The sun blazed above, white clouds floating peacefully through the patchwork blue and yellow sky. A cool breeze washed through the flat landscape, refreshing in any other situation but the one the young Jedi now found themselves in. They were outmatched, could feel it in every cell of their body. Where Jedi were trained to defend, to deescalate conflicts and, in this day and age, block blaster bolts, the trio before them appeared razor-focused and intent on ending their lives.
"Three of them versus five of us," Josat exhaled, gripping his shaking hand with his other. "Not bad odds, right?"
"Only three of us can actually fight," Cappricia chastised her friend, her face pale, yellow eyes wide with fear as she hazarded another glance at the dark Jedi.
"Good point," Josat muttered. "Let's go stand behind the speeder and brush up on our cheerleading routines."
"The giant muscle guy is here," Kani swallowed, gesturing with a tilt of her head. "He would have killed me on Formos Besh if that other ship hadn't come in when it did."
"That Lightning Force-user is here too," Ben pointed out the female Sith he had faced previously. "And I think that other dark Jedi girl is their leader. She was the one who ordered them back on the ship."
"Rematch," Josat said weakly.
"Hope not," Kani muttered. She could sense Ben draw on their bond to reinforce his nerves, and did the same, weakly smiling at her best friend in silent acknowledgment. "We barely survived the last encounter. Both Muscles and Lightning Schutta are Jedi Knight level at least. And that's just those two. If that other girl is their leader, we're toast."
The wind blew a tumbleweed between the two groups as they squared off, fluttering Jedi and Tribe robes indiscriminately.
The leader of the dark Jedi surprised everyone by stepping forward and deactivating her lightsaber. She made a gesture and the two with her followed suit. In a voice that could be heard across the gap between the groups, she called out. "I would speak with the one called Jedi Skywalker!"
"Ben," Kani said anxiously, placing a hand out to bar his path as he began to step forward.
"I'll be okay," Ben muttered, stepping forward again. The rocky ground crunched under his Jedi boots, sounding overly loud in the dead silence that followed.
Kani clenched her jaw and glared at the dark Jedi who had called Ben out, daring the other woman to pull some dirty trick. Swallowing, and against her better judgment, Kani nodded curtly, stepping to the side to let him pass.
Ben Skywalker advanced slowly, unhurriedly. He was in no rush to begin the dangerous saber swinging and dismemberment that usually accompanied a lightsaber battle. His heart thumped loudly in his chest, his blue eyes evaluating the trio before him. His Force senses weren't telling him a single thing about the wall of black-clad dark Jedi other than the fact that they all wanted him and his friends dead. Not exactly reassuring.
Leaving a few steps between himself and the petite girl who had called him out, he tilted his head in greeting. "I'm Jedi Knight Ben Skywalker, of the Jedi Order."
"I know," the smaller female dark Jedi said. She was about Kani's height and had her same athletic build—if the form-fitting black jumpsuit she wore was anything to go by. A brief moment of silence, as if the dark Jedi was considering something. Then, she reached up and removed her mask.
Ben felt his mouth dry and his jaw drop at the pale face that now stared back at him. When one thought of dark Jedi, one normally thought about wrinkled, old, dark-sided corrupted visages that reflected the corrupt internal nature of a person. But this dark Jedi was nothing like he thought.
Simply put, she was beautiful. Light brown hair framed an unblemished face that gazed at him with deep brown eyes in guarded curiosity. Rather than corrupt or make her appear sickly, the dark side that shrouded her gave her an almost boundless vitality with aspects of strength and desire. The geometric tattoos that covered her face only added to her mysterious, exotic nature, emphasizing the soft angles of her face. She was also around his age, which definitely surprised him. How she had come to lead the dark Jedi was yet another question that popped into his mind. Still staring, he saw her lips twitch in amusement and he immediately closed his mouth and blushed crimson.
"Errr…you do?" Ben said intelligently.
"Your name has continued to pop up as of late. Apparently you are the key to this sector's success."
Ben briefly realized that he had barely understood a single word the teen before him had said. The language she was speaking was ancient in nature, something he had only heard from the old holovids the archaeologist dug out of the Ossus Library. He frowned. Why would a dark Jedi be speaking with such an archaic dialect? It was just one of the many questions he had. Starting with the identity of the deadly beauty before him. "Then can I know your name, please?"
"Sith Saber Vestara Khai," she said calmly. She held out a hand. "I will make you an offer, Ben Skywalker. Come with me and I will spare your friends. Resist and they will die alongside you."
Ben looked at her in confusion. Did she really think he'd agree to that? "Why in the world would I go with you?"
She paused for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly. She started to say something, stopped herself, and instead leaned forward, her lips brushing by his cheek as she breathed against his ear. "Because, I assure you, coming with me will be so much more….pleasurable. As Sith and Jedi, we're on opposite sides, enemies even. But we don't have to hate each other-that's a choice we make ourselves. Aren't you even a little curious as to what I can offer you? "
Ben felt dizzy, and desperately tried to reign in his emotions. Even the dark Jedi's scent was intoxicating, the feel of her palm right over his pounding heart, warm and distracting. He absently wondered if she was using some sort of Force technique and tried to focus on something other than her. He barely marshaled the will to do so. "And my friends? I highly doubt you'll keep your word. Too many witnesses."
Vestara, still pressed against him, her breath on his ear, inclined her head slightly. "True, there is that."
Ben felt a flash of anger and the Force pulsate in warning a microsecond before Vestara's saber was pressed against his stomach and activated. At such close range it was impossible for him to dodge or defend against it. He jerked, grimacing as he felt the blade burn into him. Staring up at Vestara's face, he raised an eyebrow. Surprisingly, there was no hatred or murderous rage. Almost, what seemed like disappointment.
There were startled yells and cries by his friends as the dark Jedi's purple saber lit up the patch of dead ground Ben and Vestara were standing in. Lightsabers flared to life once more in deadly concert, the glowing blades momentarily mesmerizing both sides as they waited for the other to make the next move.
"Ben!" Kani's hoarse scream of rage and fear broke the spell. She vaulted from where she was, both blue lightshoto flashing in the sunlight.
She was met mid-air by Vran, his hammer-like attack with his own red blade sending Kani rocketing back to the ground at high speed. She impacted hard, a small cloud of dust thrown into the air as she painfully rolled several meters, before coming to a groaning stop.
"Kani!" she vaguely Cappricia's yell.
Kani weakly opened her eyes, which widened even further when she saw Vran's hulking form plummet from the sky directly above her. She summoned enough strength to fire off a blast of Force energy, barely redirecting his attack in time. Vran recovered fast, stabbing at the ground several times. She swiveled her hips, kicking at his knees and causing them to temporarily buckle. Scrambling back to her feet, Kani cast a desperate glance back towards Ben. That cost her, as Vran delivered a vicious backhand which knocked her to the ground and had her seeing stars. He gave her no reprieve, however, as he grabbed her by her hair to haul her back up to her feet. Dazed, she didn't even have a chance to block his next blow to her face, the solid punch sending her falling backwards, consciousness threatening to leave her. Self-preservation and her worry for Ben, however, kept her awake. Bloodied, hurting, Kani saw her weapons on the ground a little distance away. When Vran moved to collect her again, she summoned a lightshoto into one hand and drove it into his foot. Needless to say, Vran did not appreciate the amputation of several toes. Kani didn't give him a chance to retaliate, rolling and slicing at the heel of his other leg, cutting through the tendons he needed to move his good foot. Unfortunately, Kani had never faced a full blown Sith before, and the rage and pain she was inflicting only served to enhance Vran's strength.
