severe tactics, and a ‘no holds’ kind of attitude, but nobody could expect what he was going to do on Deneb.”

He got up and walked to the group, “My father said it may have been the length of the war, or possibly the tactics that the droids employed, he doesn’t know, but what he does know is that on Deneb Naraan went mad. He started assigning clones to strike at the different defense points head on to ‘test their defenses.’ Most of the clone units dispatched were eradicated, but a few found weak points in the Separatist lines. Once he had the weak points, he split the clone units into even groups, and sent them in at each weak point, while at the same time having the artillery units unleash endless artillery strikes on the hardened defenses of the other areas. He claimed it was to ensure that the entrenched opponents stay where they were, and not counter the clones advance, but regardless of the reason for it, the result was that millions of innocent civilians got bombed out of existence. Worse, there were dozens of friendly fire incidents as the clone troopers advanced, ‘acceptable losses’ he called them.”

The group looked to the Jailor, who still stood with his head low as Valen continued, “For eight straight days, General Naraan set his troops upon the Separatist forces. The battle was fierce, fire was exchanged the whole time, with the clones using the buildings around them as cover. At the end of the day, the Grand Army was victorious, but the loss to the clones neared eighty percent, and the city was blasted flat for three square miles in every direction. Civilian losses were into eight digits, and the city was little more than a radioactive slag pit.”

The Jailor raised his head and took a heavy breath, “Rav Naraan’s atrocities did not end on Deneb. Before the Clone Wars broke out, Rav Naaran was a rising star within the Jedi Order, a senior knight renowned for his discipline and courage. Many thought he would soon join the Jedi Council itself. His ascension, of course, was delayed when the fighting broke out across the Republic and he, like many others, was afforded the rank of general in the Grand Army.”

The Jailor raised his head and stared levelly at the assembled, “I tell you this to press upon you the fact that when I speak of him, I speak of a Jedi who was considered one of the top ten or fifteen most powerful in the Order. In honor of the man he once was, I will not speak of his fall,” he cast a sidelong glance at Valen, “you already know enough of that. In deference to the realities of the creature he has become, I must warn you – he slew many before he was brought to the Dawn Temple, including his own brethren of the Jedi Order. Before the Jedi Order managed to bring him in, Rav Naaran carved a dark path across the galaxy. Many suffered in his passing, and some of these unfortunates were warped and broken by their experiences at his hands. It was hoped that I might treat them as well, and put right the mauling of their spirits.” The Jailor opened his hands and looked at them, “It now seems that plan proved … overly optimistic.”

Everyone looked to D’jrem, who shook his head. “That’s not right, Rav told me he was a great general during the wars, but the man you describe is a monster! There has to be some mistake! He taught me the power to heal, how is that the act of a monster?”

The Warden coolly regarded the Sakiyan. “The power to heal is also the power to harm, something that Rav Naaran was exceptionally skilled at.”

Lil shook her head, “So you said that you tried helping Rav Naaran and failed. What did you try doing? What led to him being cast off and forgotten in some stasis pod?”

The Jailor turned to her, “Initially I had assumed he, like so many others, had given in to the weight of the war, and initially I attempted standard psychotherapy. Discussions, regression therapy, long evaluations. The findings and results are reserved for the Gatekeepers and the senior Jedi staff, however I can say that all standard medical and spiritual routines failed. He was possessed of anger that seems endless, though I cannot tell where it comes from. It seems to have so many different roots.”

Lil regarded him, for the first time, the gatekeepers almost seemed to be normal, to have feelings and regrets. “Do you think he can be helped? You knew him best.”

The Warden interjected before the Jailor could respond, “That is a risk we cannot take. Rav Naaran is likely beyond recovery, and even if he is not, containing him has proved to be too dangerous. We tried to help him once, and it has nearly cost us the temple. To protect innocent lives, you must end the life of Rav Naaran.”

As she spoke, the Jailor looked startled, his head beginning to shake in defense of Rav Naaran. Before the action could complete, however, he stopped with a sigh. Lil had never seen one of the Gatekeepers look so defeated. “I do not believe this to be the case, but I cannot say for certain. I do not believe anyone is beyond redemption, I cannot believe it, but I do fear for the lives of any who fall prey to Rav Naaran in his current state. I cannot endorse the Warden’s words, but neither do I have the certainty to condemn them. Ultimately, I am only a gatekeeper. The decision about what to do with Rav Naaran is yours. We must trust the Force to guide you.”

