Chapter One: Awakening

Darkness…

I have nightmares of being trapped within the darkness for eternity. I see light but I cannot grasp it, as if it's turning away from me.

Why would the light turn away for me?

Personal Files – Jysella Horn

34 ABY

Planet Ios, Feriae System

The young Jedi padawan stared through a pair of microbinoculars, taking in the scenery with a deep frown. Half a kilometer away stood a large ziggurat – Kriss grimaced at the term. Master Tionne had repeatedly explained to him the difference between a ziggurat and a pyramid. To the young man both were the same: large rocks built upon one another to form a triangular shape.

A ziggurat is not merely a pyramid, young one. It is built in receding tiers upon a platform – a step pyramid, if you will…

Kriss sighed and tucked his binoculars into a backpack lying by his feet on the grassy ground. The world of Ios was beautiful; the air smelled of fresh weeds and flowers, the cool winds bringing along the scent of cooked and baked meals from the village. A golden sun shone down on the flourishing land, the pyramidal structure in front of him reflecting the light in rainbow colors. Startling green grass swayed back and forth with a light breeze and Kriss heard insects buzzing through the air.

He closed his dark brown eyes and took a deep breath, delving into the Force to feel the life surrounding him. It had always felt like someone or something whispered to him, showing him where to go, when to turn around when danger approached and now the whispering words changed into a staccato of pictures in his mind. He saw indigenous life forms; saw the people of this world living in peace and harmony – and he felt a disturbance emanating from the ziggurat.

Jysella…

He dug through his pack and took out a small data pad, all the while skimming the surrounding area with his eyes. He felt no other presences in his vicinity but he had been taught to be as careful as possible, especially when working alone.

His fingers flew over the small touchpad embedded into the screen, sending out a message to his Master.

Kriss sat back on his haunches as he waited for a reply. Throughout his training so far, it had always bothered him that he had to ask permission for everything. Doubtless, he could barge into the ziggurat and get Jysella out on his own but he did not want to disappoint his Master again. Kriss had a temper he tried his best to deal with and his stubbornness had gotten him into more trouble than he cared to remember. Verbal clashes with his Master were common, which Kriss found ironic and amusing at the same time. The two of them were so much alike – Kriss enjoyed the banter but he had a very hard time dealing with his Master's overprotection.

The screen to his data pad lit up and Kriss did not have to read the words to know the order his Master had sent: Wait for me.

"Yeah, what's new?" He shoved the data pad back into his pack, whispering a string of curses he knew his Master would hate hearing from him. Kriss hardly cared as he stared at the ziggurat, an overwhelming and painful yearning clouding his common sense. He knew he should obey his Master and not try an attempt at rescuing the young woman on his own but while he waited, who knew what was happening to her?

Kriss felt her fear through the Force as if it were his own; he could feel a distant and dampened pain reminding him of healing wounds. He sucked in a breath – was she hurt?

Everything had started out peacefully. The Jedi – Jysella Horn, Ganner Rhysode, Zekk and Master Durron – had been staying in the village for almost a week, using the time to hone their skills and senses, training within the thick and flourishing woods. The people of the world of Ios and the Jedi had an alliance of sorts. The Jedi were allowed to use the land for their own purposes and in return, the natives received anything they needed to make their lives simpler.

Jysella had been very friendly to a young man Kriss knew as Gage. Kriss had watched them talk and had always felt a spike of jealousy. Jysella was a beautiful young woman and totally out of his league. It stung on a level Kriss couldn't quite comprehend. He had wanted to get to know Jysella a little better during the trip but then Gage had intervened.

From the start, Kriss had felt odd around Gage but he had decided not to say anything, having feared Jysella's reproachful words.

Now, while reaching out towards Jysella in the Force, he could feel the other man's dim presence. Deep in his heart, Kriss knew Gage was the one responsible for Jysella's sudden disappearance.

Taking a deep breath, Kriss threw his backpack over his shoulders and began the trek towards the ziggurat. Even though his conscious told him to turn back and wait on his Master, he walked on. The longer he waited, the longer Jysella would hurt. He couldn't let that happen.