Jun, in the meantime, had activated his saberstaff and tried to charge in, only to be rebuffed by a blast of lightning from Kaara. He blocked the first one-handed blast of lightning. But when Kaara added a second handful of lightning, Jun was literally thrown backwards by the sheer force of the attack. Kaara leaped high and landed in a patch of dusty ground, the air displacing all around her. She performed a spinning kick which impacted with one of Jun's wrist, causing him to loosen his grip on his lightsaber. Another spinning kick caught the side of his head, staggering him. And then a blast of Force lightning at point-blank range slammed into his chest. Fortunately, the Yuuzhan Vong symbiote was immune to Force attacks, and the moment of surprise was all Jun needed to put some distance between them. He slammed his hand into the exposed stomach of the dark Jedi, then swept her legs with a swirling kick. While she fell, he hit her again, but this time with a blast of Force energy that sent her flying and tumbling across rocky ground. Exhausted, Jun used what time he had to try and regain as much strength as he could. He knew he was going to need every joule of energy if he was going to survive.
Ben Skywalker held Vestara's chocolate gaze, the purple of her lightsaber illuminating both their faces. He gripped both her hands, clasped around her lightsaber, with both of his. Mentally thanking the Force that he had inherited his grandfather's ability to absorb energy as well. "That wasn't very nice."
She gave him a grin, then head-butted him, and pulled away, swirling into a fighting position he hadn't seen before. Vestara winked almost playfully and then placed her mask back on. "I was beginning to worry that the stories of your prowess were exaggerated."
"I aim to please." Ben noted, his saber flying to his hand and flaring to life.
Vestara's purple blade flashed against his green in lightning succession. Ben found himself on his back-foot as her strikes and slashes flowed outwards in an almost ceaseless, seamless barrage. Her combat style, obviously meant for fighting another saber-user, was clearly more efficient than his on-the-fly try-not-to-die stance.
"Then again, I could be mistaken," Vestara said coolly, giving him a moment's reprieve. She let her saber twirl around in her hand as they circled each other, the other fights seemingly far away as they focused on each other and the buzzing of their blades. "Your combat technique is like a bumbling Shumshur."
"Sorry, not used to lightsaber users trying to kill me," Ben said.
"Better get used to it then," Vestara answered back, darting back in with the same agility and speed as before.
Not as before, Ben mentally corrected. Much faster this time. His eyes rapidly tried to keep up with Vestara's flourishing strikes, only to realize that the flourishes were a distraction. He let out a hiss as a curved, bladed weapon flashed from her opposite hand and sliced deeply into his right bicep.
Almost in instinct, he thrust out his hand and Vestara was slammed hard with a freight-train of Force energy that threw her backwards. She turned her backwards momentum into a roll though, and sprang back up to her feet. Only to have Ben ram his larger form into hers in a shoulder tackle that sent both of them sprawling across the patchy dirt ground. He recovered first, her surprise at his physical attack still working against her as he rolled on top of her and pinned her to the ground.
"Had enough?" Ben panted, pinning her arms above her head with one hand. He did his best to ignore the increasingly soaked sleeve coming from the laceration on his arm. Life and death situations did wonders for the adrenaline flowing through him.
Her eyes glinted at him through the slat in her mask. "Just getting warmed up. I hope you haven't reached your limit."
She gestured with her head, and the glass blade trapped in her hand flew out and shot at Ben like a rocket. Ben was forced to release her hands to avoid the projectile, and Vestara took full advantage of that. Though he was still straddling her, with her arms free, Vestara lashed out at his injured shoulder with several rapid punches. The pain that flashed through him caused him to yell out and fall backwards and off her. The dark Jedi swiveled her hips, and he barely avoided a follow up kick. But he did, and at the same time, unleashed a kick of his own that caught the bottom of her masked face. The attack, enhanced with the Force, caused the material of the mask to shatter, and part of the mouth-guard to cut deeply into Vestara's lower lip.
They both rolled away from each other, panting, bleeding. Still on all fours, both held out their hands and their lightsabers returned to their owners. Cautiously, they watched each other as they returned to their feet. Ben saw a bloody grin on the exposed jaw of his opponent and shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't believe she was actually having fun!
Then, he felt sheer pain flash through his Force bond and heard a bone-chilling screech. He immediately looked towards Kani, eyes widening at the sight. The larger dark Jedi was holding a bloody-faced Kani in a crushing bear-hug of an embrace, at the same time sending tendrils of lightning with his hands directly into her spine. Kani was twitching, screaming in agony and desperately trying to use their bond to alleviate the pain as she tried to escape. Another spike of pain, and Ben saw Jun on the ground in a similar predicament, the dark Jedi he had faced on Formos Besh delivering a literal storm of lightning to the thrashing Cathar.
"You put up a good fight," Vestara said softly, wiping some of her blood away and removing her damaged mask.
Ben vaguely registered that she was standing right behind him, but he couldn't summon the energy to care. The pain rippling through his bond was almost crippling. "Make them stop." He breathed out, gaze focused on Kani's convulsing body.
"Stop them!" Ben yelled, spinning to the dark Jedi as panic built. He could feel Kani fading and that was something he was not going to let happen. "Now!"
To the surprise of all those present, he held out his hand and suddenly Vestara was lifted into the air. Her hands flew to her throat at the crushing pressure applied, her saber falling to the ground as the Force made breathing all but impossible. Ben glared at her, breathing heavily in fearful desperation. "Stop them, now! Stop them! Make them stop, blast you!"
A blast of Force Lightning from the side of the large dark Jedi slammed into Ben and knocked him to the ground. His every nerve ending screamed in protest as the barrage continued. The pain only doubled as the dark Jedi fighting Jun turned her own lightning onto him. His body spasmed and convulsed, the agony blinding him to everything else as he twisted about on the ground like a fish out of water.
To Ben's great relief, the lightning stopped. He weakly turned his head to see who had spoken, then paled as he saw a trembling Cappricia holding out her yellow saber before her. Her hands shook as she took another step towards the trio of dark Jedi, but she held her chin high.
"I won't let you hurt them anymore," Cappricia said, her voice firm despite the trembling in her limbs and petrified expression on her face.
"Let us?" the large dark Jedi chuckled disdainfully. He lazily fired off a blast of lightning.
Cappricia squeezed her eyes shut and blocked it with her lightsaber. Then her eyes opened in surprise at her successful defense.
"Amusing," the female dark Jedi Lightning-user commented in a bored tone. She fired off a blast of her own.
This time Cappricia yelped as her lightsaber was blown out of her hands.
"Cappricia, just get out of here," Ben rasped, his body helplessly limp on the ground.
Even without her lightsaber, the Melodie straightened and shook her head, continuing her advance. "No. I never abandon my friends. Not to the wild beasts on Yavin Eight, and not to dark Jedi."