Tam closed his eyes, and cast his mind across the boundless expanse of the Force. He regarded all the information he had heard and looked for a greater meaning within it. He considered the many disputes he mediated back home, and the motivations for them, and realized the worst were ones in which many disaffected farmers riled each other up about unrelated issues, until their individual angers combined into a single entity. His eyes snapped open, “It’s not Rav Naaran’s anger that is the problem.”

The others looked to him, but it was the Jailor who spoke, “What do you mean?”

Tam calmed himself and continued, “You said that the roots of Rav Naaran’s anger were many, and that it made it difficult to understand where the source of Rav’s anger came from. What if Rav’s power allowed him to absorb the rage and anger of those he had affected with madness, allowing him to pull their rage to fuel his own?”

The Jailor regarded his words and raised a hand to his breathmask in consideration, “It would certainly explain why he brought his followers with him wherever he went, and seemed more potent than ever after their arrival.”

“It also explains why therapy refused to work,” Tam continued, “So long as his followers were fueling his rage, any attempt to quell it would be doomed to failure.”

Lil looked to Tam and the Jailor, “So if we manage to remove his followers from his control, then we could in theory heal him?”

The Warden interjected, “If you’re wrong you put the entire galaxy at risk.”

The Jailor nodded, “The Warden is right, but I believe that Tam is as well. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but it is as good a diagnosis as any I’ve heard.”

HK stepped forward, “Statement; Master, I will be happy to eliminate the crazed meatbags to allow you the opportunity to subdue the Jedi.”

Lil sighed, HK’s words an unwelcome return to the reality of things, “No HK, there’s no need to kill them,” pausing and looking to Tam, “is there?”

The Jailor was the one who answered, “Based on Tam’s hypothesis, the neophyte would need to be removed not only from Naaran’s presence, but his influence as well. A Jedi of his ability would be capable of maintaining contact with his followers over a great distance, perhaps up to a stellar unit or more. They would need to be kept in a state that would not be able to telepathically communicate either.”

“What about the stasis mines the temple has a defenses?” Tomo asked.

“The stasis fields would render them immobile and unable to speak or act, but they would still be conscious, and as such, able to commune with Rav Naaran.” The Warden responded.

Lil looked to the Gatekeepers, “Does the temple have any medication that’s able to knock someone out, something that could induce a coma? That should render them out cold and beyond the ability to commune with Naaran.”

“I could convert the medication into tranquilizer darts, we don’t have any weapons to fire them, but should we get them in contact they should be able to self-administer,” Tam offered.

The Jailor nodded, “The medical bay is fully stocked. There should be what you need inside.”

Lil snapped her fingers, “It’s a plan then. Now we just need to figure out where they are.”

The Warden stepped forward, “They seem to be split into three groups. If they continue on their current paths, each heads into the jaws of a new disaster for us. One group surges towards a speeder that could take them beyond this valley. Another is headed for the villagers in Frostwall with murder in their eyes. The last is being called by the Caves of Light and Shadow. I fear for the vergence within if they bring Rav Naaran’s darkness to it.”

Lil regarded the situation, “So where is Rav Naaran?”

The Warden shook her head, “He is not on any of my surveillance systems. It is possible he already escaped as we discussed the situation.”

V’brel shook his head, “How? It’s not like he had a starship …”

They looked to each other in panic, but Lil was already running to the hanger.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Son of a bitch!” Lil shouted as she kicked the air. The smell of ozone was still strong in the hangar, a telltale signature of the recent departure of a starships engines at high burn.

“Statement; Master, I promise that I shall remove the meatbag’s skin upon recovery of our starship. The perpetrator shall languish in misery for a period varying from 20 minutes to 5 standard days as microbacteria descend upon his skinless flesh and render him exterminated through their virulent takeover of his bodily functions.”

Lil stared at him, mouth agape, then clamped it shut.

D’jrem shook his head, “He didn’t leave. Not without his followers. He needed the place as a base of operations, so it makes no sense that he would up and disappear like this.”