A stinging pain at the back of her head slowly pulled her to consciousness. Jysella fought a groan as she opened her eyes, feeling like she was staring through muddy water. Her eyelids felt heavy and she had problems keeping them open. She recognized a blazing, golden fire to her right and four men sitting around it, chatting as if nothing were amiss.

As she tried to open herself to the Force, Jysella felt a rush of nausea cascade upon her. She tried to move and that's when she noticed her hands were painfully tied behind her back.

Jysella could hardly think straight as the world spun around her, as shadows danced in front of her eyes. She felt yet another wave of nausea and she did her best not to throw up.

Then she suddenly remembered…

She remembered walking down a path away from the village, Gage at her side. They had been talking, laughing, as if they had known each other for years. Gage had complimented her, had held her hand while he smiled endearingly. Then there had been a spike of pain and when she had realized someone had shot her with a dart, the world had blackened out.

The last thing she remembered was Gage's dark voice beckoning someone forward.

Jysella not only felt hurt by a man she had considered her friend; his betrayal tore into her soul. How could she have been so stupid and trust him so? Not even through the Force had she felt any wrongness from him.

Her heartbeat suddenly picked up and her breathing grew ragged when she completely grasped the extent of his betrayal. He had kidnapped her. He had hurt her.

Why?

Above the crackling of the golden fire, Jysella heard the shuffling of feet and quiet voices. She held her breath as another wave of nausea flooded her and she strained to listen.

"When do you think she'll wake up?"

"Soon."

"Then what?"

"We've been through this, genius."

Jysella suddenly felt a light prodding at her mind and felt a rush of adrenaline as she realized it was Kriss searching for her. Biting down hard and gathering all the strength she could, she sent him a single burst of negative emotions, hoping he would stay away and wait for the other Jedi before venturing any closer to save her.

She worried for him, not wanting him to get hurt by needlessly endangering himself.

"Go check on her."

Jysella stiffened at the words and swallowed back bile rising in her throat. For the very first time in her life, she was afraid. She was too weak to use the Force to defend herself, too drowsy to attempt an escape.

Someone suddenly gripped her chin in a fierce hold and yanked her head upward. Jysella's heart almost jumped from her chest as she recognized Gage smiling at her, his eyes twinkling in the dim light of the fire, "You're awake."

Jysella turned her head away, anger and hurt evident in her eyes. Gage laughed and turned around, gesturing with both his hands.

A tall, white haired man came towards her with a swagger in his step. He was an arrogant being, she could tell by the aura surrounding him. He knelt before her and even though the world was tipping back and forth, she recognized startling white eyes and a pair of goggles strapped to his forehead.

Behind him stood two other men, she couldn't make out.

"You've made me a very happy man." White Eyes sneered, holding up her lightsaber for her to see. Jysella ground her teeth, trying yet again to touch the Force but failing to do so. She couldn't concentrate, her mind a bowl of sludgy nothingness instead of a functioning brain.

He leaned forward and Jysella was shocked at the complete whiteness of his eyes. The fire reflected off his irises in bronze colors, making him seem more dangerous than he already was – as if the fire were a substitute for his soul.

"What do you want with me?" Her voice was raw, scratchy as she tried to cough.

"We need your help."

Jysella smiled weakly, ripping her eyes open as the lids threatened to close again. Her surroundings were blurry still, shadows among shadows.

"You might have asked." She whispered, glaring at Gage pointedly. "Let me go."

White Eyes laughed and the sound sent chills down her spine.

"I won't help you."

Dizziness settled in next and she felt disoriented – suddenly there were two men with white eyes sneering at her…

"I think you will."

White Eyes snapped his fingers and the other two men standing a bit further away came closer. Both grabbed one of her arms and hurled her to her feet. Jysella fought back the pain going through her body as they carried her to an unknown destination.

Using the Force to steady his breathing, Kriss stopped in mid run as he felt a wall of darkness. The step pyramid was only a few feet away from him, rising high as if to touch the rolling clouds. The stones gleamed in the sunlight, a polished surface so magnificent it made him stare in awe.

However, behind this beautiful edifice lurked darkness. He could feel it – a palpable, crawling darkness, seeping through the fissures and cracks of the rocks.