"Saber Khai?" the other female dark Jedi looked to their leader.
"Take care of her, Kaara," Vestara consented, looking on at the Jedi teen almost pityingly.
"No," Ben breathed out in a pained breath, weakly pulling himself across the ground in a vain attempt to stop the dark Jedi from killing his friend.
Kaara sprinted towards Cappricia with her saber active, intent on running the teen through. Then, to the surprise of everyone else, appeared to run headlong into an invisible wall that had materialized in front of the cringing Melodie. Kaara collapsed to the ground, more stunned than hurt. The other dark Jedi looked to the caster of the wall.
"Got us the time we needed, Fishsticks, thanks," Josat said, emerging from behind the speeder.
"Happy to be bait," Cappricia said faintly, her trembling legs giving out as she sat down.
The larger dark Jedi fired lightning at Josat, but Josat dove to the side with a yelp. He got back to his feet, brushing off his robes and looking at the dark Jedi incredulously.
"Okay, you so need anger-management classes or something. That was really rude. Anyways, you dark Jedi have two choices," Josat said. "Get back into your ship and return to wherever you came from. Or meet a not so pleasant end in the next couple of seconds."
The larger Jedi snorted. "You and what army, puny Jedi?"
Josat held his hands out to his sides, mimicking the pose of his statue. "This one."
Almost on cue, dozens of ships began descending through the clouds above; those that landed offloading soldiers from the various factions in orbit. Others still circled above the clearing, gun turrets and other weaponry aimed planet-ward. More ships arrived, armed speeders with cannons mounted on the back zooming out to join the rapidly assembling taskforce.
The sounds of guns charging, of being primed or cocked, and the heavy footfall of booted feet echoed all around.
The three dark Jedi seemed absolutely bewildered by the arrival. As if hardly believing that anyone without the Force would dare stand up against them.
Josat offered them a vicious smile, waving a comlink at them. "Meet the United Armed Forces of the Formos System. It was nice of you to give all those squabbling factions a common enemy. They like beating each other up and got really offended when you guys started to do that for them. You guys may be good, but do you really think you can block hundreds of blaster bolts and slugs thrown at you all at once?"
Vestara just chuckled. "No. But they will not last long against the power of the Force."
Two beams of light lanced down from the sky, blasting into the ground in a circular pattern all around the trio of dark Jedi. Those nearest were incinerated instantly, the ships clipped by the energy beams blown from the sky. The spherical shape of the Sith Meditation Sphere blew through a ship in its path, coming in like a wrecking ball. It stopped amid the hovering ships and performed three-hundred and sixty degree spin, its dual energy anti-matter cannons eviscerating the hodgepodge group of vessels surrounding it.
Its ramp opened up, and the three dark Jedi leaped up into the ship before the ground defenders could recover from their shock. The ramp closed, the other ships in the region opening fire on it. But its shields held as it burned jets and took off through the atmosphere.
For his part, Ben could only groan, flopping back over onto his back. He glanced over to his friends and saw that both Jun and Kani were unconscious. They were alive though, and that was definitely more than what he had hoped. He made a mental note to get Cassa a very big thank you present for forcing him to take Josat along. Despite his talkative nature and avoidance for knocking before entering his room, Chatterbox had definitely proven his worth.
"Thanks, had a lot of fun too," Josat said, skidding to a halt next to him and breaking open a healing kit.
"Help Kani and Josat first," Ben tried to push his hands away.
"The dark Jedi chick cut the artery on your arm you idiot," Josat bopped him on the head. "Fortunately for you, the Sith Lightning cauterized it, but I need to treat it."
"The others," Ben again protested.
Josat just sighed. "Sorry, Fearless Leader, doctor's orders. When you wake up, everything will be just fine."
Before Ben could protest any further, he felt Josat's warm hand on his sweaty forehead. A split second later, Ben was fast asleep, his last thoughts being of Vestara Khai and the dark Jedi they had just barely managed to survive.
Vestara stared at herself in the mirror of her family's estate on Kesh, frowning at what she saw. The fragmentation of her mask had left a deep cut in her lower lip. Deep enough to leave a permanent scar. The Tribe prided itself on physical beauty, on perfection, on the assembly of genes to create a 'perfect' Sith. The disfigured, the crippled, the mentally ill, were all relegated to menial chores, to the lowest rungs of Keshiri society. By Keshiri standards, Vestara knew that her flawless complexion, abilities, and figure made her very desirable among those her age. Knew that Ahri felt desire towards her on several levels, even if she didn't reciprocate those feelings. But in the span of a single battle, that flawlessness had been marred.
She stared at her reflection long and hard, hands gripping the basin of the sink as she recalled the Jedi who had inflicted such a socially devastating wound.
Jedi Knight Ben Skywalker. His name escaped her lips in a soft whisper. It had been a full month of hyperspace travel, a month plus the three days she'd spent on Kesh, since she had last seen the Jedi Knight who had occupied much of her thoughts.
He had been a lot younger than she would have thought. But she couldn't deny that he also had a certain, physical appeal to him. His blue eyes had shown with an innocence she hadn't recalled seeing in a very long time. His confidence in the abilities of himself and his friends enhanced his natural power and the resolute aura that seemed to have surrounded him. He had entered the battle fully knowing that he and his friends were outmatched. But had done so because he had also known the fight was inevitable. Rather than try to run from it, he had turned and stood his ground. That type of strength and confidence had thrilled Vestara in a way she didn't think possible.
Standing in front of the freighter, seeing Ben Skywalker in the flesh for the first time, Vestara couldn't help but feel her heart skip a beat. He was attractive in that forbidden sense, his features definitely in line with what Kesh would consider 'acceptable'. Piercing blue eyes stared across the patchwork land of grass, soil, and sand. Red curly hair fluttering in the slight breeze. He was standing at the forefront of his little group of Jedi, obviously intending to protect them.
Vestara's eyes narrowed at the way the blonde Jedi girl stood by his side, could sense the deep bond between the two without even trying. The first order of business, weaken the enemy by dividing them. She called out the Jedi Knight's name, smirking behind her mask when the blonde Jedi girl temporarily stopped his approach.
Oh she was going to have so much fun getting into blondie's head.
Ben Skywalker bravely answered her call, and she stepped out to meet him in turn. Up close, she could smell the natural fragrances of whatever soap he had used to shower, could sense his power-restrained for some reason—lurking just beneath the surface.
Deciding to do him the courtesy of revealing her face, Vestara took off her mask. She was more than pleased by his reaction, equal parts surprise and desire at once. Looking over Ben's shoulder, she was even further gladdened by the way the blonde Jedi in the distance tightened her grips on her lightshoto and took an abortive step forward.
Seeing Ben looking her over, Vestara decided to take the opportunity to do the same. Slender, yet fit, he stood only a head taller than her. His face and broad torso that of a fully mature male human. Unlike Vran or Ahri, Ben Skywalker apparently did not feel the need to work-out to develop his musculature. But at the same time was athletic in build and—from his wary stance—seemed more than competent in the saber-handling department.