Tam looked to the Warden, “What if he didn’t? Warden, we know that Rav knows how to avoid your sensors, but I don’t think he can hide a whole starship. Can you find it?”

The Warden looked up and away for a moment, “The Corusca Gem is located outside of a cave entrance to the north.”

D’Jrem looked to the others, “That sounds like near where I found the way into the underground chambers. He must have parked it at the entrance. He wants us to leave the temple.” Moving to a monitor nearby, he pulled up a map of the complex. “Look, his acolytes are all heading in cardinal directions away from the temple, and he has the ship in the fourth. He’s pulling us away and out of the Temple itself.”

Lil looked over his shoulder, “Rav must be planning to enter the temple and take it over. Why don’t we set a trap for him?”

Valen nodded, “We can make it look like we’re leaving, then double back and hit him when he’s not expecting it. Maybe set up some mines and use the temples defense turrets to slow him down and distract him while we drug him and subdue him?”

Tam shook his head, “How are we going to convince him we left the Temple for real, and moreover, if we return to the Temple to confront Rav, we leave his minions to do their worst, possibly making more acolytes for Rav in the process.”

Lil nodded, “And that doesn’t speak to knocking out the minions to weaken Rav Naaran himself.”

HK raised a finger, “Suggestion; Master, perhaps if we all move as a group to take back the ship we could engender the idea that we are gone. While we all board the ship, all but myself and another leave the ship under the guise of stealth and make their way back to the Dawn Temple. Utilizing the Corsuca Gem should allow myself and partner to deal with all three threats in an expeditious manner, while also allowing the bulk of our forces to confront the Jedi meatbag.”

V’brel nodded, “And just in case, you and I can stay in the temple in case something holds up the others. Rav Naaran will certainly consider us a minor threat, and we can spend the time prepping the automated defenses alongside the Warden.”

Something about the eagerness that HK was showing bothered Lil, but she couldn’t see any clear angle. “Okay, I guess it’s the best plan we’ve got with the time we have.”

The Warden nodded, “It is a sound plan, but there is something you should all know. Rav Naaran has already accessed his gear from the vault where he was held. He has reclaimed his lightsaber, and is very dangerous.”

Lil slowly placed her fingers to her temples and began rubbing. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to stop the stress headache that was bearing down on her like a space cruiser or if she was hoping to time travel two minutes into the past so that she could cover her ears and not hear what the Warden just told her. “Great. So, does the Dawn Temple have anything useful for us to use like lightsabers?”

The Gatekeepers looked to each other, lost in conversation that only they were privy to. Eventually, they nodded and turned to the group, the Curator speaking after the long pause, “Actually, the Temple’s armory is stocked. Though the construction of a lightsaber is handled personally by each Jedi when they are ready to face their trials, training sabers and armor are all available. We have decided that you have each proven yourself committed to the Dawn Temple, if not precisely to the Jedi Order, and as such, are deserving of access.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

While V’brel and Lil stayed in the holocron chamber and assisted the Warden in setting up the turret and stasis mine traps, the others moved as quickly as they could towards the ship. It had been decided en route that Valen would stay with HK, as he was trained on starship gunnery, and could take out the speeder that the acolytes were headed towards the fastest. Tomo’s skills in martial combat, while helpful, were more critical when facing Rav (should it come to that). Finally, Tam and D’jrem’s first-hand knowledge of Jedi and Rav specifically might prove pivotal in the upcoming confrontation.

Their tasks decided, they had taken the most direct route to the ship that they could, and made the most ruckus in doing so. They wanted Rav to be aware of their progress, so that the stealth of their return would be heightened. Their progress was admirable, and as the Corsuca Gem fired its main engines, the group slid out of a maintenance panel on the underside and dropped into the snow. Tam noted with irritation the bulk his Jedi armor carried. The plastoid plates not quite designed for him, but were intended to be form-fitting and tailored to the wearer (something they hadn’t time for) creating a considerable obstacle to smooth movement. The only one who chose to wear the gear, he was beginning to regret it now.