Kriss closed his eyes and reached out with his senses; he felt life bathed in the bright white life of innocence surrounding him. From the ziggurat, he felt untouchable, unfathomable darkness…

He swallowed back a growing fear – no matter what, no matter the consequences, Jysella was in danger and he would do his damndest to save her.

He stumbled back as he felt a rush of feelings through the Force. He knew Jysella was warning him to stay away but how could he now that he knew for certain Jysella was in definite danger? How could he turn away when she might be hurt?

Shoving his uncertainty aside, Kriss walked on but halted when he felt a familiar presence through the Force.

With an aura of violet light surrounding him, Jedi Knight Ganner Rhysode appeared from behind him, hurrying down a slight slope with Zekk and Master Durron in his wake.

Kriss sighed and closed his eyes as he saw his Master approach with a dark look on his face. Master Durron was taller than Kriss, his hair bound together at the nape of his neck and he wore his Jedi garments with pride. Others couldn't see it but Master Durron had an aura of danger and malice surrounding him.

Moreover, it was obvious that Master Durron wasn't happy.

Kriss stood firm under his scrutinizing gaze, his spine rigid, his hands balled into fists at his side. He had never backed down and he wouldn't now.

"I told you to wait." Master Durron said in a very quiet, yet angry tone.

"I know. Jysella's hurt. I wanted to get here as soon as possible."

"I've almost had it with you disobeying orders."

Kriss lifted his chin and bit back a remark. Master Durron's voice was deep as he spoke his words, a sign that he was indeed furious with his Jedi padawan.

Master Durron jerked a thumb towards the step pyramid, "Zekk, you're with me. Ganner, you stay with Kriss."

"Master Durron, I want to help!"

"Stay." His word was final, non-negotiable. This time Kriss obeyed, albeit reluctantly. He watched as Zekk and Master Durron entered the ziggurat, feeling like a chastised little child.

Jysella could barely walk let alone see. Her body felt heavy, tired and she kept nodding away. One minute they were dragging her through a narrow corridor, the next minute she saw only blackness.

From the corner of her eye, she watched Gage light a torch, the fire illuminating his strong features.

Jysella tried fighting off the two men holding her but she stumbled and they pulled her back into an upright position.

"We're almost there." White Eyes whispered and she shuddered as she felt his warm breath touch the skin of her face.

She was a trained Jedi… how could she have been tricked like this? Her utter and complete failure to protect herself stung and she grimaced.

You've endangered the others because you're weak…

There was a sudden loud scratching sound and her skin crawled. The ground beneath her feet vibrated and she felt a light breeze touch her face, ruffle strands of her dark hair. An orange glow appeared and as she squinted, she could see a new doorway.

Jysella was shoved forward even though the men were still holding on to her arms, both oblivious to the fact that they were hurting her. Maybe they didn't even care…

Her boots crunched on the ground and inwardly she recoiled at the putrid smell of age.

"Now's the time for your help." White Eyes said, cupping her face. Jysella turned away and narrowed her eyes.

"I will not help you." She spat at him.

White Eyes laughed and pushed her forward; Jysella fell to her knees, the world spinning uncontrollably. She felt the binds being severed, her wrists pounding with her pulse. Steadying herself on the cool ground, her fingers digging into carved stone.

Jysella breathed deeply to get her nerves under control but she suddenly felt White Eyes come up behind her, tugging her head back while gripping a fist full of her hair. Jysella screamed as the pain laced through her body – she froze as she saw a dagger in White Eyes' hand, lifting it higher as if to stab her.

Even through the dizziness and nausea, Jysella tried getting to her feet but the men held her down by her shoulders, painfully digging their fingers into her soft flesh.

Fear almost paralyzing her, she watched as White Eyes grabbed her hand and used the dagger to cut a long line through the skin of her palm.

Jysella whimpered as the stinging of the bleeding wound wandered up her arm; crimson blood dripped to the sandy ground, collecting in a small pool before her knees.

"We needed Jedi blood." White Eyes said with a chuckle.

"Why are you doing this?" Jysella hissed between her teeth, trying to tug her hand out of White Eyes' grasp. However, he held fast, squeezing her palm and watching in awe as the small pool of blood grew larger.

"Watch and see."

The ground beneath her startled to rumble.