Vestara suddenly had an urge not to kill this Jedi specimen before her, but to turn him to her side. With the strength she sensed in him, he would be a powerful ally she could use to resurrect a new Sith Empire. She threw out her initial impulse to challenge him to a duel to the death, inviting him to surrender to her. Even going so far as to promise the safety of his younger friends. When he protested, questioned why he would go with her, Vestara felt slightly insulted. Could he not see the opportunity he was giving him?
She glanced over his shoulder again at the blonde Jedi, and saw her glaring daggers right at her. She smirked slightly, deciding to toy with Ben's female friend by stepping close to him and placing a hand on his chest. She wasn't sure what his relationship to the blonde Jedi was, but took a small amount of satisfaction by the near apocalyptic look the female Jedi sent her way.
She whispered into Ben's ear, half acting, half truly meaning her words. She truly did have so much to offer him if he agreed to join her, if he agreed to surrender completely to her will. Not only was he physically appealing, but the unassisted capture of a Jedi Knight would be a crowning achievement of her mission, would definitely advance her status among the Keshiri.
Then his emotional barriers slammed shut, rebuffing her. Shock of that occurring was accompanied by rage as he questioned her word, questioned her very honor. She was in no way like Vran or the other Tribe-members who would say one thing but then stab the other in the back at the first opportunity. In a place where status determined everything, her honor was one of the things she valued most. And this boy of a Jedi, who had never even met or known her, questioned that?
Fury coursing through her, yet shielded by her uncaring persona, she let her lightsaber stealthily return to her hand. Murmuring her reply into his ear, Vestara activated her saber. She fully expected him to die, to fall over in uncomprehending shock. When she felt her saber make contact with his body, a flash of disappointment flickered across her face. Maybe his pretty looks were just that, looks. Maybe this Jedi wasn't all that special after all. But then he made her day by negating the energy of her saber with a Force technique she wasn't familiar with. That strength she sensed bubbling under his placid exterior rising to the surface for a fraction of a second.
She was vaguely aware of both Vran and Kaara engaging two of the other Jedi, but instead focused on Ben.
"That wasn't very nice," he said, his voice almost teasing to her ears.
Vestara felt her adrenaline spike. Maybe she'd get to see what this Jedi was made of after all. She pulled her mask down over her face, and engaged him with everything she had. Again, this man-boy of a Jedi Knight confused her, his saber work sloppy and definitely amateur in nature. How did someone like him become a Knight if he didn't even know the basic dueling forms that was drilled into all Tyros starting at their initiation?
Vestara smiled at her reflection, but the stitched up wound on her lip made the smile look more like a smirk. She had definitely underestimated Skywalker. She would readily admit that. When he had kicked her in the face, she had been more than surprised. Hand-to-hand combat was a requirement for all Tyros, they even had to kill one of Kesh's many animal predators bare-handed to be considered for the rank of Saber. She just never expected a Jedi to use such brutish tactics in a fight. He surprised her further with that Force Choke. It was then, even as she struggled to breathe, that she had become determined to turn him over to the dark side.
She remembered, after Vran and Kaara had intervened and blasted Ben with lightning, standing above the fallen Jedi, lit lightsaber in hand. While Vran and Kaara amused themselves with the other teenage girl among the Jedi's ranks, she had been left alone with Ben. All she had to do was plunge her glowing saber down into him and his life would be over. But as she held her saber over him, as she gazed down on his writhing body, she found herself incapable of acting. She had seen how loyal his friends were to him, how they had stood by his side despite the fact that they would most likely die. And that loyalty, that trust, it was something she desperately wanted. Would desperately need if she were to restart the Sith Empire in the image she desired. So she let him live. Let him live and took the risk of exposing the entire Tribe; all because of her selfish whim.
Her return had been heralded as an unmitigated success. Already Keshiri engineers and factories were churning out reverse engineered versions of the tech that had been captured, even going so far as to create their own versions. Hyperdrives, once a pipedream due to the loss of knowledge, were once again reality. Interstellar travel, turbolaser technology, everything that had been lost since the time of the crash now on the table once more. The mountains of Kesh had more than enough raw materials, and mining was kicked into overdrive to meet the demand.
Using schematics which had survived the test of time, Keshiri engineers hybridized the captured technology with the millennia-old designs with amazing results. Blade-class starfighers were made for the first time since the fall of Naga Sadow, with upgraded weaponry and shields, and even hyperdrives of their own. There were even three dreadnaughts—made in the Lanvarok-shape of the Omen itself, but augmented with technological improvements found on the captured Star Destroyer—in production. All of Kesh—from the lowly servants to the Tyros, Sabers, and Lords and Ladies—was gearing up to that eventual date where they'd make their return to the greater galaxy.
The doorbell chimed, stirring Vestara from her thoughts. Vestara heard one of the servants let in whoever was calling. She could tell right away who it was. She pulled on a simple robe to cover herself, cinching it shut with the cloth belt, and moved to meet the arrival.
"Tyro Raas," Vestara greeted neutrally at the top of a grand stairwell.
"Ves," Ahri, dressed in a traditional bare-chested Keshiri tunic that showed off his pectorals, looked up at her. "Soon I will be a Tyro no longer."
"No longer afraid of the High Lord's blade?" Vestara asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Not nearly," Ahri ascended the stairs and took up a position next to her, observing the servants below going about their business. "Your success has undermined much of his influence and power. Capturing a Jedi Master alive in addition to all of the ships was something those in the Circle of Lords could not even have imagined possible for you. Lady Rhea is reaping the benefits as those in the Circle seek to gain her favor."
"And this has to do with you entering the trials for Saber?"
"I spoke with Master Xal, and he has agreed that if you were able to complete it in three year's time, I should be able to do the same."
"I'll be sure to send flowers to your family, as well as money for a gravemarker for when you fail."
"Turnabout is fair play," Ahri chuckled. "I remember you, Saber Khai, when you decided to enter the trials. I asked why you would do something so crazy when you were only twelve. You remember what you told me?"
Vestara nodded, fingers absently tapping the banister. "'The quicker I become a Saber, the sooner I can attain the rank of Sith Master. The sooner I can shape the galaxy into one of my liking.'"
"Yes," Ahri breathed out. "I sometimes wonder if that ambition is why Ship chose you. But then, I realized that if ambition alone were the sole criteria, there would have been so many others as well. Everyone here on Kesh aspires to be something more than they are. Even the High Lord. Heck, even that Jedi Master you brought whose probably wishing he never came."
"You came by here for reasons other than to brag about your foolish attempt to become a Saber," Vestara redirected.
"I did," Ahri ran a hand through his hair. "Look, I know we didn't always see eye to eye on the mission. But we are entitled to our own opinions, right?"
"The point, Ahri," Vestara drawled, watching the serving staff below dutifully clean the entryway.
Ahri shifted slightly, his red eyes glancing towards her almost nervously. "Wanted to know if you were free to walk around the Ragnos Lakes with me. Today's supposed to be the first time in a century that the algae will glow twelve different colors over the entire expanse."
"Like a date?" Vestara said, mildly surprised and turning to give him her full attention.
"Wouldn't go that far," Ahri quickly said, shaking his head emphatically. "A walk shared with a friend. Been a while since we just hung out."
Vestara opened her mouth to answer, as she did the image of Ben Skywalker's handsome feature popped up. She closed her mouth, looking away from Ahri and schooling her face into a neutral expression one once more. "Just a walk between friends?"