As the Gem launched into the distance, the trio of Force-users slid along in the snow, moving along the opposite side of the temple from the cave entrance, hoping that this would prevent Rav from coming across their tracks when he returned. It wasn’t until they reached the rear entrance to the Dawn Temple itself when they realized the error of their strategy. While Rav Naaran wasn’t likely to wander across their tracks back to the Temple thanks to the route that they took, they had not realized that should Rav Naaran have gone to the Temple before they got back, they wouldn’t see his tracks either.

“Pudu!” D’Jrem spat as he looked at the tracks that led into the Temple. “He beat us back!”

Tomo shook her head, “This isn’t a problem – it’s what we wanted, just not in the way we wanted.”

Tam nodded, “She’s right. The plan was always to ambush him and have him flanked, the only difference between now and our original plan is that we would be prepared ahead instead of arriving behind. We need to make haste, however, or else Rav might have time enough to defeat V’brel and Lil before we get there.” With that, he broke into a jog and waved the others along.

Meanwhile, HK rolled the Corusca Gem over, looping over the intervening valley wall and circling low on the location where the speeder was parked. As he approached, he spotted three of Rav Naaran’s followers rushing towards the speeder, getting dangerously close. He called to Valen, who had taken the ventral cannon seat. “Postulation; Meatbags have been sighted. The likelihood of preventing harm to them but still disabling the speeder is a mere 5.2167% based on their co-locality to the speeder. The time it would take to disable them with the tranquilizers that the old and blackened meatbags prepared may sacrifice our ability to deal with the other threats. Perhaps it is in the best interests overall that we utilize the cannons to subdue them in a more permanent fashion, as this would expedite their removal from Rav Naaran’s influence?”

Valen finished the weapons check on the laser cannons and sighted them out. He wasn’t used to the odd nature of the artificial gravity within the stock light freighter. While he felt as though he was sitting upright, in reality he knew he was “lying flat” in regards to the ground, rotated 90 degrees from the orientation of the ship. To him, the forward motion of the ship was making the ground pass from the ceiling to the floor. While HK was trying to explain their best options to him, he was trying to keep from getting disoriented any further, “Sounds fine, HK, just line them up and let me knock them down!”

HK’s assassination protocols flashed into action. Had he the capacity to experience joy (or any other emotion for that matter) he would have been giddy. As it stood, however, he merely experienced a 112% increase in reaction time, protocol to behavior alignment, and overall efficiency. “Exclamation; Excellent! I shall align the best possible course for your strafing run. Feel free to fire indiscriminately should that prove to be your preference!”

HK climbed upon approach before leveling out so that the midday sun would be between the Acolytes and the ship. Pointing the nose down, he hit the throttle and brought Valen right over them, “Statement; You are cleared to fire!”

Valen hit the firing buttons on the dual sticks used to orient the cannons as the Acolytes and speeder came into view. The guttural sound of the cannons firing shot after shot filled the gunner’s pod as explosions spattered the ground where the excited energy blasts hit. In less than a second, the Acolytes disappeared into fire and smoke, a secondary explosion letting Valen know that the speeder had been destroyed as well. “We’re all clear, HK, take us to the next one!”

The other two targets were far easier to clear, as the Acolytes had no cover, and indeed hadn’t been expecting a starship to strafe them. Valen was relentless with his aim, and HK was merciless in his approach. Caught in the open field, the Acolytes were little more than sitting ducks, and as the last of the Acolytes was left a smoking hole in the ground, Valen was overcome with a sensation he’d not often felt – regret. He wasn’t doing anything that he’d not done a thousand times before, in a thousand different theatres of war. They were legitimate aggressors in a military situation, and engaging hostiles in combat was his job. Except, this time it was different, he almost felt as if he could hear their screams, feel their voices in his gut. These weren’t soldiers, these were madmen, and though they posed a serious threat, he felt like he was part of something … dark. What used to seem like effectiveness now felt merciless, somehow … wrong. He shook his head to clear his thoughts as HK turned the ship around and headed back to the Dawn Temple. He just hoped he would be sorted when it came time to face Rav Naaran.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The trio of Force-users hurried through the hallways of the Dawn temple, hoping that Lil and V’brel could stall Rav Naaran’s advance long enough. All around them, they saw evidence of the Dawn Temples battered defenses, from turrets split apart by strokes from a lightsaber to stasis traps discharged to contain nothing but hurled debris. As they approached the holocron chamber, they sensed a terrible darkness weighing down on their senses, and oppressive chill that cut through their skin and penetrated deep within them.

When they arrived, they found the fallen Jedi restlessly pacing outside the door to the chamber, which was closed and had been blocked by an energy screen. Without looking away from the rippling field of energy, he spoke, “I was wondering when you’d arrive. You’ve inconvenienced me, and harried my army, but you cannot truly hope to win here. If you recognize this truth, as I do, then I offer you a way out: stand aside, so I can leave this valley,” a pained wince crossed his face, one that betrayed an intense flash of anger and revulsion as he looked into the distance beyond, “with what is now left of my forces, and I’ll not only leave you unharmed, but I won’t ruin the holocrons containing those meddlesome liars you seem to value so much. My victory is certain, but it might cost me, and I cannot afford that when I have so much left to do.”

He turned at those final words, a disturbing grin on his face. He ignited his lightsaber, its crimson glow washing across the black of his armor and robes. The light of the Jedi’s red blade seemed to fight the blue glow of the energy field in the room around them, fighting for dominance as if representing the balance of the Force itself. Lowering his upper body and adopting a ready stance, he brought the saber in line with his hips, tip pointed towards Tam and the others. “Well? What say you?”

Tomo didn’t wait for the others to open their mouths to debate. This is precisely what she was here for, to act as the blunt instrument when diplomacy would cost more than they were willing to pay. She knew that the others wanted no part in war, but sometimes the cost of peace was too high to pay. She didn’t want to tell the others, but her feelings echoed the Warden’s – this monster was too dangerous to be let free. Drawing the Mandalorian blade from its sheath next to her vibrosword, she leapt at Naaran. Her’s would be the final judgement for this villain, she would allow no harm to come to her friends.

A wry grin crossed Rav Naaran’s face, his eyes narrowing as the woman leapt in. The Mandalorian Warblade she carried was beautiful, and he wondered at where she acquired it. It was obvious she was not, herself, of Mandalorian heritage, her movements were all wrong, her tattoos and markings off. As he raised his free hand, he noted that the blade truly did appear to be Bes’kar, the metal the Mandalorians used to match the lightsabers of their Jedi prey, so chosen due to its ability to remain undamaged from contact with the lethal Jedi weapon. As he summoned the power of the Force to assault the foolish girl, he wondered if the look of agony in her eyes as the Force caused every last nerve ending she had to fire with abandon at his behest was going to remain pure pain or twist into anger and hate. The tendrils of invisible Force that wracked her in pain tightened, causing her muscles to cramp and contract, forcing her body to assume unnatural positions even as the momentum of her jump carried her forward towards him.

The sound of joints popping and bones stretching almost to the point of breaking was joined by Rav Naaran’s laughter as Tomo dropped to the ground twitching mere moments after starting her leap. Tam and D’jrem barely had time to acknowledge she had even moved before Rav Naaran had removed one of their number from the fight. “That was totally unnecessary, but I welcome the attempt, little one.” Rav Naraan seemed almost gleeful at her failed assault. He leveled a cold look on Tam, a look of utter evil.

Tam drew the training lightsaber and ignited it, a look of calm crossing his face, “Your evil must be stopped, Rav Naaran.”

Rav tilted his head to side, and a look of confusion overcame him, “You wear the garb of a general of the Clone Wars, and have the eyes of Jedi, but you carry the weapon of a novice. What has become of you, old man?” Tam stopped, frozen in a moment of doubt.

Before anyone could answer, there came a muffled shout from the interior of the holocron chamber, Lil’s voice clearly, though the message was nowhere near understandable, “Mrrruu Fffknnn Ssrrss?” All assembled and looked at each, Rav as confused as Tam and D’jrem, when out of nowhere Rav again was racked with pain, lowering almost to one knee before coming back up into a ready stance. Rage crossed his face, and anger burned in his eyes.

“You lied to me!” D’Jrem called out. “You told me that you were a great Jedi general, and that you wanted to restore the galaxy to order!” Taking a step forward, betrayal in his eyes, he cursed at Rav, “I defended you to my friends, but you’re proving them right by doing this. You used me to free you!”