Ahri nodded, his expression not changing as he too studiously looked away from her. "Of course. Our masters would kill us if we tried to start anything."
"No kidding. I don't think Lady Rhea thinks all that highly of Master Xal."
"And the feeling is definitely mutual," Ahri chuckled. "I can't tell whether they hate each other's guts or just can't find the courage to marry each other."
"Ahri, that is not an image I want in my head the next time I see her," Vestara complained with a groan.
"So," Ahri looked back at her nervously. "You free?"
Vestara let out a small laugh. Ben Skywalker was lightyears away, would stay that way until the Tribe was ready to return to the galaxy. Though she didn't exactly trust Ahri, she knew he would never betray her. At least not without warning her first. As far as suitors go, she could do a whole lot worse. Giving him a ghost of a smile, she inclined her head. "Why not? It's been a while since I relaxed."
"Great, see you in a little bit, Ves."
Vestara just chuckled once more, running a hand through her hair. Ahri had been right about one thing. Since her return she had begun to receive all sorts of requests to weigh in on one policy issue or another. Her victory had brought her family prestige, honor, and most importantly, power. The High Lord was trying his best to minimize these accolades, but when a pure Sith artifact chooses someone, then that someone successfully leads a team on a mission no one expected to succeed, things kind of develop naturally. The Ship had told her to enjoy her success, to wait again for the next moment to act. And that is what Vestara intended to do.
She had gained the recognition she had sought. Was slowly getting into a position to help her people emerge from the stagnant planet of Kesh and back into the stars. Her, fifteen year old Sith Saber Vestara Khai. It might not be any time soon, years even. But she knew that when Ship called on her once more, she'd be ready.
From waking up nice and comfy with his childhood best friend in his bunk aboard the Dawn to waking up to a sterile-smelling room full of beeping machinery and uniform decorations, Ben mentally reviewed what he should do to never wake up in the latter again. Then again, he was a Jedi, and no one could officially call themselves a Jedi if they didn't end up in the med-bay at least once after a dangerous mission.
"Ossus medbay?" He asked, recognizing the sterile white and gray surroundings and closing his eyes again.
"Yup," the voice of Mara Jade Skywalker answered, not exactly sounding pleased.
"The others?" He could sense that they were sleeping, so he wasn't sure how badly they had been hurt.
"Nothing bacta and our best healers couldn't fix," Mara answered. "Don't mean to take away your glory, but the Solos still have you beat in terms of near-mortal injuries."
"Drat," Ben said with a weak laugh. He opened his eyes again, calling on the Force to force his stiff body into motion. Mara helped him into a seated position and adjusted the bed.
"You ruined your tattoo by the way," Mara gestured to his arm.
Ben glanced at his bicep. Bacta and Force healing had fixed up the muscles and nerves that Vestara's glass blade had created, but there was still a noticeable scar bisecting the Jedi Order emblem inked on his shoulder.
"Well, that didn't last long."
"Maybe the Force is trying to tell you not to get tattoos in the future," Mara said dryly.
"Cosmic karma?" Ben said skeptically. "More like crazy dark Jedi girl."
"Yeah, about that. Josat had a lot of explaining to do," Mara said with a snort. "You and Kani were out of commission and Cappricia was apparently too scared to remember much of what happened. I mean, not only did your group end up looking like it had gone through a meat-grinder on what was supposed to be a simple restoration project, but Jedi Knight Kyrelle Frieneil and Jedi Master Doran Sarkin-Tainer are missing too. Then that friend of Cassa's tells us this whole tale about an ancient Sith ship, armies of dark Jedi, giant honorary statue, and a giant green bunny."
"All true," Ben laughed, letting his head rest against his pillow.
"If you weren't a Skywalker I'd call you a liar," Mara rolled her eyes. "Anyways, you can imagine this isn't exactly what Chief of State Hamner had in mind when he sent you out. The fact that some lucky holocam crew managed to snap several shots of you, Kani, and Jun lying on the ground on Formos 'near death,' didn't help any. Director of Galactic Alliance Intelligence, Belindi Kalenda was forced to stepped down because of the 'debacle,' and her second-in-command, Colonel Dician was tapped to take her place."
"What's being done about those dark Jedi we faced?" Ben asked.
Mara's expression soured. "Nothing."
"Director of the Galactic Alliance Guard Anakin Solo wanted to send a fact-finding mission out there. To try and see if the dark Jedi you faced were the same ones he and Jacen faced on that asteroid several years back. Chief of State Hamner nixed it, didn't want him wasting resources on a wild bantha hunt. In fact, he's of the opinion that you all didn't face dark Jedi at all, but a band of Mandalorian backed-mercenaries and pirates who used hallucinogenic nerve agents when they attacked you and your friends."
"And how did he reach that conclusion?" Ben said incredulously. Not for the first time wondering why the galaxy kept electing leaders who made very questionable choices and liked to ignore hard evidence. It was no wonder the galaxy went to Kessel in a hand-basket every few years.
"Since you guys left, the Mandalorians have annexed the Formos system from the Aduba Hegemony. In fact, they're making inroads on the entire sector. The fact that Aduba has lost most of its military strength means that it can no longer keep the sector as secure. Chief of State Hamner believes the whole thing was an elaborate Mandalorian plot to take the entire sector by using proxies to destabilize it."
"Oh," Ben said, trying to wrap his mind around how anyone could come to that conclusion.
"Yup. You gave billions of people a home, restored law and order in the sector, and in the eyes of the government, your first mission was an abject failure," Mara chuckled deeply, smoothing the sheets on his bed. "You were supposed to make the Aduba people so in awe of you and your greatness that they'd flock with open arms to the Galactic Alliance. Not drive them into Mandalorian control."
"You're laughing," Ben cocked his head curiously.
Mara gave her eldest a grin. "Couldn't have been more proud of you Ben if I tried. I saw the intel you were sent out with, then heard what you had to face out there. Despite the odds, you and your entire team, including every Shaper you were sent with, made it out alive. Better yet, you've improved the lives of almost ten-billion people and gave that region of space much needed security. With the Mandos in the area, I doubt even the dark Jedi would stick around."
"That last part was completely unintentional," Ben said, blushing slightly.
Mara shook her head, still smiling. "It happened anyways, and the government is blaming your lack of experience for it, so you get the credit."
"Yippeee. Does the Chief of State have another mission lined up for me?"
"He's currently busy trying to explain how you ended up 'near-death' in a good-will restoration mission. Well, that, and trying to figure out a way to punish the Mandalorians for their 'blatant attack' on the Galactic Alliance's Jedi ambassadors to the Aduba Hegemony."
"Good," Ben let out a sigh of relief. "I think I've had enough adventure these past few months."
"Being a Jedi Knight not what you thought it'd be?"
"Yes…no…I don't think I had any expectations. But when a simple restoration gets complicated by dark Jedi…"
"Ben, that would throw anyone for a loop," Mara said dryly. "And most people wouldn't have gotten out of it with their heads attached. Jedi haven't had to fight other Force users for over two decades now. Heck, most of the Praxeums don't teach saber-to-saber fighting as part of standard curriculum because of how rarely we go up against anyone not wielding a blaster. The fact you went up against full trained dark Jedi and lived to tell the tale…let's just say I'm thanking the Force profusely at the moment."
"So, what's next then?" Ben asked after absorbing what his mom said.
"Well, you and your friends will be resting up at Ossus for the next couple of days," Mara answered. "Prolonged exposure to Force lightning can leave permanent neural damage, so Master Cilghal and Tekli want to make sure no lasting effects remain. Relax, enjoy your victory Ben. Even if the GA government says you've failed, you pretty much upheld everything a Jedi is supposed to be out there. And most importantly, congratulations for completing your first mission. May there be many more to come."
"Thanks," Ben replied, grimacing at the thought. He and Mara both felt a slight shift in the Force, and paused their conversation as a pale and wan Kani Asari dragged herself into the room. "Hiya, Kani."
"You doing okay?" His best friend asked softly, using their bond to ascertain his status for herself.
"A little crispy, a little sore, otherwise okay," Ben answered back.
Mara smiled fondly at Kani. "I'll get out of your way, Jedi Apprentice Asari. Glad to see you're okay too."
"Thanks, Master Skywalker," Kani said. Mara left the room and Kani stiffly made her way over to Ben's medical bed. "Scoot over."
Ben did as bidden, and Kani rolled in next to him. "Comfy?"
"Much better," Kani muttered, taking one of his hands in hers.
Ben closed his eyes, letting their very powerful bond open on full so that they could reinforce the other and accelerate their recovery. "Yeah, much."
Kani rested herself on his non-wounded side, listening to his heart beat as she basked in their combined presence. "Some adventure."
"No kidding. Going to become a Jedi Knight any time soon?"
"No way," Kani laughed, looking up at him fondly. "Maybe in a couple years. It's not a competition between us, and I'm in no rush. You have enough crazy for the both of us."
"According to mom, the mission was a complete failure."
"Meh, you're not perfect," Kani answered, as if she had expected it.
"Always can count on you to keep me grounded," Ben said dryly.
"I can fawn over you if you want."
"That'd be too weird. You're not the fawning type."
The two young teens fell silent again, staring absently at the rough stone ceiling. Their thoughts returned to their 'simple' mission, their amazement that they had managed to survive it shared between the two of them. Ben in particular recalled seeing Kani in Vran's crushing hold, screaming as lightning raked her body.
"Stop," Kani muttered, squeezing his hand. "Not your fault."
"He had you in that thing for what felt like an eternity," Ben murmured.
"Not an embrace I enjoyed at all," Kani said softly. She reached up to caress his face. "But I survived it, because of you. The worst part for me was what followed."
Kani shared her own worst memory. Mentally, he saw from her perspective the sight of him thrashing as both Vran and Kaara double-blasted him with lightning. He went from choking out Vestara to convulsing in almost inhuman angles on the ground.
"That looked bad."
"Thought they were going to kill you," Kani murmured, nuzzling him. Their emotional distress being soothed by the other "Can we just agree that the two of us were way out of our league and have a long way to go before we decide to stare down dark Jedi again?"
"Agreed," Ben said, rubbing her back to comfort both her and himself. "Can't believe Fishsticks stood up to them."
"Wouldn't have brought her along if I thought she'd be a jellyfish," Kani quipped. "We're lucky Cassa convinced you to take Josat and Jun too."
"Very. Remind me to get my cousin something nice for her next birthday."
Their breathing slowly even out, both emotionally drained from the ordeal. Their eyes fluttered shut as they just focused on the presence of the other.
"I don't say it enough, but thanks for being my best friend."
"Thanks for being mine."
"We're a team forever, right?" Ben murmured, sleep fogging his mind.
"Forever." Kani confirmed softly.
And gradually, to the rhythmic beeping of the various machines in the med-bay, the two exhausted teenagers fell back to sleep.
Three days later, Ben Skywalker would admit that he was bored out of his mind. There was only so much that could be done at Ossus. Then again, the political poodoo storm his first mission had caused meant that he was probably safer on Ossus—less chance of getting hit by any of the poodoo being thrown about. That still didn't alleviate his boredom. He had spent a little over three months on edge out in the fringes of space dealing with problems of all shapes and sizes. Now his main problem was doing the dishes or helping Master Solusar with a lesson for the younger Jedi. Sure he got to hang out with Kani and the others, but they were all still recovering from their ordeal and were limited as to what the healers would allow. He had had a taste of the action of the adventure and he found himself wanting just a little more danger in his life once more.
Hearing the animated voices of Josat and Cassa across the courtyard, Ben canted his head to try and overhear the conversation. From the number of Yuuzhan Vong words being used, the younger Jedi were having a conversation with the Praxeum's resident Shapers—an energetic one by the sound of things. Considering they were gesturing wildly to a bemused Jun, Ben got curious. Kani was undergoing a medical check-up by Master Tekli and wouldn't be free for another hour, so he decided to kill some time and see what the source of all the commotion was about.
"Things going okay, guys?"
The group of younger teens, consisting of Jun, Josat, Cassa, and her Twi'lek friend Jedis'sei, all jumped guiltily at his voice. The fact that the Yuuzhan Vong Shaper decided to avoid eye-contact also meant that the conversation had a more 'insane Solo/Skywalker' slant to it. Ben sighed, rubbing his face.
"Okay, Cass. Out with it."
Cassa rolled her eyes at him and placed a hand on canted hip. Ten-going-on-eleven, she had both attitude and spunk to spare. "Only discussing how to keep my favorite cousin from getting roasted by Sith Lightning the next time he's in the field. Josat and Jun both told me how when his…'lung symbiote'," She made air quotes, as if knowing the Yuuzhan Vong name for the creature attached to Jun would only confuse her older cousin. "Was hit by lightning, no damage was done to him."
"Yuuzhan Vong life aren't susceptible to direct Force techniques," Josat chimed in.
"Yeah, I was getting to that," Cassa shot back at him. "Anyways, since Yuuzhan Vong life is immune to direct Force techniques, I was trying to ask Master Shaper Zhi Yim if we could create something wearable designed specifically to combat Force-users."
"What's the problem then? I heard you arguing in Vongese."
"Major one," Josat answered. "Galactic Alliance law prevents the Yuuzhan Vong from developing any new biotech with military use. A suit of armor that can be used against Jedi would definitely fall under that category. I was telling Cass that its why such an armor hasn't been made yet. The government is wary of Yuuzhan Vong biots in general, tolerating their Shaping techniques because they're helping to repair the planets. But this, an armor suit that can make every-day people immune to Force powers. I can even imagine what the conservative Masters and Knights would say about it."
"And I told him it wouldn't even be an armor," Cassa said in exasperation. "It'd be like wearing a living shirt and pants. Blaster fire would still kill you if you got yourself shot."
"And I told her that the politicians and adults wouldn't be able to tell the difference. All they'll hear is that the Yuuzhan Vong have developed something that can allow an every-day person to negate Jedi abilities," Josat said, throwing up his hands.
Ben considered the argument for a moment, then decided he really had nothing much to lose. "If Master Shaper Zhi Yim creates a set of Yuuzhan Vong clothes, do you think I can model it?"