Confusion and hurt crossed Rav’s face, as looked at D’jrem, “I did not lie. I was a better general than any of the fools who called themselves Jedi after me. The Jedi couldn’t do what is necessary, they are mewling, scared things, incapable of taking the actions that must be taken. I was more than all them combined.” The doors to the holocron chamber opened, though the energy field remained in place. Lil walked to the doorway, and stood, regarding the scene.

Rav looked to her and motioned to the others, though his hand was clearly directed more towards the incapacitated form of Tomo on floor, “I give you the same chance I gave them. Let me leave, collect those few who follow me still, and leave this place. I had wished to have it for my own as a symbol, but I have no need of it, and it has cost me too much already. You must realize that even with your arrayed might, you are but children compared to me.”

Lil looked to Tam, who seemed shaken by something Rav said. Her gaze fell to D’jrem, who seemed trapped in a place of torment, unable to move forward and strike down Rav, unable to move backward and let his trespass upon D’jrem go. Finally, she looked around to her own place, trapped in the holocron chamber unable to stop Rav from leaving. “What would you do if we let you go?”

Rav tilted his head, “Rebuild, of course. I have acolytes to replace, to be truthful I am still not recovered from my interment in the stasis chambers below. Were your group even half as formidable as real Jedi I might have been defeated.”

“So you aren’t Jedi, you’re Sith then?” D’jrem spat with envenomed words.

Rav shook his head, “Jedi and Sith are both backwards fools who can’t stop fighting each other’s ideals long enough to realize they’re both wrong. Neither has the strength to do what is needed, the Jedi are stunned to complacency with their endless puzzles of morality and the Sith, able act but with less than half a brain to figure out what to do, only concerned with their own pleasures.”

Lil considered his words, “Okay. Deal.” His own opinion dangerously paralleled her own, and it distracted her just enough.

What no one had taken into account was V’brel. While he was initially trapped in the holocron chamber with Lil, he was used to the maintenance access ways and tunnels – he’d been almost living in them for the last few months. He also wasn’t about to let another bully out into the galaxy. He’d spent his entire life battling them on the holonet, and now here was one in the flesh, manipulating his friends and being a jerk in general by lording it over them. This trespass couldn’t stand, even if it meant his own death. He had taken the last of the stasis mines and slipped into the maintenance tunnel when Lil had moved to the door. Now he was on the other side of the dark Jedi. During the crawl, he had affixed the mine to his chest, dangerous end out. Climbing free of the maintenance hatchway, he saw Rav looking at Lil as she agreed to his terms. Flicking the activation button on the mine, he knew any motion in front of it now would set it off, so he just had to get into range. Summoning up all his outrage he charged Rav Naraan.

Rav heard something behind him, and after nodding his agreement to Lil’s terms, he swiveled his head to see a small Chadra-fan charging him. He wasn’t sure what the odd little fellow intended to do, but with a flick of his hand he reached out with the Force and grabbed him, hauling him up to match his own height. It was then that he realized the error in his action, as the mine affixed to the little alien’s chest blinked in activation. His mouth opened to cry out in rage, but before he could expel the breath he took, the stasis field surrounded him.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

V’brel closed the panel next to the stasis mine, which now had a power cable running from it to the panel in the floor. “That should make sure the mine is running off of the Temple’s power system. It isn’t permanent, but it should hold out long enough for us to repair the stasis cells down below.”

Lil looked to the frozen form of Rav Naaran, guilt filling her, “Know this isn’t what I wanted. I didn’t mean to lie to you Rav. Given time, I know we can help you.”

The forms of the Gatekeepers materialized behind her, as HK and Valen walked in from a side passage. The Warden spoke first, “With his followers gone, it is possible he can be treated. While holding him will be difficult until his stasis chamber is repaired, if we can redeem him from the dark side’s hold, he could prove a powerful ally and knowledgeable teacher.”

“I only hope we can achieve such a daunting task,” the Jailor added.

Finally, the Curator spoke, “Still, whatever tomorrow brings, this was a victory – even if your work is not yet over.”

Lil nodded her head, then froze. She looked to HK and Valen, “What do you mean, ‘with his followers gone ….’”

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