Cassa let out a squealing giggle of happiness as she promptly hugged him. "Knew you were my favorite cousin!"
Ben just laughed. "Hey, all I'm doing is wardrobe shopping right? No one has to mention the 'a-word' right? If there's an added benefit of protecting me from that random bolt of lightning, even better."
"There's a downside to that too," Jedis'sei sighed, her red lekku rippling in the Ossus sunlight.
Jun, sitting next to her, nodded. "Omega Blue is common knowledge in the galaxy since the True Victory Party posted the formula onto the HoloNet. I hear there's even a market for Omega Blue in a spray-able can."
Josat nodded. "That's the other big problem. Most Yuuzhan Vong wearable biots bond to their wearer. Whether its amphistaffs or even their coralskippers."
"Yorik-et," Cassa and Jedis'sei corrected, sharing a small grin with the other.
"Yeah, that. If you happen to be wearing a very fashionable Yuuzhan Vong set of clothing and are sprayed with Omega Blue, chances are that your set of clothing will kill you along with itself to try and stay alive."
"The baffor grenades used by our side during the war are an example," Jun said. "The vonduun armor killed the one wearing it when it died."
"Any chance we can take out that vulnerability?" Ben looked to the others.
"That vulnerability is what makes Yuuzhan Vong life invisible to the basic spectrum of the Force," Josat shook his head.
"So I can wear a nifty new Yuuzhan Vong shirt, probably making myself immune to Force attacks. But if I'm hit with Omega Blue while wearing my new clothes, I'll probably die?"
"Hence the continued argument," Josat said before Cassa could get a word in. "I get to play Emperor's advocate to all of her crazy ideas, and she gets to try to find away to stump Jun and me."
"Your solution to the Omega Blue thing then?" Ben looked to his younger cousin.
Cassa scowled slightly, looking away. "I haven't thought of anything yet. I was going to ask my dad the next time he stopped by."
"Master Shaper, do you have an opinion?" Ben asked, noticing the elderly Yuuzhan Vong Shaper had been silently listening the entire time.
"I would not wish to put you in a difficult position Jedi Knight Skywalker."
"It's Ben!" Ben groaned. "Just 'Ben'."
"Good luck with that," Cassa said with a small smile. "They don't bow to me, but I can't avoid the honorific 'Daughter of the Yun'o's Chosen'."
The Shaper looked to the young Jedi for a long moment. "There is a possibility to accomplish what you wish, without the negative you have thought of."
"There is?" Josat and Cassa said in unison, blinking.
The Master Shaper shifted uncomfortably. "It will not be entirely legal according to Galactic Alliance Law, nor will we be able to advertise it once it works."
"We can always shelve it if it's too illegal," Jun shrugged.
"As you mentioned, this Omega Blue's formula was put on the HoloNet for all to see. All including the Yuuzhan Vong."
Ben blinked very slowly, his mind arriving to the same conclusion as the others. "You found a way to neutralize Omega Blue."
The Master Shaper nodded once. "Yes. To simplify the biological component, we insert another gene into the genetic makeup of the life we are Shaping. This, in effect, kills the organic component of Omega Blue and its subsidiaries, rendering it ineffective."
"How do you know of this?" Josat said in a hushed whisper. "I mean, have you guys actually tested…"
The Master Shaper looked to Cassa. "Three years ago, the Avatar of Yun-Shuno herself authorized this research."
"But that's against the law," Cassa protested, eyes wide and fearful at the thought of her mother getting into trouble.
"Not in Mandalorian controlled space," The Yuuzhan Vong Shaper said with a lopsided smile. "Your mother is wise, has ties to people who have great knowledge of biochemistry on Mandalore. They, in conjunction with Yuuzhan Vong who now call themselves Mandalorian, have made this 'vaccine' against Omega Blue and Alpha Red. If you wish a set of 'clothing' it will be of little bother to Shape one with immunity to Omega Blue."
"If this gets out," Josat practically rasped, his eyes wide. They may all be young, but even they could understand some of the implications of a Yuuzhan Vong species immune to the galaxy's only sure-fire weapon against them. There wasn't a day that went by when someone from the True Victory party tried to urge the Senate to act against the Yuuzhan Vong colonies. If that safety blanket was removed…
"Go mom," Cassa said softly, her crystal green eyes darting to the others present. They all knew how important the Yuuzhan Vong were to her, and mimed zipping their lips in silent reassurance. She then looked back to Ben. "Your call, Ben."
"It's not like the dark Jedi are going to be coming out of the woodwork today or tomorrow, or even several years from now," Ben shrugged. "How about creating a prototype and then saving it to one of those living computers…"
"Qahsa," Jedis'sei supplied.
"Those. Create a prototype and then store the blueprint away in case we need to mass produce them."
"Should we tell your dad, or one of the other instructors?" Josat looked to Ben as well. "I know Master Tekli might be able to help. She's really good at Yuuzhan Vong biotech."
"We can tell my Master," Jedis'sei offered. The lithe, red Twi'lek shared a master with Cappricia as they both had a shared interest in preserving the past and uncovering things thought 'lost' to the ages. "Master Sitra is open-minded. Might even be able to help us hide the data in case the Qahsa is damaged."
"We can tell my mom and dad for sure," Cassa added with a nod. "They can use their contacts to even improve on whatever designs we come up with."
"The more people who know, the bigger the risk," Ben warned. "Master Shaper, how long do you think it will take for a set of 'clothes' to be ready?"
"A week. It is simply a matter of making a standard set of garments more 'Force' resistant by modifying the genetic structure of…"
"A week. Great," Ben held up his hand. "Sorry, Chatterbox and Furball are the science-y people."
"Understandable," the Master Shaper chuckled.
"I do have one question," Josat said.
"How are we going to know if it works or not? It's not like we'll go searching the galaxy for a random dark Jedi to blast lightning at you with."
"Do you think your old master could help put?" Jun asked Ben.
Ben shook his head. "No. In addition to the congratulations message he sent me, he also told me he's playing diplomat on his flag the Anakin Skywalker, trying to keep a Galactic Alliance fleet group and a Mando fleet group from shooting at each other."
"The Skywalker?" Jun tilted his head. "Oh right, that new Nebula-class Star Destroyer the Jedi Order acquired a couple years back. Named after your granddad right?"
"Jacen wanted the people to remember the hero Anakin Skywalker was, and not the thing he became," Ben confirmed. "It's a cool looking ship. Jacen took me on it once. Painted all black so it blends in with the stars. The crew called it the Black Annie because of it."
"Well, if Master Solo is busy, then who can help us? Cassa, your dad?" Josat asked again.
"Dad's too busy with GAG stuff. He won't tell me the details, but apparently someone killed two Jedi Knights and kidnapped a Force-sensitive child they were collecting. He even had to cancel his visit this weekend because of all the political pressure to get some answers." Cassa shook her head. "Blast it. Where's a friendly, Sith lightning user when you need one?"
"I'll come up with something," Ben said after a moment of thought. "You guys focus on the tangible. I'll go for the intangible."
"Considering we're making a forbidden Yuuzhan Vong set of clothing designed to negate Force attacks, should I hope for the Force to be with us?" Josat asked.
The young Jedi all blinked, actually considering his words.
Finally Ben nodded. "Might as well. Just because us regular Jedi can't be like Cassa and sense the Yuuzhan Vong, doesn't mean the Force ignores them."
"Okay then, let's hope this crazy idea works and doesn't blow up spectacularly in our faces and get us grounded. Oh, and that the Force is with us. Because, unlike our government, the Sith actually believe we Jedi exist. And if this is all we're doing to get ready for them, can you imagine the crazy plans the dark Jedi are working on?"
"Time to get up you two," Alema Rar chuckled, barging into the room without care. "We have some crazy plans to implement."
"Don't we always, Master?" Zevia Nist asked, blinking the sleep from her eyes as she untangled herself from Valin. It was slightly amusing to the Twi'lek considering that the geometric tattoos that covered both their bodies appeared to mesh perfectly in their current intertwined state.
Then, remembering Zevia had asked a question, Alema blinked. "Well yeah."
"Then are how these plans any different?" Valin said dryly, sliding out of bed after Zevia.
"For one, you're going to get a promotion," Alema chuckled. Both her apprentices stopped dressing to look at her in surprise.
"Promoted?" Valin asked carefully.
"Uh huh, your contributions to the cause have been duly noted, and Darth Krayt believes its time you were made a Darth."
"Congratulations, my Lord," Zevia bowed her head towards Valin.
"I'll still be Valin to you," Valin said, giving her a small kiss on the top of her head.
"Yes, my Lord," Zevia said with a hint of a grin.
Alema watched the interactions with a whimsical smile on her face. This is exactly what she had planned for when she had 'forced' the two to work together for the better part of the last six years. Just as she had had Anakin in that asteroid of darkness, she had wanted to give the both of them a small light to cling to, something to preserve their humanity in the darkness that surrounded them all. Then again, as she watched them kiss passionately, she had her limits. "Okay, enough mushiness you two."
"We need to find you someone too, Master," Zevia said perkily, finishing pulling on the rest of her clothing as if she hadn't just had a heavy make-out session in front of her master.
"The candidates on this planet leave something to be desired," Alema deadpanned. "And never mind me. If you two were listening I said 'plans' as in more than one."
"Oh, this should be good," Valin replied. "Multi-part plans always end up getting some One Sith killed for some reason. Lady Sani, Lord Brutalis last year, Lord Drakin the year before that. Are we going after Morto's top agent, Dician? She's in deep cover right now, right? We blow it and Morto loses his key pawn."
"Don't underestimate Dician," Alema shook her head, sending both her apprentices a warning glare. "She's far more dangerous than she appears. Knows Force techniques that most of Krayt's circle would kill to know. We try to go up against her, and one of us will most likely end up dead."
"Her?" Valin said incredulously. He tried to imagine the petite, innocent-in-appearance dark skinned woman as a threat. The light, musical quality of her voice often reminded him of his sister in their younger days before the Yuuzhan Vong War. In fact, if there was any in Darth Krayt's circle that stood out as 'not belonging', it was Dician.
"She was Lady Sani's shadow apprentice," Alema nodded. "I only just learned that by accident. And we all know how close Lady Sani got to discrediting us to Darth Krayt."
"Okay, so we're not going after Dician? Who then? Morto himself?" Valin said, putting on his ancient Sith mask and pulling his hood over his head.
"Nope," Alema shook her head. She started to explain the intricacies of One Sith hierarchy again. Valin had made 'Lord' two years into his stay on Korriban, developing a reputation of his own. But since then, inter-Sith politics had kept him at that rank. Not that he minded. For Zevia, however, the dark-haired young woman seemed content to remain an acolyte, even if her own abilities were almost on par with a Lady of the Sith. "As a Darth, Val, you get command of your own faction. Can even take an apprentice or two if you want. What we're going to do after you get promoted is use your new position and see how we can make our position in the One Sith even stronger. But for now, Darth Krayt is expecting you."
The trio left the Tomb of Ajunta Pall and was greeted by the early morning light of the Korriban sun. The years had been kind of the One Sith, their numbers ever growing. In the main courtyard, there were even groups of non-Force sensitives in blood-red armor, honing their blaster and vibroblade skills. The Peace of a Millennium hadn't so much as ridded the galaxy of crime and undesirables as force them underground even further. Those lucky few who came in contact with One Sith operatives were sent on their way to Korriban to form the backbone of their fledgling empire. In fact, the time to reveal themselves was fast approaching, with various operatives already in position to deal a crippling blow to the Jedi and the greater government.
"The Galactic Alliance is never going to know what hit them," Valin shook his head as they walked through the training grounds.
"Yup," Alema said neutrally.
They entered the main building, the abundance of dark side Force energy washing over them. The only other physical occupant in the building now was Darth Krayt himself. Everyone else, Wyyrlock included, were getting themselves in position throughout the galaxy in preparation for their attack.
"Approach, Lord Moderus," Darth Krayt ordered.
Zevia and Alema stayed where they were at the doorway as Valin did as bidden. Valin had taken on the name Moderus, or He Who Walks the Middle Road in old Sith tongue, to show his disdain for extremes. The reasoning he had explained to the inner-circle was that both Jedi and Sith weakened themselves if they distanced themselves too far away from the teachings of the other. Only by understanding could one truly be as strong in the Force as possible. Of course, that hadn't exactly gone over too well, with then newly made Lord Morto protesting against the 'un-Sith' quality of the name. But his concerns were brushed aside, and Valin had spent the last four years among the One Sith as Lord Moderus.
"Remove your mask," Darth Krayt said to Valin.
Valin did, going to one knee in the process. "My Lord."
"You are very much like your master," Darth Krayt chuckled, shaking his head. "I can sense her viperous influence coursing through you. Common sense dictates I should kill you before you turn your fangs on me."
Valin didn't even twitch. "Then do so, my Lord. I live only to serve the One Sith."
"If you had failed that last mission I gave you, I would have," Darth Krayt said. "But when you cut down those two Jedi Knights trying to collect a Force-sensitive child, and even better, made it seem like Mandalorian fanatics were at fault, you proved your dedication."
"They were hardly a challenge, my Lord. They seemed more surprised to see me among the living than anything else. I could not let them report back to their superiors."
"Indeed. And by besting two Jedi Knights, you are clearly deserving of the honor I will bestow upon you. Like your master, you will be granted the title of Darth, and all the rights and respect that title brings. So rise, Darth Moderus, and continue to serve the One Sith as loyally as you and your master have done."
Valin rose and replaced his mask, drawing on the dark side surrounding him to enhance his presence. His eyes shown with the added power, and he smirked behind his mask. "I promise you, my Lord. I will do just that."
A\N: Thanks for reading all and have a happy holidays! In March/April-ish the next five-chapter story arc for Forging the Future will be posted. I've plotted out two additional story-arcs for that story so if the muse hits I might tack on an additional five-chapters, we'll see when we get to that point. As for part-two of the trilogy, still on track for a next-year November start-date, currently have five chapters of that written, hope to have around thirty when I begin posting. As far as I can tell, it's going to be longer than aDA, though that may change…(I really hope it does! *Glares at all the readers who encouraged me to go off the deep end and tackle this crazy AU EU Legends story-era*).